Sunday, December 31, 2017

NMSU Aggies

Congratulations, Aggie Basketball!

Before the Hawaii tournament, NMSU swept UTEP and UNM, and beat Illinois in Chicago. 

Hawaii was a revelation. First a dramatic one-point win over Davidson, a theoretically superior team. Swarming defense had the national TV commentators raving that Davidson averages 8.8 turnovers per game, but had turned it over ten times in the first half. With eleven seconds left, down one,, Jemerrio Jones leapt toward the hoop to push home a teammate's missed shot. Then he dove to knock the ball away from a Davidson player. The inbounds play left Davidson's star shooting from several feet beyond the three-point line. He missed.

Next, Miami, undefeated and ranked 6th. From the prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference. (The Aggies, not even ranked among the top 100 college teams, win their conference most years.) We hoped NMSU wouldn't get embarrassed. Anyone who claims to have predicted an Aggie victory is lying. Early, Miami led 13-6 and appeared on course for a big win. But the Aggies got ahead and maintained a small lead. Miami came within a point of NMSU twice in the last two minutes, but the Aggies kept their poise and won! 

Pausing to savor that moment, let's note that this is a fast-moving team sport and these Aggies haven't played together that long and had to learn new ways under coach Chris Jans. Top scorer Zach Lofton, is also new, a graduate student from elsewhere who had a year of eligibility left. Point guard A.J. Harris was out all last year. Las Cruces native Johnny McCants is a redshirt freshman playing his first NCAA games. They also hail from several countries – and many of them lack height. 

They're still improving. As they play together more, they'll develop that sixth sense of what each teammate can and will do in each moment. 

They're not the Golden State Warriors – whom I'd call poetry in motion if that phrase hadn't been used in a sappy pop song from my youth. But in their team play, which looks relatively unselfish, they're getting there. Like the Warriors, they appear to have bought into what Coach is selling – and into the concept, easy to say but sometimes hard to remember under pressure, that the team comes first. (They also seem to block a lot of shots, as the Warriors have done this year; but I haven't looked up stats.)

In the Final in Hawaii they played a great game against USC, another major conference team. They entered the final minute tied, but couldn't pull it out. If they had, it'd be one of the big college basketball stories of the 2017 season. It would also have enhanced what these games have done for them.

If NMSU wins its conference tournament, the guys seeding the NCAA Tournament might give the Aggies a competitive first-round matchup. And the Aggies might just be battle-hardened, unselfish, and quick enough to take advantage. (Hawaii moved them into the top-100 at 79 in one ranking system.)

These gifts can keep on giving. High school hoopsters who'd never heard of NMSU watched those games. They saw a gutsy, fun team playing the right way. The kind of team they could imagine making even stronger by joining it – a good team, but one on which they could earn playing time.

Maybe they were impressed. We are.

Here's wishing the team – and you – a Happy New Year!

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 30 December, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website. A spoken version will air on KRWG Wednesday and Saturday and on KTAL-LP 101.5 FM on Thursday morning.]

[It was a good weekend for NSMU sports.  I wrote the column before getting to watch the Aggies' football team win (in O.T.) its first bowl game since 1960 -- before most parents of current Aggie football players were born.  I've never met coach Doug Martin; but I did wonder about the wisdom of NMSU administrators letting the guy hang without a contract extension into recruiting period.  
That is, I can't say how good a coach he is.  Haven't worked with him.  But one basic fact is that it'd be tough for any coach to make NMSU a good team.  Facilities and funding aren't what they might be, what they probably have to be for reasonable success.  We're also a little off-the-beaten-track -- and we're not often on TV.  Further, when you're a kid who can play ball, the key variable in deciding where to go isn't geography, loyalty, or the weather.  It's the coaching staff.  They'll be making all the decisions that affect your life for perhaps four years, from the food on the training table to the offensive or defensive scheme the team will run, which may or may not fit your personal strengths.  Even though you know everything, being 17 or so, they ware the mentors who will (or won't) get you onto a solid path toward maximizing your skills and success.  They're the ones who'll recruit you and look you in the eye and promise you a fair shot at playing team as a freshman or that the "open competition" for your position next year will really be "open."  If they can't even promise to BE there next year, how can you buy into whatever they promise about their plans?   Martin shouldn't have been left hanging so long. (Whether or not that has affected this year's recruiting class I can't say.  He was, after all, extended, just a little tardily.)]
Now the Aggies finish the season 7-6 -- their first winning season in many years.
As I recall, they're still without a conference.  It'll be tough to make next year "successful," partly for off-the-field reasons like that.]

[A friend commented on Facebook regarding the bowl game, "Where are the faculty raises from the football program?"  A serious columnist might have confronted the familiar question of whether or not, and on what terms, a football team should be attached to a university.  We're long past the initial amateurism, where some college gentlemen sought to excel on the playing fields as well as in scholarship.   For most in the rotation on the basketball team, this is a minor league from which they hope to make it to the NBA -- and most do make it to pro leagues somewhere in the world.  Most football players dream of the NFL.  They're awarded scholarships to strengthen the team, not for they're scholarship.  The University makes a business decision that spending a bundle on football pays off indirectly, either in putting the NMSU name out there or in enhancing alumni loyalty (and giving).  Wishing the Aggies well and enjoying their success doesn't mean I buy into the wisdom of that business decision, or signal how I'd spend the money if I were in Hadley Hall.  Sorry if I'm inconsistent, Lucas.  But I am.  Nor am I particularly embarrassed about it.]


