Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Bit of Democracy?

The County Commission got a redo on rural buses Tuesday – and did what seems the right thing.
Last meeting, dozens who wanted to speak didn't get the chance.

Tuesday turned into a rather wonderful moment. More than three dozen people spoke, including bus-riders speaking Spanish, several elected officials, and dedicated non-profit leaders. None opposed transit. We marveled at the variety of speakers, the power of their words, and the moving human stories. 

A 27-year Anthony resident recalled being pregant and unable to reach doctors in Las Cruces or buy medicine: “This service is very important to me. Please don't take it away!”

A lifelong county resident, Dr. Leti Mora, recalled that as a child in the 1960's she suffered severe eye problems requiring numerous surgeries. She used an old county bus service to reach doctors. Unfortunately, the bus ran just once a day. She and her mother had to spend a whole day in Las Cruces waiting for the return bus. During their long absence, her father suffered a stroke in their home. Had they returned earlier, he might have been saved from such complete paralysis. 

A 97-year-old man thanked the drivers, said “God Bless” everyone, and sweetly called for unity. 

State Senator Jeff Steinborn noted that 39% of our county's children live in poverty, compared to 22% nationwide.

City Councilor Gill Sorg said we needed the buses “for the poor, so they can rise out of poverty.” State Representative Nathan Small said that funding transit “would leave a better legacy,” adding, “If it's not working the way it should, make it better.”

The previous meeting was highly unpleasant. This was less so. Credit the passion of people who were angry they couldn't speak at the last meeting; but credit also the new county commissioners: they listened courteously to a parade of people hoping to preserve the buses. Chair Isobella Solis, disagreed with the speakers, but heard them out. For an hour and forty minutes. 

After lunch Billy Garrett moved to reinsert the transit $350,00 into the preliminary budget. John Vasquez seconded it, but noted he's still not persuaded that the buses are efficient and effective. (He'll give folks a chance to convince him, from 10-11 a.m. daily at the Ledesma Center, at 5745 Ledesma Drive.) Ramon Gonzalez joined them for a 3-2 vote. 

Folks for or against transit should visit Vasquez. All of us should thank Vasquez and Gonzalez for their willingness to be persuaded by their constituents.

The naysayers – Ben Rawson and Solis – advance two basic arguments: that the voters' rejection in 2016 of a tax increase to fund a $10 million bus system tied commissioners' hands, at least ethically; and unspecified mismanagement or inefficiency. If management problems got you defunded, several county departments would be gone already. The Commission should discuss its questions / complaints / suggestions with the transit board, and seek improvement – not blow up the whole thing.

And it's dishonest to claim the 2016 vote controls. If the voters had rejected a special tax to buy DASO $5 million worth of training cars and protective vests, would the commissioners have rejected Tuesday DASO's request for $350,000 for that? No. Nor should they. Many who voted against the tax because of cost might recognize the need to support a more modest system and see how it grows. Even Solis says she's not against public transit.

I'm glad our commission voted to spend $1.75 per person next year – less than the price of a cup of coffee these days – on a really worthy effort. I hope they stick to that.

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

[This is the announcement on the county's website regarding Mr. Vasquez's daily "Coffee with the Commissioner" sessions.  I'll go one morning this week.]

[Folks concerned about the buses should probably mark 25July on their calendars.  I've no reason to think commissioners will change their minds on this; but it happens.]

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Will We Witness a Presidential Impeachment in 2017?

When we elect a six-year-old President, a six-year-old runs our country.

Donald Trump is behaving just like the emotionally immature and barely literate clown he seemed to be last year. 

This week alone he's fired FBI Director James Comey and said things he shouldn't have to the Russians; and it appears that before firing Comey, Trump urged him to stop investigating Trump's and Michael Flynn's Russian connections – and asked Comey for personal loyalty.

These problems aren't staff's fault or a conspiracy by loathsome journalists. Trump is doing as he pleases, ignoring sensible advice, and desperately trying to gain everyone's love and admiration by acting tough and bragging a lot. 

Urging Comey to end investigations Trump fears, then firing him? Sounds a lot like criminal obstruction of justice. Trump's minions say Comey's lying; but although I disagree with Comey's judgment in dredging up the Clinton email problem on the eve of the election, he's an independent person (registered Republican most of his life) respected by Washington folks of all political views.
Babbling to the Russians? National security officials give Trump detailed written briefings. Since that's too much reading, he demands they reduce those to a page of talking points – and then he blithely ignores those. 

