Monday, May 1, 2017

International Workers Day at the U.S.-Mexico Border

                       News release

International Workers’ Day March: Workers United Across Borders

El Paso, Texas - (May 1, 2017) The Border Farmworkers Center will be the host of an International Workers' Day march beginning at Centro Sin Fronteras, 201 E. 9th Ave at 10 am. today. The march will continue to the Paso del Norte International Bridge to stand in solidarity with Mexican workers and culminate at Plaza de Los Lagartos (San Jacinto Plaza) at 12 p.m (noon)

International Workers’ Day is a day of unity and solidarity of labors and the working class to recognize the long-standing accomplishments of the worker’s rights movement.

We will march in solidarity with workers, im/migrants and the poor and denounce the racist, xenophobic and anti-workers policies that continue to degrade our livelihood. The border community is invited to attend. Breakfast at Centro Sin Fronteras at 9:30am (201 E. 9th Ave.)

Bring your banners, posters and your voices.

WHAT: International Workers’ Day

WHEN: MondayMay, 1, 2017, breakfast at 9:30 a.m./march at 10 a.m.

WHERE: Centro Sin Fronteras, 201 E. 9th Ave. to Santa Fe International Bridge to Plaza de Los Lagartos/San Jacinto Plaza

Video Invitation:
Participating Organizations Include: ADAPT, A.Y.U.D.A. INC., AFSCME, Autonomous Berets, Association of Applied Border History, Border Agriculture Workers, BNHR, Causa Unidos, Comite de ex-Empleados de Bruce Foods, CHILI, Chicano Legal Leadership Institute, Domestic Workers Alliance, Central Labor Council, El Paso Coalition for Workers, El Paso Central Labor Union- AFL CIO, Hope Border Institute, Labor Justice Committee, La Mujer Obrera, MECHA, NNOC, Service Employees International Union, Young Democratic Socialists Association

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Poems by Diana Washington Valdez

I write poetry in English and Spanish. Here is a recent poem I finished in Spanish about drug cartel hit squads in Juarez, Chihuahua. It is part of a collection of poems associated with Mexico and Spain, some of which were published in literary pubs.

* * *

Copyright © 2017 Diana Washington Valdez

Noche de Sicarios

Van por Juan "El Lukas" Martínez esta vez.

El comando recibió su orden y viene por él;

"Juan nos ha robado la mota y debe pagar

con su vida".

Es cosa de un destino brutal

que Juan "El Lukas" debía haber esperado.

El grupo de hombres fornidos

que forman el comando armado

entran primero a su antro favorito

sobre la Avenida Juárez;

agarran fuerza con sus tragos de whiskey

e inhalando un polvo blanco.

Sus caras sirven de espejo

uno del otro en una hermandad vil.

Salen listos los cinco y abordan

su carreta de la muerte,

rumbo a la Avenida Gómez Morín.

Ahí, en la curva de la calle transitada,

la ruta popular de los destinados a la muerte,

preparan su violenta emboscada.

Es cosa de un destino brutal que Juan "El Lukas"

debía haber esperado.

Por ahí, el blanco dará su último paseo

en una calle de su ciudad natal.

El lugarteniente del cártel, Charly “Bombas",

tiene su cuerpo tapizado de tatuajes.

Los más grandes son de un corazón

con la palabra "Madre".

El otro, es de la Virgen de Guadalupe.

Trae colgado un Rosario que

besa antes de iniciar su obra.

El comando carga Cuernos de Chivo,

una AR-15 y pistola Glock de 9 milímetros.

El “Bombas” grita: "ahí viene

el pinche cabrón de "Lukas".

Empiezan los disparos, balas sin cesar.

Los hombres del comando gritan palabras rudas,

reclamos a un hombre solo y desarmado,

alegando que "Lukas" se buscó

la sentencia del cártel.

El comando, cobrando su victoria,

arranca a toda velocidad para huir

mientras los testigos miran atónitos.

El sombrero norteño de Juan "El Lukas"

cae al explotar su cabeza.

Su camisa almidonada se mancha de tanta sangre

que corre por el piso de su camioneta

y escurre hasta el suelo,

hasta que un charco colorado se va formando

en el pavimento de la calle.

