Inside the Capitol

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Will War Lead to Draft?

SANTA FE – John Edwards talks about “Two Americas.” It appears we also have two wars – the war according to the White House and Fox News and the war according to the rest of the media.
From the White House and Pentagon we hear the “untold” story of how well the rebuilding of Iraq is going and how re-enlistments are increasing, especially among troops serving in Iraq. And from most of the media, we hear of bombings, deaths, kidnappings and sabotage.
As usual, the truth undoubtedly lies somewhere in between. We know the media don’t report the good things that happen in our world – in Iraq or anywhere else. Actually they do. But it is on the inside pages or at the bottom of the news. The front pages and the top of the news are reserved for the unusual. Why? Because that is what we like to read and hear about.
I’ve never understood why we have to sit through 10 minutes of murders, fires and car wrecks before we get to the hard news. But television stations can afford to conduct frequent surveys on viewer preferences and that obviously is what most TV viewers prefer.
It is beginning to appear, however, that maybe there is more to the reporting of bad news than mere sensationalism. When we see National Guard units and members of the reserve having their Iraq duty extended involuntarily, we begin to wonder.
When we see all available mental health professionals in the reserves being recalled, including a 68-year-old retired psychiatrist, we wonder if the stories of falling morale and increasing suicides might have some truth to them.
When we see reservists with bright careers ahead of them being recalled because of their intelligence backgrounds, we begin to wonder even more.
When we read that the National Guard is expected to supply 43 percent of the troops in Iraq, we understand why the Guard, which used to fill its ranks quickly, now has to resort to recruiters, and still isn’t able to fill its ranks.
When we see a History Channel special explaining that for the first time in many wars, the United States now must depend on mercenaries to do much of its work, we wonder whether their casualties are included in the death counts released by the Pentagon, since they aren’t troops, but “contract employees” working for private companies.
We are told Iraq and Vietnam are completely different, but I begin to wonder when I remember that Vietnam began to come apart when individual soldiers began to conclude that their moral contract with the government had been broken. Fraggings increased and suicides increased to the point that reportedly more soldiers died by their own hand than in combat.
And many soldiers went home and opposed the war, as John Kerry did.
When that war ended, the government’s solution was to create a professional army to free it from the constant turnover of draftees who were sometimes hard to manage.
But the new professional force was feasible only if a large volunteer reserve and National Guard was available to back it up. Now, with over half of the troops in Iraq being either reserve or National Guard, we no longer have a professional army over there.
At this rate, don’t be surprised to see the draft reinstated soon after inauguration day. And that will open a whole new can of worms. Drafts never have been popular since they first were tried during the Civil War. They were used during the two world wars and even then caused resentment.
The last draft began during the Korean War and continued through Vietnam. It was laden with so many exemptions, deferments and special provisions that it became a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”
But then how much worse could it be than the present situation, which essentially amounts to a draft by a different name?

Friday, July 30, 2004

Proud History of NM Guard

SANTA FE – A big “welcome home” to the 720th Transportation Company, New Mexico’s longest-serving guardsmen in Iraq. The trucking outfit, based in Las Vegas, N.M., returns home after 17 months of active duty.
The guardsmen were scheduled to return in April after a year in Iraq, but as with so many other National Guard units, their stay was extended just as they were preparing to leave. Transportation duty usually isn’t the most hazardous job in the military, but in this war, it ranked right up at the top, with convoys being a favorite target of roadside bombers and kidnappers.
New Mexico’s National Guard has a proud history of service to our country, dating all the way back to Spanish, Mexican and territorial militias, some of which helped repel invasions from our not-always-so-friendly Texas neighbors.
The New Mexico Guard’s most valiant contribution to the defense of our nation came during the first months of World War II. When the Japanese attacked simultaneously at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, the 200th Coast Artillery, composed of 1,800 New Mexico National Guardsmen from throughout the state, was waiting for them.
Our guys had been in the Philippines since summer, helping protect what then was a vital U.S. territory because our leaders figured something was up. Japan hit harder than anyone had suspected and soon, Gen. McArthur was wading off the shore promising “I shall return.”
The only problem was, he didn’t. The troops enroute to reinforce our guys were diverted to Australia – the final destination of the Japanese advance. Losing it would give Japan complete control of the Pacific and there would be little we could do to reclaim it.
For four months, the 200th was told that help was on the way, when in reality, the Philippines already had been written off. The New Mexicans’ valor and tenacity caused a four-month delay in Tokyo’s war strategy. It was a delay that granted the Allies precious time to regroup and reinforce their Pacific forces to stop Japan’s southward thrust.
In April 9, 1942, the Philippines were surrendered. The 200th Coast Artillery was credited with being the first unit in the Philippines to fire on the enemy and the last to lay down their arms. As every unit in the area retreated onto the Bataan Peninsula, they were covered by the New Mexico National Guard.
The 200th Coast Artillery formed the only line through which U.S. officers could carry our surrender flag. The New Mexicans didn’t want to surrender. They were ready to fight to the end. They didn’t surrender; they were surrendered. That still is a very important distinction to the survivors.
In a short four months, the brave New Mexicans had became the most decorated unit in World War II. And this was a National Guard unit, not regular Army. The word spread fast and, it is said, no soldier in the Pacific Theater got away with running down a Guard unit without being told the story of the New Mexico National Guard.
I have a couple of theories about why the New Mexico guardsmen stood out. First, as a guard unit, they were friends and neighbors, not an assortment of draftees from throughout the nation. They knew each other and they stuck together. Who would not want to exhibit anything but uncommon valor around the people with whom he would be returning home?
After they were captured, a three-and-a-half-year ordeal began that included the Bataan Death March, prison camps, hell ships to Japan, work camps and inhuman conditions. A larger percentage of New Mexicans survived those conditions than men in other units from either the National Guard or regular Army. The reason was that our guys already were friends and they forged a buddy system that helped those in need.
And beyond that, New Mexico still had a frontier ethic of life, in which a person’s deeds were more important than who they were.
New Mexico has a National Guard tradition that should make us all very proud.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Positives of Negative Campaigning

