Monday, December 19, 2016

The Electoral College 2016

The electoral college meets today in each state to elect the President of the US.  The mainstream media treats this as a mildly embarrassing technicality, a constitutional provision written by elitist slave owners and misogynists who wanted to create an escape clause in case of a "mistake" made by the electorate in the selection of a powerful national leader.  So powerful is this bias that electors who vote their conscience are disparaged as "faithless," or "rogue" electors.  

The current US Supreme Court, usually led by justices who have made a fetish of following the "original intent," of the Constitution, as though this were a sacred obligation discernible only by the most gifted legal minds (I'm thinking Scalia here, and his surviving acolyte and rubber stamp, Clarence Thomas), have been curiously silent about clarifying what states can do to minimize this constitutional provision.  States, for example, are allowed to punish "faithless" electors, almost certainly in violation of original intent, without a peep from a Supreme Court that has no difficulty permitting the sale of modern assault rifles to certified lunatics as part of the original intent of the writers of the second amendment.

The Supreme Court's unusual neglect of the way the electoral college functions is a reflection of a wider feeling that the college is somehow less democratic than many of our other institutions, and it is difficult today to find strong support for it.

Here are two reasons we the people should reflect seriously about doing away with the electoral college.

1.  The problem is not with the electoral college, the problem is with the way it is practiced.

Do you know the names of the five electors from New Mexico?  Which one did you vote for?  Do you know that person?  Do you trust him/her to vote in a wise manner?  So prevalent is the disdain for the electoral college that the electoral machinery in most states makes it extremely difficult for voters to know who is representing the "will of the people."  If the selection of presidential electors were more public, with media face-time to explain their voting philosophy, and typically resulting in sending our best writers, esteemed former top officials, and the like in a truly competitive process, it might well provide a welcome change of pace from the usual breathless coverage of presidential elections as currently crafted in predictable news cycles and sound bites from highly self-interested parties.  Would you feel better about the electoral college if you had a serious chance to look over prospective electors in a public process?

2.  Even more important, the will of the people in a presidential election in a state is not always clear.

The elections in Ohio and Florida in 2000 (and in later elections as well) have become classic textbook cases (and there are many more) of messy elections in which the will of the people is not clear from the numerical results of the official count.  In both cases the Secretary of State was controlled by persons who proved over and over to be bent on maximizing votes in a partisan direction.  And in both cases voter suppression techniques were aimed at black voters in ways that have been documented, with credible estimates that the anomalies and outright brazen tactics had a decisive effect on the official outcome of the elections.  The "hanging chad" situation in Florida in 2000, in which voter re-counters had difficulty determining a voter's intent, also comes to mind.  Does it make sense under such circumstances, to insist that all presidential electors should vote lock-step for the "winner" of the election?  Did the founding fathers have things like this in mind when they created the electoral college? Almost certainly so.

One major proposal for change of the electoral college is to have each congressional district determine 435 of the 535 votes in the electoral college.  The other 100 votes, presumably, would be "winner take all" votes (two for each state) for the vote-count winner of each state.  I have looked in vain for the presidential vote in 2016 by congressional district, but I am told by my friend Rod Adair, an outstanding demographer who has followed these things for half a century, that almost certainly Trump won a majority of these districts due to the games people play in redistricting in most states.  And Trump clearly won 60 of these votes (Clinton only won 20 states).  So this proposal would not have changed the results of the 2016 presidential elections.  But it would have had the effect of encouraging presidential candidates to think in terms of congressional districts rather than states.  It would also put a lot of pressure on the normally outrageous gerrymandering of congressional districts every ten years.  Voters might insist, as they have in California, on getting a much more partisan-neutral system of redistricting than the highly partisan circus we normally see.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel Castro RIP

Whatever one thinks of Fidel (demon or superhero, not much in between) his impact on Cuba, Latin America, and the United States places him on the highest rung of globally influential leaders in the latter half of the twentieth century.  On the Left, only Mao can rival the profundity of social and political transformations he brought about within his own society.  In Latin America various leaders, inspired by his example and assisted by Fidel himself, tried, but fell pathetically short of his achievements:  the Sandinista's, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales.  In Africa no leader rivals Fidel's stature.  In the rest of the developing world no name is as starkly embedded in our minds as that of the simple name Fidel.

Pope John XXIII qualifies as a rival to Fidel in ambition as a global force, but his leadership ignited a reactionary movement within Christianity, largely successful, to suppress his followers, especially in Latin America, where he had his strongest influence.  So his legacy was not as lasting as Fidel's.  Similarly, Lyndon Johnson, who tried to expand the New Deal and passed the Civil Rights Act in the United States, was crippled by failure in Viet Nam, enabling a strong counter-movement on the Right that lasted for many decades.  Lech Walesa in Poland, who led the labor union-driven Solidarity movement toward democracy and greater autonomy from the Soviet jackboot in the late 1970s, must be counted high in the rankings, but once elected president of Poland, his popularity waned and he failed to be re-elected in 1995.  Except for Mao, one is hard-pressed to think of a leader with as powerful and long-lasting influence.

Inside Cuba:  in 1960 Cuba ranked 43rd among nations in life expectancy, at 64.2 years.  The US ranked 16th that year at 69.8.  In 1980, after two decades of Fidel's rule, Cuba ranked above the U.S., at 15th (73.8 years), three places above the US (73.7years).  And in 2015 Cuba ranked 32 in the world in life expectancy, just behind the U.S., which ranked 31.  How did Cuba do this, without the world class medical infrastructure available to more developed countries?  By taking the best and brightest, putting them into medical schools, and emphasizing bread-and-butter no-cost preventive health care for everyone.  In 2016 infant mortality in Cuba placed it eleven places better than the US in global rankings (44 compared to 55).  In literacy, Cuba ranks 15th in the world, the US ranks 50th.  New Mexico, if a country, would rank 94th, lower than the global average among countries (yes, New Mexico ranks below the world average in literacy rate for adults!).  How did Cuba achieve high literacy?  In 1961 Fidel initiated a literacy campaign that reduced illiteracy dramatically, in an extremely short period of time, down from 25-40% to just 4% by sending a cadre of some 300,000 throughout the country to teach people to read.  Cuba has ranked among the most literate countries in the world ever since.  And while some might not like to live in a country in which there are only minimal salary differences between people, (top salaries are less than double the lowest), despite the economic embargo that has thwarted Cuban economic development, Cuba manages to rank 67th in the UN Human Development Index, well above Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and all Latin American countries except for Uruguay and Panama.  (The US ranks 5th on this index).

