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

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.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Sinaloa Cartel Empire:  DEA 2015

This map from the DEA shows the influence of various Mexican cartels as they supply US populations with drugs, as of mid-2015.  It would be nice to see an updated map as of 2018, reflecting increased competition within Mexico for access to drugs, trade routes, protection, etc.  The Sinaloa cartel influence is probably smaller now that Chapo Guzman is in the U.S.  Notice how relatively small the Juárez cartel, shown as covering only West Texas and New Mexico, is in contrast to the extensive Sinaloa (brown) influence.  The Gulf cartel (in red) covers about the same amount of territory as the Juárez cartel, most of Texas.  Some of the increased violence in Mexico may be related to intensifying competition for access to drugs to supply the light blue, purple, green, and possibly newer still networks of distribution.

Chapo was captured, but the May 2017 version of the DEA drug assessment (click here) indicates that Caro Quintero, now in his late 60's, after serving 28 years in jail, is listed as joining forces with Ismael (El Mayo) Zambada to run the Sinaloa cartel.