Friday, July 20, 2018

Will the US House Flip in November?  Probably Not

Why Republicans in Congress Refuse to Do What Americans Want About Trump, Health Care, Stagnant Wages, and Gun Control, And Why TV Networks Pull Their Punches

 Most American voters are appalled by the gross betrayal of political values we used to take for granted: a willingness to compromise; humane, dignified treatment of the powerless; official respect for, and meaningful action on behalf of, the broad "will of the people;" a sincere search for a bipartisan foreign policy; and relatively certain and quick corrective action when these values were betrayed.  A few decades ago President Nixon, in spite of strong political support, was forced out of office, by bipartisan intervention.  He had betrayed American values by his active coverup of nasty campaign mischief he himself had engineered.  Does anyone today seriously believe these American, democratic, values, in the face of blatant official betrayal of them in Congress and the White House are still guiding our political system?  Here is how this sad state of affairs came about.

The impact of Gerrymandering on the Rule of the Majority 

 If you already understand the impact of gerrymandering, ideological polarization, and congressional dysfunction in our system, you can skip the next few paragraphs and pick up with "Why The US House is Unlikely to Flip in November."  If not, you should read on.

If you seek a single explanation of why our political system no longer functions to protect these time-honored,  basic American values, you need to understand congressional electoral districting practice, a subject deeply important, but rarely well understood.

Gerrymandering (altering district lines to favor a partisan outcome) has gotten much more sophisticated in recent decades, and both political parties collude to draw districts that are safe for the incumbent.  One result is that the extremists in each political party have become much more influential in the selection of candidates for Congress.

Imagine, for example, a district that usually votes about 54% Republican.  Imagine also that among all voters, about 60% would be considered moderate; that is, if you add moderate Democrats and Moderate Republicans together, you get about 60%.  The most democratic solution in a contest for someone to represent the views of the broad majority of this district would be for a moderate Republican to win.  But what if 56% of the Republicans are conservative extremists?  They only represent about 26% of the total electorate (.56x .46=25.8%, assuming there are no conservative extremists in the Democratic Party), but if they run an extremist candidate for Congress, they are likely to win not only in the primary but also in the general election, because the Republican Party label is likely once again produce about a 54% majority.   All the extremist has to do is appeal in the to the more moderate Republican party label during the general election, disguising the extremism, in order to be likely to win.  Thus, a person representing only about a quarter of the voters, in opposition to the other 75%, can have a successful career in Congress, leaving three quarters of the voters relatively disenfranchised.  Multiply this scenario, for members of both parties, by nearly all of the 435 Congressional seats, and you get an idea of what has been happening to our political system.  Increasingly the extremists in both parties have prevailed, since gerrymandering has made most seats in Congress safe for the incumbent.

The results of this distortion of democratic representation has polarized Congress as never before, and has played havoc with the norms of civility our political system used to have.  On major net result is that legislation has tended to be less and less representative of what most Americans want.  The influence of money in campaigns has also had the effect of privileging the wealthiest lobby groups rather than the will of the majority.  What does this have to do with flipping the House this November?  Read on, but by now you should understand why the famous Trump base, even while a minority of the electorate, is in such control of policy making in Congress and the White House, and why even moderate Republicans are too frightened to do anything but go along, often in silence.

Why the US House is Unlikely to Flip in November

If you take the logic of this argument, study each Congressional district, and put numbers to each, you can get a pretty powerful picture of what is likely to happen in November.  An organization called FairVote.org has done this, (click here) and the results are in.  This is an amazing web site and you can play with some of the parameters to create your own model of the 2018 Congressional elections, district by district, with just a few keystrokes.

Results:  If voters favor Democrats this November as strongly as they did in 2006, a very good year for Democrats--54% to the Republicans' 46% (roughly where we are in the polls today)--FairVote projects that Republicans will retain control of the House--just barely--by 3 votes.  In 2006 the 54-46 vote distribution delivered 256 seats to Democrats.This year, due to the power of incumbency and the Republican control of gerrymandering after 2010, the model predicts that 54% will get you only 216 seats out of 435  Republicans will still have 219 votes.  In order to control the House Democrats will need to get about 54.5% of the vote distribution.

Fifty four and a half percent, even with the drag on the party created by the President;s behavior, is a high bar. You can bet that Republican strategists, aided or not aided by Russian hacking, have created their own internal modeling and are busy trying to figure out what needs to be done, district by district, in the way of voter suppression, favorable legislation and funding grants for the right people in the right congressional districts, Potemkin-style promises for a wonderful future right around the corner, etc.

The bar in fact is so high, most Republicans in Congress are betting they are better off sticking with Trump on most issues in Congress while expressing hand-wringing dismay in private over some of Trumps more disastrous deeds.  And while on the subject of hand-wringing, many Democrats in Congress have been pulling their punches about Trump with little more than expressions of outrage rather than calls to action.  don't worry, though, they will all ask you for money between now and November.

And while on the subject of pulling punches, do you ever get frustrated that the talking heads on TV, especially the big cable hosts, seem to be arguing politely against a Trump monstrosity, as though hoping he will listen to their pleas, when everyone knows his political choices are not going to be altered by reason, but by sheer power?  They, too, are afraid, just as are our elected representatives in Congress.  Going out too far might just get the cable or network or talking head in trouble later on, should the 54.5% not materialize.  Normalize, play the game, cringe a little, and hedge your bets.

I am predicting, here in the doldrums of summer 2018, that the House will remain Republican.  So far I see very few signs of a sea change, in spite of in-your-face, blatant evidence of evil-doing both in Congress and in the White House.  To this day every twitter is covered breathlessly on TV; every obvious ploy in the White House to distract attention from the disasters we face in our failing democracy, is covered as though it was written from a sincere point of view and deserves our full attention.  This won't change until the polls improve for Democrats:  only then will the fear that grips our politicians and purveyors of information (I hesitate to use the word "news") act as though they believed the will of the American public should be satisfied.