Fue cosa de un destino brutal que

Juan "El Lukas" debía haber esperado.

El comando retorna al mismo antro para celebrar,

mientras que "El Bombas", todavía

con la adrenalina elevada, marca su rifle y

agrega el número 11 a su lista de ejecutados.

Los hombres armados evitan verse

en los ojos uno al otro,

pensando en que habrá un siguiente muertito.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A spiritual crisis can paralyze everything

Candles lighting the dark

A spiritual crisis can paralyze everything

Quote: F. Scott Fitzgerald: In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning.

A dark night every day

Diana Washington Valdez

It is difficult to get back on track with this "memoir" because I am not always sure of whether the past is gone or still present. Our memory records what has already happened, that is certain. But there is another dynamic at work whenever you look back, the effects that the past have on the present and the future.

The term 'dark night of the soul' is described by some as a painful spiritual journey and by others as a spiritual or existential crisis. The best-known expositions of this state can be found in the works of mystics like St. John of the Cross (circa16th Century) and to an extent in the writings of Aristotle. In his book "Siddhartha," German author Herman Hesse deftly and beautifully summarizes spiritual conflict through the lives of his protagonist, Siddhartha, and his friends, family and lover Kamala.

Others across the centuries, different countries and cultures share examples in their literature and oral traditions about a journey that we must undertake alone. The aloneness is at once terrifying and necessary. "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" is the title of the 1940 book by American author Carson McCullers as well as the name of a popular 1995 American country music song by Reba McEntire. The title of both serve to illustrate a point. The pilgrim's walk is a lonely one; and, sidetracks can take you on the wrong paths.

One may surmise that a spiritual conflict arises from the battle of the soul that is at war with itself, its destiny or with God. The only way out is to get off the path. But the soul that's hungry won't let you stay in the detour. The Divine will not permit it.

The phenomenon of waking up at three in the morning without apparent reason is universal. I used to wake up constantly at this hour, only to go back to sleep after seeing the time on the clock. It happened so often that my curiosity led me to do some research on this experience.

The explanations varied widely: It was the bewitching hour, when people involved in occult practices carried out their rituals and ceremonies and you were a target or simply got swept up in the fallout; and, at the other end of the explanation spectrum, for those who go to bed at normal night hours it is generally the hour at which the body naturally undergoes several physiological adjustments.

Kamala, the character in the Hesse book "Siddhartha," tends to get short-shrifted in the literary critiques that I'm familiar with. Yet, she is the most important figure in the book after Siddhartha. Kamala represents where most of us want to stay. The known, the comfortable, the understandable.

Symbolically, she also represents the place where the soul cannot advance on its pilgrimage; that place is a docking, a detour. That's not to say that the customary aspirations of humans, which include emotional bonding and having families, are not legitimate ones. They are valid and necessary for humanity to continue. But in that setting, the soul that is hungry for more will always be restless.

Likewise, the hunt for the ideal romantic partner that McEntire sings about is a futile one because the hunter in the song does not realize that the object of her pursuit is a mistaken one to begin with. Hence, the list of lovers can only grow ever longer while the object of the hunt grows ever more elusive. The soul cannot find in that environment what it is really searching for.

There is a song that fits so well in this discussion: "Is that all there is?" which was made famous by Peggy Lee in 1969. This is the refrain from the haunting melody:

"Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is"

Indeed, if the object of the soul at the end of its quest is not God, and certainly if God does not exist, then the logical conclusions must be nihilism, there is no meaning to life and we need not pretend otherwise, and hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure without restraint because the basis for a moral code is missing.

Job, the principal character in the Old Testament book, who is portrayed as a man of great faith, also reached a point during which he had to wrestle with suffering and the issue of philosophical aloneness. Left to wonder whether God had abandoned him, during his dark night of the soul, Job exclaimed, "Oh, that I knew where I might find Him."

Another example in the Bible that illustrates the personal battle that must take place in order to get past dead center is the story of Jacob in Genesis, when the Jewish patriarch wrestles with an "angel" and is renamed Israel: The angel tells Jacob "you have struggled with God and with humans."

