Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Difficult World

Sometimes it's easy to see what should be done.

In December 1941, few doubted we needed to beat the Nazi's and the Japanese.

In 1966, it was obviously pointless to battle against Vietnamese independence. The Vietnamese deserved freedom. They'd whipped the French convincingly. We couldn't prevail without destroying the people whose hearts and minds we supposedly sought to win. Their independent spirit and historical enmity toward China meant they wouldn't be China's puppet.

Starting the second Iraq War was obviously unwise. We'd obviously win the “war” quickly; but then be uncomfortably ruling over a spirited set of ethnic and religious factions spoiling for a civil war. No matter how wisely we tried to rule, we would inspire many more terrorists seeking vengeance against us.

This ain't hindsight. Many said these things at the time. I'm no expert, but as the Iraq War started, I wrote a friend a letter saying this. 

But now?

Hordes of U.S. citizens are angry that life ain't what it once was. So to win elections we have to promise jobs (even while robots snag more and more of those) and a stronger economy (just when our graying work force is diminishing and our vast military spending undermines our ability to compete). The postwar period in which we dominated, which feels like normal to most of us, ain't at all normal and won't last. 

Internationally, Russia is a troublesome enemy. Putin is smart, greedy, and conscienceless. One can see why Putin wanted us to elect Trump: Trump not only owes Russians money, but is a shallow, inexperienced fellow whose narcissism makes him predictable and easy to manipulate. Trump has already rewarded Putin in several ways.

Meanwhile China waits. Understanding what China wants and why requires careful study. Threading our way forward, neither kowtowing to China nor stumbling into a destructive war, requires nimble tactics. Both sides will need their best minds concentrating on this. And we have . . . ?

These international conflicts will be waged in a dizzying variety of fields, some well beyond the ken of most of us. Russians mucking with our elections in new ways, tricking folks who'd say they hate Russia into mouthing Russian lines. Hacking and cybersecurity, plus the usual economic and political battlefields. 

Hard to see how a guy who can't read something as long as this column will make intelligent decisions; but he's not the real problem. We are.

We screwed up in Viet Nam and elsewhere by misunderstanding the world as wholly a battle between Communism and Capitalism. Us against the Soviet Union and Peoples Republic. Those countries were actual enemies worthy of serious concern. But folks like the Vietnamese, simply seeking freedom, saw the world differently. Had we recognized that, we'd have saved lives, dollars, and political currency.

What's blinding us now?

American exceptionalism, of course. We're a wonderful country. We've had a fantastic run. I hope we continue as a beautiful – and democratic – success story. We won't cease being a major player. But success encourages us to credit only our greatness – forgetting that vast natural resources and a protective ocean helped.

The fortunes of countries rise and fall. Rich countries get soft. The top dog spends so much on protecting its wealth that it's less likely to discover the next Great Thing. There's also a strong temptation to try to maintain supremacy by declaring war on the nearest rising competitor. And to use fear of the other. Racism. 

One can only hope that Trump's comic-book ineptness will reawaken a desire for wiser, more patient leaders who put our country's real needs first.

[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 25 June 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  KRWG will also air a spoken version several times during the week.]

[Viet Nam is the largest and one of the clearest examples of a mistake our leaders made often during the postwar period, the Cold War.  We were locked in a battle against the Soviet Union, and the Peoples Republic of China, and wanted as much of the populated areas of the world allied with us and not them.  Both sides also quietly funded or initiated efforts, meant to appear as representing strong local sentiment, to undermine governments we didn't like.  Unfortunately, since the rhetoric (though not the reality) of the Soviet Union was friendly to the freeing of oppressed peoples, we let ourselves be pushed into supporting empires (such as French possession of Viet Nam) or  dictators or oligarchies that stood against any serious improvement of the average person's life.]

