Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Thanks

Thanksgiving Week reminds me to be thankful for people in our community quietly doing good things.

Three I’ve run into recently are "Rags to Britches," Crossroads Border Project, and Jardin de los Niños.

Mountain View Co-Op not only sells healthy food but a small collection of colorful clothes for women and kids. Women in Juarez make them.

The business is called "Inspired Imports", and includes furniture, flags, and other items. The clothing line, "Rags to Britches," features mostly "hippie/patchwork designs - comfortable and fun," according to Rosario Escobedo at Mountain View.

Her mother, Siba, volunteers with the Proyecto Santo Niño, a clinic run by the Sisters of Charity for special needs children in Anapra, Mexico.

Siba, who lives in La Union, "got very acquainted with the families and their needs" and wanted to help. When Rosario wanted some clothing, and had a design in mind, her mother said she knew several seamstresses. The seamstresses made Rosario various items, those items garnered compliments from friends and acquaintances, and soon there were special orders. After less than half a year, those add up to enough to support several families in a more benign and child-care-friendly way than working twelve-hour days in a factory.

They can make "anything you can envision," Rosario says. Prices are quite moderate. The clothes are quite colorful. There’s also hand-crafted furniture, entirely from recycled wood. Another woman makes paper-mache altars for the holidays.

You can contact them at Clothes are sold at Mountain View and various outdoor events. The ladies hope other local businesses will soon step up and carry some of the items.

"Juarez is a bleeding city," Rosario notes. "A war zone, right in our backyard. This is a way to help. These are incredibly resourceful women, extremely industrious, just trying to get a leg up."

So thanks to Siba and Rosario for making it happen, to Mountain View for providing rack space, and to any of you who drop by and buy.

We also visited Ryan Bemis’s acupuncture clinic at Greenworks. One thing we liked immediately was the sliding scale for payments: treatments cost between $16 and $41 per hour, depending on what you feel you can afford. Talking to Ryan we learned of an interesting project.

A U.S. organization that has trained volunteers to provide something like acupuncture in war zones has started a program in Ciudad Juarez. Widespread violence there has traumatized survivors, many of whom can’t sleep and suffer panic attacks. Twenty Catholic parishes in Juarez now run servicios comunitarios, open to everyone, where volunteers administer an ear therapy technique known in New Mexico as acudetox. (It’s not full-body acupuncture.)

Ryan says the model has been used "in refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border, Uganda for Kenyan refugees, and the Gaza Strip, as well as after natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina." He’s helped train the volunteers who provide the therapy in Juarez.

Juarez lawyer and human rights activist Maria Elizabeth Flores says the results have been good. "People say they feel better and sleep better."

To raise funds, the group also sells hand-crafted piñatas made by Juarez artisans. They’re available at Ryan’s clinic at Greenworks.

Further information on the project is available at
Finally, we visited Jardin de los Niños to drop off an electronic image we’d donated as a Christmas card. Jardin provides nurture and care for kids who are homeless or nearly so, and is conveniently located adjacent to City of Hope and other facilities.

We were impressed with what they’re trying to do there – and with the idea of a single "campus" where those truly in need can address a lot of their food, shelter, child-care, and spiritual needs. Whatever you may think of homeless folks – and I get it that many feel "it’s their own fault," etc. – their kids deserve love and a little exposure to sources of hope and education.

The one sad thing I noticed was a lonely piano standing there, with no one to teach the kids a few notes. The piano appeals to them. They bang on it now and then, but right now there’s no one to teach them anything. (Made me regret again that I lacked the patience to keep taking lessons a thousand years ago.) So if you have the skills and a little place in your heart for homeless kids, please call Jardin de los Niños.

Their web-site is
. You can make a donation or ask questions there– or order cards, by clicking on "Holiday Cards." There are several fine images to choose from.
The image we contributed, by the way, is a combination of two photographs taken on a snowy day last winter. We spotted a Santa, all dressed up in the customary red, riding an extra-tall red bicycle past the old Las Cruces city hall, and shot his picture. Then I tossed in a shot of the Organs from an hour or so earlier. It’s cheerful and seasonal. (And I don’t get any of the money from sales.)

