Sunday, June 28, 2015

Pope Francis's Climate Change Warning

Prince Myshkin, protagonist of Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, is an “idiot” because he takes the words of Jesus quite literally, not realizing (as the mature adults around them do) that such sentiments are all very well in their place but not to be acted upon. 
Pope Francis seems a little that way. In a traditional situation where the Pope displays his humility, Pope Francis chose to do so with juvenile delinquents in a jail; and rather than any ceremonial washing, he chose to kneel down and give their feet a good washing. Clearly he didn’t get it at all!

He keeps getting himself in trouble by speaking plainly to power and saying things that just aren’t said. 
But like the Idiot, he’s no fool.

Notably, he’s suggested that while Catholic traditions consider homosexuality and abortion bad conduct, it might make sense in the 21st Century for the Church to prioritize its causes. 
The Church does not think people should make love out of wedlock, with same-sex or heterosexual loves, and where heterosexual conduct causes pregnancy, that pregnancy should not be terminated except by God. But to Pope Francis those individuals are not enemies, or lost souls. They are to be reached out to as people who have erred. Unlike some who seem drawn to religion as an excuse to bash others who have different beliefs, he endeavors to maintain human connections even while criticizing.

And the world has more urgent needs. 
Extreme and growing world-wide economic inequality threatens to destroy the fabric of society. The Church’s clannish protection of child-molesting priests has caused many more kids to suffer molestation by priests who should have been defrocked, not coddled and transferred. And scientists agree overwhelmingly that “global weirdness” threatens to destroy civilization as we know it, that human activities are a significant contributor to that, and that it’s probably already too late to spare ourselves at least some of the consequences. 
Further, since most secular governments are controlled by or beholden to wealthy interests that benefit from the growing inequality and can’t pause profiting long enough to address the mess humans are making of their nest, Prince Myshkin – uhh, the Pope – can clearly see that world-politics-as-usual ain’t gonna get it done.

And so we have this beautifully-written encyclical, Laudato Si
Good for the human population and great for the Church, which seemed to rival only Bill Clinton as an inexhaustible source of sexual jokes. Suddenly instead of preparing for the punch-line when someone says “priest” people see in their mind's eye a courageous fighter for good – and for the best-possible future.

Jesus may preach of love and fairness, but over the centuries love is not always what the world has experienced from the Church: the Inquisition was hardly love; the selling of indulgences was more like extortion than love; the long, vicious wars between Catholics and Protestants were not unlike the madness we see now between Shi'a and Sunni; and the Church's record during the Holocaust is a murky chapter marked by occasional heroism but frequent compromise – and worse. Then the priests who couldn't keep it in their cassocks, and the “organization men” who protected them.

Francis seems determined to right the ship. 
All is not light. An able cross-examiner would chew up the inconsistency between discouraging contraception and expressing concern about the environmental deterioration to which overpopulation contributes. 
But we are watching something remarkable. We are watching someone remarkable. The contrast with his predecessor – and with other world leaders is dizzying. Will we hear soon from Christian church leaders uneasy about our casual destruction of God's bounty.

We should not take this lightly. 

[This column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-New this morning, Sunday, 28 June, and will appear shortly on the KRWG-TV website.]

[A recent "Sound-Off" in the Sun-News took the Pope to task, mentioning the Vatican's indefensible treatment of Gallileo and his nutty idea that the Earth actually revolved around the Sun, rather than the reverse.  Unfortunately, there's no parallel: then, the Vatican was too attached to its traditional view of things to recognize a promising scientific point.  Here, the Vatican has studied up on modern science and joined the chorus trying to get through to the folks who don't want to face some significant problems.  It's the Republican office-holders and office-seekers, like Rick Santorum, who are too stuck in their own ideological quicksand to move.  I mention Santorum because his objection that the Pope wasn't a scientist applies equally to himself, except that th Pope apparently worked in chemistry at some point in his youth, which, though irrelevant, is more than Santorum can claim.]

[Like Santorum and the Pope, I'm not a scientist.  Anticipating an attack on that ground, likely from a retired local meteorologist, I readily confess.  I'm not a hip surgeon or biologist, either; but when I'm faced with deciding who to have replace my hip or how to treat an illness, I read and listen as widely as I can, recognizing I don't understand every detail, and make the best decision I can.  I rely on secondary indices of credibility and draw reasonable inferences.  Here, the local fellow could cross-question me about his weather charts and make me look as dumb as a Republican Presidential candidate, but a couple of prominent facts stick out: the Pope is on the side of the overwhelming consensus of serious scientists (whose near-unanimity doesn't make them right, but establishes them as odds-on favorites to be close to the mark); peer-reviewed journals show a dearth of articles demolishing the idea of climate change (or global-weirdness); yet the vast wealth of the Koch Brothers and much of U.S. industry stands ready to turn a smart young scientist into Croesus if s/he can come up with a really significant disproof.  Even the U.S. Army, not noted for frivolousness or fads, is observing and dealing with and planning for the problem.  All of which seems pretty significant in trying to figure out who's right here.]

