Wednesday, June 24, 2020

BULLSHIT POLICE TESTIMONY AND OTHER CITY COUNCIL PROBLEMS

For philosophy professor Harry G. Frankfurt, author of the tiny book On Bullshit, a “lack of connection to a concern with truth—this indifference to how things really are— ... [is] the essence of bullshit.”  As he reminds us, bullshit is widespread, and everyone spreads it.  I take exception; except for occasional dollops necessary in social situations, I avoid BS like the plague which it is.  For most people, truth-telling on serious topics like racism is a no-no: impolite, inconvenient, irritating, or offensive—something to avoid as much as possible.

Thus City Council avoided the bullshit offered by Deputy Police Chief Michael Dominguez at its 15 June work session to discuss “8 Can’t Wait” proposals in response to police violence in Las Cruces.  Dominguez delivered this rambling, anodyne statement:

“Our officers are professionals. ... We will respond to your calls without fail. We know that there’s a lot of mistrust out there. We want you to know you can count on us. We are all professionals doing a tough job. We are not perfect. We make mistakes. We will own up to our mistakes. We love Las Cruces. We are a tight community. We are Las Cruces. We are here to back you up. Please reach out to us and know we are a professional organization. We really do care about our community.”  (Las Cruces Sun-News, 17 June)

Dominguez did not and likely cannot bridge the chasm between his acknowledgment of mistrust of the police and his assurance that people can depend on them.  His statement, one of “indifference to how things really are,” is bullshit.  Councilors likely detected it but, like most elected officials accustomed to flatulent nonsense, declined to expose it as such and embarrass a ranking police officer.

I wrote Dominguez about this gap and copied all Councilors.  I asked him to address a discrepancy between his testimony—“We are not perfect. We make mistakes. We will own up to our mistakes”—and the brief narrative of my experience with the LCPD (copied from my blog for 17 June).

It was very wicked of me to do so.  To reply, Dominguez has five choices, none good.  He can admit and detail the case as a botch-up, invoke the principle of mistakes made, claim to see no discrepancy, plead busyness, or keep quiet.  The particular wickedness of my request is less putting him in a tough spot than pointing to Councilors who failed to ask him to explain the gap.  If they had breached the custom of accepting police bullshit, they might have asked him for examples of LCPD mistakes made and admitted.  They would have demonstrated that they were taking police reform seriously.  Instead, their talk about hard questions and frank discussions appeared soft and false.

Rumors are that the LCPD is in turmoil.  IA Chief Rebecca Kinney is retiring soon; her performance in my case deserves a prompt discharge.  Police Chief Patrick Gallagher, having proved himself professionally, ethically, and temperamentally unfit, should be fired.  No one in or out of the department trusts his deputies.  Personnel morale is low.  Indifference to competent and honest performance is prevalent (proof: LCPD’s response to my complaint).  Standards are either unclear or unenforced.  Apart from on-the-job difficulties, some self-imposed, and dangers, some self-inflicted, the LCPD is not an attractive organization in which to work,

Although all Councilors are Democrats, most Progressives, happy days are not here again.  Indeed, LCPD’s deplorable conditions reflect those which the late Councilor Miguel Silva tried to remedy ten years ago.  His efforts got some results, which, though not comprehensive, were a start.  But Council did not honor him by carrying on his good work or even sustain his accomplishments.  So here we are.

Are we going anywhere?  If forward, Council has two challenges.  The lesser one is its decisions on reformed police policies and practices before it searches for, selects, and employs the new City Manager.  Without decisions making its expectations explicit, it is less likely to make a good and stabilizing choice.  It cannot give the Manager clear instructions for employing and clear standards for evaluating the new Police Chief.  Without guidance, the Manager himself or the chief whom he hires might come to resist or undermine later reforms in police policies and practices.  The result would perpetuate departmental turbulence, failed leadership, unprofessional performance, and low morale in the LCPD, and poor service to the citizens of Las Cruces. 

The greater one is its search for a City Manager.  The second search (and counting?) cannot be less of an embarrassment than the first one.  The diversity of nine candidates suggests a lack of criteria or criteria lacking focus on and defining what Council wants.

Too many candidates have no executive experience as city managers; staff experience is no equivalent to and only modest education for an executive position.  Too many come from significantly smaller cities or towns; they would be inexperienced in the size and complexity of the problems of a larger city still growing and encountering new problems.  Too many come from demographically more homogenous and predominantly white (and wealthier) communities.  Two candidates have experience with police and likely have either sympathy with or antipathy toward police.

