Friday, January 29, 2010

Unemployment in Farmington over 10%

Las Cruces: Unemployment 8.5%
Farmington: Unemployment 10.1%
Santa Fe: Unemployment 7.2%
Albuquerque Unemployment 8.7%
New Mexico: Unemployment 8.3%, highest in 22 years.

Seasonally adjusted figures for December 2009.

US: Unemployment 10%. Recent unemployment is the highest since August 1983.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Welfare Check to Hollywood Film Makers Will Continue, Despite Fiscal Crisis

HB 52, a bill introduced by Rep. Dennis Kintigh to do away with the 25% kickback to Hollywood film producers for expenses in New Mexico while filming, a program that cost taxpayers $82 million last year, was tabled in the House Labor and Human Resources Committee, by a partisan vote of 5-2. In a study by New Mexico State University at the end of 2008 the authors concluded the state got a rate of return of about 14.4 cents for each dollar paid out to the film industry, and a counter-study ordered by the state film agency (not exactly a neutral party), which set out to prove the state got $1.5o back for each dollar invested was laughed away by respectable think tanks, both conservative and liberal, by the LFC, and by the two highly respected economists who did the study at NMSU: click here for a great, funny article, about this whole episode.

In the next three weeks the legislature must come up with a budget that is about $1 billion less (this amounts to 20%) than in was ($6 billion) two years ago, trimming at least $500 million from the level set last year. These cuts are going to hurt many New Mexicans, with layoffs and lost benefits.

You would think that this kickback of taxpayer dollars to the film industry in California (and that's about what it is, just send in the bills and we'll pay 25%, with really no questions asked, we trust you.) might be one of the first places to cut. So why do you think that Reps. Miguel Garcia, Richard D. Vigil, Eleanor Chavez, Rick Miera, and Sheryl Stapleton Williams would slam the door shut so quickly with no debate, no airing, no consultation? Why was it not referred to other committees to see what other legislators thought? Why do our tax dollars have to be doled out again to Hollywood, when we're having trouble making ends meet?

The answer of course is that this giveaway is one of the governor's pet projects, so it has the glow of sacredness around it. Such is the state of affairs in Santa Fe that loyalty to a discredited, lame duck governor, whose unethical behavior with campaign contributors cost him a cabinet job in Washington, wins out over loyalty to state taxpayers, some of whom will lose jobs and benefits because of the fiscal crisis. Can you guys look at yourselves in the mirror with pride at this vote? Can you look at constituents in the eye and tell them truthfully why you voted to table this bill?

Was This Alito Too Much?

You be the judge.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pew Study Shows Relationship Between Employment and Presidential Approval

In an excellent article published yesterday by Pew Research Center (click here) the authors juxtapose unemployment rates and presidential approval rates, showing a strong but not perfect relationship. The relationship is strongest when the unemployment rate rises high, and the authors conclude President Obama's rating mirrors that of President Reagan.

The chart at the right speaks for itself, and it is no coincidence that President Obama in his State of the Union Address defended his spending policies last year as necessary measures to prevent even more job loss, and promised all kinds of job creation efforts to reduce the unemployment rate which stands at about 10 percent.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Beat So Far: 168 and Counting

As of yesterday there have been 168 homicides so far this year in Cd. Juarez. This compares with 139 during all of January last year. After an apparent lull on Sunday, when no homicides were reported, six were verified yesterday.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Moral Courage Barometer: This Week's Award Goes to Rep. Dennis Kintigh

Last week we gave the Moral Courage Award to Sen. Eric Griego for asking UNM to cut positions in the upper administration, which multiplied like rabbits the last few years, as well as the outlandish salaries some of them are making in the midst of the worst fiscal crisis in the state's history.

This week we give the award to Rep. Dennis Kintigh, for introducing a bill to cut the subsidy to film makers in the state. Here's why he deserves it.

Last year New Mexico taxpayers ended up giving the Hollywood film industry (not exactly in the poorhouse) $82 million in return for an estimated 11.9 million that they got back, for a net loss $70 million, rounded out. In 2008 two NMSU economists published a study for the Legislative Finance Committee, estimating that the return on each dollar invested by taxpayers to the film industry was about fourteen cents. Question: in a year in which the budget shortfall is $500 million, do we really need to dish out this type of money to out of state firms? You be the judge.

The New Mexico film office, desperate to protect one of the governor's sacred cows, hastily hired a counter-study done, by Ernst and Young, suggesting that the return was more like $1.50 per dollar spent. Then liberal and conservative think tanks in New Mexico, Voices for Children and the Rio Grande Foundation, respectively, each came out ridiculing the Ernst and Young report among other reasons for including the salaries of the movie stars and producers in their calculations, wildly inflating the rate of return to New Mexico. The Legislative Finance Committee similarly shot holes in the Ernst and Young study. For a humorous account of the Ernst and Young exaggerations written by Jim Scarantino click here.

Kintigh has now introduced a bill to end the subsidy. The governor has promised to veto any effort to reduce the subsidy or eliminate it. Kintigh admits he doesn't think his bill has a chance to pass. The governor has threatened to veto a bill to kill it (why might he do this?), and our legislators, for the most part, wouldn't dare stand up to him. But Kintigh still thinks legislators should debate the bill and be held accountable to the public as well as to the governor for their vote.

Kintigh is right. The public has a right to know, when they are asked to cut needed government services (see my posting on January 8) just how their legislators voted when it comes to a $70 million net giveaway to the film industry. Pass or fail, I'd like to know just how my legislators voted on this bill, and their reasons for doing so. If the bill passes, make the governor veto it, and discredit himself even more than he has up to now. If it fails to pass, voters have a right to know how their legislators voted.