Sunday, June 21, 2015

El Paso Electric, the PRC, and Us

About five years ago, El Paso Electric's electricity supply was mostly adequate, except during brief but sharp spikes in usage on summer afternoons.

EPE could have changed its rate structures to offer us a deal we couldn't refuse. Hike the rate at peak hours and perhaps discount off-peak usage. Only a mooncalf would run his dryer or dishwasher at 2 p.m.

Knowledgeable critics claim this could have solved the problem – while serving the public interest. EPE says it has rate structures to encourage off-peak use; but critics say the choices EPE offers are relatively limited and aren't marketed well.

EPE convinced the regulators it needed much greater capacity. (As part of the tradeoff for monopolizing a valuable and socially important resource, EPE has to ask “Mother, may I?” before taking such a step.)

Critics say EPE could have acquired additional capacity contractually, through a solar source. They say solar would have cost less than half the cost of building and running two more gas-fired generation stations. (Customers would ultimately pay the cost for either alternative.) Building a gas-fired plant with a 50-year life expectancy doesn't seem real smart in a world trying to wean itself from fossil fuels.

NM regulators approved EPE's construction of the plants, which could be dinosaurs well before New Mexicans finish paying for them. (In a quick initial conversation, EPE executives said they could not recall a viable alternative, noted that an independent consultant assesses the bids they get, and promised to look into it.)

The main reason for the present rate case is “Gee, we had to build these huge expensive plants, and now you have to pay for them.”

Why would EPE make such a choice?

Critics say the key is in how EPE profits. With most EPE expenses, like buying power from the solar folks, customers ultimately must reimburse EPE. But on capital investments in non-depreciated assets, EPE is entitled to “a reasonable rate of return.” Profit.

“Solar would have cost less than half,” says Rocky Baca. “In my opinion, they chose the plants because they could make the profit, even though it costs the rest of us more than double.”

Steve Fischmann says the regulatory system “forces companies into bad decision-making.” Make one choice, and we'll reimburse your expenses; buy a new asset, and you can make a profit. That's wrong, and should change; but the problem is the system. (EPE execs say the PRC has approved its moves by granting a certificate of necessity.) Fischmann says the PRC is frequently “asleep at the switch” and that EPE has skillfully “gamed the regulatory system and manipulated the regulators.”

But mostly we must pay more attention next time around. (I hasten to add that I'm just starting to look into the allegations about EPE's conduct and motives.) The system, which I think even EPE execs would admit could theoretically push a company toward bad decision-making appears a problem. (Corporations exist to create profits. Acting morally outraged when they try to do so seems kind of silly; but setting watchdogs to keep us informed makes sense.)

The piecemeal regulatory process (“Balkanized,” Steve called it) means that if you argue in the current rate case that EPE shouldn't be rewarded for bad decisions, EPE might waggle its finger at you and chortle that you should have paid more attention five years ago. And EPE would be right.

For future rate cases, what matters is now. That's why our local governments must “intervene” in all these proceedings: some of them carry huge and perhaps stupid costs a few years down the road.


[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 21 June, and will appear shortly on KRWG-TV's website as well.]

[I think it's important to change and improve the quality of the dialogue between El Paso Electric Company and the public.  Since I like to ask questions but have no deep knowledge of the subject, I hope I can help. 
At the start, it's useful to step back and think about our relationship with EPE.  EPE is not "the Enemy", but a purveyor of an important resource.   Nor is EPE our dear friend, always looking out for us and the environment, as some of its advertising might suggest.  Ain't so.  Can't be so.  EPE is a corporation, and thus legally tasked with maximizing shareholder profits.  Yes, it does some good things in the community, for which it deserves credit; but it ain't our pal.
EPE is both like and unlike the Vescopo folks, from whom we actually bought a modern car a few years ago.  They're alike because we deal at arms' length.  We know Vescovo's in business to maximize profit; they know that if we could find an ethical way to buy our Prius for $1,000 less, we'd do so.  But EPE differs from Vescopo in important ways: EPE has zillions more customers, for fewer dollars per transaction, so we matter more to the Vescopo folks as potential repeat customers or as potential word-of-mouth reporters, positive or negative.  EPE also differs because most of what it's talking about is unfamiliar to most of us.  Above all, we can't easily go buy electricity from a competitor.  EPE is a monopoly.  Therefore the New Mexico PRC, at least theoretically, steps in to permit EPE a reasonable profit and protect us from getting hammered. 

