Monday, February 19, 2018

The Gun War Is Being Joined

 I've said before that the firearms community should be involved in firearms violence prevention. Two reasons come to mind. One, we know more about firearms than the typical non-shooter. Two, we need to engage and try to reduce the harm out there while moderating the discussion. Unfortunately, the loudest voices are not always the most careful ones. While some of the gun violence prevention folks tend to suggest ideas that many gun owners loathe, the 2nd Amendment purists are typically the Party of No, regardless of the question.

As a result of the latest high school shooting in Florida, all Hell is breaking loose on the "gun prevention", so to speak, side. An example is the Sunday editorial in the Santa Fe New Mexican, which pretty much threw everything the Editorial Board could think of at gun owners and then tossed the kitchen sink along for good measure. Given the blood-soaked circumstances, who can blame them? Among the suggestions are"...bans on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines, better background checks and numerous other amendment to the state constitution removing the prohibition on local governments passing any gun restrictions, or even rewriting a provision upholding gun rights..." A law abiding citizen who has never raised a gun in anger might find himself or herself suddenly on the wrong side of the law simply by virtue of having bought a gun with a 12 rd magazine. Its not even about "common sense gun laws" but about retaliation for the NRA and GOP's intransigence and, as many Progressives would like to do, make many if not most of today's modern, high capacity semiauto guns (see below) scarce and inconvenient to own.

But protecting the 2A, and the state constitution's analog, from emasculation should not have as a pricetag more and more bullet-spattered schools, theatres, and churches. Something is going seriously wrong in the country and its not just one issue but as our Los Alamos Catholic priest said yesterday, a host of variables are responsible of which the firearm is the enabler, even if the culture is the ultimate culprit. As anyone who reads knows, we have always had guns. Lots of them. Actual household ownership rates are probably down even as sheer numbers have gone up (based on recent research). What's changed?

When I was a teen, I legally carried a box of 22 Long Rifle ammo to school in my book bag as I was a member of the Rifle Club. One could mail order a rifle or walk into the local K Mart and see racks and racks of military surplus, "NRA-Fair-Good-Excellent" rifles that could be had for a few greenbacks. Indeed, these could be had without telling your life story to the FBI's NICS system as these were pre-background check days.  Most of those surplus guns were purchased to be modified to be sporting and hunting rifles. We didn't have endless mass shootings by me-too youths, or self-styled militias of the right and left parading under banners of intolerance. Its the culture that has changed, and in part, the kinds of guns flying off the shelves reflects the change in culture. Guns used to be primarily for sport and secondarily for guarding the hearth. Nowdays, Gun Culture 2.0, as Wake Forest Sociology Professor David Yamane calls it, is about self defense and even the shooting sports reflect that, i.e., NRA Precision Pistol has given way to International Defensive Pistol Association matches. The look and function of the guns follows the paradigm shift. Black rifles, high capacity or pocket pistols, and short barrelled shotguns with only a pistol grip to make them street legal replace Grandpa or Dad's Model 70 Winchester or Smith and Wesson revolver.When you are planning for a personal defense moment, more bullets are better. My concern, articulated here before, is that Maslow's Hammer has become, in part due to this paradigm-shift in gun culture, Maslow's Handgun.

I think those of us who enjoy firearms need to hustle over to the Middle of the Road and help find some solutions. For the life of me, I don't know why an immature nineteen year old with emotional problems should be able to walk out of a gun store with a weapon designed to control a battlefield, no questions, other than the innocuous NICS ones, asked. As I have said before, anyone old enough to get a driver's license can drive. Not everyone is allowed to drive a Freightliner. If I want to drive a Freightliner, I owe it to society to show I can handle it safely.

As far as armed teachers and the like? Aside from the fact that teachers are underpaid as it is while not being asked to get into firefights with heavily armed terrorists, surprise matters. Pearl Harbor showed that its not enough to be armed. A school shooting is a surprise attack, and will succeed just as the Japanese naval air forces succeeded. Sure, someone can eventually shoot back to limit the damage but meanwhile, people are getting shot. More guns is not the answer. More sanity, perhaps, is.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Is "Right to Work" The Key To Economic Success in New Mexico? Not.