[American exceptionalism seems to me more subtle than its adherents or those who scoff at it seem to believe.  We can and should take pride in our Founders; in their insistence on freedom and democracy, relatively new ideas in their time.  Jefferson, Franklin, and others were giants.  George Washington remains one of the very few men in history who lead a military rebellion, became sufficiently popular that he probably could have been named President for Life, but walked away.  Not once, but twice: immediately after the war, when we tried our ill-fated experiment with a weak national government in the Articles of Confederation, then again after two terms as President.  Our energy and resourcefulness have been rightly admired by all.  However, for our rise to the top of the heap of nations, it's fair to give credit to geographical and other factors for which our leaders can claim little responsibility.  We had a huge, contiguous land, teeming with natural resources and protected by oceans from the kind of constant military strife Europe and other continents experienced.  Other than during 1861-65, wars have not been fought on our territory, destroying homes, factories, towns, and families.  We've also benefited from a host of other factors, including that our native language (partly from our activities, but more from the British Empire) became the closest the planet has to a universal language.]

My thinking was much influenced quite a while ago by reading The Rise and Fall of the Great Nations, by Paul Kennedy.  Wikipedia's summary of the book's thesis states, "In The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1987), Kennedy argues that economic strength and military power have been highly correlated in the rise and fall of major nations since 1500. He shows that expanding strategic commitments lead to increases in military expenditures that eventually overburden a country's economic base, and cause its long-term decline. His book reached a wide audience of policy makers when it suggested that the United States and the Soviet Union were presently experiencing the same historical dynamics that previously affected Spain, the Netherlands, France, Great Britain, and Germany, and that the United States must come to grips with its own "imperial overstretch".[7]

However, the Cold War ended two years after Kennedy's book appeared, validating his thesis regarding the Soviet Union, but leaving the United States as the sole superpower and, apparently, at the peak of its economy. Nau (2001) contends that Kennedy's "realist" model of international politics underestimates the power of national, domestic identities or the possibility of the ending of the Cold War and the growing convergence of democracy and markets resulting from the democratic peace that followed.[8]"
I want now to read Nau's criticism of Kennedy's ideas.  

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Reform Las Cruces's Initiative Process

City officials should include the initiative process among the city charter amendments the Las Cruces City Council will consider shortly.

In 2014, the process of raising the minimum wage satisfied no one. Business leaders complained that proponents were really motivated by the political desire to get the issue on the ballot. Proponents said businessfolks ignored the issue for months, then requested “dialogue” just for delay. Then the council flouted the City Charter. The Charter was not specific on what happened next, and councilors could ignore it with impunity.

We need change.

First, require proponents to present the ordinance to the city council before gathering signatures. Give the council 45 days to act. Let councilors discuss the merits of the ordinance. Let the city attorney provide legal advice regarding the form of the ordinance and conflicts with other laws, to ensure that any resulting ordinance will be effective. Let everyone discuss possible compromise versions.

The proposal would get a full airing, with all parties heard. The community might reach a consensual solution, rather than experience a divisive signature-gathering process and special vote. Proponents might accept a reasonable compromise rather than make huge efforts for a slightly better version of their ordinance.

But compromise would not be required. Proponents would still decide. Absent an agreement within 45 days, proponents could freely gather signatures. Everyone would have more complete knowledge; and voters would understand the issues more clearly. The vetting should make the ordinance that much stronger.

The Charter is clear that, given sufficient signatures, the council must either adopt the requested ordinance or schedule a popular vote. Without change. The voters dictate to the council.
In 2014, some huffy councilors insisted deciding such issues was their prerogative. That obeying the clear meaning of the Charter would be abdicating their duties.

Amend the Charter to state what should be obvious: that an initiative-induced ordinance should last more than a day. A council required to adopt it April 1 can't rescind it April 10, mocking the citizens.
But if councilors must adopt it, how long must they leave it unchanged? The Charter shouldn't require that an ordinance that damages the us must stand forever -- or until another initiative undoes it.

Provide that: (a) during an initial period (six months? nine? 12?) the council couldn't rescind or substantively amend the ordinance except based on changed circumstances (including that the ordinance isn't working or has very negative side-effects); (b) during a second period, (until eighteen months after enactment? A year? Two?) the council could amend or rescind, but opponents of the change could challenge the proposed change, arguing circumstances hadn't changed; then (c) after two years, or perhaps three, the council would be as free to amend or rescind the ordinance as with any other ordinance.