SANTA FE – Negative campaigning has its positive aspects. That was the message of an old column I recently came across.
Ten years ago, I quoted the thoughts of Bob Trapp, editor and publisher of Espanola’s Rio Grand Sun, contending that positive campaigning doesn’t tell voters much of anything. And that’s why negative campaigning is valuable.
We all know every candidate is for more jobs, government efficiency and spending cuts. And they’re all against crime, taxes and waste, says Trapp. Every candidate hands out campaign cards with lists of civic organization memberships and business and government experience.
So how does one distinguish between two candidates who tell us they’re honest, experienced and committed to serving us? Trapp says that’s where negative campaigning comes in.
We don’t care if a candidate is a Kiwanian, he says. But we need to know if he was ever kicked out of Kiwanis for embezzling the club dues. That’s the kind of information that helps us decide which way to vote. Here’s some more from Trapp.
Everyone is opposed to crime in the street, but have any of these people wanting us to elect them ever served time for committing a crime in the street?
All candidates will tell us they’re going to take good care of our money but if one took out bankruptcy three times in the last 10 years, should we really trust that candidate with our money?
Negative campaigning lets us know just what kind of folks are trying to represent us. When one candidate delivers a low body blow to an opponent, we can judge by the way the recipient responds just what sort of a candidate he is. Can he take a punch and come back swinging? Can he throw some low body blows of his own? Or does he cry foul and go home to mother?
Trapp figures negative campaigning gets voters’ attention. It gets them to the polls. It makes candidates answer honestly. It makes candidates expose themselves and helps us identify their character.
Candidates should be challenged forcefully and be made to answer honestly, says Trapp, who suggests that candidates, themselves, don’t much care for negative campaigning because voters might learn things about them they would prefer to remain in the closet.
Too often, says Trapp, we find out the horrible truth about candidates after they are elected. But negative campaigning can bring out that information, and whether it is true or false, before we sent them to Santa Fe or Washington.
If a political candidate can’t survive some good old-fashioned mudslinging and tough talk, he or she shouldn’t be in politics, says Trapp. Politics is a tough business and there aren’t any written rules about how to play the game.
So, Trapp says, take off the gloves, roll up your sleeves and let’s have a real campaign this year. Let’s get muddy.
Trapp’s view is not held by the general public – or by many others in the media. It grates on our sensibilities. Theresa Kerry even says, “It’s un-American. And if you don’t believe it, you can …”
Negative campaigning probably heightens public opinion that all politicians are bums, therefore, it is honorable to ignore politics and elections. It has been blamed for decreasing voter turnout.
But negative campaigning is with us to stay. We say we don’t like it, but every campaign consultant in the nation says it works. Maybe it’s because it is painful to hear the truth, but it’s something we really want to know.
One aspect of negative campaigning was revealed in the recent Santa Fe County Democrat primary election when candidates at a forum were asked if any of them had ever been charged with drunken driving. All said no. Then it was discovered that one of the candidates had been convicted of DWI. At the next forum, the candidates were given the opportunity to answer the question again and two more of them ‘fessed up.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

The '40s: NM's Most Exciting Decade

SANTA FE – One of the hot new shows on TV glorifies the ‘90s. That’s a good decade to choose because more people remember it than any other. There also is a show about the ‘70s, but as one of those who can remember a few more decades back, I would choose the ‘40s as New Mexico’s most exciting decade.
The 20th century began as New Mexico was busy becoming a state. Those stories are worth a separate column. The next decade saw us go to war. New Mexico enjoyed the ‘20s as much as any state did. The ‘50s were a happy, nostalgic decade. The psychedelic ‘60s saw a social concern that lasted another decade. The ‘80s were the Me Generation when we began working on self improvement.
But the decade that stands out for me is the ‘40s. It began as we came out of the Great Depression of the ‘30s. A year later we went to war. For New Mexico, World War II began a year earlier than for most of the nation. Our state’s National Guard was activated at the beginning of 1941 and sent to Fort Bliss in El Paso for five months of retraining to turn a cavalry unit into the 200th Coast Artillery.
In the summer of ’41, while the nation watched Joe DiMaggio extend his hitting streak to 56 games, a big chunk of New Mexico’s young men were headed to the Philippines, where they were destined to become the most decorated U.S. regiment in World War II. The war had a tremendous impact on our state that extended throughout the rest of the century.
Ranchers, miners, and prospectors were kicked off a huge area of south-central New Mexico to make way for a military bombing range. After the war, captured German V-2 rockets were brought to the range for testing, and a missile program was born that soon may culminate in the nation’s first commercial spaceport.
Meanwhile, 250 miles up the Rio Grande, in a remote corner of Santa Fe County, a completely new form of energy was being harnessed to aid the war effort. As New Mexico soldiers were moving into their fourth year of incredible hardships in Japanese prison camps, the world’s top physicists exploded an atom bomb at Trinity Site on that same bombing range we spoke of earlier.
The super-secret Manhattan Project led to what became two of the nation’s most prestigious government laboratories at Los Alamos and Albuquerque. Those labs, along with supporting government installations and private businesses, caused Albuquerque to explode from a population of 35,000 at the beginning of the decade to almost 100,000 ten years later and over 200,000 in 1960.
Two years after the war ended, the world experienced its first encounters with UFOs. Although reported worldwide, New Mexico quickly became the focal point, when many sightings were reported in the vicinity of Trinity Site, the location of the planet’s first nuclear explosion.
The most famous of the UFO incidents occurred north of Roswell in early July of 1947 and resulted in a news release from the Roswell Army Air Force Base announcing that it had captured a flying saucer. A day later it was denied by higher authorities, but the genie was out of the bottle. Forty years later the incident began spawning books, movies, museums and news coverage at a rate that has made it a going business.
In the same vein, we do know that Dr. Robert Goddard really did bring over a decade of rocket testing at Roswell to an end early in the ‘40s when the Army whisked him off to apply his talents to the war effort.
In the late ‘40s, in the name of tourism and economic development, governors turned their heads as clandestine casinos sprang up in resort and border areas of the state. The fun ended when Cricket Coogler’s body was found in the desert, leading to sensational trials and charges that she was on her way to a border hot spot near El Paso.

Monday, July 26, 2004

WIPP Transportation Not all That Danderous

SANTA FE – Albuquerque is up in arms about nuclear waste shipments starting up again through its fair city. Somehow, Albuquerque is special and shouldn’t have to endure what many other communities have dealt with for years.
They say they are bigger than the rest of us so more people are at risk. They fail to note that much of that growth was due to nuclear energy. Actually there are numerous factors opponents of nuclear waste shipments fail to recognize.
One of those factors is that no one has ever suffered harm as a result of a mishap from one of these shipments – or any other shipment of nuclear material.
And that brings up a very major point. Nuclear materials have been carted around this nation for over 60 years now – without anyone being hurt and without anyone complaining. Of course the reason no one complained is that, wisely, the government didn’t talk about the shipments going to Los Alamos and other nuclear labs, as it has about the shipment of nuclear waste.
If all those shipments going to Los Alamos over the years had been revealed, the Soviet Union likely would have been the only nuclear superpower and no telling where we would be now – speaking Russian, maybe. Because anti-nuke protesters would have had the trucks bottled up just like they did with the WIPP trucks for so many years.
It was 10 years ago that federal Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary revealed that as many as 140 plutonium shipments a year had been trucked to Los Alamos during the previous half century. O’Leary didn’t run her department very well, but one thing she did bring to it was some real candor about how much of the government’s withheld information was really in the national interest.
Nuclear activists were furious at O’Leary’s revelation. At a public meeting in Santa Fe many of them expressed outrage at being kept in the dark for so long. Evidently, the anti-nuke folks thought scientists were growing plutonium up on The Hill.
Since that time, 25 to 50 shipments of plutonium a year have been going up the hill, about 285 pounds of plutonium a year. Much of that material was in the form of plutonium “pits,” the radioactive metal sphere at the heart of nuclear bombs.
The pits were subjected to performance and aging tests under the government’s pit surveillance program. After testing, they were shipped out again, mostly to the Rocky Flats plant near Denver. When it closed, some of the pit making was shifted to Los Alamos.
We aren’t sure exactly how much of the pit making was done there, or whether it was just experimental modifications being made on the pits. The government was rather secretive about that because it had learned it lesson with the waste disposal issue not to give anti-nuke protesters too big a target.
But the point is that all the fuss about pit making at Los Alamos because these highly radioactive cores of nuclear bombs had long been worked on up there and they had long been transported in and out.
So it is hard to understand how people can get so upset about shipments of gloves, rags and lab coats that have been exposed to contamination, when they realize that more powerful stuff is sneaking past them all the time.
Since Secretary O’Leary’s disclosure a decade ago, protesters seem to have forgotten about the material traveling to our national labs. So it is amusing to consider the concerned citizens, who want to know exactly when nuclear waste shipments will be traveling near them, blithely passing unmarked trucks full of plutonium on their way to the health food store.
Maybe what they should be even more worried about is the hazardous material, such as gasoline, that travels our highways and passes through all communities every day that is not monitored at all like our nuclear waste shipments.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

