Saturday, February 14, 2015

Income and Wealth Distribution in the US: Are you worth $4 million? Make $392K last year?

Your net worth (assets minus debt) had to be at least $3.96 million in 2012 to join the top 1% wealth club.  Is your family income at least $392,000?  That's the minimum it took in 2013 to qualify for the top 1% income club.

Has inequality been growing over time?  What proportion of income goes to the rich? Does it make a difference if Democrats control the White House or Congress?  We now have pretty accurate answers to these questions.  All data in this post are from the links below.

The bottom 90% of all families own only 22.8% of all the wealth.  The wealthiest 1% owns 41.8% of all there is to own, up from about 23% in 1978.  Switching from wealth to income, the top 1% of all income earners rakes in almost 20% of all income.  This has more than doubled since 1986, from a little over 9%.  At the high end of income, there were 16,300 families in 2013 (.01%) earning an average income of almost $25 million apiece, with an average wealth of over $371 million apiece.

From 1993-2013 total income in the US grew 15.1%.  Had this growth been shared equally, all income levels would have earned about 15% more in 2013 than in 1993.  But the richest 1% took up well over half (59%) of total income growth during this period.  After all was said and done, the poorest 99% increased their income by an average of 7.3% while the top 1% increased their income by an average of 62.4%.

But income for the bottom 90%, adjusted for inflation, declined a little over $200 from 1993 to 2013, even as total income increased 15.1%.  Had the bottom 90% gotten an equal share of the increase, each family would have been earning over $5000 more than the $31,652 they averaged in earnings in 2013.

During the Clinton years the richest 1% took 45% of new growth. During the Bush years from 2002-2007 the richest 1% took 65%.  And during the first four years of the Obama administration the richest 1% gobbled up a whopping 91% of  new growth.  Only during the Bush recession in 2001 and during the Great Recession of 2007-2009 did the wealthiest 1% suffer any losses. Democrats and Republicans may have disagreed on everything else, but no one until very recently questioned the consequences of all those tax cuts to the wealthy.  Certainly not Barack Obama.

New Mexico is not behind Mississippi here:  we are Numero Uno in two major categories:  the gap in income between the richest 20% and the middle 20% and between the richest 20% and the poorest 20%.  And we are in the top 10 states in the worsening of income inequality over the past few decades.  Link here for the data.

The best picture we have today of income and wealth distribution in the U.S. comes from the work of two economists, Tomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, who have been studying these issues for about 15 years.  Here are some links:  Piketty and Saez, "Income Inequality in the U.S., 1913-1998," to update excel files to 2013 click here and then scroll down to the Jan 2015 update link.  Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, "Wealth Inequality in the U.S. since 1913:  Evidence from Capitalized Income Tax Data," and Emmanuel Saez, "Striking it Richer:  The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States."


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Hall of Shame: New Mexico Trails Mississippi Again

For the first time (2013) a majority (51%) of school children attending public schools across the country come from low-income families, according to a study released by the Southern Education Foundation a couple of weeks ago, using data collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).  In Mississippi 71% of public school children are low-income; New Mexico is second, only 3 points behind, at 68%.  New Hampshire is last, at 27%.

How did they define low-income?  This study classified students as being low-income if they are eligible for free lunch or reduced-price lunches at school, based on family income.  Students are eligible for free meals if they live in households where the income is no more than 135% of the poverty threshold.  They are eligible for reduced-price lunches if household income is no larger than 185%.  In 2013, for example, a student in a single parent household with an income of $19,969 was eligible for a free lunch, and for a reduced-price lunch in a public school at an income level of $27,991.  

Perhaps more interesting than the rankings themselves is the national trend.  In 1989 only 32% of the nation's public school children were from low-income families.  It climbed six points during the Clinton years to 38% in 2000, rose four points to 42% six Bush years later in 2006, glided up to 48% (in 2011) during the first term of Obama, and sits at 51% as of 2013.  Perfectly bipartisan race to the bottom.

New Mexico has also drifted down.  In 2000, compared to national school children low-income levels of 38%,  New Mexico, at 56%, ranked third in this category, behind Louisiana and Mississippi.  By 2006, compared to a national level of 42%, New Mexico had dropped six points, to 62%, still third in the nation, and then seven years later, in 2013, compared to a national average of 51%, New Mexico had dropped to 68%, now second only to Mississippi.

