Legislature Super Diary from the Fun Part of Hell: Entry No. 6

With the legislative session half over, I finally got the view of New Mexico politics I’ve been waiting for. It happened yesterday in a little Roundhouse hearing room. What I literally saw were sharply dressed pols questioning commission candidates. What it felt like, though, was looking down on the Grand Canyon from a hot air balloon. It was pure, glorious, money-motivated politics.

I’ll try to make this simple. Four people were supposed to be confirmed as members of the State Fair Commission by the Senate Rules Committee. They’d all been sitting on the commission already, and had been charged late last year with voting for a 25-year lease of the State Fairgrounds to the Downs at Albuquerque. The lease, which was approved, is going to be worth more than $1 billion to the Downs over those 25 years. That was mentioned repeatedly.

The Downs may have “at Albuquerque” in its title, but its two owners (Windham and Turner) are Louisianans who gave Gov. Susana Martinez thousands of dollars for her campaign. Then, after she got elected and right before it was time to decide who got the fairgrounds deal, they gave her PAC thousands more dollars.

So four fair commissioners were up for approval yesterday by Senators. Two of those commissioners had voted against the Downs lease last year, and two had voted for it. The two who voted for it got grilled. One might hope that our elected legislators would have had an opportunity to review this huge deal before it was signed, but they didn’t. So senators took the opportunity yesterday to ruminate on the Downs deal.

None of them like it. One of the commissioners is a Republican, appointed by the Governor, but when she tried reviewing the details of the contract last year before voting on it, she was told she needed to file an Inspection of Public Records Act request and the governor’s office sent her a letter saying she’d have to pay for copies of documents.

Commission members tasked with voting on a massive contract with the state usually don’t have to submit official requests or pay for paper when they’re trying to investigate the deal.

There’s a lot more to this. At a meeting with Albuquerque neighborhoods around the state fairgrounds, commission members who were in favor of the deal voted even though the other commissioners said they weren’t ready and the public thought that vote would be taken at a different meeting. Also, a company who lost out on the lease is suing to make sure they got a fair look.

Tim Jennings, a Democrat from Roswell with a bushy mustache, said the Downs lease “stinks” and wondered whether they could get the Attorney General involved. He thinks the state should go back to the table to renegotiate the deal. “Crooked stuff to line people’s pockets,” was one term he used.

Jennings also noted, interestingly, that a camera recording the confirmation hearings for the state’s record disappeared after a couple rounds of tough questions about the deal.

And then something stranger happened. Once the hearings were over – and the commissioners who voted in favor of the lease weren’t confirmed by the rules committee – a letter came down from the governor’s office. It said Martinez was withdrawing all the nominees. They weren’t her picks for commissioners any more.

I would have asked the governor’s office why she did that, but they ignore me. Here’s what her spokesman told the New Mexican: “The level of misinformation and political grandstanding during the committee hearing today was staggering. The governor wants all of the facts and information to be available to the Senate, which will dispel their baseless and transparent political attacks.”

Charlotte Rode is the commissioner who has been digging into the deal despite being told she had to pay for copies and submit official requests. Her issue this entire time has been the lack of transparency in the process, and the fact that the governor has controlled every step of the awarding of this lease to the Downs.

Her objection to the contract, she said, “was a matter of process. I felt the process was kept in the dark, which was inappropriate because of the size of the contract.”

And now, oddly, the governor has pulled all the commissioners from their posts on the day the Downs deal was finally getting scrutinized by legislators. It’s fascinating timing, and it’s equally fascinating that she’s making a claim to want all facts available when what she’s actually done is prevent the larger Senate body from questioning the commissioners who voted in favor of the deal.

Gingrich and Romney can spit on each other all day and night, but this Downs deal is real politics. This is a high-stakes game here, of money and political power plays.

To get the gritty details on the Downs contract, check out the Independent Source PAC website. We’ve been leading the way on this story, to the chagrin of those in this building who’d prefer bright lights shining on something else.

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On Liam Neeson, wolves, and facing mortality

Before seeing “The Grey,” I got a bit of a lecture from two friends of mine. They think the flick should be boycotted, because it reinforces a stereotype that wolves are vicious killers. It’s the hunting of real wolves that gets them so riled up, and the animals’ deteriorating federal protections. Lawmakers, it seems, are making it easier for farmers to legally mow down wolves, whose carnivorous tendencies can be bad for the beef business.

Boycotting “The Grey” is not the answer to this problem. And anyway, this is a movie about Liam Neeson fighting a pack of wolves in the Alaskan wilderness. You think I’m missing that because of other people’s politics?

It’s important to know, firstly, that these aren’t actually wolves. They’re metaphors. Metaphors with big, sharp claws and teeth. Metaphors for death.

The second important thing to know is that Liam Neeson is one of the best, most awesome actors in movies, and three years ago his wife Natasha Richardson died in a skiing accident.

Neeson is in a lot of movies. Two of the trailers I saw before “The Grey” were for Liam Neeson movies (“Wrath of the Titans” and “Battleship”). “The Grey,” though, is the Liam Neeson movie, more than even “Schindler’s List.” This is a must-see for fans of his – a glimpse, I think, into the real man’s hard, sad soul.

In the darkly poetic opening minutes, his character Ottway shoots a wolf and then cries over its body. This scene is edited together with two others: Ottway in bed with his wife (presumably years ago), and Ottway leaving a bar so he can commit suicide outside in the snow.

