Saturday, May 26, 2012

BROWN FARM FIASCO--THE SAGA OF FOIBLES AND FAILURES CONTINUES




The saga of the Brown Farm Fiasco continues to illuminate the foibles and failures of City Hall under Robert Garza, the City Manager. The latest in the series is his response in two attachments to his City Manager’s Newsletter (23 May): “Brown Farm Facts” and “Brown Farm Map.” Garza targets “one of the homeowners [who] has become angry and questioned if staff knows what they are doing.” Since my column “City Hall Makes a Mess and Walks Away” (19 May) addresses only incompetence, fraud, and waste, someone has identified and seemingly communicated an additional charge of ignorance.

This charge is a serious one, and, despite my disagreements with Garza, I do not think that it should be accepted without question, especially from an anonymous source. So I decided to fact-check Garza’s “facts,” though all I had to work with was knowledge of the site gleaned from conversations with City Hall staff, a few relevant public documents, and my observations of looking over and walking through the area for five years.

Under the page 2 heading “Challenges Continued,” Garza writes:

Residents in adjacent neighborhoods would like to see the property put to some higher and better use than what is currently in place and contrary to the approved project plans for flood control. They would also like the City to retain and maintain vegetation and “natural” areas adjacent to their properties. City crews have focused maintenance work in these areas but not in a way that meets the wishes of some adjacent homeowners. One of the homeowners has become angry and questioned if staff knows what they are doing. That resident would like to believe that water within the ponding area should flow from south to north while the site conditions dictate flows from the north to the south carrying water from the Edgewood Arroyo to the low area of the property.

Since another neighbor and I on Cedardale Loop have been meeting with various officials for nearly a year on behalf of others, I am not sure what contact Garza has had with what residents in what neighborhoods. But I know for certain that he does not speak of my neighbors or me in his comments on what we want done at the site.

Garza claims, “Residents in adjacent neighborhoods would like to see the property put to some higher and better use than what is currently in place and contrary to the approved project plans for flood control.” On the contrary, my neighbors and I have not sought to have the property put to an alternative use. We have sought to have it serve the purpose for which it was intended, but to have storm runoff routed to an existing, but enlarged, remote northern basin, to which storm runoff was routed before the City botched its work. Our primary concern has been the threat of West Nile Virus from multiple, nearby holding ponds, some marshy and hard to treat. I can think of no reason why Garza does not have command of these facts since he and other city officials have repeatedly heard our wishes and have agreed to implement them.

Garza also claims, “They would also like the City to retain and maintain vegetation and “natural” areas adjacent to their properties. City crews have focused maintenance work in these areas but not in a way that meets the wishes of some adjacent home owners.” Again, on the contrary, my neighbors and I have wanted only for the City to restore the vegetation and ground surface throughout the site to reduce dust during heavy winds and vegetation-destroying erosion during heavy rains and storm runoff. Our secondary concern has been dust mitigation or control by habitat restoration. I can think of no reason why Garza does not have command of these facts since he and other city officials have repeatedly heard our wishes and have agreed to implement them.

I have difficulty thinking that Garza and his staff could have misunderstood our wishes after so many discussions in the presence of so many officials. But I have even more difficulty comprehending not only Garza’s misstatements of “facts” about the drainage of the site, but also his indictment of his source, the angry homeowner, for ignorance.

Let me give a brief overview of the site. It is oriented about 45 degrees counter-clockwise from the four cardinal compass points. So, for example, “north” here is really “northwest,” and so forth. An escarpment runs on the east and south sides of the site, parallel to Spitz Avenue and Cedardale Loop, respectively. To the west of the escarpment paralleling Spitz Avenue is a high berm, which creates a channel between the escarpment and the berm. The channel rises from the south until it reaches the Edgewood Arroyo and then drops to the north away from that arroyo. The long-range plan for the site is to grade the entire channel to move all storm runoff up it to the north and then, through other conduits or channels, to the Rio Grande. The intermediate plan continues to be to store storm runoff in three holding ponds on the site south of the farmland of Brown Farm itself.