So we should neither assume everything EPE says in a PRC proceeding is truth or assume everything is a lie.  EPE is quite naturally trying to get the PRC to approve what's best for EPE.  Some of what EPE would like is not in our interest.   Some probably is.  Other things may not much matter to us, but enable EPE to function more efficiently.   But I'm not smart enough to know which is which.  Nor are most of you.  Therefore (a) I'm asking, out of my own curiosity and on others' behalf, trying to steer a path through the contradictory claims and outlooks of EPE and its critics and (b) there's a push to have our municipal and county governments pay someone to take a close look  and "intervene" in these proceedings.  Sounds like basic prudence.  
In addition, some EPE decisions are really public policy decisions that should be made by us or our elected representatives.  (Nor is the PRC the ideal decision-maker in these areas.)   How strongly to discourage peak-time usage of electricity or encourage use of renewable energy are not mere business decisions such as how fast a gas-fired plant needs to be able to get up to speed when turned on.
Do I start with some skepticism toward EPE's stated rationales for its requested rate hike?  Of course.  You betcha.  Just as I'd listen critically to the claims someone made who was trying to sell me a computer, car, or motorcycle.  But neither does that skepticism mean that after some investigation and a little consultation with folks who know a little more, I might become convinced.
Maybe this should be obvious.  But I see folks yammering all night about what the City or County does wrong, while ignoring a PRC proceeding that likely has more impact on each of us individually.  I see other folks unwilling to listen at all to EPE.]

[Having said all that (less succinctly than I'd have wished to), I do suspect that some of what we need to be looking at is changing a few of the rules.  Whether or not EPE hosed us by building two -- ultimately four -- power plants when it could have done something far more cost-effective (with our dollars), one does have to wonder if the rules should be written in a way that apparently encourages someone to waste our money. ]

[There's a lot to say about these matters, and I'll hope to write several more columns on EPE and the PRC this season.]

Friday, June 12, 2015

Are Bullying and Favoritism Undermining Las Cruces Public Schools?

There's apparently a bullying problem within the Las Cruces Public School District: many employees say Superintendent Stan Rounds shows extreme favoritism toward folks he likes but has many others “very scared.”

This column is based on extensive conversations with people who will go mostly unnamed because they fear retribution from Rounds. I've found many folks convincing. I've noticed consistency among accounts from different people in different schools and in different positions. 
I've also heard the fear in people's voices, a fear that has no place in a well-run organization. One person, declining to comment, said that the walls had ears, adding that someone could be listening outside the door. “I can't afford to lose my job for answering your question.” 
Many allege that Rounds's favoritism torpedoes morale. They complain of his favoritism toward his fiancée Kathy Adams and her family. 
The JUMP (Joint Ungraded Multi-age Program) story is a beautiful one that turns sad. Teachers from JUMP (and LEAP) speak with true excitement about the teaching they did. The idea was to work with kids who might otherwise be held back because they couldn't read, using a creative combination of new technology and ideas as old as the one-room schoolhouse to improve kids' academic performance.

It seems to have worked. Teachers describe a very non-traditional classroom where a second-grader would be helping a kindergarten kid make her letters and another student would be reading to a row of stuffed toys along the wall. “They thought they were playing. They didn't even know they were learning.”

But they did learn. Not by rote, either, but by good old-fashioned creative teaching. My understanding is that by year's end these kids – from the most difficult socio-economic backgrounds and with the poorest histories of reading and study – had gone from “They'll have to be left back” to above-average among their peers.

But Mr. Rounds's personal motives got in the way. He made Ms. Adams the instruction specialist, although she was not particularly qualified. There was an interviewing process in name only.
Barbara Hammond, an experienced teacher who interviewed for the position, says there were applicants far more qualified than she or Ms. Adams; but she says it was clear that the administration had someone in mind. Ms. Adams, whom she likes, even tried to warn her, urging her (before the selection was made) not to be disappointed. An early teacher in the JUMP Program stated that Ms. Adams was by far the least qualified candidate for the position.

Once installed as instruction specialist, and later principal (though she'd never been an assistant principal, so far as I know), Ms. Adams pressed her ideas on the teachers and invoked Mr. Rounds's name to up the pressure when she didn't get what she wanted. According to some teachers, she forced the group to use methods that didn't fit what they were trying to accomplish. Teachers who'd gone to work joyfully began having a very different experience. 
I'm told that most or all of the teachers in JUMP (and LEAP) filed extensive grievances this past year about Adams; but since the grievances go only to her supervisor, Mr. Rounds, getting a fair hearing has been difficult. 
There have also been extensive complaints about JUMP (and LEAP) getting goodies other schools and departments don't procure so easily.

Regardless of whether there's serious bullying and favoritism, I'm wondering about the ethics of Rounds making decisions to spend significant chunks of public money on his girlfriend. How can he be expected to make those decisions in an unbiased way, purely in the school district's interest, as the law requires? We all know love makes things awfully complicated.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 14 June and will appear later today on KRWG-TV's website.  It's the second of two related columns.  The first  primarily discussed MacArthur Elementary.  The comments people posted in response to that first one were interesting.  A couple of additional individuals with experience at MacArthur echoed what I'd been told; and one (who apparently joined the "blogging community" this month just to comment negatively on my post) defended principal Ragan.  Privately, someone I know who left before Ms. Ragan's tenure took issue with my favorable reference to her predecessor Mr. Stuart, and said he too was a bully.]
[Meanwhile, several people have asked me why Mr. Rounds is not on administrative leave pending the reported investigation of LEAP.  He told me he hadn't been told what it's about.  That suggests that the board may not trust him and that he may be a target of the investigation.  That does lead one to wonder why he should not only be still in the office but reportedly scheduling interviews for the outside investigators.  But since the Board also doesn't tell me what's going on either, I can't begin to answer anyone's questions concerning Mr. Rounds.]