This, however, is not how it is likely to be. The bill will likely disappear into the happy hunting ground of bills without a vote, and legislators will wring their hands about it in public having done nothing to prevent another giveaway to Hollywood while denying Mesquite New Mexico the resources it needs to provide serious fire protection and EMS, and a thousand similar examples spread throughout the state.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Wanna Be a City Official In Juarez? Risks and Perks

Since Mayor José Reyes Ferriz took office two and a half years ago, more than one hundred city officials have been murdered, including three persons at the level of director, and several regional coordinators. So before you take that job, you might want to review the list of the deceased, and their positions. On the other hand, think of the perks. Verónica Argüello Jaramillo, for example, the mayor's advisor on security issues, has six police agents providing protection for her. Leonardo Villar Calvillo, the finance officer for the city, has two bodyguards watching over him twenty four hours a day. Álvaro Navarro Gárate, director of economic and financial promotion, has one body guard, as does the substitute mayor, Felipe Forneli Lafón. The warden of Cereso, Gerardo Ortiz Arellano, has eight uniformed guards protecting him, while the director of human housing settlements has ten agents guarding him, his wife, and two children. The mayor also has ten agents protecting him. In a few cases the danger has been judged to be high enough for the city to render protection to businesses owned by city officials.

Human nature being what it is, it won't be long until the social pecking order of city officials will be gauged by the number of bodyguards assigned to each.

Information provided by an article in Norte.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Moral Courage Barometer: An "A" for Eric Griego This Week

I've been highly critical of the legislature as a whole, hiding behind the skirts of a governor whose moral authority to govern collapsed more than a year ago, instead of trimming the fat responsibly from state government after a drunken-sailor spending spree that has grossly magnified the effects of the recession on the coffers of state government.

There are, however, some exceptions, and they deserve our praise. This week Sen. Eric Griego, from Bernalillo and Valencia counties, pointed his finger at a scandal that has been more than adequately covered by the Albuquerque Journal, the unprecedented increase in the number of top level administrators earning outrageously high salaries, combined by the arrogant refusal of UNM officials to phase out this gilded club in the face of an unprecedented budgetary shortfall.

Griego's words in an op-ed piece circulated in various media outlets this week:

"UNM needs to reduce the number of its most highly paid administrators and significantly reduce the compensation packages of those who remain. Then and only then, can we ask our students and teachers to take another hit. Then and only then will taxpayers be willing to consider new taxes to support the basics of government--educating our kids, keeping us safe, and taking care of the weakest among us."

Simple words, powerful words.

Are there other legislators who have discovered similar scandals in taxpayer-spent money and who have the moral courage to point them out, even if the governor might not like what you say? Where are you? Where have you been? And does the legislature have the moral courage to make sure UNM responds to the will of the public? We will see.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2500 Soldiers Will Remain Permanently in Juarez

Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz announced yesterday that 2500 of the soldiers recently assigned to Juárez will remain in the city on a permanent basis, acting as law enforcement officers against organized crime. 2500 soldiers were already based in Cd. Juárez before Joint Operation Chihuahua began almost two years ago, so the total number of soldiers who will remain is 5000. At the present time there are about 1200 soldiers helping municipal police in their daily activities, but these will be leaving as the 2000 additional PFP (federal preventive police) agents come to supplement the 2500 already in Juárez, as part of Coordinated Operation Chihuahua. At one point there were about 7300 soldiers assigned to Juárez as part of Joint Operation Chihuahua.

Findings from Study of Extortion In Juarez: 760 Per Day

Norte reports details from a presentation by Carlos Mendoza Mora on extortion in Cd. Juárez given yesterday at a conference on public security convened by Coparmex, the Mexican Employers Association. Mendoza made the presentation on behalf of MUD, (Mexico United Against Delinquency), a national association.

Mendoza estimated that in 2009 there were more than 270,000 extortion attempts in Juárez, about 760 per day. Forty cases were reported to authorities during the entire year, a commentary on the trust the public has in police authorities, who have been implicated frequently in extortion rings.

In all of Mexico there were about 6179 extortion attempts each day (annual total of 2,255,334), and a total of 61 cases reported to authorities during the entire year. Thus, if these figures are in the ballpark, about one in eight extortion attempts made nationally are made in Juárez.

Mendoza estimated that about 80 percent of all cases result in payoffs, and he estimates that the average payoff in Juárez was $17,800 pesos (about $1369 U.S.).

Last year the Public Security budget for the state of Chihuahua was about $40 million, for a state population of about 3.5 million. In contrast New Mexico's budget for the Department of Public Safety was over $99 million in 2008 for a population of 2 million.

I'm not sure how Mr. Mendoza calculated these numbers, but they don't seem unreasonable. More than ten thousand businesses closed down in Juárez during the past two years, largely because of extortion threats and at the moment about one quarter of the commercial real estate is vacant.

My Take in Capitol Report New Mexico

The January 2010 issue of Capitol Report New Mexico, edited by Harold Morgan, provides an outstanding summary of the state's fiscal crisis, filled with reliable facts and figures, and different perspectives. If you want to track what the legislature does with our crisis in the next 30 days, consider this edition required reading. To see the entire PDF version click here or go directly to the site and bookmark here . My contribution to this edition follows.

