Sunday, October 15, 2017

Basketball in Las Vegas -- on Doña Ana County's Nickel

In late July, some Doña Ana County Sheriff's Deputies played in a basketball tournament in Las Vegas, which you and I helped pay for.
Some other deputies weren't too thrilled. Nevada seemed too far away for the event to help improve cop-community relations. They also found it odd that, although the players who'd been scheduled to work initially put in for vacation time, approved by their supervisors, their time records were later changed to reflect regular work. (Union President Sergeant Ben Casillas changed all the time records except his own, and Undersheriff Ken Roberts changed Casillas's.) Other deputies had actually worked 10-hour shifts for their money. 
Some felt it was unfair and illegal: that if the trip was a departmental activity, it should have been more widely advertised within the department; and that if it wasn't, why did the public end up paying for it? Further, it's well known that Roberts and Casillas are close. Adding to the confusion, around that time Casillas sustained a leg injury that reportedly required changes in his duties for awhile.
I got curious, of course. I asked for and received documents, including Kronos records that confirmed the belated change from vacation to regular time. ( I also received emails I haven't been able to open yet.)

Casillas confirmed some of the information and denied some. He admitted there was no department-wide advertising of the tournament, just “word-of-mouth.” He said that participating in the Police and Firemen's Games was a positive thing for the department, and that he'd spoken to Sheriff Enrique Vigil (not to Roberts) about that. Vigil authorized the change to regular time.

He also denied that he was injured in the tournament. He said he was injured playing basketball, but not during the Vegas tournament, which he didn't play in because he was sick. (He declined to say whether he'd put in for workman's comp, but his statement that he hadn't been injured while working seemed to suggest strongly that he hadn't.)

I asked him how the trip benefited the department. He said that “law enforcement agencies participate in a lot of other things that do not involve your typical work duties.” He cited local events, including Law Enforcement Night Out and participation in the Law Enforcement Torch Run, plus representing the department at funerals.

I said I could see calling, say, a neighborhood versus DASO softball game as a community activity. But Las Vegas, Nevada?

He said that there was a benefit to the department. That playing enabled deputies to mingle with other law-enforcement entities, and build relationships with some of those entities, some of which were from neighboring Arizona. He said these Games were “like the law-enforcement Olympics” and that participating “put the department on the map” with others, including big-city agencies. (It was a highly-competitive tournament.)

He also pointed out: that although men scheduled to work who'd taken vacation time ended up getting paid, no one who hadn't been scheduled to work those days was paid anything for going; that having the agency pay for players to participate was common, according to what he heard from players from other cities; and that while DASO's players paid for their own travel and got only their regular pay if they'd been scheduled, some larger-city departments paid for the trip and gave their players per diem as well.

Talking to Casillas, I got the sense that there's some dissension in the union. I'd heard long ago that some members weren't keen on his closeness to management, and thought he'd gotten special treatment from management. (Roberts preceded him as local union president.)
[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 15 October 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air during the week on KRWG and KTAL-LP.]

[Certainly some at DASO were displeased with the way this trip went down, and the belated change to the way people's time was characterized.   On the other hand, Casillas says it was reasonable and that the change wasn't intended to be belated.  Not my job to decide, just to shine some light on these events.]

[I got the sense from Casillas that he viewed the complaints as related to a possible challenge to his presidency of the local union.  If there is such a challenge, it may prove interesting to see how that comes out.  There's an unusual history: Sheriff Vigil fired his previous undersheriff and appointed then-union-head Ken Roberts undersheriff.  Roberts and Casillas are reportedly pretty close.  (Certainly some have complained about cronyism.)  Whether that level of closeness between management and the union is healthy or unhealthy isn't for me to decide, although it would seem a bit unusual.  Since many have complained about Roberts's management, the results might suggest something about how widespread the negative feelings are.  I forget whether or not it's a secret ballot, although I think it is.]

[For those keeping score, it was a very competitive tournament, with teams from Los Angeles, Chicago, and other big cities.  DASO's team stood little chance against some very tall teams that had played together in such tournaments a lot over the course of several years.]

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Fresh Eyes

We love New Mexico, but seeing home through a new visitor's eyes is always invigorating.

Our 17 year-old niece visited recently from New England. She landed in El Paso marveling at the unfamiliar landscape she'd seen as the plane descended. Trans-Mountain Drive yielded a satisfying mix of cell-phone-camera clicking and exclamations of “Incredible!” Plus questions about whether people hiked in the Franklins. It was a particularly showy day, with late-afternoon sunlight striking peaks wearing bright white cloud-caps. The road itself felt like a roller-coaster.

We had to go to Albuquerque for the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Dixon Awards luncheon and some meetings Wednesday morning. We transformed the trip into an adventure, driving up Tuesday by way of White Sands National Monument, Casa de Sueños Restaurant in Tularosa, Three Rivers Petroglyphs, and the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

We don't always brag to visitors about what we're going to see. The strange, stark beauty of White Sands can only be enhanced by surprise. “Oh, we're gonna stop at a monument.” “OK.” Then suddenly that vast expanse of brilliant whiteness, the sand's cool feel on bare feet, and a bleached earless lizard posing for a few pictures under a bit of vegetation. 