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas 2017

“It's your Christmas column, don't forget,” my wife says as I retreat into my cave under a deadline.

But I'd drafted a (truly profound!) column on sexual harassment; and I've already written one warmhearted column this month.

So . . . a Christmas wish-list:
    • For the New Mexico Democratic Party, a Congressional candidate who combines all the fine qualities of the current candidates, with perhaps just a bit more experience;
    • For the Republican Party, a mechanism that will bleep out the word “Trump” in all newscasts between now and November 6, 2018! And maybe wipes out the words “taxes,” “healthcare,” “Russia,” and “Jerusalem” – at least after the Christmas season's heavy use of that last one;
    • For Bob Endlich, a poster-sized enlargement of the photograph I saw this morning of a flooded mosque in Jakarta that used to be some distance from the sea;
    • For Randy Harris, an app that remindis us, every time we use an electronic device, “Can't we just talk to each other, folks?”;
    • For the guy who reappears on Facebook every few months, always under a new name, posting tediously obscene insults of progressives, women, and me, . . . a life; and
    • For KTAL-LP (101.5 FM) and KRWG, generous and sustained financial support!
The Christmas idea of accentuating giving, is obviously excellent. It's inspired a lot of good. It's also inspired great films, such as “It's a Wonderful Life!” 

The words attributed to Jesus are well worth listening to all year. I'm sure He's unspeakably disappointed when people shout angry and exclusionary words at whole groups of other human beings in His name. I've read the Bible, and recall Jesus expressing love, not hatred; urging us to avoid prejudice and do the best we can by the less fortunate; and observing that it was awfully difficult for a rich man to reach the Kingdom of Heaven.

I particularly like the part about not judging, lest ye be judged. I remind myself of it often, though not often enough. Aside from the general idea that none of us is perfect (or could cast the first stone) and that we should look inward for faults, it reminds me that most everyone who does “evil” (or wrongly opposes us) has private crosses to bear, private wells of pain, which may explain though not justify their words and actions. That seems worth remembering, particularly as we all get more and more easily riled up over politics. 

So, as long as Christmas sells cars, candy, and clothing, may I use it too?

Let's each take a deep breath next time we feel insulted by someone's remarks on Facebook or at the County Commission. Next time someone cuts me off at an intersection, can I just recall the stupid mistakes I've made that could have done harm? Even if we can't live the pure life of Jesus or the Buddha, let's at least remember that we're all connected in a troubled and vulnerable world that needs more understanding, not more hollering. Can we recognize that the guy outside the gas station asking for spare change is not having fun? 

Being truly present, and mindful, is our best gift of the season, to ourselves and others.
But, now that the love of my life is out of the room, . . . “Bah, humbug!”

[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 24 December 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air Wednesday and Saturday on KRWG and Thursday on KTAL-LP, 101.5 FM.]

[Anyway, Feliz Navidad! / Merry Christmas! or Happy Holidays!  or whatever phrase works to wish you well -- and Happy New Year.  Thanks for reading these.]

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Leaves and Lives . . .

As suddenly as the leaves on the ash out front turned bright yellow, the tree was bare. Half the leaves fluttered to the ground in one powerful gust.

In 1950 an Ohio college girl stands in line in the dininghall. Her eyes meet those of a student behind the counter slinging hash. Countless pairs of eyes are meeting on hundreds of campuses; but these two will find in each other a rare mixture of goodness and laughter, mischievousness and social conscience. They will love each other for fifty-seven years. They will travel the 50 states and to many countries. They will retain that mix of humor and caring, share it with generations of students, and instill the same in two kids and five grandkids. 

She will lose words, but not her joy in life. After the words flee, she will still play the French horn in a group. As she sinks deeper into confusion, she will fear things – unless she's holding his hand. In his mid-eighties, he will still be a fiery rabblerouser, loved by students but not by those in charge. When she dies, family and friends will celebrate her life with many moving tales of her. A friend will play the French horn.

Another leaf falls: a lawman I first meet at the farmers' market in police blues. I photograph him talking with children, their huge eyes on his motorcycle. They bask in his smile. He laughs easily, but has his demons. We vote for him for county sheriff. Planning to run again, he's riding his motorcycle down a quiet street when a meth-crazed couple fleeing the cops crash though a fence and end his life.
A sudden gust and he's gone. Much mourned.

Playing chess at International Delights, I meet a retired Vegas card dealer and ex-Marine. He finally finds his true love, but too soon Death takes her. Over the years, his body deteriorates, then his mind. We no longer play chess when we meet. I lose hope that he'll stop smoking. He borrows money, but is fanatical about repaying me the day he promised to. He remains a feisty, forceful, fun character. When he can no longer afford a car, he walks to ID. When he can't do that, he buys a tricycle. Lung disease finally stops him at 75.

Even as we mourn, the fallen leaves remind us to savor each moment – for that moment may be all we have. And to do what we can that seems good, for no reward beyond the doing. Or because we're a free and generous people. When those leading the country are bent on poisoning everything, it feels good to resist with grace and compassion, if we can. 

Just as the browning leaves out front don't disappear, but (if left to do their job) become nourishment for the soil, plants, and insects, maybe inside each of us our grief feeds impulses, even determination, to do better and be better. 