Were I one of the nine candidates and had I read the Sun-News recaps of them, I would withdraw my application.  I would know from this diversity of candidates that Council did not know or was divided on what it wanted in and from a City Manager, with a heightened risk of confusion and conflict after his or her selection.

Suggested search criteria: executive experience as city manager in a city of similar or larger size, with a Hispanic plurality or majority; effective agency management measured by quality of work, adherence to schedule, and compliance with budget; success as a pro-active problem-solver and change agent.

Suggested questions: (1) how do you interpret the diversity of the candidates in this penultimate round (BS quotient); (2) have you fired anyone; if yes, explain; if no, explain whether you think that you can, and why (character); and (3) what major problems face Las Cruces in the next 10 years, and how would you help Council address them (grasp and ranking of issues, knowledge of resources, and understanding of role).

The time is now for Council to get its shit together.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

BAD NEWS FOR LAS CRUCES REFORMERS OF POLICE CONDUCT

The success of reformed police policies and practices depend on effective measures not only of accountability and transparency, but also of enforcement.  The Las Cruces Police Department, as presently staffed, is incapable of performing according to these standards honestly or competently in even minor cases—and, if not in minor cases, not likely in major ones.  If its performance at its 15 June working session on “8 Can’t Wait” proposals is any indication, City Council is likely to do little to improve local policing.  Despite talk of “honest” discussions of “tough” issues, Councilors treated attending LCPD officials with the deference which assures them of that they need fear no major reforms.

The Councilors did not need to prosecute my complaint, known to them all, but they could have used it to get beyond vague, pious, platitudinous testimony by LCPD officers by Deputy Chief Dominguez and Internal Affairs Chief Rebecca Kinney.  (Notably, Chief of Police Patrick Gallagher shied away from attending.)  Two questions would have sufficed: (1) how does LCPD ensure “accountability” if IA does not establish the truth or falsity citizens’ allegations about an officer; and (2) how does it ensure “transparency” and trust with citizens when it does not report its findings about what is true or false?

My complaint protested five code violations alleged on 31 July 2019: one unfounded, one false, and three fabricated.  Neighbors complained that I let my dogs loose in the neighborhood and that animal waste on my property was excessive and smelly.  The officer invented the license, shot, and multi-pet permit violations.

When IA interviewed the officer on 14 January 2020, he testified that he saw no violations.  He said nothing about seeing my dogs on the loose.  He said that he saw no excessive waste, but, because he could not see a portion of the yard, he could not be certain there was none, so he indicated a violation; he said nothing about smelling any waste.  (Assumption: a citizen is guilty until proven innocent.)  He said that officers are supposed to remind owners about licenses and shots; although he did not contact me, he indicated violations.  (Assumption: an owner unavailable for these reminders is guilty of the violations.)  He said nothing about the multi-pet permit.

Yet IA found no fault with the officer for making these unfounded, false, or fabricated charges.  On 19 February, Kinney wrote this case close-out letter on IA’s investigation:

The Internal Affairs Unit of the Las Cruces Police Department completed its investigation of your report concerning the conduct of Animal Control Office Juan Values on July 31, 2019.  Our investigation revealed that the officer violated departmental rules and regulations.  General Orders 151 Recording Devices, 165 Biased Based Policing, and ACO2017-1 were addressed in this complaint.  As discussed during the meeting in January, the Notice which states the reason for visit was updated and is in use by the Animal Control Officers.

Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention as we appreciate the opportunity to investigate this incident.  It is through checks and balance that we maintain the professionalism of our organization.

Kinney could not be more dishonest without lying in her letter on IA’s investigation of my complaint.  It mentions no item in my complaint, only items not in it: recording devices, bias-based policing, and ACO2017-1 (huh?).  Gallagher approved this complaint-evading statement.  Both have much to hide and little to justify trust in either them or the LCPD.  In fact, the City Law Office refuses to comply with an IPRA request for LCPD documents in this case about code violations!

When LCPD officers testify about the professionalism of their performance, the purity of their motives, and their trustworthiness in relations with citizens—only malcontents, Deputy Chief Dominguez implies, have doubts—, measure them by what they do, not what they say.  When City Councilors, with facts to the contrary, do not challenge the benign and lofty generalities of police officials, citizens can be confident that they will make only cosmetic changes as sops to public protests about police abuses but will not address the underlying conditions of unprofessional conduct.  More than 8 can and will wait.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

“8 CAN'T WAIT": WILL LAS CRUCES BE RUSHED TO JUDGE AND RASH TO ACT?