[These sorts of columns are draining to write, and this one was all the more so because I was revising it well into the week -- while recovering from a full hip replacement operation I had Tuesday morning.  (btw, if you may need such an operation, let me note that after having had two hips replaced within the past 12 months, plus a little investigation, I could not recommend Dr. Brandon Broome in El Paso more highly.  He seems excellent; I recovered quickly and fully from the first operation, and this one seems to have gone well too; other people I know have also had good experience with him.  He's in El Paso.  Charles Brandon Broome.)  
It's draining to deal with people who are scared and stressed.  It's draining to deal with people who put their hearts and souls into something -- whether it's being a sheriff's deputy or teaching kids -- and are getting unnecessarily abused in a work-place where it's clear that speaking out could be a career-ending move.

[I've worked in a variety of situations, and have never understood the mentality that demands maximum personal credit for everything good, while rinsing oneself clean of blame as frenetically as Lady MacBeth.  I always felt that folks who spread the credit around fairly were more appealing and ultimately more effective.   I tried to do that when I supervised people.  And I worked more comfortably for people who supervised me that way.
Here, from the NBA because it's on my mind, is a great example.  Game four of the championship finals.  Golden State Warriors, favored, fall behind two games to one in the best-of-seven series, knowing no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the finals.  The Cleveland Cavaliers, led by Lebron James, are winning, partly by slowing the game down and partly because Lebron is unstoppable.  
Suddenly in Game 4 the Warriors change their starting line-up, starting aging former all-star Andre Iguodala in place of seven-foot center Andrew Bogut, playing 6 foot 7 forward Draymond Green as center, and putting Iguodala on James most of the time on defense.  They "went small" to speed up the game, risking loss of a bunch of rebounds to the taller Cavs.  At least for the moment, it worked.
Head Coach Steve Kerr readily admits that the suggestion came not from him or his top coaches, and not from a star player, but from the low man on the coaching totem pole, a 28-year-old  video assistant.  But Kerr accepted it and gave the kid full credit.  As one commentator put it, "It's rare to see such an open and supportive environment in the NBA, as head coaches are often afraid to be overshadowed by their assistants. In Oakland it seems no one is afraid to speak their minds."
I thought of the Las Cruces Public Schools, where several knowledgeable people have told me that Stan Rounds will often pick a relatively unqualified candidate for principal over a better-qualified candidate who won't ask inconvenient questions.  (There's some anecdotal support for that view, but it would be hard to prove how accurate it is, particularly since personnel records are rightly confidential.)

[Ugly things continue to happen at the Las Cruces public schools.]

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Teachers Allege Favoritism and Bad Management

            Is MacArthur Elementary a case study in how a superintendent's favoritism can harm a school? Several present and former teachers and staff say it is.   

            Soon after Kathy Adams, Superintendent Stan Rounds's fiancée, was hired at MacArthur, Terry Stuart, MacArthur's very capable principal, moved to Central Office, and  inexperienced Karla Ragan (then Ruiz) replaced him.  

            Ragan had briefly been an assistant principal.  Often it takes an assistant 2-3 years to become Principal.  Rounds says there's no set requirement.

            Once Adams started there, Rounds frequently visited MacArthur.  (“Day and night,” said one person.  Another added, “Mr. Rounds said, 'I love this school.  It's my favorite school.' Then the day she left, no more.”)

            District employees spoke similarly of Rounds's presence at the LEAP Program when Ms. Adams ran that.  “He was there pretty much every day, unless he was traveling on business,” said one source.  Staff and students even complained about public displays of affection, including hugging and kissing. 

            Rounds notes that he helped in designing the program, and that “my frequenting the school may have been more likely because of the design elements.”  He declined to comment on student complaints, but said “It could be that I might have held her hand on occasion as we walked from place to place, but I don't think that's inappropriate.

            Rounds confirmed reports of an investigation of LEAP, but said the Board hadn't advised him of the precise subject.

            Of MacArthur, I heard two very different portraits.

            Numerous sources say Ragan bullied and harassed experienced staff into leaving and that complaints or grievances were “swept under the rug” by Rounds.  Another said a grievance against Ragan would be “professional suicide.  Even if you won, you lost.”  

            The school experienced high turnover.  “The year I left, thirteen of us left.  It was scary being there.  I knew I could lose my job for nothing,” said one teacher.  During Stuart's ten years, few teachers left except to retire.  “We were a family,” one said.  Another said stability is particularly important to a school in a lower socio-economic area.  A third said the school “just fell apart.”

            However, Rounds says that under several objective measures, notably student academic performance, MacArthur has improved significantly under Ms. Ragan's leadership.

