Thursday, January 29, 2015

Troy Tudor, Candidate for School Board



Chamber of Commerce Vice-President Troy Tudor is running for the school board.

Normally that would merely mean he could have divided loyalties. Suppose some measure would help the schools but hurt the Chamber? Say the school was looking at some land for its purposes but a prominent Chamber member wanted it for his business.

But the Chamber apparently seeks control of our county's politics. Businesses are waging a vicious and misleading municipal recall campaign. The incoming Chamber president says the Chamber will run candidates for all local offices. Is Tudor's candidacy part of that plan?

It may seem unfair to bring in the spurious and fraudulently-conducted Recall campaign; but Mr. Tudor is reportedly behind the “Close the Cafe” website that's been cheering on the Recallers with misleading posts. There's good reason to believe he is involved with it, but I have not been able to ask him whether he is or not. He may deny it, if he ever calls back.

Tudor didn't show up at a recent forum where all the other candidates spoke out and fielded questions. Nor has he returned the messages I left on his cell-phone Saturday and Monday morning.

Mr. Tudor recently “tweeted” that “Fox News rocks” – apparently in connection with his family closing its DirectTV account over DirectTV's business dispute with Fox. He can watch whatever he likes; but does his comment indicate he prefers the safety of a single voice to the open clash of ideas that should mark our politics and our school board meetings?

I'd not want school board members whose votes were motivated by ideology (left or right!), not by a fair and thoughtful consideration of facts.

In 2014, Mr. Tudor wrote against the new Monument, adding, “[L]et the will of the people as a whole be heard.”

Rightly or wrongly, a strong majority of local citizens favored the Monument. Surveys consistently confirmed that. After several years of discussion, and compromises with law enforcement and other interests, the President was ready to proclaim the Monument. Yet Tudor and the Chamber urged another delay to hear “the people as a whole” again. He apparently didn't like what “the people as a whole” thought.

Although the Monument appears likely to help local businesses at least a little, Tudor's ideology apparently overrode his obligation to further local business interests.

In September 2009, a neighbor sued Tudor for diverting water that harmed the neighbors property. Tudor denied most most allegations and counterclaimed for damages.  (He also asserted twice that the Plaintiff spent a lot of each year in Thailand, as if that were a highly material fact.)  After a court-mandated settlement conference, he settled, in a written settlement agreement.  He was to do various work to restore the land to its prior state. Six months later Plaintiff had to reopen the case, alleging Tudor had reneged.  Tudor had done nothing, and Plaintiff told the Court Tudor's conduct, then and earlier, had shown Tudor "to be disingenuous, uncooperative, and contemptuous of the law, and willful."  He also alleged Tudor had settled in bad faith.

Tudor's insurer intervened, joining the discussion even though it complained Tudor gave the company late notice of the problem and that an "intentional act exclusion" protected it  After a little more legal sparing, a June 2011 court judgment ordered ordered Tudor to do restoration work and pay $1,500 in damages and $3912 costs, plus interest. Again Tudor apparently reneged. Plaintiff reopened the case again. In September 2012 – three years after the lawsuit's filing – Tudor (or the insurance company) apparently payed the judgment amount.

There's likely a better side to Troy Tudor: but available evidence suggests he's not the ideal school-board member. If he doesn't care enough to answer questions, will he be forthcoming and transparent with the public if elected? Does his opposition to the Monument suggest that our schools' interests would also take a back seat to ideology? What does his behavior in the lawsuit tell us?

By contrast, Maury Castro is a conscientious individual with the public good in mind. He has real experience in education, as well as with budgets and policy-making – and is troubled by the stress that overemphasis on standardized tests places on students and teachers. He's in this race to improve the schools, whatever that takes – and not to impose a preconceived extremist ideology on our schools.
                                                     -30-
[The election is Tuesday, February 3 My Sun-News column this coming Sunday will look at the school board races from a different perspective.  Meanwhile, I did want to get this posted -- and will add further information during the next couple of days, if time permits.]
[Tudor's conduct in the lawsuit may resonate more with me than with most because I've seen other situations where an innocent party (here, a neighbor whose property was being damaged and who couldn't get a cooperative response from the person damaging it, then went to law and paid extensive legal fees to get justice -- but, given Tudor's further conduct during the twice-reopened litigation, probably paid a lot of money for his justice and waited three years.  Whatever the merits of the original case, Tudor's conduct during the litigation seems like that of a spoiled child caught doing something wrong who just kicks out destroying stuff instead of apologizing and cooperating in repairing the damage he's done.]
[By the way, it's mid-day Thursday, and he still hasn't returned my calls from last Friday and this Monday.  Doesn't offend me at all.  But doesn't suggest he's a fellow who wants to answer questions, either.]