Garza claims that the Edgewood Arroyo sends storm runoff south to the site. In view of the photographic evidence which he provides, it is hard to understand how he could make such a statement. For the arroyo cuts straight west across the channel, and its storm runoff goes west into its delta, which bulges into farmland. The picture shows this delta and makes clear that, contrary to Garza’s assertion, that storm runoff does not run south to the ponding area. The only storm runoff entering this area comes from the Jasmine Channel and Cedardale Channel 1, which empty near one another at the southeast corner of the site into a southeast holding pond; and Cedardale Channel 2, which empties at the southwest corner of the site into a southwest holding pond.

Garza claims that the storm runoff within the ponding area is supposed to flow from north to south. His claim is difficult to understand. Until the City began its work last year, storm runoff from the southeast sources entered a southeast holding pond, then over-flowed into the southwest holding pond, joined storm runoff from the southwest source, and then flowed through two connecting channels into the northern holding pond. The aggregate flow of storm runoff was a circuitous route from south to north.

All of Garza’s claims about storm runoff flows are countered by the work which the City did either to implement the out-of-date plan or to attempt to remedy its faulty implementation.

1. The City enlarged the existing northern holding pond, which has no sources of storm runoff except from the south, for the purpose of receiving it from the southwestern holding pond. It would have made no sense and much waste for the City to dig a larger and deeper holding pond if it only received rainfall.

2. The City developed a site design which included a large conduit collecting the storm runoff from the Jasmine Channel and Cedardale Channel 1 and moving it directly to the northern holding pond. If that pond was supposed to drain south, the conduit should have aligned to move storm runoff south, to the southeastern holding pond which first receives storm runoff from those channels. (The site design omitted Cedardale Channel 2.)

3. The City widened the channels to move storm runoff from the southwest holding pond to the northern holding pond. When its failure to properly grade those channels to move storm runoff from south to north became known, the City returned to grade them properly (and failed). It would have made no sense and much waste for the City to return to re-grade the channels if they had been properly graded in the first place.

4. The City removed a recently reinforced berm in order to (pretend to) move runoff from the two southeastern sources northward up the channel. If, as Garza claims, storm runoff from the Edgewood Arroyo flows, and is supposed to flow, southward, it would have made no sense and much waste for the City to do work to make storm runoff flow northward.

What I have learned from reviewing the facts is that the angry homeowner’s allegation of ignorance has merit. Not one of Garza’s “facts” in this passage—I did not examine the other passages on this “fact sheet—is, in fact, factual. So it is most unfortunate that city distribution of his misrepresentations of citizens’ views and misstatements of the facts will be received and perhaps believed by other officials and many citizens. Certainly, the honest thing for Garza to do would be to issue a correction or a retraction.

Whether he does or, more likely, does not, the deficiencies of this “fact sheet” raise questions about City Hall’s leadership. Apparently, despite many months of meetings and site surveys and designs, Garza and his staff have no grasp of the fundamental realities on the ground. Understandably, they are then sensitive to criticism and unfriendly toward citizens. Their false assurances and broken promises, and now these non-factual responses to an allegation of ignorance, suggest how difficult it is to work cooperatively with City Hall. I can understand the homeowner’s anger; I have felt a good deal of frustration verging on anger for a long time in futile efforts thus far.