Statements defending him are carefully worded. Trump and his family formerly acknowledged that Russian investments were important to Trump's real estate deals in the U.S.; but now, as folks wonder if Trump's connections and obligations have given some unsavory folks power over him, Trump shouts, “I don't own anything in Russia. I have no loans in Russia.” Which, as he knows, ain't the point.

When he goes off-topic to show off to the Russians, revealing information that the Russians can easily discern the secret source of, his minions say he didn't discuss the mechanics of gathering the information or say where it came from – which, again, ain't the point. 

I don't think this can last. 

There's substantial evidence that Trump's committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Those could even include treason. At least publicly, the evidence isn't conclusive yet. There should be a full investigation, neither motivated nor hindered by politics. 

Will Republicans allow that?

I think so. As evidence mounts and Trump's lies grow sillier, it'll be hard for them not to. (Note: former FBI Director Robert Mueller just became a special prosecutor.)
Republicans like enacting laws from their political agenda; but Trump's inability to sit still or shut up for a moment is interfering with that too. Trump is a clear danger to our country, which has enough real problems without creating unnecessary ones every couple of hours. Having a loony president would likely be fine with Republicans if he'd follow directions; but Trump won't, or can't. Trump can't be trusted to talk discreetly to foreign leaders. He can't resist making his Russia-related problems worse by telling obvious lies and trying to intimidate the FBI. Even if Trump isn't beholden to some very bad people, any sensible observer has to wonder whether someone this immature and impatient will screw up something that can't be fixed. 

I'm not saying Trump can or should be impeached because he's dangerous.

I'm saying that Republicans who'd prefer to sweep all this under some massive rug might put their country first or feel political pressure to do the right thing. Trump's typical bullying response to legal problems may backfire. Republicans facing worse than the usual midterm election losses may calculate that facing town halls about Trump's misconduct is just too damaging.

I have no desire to see a President Pence; but folks might feel a lot safer.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 21 May 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air on KRWG Radio a couple of times on Wednesday.]

[For those wondering about Robert Mueller's likely conduct and level of integrity as Special Prosecutor: a friend of mine just shared his own small professional experience with Mueller, who impressed him greatly; and in Politico, a reporter (and biographer of Mueller) published a long, interesting and reassuring story, "What Donald Trump Should Know about Bob Mueller and Jim Comey"
In part, the story recites details of a famous episode in which Comey stood up to Vice-President Cheney, during the George Bush administration, to prevent officials from conning or bullying the Attorney-General into re-approving an illegal program that infringed folks' civil liberties.  Comey was the Deputy AG.  He knew AG John Ashcroft was ill in his hospital room.  Mueller played a key role in Comey's being able to forestall administration misconduct.  It's worth a read.  I particularly enjoyed this bit of description of a White House meeting concerning the illegal program:

Comey didn’t hesitate to force the issue of STELLAR WIND, standing up to the vice president. During one White House meeting, Comey said he couldn’t find a legal basis for the program.
“Others see it differently,” a scowling Cheney replied.
“The analysis is flawed—in fact, fatally flawed. No lawyer reading that could reasonably rely on it,” Comey said, his hand sweeping across the table dismissively.
Cheney’s counsel, the famously aggressive David Addington, standing in the back of the room, spoke up: “Well, I’m a lawyer,” he snapped, “and I did.”
Comey shot back, “No good lawyer.”
The room went silent. ]

[I wrote this earlier this week, before a lot of things happened.  Then in no special order I put some links or excerpts in here as I ran across them:]

[Tuesday evening, Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) flat-out said what most Republicans on Capitol Hill are thinking: This isn’t fun. This is the opposite of fun.  “It’s been frustrating, no question,” he told reporters of the recent revelations. “We want this to be moving forward,” referring to the GOP agenda.
This story on Wednesday afternoon reported the first Republicans beginning to mumble about impeachment.