“We'll get some Mexican food then look at some old
graffiti.” After her vegan calabacitas enchiladas, sopapillas are a new treat. Gary, the volunteer host at Three Rivers, is a genial gent with a big smile, a friendly dog, and a lot of new knowledge to share. His introduction enhances our niece's experience. She walks a good ways up the trail, contemplating images someone chipped into volcanic rock long ago and feeling a new connection with a long-dead civilization.

Wednesday's NMFOG luncheon is reassuring, a roomful of people, including some heavy hitters, focused on transparency in government in New Mexico.

Then we're on the road again. We reach the Bosque visitors' center just before closing, disappointed by the absence of water in two ponds where snow geese and sandhill cranes spend their nights, using the water as a protective moat between them and hungry coyotes. From late October to January, they land at sunset, sometimes struggling in high winds, and awaken at dawn to fly off to forage in nearby fields.

It's a bit early for the cranes. But there's water at the Boardwalk, so we take a look.

Our brief stop becomes one of those afternoons that take control of you. Lines of turtles are sunning
themselves on floating logs. More than a dozen white pelicans perch in a straggly line on a sand bar, along with ducks and geese. The pelicans, passing through, are a rare sight. The light catches them just right, accentuating their whiteness against the dark blue water, the golden reeds, and the mix of clouds and blue sky. We're captivated. We watch and photograph for what I'd call “a very long time” if I even
remembered time existed. Through the long lens, the pelicans' postures, and the varied shapes their beaks assume during a yawn, are goofy, but oddly beautiful.

Then we hear the unmistakable purr of sandhill cranes. Eleven circle high overhead, then fly further south.

Our guest is . . . uhh . . enchanted. The sun sets, and the full moon watches over us as we hurtle south toward Las Cruces. Watching our niece come to appreciate our desert home is like introducing beloved friends to each other and watching them share laughter and secrets.

Before dawn Thursday morning, as we drive to the airport, New Mexico bids her farewell with a magnificent lightning show.


[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 8October2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will be aired by KRWG and KTAL-LP 101.5 FM, during the week.]

White Sands - study

Lone Turtle, White Pelicans

Lone Turtle, White Pelicans - as photograph

Lone Turtle, White Pelicans, Watchers

Lone Turtle on Floating Log

Dael and Daisy at the Boardwalk

White Pelican Flying

White Pelican Flying

11 Sandhill Cranes

11 Sandhill Cranes

Bosque - Late Afternoon

Bosque - Late Afternoon

Bosque - Late Afternoon

I wanted to add a couple more quick shots of the shapes a pelican's beak can assume during a yawn:

And a couple of images from White Sands National Monument:

The visit even included a chance to record a station ID for our new community radio station, KTAL-LP, 101.5 FM:

Daisy and Dael at Sunset over Rio Grande River

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Regarding football, anthems, and racism:

Trump called NFL players who kneeled in protest “SOB's.” His intent was racist. The players are largely black, the kneelers were almost wholly black, and Trump was speaking to a mostly-white Alabama crowd deciding between the right-wing senator Trump supports and the even more right-wing and racist challenger. The subtext was, “My guy's as tough on n****rs as your guy.”

Meanwhile, his preemptive strike against basketball's championship team, canceling the traditional White House visit because they were likely not to accept, was just Trump being thin-skinned; but he singled out Steph Curry, not coach Steve Kerr, who's white. Steph is a truly All-American good kid, except that he's what US folks call “black.” (When will skin color truly cease to matter in our assessment of fellow humans?)

Trump insults insults peaceful black protesters, but won't unambiguously criticize pro-violence anti-Semitic white supremacists., even when they inspire a killing. 
If you were a football player, and Trump was calling your teammates names in a racist context, I think comradeship and self-respect alone would tempt you to join in a statement of opposition, even one involving the flag – unless you're Villanueva, who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan. He has deeper ties to other comrades, or their memories, and should not apologize for saluting the flag while his teammates stayed inside to avoid the issue.

One thing I learned from all this was that Francis Scott Key was a racist, and the third stanza of his poem “Defending Fort McHenry,” which became “The Star-Spangled Banner”, attacked a group called Colonial Marines, escaped black slaves who fought with the British as a route toward freedom. Can't blame 'em. Key could, though:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave...

They could fight, though, and just weeks earlier had kicked the butts of Americans under Key's command.

What's harder to define is Key's racism. He certainly didn't believe in whites and blacks hanging out together, and he owned slaves, though he opposed violent treatment of slaves and later freed some. He did so many appalling things to defend slavery and so many humanitarian things to free slaves it's hard to keep track. He was vilified as both an abolitionist and a virulent anti-abolitionist. (I discuss that further on my blog today.)

He was, like most of us, a person in a specific time and with a specific background, who did the best he could by his lights, and grew somewhat wiser with time. He was neither as wonderful as he likely thought he was, nor as terrible as later generations might infer, once white society learned certain things.

