Journalist Thomas Wark, 82

Editor’s note: I met Tom and Lois in 2003 when I started Grassroots Press shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. By email, I had recruited Tom to write some op ed pieces, after I saw his powerful writing in the Sun-News. (He and Lois had recently retired to Las Cruces.) Not only was he eager to write articles (as Lois was to take photos), but the Warks helped Grassroots Press get off the ground with a couple of very generous contributions. Over the years, we became close friends. His blog, A Bordello Pianist, was a treasure trove of rants and musings on life, politics and the wild and beautiful places of the Southwest. He inspired several songs that I wrote and still perform. Amigo, the Revolutionary Council will miss you! SK)


Thomas Edison Wark, a retired journalist who held senior editing posts at the Detroit Free Press, Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Times, died Friday, Aug. 18, at Mesilla Valley Hospice in Las Cruces, N.M. The cause was pancreatic cancer. He was 82.

In revealing his terminal diagnosis to friends, Wark wrote, “It’s been a good ride. No regrets. Grateful for so many good friends.” One of them, Boyce Rensberger, who worked with Wark at the Free Press in the 1960s and at The Times in the 1970s, called him “one of the finest editors of the golden age of American journalism.” Another former colleague, David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize winner, said, “I owe much of my career to Tom’s spotting me among the many NYT stringers in 1971-73 and getting me to the Detroit Free Press. Love the guy.”

Wark was called “the father of Action Line” by Derick Daniels, former executive editor of the Free Press, for his role in creating and directing the public service column that became a staple of U.S. newspapers in the 1960s and ‘70s. (One of the column’s first researchers, and later its writer, was his wife-to-be, Lois Sutherland.) Within three months of Action Line’s introduction, the Free Press had overtaken and surpassed the rival Detroit News in circulation. Editors from around the world came to Detroit to observe the Free Press Action Line before launching their own versions of the column.

Wark also was part of the team of editors who directed Free Press coverage of the 1967 Detroit riots, for which the staff was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

At the New York Times he was successively a backfield editor on the National Desk, in the Washington Bureau and a news editor in the bullpen in New York, where a group of senior editors oversaw the paper’s content, display and standards. In Philadelphia, he was associate managing editor for features, where he directed a number of prize-winning projects.

Born in Detroit, Wark grew up in Iowa and studied journalism at the state university in Iowa City. He began his newspaper career as a sportswriter at the Clinton (Iowa) Herald, where he was serving as managing editor when Derick Daniels recruited him to join the Free Press staff in 1963.

In retirement, Wark delighted in playing what he called geezer-pro doubles, teaming up with the tennis pro at Picacho Hills Country Club in Las Cruces to challenge all geezer-pro comers. He and his wife were active in many environmental causes, including lobbying for the creation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico and Bears Ears in Utah. In the final months before his death Wark completed a memoir of his adventuresome father, Homer: My Father’s Odyssey, published in May as a paperback book through Amazon.com.

In an Afterward to the book, he wrote: “Homer wasn’t entirely wrong, that day with the portable typewriter in the Wiltgen flat on North Claremont Avenue in Chicago. I never made a helluva lot of money. But I would not change a thing. It never was about money.”

Thomas Wark is survived by his wife, Lois, a journalist who edited several Pulitzer Prize-winning articles for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and by seven children: his sons, John, of Pilot Hill, Calif.; David, of Hewlett, New York; Mark, of Largo, Florida, and Steven, of Reading, Pa.; and daughters Catherine Wark, of Queens, New York; Laura Wark Liu, of Juneau, Alaska, and Patricia Wark DePetris, of Wilmington, Del. He is also survived by many beloved grandchildren, who loved to visit New Mexico and Wark Base Camp West.

A memorial service is planned for later in the year during which his ashes will be released at a favorite mountain pass. Donations in his memory would be welcome to Mesilla Valley Hospice, 299 Montana Avenue, Las Cruces, N.M. 88005; the Southwest Environmental Center, 275 Downtown Mall, Las Cruces, N.M. 88001, or to the charity of your choice.





Facing History In the Age of Trump


By Robert C. Koehler

975 words

Tempting as it is to isolate Donald Trump as the worst president in history (and “worst” is putting it mildly . . . more like the most narcissistically infantile, the most Nazi-friendly), doing so achieves nothing beyond a fleeting sense of satisfaction.