            Was the principal jettisoning teachers whose experience made her nervous -- or spotting serious flaws other principals had missed?   She viewed some people who had lengthy and good records, including national board certification, as very bad teachers.  When one teacher remarked that she'd never been evaluated so low, Ragan reportedly said Stuart hadn't known what he was doing.

            There's certainly discontent at MacArthur.   Teachers allege extreme favoritism and “just plain meanness.”  They say that Ragan, perhaps because of her inexperience, felt intimidated by more experienced teachers; and several said, in various ways, that she lets her favorites get by with things but lowers the boom on folks she doesn't care for.   A grievance letter from former teacher Maribel Villalobos accuses Ms. Ragan of “threatening and/or bullying tactics” and of insulting and biased conduct.  Others say Ragan made insulting remarks or demeaned them. 

            Villalobos (who'd taught for thirty years “with never even a 'needs to improve'”) was suddenly placed on a Growth Plan in May 2013.  (“Usually improvement plans come in the fall, when there's time to help someone improve,” one teacher said.)     

            Others dared not speak up publicly about alleged mistreatment.    Others left because they felt that working under Ragan was unpleasant.  Several said she'd let her favorites get away with anything, and lower the boom on non-favorites for trivial offenses or asking inconvenient questions.

            Based on what I'm hearing, I'd urge someone to take a closer look at MacArthur. 
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 7 June, and will appear later today on KRWG's website.]

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Constitution Guarantees a Speedy Trial

[Update [1Jun2015]: The Attorney-General has filed papers asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to take a look at this case.  Word should come down within 60 days or so on whether or not the court will do so.  I suspect the decision is more likely to stand than not; but it remains just plain wrong that this fellow would walk free after doing about a month and a half of jail time.  He killed an infant.  Didn't mean to, apparently, but damned sure did -- and afterward, out of fear and perhaps inebriation, apparently didn't immediately call 911 then told a couple of different stories about how the girl died.   The Court of Appeals sort of had to do what it did; but my heart goes out to the rest of the girl's familyShe deserved better.]

Many here are outraged that Robert J. Flores, convicted after his daughter died through his inexcusable neglect, will not be jailed. A Soundoff said his daughter, Kalynne, deserved better.

I agree, and would hope former DA Susana Martinez is apologizing in her heart to Kalynne and will some day do so publicly.

It's not the court's fault: our constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial protects us. Despots can keep someone in jail for years pending trial. Our Founders said no to that practice, and meant it. If you get falsely accused used of some crime, you deserve to be heard in court soon. Not five years later, when the DA and her successor have moved on to other jobs.

Is it shocking that a fellow who killed his infant daughter by leaving her in a hamper so he could go out for beer without having neighbors hear her cries won't be jailed? You betcha!
But the speedy trial laws are no secret.

The appellate court had no real choice. The court examined a well-known set of four factors. This delay was extreme and unjustifiable. The Court of Appeal even gave the State the benefit of one big doubt: it classified as “neutral” sixteen months' delay traceable to the DA's unsuccessful appeal of a pre-trial order. (Details on my blog.)

(You can't blame the current D.A. Trial started within a month of his taking office. ADAs Jacinto Palomino and Roxanne Esquivel got a conviction, and an eighteen-year sentence.)

A closer look reveals additional problems.

Had there been no such delay, the courts might have had to free Flores because of other mistakes or misconduct. Law and Order fans know police must give a suspect Miranda warnings. Flores was allegedly taken into police custody (without probable cause, the police reportedly admitted), not “Mirandized,” and subjected to six hours of custodial interrogation. By then, many suspects would be ready to sign whatever you handed 'em, just to stop the interrogation.  (That's particularly true of one who was young and confused, perhaps a bit inebriated, and had just lost his daughter through his own negligence.)

The appeal alleged additional misconduct which the decision doesn't address because the speedy trial issue was sufficient to resolve the appeal. Thus we don't know how those issues would have come out; but appellate specialist Caren Friedman, who helped with the appeal, said “Robert's conviction was obtained through numerous Constitutional violations.” (The Governor's Office hasn't called me back to comment.)

This case seems sadly symbolic of how Martinez ran the office: much “tough on crime” talk, but some sloppy lawyering. Here, part of the delay occurred because the prosecutors said they couldn't prepare for trial in two months. But was this such a complex case it couldn't be tried with two months' preparation? Palomino had only a month.

I wonder now about the decision initially to seek a possible life sentence.

Apparently Robert was a normal young man, who was perhaps too young to be a father and proved it by doing something indefensibly dumb that had horrendous consequences. He was WRONG. His daughter DIED. But did he intend that? Was the clothes hamper obviously life-threatening? If not, what's the right punishment? I don't know, and I don't know all the facts of this case, so I won't speculate. But I doubt it's life imprisonment.   (I know that in my youth I did a host of dumb things that could have killed people, including me, but was luckier than I deserved.)

Generally, New Mexico courts are moving away from treating parenting decisions as criminal matters.