Players have no First Amendment right as against private employers; and some of these players make phenomenal salaries to be modern-day gladiators, before most end up with knees too infirm to descend stairs, shoulders too painful to lift their children, or permanent confusion, But so what?
Trump, a powerful public official, is exacerbating our divisions for selfish political reasons. Bringing out the worst in us. Whether someone stands during the national anthem, kneels, puts a hand on his heart, or whatever, is irrelevant to either their athletic prowess or the cogency of their political arguments. We're all in this together. In a country built on freedom to protest, patriots can protest Trump's conduct.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 1October2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.]

[I'd intended to add more historical information on Key, but with the confluence of a lot of other things going on, just haven't time.]

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Disastrous Governor

What a disaster Susana Martinez has been!

Recent investigative journalism suggests that some of her apparent “pay-for-play” conduct involved law-breaking, at least by the folks who paid her to disregard our interest to serve theirs; and her Education Department has released new anti-science rules for teaching science. 

She wrongfully destroyed mental health facilities to clear the field for Arizona companies that had contributed to her campaign. 

According to The International Business Times, investment firms that gave Martinez and her supporters $1.2 million saw huge amounts of public money (in educational retirement funds and state investment funds) move from safer investments to those firms, with nice management fees. Those deals may have broken federal securities laws. State Rep. Bill McCamley has asked AG Hector Balderas to investigate whether they broke state campaign laws. Martinez chairs the State Investment Council, which oversees about $20 billion in state funds. Will those funds go the way of our mental health facilities?

Meanwhile, her Education Department wants to weaken the teaching of science by avoiding evolution, ignoring the scientific consensus that the Earth is nearly 4.6 billion years old, and hiding our heads in the sand about global warming. A national team of scientists and teachers developed a plan for science teaching; but either Susana knows better or it's politically inconvenient to teach science honestly.

Will teachers tell students that heavy things may fall toward Earth when they're dropped, because God has a heavy hand? Lion cubs may result from adult lions mating. The seas may be rising because God is blowing them up like a balloon. 
I'm all for healthy skepticism about scientific conclusions. Leeches and shock treatments were once standard treatments. Eggs are healthy or unhealthy, depending on the decade.

But science is right more often than it's wrong. It reaches conclusions by the method best calculated to approach Truth: the scientific method, stessing experiments and evidence, not the pronuncements of some seer, potentate, or astrologist. Test everything – then test it again.

I loathe what Susana and her minions are trying to do because I like honesty, candor, and evidence-based arguments. I dislike greedy politicians telling artists what they can create or scientists what their experiments should and shouldn't discover. I respect people's religions and ideas, and fight for their rights to express them; but I'd appreciate the same courtesy. Let our government govern, not waste time trying to protect religious beliefs. It's no coincidence that just when New Mexico is “adjusting” science to religion, Turkey's government is doing the same. No one religion or nationality has a corner on the arrogance market. There are stupid leaders everywhere.

Everyone from unemployed workers to the Chamber of Commerce says we need business development. All the experts say an educated work-force is one major quality companies look for. 

Many are tech companies, whose products are based on science.

For businesses to function in this modern world, a solid knowledge of science is essential. Imagine trying to build ships to navigate the universe if we still taught that the flat Earth was its center. If Earth is a few thousand years old, as some religious extremists say, were fossils and petroleum inserted into rocks by mischievous atheists? 
Republicans would offer us Steve Pearce as our next act. Someone who thinks women should obey their husbands; and whose political success depends on pretending global warming is a myth, oil and gas never pollute wells and streams, and solar energy is impractical.

Political corruption knows no party. Like science, democracy is a process. We need to be skeptical of all political candidates. Test them. And monitor results closely.
[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 24 September 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  An abbreviated version will air during the week on KRWG Radio and KTAL-LP 101.5 FM.]

[Unbeknownst to me, while I was writing this column Algernon D'Amassa was writing column on the "post-truth political assault on science and liberty."]

[Meanwhile the big sports news this weekend is political: Donald Trump has dumbly involved himself in unnecessary bickering with popular athletes.  Insignificant in themselves, the recent controversies embody Trump's inability to control his mouth, his defensiveness and bullying, and his willingness to divide the country along ethnic lines.

One involves the aftermath of the Colin Kaepernick situation I wrote about a couple of months ago.  He's a qualified football quarterback without a job.  Most believe he's without a job because last season he started kneeling during the pre-game national anthem, as a protest.  People overreacted.  Trump overreacted, saying no team should hire him.  More and more players, even recently some white players, have begun emulating Kaepernick's form of protest.  A sane and sensible U.S. President would ignore this.  Theoretically he has weightier matters on his mind.  Trump has called them "sons of bitches" (to which Kaepernick's mom, though not really a fan of his protest, said "I guess that makes me a proud bitch") and said they should all be fired or suspended.  Playing to his base.  Predictably, that has increased the enthusiasm of players for the protest movement.  It's a way to protest Trump now.  A little less predictably, not only the owner of the San Francisco 49ers but several owners, such as the NY Giants' Mara, Robert Kraft (New England Patriots), and Shad Khan (Jacksonville Jaguars) have criticized Trump.  Kraft is a long-time pal of Trump's, and all three contributed money to his campaign and/or his inauguration.  The NFL contributed $100,000 to the inauguration, I think.  (Khan gave $1,000,000 to the Inauguration!)  In short, to garner a few raucous cheers from his base, Trump has further estranged himself not only to players and some of their fans, but to NFL owners.  