One final instance. In this and other messages, Garza has promised to communicate with affected residents in doing work on this site and to be mindful of vegetation on the site. Yet yesterday, the City, with word to no one, sent out a thrasher to cut the native vegetation slowly returning to a flat field which it had denuded the previous year. The effect will be an increase in dust already blowing from this dustbowl. No one to whom I have talked understands the purpose of this work and any other possible effect of it. Garza has not responded to my query about it. I provide two pictures of this part of the site as it appears today, far more brown than green, and very dusty.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

HOOKS'S LINES ARE SINKERS: "REPUBLICANS DON'T HATE"

In his 18 May letter appearing in both the Sun-News and the Bulletin, Neal Hooks, a Republican candidate for the state senate district 38, takes it upon himself to defend Republicans against the charge that they hate “minorities, the poor, gays, women and the elderly.” I am not going to debate whether Republicans “hate any of these folks.” I shall let Hook’s statements speak for themselves. For instance, “these folks”? What does a little casual patronizing tell us about Republican attitudes toward these constituencies? Big respect, right?

What I am going to debate is Hooks’s simplifying, dissembling Republican reasons for their positions on issues affecting “these folks.” For starters, Hooks states, “just because Republicans want to reduce the entitlement state, doesn’t mean we hate the poor.” What it does mean, he never says. When his twisted logic is straightened out, what he asserts amounts to what he denies. If it is not hatred of “these folks,” it might just as well be; none of them will be able to tell the difference.

The logic begins and ends with “just because” clauses which introduce, then dismiss, everything at stake, what he calls the “entitlement state.” What exactly the “entitlement state” means, Hooks also never says, but I think that he means government programs intended to help “these folks” who need help. But he is duplicitous enough not to say so; they might not vote for him if he told them what he really means. And, if we are not one of “these folks” but want their needs met, we also might not vote for him.

Republicans like Hooks label Social Security and Medicare as “entitlement programs” and prefer to reduce them for the purported reason of fiscal responsibility rather than to find ways to meet basic human needs. However, they are not “entitlement programs”; they are insurance programs, and their payroll deductions are payments of premiums. So workers pay into them and thereby earn the benefits which they and their families receive. Other programs to help the poor—food stamps, Medicaid, and the like—are not “entitlement programs,” but programs access to which is means-tested to assist the needy. But Republicans like Hooks want to reduce these programs, too. Accordingly to his twisted thinking, reducing food and medical care to the poor, who are often already hungry and sick, show that Republicans “care more about the poor” than Democrats. Hooks’s Republican “tough love” makes the needy needier.

Republicans like Hooks have a lofty reason for reducing the necessities of the needy. According to him, Republicans, unlike the Democrats, “don’t want to relegate anyone to a permanent class of Americans who are dependent on the state.” He implies that Republicans believe that most of the poor prefer independence and destitution to any reliance on the state for the bare necessities of life—food, clothing, shelter, medical care, as well as education, job training, and unemployment benefits for themselves and their families. For the many of the poor who do not prefer independence and destitution, Republicans like Hooks will choose it for them. Republicans believe that man cannot live on bread alone; indeed, they believe that the poor can live on the spirit of independence alone, without any bread at all. Republicans don’t hate the poor; they just love them to death.

Republicans like Hooks know nothing about the poor. If they knew anything, they would know that most of those trapped in poverty want to escape it. Republicans like Hooks, with their economic and educational advantages, think that those without them can and should overcome their disadvantages all by themselves. If they knew anything, they would know that those trapped in generational poverty and not aspiring to escape it are so downtrodden and discouraged that ideas of improving themselves to overcome disadvantages are alien to their experience and the subcultures in which they live. Republicans like Hooks do not hate these people; they just do not know anything about them, just do not care about them, and just do not want to care for them.

On all other issues, Hooks offers some simplistic basis for dismissing charges against Republicans. For Hooks, Republican opposition to gays is “simply” to prevent schools from teaching “controversial behavior”—as if they do or would. Hooks omits Republican opposition to same-sex marriage, civil unions, protection against job discrimination, protection against domestic violence, provisions for hospital visiting rights, and many other rights and privileges which straights have. Those who deny gays such rights and benefits love them only when they can relegate them to second-class citizenship.