Neeson looks so damn sad in these moments. It’s jarring to watch. “Not a second goes by I’m not thinking of you in some way,” we hear him say in voice over. “You left me and I can’t get you back. I move like the damned: cursed.”

We hear him say these words and watch him slowly put the barrel of a big gun in his mouth. He puts his hand on the trigger. Before he can pull, though, a howl comes from nearby woods. The wolves are calling to him, telling him “No.”

Because, again, these are metaphorical wolves. They are grey death. They stopped him from killing himself because if he’s going to die it has to be by more honest means. He has to face them. Then he’ll understand.

And Oh, Brother, does he face them. Ottway and a crew are flying out of Alaska when their plane is suddenly snagged by turbulence. I remember thinking “Cast Away” might have the best plane-crash scene ever. “The Grey’s” is better. The imagery is incredible, even as there’s this blazing sensation of speed and a general inability to see what’s actually happening.

Ottway survives intact, on a nasty patch of land where the wind sends granulated snow, the kind that hurts, screaming by horizontally. He starts rounding up the few survivors. Then the wolves start attacking in waves, leaving bloody messes of guts in the snow as they pick the men off one at a time.

This is my kind of movie, with deep, raw storytelling – a metaphysical film about men facing mortality. In one of the movie’s quieter scenes, we see the survivors chatting around a fire at night. One is fast asleep, but suddenly sits up straight and starts talking to his little sister. One of the others says the little sister died when she was young, and the guy’s hallucinating because his brain can’t get oxygen.

Another man talks about his baby daughter’s laugh. He says the little girl sometimes laughs so hard she starts wheezing, “like she can’t breathe. Like an old man.” He was laughing himself when he started the story, but by the end he’s overwhelmed by the fragility of his little girl’s life.

Ottway talks about his father, who wrote a poem he kept framed on a wall above their piano. The first line of the poem is “Once more into the fray….” The last line is “Live and die on this day.”

Ottway talks a man into death after the plane crash. He tells him, plainly, “You’re gonna die. That’s what’s happening.” The man begs and screams, but Ottway tells him it’s all right, asks him who he loves, tells him to let death slide over. Later, when one of the survivors won’t shut up, Ottway calls him out for pretending he’s not scared. Anyone who’s not scared is an idiot.

Last year, I reviewed this great little movie called “Restless,” directed by Gus Van Sant. It was about a pair of teen lovers with strange hobbies like drawing chalk outlines around themselves or sitting in the morgue and guessing what happened to the bodies in the lockers there.

What they were doing was acquainting themselves with death, because the boy was an orphan whose parents perished in an accident, and the girl had been diagnosed with a fatal disease. Knowing death brings comfort with it, the movie was saying.

I think “The Grey” is similar, though not nearly so sweet. Last year, Neeson cried as he told Esquire about the day Richardson died:

“I walked into the emergency — it’s like seventy, eighty people, broken arms, black eyes, all that — and for the first time in years, nobody recognizes me. Not the nurses. The patients. No one. And I’ve come all this way, and they won’t let me see her. And I’m looking past them, starting to push — I’m like, Fuck, I know my wife’s back there someplace. I pull out a cell phone — and a security guard comes up, starts saying, ‘Sorry, sir, you can’t use that in here,’ and I’m about to ask him if he knew me, when he disappears to answer a phone call or something. So I went outside. It’s freezing cold, and I thought, What am I gonna do? How am I going to get past the security?

“And I see two nurses, ladies, having a cigarette. I walk up, and luckily one of them recognizes me. And I’ll tell you, I was so fucking grateful — for the first time in I don’t know how long — to be recognized. And this one, she says, ‘Go in that back door there.’ She points me to it. ‘Make a left. She’s in a room there.’ So I get there, just in time. And all these young doctors, who look all of eighteen years of age, they tell me the worst.” He purses his lips, mouth dry. “The worst.”

It  cannot be a coincidence that Neeson is playing a tough, angry man crippled by sadness over his dead wife, facing his fear of death in a brutally cold environment. He can hear it, howling in the distance, and he takes it on. He and these men have no guns for their fight against the wolves. It’s just them. They’re scared.

Neeson curses God in this film with such contempt. God’s answer says everything.

Wolves are amazing. They’re dogs who don’t need or want people. Wolf packs are families like human families: a mated pair raising their litter of growing youngsters. They’re at the top of the food chain, strong enough to kill almost anything except a human with a gun. They’re elegant and athletic and tough as winter in the north.

They’re citizens on this planet just like we are, partners in a vast ecosystem. It truly bothers me that men are shooting wolves in parts of this country, with the government’s endorsement. It does not bother me, at all, that Liam Neeson takes them on and takes them down in “The Grey,” because his character Ottway isn’t killing wolves, he’s facing down mortality. He’s fighting a battle we’ll all have to face.

I really loved this movie. It’s incredibly exciting and totally intense, with death scenes unlike anything I’ve seen in a movie before. This is how men and wolves should meet in the wild: as animals. If hunters mean to keep killing wolves, they should show the animals respect. Put down the gun, tape some miniature liquor bottles between the knuckles of one hand and break them on a rock into spikes. Tape a hunting knife into the other hand.

Then see who wins. Good thing we’ve got guns.