9/11 Commission Report

SANTA FE – Now that we have a best-selling report of the 9/11 Commission, what do we do? Well, first we must consider that the problems and solutions identified by the commission may not be exactly on target. But they should get discussions going.
First, we must make ourselves look at realities. It sounds good to say that terrorists want to destroy us and our freedoms. But it is patently obvious they don’t have the power to destroy us and they can’t destroy our freedoms. Only we can do that – by letting our government trample our Bill of Rights, which as we previously have mentioned, has happened before in history.
The terrorists want to change some of our policies in the Middle East. We’d be smart to first consider whether some of those policies might be altered a little without destroying anything we hold dear. It could be very much to both sides’ mutual benefit and eliminate much grief for us.
We also must ameliorate the thinking that, by golly, we’re the world’s only superpower and we can do whatever we like. On the other end of the spectrum, we can’t say the world’s problems are really our fault, so we must apologize and change our ways. The solution lies somewhere in between.
The commission’s identification of a problem with coordination of intelligence should meet with universal agreement. In reality, we’ve always had that problem. We got caught by surprise when we shouldn’t have at Pearl Harbor, the Berlin blockade, Korea and on down the line.
President Truman and Congress tried to remedy that lack of coordination in 1947 by establishing the Central Intelligence Agency with oversight of all intelligence, but J. Edgar Hoover and military brass saw to it that it wouldn’t work. Adding the National Security Council and then the National Reconnaissance Office didn’t help much either. So laying on more bureaucracy may not help.
My friend Dave Clary, from Roswell, proposes an interesting alternative. Instead of adding to the permanent bureaucracy, how about borrowing from what we’ve already learned from handling some other emergencies and disasters. Establish task forces to deal with specific problems.
The war on terrorism is too diffuse to attack with one new agency, because we have several disparate problems. Gather the agencies that need to address al-Qaida activities, or terrorism finances, etc. and appoint an incident commander, as we do for forest fires, National Transportation Safety Board investigations or major crime problems. That “fire boss” has total authority and answers for the outcome.
It is unfortunate timing that Congress is beginning a series of recesses right now for national conventions and the election. Commission member and former Sen. Bob Kerrey has suggested a special session of Congress following the November elections to consider 9/11 follow up measures. That makes sense from a political standpoint. Maybe it also will give members of Congress an opportunity to listen to constituents and carefully consider options.
Many are calling for immediate action and charging that it will be the fault of Congress if disaster strikes again before Congress acts. But haste usually doesn’t produce good decisions. We can be sure the Bush administration is taking steps to insure better coordination of intelligence and maybe it is even working on some new solutions.
And the exaggerated warnings that a future attack may wipe us all out? That’s ridiculous. Mankind hasn’t quite figured out how to do that to each other yet. Despite the numbers we kill in wars, natural disasters and epidemics still rule. World War I killed some 20 million but the worldwide flu epidemic the following year killed as many as 80 million.
So now we wrestle with 9/11. Let the discussion be serious and thorough. Politicians tend to have complicated answers to simple problems and simple answers to complicated ones. Let’s hope they think this one through carefully.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Rules for Righting

SANTA FE – Several years ago, I sent some of my columns that involved southern New Mexico to Carla DeMarco, founder of the Web site, She included them in the Writers Showcase section of her Web site.
Carla didn't pay anything for the submissions, but she said it would be good publicity. I soon learned that people not only read my columns on her Web site, but that my name was at the top of nearly every Internet search engine I looked at. It does great things for the ego to think of yourself as one of the top Jay Millers in the world, even if it is only because someone is seeing to it that my name is up toward the top.
Three years ago, Carla was struck by macular degeneration, a malady I know all too well. Hers was so bad she had to give up her labor of love. Last year she sold to Erinn and David Burch, who have kept the site going.
Carla had some strict parameters about what she would put on her Web site. One of them was to keep everything upbeat. That's logical and really great, except that it doesn't always fit in with a political columnist's cynical nature. When I would stray, she would remind me.
Thus I wasn't surprised when I received an e-mail from her titled, Rules for Writers. I printed it out and noticed there was a full page of rules. With a sigh, I set them aside to be read when I was in the right frame of mind. When I came back to them, here's what I found.
1. Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
5. Avoid cliches like the plague.
6. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
7. Be more or less specific.
8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
9. Also too, never use repetitive redundancies.
10. No sentence fragments.
11. Contractions aren't necessary and shouldn't be used.
12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
13. Be careful to use the rite homonym.
14. One should never generalize.
15. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
16. Don't use no double negatives.
17. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
18. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
19. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
20. The passive voice is to be ignored.
21. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
22. Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
23. DO NOT use exclamation points and all caps to emphasize!!!
24. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
25. Puns are for children, not groan readers.
26. Who needs rhetorical questions?
27. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
28. Do not put statements in the negative form.
29. A writer must not shift your point of view.
30.Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
31.Eliminate commas, that are, not necessary. Parenthetical words however should be enclosed in commas.
32. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
33. Always pick on the correct idiom.
34. Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
And finally…
35. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.
I've kept Carla’s list tacked beside my computer for several years. It gives me lots of chuckles and is one of my most requested columns. And occasionally, it even helps me get my righting write.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Best Democratic Convention Ever?