This would respect an ordinance demanded by the people without locking us into a bad result.
During, say, the first nine months the council could only rescind the ordinance only after filing a declaratory relief action in district court stating their intention and allowing opponents to argue that no changed circumstances or disastrous results justified overturning the people's will. From nine to 24 months, the burden would shift: the council could act, but if opponents filed a court action challenging that, the council would suspend the effective date of its action. After two years, the council would have full discretion, as usual.

We have voter initiatives for good reasons. The council proved in 2014 that it will ignore the people's will and render those initiatives pointless. Will the council now accept some check against such abuse of power? 

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 18 June 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website -- and KRWG will broadcast a spoken version of it at various times this coming week.]

[The Council meets Monday (19June) at  .m., and will discuss (without public-input, I'm told, because this is a first reading) amendments dealing with the recall process some folks tried to misuse a couple of years ago.  As I was pretty involved in the battle to prevent that misuse, I'm naturally happy to see the council take up improvements to that part of the Charter.  My view is that we should tighten the rules to make abuse more difficult, but not completely abandon the recall provision; but I'll deal with those issues in a later column or blog post.]

Mending the Fence  [copyright 2012 pgoodmanphotos]


Sunday, June 11, 2017

NM Soil & Water Conservation Commission Meets in Las Cruces

On Thursday, June 15, the New Mexico Soil & Water Conservation Commission will meet in Las Cruces and appoint members to the State's soil and water districts, including the Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District.

In May, we elected two new boardmembers to DASWCD. There are five elected members, four of whom must be resident landowners. The Commission may appoint two more, who need not be landowners or live in the district.

Seeking reappointment are ranchers Steve Wilmeth and Dudley Williams. Two other candidates, Dr. Roger Beck and Dr. Kurt Anderson, have extensive qualifications in conserving and managing water. (A fifth candidate, Myles Culbertson, is former Livestock Bureau executive director.)

Wilmeth and Williams bring strong backgrounds as ranchers here. I'm more familiar with Wilmeth. His family has ranched here for at least five generations; a forebear rode with the man who inspired the Joshua Deets character in the Lonesome Dove miniseries. My impression is that Wilmeth has done some smart things on his land to conserve resources. As a rancher and hunter, he knows the land. Ranchers should be represented on the board, and he or Williams ably do so.

Anderson and Beck, however, could bring to DASWCD much-needed experience and capabilities – as well as balance. 

Beck was a professor of agricultural economics for thirty years. He spent 2008-2011 as project director of the Afghanistan Water, Agriculture, and Technology Transfer. He has studied “the fragile relationships among land, water, and soil.” 

Anderson serves on the Doña Ana Mutual Domestic Water Consumers' Association board, and the Lower Rio Grande Regional Water Planning Steering Committee, and was on the board of the NM Rural Water Association. With the New Mexico Journal of Sciene, he's published annual volumes on our natural resources.

The Soil & Water Conservation Supervisors Handbook offers some guidance: “Desirable qualifications include interest/background in conservation of renewable natural resources, businesses/management experience, and communication skills.” Beck and Anderson have strong backgrounds in conservation, science, business/management, and communications. 

The point is to make the DASWCD the best it can be. A Board with varied backgrounds and areas of expertise is stronger than a one-dimensional board. Ranchers should be represented. They bring working knowledge of the land and a special relationship with it; but so should the larger community.
What matters is qualifications and experience. The candidates' political views should be irrelevant. Wilmeth and Williams have strong anti-government views, and opposed the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, while Anderson and Beck supported it. Wilmeth has been an eloquent opponent. Several of the Commission members agree with Wilmeth and Williams. One has said, I'm totally against the word 'wilderness.' What that capital 'W' means to me is wasteland and wildfire potential, and wrong... It removes us as stewards of the land.”
Whatever one's views, the DASWCD doesn't decide what happens with monuments or wilderness areas. It won't decide how we balance public and private ownerships of land. The Commission's job is to appoint people who maximize the DASWCD's ability to safeguard our resources, as the State created it to do. A more balanced board, whose members contribute a variety of skills and knowledge, can do that best. 
Anderson and/or Beck brings a range of contacts, ideas, and familiarity with grants and interagency cooperation. As one Commissioner has acknowledged, S&W districts can do great things by cooperating with other agencies. Cooperation with other agencies is critical, and DASWCD hasn't always done that well. If I were a Commissioner, I'd seriously consider strengthening the board by appointing Beck or Anderson and reappointing one incumbent. 
Hopefully the commissioners will do their duty by our community.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 11 June 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website -- and KRWG airs a spoken version during the week.] 