Maybe at each small fork in the road, Connie, J.R., Pete, Lalo, and whoever we care about who left us this season, will inspire us to pause and pick up that hitchhiker trying to get home for Christmas, let that car into the line of traffic, laugh at a brother-in-law's bad jokes, or do what we feel we should do but sometimes don't. 

Those leaves were so bright! I can still see them, in my mind.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, December 17, 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air on KRWG Wednesday and Saturday, and on KTAL 101.5 FM on Thursday.]

[By the way, if you happened to know Pete Miraglia, there will be an informal memorial gathering 28December 2-4 p.m. at International Delights, his favorite place to drink coffee and play chess.  If you frequented ID and didn't know him, he was often sitting outside, smoking cigarettes and either playing chess or having a lively conversation with whomever.]
J.R. Stewart

[at the Farmers' Market, 10Sept2011

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Another Sad Case at DASO

Imagine you're a young cadet in the Doña Ana Sheriff's Office Academy. 
You're an army reservist, having made it through basic training. You're being consistently called lazy. You're the only cadet being told to suck your thumb and asked to repeat various tasks after completing them. “Why me?” you wonder.

You are the only black cadet. 
On June 5, after an incident, you tell the instructor, Frank Kaiser, that you feel you're being discriminated against because you're African-American. The County's strong anti-discrimination policies require Kaiser to report your allegation immediately to H.R. for independent investigation. Instead, he sends you home and tells you to go see Undersheriff Ken Roberts the next morning.
Roberts asks why you made your claim, then interrupts and tells you that you're history. Gone. He says all your fellow cadets want you gone, and that Sheriff Vigil has approved the termination. You wonder how he talked to so many people so fast. Maybe you wonder if having a DASO officer “investigate” your complaint about a DASO officer is entirely fair. 
The above is from legal pleadings in Johnson v. Doña Ana County. Plaintiff is Tederick Johnson. His lawyer is Ben Furth. (Furth is an experienced employment lawyer who also represents Julia Brown against the County.)

Here we go again. 
I'd love not to be writing about another dumb move by Vigil and Roberts. I'd love not to be wondering how much we will pay for this one. Obviously I'd also like to learn some day that this was not motivated by racism. I want to believe we're better than that.

Johnson may have been a lousy cadet. Maybe he deserved to be canned, though apparently DASO didn't plan to terminate him on June 4, then did immediately after he alleged discrimination. Suddenly DASO concluded he wasn't deputy material. Officially he was fired for insubordination, which the Complaint calls “pretextual” – a cover story for racism. The County will likely claim Johnson cried racism to avoid or delay being fired. 
Whatever the facts, it was not Roberts's province to investigate them. Even if there was no racism, Roberts's conduct seems arrogant and imprudent. 
Once someone raises allegations of racism, sexual harassment, or retaliation, the matter must be handled by someone as neutral as possible – for the sake of both the organization and the individual. The County fired Johnson before investigating his complaint. (The County admits the firing occurred June 6 and that Johnson's supervisor reported the EEOC complaint June 6. The County claims it started the investigation before firing Johnson, but admits it finished investigating afterward.
Both Kaiser and Roberts were required to: (a) report the allegation immediately to HR; and (b) request that the employee fill out an internal EEO complaint, or fill one out for him. Failure to do so would subject Kaiser and Roberts to disciplinary action.

I called County Counsel Nelson Goodin, who said no one would comment on the pending litigation. 
I've no idea whether Johnson should or shouldn't be a deputy; but Roberts seems to have ignored mandatory procedures he must have been familiar with. Whether the reason was laziness, arrogance, prejudice, or to cover up questionable conduct by Kaiser, Roberts's mistake is likely to cost us more money. (A friend asked after the Slevin case why the County couldn't go after the employee whose conduct cost us so much. We can't.)

When will DASO learn to follow the law?

[This column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 10 December 2017, and also on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air on KRWG Wednesday and Saturday and on KTAL on Thursday.]

[I've little to add to the column, except that the immediate response has been some positive comments from insiders.  People in the know are concerned about DASO, and say the Vigil-Roberts regime has done real damage to the department.  It's unfortunate.  I think Kiki Vigil meant well would have liked to do a bang-up job running and improving DASO.  He hasn't.  I'm not expert in law-enforcement matters, but I'm hearing that morale and response times are down; and a lot of officers who seemed pretty capable are gone, something I wrote a few columns about quite awhile ago.]   

[I should reiterate that I'm not presuming to decide whether or not racism was the basic reason for Mr. Johnson's firing.  That'll be up to a jury, if the case doesn't get settled first.  However, I don't understand, and will be interested to see the explanation offered at trial, why DASO had to act so precipitously.  What would we have lost, except a few extra days or a couple of weeks of continued pay to this cadet, by responding appropriately?  Any schoolkid would know that having Roberts send a crony along to interview all the other cadets could not be a fair inquiry and couldn't help but muddy the waters for any independent investigator later.   You send a cadet packing -- justifiably or not -- and then send an officer around to tell the cadets about the controversy and ask who's side they're on, the terminated cadet's side or the side of the instructor who could get another cadet or two terminated, uhh, gee whiz.   That's why we have procedures in place.   If -- as I expect the County to argue -- this guy was under-performing and tried to fend off termination by alleging discrimination, then recognize he might find a lawyer and handle his case by the book.  Why react as Roberts did and help the guy make his case against you? 
The unseemly rush to get Mr. Johnson off the payroll seems particularly odd when I keep hearing that Vigil and Roberts have had an experienced officer on administrative leave for many months.