SANTA FE – “This will be the best Democratic convention ever,” Gov. Bill Richardson told the National Press Club recently.
So what else did you expect the convention chairman to say? The Press Club members likely were snickering under their breath, knowing that major network channels were going to televise only three hours in prime time during the entire week.
National party conventions have become completely predictable in the past 30 years. The only convention with any real action in the past 50 years was in 1968 and most of that happened outside the Chicago convention hall. Conventions no longer come with the drama of the 1952 Republican one, when Gen. Dwight Eisenhower edged out Sen. Robert Taft.
The Democrats’ convention should be a little more interesting than what the Republicans will put on the end of next month in New York because they will have two candidates to introduce to the nation. We already have a fairly good idea of the Bush/Cheney ticket.
For New Mexicans, there is a little added interest with our governor being the permanent convention chairman and a featured speaker. His expertise in foreign policy helped get Richardson that coveted spot. That puts him one up on Hillary Clinton who was snubbed.
Richardson does a good job looking out for himself. And he’ll also look out for the New Mexico delegation, so often relegated to distant hotels and third balcony seating. Even as a member of Congress, Richardson looked after the delegation and arranged special events.
Nothing too exciting should be expected from either party’s lineup of convention speakers. The only twist will be that Ron Reagan, son of the former president, is scheduled to speak at the Democrats’ convention on stem cell research, while Georgia’s Democratic senator and former governor, Zell Miller will speak at the Republican convention about his support for the war effort. Miller delivered the keynote address for Bill Clinton at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.
But Richardson won’t be juggling a vice-presidential run with his chairman’s duties. He is out of that race. Michael Coleman, of the Albuquerque Journal’s Washington Bureau, did a piece on Richardson last week reporting that Jim Johnson, the head of John Kerry’s vice-presidential search, insists that Richardson was a top-tier contender for the No. 2 spot and was in the running until he pulled himself out near the end.
Johnson revealed that Richardson had not been jockeying for the job, had been interviewed several times, and that nothing in his background failed to pass muster in the highly intrusive vetting process. Coleman reported that Johnson said no other contender brought the breadth of public service to the table that Richardson did and that his ethnic background was another big plus.
What it came down to, according to the head of the V.P. search, was that John Edwards was so good. The Democratic base was clamoring for a Kerry-Edwards ticket, Johnson told Coleman.
So it appears that those of us, who poked a little fun at our governor for scrambling after Kerry for a vice presidential selection while denying his interest back home, were guessing wrong. Oh well, hope the governor can take a joke.
Part of Richardson’s attractiveness for selection as a running mate was that he comes from a swing state. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano also was considered for the same reason. But the marginal nature of our two states may be fading.
Political blogger Joe Monahan predicts that by October, New Mexico may no longer be a swing state. He points to Kerry’s lead in the polls and the fact that only 6 percent of the New Mexico electorate says it is undecided.
Arizona finds itself in just the opposite situation. President Bush has a 10 to 12 point lead in the polls over there. The only thing that may keep that state in play is that 19 percent of those polled still are undecided.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Homeland Security has impossible task

SANTA FE – I feel a little sorry for our Department of Homeland Security because it is trying to perform an impossible task made necessary by an ill-conceived War on Terror.
The mission of Homeland Security is unlike any the government ever has attempted. There was the Civil Defense Agency but that was to guard us against being nuked by ICBMs. They stocked bomb shelters and taught us how to duck and cover. We knew we’d have some advance warning as soon as the missiles were detected coming from the other side of the world.
Homeland Security is different. It is protecting us from an enemy within. It asks us to always be watchful for unknown dangers, coming at any time, from any direction. It asks us to spy on our neighbors and keeps us constantly reminded of our alert level.
It warns us when to be especially fearful. Basically, that is whenever we otherwise would be having a really good time. It begins with New Year’s Day bowl games and ends with New Year’s Eve celebrations. In between, we are warned about national holidays, sports spectaculars and musical awards shows of every variety.
But now we are being cautioned about threats to the very roots of our democracy. This year, we will be at extra risk during the Republican and Democrat national conventions, and yes, even in the voting booth. This threat is so bad that the government is considering postponing the November elections.
Now if that isn’t the dumbest notion ever concocted. We managed to get through the Civil War and World War II without canceling any elections. In 1864, poll workers took ballots into combat zones. In oppressed countries, people brave all kinds of dangers to get to the polls.
And what a political snafu. At a time when the president is not looking especially strong in the polls, the Homeland Security Department suggests postponing the election.
It would have been far too easy to have made this a column about how that is exactly the way most dictators got started. “We’ll have elections as soon as the country is safe. Meanwhile, I’m president for Life.”
That’s not what the administration is saying, but it is the sort of thing that produces the oft-heard comparisons between our president and history’s tyrants.
Homeland Security has the impossible task of keeping Americans on edge. That is not where we want to be. We’d prefer to be enjoying the comfortable life we have carved out for ourselves.
And we don’t like being told that we live in a time more dangerous than any in history – especially when our president is telling us we are safer now than we were on September 11. That is very confusing. And it isn’t helping the president.
Let’s face it, folks. Terrorism has always been with us and it always will be. It has always been the tool of the powerless to fight the strong. Terrorism will not be eradicated. We will not win that war. We can take precautions to make it less likely it will directly affect ourselves, but it is still going to happen somewhere.
The chance of terrorism affecting any of us is about the same as getting caught in a natural disaster. Some people stay out of the Caribbean in the fall to avoid hurricanes or won’t travel to California to avoid earthquakes, but most of us go about our business or pleasure and don’t worry about it.
And that’s the way we should address the terror threat.
Lest you think only the feds can mess up homeland security, remember the woman who called the New Mexico Homeland Security office and told them she was going to kill the governor. What did that office do? It closed for the rest of the day.
It closed. I would have expected that in a disaster so horrible it would shut down everything in the state, there would be one office open, protecting me. It was closed.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Santa Fe Downs Deal Not Dead

SANTA FE – The media tells us the plan for Pojoaque Pueblo to reopen Santa Fe Downs is dead. But my sources warn not to jump to conclusions. It’s too good a deal for too many people to declare it dead.
Pojoaque Pueblo has the only casino that has not reached agreement with Attorney General Patricia Madrid for payment of money owed the state under past and present revenue-sharing agreements. Madrid calculates that Pojoaque owes about $25 million. The two have been in negotiations for many months trying to reach agreement.
Pojoaque would like to pay its debt, first by getting Madrid to cut the amount owed by much more than half. Then it wants a license to reopen the horse track south of Santa Fe that it bought and closed in the late ‘90s. The pueblo wouldn’t make anything from the horses, but the slot machines that race tracks now are allowed would provide the revenue to pay the state whatever settlement figure is agreed upon.
Madrid’s office has been willing to negotiate along those lines, but the parties still are apart on the figures. The pueblo wants to pay no money down on the $9 million settlement it is proposing. Instead, it would use some of the profits from its slot machines once the track opens, which couldn’t happen sooner than racing season next year and maybe not that quickly.
Madrid wants more than that since payments will be delayed and no interest will be paid on the settlement amount. And besides, she notes, the state would be providing the pueblo the revenue stream from which it would be making those payments. And it would be necessary for the state Racing Commission to grant Pojoaque a license to open the track.
On July 8, Pojoaque’s new governor, George Rivera, sent Madrid a letter breaking off the talks and accusing her everything short of genocide in her dealings with the pueblo. But anyone familiar with negotiations knows that breaking off talks does not necessarily end negotiations.
Madrid has a cool head and won’t be bothered by Rivera’s diatribe. She is ready to resume negotiations when Rivera cools off. And maybe Rivera isn’t as hot under the collar as he sounds.
As a new governor taking over from the bombastic Jake Viarreal, the most aggressive Indian official in the state, Rivera may have figured he needed to show he is no pushover either. His explosive comments may have been more for his constituents than for Madrid. Rivera also has hinted that he might be willing to negotiate directly with Madrid, instead of her lieutenants. That also enhances Rivera’s stature.
If matters can be settled, Pojoaque stands to benefit from being out of litigation. The pueblo’s financial rating is sure to improve without a $25 million suit hanging over its head. It also will have a new revenue generator at the racetrack casino.
Pojoaque bought the failing track in 1996, reportedly to eliminate some competition for the gambling dollar. After a year it closed the track, but that was before the Legislature granted slot machines to horse tracks to save them from financial ruin. Now, there is incentive to reopen the property that has been idle for seven years.
Settling the lawsuit and reopening the track also would benefit the state. The settlement would put money into its cash-strapped coffers. The 25 percent tax on the track’s slot machines would bring in millions yearly. Purses for horse owners would be about $5 million richer each year. A $7 million remodel would help the economy, as well as provide many jobs at the facility.
And if reopening the track becomes an impossibility, another option is for the pueblo to turn the track over to the state in return for getting its debt erased. That information comes from political blogger Joe Monahan, who says he got it from northern New Mexico Native American sources.