[By the way, in the column I didn't urge folks to go to the NMSWCC meeting; for one thing, those guys have to go through annual appointments for all the districts, and swear in board members elect, and do other business.  But it's at 10 a.m. Thursday at the New Mexico Department of Agriculture building at 3190 South Espina Street in Las Cruces.  If you're knowledgeable or particularly passionate about the DASWCD, go for it! Members of the public can speak -- either (as at local commission or council meetings) when particular items come up or, on more general matters not on the agenda, during general public input, although I think the general public input may be toward the end rather than near the beginning of the meeting.]

The Bosque Nova

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Our Healing Desert - and Trump

In a quiet way, at 5:30 this morning, I felt as close as I've come in this lifetime to a nervous breakdown.

I won't list the tasks, obligations, and problems that loomed large. I take on too much, most of it well-intentioned, then screw it all up. And in the midst of that, I gotta write a newspaper column? I don't feel like a person with a sufficient understanding of much of anything to presume to speak to others! 

I can't even tell how much of my paralyzing sadness was local in nature, personal, and how much was the oppressive cacophany of disastrous headlines and radio news.

Trump and Bannon seem to be taking us out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, ignoring advice from scientists, citizens, and Fortune-500 businesses. Intelligence officials fear sharing classified information with Trump. European leaders say the U.S. is no longer a dependable ally, with regard to climate but also Russia. Putin robs his country blind, and Trump admires him. Meanwhile Russia and China gleefully take advantage of the opportunities Trump provides. 

Trump tweets that Hillary Clinton “blames everyone but herself, and refuses to say she was a terrible candidate.” There's likely some truth in that; but this clown has a country to run. Why's he wasting energy sticking it to his defeated foe, like a peewee-league football player celebrating a touchdown? Can we imagine any previous president acting this way?

Trump repeats like a mantra that he'll end the “war on coal” and decimate the Environmental Protection Agency. But coal jobs fell by two-thirds in the decades before the EPA came around. Coal workers lost their jobs because of economic conditions and mine-owners' decisions, and they ain't coming back. Trump claims he'll recover those jobs by further polluting our environment. That's so silly that even his own chief economist says coal “doesn't make much sense anymore.” 

Fortunately I have several pails of water to take to the compost bin, housed in an old goat pen some distance from the house. It's often a healing walk. This morning the quail repeating his long, piercing call seems to be saying we'll survive. In the compost, a host of worms are performing their alchemy. The desert is still wearing its marvelous, post-rainfall scent. The sun lurks behind the mountains, and the air is cool and fresh. 

Back near the house, families of quail surround the feed block and water bowls. Black-throated sparrows and red-capped house finches are busy at the feeders. So many baby quail and the sweet wet scent of the desert speak of renewal. Seasons pass. So, perhaps, will this political season – though not without severely damaging our country and our earth.

I can enjoy the bustling but peaceful scene out back or focus on its violent and tragic aspects. When a quail flew – fatally -- into our window, its mate kept up a mournful wail for days. We've watched a bullsnake climb into a tree searching for eggs – and curve-billed thrashers kill bullsnakes. 

Shall I paralyze myself grieving over Trump's ugliness – or consider him like the rain refreshing the desert? His threats to our world make each moment in that world more precious. He bragged he was a unifier. Unwittingly, he is. He's brought together many people of good will to oppose him. There's an appealing energy to these new groups who are giving Trumps and Pearces a hard time. Perhaps, as the civil rights movement and a stupid war turned many of my generation altruistic, this too will spawn needed changemakers. 