Amber Phillips noted that instead of the great assistance Republican lawmakers hoped from a Republican president, "Instead, they have a president who almost daily besieges them with scandals to respond to — or not respond to."   She also notes that this is "the first time in Trump’s still-nascent administration that he has virtually no Republican supporters on Capitol Hill in his latest controversies. A sizable number of Republicans in Congress supported him on his travel bans and his decision to fire Comey (and not immediately fire Flynn). But on the latest revelations, they just can’t find a way to justify their president's actions."
She added that "many lawmakers’ nerves are frayed just having to respond to this. The unanswered question is: When will the frustration of having a controversy-ridden, unpredictable president start to outweigh the benefits of him being a Republican?"

Here is Brent Budowsky's prediction that appointing Robert Mueller as special prosecutor leads directly to Trump's resignation in lieu of impeachmentdministration/334033-why-trump-will-likely-resign-as-mueller-pursues
On the other side, in this piece by BBC writer on U.S. politics Mark Plotkin predicts no impeachment because of the gutlessness and political record of    Ryan and several Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee.  That committee would initially consider the matter and potentially draft articles of impeachment, and Plotkin discusses the individuals on it and predicts they'll choose politics over their country.  I think they might; but, as noted, I'm not so clear that at some point political interests may line up with the country's best interest on this one.
Here's a good statement of why progressives should be careful what they wish for on impeachmentachment-trap-be-careful-what-you-wish-for.  I also saw a good statement on why we shouldn't fear Pence, and will have to find that again and post it here.  Oh, here it is -- from The New Republic: "Don't Fear President Pence - Liberals, Welcome Him" .

Saturday, May 20, 2017

More Images from Out Back -- May 2017

Here are some recent images from around our little high-desert home.  (Posts of images from earlier this year include: March 25April 1, and  April 3.  I also posted images from here on March 3, 2016 and posted Desert Spring Faux Toes on May 19 and A Few More Images of our Friends on May 26 .

Desert Spring appeared as a column in the Sun News on June 5, 2016 (sans images), and featured bull snake, roadrunner, Texas horned lizard, and bat-faced cuphea. (That last is a tiny flower.)  Then August in the Desert, another Sunday column with images added in the blog version, features vinegaroons (which many of you have likely never seen, but which hang around here a lot in certain months), hummingbirds (two of them beak-to-beak in mid-air),
rainbows, butterflies,dragonflies, and cactus flowers.  Then on October 11 "More Images from around Home."  I have wondered if putting together a bunch of images from the same seasons in different years could yield a fair description of what it's like here; but in 2015, the first post with images from here didn't go up until Sunday -- on May 11.  The next was "Roadrunner Follies" on August 15 -- with a link to an August 23, 2011 post called "The Courting of Roadrunners."
At any rate, here are some of the recent images I've gotten time to play with. 




What one might not immediately realize about these two images is that they are actually the same photograph treated very differently in the editing process.  Over the course of several evenings, I shot photos of theses ocotillo at or just before sunset, and liked quite a few of the resulting images.



Just above, too, I've included two different treatments of a single sunset image.  Like 'em both.  As I've mentioned elsewhere, we call these "Faux toes"  Photos made into faux paintings or other media.    They're fun to do.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Commission Ducks Transit Issue -- Citizens Chant "Shame!"

Tuesday's county commission meeting started with Commission Chair Isabella Solis urging citizens to respect commissioners and ended with citizens chanting “Shame!” 

At issue: should the County provide $350,000 toward continuing bus service throughout the south county?

The transit folks were to make a presentation. The chamber was full of people wanting to speak. Suddenly none of this was permitted.

The Chair asked for a motion. Commissioner Garrett made one. Some thought Commissioner Gonzales, whose district includes many who use the buses, would second. He didn't. Meanwhile Commissioner Vasquez had disappeared – apparently to avoid facing the issue. (He hasn't yet explained.)

An unseconded motion dies. No vote. No discussion. No public comment. Gonzales stayed silent. Vasquez stayed away. Garrett tried to withdraw the motion, to permit discussion. Commissioner Rawson said the commission should move on. 

The room erupted in shouts of “Shame! Shame!” I went to the microphone to urge the commission, if it wanted respect, to extend respect – by letting folks speak. 

Solis is right: we should show commissioners respect – or at least civility. “Civility” and “courtesy” differ from “respect.” Respect is something we feel. I respect the commissioners for taking on a tough job and for hoping to do right. I respect Garrett and Rawson for standing up and defending their positions when asked. When newer commissioners duck questions, I can't respect that. I hope they learn better soon. Meanwhile, we should express our disappointment courteously. Courtesy should be mutual.