Monday, July 12, 2004

How much should we know about candidates?

SANTA FE – How much should we be told about candidates? The column on drug testing of elected officials elicited some varying responses to that question.
Most respondents worried that drug tests are an invasion of privacy but some insisted that elected officials must be held to a higher standard, especially if they advocate higher standards for everyone else.
Sen. Steve Komadina, a Corrales physician, has announced he intends to introduce legislation next year setting up a system of voluntary drug tests for elected officials. Results would be posted on the secretary of state’s Web site. Those refusing to take the test would be so noted, along with any explanation they might like to make.
Several years ago, legislation was introduced mandating drug tests for all candidates, with the results printed on the ballot. That produced a suggestion that every candidate be given an I.Q. test, with the results also posted on the ballot. Somehow, the drug test bill lost its steam after that.
Ten years ago a California political scientist released a study indicating that good looks can determine a winner. The California secretary of state obliged that year by printing the pictures of all candidates on sample ballots. No one protested, but some probably should have.
In this year’s presidential race, we are sure to see many invasions of privacy. Both the president and his wife made missteps in their younger days. They were revealed four years ago, but that won’t make them old news. And there are George W’s business failures and the Bush family ties to the Saudis.
Vice President Cheney will be hit with Halliburton, which is either new or old news, depending on how it is spun. John Kerry will be saddled with Jane Fonda and running mate John Edwards will have to deal with having been a successful personal injury lawyer.
But the most interesting invasion of private life is likely to be that of Kerry’s wife, Teresa. Stories are screeching around the Internet about Kerry’s politically incorrect business decisions regarding the Heinz Corporation.
It takes a real stretch of the imagination to picture the very Republican Heinz family turning over its business decisions to the new husband of a woman who once was married to a relative. One would think the Heinz Corporation would prefer to make its own business decisions rather than turn them over to a Democrat Senator from Massachusetts. But that’s the inside scoop that “the media won’t tell you.”
Somewhat more credible are Mrs. Kerry’s contributions to controversial causes. Those are sure to be very carefully scrutinized and questioned.
One reader wrote that rather than drug test results, he wanted to know where the candidates got their contributions and how much, so he’d know where their loyalties were likely to be. New Mexico law requires that contributions be reported to the secretary of state periodically before and after each election. It is then posted on the secretary of state’s Web site, where Komadina would have drug test results posted.
Also on the secretary of state’s Web site is information about how candidates spend their money. For statewide candidates, most of it is spent on instate TV ads, but it also is nice to know how much candidates spend for out-of-state consultants, printing and ad preparation.
Political action committees and lobbyists also are required to submit periodic reports to the secretary of state. Political action committees include not only those attached to special interest groups but those established by public officials, such as Gov. Bill Richardson’s Moving America Forward Committee and PACs set up by members of Congress, who donate to other candidates.
Other personal items that voters have a right to know about candidates include any conflicts they may have with their business, employment or investments. Usually those aren’t known until after they are elected, although some candidates voluntarily release their income tax returns and challenge others to do the same.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Gary & Bill for President

SANTA FE – Guess who’s talking about running for president in 2008 or 2012? If you guessed Gov. Bill Richardson, you’re wrong. He’s denying it every chance he gets.
The correct answer is Richardson’s predecessor Gary Johnson. Leslie Linthicum of the Albuquerque Journal did a profile on Johnson three months ago in which the former governor publicly revealed his plans.
Yes, Gary Johnson has a plan. The self-made multi-millionaire didn’t get where he is just on big dreams. He’s had big dreams for many years about many things, but anyone who knows Gary Johnson knows he has a way of achieving his dreams.
So, years ago, when I first heard Johnson casually mention running for president, I knew not to rule it out. In fact, not too long after that, maybe 1997, I wrote a column about Johnson and Richardson running against each other for president in 2008.
I predicted that Richardson, who had recently become U.N. ambassador, would pull off a miraculous diplomatic feat, be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and become internationally famous. And I predicted Johnson would accomplish some marvelous athletic feat that would bring him national renown and admiration.
Richardson didn’t get a chance to be U.N. ambassador long enough to do anything spectacular. He moved to the Energy Department, where his career went downhill, forcing him to take a detour through the New Mexico governor’s office, which he hopes will still lead to the presidency.
Johnson climbed Mt. Everest and then announced he would scale the highest peak on the five remaining continents. But meanwhile, he has decided that first he will win the Iron Man Triathlon in his age group, either this October or next year. As I recall, it was some sort of Olympic feat I predicted Johnson would win for his country. At age 51, that’s not very likely.
Johnson has a more common sense approach. He hopes to increase his wealth in the next four to eight years to the point he can spend $15 million of his personal money on seeking the Republican nomination for president in a year when there is no GOP incumbent.
Johnson says he really doesn’t expect to win the nomination because he intends to run as a one-issue candidate. He envisions a campaign similar to that which Eugene McCarthy ran in the ‘60s, focusing on Vietnam. Johnson wants to force a debate on drugs.
Four years ago, the Libertarian Party volunteered to make Johnson its presidential candidate, largely based on his drug position, but also because of his many other libertarian philosophies. Johnson declined the offer. One factor weighing on that decision was his two more years as governor, but Johnson also is his own man and he likes to run campaigns his way.
That was true even when he was a rookie politician in his first race for governor. His campaign advisers and Republican Party officials urged him to go negative because that had become the only way to win. But Johnson ignored the advice and cancelled negative commercials that already had been prepared and paid for.
So Gary Johnson will again do it his way, if he does run for president. He still thinks there is no bigger issue facing America today that is so fixable. He contends that spending billions of dollars and imprisoning millions of people every year is one of our nation’s biggest follies.
If the timing is right, expect Johnson to make that run. And he won’t be without supporters. In a recent column William Buckley charged that conservative resistance to change has evolved into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism. He laments Gary Johnson’s retreat to private life after advocating drug reform and longs for a presidential candidate courageous enough to do just that.
Maybe Buckley has found his man. And maybe events will work out for Bill Richardson.
The last time I mentioned the two as presidential possibilities, they feigned embarrassment. Maybe next time they won’t.