For Hooks, Republican’s are not waging a “war on women,” only objecting to paying for “birth control.” Hooks omits Republican efforts to deter abortions by requiring abusive and unnecessary medical procedures, to allow doctors to lie to their patients about abortions, to restrict abortions which might save the health or life of women, to limit access to contraception goods and services, to cut health services for women and children, to oppose equal pay for equal work, and much, much more. Those who deny women decent treatment and fair pay love them only when they can relegate them to second-class citizenship.

So Hooks’s really big lie is that “the truth of the matter is Republicans and Democrats have the same concern for all people, [sic] we just have different solutions.” Of course, he does not identify any solution but deprivation of the material means to dignity and self-development. His claim of equivalent concern is a lie, and Hooks knows it, for, as noted above, he claims that Republicans “care more about the poor” than Democrats. Call it anything but “hate,” if you want to; it is still Republican patronizing and callous disregard for “these folks.” Count on it that Hooks will lie about and obfuscate his positions before the election; then, if elected, make “these folks” feel that, all things considered, they would rather not be loved by Republicans.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

THINKING IN THE TANK: SINKING BY THE RIO GRANDE FOUNDATION

Think-tank thinking in New Mexico is often less thoughtful than its presumptions suggest it to be. One example is its E-Bulletin (6 May) from the Rio Grande Foundation (RGF), which describes itself as a “research institute dedicated to increasing liberty and prosperity for all of New Mexico’s citizens. We do this by informing New Mexicans of the importance of individual freedom, limited government, and economic opportunity.”

The first item prompted my response to, then an exchange of emails with, Paul Gessing, its Executive Director, and Gessing, an American citizen. In this case, the distinction between the institutional and the individual is, I think, without a difference. For the logic from his public statement to his personal, but neither privileged nor confidential, statements in defense of it is seamless. Our exchange follows my comments.

Gessing writes, “The left (including the President) hates profits and wants people and businesses to pay higher taxes.” Gessing is unclear about the connection between these two ideas. He does not indicate a limit on hatred or a cap on taxes, so perhaps anything goes: abolition of profits by an effective corporate tax of 100 percent. Such a vague assertion is itself an absurdity on its face. The lack of clarity about the connection may be, however, a deliberate attempt to condemn both ideas by mutual association—not exactly an informational as opposed to a propagandistic strategy.

Far more problematic is the emotion-imputing or motive-mongering gross over-generalization about “the left.” It takes less than a nanosecond to realize that this statement is false, stupid, and demagogic. That undefined population denoted by “left” includes many people, as does the “right,” who own equity positions in businesses so that profits can provide the basis for returns or appreciation. To think in such simple dichotomies is unworthy mentation by any adult and certainly by an Executive Director of a think tank. Worse, to impute emotions or motives on the basis of stereotypes is to demonize political opponents and to use the left’s imputed hatred of profits to rouse the right’s hatred of the left. Gessing makes “information” a form of inflammation.

The implications of Gessing’s official statement about tax loophole lead to his really unorthodox personal ideas, expressed in his last email in our exchange, that the funding of government should be “voluntary” and that voluntary funding is related to “the social contract as it is being written these days.” I have no idea what he means by “is being written today.” Aside from making government a recipient of charity, with all of the uncertainties of funding which that status would imply, it means underfunding and free-riding. In addition, Gessing suggests the existence of some social contract which would minimize or eliminate taxes to fund the government resulting from it.

What “voluntary” funding means is tax avoidance by those willing and able to dodge their “heavy tax burdens.” Gessing opines that “tax competition”—whatever that is: my guess is a kind of rivalry between those trying to escape taxes and those trying to make them inescapable—“insures governments cannot get too out of control”—governments a little out of control are apparently acceptable—“in terms of their tax and regulatory policies.” This position is ingenious because it assumes that a lack of tax revenues would restrain tax and regulatory policies, although Gessing’s usual complaint is federal deficit spending which nevertheless permits undue “tax and regulatory policies.” The ingenious becomes bizarre when Gessing concludes that tax avoidance explains why the rich “are wealthy and successful in the first place”—a position which implies that profit-making goods or services are not the basis of wealth “in the first place.” He leaves me wondering whence the wealth in the first place.