Sunday, January 25, 2015

U.S. Supreme Court Will Strike Bans on Same-Sex Marriage

I think “Marriage Equality” will be law throughout the U.S. later this year.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been heading that way since 2003, when it prohibited a Texas law against consensual gay sex in Lawrence v. Texas. (Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in dissent that after Lawrence, there was no basis for denying same-sex couples the right to marry.) In 2013 it tossed out federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. In each opinion Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Court, wrote of gay people's dignity and equality.

Then why hasn't the Court already decided the marriage issue?

Time has allowed arguments for both sides to develop in dozens of lower-court cases, and the years have seen a big change in public opinion.

The arguments for an important state interest in prohibiting same-sex marriage have proven weak. Some are fatuous (Lawyer: “Judge, marriage is only for procreation!” Judge: “Nonsense! I marry septuagenarians all the time, and I'm pretty sure producing babies isn't part of their plan.”). Other arguments are faith-based, and not legal arguments. The “oh, this is so wrong!” sentiment reduces finally to religious preference or “tradition.”

In more than 40 cases around the country, federal and state judges, of varying political views, have almost unanimously held against same-sex marriage bans.

In 2003, no state permitted same-sex marriage. In March 2013, when the Court decided Defense of Marriage, nine states permitted it, and the Court (states-rights oriented, except in Bush v. Gore) was reluctant to tell the other states what to do. (New Mexico was the 17th, in 2013.) Now, marriage equality is law in 36 states; and public opinion has swung to a strong majority favoring marriage equality.

Further, the recent Sixth Circuit decision favoring letting states decide created a split in the circuits, thus providing a specific reason for the Court to opine and clarify matters.

The Court will hear arguments in April on two issues: does the Constitutional mandate of equal protection, applied to states through the 14th Amendment, prohibit states from enacting laws discriminating between man-woman couples and other couples in granting marriage licenses? And does a state that doesn't allow two men or two women to marry nevertheless have a duty to honor marriages granted in other states?

Considering the second question first provides a possible roadmap.

The Constitution specifically says states must give “full faith and credit” to the laws of other states. That's clear and unambiguous.

If New Mexico law has made Tom and Harry a married couple, Texas should recognize them as such.

Arguably, the individual right to travel from state to state is also at issue. Suppose Tom and Harry are happily married under their state's law. They visit a state that doesn't recognize their marriage. If Harry has a serious illness or accident, the hospital could keep Tom from visiting Harry in the ICU, since he wouldn't be family under its law. That's a serious restriction on right to travel. It's extremely unfair, too.

I think the Court will hold that states must recognize marriages performed in sister states.

If states must give full faith and credit to other states' marriages, that negates a popular (but weak) argument against legalizing such marriages. Opponents argue that gay couples somehow undermine family values, or that seeing same-sex married couples will give children the idea that maybe gay families are all right. But if same-sex couples are moving in from other states, a state can't prevent the “problem” by refusing to authorize marriages.

Fact is, as people see gay families around, behaving quite like other families, they'll eventually get used to it – and why not?
                                                     -30-
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, __ January.]

[I hope it's clear that my reference to the "weakness" of the legal arguments against same-sex marriage isn't just my opinion but also relies on the fact that those arguments have failed miserably in almost all the cases where they've been advanced.   I do find them weak!  But so do judges and justices from around the country and from a variety of political backgrounds.]
[The point I make in the column that I haven't read elsewhere -- and which may be dead wrong -- is that merely requiring states to honor sister states' marriages of same-sex couples will make it harder for the Court to uphold bans by such a state on such marriages within the state's borders.  Why? First of all, it's confusing and just plain silly to have gay married couples who moved from other states walking around while other gay couples can't get married without taking a vacation in New Mexico or somewhere.  Second, as stated, to the extent that opponents of same-sex marriages think that having gay couples around causes society some damage, then (as stated in the column) the ban could no longer accomplish their goal anyway, but would just pointlessly interfere with lives of gay couples.  Since such cases involve balancing the imposition on the individuals with the significance of the state's interest in discriminating against them, recognizing marriages from other states would ultimately undermine the purported state interest as some litigants have stated it.]
[One of the arguments in the California case was that letting gays marry would somehow tarnish the marriages of heterosexuals.  Nonsense!  First of all, if someone's marriage is so weak that it can be undermined or tarnished by what some pair of strangers may be doing in their marriage, then someone's marriage ain't much to start with.  Quite to the contrary, Dael and I, as we considered marrying, felt appalled by the unfairness of denying marriage to a gay couple as full of love for each other as we were, and as committed to each other.  If anything, our knowledge of that unfairness would tend to weaken our enjoyment of marriage, as watching a row of hungry kids would weaken my enjoyment of an ice-cream sundae.  I wrote the Plaintiffs' lawyers and offered to testify to that effect, if needed.]