200th Anniversary of Hamilton-Burr Duel

SANTA FE – Only hours after Sen. John Edwards joined the Democratic presidential ticket, the president of the United States was belittling him, his fellow North Carolina senator was trashing him and some critics went so far as to note that he is a former trial lawyer.
Is politics dirtier than ever? It may seem so. Had New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici been tabbed as a vice-presidential running mate by George Bush, Sr. back in 1988, as he should have been, it is hard to imagine that New Mexico’s other senator, Jeff Bingaman, would have been as nasty toward him as Sen. Elizabeth Dole was to her colleague.
But although mass media, today, makes political campaigning look awfully negative, today’s candidates are wimps compared to our founding fathers. They had noble ideas about democracy and freedom and all that, but it was routine for them to accuse each other of bribery, treason and that all-time favorite, fathering illegitimate children, especially by slaves.
Even out here in the West, while we were busy taming the frontier, politics still was dead serious. The famous Gunfight at OK Corral in Tombstone, Arizona, in 1882, becomes more understandable when you know that it took place in a Republican town in a Democratic county in a Republican territory. It was a political battle. Now that’s taking politics seriously.
This week marks the 200th anniversary of the most famous duel in American history. It was commemorated last Sunday in Weehawken, New Jersey with a reenactment of the celebrated duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. The duel has gained some notoriety recently in books idolizing Hamilton.
The two principals in this bloody affair were studies in contrast and similarities, according to historian Dave Clary of Roswell. Hamilton was possessed of a lightning-bright intelligence, and the arrogance that goes with someone who knows he is dealing with inferiors – which was everyone he came across. You know the type.
Burr was a thoroughly modern politician – consumed by ambition, highly intelligent in a crafty sort of way, and unencumbered by any sort of ethical or moral scruples. The occasion for their duel was thoroughly political. Burr had run for president in 1800, but lost to Jefferson when the disputed outcome was decided in the House of Representatives, thanks in no small part to Hamilton, who disliked Jefferson but despised Burr even more.
Burr then became Jefferson’s vice president, which is the way it worked before the 12th Amendment. Second place in the Electoral College gained you the vice president’s slot. After Burr lost the 1804 governor’s race in New York because of Hamilton’s opposition, Burr challenged him to a duel.
Pistol duels plagued Western society beginning in the 17th century, when good pistols were invented, until the 19th century. Before that, they used swords. Duels were almost universally illegal but that didn’t stop them from being fairly common.
The one saving grace was that typically, in sword or gun fights , both parties usually ended up still standing and shaking hands, with their honor satisfied. At worst, one participant might be scratched. But such was not the case this time. Hamilton missed, whether deliberately or not, but Burr shot straight and Hamilton died the next day.
Vice-President Burr had to flee to avoid a murder warrant in New Jersey. He ended up in the South, where he continued his political machinations until he was tried for treason over a silly plot to raise a private army to conquer territory from Spain and establish a new country with himself as king.
Perhaps fitting in that case, he was betrayed by his chief co-conspirator, Gen. James Wilkinson, an even worse scalawag than Burr was.
The Hamilton-Burr duel was the last of its kind, unless you count the OK Corral. But political dirty tricks continued. They even included our revered President Abraham Lincoln, who wasn’t above his own sneaky maneuvers.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Heather Declares Her Independence

SANTA FE – U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson has declared her independence. Appropriately, she did it in late June, just prior to our nation’s Independence Day celebration.
Wilson, an Albuquerque Republican, declared her independence from House Majority Floor Leader Tom Delay of Texas and other Republican leaders all the way up to President Bush. Wilson’s Democrat challenger Richard Romero has sought to tie Wilson to Republican leaders and hard-core conservatives as being nothing more than a rubber stamp.
For the most part, Wilson has remained true to her military background by being a good soldier, while working her way up quickly among the 228 Republicans in the U.S. House. But recently Wilson has broken GOP ranks three times on important votes, according to material compiled by Internet political commentator Joe Monahan.
Monahan reports that Wilson’s three votes were on matters crucial to the Bush administration and Republican leadership. The first involved a 25 percent cut in CIA funding until the administration turns over all documents dealing with the treatment of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. That vote came on the heels of strong words from Wilson condemning abuse of Iraqi prisoners by our military.
Wilson’s second deviation from party lines came on a vote against a corporate tax relief bill that included targeted tax breaks for pharmaceutical companies, which Romero claims have a tight grip on Wilson. In every one of her reelection campaigns so far, Wilson has had to defend her votes for pharmaceutical companies.
Wilson’s third vote against the House leadership came on a budget overhaul measure. Although Wilson’s votes against the administration and leadership were on significant measures, none of them affected the outcome. The leadership’s positions won easily.
At first glance, Wilson’s maneuver may look like tactical brilliance she might have honed in military school. But in reality, it is a device employed in legislative bodies everywhere. When elections draw near, incumbents encountering strong opposition are allowed by their party’s leaders to cross the line on matters important in their districts – but only if it will not affect the outcome.
Democrat leaders use the same strategy in the New Mexico Legislature. Sometimes the party whip position may look somewhat meaningless, but they are crucial in forecasting as exactly as possible how important votes will likely turn out.
If it appears that a measure will have a comfortable margin, members who can benefit by opposing the party line are given permission to cross it. But only if it will do no harm. If the vote gets perilously close, some of the members, who crossed the line with permission, will be herded back.
Of course, it always is possible that Wilson broke ranks of her own volition and without permission. That happens fairly often and sometimes it is a surprise to party whips. Lobbyists sometimes convince lawmakers to change their minds. And sometimes lawmakers will have very strong convictions on particular issues that differ from that of their party.
So we must grant that Wilson might have independently decided she didn’t like her party’s position on each of these three measures. And in that case, she might or might not have informed her party whip of her decision. But it’s likely she did.
It may seem impossible for a whip to keep up with 228 party members, but in Congress each party has several deputy whips and even more assistant whips, each of whom has a manageable number of members to keep informed about party positions. Those assistants then report back to their superiors with vote counts on all important measures.
Wilson’s predecessor, Rep. Steve Schiff, was a master at keeping up with legislation and informing lobbyists exactly how he planned to vote and how any pending amendments might affect that vote. Presumably he also kept the whip assigned to him similarly informed.
Schiff was known for his independence. Maybe Wilson will develop a similar style.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

We vote like the nation, but it's pure luck.