The State as 2010 Begins

As everyone knows, the state is in terrible financial shape. What started out as a fiscal crisis in state government caused by a sudden decline in oil and gas revenues, has ballooned into a full-scale economic recession as New Mexico catches up to the economic woes of the rest of the nation. Unemployment in New Mexico has been rising steadily for two full years now, and stands at 7.9%, a figure not reached since April of 1988. Unemployment in Albuquerque and Las Cruces stands at 8.2%, better than the national average of 10% but not by much if you take out California and Michigan, with unemployment rates of 12.5% and 15.1%, respectively. Major real estate markets in New Mexico still show declining prices and larger-than-normal inventories. Judging from the past couple of national recessions we’ve had, even if normal growth rates resume it may take another two years for employment to recover. The LFC doesn’t expect state revenues to recover back to 2008 levels in New Mexico until 2013, a lapse of five years. Brace yourself, this is a serious storm.

After a six-year period of lavish state government spending, which increased 36% from 2004-2009 while revenues went up only 24% (the difference was made up, unwisely, by dipping into reserves), the state is embarrassed for funds. Even after gobbling up federal stimulus money, the state will be $500 to $600 million short of revenues for FY 2011 which starts next July, just to maintain a flat budget of about $5.6 billion. And unlike the federal government, states cannot finance deficits, so something has to give.

Dealing with all of this will require leadership, and the state is currently suffering from a leadership deficit. Turning to the governor, as Speaker Ben Lujan did during the special session in October, is tantamount to declaring chapter eleven bankruptcy for legislative stewardship of state affairs. The governor, still plagued by scandals and impatient to leave the state, is the lamest of ducks. But after years of slavish adulation leadership muscles have atrophied and many legislators, including Republicans, are still cowed at the thought of challenging his power. Moreover, under present conditions leadership requires making cuts and raising taxes—and neither sounds good in a 30-second spot. The best solution, perhaps, would be for the legislature to delegate the fiscal crisis to LFC leaders Lucky Varela and John Arthur Smith, grownups who have the stature in their respective bodies to make the needed changes. They know where the money is, they love the state and will treat it gingerly, and neither is running for higher office this year.

There is a saying among sculptors that a Michelangelo lies hidden in every slab of rock. The trick for the sculptor is finding it. Similarly, there is a future governorship in every political crisis. So maybe there is a glimmer of hope. Until now, many legislators (and, by extension, the lobbyists they tend to represent) still refuse to understand a year after it became obvious, is that the public is paying attention, not only to pay-to-play scandals and economic downturns, but also to them, and their actions and inactions. State government has been managed poorly the past few years. Legislators are supposed to be our watchdogs, and a serious display of leadership now, after years of inaction, might be well rewarded by a public that is paying more attention now than at any time in recent memory.

Does anyone seriously believe the governor’s race next year will be won by the biggest fundraiser? Or the slickest mail-outs? Or an appeal to partisan clichés? Both parties will have plenty of money; New Mexico is on the radar screen at the national level precisely because it pays attention during troubled times. The candidate who wins next year will be the one who offers the most credible approach to solving New Mexico’s problems—lack of jobs, improving student scores, managing a six billion dollar budget responsibly. After a long period in which we—all of us—allowed the institutions of state government to serve the insatiable personal ambitions and whims of a single individual, we are also likely to elect someone who actually seems to care about the kind of society and government we leave behind.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Beat: 141 and Counting

The homicide rate in Cd. Juárez continues to rise, with 141 so far this month. Last year 136 homicides were registered in all of January. Six men were killed yesterday, including José Javier Ríos López, 39, a manager at the Siemens factory, intercepted and shot as he was driving at 7:30 a.m. Ten 9 mm spent cartridges were found near the scene.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Domenici Jr. Decides to Run in Crowded GOP Primary Race for Governor

Pete Domenici Jr., 50, an environmental lawyer, announced yesterday he would run for the GOP nomination for governor of New Mexico. The announcement comes after several days of rumors and speculation that he would get into the race, and his father and family are apparently fully committed to helping him win the nomination. Mr. Domenici Jr. has never run for public office before and has no managerial experience.

My take: this is a long-shot, and it is exactly the kind of movida that could backfire, creating even more problems for a political party that appears unable to find its voice.

Should Mr. Domenici succeed in winning the primary election he will argue, as he did yesterday, that he can shake up the buddy-buddy system of inside favoritism that appears to have emerged at top levels of the Democratic Party, nurtured and sustained by a larger cadre of enablers spread in key party positions throughout the state. But wait, how can Domenici win his nomination without tapping into the extensive network of buddies of his father? Without political experience, with no political base of his own, is it not likely that his administration would be filled with buddies of Pete Domenici to whom Jr. is indebted? Does the state really want to substitute one network of buddies for another? Even if they were once associated with St. Pete? Exactly whose interests would a Domenici administration favor, and what kinds of persons would be likely to run state government? There might well be good answers to these questions, but Democrats are not likely to jump ship on a wish and a prayer.

The other problem Mr. Domenici faces is the dynasty issue, and this is relevant to both the primary and general elections. The only possible logic for Mr. Domenici to get into the race at this late date is that his father's name will carry the day. The state already has two sons in Congress, Sen. Tom Udall and Ben Ray Lujan. But Udall spent a lengthy apprenticeship in New Mexico, serving as Attorney General and in Congress before stepping up to replace Domenici. And the case of Lujan Jr., if anything, helps Republicans prove the point that dynastic favoritism is alive and well in the Democratic Party. Domenici's appearance as a gubernatorial candidate appears to be a kind of me-too-ism that might not sit well with the electorate. Do we really want New Mexico to be ruled by a small group of dynastic (and privileged) families?