Outside Cuba:  Fidel's example inspired thousands of young persons to seek change through revolution.  In nearly every country in Latin America guerrilla movements modeled after Fidel's sprung up during the 1960s and 1970s and into the 1980s.  Books analyzing the Fidelista movement sold millions of copies worldwide.  Fidel's willingness to fall within the orbit of Soviet influence broke tacit rules of the game among dependent countries, causing the U.S. to adopt strategies specifically aimed at preventing  "another Cuba," including beefed up counterinsurgency strategies, heightened intelligence activity, and patterns of foreign assistance to small countries.  Fidel's successful defiance of the U.S., in the face of punitive economic policies, served as a constant source of encouragement and inspiration for nationalists in dozens of countries who were worried about the impact of U.S. global hegemony on their home countries as the U.S. expanded its global reach.
On the down side, the Cuban state under Fidel was not tolerant of dissent, and few people would like to have lived under his authoritarian rule.  Fidel did not hesitate to punish and, when expedient, to kill. This is as much a  part of his legacy as his most positive achievements.  And in a moment in which people in many developed countries seem to be turning toward authoritarian, intolerant, solutions, and when many leaders help themselves in the name of state security, with little dissent, to more and more arbitrary and unchecked executive power, it might be wise to take a sober look at the underbelly of Fidel's security apparatus, which has been well documented, and take heed.

Perhaps the most attractive and inspiring thing about Fidel is that he became a symbol, for millions of persons around the world, of what a single person can accomplish.  You don't have to wait for more favorable political conditions to arise or for huge financial support to come your way to compete for power.  Dramatic improvements in literacy can be made in a year or two; health care for an entire society can be elevated to world-class levels on a minimal budget.  You can, if you have the guts to do so and are willing to pay the price, maintain a nation's dignity, today, in the face of hostility from the most powerful country in the world. And here in New Mexico, where daily we are reminded of worsening levels of educational attainment, increasing rates of poverty, and growing public corruption, we should not be so proud as to think that nothing Cuba accomplished under Fidel is worthy of our attention.  No soy fidelista, pero adios, Fidel:  you kicked up a world class storm!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Santa Fe Dems Meet:  
Bernie-Hillary Supporters Not Yet Quite Chilled Out

Between 115-120 people, mainly Anglos and mainly middle-aged or older, showed up at what amounted to a post-election venting session at Democratic Party headquarters in Santa Fe last night (Wednesday).  One man, who expressed deep resentment over the insider mischief by Debbie Wasserman against the Bernie campaign, left the podium after someone shouted repeatedly he didn't want to "hear about that."  Several people then repeated their similar dismay about the wiki-leaks scandal, while several others spoke of their passionate support for Hillary.

But mostly people offered suggestions about what to do next or else ask for guidance on whether to focus on the local scene or the national scene.  Paul Gibson, who ran the Bernie campaign, announced a town hall meeting to be held on Sunday afternoon, November 20, for a new organization called "take back the roundhouse."  He said one effort will be to have people in place for every committee meeting at the legislature, to hold legislators accountable for their actions.

One man suggested creating a foundation like the Libertarian Rio Grande Foundation, to focus attention on statewide issues.  A woman wanted to see an effort to pass the industrial use for hemp products, vetoed by the Governor.  Several educators brought up education issues.  One man thought Democrats needed a liberal version of Rush Limbaugh.  Several expressed a need to listen to the young people who voted for Trump.

In Las Cruces after the Kerry campaign in 2004, which attracted many Anglo Democrats in the county, a group of Kerry supporters formed what they called the Progressive Voters Alliance, which began fielding candidates for local offices, with impressive victories in city elections.  Nathan Small was elected to the city council through this group, and last week he beat Andy Nunez (who has run as a Democrat, Independent, and Republican) for state rep.  But the group has been less than fully imaginative or ambitious about their project, focusing mainly on getting liberals into local elected positions, and spending time on local environmental issues of importance to some of the leadership.  Retake the Roundhouse ( has far stronger leadership, ambition, and ganas, than  the PVC.  At the moment that's where the most dynamic energy lies among Democratic voters in New Mexico.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Cd Juarez After Trump

Zotoluco working with the bull yesterday evening

Buying pesos at an exchange cubicle on Juarez Avenue yesterday afternoon on my way to the bullfights I saw a note taped on the window:  "15 peso surcharge to pay for the wall."  It was just the kind of sardonic humor you would expect in Juarez, whose inhabitants have observed our electoral process with a mixture of amazement, disbelief, and, sometimes, deep dismay.  There have been calls to impeach President Pena Nieto for the toadying up to Trump during and after the campaign.  Some say his fawning over Trump will lead to the election of Lopez Obrador, a Bernie-like leftist, two years from now.

Eulalio Lopez, alias El Zotoluco, was making a farewell appearance in Juarez after a long and distinguished career as a matador.  He was fighting with two other outstanding matadors, Diego Silveti and the Spaniard Miguel Angel Perera, who fight regularly in the best rings in Spain and who maintain solid rankings.  Together they cut 8 ears (only 4 of them well deserved) in a memorable evening with the arena about 60% full.  It was the best afternoon of bullfights I've seen in Juarez since 16-year old novice El Juli astonished the crowd in 1998.  Good bulls, only one with serious weaknesses, and an obvious effort by the matadors to bid Zotoluco a fond farewell

The fans were grateful for the afternoon and honored the performance by carrying the matados on their shoulders after the event was over.  I didn't see any American tourists at the bullring, something unusual, but the lines at the Santa Fe bridge heading north were full (about an hour's wait time), so I was grateful I have my express lane card, and there was absolutely no traffic except for me on that lane.

Zotoluco cut an ear for his first bull

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez in Las Cruces
Sen. Finance Chair Smith says state finances under the Martinez Administration have been handled "more irresponsibly" than any Governorship since he was first elected in 1988

Sen. John Smith, Sen. Mary Kay Papen, Sen. Michael Sanchez in Mesilla on Nov. 2

NM Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez appeared at a fundraiser luncheon in his honor this afternoon (Wed. Nov 2) at Salud! de Mesilla.  He gave an energetic and rousing defense of the relatively civil boundary lines that, he said, once characterized New Mexico politics prior to the take-no-prisoners hardball that began with the McClesky-Martinez partnership in the governor's office in 2011.  Sanchez has once again been targeted for defeat by McClesky, as he was four years ago, in what has been characterized as a $2 million smear campaign to beat him.  Sanchez survived the attack four years ago, but Sen. Tim Jennings, President Pro Tem of the Senate, did not.

At the event, Sen. John A. Smith expressed concern to me in private (but on the record) that the recent downgrading of the NM bond rating my Moody's may get worse before it gets better.  The question for the immediate financial future of the state, he said, is "how do we build up our reserves to a healthy level again" in the middle of an economic downturn?  In addition to labeling Governor Martinez's financial management of the state as the "most irresponsible" of any governor" he has known, Smith added that her record in job-creation is equally dismal.  "We (Democrats) should have been more forceful in labeling the mess that happened in mental health a few years ago for what it was--an exercise in needless job destruction," he said.