I awoke Thursday to an email from Walt Rubel replying to my latest blog, “The Las Cruces “‘8 Can’t Wait Campaign’.”  In its entirety, it read, “‘hasty aaction [sic]’. You think what’s happening now is hasty? What country have you been living in?”  I protested the racist insinuation that I was a not-so-fast, not-now, “never” kind of guy when it comes to fighting racism.  It was both ironic and embarrassing to point out to a locally prominent commentator, former newspaper editor, and reporter that the two words in their context referred, not to the current opposition to racism, but to the hurried cobbling together of “8 Can’t Wait” proposals to deal with the police.

Rubel doubled down, “How are we ever going to have a discussion on the merits of this, or any proposal if you take every disagreement as an allegation of racism.  I don’t question your motivations, I disagree with your call for inaction.”  After insinuating racist motivations, twisting my words out of context, and inventing and imputing to me a “call for inaction,” he presumes to the high ground of “a discussion on the merits”—not quite what his wake-up opening “What country have you been living in?” suggests.

I report this exchange to ask some obvious questions.  If a leading intellectual in Las Cruces misreads opinions and maligns their holder in the light of his strong emotions and good intentions, what hope is there of a “discussion on the merits” of issues of race?  What hope is there that a discussion by participants agreeing on the evils of racism and the need to end it can avoid degenerating into intramural, self-defeating squabbles about the best or only way to reform race-based policing?  What hope is there that adopting ill-considered proposals will not only undo them but also discredit proposals prudently tailored to local circumstances and the necessities of public safety and law enforcement?

Reforming racist police policies and practices requires dealing with individual and institutional racism.  My concern is the way—usually, one size fits all—in which we think about the issue.  Most whites and blacks think about the other in stereotypical terms and as a monolithic cohort of similar racial experiences, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors.  Even an intelligent, informed black columnist like Jonathan Capehart subscribes to racist overgeneralizations.  In “Dear white people, please read ‘White Fragility’” (WaPo, 5 June), he writes, “When you are black in America, your knowledge of white people in America and of the intricacies, contradictions and double standards of racism and white supremacy can only be described as intimate.”  His “knowledge,” however “intimate,” is not comprehensive.  Not all whites are racists, and some blacks know that they are not; and vice versa.  Neither stereotypes nor statistical generalizations should guide thinking about race.  It should recognize diversity of backgrounds and experience, attitudes, beliefs, and behavior of individuals in all racial groups.

I intend to read White Fragility, but Capehart’s interview of its author, associate professor Robin DiAngelo, lead me to expect a self-abasing tract by a well-meaning white woman confused and burdened by guilt.  On the one hand, to get from under its burden, she dispenses with personal guilt about racism.  She “argues that white Americans view racism as an individual moral failing instead of the waste product of a system that prioritizes white people and whose levers are consciously ... and unconsciously manipulated by them.”  “Instead of” excuses whites from personal responsibility for self-scrutiny and self-correction; it allows whites, reformers especially, to assume, allege, detect, deplore, and reform racism in other whites and in institutions but not address it in themselves.  She fails to see that racism is an individual moral as well as an institutional cultural failing, the latter an aggregate expression of the former.

On the other hand, DiAngelo imputes individual failings in matters of race to all other whites when she presumes to apologize “on behalf of my people.”  She can apologize for her racist sins, though she acknowledges none, but she cannot apologize for others’.  She is arrogant in posturing as if she had the authority to do so.  She is ignorant about what all other whites think, say, or do in matters of race.  She judges all whites similarly situated with respect to race and equally guilty of racist thoughts, words, and deeds.  Her reverse racism is far from institutional racism as “the waste product of a system that prioritizes white people” and gives them power over blacks.

If Capehart and DiAngelo have biases in their thinking about race, the rest of us have reason to be cautious in dealing with race-based policing.  Tomorrow, when City Council discusses “8 Can’t Wait” after its regular meeting, there will be many opportunities for righteous, rhetorical posturing; for questioning motives of those with different opinions, approaches, or proposals; and for demanding prompt adoption of measures presumed to eradicate current abuses reflecting four centuries of racism.  I urge everyone to realize different opportunities: to listen and learn, to avoid simplistic proposals and precipitate action, and to grapple honestly with the nuanced issues of race and the complex issues of policing.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

THE LAS CRUCES "8 CAN'T WAIT CAMPAIGN"

Perhaps Las Cruces can’t wait, but it should.  Perhaps “8 Can’t Wait,” but they should.

I support those thousands demonstrating peacefully—almost all are—to protest the police murder of George Floyd; police brutality and lethality affecting many citizens,  disproportionately minorities; and the erosion of civil decency by unprofessional police behavior.  The evidence is clear: police forces typically support a white-dominated power structure and a version of white supremacy, with abuse and weapons often a first resort.  I shall continue to support all reasonable reforms of unsavory attitudes currently held and dubious functions currently performed by police forces everywhere.