SANTA FE – Rats, I didn’t get my letter into Sen. John Kerry before he appointed John Edwards as his running mate. Oh well, now I know he wouldn’t have appointed me anyway. But it also means that the world won’t know I was on the short list, even though it was kept very quiet.
I wonder why he chose the guy who stayed in the presidential primaries long after Kerry had asked him to bow out. President Bush never even considered choosing John McCain for vice president after McCain gave him such a battle. Of course, the president and Sen. McCain are really big buddies now that Kerry seemed to be pretty sweet on McCain for vice president.
Gov. Bill Richardson was awfully worried that no one believed him when he said he wouldn’t accept a vice-presidential selection. But it looked to me as though nearly everyone believed him. Six months ago, he was at or near the top of almost every list of smart picks for the short list. Since Richardson started saying that he would rather finish his term in New Mexico, he’s been dropping like a rock. Oh well, I guess he just wanted to be sure we New Mexicans know he likes us best.
One reason both Bush and Kerry like New Mexico so well is that we’re very important. During the July 4 weekend, they both prepared TV commercials only for New Mexico. That makes us pretty special. We’re what’s known as a swing state, or a battleground state. That means we almost always vote just like the nation as a whole does.
Some folks call New Mexico the perfect microcosm of the United States. But I think it’s more just luck. In reality, we aren’t like anyone else. Gov. Lew Wallace may have been the first to notice that – over 120 years ago. The way he put it was “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere, fails in New Mexico.”
You can probably tell that wasn’t meant to be a compliment. Wallace had won fame for his leadership as a Union general in the Civil War, so the president sent him out here to try to settle things down after the Santa Fe Ring, Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War had made a pretty big mess of the state.
But nothing Wallace did seemed to work. His wife, who spent most of her time back in Indiana, liked to quote another famous Civil War colleague of her husband. She’d say, “As Gen. Sherman puts it, the United States should declare war on Mexico again and make it take back New Mexico.” Guess you might say Gen Sherman was the first to notice we are pretty different and put it in words.
The words of Sherman and Wallace didn’t go unnoticed. Congress was aware that we were pretty different, so every time we would ask for admittance to the union, it would find some reason to turn us down.
Presidential candidates are said to be interested in us because we are very Hispanic and Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority in the nation. The only problem is that our Hispanics are unlike any others in the nation. Instead of being recent immigrants, most of them come from families that have been here for centuries and don’t share many of the values of immigrants. In fact, they are about as anti-immigrant as anyone around.
Our Indians are different too. Most of the nation’s Indians are the urban variety, whose ancestors were decimated and their lands taken. In New Mexico, the Spanish conquerors learned to co-exist with the Indians, after suffering the consequences of a revolt, nearly a century before our nation’s founders pulled one off. Our Indians have retained their cultures and languages.
Somehow, when you factor in minorities that are more conservative than the nation’s, mix them with oil men and ranchers, left-wing environmentalists and leftover hippies, a Sun Belt boom town, some high tech suburbs and a big handful of rich Republican retirees, you get something that miraculously votes just like the nation.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Judge Drug Bust to Have Far-Reaching Effects

SANTA FE – The drug scandal set off by Judge John Brennan’s arrest on cocaine possession will have far-reaching effects on New Mexico’s political system.

Expect to see investigations, new rules and regulations, proposed laws, genuine concern, demagoguery, evasion of issues and invasion of privacy.

The investigations came first. How could something like this happen? How could the most distinguished jurist on the Bernalillo County District Court get away with drug use over a period of many years? Friends, colleagues and employees had to know. Those within the justice system are required to report such things. And where would the chief judge of a district court buy cocaine?

Those questions and many more have been asked, especially on Albuquerque talk radio, where the mood has been one of a complete loss of faith in the judicial system. But elsewhere, there seems to be little outrage. The legal and judicial communities have been strangely quiet. And other than radio, so has the media.

The one exception is Larry Barker, ace investigative reporter for KRQE-TV in Albuquerque. Barker managed to get his hands on a confidential 1988 report written by a state Department of Public Safety employee, assigned to work with a federal drug task force. The employee interviewed people who said they had knowledge of four judges and some defense attorneys who did drugs.

That report was submitted to the federal panel, which did not follow up on it. It was not reported to state law enforcement authorities since it was prepared for a federal agency. And besides, it was very preliminary in nature and based largely on hearsay.

But a copy of the report was filed away at the state Public Safety Department and apparently leaked to Barker as pertinent to Brennan’s case. And sure enough, Brennan was one of the four judges mentioned. Barker has not revealed any of the other names, but the appearance of Brennan’s name on the report gives it some credibility and indicates knowledge of Brennan’s problem at least six years ago.

The political community also has been rather quiet. The chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees have evaded the issue, as have other prominent lawmakers. The Albuquerque District Court reportedly has asked for an investigation, not of Brennan, but of how Barker got his information.

The Judicial Standards Commission apparently is looking at Brennan’s situation, but its procedures call for no progress reports until a decision is made. The state Supreme Court moved quickly to notify judges that they may be required to submit to drug tests and to remind judges, lawyers and court employees with specific knowledge of unlawful drug use by a judge that they must report it to the Judicial Standards Commission.

A few politicians have come forward, most notably Sen. Steve Komadina, a physician from Corrales. He will propose legislation setting up a system of voluntary drug tests for elected officials. Results would be posted on the secretary of state’s Web site. Those refusing to take the test would be so noted along with any explanation they might like to make.

How would an elected official explain a refusal? Privacy concerns are an issue with some elected officials, candidates and the general public. Unwarranted faith in biochemical testing, which can reveal false positives, is another. The further discouragement of finding good candidates to run for office is still another.

But Komadina has picked up some support from fellow Republicans. Eight GOP candidates, including two for the state Supreme Court, made a big production of taking drug tests last month.

And Gov. Bill Richardson has weighed in for Komadina’s legislation, also voicing his willingness to take a drug test. That may give the legislation some bipartisan support, but much more will be needed for it to have a chance of passage, without a significant amount of public outrage between now and Janua

Sunday, July 04, 2004

X-Prize Lures Business to NM

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE – It was a big day for New Mexico when Rick Homans and Peter Mitchell watched Bert Rutan’s SpaceShipOne soar to the edge of space on June 21.
But June 22 was an even bigger day for New Mexico when Homans announced that England-based Starchaser Industries will open offices in Las Cruces and soon begin hiring locals for good-paying, high tech jobs.
Homans is secretary of the state Economic Development Department, who chased after and won the X-Prize competition for New Mexico. When that happened in May, Homans promised that economic opportunities would follow. But even he had no idea they would begin so quickly.
When Gov. Bill Richardson held a news conference to announce that New Mexico had won the competition to host the X-Prize Cup, Dr. Peter Diamandis, CEO of the X-Prize Foundation said that many X-Prize competitors will choose to move their company operations to New Mexico where the yearly competitions will be held.
Starchaser Industries is the leading rocket firm in the United Kingdom, with 14 out of 16 launches being 100 percent successful. It plans to launch its Thunderstar reusable launch vehicle within the next 18 months, in plenty of time for New Mexico’s first X-Prize competition in 2006.
That will put it behind Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, which reached the 62-mile altitude, considered the entry to space, on June 21. But before Rutan and Paul Allen, who has financed the $20 million operation, can claim the $10 million Ansari X-Prize, their vehicle must carry three people back to space, return safely and do it again within two weeks. Diamandis says he expects someone to do it before the summer is over.
Once that happens, everyone else will have a chance to catch up and be ready for the New Mexico X-Prize competitions, beginning in 2006. In the summer of 2005, Diamandis plans a space exhibition at the White Sands Missile Range launch facilities. By 2006, the private Southwest Regional Spaceport facility, just off the western edge of the missile range to be ready.
Peter Mitchell, director of the New Mexico Office of Space Commercialization, and Steve Vierck, president and CEO of the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance, took Starchaser officials on a fact-finding tour of the space facilities recently and convinced them that New Mexico is ready for them.
Planning is already underway for the 2006 competition. New Mexico’s regional spaceport will likely be up and running by then, 45 miles north of Las Cruces, near Upham. Planning for the site began more than a decade ago and is ready to switch into high gear, with $9 million appropriated by the 2004 Legislature.
Lest all this sound like a futuristic pipedream, consider that over 20 private companies from around the world have committed to be in the competition to see who can fly the highest, climb the fastest or launch a second flight the soonest after landing from the first. Many of those prizes are already funded.
Similar competitions a century ago helped the commercial aviation business get off the ground so quickly. Charles Lindbergh won the most prestigious of the prizes, with his flight to Paris, but there were many other competitions.
Who would want to be passengers on flights to the edge of space and how much would they pay? A Virginia-based company called Space Adventures, already has collected $10,000 deposits from over 100 would-be space tourists. For a list price of $102,000 rich thrill seekers can have a four-day preparation and training experience followed by a ride on a suborbital ship.
Space Adventures already has helped millionaires Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth go into orbit aboard the international space station. Once private craft are able to reach orbit, the space station is a likely stop.
After that, it won’t be long before the floodgates begin to open, with weekend excursions in low earth orbit for a Club Med experience aboard orbiting cruise ships.