Thirty years ago David King stepped into the Congressional race in Southern New Mexico, when his uncle, Bruce King, was the sitting governor. He had never lived in Southern New Mexico, and it was clear his uncle was pulling the strings for him. But Republicans had not fielded a candidate to run in the primary race against the incumbent, Harold Runnels, who died of lung cancer in August, after the primary election. So King was the only candidate on the ballot. Such was the outrage, however, in the Southern District, that King ended up being the third man in American history to be the only person on the ballot and still lose the race: to write-in candidate Joe Skeen, who occupied that seat until 2002. Southern New Mexico, especially, is not prone to favor dynastic tendencies, and Diane Denish is, after all, from Hobbs New Mexico.

So Pete Jr. may have a hard row to hoe now that he is in the race. Having said all of this, you can never be sure what will happen in politics. It may turn out that Pete Jr. is an exceptionally able candidate, persuasive, sincere, and convincing: the right man at the right time. But given the strength of his primary opponents, Susana, Janice, Doug, and Allen, to say nothing about old-pro Diane, he'd better be damn good.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mental Health After a Disaster: Anecdotes from a Previous Earthquake

A word about mental health after a disaster. I visited Huaraz, Peru, in 1971, exactly one year after an earthquake registering 8.0 on the Richter scale left about one million persons homeless after killing about 80,000 persons in one of the most beautiful valleys in the Andes. I accompanied a woman who went to visit a friend, a woman who had lost her husband and children in the quake. At first the woman seemed reasonably well adjusted, talking factually about her life. But then she said her husband came to visit her sometimes at night, from a far away place he was living in because of the earthquake. And she said her children, also, were living far away, under good care, but she could visit them, and as she went on it became evident she was still unable, at times, to acknowledge her loss. The woman I was with told me later this kind of denial had become contagious, and had affected thousands of persons, in the absence of mental health relief and very sketchy assistance from the government, at that time a dictatorship.

Later that day I was in a pickup on a country road near Yungay, a village that had been completely buried by a landslide provoked by the earthquake. We picked up a rider, a man in his 30s, who, the driver told me just before he hopped in, had lost his wife and children when Yungay was destroyed. The driver, hoping to get him to talk, asked him if he was not one of the survivors of Yungay. The man began talking in a matter-of-fact tone, telling how he had been on the far side of the valley walking up a hill overlooking the city, on his way to the cemetary to place flowers on his mother's grave. He felt the earthquake and looked down at the village, which was not badly damaged, but then he heard a horrible rumble as millions of tons of rock fell off the highest mountain in Peru eleven miles away. He and others on the hill began running up the hill, without looking back until they reached the cemetary and when he looked down on his village all he saw was the mud slowly rising over what had been his village. A lake between the mountain and the village had been literally pushed by the avalanche down the mountain into the valley, creating a mud slide that buried his town. As he remembered that scene he broke down and cried uncontrollably for several minutes.

It dawned on me that day that in an earthquake, with random cruelty, a person can lose friends, neighbors, family structures, neighborhood, job, city, in just a few moments and these are, after all, what gives us identity, what provides us with our daily contact with meaning and reality. When they are gone, adjustment must be extremely painful and the temptation to create an imaginary world must be powerful, especially if delusion is mutually enabled and spreads throughout the dazed population.

Mental illness accompanies disaster, and Haiti will have its share of mental illness. There are ways people can be helped to cope with these losses, and we hope the world is better prepared to handle the mental aftermath than it was forty years ago.

The earthquake in Haiti has drawn global attention not only to the immediate urgency for massive injections of many forms of basic assistance--medical and psychological assistance, food, shelter, social organization--but also to the longstanding dismal poverty and lack of basic infrastructure which have complicated rescue and relief operations, and which have haunted this, by far the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Let us hope that in the coming months and years the world will be kind to Haiti. The country needs not only to recover from a colossal tragedy, rebuilding the physical space of what once was Port Au Prince, but also to build a more viable economic development model and political system to replace the corrupt oligarchic power structures of the past.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Army Loses Control Over Joint Operation Chihuahua: Federal Police Take Over, Change Its Name: Would a Rose By Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?

Norte reports today that Joint Operation Chihuahua will now be named "Coordinated Operation Chihuahua," (Operación Coordinada Chihuahua) and will no longer be in the hands of Mexican Army General Felipe de Jesús Espitia, Commander of the Fifth Military Zone. The Operation will now be the responsibility of the incoming delegate to Chihuahua for the Federal Preventive Police, Vidal Díaz Leal Ochoa, who has just been named to this position. He is currently serving as the state delegate for the PFP in Guanajuato. The federal "delegate" is equivalent of the role the U.S. Attorney in the United States.

The Army will stay in Juarez (at least for the time being), continuing to supplement the municipal police in day-to-day operations. But the responsibility for kidnappings, extortion, drug-related homicides, and drug trafficking will be transferred immediately from the Army to the PFP. This represents a major restructuring of responsibilities, and reflects an acknowledgment by the federal government that Joint Operation Chihuahua, headed by the Army, is considered by most observers, including the vast majority of citizens, to have been a failure.

The article pointed out that Mr. Vidal was fired in May 2008 along with other PFP officials when a group of armed men entered Cananea (a small community in Sonora, on the border with Arizona) undetected and proceeded to commit a host of kidnappings and executions. Vidal was head of the PFP's Pursuit Operations at the time.