Martinez made a lot of noise and unsuccessfully sought a much longer sentence; but her office failed even to get this kid to trial and may well have ignored basic constitutional rights.

If Martinez runs for national office Flores might get famous; but that won't help Kalynne.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 31 May, and will appear today on KRWG's website.]

[You can read the New Mexico Court of Appeals decision for yourself.  The court seems almost angry -- at the DA's conduct and perhaps at the pliability of the local courts I tried to ascertain whether or not Governor Martinez had anything to say to defend herself.  Wednesday, a very pleasant young man returned my call and said he would look into it and get me her response, if any, that evening or Thursday.  No one called me with any such response.  So maybe I did ascertain whether she has anything to say in her defense.]
[It's easy to say the court should have ignored the abuses and stuck the guy in jail for twenty years because a child died.  But another factor is what happens throughout this country when DA's can get away with this sort of misconduct.  There are abundant examples of kids who never did a damned thing but got picked up and charged, sat in jail, and had a wonderful choice: sit in jail for perhaps years and then probably get convicted in an unfair trial or plea-bargain, pleading to a lighter sentence (years in jail) for a crime you had nothing to do with.  DA's shouldn't get to use time as a weapon that way.  Defendants -- who are presumed not guilty and sometimes actually are -- have a right to get into the court and fight the charge if they choose to.]

[Finally, for those interested in the nature of the actual delays but not so interested as to read the Court of Appeals decision, I summarize below the basic reasons for delays and how the Court of Appeals viewed those:
Many appellate decisions outline the system reviewing courts in New Mexico use to appraise a delay. Factors include length of delay, reasons for different portions of the delay, complexity of the case, and prejudice to defendant. The court analyzes whether portions of the delay were prosecutor's fault, defendant's fault, or no one's fault.
A delay of 12 months in a “simple” case and 18 months in a “complex case” is “presumptively prejudicial.” The greater the delay, the more presumptively prejudicial it is. Here, the courts accepted, over Defendant's objection, the prosecutor's (the State's) argument that this was a complex case. 

Breaking down the length delay, the Court of Appeals held:
12/2007 to May 2008 was negligent and weighed against State. (“The record shows no activity initiated by the State to prosecute this case other than a request to review Defendant's conditions of release because he was seen at a local basketball game.” Defendant did not file initial witness list until May 21, 2008 – and only after four letters from Defendant's counsel requesting disclosure so he could interview witnesses.
5/2008 to 1/2009 was classified as administrative delay that weighed against the State. (The first trial was set for June 3, 2008; May 22, State filed motion to delay six months, up to and including Jan 2, 2009 because prosecutor had another jury trial during the period.)
1/2009 – 3/2009 was “attributable to and weighed against the State. (Court rescheduled to February, State filed motion to extend six-months, S.Ct granted ext to May 2 2009. Defendant made certain motions a month before trial, but did not move to continue; three weeks later the State successfully moved for an extension of time to respond to the motions. The trial court granted the extension, necessitating trial continuance. The Court of Appeals said the three motions were filed “well within the time allocated by rule for the State to respond.” The State's cited reason was need for more time to research and respond.)
4/2009 – 7/2009 weighed against State. (State moved on June 18, a month before trial but 3 days before hearing on suppression motion, to exclude D's expert, whose testimony was expected to be offered at suppression hearing. Trial court ran out of time to respond, necessitated new trial continuance.)
Mid-July to late November 2009 was weighted neutrally. (Defendant moved for change of venue, which the court initially denied then granted, and this was weighed neutrally because the change-of-venue motion was meritorious.).
Dec. 2009 to Sept. 2010 was a six-month negligent delay against the State. (On Dec 18 State petitioned to extend trial to July 2 (8 months after venue change) stating re-set would require special arrangements with Court in Bernalillo County. This ten-month delay was judged significant, particularly in context, and the Court of Appeal noted that the prosecutor hadn't done much to start making those arrangements.)
Then on Feb 16 2011 State moved to continue April 6 2011 setting because prosecutor assigned to the case appointed to the judiciary. (Note that the new prosecutor would have had almost two months to prepare, more than the single month ultimately available to the folks who actually tried the case and won it.) The trial court denied motion to continue, but then granted a defense motion to exclude evidence that the reason Flores had left his daughter alone was to buy beer. The State appealed. This caused a further 16-month delay, which was weighed neutrally by the Court of Appeals even though the appellate court upheld the trial court's decision that the evidence more prejudicial than probative and should be excluded.
July 2012 January 2013 further administrative delays that were weighed against the State.
The cumulative delays were so long that although Defendant's counsel argued prejudice, the Court of Appeals held that it didn't have to find actual prejudice because the three other factors weighted too heavily against the State.]

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Doings at Dusty Desert Spaceport

Another week, another tidbit of desperate hope that the Dusty Desert Spaceport will pay off soon.

Start-up Exos Aerospace Systems and Technologies has bought Armadillo Aerospace's assets and supposedly will develop and launch its new gizmo from Dusty Desert.