Yeah, he’s scary. His supporters are scary. But he comes in a context.

Whether or not he’s impeached, or removed from office via the 25th Amendment, his effect on the country won’t go away. Trump can’t be undone, any more than an act of terror — or war — can be undone.

But maybe Trump can be addressed beyond a sense of outrage. Maybe he can foment, in spite of himself, not simply change, but national transformation. Realizing this, and seizing hold of the moment he has created, may be a far more effective way of dealing with his unhinged presidency than merely exuding endless shock.

This, of course, is how the mainstream media is dealing with the situation. Journalism has never been so yellow. Extra! Extra! Trump tweets a whopper! Read all about it!

The assumption quietly lurking behind such reporting is that the national interest is best served by containing the president’s outbursts and normalizing him: keeping him on script, making sure he utters nothing but clichés for the next 40 months, and business proceeds as usual again.

But business is finding a way to proceed as usual anyway. The generals and the military-industrialists have their war in Afghanistan back, for instance. Trump may be a blowhard and a white supremacist — he may be an international laughingstock — but he’s no match for the dark forces that actually run the country.

What Trump does offer, however, is a means of disconnecting actual values from the sacred bullshit at the foundation of American “greatness.” This country is a paradox in progress. It was founded on a certain, modest belief in human equality; it was also founded on slavery, genocide and the exploitation of resources, human and otherwise. And sometimes Trump blurts out an obvious truth about this — with the audacity of a bratty kid who doesn’t know any better. It’s the basis of his popularity, such as it is.

Let’s revisit, for a moment, his post-Charlottesville rant. As he defended white supremacists and the statues of Confederate generals, he also tossed this bone out there:

“George Washington was a slave owner. . . . So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down — excuse me — are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? Good. Are we going to take down the statue? ‘Cause he was a major slave owner. Are we going to take down his statue? So you know what? It’s fine. You are changing history; you’re changing culture.”

Taking down the statues of the Confederacy — these symbols of the moral righteousness of owning human chattel, which were put up during the height of the Jim Crow era to reinforce the new form that white dominance was taking — is long overdue, and Trump’s defense of them smacks of a bully’s cowardice. Nonetheless, his equating Washington and Jefferson with the likes of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee pokes at a serious national wound.

The typical mainstream rebuttal is to point out that the Founding Fathers are revered not because they owned slaves but because they gave us the Constitution and the nation. It’s as though the whole slave thing has been dealt with — but of course it hasn’t. What Trump did was violate the political correctness that locked into place half a century ago, shutting down the civil rights movement with an apologetic shrug: Slavery was wrong, but everyone is equal now. Let’s move on, OK?

This is the default point of a Washington Post article on Trump’s remarks, in which numerous historians point out the differences between the Founding Fathers and the leaders of the Confederacy. In the process, however, the article stirs up some deep questions that it fails to address.

For instance, uh . . . “Twelve United States presidents, including Washington and Jefferson, owned slaves,” we’re told.

“Washington became a slave owner at age 11. More than 300 slaves lived on his Mount Vernon estate, and he owned 123 of them. Jefferson owned about 175 slaves when he wrote that ‘all men are created equal’ in his draft of the Declaration of Independence. Historians say one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, bore six children by him.

“But that does not mean they should be equated with people who worked to destroy the union they helped to create . . .”

No, perhaps not. But it does mean something. At the very least, it means this is a country founded on a remarkably contradictory notion of equality — an equality subservient to ownership and wealth, you might say. These are the devil’s own temptations, right, President Jefferson?

The consequences of this are not minuscule. At the very least, should we not be asking how these consequences still manifest themselves in our imperfect society? What institutions does this fact call into question? What about the presidency itself?

Eight presidents, including Washington and Jefferson, owned slaves while they were in office. The others were: James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, James Polk and Zachary Taylor. Four others owned slaves at one point in their lives, but not while they were president. They were: Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, Andrew Johnson and — oh, the irony — Ulysses S. Grant.

Trump has torn open this reality. He hasn’t done so in moral outrage but in obeisance to such power. He has revealed how far back in time his baseball-hat slogan — “Make America Great Again” — really goes. And he fits, a little too neatly, into the country’s historic racism and narcissistic sense of exceptionalism.


Robert Koehler, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.



