Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Undefeated - a Visit with Merrie Lee Soules

I had lunch with Merrie Lee Soules recently.

She wasn't wallowing in whatever pain she felt over losing a hard-fought Congressional Race to the oil-and-gas funded incumbent. 

She was already working on her direct testimony before the PRC opposing El Paso Electric's continued efforts to game the system in ways that cost you and me. EPE has plenty of money and plenty of lawyers. Citizens and customers have the City, the County, and four intervenors. She's one. EPE is expected to seek extra money for additional power plants. One source alleges that EPE has overcharged $100 million on fuel costs in the past three years. 

Ms. Soules spoke not of where she'd been but where we New Mexicans are going. She expressed concern that the Democratic legislature might be too accustomed to playing defense, and not quite ready to pass all the right measures and worry later about whether the lame-duck governor vetoes some of them. Or all of them. And she was a fount of useful ideas to get our economy going again.

These included taking full advantage of our potential as an international crossroads, rather than quivering in fear because we live near a border; ending oil and gas subsidies; getting money circulating to improve the economy, partly by improving the minimum wage; and legalizing marijuana, a much discussed boon to New Mexico's economy.

When I finally asked about the campaign, her beaming face confirmed her words, that she had “no regrets” – except that failing to win might have “let down” some folks. “It was a new adventure every day.”

What did she learn?

 “My heart really is in southern New Mexico.” She marveled at “how vast, how beautiful, and how diverse this district is.” She added that the campaign experience was so rich and varied, “I wished we could make a reality TV show out of it.”

What moments stood out?

The All-Pueblo Council of Governors. It struck her that “in this meeting of nations, there are the heads of sovereign nations meeting together to work together in the interest of their people, their culture, their lands. What an amazing privilege to be there!” 

A Mescalero Apache woman invited her to a Feast / Celebration. The day before the parades and dancing her guide escorted her into teepees and arbors set up to celebrate five young girls reaching womanhood. Ms. Soules was introduced to people and helped to understand what was going on and why. 

In Rodeo, a small boot-heel community, “There was a convention of 200 people there, to celebrate the life of a recently deceased herpetologist. They'd been out all day gathering samples. The main presentation concerned snake venom research.” 

She said that pretty much everyone she met while campaigning was deeply committed to doing the right thing for New Mexico – whatever they thought that might be. “We had big differences of opinion; but it wasn't good and bad, black and white. Everyone seemed intent on doing the best for their community and state – as they conceive it.”

She found our Congressional District “filled with people who have stories to tell, fascinating people, good people. It's been a blessing.”

Our talk increased my regret that we'd all lost the opportunity to have Ms. Soules representing us in Washington. (Vastly underfunded, she carried this county handily, but lost the election decisively.) That's our loss. She's a tough-minded businesswoman with a big heart, with our interests foremost.
The fact that she's wasting no time and is already deeply involved in her next fight on our behalf only illustrates the magnitude of our loss.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News (or so I assume, not having wandered out to the mailbox yet) this morning, Sunday, 27 November 2016, and will appear presently on the newspaper's website and the KRWG-TV website.]

Sunday, November 20, 2016


What I think changes the world, for each of us, is being grateful.

We are so often not. We are so often focused on what we've lost, or think we've lost; or what others have that we suppose might make us happier; or on people we suppose to be enemies. There is a lot of pain to be had, in a huge, indifferent universe that barely notices us, with time and technology speeding far beyond what we can comprehend. We are insignificant creatures clinging briefly to this planet.

Yet that is also an incredible privilege. Just walking down to the compost bin with a couple of buckets of water as the sun sets, as nameless feathery grasses glow in the rich light, glancing at the reddening mountains, thinking over a day full of friends, I am suddenly grateful. Then at the front of the house I watch the love of my life hula-hooping to the mailbox to get the mail and the morning paper. The comic joy of it cannot be captured in the photograph I instinctively shoot. 