[A story in today's paper reminds me of another bit of evidence that the time has come, and that the Court will recognize that.  The story described a few fringe legislators in various states, including Georgia and Texas, trying to adopt any-gay legislation before the Court decides the issue.  No suprise there.    But the story goes on to note that there's no apparent chance such laws will pass, Republican leadership in those states hasn't advocated such laws, and that there's well-funded opposition from business groups.  The most relevant point is that neither mainstream Republican legislators nor businesses want to see any such thing.  And the relevance isn't that the legislators or businesses can dictate to the Court, but that they reflect the current attitude in the population from which most of these justices hailed: white middle or upper-middle class businessfolk, lawyers, and politicians.]

[For an odd sort of perspective, the New Yorker Magazine, in the issue that arrived the day I wrote this column, contains an interesting incident.  On August 29, 1867, a 42-year-old German lawer, Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, spoke before a national congress of jurists.  He was terrified ahead of time about what he wasy going to say, but he said it: he urged repeal of laws forbidding sex between men.  He told the 500 distinguished jurists in the audience that existing laws persecuted people (including himself) with a "sexual nature opposed to common custom"  for impulses that "nature, mysteriously governing and creating, had implanted in them."  Thus he was making, perhaps for the first time in modern history, the argument that gays were gay by nature, not primarily by choice.  The place went crazy.  Ulrichs had to stop speaking, and eventually went into exile, but his ideas had some influence.  Others picked up the idea and acted on it.  As happened a hundred years later in the U.S., there were gay clubs, a gay magazine, criticism of the negative portrayal of homosexuality in the general culture, and vigorous discussions of what was later called "outing."  (The term "homosexuality" was coined in 1869 by a pro-gay-rights writer.) In 1880's Berlin, a police commissioner gave up prosecuting gay bars and adopted what the New Yorker calls "a policy of bemused tolerance" and even took people on tours.]





Sunday, January 18, 2015

Looking Backward



Edward Bellamy wrote Looking Backward 2000-1887. A utopian socialist novel, it envisioned a world in which social ills like poverty and illiteracy no longer existed because humankind had outgrown competition as a guiding principle.

By 1900 only Uncle Tom's Cabin had outsold Looking Backward among books published in the U.S. Folks so loved it as an alternative to the abuses of the Gilded Age that around the country 500 Nationalist Clubs sprang up to disseminate Bellamy's ideas.

Bellamy's father was a Baptist minister. His father-in-law was a Baptist minister who'd been forced out of his church for becoming a Freemason.

His cousin was Francis Bellamy, who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892.

The Pledge was created to help the national magazine Youth's Companion sell subscriptions. The magazine gave away flags with new subscriptions, and Bellamy wrote the Pledge to help boost circulation.

But both the editor and Francis Bellamy were deeply patriotic. They also headed up the Flags for Schools Movement. They wanted every school in the country to have a flag out front. By September 1892, when the Pledge was published in the magazine to honor the 400th anniversary of Columbus's voyage, they'd sold tens of thousands of flags to schools.

Francis Bellamy was a Baptist minister too.

Through 20th Century eyes, Edward's socialism and Francis's ministry and patriotism seem worlds apart.

But Francis was a Christian Socialist. He favored workers' rights and equal distribution of resources. He believed equality was inherent in Jesus's teachings. One of his popular lectures was “Jesus the Socialist.” On the other hand, he expressed doubts about letting “every dull-witted or fanatical immigrant” help govern us.

His concise Pledge was carefully worded. “Indivisible” was a shorthand reference to the Civil War, and “with liberty and justice for all” he cribbed from the slogan of the French Revolution.
Francis Bellamy also prescribed a very specific salute that accompanied the Pledge. Pledgers extended their right arms straight outward toward the flag. Around 1941 that particular salute didn't look so good, so it was replaced by putting one's right hand on the heart.

In 1954, as most folks know, President Eisenhower moved to add “under God” to the Pledge, to emphasize our national opposition to godless Communism.

But Francis was also what we'd now call a racist. (“Each alien of inferior race may bring corruption to the stock. . . . There are races which we cannot assimilate without lowering our racial standard, which should be as sacred to us as the sanctity of our homes.”) In fairness, one source says he omitted “equality” from the Pledge only as a compromise with school superintendents who didn't favor equality for women or African-Americans.