Seeing the three most powerful senators in the state--Papen, Sanchez, and Smith--mingling with guests at the event and with each other reminded me that Southern New Mexico at the moment is blessed with an abundance of political clout.  This raises the question:

Is Belen, home of Sen. Sanchez, in Southern NM or in the North?  Where does the North begin?  Nature, at least, tends to create its own boundary lines, shifting in response to environmental change..  Just as predicted by global warming science, the flora characteristic of the Chihuahua desert, has been moving northward for at least the last two decades and is expected eventually to engulf a good deal of Colorado.   Right now, at least along the freeway, the vegetation boundary area appears to be in a zone somewhere between Socorro and Los Lunas.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Trump vs. Clinton With Four Weeks to Go

My brother David had it right nearly a year ago:  By the end of 2014 Republican leaders had squandered away their party's base voters and Trump, a novice at politics, simply tripped, stumbled, and fell into bed with the most disgusted members of that largely white, male, non-college-educated, and downwardly mobile base. Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham, Rand Paul, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Rick Santorum?  These establishment members of Congress put their mouths on cruise control in the early primaries, blaming everything as usual on Obama, not realizing the base hated them more than it hated Obama!  Trump almost literally slapped each one on the face a couple of times and they were gone from the contest, still shocked that Trump's disrespect of them was what the base really liked about him. 

That Trump was willing to use raw, insulting terms against Mexicans, Afro-Americans, Syrians, and Muslims, rejecting the more polite dog-whistle terms (such as "law and order" and "family values") through which politicians appealed in the past for the R base vote, made him seem all the more authentic and fresh, to this base. Alone among his opponents, he not only understood their anger:  he also spoke their language.  When the news media attacked him for the use of his language, Trump scored again, big-time, by attacking the news media's Big-Brother-like penchant (called "political correctness") for enforcing the stilted language, full of subterfuge, of the political class.  For the Republican base these were two home runs for Trump in the early innings.  For the entrenched political class in both political parties, including the grossly overpaid but mostly mediocre talking heads on television, Trump's unexpected victories showed them up to be out of touch, desperately wielding checkers skills unsuccessfully in a game of chess, and too arrogant to wake up soon enough to understand, much less control, the flow of events.  Only Kasich had the huevos to play hardball at Convention time:  the rest joined in, half-heartedly, in the Convention celebration, which briefly gave Trump a national lead.  Kasich aside, no Republican figure from the primary season emerged with the slightest sign of moral conviction or devotion to the common good, a stunning commentary on the poor quality of Republican leadership.

Tonight I heard a talking head sputtering about whether Trump might split the Republican Party after the election.  My brother had it right months ago:  the base of the party split from leadership two years ago, and this fact, still not understood in Washington, dominated the dynamics of the 2016 presidential campaign throughout the primary campaign season.  Yes, the realignment has already taken place.  Republicans simply have to learn how to deal with it, and the GOP will be lucky to emerge from this election controlling both houses of Congress.  If the Rs lose the Senate, they will of course blame Donald Trump for the loss.  But Donald Trump's success as a candidate is a living symbol of the failure of the Republican Party to satisfy its own base, or to be creative in forging a winning coalition.  When Trump loses the election next month (demographic realities won't permit him to win) the split within the party that occurred two years ago will still be there, after two years of festering without medical attention from Republican leadership.

Yes, Trump will lose, barring a catastrophic development.  But the Republican dysfunction that gave rise to Trump is only part of the political story in the USA today.  The other part is the growing polarization against the political establishment among Democrats, who threaten the same kind of split within the party that occurred two years ago in the Republican Party.  This split has been aggravated by the nomination of Hillary Clinton, in the present anti-establishment context one of the weakest possible candidates, who should thank her lucky stars she ended up running against a man so boorish as to trump her glaring failure, thus far, to understand and respond to her own base.

More to come.....including an analysis of New Mexico!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

How Education Can Help Solve the Budget Shortfall

In New Mexico public schools the proportion of costs going to administration is the highest among all states. (see  Yes, the bloated school bureaucracy in New Mexico gobbles up fully $1274 per pupil each year on administration--13% of our per-pupil costs in 2015 of $9734.  This compares with administrative costs of only $400 per pupil in Utah (6% of per pupil costs of $6500) and $348 per pupil in Arizona, $629 per pupil in Colorado, and $485 per pupil in Texas.  Not a single one of our neighboring states spends even half of what we spend per pupil on administrative costs!

Let's dig a little deeper into the data to assess the bang for the education buck in New Mexico compared with other states.   The state with the lowest overall cost-per-student is Utah, at $6500.  Where does Utah rank among all states in K-12 student achievement?  13th, according to Education Week (  Where does New Mexico, which spends $3234 more per pupil, rank?  You guessed it, 49th!  Is there something wrong with this picture?  What about Arizona, which spends $2206 less per pupil than New Mexico?  Arizona ranks 25th in K-12 achievement, way ahead of New Mexico.  There are many other states that beat out New Mexico in student achievement while spending a lot less per pupil.  New Mexico simply isn't getting its money's worth in public education  Putting it differently, if New Mexico spent the same amount per pupil as Utah, we would save $1.1 Billion dollars per year!

If we were to cut administrative costs in half, to $637 per pupil, still higher than any of our neighboring states, we would save $215 million per year.  This would make a substantial contribution to filling in the current 2017 budget shortfall, and does anyone really believe cutting administrative costs down to normal in New Mexico would hurt our already-dismal student achievement?  Might even help!

If we were to take half of that money ($318.5 per pupil) saved and invest it,say, in higher salaries for teachers, our average teacher pay would go up to $50,285, moving New Mexico up from 47th to around 25th in the nation, slightly higher than the average salaries for teachers in our surrounding states.  That would make it easier to attract better teachers, and better students into becoming teachers, and still leave more than $100 million to cut into the shortfall.  Does the legislature have the political ganas (will) to cut this fat, or many other possible cuts out of the education budget, which would likely have little if any effect on student achievement?

In higher education, in spite of lower faculty salaries and lower costs of living, New Mexico appropriates fully $1865 more per full-time student than the national average, placing us in sixth place among all states.  (, Table 7).  Only Wyoming allocates a higher proportion of its budget to higher education.  Moreover, in the past five years total higher educational revenues per FTE in New Mexico have increased 24.9%, more than any other state in the nation.  In spite of this lavish spending, New Mexico ranks 47th among the states in the six-year graduation rate for a BA (, and for the first time in New Mexico history the older generation is better educated than the younger generation.  Every other state improved more than New Mexico in the proportion of the population holding a college degree.  If we were to reduce the appropriations New Mexico makes to higher education down to the national average, still way above Arizona and Utah, it would save New Mexico over $179 million per year. Add that to the $100 million left over after giving teachers a needed raise, and you get $279 million, which goes a long ways toward filling in the shortfall.  It is more difficult to measure higher education administrative fat, but judging from the outrageous salaries of many administrators, there is a lot that could be cut here, too.