Maybe they'll good will trump Trump's harm.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 4 June 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website andKRWG's website.]

[Maybe the funniest news of the week was Trump pompously proclaiming that the world was going to stop laughing at us -- just at the moment the world started laughing uncontrollably at him, and at us for electing him.

[Nothing he said about climate change made even a bit of sense.

Meanwhile, his conduct is rapidly living up to his slogan, "Make America Second-Rate!"  The Russians, Germans, French, and Chinese are quite willing to help, too.  
For example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made an appearance Thursday to band together over their commitment to fight climate change.  In a joint press conference with Li in Berlin, Merkel said, "We are living in times of global uncertainty and see our responsibility to expand our partnership in all the different areas and to push for a world order based on law," according to Reuters.  Merkel added, "China has become a more important and strategic partner."  Li said China has "stayed true to its commitment" that it made when it signed the Paris Agreement. China emits the highest levels of carbon dioxide in the world, with the United States ranking second. "Fighting climate change is a global consensus, not invented by China," Li said, in a reference to a tweet by Trump in 2012. 
A fair English translation of all that would be, "If Trump's leading the U.S. into a fantasy world of denial, we'll take over leading the adults in this world." 
Massachusetts U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey warned that leaving the 195-nation deal would be a sign the U.S. is letting go of its global leadership position.  Senator Markey added, “It is going to be a statement that we are withdrawing from global leadership, that we are not accepting our responsibility, and that we are not going to take advantage of this huge economic opportunity in wind, in solar, in clean energy jobs, generally in all electric vehicles, to drive the economy of the 21st century.”
“Instead, they are going to cede this economic terrain to the Chinese, to the Germans, to the Indians, and others, who are going to move forward almost with thanks to the United States," he continued.

Ceding leadership of NATO to Germany and France, and inviting Russia's interference or intimidation, is another prong of our voluntary weakening of the U.S. on the world stage.  When Trump is so admiring of Putin, and so unable to stop yapping even when his words endanger allies' operatives, why wouldn't the world be laughing at us.   (Just after finishing these notes I read "Globe Heaps Scorn on Trump for Paris Exit")

By contrast, Obama was a thoughtful, prudent man with judgment, discretion, and taste.   He didn't need to proclaim his greatness constantly, as Mr. Trump does, because Obama either didn't think he was great or didn't worry so damned much about it.  He was more about learning the facts and getting the job done.  He was far from perfect, but pretty damned good.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

In Defense of Donald Trump

Yes, in DEFENSE of Donald Trump:

All this hoopla about "covfefe" is about the silliest covfefe I've heard in awhile.
I'm about Trump's age.  I'm reasonably literate, thought to be smart, and moderately techno-savvy for our age.  I see that yesterday around noon I texted my wife "Lunch when whete/" -- and have sent to others a fair number of howlers recently.  Particularly here in New Mexico, where we borrow words from another language sometimes, the autocorrect suggestions can be a lot funnier than "covfefe" -- and sometimes we old guys with our fading vision press the wrong spot on the screen.  I usually catch mine, because I'm a writer and somewhat more patient than Donald Trump.

Actually, I like the word.  Yeah, I know he probably meant "coverage"; but covfefe sounds like a second cousin once removed to kerfuffle, which means [across the pond, at least] fuss or commotion.  If I type it into my cell-phone, the auto-correct suggestions are "covered", "concrete", "coffee", "coffers", Corvette", and "coveted."  "Cal coveted Connie's covered concrete Corvette" anyone?

But I think the huge covfefe over covfefe is sad.  It speaks to the desperation so many feel to make fun of the guy any way we can.  God knows the impulse is reasonable; but it's also a good one to resist if we also are in the business of making comments on the political scene which we imagine others might take seriously.  It's like putting up a big headline saying, "I'll take any chance I can get to bash Trump -- but please read my commentary as if it were unbiased and even-handed, even thoughtful."

If we're having a stupid contest, the folks banging Trump over the head over "covfefe" are managing to look dumber than he does, which is not always easy to do.