Sunday, December 3, 2017


County Commission Chair Isabella Solis has suggested diminishing public comment at commission meetings and called for more respect for commissioners. These issues are both topical and interrelated. We citizens are commissioners' “bosses”. Is there irony in advocating respect for bosses but telling yours they take too much time? 

Solis wants to eliminate the general comment period – not public comment on specific agenda items. She reportedly says general public comment takes too much time.

I sympathize. Some commission meetings have been marathons. I get impatient when someone spends three minutes on Agenda 21 or how George Soros is responsible for violence in Ferguson.
But general public input on county business is important. We're a democracy. It's essential that people be heard – and know they're being heard. We need more ways people can engage with local government, not fewer. 

Solis also reportedly wants county employees to respect her because she's the boss. I understand that too. I've seen people express their differences with commissioners very vividly. Before Ms. Solis's election, I watched DASO deputies show more extreme disgust with the commissioners than anything I've seen directed at her. 

Courtesy and respect are related qualities, but distinct. We should speak and behave courteously to each other – particularly in political settings, where we're often discussing issues on which we have strong and honest disagreements. That applies to citizens, commissioners, and employees. I try to express political differences directly but collegially – although I sometimes fail.

Sounds trite, but true respect must be earned. My respect for Ms. Solis rests on conversations we've had, not on her title. 

I've never respected anyone simply because of his or her position. First-grade teacher, law school professor, or millionaire client. Particularly bosses. 

We've all had bosses who want it done their way and do not tolerate questions or new ideas. There are urgent situations when that may be necessary. But as a daily attitude, in academia or in law, journalism, or business, it's counterproductive.

When I started as a lawyer, some partners ordered everyone around and didn't tolerate questions or suggestions. Others welcomed questions and suggestions from new lawyers. They listened, and either explained why I was wrong or adopted the suggestion. I learned from them. I also respected them, and they me.

The dictatorial mode of supervision often masks insecurity about the supervisor's own knowledge and competence. Welcoming – and not merely tolerating – challenging questions can be a sign that “the boss” has a healthy confidence in what s/he is doing. Law, business, medicine, and county government present difficult questions. No one's perfect, Welcoming others' ideas maximizes the boss's chance to reach the wisest solution. 

Insisting on respect is kind of like insisting on love. You can't force either. The insistence proclaims that love or respect is missing; but it's highly unlikely to create or revive what's missing.
If Solis means to call for courtesy, I respectfully second that. Like oil, courtesy can prevent undue friction and damage when things get moving fast. Life's too short for unnecessary frustrations. Discourtesy invites more of the same, deepening everyone's frustration.

Strident partisanship surrounds us – just when we have many hard truths to face, and need our neighbors' help. 

Respectfully: the Commission should keep public comment, perhaps add more ways for meaningful public comment; but commenters should express ideas and facts, not personal attacks. We're all trying. I think Solis is. We can do this.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 3 December 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, and also on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air on KRWG Radio Wednesday and Saturday, and on KTAL (101.5 FM) on Thursday.]

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sexual Harassment - Generally and Locally

When Anita Hill testified in the Clarence Thomas senate hearings that Thomas had sexually harassed her, I was working in a big law firm. Almost all male lawyers thought she was making it up. The secretaries, 98% women, thought she was probably testifying accurately. As did I.

Later three women working there each told me that the same lawyer had sexually harassed her with obscene come-ons obviously aimed not at starting an affair but solely at embarrassing a vulnerable female. That lawyer wasn't amorous. He was a bully.

Tuesday a friend asked what I thought about Charlie Rose's situation. He expressed concern that reputations are being destroyed by innuendo. He reflected that people are supposedly innocent until proven guilty. The law must and does hold you innocent until proven guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases; but in deciding what we each believe happened, we can apply our best judgment to the evidence. 

Yes, occasionally a reputation gets unfairly destroyed. I wrote two columns defending a teacher after the school fired him and the authorities very publicly filed and eventually dropped a bundle of horrible charges.

But if we lined up on one side all those tragic cases, in which someone made something up or misremembered facts, and we lined up on the other side cases where it's clear that a powerful male did bad things to a junior or subordinate female, one side would be nearly empty and the other filled with people like Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Roy Moore, Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Harvey Weinstein, the New York Times writer, and countless others. Many people – mostly men – abuse their power, either for sex or simply to feel strong. (To overcompensate for self-doubts?) Women (and sometimes young boys) often don't speak up, for obvious reasons.

We shouldn't pre-judge anyone. Closer to home, if (as seems likely as I write this) DASO Undersheriff Ken Roberts, is placed on administrative leave while investigators look into alleged sexual misconduct by him, he deserves a fair and impartial investigation. 

Have we turned a corner? Will women continue to be believed more readily and feel freer to speak up about abuses? Or is the current receptivity temporary? Will some combination of male power, and abuses of the new receptivity (by some women and/or lawyers) swing the pendulum back some? 

I hope forcibly silencing the abused is over. Forever. And I hope anyone tempted to fabricate some story to attack some guy who's never done anything inappropriate realizes that doing so would not only be wrong, but would contribute to renewed skepticism about such claims.