Bottom line: The RGF position is to shrug off tax fairness; as RGF official Gessing puts it, “Sure, it may not be ‘fair’ that businesses and the wealthy can legally avoid heavy tax burdens.” What Gessing himself stands for is an alternative to democracy, the shape of which would be virtually indistinguishable from either oligarchy on the one hand or anarchy on the other or a combination of both. The point of agreement by RGF and Gessing is a repudiation of America’s core value: equality. In this repudiation, neither institution nor individual are alone on the right.




The first item in the bulletin “Apple and Corporate IQ Tests” reads as follows:

The New York Times recently reported on tax avoidance schemes undertaken by Apple, the world’s most profitable company. The left (including the President) hates profits and wants people and businesses to pay higher taxes. Of course, Apple didn’t get to be so profitable by unnecessarily paying taxes that its competitors are smart enough to avoid.

The fact is that businesses, unlike some individuals, have the money and wisdom to hire tax planners to reduce their tax bills. Is this a bad thing? No, tax competition insures that governments cannot get too out of control in terms of their tax and regulatory policies. Should the rest of us be concerned? Well, I for one would rather have resources stay in the private sector than in the coffers of inefficient governments. Sure, it may not be “fair” that businesses and the wealthy can legally avoid heavy tax burdens. Next time the government asks for more taxes, it is worth realizing that some of the very people targeted for higher taxes will simply flee or find a loophole to avoid the tax. That is why they are wealthy and successful in the first place.

I responded to only the few of the words, which I quoted:

The left (including the President) hates profits and

Why in the world do you have to make statements like this one? You do not sound like the Executive Director of a think tank, even in an e-bulletin. Do I really need to say that many people on the left or, like me, left-leaning, like companies to make profits so that they can declare and issue dividends in return for our investments.

And do I need to say that taxes are just the funds levied for purchases of goods and services from the government? If people want higher taxes, they want more such goods and services; if they want lower taxes, they want fewer such goods and services. So talk about the goods and services, not the taxes. But, the truth is, the right wants to lower taxes without specifying what fewer goods and services will be purchased--and what the consequences for individuals and society as whole will be.

Paul responded:

I don’t want ANY goods and services from the federal government.
Please give me my money back!

Yes, Obama does not like profits:
http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2011/02/07/obama_corporate_profits_have_to_be_shared_by_american_workers.html

I responded:

First, I note that you do not respond to your “left hates profits” statement.

Second, thanks for the unsolicited statement below. I am sure that I can and probably shall address it in an interesting way.

I know that you understand that you are advocating an end of the federal government and thus of a country of united states under a constitution thereby united states and common interests for the general good.

I know that you know that no goods and services from the federal government means that the people would have no executive branch department--Defense--or agencies--CIA, NSA, FBI, DEA, etc.--to provide a unified defense against foreign threats; no executive branch departments--State, Treasury, Commerce--providing data and support for American companies in national and international trade; no national laboratories (most in Energy) to provide basic research for private companies; no Supreme Court or Justice to resolve disputes between states and their citizens; and no need for elected representatives using democratic processes to make the necessary laws to guide the resolution of those disputes.

Well, it did not take many words to give up on America and democracy in the modern world. For what? How do separate states and separate laws encourage business and increase profits without a federal government providing goods and services, like a standard currency? What will your money be worth when you get it back?

Wow! I am having fun considering your audacious and complete anti-federalism.

Paul responded:

I’m making a personal statement. I would be pleased to fund the federal government in a voluntary context. We’re talking about the heart of the social contract and I’m not a fan of the way it is being written these days.

This statement ended our exchange. Although none of my responses is a complete statement of arguments and supporting facts, each indicates some of the major problems, economic and political, with Paul’s positions.