There is nothing partisan about cutting fat out of the budget.  In a state doing as poorly as New Mexico has fared economically in the past few years, it only makes sense to use this downturn as an opportunity to create greater efficiency in the taxpayer dollars now lavishly doled out to public and higher education systems that are at the bottom of the barrel among states and that have resisted efforts to address seriously the quality of education in the state.

Monday, September 12, 2016

New Mexico as the Summer Ends

The winds of winter seem to be blowing in earlier this year.  Already the leaves are turning in the mountains of Northern New Mexico.  And as the coming fall always reminds us of the inevitability of change, it is hard not to read from the yellowing of the leaves a portent of hard times ahead.  

On the international front, the European project, so successful for the past 60 years in showing the world a cooperative, voluntary, and democratic  alternative to the nation state, is in trouble, at least temporarily, largely over botched immigration practice and nationalist economic policies.  The Middle East is undergoing a moment of abject horror (only intermittently covered by our mainstream news outlets) triggered by unwise policies by the powerful for short-term gain but long-term disaster that is just beginning to play itself out.  Both political parties were complicit in generating this mess, so the topic is taboo.  Global warming is beginning to look like it might be worse than political correctness allowed us to believe.  Global growth rates are slowing down in the rich countries, aggravating tensions between rich and poor as income inequality rises to unsustainable levels.  While these themes are playing themselves out, Russian leadership eagerly experiments with mischief at every opportunity in sometimes unexpected venues, including American politics.

In the U.S. presidential race, our dysfunctional political system provided us with two of the most unpopular and divisive candidates in recent history, raising serious doubts the winner will be able to govern, much less invoke the slightest drop of moral authority.  One primary candidate, Bernie Sanders--in an astonishing development that motivated greater enthusiasm from our youth than we've seen since the war in VietNam--placed the growing disparity between rich and the other 99% squarely on the political agenda, where it belongs, only to see it buried by the winning candidates in the now-normal gotcha game, so beloved by television producers, of proving each other, over and over, to be liars and hypocrites. Campaigns are no longer structured to bring out the best in oneself, imagining a better world, but to generate fear.  In mid-September, beneath the gotcha game, the presidential contest seems to be boiling down to dog-whistles (by both sides, to different audiences, two sides of the same coin) appealing to base fears about race and immigration, now that both campaigns have succeeded in convincing us beyond doubt that each candidate is a liar and a hypocrite.  On inauguration day most of us will feel only fear of what is to come from the White House.

In New Mexico the mood this year has been highly pessimistic; Joe Monahan has done the best job of describing the malaise that afflicts the political class, and the exodus of some of our most talented youth.  Part of this is due to the poor quality of performance at all levels:  in our educational institutions, which are unbelievably expensive in comparison to their performance at the bottom of the barrel of states; in our state government, in our business class.  Nobody seriously believes state government will do anything to revive the economy or, for that matter, do anything useful at all during the remainder--well over two years--of the current administration.  Our legislature almost certainly will continue to protect the most entrenched interests in the state.  Our business class, not exactly a paragon of creative entrepreneurship, keeps hoping Uncle Sam in Washington will come back with multi-billion dollar contracts for our defense industries to keep their customers growing.  But lately, our representatives in Congress don't seem to be bringing back the same amount of bacon as their predecessors.  New Mexico is beginning to look like Hobbs before the fracking started.

While all of this is true, I am not as pessimistic as most.  Just as things seem to be going bad, and getting worse, change tends to come.  The fruit must rot before the seed takes hold in the soil.  Paradigms shift.  My brother maintains a paradigm shift, a realignment, already occurred within the Republican Party at the national level.  Bubba simply doesn't believe a word of national Republican rhetoric, whether from Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan.  Trump simply stumbled in and took advantage of it.  While his solution--make the dog-whistle loudly audible to his fans--is not a successful strategy (the demographics are against it), the effect of Trump is likely to force a healthy restructuring of the long-term appeal of the Republican Party.  This would be healthy for a political system that is stuck at a broken level, unable to solve any national problems.  And unless the Democratic Party can channel into young people after roughing up Sanders in a dark alleyway, a realignment will take place there, too.

New Mexico needs a shift in paradigm.  The state is not functioning in anything that approximates a healthy state of being, and everyone seems to understand this.  Schools don't produce educated citizens; sectors of law enforcement are unaccountable; violent crime is on the rise; the economy isn't getting better; corruption is rampant and the judicial system doesn't seem to notice; and state government has been demoralized beyond belief by the past two administrations that did little to improve the state of affairs.  But just as we know the winter is coming and need to prepare for it, we also know Spring will follow.  Welcome the change:  it is overdue.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Special Session on the Table to Fix 2016, Not 2017

On August 24 another state revenue forecast is due, and if the present trend continues, the state will be in worse shape, financially, than anticipated in the last forecast, which predicted a $500-600 million shortfall for FY 2016 and 2017.  Apparently the Governor has agreed to call a special session to fix the smaller 2016 shortfall, but not the 2017 shortfall.  
This is an election year.  There has been talk lately, given presidential candidate Trump's mounting train wreck of a campaign, of the New Mexico House flipping back to the D side.  No one is anxious to be on record voting for cuts to programs.  But FY 2016 has already ended and by law it must be fixed, and can be fixed without much pain.  But the day of reckoning for 2017 is likely to be more painful, and can be postponed until early in the legislative session, in January.
Pessimism is the New Mexico Political Virus of 2016

The state's political class has been in a doom-and-gloom mode for months, now, complaining about the Martinez administration's poor performance on economic development, continued failure at all levels of performance in our institutions of education, the exit of some good jobs and college-educated people from the state, the lack of progress on many fixable problems, and so on.  Pessimism and optimism are contagious, and pessimism is the New Mexico political virus of 2016.  
My take is different. New Mexico's decline has been slow, and it began decades ago.  The failures we see today are no worse than the failures of our business and political classes ten or twenty years ago.  What may be new is that we no longer believe we have the will to improve; we believe that partisan bickering has become a substitute for the hard work of governing, and that this condition has become permanent.  But as Shakespeare once wrote, the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.  As Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders proved in the past year, voters have the capacity to shake things up when they decide enough is enough.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

In an amazing turn of events, the Trump campaign for President appears to have reached what may well be a dead end with very limited and highly unpleasant exit routes.  The Khan family challenged Trump during a highly visible moment during the Democratic National Convention, pointing to the Constitution and reminding the nation that Trump has never made any sacrifices to country, let alone the heroic actions of their son in his fatal act of courage.  Trump answered back in his usual never-back-down tone, All of this has backfired on Trump, in spades.