Armadillo, founded and financed by video game honcho John Carmack, spent years building a sub-orbital craft, then went “into hibernation mode” in 2013 following a crash and other reverses. (Armadillo deserves credit for a game try and for its unusual honesty with the public about its failures.) One story was headlined “Pipe Dream Meets Reality.” But Exos COO John Quinn says that the craft was so near “commercial viability” that Armadillo would have succeeded with one more launch. (Carmack appears not to be involved in Exos.)

The new gizmo, SARGE, would be basically the old STIG-B with a few modifications. The STIG-B crashed last time they flew it; but Orville and Wilbur had plenty of early screw-ups too. Quinn says that the problem has been addressed and that a redundant backup system has been added to ensure success. If SARGE flies, we'll find out.

One report quoted Quinn that Exos “was examining both raising money from investors and seeking strategic partnerships with other companies to fund development of SARGE.” Exos's recent crowd-funding campaign to raise $125,000 to support design work raised only a fraction of that. Quinn acknowledges that that was as much for media relations and publicity as for funding, and says it helped. He says ample financing exists.

I'd read that SARGE would be ready for its first test flight as soon as March 2016, would launch monthly during 2016, then move to a weekly schedule in 2017. Quinn said that was “still the plan,” calling it “an achievable goal.” Exos's website (glowingly) describes its activities in the present tense. Quinn conceded that “maybe the present tense isn't literally true, in that we're not out there flying every day” but insisted that “the capability is there” and mentioned examples of Armadillo accomplishing things in very short time-frames.

David Mitchell, Exos's co-founder and president, is a fourth-generation Texas oil man and a Christian pastor. He runs both the family business, and “NeUventure on Wall Street,” a series of seminars that purport to teach beginners in two days how to make humonguous returns through the stock market. Most professionals would laugh at some of his basic advice, which reportedly includes avoiding diversification, buying stock in only one or two companies you know well, and “timing” the market.

Critics say the seminars mix familiar basic advice with a lot of upselling of additional training. For thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars you can become an “Insider” or even a “Top Gun.”
Quinn, who credits Mitchell with saving him after he lost much of his retirement money, says the program works, and that none of the critics are “Top Guns.” (He said it takes a lot of hard work to reach that level.) He adds that Mitchell, who wouldn't take a salary as a pastor, conducted the seminars free for church members for years before trying to help a wider audience.

I wouldn't sign up for NeUventure, and I hope Spaceport folks haven't fronted any money to Exos. I see a wide gap between present reality and promises. The gizmo crashed last time they tried it and we're halfway through 2015. I hear the promise of regular launches in 2016 in the context of ever-shifting Virgin Galactic's timetables. But I'm pretty ignorant, and will watch with interest.
But Quinn speaks passionately of his hopes for Exos.

Will Exos will help save the Dusty Desert Spaceport? Tune in next year.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 24 May, and should also appear on KRWG's website shortly.]
[Before providing websites readers can visit to learn more and read things for themselves, let me make sure I'm real clear on this: I started by looking at the claims made by Eros and the known facts and remarking on the vast gulf between them; further research tended to widen that gap; and then some research into David Mitchell's "NeUventure" business blew away, for me at least, his last vestige of credibility.  I do not say he's a con man.   I don't know him.  Instinct tells me that a man whose pitch is so involved with his Christianity and his desire to help others is a man who has at least some amount of sincere belief in what he's doing, even if it appears a bit dubious to observers.  But at best he's a man who inherited a good deal of wealth, and runs his family oil company, and preaches some, and collects a pretty penny from desperately hopeful people for "secrets" of making vast wealth by timing stocks and such.    None of that tends to help an already not-too-credible story.  Rather, he's found another set of desperately hopeful people in the Spaceport officials, and is telling them what they so want to hear.]

[But how did this get to be front-page news?  I've wondered.  I don't think I blame the young man who wrote the story.  Young reporters aren't well paid and tend to be over-worked, so give him a pass on not researching this one a little more.  But if he didn't just pick this story out of cyberspace based on its reference to the Spaceport, and someone put it in front of him?  If it was someone with Dusty Desert Spaceport, that person (paid by us) should have recognized the reasons to be skeptical about Exos and either didn't know (sad, because s/he has a responsibility as a public official for doing at least reasonable research and having at least a modicum of good sense) or knew and passed on the story without alerting the reporter.  
But I readily concede that I can't see the future and this thing might somehow turn out wonderfully for all concerned.]

[Websites and sources: Monday's Sun-News story is here; the on-line Space News story quoted in it is at ; this is an earlier story on Armadillo going into "hibernation" mode; this is Exos's website, which uses the present tense to describe a bunch of schedules and launches that I presume exist only in some remote and uncertain future plans, and the Biographies are worth a glance too; the Kickstarter pitch  ,  with indications that it's failing miserably as a fund-raising mechanism; this is the website for "NeUventure on Wall Street."  And here are two web-sites -- a review of a "NeUventure on Wall Street" seminar and an expert analysis of a Mitchell handout on investing -- from which I'll quote liberally below.  I think the material as a whole would lead one to be concerned that "Neuventure" might be a scam, and by extension to avoid relying too heavily on Exos's plans and promises.]