Each Age has its own contradictions. As we would now wonder how one could be a militant socialist and a Christian, or a socialist and a racist, later generations (if any) will wonder about us.
They'll know, for example, that in one huge political controversy, one side argued women should have free choice regarding their bodies and the other side wanted to prohibit abortion because all human life is sacred. When they realize there was also a controversy regarding the death penalty, they'll assume, logically, that the “Pro-Life” proponents must have opposed the death penalty. They might also assume “Pro-Lifers” looked askance at automatic weapons, while people favoring choice were more relaxed about guns.

(On a lighter note, future archeologists, as the old professor pointed out one day, will conclude that the human race grew smaller from the 1950's to the 1980's, because the cars got so much smaller. As have airline seats now.)

Strange creatures, we humans.
                                                        -30-

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News today, Sunday, 18 January.]

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Faith and Politics, Guns and Justice

Jim Harbison is a fine gentleman, but his recent hit-piece on CAFé relied too much on name-calling and not enough on facts and analysis.

As you likely know, CAFé led the local campaign for a minimum-wage hike. Mr. Harbison writes, “CAFé is a community organizer group (think ACORN).” He alleges no relationship between the two; but ACORN's a code-word in Right-Wing-Speak. It's like saying “Joe is a cop (think Ferguson)."
 
He criticizes CAFé's Sarah Nolan for wanting people to experience power and develop faith in their ability to create change; he says she favors social change – which is somehow assumed to be bad, and somehow inappropriate for a faith-based organization. 
 
I don't quite get it. He doesn't seem to mind if faith-based organizations oppose tolerance or support the Tea Party agenda; but using Christ's teachings to encourage social justice is somehow wrong. The Bible I read portrayed Jesus Christ as rather sympathetic to acceptance of others and social justice, and a little suspicious of rich or judgmental folks.

Similarly, he complains that CAFé supports “stronger gun control and opposes the NRA,” then adds, “I believe it is incompatible for any truly religious 'faith'-based organization to advocate the taking of a human life.” That sounds like a non sequitur, but he goes on to say that some of CAFé's board-members who are pro-choice.

Couple of questions. 
 
First of all, an abortion isn't “taking a human life” under U.S. Law or the laws of most civilized countries. Too, plenty of people have room in their hearts for both religious faith and compassion toward women who need abortions.

Nor is acceptance or even approval of marriage freedom inconsistent with Christian faith. More than a few LGBT folks are leaders in recognized Christian denominations. While Mr. Harbison may say what he chooses, it seems a little . . . presumptuous . . . to assert that Christian groups who disagree with him politically lack faith.
 
Third: I don't know how Jesus would have come out on a lot of these issues, though he tended toward tolerance; but let me ask you: if Jesus came back and had time to serve on a board, would you really believe he'd rather serve an organization fighting to allow everyone to carry semi-automatic weapons around than an organization dedicated to social justice? 
 
Speaking of semi-automatic weapons, maybe someone can remind me what's wrong with requiring background checks on people who stroll in and want to buy 'em. Those folks could be terrorists, mental-asylum escapees, convicted murderers, or men against whom a court has issued a restraining order because of domestic violence. I understand that to some, any legislation involving guns is automatically part of a Communist plot; but really, how's it hurt a responsible gun owner to try to keep a few dangerous folks from buying such weapons without a background check? 
 
I guess I'm a little edgy this week. Two or three jerks with such weapons killed 12 journalists in France with such weapons, because they didn't like what the journalists said. Religious faith and guns can be a combustible mixture I tend to be uneasy about. (I don't mean at all that most religious folks are dangerous; but it does seem that extreme religious faith can lead to killings. In recent years that's more the case with Islamic believers than Christians, by a long shot; and it's more often true with Christians than Buddhists. (Nor does such conduct truly reflect the words of Mohammed or Jesus.)

Yes, the killers felt the journalists' comic images of Mohammed were unthinkably vile; but we live in a secular society. All kinds of beliefs jostle each other daily. Get used to it. 
                                                                             -30-  
 
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 11 January, 2015, as well as in other area newspapers.]

[The more I think about this column, the clearer it seems to me that:
-- we are blessed with a secular democracy in which decisions should not be taken based on the tenets of any particular religion or religions;
-- some of the people in this community not only believe otherwise but believe they are in some sort of "war" against those who would keep our democracy secular; and
-- insisting decisions follow one's religious beliefs, and asserting that anyone who doesn't agree with our personal interpretations of our religion cannot have faith, makes meaningful civic discourse difficult.]