Bottom line:  as national income has flowed increasingly toward the richest 1%, the national low-income school population has grown in 25 years from 32% of the total to 51% of the total.  New Mexico has continued to trail the rest of the country with the proportion of low-income students growing from 56% in 2000 to 68% in 2013.  The gap has not narrowed.  While one out of two students nationwide is classified as coming from a low-income family, in New Mexico the corresponding number is two out of three.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Mike Runnels RIP Part II

Continued from Part I:  We stayed up until about 3 am that night, calling delegates, counting votes.  Mike was alert, highly intelligent, keen sense of humor, realistic about each vote, every inch the leader of our small group.  When it became clear we didn't have a chance, we went to bed.  Next morning speeches were given as the voting was announced by each county chair.  I gave seven of my eleven votes to Dorothy, four to King, roughly proportional to the preferences among my precinct chairs.    Several county chairs who promised me they would vote for Dorothy voted for David instead, without the courtesy of the heads up Maura had given me.  I regretted their weakness; but David won the nomination.

The campaign was disastrous.  The ABQ Journal broke a story that King, the day after Runnels died, changed his voter registration from Santa Fe to Valencia County, an unnecessary action that reinforced the image of carpet-bagging.  Then another David King appeared, asserting it was he who changed his registration. This was challenged by eyewitnesses who had seen the Governor's nephew in the clerk's office in Los Lunas that day, and, as I recall, a photograph confirmed this.  Now adding to the underlying weakness of David's candidacy the issue of character emerged.  It became the story of the year.

I got a call from a friend of David's hoping to soften me up.  We argued over David vs. Dorothy.  At one point he said, "Just because Dorothy is the widow doesn't mean she's qualified for congress.  I don't believe in the divine right of kings, Jose."  I replied, "no pun intended, Bill, right?"  He paused a second or two and burst out laughing.  "Point well taken."  We both laughed heartily, knowing we were still friends.

Facing a withering assault in the news media, King announced he would quit the race, generating another round of headlines and throwing the congressional race again into tumult.  Ben Alexander, the Democratic chair in Lea County, tried to put humpty dumpty together again, still denying Dorothy the candidacy, by convening party chairs, this time safely in Santa Fe at the then-Sheraton (now Lodge) hotel, less than a mile from the Governor's office.  There, a bit theatrically, he sought our "permission" to persuade David to resume the race.  Ben phoned David at the ranch in Santa Fe county, chastised him for pulling out of the race, and asked him to get back in "for the good of the party." David immediately agreed, as if on cue.  Zora Hess, a prominent Democratic fund raiser from Albuquerque asked me, "Jose, what is your problem with David's candidacy?"  I replied "The people of the district don't want him."  Always diplomatic with me, she did not reply.  But she might as well have said, "let them eat cake."

Joe Skeen announced he would run a write-in campaign against King.  Joe was a popular conservative Republican who had lost the governorship in a tight race against Bruce King two years earlier. Dorothy also announced a write-in campaign; this would split the Democratic vote between herself and David.

On election night as I drove to different precincts, I could see long lines at 7 pm. Voters had to pull out a metal tab with a piece of paper in order to scribble a write-in name on the voting machines.  It was clumsy and took a long time.  Precinct workers said you could hear the squeak of the tabs all day long as people wrote in names.

Skeen got the most votes and David became the third person in U.S. history to be the only person on a congressional ballot and still lose the election.  Republicans held that seat for 33 of the next 35 years.  They still hold it.  Bruce King called me on New Year's eve that year and said he wanted to let bygones be bygones.  I was grateful for that.  Suddenly a genius of political foresight, I got re-elected county chair the next year.  David King was later elected State Treasurer, switched to the Republican Party in 1998 while serving as village administrator of Angel Fire, and then was elected to two terms at the PRC.

My wife Olivia and I remained friends with Mike after that.  He become Lt. Governor two years later, but then, unable to control his demons, he suffered one personal setback after another, some quite public.  He was, however, elected District Attorney for eight years, ran twice for his father's congressional district, and traveled extensively.  His place in the pantheon of New Mexico politicians is not as prominent as it might have been, given his talent and promise, and he will be remembered as much for his disappointing performance in a strong political family as for his contributions to the people of the state.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Mike Runnels RIP Part I

I spent a long night in Grants with Mike Runnels in the fall of 1980.  I was there as chair of the Dona Ana County Democratic Party.  Eighty or so members of the Democratic Party central committee had assembled at a hotel in Grants to elect someone the next day to replace Mike's father, incumbent Democratic Congressman (Southern District) Harold Runnels, on the November ballot.  The congressman had died of lung cancer a few weeks earlier.  He was so popular and conservative that the Republican Party had not fielded a candidate in the primary to run against him in the fall.  Thus, since no one else would be on the ballot in November, whoever won the party election in Grants was certain to replace Runnels in Congress.  The competing candidates in Grants were Dorothy Runnels, the congressman's widow and Mike's mother, and David King, nephew of incumbent Governor Bruce King.