Facundo Rosas Rosas, head of the national Federal Public Security Secretariat, which houses the PFP, later brought Mr. Vidal back into the PFP as head of planning for the organization, and later named him as the delegate to Guanajuato before tasking him with the Chihuahua assignment. With the increased responsibilities now placed under the PFP in Chihuahua, Mr. Vidal becomes one of the key law enforcement officers in Mexico.

In announcing these changes at a press conference last night, Facundo Rosas indicated that an additional 2000 PFP agents will be assigned to Cd. Juarez, Villa Ahumada, and Casas Grandes. There are currently about 2500 PFP agents in Chihuahua. Moreover, about 100 intelligence specialists will begin to investigate cases of kidnapping and extortion.

Rosas also indicated that Vidal will now take over the Center for Emergencies and Immediate Response, which coordinates exchanges of information with the U.S. government, the state of Chihuahua, and the Municipality of Juarez, according to the Norte article.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Americans Now See Hispanics As More Frequent Targets of Discrimination Than Blacks: Pew Research Center

In a study released yesterday the Pew Research Center found that nearly one in four (23%) Americans believes Hispanics are frequent targets of discrimination, while less than one in five (18%) believe African Americans are frequent targets of discrimination. This represents a significant shift in perceptions. In the past Americans have consistently identified African Americans as more likely to be targets of discrimination. Among whites, only 13% see a lot of anti-black bias, compared to 20% in 2001. In general, the study shows that black Americans have become significantly more optimistic about racial progress since the election of President Obama.

In New Mexico hispanic per capita income was 51% of white non-hispanic income in the three-year period from 2006-2008, while black income was 55% of white non-hispanic income, according to U.S. Census ACS data. Nationwide the gap is even more pronounced, with hispanic per capita income at nearly 50% of white non-hispanic income compared to 57% for black per capita income compared to white non-hispanic per capita income. Native Americans in New Mexico trail New Mexico hispanics in per capita income by more than $3500, although nationwide Native Americans are ahead of hispanics by just over $1000.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Door-to-Door Operations in Juarez Signal New Tactics

In an abrupt change in tactics, the armed forces yesterday announced it would close off access to the Col Infonavit Fidel Velásquez, and begin door-to-door operations in that neighborhood, searching for drugs and guns. Persons in the public relations department of Joint Operation Chihuahua indicated the most violent neighborhoods would be subject to these operations.

After securing access to the neighborhood a unit carrying a "molecular detector," GT 200, will stop in front of each house to try to ascertain from outside the house if illegal drugs or guns are present. In addition, automobiles will be stopped to verify registration, in an effort to control the wave of automobile thefts. If the GT 200 indicates the presence of illegal drugs of guns, agents will seek permission to search inside and if this is denied, a search warrant will be sought.

Now Extortionists Are Hitting Up the Preachers

Norte reports this morning in an unsigned story that some evangelical churches in Cd. Juarez have been the victims of extortion attempts. The source for the information was José Antonio Galván, the director of a home for the mentally ill, who was the victim of an extortion last year, causing him to move to El Paso. He told Norte he was told to contribute $2000 (US) monthly. He was threatened but finally told he would be forgiven because he was known by one of the members of the extortion gang, but he decided to flee to El Paso anyway. He returned to Juarez a few months later so he could continue preaching, and has come into contact with the extortionists but they have not demanded money. His home houses 114 mentally ill patients, he said, and while he takes contributions to keep the home running he has no money of his own.

Galvan also told Norte he believes at least 50 or 60 other pastors have been victims of extortion. In some cases, he said, children of the pastors have been killed, while some pastors have been beaten.

Surprised? Cd. Juarez Again No. 1 in Homicides Worldwide

An umbrella organization in Mexico, Movimiento Blanco, is calculating (click here for story in El Universal) that Cd. Juarez is listed as the most violent city in the world for the second time in a row, with a rate of 191 per 100,000. They calculated this on the basis of a population for Juarez of 1.3 million. My calculation, and that of most people in Juarez, is 1.5 million. And the homicide count they use is 2658 (mine is 2657, for an annual rate of 177).

The organization places San Pedro Sula, in Honduras, in second place, with a rate of 119. San Salvador is third, with a rate of 95, and Caracas is fourth with a rate of 94, Guatemala City is fifth with a rate of 86, Cali is sixth with a rate of 73, Tegucigalpa seventh with 69, New Orleans eighth, followed by Medellin and Cd. del Cabo.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Is There Something Wrong With This Picture?

On a chilly Wednesday evening in Mesquite this week people sat glumly around a square table in the conference room at the fire house. An outer circle formed as people filled empty chairs against the walls of the room. Senator Mary Kay Papen opened up to a crowd of about 30 with a summary of the state’s bleak fiscal condition: a $600 million shortfall in 2011 for a $5 billion budget that was $6 billion in 2009; massive cuts in spending unavoidable; zero capital outlay funds for new buildings, repairs, or one-time expenditures for community projects—normally an important source of funding for small communities; no likely turnaround for another three years.

County Commissioner Oscar Vasquez Butler, an articulate, cowboy-hatted advocate for the downtrodden, suggested the legislature should eliminate what he characterized as rampant “double-dipping” by state employees in high paying positions. He was referring to a loophole approved at the governor’s request a few years ago, permitting employees to return to state government 3 months after retirement, getting full salary plus retirement benefits without having to contribute into the retirement fund. The system, he said, is being abused by the governor, who has rewarded loyalists with key high-paying positions. The senator was sympathetic but said she didn’t think the governor had placed this item on the “call,” for the legislative session that starts next week. So the legislature cannot deal with it.