Meanwhile it looked likely the Golden State Warriors would decline an invitation to the White House to honor the NBA Championship they won earlier this year.  Star Steph Curry said he'd vote "No!"  Coach Steve Kerr, whose father was killed by terrorists in Beirut and who sees that Trump's conduct and policies exacerbate ethnic divisions and potential terrorism, was not personally in favor of going to the White House, but would let the players decide.  Trump took the decision out of their hands by rescinding the invitation.  Too thin-skinned to bear their likely rejection of him, he called more attention to it.  As Curry said, this is beneath Trump -- or beneath his current position -- and "isn't what a leader does."

Obama would likely have said that while he didn't agree with a lot of Kaepernick's views, our democracy depends on our tolerance, diversity, and freedom of expression.   The Warriors would have visited him, as they did two years ago, so that problem wouldn't exist.
A sensible Republican president with a sense of our country's values - John McCain , say -- would have ignored the football business, demonstrating he had more important concerns.  Such a Republican president would likely host the Warriors without incident, since he wouldn't have engaged in Trump's hateful rhetoric about minorities and immigrants; but if a team had talked about ducking a White House visit, he'd ignore it, express polite regret, or maybe -- given Kaepernick's having played with the 49ers -- just made some joke about California sports teams and California's governor being a little odd.  

All trivial.  Except that a fatal flaw in Mr. Trump is that in every situation, the highest priority is to look good.  Not to accomplish a goal that serves the national interest.  To look good.  Given a chance to forego looking like the star but get some concession that would help the country, Obama or McCain or Reagan would have been secure enough to forego for a moment appearing to be the smartest man in the room, if it would help some negotiation succeed.  Not the Donald.

An example of the reaction Trump inspired, from a story on The by Brandon Carter: 

Former NFL head coach Rex Ryan blasted President Trump for his criticism of NFL players who kneel during the national anthem, saying on Sunday that he is “appalled” at Trump’s comments.
“I’m pissed off, I’ll be honest with you,” Ryan said on ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown.” “I supported Donald Trump. When he asked me to introduce him at a rally in Buffalo, I did that. But I’m reading these comments and it’s appalling to me and I’m sure it’s appalling to any citizen in our country.”
“Calling our players SOBs and all that kind of stuff? That’s not the men that I know,” Ryan, who's  now an analyst, continued. “The men I know in the locker room, I’m proud of, I’m proud to be associated with those people.”

Now even surmising that owners and commentators (as Ryan now is) have some motive not to become anathema to players, these are strong.]

[Later in the day, I red this Dan Wetzel story]on how unifying and inspiring it was that Khan, in the NFL's first game this season in London, showed such support for his players against Trump's insults that he linked arms with them at the start of the game.   It's worth a read, even to a non-football-fan.  Too, the Jaguars did go out and wax Baltimore 44-7.]

[Still later, it was clear that the issue was widespread.  About 24 players from the two teams playing in the Wembley Stadium Game took a knee; the Jaguars who didn't mostly or all locked arms to show their solidarity, and the team's owner joined them.  With one exception, a player who'd served three tours of duty in Afghanistan, the Pittsburgh Steelers all avoided the divisive decision by staying in the locker room until the anthem was over. 
Meanwhile, basketball players criticized Trump's conduct toward the Golden State Warriors.  Perhaps one of the best statements I ran across was from Steve Kerr, the Warriors' coach, as quoted on-line:
Kerr still has a message for the commander in chief.
"I’ve been fortunate enough to meet President Reagan, both Bushes, Clinton, and Obama," Kerr told The Crossover's Chris Ballard. "I didn’t agree with all of them, but it was easy to set politics aside because each possessed an inherent respect for the office, as well as the humility that comes with being a public servant in an incredible position of power, representing 300 million people.
"And that’s the problem now. In his tweet to Steph [Curry], Trump talked about honoring the White House but, really, isn’t it you who must honor the White House, Mr. President? And the way to do that is through compassion and dignity and being above the fray. Not causing the fray."  ]


Sunday, September 17, 2017

A Fine Evening: Las Cruces Symphony "Pops under the Stars"

We thoroughly enjoyed the Las Cruces Symphony's “Pops under the Stars.” 

Beforehand, I visited with several elected officials, with people I've fought beside or against over various issues, and with folks I've known nearly five decades. So many are damned decent people!

Then the music starts. Capturing us. Lonnie Klein is an animated conductor, and seems a skillful one. Visiting vocalist Diane Penning sounds even better than last year. 

The evening is more than great music on a mild evening and the discovery that our new downtown plaza is made for this. There's a true feeling of community. Enjoying the music, surrounded by familiar faces, I reflect on lives and time. 

Our host and hostess are friends who work tirelessly for the community, with a deep appreciation of its political needs and artistic promise.

Across our table sits a younger couple. I've seen them arguing legal points and passionately advocating for our environment. Tonight, entranced by the music, they're relaxed in each other's arms. All around, couples of all ages are holding hands, or leaning back against one another. 