But I could be wrong in my prediction.  Voter by voter, family by family, community by community, congressional district by congressional district, the democratic instincts of our forbears, which were very real, might just surface in us again, and we the people might just pull an upset.  It's worth a try.  Sign me up.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Juárez Body Count for July at 83 and Counting:  More Decapitation and Torture
State Department Issues Warnings for Chihuahua and Juárez

On Friday, from reports in Diario de Juárez, (click here) a dead body was found in Col. Fronteriza Alta, with a wire wound around his neck like a tourniquet.  The previous Saturday in Col Sauzal an unidentified man was found strangled to death in similar fashion, toruniquet-style (did the killer see the movie The Counselor?).  On Sunday a decapitated body, feet tied with white rope, with multiple contusions, was found in a trash container in downtown Juárez.

On Tuesday morning at 7 a.m. passersby on Jaime Bermudez Ave. spotted the amputated head of a man.  The severed body was nearby in a black plastic garbage bag.  Two hour later, not far away, on Zaragoza Blvd and Hiedra a couple was found shot to death in front of their home.  One of the victims, a woman, was identified as Nohemí Zamora Duarte.  Witnesses said the killer was an adolescent, and the couple were known to sell drugs to neighborhood addicts.  On Tuesday morning a decapitated body was found in Col. Solidaridad.  A few blocks away, two hours later, a woman was found shot to death.

On Tuesday afternoon a man was found shot to death in Col. Juanita Luna de Arrieta.  He sold newspapers.  He was between 55-60 years old.  He was wearing blue jeans, a striped shirt, an orange vest, and a hat.

On Wednesday morning at 2 a.m., July 18, the body count went up to 83 when police found a dead man in an empty lot in Southeast Juárez.  His head had been badly beaten and there were other signs of torture.  The victim appeared to be around 30 years of age, wearing blue jeans, and a brown polo shirt.

The US State Department has issued a Level 3 rating for Chihuahua state, suggesting readers should "reconsider travel" to the area.  A Level 4 rating flatly states:  do not travel.  The rating for Chihuahua reads:  "Reconsider travel due to crime. Violent crime and gang activity are widespread."

The State Department Mexico Travel Advisory reads:  Travel for U.S. government employees is limited to the following areas with the noted restrictions:

  • Ciudad Juarez: Due to an increase in homicides throughout Ciudad Juarez, U.S. government employees are prohibited from traveling to downtown Ciudad Juarez and the area west of Avenida de Las Americas without advance permission. U.S. government employees are prohibited from travel after dark west of Eje Juan Gabriel and south of Boulevard Zaragoza. U.S. government employees are prohibited from travel to the areas southeast of Boulevard Independencia and the Valle de Juarez region.
  • Within the city of Chihuahua: U.S. government employees are prohibited from travel to the Morelos, Villa, and Zapata districts.
  • Ojinaga: U.S. government employees must travel via U.S. Highway 67 through the Presidio, Texas port-of-entry.
  • Palomas and the Nuevo Casas Grandes/Paquime region: U.S. government employees must use U.S. Highway 11 through the Columbus, New Mexico port-of- entry.
  • Nuevo Casas Grandes: U.S. government employees are prohibited from travel outside city limits after dark.

Friday, July 13, 2018

How Much Does a Sicario in Juárez Earn?
Juárez Body Count Up to 60 for July 2018

About twenty years ago when I began following violent death in Juárez I was told by a reliable source, corroborated occasionally in news stories, that the price of an ordinary assassination (drug-related or simple revenge) was $500 (US).  Today's Diario de Juárez has a story (click here) about the arrest of four professional assassins yesterday who claim they were earning $2500 per week for their sicario services to the La Linea (Juárez Cartel) drug trafficking organization.  Given the information they provided about their recent work, this does not appear to be a significant rise in the per-unit price of assassination since 1998 on an inflation-adjusted basis.  Read on, this story is interesting.

First, let's meet these hardworking sicarios.  (Since they have not been convicted their surnames are not given in the news story)  Mario Cesar L. R., alias “El Diablito,” (The Little Devil"), age 27.  He and the others were arrested after a 911 call from an eyewitness to a double murder on the corner of Juan Álvarez y Valentín Gómez Farías (a busy intersection), saying the killers had escaped in a red Mustang.  Moments later this car was located, and stopped by police.  "The Little Devil" was carrying a 9-mm firearm loaded with 5 rounds and 7 tins of marijuana.

Edgar Francisco R. D. alias “El Jipers" (jeepers) or "El Chore,” age 23, was carrying several tins of marijuana, as was Juan Antonio C. M., alias “El Toño,” age 35.

Juan de Dios P. B., 19, alias  was carrying a 9-mm pistol loaded with 13 rounds and 5 tins of marijuana.

The police interrogation of these suspects was apparently fruitful, and it would probably be best not to inquire too deeply into the interrogation techniques used.  But as in the US, torture is not officially condoned.  

They confessed to the killing and dismembering of a man on July 5, placing his body parts in black plastic garbage bags in the Colonia Obrera.  They confessed to killing a man in Anapra on July 6.

They confessed to killing four persons outside a hamburger stand on the corner of Altamirano and Juan José Méndez in Col Mariano Escobedo on June 26.  

They confessed to killing a man they left "encobijado" (wrapped in a blanket) in an arroyo of sewer water on June 23 in the Col. Sara Lugo.

They confessed to killing two men on July 11 at the corner of Juan Álvarez and Valentín Gómez Farías, an act which led to their capture a few minutes later.  

They also confessed to other murders, the details of which were not reported in Diario.

By my count this is 9 units of confessed assassination in 18 days;  at $500 per dead body this would amount to $4500.  At $2500 per week, pro-rated per day, this would amount to about $5714, or $635 per assassination.  Adjusted for inflation this would be about the same price per hit, in purchasing power..  Of course, just three more bodies in the past couple of weeks would bring the per-unit price per body down below the inflation-adjusted rate.  But on the other hand, at a weekly salary you get paid even if you have a very slow week and there are probably all kinds of seasonal adjustments to the demand curve for sicario services that would have to be factored in to a solid comparative analysis of sicario compensation in Juárez in the past twenty years.  But this preliminary take suggests the wage rate for sicarios has not gone up in twenty years.  Collective bargaining, anyone?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

One More Down:  Recent Violence in Juárez in Perspective

Juárez has seen a major jump in homicides this year.  During the first five months of 2018 there were 361 homicides, an average of 72 per month.  This compares with a monthly average of 64 per month during all of 2017, a monthly average of 46 in 2016, and 27 in 2015.  To put it into perspective, however, it is much lower than the monthly death toll of 174 in 2011 and 260 in 2010, when Juárez became the deadliest city in the world.