Anyway, my version of "Black Friday" will be to buy one of the piñatas, get the ladies to make me a colorful shirt and some gifts, and buy some holiday cards with a bicycling Santa on ‘em.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, November 25th.]

With regard to the Bicycling Santa photograph: an earlier post (on Christmas Day 2011) describes the circumstances.  (There's also a shot of Mrs. Claus in that post.)  I'd forgotten that I'd taken it December 24th.  I was happy to donate it to Jardin de los Niños.  I'd personally have chosen this version,
because it approximates a crayon drawing of Santa, and crayons are a kid-thing; but maybe the photograph has more impact.  If the image is a tree or a car, a kid's crayon drawing of it might have more impact under some circumstances; but with stuff we don't usually see close enough to photograph, like a unicorn or Mr. Claus, the photograph might be a better choice.  Anyway, Jardin has several fine images available from a variety of local artists.

What I liked about the "Rags to Britches" was that it's simple, direct, and sensible.  You can see some of their stuff at the Co-Op, or e-mail

Further information on Crossroads Acupuncture is readily available on-line. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

some thoughts from tuesday morning

I drafted this column before the polls closed, not knowing how things would play out Tuesday; but naturally I can’t resist updating it to acknowledge the results.

What I saw most clearly, thinking Tuesday morning about the future, was that whichever party won the Presidency shouldn’t get comfortable. The U.S. still faces some very real problems, some of which may not have widely acceptable solutions.

Our economy has not fully recovered, the deficit remains dangerously high, and we’re rapidly approaching a deficit-related "cliff." Longer-term problems include: past inattention to education and infrastructure; the aging of our population combined with rising health-care costs; climate change; energy costs and dependence on foreign oil; and the fact that we spend vast sums to protect military bases and interests around the globe.

If Republicans won, they’d lose in 2016.

The party has moved too far to the right to stay relevant in the 21st Century. That point was clear before the election; but Election Night illustrated it neatly, as networks intercut between the largely young and ethnically varied supporters waiting for Obama and the older, mostly white group supporting Romney.

A Romney victory would have given us several more far-right U.S. Supreme Court justices. With their help, President Romney could have delighted the Tea Party and angered many women by making abortions illegal, and could pursue the fight against gay marriage, which is laughable to the young and loses support among older folks every year. Election Night illustrated this too: in two states, voters for the first time voted their approval of gay marriage, while two other states voted to legalize recreational marijuana.

Romney’s economic promises were wholly inconsistent with each other. Four years would have revealed that unmistakably to the voters who believed in 2012 that maybe he could work magic; and after four years President Romney could no longer blame Obama for not getting us out of the Bush recession fast enough.

Meanwhile, just as Hurricane Sandy pushed climate change back into the electoral conversation, other extreme weather events are likely to make Republican denials sound even hollower.

Republican extremists, emboldened by success, would have pushed Romney to extremes unpalatable to the rest of us – forgetting that Romney narrowed the 2012 race only by denying at the last minute everything he’d said for two years. No etch-a-sketch would have been big enough to wipe four full years from the collective memory.

But the Democrats also have reason to worry about 2016.

Four short years after Bush left office, as we’re still struggling to dig our way out of the mess, the Republicans nearly won. They nearly won with a candidate whom even Republicans couldn’t make themselves like, advocating the policies that helped create our financial problems. Fair or unfair, by 2016 Democrats will own those problems in the public mind.

This was also the first presidential election since Citizens United. Nationally and locally, PACs used abundant, untraceable funds to say increasingly outrageous things without fear of liability. The 2016 elections may become even more determined by money and Madison Avenue’s creativity.

Republicans, controlling many state governments, will continue their carefully planned effort to restrict voting among the folks most likely to vote Democratic. Fewer early-voting opportunities, more photo-I.D. requirements, and other "minor reforms" will subtract from the Democratic vote totals in 2016.