[Further, this sort of religious-based thinking leads us to fail to acknowledge, or be able to acknowledge, the full humanity and legitimacy of others and their views.  Taken to its extreme, that sort of thinking leads to the murders of journalists who mock our gods or the murders of doctors who perform abortions we believe our God prohibits -- or, in earlier times, to the murders of non-believers, supposed witches, Jews by the Inquisition, or even of Catholics by Protestants and Protestants by Catholics -- or, still, Jews and Christians by Muslims, and Sunni Moslems and Shiite Moslems by each other.  For the Islamic believer who mistakenly  believes his God would have him murder those who don't believe just as he does or for the young Christian believer who mistakenly believes his God would have him murder "baby-killers," such killings seem not only acceptable but almost required.  Obviously Mr. Harbison has no intention of encouraging such actions, and no one should read the above column to suggest otherwise; but even at the less dramatic level of municipal political discussion in our Southwestern city, it's a shame to close off other voices on religious grounds -- whether you're Jim Harbison or you're someone who doesn't interpret Christianity quite as Jim does and therefore closes off Jim's voice in your mind.]



Sunday, January 4, 2015

Recallers Should Retract Defamatory Comments

(This column is an open letter to Jeffrey Isbell, Pamela Wolfe, and their Recall-pushing associates requesting them to either substantiate or retract their apparently defamatory false statements.)
 
You have repeatedly stated in writing that three city councilors have "grievous conflicts of interest" in that "they continue to serve on the city council while also being employed by radical organizations . . ." You you are free to opine that these unidentified organizations are "radical"; but knowingly making false factual statements can constitute defamation. 
 
Facts: Mr. Sorg is a 68-year-old retired rancher, employed only by the City. Ms. Pedroza, 72, is employed only by the City. She does not practice law, except for a very occasional pro bono service for a family member. She hasn't had a law office for a decade and never represented organizations. While Mr. Small is employed by the Wilderness Alliance, which supported the new National Monument, Small carefully recused himself from discussions and votes regarding the advisory resolution the City Council unanimously approved supporting the Monument.

Thus your statement is flatly untrue, as you knew or should have known when writing it. Certainly you are on knowledge now regarding the facts. 
 
Similarly you accuse them of "lying" to their constituents. We know of no such "lies." We have repeatedly asked you to identify them. You have been unable to identify any. 
 
You have also alleged that the three Councilors used public resources in their campaigns. You even claimed you'd seen actual documents suggesting so. Your failure to identify any such document(s) is strong evidence not only that you have no basis in fact for your allegation, but that you were aware all along that it was groundless. 
 
As your lawyer will advise you, even a public figure can recover for defamation where the defamer either knows the factual allegations are untrue or shows reckless disregard for their truth or falsity.

Any court or jury would readily conclude that not one of these allegations is true. If a judge hesitated to conclude you acted with the requisite disregard for truth, the seemingly limitless mudballs you've tossed out are useful evidence concerning your state of mind and your disregard for truth.

For example, you state or imply that Nathan Small's street is better paved than some other streets because of his position; but in fact he moved to his present home AFTER the street was paved. 
 
You state that Nathan Small spends most of his time in Albuquerque. While his wife is indeed finishing law school in Albuquerque, anyone around City Hall could tell you Nathan is in Las Cruces. (His heart may be in Albuquerque, but the rest of him is quite visible here.) You can cite no evidence that could reasonably have made you think otherwise.

The way you've conducted your recall campaign suggests that absurd lies are your basic modus operandi. Citizen complaints establish that your operatives have misrepresented the nature of the petition in various ways, notably as being about saving the PAL Boxing Gym and even as having nothing to do with recall. Such evidence would assist any trier of fact in determining whether you told an innocent falsehood or consciously lied. The City Attorney, through the City Clerk, has warned you that your reported misrepresentations could amount to election fraud.

This letter constitutes a formal request, on behalf of the three Councilors, that you publicly retract the cited statements. Simple decency mandates that if you can't factually support false accusations, you should withdraw them. Failure to retract the statements could be evidence at trial in a possible defamation claim. 
 
[Full disclosure: the writer strongly opposes the Recall. Should the Councilors choose to file suit, the writer might very well represent them in the action.]
                                                                       -30-




[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, January 4.]

[Ever the optimist, I'd like to hope that some of the more serious allegations discussed in the column are mistaken ideas that the Recallers repeated without bothering to check but which they will now withdraw.  I hope I'm wrong in writing that repeating statements they know are groundless is simply the way they choose to operate.  But there are so many false statements and groundless insinuations!  I hope those folks will prove me wrong about their mind-set.]

[The Recallers also alleged that the councilors had used their positions to advance their political futures. That's too vague to be actionable; and it's a pretty common in politics, but here it's also wildly inaccurate, as to at least two of the three.  Ms. Pedroza has no plan to run for further office.   Mr. Sorg appears to have none, but would have every right to run for something if he wanted to.   To any neutral observer, their commitment to their current positions, and their extreme diligence as councilors, would suggest you are wrong.  All three, to the extent that I know them, are very frequently concerned with the common good, as they perceive it, and do not appear motivated by political ambitionFurther, this is kind of a "who cares?" allegation without some  actual misconduct or inattention to duty.]