Beforehand, the self-centered Jacob had been the ultimate manipulator, conniving and depending on his wits to make his way in the world. He was the lonely hunter pursuing the wrong things. Some would say that Jacob literally won the fight against the divine force, but what really happened is that something inside of Jacob that drove his entire life up to then died. It had to so he could finally truly live. Some, with their lives, will attempt to postpone or bypass such an undertaking, and will continue to walk in circles (that's how it feels).

I, too, have entered such a period, suddenly and unexpectedly. It involves an emotional exorcism that is painful and ongoing and so much more. I know the end from the beginning. Yes, I truly know how it will end for myself. I don't know what the rest of the process will include or how long it will last or what will be left untorched. The wrestling began about two months ago, heightened by the deaths of friends and an intense awareness of my own mortality.

The details of this kind of journey are different for everyone, so there is no point in baring them here. It will remain in the background. I am sharing what I can in case it will help anyone else out there. It is likely there will be updates in this chapter. The rest of the memoir, dealing with more earthly matters, will go on sporadically.

My best to everyone in your own life's journey.

[1] Herman Hesse book

[2] Carson McCullers book

[3] St. John of the Cross

[4] Peggy Lee sings

[5] Reba McEntire sings

[6] Job: 23:3 English Standard Version.

[7] Genesis: 32:22-32 New International Version.

Diana Washington Valdez is a member of the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ).

Posted by J.J. Schwartz at 1:41 PM

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Labels: Carson McCullers, Dark Night of the Soul, Herman Hesse, International Association of Religion Journalists, Peggy Lee, Philosophy, Reba McEntire, Religion, Siddhartha

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The real UFO scare

My UFO scare, Part I

I met an interesting resident of El Paso, Texas, who wanted to share her experiences with me about alleged unidentified flying objects and alien abduction. After hearing some preliminary details about her encounters of the third kind dating back to childhood, I hesitated.

I’ve personally never seen any evidence of the existence of aliens from outer space. I’ve read plenty of articles and books, and like countless others, viewed numerous documentaries and movies about the phenomenon.

One of my favorite Hollywood movies centered on the topic is “Encounters of the Third Kind,” a 1977 release starring Richard Dreyfuss. The scene with him and the mashed potatoes is hilarious. I’m also a huge fan of “The X-Files” movies and television series with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, a made for TV match if there ever was one.

My reluctance to meet with this woman did not stem from my desire to scoff at these things. Friends and I have kicked around the UFO question for years. Are they real? What would we do if we encountered something strange like this? Why do so many people believe in what they claim to have experienced.

 As a journalist, I was reluctant to tread into something that would ultimately harm my professional reputation. Of course, it would not be the first time I was tempted to take a risk that might hurt in the end. It would be like writing about ghosts and things of that nature.

But even that was not the reason for my not wanting to meet with this woman. She was thoroughly convinced about what supposedly had happened to her in South El Paso over the course of several years. Her earliest recollection of allegedly being abducted by aliens and medically observed for this dated back to her childhood. She also believed the aliens had inserted an implant in her body to keep track of her. And, she had witnesses – other children – from the old neighborhood that “saw” her taken away.

She was active in the Mutual UFO Network MUFON, and spoke at forums and conferences about her experiences, and was supportive of others with similar claims.

Finally, I set a date to hear her out in greater detail. I grew more nervous as the day approached. I discussed my qualms about this with friends.

When we met, she showed me her album containing a feature news article about her experiences, which I believe the former El Paso Herald-Post had published. She also had drawings in which she described the beings that took her by force, along with the craft. Her story was typical of what other “abductees” have related, including medical-like procedures on her body. She also claimed that the aliens communicated telepathically.

At some point, she said, after rumors regarding the UFO’s began swirling through the neighborhood, the military sent doctors to examine her and the other children that alleged the alien encounters. The visitations in the low-income neighborhood had occurred decades ago. My source said that in the end, the doctors scolded the children and asked their families to stop spreading the UFO rumors.

The source said she was convinced about what happened to her, and I was convinced that she was convinced. I tried not to judge her but I couldn’t validate her story objectively. But, that wasn’t why I hesitated to meet with her in the first place. I’ve been in many scary situations and meetings which posed potential safety threats.