Throughout human history women have silently suffered silently men's abuse in homes, workplaces, and elsewhere. Our culture has winked at it, even encouraged it. “Boys will be boys.” “Locker room talk.” “She asked for it.” Showbiz and Madison Avenue, using cleavage and a sexy voice to sell everything from skin cream to cars, teach young men that it's all on offer. 

Now is a great time for each of us men to scan our past. When I was very young I did and said things that I'd hate to be judged on now. Thoughts and words I regret. Just as most who grow up in the U.S. have some degree of racism in us, we men have vestigial feelings that conquest is right and natural, and that that's what women are for. 

Let's face that and grow up.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 26 November, 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, and also on the newspaper's the newspaper's website and (presently) on KRWG's website; and KRWG will probably air a spoken version Wednesday and Saturday, and KTAL will do so on Thursday.]

[Saturday's Sun-News had a very good column by Heath Haussamen on how Sarah Silva made a difference in making sure that we all knew of the allegations against Michael Padilla -- supported by generous settlements on his behalf by the City of Albuquerque, for whom he worked at the time -- while contemplating whether to make him the Democratic nominee for Lieutenant-Governor.  Sunday's, as well as my column, had Walt Rubel's interesting perspective on the issueWalt mentions David Gutierrez, Doña Ana County's former Chief Sexual Harasser -- a prime example of someone who'd admitted such misconduct hanging on in office, taking our money for further embarrassing us and him.  

Let me add mine to the voices calling for Padilla to end his candidacy: the healthy settlements of allegations against him are sufficient corroboration, despite possible nondisclosure clauses in those, and despite the absence of a court decision.  We're not convicting him of a crime here, but [I hope] denying him the great privilege of being New Mexico's lieutenant-governor, or even the Democratic nominee; and we should, because nominating him would (a) be wrong and (b) undermine the Party's chances -- and electing him would embarrass the state and send the wrong message to young men and women.  With the presence of other appealing candidates in the race, we don't need him.  He should just gracefully walk away, for his own sake as much as New Mexico's.] 

[On the local angle of my column, the placement of Undersheriff Ken Roberts on administrative leave: I'm reliably informed by many that the problem is sexual harassment, that the allegations involve more than one woman, and that at least in one case we are talking about actions rather than words.  At least two television news departments have been following the story for a while now.  When I drafted my column, Roberts had not yet been placed on administrative leave, but I believed he would be on Wednesday.  Now, according to a television news report Thursday evening, he was placed on leave Wednesday.  However, so far as I know, no official statement by him or by DASO or by the County has stated the reasons.  I believe an Albuquerque group the County has used previously is investigating, which is probably good.  (He's too controversial for an investigation by anyone in the County, particularly since Sheriff Kiki Vigil has been sued or been sued by the County about seven or eight times.  Vigil likely will stand by Roberts, at least initially, although I haven't had a chance to ask him.  
We can only hope that the investigation is fair and thorough, for everyone's sake, but fast -- for the sake of DASO's functioning and also so that if Roberts is guilty of this misconduct -- and I stress the "IF" -- taxpayers don't keep paying him too long.]

[The end-game could be interesting.  Statute gives the Sheriff the right to choose his undersheriff. If the County decides Roberts committed firing offenses and the Sheriff wants to keep him on, could we see yet another lawsuit between DASO and the County?  If Vigil insisted on keeping Roberts, could the County stop paying him?  My guess is that either Vigil would live with the investigation results or the DPS would lift Roberts's license to be a law-enforcement officer, disqualifying him as undersheriff.]

Sunday, November 19, 2017

One Year of Donald Trump

After a full year, it seems fair to say that Donald Trump has been even worse than we expected.

It's not just the special counsel investigation, abandoning the Paris Accord on climate, and his ludicrous effort to resuscitate the coal industry. Nor is it the deep harm he's doing our judiciary, our environment, and consumer protection.

A random scan of one day's online New York Times is illustrative: Trump has been eerily silent regarding Alabama U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore as women come forward regarding his taste for underage girls – a taste that was well known in little Gadsden, Alabama when he was a 32 year-old prosecutor banned from the local mall for bothering teenage girls; he's considering a special counsel to investigate a 2010 uranium deal; his envoys to a United Nations climate-change conference got jeered throughout their presentation; his choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services, which regulates the pharmaceutical industry, is a former Eli Lilly executive, after his first nominee misused public funds by using chartered jets for routine travel; Donald Trump, Jr. is admitting (after exposure by the press) multiple contacts with WikiLeaks, which published documents from Russia to help candidate Trump; the former pesticide industry executive he appointed to a top Department of Agriculture position has apparently reneged on her signed agreement to avoid matters on which she had lobbied during the past two years, and is under fire for alleged secrecy in meeting with her former industry allies; Missouri is opening an antitrust investigation of Google, as states and Europe deal with antitrust issues the U.S. used to handle; Republican columnist David Brooks discusses the “dysfunctional group behavior” that helped bring us “Roy Moore and Donald Trump, and the repugnant habits of mind that now excuse them,” while the editorial, entitled “President Trump's Thing for Thugs,” discusses Trump's apparent “man-crush” on Vladimir Putin and his fondness for Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