David King's candidacy was ill-advised.  He had lived in Southern New Mexico only while attending NMSU.  His residence was in Santa Fe county.  He was very young, in his early 30s, and while he had done a credible stint as head of the state planning agency, the appointment had come from his uncle and he had never run for any office .  He was also a liberal, in a conservative district.  Big labor backed him strongly; this alone stirred resentment among conservative Democrats in Southern New Mexico, even more so among Republicans.  Dorothy was well known, articulate, and attractive.  It was hard to make a case that King deserved the nomination.  But since his uncle was the Governor, how could he lose?

 I argued strenuously against David's nomination.  I had asked each of my 72 precinct chairs the same two questions:  who do you, personally, think should get the nomination, and who do you, as a party leader, believe would be the best candidate in the election?  The answers ran about three to one against David.  One precinct chair, the head of the retail clerks union in Las Cruces, told me he would support King, but "if David gets into this he will be walking into a propeller," given the growing outrage.  I spent hours on the phone with my friend Neal Gonzalez, state director of the AFL-CIO.  He begged me to support David.  My political career, he said, would be over if I did not.

Many county chairs from the South agreed with my assessment, and some vowed to swing their votes toward Dorothy.  Although I was never in touch with her I was quickly tagged as leader of the Dorothy faction.  This put me in trouble with party leaders from the North, delighted at this windfall chance to replace Runnels with a liberal.  But they didn't have to live with the fallout, and David's nomination would only add to a growing resentment in the South against the arrogance of the North, an arrogance that had, in part, led to the overthrow of Walter Martinez as Speaker of the House a year and a half earlier to a coalition of 11 Democrats and 26 Republicans.

Arriving in Grants I was greeted at the entrance of the hotel by Maura Rico, Democratic chair of Hidalgo county.  She put her arms around me and said, tearfully, "I know I promised you my votes, but I've been offered jobs and my people in Lordsburg need jobs."  I assured her I understood.  I learned that Maura and others had been flown to Grants by Betty Stahmann, a close friend of David's, in a Lear jet.  These were not good signs for my side.  Inside the hotel I met with Matt Runnels, who had been a student of mine three years earlier, and Mike.  I had never met Mike or Dorothy.  Part II tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Reies Tijerina, RIP


I knew Reies Tijerina, slightly.  I admired him, in spite of, and partly because of, his outrageous flaws.  Every day during the famous trial I would go to the courthouse and sit, spellbound, as the story of the courthouse raid unfolded.  I spoke to him occasionally at his headquarters in Albuquerque.

I first heard about Tijerina while in Quito, Ecuador, on a Fulbright scholarship.  One morning I picked up a newspaper and saw a picture of a tank in the lower right-hand side of the front page and a headline that read “Uprising in New Mexico.”  The story didn’t make sense, but my friend John Aragon, later to become president of Highlands University, was in Quito at that time so I called and asked him to fill me in.  The tank was National Guard, part of a manhunt; the “uprising” was a shoot-em-out at the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla; the cause was land grant ownership claims from decades before, promoted by a group calling itself the Alianza Federal de Mercedes.

The trial pitted the conservative Hispanic political establishment against a young upstart from Texas who stood them down while promoting downtrodden Hispanic populations of the North.  It also pitted the larger New Mexico social establishment, already nervous about Viet Nam, black power, and the Chicano movement, against the national forces of change during the crazy 1960s.  The national press corps, mostly favorable to Tijerina, took to the story like a herd of thirsty cattle sniffing the breeze of a distant pond of water. 

The presiding judge was Paul Larrazolo, son of former Governor Octaviano Larrazolo—the epitome of Hispanic establishment.  The courthouse raid had begun as an attempt to make a citizen’s arrest of Rio Arriba District Attorney Alfonso Sanchez, who had blocked some of the activities of the Alianza.  So the power structure in Rio Arriba County was in play as well, the same power structure that would later consolidate behind the leadership of patron Emilio Naranjo.  Sheriff Benny Naranjo, Emilio’s son, was one of the key witnesses in the trial.  Opposing this behemoth of political power was a band of rusty pickup-driving scraggly nortenos with names like Baltazar and Tobias, looking like characters out of the Milagro Beanfield War, and led by an impoverished, uneducated but ingenious Texan outsider and former Protestant preacher named Reies Tijerina.  He was also dangerous, and so were they.  The contrast was irresistible.