I’d met sources, including corrupt Mexican cops, after midnight in Juarez, Mexico, during my research into the drug cartels and other matters. Etc. This was different though. What if on the off chance this was real? The truth is that in my mind, on the possibility that her story was real, by associating with her, I could become a target for the aliens or government operatives or whatever they are, and maybe later begin to experience the bright lights and rattling at home that some have reported; or, maybe get whisked away along with her by a flying saucer. The fear, the trepidation, over this was real: it is the fear of the unknown. I could deal with the known far more easily. This was much harder to process.

I can report now that after listening to her fascinating story, nothing happened. No little grey men showed up in my life, and the source went on with her life and I went on with mine.

(In the next installment on the same subject I will share another interesting experience that took place in the newsroom.)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The White House blacklisted journalist

George W. Bush on the presidential campaign trail in New Mexico with

Diana Washington Valdez, then a reporter for the El Paso Times. Photo by

Ruben Ramirez, circa August 2000.
Encounter of the unpleasant kind with a presidential candidate

Mesilla, N.M. - I can't help but recall each time I visit Old Mesilla the encounter I had with George W. Bush during an interview with him while he was campaigning for president in 2000. Bush, the Republican Party's nominee, was governor of Texas at the time.

The interview included only a handful of journalists: myself, El Paso Times Photographer Ruben Ramirez, and two other reporters from New Mexico newspapers and their photographers. 

Dick Cheney, the vice presidential nominee, was with and sat next to me at the table. It truly was a privileged opportunity as far as interviews with powerful people go. Several years before this, I was at the White House for a Hispanic journalists' round table with the younger Bush's father, George H. Bush.

Knowing ahead of time that Ruben and I might actually get this close to George W. Bush, I asked a senior editor for permission to ask questions about information related to some of the controversies that were "out there." Everything else we could talk about would be predictable, along with the responses. He paused briefly, and then said OK.

This was not necessarily to broach subjects about which we would write about and publish; it was a chance to get their (Bush and Cheney's) views about certain matters. If the opportunity presented itself, I would approach Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the same manner.

Later on, I will provide more details in this blog about the encounter that led Bush to stand up and point his finger at me and threaten to sue me if I ever published 'any of that.' One of the questions I asked was directed at Cheney and had to do with the Halliburton controversy. Cheney also got upset. As a result of Bush standing to scold me, he inadvertently caused my tape recorder to fall to the floor.

Ruben told me after the encounter that the Bush staffers standing against the wall began walking toward me when Bush stood up to scold me. Ruben did not wish to revisit this meeting for many years. He was probably smarter and more sensible than I was about such things. His view was that you don't mess with powerful people. The tape recording of that brief session with Bush and Cheney will be transcribed in the future here.

There were lessons to be learned, and in some respects, I believe that editors could take time out to explain to reporters and photographers that some of the information that is "out there," these days on the internet, is mere propaganda or near impossible to prove. Political rivals engage in information wars, at times mixing facts with bizarre and outrageous narratives.

Then again, if someone, whether known or unknown to me, was circulating wild stories about me, and I was running for office, I would appreciate the opportunity from the press to set the record straight. Or, I would address the wild stories through my campaign staff and or websites.

Needless to say, as a result of this encounter, I was blacklisted by the White House press office. No one ever returned my phone calls again from that office during the two Bush terms. Fortunately, I was not assigned to the White House press corps, where access is essential.

I'm thankful to Ruben for wanting to watch our backs. He can breathe easy now. Hopefully, I can, too.

More on this later ...

Diana Washington Valdez is a veteran journalist and Digie Zone Properties publisher. She is a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE), the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) and the Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS).The Digie Zone principals are based in Albuquerque and Las Cruces, New Mexico, El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico.

Friday, September 9, 2016

California dreaming didn't last long for Hispanics

City of Turlock (Courtesy photo)
California is such a vast place that you best can describe it in its extremes. It possesses a richly varied topography. Tall pines and cool temperatures in the north, a middle area with once-rich farm lands, and a picturesque desert and beckoning beaches in the south.