Even if he serves one term (or less), Trump's blunders will have long-lasting effects. Time lost in dealing with our climate problems is time the seas keep rising faster than they might have, wiping out island countries. Minimizing barriers to drug companies' abuses of consumers will mean some people die prematurely or grow ill unnecessarily. Greedily implementing a huge regressive change in our tax system will exacerbate our dangerous economic imbalance and jack up the deficit Republicans used to care about. 
He and his party are disregarding rules and traditions that protected us and helped foster at least the possibility of bipartisanship. If both parties follow Trump's lead in appointing extremist judges, our courts will become as dysfunctional as our congress.
Obama, bending over backwards for civility, resisted calls to investigate the Bush Administration, although Bush lied to sell us the Iraq War, which killed or injured many soldiers and more Iraqis, and the administration apparently tortured people, violating the Geneva Accords and U.S. law. 
Trump is trying to order the Justice Department to go after Hillary Clinton with no good reason – mostly hoping that if Robert Mueller was a potential target or witness, he could be accused of a conflict of interest and encouraged to resign as Special Prosecutor. We have a system where presidents are not supposed to use the Department of Justice as a blatant political tool; or at least we had one. 
But there's a lot in Las Cruces to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 19 July 2017,  in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website, and a spoken version of the column is aired on KRWG Wednesdays and Saturdays and on KTAL 101.5 FM.]

[Couple of interesting articles on some of the material mentioned in the column:    
, which was involved in Russian disclosures aimed at influencing the election and apparently provided the campaign with Russian-hacked "dirt" on Hillary Clinton;
-- another from on the fact that Roy Moore's obsession with young girls was obvious to everyone in town, when he was a prosecutor in his early 30's; 
-- this New Yorker piece that I'd read earlier in the week on how everyone in town knew about Moore, who was banned from the local mall;
-- this opinion piece by a law professor who shared Roy Moore's Christianity and conservatism but found Moore a real problem in class.  Moore took stupid positions, defended them vigorously, wouldn't change his opinion despite evidence and authorities, and never won a legal argument in class, but was basically (though the professor is too courteous to sum it up so bluntly) an aggressive and somewhat loony jerk;
-- Adam Davidson's New Yorker piece on "The Shocking Math of the Republican Tax Plan;
-- and this one from Vanity Fair on economists' universal skepticism about "trickle-down economics", which has never worked, though the phrase has been around since at least the 1890's.  Economists know it's nonsense; my limited reading of history certainly tends to show it is; and when I had a couple of mainstream economists on my show the other day on KTAL (101.5 FM), they couldn't take it seriously either.  I do want to have another show, with two economists -- one further left of these guys and one more conservative -- and get a wider sampling; but just reading generally, it's hard to find any evidence that this plan won't be a complete disaster for the country, and particularly for those who aren't extremely wealthy.  (I say that despite the fact that a couple of provisions in it might help me personally -- at least until we all have to deal with the destruction of the economy and massive increase in the deficit.)]

[The only point in the column I'm not really certain about is whether he's worse than expected (because our expectations were pretty low) or the expectations just never got into such detail.  It's difficult to watch this play out day-by-day, and to watch Trump and his cronies screw up not just a few things but pretty much everything.  It's distressing that although many people who voted for him have recognized over this year that he's a disaster for the country, the vast majority of people who voted for him say they'd do it again.  However, that was (a) when his opponent was Hillary Clinton; (b) when they hadn't seen the reality of a Trump occupation of the Oval Office; (c) when they hadn't been treated to daily bursts of angry tweets that contrast with the gentlemanly nature of his predecessor, and (d) when many of them were getting health care they hadn't had before.  People must be just tired of the noise, if nothing else.  And (at least so far) polls certainly show him to be in deep trouble with the people.]

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Non-Conservatives Sweep 2017 City Elections

Tuesday was eventful for local governments here.

The Doña Ana County Commission announced a four-year contract with Fernando Macias to be the new county manager.

Then moderate to progressive candidates swept the city elections.

Gabe Vasquez got 70% of the vote in District 3; Yvonne Flores got a surprising 57% in District 6, beating incumbent Ceil Levatino; and District 5 incumbent Gill Sorg got 51% in a three-way race. Meanwhile Joy Goldbaum, the most progressive candidate in the Municipal Judge II race, got 51% against incumbent Kent Yalkut (29%) and Nelson Goodin (21%). 
These results reflect both relative contentment with the City Council's present course and strong discontent with the national political situation.

The Council has been generally progressive. Voters, knowing that, re-elected Sorg, booted Levatino (the most frequent dissenting vote), and added Vasquez, who was endorsed by retiring District 3 councilor Olga Pedroza. 
Businesses have voiced complaints in the past about permit processes and the like. The council and new City Manager Stuart Ed have taken steps to address such complaints. I hope those efforts continue. (Vasquez's business editor and Hispanic Chamber experience may prove useful.) Business is an important aspect of our community. It shouldn't dominate city politics, as it once did; but it deserves respect and fair treatment. Entrepreneurship deserves even more. 
The results were clearly a victory for shoe-leather. Progressive candidates and their supporters did a lot of canvassing. “We touched every door in the district, some of them three times,” one campaign manager said Friday. But there seemed to be a lot more newspaper and radio ads for Levatino and Montañez. Goldbaum walked a lot, and many people walked for her; but incumbent Yalkut bought many more (and much bigger) signs and newspaper ads. (Goodin spent nothing! Governor Martinez may well appoint him district judge, replacing Macias. He'd face another election next November.)

Some of the energy moving those shoes along our streets was generated by Donald Trump. His election, and his absurd and dangerous post-election conduct, awakened many people who can't do much about him but can try to keep local government sane, sensible, and caring. In Virginia, Washington State, and elsewhere, distaste for Trump fueled Democratic wins.