I do not know what this world is. I don't fully trust those who feel certain they do, although it's certainly fine with me if you want to thank God or Allah or the Great Spirit. But do thank someone, or something. Science has taught us that folks who laugh freely and hard every day live longer. It may also be so with gratitude. Certainly it feels better to recognize how lucky you are than get obsessed with the transitory nature of it all, or a tragic presidential election.

I do have two theories I like to play with. One is that this earth is a toy that a child is playing with in some other world that's much more complex than we can imagine. At any moment s/he may toss it away; so live as fully and as well as you can, each moment. As Dogen put it, “At each moment, do not rely on tomorrow. Think of this day and this day only, because the next moment is uncertain and unknown.”

I first read those words on a train crossing northern China. As I read them, the train screeched and shuddered to a sudden halt. Immediately below my window, a blue-clad peasant lay dying. Hit by the train. Urine was spreading on the ground under him or her. Villagers or officials and trainmen gathered a few yards away, exchanging cigarettes. Dozens of fellow passengers nearly crushed me trying to get a better view.

The universe had illustrated Dogen's words in a unique way.

My second theory is that the denizens of some more sophisticated world take human form on this Earth for periods of time. I have not quite figured out whether they do this merely as a game – a far more complex and challenging one than the best-crafted video games – or whether there's a deeper purpose. Perhaps they do it to improve themselves. Perhaps they sign up for particular human lives, forgetting their “real” world the moment they're born here, and must remain here until they accomplish some particular thing, or reach some particular plateau of wisdom or goodness, when they are suddenly released back to the world from whence they -- we? -- came. 

It seems as least as reasonable as the Christian or ancient Greek concepts.

But if you believe something else, fine! 

What matters is to recognize that each moment, as a highly imperfect being in this highly imperfect world, is beautiful. And not to assume you or I deserve any credit for that.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 20 November, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG-TV's website.  I hope folks enjoy it.]

[This column kind of wrote itself.  I came back up from the compost bin and sat down, and it just happened.]

[I doubt I'd ever have written any such thing before meeting my wife.  She knows about gratitude.  In fact, early in our relationship, in a city far from here, she took me to the Gratitude Cafe.  I don't know as I so consistently recognized life as something to be grateful for, until now.  She's not only made me more grateful for life, but she's also a great example.  I was not thinking when I wrote this column that this week would be Thanksgiving.]

[Dogen (Dogen Zenji, or Kigen Dogen), by the way, was a 13th Century Japanese writer, poet, and philosopher who was dissatisfied with Buddhism as it was practiced in Japan, traveled to China to find a more authentic version, and founded the Sōtō Soto School of Zen.  Zen, of course, emphasizes being truly present and mindful in the moment, each moment.

Some years ago, when I was playing around with such things, I fashioned this, and a copy hangs on a wall here:

Thinking about how we get here reminds me that much earlier, when I lived on a boat off San Francisco, I photographed one morning my good friend Gary (who lived on the next boat over, and who died last year) and his daughter; I liked the way the early-morning sunlight accentuated the difference between his lined face and her fresh one; and as in those days I often photographed the dawn or a rainbow or whatever, then matched it with a poem, I made this:

                 Dawn loves my daughter.
                Neither she nor the new sun
                speaks of the past lives
                through which they found their ways here.
                Yet I hear them whispering.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

How Bad Will It Be?

We're in deep manure.

Fortunately, I live in Doña Ana County. Trump's snake oil didn't sell here. We elected good people to the statehouse: Nathan Small, Angelica Rubio, Jeff Steinborn, Rudy Martinez; and, finally, Joanne Ferrary beat the Doctor! We defied oil companies and banks. 

But millions of voters were sufficiently angry or distressed to toss the U.S. Government in the toilet. They had reasons. (Had Clinton won, I'd still be urging both parties to take seriously the disaffection expressed in votes for Bernie and Trump.) 

