If we thought reversing Roe v. Wade was the goal, we were wrong. It is the starting point and, as disclosed in a NY Times Op-Ed, we had best take this very seriously because Christian National leaders have big plans, none of them good. Today, we also offer an update on gun violence in NM and offer thanks to New Energy Economy for, yet again, catching PNM in another brazen effort to fleece ratepayers.
Please also note that at the bottom of this post is a video interview with Carol Oppenheimer and Morty Simon, two former NM residents and activists now living in D.C. They are part of a very interesting and highly effective organization, Working America, which has developed a communication strategy for motivating working class folks to vote Democratic, a strategy being employed nationwide and in which New Mexicans can participate from home. Be sure to check it out.
Bloody July 4th Weekend
According to a CBS report, gun violence spiked over Fourth of July weekend, with shootings reported in nearly every U.S. state, killing a total of at least 220 people and wounding 570 others, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The most horrific and most-reported of those shootings occurred in Highland Park near Chicago, but most gun violence deaths do not occur in mass shootings. In a piece published Friday in its online news feed, “The Morning,” The NY Times pointed out that death by gunfire is most closely linked to poverty, with concentrations of gun violence co-located within concentrations of poverty.
One crucial point is that violence tends to be highly concentrated: A small sliver of blocks — just 4 percent in Chicago, for example — can account for a majority of shootings in a city or a county.
Many of the people in these blocks live in terror. The sound of gunshots is common, sometimes coming multiple times a day. Parents worry that their kids could be next, and young people fear for their own lives. As Jomarria Vaughn, a 24-year-old Chicagoan, told this newsletter: “I’m scared. I have my guard up all day.”
The NY Times examines Chicago in depth, but then continues with the examination of Oakland, Baltimore, St. Louis, and Philadelphia, finding the same extreme concentration of gun violence in high poverty blocks.
The NY Times briefly considers what could be the underlying reasons for this correlation of gun violence and poverty.
“One theory, cited by Sharkey, blames the breakdown of “collective efficacy.” That might sound academic, but the concept is straightforward: When society’s institutions have unraveled, people feel that they are on their own. They are then less likely to watch over one another or come together to address common interests.
By reducing social trust, concentrated poverty hurts communities’ ability to enforce norms against violent behavior. And when people are left unchecked and feel they have nothing to lose, they are more likely to take extreme measures, such as violence, to solve their problems.
The past few years may help you understand this dynamic even if you’re not poor. Many Americans felt a hit to their own collective efficacy because of the COVID pandemic, George Floyd’s murder and its aftermath, and the polarized political atmosphere. Sure enough, murders and other violent crimes increased during this period.”
The connection between poverty and the sense of desperation, lack of control, and gun violence seems pretty obvious, but I was struck by the authors mulling on the world we’ve been inhabiting for the last three years, with COVID lurking around every corner, mass shootings and knots of despair tied to powerlessness after Roe v. Wade was struck down and what it foreshadows.
On Weds., July 13, 6:00-7:30 pm, we will be hosting a Zoom webinar with Miranda Viscoli, co-president of New Mexicans for Gun Violence Prevention, and a student activist from ABQ. We will discuss what may be possible in the 2023 legislative session, implications of the recent SCOTUS decision limiting NY from imposing restrictions on open carry, and possible actions to be taken to support passing new legislation. Click here to register. This is the start of our march to the 2023 Legislative session. Join us.
PNM’s Avarice Checked, Thanks to PRC & NEE
New Energy Economy (NEE) is unrelenting in exposing the machinations of PNM, who despite being very aware that nothing they do will escape NEE’s notice and that once on their radar, swift, effective legal action will ensue, they keep trying one stunt after another, as if there is no NEE or Public Regulation Commission (PRC) to rein them in. I’ve heard legislators bemoan Mariel Nanasi’s (Executive Director of NEE) aggressiveness in her notorious court battles, saying, “Mariel just hates PNM.” As if PNM hasn’t earned her disregard. Here we go again. First, some background.
PNM was granted $360.1M by the legislature through the Energy Transition Act (ETA), passed in 2019. This payout was to compensate PNM for its undepreciated investments, aka “stranded assets,” left behind when closing San Juan Generating Station (SJGS). The $360M won’t be paid by taxpayers, but it is the amount authorized to be securitized by PNM and repaid by ratepayers. Apparently, this grossly inflated PNM estimate of the value of their stranded assets wasn’t enough. PNM wanted more, $134M more. Proponents of the ETA promised customer savings, but PNM wanted to keep those savings for itself.