Legislature Super Diary from the Fun Part of Hell: Entry No. 5

There’s been a thorn stuck between the folds of my cerebrum since Gov. Susana Martinez gave the State of the State speech my first day covering the legislative session. Martinez said “I’ve long said government doesn’t create jobs. It doesn’t – small businesses do.”

We hear this so often in the larger political dialogue, and I find it maddeningly confusing. Wasn’t Martinez a badass district attorney before she became governor, and aren’t the salaries of DAs in this country paid for with taxes? Now she’s governor, surrounded by a staff of state employees. Those aren’t all government jobs?

Aren’t my parents – a public-school math teacher and a national-laboratory computer scientist – government employees? Aren’t fire fighters and cops and garbage men and road workers?

And isn’t that a good thing?

“Yes, but where does the money that pays them come from?” Rep. Dennis Kintigh, of Roswell, said to me when I put those questions to him. I picked Kintigh because he wants to completely end the state’s film-credit program, so he must be hard-core conservative.

“You take it,” he said (of the money). “The government compels people to give it that money. It means they have less money to spend on shoes for kids, food for their families, new cars.”

Right. But taxes pay for services we need.

“Oh, yeah,” Kintigh said. “You have to have them. That’s a fact, but it’s also a fact that we need to minimize” the amount of taxes people pay.

OK, but I don’t think….

This is where something happened which I will admit I wasn’t quite ready for, even though I absolutely saw it coming. Kintigh was getting bugged by his colleagues in the House to get back on the floor. “One more minute,” he told them.

Then he turned to me and pivoted our conversation toward the federal deficit.

“You know how big our national deficit is?” he asked me. I’ve heard so many different numbers on that one, I don’t even bother trying to guess. Doesn’t Sean Hannity say it’s $17 trillion?

“About $1 trillion,” Kintigh said.

“How do we solve that? Tax the rich? Fair enough,” he said. Then he explained to me that even if we took 100 percent of the earnings of people in the U.S. who make more than $10 million annually, that total would come out to less than $200 billion.

And then he was gone, inviting me to find him later to continue the conversation.

So I sought out Tim Lewis, another Republican in the House.

Lewis represents Rio Rancho and is a history teacher at Cibola High School, which is public. He’s also a small-government conservative. He does not see a contradiction there.

“There’s a difference between government jobs: There’s good ones we need, that do great things, and there’s others we don’t,” he said.

When Gov. Martinez said “Government doesn’t create jobs,” Lewis believes most of the state understood she was not talking about teachers or fire fighters or garbage men or nuclear scientists.

So, I asked him, what jobs is she talking about? Let’s eliminate public safety and education and every other job we believe is necessary. What’s left?

“As far as specific jobs, there’s layers and layers of bureaucracy,” he said. “Any job that needs oversight…. In my opinion, those are the jobs and the companies with people in a mindset where government is the answer to everything.”

What specific jobs was he talking about, though? I asked where these jobs were, what departments, or even buildings, so I can go find them and ask why they should still have work when their paychecks are crushing our economy.

“Find those areas of government where there’s layers of bureaucracy,” he said to me, while I scribbled his words and wrinkled my brow.

I have done this before. I really have. Everyone at the Public Education Department or the Department of Tourism or the Public Regulations Commission thinks his or her job serves some necessary function. Big-picture, it makes sense. As far as individual jobs, though? Not to that employee.

Lewis said the government of New Mexico has grown by 50 percent in recent years, a higher rate than the population. I thought growth meant more people were getting jobs – that government growth means more people employed by government.

Again: More people employed.

Government jobs, Lewis said, “don’t add dollars into economic productivity, or bring down our national debt.”

The national debt again.

“I want to fund education,” Lewis said, “but not by taxing people who are producers. I’m not for punishing people’s success.”

Neither am I. But isn’t there a difference between rich and poor people when it comes to putting money into the economy? Isn’t someone who’s wealthy going to save his extra funds, while fire fighters or garbage men are going to spend their much smaller paychecks on rent and food and clothes?

I don’t get to ask that question. Lewis has to get back to the House floor. He leaves me with this: “The best role the government can play is get out of private citizens’ ways.”

Not on trash day.

Legislature Super Diary from the Fun Part of Hell: Entry No. 4

Wait. You guys get pandas?

Yesterday, Senate and House legislators arrived at their desks on both floors to find cuddly stuffed animals waiting for each and every one of them, arms out wide in hopes of a hug. Some were obliged.

Is some special interest attempting to buy votes with plush little pandas? I called the name on the card, David Roddy with New Mexico Primary Care Association, and left a message: “Hi Mr. Roddy. I’m a reporter covering the legislature and was hoping you could tell me why you’re giving panda bears to all the members of the House and Senate.”

Left my number, but he didn’t call back. I haven’t followed up, because it seems this is common practice here. Today potted plants, miniature wooden gavels and a gift bag that said “Gallup: McKinley County” were waiting for everyone at their desks. Perhaps tomorrow it’ll be novelty wind-up monkeys who bang together symbols bearing Lockheed Martin logos.

Enough about my panda jealously, though.

Here’s what you see when you stroll about the ground floor of the Roundhouse, where the rotunda in the center yawns upward toward pastel skylights:

Suits gathered in packs of three or four, whispering as they look around at everything but each other.

Bored high schoolers being herded by their frazzled teachers.

Cowboys.

Trail mix.