Martin Nieto, president of a newly formed public water utility, said he cannot qualify for available state funds for infrastructure because the state is inflexible about requiring three years of audit reports. His utility, only six months old, cannot produce them. He needs these funds to leverage available federal dollars. Utilities are eligible for special federal funds since the county has a high proportion of designated “colonias,” communities without essential infrastructure needs. Fire chief Alfred Nevarez said he needs a stipend for his volunteer firefighters. Recruitment and retention are down and his ability to provide protection, including EMS, is seriously compromised. Jesus Carrasco complained that out of 40 contracts and subcontracts given out for Spaceport America so far, only 4 relatively small subcontracts were given to Dona Ana County firms. Governor Richardson and local real estate developers persuaded citizens of Dona Ana County to vote themselves sales tax increases three years ago to subsidize the private spaceport, promising contracts and high paying jobs during the construction phase. Most contracts went to Albuquerque, which is not taxing itself for the spaceport, and there are accusations that some contractors are not paying prevailing wages, as promised. The state has already subsidized the project by over $200 million, but the boom promised for the county has not materialized.

The five communities represented at the firehouse are in the South Mesilla Valley, which has 22,000 registered voters. Obama received 68% of the SMV vote in 2008. Richardson got 71% in 2006. Per capita incomes in the communities in 2008 ranged from about $8309 in Vado and $9379 in Mesquite, a little higher in Desert Sands and Berino, and about $15,086 in La Mesa. US per capita personal income in 2008 was $36,031. As Espy Holguin, a long-time community activist in the South Valley, said to the senator, “it’s not as if these people are asking for swimming pools and luxury items. We’re talking basic stuff like fire protection and sewers and jobs.”

Arturo Uribe asked whether the $82 million subsidy to the film industry would end or if the state would roll back the estimated $200 million in tax cuts for the wealthy, a gift from Richardson enacted a few years ago. One university study in 2008, he pointed out, indicated the film subsidies were getting back less than fifteen cents in revenues for every dollar taxpayers spent on the subsidies. The governor had taken these items “off the table,” Sen. Papen explained and were not negotiable. They were “near and dear” to him.

Richardson was forced to withdraw his nomination for a cabinet position last year in light of an FBI investigation into cozy relationships between the state and Richardson campaign contributors. Investigations and lawsuits are ongoing a year later about relationships between Richardson friends and fees paid to third party agents seeking to invest hundreds of millions of state pension funds. In one single transaction the state is alleged to have violated its own rules on prudent investing to dole out $90 million to a well-connected party, only to lose $86 million. All in all hundreds of millions were lost.

Under Richardson’s administration the state enjoyed an unprecedented spending spree, raising the budget much faster than economic growth, against the advice of Senator John Arthur Smith, who warned that the rise in spending was unsustainable and would lead to pain when oil and gas prices fell. Richardson ridiculed Smith by calling him “Dr. No,” just as oil and gas prices began to plummet.

Asked whether the legislature has the sentiment to challenge the governor about his spending and taxing priorities during the worst fiscal crisis the state has faced since the Great Depression, Senator Papen, who has frequently challenged the governor and paid the price for it, said she didn’t think the will existed in the House, where the Speaker rarely challenges Richardson. In the senate, she said, she just wasn’t sure.

Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith met with a smaller group at the same fire station the next day. Smith, who more than any single legislator has warned his colleagues about the perils of fiscal irresponsibility, often to deaf ears, said he was determined the legislature would not have its hands tied by the governor’s restrictive “calls,” but he admitted he didn’t think the votes were there for a serious challenge to Richardson.

Civic leaders in the South Mesilla Valley are wondering aloud just why legislators won’t challenge an $80 million subsidy for Hollywood film makers or “double-dipping” during an economic crisis in a state with the third highest poverty rate in the country. Is there any moral courage or authority left in the state legislature? Who does state government belong to?

Statutes Governing Incorporation In Serious Need of Fixing

Readers who see the comment by Leila (A Tale of Two Proposed South Valley Cities) below will get a very different take on the incorporation process for Atrisco than mine. It is worth reading, and makes some of the same points I made: citizens may not have been provided a solid base of information relevant to the elections that determined the fate of incorporation.

In the case of Atrisco, if Leila is correct (I don't claim to know whether she is or not but at least she was willing to put her name behind them), the county may have passed out misleading information and one county commissioner, citing this information as fact, actually campaigned against incorporation. In Anthony the county commission took self-serving information written and presented by attorney Frank Coppler at face value without question, and proceeded to authorize the election. Some of that information, according to Assessor Gary Perez, was incorrect. Much of it was misleading, painting an overly rosy scenario which implied huge sums of money would suddenly grace the coffers of the new town, something that Anthony residents will soon learn was a gross exaggeration.

Statutes governing incorporation proceedings are in serious need of revision. Citizens targeted for incorporation should have a reasonable chance of learning relevant facts provided by a neutral party in government.

1. Since counties may indeed harbor negative or positive thoughts about a proposed incorporation process, the Secretary of State should be required to inform each resident within the proposed boundaries that they live within boundary lines; that an election will be held , and where and when, and that all voters within the boundaries are entitled to vote. At least three public meeting should be held, published beforehand in the media, in which officials present the facts dispassionately about the likely tax implications of the incorporation, providing ball park figures about likely budgets and city services that might reasonably be expected. Residents for and against incorporation should have an opportunity to debate the issue in the presence of a neutral moderator.

2. DFA or LFC should provide an official estimate of that portion of gross receipts taxes that would stay with the proposed incorporated city, and provide various examples of other sources of income for municipalities, based on taxes, fees, grants, etc. This information should be provided at required public meetings held to discuss incorporation.