June of this year, however, was exceptionally deadly, with 179 homicides, surpassing the monthly average during 2011, and as of this afternoon (July 11) 49 persons have been murdered so far in July, for a total of 589 for the year so far.  While Juárez is no longer the most deadly city in Mexico (Acapulco and Cabo are much higher), the recent death toll should serve as a sobering incentive for the average hardworking drug operative in Juárez to put his or her affairs in order or, if possible, to leave the business altogether.  The vast number of homicides in Juárez can be traced back to close associations with the drug trafficking business.

A man was killed by gunfire late Tuesday night in a residential home in the Constitucion neighborhood near downtown Juarez, as reported in Diario de Juárez.  The name of the victim has not yet been established.  The man was shot in the patio of the home on Carlos Amaya and Manuel Goytia.  He is the 50th victim so far this month.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Fifty One Homicides in Juarez so Far in July; 589 So Far This Year

Murder Scene Shortly Before Midnight July 10.  Photo La Polaka
With the midnight assassination of a man last night in Juarez (covered in La Polaka) the body count so far this month is 51.  The bullet-ridden body was lying on the street between two cars in the Del Carmen neighborhood.

On Monday afternoon, Diario de Juarez reports that Adrián Flores Gutiérrez was killed by eight bullet wounds while waiting for his wife and two children to enter his car in front of the mall known as El Pueblito, on Ave. Lincoln, near the Bridge of the Americas.  Preliminary reports suggest the man was an active member of the "Old School" faction of the Azteca gang.  Photographs show he was driving an expensive late-model Audi, so he was presumably a high-ranking member of the gang.  The assassination was filmed by a security camera, and police say they have identified the killers.

Diario also reports the discovery yesterday of the body of a dismembered man, found in several plastic garbage bags near the Electrolux maquila in Southeast Juarez.  The bags were left in an empty lot on Acacias street in the Las Haciendas neighborhood.  A sign near the torso of the man read "La Empresa 300."  This, according to authorities, would suggest the murder was committed by a faction within the Azteca gang--La Empresa-- headed by René Gerardo Garza Santana, a.k.a "El 300."  The Azteca gang recently split into two factions ("La Empresa" and the "Azteca Old School,").  Garza is the leader of La Empresa.  Adrian Flores Gutierrez, killed Monday at El Pueblito (see above), on the other hand, was a member of the Old School.

Not far away from the torso, in another garbage bag, investigators found the head and hands of the man.

Diario reports that Garza was jailed on 15 September of last year for possession of drugs and for carrying an illegal firearm.  He was released after posting a bond of 5000 pesos (about $250 U.S.)

Another dismembered body was found in a 50-gallon garbage container in the Chaveña neighborhood, at Paso del Norte and Eje Juan Gabriel next to the National Railroad building in downtown Juarez.

The body of a man arrested last Sunday selling meth in downtown Juarez was found dead after witnesses heard gunfire yesterday at noon in Barrio Alto at the corner of Oro and Manuel Acuña.  He had been released from jail after posting bond only hours before he was gunned down.

At 9:30 A.M. yesterday the body of a man was found "encobijado" (wrapped in a blanket) in an empty lot in the Southeast section of Juarez.

With these killings the homicide toll so far this year is 589

Monday, July 2, 2018

Mexican Elections:  The Politics of Hope in Mexico:
Will AMLO Go The Way of Obama?  Let's Hope Not

As expected, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) won the Presidency yesterday in a massive landslide, with a probable final showing of 53% of the total, gaining more than twice the votes of his two nearest rivals put together.  More, his political party, MORENA, is poised to have the most number of seats in both chambers of parliament, giving him exceptional powers to enact legislation, not just to manage the executive branch.

The massive vote for MORENA can be interpreted only as a strong repudiation of the current corrupt two-party system governing Mexico since 2000.  Both traditional parties, the PRI and the PAN, were mired in corruption during the entire period of two-party rule since 2000.  Both traditional parties submitted meekly to demands by the US to allow US military intervention in the drug war in Mexico.  Both parties remained silent in the face of increasingly hostile official treatment of Mexican migrants attracted to the US by readily available jobs encouraged by corporate America in roofing, domestic service, meat packing, and other economic sectors.  Both parties were mute when U.S. extremists encouraged anti-Mexican sentiment and whose voices gained prominence  in the White House.

What did Mexico gain from this subservience?  Certainly not a successful campaign against Mexican drug trafficking.  Drug-related homicide rates have made Mexico one of the most dangerous countries in the world and in 2010, just across the river from a massive high tech anti-drug complex housed in Ft. Bliss, Juarez became the most dangerous city in the world.  Nor was the effort effective.  The flow of drugs into the US has never subsided.  And in return for official silence as migration controls became increasingly draconian during the Clinton-Bush-Obama periods, Mexicans observed with consternation as Mexico-bashing became one of the major signatures of the candidate who was ultimately declared the winner.  Mexican President Peña Nieto stood frozen, humiliated before the world, unable to speak, as Trump lectured him, in Mexico City, about having to pay for The Wall.  More recently, Mexicans have seen their government leaders wring their hands impotently as children were torn from their parents' arms for the sin of seeking asylum in the US. If my experience is any indication, he rage of Mexicans in Juarez is not so much against US policy--although that is certainly there--as it is against the complicity of the Mexican government with these humiliations.

Was there a positive side?  A lot of dollars have been flowing into Mexico as a result of NAFTA and the War on Drugs.  Economically, Mexico has grown.  The billionaire class in Mexico, politically well connected, prospered immensely as they acquired US know-how, financing, trade partners, and franchises.  And, yes, there was some trickle down, but much of this was slurped up by the greedy political class as corruption reached unprecedented levels in recent years. Cesar Duarte, for example, governor of Chihuahua from 2010-2016, was flagrant about dipping into official funds during his first three years in office, as was President Peña Nieto, who became a super-rich overnight at the expense of everyone else.  The positive inflow of dollars carried other costs as well.  Thousands of Central Mexican corn growers, largely small peasant farmers, were wiped out by the dumping of cheaper US corn into Mexico, a Mexican version of rust belt dis-employment. Franchise fees in the McDonalds hamburgerization of Mexico shifted some profits to the US., and small business owners have had to compete with increasingly monopolistic practices that have driven them out of business.