The pressure on Republican leaders everywhere to repudiate Trump's attacks on the Khan family and, by extension, his threat, should he become President, to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., is likely to be unbearable in the next few hours.  It is hard to imagine any Republican seeking office to risk endorsing Trump's attack on a family whose son died a hero's death, in uniform, protecting his soldiers..

Trump's poll numbers appear to be, finally, collapsing.  Yesterday reports went out that the Trump campaign had asked Republicans in Congress to help him out, but there appear to be no takers.  In fact, Rep. Richard Hanna, a Republican, publicly announced today he would vote for Hillary Clinton.

Also today President Obama, whose approval ratings are reasonably sound, flatly asserted, in front of the Prime Minister of Singapore, that Trump was "unfit" to be president and challenged Republican leaders, asking why they should continue to endorse him.  This is an unprecedented step for a president during the television age, and Obama stated as much, seemingly challenging partisan opponents to deny the validity of his claim Trump is unfit.

The problem Trump faces may well be fatal to his continued candidacy.  If he apologizes and retracts much of what he has said it raises serious questions about his judgment over the past few days: Trump could have apologized any time this past weekend, with perhaps only minor damage to his support base.  But if Trump refuses to back down it raises even more severe questions not only about his willingness to admit to a serious mistake but also about his empathy for a family's loss, and whose only consolation lies in the memory of his heroism.  Would you like to be in the corner Trump appears to be in?

Monday, July 18, 2016

State Revenues Are Low:  Special Session, Anyone?  Not Likely Until the Election is Over

With gross receipts, property, and gasoline tax revenues down in New Mexico this year, it looks like expenditures for FY 2016, which ended on June 30, will fall about $100-$135 million short.  One possible fix would be to raid the Tobacco Settlement Fund, which has about $230 million in it.  But this would leave only about $100 million in the fund, and as of now estimates of revenues available for 2017 will not cover somewhere between $300 and $500 million of the budget passed in the 2016 legislative session.  Since the state cannot run a deficit, something has to give.  

But this is an election year, and neither the Governor's Office or the Legislature want  to be on record either raising taxes to cover the shortfall or cutting programs, the only options open to them.  A legislator who votes to cut programs may feel the wrath of affected voters in November, and voting to raise taxes is just as risky.  And with the House of Representatives up for grabs this fall, the stakes are even higher than normal for members of both parties.  The longer we postpone the reckoning, the more painful it is likely to be, since state agencies are already near the fourth week of FY 17.  If three months pass in the fiscal year (this would be October 1) without a special session, a quarter of the budget will already have been spent, making cuts or hikes in taxes even higher.  But this is an election year.  Expect a lot of talk about a special session, but in the end the likely outcome will be postponement until the elections are over.

I would be nice to think the legislature might try to fix the rickety tax structure to meet what appears to be the new reality of a flagging state economy.  After all, in spite of knee-jerk protestations to the contrary in some quarters of the political arena, New Mexico taxes are in fact not noticeably higher than those of most other states:  Property and gas taxes are much lower than most states, as are corporate taxes, leaving only gross receipts taxes relatively high.  It would be nice, too, if the legislature insisted on greater accountability to the public for the fruits of taxpayer-funded expenditures.  Education, for example, gobbles up half the budget with very little in the way of results to show for it.  New Mexico's education system languishes at the bottom of the barrel in performance, both in public and higher education, and evidence suggests it is getting worse.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Three NM Environment Blogs Worth Reading Today

Three blogs today deal with two important environmental issues facing New Mexico, oil and gas pollution and the water table in the the Albuquerque metro area.

Two blogs deal with oil and gas pollution in our oil patches.  ProgressNow NM (click here) has a map of each state purporting to show areas of high oil and gas pollution.  The New Mexico map (click here) shows the Northwest corner and the Southeast corner as being in danger zones for public safety, and claims 145,000 New Mexicans reside within these areas. (click here) has an op-ed piece by a state senate candidate, Aubrey Dunn (the son of the incumbent NM Land Commissioner) who opposes a proposed rule (the so-called "venting and flaring" rule) by the BLM to curb such pollution.  To get down to the nitty gritty of this issue will take a little more than reading these two blogs, but it shouldn't take more than 10 minutes to click from these sites to more information.  Dunn is running for Senate District 13, in Albuquerque, which extends roughly from I-40 north to the Sandoval County line, bounded on the east and west by the river and I-25.

The other issue, from (click here), deals with a proposed change to the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility long term plan for water management.  The writer, Dennis Domrzalski, of the Albuquerque Free Press, (where the piece was originally published), suggests the proposed dropping of a key sentence from an update to the strategic plan might originate from lobbying by the Santolina project on the West Mesa.  The article also suggests the proposed changes to the language of the long-term plan could result in a drastic drop in the water table, which has risen 50 feet since 2009, the result of decreased groundwater pumping.
These are major issues affecting large numbers of people in the state, and they deserve your attention as a citizen.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

What's Up in Sunland Park?  (Part II)

The Las Cruces Sun News a few days ago quoted City Manager Bob Gallagher as saying the city has recovered financially, and was given an unmodified report; that is to say, a clean bill of health, by an independent auditor.  The city will also begin the 2017 fiscal year next month with about $5 million in reserve funds.  This is strikingly different from the fiscal situation a few years ago when the Department of Finance and Administration took over the city finances in the wake of statements from then-state auditor Hector Balderas that city councilor Daniel Salinas had spent $42,000 in border crossing funds for prostitutes, Mayor Martin Resendiz's admission he had signed nine contracts totaling over $1 million with lobbyists while inebriated from an afternoon of drinking, and a city official admitting to multiple charges of voter fraud.  Hard to believe this was only four years ago.

Equally impressive, the Sunland Park municipality is making a number of infrastructure improvements this year, some which will be visible, others not.  On the non-visible side, fiber optic networks are being installed in city buildings, allowing broadband communications between different departments, and software programs will link together community development, codes enforcement, animal control, public works, building inspections, clerk, fire, and city management departments.  This should strengthen internal communication flows and create a stronger sense of community among city workers.  Forty years of records are being scanned in digital format, making it easier to access records when needed.

On the visible side, the old bank building in the city complex is being remodeled, and a public works building is being designed.  Solar panels for the city buildings are scheduled to be installed in August, and a contract to replace city hall roofs is scheduled to be put out to bid this summer.  A concession stand will be built at the Sportsplex for liquor sales at the park.  The senior center is back up and running, with a new kitchen, a high priority for citizens, promised during the city election season and delivered now.  In short, these changes are laying down an infrastructure that will make the city able to plan and execute more efficiently, rather than move in a reaction mode from crisis to crisis.