Tijerina defended himself in trial, brilliantly, with the help of Bill Higgs, a disbarred Harvard-educated lawyer from Mississippi who had worked for Martin Luther King, and Beverly Axelrod, who had defended Black Panther activist Eldridge Cleaver.  She was in New Mexico, I was told, chilling out after an impossible romantic, public, affair with Cleaver.  Key to the kidnapping charge against Tijerina was a moment during the raid in which Tijerina allegedly forced Sheriff Benny Naranjo at gunpoint to release prisoners from the courthouse jail.  The term kidnapping was carefully defined by the prosecution as forcibly holding or confining a person against their will, even for a short period of time.

Tijerina to Benny Naranjo (this is from my memory, not from a transcript):  Did I have a gun on you?  Yes.  Did I told you to release the prisoners?  Yes.  When I told you to release the prisoners did I pistol whip you?  Did I force you physically?  Did I follow you to make sure you released the prisoners?  No.  NoNoWere you afraid of me?  I was known as King Tiger.  Did you tremble with fear because of me? Are your afraid of me now?  (Tijerina grimaced in mock fear, facing Naranjo up close):  No, I wasn’t afraid of you, and I’m not afraid now.  Did you release the prisoners because I told you to or because you were afraid of me?  I went downstairs to release the prisoners because you told me to, not because I was afraid of you.  Tijerina had challenged Naranjo's self image in a very personal way.  No one but Tijerina could have made this work.  Naranjo's macho response pretty much destroyed the kidnapping case.  Tijerina was acquitted of all charges.He was later convicted of conspiracy in a separate incident.

On the day of his acquittal I went to the Alianza headquarters, arriving just as Tijerina got out of his car.  A group of Brown Berets surrounded him.  All of a sudden there was a fight.  One of the young Brown Berets had tried to punch Tijerina.  Tijerina admonished the young man, saying, “why would you want to fight me on this happy occasion?”  Tijerina’s brother Cristobal broke the tension, saying, “No es nada, una borrachera.”  It’s nothing serious, just too much liquor.  Not being part of the Alianza, I left the premises as the celebration began.

For an excellent set of pictures and notes taken by an eyewitness to much of Tijerina’s escapades, go to my friend Mark Bralley’s, website:  http://mgbralley-whatswrongwiththispicture.blogspot.com/

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Democratic Party: Early 2015

If the Republican capture of the House is, in part, a story of hard work, it is also in part a story of the other side’s decline.  The Democratic Party lost touch with its base.  It neglected to promote its most talented, ran out of new ideas, and in recent years sounded too much like the party of “no.”  Disoriented after long lapses without a compass, the party lost its capacity to foresee the present, much less the future, as it mistakenly took for granted a winning margin.

It can bounce back, in time, but:  as Confucius said, the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.  Three things that need naming:  first, the Democratic Party is no longer the default party.  Three of the past five governors were Republicans.  In 2018 the governorship will have been held by Republicans for 20 of the past 32 years.  The last Democratic governor with a truly distinguished record for advancing governance was Jerry Apodaca, 1974-1978.  The Secretary of State is Republican, as is control of the House.  The Senate leadership was picked by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats.  While the party has local momentum in most counties, margins are slipping, for many reasons.  After Toney Anaya (1982-1986), who tried, but failed, at policy reform, the party settled for protecting its most powerful constituents—labor, the petrified school and higher education system—at the expense of good governance, while favoring narrow business interests under the guise of economic development.  With hardly a peep of dissent while state government declined, party leaders gifted their moral authority to Uncle Bill, tolerated the vultures of corruption, and then rode a long surf-wave of ostrich-like denial.  The public is aware of this and, no, it doesn't trust; the default position is gone.

Second, inclusiveness is a concept the party needs to revive.  New voices, some dissident and unpopular, should be encouraged, not stifled; channeled, not driven out.  Lack of inclusion has contributed mightily to the mass denial of obvious failures in recent party history, and to defection at the polls. Without it, re-establishing connections between leadership and the base will be impossible.