AMLO promises to make headway against corruption.  It will be a tough struggle, and the outcome does not depend on the amount of money invested against corruption.  It depends on the support of the population against entrenched interests.  He also promises a more dignified foreign policy, a brake on the privatization of the oil-rich energy sector, doubling the pitifully small pension for senior citizens, free education for all and, in general, a return to the New Deal-style social policies of the traditional PRI, which ruled Mexico from the 1930s until the early 1980s, but which switched to US-style neo-liberalism after that.  As in the US, Mexican government policy has been outspokenly neo-liberal in nature, with massive privatization, redistribution of income and wealth to the rich, and appalling levels of corruption.  The public apparently has had enough of being told by both parties that these changes were the natural consequences of the new globalized economic order.

A caveat:  Obama came to the presidency in 2008 promising similar types of reform, and he was rewarded for this with a strong mandate by the public at a moment of deep crisis as the US economy, propelled by corruption, was on the verge of collapse.  He had a virtual blank check from the US public.  But within the first 100 days he had caved in to Wall Street, increased funding for the no-accountability wars abroad, and in general signaled a continuation of a status quo people had voted against.  The disillusionment was so profound it paved the way for the election of Donald Trump eight years later, as a significant portion of his voters abandoned their allegiance to the Democratic Party.  Only demographic changes, such as the increase in Hispanic and younger voters, and the appearance of well-centered leaders such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have been able to save the Democrats from total defeat.  Should the same thing happen to AMLO, Mexico might well elect its own version of Donald Trump six years from now.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Mexican Elections:  Looks Like AMLO

The latest polls suggest strongly that left-of-center candidate Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, better known as AMLO, will be elected President on July 1.  He shows about 50% of voter preference in recent polls, sometimes more, in what is essentially a three-man race.  Just as important, his lead has widened considerably in the past few weeks, extending from about 15 points to 25 points over his closest rival, Ricardo Anaya, of the right-leaning PAN Party.  The candidate for the party in power, the PRI, Antonio Meade, is down to only 19 points.  That leaves less than 10% undecided.  AMLO has strong momentum going into the last week of campaigning.

In Mexico government took a nosedive around 30 years ago when the PRI selected someone now considered one of the worst presidents in the past century, Carlos Salinas de Gortari.  Salinas implemented what are known as neo-liberal reforms, reversing the New-Deal-like program of previous PRI presidents, much as has been the case in the United States since the election of Ronald Reagan.  He began selling off government enterprises, usually to cronies for low-ball prices, in alliance with the country's exceptionally wealthy upper classes, based in Mexico City and Monterrey.  The political system took a strong turn toward corruption, as it did in the US, which has weakened the appeal of the nation's two most popular political parties, the PAN and the PRI.  

Both parties became enabling kleptocracies for the rich and well connected after Vicente Fox's administration from 2000-2006, not only at the national level, but also in state governments ruled by the two major parties in the 33 states of Mexico.  As in the US, people do not trust either major party.  Making matters worse, drug trafficking, has gotten unbearably violent.  Cocaine, heroin, and other illegal substances, which used to operate prior to 1988 as a sort of franchise system controlled by the government, which took a cut of the action of each cartel but unofficially permitted orderly and non-violent trafficking.  After Fox's administration ended in 2006, the rules of the game got muddled, as one part of the Mexican government did as it was told by the DEA, while another part (largely law enforcement) continued enabling it.  For years these highly inconsistent policies led to intense rivalries between drug organizations and no new franchise rules emerged as violence spun out of control.  It was a dog-eat-dog environment with the stakes worth billions of dollars and it made Mexico one of the most dangerous countries in the world, affecting many sectors of the population.

Donald Trump hovers over the election like a Holloween gremlin.  Incumbent President Enrique Peña Nieto, already highly unpopular for his outlandish enrichment in the first three years of his do-nothing presidency, became a national embarrassment twice when, in Trump's presence, he froze, unable to formulate any response to Trump's insistence that Mexico will pay for "the wall."  This hurt Meade, who was a cabinet minister under Peña Nieto.  The other candidate, Ricardo Anaya, is also weakened by a long history of corruption within his party.  In truth, they are also bad candidates, with little charisma.  AMLO owns virtually all of the charisma in this election.  He has run for president three times now.  Quite possibly he won the election of 2006, in which Felipe Calderon was declared President, which led to a weeks-long occupation of Paseo de Reforma, one of the world's most elegant boulevards.

What is AMLO likely to do as President?  He will be more than capable of holding his own against Trump, and he promises to cut down on the corruption and violence that has plagued Mexico for two decades.  He also is likely to be less inclined to kiss up to Donald Trump in negotiating over NAFTA, and less inclined to swallow the mantra of privatization sweeping through the country for 30 years, and which has led to massive amounts of corruption and serious poverty in the countryside.  He's tough and, from what we know, principled.  His support is roughly like Bernie Sanders' support in 2016:  college educated, working class, very youthful, and concerned about fairness issues.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

What You Should Know About Albert Speer, Nazi Architect in World War II

Albert Speer was a brilliant architect who joined the Nazi Party in Germany and designed the Reich Chancellery and the Zeppelinfeld Stadium in Nuremberg.  He was part of Hitler's inner team and became the Minister of Armaments and War Production during World War II.  He was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to twenty years in prison, which he served in Spandau prison in West Berlin.  He wrote a fascinating book called Inside the Third Reich after being released from prison, in which, among other things, he comes to terms with his own guilt.  I remember an interview he once gave, I believe to 60 Minutes while still in prison, in which he readily acknowledges his guilt.  Let me paraphrase what he said.

I knew nothing about the holocaust, he insisted.  Yes, he said, I had heard rumors about bad things, but you always hear rumors in government and in wartime and you never know where they are coming from or whether they were planted.  I didn't want to know.  I was in charge of keeping the economy of Germany producing goods and services and I was very busy doing this.