I did a short stint (about 11 months) at the Modesto Bee in Modesto, California, and after leaving the Bee, I was fortunate to be hired on again by a Gannett property, the Desert Sun in Palm Springs.

The same media company owned the Sacramento Bee, Modesto Bee and the Fresno Bee. I had hoped to work my way to the Sacramento paper to live in a city that had two large rivers and a central park with fragrant eucalyptus trees. The Tule fog season and the slow pace of the Modesto paper changed my mind: I wanted to leave.

My stint at the Bee's bureau in Turlock did not last long. I wrote stories and did a column for the paper. For some odd reason, I ended taking a photograph of kids with a cardboard toy train that ran on the front page. The paper issued cameras to all its reporters in outlying bureaus, so the multimedia roles came early then.

There were two things that surprised me during my time in the Modesto area, the presence of an active Ku Klux Klan organization (I interviewed its "cyclops" leader), and the oppression of the Hispanic farm workers. I guess the two go hand in hand. The KKK cyclops told me then that his organization was part of a "political movement."

Migrant farm workers who worked the harvests in "America's Breadbasket," as the Central Valley region was known, experienced great hardships in their housing and working conditions. I recalled that several of them lived with their families in automobiles along the farm country's waterways.

A man from a South American country acted as a spokesman for them before Modesto local politicians. The workers' greatest need was for decent housing. It was either city or county-level elected officials that responded to such petitions by making fun of the Hispanics' accents. The migrant workers also included Asians, and they all seemed powerless.

I did some personal research into the region's history, something I've done wherever I went, and learned that several of the white American settlers and or pioneers also discriminated against Native Americans.

The settlers included the ancestors of contemporary financial institutions and media leaders. I shared my findings with some of the reporters who wanted to know how I found out about certain things in the backgrounds of the local media companies. Short answer - the public library!

When I met a banker in Modesto that had a Hispanic surname, I thought he was Mexican-American. He said he was Portuguese, as were many of the middle-class residents with Hispanic surnames; they did not speak Spanish and did not identify with the migrant workers.

I observed a big difference between the Mexican-American and Asian migrants. A particular group of Chinese farm workers decided to pool their earnings until they made enough to buy their own tract. They planted the kind of crops that grew in the area and sold them after the harvest. They became business owners.

The Chinese families also placed great importance on the education of their children. Through the Modesto Bee staff I heard that the parents, who didn't speak or understand English, would sit their children at the dinner table until their homework was finished.

Although the parents could not help with the homework, they made it clear to their children that getting an education was crucial to their future success. How I wished at the time that Hispanic migrant workers could learn to work together in this manner so they would not have to depend on the whims of growers and ranchers who wanted their labor but did not want them living in their neighborhoods.

I was unable to adapt to driving in the thick Tule fog conditions, and for this and other reasons opted to find another newsroom. The moment I stepped off the plane in Palm Springs for my job interview, I knew I had to be there. Like others, I harbored stereotypes about Palm Springs, which was portrayed in publications as a playground for the rich and famous. What I discovered was a stunning countryside with a natural oasis park and orchards of date palm trees that transported you to another part of the world.

Indio (California state tourism photo)

It got pretty hot in summer, about 116 degrees while I was there, but you could take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to a mountain station (at 8,516 feet elevation) with much cooler temperatures. The ride that can transform your environment so dramatically lasts only a few minutes.

There was a series of smaller communities next to Palm Springs, close to each other, that included Hot Springs, Palm Desert, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Indio and Coachella. From the farm fields in the Coachella Valley, one could catch a breath-taking view of the snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains in the distance.

I was an assistant city editor (called an "ace") assigned to the bureau in Indio; my official title was East Valley Editor. Once again, as in Modesto, I encountered Hispanic workers who were mostly all at the low end of the economic spectrum. Many of them worked in the resort hotels, restaurants and golf courses. Two Native American reservations, some Indians (from India) and a small black community made up most of the rest of the non-Anglo population.

The newsroom had one of the most creative and energetic staffs I had ever worked with. Joan Behrmann, formerly of USA Today, was the executive editor at the time. Tom Tait was the managing editor. It was the best news job I ever had in terms of work and place. The other aces and I worked long hours, shuttling between the bureaus and main newsroom, supervising reporters and writing stories ourselves. I recall working some 14 to 16-hour-long days, but I never felt it.