On the national level, Tea Party Republicans (and party leaders who fear them) greeted Obama’s initial election by deciding that destroying him was more important than doing the best they could for the country. Will they greet his re-election as a warning to work with him toward solving problems? One hopes so; and one hopes that if they continue their obstreperous course their constituents will see them for what they are; but it’s more likely that Republican House members will automatically call the sky red if Obama says it’s blue, and then try to blame him for not getting a consensus on the sky’s color.

Republicans will again play "chicken" with the nation’s economy the way teenagers do with cars. They’ll gamble that Obama will drive off the road to avoid disaster – or that if he doesn’t the public won’t be able to see whose fault the disaster is.

Civility and compromise are at a pretty low ebb in the political world. That’s partly because of the Republican flight to the right, but also because we live in a time when every political sneeze is analyzed ad nauseum in cyberspace, and on talk radio and TV, before anyone can say "God Bless You." Gridlock will leave voters even more disgusted with both parties in 2016 than it did this year.

I didn’t have to know who won Tuesday to know that politicians in both parties need to relearn some manners, and be more flexible and creative in seeking practical solutions to very serious problems.

Part of that change needs to start with each of us. As I wrote Tuesday morning: "Wrongheaded as some of us will think he is, the next President is neither a traitor nor a devil. At some level he believes his policies are good for the country, although his view of the country may differ sharply from ours. We owe him frank but fair criticism and more respect publically than some of us will think he deserves."

"Could you do that?" someone asked. Had Romney won, I’d have tried.

[The foregoing column appeared this morning, Sunday, 11 November, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, under heading "Either Side Would Have a Tough Four Years Ahead."]

Beyond the barebone facts -- that Obama won more comfortably than expected, despite the bad economy, and that Democrats picked up a few seats in House and Senate -- there are some grounds for hope.
One of those is the resistance voters showed to the heavy-handed tactics and generous financing of the "super PACs."   For example, casino billionnaire Sheldon Adelson, the largest single political donor in history, invested heavily in backing eight candidates, including Mitt Romney.  He gave tens of millions of dollars to super PACs supporting them.  None of the eight won.   All Karl Rove could say to the fat cats who invested $300 million in his two pro-Romney super PACs was that "Without us the race wouldn't have been this close."
In fact, Rove was beside himself.    He'd talked a lot of rich folks into parting with a lot of cash, making big talk about turning his Crossroads PACs into a "permanent presence in U.S. politics," working alongside the Republican Party.  His American Crossroads super PAC spent at least $1 million in each of ten Senate races, and saw its candidates lose in nine of the ten; or, as someone else calculated, when you counted its support for Romney and various others, just one per cent of the money the PAC spent accomplished its desired result.  No wonder Rove screamed at his Fox pals not to call Ohio for Obama!  Wednesday another conservative activist called Rove's PACs "ineffective" and  wrote that "in any logical universe he would never be hired to run or consult on a national campaign again."
In New Mexico, the super PAC run by a Martinez lieutenant and funded largely by Oil & Gas backed quite a few candidates, but in many instances voters seemed able to see through the misleading fliers and ads.  Martinez actively sought to retire several long-time Democratic legislators, and actually got rid of only one, despite heavy spending by the super PAC.
Unfortunately, we haven't seen the end of the super PACs.  With all that money, the Republicans will be able to buy a few brains capable of identifying better and more persuasive ways to spend.  (I won't offer any specifics!)  I'd like to think that folks will still shake off that shit like the proverbial water off a duck's back. 

One slight correction, or amplification, too:
I wrote that two states voted to legalize same-sex marriage.  A third, initially too close to call, also turned out to have done so; and Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate.
During the campaign, her sexual preference apparently was the non-issue it should have been.