[In fact, it'd take most of the week to list all the crazy allegations they've thrown out -- then abandoned, in many cases, when people mostly laughed.  Their implying that Vi and Ron Cauthon, a very sweet couple somewhat past the first bloom of youth, were out stealing taillights off city councilors' cars was notable.  (They carefully implied it without stating that one, perhaps fearing a defamation suit; but since it was too far out there to get believed or cause any harm, I don't guess they should have worried.)  One of their latest, since they can't apparently get the three districts worked up about their others, is that people (and the Sun-News) ought to favor recall so as to spark livelier civic discussion! 
That's fucking ridiculous.   The minimum-wage issue sparked plenty of civic discourse.  (The real threat of the recall is to cut off such discourse, by intimidating counselors who might want to vote based on conscience and constituents, rather than according to Chamber of Commerce instructions.)  Residents of two of the three districts just re-elected the councilors now under attack, which suggests they're not too freaked out about the two.  Constituents would rather Pedroza and Sorg work on legitimate city issues than get distracted by arguing with Jeffrey Isbell.   In District 4, Small's term ends in November 2015 -- and even under the most optimistic schedule for Isbell, recall couldn't end the term and have an interim councilor on board much before June 1.  (Assume they turn in petitions to City Clerk around February 5; assume that particularly with issues of fraud and other issues concerning the soliciting of signatures, it'll take at least 2-3 weeks to certify sufficient numbers of signatures on one or more of the three petitions, taking us nearly to the end of February; then an election needs to happen within two months, or by late April; then assume the remaining councilors and the mayor take at least a few weeks to appoint an interim councilor (as prudence and the Open Meetings Law would suggest), then we're into late May before there's a potential interim councilor, who'd be learning where the bathrooms and coffee machines are and running for re-election during the next five months.  Is that worth thousands of dollars (maybe tens of thousands) and a bunch of distraction?  Assuming you're not Jeffrey Isbell, struggling to prove to your masters that you weren't a mistake, it probably isn't.)]

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Roadrunner New Year's - Reflections

This morning, New Year's morning, a magnificent roadrunner visited us.  He didn't do much, just stood on top of the wooden fence at the far side of the old wooden deck, strode along it, then hopped down to the ground near the small bowls of water.  We were glad we'd poured boiling water on them earlier, when they were pretty well frozen from the cold night, to accommodate him.  The other birds had prudently gone elsewhere to make way for him.

Last night we had exactly the New Year's Eve we have long wanted: an incredibly quiet, peaceful one, the two of us enjoying a fire in the fireplace, a glass of wine, the moonlit night.  We sat on the couch, each with a book, with the cat wandering onto and off our laps.  The sound of the fire delighted us enough that it didn't occur to us to add music.  We talked sporadically.

It ain't that we haven't had fun with others.  We spent one New Year's Eve listening to jazz at Yoshi's in Oakland, and last year's in fun conversation and improvisational games at the home of good friends.  We spent one New Year's Eve in a small cottage across the river from Derry (when we still lived in Oakland, when our octogenarian friend still lived alone in Derry, and when there still was a river in the Mesilla Valley); and two years ago, when two close friends made a spur-of-the-moment New Year's Eve visit to us, the four of us talked and laughed so intensely we never did notice when the clock struck 12.  I've also experienced crazy-loud, blowout New Year's celebrations, more often in other countries than here, and enjoyed them.

But we had wanted to be alone one New Year's Eve.  And without diminishing the love we feel for friends and family, it was good.

At breakfast Dael asked whether I thought about New Year's as special.  I do.  As with most holidays, I don't make a big deal about it.  But I've often made resolutions, sometimes in writing.  Rarely kept 'em for very long.

New Year's feels like an opportunity for renewal, for refocusing or recalibrating my life.  Can't change the whole thing around.  (Nor would I want to, these days.)  As with a sailboat, the prevailing winds limit your choices.  But you can shift course a bit.

It's a time to reflect briefly, to relax and let yourself listen to the inner voices questioning how you've lived and offering a plateful of changes to choose among.  Too often we're too busy to listen.  The two slower weeks around Christmas and New Year's are a rare opportunity; and the two holidays inspire reflections on how rapidly time passes and about how we live, or ought to,   (The Pope's homily this New Year's stressed the passage of time, the briefness and fragility of our lives.)

It struck me this morning that New Year's should coincide more with spring, and the dramatic renewal  we see in nature.  But then I realized that in fact it arrives just ten days after the equinox, when the days reach their shortest and being to lengthen, at least in the northern hemisphere.  So it coincides pretty closely with the subtle start of the annual renewal we begin to perceive more clearly a few months later.  I'll take that.

