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Reies Lopez Tijerina, RIP

[ 41 ] January 20, 2015 |

Reies Lopez Tijerina, New Mexico legend, land grant rights activist, and early Chicano activist, has died at the age of 88. Tijerina is known for the 1967 armed raid he led on the Rio Arriba County Courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico in order to free a member of his movement to take the land grants back from the federal government.

The Spanish and Mexican governments encouraged northern settlement through the issuance of land grants, a semi-communal form of land ownership that allowed for vast common areas and a variety of economic activities, including sheep herding, logging, low-scale mining, farming, hunting, and other activities that were basically subsistence living. A very different form of land ownership than the Anglo-Saxon model of individual property ownership, the land grants were supposed to be guaranteed in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. But after the Civil War, wealthy whites managed to convince courts (the same courts that were repressing African Americans and Native Americans during the Gilded Age) to split the land grants up, allowing for the dispossession of basically all of northern New Mexico. Eventually, much of this land became the national forests and wilderness areas of the region today. Of course, the residents never recognized the theft of their land, leading to long-term tension between government agencies like the Forest Service and local residents, sometimes spiked with violence. The dispossession of the land also led to long-term poverty in the region among the Hispano population, a problem that remains unabated today among a group that has among the highest heroin death rates in the country.

Tijerina, a former evangelical preacher who had started his own experimental community in the 50s in Arizona, he felt a calling to go to Mexico to study the historical roots of the condition of Mexican-Americans in the United States. There he learned about the land grants and their thefts by white Americans. later turned his talents toward politically organizing the people of northern New Mexico. He stared the Alianza Federal de Mercedes, an Albuquerque-based movement for Hispano rights. By 1966, the group was staging large rallies in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

In October 1966, the group seized the Echo Amphitheater, a natural formation on what was once a land grant. As their demands increased, eight members of the group were arrested and placed in the Rio Arriba County jail in Tierra Amarilla. Tijerina and his followers then went to Tierra Amarilla to conduct a citizens’ arrest against the district attorney. This turned into a shootout. A state police officer and jailer were wounded. Later, that jailer was beaten to death by an unknown assailant. Tijerina escaped for awhile in Albuquerque but eventually served two years in prison. The Alianza died and land grant movement generally declined but the tensions remain in northern New Mexico today.

In doing this, Tijerina became one of the foundational figures of the Chicano movement, along with Cesar Chavez, Corky Gonzales, and others.

After his release from prison in 1971, Tijerina was active but not a leader in the Chicano movement. He certainly wasn’t influential in his last decades, but his actions in Tierra Amarilla and his demands for justice for New Mexico Hispanos certainly served as a call to the nation to take this minority group in a forgotten part of the nation seriously. Many hated Tijerina, some because he said controversial things throughout his life, some because he challenged the New Mexico power structure. But his importance cannot be overstated.


Counterfactual of the Day

[ 81 ] January 20, 2015 |

What happens if LBJ decides to run for reelection in 1968?

The Benefits of Legalization

[ 74 ] January 20, 2015 |

The most obvious benefit of legalizing marijuana is the end to mass imprisonment, largely consisting of people of color, on non-violent drug crimes that hurt no one (in the case of marijuana, even themselves) at the cost of trillions of dollars to taxpayers, the breakup of families, etc., etc.

The second most obvious benefit of legalizing marijuana is the potential destruction of stoner culture, which could not possibly happen soon enough.

Should Nature Receive Legal Standing?

[ 27 ] January 20, 2015 |

Such is the question offered by environmental historian Adam Sowards. Based around a 1972 William O. Douglas dissent saying that nature should have legal standing in environmental cases, as opposed to the interests of the members of environmental organizations (for instance).

And so it seems unlikely, at least for now, that Douglas’ vision of nature as an entity with the right to sue will manifest in our courts. But does that matter? It depends on your criteria. The aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in Sierra Club v. Morton helped establish standing for environmental organizations, thus facilitating environmental litigation. The court’s opinion did not extend that right to natural objects, but Douglas’ dissent nudged the courts toward recognizing nature’s rights. This perspective pointed the way, according to legal scholar Christopher Stone, toward a new “level of consciousness” for the courts.

And so the debate about nature’s standing then becomes a broader philosophical debate about law and what it can and can’t, or should or shouldn’t, do. Law is not intended to transform levels of consciousness or morality; it is a pragmatic discipline. As a practical matter, extending standing to natural objects may simply be unnecessary.

As a moral matter, however, the failure to acknowledge nature’s rights frustrates legal and environmental activists and surely would have disappointed (though not surprised) Douglas, who retired from the Supreme Court in 1975, after a debilitating stroke, and died five years later.

Today, global climate change, biodiversity losses and habitat fragmentation are creating unprecedented social and ecological problems. Environmental crises require serious changes in governance and legal systems and, arguably, in morality. When organizations such as the Earth Law Center work to “advance legal rights for ecosystems to exist, thrive and evolve,” or when Ecuador declares in its 2008 Constitution that nature “has the right to integral respect for its existence and for the maintenance and regeneration of its life cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes,” they are paying homage to Douglas’ -vision and implementing it in governing structures where law and morality may intersect.