Weekly + RESISTance Calendar

Saturday, June 17, 2017

     La Frontera Fair Trade Store is open for the third summer.  The store is at Nopalito’s Galeria, 326 S. Mesquite St, Las Cruces, and is open from 9:00am to 6:00pm every Saturday from June 3 through Aug. 26.  All proceeds from the sales go to the women who produce the products because the store is staffed entirely by volunteers.


PFLAG Prideweek Kick-off at Pioneer Women’s Park from 9:00am to Noon.  Bagels & burritos, music, speakers, fun for the whole family.


Rally to Defend Health Care to be held at Albert Johnson Park (in front of Branigan Library) from 10:00am to Noon.  Participating groups:  We’re In Indivisible, Democratic Party, Office of Senator Martin Heinrich, ProgressNow New Mexico, ACLU, Health Action NM, Planned Parenthood, and Las Cruces Coalition for Reproductive Justice.  Hear personal stories and listen to your political leaders, doctors, and other health care providers discuss needs in Dona Ana County.  Bring signs:  Protect My Care, Save the ACA, Defeat TrumpCare, Medicare for All, Save Medicaid, or your own brilliant creations.


Support of Local Immigrant Family sponsored by CAFé.  Religious leaders, including Bishop Oscar Cantu and Father Tom Smith, will speak out in support of Francia Benitez-Castano and her family at a press conference at 10:00am at Holy Cross Retreat Center (600 Holy Cross Rd) followed by mass at 11:00am.


Women’s March to Ban the Bomb in New York City and other cities.  No sister action is planned yet for Las Cruces.



Monday, June 19, 2017

     Attend the Las Cruces City Council meeting that starts at 1:00pm in Council Chambers, City Hall.  Agenda items include resolutions of support for the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument and for the Paris agreement.  The Green Chamber of Commerce and the Mayor welcome your attendance.



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

     World Refugee Day.  Let’s work to free immigrants from detention and welcome them to our communities as refugees.  Sadly, here in the U.S., we are detaining thousands of people who should be protected, supported, and empowered to forge a new life away from the violence and trauma they have fled.



Wednesday, June 21, 2017

     Anti-war Vigil every Wednesday (since 9/11/01) from 4:00-5:00pm at the federal court building, Church Street at Griggs.



Thursday, June 22, 2017

     Soulidarity vigil every Thursday from 5:00-5:30pm at the federal court building, Church Street at Griggs.  Stand in opposition to Dakota Access, Keystone XL, and all other oil pipelines being constructed across the land of indigenous and Native peoples in violation of treaties and with disregard for sacred spaces.


–Jan Thompson janthompson0817@gmail.com




SWEC to Join Border Wall Protests in South Texas

Feds Release Mexican Wolf “Extinction” Plan–Your Comments Needed!

A draft recovery plan for the endangered Mexican wolf released by the Trump administration is bad news for lobos. It would suppress wolf numbers, sharply limit their distribution and hand over the rare wolves’ management to political appointees on state game commissions that have a long history of opposing wolves. The feds need to hear from people like you who care about wolves. Comments on the plan are due August 29th. Please take a moment to tell the feds that their “extinction” plan needs to be scrapped and a real recovery plan created.  Click here to learn more and submit your comments. Thank you!

NM Wants to Close State Park–Your Comments Needed!

When the Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park opened in 2006 near Las Cruces as New Mexico’s first park in 30 years, people were excited. It was the culmination of years of efforts by the local community to get the park established, spearheaded by the Southwest Environmental Center. Now State Parks wants to hand the park over to another state agency because it says it doesn’t have the money to keep it open. SWEC opposes this move and has called on State Parks to find alternative solutions. Comments on the transfer are being accepted until August 25th. Send comments to nmparks@state.nm.us. Please speak up for this natural treasure!

SWEC to Join Border Wall Protests in South Texas

SWEC staff will be traveling to the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas this weekend to join protests against the imminent construction of the border wall in one of the most important wildlife areas in the U.S, including a federal wildlife refuge and national butterfly preserve. Soil testing in preparation for construction has already begun in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, a 2000+ acre reserve created to protect endangered species such as ocelots and jaguarundis, as well as more than 400 species of birds. The wall will slice right through the refuge. Animals trapped between the wall and the Rio Grande will drown if the river floods. Actions planned this weekend include a dawn procession led by religious leaders and a protest hike through Santa Ana NWR. Participants are expected to come from around the U.S. Join us if you can!



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