All of us, as we live our lives and compromise with our consciences or our inner selves in order to succeed at work or protect a family, go a bit off course each year.  Few of us have the time or the will to reflect often enough or honestly enough on the gap between how we live and how we ought to live.  ("Ought to" according to those inner voices, or according to Buddha or Jesus Christ or Confucius or the Talmud or the Muses, or by whatever name we choose to call those gut feelings.)  New Year's is the world giving us a subtle prod in the ass with a walking stick, reminding us to take a moment.

Take a moment to contemplate who and how we've been during the past year.  Let those inner voices speak.  Listen also to the voices of our political opponents, our rivals at work, our critics, and above all our spouse and children.  Where we've disagreed, listen harder to hear what was in their hearts, but perhaps not in their words, and let it into our own heart.  Translate it into our own private language to see if it can teach us something.

I don't think about dramatic results.  I don't think about "results" at all.  I just explore, I guess. Replay some key tunes or scenes as if on some inner speakers or screen.  The way footballers watch game film.   We don't always know in the heat of battle whether we were right or what went wrong.  A second look is valuable.

Me, I recognize how blessed I am.  Blessed by good friends and good health; by the hummingbirds wintering over and the other delights of the high desert; by the opportunity, through a local newspaper column, to try to help our community chart its course; and above all by love.

Yet I recognize how I can and probably should change: as always, listen more to others and speak less.  Pull closer to my fair share at home.  Avoid getting so busy with community activities that I fail to take time to write fiction, and give voice to the fictional characters clamoring inside me.  Hike our beautiful mountains more.  Ride a bicycle.  Steer more accurately the difficult path (in the column) between aggressively speaking the truth as I see it and ensuring I don't unnecessarily drive folks away from reading it.

As I write that, Dael comes in.  The roadrunner is hanging around, still.  She's glad, but hopes he doesn't eat anybody.  I thank her for a great New Year's Eve and tell her I'm writing about it -- without all the details.  Quick laugh, quick kiss, and she goes back to whatever she's doing.  And I add, "Stay in this chair less and be outside more!" to my non-list of New Year's non-resolutions.

So I stop this babbling and I head outside to plant a mesquite tree.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Thanks, Citizens! [accounts of possible election fraud]


This morning's emails included a copy of this very eloquent letter from a citizen of Las Cruces, one of several who reported (to me, to councilors, to the newspapers, and/or to the authorities) unsettling encounters with representatives of the effort to recall three city councilors.  (I'm still interested in hearing from folks who had similar experiences!)

Here's her letter, in full:
Subject: Misleading Methods Used to Collect Signatures for the Recall Petition
English statesman Edmund Burke said: “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men and women to do nothing.”

Dear NM District Attorney, Doña Ana County Clerk & Las Cruces City Clerk,

    (Forgive me for not knowing your full names.)
    In this busy holiday season, we don't always find the TIME to do all we want.  And in the life of a quiet, thoughtful fence-sitter (like myself), we don't always find the GUTS to move and speak out.  I have never been involved in politics, but I always research and vote for whom I feel is the best candidate.  I have never before written a letter to someone in power (like yourselves) or to a newspaper, but I sometimes like reading editorials and Sound-Off style comments.  However, that changes for me now with this letter to you.

    On the morning of Saturday, Dec. 20th, my doorbell rang.  A good-looking young gentleman asked me if I had time to discuss some injustices now taking place in Las Cruces.  I did.  So, between the locked screen door, we spoke for about 5 or 6 minutes.  I learned about several places that the local government wants to shut down.  Of most interest was a "Dream Center" which he explained serves indigent people in numerous ways that he shared with me. Gosh, I thought, why would we close such a worthwhile place to save money?  He also said they want to close a school of boxing near the Aquatic Center to expand the parking lot. We agreed that kids are better off defending themselves with their fists than with knives or guns.  I shared that when using the Aquatic Center, I've never experienced a parking problem, and thought it would be unfair and unnecessary to force the boxers to move elsewhere.

    The kind gentleman then asked me if I was willing to sign a petition to keep these worthwhile centers open.  I answered "yes, of course!"   I took his pen & the stack of petitions on a clipboard.  Looking down I noticed the signatures & info of about eight neighbors on Emerald Street. "Good", I thought. Then I read the paragraph at the top of the petition.  Huh?

     I asked, "Is this the right petition?"  He questioned why.  I read the small print aloud to him. It was asking for a recall of my District 5 Representative, Gill Sorg.  It said nothing whatsoever about what we had just discussed!  He stammered and stumbled, all of a sudden making no sense. I abruptly but kindly sent him away.