Yes, trail mix. Delicious, soft trail mix of fruits and nuts.

I wanted some, but I figured it was only right that if I grabbed a sample I should speak with the women giving it away.

There are booths everywhere on the Roundhouse’s ground floor. One booth says “Energy employees occupational illness compensation program.” Another is for Gallup’s historical district and Indian dances.

The trail mix booth was for the New Mexico Food Distribution Advisory Council. What I’m told is that in 1972, America’s farmers found themselves growing more food than the country would buy. Congress decided to buy a bunch of surplus food and send it to schools.

Which sounds like a decent idea, right? NMFDAC’s Laura Perea, wearing a yellow button with the word “hunger” struck through like that ghost in the Ghostbusters logo, said this is an entitlement that’s “100 percent government.” Tax money gets spent to buy meats and fruits and vegetables from New Mexico farmers, to give away to poor students in New Mexico’s school districts.

At another booth, I was presented with some sobering statistics: 121,000 households in New Mexico are considered “food insecure,” so parents on a daily basis don’t know what they’ll feed their kids. New Mexico ranks second in poverty in the U.S., and third in child poverty. Thirty percent of children 0-17 years old in New Mexico live in poverty.

That’s a lot of kids.

Legislature Super Diary from the Fun Part of Hell: Entry No. 3

Rep. Alonzo Baldonado told me he is praying for my children I haven’t had yet. “Because a child growing up with a father who doesn’t care for life….” He ended his sentence there, because the rest should speak for itself.

Baldonado has introduced a bill here (House Bill 51) which would require every minor who wants an abortion to write a letter about it to her parents, “delivered personally to the addressee by the physician or agent (who works for the physician).” Forty-eight hours after delivery, the procedure is legal.

You can read about it here, in the New Mexican. What that story is missing, though, is any comment from Baldonado.

So I set out after him myself. We talked for about 20 minutes before he had to get back on the floor of the House, because, he was told, “Kiki needs you.”

Baldonado is a young guy, 35ish, in his first year representing Valencia County. He’s friendly and easy to talk with, even when he’s judging me (“My heart hurts for you,” he said at one point).

He is not here for his understanding of economics and taxation, he said. He’s here on a mission from God. “To save babies.”

And America: “If you look at history, and look at nations that have risen to the top, none of them exist anymore. All the empires are gone. Then there’s America. I’ve got to sit back and look and wonder how many years America has left, and whether it will end before we know it. In my mind that day will come. We can’t continue on the way we’re going.”

Society is on a bad path when it “takes God out of the equation,” he said (adding that “Darwin’s fossil record is full of holes”). That path will get darker and steeper if we continue killing the unborn.

I asked him why pro-lifers don’t rally and decry civilian casualties in war, and he said that’s not a problem for him to solve. I asked him whether there’s a contradiction for Republicans, whose ethos is limited government, telling American women how they have to act when it comes to the most personal decision they may ever make.

On that one, he said I was only thinking about the woman. He thinks about the child that woman is carrying, and “the honor and blessing of carrying a life.” Allowing women to kill their unborn babies, he said, is like seeing someone who’s fallen and hurting on the sidewalk and walking away without helping.

Except that it’s murder, plain and simple. He repeatedly mentioned his three daughters and said, a little ominously, “if you threatened one of my daughters, I wouldn’t hesitate to take you out.” (As a quick aside: I’ve never threatened anyone’s daughter, and I look forward to passing from this Earth some day many decades from now still able to say same.) Baldonado thinks murdering a 2-year-old is the same as an abortion. I pegged him down to make sure I understood that correctly.

“How dare we think it’s OK to take the life of a child,” he said. Then he headed back to Kiki. I would not have put it that way, but I’m happy to have the conversation. I’m happy Baldondado is, too.

Last week’s Tool concert reviewed in two sentences. And the Florida GOP debate

Never screamed the F word so loudly before. Won’t ever scream the F word so loudly again.

Next time a GOP debate is on TV, grab a pen and a piece of paper and try sketching the candidates. You will find this surprisingly fun and simple, because the camera holds on them for several minutes while they talk, heads at about a three-quarter profile. The trick is to master the shape of their hair.

 

Legislature Super Diary from the Fun Part of Hell: Entry No. 2

I’m trying to understand how this sprawling beast of a legislative session works, so this morning I strolled with innocent wide eyes into the Senate gallery of the Roundhouse, where an audience of almost no one looked on from stadium-style seating, down into the long stretch of carpet, desks and padded leather seats that make up the Senate floor.

The impeccably dressed lawmakers have already gotten one big measure passed, with Senate and House both voting in the affirmative for $5 million to fund the 30-day session. That includes $154 a day for legislators, paper costs for all the bills, and salaries for staff. This came to mind for me when I opened the door to the Senate gallery and was immediately within arm’s reach of two security guards wearing angular dark suits and chatting with each other.

The chatting cut off quick and they both turned to lock eyes on me. “Take off your hat,” one said, so I did. When I found a spot to spread out in the front row, another security guard was on me immediately because I’d put my hat and notebook onto the wooden ledge in front of me, which drops off to the Senate floor and has a railing. When I leaned forward a little later – trying to get a look at Sen. John Arthur Smith as he lamented people paying less for natural gas because that means fewer tax dollars for the state – a security guard I hadn’t met yet sprang like a panther down the short flight of steps to tell me not to touch the railing. “It’s just for decoration.”