On February 11th, the Albuquerque Journal printed two editorials supporting Right to Work laws, which prohibit unions from imposing member dues on all employees in a unionized shop. The Rio Grande Foundation's Paul Gessing and Sandoval County's Jay Block opined that passing right to work laws will stimulate New Mexico's economy. I think both opinion pieces are oversold.

Do right to work laws guarantee economic success? Business Insider recently identified the 15 states "where young people are moving in, jobs are plentiful, and business is booming". 8 of those 15 and 3 of the top five (Colorado, California, and Massachusetts) are not, per se, right to work states. These three states have union representation rates of 10.8%, 17.5%, and 12.9%, respectively. New Mexico's union representation rate is a paltry 8.2%.  Are we somehow to believe that less than one in ten unionized employees are pulling down New Mexico's economic fortunes when states with twice the union representation rates are doing fine?

The notion that right to work laws are a silver bullet to cure New Mexico's lagging economy is a straw man. What else is going on here? First, employers in today's highly technical economy must hire people who can read directions and do math; that is more critical than whether or not an employee has a union card. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that close to half of New Mexico's high school grads place into remedial studies. When looking at math proficiency, this number is even worse. One cannot expect employers to rush to a state that does not promise a competent work force. Plus, a recent Albuquerque Journal article reported that a company threatened to leave town if Albuquerque's league-leading crime rate continued unabated.

Does union membership violates an employee's rights? One must consider that a union is formed after a certification vote of the employees. I moved to Los Alamos in 2001. Regardless of whether I agreed with the sitting county council, I had to pay my property taxes. Likewise, if someone doesn't like the way their union is functioning when joining a union shop, one can run for the union board or start a decertification drive. One should not have the right to ignore what the existing employees have arranged in a vote of the work force.

Unions exist for a reason: to ensure that employees are not powerless in the workplace; perhaps the Journal needs to write a history of labor organization in the U.S. to provide fairness to this discussion. Effective representation should not go out of style. That said, the bottom line is that we all (labor, management, educational systems, and individuals) have to put our backs to the job and pull in the same direction if we expect to coax New Mexico out of its economic malaise. Rather than seeing union and management arguing over the arrangement of deck chairs as the iceberg of foreign or out of state competition looms, I would prefer to see us all cooperate to ensure that both management and employees are working towards the same goals: a fair and just workplace that is also competitive and making a profit we can all be proud of and from which we all can benefit. We also must encourage K-12 students and the PED to focus on long term success beyond the school years in order to build a competitive work force.

As a union board member, I worked with both management and my colleagues to ensure we promoted fair work rules, a voice for everyone at the table, and that we were all putting in the effort to build a successful enterprise, in my case an excellent university. Is that asking too much?

Khal Spencer was a member of the board of directors of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, the state university's faculty union. He represented faculty in the School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Gun violence is more than gun deep

...This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both...
 I just finished reading Mike Weisser's latest post on why we are not reacting more strongly to the constant string of mass shootings. Mike, as usual, makes a lot of excellent points on this subject and discusses how the GVP community needs to develop a voice that will pull  Americans into common cause to reflect on our addiction to Sam Colt's Hammer. That said, my concern is that this is not an issue as shallow as those guns themselves.

Here in New Mexico, we are going through the latest shock and horror over the latest incident of domestic violence in our midst. Thirteen year old Jeremiah Valencia was apparently systematically abused and kept locked in a dog cage for prolonged periods. He was tortured and beaten so savagely, according to reports in the Santa Fe New Mexican and Albuquerque Journal, that he sometimes needed a cane or wheelchair to get around. He was finally beaten severely, put in the dog cage to die, and buried in a shallow grave. Maybe that was the only form of relief from torture that this little boy could hope to find. Sadly, these stories, like mass shootings, keep happening. Like mass shootings, they are here and then gone from public consciousness as we go about our everyday lives. Not to mention, these incidents often occur, as JC said in Matthew, to "the least of thee". Easy to overlook until you read the details.

The bottom line is that in New Mexico we have a fair amount of gun violence. But at its heart we have a lot of domestic violence, drug abuse, poverty, and illiteracy (roughly one third of our kids don't graduate high school).  The gun violence is far from random but correlated with these underlying problems. The GVP community is correct that we need to disarm domestic violence perpetrators and others who are documented risks to the public. Unfortunately, our governor vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have done just that during the 2017 legislative session. But Jeremiah's tormentor didn't need a gun. I should also note that his tormentor was a member in good standing of our world-class Violent Repeat Offender Catch and Release Program.