People knew Trump was an unqualified wack-job. But they disliked Hillary and “the Establishment.” They wanted to punch both in the nose. They liked Trump for being a bull in a china shop; but they (and we) live in that china shop. 

What happened? Polls weren't rigged. Trump's polls and Fox News also indicated Trump was losing. Some voters dissembled. They held their noses and voted for Trump, but weren't comfortable saying so. Others decided late.

Most Trump voters I know are neither racist nor stupid. I talked to several, though most avoided saying how they'd vote. Some were women. One was a Hispanic friend I play pickleball with. He doesn't hate anyone (except me when I win) but has family working the border. Some religious friends said God uses even bad people for His purposes. I suspect some cast a “protest vote,” comfortable that Trump wouldn't actually win.

People voted less for Trump than against Washington – and Hillary, the wrong candidate. Thirty years of conspiracy theories and partisan attacks on her didn't help; but the distrust runs deeper. Her husband had an almost pathological need to be loved or admired. Great politician. Hillary was reserved, private. Running for President meant being someone she wasn't. People sensed that. (Al Gore was smart and qualified, but uncomfortable following the family's political tradition. George Bush was unqualified, but comfortable. People liked and trusted him. As with Romney, folks never warmed up to Hillary.)

It's ironic. Clinton isn't particularly dishonest, for a politician. Trump's rarely in the same zip code as the truth. 

Misogynism was probably involved. A man who mocks and gropes women won handily among men. And Comey's October Surprise probably pushed Trump over the top. A previously ethical guy who may live in infamy. But in a complete democracy, with no electoral college, the narrow popular-vote winner (Clinton) would be hiring cabinet members.

One important takeaway is the deep divisions between city folk and country folk, blue counties and red. Wholly different realities. We need bridges!

Our country and the world will suffer, ruled by an impatient narcissist who knows nothing about government. Will he do crazy things or just let himself be guided into bad policies by the very right-wing advisers he trusts? (His own instincts aren't ideologically pure.) Generations will have to live with his Supreme Court justices and ostrich-like view of climate change. Putin will play him like a Stradivarius. Will our children emulate his greed and discourtesy? 

Trump talked as if he'd bring back criminal libel laws, to control the press. Which you'd figure our Constitution would prevent, but with a Republican Congress and a Trump Supreme Court?

I hope and believe Trump won't be historically bad. Hitler was elected too. By angry people who didn't all share his racism and paranoia. I don't think Trump's quite such a hater; and our democratic traditions are deeper than Weimar Germany's.

Still, November 8th was a nativist step back from tolerance and understanding. Voters struck back against corporate globalism; but the corporations will do fine. 

New Mexico is my refuge. But I'm scared.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, November 13, 2016, as well as on  the newspaper's website  and on KRWG-TV's website.  I welcome comments, criticism, and questions here or on those sites.]

[My working title for this post was "How Bad Will It Be?", and I'm in a rush this morning, so I'll stick with it; but I don't really answer it in the column, because obviously I can't.
I do say it won't be Hitlerian.  Trump doesn't have Hitler's long-standing political resentment.  He doesn't hate ethnic groups the way Hitler does.  But he did exhibit prejudice against blacks in his businesses. And he has obviously found it convenient as a political candidate to say horrible things about other ethnic groups.  But I think it comes more from expediency than from deep-seated hatred.  He's not obsessed.  
Unfortunately, he comes to the Presidency with a unique sort of power: very few debts, even to other Republicans, and a victory that clearly was his own, not the party's.  The conventional Republicans who loath him mostly didn't give him a lot of help, and both he and they know that, so he has some independence.
He's closest now to some of the really farthest-out right-wing people on the spectrum. That's whom he may trust.  And that bodes ill.  But his own politics are more moderate, to the extent that he's thought about politics at all.  Yeah, he loves the rich and powerful; but his attitudes on gays and abortion and other social issues were moderate before he started seeking the Republican Presidential nomination.  Will he hunker down with his Alt-Right advisers or execute yet another change?  Does he secretly hope for the approval, admiration, and respect of the political pros the way he once hungered for respect from the upper-crust New Yorkers when he moved from Queens into Manhattan against his father's advice? I think he'll be more agreeable to letting them run a lot, so long as they genuflect and express their awe of him as a Great Man.
Either way, it'll be bad: time's running out on doing anything about the climate, and whether he pals around with Breitbart or Ryan we won't do anything for another four years; the Supreme Court will get worse and be worse for at least a decade; gays will lose out big-time, if Pence has anything to do with it, as he likely will; women's rights are likely to suffer, although we can hope his family may neutralize some of the right-wing influences on him in that area. 
Further, his election will encourage the haters among us.  I've heard women, immigrants, blacks, gays, and Muslims express their fears, and those fears are more than reasonable.  I share them.