But one day, he said, returning to his office from lunch, "I found a manila folder, addressed to me from an anonymous source.  I opened it up and saw some photographs which suggested the rumors I had heard might be true.  I took the folder across the hall to Geobbels' (Minister of Propaganda) office and asked him directly what these pictures were all about."  Goebbels got angry "and told me I didn't want to know.  You are in charge of economic production.  Leave these pictures here, go back to your office, and ask no more."

"I took his advice and returned to my office," he said.  That made me guilty.  As a human being it was my responsibility to learn more about what was happening.  My refusal to act in the face of evidence of crimes against humanity makes me guilty of complicity.  

Speer acknowledged his guilt by complicity, if you believe his version of things, because he saw some photographs that demanded his attention as a human being, and he did nothing to learn more, much less do something about it.  Like Speer, Susana Martinez has seen the photographs and the tapes.  Unlike Speer, who claimed he simply went back to his office and did nothing to find out more about these crimes, Martinez has publicly supported the specific policies--of separating parents from their children when migrants come to the border seeking asylum from severe danger in their own countries.  By the logic of a confessed war criminal, she is not complicit indirectly, as he claims to have been, through silence in the face of crime, but directly, through the bully pulpit of her office, supporting the crimes.

Years from now people will judge our own humanity and actions or in-actions in the face of crimes against humanity. Now that you know, what are YOU going to do about it?  What will be said about YOU years from now?  What would you like for people to say about YOUR reaction to these crimes?


SUSANA MARTINEZ HAS DEFINED HERSELF MORALLY IN SUPPORTING SEPARATION OF CHILDREN FROM THEIR PARENTS

Once in a while a choice you make will define you at once, indelibly, as a person, as a citizen, and as a moral being.  Susana Martinez has done this.  She has allied herself with the forces of evil in America today, supporting the crimes against humanity--national government policies--that have been going on for weeks.  In doing so she has betrayed her ethnic roots, her background as a law enforcement advocate, and her own humanity.  

If you want to hear a concrete example of the crimes Governor Martinez has supported, click here.  You have probably already heard it.  

It is a human cry of a six-year old cry for her mother, who was hoping to seek asylum for herself and her daughter at the U.S.-Mexico border, perhaps inspired by the words on our Statue of Liberty:  Give me your tired, your poor, your hungry masses yearning to breathe free.  Instead of breathing free, the daughter, as a matter of official US policy, was separated from her mother by officials of the U.S. government.  She had memorized the telephone number of her aunt, hoping somehow a phone call would put things right.  Thousands of people have become victims of these crimes.  There are, of course, policies in place, as there were in Nazi Germany, to prevent such crimes by public officials from being recorded.  People know when they are committing crimes against humanity, and they naturally try to hide their faces, ashamed of the actions they are committing in loyalty to authority rather than to human decency.

Once in awhile, again, the choices we are forced to make will define us, indelibly, as persons, as citizens, and as moral beings.  What Susana Martinez did in voicing support for these atrocities defined her, once and for all, at a key moment in American history.  And history will not forget this.  The woman who used to like to read stories to small school children has morphed into a woman who agrees officers should snatch children from parents who have come fleeing from oppression, seeking safety.  Please remember:  what YOU do in response to these atrocities will define YOU as well.


Thursday, May 31, 2018

Poetry from the Land of Rapists and Animals

Each of these verses below, except those of the Book of Genesis, can be found in Spanish on the walls of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.  I have included lines from the Book of Genesis (King James version) for comparison with the Aztec creation narrative. The English translations are mine.

In the Beginning:  Cuado Aún Era de Noche 

           In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and
           void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face
           of the waters.  And God said, Let there be light:  and there was light.  The book of Genesis

           Cuando aún era de noche, cuando aún no habia dia
           cuando aún no habia luz, se reunieron
           Se convocaron los dioses, allá en Teotihuacán

          When it was still night, when there still was no day
          When there was still no light, they met
          The gods convened, there, at TeotihuacánThe (Aztec) Florentine Codex

The Florentine Codex consists of field notes taken by the Spanish Franciscan monk, Bernardino de Sahagún, in the late 16th century, for his monumental work, The General History of Things of New Spain, also known as the Florentine Codex. Teotihuacán, around 500 AD, was the fifth or sixth largest city in the world.  It was built probably by the Toltec civilization at least a thousand years before the arrival of the Spaniards.  The civilization collapsed in the sixth or seventh century AD.  Teotihuacán, in Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs), means "birthplace of the gods."  The Aztecs believed the gods created the universe at Teotihuacan.  The site can be visited today.
Creating Humans:  El Hombre Formado

           And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the
           breath of life:  and man became a living soul.  So God created man in his own image, in the
           image of God created him:  male and female created he them.  The Book of Genesis

           ¡Que aclare!
           ¡Que amanezca en el cielo y en la tierra!
           No habrá gloria ni grandeza hasta que exista la criatura humana:  el hombre formado
  
           Let there be light!
           Let the light awaken in the sky and on earth!
           There will be no glory or greatness until the human creature exists:  the created man:  Popol Vuh (Quiché Maya)

The Popol Vuh is the creation narrative of the Quiche speaking Maya civilization.  According to the narrative humans were created by the gods only on the third try.  The first resulted in lifeless mud figures, the second, monkeys.  Popol Vuh was transmitted orally through the generations, until the Dominican friar, Francisco Ximenez, a Spanish priest assigned to Chichicastenango, in Guatemala, transcribed it. 

The Fleeting Nature of Life: Toda sangre llega al lugar de su quietud

            ¿Solo asi he de irme? 
            ¿Como las flores que perecieron?
            ¿Nada quedará de mi nombre?
            ¿Nada de mi fama aqui en la tierra?
            ¡Al menos flores, al menos cantos!

            Thus am I to go?
            Like the flowers that perished?
            Nothing will remain of my name?
            Nothing of my fame here on earth?
            At least flowers!  At least songs!  Cantos de Huejotzingo

Cantos de Huejotzingo is part of a three-part book of verses in Nahuatl, copied probably by friars Andres de Olmos and Bernardino de Sahagün.  It was found at the beginning of the twentieth century in a forgotten pile of books in the National Mexican Library.  The fleeting nature of life, along with images of flowers and songs are favored themes of nahuatl poetry.

            Toda luna, todo año, todo dia, todo viento
            camina y pasa también.
            Tamien toda sangre llega al lugar de su quietud.