Lieutenant Governor John Sanchez was leading the huge meeting. Sanchez reminded me of a mean third-grade math teacher – he’s quick with his gavel if gum-smacking Senators start talking too loudly while business goes down. What business? Well, the mayor of Santa Fe was sitting and smiling in a little area at the head of the room, near the lieutenant governor. Members of the Santa Fe City Council sat next to him, also smiling, along with the Santa Fe city manager and the Santa Fe city attorney, who does not smile.

The senators each had turquoise gift bags on their desks, with downtown parking passes and a pass to get into the city’s recreational facilities for free. One senator asked if that meant he can go golfing, and the mayor nodded yes. Everyone laughed. One by one, about 20 different senators took time to thank the Santa Fe guys for hosting the session.

“I not only think of Santa Fe as ‘The City Different,'” said one, “I think of it as ‘The City Special.'”

Another: “It’s a city that when you talk about New Mexico some people will say ‘Oh, that’s Mexico.’ Then they’ll think and say ‘Oh, New Mexico… that’s where Santa Fe is!’ It is truly a stamp on New Mexico.”

I feel like they should thank the mayor for the free gym memberships on their own time, given the cost of this lavish 30-day production. But on and on they went.

I asked a woman sitting next to me what brought her to the state Senate on a Thursday afternoon. Turned out she’s a volunteer, chaperoning a group of foreign exchange students who need a live lesson in local government. What are they learning? I asked. She thought for a little while. “Well, they’re going to laugh about how many times they sang ‘Happy Birthday.'”

They sang “Happy Birthday” so many times that one senator formally asked for it to stop. Then another senator said it was his wife’s birthday and he was hoping for another “Happy Birthday” for her. (I don’t think she was even there.) Instead, mercifully, he asked Senator John Pinto to sing “the Potato Song.”

Pinto, a Democrat representing McKinley and San Juan, sang a snappy diddy in Navajo. Then another senator explained where the song came from: When Pinto was in the Marines, an entire battalion was fighting over a single case of beer. The code talkers got together and sang the Potato Song and got the beer.

Another senator said he’s gonna work on drafting a memorial they can vote on in celebration of the Potato Song.

Just when I’m really getting confused about what the hell I’m watching, they move to the “introduction of legislation.” Ah, here we go. A guy starts reading all the bills that have been introduced. (“Senate Bill 95: An act making an appropriation to create a Native American suicide prevention program.” “Senate Bill 96: An act limiting social promotion and creating a program of intensive remediation….”)

After each one, the Lt. Guv repeats the number and then sends it into committees – the public affairs committee, the eduction committee, the finance committee, the judiciary committee…. Each bill will be reviewed at committee, then kicked along the pipe to another committee. Somewhere in this process, most bills will die by silenced pistol.

Today I spoke with Peter Wirth, a Senator representing Santa Fe, for an Independent Source PAC story about closing corporate tax loopholes. (Click here for that.) When I had what I needed for the article, I asked him about all the time they appeared to be wasting. “No offense,” I added. Wirth said this is simply procedure. The law requires a formal, out-loud introduction of each bill at the start of the session, and there’s more than 100 of them, along with items added by Gov. Martinez. Now that the formality’s out of the way, Wirth said, it’s time for some scrappy, election-year lawmaking.

So I want the committees, which start Friday. That’s where the blood of democracy gets pumped, and that’s where I’ll head next. Committees: Boo-yah!

Tool is in Albuquerque tonight

So this guy shows up at an insane asylum. No name. Won’t talk to anyone.

Then a doctor with a soothing voice asks just right. The man tells his story. He was a normal American dude who got abducted by aliens.

And after calming me down with some orange slices and some fetal spooning,
E.T. revealed to me his singular purpose.
He said “You are the Chosen One,
The one who will deliver the message,
A message of hope for those who choose to hear it,
And a warning, for those who do not.”
Me? The Chosen One?
They chose me!
And I didn’t even graduate from f*ckin’ high school.

Our narrator was born to hear and bring to all the details of our ending. The alien tells him how the world will end, and it’s his job to tell everyone here on earth.

Problem is, the man has been medicated to the point of crapping himself, so he can’t remember what was said by this space monster “with somniferous almond eyes.” D’oh.

“Rosetta Stoned” is my favorite Tool song, and Tool is my favorite band. Why? I’ve been asked that before, and I actually know the answer: If you think music is art, Tool is my kind of art.

The songs are loud and angry and mean and hard as stone and ice, even when they’re supposed to be funny. They’re about the next step in human evolution (“Forty Six and 2”) or a hooker with a penis (“Hooker with a Penis”).

“Wings for Marie” is about lead singer Maynard James Keenan’s mother Judith Marie, who suffered a stroke and was paralyzed for 27 years (about 10,000 days) until she died.

Ten thousand days in the fire is long enough,
You’re going home.
You’re the only one who can hold your head up high,
Shake your fist at the gates saying
“I’ve come home now!
Fetch me the spirit, the son and the father.
Tell them their pillar of faith has ascended.
It’s time now!
My time now!
Give me my give me my wings!”

Maynard’s last thoughts for his dead mother in the song: Look your maker in the eyes and say “I never lived a lie, never took a life, but surely saved one. Hallelujah, it’s time for you to bring me home.”