According to a Financing Order drafted pursuant to the Energy Transition Act, PNM was to issue a rate adjustment at the time of the San Juan Generating Station (SJGS) closure on June 30, 2022 for Unit 1, and September 30, 2022 for Unit 4. PNM decided to continue charging ratepayers for SJGS operational costs despite the fact that SJGS would no longer be “used or useful,” a violation of the Public Utility Act. PNM made this unilateral decision, notifying no one, not the Commission or other parties, of its plan to collect upward of $94M/per year from ratepayers and potentially to double-collect on its undepreciated investments in the plant by including them again in the securitized bonds promised under the ETA, if or when it finally decides to issue them.
To comply with the ETA and initiiate the securitization of the $360M, PNM was required to initiate a bond process by July 1, 2022. They failed to do this.
The PRC ordered PNM to immediately issue a rate credit upon the closure of the San Juan Generating Station (SJGS) and to conduct a prudence hearing during the next rate case to determine how ratepayers will be protected from potential increased interest rates that will be incurred due to PNM’s delayed bond issuance in violation of the Energy Transition Act.
The Commission voted unanimously to adopt the Hearing Examiners’ recommended decision in full and to adopt New Energy Economy’s exception, requiring PNM to record all costs incurred in this proceeding to ensure ratepayers are held harmless from paying the costs for PNM’s illegal scheme. NEE doesn’t miss much, as surely had they not filed this exception, PNM would have had ratepayers pay all their legal fees through their monthly bills.
As Commissioner Joseph Maestas put it:
“To allow PNM to double bill its customers, its ratepayers, the very people of New Mexico, and to deprive them of savings that in these trying economic times could make a crucial difference in their lives just to provide a few more percentage points of value to their shareholders or maybe provide them with year-end bonuses. This is exactly that. So unfair and unjust that it shocks the conscience.”
All parties to the San Juan abandonment case opposed PNM’s audacious plan. New Energy Economy and other parties argued that:
- PNM’s new plan violates the ETA and the April 1, 2020 Financing Order.
- PNM should abide by the representations it made in its Application and in the testimony it provided in the original hearings in this case.
- PNM should be required to issue the rate credits to remove the units’ costs shortly after the abandonments.
- PNM should be required to allocate $28.2M to coal workers and impacted communities immediately upon the abandonments.
The Commission agreed with these arguments. Said Mariel Nanasi:
“We’ve been advocating and litigating for more than a dozen years for this moment. Back then we predicted that closing coal was cheaper and better for the environment and our health. Today‘s PRC-ordered victory closes another PNM coal unit at San Juan and the average ratepayer will be enjoying a 10% credit per month on their bill beginning in October because solar and wind are less expensive than fossil fuels. The PRC unequivocally chastised PNM for its concealment, for its dishonesty, for its “cheating”: Its time to invest in community owned renewable energy instead of continued reliance on a corrupt monopoly,” noted Nanasi.
Not only did PNM act unreasonably and in violation of the PRC’s Order, it hired a public relations firm for $7,500 to discredit challengers, including New Energy Economy and Retake Our Democracy — who were named specifically — to counter expected claims that PNM was taking $138M from ratepayers. PNM worried about the risk of looking like they were creating a corporate shell game.
Of course PNM will take this to the Supreme Court, only validating their disregard for the PRC and the rule of law.
When they argue to the Supreme Court, New Energy Economy will be there to present the truth, something to which PNM has an aversion. We’ve got just six more months of our elected PRC, with the Governor appointing a new 3-member PRC to take office in 2023. Stay tuned.
Christian Nationalists Want It All: Roe v. Wade Is Just the Beginning
Most of us are aware of the pernicious influence of Christian fundamentalism on politics in general and the SCOTUS in particular. While most have been alarmed by and focused on the court’s Roe v. Wade decision, there were two other recent Supreme Court decisions that underscore the Court’s dangerously embracing the notion of a Christian nation. First, Carson v. Makin requires state funding of religious schools if private, secular schools are also being funded; and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District licenses religious proselytizing by public school officials. So, while the right seeks to prohibit “Critical Race Theory” from classrooms because it might cause children to ask questions about our nation, they insist on foisting their fundamentalist prayers in the classroom and using taxpayer money to subsidize religious education. A NYT’s Op-Ed, “Christian Nationalists Are Excited About What Comes Next,” examined the implications of having a Supreme Court with a majority now clearly adhering to a fundamentalist Christian Nationalist doctrine.
After the Supreme Court’s decision to rescind the reproductive rights that American women have enjoyed over 50 years, movement leaders are already preparing for a new and more brutal phase of their assault on individual rights and democratic self-governance. Breaking American democracy isn’t an unintended side effect of Christian nationalism. It is the point of the project.
A good place to gauge the spirit and intentions of the movement that brought us the radical majority on the Supreme Court is the annual Road to Majority Policy Conference. At this year’s event, which took place last month in Nashville, three clear trends were in evidence. First, the rhetoric of violence among movement leaders appeared to have increased significantly from the already alarming levels I had observed in previous years. Second, the theology of dominionism — that is, the belief that “right-thinking” Christians have a biblically derived mandate to take control of all aspects of government and society — is now explicitly embraced. And third, the movement’s key strategists were giddy about the legal arsenal that the Supreme Court had laid at their feet as they anticipated the overturning of Roe v. Wade.”