            Every moon, every year, every day, every breeze
            comes and then moves on
            Likewise, all blood reaches the place where it lies in stillness Chilam Balam

The Chilam Balam are books from the Yucatan written after the conquest, in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.  They are written in the Yucatec Maya language but using the Latin alphabet.  The lines included above are from a famous section of a chapter called "To Castrate the Sun," referring to the actions of the Spanish conquerors

Saturday, May 26, 2018

The Trump Tweet Game:  What Does it Tell Us?

It appears to be something like a law of nature, drummed into every television producer for two years now:  Every tweet tweeted by Trump must be covered fully, especially if the content is truly an outrage to decency or democratic values, like threatening to punish football stars for kneeling at the national anthem, or threatening to fire Rosenstein one more time, or one more insult at Hillary.  The tweet must be displayed in a little box with a hash mark, long enough for viewers to actually read it.  It must be read breathlessly, with an air of disbelief, perplexity, and frustration at the latest installment of the genre, as though it was completely unexpected.  Then a panel of experts will appear.  One familiar face, we know, will support Trump not matter what the case, with the glee and smugness of a secure victor.  Another familiar face, we know, will plead against the factual basis, or logic, of the tweet, as though appealing, desperately, to the inherent reasonableness of the American public, for validation--with the look of frustration of a loser suspecting the game is rigged.  Viewers who, for the moment at least, love the shake-up that Trump represents will smile approvingly at the pitiful scene the tweet has produced on television.  Viewers who hate Trump will cling to the straw hope of voter revenge in November, say a silent prayer for the flip of the House, and allow a shiver to disgust to rumble through their minds once more.

This game has become a ritual, re-enacted daily, and it will continue as long as Trump toys against the interests of the Lower 99% with such glee.  The dirty little secret that gives the tweet game life is that the new Establishment is--surprise!--the same old Establishment of monied interests, only this iteration is more honest and forthright:  Trump is telling them they needn't bother with the silliness of paying homage to the trappings of democratic values.  That game was over years ago.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Royal Wedding

The Brits Send a Message to America and the World:  This is What Racial Harmony Looks Like

It was as though the Brits had decided the royal wedding presented an opportunity to show America (one half of the royal couple's bloodlines) and the rest of our racially hysterical world what decency and mutual respect at a simple wedding might look like in a multi-racial society.  It reminded us that ancient ceremony and tradition, if it conducted with grace, can unify and heal.
 
Such a ceremony in inconceivable in Washington today.

Friday, May 18, 2018


My productivity in this blog has been sparse.  This is largely due to my uncertainty about the new contours of power in the nation (and I'm not referring here so much to Trump as to his corporate and financial backers who appear desperate to prop him up), and to my feeling I was slightly behind the times (some of my students used to think I was at least twenty years behind the times), and in danger of making dumb analytical mistakes.  The school shooting this morning in Santa Fe, Texas, has prompted me to comment.

Another School Shooting in Texas:

The increasingly frequent tragedy of students shooting other students is regularly reported in the media as giving urgency to an ongoing "conversation" about gun control.  I put this word in quotes because the concept of conversation carries with it the notion of mutual sincerity, in an effort to reach common ground while maintaining mutual respect.  In fact, however, school shootings have been used as opportunities for advocates of gun control to speak to each other, bathed with the pathos,if not the authority, of tragedy, and for opponents of gun control to double down with the NRA.  No respect for the other side is evident, nor any search for common ground.

This is not a conversation at all, and all the hoopla around the shouting match has produced precious little in the way of understanding, much less to solving the problem.  For much of television, the shouting is what is being covered in the aftermath of a shooting, not whatever insights might be available to shed light on what makes this scenario so frequent.

My quarrel with worn out, knee-jerk reaction to shootings is not that the issue of gun control is trivial.  It is not trivial; gun control goes to the heart of democratic practice; it raises serious issues about why our political system cannot deliver what the public clearly wants in restricting access to certain lethal weapons, the role of bribery, often legal, in our electoral processes, and other serious matters such as what attitude I might have about gun control should I lose confidence in the workings of the rule of law in the age of Trump.  They should be on the agenda, and if shootings revive them so be it.

My quarrel is this:  The most serious question lurking behind the shootings is not gun control, although it plays a role, but this:  what kinds of forces in our society are at work to prompt dozens of young men and boys, to want to go out in a blaze of what appears to be displaced anger?  Why is this not happening in other societies?  Why is it not happening in Mexico, for example, which is already going through an orgy of mutilation and death related to drug trafficking, and where, in spite of strict gun control laws, AK-47's are as common as margaritas at the Kentucky Club in Juarez on a Friday night?  Why is it not happening in Bolivia or Timbuktu?

There are, of course answers to these questions, and the field of sociology was designed specifically to explore such issues.  So why aren't the sociologists, from respectable institutions, regularly asked for their opinions about the forces at work producing a mindset that sometimes ends up in a tragic shooting?  Why do we focus only on the psychology of the shooter?  Sociology and other branches of social science have much to say about all of this, and we should at least encourage a broad, public discussion about some of their insights.

The last time the sociology of mass killings was explored in mass media was in 2002, when Michael Moore won an Academy Award for best documentary, Bowling for Columbine.  In the movie he explored possible clues about the social origins of the killings, and his answers, while sketchy, read like an indictment of much of what is wrong with our society today:  a media culture that teems with violence, bipartisan foreign policies citizens don't understand, but which seem endless and in which the response to resistance always seems to be to kill and maim whoever gets in the way; what appears to be the conscious creation of fear from government and media alike; and which is often reinforced by school administrators.  I'm not sure Moore got this right, but he made an effort to explore, and today there appears to be a tacit, bipartisan rule that we don't even seek to discuss the social pathologies that account for what appears to have systemic and social, more than psychological, causes.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Excellent Bullfights Last Night in Juárez;  Possibly More to Come

The first two of six Begoña bulls were slow as molasses, lacked fighting spirit, and had no stamina.  Their tongues were already hanging out before the picadors arrived.  The matadors looked silly trying to execute passes in slow motion without a hint of danger from the bulls.  Fortunately the kills were clean.  The third bull, named Alejo, (1200 lbs) fought by Joselito Adame, made up for all of this, restoring the reputation of the Begoña ranch by tossing both horses to the ground.  This happened very quickly and for a few moments both horses were on their back simultaneously.  The second picador was crushed under the horse as it fell to the ground and had to be rescued and taken to the infirmary.  At this point the cuadrilla, lost control of the ring and for maybe 15-20 seconds no one was in control, a, unusual turn that seemed to please the crowd, now solidly with the bull.  Adame restored order by showing off the bull's great fighting spirit and stamina with skillfully executed, beautifully linked passes, and a clean kill.  He was granted two ears.