This is heavy stuff, yet lyrically interesting and musically fast-paced and dynamic enough to hold our ears prisoner, almost like pop. Maynard’s lyrics and voice (he can sound so many different ways) is just the tip of it. Adam Jones was No. 75 on Rolling Stone’s “Greatest Guitarists” list (“In Tool, he combines the tuned-down chug of death metal with ominous atmospherics influenced by Rush and King Crimson.”) and Danny Carey’s drum sets look like this:

Incidentally, when Carey finished his set at Red Rocks 11 years ago (Jesus, I’m old), he threw his sticks into the crowd and I managed to fight off a horde and grab one of them. I cherish that thing.

So tonight’s show at Tingley should be incredible, because Tool is incredible. I don’t think they’ll play “Rosetta Stoned,” but they always play Ænema.

Some say the end is near.
Some say we’ll see Armageddon soon.
I certainly hope we will.
I sure could use a vacation from this bullsh*t three-ring circus sideshow of freaks.

Here in this hopeless f*cking hole we call LA,
The only way to fix it is to flush it all away.
Any f*ckin’ time. Any f*ckin’ day.
Learn to swim. I’ll see you down in
Arizona Bay.

Fret for your figure and fret for your latte and fret for your lawsuit and fret for your hairpiece and fret for your Prozac and fret for your contract and fret for your car.

This is what I looked like the day after the last Tool concert at Tingley:

 
Learn to swim.

Legislature Super Diary from the Fun Part of Hell: Entry No. 1

It’s Day 1 at the legislative session. I’m covering the happenings for Independent Source PAC, an awesome new organization of a few people who want to follow the money and find out who’s truly making the decisions of these lawmakers. They offered me a job reporting right after the Journal fired me (see previous post), and I was happy to take it.

For my story on the governor’s State-of-the-State speech, click here. You’ll notice these words above my piece: “ISPAC will be covering the legislative session as part of our mission to educate the public about the hypocrisy, corruption and hidden agenda of conservative office holders and interest groups.” Sounds partisan as hell, I know. But I’m not interested in ideologies, I’m interested in what these guys are actually doing with their time and what they’re really like, instead of what they tell me in planned, canned interviews.

This sort of thinking got me fired, but whatever.

The seal has a Mexican eagle with a snake in its mouth and a cactus in its talon, protected by an American Bald Eagle. "Crescit eundo" means "It grows as it goes." Huh.

You should see these guys at the Roundhouse. “We are honored and humbled to be your public servants,” said Lt. Gov. John A. Sanchez, illuminated by two giant spotlights, before he introduced Governor Susana Martinez. I call bullshit. Because what happens next is he proceeds to introduce every state official with any power in the room (and this is a big room) so they can stand and receive a rousing ovation. It takes 30 minutes. “The honorable judge of the court of appeals Dexter McCotchery…. The honorable chief clerk at the appellate Wendy Sarkenpocket.” On and on it goes. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done at this session, a lot of problems to solve, but God forbid you skip the opportunity to say each and every person’s name so they can stand and wave and soak in some applause. Humbled? Please. Nice suit.

That’s inside: Shiny silk and grins and handshakes. Teleprompters and standing O’s.

Outside: Tea Partiers in darkly colored, decades-old down jackets on one side of the Roundhouse; Occupy Santa Fe-ers on the other, shaggy and clad in layer after layer of heavy wool. East-side/West-side.

Kudos to the Occupiers, who genuinely disrupted the Guv’s opening remarks. I think that “People’s mic” the Occupy protestors favor is terrible (one guy yells something, and then everyone around him repeats it at once), but it stole Susana’s thunder. They yelled about Martinez siding with polluters and punishing immigrants and favoring oil and gas companies over people. They were dragged out, roughly, by police officers as they kept hollering. Martinez just smiled. What else could she do?

The difference between the Tea Party and the Occupy gang is that Tea Partiers are much more affable. They’re way more fun to converse with. They are mostly old people, and old people like to talk. Occupy skews a lot younger, and they don’t like talking with press or giving their names. (That’s based on experience covering multiple rallies on both sides.) Old people are angry about the country, but they’ve had decent lives already. Young people are angry about the country, and are facing a fight to find success in life. They’re pissed off about that.

So I ambled over the Tea Partiers. An apple-shaped state Representative was giving a speech about her bill mandating voter IDs. She cited liberal objection to the proposed law: “You don’t need voter IDs because there’s no voter fraud in the United States,” she said, in a tone meant to mock her dumb enemies.

“BOOOOOOOOOO!!!!” It was the rowdy sort of reaction you typically hear from hoops fans jeering a visiting rival. Except this booing was for liberals who don’t believe voter fraud is a problem in America worthy of lawmakers’ attention during a period of deep economic crises.

A tall white guy standing next to me in a cream-colored jacket seemed to have booed the loudest. He kept fake-laughing at what she was saying, the Democrat slams. I asked him what the speaker’s name was and he didn’t know. Neither did the next five folks I queried, though they were all holding signs with messages like “Repeal Obamacare.” Finally, someone informed me the apple was Cathrynn Brown, a Republican who represents Carlsbad.

Rolling Stone and MSNBC have convinced me voter fraud is a phony issue. It’s an excuse to mandate identification, which studies show will dampen turnout by young people and minorities, who vote Democrat. Voter IDs, essentially, will bring on Republican rule. Or so the thinking goes.