It would be the height of hypocrisy to only worry about mass shootings because unlike everyday low level violence that happens in those other places, these incidents of mass carnage can happen in nice communities such as ours: Santa Fe, Los Alamos, or the town where GVP crusader Shannon Watts lives. We need to focus more efforts on why our society has this cancer within it because if we don't do so, we will breed more monsters. As the Ghost of Christmas Present said to Scrooge about the two ragged children within his robes,

'They are Man's,' said the Spirit, looking down upon
them. 'And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.
This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both,
and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy,
for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the
writing be erased. Deny it.' cried the Spirit, stretching out
its hand towards the city. 'Slander those who tell it ye.
Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse.
And abide the end.'

The gun violence certainly makes the social violence more toxic, but is only the surface manifestation of the metastases within this country. We can try to regulate guns, but we can't build enough prisons and workhouses to escape the cancer within.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Governance in the City Different

Sent this to the New Mexican, for what its worth:

Being about to relocate to Santa Fe from Los Alamos this spring, here is my letter to the folks running for Mayor and Council in the City Different.

The Mayor and Councilors must run an efficient city government and ensure Santa Fe is an attractive and affordable place to build a business, visit, or settle down to live.

Keep the people's trust. There is renewed interest in the recent reallocation of funds from a city bond issue, diverting money from its intended purpose as capital towards park and recreation improvements to money used to float city operating expenses. Exigent circumstances aside, the public typically takes a dim view of a city administration that plays fast and loose with trust regarding dedicated public funds. Aside from the question of whether people should be held accountable, future bond elections are at risk if voters think city government cannot be trusted with our money when we vote to earmark IOUs for a specific purpose.

One candidate's supporter recently complained (in a New Mexican commentary) that a second candidate would build bike paths rather than fill potholes. My eyes rolled. A mayor with the proper vision for Santa Fe will both maintain current infrastructure and make sure Santa Fe is a city true to its vision of being multimodal, affordable for a diverse population, and both economically and environmentally sustainable. Bicycle and pedestrian friendly infrastructure is paramount to that vision and indeed are transportation, wellness, and economic resources. Further, individuals must spend a lot of money if they have to buy and maintain a car as the only way to do business in Santa Fe when a bicycle, shoe leather, or bus, with proper connectivity, would do just fine.

Don't champion divisive issues which are not necessary to run the city. The sugary drink tax, which ended up pitting north against south Santa Fe, is a good example. While the idea of supporting preschool education was noble and in New Mexico quite necessary, this proposal looked like the upscale progressives in the 1st and 2nd Districts were lecturing residents on how we should live. That was a dreadful mistake.  We need to gauge and build public consensus on big issues rather than beat people over the head with "Great Ideas."

Finally, true economic and environmental sustainability involves more than filling recycling bins, charging for shopping bags, or using hybrid cars. Sustainability favors urban compactness, as more people per developed acre lowers the individuals costs of maintaining, and the inevitable upgrading, of public infrastructure (sewers, water, power, etc) as new developments age and need to be maintained. That is something often brushed aside with starry eyed proposals such as Santolina in Albuquerque. Sprawl can eventually bankrupt a community. We need to infill rather than spread out. That includes housing for all of us rather than those who already have theirs. We need to attend to the science of development.

Lets get it right in Santa Fe. Lets sweat the details now rather than later.

Bio: Khal Spencer is a geoscientist and was a member of the Los Alamos County Transportation Board from 2003-2017. He contributed to bike plans and complete streets ordinances in Honolulu and Los Alamos, was a scientific advisor to the Ala Wai Canal Watershed, Water Quality Improvement Project in Honolulu, and a consultant to the Univ. of Hawaii Environmental Center while a faculty member in the Geology Dept of the Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Have We Had Enough Yet?

According to the LA Daily Post and Forbes Magazine, Los Alamos is sixth richest of the 3007 counties in America. So on that note, can someone please remind me why the taxpayers from those thousands of poorer counties should be dipping into their wallets to fatten ours with the additional GRT resulting from privatization of the National Lab? Just asking...