The next bull, even more spirited than Alejo, tossed one of the horses to the ground and proved to be unremittingly spirited and fit.  Sebastian Castella showed strong technical skills delivering his passes and the crowd begged the president to pardon the bull.  No dice, a solid kill, and two ears.

All in all it was a good evening, with seven ears awarded to the matadors.  Manuel Gaona, from the famous Gaona bullfighting family in Chihuahua, received his alternativa last night from Castella, and even cut one ear. No longer a novice, he is likely to start moving up the rankings.  Castella showed why he is ranked 15th, instead of 25th, and on the other hand is not in the top 5.  To be in the top five requires more of a distinctive, charismatic style than the generically classic style of Castella, but to be as good as 15th you have to have outstanding technical skills.

The underwriters of this bullfight, Espectáculos Taurinos de México (ETMSA), have suggested they might bring more top-ranking venues to the Balderas bullring in Juarez.  I estimated that people filled about 70% of the bullring.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Bullfighting Returns to Juarez on Friday

The best Mexican matador, Joselito Adame, will appear at the Antonio Balderas bullring in Juarez on May 4 at 8 p.m. along with Sebastian Castella, a French-born matador who usually makes his rounds in Spain, and a young matador by the name of Manuel Gaona, who will receive his alternativa (status) as a full-fledged matador in a brief ceremony on this occasion.  Castella was ranked 15th in the Spanish rankings last year, and Adame, 29, usually ranks in the top 20.  Both appeared in April at the prestigious Feria de Sevilla, and both will do the Fiesta de San Isidro in Madrid in June.  Today, May 1, Adame and El Juli, one of the the top 3 or 4 matadors in Spain for many years, will compete in a mano a mano in Aguascalientes, Mexico.  I saw El Juli about twenty years ago in Juarez, when he was 16 and absolutely fearless, in one of the most astonishingly daring and skilled performances I've ever seen.

Bullfighting has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the last 25 years, in great part because of major improvements in the quality of the bulls, bred to behave more predictably during a bullfight.  Today's fighting bull tends to be quicker, smoother in a charge, and has greater stamina.  This has greatly increased the percentage of bullfights that produce the sculptural, elegant passes, very close to the matador's body, that bring audiences to the edge of their seats as the matador, linking passes in quick succession, establishes a tense kind of rapport between himself and the bull.  This rapport, in turn, because the horns come so close to the body and the bull is beginning to show the punishment of the pic, tends to arouse in the spectator both fear (for the matador) and pity for the bull--emotions Aristotle said define tragedy, and which are purged by the death of the bull.  Spain is known for its tragic sense of life and for most Spanish bullfighting fans, the bull is the protagonist, and sometimes the hero, of the encounter.

Bullfights resumed at Balderas again in 2012, a few years after the Plaza Monumental in Juarez, a bigger bullring, was blown up to make room for a Walmart.  Balderas was built in 1957, and now hosts a limited number of bullfights per year.  There is only one more bullfight programed for this year at Balderas, date yet unknown.

Photo by Jose Z. Garcia at Balderas bullring in 2016

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Want an Exciting Vacation by the Sea?  Try Los Cabos, Most Dangerous City in the World.

Milenio reports (click here) that Los Cabos in 2017 surpassed Caracas and Acapulco as the most dangerous city in the world.  La Paz, close by, also ranks high.  More to come.
Anthony NM City Council Winners:  Elva Flores, Javier Silva

Incumbent Elva Flores was elected to the Anthony City Council last night, as was Javier Silva.  At a forum in Anthony on February 23 Flores defended efforts of the council to stick to the master plan and asserted that criticisms of the council's actions were often factually incorrect.  Silva, on the other hand, while appearing to be familiar with the issues, was one of the critics.  The election was held at-large rather than in single-member districts.

I telephoned Mayor Diana Murillo Trujillo last night for her reaction.  She said she had already congratulated the winners and invited them to sit down with her and discuss their priorities at city hall.
Salinas Slate Sweeps Sunland Municipal Elections

The Salinas slate of candidates swept municipal elections tonight in Sunland Park, and for once the notorious absentee ballot machine run by Guadalupe Valdivia did not make the difference in any of the races.  The money provided to the slate by El Paso developer Russell Hanson did.

Hanson applied to the city for a permit to put 2800 mobile homes into Sunland Park.  The current city council turned him down for a variety of reasons.  His response was to write campaign contribution checks, but on one of them the date on the check was apparently whited out.  This, I was told by several citizens last night, raises the question about when the check was given, since there is a specific window in time for contributions to be made.  Mr Hanson was seen outside the City Hall this evening, chatting with Christian Lira, whose sister was on the ballot, as a cluster of campaign workers waited for the votes to be announced.

Look for the city council to revisit the request for a permit to put mobile homes in Sunland.

Daniel Salinas' sister Lizette, was re-elected municipal judge by a margin of 325-239 against Maria Chacon in regular voting, with absentee ballots adding 78 votes to the winners' total against only 8 for Chacon.  Incumbent Kenneth Giove was defeated by Jessica Avila, a former councilor who voted with Daniel Chacon most of the time.  Daisy Lira defeated incumbent Francisco Jayme and Norexy Frankel.  And Berta Salmon defeated Jesus Soto by a margin of 10 votes in regular voting, and winning all ten absentee votes.  A total of 728 persons voted in these elections, a relatively high turnout for a low-profile race in which the mayor was not on the ballot.

The Salinas faction is named after Daniel Salinas, a former Sunland Park City Council member who pleaded guilty to 2 felony charges of  blackmail after he paid money for a lap-dancer to sit on his opponent while he was video taped.  He then tried to blackmail his opponent with the tape.  He was elected mayor but was not allowed to serve.  Left on the city council are incumbent councilors Donald McBride and Olga Arguelles.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Sunland Park Municipal Elections:  The Salinas Faction is Back!  Hold Onto Your Wallets and Follow the Money!