It’s real, though. Standing bundled up next to a sign that says “Voter Identity is a Must!” was Mary Fulton. She’s a very nice, older woman who said she was raised poor.

“But I learned from it,” she said. “I didn’t expect someone to take care of me my whole life.”

Welfare for the poor really rankles the Tea Party. “A hand up, not a handout,” Mary said more than once to me as we chatted.

Mary swears voter fraud is happening. “It’s a fact,” she said. “It’s been proven. It’s happening. By a lot of people it’s been proven.”

She didn’t know where or when, and tells me I’ll have to look it up. Luckily, Cathrynn Brown does the work for me. She’s seen it with her own eyes, she said, when someone was at a voting booth but got turned away because, he was told, he’d already voted.

“Was it a mistake or fraud? I don’t know,” Brown said. Then she brought up two other examples: In 2007 in New Jersey, people at a homeless shelter said they’d voted using other people’s names. And in 1984, a voting ring was busted in New York after casting thousands of fraudulent ballots over 14 years.

I ask Mary about ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Fox News hates ACORN, which registers voters in poor parts of the country and which has helped people I know personally buy their own homes. Mary says of ACORN: “They’re dishonest. The don’t represent true America.”

A man in a “Semper Fi” baseball hat joined us. Paul Chacho Jr., with business cards that say “ATP Let Freedom Ring” (Albuquerque Tea Party) and tout his membership on the ATP “recruitment and activation team.”

“There have been two states where ACORN was convicted of voter fraud,” Paul said. “I can’t think of them, but look it up.”

Wisconsin and Nevada? I tried to look it up. It appears there has been a lot more than two voter-fraud convictions, judging by a bunch of websites I don’t trust.

Anyway, who cares about voter fraud when there are so many real problems in the country? That’s why I don’t trust it as an issue, because I don’t believe it really matters.

Paul, though, said it does. He cited Mitt Romney’s recent eight-vote win over Rick Santorum in Iowa, and the hair-thin election margin in Florida when Bush beat Gore in 2000.

“Some of these elections are so close,” he said. “A few votes can swing the direction of the country.”

Paul then proceeded to talk about stopping illegal immigrants from getting drivers licenses. Important note: He admitted he rambles. I tried to keep up:

Identity theft costs $30 billion annually.

The Russians can come here and steal identities.

Russia isn’t even a democracy; it’s run by a mafia.

The Tea Party is just about smaller government and free-market capitalism.

Leave the states alone by following the 10th Amendment. (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”)

People know where they want their money to go, and that’s roads and policemen and fire fighters. Not welfare. Welfare’s bankrupting the country.

Federal education programs take money from the states, then send that money back with strings attached.

Because of unions, there’s no accountability for teachers. Liberal teachers are everywhere.

The Occupyers are wrong because millionaires aren’t bad people.

Eisenhower warned about the military industrial complex, but he should have said “government industrial complex.” As a percentage of gross domestic product, military spending is much smaller than welfare, which teaches people the government will solve all their problems.

McCarthy was right. Russian KGB documents showed there was an infiltration in America of communists. Communists like to use our own laws against us.

Paul is a sharp dude, and did make some interesting points. Seems to have a bit of a bug up his butt about Russia, but we all have our quirks. He’s a Vietnam veteran who is “tired of nation building. I did one of these nation buildings, and it doesn’t work.”

They come all kinds. I know there’s a middle ground between these groups, that they’d be capable of coming together and conversing about the country’s problems if not for superficial obstacles. It’s the same outside the Roundhouse as in.

Back to it tomorrow.

I transcribed the awesome “Meet the Press” GOP debate from this morning

David Gregory’s obsession with political smack talking, over policy or current events, has turned “Meet the Press” into an unwatchable heap of steaming crappola.

His first question is to Newt: “Why don’t you like Mitt?”

Newt gets to call Mitt Romney a “timid Massachusetts moderate.” Alliteration. That one will catch on.

So, do you hate him though?

Newt: “He’s slimy and he sucks.”

Mitt?

“Oh, well, I’m a Conservative. Conservative. Conservative. Conservative and conservative. Obama has no experience. I’m a leader,” says Mitt.

Santorum, why do you hate Mitt?

“If he were such a hot little petuttie, he’d have run again for governor. I run in lots of elections, and I am a frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex. Conservative.”

Mitt?

“Only assholes keep running for office, Jim. I’m the best choice to lead the United States’s government because I totally hate it.”

Santorum, interrupting: “So, you won’t run for reelection?”

Mitt: “Politicians suck!”

Gingrich: “Stop talking so long. The red light went off. You’ve been running for a decade, Mitt. You keep losing because you’re a huge, stupid loser.”

Gingrich slam. Mitt’s acute-triangle-smile mouth glistens under those hot, hot lights. The teeth are being crushed together. He gives a little speech about Conservatism.

Gregory accidentally asks Ron Paul if he’s Conservative enough. Ron Paul says the questions so far have been “super superficial.” They should be talking about issues, like the American empire occupying all those bases overseas.

Whoops. Gregory turns to Perry and asks him why he hates Romney. Perry’s answer includes several references to the Tea Party.

Gregory moves on. To Mitt: “Conservative conservative?”

Mitt: “Conservative, Jim. Deep down in my bones.”

Now that everyone’s been properly fluffed…. Huntsman! Where? Is? Snow? White?