Third, the party needs a big-picture policy game plan.  What needs fixing?  How will we fix it?  Thousands of citizens, city councilors, county elected officials, legislators, desperate to tell their story, already have the answers.  The party needs to tap this strength.  With a credible agenda, mobilizing—recruiting, training, and rewarding a cadre of young and earnest workers—will be easy.  Without one, credibility will lag.  Democratic House members, now in the minority role, have a special responsibility to identify things that need fixing, and communicate these with the public.  The best role model I know is outgoing Majority Leader Rick Miera, who always understood the bottom line was better government, who fought with both grace and passion, and never forgot where he came from.  Others, like Ed Sandoval, Jim Trujillo, Lucky Varela, Sheryl Williams Stapleton, come to mind as well.

None of this is too much to ask; the Party has faltered before and recovered, and it might even be fun.  Ask Nick Franklin, Tim Kraft, Chris Brown, or Brian Sanderoff.  They were the Jay McClesky’s and Rod Adairs of the early 1980s, architects of modern party organization in New Mexico, moving election practice  to data-driven, media-led campaigns—they gave it hell and had a blast.  And in the best dreams they dream at night they can still feel the nervous rush of the clock ticking down, they can smell the gathering crowd, and savor the aftertaste of hard-won success.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Republican Party: New Mexico Early 2015


The return of the Republican Party to majority status in the New Mexico House of Representatives, after sixty years in the wilderness, is the political story of the decade--up to now.  Three points:

First, this is healthy.  Even if some policy directions taken by the new leadership should prove wrongheaded (and I don't necessarily predict this), new leadership in itself is welcome relief.  Shifts in leadership stimulate competition, transparency, and accountability.  They generate new ideas, new perspectives.  After decades of knee-jerk, tired and predictable power relations within a major branch of government, even youthful brashness and chest-thumping by some of the new victors, should it emerge, can create a healthy dynamic.  Yes:  Democrats, independents, this is good; get used to the competition.  It isn't going to go away.

Second, while this triumph is due in part to the colossal, accumulated failure of the Democratic Party--at the top, middle, and bottom levels--in recent decades, it is not entirely so.  A cadre of Republicans worked for decades to improve the competitive environment.  For example, it took hard work to counter the gerrymandering of districts:  Rod Adair, Pat Rogers, and others spent years leveling this field.  Others, like Jay McClesky, helped create a solid local fundraising infrastructure linked to the national party. Among the major longtime godfathers of success are Mickey Barnett and the late John Dendahl.  There are many others.  Without their work this power shift could not have happened.  Moreover, thankfully, leaders within the Republican Party have avoided the temptation to follow national party ideology, at least up to now, focusing instead on problem-solving at state and local levels rather than simple-minded one-size-fits-all formulas.  Another way of saying this:  while exiled in the hinterlands, many Republicans learned something about New Mexico.  This, too, is good. 

Third, on a more personal note, as I have interacted with some of the legislative leaders in the Republican Party (I am still a Democrat), I can say I am impressed by the aplomb, the energy, wit, and sincerity of many of them.  Don Tripp is not known for his Republican views, but for his moderation, tact, and common sense. If he were to exchange positions with, say, John Arthur Smith, a Democrat, unless you were truly involved you would not notice the difference in voting behavior.  Ditto for Larry Larranaga.  Conrad James, who regained a seat in the House this year, is another case in point:  I've seen him struggle to understand a complicated issue, from various perspectives, and make up his own mind.  Rod Montoya is a seasoned campaign pro, experienced in grass roots problem solving in the Lt. Governor's office, and full of energy.  There is talent here.

The achievement of the Republican Party last November was not a freak accident, a weird turn of events.  It was the result of years of hard work combined with the unsatisfactory performance, for many years, of those previously in charge.   For most of us politics is not about cheering for the party or lamenting the victories of the other team; it is about creating effective governance and New Mexico has a long ways to go in this department.  We wish the new leaders the best.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Juarez Homicides Down in 2014

The Chihuahua Attorney General's office reported a total of 429 homicides in Cd. Juarez in 2014, down from 485 in 2013, and down drastically from 3085 in 2010, when Juarez was believed to be the most violent city in the world.  Chihuahua is the fifth most violent state in Mexico, and Juarez is still the most violent city in the state of Chihuahua.  The homicide rate for Juarez is about 33 per 100,000 population, about two-and-a-half times the national rate of 13.5.

By comparison, New Orleans, Detroit, St. Louis, Newark, and Baltimore, all have homicide rates higher than 33 per 100,000.  And among nation states, Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, at 90.4, followed by Venezuela, Belize, El Salvador, and Guatemala.  Spain has a homicide rate of 0.8 per 100,000.