If Leila is correct, then both elections were in fact badly tainted with false information, throwing into serious doubt the validity of the elections as a reflection of the will of the people. If people are not adequately informed or if they get misleading information, then the elections cannot be called an exercise in self-governance. In fact, they make a mockery of the concept of self-governance.

Whether Leila and I are correct or not, what is certain is that many citizens did not know an election was taking place, because apparently no official body was required to do so, and there appears to have been no neutral body providing information to residents about the likely consequences of incorporation. This is very easy to fix with the regulations, or something like them, outlined above.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Tale of Two Proposed South Valley Cities: Atrisco and Anthony

There were two special elections yesterday, each for proposed incorporations in South Valleys. The first, and biggest, Atrisco, was in the South Valley of Albuquerque, where voters voted by an overwhelming majority (93%) against incorporation.

The second was in our own South Valley, where voters voted strongly (73%)in favor of incorporation.

The openness of the process by which incorporation came to be debated by citizens in each case was a study in contrasts. In the Albuquerque case, an advisory committee was formed two years ago (see my blog on July 1), providing multiple opportunities for citizens to meet, inform themselves, and debate the pros and cons of incorporation. Citizens participated in the process by which proposed city limits were drawn. Information meetings were held to discuss the kinds of services that might be expected, the impact of incorporation on taxes, etc. It is quite clear now that the more citizens learned about the implications of incorporation the more they opposed it. From remarks given to reporters last night, citizens simply concluded the costs of incorporation (additional taxes, limited services, the creation of a hungry bureaucracy) outweighed the benefits (more autonomy, more focused planning). From all indications, most people in the affected area knew about the elections, understood the implications, and voted against it.

In the case of Anthony there was no advisory committee formed. Citizens never met in an open process to ask questions, exchange information, debate. At the last minute (Dec. 17, in the middle of the holiday season), concerned about the lack of information, a resident of Anthony, Theresa Fisher, organized an information meeting, asking county Assessor Gary Perez to discuss the tax consequences of incorporation. Most citizens who attended the meeting expressed strong gratitude they were at last learning useful things at that meeting. The next night, at a church-held rally in favor of incorporation, Fisher was accused of being an "outside agitator," and when people stood up to explain she was an Anthony resident, they were invited to leave. Santa Fe attorney Frank Coppler) accused Perez of using "scare tactics" because he had simply pointed out that Mesilla, Hatch, and Sunland Park had raised property taxes when they incorporated. Coppler went on to imply that there might not be any need at all to raise taxes, since some gross receipts taxes now paid to the county would go to the municipality. But he never discussed how much that might be, nor what his evidence was, and the clear tone of the meeting was that open discussion or debate about incorporation was not to be tolerated.

From everything I've seen very few people in the affected area of Anthony knew there were elections forthcoming for incorporation, much less where the boundary lines were located, and even less what some of the implications of incorporation might be. This might explain why only one in five residents voted on the issue in Anthony, in contrast to the Atrisco case, where it is clear most people were well informed, and almost one in three persons voted.

The election is over, and Anthony will in due time incorporate itself. As stated here before, incorporation can have strong positive benefits, depending on the quality of the leadership. Let us hope that the process of incorporation will more transparent from here on out.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Beat: As of Yesterday: 38 and Counting

Diario reports that in the first four days of 2010 38 persons were killed by homicide in Cd. Juarez.

One man, Moisés Hernández Martínez, 17 was killed at 6:40 a.m. yesterday in a tortilla store called "Argentina," in Col. Fco. Villa. The owner had been threatened with violence if he didn't pay an extortion fee. Ironically, Mr. Hernández was hired because the owner thought his store would be more secure if he hired a man, since all of his employees were women.

In another incident Gustavo Nolasco Méndez, 26, was shot and killed at 11:12 yesterday in Col. Patria while he was driving a Buick Riviera with his mother, Irma Méndez,54. Twenty two 7.62 x 39 y 9 mm. spent cartridges were found near the scene. His mother was wounded severely in the attack and she was taken to the Social Security hospital (No. 66), but was turned away. Paramedics from the Red Cross then took her to General Hospital, which admitted her.

Military Commander Predicts More Violence in Cd. Juarez

Norte reports this morning in a story by Jesús Batista that General Felipe de Jesús Espitia Hernández, Commander of the 5th Military Zone of Mexico, and Commander of Joint Operation Chihuahua, has predicted a continuation of the wave of violence affecting Cd. Juárez. In an interview with Norte he indicated that rival criminal gangs are still fighting over the potential drug market share in Juárez, and over the strategic control of routes into the United States.

Significantly, General Espitia suggested to Norte that this year the violence might actually increase a little, given that we are entering an election cycle, which will complicate efforts to combat the violence.

He indicated that authorities in Cd. Juárez will begin employing new strategies to fight organized crime. As of this week, for example, the last of 6000 special forces troops should arrive in Juárez to relieve troops that have been here for the past few months.

Finally, he said, "I understand that federal, state and municipal authorities must reach common understandings ("ponernos de acuerdo")in order to diminish the wave of violence," as well as the extortions and kidnappings.

This last comment suggests strongly that problems of coordination still exist between federal, state, and local law enforcement forces. Seems like the U.S. isn't the only country where the right security hand doesn't always talk to the left hand.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Vote NO el martes 5 de enero

La triste realidad es que el grupo que ha promovido la incorporación de Anthony no ha proveído información fidedigna sobre los costos de tal incorporación. Tampoco no ha explicado qué servicios adicionales entregaría al pueblo, y no ha consultado con la comunidad sobre estos y otros aspectos de la propuesta. Por esa razon nuestra recomendacion es de votar contra la incorporacion, esperando que varios aspectos se aclaren antes de seguir adelante con una propuesta nueva.