None of this--and there is more on the way--could have happened without effective communications and consensus-building among city council members about priorities.  There is more to be done.  the council needs to raise the quality of city personnel performance, and council members need to develop stronger ties with city residents who lost confidence in the city after the lap-dancing and other scandals.  But given the shape of the city four years ago, it took a concerted, sustained effort to get the city up to this speed.  Many city councils in New Mexico would envy the accomplishments of Sunland Park in the past couple of years.

At a city council meeting on June 7 the council was unanimous in agreeing to send a letter to the Governor asking for her support for the border crossing project, and to continue to press toward a presidential permit to build the crossing.  At the same meeting I was impressed with the maturity with which the arsenic issue was handled:  the water quality has been restored and protocols are being put into place to prevent a repeat.  From the looks of things the council is making a full-court press to address major strategic issues, such as the border crossing, and improve the city's day-to-day administrative capacity to make a difference in the quality of life of the residents.

Monday, June 13, 2016

What's Up in Sunland Park These Days?  (Part I)

Since city elections on March 1 the newly constituted Sunland Park City Council has been working together on city business for about one hundred days.  How well is this working?  What's going on?

One clue was offered by the discovery that arsenic levels in the water supplied by CRUA for several months exceeded national safety standards.  After the problem was identified, in part though the diligence of state representative candidate Paul Maxwell (who lost to the incumbent) city council members conferred with CRUA staff, consulted with Senator Mary Kay Papen and state and local officials, and were able to address short term issues while glancing ahead for long-term solutions.  At a city council meeting on June 7 the drinking water was declared safe, now that a treatment plant out of commission for a year is back up and running.  However, many residents have been cautious about the water for years now, and Councilman Giove proposed providing free water for seniors who visit the senior center, now operational again.

So far the arsenic problem has been managed by the council without grandstanding or hand-wringing.  This is particularly impressive since the temptation to vent must have been strong.  The creation of CRUA as at the expense of Sunland Park (over 90% of CRUA's assets used to belong to Sunland Park), and was justified largely on the grounds that the city was unlikely to manage its water utility effectively.  CRUA's performance as a utility has if anything been worse.  Among other things, CRUA staff members apparently had knowledge arsenic levels were unsafe but failed to inform residents.  If this does not incur criminal and other legal liabilities for the board, it should.  Executive Director Brent Westmoreland, who took the job only in November, has acknowledged inheriting severe managerial issues.  Will heads roll at CRUA?  Stay tuned.

One casualty of the CRUA issue (there may have been others) was the defeat in the primary election of county commissioner David Garcia.  Just before the election Garcia told an audience of residents in Sunland Park (click here) that the arsenic problem was the fault of the citizens, for failure to pay more attention (!?).  Garcia sat on the CRUA board that failed to show concern about the unacceptable levels of arsenic in the water, until news reports brought it to the public's attention.  As he serves out the remainder of his term the honorable thing is for him to step down from the CRUA board, given his statements about who is to blame.

Bottom line:  the arsenic issue showed that among the adults in the soup of the scandal are the Sunland Park city council members, who showed a lot of poise in a situation that could have been explosive.  For now the water appears to be safe to drink, but serious follow-through by the council will be needed.

Part II is coming next!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016


Paul Gessing has one of the sharpest eyes in the state for spotting wasteful, inept, and counterproductive spending policies in New Mexico.  Even if you aren't a Libertarian (I am not) it is usually hard to argue with his outrage at some of the things our lawmakers are spending your money on.  The first link below takes you to a fascinating recent discussion of some of these.  The second one, from Good Jobs First, is a subsidy-tracker that tells you, for example, that Intel has received over $2.5 Billion (yes, the Big B) of your money in subsidies, which is ten times (yes, ten) more than California taxpayers have spent subsidizing this California-based company.  If you click on Intel there are further links to how much they spend on lobby efforts.  You might also be interested to know that Comcast, the cable monopoly, has received over $5 million of your money to make movies in New Mexico.  Comcast is expected to be allowed to take over Time-Warner, greatly increasing its monopoly power, which is nicely explained here.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Unsafe Arsenic Levels in the Water?  Five Candidates at Sunland Park

The question of the evening was simple:  What is your take on the news that arsenic levels in the water CRRUA supplies to Sunland Park and the surrounding areas have exceeded safety standards?  Sparks flew, and some of the answers were astonishing, but you be the judge!

(Notes:  (1)  CRRUA is the public water utility that manages the supply of water in certain areas of Dona Ana County.  According to verified reports levels of arsenic have been measured and shown to be unsafe in Sunland Park.  Inaction by CRRUA officials prompted a request by two city council members of Sunland Park, Olga Arguelles and Ken Giove, for assistance from Senator Mary Kay Papen.  She, in turn, met with Ryan Flynn, NM Environment Secretary, this week, requesting an investigation and update about the status of the water.  A report should be forthcoming this coming week.  (2) What follows is a brief summary of the responses given by the candidates, based on notes I took as they were speaking.  The event was recorded, so verification of the accuracy of my writing may be possible.  (3)  Two of the five candidates currently serve on the board of CRRUA:  David Garcia, in his capacity as county commissioner, and Bealquin Gomez, in his capacity as state representative.

Dr. David Garcia, incumbent county commissioner, member of the board of CRRUA:  The responsibility (for the poor quality of the water) is basically that of the people of Sunland Park.  They need to be more attentive to what is happening.  As of now the pumps are working.  We need more time to study the facts.  If we were to change the membership of the board of CRRUA this would not affect the quality of the water.

Raymond Lara, candidate for state representative:  CRRUA needs to be more transparent.  They should consult with citizens and explain to them how the agency works.  In response to a question from the moderator about the relevance of CRRUA transparency to the quality of the water Lara replied that had CRRUA been more transparent the situation would not have arisen.

Bealquin Gomez, incumbent state representative:  I am a board member of CRRUA.  I got $175,000 to fix the system.  The process is working.

Reymundo Gonzales, candidate for county commissioner:  The problem is the complacency of CRRUA.  Issues of water quality have not received enough attention within the organization.

Dr. Paul Maxwell, candidate for state representative:  This is a major problem, a crisis.  The governing board of CRRUA has tolerated serious violations of water quality standards for more than three years.  The issue is leadership at the top.  (Looking at Gomez and Garcia):  You knew about the poor quality of the water and did nothing.  CRRUA has failed the people.

Among those responding to the incumbent members of CRRUA present, a news writer in the audience, Gerald Smota, said:  The function of leaders is to lead.  From the time CRRUA sent a letter warning the public on April 21, you knew there was a problem.  You represent the citizens through your participation in CRRUA.  You are the responsible ones. 

City Councilwoman Carolina Renteria asked:  What has the governor and state done to improve the quality of the water?  How much money has the state provided to Sunland compared with Santa Teresa?  Replying to this comment, incumbent state representative Bealquin Gomez, also a board member for CRRUA, said, There are two years left of her administration.  Until then, nothing.