New Mexico ranks 8th in the nation for homicides, with about 6 per 100,000.  All of the surrounding states--Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas have lower homicide rates.  The national average is 4.7.  The Utah homicide rate is 1.7.

The first homicide in Juarez in 2015 was of a female prostitute, whose hands were bound and she was beaten to death and then thrown to the street from a second story downtown hotel room.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Stay Tuned: The Blogging Will Resume

A funny thing happened about four years ago.  I tripped, stumbled, and fell into four years of public life.  It was inappropriate for me to continue blogging, although I got a great deal of satisfaction from it, so I put it aside while I served in the Martinez administration.  Now I am back from the labyrinth of bureaucratic life, and will resume blogging, with a renewed sense of purpose and some new ideas of what to cover.  Stay tuned!

Friday, December 31, 2010

My Last Blog Entry...For a While

One hundred years from now, on the eve of the second centennial of New Mexico statehood, New Mexicans will access video images of a woman dancing gracefully with a tall partner, alone on a dance floor in Las Cruces, surrounded by citizens celebrating her forthcoming inauguration as governor of the state. Some will comment on the old fashioned clothing worn by onlookers; others, intrigued by the persuasively elegant dancing, will browse through historical compendiums to find out how well she fared in governing the state.

Historians will record that on that evening, 40 miles to the south, Cd. Juarez was setting a new record in homicides, for the second year in a row, earning a statistical reputation as the most violent city in the world. New Mexico's financial situation was dire, the product of poor national performance and years of increasing corruption and cynical mismanagement. The state's educational system was ranked between 47 and 49 out of 50, in student performance, depending on the agency doing the ranking. Jobs were scarce, poverty was growing, and confidence was sinking. The dancing woman will be judged on how well historians believe she responded to these challenges. There will be room for some debate around the edges but the weight of evidence will be strong enough to render a fairly solid judgment; but on this side of the historical divide we cannot know what it will be.

Decades ago as a young man I found myself in an audience of people my age, listening to a panel of experts discussing the civil rights movement, then one of the two major political upheavals of the era. Young black students demanded faster change; older panelists cautioned them for patience--a classic generational confrontation. At the end of the heated session one of the panelists looked up at us and said something I still remember vividly. Fifty years from now, he said, you will look back on your life and reflect on the historic battles of your lifetime, and you will want to evaluate your own role as a citizen as these battles passed through your life. Most of you, looking back at the civil rights movement will say, "yes, racial relations needed fixing. Brave people traveled to Selma and Birmingham, and other battlegrounds, fighting for the cause of racial justice. I'm glad they did that." Another group, much smaller, will say, "yes, I remember Birmingham and Selma during the civil rights movement. I was there." I have never forgotten those words from the soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. They made a difference in some of the decisions I've made, and I've passed this advice on to many of my students. Each of us must make up our minds where "there" is, which side we are on, and what we will do about it.

I've enjoyed working on this blog immensely over the past two years, focusing increasing attention on the wars of Juarez. These are our neighbors and New Mexicans should be aware of what is going on there. I know something about these wars and I've tried, discretely, to pass some of this knowledge on to others. Lately, though, as you may have surmised from my low level of productivity, I've been occupied by other things. So it is my duty to announce to you now this will be my last entry, at least for a while. On Monday morning I will begin a public, official life, in which my opinions about most things, including Juarez, should be kept very private. Indeed, I am probably pushing my luck (I sought no approval for this entry) with about-to-be-constituted authority to slip this last blog in before my official start day. Let me end by saying there was just no way I could turn down the invitation by the dancing woman to join her for a different kind of dance, the dance of governance, and thereby throw my grain of sand into the movement of history in our time. Wish me well.

At the risk of repetition and straining the reader's patience, let me leave you with a poem I copied here two years ago, but which relevant today:

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies
Yet, dotted everywhere, ironic points of light
Flash out, wherever the Just exchange their messages
May I, composed like them of Eros and of dust
Beleaguered by the same negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame

WH Auden

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Beat: 2964 and Counting, With Twenty Days Left of the Year. Fourteen Killed on Saturday

The score so far in December is 86 executions, with 2964 total for the year so far, a new record for the most violent city in the world. Last year the count was 2657, so the additional executions add up to nearly one more per day in Juarez. In 2008 it was 1653, and in 2007 it was 318.

Restaurants, Bus Companies Express Solidarity With Doctors

Federico Ziga Martínez, president of the local National Chamber of the Restaurant Industry, said his association will support the work stoppage at hospital emergency units tomorrow. Hundreds of restaurant owners and employees will wear black ribbons as an expression of grief.

