Sunday, October 14, 2018

Please VOTE! Our Tattered Democracy Depends on It

Please VOTE!!!
This national election seems pivotal. 
The survival of our democracy as we know it could easily depend on Democrats controlling the House. Fortunately, our own Xochitl Torres-Small is a dream candidate for Congress: a smart and levelheaded young water lawyer.

I understand the feeling that all politicians are crooked, big corporations really run everything, and own the politicians, and our democracy died long ago.

But. Please!

Financially, we're speeding merrily toward a cliff. Trump and the Republicans, notably through tax changes, have significantly exacerbated two major problems: inequality and debt. The breaks mostly helped the rich. Profits are up, but not wages. We will soon be crippled by interest payments. Military officials say the huge increase in our debt weakens our national security, dangerously. 
Administratively, Trump has no knowledge or interest in much of what goes on. Positions consistently go unfilled, while top posts go to incompetent and/or dishonest pals. Probably no president has ever seen so many appointees and advisers resign in disgrace or plead guilty to crimes in his first two years. Even if Trump left now it'd take years to get some offices functional again.
The dysfunctional White House sideshow distracts us from serious problems. 
He's filling our courts with extremists who meet an ideological test but sometimes haven't even tried a case. They're appointed for life. Many are young.

He loathes our democratic allies, but loves autocrats like Putin and Kim Jong-un. Even some Republican leaders are worried (but don't dare speak up).

Climate change? It's too late to prevent warming, but we could try to limit the damage some. Most nations see the urgent need for action. Trump removed us from the Paris Agreement. He's undone or weakened existing environmental regulations. He repealed the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, rolling back greenhouse gas rules for cars and easing methane pollution standards for oil and natural gas drillers. The U.N. recently reported that it's worse than we thought. Trump says “look at the source.” (U.N. members laughed at him when he bragged to them about his greatness.)

Even his supporters recognize Trump lies constantly. Maybe all politicians lie some; but Trump wallows in his dishonesty. One recent example: “As a candidate, I promised that we would protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions and create new health care insurance options that would lower premiums. I have kept that promise, and we are now seeing health insurance premiums coming down.” Actually, Trump made this promise, but broke it. He supported Republican efforts to weaken protections for folks with pre-existing conditions. The Obamacare provision letting people with pre-existing health conditions buy insurance has survived despite Trump. Premiums have kept rising. Experts say that without Trump’s moves to weaken the Affordable Care Act, premiums would be even lower in many states.

Russian hackers affected the 2016 election. Trump's people, including his son, met with Russians about the election. Several have admitted to lying about their Russian contacts and those meetings. Yes, Robert Mueller is investigating. But his report goes to the Administration. Trump and his AG could keep it secret if it's ugly. A Republican House might not demand to see it. A Democratic House would.

Xochi's a native Las Crucen who cares about us and our desert home – and has the skills to be effective. Her opponent speaks well and seems a good person -- but fully wholeheartedly Trump's agenda. The choice is clear. Please vote.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 14 October 2018, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  If I can muster the energy today to create it, a spoken version will air during the week on KRWG and on KTAL, 101.5 FM.]

[This was a particularly hard column to write because theirs just too much material.  The list of Trump pals in jail or facing jail or rolling over, and the list of Trump appointees who've misused funds or broken laws or otherwise disgraced themselves is extraordinarily long.  (Two years into Obama's Administration, I'll bet no appointee or adviser had been convicted of a felony. )  And both lists are exceeded by the list of Trump appointees who are plainly incompetent, inclined to destroy the departments they head, or otherwise appalling.]

[I think for many of us Trump's election startled and dismayed us.  It felt rather like someone had died.    Then, as one does with a death, we resolved to live with it, and began to see that we could; and, since this was not a death, many who hadn't been paying much attention resolved to get more deeply involved in resisting the worst excesses as best we could.  And some days we thought it couldn't be as bad as it seemed like it would be.  But it could.  Now it has been.  In too many ways to fit into 570 words.  The saddest part is that so relatively few Trump supporters have seen him very clearlyAlthough many like aspects of his program -- border wall, anti-choice, ignoring gun problems, even ignoring climate change -- they can't have wanted a chief executive who idolizes Putin and is so bizarre that his own people hide things from him or start talking about the 25th Amendment.]   