Some motivation was purely local. Many of Levatino's constituents were angry. That, plus the strong effort by and for Flores, turned a swing district strongly progressive. Voters know and respect Sorg, a decent man who really cares about water and quality-of-life issues, while Steve Montañez didn't inspire widespread affection. Vasquez's extremly strong qualifications and Bev Courtney's extreme politics and limited knowledge and experience made the District 3 race a mismatch. Gabe – just an outstanding candidate – had many more people walking the streets for him. He also had more money than Courtney, who didn't receive nearly as much funding from conservative and business interests as Levatino and Montañez. 
Meanwhile Macias is a promising choice as county manager – a post he's held before. (He was student body president when I was still around campus in the 1970's.) I liked what I saw of him as judge. Other judges weren't so keen, and replaced him as Presiding Judge in the Third Judicial District; but he certainly has the tools and the perspective to excel in his new post – and the four-year contract he wisely negotiated should help. 

Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard, and hats off to all the winning and losing candidates.

[The foregoing column appeared this morning, Sunday, 12 November 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, and on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website, and a spoken version will air a few times during the week on KRWG (Wednesday and probably Saturday) and KTAL (Thursday).]

[A Sun-News story carried comments on the "small" increase in turnout from eight to 11 per cent of eligible voters.  While that increase may have disappointed Scott Krahling and Delores Connor and others involved in trying to increase voter turnout here, a jump from eight to 11% is actually a 37.5% increase.  In any case, no one should use the voter turnout as an excuse to denigrate the city, the results, or the winners.  A lot of people just don't care.  Many who follow national elections really don't care much who runs the city or the county.  That's their right.  (As a young man here, I didn't have a clue who was on the county or city commission -- until suddenly I was hired as a local reporter for the El Paso Times.)  Everyone who wanted to vote in this election, or run in this election, or speak up for or against candidates had abundant opportunities to do so.   The races came out as they did.  The low turnout means little; and if it means anything at all, it means that the vast silent body of citizens obviously isn't desperately unhappy with the city government's direction.  At the same time, while Gill Sorg's win over Steve Montañez looks like a rout when you say 51% to 41%,  a difference of 121 votes doesn't sound huge, and progressives shouldn't rest on their laurels.]

[i have a couple more random observations:
1. Ceil Levatino will be missed.  As I've said elsewhere, I'd have voted for Yvonne Flores.  And I know Ms. Levatino irritated some constituents.  On the other hand, my interactions with her were always quite pleasant; and a couple of the councilors  who served with her, but generally disagreed with her, both say she was always been courteous and respectful in their conversations, and that they'll miss her.  She deserves credit for that, and for taking her work as councilor seriously.
2. It'll be interesting to watch Monday evening's city council discussion of when the cost-of-living increase in the minimum wage should kick in.  Appears councilors or staff made a mistake in hastily [and wrongfully, under the City Charter] rewriting the ordinance from the original petition-induced version.  A legal purist might be inclined to go back to the CAFe version for guidance.  On the other hand, after an election that removed the council's most conservative councilor, I'd be tempted to vote to delay the increase to show concerned small-business owners some concern.   The issue also reminds one of another important and as-yet-unaddressed issue, changing the charter provisions regarding ordinance petitions and possibly recall provisions.  (Not to eliminate either, but to bring the ordinance provision into line with what was intended and perhaps make the recall provision more like the statewide provision.)  Hope we'll see action on that early in the new year.
3. "Que Tal Community Radio" [KTAL-LP 101.5 FM] now has live streaming.  That's of general interest, because some folks can't get it so well and a few friends and readers are far away.  I should also note that by some accident I'll be on both at 9 a.m. and at 10 a.m. [New Mexico time] this morning, with my regular Sunday Show at 9 [discussing religions and the arguments against them with secular humanist Dr. Richard Hempstead] and at 10 a.m. [getting interviewed by Sandhi Scott on her show.  The Hempstead discussion is interesting.   On Sandhi's show, I'm sure she'll do her usual good job, but she's stuck with a somewhat dull interviewee, so no promises!]
4. Saw Macias's predecessor, Julia Brown, Saturday morning at Senator Martin Heinrich's "Coffee Talk" event at Salud.  Reminds me to note that although she seems to have been too-hastily fired and probably for the wrong reasons, about which we may learn more in a court trial, But Macias seems a solid choice -- though Interim County Manager Chuck McMahon, whom we saw last night at the opening of Four Corners Gallery, gave him tough competition for the "permanent" job. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Fake News and False Advertising

For a great example of “fake news” just read this sentence from an op-ed column in Thursday's Sun-News: “This traitorous deal was facilitated by the head of the FBI at the time — none other than Robert Mueller. ” The “deal” was Russian acquisition of a Canadian company that controlled a lot of uranium. The writer offered no supporting facts.

For “false advertising,” watch city council candidate Steve Montañez's video designed to mislead voters into thinking actor and environmentalist Morgan Freeman endorsed him.

The Mueller allegation was nonsense – and had nothing to do with the big uranium deal.
In 2006 Republic of Georgia police, and the U.S. Department of Energy, carried out a sting operation against several men (one Russian, several Georgians) trying to sell highly-enriched uranium. The sting was kept secret until it succeeded. Then it was widely reported. “Republic of Georgia authorities, aided by the CIA, set up a sting operation last summer that led to the arrest of a Russian man who tried to sell a small amount of nuclear-bomb grade uranium in a plastic bag in his jacket pocket, U.S. and Georgian officials said,” the Washington Post reported.