I'm appalled that the commissioners simply refused to hear their constituents. Garrett called their conduct “disrespectful, whatever your position.” Some came from the south county, at some inconvenience. Bus dispatcher Leticia Lopez said, “I hear the cries of need every day from people who ride the buses.” She described a lady from Mesquite with two children, whose mother was dying of cancer in Juarez. They take the blue line to Anthony, the purple line to El Paso, then the metro to Mexico. “Before us, she had no way to go even to Anthony.”

Commissioner Gonzalez, these are your people. You coached many of them. You taught them history. You requested their votes as an upstanding man who cared about them and their communities. 

I haven't heard good reasons not to listen to the bus company. Rawson says he opposes the measure because “the voters rejected it.” Voters rejected $10 million to start something – not $350,000 to keep something going, with the state paying more. (Further discussion on today's blog post.) The buses seemed a good idea, seem to be gaining riders, serve a need, and have drawn funding from other sources. Our poorer citizens need transportation – and our rural areas have plenty of poor people.

That doesn't mean the system is perfect! I hear meaningful criticisms and questions, not just from commissioners. But elected commissioners should face this issue like grownups, listening to the arguments, asking appropriate questions, and making reasonable decisions. (They probably should approve the funding but suggest improvements.) 

Whether the bus company and its riders are right or wrong or some of each, sticking our fingers in our ears and running away, as Vasquez and the others did, is not fair or meaningful consideration of an issue. (Vasquez has scheduled three community meetings this week.)

Proponents note that the requested amount is only $1.75 per county resident. I'm delighted to pay $1.75 so that residents of the South County have low-cost transportation to schools, jobs, medical facilities, and family. Friday I sent a check for $17.50. That should cover me -- plus Rawson, Solis, Gonzalez, Vasquez, Enrique Vigil, and four neighbors.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 14 May 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website -- and a spoken version airs on KRWG a couple of times on Wednesdays.]

[Further reflections on "respect," and Chairperson Solis's request for it: as I mentioned, I feel we ought all to be civil and courteous to each other as much as we can; but I'd urge the Commission to gather respect by conducting business with more apparent thought, more openness and transparency, and more consideration (and respect) for constituents.   As the Sun-News recently editorialized, government is an open, loud, and sometimes messy business.  Commissioners should not have run from reporters, immediately after sacking Julia Brown a few weeks ago.  They should have faced those reporters, even if fear of a lawsuit would limit what they could say to explain their action.  They should have listened to the citizens who'd come to speak on transit, and to the transit folks, either during initial public comment or when the agenda item came up.  They should have listened both because they might have learned something (as Commissioner Vasquez has said he did when riding the buses and talking to folks, which was a good thing on his part) and because people who've come all that way to speak on an issue that matters to them deserve that respect.  If (as some fellow commissioners believe) Solis had prior knowledge that there'd be no second, she should have permitted such discussion during public comment; if she didn't know, then when the agenda came up and she discovered the fact that these folks would be tricked out of their chance to talk to their commissioners, she could have and should have allowed discussion then.  And Commissioner Rawson should not have encouraged her to move on.  Yeah, it would have cost an hour's time; but that's part of what commissioners get paid for.]

[The column mentions that District 5 Doña Ana County Commissioner John L. Vasquez has scheduled three community meetings to address issues of constituent concerns.  Here's further information:
Meetings are scheduled at 6 p.m. on Monday, May 15, at the Doña Ana Community Resource Center, 5745 Ledesma Drive in Doña Ana; then Tuesday, May 16, at the Radium Springs Community Resource Center, 12060 Lindbeck Road; and finally, Wednesday, May 17, at  the Village of Hatch Community Center, 837 Highway 187 (West Hall Street) in Hatch.
Commissioner Vasquez has invited New Mexico State Sen. Jeff Steinborn and State Representatives Rudy Martinez and Nathan Small to each of the meetings.

Here, he's doing something he should do.  I hope the three are well-attended.]

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Congratulations to New Soil & Water Conservation District Boardmembers!

Congratulations! Environmentalists Kevin Bixby and Craig Fenske won election to the Doña Ana Soil & Water Conservation District board Tuesday. That's good news for progressives and moderates – and plants and wildlife.

Tuesday's win was one step in long process of change. The winning campaign gained impetus from popular concern sparked by the election of Donald Trump. The election matched strong opponents and two very different styles of campaigning.