[Below is a random list of other recent moments, not nearly the most important problems, but individually pretty appallingNone, perhaps, is as serious as Trump's tweets trying openly to obstruct justice; his complete disdain for the environment; his vicious attacks on a free press; and dozens of other things we're learning to take for granted.  But they further symptomize a mind-set.  I'm trying to urge people who share my concerns to get out and vote for Xochi Torres-Small for Congress.  I Yvette Herrell Friday and interviewed her for an hour.  Couldn't help liking her.  She's a nice person, I think; but on all things Trump, she supported him.  I'd be voting for Xochi in any case, because I think she's a superb candidate; but what adds the extra urgency is that she'll help keep an eye on Mr. Trump, whereas I fear Ms. Herrell will cast a blind eye to Trumpian conduct and support the dangerous policies discussed in the column.]

[Even U.S. citizens who consider adultery a sin, and gay folks sinners and somehow imagine freedom of marriage undermines their own heterosexual marriages don't want to kill all the gays.   But some countries do.  Adulterers, homosexuals, and blasphemers can be executed.  A United Nations resolution condemned "the imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, and consensual same-sex relations." Sounds good to me.  Shit, I could be executed for my youthful dalliances with married women or even my loss of adulterous conduct, The resolution passed handily; but the U.S. was one of just 13 countries that voted against that resolution.  As did Iraq and Saudie Arabia.  Reflecting on it this morning, I recall that last night, at the SWEC Gala, I sat at table with one heterosexual couple I've known for 50 years and some gay couples, acquaintances or close friends.  They were people who do a lot of good for their adopted community, and/or do creative work; one's a retired minister; they are long-time couples who love and care for each other; and I'm appalled to recognize that under Trump we can't even condemn laws that would let the police come and take them and execute them, if we were in some other country.]

[Trump's National Park Service Director now wants to inhibit free speech by charging fees for protesters who assemble on the mall -- and would close much of the sidewalk north of the White House to protestors.  Public comments are due Monday.  This would prevent spontaneous protests.
The fees are clearly aimed at curtailing protests.  But protests are a central feature of our culture.  Remember the Boston Tea Party? Martin Luther King's 'I have a Dream!' speech?  (I have a nightmare.)  The excuse for the fees is to save money.   They say cleaning up after the 2012 Occupy encampment cost $500,000 or something; but Trump wanted to spend tens of millions on a military parade, to stroke his ego and show our military might.  In any sane value system, we need both a strong military and a strong freedom of expression policy; but we don't need to spend on a military parade enough money to clean up all the protests from now until 2099.]

[The Consumer Protection Bureau just appointed a high official who had (anonymously, suggesting he knew his views would be received as they now have been) questioned whether racist hate crimes were really hate crimes and suggested that using the word "Nigger" isn't necessarily racist.  Well, that's a tough view to depend, although as a private citizen he's certainly entitled to hold it; but should he be making decisions about consumers, many of whom are not white Anglo-Saxons?]

[Whether you believed Christine Blasey Ford, Brett Kavanugh, or neither, or didn't know what to think after they spoke so passionately, the U.S. Supreme Court is important to all of us.  Kavanaugh demonstrably lied about his drinking, and (stupidly, I think) perjured himself by pretending several well-known sexual references in his prep school yearbook were each something else.  Classmates said otherwise.  The FBI investigation was so strictly limited -- by Mr. Trump -- as to be meaningless.  That's one more unnecessary way to undermine the Court's credibility.   Certainly Trump could have found an equally conservative nominee who had a more judicial temperament, didn't perjure himself so obviously about little things, and hadn't -- perhaps -- mistreated women.  Or the FBI could have investigated fully and perhaps cleared Kavanaugh.]

[The bottom line is that Trump is a dangerous buffoon being used by the wealthy and by conservatives, who figure his personal popularity with his base can help them get through policies that will hurt most of us.  Sounds familiar.  Conservative German industrialist and politicians saw Hitler that way.  Fortunately, Trump does not have the deep, well-considered program of hatred and bitterness Hitler had.  He's an almost childish narcissist, and a casual racist; but seems highly unlikely to embark on a program like Hitler's, despite the neo-Nazis' passionate support of him; but he's doing us serious harm every day, in dozens of ways, and we need folks in Congress who'll function as a loyal opposition, not folks who'll rubber-stamp his every move.]