International Boundary and Water Commission trucks dropped load after load of dirt on city property next to the Rio Grande all day long on Thursday, part of a city-led effort worth about $4 million obtained for free, after some negotiations, from the IBWC, to protect Municipal Buildings against flooding from the river banks.  There is a new warehouse on the campus, fiber optics and new computers have been installed, offices have been remodeled, the roofing on city buildings has been repaired, and there is a handsome coat of paint on the entire city complex.  Loads of trash and rubble have been picked up in residential areas for the first time in years.  The city complex is now running solely on solar energy.  New firetrucks and police vehicles costing over $1.5 million can be seen in the parking lot.  The list goes on and on. Sunland Park in the last couple of years has very much been on the move, for once in the right direction--all of it done on a shoestring budget of $6 million.

This turnaround began two years ago when citizens of Sunland Park, still reeling from the 2012 scandal of corruption, fraud, and extortion that plagued the city and made it a standing joke throughout the state, elected a remarkably capable and serious set of officials to run the city  (covered in La Politica New Mexico here on February 6, 2016):  Ken Giove, Olga Arguelles, Donald McBride, and Carolina Renteria--all elected to the city council in 2016.  Audits of the city's finances have been clean for three years, and the city is now the second safest municipality in New Mexico.

Now this remarkable turnaround appears to be in some jeopardy.  Municipal elections will close on Tuesday, and the betting is that a faction, apparently supported by Daniel Salinas, running a slate of four candidates, partly through the systematic use of absentee ballots, will win.

 Daniel Salinas pleaded guilty in 2015 to 2 counts of extortion.  Thirty one other counts, including conspiracy to commit fraud over $20,000,soliciting kickbacks, tampering with evidence, signing false public vouchers, were dropped.  Salinas, you may recall, in 2012 tried to blackmail his opponent running for mayor by video-taping a lap-dancer hired by his campaign to sit with him.  Even more audacious, his campaign tried to use city funds to pay for the video-taping!.  Mr. Salinas won the mayor's race but was not allowed by authorities to serve.  Instead, facing 30 years if convicted of all charges, he was given a three-year deferred sentence. in exchange for a plea.

What some citizens are calling the Salinas slate consists of (a) Jessica Avila, candidate for city council, who was elected with Daniel Salinas as a city councilor in 2008 and who consistently voted with him on city business; (b) Lizette Salinas, sister to Daniel Salinas, running for re-election as City Judge; (c) Berta Salmon, running for city council.  She is a waitress at Ruth Chris steakhouse in El Paso; and (d) Daisy Lira, sister to former city council member Christian Lira, who owns day care centers in Sunland Park, and was at one time on the payroll of the city's sports complex.

Daniel Salinas has been visible at meetings of the so-called Salinas slate, but its candidates have not come to public forums designed to acquaint voters with the candidates.  The slate appears to be well financed, including scores of locations with separate yard signs of each candidate clumped together.  Pickups with large signs on behalf of these candidates are also visible.  Two hundred seventeen absentee ballots had been cast by Thursday afternoon, apparently the result of a well organized campaign on behalf of the slate.  The use of absentee ballots in Sunland Park elections is often associated with accusations of voter fraud.  In 2012 (click here) city councilor Angelica Marquez, city employee Priscilla Morales, were arrested on voter fraud.charges.  El Paso Inc. (click here) lists 22 persons indicted on charges stemming from the mischief of the elections that year.  A series of articles on financial mismanagement and voter fraud, leading to the state taking over the functions of the city can be found here on energycorrespondent.com

On the other hand, the candidates running against the slate--Ken Giove (incumbent) for District 1; Francisco J. Jayme (incumbent) and Norexy Diaz Frankel in District 2; Jesus Soto for District 3; and Maria Irene Chacon, for District 4, is largely invisible.  During a quick tour of the city I saw only one sign, for Jesus Soto in contrast to well over a dozen locations containing the signs of the co-called Salinas slate.  When asked about his campaign for re-election, Ken Giove stated many of his signs have disappeared and he and the others had agreed not to accept campaign contributions so as to avoid conflicts of interest.

Given the high-profile notoriety of Sunland Park elections, going back for decades, Giove said, in spite of warnings he has issued to state, local, and federal officials, no agency has responded to his pleas to monitor the elections for signs of the kinds of abuse that led to so many indictments in 2012.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Anthony Municipal Elections Forum Last Night

Candidates Acevedo, Flores, Portillo, Silva, and Montoya at last night's forum


Five candidates are running for two at-large seats in Anthony's Board of Trustee elections.  One of them, Elva Flores, was appointed to the position a few months ago when a vacancy arose, and now is running herself for the position.  Another, Juan Acevedo, a Protestant minister,  ran unsuccessfully for Mayor a few years ago.  Victor Montoya, a local activist, Javier Silva, a worker for the local telephone company, and Sarah Portillo, round out the field of candidates.

About 60 persons attended the forum, sponsored by the Southwest Organizing Project, was held at the Women's Intercultural Center.  Mayor Diana Murillo-Trujillo and trustees Barrera and Gonzales were in attendance.

The political elite of Anthony has matured enormously since they struggled almost a decade ago to create a municipality.  Most of the candidates were well prepared, and had reasonably clear ideas about what needs fixing.  All expressed a strong need for improved policies and procedures, and for stronger accountability.  Flores, an incumbent via appointment, defended efforts of the city to fulfill the vision of the Master Plan, and disputed some of the statements made by other candidates as being provably non-factual.  The audience, composed largely of members of the Anthony political class, was also well informed and listened carefully.

There is a proposal for Anthony to purchase the Dos Lagos Golf course for the city.  This is one of the best ideas in all of municipal government in New Mexico, and such an acquisition, if implemented, would serve as a powerful point of attraction for potential residents, businesses, and tourists into the indefinite future.  The cost, from the discussion last night, would be only about $4 million, well within the financial capability of the support systems currently in place in New Mexico for municipalities.  It will simply require some extensive legwork on the part of trustees, staff, and citizens to lay a solid proposal on the table.