The other night at a political meeting, a white-haired gentleman got up to speak about the election; and after praising a progressive candidate who'd lost, he added that it was also wonderful that three states had approved gay marriage, Minnesota had rejected a DOMA, etc., and at that point it was clear that he was tearing up with emotion.   When he sat down, his white-haired companion put his arm around him, affectionately, and complimented him on his brief talk.  It was moving.  There was a certain sweetness to them.
I thought of a friend I'd known here in the early 1970's.  We'd been in the initially small minority strongly questioning the wisdom of the war in Viet Nam.  At some point in the 1980's, visiting NMSU, I ran into him in Corbett Center and we talked awhile.  He told me then that he was gay, and had been gay back then, but had feared letting even his fellow progressives know about it.  He spoke a little bitterly about watching me sit on the lawn at a meeting with a girlfriend, maybe holding hands or whatever, when he knew very well that if he did that with his lover someone would have stomped them.  It was sad that he had thought even we would reject him -- and sadder that some might have.   I thought also of a retired English professor I met again recently, a fellow I'd vaguely understood was gay back in the early 1970's, and whose long-time companion was and is a professor from a more conservative department.  I've never had to hide for decades a major part of my life, and undoubtedly can't fully appreciate the pain it would cause if I couldn't reveal my love for Dael to even many of my closest friends -- and if just turning on the TV or reading a newspaper, or getting a drink at the water fountain at work, could at any moment provide some zinging reminder that much of society thought we were somehow disgusting.

By the way, I heard that as of Satuday morning the race between incumbent Terry McMillan and challenger Joanne Ferrary is a tie.  It'll be certified that way, I'm told, but subject to a mandatory recount anyway because it was so close.  Should be interesting. 

Finally, congratulations again to Evelyn Madrid Erhard for running hard and well against a highly-favored opponent.  She carried the County, and made the final tally a lot closer than I'd have guessed when she started the race.   I called her this morning, just to thank her again for trying and congratulate her on running so well, with no initial name-recognition and not much money against the darling of New Mexico's oil and gas industry.  A reader called her "Don Quixote" in this morning's "Sound-Off" column in the Sun-News.  She deserves our thanks.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Morning after Election

Jeez, it feels good to be home.

Of course I'm pleased by President Obama's victory.  I felt fairly strongly that he would win, but thought it would be closer.   I did not expect him to win almost all the "battleground" states, and to do so by margins that were almost comfortable. 

I'm also pleased that New Mexico, and particularly Doña Ana County, as expected, gave the national ticket and Martin Heinrich very comfortable margins.

Obama won for three reasons, not including his significant advantage in the "ground game."  I saw a little of that firsthand.  I happened to be at Democratic Headquarters, and past 5 p.m., with the polls closing at 7, people were still doggedly calling voters, urging them to vote, thanking them for voting, or trying to arrange a ride if one was needed.  Not many people; but they were volunteers, not a call center.  They were neighbors and committed advocates, not folks making an hourly wage.  You could hear it in their voices, too.

Obama won, despite a difficult economy, because:
1. People could just not bring themselves to like or trust Mitt Romney;
2. The Republican Party has moved too far to the Right for a changing United States; and
3. People apparently did recall, as the Republicans urged them to forget, which party had contributed mightily to the economy's downfall.

A recent Doonesbury mocked the fact that the Republicans, just four years after Wall Street played a huge role in our financial crash, nominated a Wall Street guy, and at least one analyst on TV emphasized this; but more crucial, though related, was the fact that folks just can't warm up to the guy for more visceral reasons.  All during the Republican Primary Season, when the Republicans played "Anybody But Romney," it was not merely because his record as a governor had been somewhat moderate, but also because people just couldn't warm up to the guy for visceral reasons.  That was related to, but distinguishable from, their distaste for Wall Street guys.  George Bush was a rich guy who never had to work with his hands to make a buck, but people liked him and wanted to believe him.  With Romney as the obvious eventual nominee, Republicans in 2012 went through an almost weekly enthusiasm for an embarrassingly unlikely cast of characters such as Cain, Gingrich, Perry, and Bachmann.   Romney appeared wooden.  His lack of familiarity with the average person's life made for some howlers when he tried to cozy up to working-class folks; and although his handlers had urged him to smile more, he lacked a solid instinct about when to apply that principle, and sometimes smiled like a monkey as he spoke of the suffering of an unemployed single mother with cancer or something.  He didn't have what George Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton had.  With Reagan or Clinton, people felt better listening to him, even if he was uttering something idiotic; with Romney, people felt his brittleness and absence of commitment to anything other than trying to gain the office his revered father had failed to reach.