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Why New Mexico Is Improving Guardianship Laws - a Case History

A new AARP Magazine article reminded me of the day I said farewell to a delightful, courageous Japanese lady named Kise. 

A year earlier, her stepson approached me in the market and asked me to help free his Japanese stepmother. She was “like a second mother.” When he first went to Japan at 14, she not only welcomed him but effected a reconciliation with his father. 

She'd moved to the U.S. with her husband, who died in 1993. She loved her garden and her cat, but she was aging, and her stepson lived in California. They'd discussed her moving there when living alone got too hard. He'd arranged home-help for her here, but she fired the help.

It was a shock when a neighbor called: authorities had put her somewhere -- for her own safety.
He and his wife came to Las Cruces. They wanted to take her to California. They couldn't. The guardians and their lawyer vilified him.

I helped them awhile, as a lawyer, then referred them to a firm. 

As a columnist, I've learned from other sources of heartbreaking abuses of New Mexico's guardianship laws. I was even advised that “clients” were in the charge of a woman who had been fired, allegedly for questionable treatment of clients. (An October 2017 New Yorker article detailed abuses of Nevada's law, which was especially favorable to guardians taking over people's lives, even where family was willing and able to help.) 

New Mexico's Supreme Court created a commission to look into abuses and make recommendations. The Commission heard many horror stories. It recommended that when someone is in danger of being committed, family must be notified and given a voice. It also recommended making hearings public. While we'd like to keep such proceedings confidential to protect the person involved, confidentiality allows guardians to abuse their power. (In Nevada, there were numerous cases of an agency taking over a person's life, collecting handsome sums from the person's bank account, and refusing families' efforts to help – or even visit.) Sometimes, though, guardians do wonderful and essential work. 

In January 2017, Judge James T. Martin ordered the guardians to try to help Kise move to California. They made excuses. (They'd made clear to me that they had no intention of moving her.) They kept her living with people far less functional than she; and their willfulness cost her and her stepson lots of money. (During one visit, a lady who was intently watching a TV show for young children kept confusing Kise and me with characters in the show. Kise whispered, “You don't get smarter in here.”)
In February 2018 the Judge ordered them to comply with his 2017 order. 

We celebrated with lunch at Aqua Reef. We were so relieved that Kise could finally move to a facility near her stepson's home, join them for meals, and go to their house to garden. She called them “a godsend.” 

I wished I had a videotape of our conversation to show her “guardians.” What was remarkable about our good-bye lunch was that it wasn't remarkable. Kise was charming and quick-witted. Her stepson and his wife treated her with the love and respect she deserved.

As I hugged everyone, I realized how moved I felt.

It seemed incredible that for over a year her guardian and court-appointed lawyer (perhaps well-intentioned), had charged Kise big bucks to keep her locked up and away from her family.
[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 7 October 2018, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website (New Mexico's Guardianship System Raises Serious Questions).  A spoken version will air during the week on KRWG and on KTAL, 101.5 FM (streamable at,]        

[I can't say much more about Kise's case, except that when I've had a chance to talk with her and her stepson, things sound so much better than when she was here.  Nothing against the facility in which she was kept, where the people who worked with her seemed to genuinely like her and be liked by her.  The key problem is that operating in relative darkness, guardians have pretty absolute power over their charges, particularly since in any disagreement a competent-appearing professional has a pretty significant credibility edge on a person who is or may be approaching dementia.  And we know what Lord Acton said about absolute power corrupting absolutely.  Perhaps it's a wonder that some -- perhaps the majority of -- guardians are honest and caring and thoughtful.]

[In California, Kise read this column and appreciated it.  She commented that "you don't normally read something in the newspaper so truthful."  Thursday is her birthday -- she'll be 87 -- and I'll be thinking of her.]

[Again, I do not mean by this column to indict an industry.  Or anyone.  I mean to join the chorus warning that there are dangers here Kise did need some kind of intervention.  But the guardians, in my opinion, dug in too deeply when faced with a loving family.  Her stepson became the Enemy, and battling him seemed to become their missionI'm told that under the new rules, they would have been required to serve him with papers right from the start, which would have helped here.]