The forum, which took place at the San Martin de Porras Church in Sunland Park, had an attendance of about 30 persons.  Among the people in the audience were Olga Arguelles, Carolina Renteria, and Ken Giove, all members of the city council of Sunland Park, and Isabel Santos, a former councilwoman.  Each of these contributed to the conversation.  Mayor Javier Perea was not present. 
El Arsénico en el Agua:  Cinco Candidatos, Cinco Respuestas
Foro de Candidatos para Comisionado del Condado y Representante Estatal 

La pregunta de la tarde fué muy sencilla:  ¿Cuál es su reacción frente a la noticia de que el agua de Sunland Park y sus alrededores está contaminado con niveles de arsénico inaceptables para la salud de la población?  Las respuestas:

(Notas aclaratorias:  (1) CRRUA es la junta directiva regional que maneja el suministro de agua en varios lugares del condado.  Segun fuentes confiables las concentraciones de arsénico llegan a superar en un 35% lo permitido por las autoridades.  (2) Lo que sigue es un resumen de lo que dijeron los candidatos, hecho por mi, en base a las notas que tomé.

Dr. David Garcia, titular, comisionado del condado y miembro de CRRUA:  la responsabilidad, a fondo, reside con la población de Sunland Park, por no haber prestado mas atención. Por ahora las bombas estan funcionando, y necesitamos mas tiempo para estudiar la situación.  Si cambiáramos los miembros de la junta directiva de CRRUA, ésto no afectaría la calidad del agua.

Raymond Lara, candidato para representate estatal:  CRRUA tiene que hacerse mas transparente.  Deberían consultar con los ciudadanos para explicarles como funciona el suministro de agua.  Frente a una pregunta del moderador sobre la relevancia de los procedimientos de CRRUA con la solucion de la contaminación del agua, el Sr. Lara respondió:  Esto no hubiera ocurrido si el pueblo hubiese sido consultado desde el principio.

Bealquin Gomez, titular, representante estatal:  Soy miembro de CRRUA.  Yo consequí $175,000 para que se arreglara el sistema.  El proceso esta funcionando bien.

Reymundo Gonzales, candidato para comisionado del condado:  El problema es la auto-complaciencia de CRRUA.  La organización no ha prestado suficiente atención a la calidad del agua.

Dr. Paul Maxwell, candidato para representate estatal:  El problema es grave.  Segun fuentes fidedignas la junta directiva de CRRUA ha tolerado violaciones serias en la calidad del agua desde hace mas de tres años.  Ha habido una falta de liderazgo político.  La junta directiva de CRRUA bien sabía lo que estaba pasando con la calidad del agua, y no hizo nada.  La junta directiva de CRRUA ha fallado al pueblo, poniendo en peligro nuestra salud.

Comentando sobre las respuestas de los candidatos miembros de la junta directiva de CRRUA, un periodista sentado con el publico, Gerals M. Smota, dijo:  La funcion de lideres es proveer liderazgo.  Desde que se mandó la carta del 21 de abril al püblico, ustedes sabian que habia un problema,   El pueblo de Sunland Park no tiene ninguna responsabilidad.  Ustedes representan a los ciudadanos frente a la junta de CRRUA.  Ustedes son los responsables.  

Carolina Renteria pregunto,  ¿Qué ha hecho la gobernadora, es decir el estado, para mejorar la calidad del agua?  Que cantidad de dinero ha puesto el estado en Sunland en comparación con Santa Teresa?  En su respuesta, el titular representante, Bealquin Gomez, dijo:  Todavia le quedan mas de dos años para cumplir con su mandato.  Hasta entonces, nada.

El foro, en la iglesia San Martin de Porras del Sunland,  tuvo una concurrencia de unos 30 miembros del püblico.  Entre los miembros del püblico, figuraron tres miembros del consejo municipal, Olga Arguelles, Carolina Renteria, y Ken Giove, mas la ex-consejera, Isabel Santos.  El alcalde, Javier Perea, no estuvo presente.  Cada uno contribuyó a la conversación con una pregunta or comentario.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Foro de Candidatos:  3 de Mayo, Sunland Park
Iglesia San Martin de Porres, 1855 McNutt, 6 PM

El día viernes 3 de mayo comparecerán los candidatos para la cámara de representates del estado y los candidatos para comisionado del condado, en un foro para el público en la iglesia San Martin de Porres en la Avenida McNutt.  Aparecerán los candidatos postulándose para representante, Bealquín Gomez (titular), Raymundo Lara, y Paul Maxwell.  También estarán presentes los candidatos para comisionado del condado, David García (titular) y Ramón Gonzalez.

Esta es SU oportunidad para evaluar los méritos de los titulares actualmente en servicio, en comparación con los aspirantes que desean prestar servicio en beneficio a nuestra comunidad.

Qué tienen que decir estos candidatos sobre la calidad del agua que bebemos?  ¿Qué vision, si hay alguna, tienen los candidatos para un futuro mejor para los habitantes de Sunland?  ¿Para quién nos conviene votar?

Senadora Papen Se Reúne con Secretario Ambiental Para Asegurar Que el Nivel de Arsénico en el Agua Suministrado por CRRUA a Sunland Park No Sea Peligroso

A raíz de una petición por parte de dos miembros del Consejo Municipal del Sunland Park, la Senadora Mary Kay Papen se reunió con el Secretario del Departamento del Medio Ambiente de Nuevo México, Ryan Flynn, en Santa Fe el jueves pasado para pedir que el Departamento haga un análisis del agua suministrado a la población de Sunland y sus alrededores.  Según los consejeros, Olga Arguelles y Ken Giove, se les habia llegado información de que algunos exámenes previos encontraron niveles de arsénico en el agua inaceptables para la salúd.  Por esa razon, Arguelles y Giove tomaron el paso de solicitar una intervención por parte de la senadora, para asegurar que el suministro de agua sea saludable.

El Secretario Flynn le aseguró a la senadora Papen que haría lo necesario para medir el nivel de arsénico e investigar la capacidad física y operacional de CRRUA para suministrar agua potable y saludable para la población de Sunland Park.

Senator Papen Takes Action to Address Arsenic Water Concerns

At the request of two Sunland Park city councilors concerned about the presence of unacceptably high quantities of arsenic in water supplied to the Southern part of the county by the Camino Real Regional Utility Authority (CRRUA), Senator Mary Kay Papen met with Secretary Ryan Flynn in Santa Fe on Thursday, May 26, and requested that the NM Environment Department test water supplies for arsenic content in various locations in the Southern part of the county.  Senator Papen was assured by the Secretary he would follow through with testing, and would ascertain whether CRRUA has the physical and operational capability to assure residents of the safety of water supplies.

Ken Giove and Olga Arguelles met with Papen last week, asking her to take this action, inasmuch as previous tests have indicated that arsenic levels in some areas have exceeded acceptable levels.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

With No Sanders-Trump Debate, Is the Party Over?