The Republican lurch to the Right and the changing nature of the country were well-covered in the election  night TV stuff.  It was wonderfully on display in Senate races such as Indiana's and Missouri's, which by all rights Republicans should have won: they chose a Tea Party buffoon in each state, tossing out a respected long-time Senator in Indiana, and each buffoon behaved like one but still figured he could win.  It was also on display in the vast differences in age and ethnicity between the crowds at each party's Presidential Headquarters: Obama's supporters were young, lively, and multi-ethnic; Romney's were almost universally white, mostly middle-aged, and probably included a hgiher percentage of males.  Meanwhile, Maine and Maryland became the first states ever to vote their approval of same-sex marriage, which is anathema to the Republican stalwarts and Romney, Minnesota rejected a constiutional amendment banning gay marriage, and Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana use.    (Sadly, physician-assisted suicide appears to have been defeated in a fairly close election in Massachusetts.  Particularly since my parents' deaths I've had strong feelings that terminally ill folks ought to be able to end their suffering if they choose to do so, as my father did.)

Finally, exit polls confirmed that folks said by wide margins that Bush, not Obama, bore primary responsibility for our poor economy.  To me, the Republican arguments against Obama always sounded like a guy who'd run up $100,000 in credit-card debt while he and his wife had a combined annual income of $80,000, then, after she confiscated his credit cards and insisted on keeping the checkbook, screamed six months later that she hadn't gotten them out of debt.  The Bush Administration was incredibly irresponsible.  Disaster followed.  Obama has made some of the right moves.  That he has not made more of them is partially Republican opposition and partially his own appointment of some "financial experts" of the wrong stripe, and probably also partially a failure of political will.  However, for the most part he's tried reasonable steps and probably saved us from a worse economy than we currently have.  Romney offered nothing except more of the Bush-Cheney policies -- and a mythical "Plan" he couldn't quite define.

Waiting for Romney to concede was tedious but interesting.  It became increasingly obvious not only that he was clinging to unrealistic hopes but that he and his folks had really drunk their own Kool-Aid and believed that his momentum and the poor economy were carrying him to victory.  That happens in campaigns (or in trials, theatre productions, feature film-making, and sports): you're so surrounded by your co-workers / well-wishers / supporters and your "kind of people" that the messages from outside that circle pale by comparison with the palpable enthusiasm your people are bestowing on you.  That Romney didn't understand he was still an underdog these past weeks may also have symbolized his major problem: that the America he sees is an extemely limited one, restricted by his privileged life and narrow world-view.

I'm pleased, but concerned: election night euphoria fades quickly, and the financial cliff hasn't moved.  We're still rushing toward a dangerous place with regard to the deficit, and the Republicans aren't sounding like folks who understand that survival will require compromise by everyone.

A few weeks ago I analyzed in my notebook why I was going to feel a good deal more depressed by a Romney win than I'd been by other presidential elections that had gone the wrong way.  I concluded that one factor was the extremely vicious nature of some contemporary Republican positions and another was Romney's conscienceless ambition.  To me, his combination of passionate ambition and whorish willingness to reinvent himself whenever it might garner a vote or two was a dangerous mix.  Meanwhile Obama was a genuinely competent President who'd started as a community organizer.  Finally, the prospect of spending the rest of my life watching an irretrievably right-wing Supreme Court stifle progress was uninviting. 