[By the way, although stories have also appeared in the Albuquerque Journal, the AARP Magazine piece (by Kenneth Miller), which sparked my publication of this column, is in the October/November issue and is entitled "AARP Investigates: A Legal Hostage" and subtitled, "A court-ordered guardianship nearly shattered the life of Kise Davis in a trend that now too often leads to isolation and exploitation of older Americans."  (I'd written the column months ago, but not thought it appropriate to publish it while the case was in the courts and before the information in it had become public.)]

Larry and Kise -- from the AARP article

Monday, October 1, 2018

Random Recent Images -- Garden and Mid-Autumn Festival

Haven't been doing much visual play recently, let alone posting anything.  But after I played around with this image of a Maximilian Sunflower hosting a bumblebee, I liked it; and when I'd left it on the screen and then returned to the room and saw it at a distance, I liked it better.  Nothing special, I know, but fun:

A Quiet Sunday

Then I thought about the poisoning of the bees and the vulnerability of plants and people to the climate change our leaders deny exists, and liked the image a little more somehow.

Saturday as the shadows lengthened and the sun descended, I stopped by the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, and shot a few pictures -- with sun behind performers -- that I played around with for a moment this morning.

It was sponsored by our old friend the Confucius Institute.  Elvira said some of the performers were from Las Cruces Academy -- and I saw Vince Gutschick there shooting video.

Pleasant to see such a varied assortment of ethnicities represented in the performers and the audience. 

And here are a couple more images from the garden. 

Bird Bath w Blossoms

Self-Portrait w Rain Chain

Sunday, September 30, 2018

A Sad Stumble by a Strong Local Institution

Imagine you're a young, idealistic, religious college grad who's traveled cross-country to the Borderlands to work as a fellow with Border Servant Corps.

You'll work with and learn from a local nonprofit, live in a house with others like yourself, and make enough to cover expenses. For 21 years, BSC has been a great program. You're excited. 

One night, when you and the others planned to discuss your spiritual paths, BSC's board chair and Pastor Jared Carson from Peace Lutheran show up at the house. They announce they're canceling the program. Your year of service won't happen, and you have to be out in a week. You'll receive $500 toward travel expenses... if you sign something right now. No time to consult anyone.

It's painful to write this. BSC does good things here, notably the Refugee Hospitality Ministry.
But fellows and local nonprofits are asking, what happened?

Financial reasons were hinted at. One fellow asked how money could become an issue so suddenly. More likely, it was a response – maybe overreaction – to a respectful proposal by BSC alumni for sensitivity training and better protection of fellows. (I have no basis to judge the proposal's merits. Carson concedes the substance was acceptable.)

The proposal apparently ruffled feathers in BSC/Peace Lutheran. Alumni were questioning the board's wisdom. The board told the alumni they were “badgering” the board (as perhaps they were), so the alums sent an email promising not to initiate further contact (to avoid “badgering”), but hoping they'd hear from the board. They didn't. The board says it created a subcommittee to address the proposal, but never told the alums – claiming the alums ended the conversation. (Carson opines that someone on the board misconstrued the alums last email, which is unfortunate.)

Carson was forthcoming and cooperative when we talked. He acknowledged that BSC/Peace Lutheran may not have handled the matter perfectly, but says the alums had been somewhat demanding, and the board needed to protect staff from taking time responding that'd be better spent on other BSC work. He also says the alums had so infected the new fellows with discontent (or, “unhealth”), that the new fellows' year could not have been a good one, so the program needed to be terminated. 

He said all the fellows already knew of the conflict. (My sources say some did, some didn't.)
Certainly the action was abrupt. It surprised and disconcerted local nonprofits to which fellows had been assigned. (Some worked out a new deal with their fellows. Some couldn't.)

Everyone is sad. “I'm grieving as much as anyone,” Pastor Jared told me. 

I'm sad too. I like and respect Pastor Jared Carson. What the BSC board did to these folks and the nonprofits was harsh. While I can't conclude the alums hadn't unnecessarily provoked the board, I don't see evidence for that in the email strings. More likely someone at BSC couldn't or wouldn't deal thoughtfully with a challenging situation. Couldn't BSC have discussed the issues with the fellows first? Asked questions – not come in with guns blazing?