    The bait and switch tactic that he was trying to employ was shameful, misleading, and a misrepresentation of how our democracy should work.  I felt deceived and defrauded ... and wondered how many people would be persuaded to sign that "kind" and "caring" gentleman's petition, without reading the small print above.

    I shared this disturbing experience with a friend from church, who asked me to tell it to her friend Peter Goodman, which I did. Peter, in turn, asked me to share it with you, which I'm doing now, albeit late.

    If it's true that the Las Cruces government doesn't have the money to keep open the various worthwhile centers it supposedly wants to close or needlessly move, then where will you find the money to mount a bogus recall election of our already duly elected representatives?!?

    If you have extra time and money, I ask that you contact those who have signed the stacks of Recall Petitions to see if they too were misled by unscrupulous individuals who pretend to care about the local people, but really harbor ulterior, unspoken motives.

    As I see it, the injustices that the gentleman asked to discuss with me pale in light of the huge injustice and fraud that he himself committed. 

    Doing nothing about this bogus, deceitful and deceptive method of collecting petition signatures for a recall election could have unfair, unneeded and costly repercussions.  We must be vigilant and (I'm learning) DO something to combat injustice.

Sincerely,
    Susan K. Lindeman

Ms. Lindeman's letter echoes some themes that permeate this situation.  Obviously the Recallers' frequent reliance on misleading and perhaps illegal tactics is chief among those; but so is the way those tactics will not only fail with many citizens here but will quite reasonably push them to speak up and/or act to oppose this unwarranted attack on their duly-elected City Councilors.

Ms. Lindeman describes herself as a "fence-sitter"  who has never before written a letter to a newspaper editor but carefully reads up on the pros and cons of electoral candidates before voting.  She knew little of the Recall effort before she was approached to sign a petition.  The attempted fraud she witnessed, indeed experienced, quickly educated her.  (Her description of the incident is exceptionally vivid and direct.)

She exemplifies what I have hoped might happen: that despite the Recall effort's threat to extinguish the flame of civil political discourse locally, the same effort, by its inappropriateness and by the proliferating false statements it must rely on because of its lack of substance, might also unify decent and thoughtful citizens in their opposition to it.  I may be overly optimistic in my hopes, but I'm grateful for Ms. Lindeman and others like her.*

What I hope we're seeing is that New Mexicans, whatever their political and social views may be, will stand up and speak out when they come face-to-face with fraud and injustice.

Not everyone does so.  Her letter reminds me of how and why it can sometimes be difficult for private citizens to do so.

Thus I congratulate her.

Thanks, Ms. Lindeman!

And Mr. Servais; and others who've taken the time and had the courage to speak out.

*One among them, whose letter [reprinted below] appeared in the Sun-News last week, is Kenneth Servais, who describes himself as a long-time educator here.  His letter (as does Ms. Lindeman's in its reference to neighbors' signatures) is a sober reminder that for each Servais or Lindeman, many others (caught without the right glasses handy, busy caring for children, otherwise distracted, overly trusting in a nice young petition-solicitor, and/or not a regular reader of English) signed petitions to recall councilors they re-elected only last year and had no particular complaints about!  But I'd urge the wealthy backers of the recall effort to contemplate how those people will feel once they realize what they signed.  I suspect they'll feel motivated at least to go out in bad weather to vote, should there ever actually be an election.  Because they will find out you duped them.

Writer reports deceptive practices on recall petition
On Tuesday evening, Dec. 17, 2014, about dinner time — a young man came to our door gathering signatures on a petition. He stated he was gathering signatures to stop the "demolition" by the city of the PAL Boxing Club building to make more parking for the city's aquatic center. Thinking of the importance of programs for the youth of the city, I thought it was a worthy endeavor. I was willing to sign the petition.
As I looked to see the petition statement, I saw no attached pages. Then I read the top of the petition page, and it stated that the petition was for the "recall" of councilor Olga Pedroza for District 3. When I saw that I stated I could not sign that petition.
I thought after the young man left that it was quite deceiving that the statement was made one way and the petition was for something other than what was stated. To say the least, I was very upset that an effort was made to deceive me into signing. Being an educator in the Mesilla Valley for the past 42 years, I know that more than 50 percent of the general population — though educated — does not care to read. And though one can state that one is responsible for reading what one puts a signature to, the whole experience of misrepresentation is quite upsetting.
I think the public needs to know what is happening regarding this recall process. The page was nearly full with signatures. I wonder how many signed after being presented a deceptive story. Great care needs to be given to this process. I have asked the City Clerk to investigate petitions from that date and my neighborhood for authenticity of intent of the signers.
Kenneth Servais, Las Cruces