I see three gay couples, good friends. They seem happy. But not touching. I want a world where they feel free to demonstrate their affection publicly. 

I see a woman whose husband died this year. Both were beloved in the community. As Ms. Penning sings “It's time to say good-bye,” our hostess goes to the widow and hugs her. We're glad. I cannot imagine her grief, her strength. When a quail died flying into our living-room window, the bereaved mate wailed for days. Humans have words, but no answers. Friends' sincere and loving support is a pale substitute.

During intermission, I speak with a young man whose father I've battled in court. We express appreciation for the evening and introduce our wives. “Watching Lonnie is half the show,” he marvels. I think again how great it is that at his father's law office, where he is a paralegal who will soon be a skilled lawyer, his grandfather is the receptionist. That's “family” – an endangered species these days.

I see two people I've known for nearly 50 years, since before they found each other. Married since the early 1970's. She stands behind him, hands on his shoulders. Still lovely. Still loving. They're proud of their daughter, an important player in the evening's events.

Several generals sit at a nearby table. When the Symphony plays a medley of songs of the five branches of U.S. military service, veterans stand when their songs play, and Lonnie salutes them. The vets clearly appreciate this respect. Each, if s/he served on a battlefield, also looks into a deep well of comradeship, shared dangers, and joys and tragedies far beyond our ken.

One general graduated from NMSU. Hispanic. Married a gal from Mesilla. Joined the Army. Decades of hard work and skill made him a brigadier general. Then he got to come home to command at White Sands. 

Dimly I recall concerts in parks I attended as a small child. The people were happy and all knew each other. Later, for years, I'd have thought pops under the stars a bit corny, preferring symphony halls and clubs with edgy modern jazz. 

Tonight, the fine music, a gentle breeze with a hint of rain, our restful postures, and a couple of glasses of wine fill me with love not only for my wife but for everyone around us. People's love for each other, their shared pleasure, and the sometimes twisted paths that brought us all here . . . seem almost tangible.

Under the stars, I'm home.

[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 17 September 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 during the week on both KRWG Radio and KTAL-LP (101.5 FM).]
[This is a personal sort of column, the kind -- unlike exposing political corruption or bad management in government entities, say -- with which it's particularly hard to know how close you've come to saying what you wanted to say.  Or even quite defining what you wanted to say.
At some point during the last half of the concert I realized I wanted to write about the evening.  I'm no music critic, so I can only say that I liked the music and it sounded very professionally played; but the feel of the evening -- the good music, the mild weather, the venue, and a series of encounters (or moments just looking around at people) started to seem to me very special.  I really did feel a powerful wave of love for everyone there, which is a hard kind of thing to say without sounding sappy.  
But music, while I'm enjoying it, also renders me sort of spacey, reflective.  Time and change and the way lives very different ways at different moments over the course of decades, are things I reflect on a lot.  Not that I have anything profound to say, but . . . it's nice not to be always carping about someone's misconduct or the idiocies of some public officials.]

[Everything else aside, the evening convinced us to shell out for two season tickets.  Season starts October 7, and looks great!  Check out the symphony's website and think about a season ticket if you like that sort of thing! 
Season or individual-performance tickets available at
(575) 646-3709 or at ]

[Oh, and Lonnie Klein, the conductor, will be a guest on my radio show, "Speak Up, Las Cruces!", September 27 at 9, on KTAL LP, 101.5 FM, the new community radio station."]

Sunday, September 10, 2017

September 11th and Afterward

Monday is September 11th. It is a date like December 7, and perhaps November 22 or August 6. Sixteen years later, it cannot just be said. By 2033 will young folks say it as easily as they say November 22 or August 6?

Memories force themselves on anyone older than 19. After that surge of vivid memory, we reflect.

September 12th
That morning I was in the Library of Congress. Someone suddenly announced the library was closing. Didn't announce there'd been an attack, and that Congress – a block away, connected by underground tunnels – might be a target. But word spread.

The traffic jam was exceptional. Even on my motorcycle it was tough going. For days, military helicopters roared above us. At supper that night, from a rooftop restaurant, I could see smoke still rising from the Pentagon. Early the next morning I rode to the monuments. Streets empty. Just cops and soldiers. I photographed the Lincoln Memorial at dawn, sans sightseers and joggers, just Lincoln, long shadows, and a janitor pushing a broom across a huge marble step.

The U.S. then attacked Afghanistan. For no particular reason, we also attacked Iraq, which had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden and (despite Saddam Hussein's viciousness) was an obstacle to the spread of Iran's influence. 

Neither war has ended. Will we still have soldiers there in 2033?

It was obvious that destroying Iraq would create more terrorists; and it has. The “nation” had been shaped to suit the British. Ethnic and religious tensions would obviously explode into civil war if Saddam's strong and ugly hand were removed. And the Russians had demonstrated the difficulties of war in Afghanistan.

We were in the throes of hysteria. The destruction of the World Trade Center shocked us. Like someone who's been mugged by people from a different ethnic group, we had to struggle with the temptation to assume all Muslims (or all Arabs, or all foreigners) meant us harm. It wasn't so. ISIL and most of the terrorism carried out in the name of Islam during the past 16 years has victimized fellow Muslims. Meanwhile millions of Muslims live among us as quietly and productively and “American” as anyone else. They worship the same God as Jews and Christians. (Quran or Bible, old words in each can be misread to authorize terrible things.)