I'm writing this because it's troubling on many levels. Not only has this negatively affected some fellows' feelings for their church, and angered parishioners, but a local institution known for promoting justice, kindness, and humility has arguably fallen short in this case. These kids were victims. If BSC can make these kinds of mistakes, so can we all.
                                            - 30- 

[This column appeared this morning, Sunday, 30 October 2018, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well and should soon be on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air during the week on KRWG and on KTAL, 101.5 FM (]

[This isn't my favorite column.  Again, I wouldn't want the abrupt termination of the fellowship program to undermine the positive values of BSC's and Peace Lutheran's other important programs; but neither did I think this incident should go unnoticed.  If I were a Lutheran I'd be asking further questions internally.  From what I've learned so far [and although Pastor Jared responded to my request to talk with him about this, the BSC Board Chair did not get back to me], the Board's conduct on this doesn't look mature, wise, or particularly Christian.]

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Ford and Kavanaugh -- and All of Us

Christine Blasey Ford's possible testimony reminds me of Anita Hill, although the allegations and the times are very different. 

When Hill testified that Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her, our law firm felt like two worlds. The other lawyers, mostly male, thought Hill's complaints insignificant or invented. The secretaries (mostly female) believed Ms. Hill (as did I), and understood why her testimony mattered. 

Ford says that Brett Kavanaugh (then 17, to her 15) tried to rape her, but was too drunk. His failure doesn't erase his mind-set. Or her trauma.

Her account of being strongly affected for years rings true. I've known many women who were permanently traumatized by bad conduct the man responsible might easily have forgotten. (My blog discusses examples.)

Her story is a credible mix of vividly recalled details (of what frightened her) and lost circumstances (whose house this happened at). She told it, identifying Kavanaugh, long before Trump nominated Kavanaugh, and she passed a polygraph test.

We haven't yet heard them testify under oath. 

The third person in the room, Mark Judge, alternately denies the incident and denies recalling it, and has already fatally undermined his credibility. He said such behavior would be wildly out of character for the nice Catholic boys who attended Georgetown Prep then. However, Judge's two memoirs portray the school as a hotbed of debauchery where boys “lusted after girls” from nearby schools and drank themselves into stupors at parties. Further, he's written of “the wonderful beauty of uncontrollable male passion.” Jeez but it'd be fun to cross-examine that fool. (In Judge's 1997 memoir, he references a “Bart O'Kavanaugh” who passes out drunk and throws up in a car. He's also complained of “social justice warriors” who confuse rape with innocent demonstrations of masculinity.)

I recognize Judge's “ambiguous middle ground” where a woman feels tempted but hesitates, and a man's energetic encouragement “helps” her decide. Sometimes what a man considers seduction feels like force to a woman. But that has nothing to do with Kavanaugh and Ford. Ford was 15 and had shown no interest in lovemaking. She says she was clearly fighting him. He was allegedly too drunk to care about her wishes – or enjoyed her fear. 

It's unfortunate that politics delayed bringing her claim to public attention, and to the FBI's attention. It's tragic that her allegation has evoked threats on her life so serious that she and her family have had to move out of their home. But she should speak, and should be heard. Whether or not his youthful conduct should be decisive here, this is an important public discussion.

If Ford testifies, the Senate Judiciary Committee will have powerful evidence against Kavanaugh: the sworn testimony of a sane and careful woman who has passed a polygraph. Judge's writings implicitly support her, by describing an atmosphere in which such conduct wouldn't have seemed unusual. Kavanaugh will say either that he never did such a thing (and never was so drunk he doesn't recall his conduct), or that he recalls no such thing and can't imagine that he'd have done it. Unless something in her words or manner strongly undermines her credibility, Ford's testimony will be the stronger evidence. 

The FBI might then investigate. Someone might invite Kavanaugh to take a polygraph test. 

Meanwhile, a fair observer might conclude that if his conduct at 17 didn't disqualify him from the Court, committing perjury at 53 should.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 23 September 2018, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air during the week on KRWG and on KTAL 101.5 FM, streamable at]  

[I do not want to seem overly judgmental.  I'm not.  I probably drank even more than Kavanaugh did for a while in my youth, and am lucky not to have killed someone with my driving on Friday and Saturday nights.  I recognize that although what he allegedly did -- or tried to do -- was very wrong, I suspect there are moments from my life I wouldn't want to be judged on.  And I try not to judge others anyway.  I'm also well-acquainted with the legal principle that a defendant accused of a crime, who could lose his or her liberty if judged guilty, must be and should be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty; further, s/he has to be proven guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt"; but I'm more familiar with other legal standards.  For example, in a civil lawsuit -- an accident case or allegations of unfair termination of employment -- is judged by the preponderance of the evidence.  Plaintiffs' lawyers often point out that "if the evidence, on the scales of justice, seems absolutely even in weight, and a feather falls on one-side, then you must decide for that side."  (In between is the "clear and convincing evidence" standard.)  