Manuel Sotelo, president of the Association of Bus Transporters of Juarez, said his organization will not stop bus traffic, since the maquila sector depends in great part on transportation of workers, but he intends to make some gesture of solidarity, even if only symbolic.

Twenty Four Hour Strike Leaves Only Two Emergency Rooms Open

Tomorrow and early Tuesday morning will not be good days to be hit by gunfire in Juarez, since the only two emergency rooms available may have long waiting lines. So please try to choose another day to take a bullet wound

Various medical associations, grouped under a new umbrella organization called Médicos Unidos por Juárez, have decided to stage a twenty four-hour suspension of activities in emergency rooms--except for two sites--to protest the kidnapping of 11 doctors and the assassination of three so far this year. The strike, which will begin on Monday morning at 7:30 a.m., is more than just symbolic, inasmuch as the largest hospitals, including the three social security hospitals, the general hospitals of zone 6 and 35, and all private hospitals are joining in. Only the anchor General Hospital (on Paseo Triunfo de la Republica and Fernando Montes de Oca) and and the Hospital for Municipal Workers (on Adolfo Lopez Mateos and Anillo Envolvente del Pronaf) will continue working as usual during the work stoppage.

The doctors, moreover, are asking the three levels of government--state, local, and federal--to take action on a variety of issues. Among these is the clarification of the deaths of doctors Alfonso Rocha and Alberto Betancourt; for police to conduct their work with visible identity badges and without masks; for state funding of medical facilities to be proportional to that generated by the city; and for the state to create a special fund to reactivate the economy of Juarez. Other points include the professionalization of the municipal police force; the assignment of 200 federal agents to investigate the thousands of unresolved crimes; and greater accountability and punishment for corrupt public officials.

Alfredo Lugo Villa, a spokesperson for Médicos Unidos por Juárez told reporters that if the umbrella group has not received a "positive response" to these demands within seven days it will "escalate" measures until authorities begin to pay attention. “This movement comes from the citizenry, it is not political, it has no partisan affiliation, and it does not derive from any labor or contractual issues," he said.

Click here for story in Diario.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More Rehab Centers Attacked: Four Dead

Veteran security reporter Felix Gonzalez (click here) reports that two drug rehabilitation centers were attacked yesterday, killing four persons. A preliminary report suggests armed men surrounded the facilities of the Center for the Control of Addictions, breaking down a gate and shooting inside the building. One person was killed. Later, apparently the same men, went to another drug rehabilitation center, killing three persons. At least ten more persons residing at the center were taken to hospitals after the attack. In the past two years various drug rehabilitation centers have come under armed attack, and many residents have been killed.

Governor of Chihuahua Discusses Possible UN Intervention

In a note by Diario (click here)reporter Alejandro Salmón, the author writes the following:

Governor Cesar Duarte suggested that intervention of UN troops in Chihuahua might be studied by his government.

After signing an agreement to collaborate with the United Nations for the promotion of a culture of legality, the governor said he would take advantage of this new relationship to benefit Chihuahua in various ways.

"This is a subject being discussed in the Senate of the federal government, but if given a chance we would consider the possibility (of UN intervention). "

At the same time (click here) El Fronterizo reports that UN representative Antonio Matzitelli, who signed the agreement with the governor, suggested to reporters that UN troops intervene only under conditions of war, which is not the case in Chihuahua. He indicated that lowering the violence in the state requires a pact among mexican federal and state institutions.

Matzitelli said the UN would help analyze the strategy now being implemented, and seek operational solutions in specifice cases, using models and practices that have worked well in other places. the UN will also give training to judges, prosecutors, and investigators, provide software to police forces, and offer advice on preventing crime

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Top Azteca Gang Killer Captured

Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, 32, a.k.a. "El Farmero," a top leader of the Azteca Gang in Juarez was captured on Friday night after a lengthy, well publicized gun battle in a residence he was using on Gomez Morin, a major thoroughfare in Juarez.. Also arrested were Carlos Rodriguez Ramirez, 41, ("El 67") suspected of transporting drugs from Juarez into the United States, and Giselle Ornelas Nunez, 32, a.k.a. "La Maestra," accused of transporting drugs and weapons into Cd. Juarez.