But I view the demands of the “8 Can’t Wait Campaign” as flawed in many ways, some counter-productive to police reform.  As I view them—

·       Ban Chokeholds and Strangleholds 
·       Require De-escalation 
·       Require Warning Before Shooting 
·       Requires Exhaust all Alternatives Before Shooting 
·       Duty to Intervene 
·       Ban Shooting at Moving Vehicles 
·       Require Use of Force Continuum 
·       Require Comprehensive Reporting 

what I first notice is that they have the character of what they would prevent: shoot first and ask questions later.  I am unwilling to put handcuffs on the police without having good reason clearly stated to do so.  Few of these items are, as stated, “self-evident.”  They are in no apparent order, some are vague or ill-conceived, some are badly written—obvious signs of hasty action, not careful thought.  Take “Require De-escalation”; is “require” to be an attempt or an achievement before the police can act?  Take “Requires Exhaust all Alternatives Before Shooting” is not grammatical; worse, this prescription suggests that a police officer has a checklist of procedures to follow before he or she can fire a shot, as if he or she an officer always has time to “Exhaust all Alternatives.”  Take “Ban Shooting at Moving Vehicles”; the restriction implies that it is acceptable to shoot at stationary ones.  The sole benefit of this list, so far as I can tell, is that it serves as a more than an adequate basis for a public scream therapy session featuring anger and self-righteousness.

But something more and better in the way of suitable response of sensible reforms will require thinking first, acting later, after the emotions subside.  Hurried, flawed, or ineffective prescriptions will discredit the effort to reform police behavior.  It would help if proposed reforms were based on a sound understanding of what makes so much police behavior objectionable.  I would like to know why other countries comparable to ours have more lightly armed police, less police brutality, and proportionately fewer police-caused casualties.  I would want know the relative ranking of police loyalties: to partner, to departmental personnel as a whole, to community and its customs, to law, etc.

Police officers have discredited shooting, but, before I curtailed or proscribed it, I would want to know whether any rules of engagement reflect proportionality of offense to response.  What circumstances, what scenarios, or what relationships between offense and offender justify the use of force, up to and including shooting.  Are reasons for shooting related to the risks of maiming or killing anyone, not only the suspect, but also bystanders?  (I note that military forces, operating in hostile civilian environments, have a rule of engagement which prohibits firing unless fired upon.)  Do police need to use force to arrest a citizen for selling “loosey” cigarettes or paying with a counterfeit bill?  Should the police need to shoot at and risk killing someone for fleeing the scene of a robbery of a gas station (maybe out of fear of police, not apprehension for a crime)?  I would want to know whether all police officers need weapons and training to use force. Parking tickets?  Code enforcement?  Traffic control?  Building or grounds security?

I would want to consider what roles and responsibilities are suitable or not for the police.  Some functions, traditionally associated with public order, we now think are less matters of public safety than matters of mental health or medical conditions.  Even cases of domestic violence are likely to be better handled by trained social workers than (often cursorily trained) police officers though they can serve in an on-call, support basis.  Even so, the boundary can be obscured if, say, a mentally ill person is shooting at people or cars.  Defunding of police should not be abolitionist; transferring of police funding to other agencies should reflect redefined police roles and responsibilities.

Beyond these on-street considerations, I would want to review the internal organization of the police department, the relationship of the department through the City Manager to the city’s elected representatives, and its dealings with the community.  In my experience, the Internal Affairs unit is a center of police incompetence and corruption.  A completely re-staffed unit should be removed from the department and relocated in the City Manager’s office, perhaps under the Law Office, for independence from the department’s interest in “white”-washing complaints of police misconduct.  Likewise, in my experience, the police chief, not trustworthy, self-disciplined, or decent, should be replaced by someone who is honest, secure enough to accommodate criticism, competent as a manager, inspiring as a leader, and committed to public service.  Finally, the motto “P.R.I.D.E.,” which is a piece of narcissistic self-promotion, should be retired and replaced with something civic-minded directed to the community and emphasizing service and safety.

Finally, as a forever advocate of public participation, the Powers-That-Be should now solicit public opinion in unhampered fora free of the intimidating presence of police officers and establish permanent means of sustaining the receipt of public opinion in the future.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

THE STRUCTURE OF INJUSTICE IS EVERYWHERE THE SAME

A Letter Introducing a Letter

A reasonable question is why, in a half dozen blogs, I have made a big thing out of a little thing.  A more reasonable question is why the LCPD has made a big thing out of that little thing.  My 17 May letter to Mayor and Councilors answers these questions.  It gives “transparency” to selected LCPD deficiencies and failings, suggests reforms, but leaves “accountability” and reforms to them.