For the first time in years, having moved back to Las Cruces, I was also deeply interested in the local races.  I know some of the candidates, I know plenty about almost all of them, and as a columnist I took strong positions on some of the races.  Almost all the races went as I hoped.  In particular, the ones I'd spoken out about went well.   I don't assume or suggest there was any causal connection there, but mention it to explain how I feel.  When I lived in Las Cruces before, a lot of my beliefs weren't too popular.  With changes in the times and the town, Las Cruces has a quite progressive local government and voted quite strongly for Obama and Senator-elect Heinrich -- and even gave Evelyn Madrid Erhard a respectable majority against the incumbent U.S. Congressman.

I had felt particularly strongly about the three judicial races.  Governor Martinez (the former long-time District Attorney here, in case you're reading this outside New Mexico) appointed three cronies as judges here.  One in particular seems a somewhat spiteful sort, and a Tea Party darling; two of the three had lied to or about me; and their three opponents all seemed decent people who had good reputations as lawyers.  Further, the close alliance of Governor-Judges-District Attorney seemed unhealthy.  (A fourth Martinez crony was the District Attorney.)  We were surrounded by "Keep Judge So-and-So" signs, as if to suggest we had elected and expressed affection for the three (of whom one, by the way, seems a very decent sort of fellow).   I wrote a strong column on these races, but was not optimistic.  I didn't have recent experience with elections here, and knew Martinez was extremely popular.  The judicial candidates -- Marci Beyer, Mary Rosner, and Darren Kugler -- all defeated the Martinez "incombents" by several percentage points.

Similarly what I'd heard and seen of Amy Orlando and Mark D'Antonio convinced me that the county would be a lot better off with Mark as D.A.  Still, I feared his optimism might be a product of hearing so much from well-wishers and having far less contact with opponents.  I'd kind of expected to spend some time during the next two years writing columns trying to expose certain problems within the D.A.'s office.  Without getting into details, there was a certain nastiness and heavy-handedness to the Martinez-Orlando campaign to keep Ms. Orlando in office.  Mark is a capable lawyer with a great background for a prosecutor, and will bring a much-needed "breath of fresh air" to the D.A.'s office here. 

Most of the other local races went as I hoped they would too.  In one there's currently a twelve-vote margin, which may or may not survive provisional ballot counting and perhaps a recount.  Particularly because progressive or moderate candidates had been subjected to a barrage of ugly and misleading attacks by a PAC funded by Oil & Gas and run by a Martinez lieutenant, I'm heartened.  I hoped people would see through that garbage and make choices based on candidates and their actual positions; but I had no basis for predicting how these races would come out.

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, one key race turned out badly.  Our Congressional District includes Las Cruces but is weirdly cut to be primarily a Republican one.   Republican U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce is the darling of NMOGA and the Tea Party, but pays little attention to the needs or desires of the rest of his constituency, particularly progressives, environmentalists, and the like.  He doesn't have to.  Thus he's already voting to toss out the Affordable Health Care Act, and has consistently taken many extreme positions.  He'll likely be one of those unreasonable Republicans declining to compromise even to save the country's credit rating and possibility of financial recovery, and he snorts at the very idea that we might be contributing to climate change.

His challenger this time was a lady named Evelyn Madrid Erhard.  She had little political experience and less funding.  It was the classic David-and-Goliath battle, and Goliath was going to win; but Evelyn gave him a tough fight.  She dedicated her life to this race for the better part of a year, spoke energetically and well, and performed well in debates.  A newspaper poll a while back claimed she would win about 35 per cent of the vote.   She carried Doña Ana County and got about 41 per cent of the vote overall.  A fair way to put it would be that she lost in a landslide, but less of a landslide than most people predicted.  She ran heroically.  She deserves our thanks. 

I feel at home in Las Cruces; but it's still a little unsettling to a muckraking journalist to look around and notice that a high percentage of local office-holders are progressive, open-minded, and even environmentally-conscious individuals who also seem not to be motivated primarily by greed or political ambition.  Whom am I going to write about?