We are sensibly more alert. Modern technologies make us vulnerable. Anywhere, anytime, we could be attacked by some deranged person. Modern weapons mean such attacks can be deadlier.
Most others around the world have it worse. Most have never formed the false sense of security our wealth and geographic isolation have given us.

September 11th was and is a test. Heroic efforts by people risking their lives to save others was a great start to passing; but the longer-term test is to love our country enough to hold to its ideals when the going gets tough.

We have been proud that our democracy served as a model throughout the world, and that we were a refuge for the persecuted and the unfree. Justice and tolerance are easier when you're wealthier than anyone else and seem immune to attack. They're harder to maintain when your pockets are emptier and your world seems dangerous.

Is it easy to maintain our ideals? No. Maybe it's easier to circle the wagons and hate anyone outside. Harder to extend a hand to strangers. Well, marriage, child-rearing, and living a good life take work too. But they reward us. Let the heroism some showed then inspire us all to go above and beyond in little ways.

[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 10September2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  A spoken version will be aired during the week by KRWG and by KTAL-LP FM.] 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Heroes at 97 - Marthe Cohn and J Paul Taylor

On the 97th Anniversary of women's suffrage in the U.S., two 97-year-olds, speaking on consecutive nights, reminded us – more with their lives than their words – of the importance of standing up against intolerance and hatred.

Sunday, lifelong resident J. Paul Taylor spoke. He embodies ethnic mixing: his Scotch-Irish father and Mexican mother raised a fine young man who taught generations of kids. Then, at 66, he started a nearly two-decade career as the Conscience of the Legislature. He's always stood up for tolerance, equality, and freedom. He still does. 

Monday . . . Imagine a Jewish French girl living near the German border during World War II. She and her family suffer much as France surrenders and Germans occupy her town – and the rest of France collaborates with the Nazis. She trains as a nurse. Risking their lives, she and her family hide refugees, and help them navigate the European version of the Underground Railway. 

When France is liberated, she joins the French Army, at 24. A captain learns she speaks and reads German fluently. She has blonde hair and blue eyes. She ends up in Intelligence, volunteering for repeated missions across the border into Germany. (Only women can do this: posing as a male German would fail, since any young male would be in the army.) 

Sounds like a movie. Not something you go into the Rio Grande Theater to hear the heroine describe.
Marthe Cohn's book, Behind Enemy Lines tells a hell of a story. Not without humor. As when she describes waiting with an older French guide for nightfall, so that she can cross when the German sentries won't see her. He tells her a lot about his wife and family, then, with a strange smile, says, “'You may die tonight. Why don't we have a bit of fun?” But, she tells us more than 70 years later, “that wasn't on my agenda.”

Across the border, she mingles with Germans as a German nurse seeking her lost fiance, a German soldier. She learns much about German troop movements, information that saves lives and helps shorten the war. When she's offered a chance to go home, she declines. Her mission will only end when there's an Armistice. She asks only for a bicycle, having walked many miles. 
She falls in with some Germans. One SS officer boasts of his atrocities and brags that he can smell a Jew from a mile away. When he suddenly faints, she nurses him back to health. Grateful, he invites her to visit him at the Siegfried Line. Several weeks later, she tries, but some German soldiers tell her that the entire area west of Freiberg has been evacuated – and ambushes await the Allies in the Black Forest. She manages to get this critical information into Allied hands. (Fortunately, the first tank that shows up is French, since she has not yet learned English.) “That is what they gave me all those medals for,” she tells us, gesturing at the long table on stage.

With occasional help from her husband, she tells us her story. She speaks with charm and wit, and a surprising command of the English vernacular, referring to “mom-and-pop stores,” and of soldiers “taking me for a bimbo,” and using such words as “newcomer,” “rickety,” and entailed.” (She learned English after the war.) 
Marthe was pretty then. She's magnificent now. Like J. Paul, she speaks with humility and grace. 
Both articulate a message still painfully clear: if we do not each do what we can against hatred and injustice, the fight could be lost.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 3 September 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will be aired by KRWG several times this week, including twice on Wednesday, and by KTAL-LP 101.5 FM on Thursday.]

[Much thanks to Dr. Richard Hempstead for alerting us to Ms. Cohn's imminent appearance here -- and treating us to seats; thanks to Rabbi Bery Schmukler and the Alevy Chabad Jewiosh Center of Las Cruces for arranging Ms. Cohn's appearance; and thanks to Cynthia Garrett and the others who organized the annual birthday fest for Mr. Taylor.]  

[I've written often about J Paul ["An Admirable Friend"], including an earlier birthday celebration ["Where Love Abides - J Paul Taylor is 95!"] and the book about his life (The Man from Mesilla)by Ana Pacheco ["A Saturday Afternoon in Mesilla" (2012).]. 