Kavanaugh is not being threatened with jail or execution, or even a fine.  He is a highly-privileged man holding a high position for his lifetime, unless impeached -- and fewer than a dozen of the 19 federal impeachments in the past 200+ years have resulted in conviction.  He is asking us to appoint us to an even higher position.  So let's not misapply the "innocent until proven guilty" rule.  If it's hard to tell, after they both testify, and you kind of lean toward the idea she's telling the truth (and you think his conduct matters, which is another question), what's wrong with leaving him in his current privileged position?]

[Haven't seen any press on anyone suggesting Kavanaugh volunteer for a lie-detector test.
But it makes sense to me.  It's inappropriate in a criminal case.  It'd be unconstitutional to insist on one there.  However, it's required in a lot of employment situations.  If you want the privilege of working in my bank, why shouldn't you  prove your honesty and thaat you're not addicted to gambling or to expensive drugs like heroin and cocaine?  
Here, Kavanaugh is seeking a lifetime appointment to one of the top jobs in the country.  I'm not saying polygraphs should be required of all such nominees; but where we have such a "He said, she said" situation, and the accuser (assuming she does, on Thursday) presents well and sounds persuasive (and has taken a polygraph herself) why wouldn't a Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee invite the nominee to take such a test?  For that matter, why wouldn't Mr. Kavanaugh, if in fact he knows she's fabricating her story, jump at the chance?  The only answer I can think of, if he's confident in the truth of his testimony, would be that taking a lie-detector test doesn't befit the dignity of a federal judge; but how does he suppose leaving this credible allegation out there would impact his dignity as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice?  If she's full of shit, then show us, Brett. 
If he declined, although that's not something a prosecutor could use as evidence against a criminal defendant, it might seem significant to an honest Senator who doesn't quite know whom to believe.]

[That she didn't publicize her story long ago, or make a criminal complaint against Kavanaugh, does not undermine her credibility.  We should all know by now that women often don't -- particularly 15 year old girls afraid they won't be believed, or afraid their parents will punish them for being there in the first place, or afraid she'll be socially destroyed as uncool, or afraid a complaint will just anger the boy enough that he tries again when he's not too drunk, or just mortified and embarrassed and unsophisticated. 

Ironically, as I was writing this column I interviewed a lady named Cari Jackson.  The Rev. Cari Jackson.  Who, before becoming a minister, went through law school.  She'd told me that although raised Pentecostal, she' begun to disbelieve, but that something traumatic had caused her suddenly to pray again, when she was 14.  What was the trauma?  She was raped.  Probably earlier in time than the Kavanaugh-Ford incident.  She did report it.  She adds that the white cops "violated me again," by insisting on their preconceived notion that she was making up the rape story because she'd wanted what happened but needed a defense against parental punishment.  

Girls are afraid.  Page down to a poem posted here on Friday, about one such girl, who I think was 14 when raped. 

I know another girl was 13 when an uncle tried to kiss her and feel her up in a car with another couple.  Didn't try to rape her, but scared the hell out of her.  Breached trust, too.  Decades later, that event, perhaps forgotten by him, was still affecting her. The poem is based on the story of a woman who'd been raped by an older sister's friend, in a VW. In her 30's she still couldn't have satisfactory sexual relations with a lover, because of it. It is not only the extreme horribles – a gang rape, say – that screw someone up for a long time. 
So Ms. Ford's story revives a lot of sleeping ghosts, of people I cared about scarred emotionally by incidents the boys or men probably forgot. 
And perhaps the best explanation of why people don't report a sexual attack against them when they're young comes from Charles Blow, an op-ed columnist in the New York Times.  The link is to a five-minute discussion on television, and I urge anyone who doesn't fully understand to listen to him.  He points out, for example, that it was 17 years before he mentioned the attack to anyone (a stranger, as it happened), didn't mention it again for two years, and didn't tell a third person for another eight years.  His television testimony is powerful.]