A 2009 U.S. cable (courtesy of Wiki-leaks) notes that Russian investigators had asked the U.S. for a ten-gram sample of the stolen uranium, formerly owned by Russia. The U.S. complied. Normal international police cooperation. Mueller, then head of the FBI, was directed to deliver the sample when he arrived in Moscow. The delivery occurred on an airport tarmac, a detail that excited some highly partisan web sites and Trump fans who suddenly wanted to attack Mueller recently.) I don't know whether Mueller was flying to Russia on other business; but the cable mentions “chain-of-custody,” an important principle in criminal evidence law. That could explain why Mueller was the delivery-boy.

Mueller has an excellent reputation. He's a registered Republican and somewhat conservative. He's said to be highly diligent and a model of integrity. This kind of attack shows how desperate some are to prevent an impartial investigation of Trump's possible collusion with Russia regarding the 2016 election. 
I'll assume the local op-ed columnist honestly, but naively, believed that Mueller had something to do with Russian acquisition of a much larger lot of uranium.

But Montañez – does he think we're that dumb? He knows Morgan Freeman (from Mississippi) had any interest in urging District 5 voters to unseat Councilor Gill Sorg for Montañez. 

He apparently funded and posted a video narrated by a Freeman imitator, with a picture of Freeman at the end, urging voters to elect Montañez (By the time I looked, the still was gone. The video's still up.) 
The Freeman bit isn't even original. Fake Freeman ads started in 2010 with far-right Republican Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

Ironically, Freeman's strong environmentalism suggests he'd prefer Sorg, who actually knows something about water and the environment. Sorg wants the best for Las Crucens – not higher real estate profits. The same Montañez video that lies by implying Freeman supports him adds that “We are here to serve the families and residents.” Sorry, Steve. You've undermined your own credibility.

In a supposedly non-partisan race, Montañez also ran an ad saying he was endorsed by “Isabella Solis, Democrat.” He's a registered Republican. Is he ashamed to be a member of Donald Trump's party? 
Next, watch for a mailer saying Gill Sorg helped steal that uranium.

[This column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 5 November 2017, and also on the newspaper's website on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  KRWG and KTAL-LP (101.4 FM in Las Cruces) will also air a spoken version a few times during the week.]

[Before providing some back-up to the points made in the column, let me say, to Las Crucens who haven't voted yet this year:
Local elections matter!
Please Vote!
If I lived in District 3 (currently represented by Olga Pedroza) I'd vote for Gabe Vasquez.  He's an impressive young man with impressive experience and a deep sense of the district and the region.  Bev Courtney, his opponent, is a very fine person.  I like and respect her too.  At the same time, I don't think Tea Party political views are a good fit for this city or this specific district.  She also can't nearly match Gabe's mix of professional experience and personal knowledge of this region and its problems.  Few of us could.
If I lived in District 5, I'd vote for incumbent Gill Sorg.  He's not an eloquent speaker; but he has substance, and cares.  I see him at water conferences and such, really wanting to know the facts -- and having the background to understand them and think about what to do about them.  So far, Mr.  Montañez hasn't shown me anything that generates enthusiasm in me for his candidacy.  He's smart; he presents himself well, as realtors are well-advised to learn to do; but he makes me uneasy.    With Gill, what you see is what you get. He's a good human being, studies issues carefully, and speaks honestly.  While in Montañez we might see the image of a charming family man with a genuine interest in bettering the city, it's not at all clear we wouldn't find he's someone who decides most every issue on how it would affect the real estate and business interests and cares relatively little about others.
In District 6, I hope Yvonne Flores unseats incumbent Ceil Levatino.  Although Ms. Levatino is savvy, and extends herself to engage in courteous discussion with people who don't share her views, and I like her personally, her votes seem always to represent one sector (business) disproportionately. Ms. Flores is smart and progressive, and has spent more of her life doing good things than many of us have.  She's also campaigned with impressive dedication and energy, which I suspect she'd apply to work as a Councilor should she be elected]
[With regard to Steve's false "Morgan Freeman ad," I happen to respect Morgan Freeman greatly.  For some of his acting, including in a couple of films by Clint Eastwood, and for his principled positions on some issues.  If Steve weren't too trivial for Mr. Freeman to notice, there might even be consequences to this.  
This article discusses earlier uses of this silly trick.
If they haven't taken it down, you can find Steve's video here, on You-Tube here and re-posted here with a statement by Steve that he approves it.
The whole thing is "Freeman's" voice-over, referring to "our city" and "our children," and is as false as a three-dollar bill.  

As to the Mueller foolishness: here's the original op-ed column mentioned in the column, in case you want to read it; and here's the Snopes refutation of the part about Mueller.

Why can't people like Montañez (and Sanchez if she wasn't honestly misled) just argue based on facts?  As an economist said to me this morning regarding a colleague, "We agree on the facts.  In economics, the facts are the facts.  We disagree about what they mean."   Facts are such propositions as that "Mueller delivering some evidence to another law-enforcement agency has nothing to do with the Russians buying a Canadian uranium company years later" and that "Morgan Freeman had nothing to do with a video Steve Montañez made to support his candidacy, using a Freeman imitator."]