My exposés, consistent with what others have long known, suggest that the LCPD is a poorly disciplined force whose adherence to best police practices, legal requirements, ethical standards, and professional conduct is happenstantial.  Yet City Councils have refused or failed to address long-standing LCPD deficiencies and abuses.  My letter challenges City Council to reform the LCPD and improve the way in which it serves the public.  So far, silence.  City Council’s governing strategy may be to deny that a Big One can happen here, hope that it does not, and leave the LCPD mess to the next Council.  My advice: an ounce of prevention is better public service than a pound of cure.

After I had drafted this letter, a “bad” police officer with 18 complaints, killed George Floyd while three “good” police officers acted the part of bystanders and ushers.  They operated in a context of IA’s exoneration, MPD leadership’s tolerance, and Minneapolis officials’ indifference.  Of course, I can tell the difference between a cop killing a citizen and a cop lying about dog poop, but the congruency is what I call vertically integrated corruption in police matters and what some, in cases of white-black relations, call institutionalized racism: IA protects, police leadership encourages protection, elected officials give tacit consent by avoiding the issues, and, in the event, DAs delay or decline charges.  These practices and relationships create a culture wherein cops believe that they can act with impunity and be assured of immunity.  In Las Cruces, additional support comes from its Law Office, which is defying IPRA requirements to disclose public documents related to police operations in my case, perhaps to shield elected officials.


Mayor and Councilors:

I have sent you, and you may have read, my blogs about the Las Cruces Police Department.  Some of you may have scoffed at my complaint because it concerns trivial alleged violations, or charges, with no known effect on me.  I agree with you about their triviality.  To judge from its response, however, the LCPD did not regard it as trivial.  Two obvious questions: what was my motive in making and pursuing my complaint, and why was its response disproportionate and its investigation prolonged, incompetent, and dishonest—in a word, unprofessional.

My motive was to take my turn to try to improve the quality of policing as a public service to all Las Cruceans.  Since the LCPD has treated me, an old, white man, retired, comfortable, and, sorry to say, privileged, without professionalism, integrity, or respect, it quite likely treats others less favorably situated even worse in matters more important.  For these LCPD deficiencies do not divide the trivial from the important for different treatment, but denote aspects of character and conduct of officers in their routine operations and internal investigations.

The moment I discovered Animal Control Officer Juan Valles’s warning notice of five municipal code violations on 31 July 2019, I realized that his performance reflected a police department unprofessional in its principles and practices.  Everything about the LCPD response to my complaint, first informal on 1 August, then formal on 5 August, through its close-out letter of 19 February 2020, has reinforced that realization.

The LCPD failed to address my complaint in a professional, ethical manner.  No one—not Chief of Police Patrick Gallagher, not Internal Affairs Chief Rebecca Kinney—had the sense, self-discipline, or desire to direct or conduct a competent, honest investigation focused on the complaint and its specific elements.  Instead, it stressed discrediting me and elaborating irrelevancies to defend itself and distract others from my justified complaint.  Results: a bad-faith investigation, a sham report, and a cover-up to boot.  Consider only highlights of its response:

• The LCPD took over six-and-a half months to investigate my complaint.

• IA Detective Carmen Lazarin began the investigation by trying to secretly record a telephone interview with me.  She admitted it was “unethical”; an in-take FBI agent termed her effort “unprofessional.”

• Gallagher tried to blame me for the prolonged investigation.  On 17 December, he wrote that it had been completed on 11 September but for a “final interview” with me, a requirement which he invented three months later.

• Animal Control Outreach Officer Kiri Daines accused me on 19 September me of being uncooperative because I refused her summons to a meeting with no stated purpose or agenda, although I was willing to communicate by email.

• Gallagher slandered me before Councilwoman Gandara and Interim City Manager Studer on 7 January.  He accused me of maligning Valles by falsely accusing him of fabricating charges; he lied that they were in the anonymous caller’s complaint.  (MVRDA record)

• In that one-hour meeting, Kinney admitted not yet having read the 31 July anonymous caller’s complaint.  She defended Gallagher and herself from my criticisms of the delay and deficiencies of the investigation by saying it was “on-going.”  (City Hall recording)

• On 14 January, IA Sergeant Sean Mullen conducted a second interview with Valles, its purpose after this meeting suspect.  For Valles exaggerated his earlier disparagement of me, elaborated his account of his on-site visit, and explained his charges with falsehoods, bizarre quibbles, or misguided legal arguments.  Even so, he admitted seeing no violations.