A picture of the Christian nationalist movement in the post-Roe future is coming into focus, and for all who care about the future of constitutional democracy, it is time to pay attention, because these folks mean business and feel they have God on their side. And it is terrifying what people can do when they feel they are doing God’s will.
In writing that last sentence, my brain went back to a book I read recently, Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven. The book examines a brutal Utah murder performed by two fundamentalist Mormons who believed they were instructed by God to kill a young mother and her infant. In providing context for the murders, Krakauer described the evolution of Mormon fundamentalism and drew numerous comparisons to Christian fundamentalism and American manifest destiny, all operating under the infallible certainty of their beliefs. And with a belief that strong, one can justify doing most anything, even slitting the throat of an innocent infant…or hanging a Vice President.
Since the beginning of the 2016 election campaign and the emergence of Donald Trump, we’ve been exposed to an increasingly vitriolic and hate-filled rhetoric that is fully intertwined with fundamentalism, America First, xenophobic themes. Thinking back to one of Trump’s first actions as President — the Muslim ban and his praise for White supremacists (“Good people on both sides,”) — we’ve seen a continuous effort to divide our nation into two camps:
- God-fearing, white America.
- Muslims, characterized as terrorists, and other brown-skinned refugees, characterized as rapists, invading from the south.
An elected official can’t even protect constituents from a raging pandemic without being vilified for doing their job. Even store clerks and airline attendants are assaulted for asking customers to comply with mask mandates. We have gone mad, confusing our entitlement with our freedom. Every act of governance (e.g. requiring masks, requiring gun licenses, following election protocols) is viewed as a personal assault on freedom and democracy.
Since its inception, our nation has been infected with a hubristic, often messianic, certainty of purpose. That infection has spread throughout the country, reflected not just in dangerous levels of civic violence and threats of violence, but now evoking explicit calls to eliminate the separation of church and state.
Three weeks before he won the Republican nomination for Pennsylvania governor, Doug Mastriano stood beside a three-foot-tall painted eagle statue and declared the power of God.
“Any free people in the house here? Did Jesus set you free?” he asked, revving up the dozens before him on a Saturday afternoon at a Gettysburg roadside hotel.
Mr. Mastriano, a state senator, retired Army colonel and prominent figure in former President Donald J. Trump’s futile efforts to overturn the state’s 2020 election results, was addressing a far-right conference that mixed Christian beliefs with conspiracy theories, called Patriots Arise. Instead of focusing on issues like taxes, gas prices or abortion policy, he wove a story about what he saw as the true Christian identity of the nation, and how it was time, together, for Christians to reclaim political power.
Mr. Mastriano’s ascension in Pennsylvania is perhaps the most prominent example of right-wing candidates for public office who explicitly aim to promote Christian power in America. The religious right has long supported conservative causes, but this current wave seeks more: a nation that actively prioritizes their particular set of Christian beliefs and far-right views and that more openly embraces Christianity as a bedrock identity.
Many dismiss the historic American principle of the separation of church and state. They say they do not advocate a theocracy, but argue for a foundational role for their faith in government. Their rise coincides with significant backing among like-minded grass-roots supporters, especially as some voters and politicians blend their Christian faith with election fraud conspiracy theories, QAnon ideology, gun rights and lingering anger over Covid-related restrictions.
Their presence reveals a fringe pushing into the mainstream.
“The church is supposed to direct the government, the government is not supposed to direct the church,” Representative Lauren Boebert, a Republican representing the western part of Colorado, said recently at Cornerstone Christian Center, a church near Aspen. “I’m tired of this separation of church and state junk.” Congregants rose to their feet in applause.
To be clear, one should not equate this kind of religious-infused certainty of purpose with mainstream Christians. Even now, these right-wing extremists represent a relatively small segment of Christians, but they are being emboldened by politicians like Mastriano, Trump, and Boebert, and now we have no Supreme Court to protect us from them.
Your thoughts and comments are encouraged. What is to be done to resist this dangerous rightward slide?
Don’t forget the interview with Carol & Morty below, as they describe an effective Working America advocacy strategy that is being mounted in preparation for the midterms.
In solidarity & hope,
Paul & Roxanne
7/9/22: An Interview with Carol Oppenheimer & Morty Simon
Below is an interview with Carol Oppenheimer and Morty Simon, two former NM residents and activists now living in D.C., where they are part of Working America, an organization that is employing interesting and highly effective strategies for motivating working class folks to vote Democratic. These strategies are being employed in swing districts nationwide, and New Mexicans can participate from home. The interview aired on KSFR Sat., July 9 at 8:30, but is delivered directly to you below in living color.