Gallegos is believed to be a very bad guy indeed. He is believed to be the one who ordered the murder of the two employees of the U.S. Consulate this Spring; the one who ordered the killing of the high school football team (14 dead in the massacre), the Doble A team, in a case of what appears to be mistaken identity last January; and he is believed to be responsible for the killings of 5 federal police officers. He is also believed to be the one who ordered the murder of the wife of Jesus Ernesto Chavez Castillo, a.k.a. "el Camello," a member of the gang, captured in July. After "El Camello's wife began to visit Mexico City after his arrest, it is believed that "El Farmero" ordered her killed under suspicion she might be revealing things about the Azteca gang.

From various reports in Diario, El Norte.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gun Laws in Mexico: The Black and Not-So-Black Markets for Guns in Juarez

Diario this morning has a note by Berenice Gaytán (click here) with details about the markets, black and otherwise, for guns in Cd. Juarez these days.

Gun laws: According to the Ministry of Defense, all citizens are entitled to possess weapons to be used for household protection, but they must be in the 22-38 caliber range. More powerful weapons are reserved exclusively for use by the armed forces or law enforcement agents. Weapons are not permitted to be taken outside the household without express permission

However, people who hunt for sport and who belong to an authorized hunting club may possess more powerful weapons.

Gun registration procedures: in order to have legal right to possess a weapon for household protection, a citizen must present the gun, unloaded and in a holster or case, to the ministry of defense, along with an official identification card with a photograph of the owner, and proof of residency such as a light or water bill. As of last year payment of about $3.00 was required in the form of a bank statement that payment was made, using a code (400113) indicating the payment was for gun registration. But since weapons according to Mexican gun law are not allowed to be transported outside the domicile, citizens must first report to a military headquarters, without the weapon but with documentation about it, including serial numbers, to obtain a card permitting transportation of the weapon to the appropriate location to be registered.

Sounds complicated? The registration procedure is even more complicated by the fact that it is illegal to buy and sell weapons: there are no stores you can go to and purchase a gun. This has given rise in Juarez to a black market, where one may purchase guns of all kinds, including automatic weapons and assault rifles. Guess who satisfies the demand for guns in this illegal environment? People in the United States, where it is relatively easy to purchase a gun. In recent years the Mexican government has complained loudly about the lack of cooperation by the U.S. government in controlling the flow of illegal guns into Mexico.

In this article Berenice Gaytán interviews "Jose," (otherwise unidentified), who admits he bought a 38 caliber pistol on the black market and legalized it by going through the procedure outlined above with the ministry of defense. "They don't ask any questions," he said, "about how you obtained the gun, at least that's the impression I got. You just pay the fee, you take the gun and the documents, and you get your permit."

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Juarez Municipal Budget: Less Money Than Last Year

From Diario (click here): Yesterday the city council of Cd. Juarez approved a budget for 2011 of 2.754 billion pesos (around $220 million at the current exchange rate), about $40 million (U.S.) less than the 2010 budget, a reduction of about 18%, a huge hit. The city council also approved a measure to allow the mayor to seek additional funds through increases in the fees charged for city services. About 40% of this budget will come from municipal income; about 31% will come from state-federal funds; and about 29% will come from strictly federal funds.

Xóchitl Contreras Herrera, a city council person, indicated that much of the deficit next year is due to the closing of businesses, which in turn is due both to stagnation in the Mexican, U.S., and global economies, and to the severe security environment in Cd. Juarez. The city also has an outstanding debt of about $32 million (U.S.), for which no funds have been allocated in the projected budget.

By contrast, the El Paso City budget for FY 2011 is $693 million, and for El Paso County it is $247 million. The Municipio de Juarez is more or less the equivalent governing body corresponding to both El Paso City and El Paso County. It should be noted, however, that the cost of living is significantly lower in Mexico, so the disparity between the nearly $1 billion being spent on local government in El Paso county and the $220 million for Juarez is not as dramatic as implied by the numbers.

If we take a look at the entire Paso del Norte region, the population is somewhere around 2.4-2.6 million people, counting Juarez, El Paso MSA, and Dona Ana County. Local governments (El Paso County, El Paso City, Cd. Juarez, and Dona Ana County) have budgets adding up to about $1.2 billion.

In contrast, the Albuquerque MSA, with a population of about 730,000 (El Paso has a county-wide population of about 763,000), has a budget of $455 million plus Bernalillo County has a budget of $612 million, in the same ballpark as El Paso alone (almost $1 billion), on a per-capita basis, but, region-wide local government in the MSA of Albuquerque, with a population less than one third the size of the Paso del Norte region, spends just a fraction under the total amount spent on local government in the Paso del Norte.