• Kinney’s 19 February close-out letter says nothing about the elements of my complaint.

• Responding to my IPRA request, LCPD redacted the entirety of the “Findings and Conclusions” of two internal reports and withheld not only two documents in their entirety, but even information about their author, audience, date, and topic.

(• LCPD’s response to my “suggestion” of an antisemitic motive for Valles’s fabricated charges was one of denial, dither, and misdirection—a display of unreadiness surprising given Gallagher’s (IA) experience in one-quarter Jewish New York City.)

Results: A Chief of Police lying about and to, and slandering, me without hesitation or apology, an Internal Affairs unit failing to conduct a focused, fact-finding investigation of a complaint, and a police department disorganized and misdirected, with a culture lacking a legal or moral compass.

Remedies: Long overdue reforms to develop an LCPD serving the public honestly, respectfully, and competently: firings, demotions, and replacements; relocation of Internal Affairs to the City Manager’s staff; a civilian review board with investigative and reporting authority; a standing committee of City Council charged with oversight of the LCPD; and a citizen/police review of LCPD policies and procedures, with public comment.  A first step: interim working sessions for public testimony on police performance for unfiltered, first-hand information.

My case concerns things as they are—bad—which can get worse and need attention to get better, and sooner rather than later.  Unless my IPRA request yields important new information, I conclude this turn at doing what I can for justice in Las Cruces.  Now it is your turn.

Michael L. Hays

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

TERMINATE REPUBLICANS WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE

Back in the day, the phrase “terminate with extreme prejudice” was a CIA euphemism for assassination.  Before I get a knock on the door from a friendly FBI agent, I hasten to say that I am not advocating assassinating anyone, even Republicans.  I am recycling the euphemism to mean rendering Republicans, with their extreme prejudices, politically impotent by voting to deny all their incumbent and novice candidates any office at any level of government.

There is no distinction between “good” Republicans and “bad” Republicans, not with 90 percent of them supporting Trump.  Indeed, any distinction between them would be dubious, as is the distinction between “good” and “bad” cops.  What is that distinction?  Between those who commit crimes and those who know about them, keep silent, and thereby endorse and enable them as accessories after the fact?  Speaking of enablers, do the names Mitch McConnell and William Barr come to mind?

Democrats and Republicans in Congress and state legislatures often vote along party lines, understandably, because parties have agreed-upon positions defining what their parties mean.  But Republican party-line voting increasingly defies the known wishes of their constituents or the population on issue after issue.  Most Americans, often a large majority of Americans, favor health care for all people, gun controls (background checks, bans on high-capacity weapons and ammunition), denial of weapons to domestic abusers or the mentally/emotionally unfit), abortion rights and access, environmental protection of air and water; voting rights and easy access to the ballot box, and more.

One obvious conclusion is that Republicans do not believe in democracy.  In states under their control, they are doing whatever they can to manipulate the electorate and the electoral process to preserve the veneer of democratic elections while ensuring one-party rule.  Another obvious conclusion is that Republicans have become a racist party which restricts, impedes, or denies voting by targeted minorities and groups inclined to support Democrats, who support demographic diversity.  They rely on gerrymandering, onerous voter ID requirements, and limited numbers and discriminatory distribution of polling places to maintain party control.

Florida is one example.  A recent state referendum restored voting rights to felons who had served their time.  State Republicans immediately passed legislation requiring released felons, disproportionately black and Hispanic, to settle their bills for restitution and fines before they could vote—a near impossibility for most of them.  Their defiance of the public will and their use of a new kind of “poll tax” signify Republican opposition to the public will and to large number of minorities who would otherwise be able to vote.

Wisconsin is the prime example.  Recently, Republican majorities in the legislature denied the Democratic governor executive powers held by his Republican predecessor.  More recently, they obstructed his efforts to allow mail-in ballots as one way to impede the spread of the coronavirus; their motive was to curtail a likely preponderance of Democratic, especially black Democratic, voters in an important judicial race.  Some suspect that, since the legislature appoints the state’s electors to the Electoral College, it will appoint Republicans for Trump even if Biden receives a majority of votes.

Closer to home, we have candidacies of local Republicans who whine about the voices of the minority—presumably, Republicans—not being heard.  In my day, the complaint that one was not heard meant that one did not get one’s way.  So we get this infantile complaint from 36th House District candidate Brandi Polanco and 2nd Congressional District candidate Chris Mathys.  She wails, “I am running because I am ... tired of being under-represented or not being represented.  I am tired of our voices not being heard.”  He rants, “the United States House of Representatives is the People’s House.... it belongs to all of us.  As Conservative Republicans, we have a right to expect that our values and beliefs are represented by our members of congress [sic: Congress].”