Friday, July 02, 2004

7-2 Billy

SANTA FE – New evidence arrives almost daily proving that the quest to dig up Billy and his mom is the most bizarre case in the history of jurisprudence.

It is amazing that it still is in the courts, but the Village of Fort Sumner has filed a motion to dismiss the case and sets out the issues in a manner that can’t be avoided.

The situation would actually be comical if it didn’t adversely affect two communities so strongly. Silver City and Fort Sumner face a loss of their part of the Billy the Kid legend if DNA analysis is unable to show a match between bones dug up in the two communities.

The state Office of the Medical Investigator says that is likely because of the lack of certainty about the exact location of the bodies and the low quality of DNA in corpses over 120 years old. Sentiment also runs high in both communities about the sanctity of their cemeteries and the impropriety of digging up bodies.

The scenario is playing out like an Old West melodrama with plenty of victims and villains (some of them dressed in 1880s sheriffs’ outfits). Currently, however, the plot outline is too garbled for a good melodrama. It is playing out more like the Keystone Cops at this point.

The three sheriffs involved in the case are running around, simultaneously conducting a criminal investigation of whom Pat Garrett shot and whether Billy had help escaping the Lincoln County Courthouse, while also trying to prove that Billy is buried in Fort Sumner and that his pretenders are fakes.

Add to that their efforts to help the governor decide whether to pardon Billy and also to help the governor promote tourism. Oh yes, and they’re collecting antique furniture and shooting it.

What do all these cross-purposes have to do with each other? I promised to seek that out, but I can’t tell you yet. I’m getting closer to discovering the thread that binds all this together, but still haven’t found the universal truth.

And speaking of truth, that has become the mantra of the two spokesmen for the grave digging, Gov. Bill Richardson and Capitan Mayor Steve Sederwall, who also is a sometimes deputy sheriff. I’ve discovered, however, that he is only a reserve deputy, a volunteer, so to speak.

Like Fox Mulder in X-Files, Richardson and Sederwall know “the truth is out there” but evil forces prevent it from being known. In this case, it is the towns of Silver City and Fort Sumner, and although they may not be evil, they are anti-scientific and anti-historical in their determination to not let scientific grave robbers into their cemeteries.

But maybe the truth isn’t “out there.” Maybe it is here among us. The petition filed by Fort Sumner to dismiss the court action seeking to exhume Billy lists many truths. Among them are:

* The New Mexico Supreme Court, in a previous decision, has expressed a strong predisposition against disinterment.

* The petitioners have no legal relationship to Billy.

* A dead person can’t seek relief.

* A governor can’t appoint a lawyer, even for someone who isn’t dead.

* A coroner’s jury already ruled in 1881on who shot Billy.

* Reopening the case would be double jeopardy.

* The statute of limitations for any criminal investigation expired long ago.

* The job of the sheriffs is to protect the public. There is no criminal on the loose.

Actually the truth may be much nearer than we think. Billy’s gubernatorially-appointed attorney has been speaking for him, making claims that Billy wants to be dug up and wants his mother dug up.

Since Billy is speaking from the grave, and since his attorney is communicating with him, the attorney has to know where Billy is buried. All he has to do is tell us and it’s all over.

Case closed.

July 4th

      SANTA FE – Somehow I got particularly patriotic about July 4th this year. Considering current events, however, that’s understandable.                                                             My comment in a previous column that some people have trouble accepting the fact that our patriot founders also were revolutionaries, advocating the overthrow of their government, drew the expected responses.

Historian Dave Clary of Roswell e-mailed to note that we are the first revolutionary power and now the oldest revolutionary government in the world. We also are holder of the oldest written constitution. It was all very infectious. Lafayette returned home after our war and, under George Washington’s influence, made it the pet cause of liberals in France and Europe during the 1790s, introducing democracy in many countries throughout the continent.

Lafayette’s friendship with Washington is the subject of Adopted Son, a book Clary has in progress for Bantam-Dell, detailing the relationship between the two and the wide-ranging influence it had on themselves and their countries.

At this point in our history, when we’re not feeling very good about some of our European allies, it may be helpful to remember the contributions of Lafayette, von Steuben, de Kalb and others, who helped us win our freedom.

Lafayette’s contributions were especially crucial. He’s the one who trapped Cornwallis at Yorktown and held him, though grossly outnumbered, until the rest of the American and French forces arrived. And he’s the one who won the full military and financial support of France for our cause.

When the United States entered World War I, much of the motivation was gratitude to France for its help so many years earlier. The assistance is now mostly forgotten but at the time, it was poignantly remembered by Gen. George Pershing’s aide, Col. Charles Stanton, when he visited Lafayette’s tomb on July 4, 1917 to announce, “Lafayette, we are here.” We’ll carry more stories on Lafayette, von Steuben and others in the future.

In my July 4 column, I also mentioned several Revolutionary War dates that are not celebrated. I was reminded that the beginning of the War, on April 19, 1775, still is celebrated in New England, as Patriots Day, with one of the big events being the Boston Marathon.

To those who have trouble accepting that the overthrow of a government is acceptable, let me commend them to reread the Declaration of Independence. It is an absolutely brilliant and inspired argument for overthrowing tyranny, and not just in the colonies’ circumstance. It was a universal justification applicable to all people and all times.

Historian Samuel Morrison once said that had the American Revolution produced nothing but the Declaration of Independence, it would have been worthwhile.

Our founders fully understood that in order to espouse these universal, never-ending truths, they had to make it possible for revolution to occur again, even in their own country.

Thus came the Bill of Rights, many of whose 10 amendments are under attack today, with questionable searches and seizures, trials that aren’t speedy, gun control and public sentiment against the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The willingness by many to surrender some of our cherished freedoms in return for perceived security is deeply troubling, but of most concern to someone in my business is the indication that many Americans have second thoughts about the First Amendment.

Polls over the last few years suggest that although Americans still support the ideals of the First Amendment, they have reservations about its reality. A majority think the press has too much freedom, that public demonstrations should not be allowed and that freedom of religion is not meant to apply to fringe groups.

And although 90 percent of Americans believe in freedom of speech, support falls to less than 50 percent when asked about specifics that are constitutionally protected. We are becoming reluctant to offend, willing  to silence unpopular opinions and provocative ideas at the cost of freedom.

Where will we go from here?