“Far away from you,” Huntsman says, “and safe.”

What would you cut?

“Whatever. Look, Mitt was a jerk the other night. He said I shouldn’t have been an ambassador to China for Obama. But all Mitt does is raise money.”

Mitt: “Well, Obama’s evil.”

Huntsman: “This country is divided by attitudes like that.”

Actual quote. The audience applauds for the first time. Wtf? Did the bullshit facade just drop away for a moment? And did people actually applaud that?

Gregory’s earpiece shoots a small shock directly to his brain through the ear cavity. Somewhere, a button has been pushed. His corporate masters did not like what was just said.

Gregory: “Ow. Uh, name three things you’ll cut that will make people mad.”

Huntsman says defense. Santorum says Social Security and food stamps, the “dependence programs.” That seems really mean.

Newt can get people to pitch more into Medicare, without cutting any of their Medicare. What?

Perry: “Americans who work for the government have no dignity.”

What about cops and teachers? Aren’t they paid for with taxes? You wanna cut their salaries? David Gregory does not ask such questions.

Commercials. Redundant. Get it…? Because all these guys are soulless shills…?

Monkey actor

Santorum thinks seniors should be free from oppressive Medicare.

Gregory asks Mitt whommmmmmmm he likes better, Grover Norquist or Warren Buffet?

“No new taxes,” Mitt replies through his grin. “I’ll cut tons of programs.”

Which ones?

“Obamacare.” Mitt puts his arms up and cocks his head a bit to the side. “Boom. Ninety bil right there.”

Just kidding. Gregory didn’t ask Mitt which ones.

Newt’s tired of partisan games. He wants to push the bickering aside and get some stuff done.

Gregory’s earpiece: “Bzzt.”

Gregory: “Ow. Uh. Since we’re in that mid-debate lull, how about you guys talk about actually getting some things accomplished to fix some problems.”

They do.

If Ron Paul can’t get any bills passed in Congress, he must be a lousy politician. Gregory’s theory has some merit.

Paul, however, points out that Congress is totally inept and doesn’t actually pass bills to help normal Americans. Gregory is confused.

Santorum squirts frothy, lubey fecal matter onto Paul. Jesus, dude. That is amazing disgusting. Even for you, bro, that is nasty.

“This is a bunch of spin!” hollars the Huntsman.

Zzzt.

Gregory: “Ow.”

“Bring term limits to Congress,” says the Huntsman. He talks for about 10 more seconds before Gregory cuts him off and asks a really, really, truly, just incredibly stupid question of Perry.

Perry: “I am mad, crazy Conservative.”

Commercial.

Whoa. A newspaper reporter and a TV reporter are here to ask questions now.

Newspaper reporter: “Obama cut a program that helps poor people heat their houses. Lord Huntsman, would’st thou bring that program back?”

The Huntsman tears off into a rehearsed speech about energy. Says “diverse” a bunch of times.

Ron Paul talks about energy in terms of where the money goes.

Gregory steps in to ask “In this age of austerity, what do Americans have to learn to have less of?”

God damn, man. Why are you so mean? Is it because every single week you squander the opportunity to contribute in any constructive way to the national dialogue during a time of incredible historical significance? Ahsuuuuuuuuuuuuuck…..

TV reporter: “Yo, Mitty. You once said you like gay people. What’ve you done for them?”

Mitt: “Loads.”

Oh, no. He did not. TV reporter just shot the same question to the group’s most enthusiastic hater of the gays. Santorum says he’s sick of the words “A frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex” coming up whenever people Google him. That gay bastard Dan Savage set that up after Santorum gaybashed huge. Santorum swears revenge. Everyone uses Google.

Perry is not anti-union; he’s pro-job.

Of all the actor monkeys whooping and scratching at their armpits before us, Perry would elicit the most funny Saturday Night Live sketches. By far.

What? Will Ferrell isn’t on that show anymore? I know that. What? I don’t know. They probably have someone who could play Perry pretty funny. Will Ferrell was such an awesome Bush.

Newt is the one I would most want to get drunk with. But why?

Mitt’s going on and on about how horrible Obama is. He’s “anti-job,” that Obama.

The god-damned newspaper reporter is putting a very concise question to Mitt Romney about regulating air pollution.

Mitt: “Blah, blah, blah, and there’s all kinds of natural gas we could use.”

Newt’s bashing the EPA. Didn’t America just pull out of a brutal, decade-long war against Iraq? And hasn’t that country experienced an epidemic of atrocious violence since we left?

Huntsman! For the last time… Where is Snow White?

Huntsman: “Beyond even the reach of your magic, Gregory.”

We’re over an hour into this, and nary a peep about the Middle friggin’ East.

Perry says Obama is a socialist. Makes sense, I guess, since Perry probably won’t get a chance to talk again.

TV reporter asks one of the guys what the New Hampshire motto “Live free or die” means to him. You broke my heart, Fredo.

Santorum has said so many times that he wants to go to war with Iran. Ask him whether it’s smart to keep saying you want to attack another country.

Gregory: “Santorum! What do you want to do to Iran?”

Santorum’s thin lips tighten and his eyes narrow: “War.”

I don’t know…. They’re saying some other stuff that isn’t about Iraq or teachers’ salaries. My growler of IPA is cashed. This isn’t funny to me right now – it’s mean and sad.

You were lied to. That debate wasn’t awesome at all.

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