Sadly, Trump will exemplify for our kids greed and arrogance. Most people who loathed Obama's policies recognized his personal grace and decency. Most people who voted for Trump recognize his negative personal qualities.]

[I mentioned the oddity of religious folks supporting Trump, and their explanation that God will use him.  I've never gotten a very clear answer from anyone when I ask how they know God plans to use Trump for good -- as opposed, say, to the devil using him for evil.  But I've been given plenty of examples of people who weren't the greatest in different ways (Churchill being a drunk before God used him to save England; Lincoln something undesirable, I forget what, before being used to save the Union; also the Apostle Paul (who wanted to kill Christians, at first), Cyrus in the Book of Isiah.  Or Samson, or Gideon.  One friend wrote me in a facebook message that "When God chooses one, they are changed and captive to fulfill his will. We all have shortcomings and some worse."  Well, Trump's shortcomings exceed those of most folks, but nothing God can't deal with -- if He chooses to.  He might decide we deserve what we get because we responded to a campaign based on hatred and intolerance and threats of violence.  Or he might have been trying to warn us with Trump that he wanted to use Hillary -- also a very imperfect person, as most of us are -- for His purposes, despite her shortcomings.   I'll try again to figure out how we can tell who God means to use.]

[The analogy of this election to Gore-Bush.  I do think personal connection moves a lot of voters, who either don't care about the issues or care more about feeling good about saying "That's my President."  The Gore-Bush difference was enlightening:Gore came from a powerful political tradition, and went into it as another might go into a family business; but he was never fully comfortable with it, kind of like the pre-med students I knew in college who really wanted to be poets or actors but couldn't cross their parents; and it showed, he seemed awkward somehow.  George Bush was a reformed alcoholic, the son no one had ever had any hopes for, the "good guy" who'd never make anything of himself, and when he ran for President he was surprised and happy to be emulating (even surpassing) his father's political success, when everyone had thought Jeb might do that.   A lot of folks found him charming, but couldn't relate to Gore.  Bush, like Reagan, seemed more open and friendly and comfortable to be around.  Trump, in a different way, was too.

Someone asked me election night "How do we get through this?"  First, by waiting to see how things go.  Second, by not letting our political grief affect our daily lives too deeply.  Also by being alert, watchful, and prepared; by keeping in closer touch with people with good hearts; by being ready.  If there's a contradiction there, sorry.  Life is full of those.  Like cancer, this will pass.  Or it won't.  Either way, we will do the things we can do to treat it (speaking out, despite undoubted efforts to shut us up; attending more diligently to making things better in our wonderful state and wonderful town until we can do something to help our wonderful country) and try to live each moment the best we can, without thinking about the sword hanging over our heads.  