[Ms. Cohn's book, co-authored with Wendy Holden, is Behind Enemy Lines - The true story of a French Jewish spy in Nazi Germany, published in 2002 by Three Rivers Press.  I will read it with interest.  Interestingly, Ms. Cohn was pretty silent about her exploits for decades, so silent that her children had been unaware of them in any detail until she was awarded the Medaille Militaire on 14 July 2000 (presented by the French consul in Los Angeles).   "She was just our mom," they commented.] 
Image may contain: 1 person, sitting and indoor
Marthe Cohn signs a copy of her book - Rio Grande Theater 28Aug2017
J Paul Taylor - "Happy Birthday!" SNMFRM 27Aug2017

[To anyone who objects that Ms. Cohn's conduct is much more "heroic" than J Paul's, I'd agree -- as, I'm sure, would he.  But the coincidence of hearing moving speeches by two admirable 97-year-olds on consecutive days was irresistible; and both speak to contemporaneous concerns, to which their own lives and spirit are highly relevant.] 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Tale of Two Governors - Retain NMSU President Garrey Carruthers

Sometimes we change our minds about people; or the people change. Or both.

I knew Garrey Carruthers slightly in the 1970's. He was a business professor and chaired the State Republican Party. I was an antiwar rabble-rouser, then a reporter. We didn't particularly hit it off. 

I lived elsewhere when he was governor. After I returned to Las Cruces, and he sought the NMSU Presidency, I wrote against choosing him. Nothing personal. He'd apologized for Big Tobacco, and was sticking his head in the sand about global warming; and he'd likely stress corporate and military stuff rather than arts and sciences. 

Soon after he got the job he appeared on my radio show. We talked for an hour. Agreed about some things and disagreed about others; but collegially and somewhat candidly.

Later, someone at Corbett Center overreacted to students protesting the National Security Agency. Alan Dicker held a sign pointing at the NSA recruiting table reading, “If you want to work for Big Brother, apply here. The next day, another student dropped a copy of Orwell's 1984 on NSA's table outdoors. Both students were arrested. Which I thought violated their free speech rights.

Representing the students, Mike Lilley and I contacted Assistant General Counsel Lisa Warren. We said that we could and would sue, and spend a lot of everyone's time and NMSU's money litigating what seemed to us an obvious violation. Or University and students could collaborate on rewriting the campus free speech rules and educating staff on the law. 

NMSU (Carruthers) agreed. As I wrote then, the resulting Free Speech Task Force was a delightful, cooperative experience. If you'd walked in during a meeting, you would have had a hard time figuring out which half of the members the University had appointed and which the students had appointed. If NMSU Police Chief Stephen Lopez saw a way we should state a free-speech right more clearly, he said so. If I saw something that was good for free speech, but might have negative side-effects on NMSU, I pointed out the problem. 

Carruthers backed us wholeheartedly, helping shepherd the new policy through the administrative process, including Regents' approval. 

It's been a tough time to preside over a public university. Dwindling funds and a short-sighted governor have exacerbated problems most colleges and universities are facing. I lack sufficient knowledge to assess Dr. Carruthers's performance in detail; I've heard things anecdotally. I like his readiness to jump into a frank discussion with people, whether they agree with him or not. He has substantial relevant experience, as NMSU student, professor, dean, and now Prexy. He's likely a fine fund-raiser, with varied contacts; and his openness to discussion probably means he can not only raise funds from wealthy conservatives and corporations but from more progressive entities.

So, why didn't the Regents decide not to renew his contract? Ageism? Can't be poor performance. Sure ain't because they want someone more liberal-arts oriented. The Regents likely don't share my view that, except for the Ameresco energy services contract, NMSU has been lousy on environmental matters. 

Or did Susana Martinez get her appointed board to slap Carruthers down because he'd spoken up for NMSU when she was having a hissy fit and not funding universities? (Yo, that's his job!) Or has she whispered she'd like a highly-paid gig after 2018, increasing her state retirement benefits?

Hope not. Unlike Carruthers, she can't get along with people who aren't obedient; she holds petty grudges and acts on them; she has no experience teaching at or running a university; and she's screwed up her current job six ways from Sunday.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 27 August, 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air several times this week on KRWG Radio, and on Thursday on KTAL-LP, 101.5 FM.]

[I note the high praise for Carruthers expressed recently by Bill McCamley, Mary Kay Papen, and others who've had a better chance to observe Carruthers. I share their concern that even if there's no plot to put Susana in Garrey's seat, the Regents should not be turning a cold shoulder on Carruthers because he spoke up for the University against Martinez's blanket veto, and implicitly criticized her by noting he'd raised taxes as governor when it appeared necessary.
I'm not suggesting we canonize Carruthers; but I recognize that most of what I oppose in him is stuff these Regents probably like. I'm not happy about NMSU's development plans East of town; but that's me, and I recognize that his plans may be pragmatically in the best interest of the University's long-term finances.  If Carruthers still isn't sure about global warming or thinks it's fine to deal with Monsanto, we still disagree and I still think those are important issues; but it isn't as if the regents share my concerns.  Their secret reasons for sending him off into the sunset, IF they do so, are likely not that he's insufficiently concerned about the environment.]