Monday, January 1, 2018

Democrats Have to Learn to Win Elections Again

Upon reading former Sen. Jeff Bingaman's recent endorsement of Damon Martinez for Congress as published in the Daily Post, I was disappointed that the best that our former Senator could think of for compelling issues that a candidate for U.S. Congress would face were those I would consider regional, second tier, or those driven by identity politics. Maybe that's why we Democrats lost control of the White House, both houses of Congress, and something like over a thousand elected offices in this millenium. Not to mention all those judicial appointments that other party is making. Maybe we need a  lesson in The Vision Thing.

The vision thing means ideas that can win elections and pull back the political center. Here are some issues.

1. Pull back the center. As Dwight Eisenhower said, "The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters".  The two major parties, which are alienating moderates into becoming independents in droves and encouraging  forms of tribalism, must  stop playing only to their base and start playing ball with the center and the opposition again. While Dems may not be condemned to permanent coastal status in a red Flyover America (and a minority in Congress), polarization ensures that little will be done in Washington and that what little gets done might soon be undone.

Forswear polarizing issues in favor of consensus is a good start. Last year,  Jon Hendry, the President of the NM Federation of Labor, told a meeting of Santa Fe Democrats to, when possible, stay away from topics that drive moderate and conservative Democrats away from the party.  Gun control was one he explicitly called out. It is more important to win elections, win back the center, and fix the economy so that it works for most of us again instead of for the 1%. Many other problems (gun violence, drug abuse) will start to take care of themselves if people have hope again. One can find bipartisan ways to address gun violence and other issues without senselessly making hot buttons out of them. Let's find a way to stop making red electorates redder, blue electorates bluer, and instead get people talking to each other again.

Part of this is also a primary election issue, where the two parties tend to race apart to satisfy that part of the base most likely to show up at the polls. We are thus stuck, in the general election, choosing between the two extremes chosen in the primary. Some major revamping of the primary system is needed, as is ending primary voter apathy, which leaves both party's primaries vulnerable to the torch and pitchfork crowds, who are more likely to show up.

2. Fix the economy so it works for most of us. As a former Democratic Party President's campaign strategist once said, "Its The Economy, Stupid".  As long as people are struggling with today's household crisis, other people's issues or the nation's future problems are irrelevant.  As some say, when one is up to one's ass in alligators, one forgets that the idea was to drain the swamp. Good, well paying middle class jobs have fled the US. Income inequality is staggering. The opioid epidemic is in part a result of over-prescription practices but I think in part an outgrowth of this economic malaise; being drugged, for increasing numbers of Americans, is better than dealing with reality.  MAGA gimme caps, drugs, or make work jobs are not substitutes for real job satisfaction, a middle class wage, and a belief that one's kid's future will be better than one's own past.

3. Manage our response to climate change: Climate change can bring on wars or massive dislocations as well as drought or flood.  This could cost billions---trillions---or who really knows, as detailed cost/benefit analyses of continued use of carbon energy vs. climate change are rarely discussed with the public. Nonetheless, the science is imperfect so we must be making decisions in the context of considerable uncertainties. While the extremes on right and left either deny human contributions to climate change are serious matters or act as though the sky is imminently falling, we have to hedge our bets against worst case outcomes as we continue to understand the complexities of the climate system. Some combination of regulation, engineering, and free enterprise will be needed. The way climate change will/may affect different parts of the nation is varied but in the Southwest, water availability and deforestation are major problems.

4. While the national debt looms, the GOP cuts taxes and both parties continue spend like proverbial drunken sailors. No one has figured out how to balance the budget or seriously reduce the debt as the glut of Baby Boomers like me reach retirement age and reach for the entitlement programs that, having paid into all our lives, we are definitely entitled to collect. Strong medicine and hard decisions lie ahead. The longer we kick the can down the road, the worse the outcome. Hence read #2.

5. Manage international relations more carefully as the nuclear button competes with cyberwarfare and fake news. The recent insult match between Pres. Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un reminds me of a game of chicken between two immature hot rodders. Only in this case, both have, or may soon have, the nuclear button. While deterrence has kept the peace among major powers since the end of WW II, my fear is that the cataclysms at Hiroshima and Nagasaki have become mere abstractions. Meanwhile, the plot thickens. Cyber-warfare is a growing threat and our elections are vulnerable to hacking and social media attacks from abroad. Congress must be part of a set of solutions.