[In fact, logic would tell us that if Mitchell's methods could consistently make the huge returns some of his supporters claim, he'd be more famous than Warren Buffett (whom he apparently quotes, a little misleadingly, as supporting his anti-diversification view).  If he had shown through his performance that diversification wasn't a pretty good idea long term, there'd be a lot written about it; and, as someone pointed out, if his methods were as sound as claimed, and he were so intent on helping everyone, he could help a great many more people by opening a mutual fund folks could invest in.
Still, Exos is not NeUventure.  Maybe something good will happen.]

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Water We Should Use

Stormwater-harvesting expert Van Clothier, who spoke here a week ago, says things so just-plain-sensible that most of us (and most of our local leaders) – don't quite get 'em.

We live in a desert. We're in a drought that could last awhile. We need water.

Stormwater is water.

It falls on our roofs. If we have rain-barrels, or have prepared our land properly, we catch it and use it to grow vegetables, flowers, and trees. Trees help shade us and cool us; veggies feed us; and flowers lift our spirits.

Rain falls on our streets and sidewalks, too. Storms can create a bit of a safety hazard, as water rushes along our streets and into our storm drains and out of town as fast as possible. Doing us no good. Needing water, we watch water rush past.

We could use that water. With little or no extra cost. So says Van, along with Brad Lancaster, who spoke here last April. Van spoke at a City-sponsored Lush N Lean workshop, one in a series on water-related topics.  "Stormwater harvesting could save Las Cruces thousands of taxpayers money and water, while keeping our city beautiful and attractive," City Councilor Gill Sorg commented. 

Under the right conditions, just cutting into the curb so that some of that storm-water runs into your yard, could give your trees or garden abundant water. Free. (Don't ignore “under the right conditions”: if your land is higher than the street, it won't work, 'cause water flows downhill; or if your house is lower than your land and the street, you could draw the water right to your house.)

Cutting into the curb is illegal, in most places. You can get a permit now in Tucson, where Brad lives, largely because of how well his methods have worked. I think that's true now in Silver City, too, where Van lives. His company, Stream Dynamics, Inc., consults with people – and with cities and towns.

Van starts by observing the land very, very carefully. His method features diverting water early, into places where it can sink in rather than flow past or pond extensively (and evaporate). You start at the highest point you can, because water flows downhill, and has smaller force and volume at the top.

Tuesday, Stream Dynamics received exciting news: the New Mexico Environmental Department has given it the okay to proceed with a $138,000 grant involving 80 water-harvesting projects in and near Silver City. Van was stoked, saying that the work could serve as “a practical model for other urban streams in New Mexico.”

“Turning nuisance storm-water into a community resource, through innovative water-harvesting techniques, will improve water quality and riparian health, reduce flood and fire dangers, and modernize storm-water infrastructure,” he added.

I've wondered whether these methods could help with the problem of decrepit dams and resultant floods in our County. Could ancient and more natural principles be used to slow down rushing arroyos at their sources?

It's an inviting idea. By starting at the top, could a finite group do work within a reasonable time that would make a significant difference in flood control? It wouldn't cost that much to find out. Meanwhile local governments are nowhere near having the budget or funding to repair or replace dams, a much more expensive (and sometimes environmentally undesirable) solution.

Van was guardedly positive, saying that in theory I was on the right track, but that this sort of work “is extremely site-specific. It's like asking me how a dress would look on a woman I've never met and know nothing about.”

If you missed their talks, check out Van's and Brad's web sites. (URL's on my blog today.) More importantly, urge your city councilor or county commissioner to implement some of what Van and Brad have done.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 17 Mary, 2015, sub nom Stormwater Harvesting Makes Common Sense -- and will also appear today on KRWG's website.]
[ As promised, here are Van Clothier's website and Brad Lancaster's.  Too, here's the column I wrote last year introducing Brad.  The column summarizes how Brad happened to get started doing what he does. ]
[ Glancing at the column on Brad takes me back a year.  Dael and I had somehow taken on the chore of making it all happen -- procuring a venue, scheduling it, coordinating with Brad, trying to get the word out, etc.; and since the venue was the Rio Grande Theater (thanks to the City), with plenty of seats, getting the word out seemed all the more important.  Ultimately, it was a great event -- all thanks to Brad, who was both informative and incredibly funny -- and we heard a lot of praise for him from people who'd attended and some lamentations from people who hadn't heard about it or hadn't been able to make it.  I remember the effort (Dael's more than mine!) and how much we enjoyed Brad's talk.  And we met Van that night. ]
[By the way, the Lush N Lean series runs programs 6-8 p.m. at the WIA Building on the East side of Pioneer Park.  Free.  The next topics include Trees (21 May) and Irrigation (28 May), but I think that may be the end of the program this year.]