[Meanwhile, between my writing of this column and its publication, the Sun-News has also editorialized on the subject and the Board of Regents plans to discuss the issue Wednesday morning and revisit Carruthers's future, (probably at about the time I'm discussing the issue with Bill McCamley and others on my weekly radio show).  Since donors reportedly have also expressed the kinds of concerns the legislators, the Sun-News, and I have expressed, I'm hopeful the Regents will rethink this one.]

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Trump and Charlottesville

I think I understand why revulsion at Trump's comments on Charlottesville is so universal.

Trump's “both sides are wrong” response didn't shock or surprise me. Local Republican County Chair Roman Jimenez's vicious writing didn't surprise me. Why would they? 

But Trump is suddenly isolated, deserted by business, the military, and other Republicans. Jimenez has resigned under fire. Republican fire. 

A book review helped me see why this week's events elicited such a strong, universal reaction: what we saw dredged up distant images locked in all our hearts because they were so unthinkable.
The book review mentioned conductor Arturo Toscanini getting beaten up by Nazi thugs in Berlin in 1931. One of many harbingers of what was to come. 

We have a president who encourages violence. He plays to his audience by urging security to beat protesters at rallies and by urging police to bang black arrestees' heads against the hard steel roofs of police cars. When his supporters do violence, he can't criticize them unambiguously. Nazi wannabes shouted slogans against Jews. A nutcase from Ohio drove into a crowd of people. Trump doesn't see the problem.

He can't unambiguously criticize an insane and homicidal supporter. The victims were asking for it. Were both sides guilty in the Miami nightclub shooting, because gay people were dancing with each other in public? Democrats condemned the shooting of Republican Congressmen at a baseball practice. I loathe Steve Pearce's politics, but I'd sure stop someone from shooting bullets at him if I could! 

If a Muslim nutcase had driven that car, Trump would rail against Muslims. But the White Supremacists who egged this guy on? They were Trump's first supporters. 

Even Republicans are appalled. Even many conservatives are speaking out.

On the radio a black woman says she's surprised not by the racism but by the Quad Cities speaking out against that racism. She never saw that while she was growing up. She felt good seeing white faces at a protest. In Doña Ana County, Jimenez's extreme rhetoric is suddenly unpalatable to the people who had made him their leader. 

Why? Because a dangerous buffoon as Chancellor, with thugs who support him beating people, feels eerily familiar.

Whatever our political or social views, we do not want that Nazi world. Trump and his supporters have trod too close to indelible images from history carved somewhere deep inside us: photographs from the Holocaust, Nazis kicking a pregnant Jewish woman's belly. (I also recall TV footage of skinny little black girls being escorted to school by the national guard, on a sidewalk lined with jeering white adults.) Whatever our beliefs, we know we do not want a world like that. 

Trump is not Hitler. He's a narcissist who's lived a privileged life. He has no strong political views. He's greedy, shallow, and self-absorbed. He hasn't Hitler's sharp focus or deep hatred. Trump looks down on blacks, but has no desire to eradicate them. Particularly if they stay in their place.
And our middle class and lower-middle classes aren't (yet?) nearly as shell-shocked as Germany's were during the 1930's. Yeah, the last few decades have about made the middle-class an endangered species, widening the vast inequality between rich and poor and pushing more of us toward that latter.
But things aren't as bad as they were in Germany.

We have a long democratic tradition. Germany didn't.

But historical repetitions need not be precisely identical. 

The young woman murdered in Charlottesville posted online that we must speak up against hatred, that failing to speak was to support it. 

It's heartening that so many are speaking out. This time.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 20 August 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air during the week on KRWG and on KTAL-LP, 101.5 FM.]

[If it isn't clear what I'm saying and what I'm not: it feels dangerous to have a fellow in the White House spewing violent thoughts and encouraging the more vicious among us; when thugs do pro-fascist violence, he basically smiles upon them; and that can't help remind anyone who's old or has read any history of Germany in the 1930's.  Not an appetizing prospect.
I'm not saying Trump is Hitler; but if a man drives a car into a crowd because he's too busy looking at himself in the mirror to concentrate on driving, the people he kills are just as dead as if he'd planned it all out carefully.  Same with our democracy, already under threat by Citizens United, Koch Brothers, ALEC, and the rest.
That is, there are dangers here.  Bad things are happening and more could be in store.
There are a lot of reasons -- the responses of our business and military leaders, our democratic history and traditions, Trump's basic incompetence, and above all the fact that such a vast majority of people loathe Trump -- to hope nothing so vile as happened in Germany will happen here; so I don't believe anything similar will happen here.  But most Germans couldn't  have imagined what occurred there.
I don't think we'll descend to that level; but I do think every thinking person of good will needs to pay attention and speak up.  Hitler was even more marginal than Donald Trump when he started.  Folks didn't suppose either would become their nation's leader.  These are troublesome times, which I believe we'll survive -- but not if we sleep.]

[Saturday, as I was copying this column into my blog, I ran across these statements by U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb).  And although he and a couple of other prominent Republicans may be angling for visibility in a possible post-Trump Presidential race in 2020, similar sentiments seem widespread right now.]

[And this just in: Evangelical students at Liberty University are returning their diplomas to protest Jerry Falwell's continued support of Trump.   Liberty University? These are not leftwingers.

September 12, 2011