Among the stories I got to work on was a paternity lawsuit by a local woman against Prince Albert II Grimaldi of Monaco, which attracted lots of obnoxious paparazzi. The prince did not show up for the proceeding in Indio, but years later, after he became the ruling monarch of Monaco, Grimaldi apparently settled the claims of two mothers. "He keeps in touch with all of his children from previous relationships, and has come to legal agreements to pay their mothers," according to a 2015 article in the Daily Mail Prince of Monaco settles paternity claim.

What on earth is a royal doing in the Palm Springs area? Well, Indio is a traditional favorite of royal polo players. Former President Gerald Ford was one of the paper's readers, along with other famous people. "Glitz" was one of the paper's news beats, and for this reasons, the photographers had to keep a tuxedo handy in case they were assigned to cover one of the many posh events that came up.

Other stories I worked on included one about a local prosecutor trading deals for golf privileges (really), and an in-depth article on how beer companies targeted Hispanics during popular cultural events like Cinco de Mayo.

Apparently, I was told later, that one of the advertising executives felt the story was too controversial to published. During my stay at the Desert Sun, a local radio talk show host insulted Chinese listeners who objected to the use of the term "chinaman" when referring to Asians in the community. The talk show host did not accept that this was an offensive term, and kept repeating it on purpose ....

I found it revealing that the editors at the Desert Sun could not decide whether to endorse the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). They were honest in acknowledging that they didn't know much about it, much less whether it was going to be good or bad. Ultimately, the free trade accord involving the United States, Mexico and Canada was approved and went into effect on Jan. 1, 1994.

Once more, as in Modesto, it was a non-Mexican Hispanic, a lawyer of Peruvian background, who acted as a spokesman for the Hispanics who were complaining about discrimination. I may have been the only Hispanic on staff at the Desert Sun at the time, and this lawyer and other Hispanic community leaders expressed disappointment when I told them I was leaving Palm Springs.

I wondered out loud why California was not a better place for Hispanics and other minorities in general. After all, wasn't the state at the vanguard of the Chicano Movement? In summary, the responses I received were that not much had changed in everyday life for minorities in the Golden State. In my short time, I was proud of having had a hand in getting the Desert Sun to hire another minority journalist, a young Asian reporter from a Central Valley newspaper.

Cesar Chavez, leader of the United Farm Workers Union who inspired the Delano grape boycott, died while I was at the Palm Springs paper. I spoke Spanish so I was asked to interview farm workers in Coachella for their reactions. By the time I arrived in the fields, the news had reached us that Chavez, who had received death threats and was nearly poisoned once, died of natural causes on April 23, 1993.

Several farm workers gathered at a center to talk to reporters. Something came over me when I approached the first two farm workers: I started to cry before I could finish asking my question about Cesar Chavez. So much for being a professional journalist. [A grandson of Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers Union and Chavez's right hand, married one of my nieces in California.]

Palm Springs had great restaurants, beautiful scenery, and not all its visitors were royals or movie stars. A group of Hell's Angels bikers once sat two tables from me at an outside cafe. They wanted someone else's table and asked for it. Once I realized who the bikers were, I asked them if they wouldn't mind being interviewed by a reporter. They did. Their smiles turned quickly to scowls and they became hostile. I finished my meal and returned to the newsroom.

After I returned to El Paso, Texas, I learned that the dream newsroom that was the Desert Sun at the time fell apart. The paper got a new publisher and editor, and just about everyone who was there was forced out or quit. The upheaval led to the later removal of one of the new top editors. To use a cliche, nothing lasts forever; the talented staff that I had worked alongside scattered.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Politics, drug trade, corruption discussed on KTEP Radio

KTEP's Louie Saenz with Diana Washington Valdez at the

University of Texas studio.
Diana Washington Valdez and Louie Saenz talk about journalism trends, The Digie Zone and The Digie Zone Express and other interesting topics like politics, the drug trade and government corruption on KTEP Radio. 

Listen to the KTEP interview