For others' reactions, everyone from Garrison Keillor to Coach Popovich has screamed "Aww, fuck!" in more elegant language than that. New Yorker editor David Remnick calls Trump's ascension An American Tragedy, and closes:
"It is all a dismal picture. Late last night, as the results were coming in from the last states, a friend called me full of sadness, full of anxiety about conflict, about war. Why not leave the country? But despair is no answer. To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do."
I also particularly liked Aaron Sorkin's [creator of West Wing] letter to his daughter.  Though, speaking of daughters, one friend told us that while she was excited about the local victories of our friends, her three-year-old daughter said, "Mommy, it's okay to feel happy and sad at the same time."

Also see Michael Moore's Five Point To-Do List or recover Michael Moore's Five-Point Morning After To-Do List on Facebook

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Last Thoughts before Tuesday

We're hearing coyotes again, howling furiously before dawn and after sunset. Fewer hummingbirds are wintering over this year. The golden eagle visited with us for an hour Saturday. None care about the election; many humanoids don't either, for understandable reasons; but it will affect all of us.

Either you see the many serious ways that Donald Trump is an inappropriate and dangerous Presidential candidate or you don't. The lengthy New York Daily News editorial lists the grim facts better than I could.

Clinton is surely imperfect, but she's highly competent and experienced. And her girlish idealism still shines through sometimes.

Many decent people feel so aggrieved by their lives that they'll accept Trump's racism and sexism because he's a giant middle-finger they can give the system. If the system ain't working for you, why not toss in a huge monkey wrench? Mainstream Democrats and Republicans should learn from the huge support that folks gave a septuagenarian socialist from Vermont and a greedy, narcissistic TV clown from New York.

But Donald can only compound our problems.

A vote for Gary Johnson (a Koch Brothers' dream) or Jill Stein is a vote to risk a Trump Presidency that would set us back years. It's a vote for sexism and ethnic prejudice. It's a vote to keep ignoring climate change, and let corporations do as they like with our air, land, and water. (I wish hummingbirds and eagles could vote!)

James Comey's October surprises shouldn't influence you. There was no criminal prosecution over Hillary's emails because no one had intended to betray the U.S. or pass classified material to enemies. That won't change because the FBI reviews Anthony Weiner's copies of emails the FBI has probably seen already. 

Sure, Hillary violated a rule – as had previous secretaries of state; but Donald's whole life is a tapestry of greedy rule-bending, bankruptcies that hurt people, and prosecutions for racist actions. And he faces an imminent trial for defrauding students with the Trump University scam. 

I urge you to vote for Merrie Lee Soules. She'd be a breath of fresh air in Congress. 

Closer to home, Susana Martinez, Jay McCleskey, the oil and gas industry, and their allies are trying to give Martinez a pliable Legislature that will do her bidding without any critical thinking. Sadly, that's how the Republicans have behaved for six years. Unless you like her style – avoiding key issues and playing politics, without even trying to keep the State's credit rating from going down – you might wish to vote for the Democrats for the Legislature. 

There are strong reasons to defeat each of those Republican legislative candidates. Terry McMillan, reportedly a fine doctor, not only does the bidding of oil and gas but shortchanges us on a key part of the job, interim committees, because of the demands of his medical practice. Democrat Joanne Ferrary has a history of public service and is capable and experienced. McMillan's approval of the smear campaign against her is another point against him.

Democrat Nathan Small is a wonderful person capable of representing this area with particular integrity and ability, while his opponent, incumbent Andy Nuñez, faces a serious ethics investigation and seems to be compounding his problems with his frenetic efforts to deny everything and repeatedly amend his financial reports. 

Rudy Martinez was a strong representative in District 39. Current incumbent John Zimmerman follows the oil and gas playbook and gets terrible ratings on conservation. 

County offices? As I wrote weeks ago, I voted for Republican treasurer candidate Jill Johnson and Democrat Scott Krahling for clerk.

But whomever you like, do vote!

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 6 November 2016, and on the newspaper's website, as well as (presently) the the KRWG-TV website.]