Maybe it doesn’t matter all that much. After all, it’s not all that hard to establish that people have an interest in a sound or untrammeled or (describe how you want) ecosystem. But the lack of nature itself having legal standing does suggest how society prioritizes not only humans over other creatures but also development over the interests of the creatures displaced or destroyed by that development.

Interesting thought piece at least.

On Diners

[ 190 ] January 19, 2015 |

One of the oddest things I have found in my time in the northeast is the region’s ardor for diners. I have nothing per se against them. They provide certain services. The food is adequate if you are on the road. If you have children in your party, they offer an easy choice. The same with older people who might not be real into food. They are pretty cheap. If you want to do some work in public, you often can there.

In other words, diners serve a certain function in society. But having lived the first 37 years of my life in, well, pretty much every region of the country but the northeast, I certainly did not expect the dominance of diner culture up here. The nation has Denny’s and that’s, well, what it is. And the South has Waffle House which has a charm of sort. But the cultural impact here is just so different and to me strange given the relatively limited benefits the things offer. This is why I read Ed Levine’s essay about diners with such interest. Yet I remained unconvinced that they offer anything more than what I mentioned in the first paragraph. They aren’t about the food. I guess I don’t care about homey service from Flo so maybe that’s it. Or maybe it is my general indifference to breakfast and most of its traditional foods. I think the last time I had a craving for pancakes was in college. They are locally owned working-class businesses by and large and that’s cool from a political perspective, but it doesn’t per se make me want to go to them. Also, I don’t drink the vile brewed beverage known as coffee so a bottomless cup of that will never appeal.

So what I am missing here? Why am I a horrible human being for my indifference to the charms of diners?

Arkansas Heroes

[ 72 ] January 19, 2015 |

MLK Day in Arkansas:


The Most Dominant Performance in NFL History

[ 34 ] January 18, 2015 |

Seattle 28
Green Bay 22


Republican Minority Outreach

[ 26 ] January 18, 2015 |

Republicans choose not to include Univision in its primary debates. Makes sense, since only the Al-Qaeda drug mule wetback terrorist Mexicans* watch it and they are the enemy of the Good Americans (TM) who vote Republican. At least it will allow for full racist clownshow in all the debates.

*Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, it’s all the same.

Today in Genocide History

[ 2 ] January 18, 2015 |

152 years ago today, the U.S. executed Apache leader Mangas Coloradas. Of course his body was then mutilated and subject to the pseudo-scientific racial testing of the day.

Robert White, RIP

[ 67 ] January 17, 2015 |

Getting my Ph.D. at the University of New Mexico, I became deeply exposed to the Latin American left and its American supporters. Mostly this was good, but one of the arguments I was never comfortable with was that any person or any program remotely involved with the U.S. government was automatically corrupted with the legacy of American imperialism. While that legacy is certainly strong enough and continues to cause incredible damage throughout the region, this critique made suspicious not only Peace Corps but those who volunteered to do it, Fulbright scholarships, and it goes without saying, anyone associated with the U.S. Foreign Service. But this critique left no room for those who really were trying to do positive things, even if they might not have supported the revolutionary politics of those on the left.

I thought of this last night when I read this obituary of career Foreign Service officer Robert White, drummed out of government service by Al Haig after he blamed the rape and murder of 3 American nuns and a Catholic laywoman in El Salvador on the U.S. supported military government of that nation. Of course, White was correct.

Serving every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower as a career diplomat rather than a political appointee, Mr. White was distinguished by his dispassionate, boots-on-the-ground analysis and his blunt conclusions.

He once branded Roberto D’Aubuisson, the Salvadoran rightist, a “pathological killer.” And in a face-off that Mr. White had with Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, Mr. Kissinger blinked, revoking a reprimand he had ordered after Mr. White, at a meeting of the Organization of American States in Chile, delivered an unalloyed critique of the host government’s human-rights infractions.

“I was fired by the Nixon White House for opposing politicization of the Peace Corps, reprimanded by Henry Kissinger for speaking out on human rights, and finally, definitely dismissed by Alexander Haig for opposing a military solution in El Salvador,” Mr. White recalled.

Inspired to serve in Latin America by what he called President John F. Kennedy’s “creative response to the revolutionary fervor” sweeping that region, Mr. White lamented that once Kennedy was assassinated, Washington adopted a single-minded goal to thwart Communism, whether in Vietnam or in its half-century embargo of Cuba.

Maybe White was an anti-revolutionary. Still, quite a record of service there.


[ 42 ] January 16, 2015 |

2014, the hottest year in world history. I’m sure the conservatives will find some way to say 1998 was still the hottest and thus global climate change is a hoax. Meanwhile, oil prices are collapsing so I am sure we will deal with these problems very very soon.

Islam at Duke

[ 62 ] January 16, 2015 |

While I appreciate Duke University’s initial agreement to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer once a week, its quickly succumbing to the racist blatherings of Franklin Graham and the anti-Islam fanatics that dominate the American right show both that the acceptance of Islam anywhere in American society is tenuous at best and that college and university administrations will always cave in the face of the first conservative protest over anything that goes on at their campus.

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