Soil and water district boards exist to protect natural resources for all of us, and for wildlife. They do that elsewhere. Valencia's created a fine wildlife refuge near Belen. Here, the board has focused on assisting ranchers, promoting extremist ideology, and (recently) flood control. Containing floods is an important duty, but the board is also charged with preserving water, helping wildlife, and preventing or controlling soil erosion. 
In the past, these were small elections. They're held at odd times. Most people ignore them – which may have suited board-members. (This year the Legislature passed a bill calling for consolidated elections to avoid such situations, but Governor Susanna Martinez vetoed it.) The DASWCD board eventually drew attention for its anti-government, anti-wildlife pronouncements and neglect of most of its duties, eliciting a resounding defeat in a 2014 referendum, when 85% of voters rejected the mill levy the district sought to finance its operations. DASWCD's opposition to the new national monument drew strong challengers in the 2015 board elections. 
This week's election was noteworthy. It pitted Republican money against word-of-mouth and door-to-door canvassing by volunteers. One progressive group that provided some of those volunteers did not exist until after the 2016 election results. The Steve Pearce-related PAC Goal West financed extensive mailings, which may be why absentee ballots strongly favored real-estate developer Kent Thurston and incumbent board chairman Joe Delk. Right-wing money was a significant factor in electing Donald Trump and will play a major role in future elections. The energy and spirit of volunteers won't always be sufficient to counteract that.

It also pitted Bixby, founder and CEO of Southwest Environmental Center, against Delk, who says “environmental cartels” diminish Christians. Couldn't be a clearer contrast. Similarly in the Las Cruces “zone,” conservationist Fenske, a former extension agent, defeated Thurston. Some Delk/Thurston supporters say this was a popularity contest, but it felt like a battle over protecting of our natural resources for everyone. (Delk might be a fun guy. I hope to hear his band play some day. But I strongly preferred Bixby to him for a job focused on conserving water and other resources.)
Bixby and Fenske bring new skills to the Board. Both have extensive experience cooperating with federal, state, and local governments, not avoiding them. Both have experience fund-raising and grant-writing. The District has suffered from inadequate funding and misdirection. Bixby and Fenske can help right the board's course – and perhaps help bring in funds to allow the District to do real good for all of us. 
Fenske called the win “a community effort.” Bixby thanked “everyone who came out and voted in this election. Democracy's not a spectator sport.” He added, I look forward to helping all the people of the district--farmers, ranchers, city dwellers, young, old, conservative, liberal. We all have a stake in taking care of our land and water, and making sure we have a livable planet in the future.

Going forward, let's hope: that DASWCD will bring its board-selection system into compliance with law; that it will be more open and transparent; and that a more varied mix of community members will learn to work collegially to better serve the public and the environment.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 7 June, 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website and, presently on KRWG's website.  A spoken version runs on KRWG Wednesdays, I think at 7:45 a.m. and 4:45 p.m., and possibly at other times.]

[With various people opining on what DASWCD is supposed to be doing, maybe I can help by reprinting a relevant New Mexico statute:

73-20-26. Legislative determination; purpose of act.  
A.   Considered and resolved by legislative determination, it is declared that:   

(1)   the land, waters and other natural resources are the basic physical assets of New Mexico, and their preservation and development are necessary to protect and promote the health and general welfare of the people of the state;   

(2)   the improper use of land and related natural resources, soil erosion and water loss result in economic waste in New Mexico through the deterioration of the state's natural resources; and   

(3)   appropriate corrective and conservation practices and programs must be encouraged and executed in New Mexico to conserve and develop beneficially the soil, water and other natural resources of the state.   

B.   It is declared to be the policy of the legislature and the purpose of the Soil and Water Conservation District Act [73-20-25 through 73-20-48 NMSA 1978] to:   

(1)   control and prevent soil erosion;   

(2)   prevent floodwater and sediment damage;   

(3)   further the conservation, development, beneficial application and proper disposal of water;   

(4)   promote the use of impounded water for recreation, propagation of fish and wildlife, irrigation and for urban and industrial needs; and   

(5)   by the application of these measures, conserve and develop the natural resources of the state, provide for flood control, preserve wildlife, protect the tax base and promote the health, safety and general welfare of the people of New Mexico. ]