Polenco, an English teacher, and Mathys, a political science master, want their minority views, not the majority views, to prevail—not merely heard, but heeded.  As their efforts to manipulate the election process prove, Republicans reject the paramount principle of democratic elections: the majority wins, and the minority loses.  Yet, until a quarter century ago, winners and losers negotiated across party lines; they thought of themselves as Americans, not party functionaries, first.  But, since 1994, when Newt Gingrich Republicans offered a “Contract with America,” Republicans have become ever more disinclined to compromise; in fact, they have made “compromise” a dirty word.

Now, facing a populace increasingly favoring Democrats, Republicans fear both a loss of power and punishment according to their example.  Lodged in their political mindset is the belief that Republican views have the right of truth, that Democratic views have only the might of numbers.  Lodged nearby are others: Democrats are inferior because of bad ideas and evil motives; Democratic states, undeserving; and Democratic-controlled government, illegitimate or worse.  Their political logic is simple: if Republican virtue does not triumph at the ballot box by actual count over Democratic vice, Republicans will surely believe and certainly claim that the election was rigged in advance, corrupted in the process, or subverted by voter fraud.

This twisted mindset explains Republican condemnation of large cities for their problems.  It encodes rural prejudice against urban populations and racial prejudice against the large numbers of minorities in urban centers.  When former governor and current senator from Florida, Rick Scott, alleged that New York has mismanaged its finances and asserted that federal coronavirus aid should be denied as punishment, he revealed some cruel implications of these prejudices.  Ignore that New York sends more money to Washington than it receives, and Florida receives more money from Washington than it sends.  Notice Scott’s indifference to, or a desire for, otherwise preventable. additional, disproportionately minority, deaths of New Yorkers.  Such is today’s Republican Party that no fellow Republican official disavowed his remarks.

Now nears the 2020 election.  Republicans believe that Democrats, if they prevail, are unlikely to forgive and forget rancorous Republican personal behavior and unilateral, often unprecedented, partisan abuses; and to offer comity and cooperation.  Their desperation makes it difficult to dismiss ominous Election Day scenarios of aggressive Republican action: minority voter intimidation, voting disruptions, defiance of results, and disorders if they lose.  If they win, democracy as we have known it, with remarkably fair elections, will become a nostalgic recollection.

Such a mindset requires political therapy: traumatic election defeat.  The Republican Party must die to be reborn.  Thus, I urge Democrats, Independents, and the remnant 10 percent of Republicans, in this most critical of all elections in my 80-year lifetime—I have never said such a thing before—, to vote in person or by mail and to enlist others to do the same: vote a straight Democratic ticket.

Monday, May 25, 2020

CHRIS MATHYS'S CAMPAIGN "FIGHT" FOR "CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN VALUES"

      A sign touting Chris Mathys, a 2nd Congressional District candidate, as a “Conservative Republican” prompted me to contact him to find out what kind of person and what kind of views neighbors likely to have made false complaints about my dogs would support.  So I visited his website and read what he says under the heading “issues.”  From a polite exchange of emails, I learned that he is like most local Republican candidates for public office: ideological, intolerant, and ignorant of or indifferent to history, political theory, economics, and science.  Despite professed allegiance to America’s founding documents, Mathys has little allegiance to their central principles or values.

Mathys devotes 86 words to issues (he promises more information later):

 

I will never apologize for being a Conservative Republican and will fight against the Democrat Socialists

I believe and will fight on the House floor for our Conservative Republican values. So many in Congress fail to understand that the United States House of Representatives is the People’s House. It is your house, your family’s house, and your neighbors’ house; it belongs to all of us. As Conservative Republicans, we have a right to expect that our values and beliefs are represented by our members of congress.


I see no issue here.  Instead, I see the defensive bellicosity and angry resentment of a political persecution complex.  No one scolds him for being a “Conservative Republican” or demands that he apologize for being one.  But he slams those of a different political affiliation.  Twisting the label “Democratic” to “Democrat” is a snarky commonplace of extreme Republicans.  His use of the word “Socialist” is a smear and a sign of ignorance.  Neither he nor those whose votes he seeks know or care what it means except that, in American political parlance, it is something evil and elicits powerful adverse emotions.  Like his primary rivals, he relies on hostility toward, if not outright hatred of, others to turn out his faithful in the primary and, if he prevails, in the election.  (His “home page” is even more vitriolic.)