6. Set the bar high for high school education that rewards excellence. An electorate cannot be expected to make good decisions when it lacks the ability to understand complex problems. Neither can a poorly educated work force be expected to be qualified for good jobs in a rapidly evolving, technologically driven economy. In states like NM where the high school graduation rate leaves almost one out of three behind and even those who get their sheepskin are helped along by social promotion, its not surprising we have problems with economic growth. Social media is not the problem with "fake news" as propaganda is as old as the Republic. The problem is that so many people cannot see through the fakery.

7. Build sustainable, economically viable communities.  The last half century has reveled in low density development. Increasingly in the years ahead, demands will come due to replace aging infrastructure in countless communities, i.e., sewer, water, etc. There are fewer people per acre in low density communities to pay the cost of uprooting and replacing miles of infrastructure. But we keep at it, e.g., the Santolina proposal down in the Duke City. The reality, as the planning organization Strong Towns has discussed, is that we will need a lot of money to even put a dent in future infrastructure requirements that we have embedded into our communities and New Mexico is no exception. Someone is going to have to teach the American people that sustainability isn't just about hybrid cars or recycling, but basic issues of urban and regional planning that do not burden the future with unsustainable development costs. Since Federal matching funds are ubiquitously part of the funding mix in state projects and pass-throughs, this is a Federal as well as a state and local problem.

8. Fix the immigration mess. It seems to me that both parties are playing to their bases and driving the discussion to polarized opposites. Meanwhile, DREAMERs are held hostage to irrational politics, their parent's decisions, and our inability to decide on immigration policy. This is a political problem, period. Find a bipartisan solution to the immigration mess.

9. Some issues are not best handled by Washington and by pushing stuff to the Federal level, we have more to fight about. For example, Sen. Bingaman's "sexual assault on campus" issue. While campus sexual assaults are a real problem, they are law enforcement and college environment problems best dealt with by legal minds familiar with both law enforcement and campus environments, working with reasonable campus administrations. Aside from assault, which is a crime, the current muddle of how to teach what is consensual between two adults and what is not in today's "hookup" environment is a more complex issue than one which can be handled by law enforcement or blunt-instrument bureaucrats.  Here is a neat way that UNM is doing it. Use brains, not sheer brawn.

Under the Obama administration's "dear colleague" letter, the Education Dept. merely created a firestorm of disagreement on what constitutes a Title IX issue and also created a growth industry in trial lawyers suing universities and colleges that were, under pressure from the Feds,  throwing due process under the bus in a stampede to show results and to maintain Title IX compliance and Federal funding.  If there ever was a rationale for small government and big citizens as put forth by conservatives, its what big government does when it lacks nuance and a modicum of critical thinking.

I think we Democrats have to practice our vision thing on more than the guys and gals looking back from the mirror. If not, there will soon not be enough opioids, not to mention blue seats, left to go around as our polarizing national malaise deepens.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

To the Vanquished, Manifest Destiny, Regardless of What You Call It, Smells About the Same

I'm glad Lisa Sarenduc put in some good words for NM Public Education Director Christopher Ruszkowski. To many, he looked like the stereotypical hapless politician who had tripped over a verbal land mine of his own making with his "Manifest Destiny" quote.

But Manifest Destiny, regardless of what you call it, is pretty much the human condition, whether you call it "Manifest Destiny", "Gold, Glory, and Gospel", "Lebensraum", "Zionism", "Proletariat of the World, Unite!" or whatever manifestly self-important reason humans gin up to expand their tribal base while stepping over the fallen bodies of others. The major difference between the American and German experiences in large scale expansion at the expense of others is that Germany lost its war.

So while Secretary Ruzkowski may have tripped over his tongue, the rest of us merely hold our own, knowing that many, if not most of us are living on land of questionable title; many of those title deeds were paid for in someone else's blood or Trail of Tears.

We can't turn back the clock on past sins so we must move forward with a greater consideration for all of humanity rather than looking out for the good of our own tribe, whether our tribe is racial, ethnic, religious, or political. Using concepts like Manifest Destiny as a basis for the good things that Mr. Ruzkowski's educational platform might accomplish only poisons the rhetorical well.