[Times have changed.  But not completely.   Although a recent USA Today story  reports that a poll shows that Kavanaugh is the first Supreme Court nominee whose confirmation is opposed by more people than support it (40 to 31 %), there's still a significant gender gap.   While women mostly believe Ford (35%, against 21% who disbelieve), men tend to believe Kavanaugh's denial (37% to 28%).  Not surprisingly, women oppose his confirmation by 20 points, 43 percent-23 percent, while men support him by four points, 40 percent-36 percent.  (For me, it's too early to say I believe her, since I haven't heard and watched her (or him) testify; but obviously I do lean that way.)]

[Note: after writing all this, Charlotte sent around excerpts from a Washington Post op-ed by a conservative  taking a stronger position on the point that if we can't tell, after Thursday, Kavanaugh should not be confirmed, partly for the sake of the dented credibility of our highest court.  He makes some good points.]

[The other question one hears is, "does it matter?" or "if it was just one youthful indiscretion, should it screw up his life?"  Reasonable-sounding question.  I think it does.  I want to see them both testify.  I tend to think the attempt displays an attitude that like remains inside him.  ("The child is father to the man.")  On the other hand, attitude's change.  I'd not like anyone to assume that mine haven't changed since a childhood in the 1950's and high school graduation in 1964.)  But even assuming a deep change in attitude in Mr. Kavanaugh, I also feel a little as if I lack standing to say, as do all the men on the Judiciary Committee.  If it appears that he did this, how do women -- particularly the many who've been raped or sexually assaulted -- feel about safety when one (or two, depending on your view of Clarence Thomas) of the nine Supreme Court justices have credible though unproven sexual misconduct on their records?  If Kavanaugh had grown up in Nazi Germany, and been in Hitler Youth, would we ask Jews to consider that an insignificant youthful indiscretion because everyone was doing it and thinking that way?  If he'd been in the Ku Klux Klan, would a black Congressperson shrug and remark that lots of southern boys had been, so no matter?  
Again, voting not to confirm him is a far cry from putting him in jail for an alleged incident from his youth.  We should go on our best and fairest reading of whatever the evidence is.]

[Jeez, sorry this is so long!]

Friday, September 21, 2018



for twenty years she's wondered how he felt.
She felt confused and hurt and guilty, scared
of pregnancy, afraid that he'd come back again,
afraid he'd never want to see her face again.
It took ten years to know the word was "rape."
And still she cries at night, without quite knowing why. 
And still she keeps the light on when she loves, or tries.
Sometimes she cries to think how proud she felt
to seem grown up, to ride beside a boy -- her sister's friend --
already old enough to drive; to let his dancing eyes
draw laughter from her timid heart. 

Perhaps he felt as mortified as her kid brother did,
at seven, when his arrow killed a bird.  He'd aimed
at it; but then he held its lifeless body in his hands
and cried.  She doesn't think that Larry cried
-- or even knew he'd killed anything.  He didn't feel
the pain between her legs or how her head still throbbed
from banging on car door and seat.  He didn't see
her cry -- she steeled herself -- but must have seen
she sat all huddled up and couldn't speak.  Was he scared
of her father or the cops?  She never told
-- how could she tell, and have them look at her that way?
What would her parents do? She showered silently. 
She sees him swaggering among his friends, she hears
the jokes he must have made.  By now he's long forgotten her.

He goes to work each day somewhere, and sleeps
at night beside his wife.  He disciplines
his children, tries to raise them right.

Current events made me pull out this poem.  I'd written it years ago, and made only minor revisions, then took it to poetry workshop Thursday evening.

I was working on a column and thinking about how often I've seen "minor" episodes a man might reasonably have forgotten can wreak havoc with the victim's life and psyche for the rest of her life, despite therapy.  Of course, the episode described in the poem was not in the least minor.  "Larry" succeeded in doing what Brett fumbled around trying to do.  That doesn't make Brett any more virtuous or considerate than Larry.

The barmaid was a real person I knew pretty well.  She'd been raped when she was 14.  Boy just came to the house to see her sister, and when the sister was out he invited the younger girl to go for a ride -- and raped her.  I was pretty moved by what she told me, and how I knew it had affected her, and wrote the poem, using many details from her story but omitting some and adding some.  (For example, the kid brother shooting an arrow at the bird was something I did, over at a friend's house, at some young age.)  It doesn't quite feel like my poem; and reading it saddens me.