There have been two powerful ideas generated during the 2016 presidential campaign.  We rarely get any new ideas in a presidential year, but these two have resonated deeply in the American public, and even more amazing, the men espousing them have received more than two of every three votes cast in the primaries so far among the three top candidates.

The first idea is that the obscene redistribution of national wealth (socialism for the rich) to the top one percent during the past four decades should be placed front and center on the political agenda, and both parties should be held accountable for allowing this to happen.  No question is as fundamental to any political community than how the pie is distributed and it is the young who have responded with the most fervor to this message.  Sanders has a corollary:  in order to re-balance this outrage the people need to reverse the pointy-headed Supreme Court decision that invited Corporate America to purchase politicians and policies with virtually no restraint or accountability.  Bernie Sanders has been undeviating in presenting this idea, and Trump, freely admitting he has purchased politicians and favors, has hinted that Sanders is right about the corollary, if not about the disgrace of the pie shrinking for the bottom 99 percent.

The second idea is the insight that political correctness can be a fig-leaf for failure. The true genius of Donald Trump this year is not his ability to get free press coverage, but his ability to link his flagrant violation of the norms of politically correct discourse to the deeper frustrations Bubba has about the direction of the country.  To speak honestly, he seems to say, is to violate politically correct speech.  Which is the greater outrage, Trump's use of language to describe members of the political class, or the failures of the political class itself in protecting your pocketbook and America's greatness?  In picking as targets iconic establishment figures Trump signals his disdain for the political class, for its failures and its vapid pretensions.  These fools, he seems to say, are the reason why "we don't win anymore."  This is a political critique of our current system, attributing cause and effect, and Trump states it more sharply than any politician in recent times.

There is, however, a second, more emotional, message that mixes into the first.  In his flagrant violation of  the norms of the political class--calling Carly "ugly," Hillary "crooked," Jeb "low energy," Ted "a liar," again and again--and in using the language Bubba himself might use, Donald Trump for a moment, magically, becomes an empowered Bubba himself, with a Harley emblem on his chest, flipping a bird at political correctness and the political class. Trump's followers want Kelly Megyn or Paul Ryan or Hillary Clinton to be outraged about his language.  Their consternation is Bubba's revenge.  This emotional linking of Trump to Bubba's anger is powerful stuff--Bernie doesn't come close--not to be underestimated, and Hillary will have more than her hands full finding a way to crawl out of the failed-political-class box Trump will place her in.

Without a debate between Sanders and Trump the public will not have an opportunity to compare the two major ideas of 2016, side by side, a huevo! like they say in Mexico.  And with one of the two ideas gone from the general election contest (Hillary will never focus on One Percent), the contest threatens to become another over-scripted television reality show, artificially propped up with breathless updates of the latest polls, and predictable insults from Trump in between.  Back in our familiar comfort zones, our minds will, in the words of John Stuart Mill (see yesterday's blog), once again bow to the yoke and we will vote in sync with our statistically calculated demographic cohorts.

This is unfortunate, because until now, the public has shown itself surprisingly responsive to the lure of new ideas, the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd.  This primary season, for once, showed us all what American politics might be, but almost never is.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Trump and Political Discourse in America in 2016

They ask themselves, what is suitable to my position? what is usually done by persons of my station and pecuniary circumstances? or (worse still) what is usually done by persons of a station and circumstances superior to mine? I do not mean that they choose what is customary, in preference to what suits their own inclination. It does not occur to them to have any inclination, except for what is customary. Thus the mind itself is bowed to the yoke.  John Stuart Mill, On Liberty   III-6.

Donald Trump has disregarded the rules of political discourse, lashing out against the discipline of "political correctness" as practiced in America today.  It was not enough that he violated the rules, flaunting his blasphemies time and time again.  Adding insult to injury, he openly berated powerful media personalities and the businesses they work for (Kelly Megyn, Roger Ailes) when these reminded him of the rules.  And he scoffed not only at efforts to curtail his use of language against rivals ("little" Marco, "ugly" Carly), but also at news media efforts to disavow his policy proposals (the thirty foot wall, the ban on Muslim immigration) when these fell outside the box permitted in bipartisan discourse.

The dirty little secret of campaign 2016 so far is that the Republican nominee-to-be has flipped a bird at the political class.  And the public, in gratitude, has rewarded him with the nomination for doing so.  Millions of voters have come to see this bird-flip as the most attractive idea of the 2016 election year (Bernie's One Percent is the only serious challenger),   At some point soon the public will come to focus on the content of his policies and we could just end up with the most honest debate about policies between candidates in many decades.  There is also the possibility of this becoming a farce posing as an presidential election.  But that is always the case:  was the re-election of Obama anything but a farce?  We will have to wait and see.

Are Trump's policy proposals simply part of the bird-flip, or do these have an independent life of their own?.  We will find out soon.  Until then we should probably infer only that his policy proposals are part of the bird-flip, metaphors pointing to desired policies, rather than dead serious proposals.  I suspect as we dissect his followers, we will find they want pretty much the same as everyone else:  an honest shot at a good job and a renewed sense that life in America is reasonably fair, a sense that we can reverse the recent rigging of the system at the currently obscene levels.  Perhaps more than most they also want the freedom to express in their own language and cultural style their frustrations with the dysfunctional political system we all agree we live in.  Fascism?  There are parallels to Germany in 1928, yes.  But asking a biker in Paducah to be consoled for his frustrations by the stilted jargon of a Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio is about as effective as telling a black woman in 1968 that she needed to write to her congressman rather than defy an order to refrain from crossing a bridge.  And for the talking heads to tell Trump he cannot entertain the idea of building a thirty foot wall is simply an indicator of how impoverished our own stilted political discourse and imagination have become, how much we have yielded to the self-appointed censors whose greedy motivations we have no reason to respect.

The quote above from John Stuart Mill was written as Mill worried that the greatest threat against freedom in England at the time was not an overbearing government, but society itself, as the mass media of the day and the political class of the moment began catering to the socially insecure but increasingly powerful members of the industrial, as opposed to aristocratic, class.  Aristocratic norms and tastes spread throughout society mindlessly as upward mobility came to be associated with having the proper tastes.  Mill thought this trend was dangerous, as many people literally became slaves to social convention, rather than masters of their own interests.  The line "the mind itself is bowed to the yoke" is a powerful reminder of the costs to the self of adhering mindlessly to social conventions.  Whatever else we might think of Trump's suitability to be president, we owe him a debt of gratitude for not bowing at the yoke of what is "politically correct" in the eyes of those those who nearly bankrupted us less than a decade ago, who, with the full approval of the Supreme Court purchase politicians and their votes in Congress on a regular basis, and whose greed is what is truly out of bounds.