Mathys’s fighting words made me pause at his next sentence and in puzzlement at what were those “Conservative Republican values,” for which Mathys will again “fight”—figuratively or literally, I wonder.  So I emailed him to ask what they were.  The answer was personal responsibility, hard work, love of and respect for America.  Whatever they are, they are not political values and certainly not exclusively “Conservative Republican values.”  They introduce the immigration issue: “immigrants must come here legally, learn English and work hard.”

My response briefly challenged only one point, “immigrants ... must learn English”:

As a former teacher of English, I have mixed feelings about a one-size-fits-all, Big Government, approach to the “must learn” English requirement.  It comes too close to being a literacy requirement for voting, and I assume that we both accept the courts' judgments that it is unconstitutional.  Most immigrants, at least their children, learn the language; if they do not, the issue is one of social entrapment in barrios with few or no English speakers around and a lack of social mobility to meet and mingle with speakers of English.  If I were taught Latin and expected to speak it, and if no one in my community did so, I probably could not learn it or learn to use it.  (Pig-Latin does not count.)

Mathys did not respond to this “expert” opinion based on the historical facts of language acquisition by large numbers of Eastern European immigrants who entered the country between 1880 and 1920 and settled in ethnic neighborhoods.  And he did not respond to my comment on the conflict between a coercive “must” and small government.

I again requested a “list of those distinctively ‘conservative Republican values’ which set us apart”—the last clause crafted to be ambiguous.  His response was a list, not of values, but of “conservative principles,” which are standard GOP talking points: lower taxes, less government, balanced annual budgets, less regulation, with support for the 2nd amendment, the constitution as written, the electoral college, public prayer, and public display of the 10 commandments.  Third on his list: “protect life and restrict abortions (life starts conception” [sic!]).  His stance on abortion implies that he wants government’s reduced powers targeted on culture-war issues and those whose views differ from his.  Notably missing: the coronavirus pandemic and related issues of public health, the social safety net, and respective federal and state government roles in addressing it; climate change; national and international economic changes; foreign affairs; and much else.  These major omissions show Mathys obedient to party mantras, not observant of matters requiring attention and action.

I discussed abortion to explain the facts of life to Mathys and to give an example of an issue any resolution of which depends on the definition and application of words:

Let me give one example: life defined as beginning at conception.  Some Christians believe that.  Other Christians believe that it begins at quickening.  A few Christians even believe that it begins at birth.  What is the point of my saying so?  The definition of life is not a scientific issue, but a religious issue; science can define words but not prove them to be fact, just as geometry can say that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line but cannot prove it.  So stipulating one definition and enacting legislation based on one definition of life infringes on the religious beliefs of those who have different definitions--in violation of the First Amendment provisions for freedom of religion and freedom from an establishment (law) of religion.

I know that what I have just written will probably be hard for you to accept, and maybe you will reject it.  But you will have a hard time making a compelling argument not based on your personal faith with any appeal to someone who does not share your faith.  So the questions then are: do you respect others' opinions or not, and, if not, what do you do about those who believe differently?  More generally, in running for political office, are you more theocratic than constitutional?

Mathys thanked me for my “in-depth analysis on your points of view.”  I take his words as a confession that he had not considered the issues from a non-ideological perspective.  His detachment from discussion signaled that my analysis had no influence on his thinking.  Indeed, I hinted that his personal and political commitments would override any pretensions to upholding the Constitution, much less, democratic pluralism.

Which raises questions about the kind of representative Mathys can be.  Whom will he represent?  Whose interests will he serve?  To whom will he listen?  Can he respect people unlike himself or beliefs different from his?  His views of immigrants, legal or not, suggest a callous disregard of constituents less fortunate and privileged than he.  His dogmatic assertions and repetitions, like “life begins [at] conception,” do not suggest that he can engage in respectful exchanges and amend his positions in light of more facts and better arguments.  He did not “fight” for his “conservative principle” opposing abortion; instead, he declined to fight, probably knowing that he lacks constitutional justification for imposing his beliefs on others and contradicts his principle of small government.

Combine Mathys’s pugilistic inclination to see his role as a fighter for his party’s positions, not as a legislator in the public interest; his belligerence toward and resentment of others; his demonization and demeaning of opponents; his hostility toward so many in the emerging majority minority populace—and you have in Mathys a candidate who would be a theocratic autocrat wanting to rule in an apartheid state.

I learned a lot about my neighbors but nothing about “Conservative Republican values.”  For me, traditional American values like respect, decency, fairness, generosity, prudence, pragmatism, and common sense work just fine.