[I won't add a bunch of further comments here.  I do urge folks to vote for Merrie Lee Soules for Congress, Mark D'Antonio for District Attorney, and John Vasquez for the County Commission.  Ms. Soules mixes a businesswoman's skills with a progressive's heart, while the less said about her opponent, Congressman Steve Pearce, the better.  I don't know John Vasquez well, but he seems a solid sort of fellow, progressive but independent.]
[I think Hillary will win, both here and nationally; but FBI Director Comey's October Surprise has helped make it close.  While I understand the impulse to vote for an outsider, any outsider, rather than conventional leaders from the two political parties, I do fear a Trump Presidency.  Add his incompetence to his temperament, narcissm, greed, and impulsiveness, and you have a pretty poor choice to deal with the many problems of the world.    Add to that the folks around him -- from the "Alt-Right" extremist wing of the Republican Party -- and you have a mix for disaster, particularly if we also have a Republican Congress.  Too, we would get a disastrously one-sided Supreme Court and lose valuable time to mount a last-minute challenge to the worst effects of global weirdness.   It would also (although many, many Trump supporters are non-violent and non-haters) give license to some of the worst and most xenophobic elements of our society.  Further, the Russia connection is not a joke.  Putin is not only the leader of a major country we need to keep in check, but he's a vicious and greedy dictator who's stifled dissent and robbed his own people blind.  That Trump admires him is a further clue to Trump's own character; and that Putin is actively supporting Trump is significant.  I don't think he and Trump have talked to each other or connived together or anything; but I can guarantee Putin ain't supporting Trump because he has our national interest or the world's welfare at heart.  (If you haven't followed this, here's a recent piece on called Why Putin Helps Trump and What It Means.  I have found thehill a useful source recently, because it has contributors from all over the political landscape, including some passionate supporters of Mr. Trump.  Some of its contributors infuriate me.  Some are highly credentialed.)  Whether Mr. Putin sees in Mr. Trump a kindred spirit who can be led if you play him the right way (which I see too) or simply fears Hillary I can't say; but Putin's clear interest in having us elect Trump is one more good reason not to!]

[And, again, the Democrats have a quite good set of folks running for the Statehouse.  The Republicans have folks who range from "mediocre but well-meaning" to outright bad; and what they have in common is a commitment to oil and gas (and similar) interests at the expense of the environment and the interests of average voters like you and me.]

[I just noticed that the Sun-News endorsed Pearce this morning.  (Note later in the day: my wife reminds me that this endorsement was made a few weeks ago, just reprinted today; I must have noticed it the first time -- although I've been awfully busy.  Senior moment, maybe?)  Much as I like and respect the Editorial Board (at least, two members I know and work with; I have no positive or negative opinion of the third, whom I haven't met), and grateful as I am to be a columnist, I obviously disagree, and inserted an on-line comment.  The Sun-News emphasizes that Pearce keeps getting elected and that he has more experience in Congress than Soules. 
Initially, the editorial is a little dishonest on one point.  The editorial purports to explain "why he keeps getting re-elected" but omits the key reason, which is the massive bankroll he gets from oil and gas and other such interests, from inside the district and elsewhere. 
As to experience, if I were trying to get to Santa Fe I'd prefer a relatively inexperienced driver over one who would capably drive me to Phoenix instead, and smoke in the car the whole way. Pearce's conduct regarding the budget (and being willing to stop the government, costing us a lot of money, to make a political statement he knows will be ineffective) shows the nation's interest and ours are not at the top of his priority list, and it ain't fiscal conservatism.  Further, Pearce is in effect a climate-change denier, following the old tobacco industry playbook by saying perpetually that "we need more study of the issue" then bringing in completely unqualified and discredited hacks to pretend they're scientists and spout the oil-and-gas script.   (Pearce also appears to be Trump supporter who's a little appalled by Trump but hasn't the political guts to say so.)
I don't know what the Sun-News folks were thinking of, but it's hard to believe good government was a major criteria.  But of course, I'd vote for my cat or a stray coyote against Pearce.]