Around then, she decided to do a performance piece or an art installation about the event, which (amazingly, perhaps) had occurred in a Volkswagen beetle.  I had a VW,  She borrowed the back seat from mine to put in the gallery as part of the piece.

Anyway, she was still strongly feeling the impact of the moment after twenty years, while he had probably pushed it far to the back of his mind.  That dissonance helped move me to write the poem, and I recalled it when reading about Mr. Kavanaugh and Ms. Ford.

Someone suggested I delete "Her First" from the title.  Although I meant it as "first sexual experience," it could be read as "first rape," which I hadn't intended, or as "first lover" which the rapist was obviously not.  I'm still thinking about that, but she's probably right. It was not a sexual experience but an act of violence.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

U.S. Created Much of its "Refugee Problem"

We should keep in mind our role in creating the conditions refugees are fleeing. 

For example, U.S. actions in 1954 had lasting impacts on Iran and Guatemala.

Mohammad Mossadegh became Iran's Prime Minister in 1951. A genuine national leader, popular and competent – and intent on land reform and nationalizing the oil industry controlled by Britain. The U.S. (C.I.A.) and Britain engineered a coup in 1954. The Shah of Iran agreed only when the U.S. told him it would go ahead without him. Many Iranian leaders were executed. U.S. and U.K. support for Shah Reza Pahlavi was a major factor in the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Any surprise that (after overthrowing Pahlavi) Iranians held Americans hostage in our embassy for 444 days? And still distrust us? They remember a past we've forgotten.

Guatemala elected Jacobo Arbenz. He planned to distribute land more fairly. U.S. companies, huge landowners in Guatemala, didn't approve. The U.S. government orchestrated his 1954 overthrow. United Fruit Company board member Allen Dulles and the U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles were brothers. (Allen became head of the C.I.A.) The U.S.-backed coup caused a three-decade civil war featuring genocide against the country’s Mayans. During that period, the U.S. denied more than 98% of Guatemalan asylum requests. 

Mexicans have always sneaked across our border to work. But two dominant forces affecting Mexico in recent decades are (1) the powerful and vicious drug cartels and (2) farmers displaced by NAFTA. Well, who buys the bulk of those drugs, creating the market? And which country's policies, including the idiotic “War on Drugs” have helped increase illegal drug use here? And whether or not Mexican or U.S. leaders intended it, NAFTA has made a lot of Mexican farmers landless and homeless. 

Many current refugees come from El Salvador. Trump blames the MS-13 gang. Did that start in El Salvador? Nope. Try southern California's streets and prisons – which held many Salvadoreans in the 1990's. Why were so many Salvadoreans here? Fleeing a vicious civil war in which the U.S. heavily backed right-wing governments and paramilitary groups. MS-13's chief rival, Calle 18, also began life on the streets of L.A. 

The Salvadorean community that developed here in the late 20th Century was primarily people fleeing a nightmarish civil war, complete with unspeakably violent death squads, in which the U.S. armed and assisted right-wing paramilitary forces, as we did in Honduras.

Our support of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista yielded Fidel Castro – and our overreaction to Castro strengthened his anti-U. S. position and helped impoverish the people, without weakening their support for him.

We're currently supporting Saudi Arabian proxies in a devastating war in Yemen – and we've imposed a travel ban that prevents folks from fleeing to join family here. UNICEF says 11 million children there need humanitarian assistance. That's nearly every Yemeni child.

We're not responsible for the world's vast and growing refugee crisis; but we've sure contributed to it.
Some argue that in penance for our national sins we should let everyone in. I don't agree; but our thoughts about the problem should include a good, long look in the mirror – and face our role in creating it.

[Note: after drafting this column, I learned that the film Harvest of Empire, which argues that much immigration results directly from U.S. maneuvering in Latin America, will show at the Fountain Theater at 3:45 this coming Saturday, September 22. I'll be watching.]

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 16 September in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air on KRWG Radio and KTAL 101.5 FM (stream at during the week.]

[Do consider seeing Harvest of Empire -- or reading the book, by veteran journalist Juan Gonzalez.  Again, the film is showing at 3:45 at the Fountain Theater.  (If you go to Russ Bradburd's talk at Branigan Library at 1:30, you'll have time for an ice cream or coffee at Cafe de Mesilla on your way to the Fountain.)  By the way, you can learn more about the award-winning documentary here. ]