1. Falta de transparencia: Como dijo Betty Gonzalez el otro día, esperabamos que todos los sectores sociales hubieran participado en este proyecto, pero no fue así. Un grupito pequeño ha controlado todo. Ahora que sabemos que Andrew Moralez no puede ser alcalde, este grupito tendrá el control.

2. Servicios? La unica propuesta que el grupo promotor ha soltado es el presupuesto escrito por Mr. Frank Coppler, abogado de Santa Fe, y que presentó al condado en noviembre. El propone poner una corte municipal, un tesorero, y un policía extra. Como los servicios de corte y tesorería hoy en día estan proveídos por el condado, esto significa que el beneficio neto sería de un solo policía extra. Esto, despues de aumentar los impuestos de propiedad en 13%. Es todo? Nada mas?

3. Impuestos: Hatch, Mesilla, y Sunland Park todos aumentaron sus impuestos de propiedad cuando se incorporaron. Y segun el tasador del condado, Gary Perez, para llegar a un presupuesto de $200,000 tendran que aumentar los impuestos de propiedad en un 13%. Mr. Coppler le acuso a Perez de emplear "tacticas de temor," y luego Coppler llego a insinuar que no era necesario aumentar los impuestos ni una gota, como que el pueblo de Anthony se tragaría esta fantasía sin cuestionar. Pero qué temor estará escondiendo Mr. Coppler al negar que los impuestos subirán? El presupuesto que el pretende imponer representa un incremento de solamente $7.00 mensuales para las residencia valoradas en $65,000. Acaso Mr. Coppler no tiene suficiente confianza en la ciudadania de Anthony para permitir que decidan por si mismo su destino, sabiendo honestamente de qué se trata?

Límites: Los límites de la zona de incorporación no permiten que Andrew Moralez corra para alcalde, y no incluyen a Green Acres, aunque Green Acres pudiera contribuir una base sólida de impuestos. Hay quienes comentan que la idea era no despertar en la ciudadanía de Green Acres un rencor contra la incorporación, y por eso los excluyeron. Pero esta solución deja a la gente mas pobre de Anthony pagando toda la cuota de los impuestos adicionales que tendran que pagar.

Mejor rechazar este intento de incorporación, y empezar de nuevo, consultando honestamente con todos los sectores sociales de Anthony.

Editorial Comment: Why You Should Vote Not to Incorporate

Andrew Moralez's statement of concern about the boundary lines (see below) of the proposed incorporation of Anthony tipped the balance for me against it this go-around. Promoters have been less than fully honest about the costs. They failed to explain what services they intend to provide, and failed to engage the affected population in any real way. Many who are in favor of incorporation have expressed concern about the shoddy way this has been promoted.

Lack of Transparency: As Betty Gonzalez put it, she had hoped a broad spectrum of the public would be consulted, but in the end only a tiny minority were involved. Some tried to salvage the proposal by encouraging Andrew Moralez to run for mayor, but he doesn't live in the proposed area, so that leaves the promoters in charge.

Services? The only clue as to what the promoters have in mind is a proposed budget by Frank Coppler, attorney for the Anthony water district, presented to the county commission. For $200,000 he proposes to have an extra police and a clerk-treasurer and city court. Since the latter are already provided by the county, the net benefit to citizens would be one extra police officer, after raising property taxes by 13%. Is that it?

Taxes: Hatch, Mesilla, and Sunland Park all raised property taxes when they became municipalities, and if Anthony were to do the same to reach a budget of $200,000, they would go up 13%, according to the county assessor, Gary Perez. Coppler accused Perez of using "scare tactics" in providing this information and he implied taxes might not have to go up at all. Why was Coppler so afraid to admit taxes will go up? The $200,000 budget he proposes represents an increase in property taxes of just $7.00 per month for the average residence, valued at $65,000. Doesn't he trust to the people of Anthony enough to let them understand what they are getting into?

Boundary Lines: The lines drawn for the municipality are selective. They did not include Green Acres, a likely target for incorporation since it is very much a part of the community and could provide a more solid tax base for a municipality. Were they afraid Green Acres didn't trust them with their taxes, and hope to annex them after the municipality becomes a reality? Some people think so, but it never became part of the discussion. Meanwhile this leaves the poorest people of Anthony stuck with the tax burden.

People have a right to know what they are getting into, and at this point there have been a lot of promises but little concrete information. Better reject it this go-around and start from scratch with stronger community input.

Confirmado Moralez No Puede Correr Para Mayor: Aumentan Las Dudas Sobre Incorporación

Hemos confirmado que el Sr. Andrew Morales no vive dentro de los límites de la incorporación propuesta para Anthony, y por lo tanto no podrá postularse para alcalde de Anthony en caso que la ciudadanía votara a favor incorporación el martes, 5 de enero.

Varias personas han comentado aqui que votarían a favor de la incorporación solamente para apoyar a la candidatura de Moralez, ya que no confían en el liderazgo que ha promovido la incorporación.

En una entrevista telefónica con el Sr. Moralez, el director ejecutivo de la Autoridad Portuaria de Nuevo México (New Mexico Border Authority) dijo lo siguiente: "Yo apoyo la incorporación de Anthony, pero solamente cuando las circunstancias sean correctas. Estoy preocupado por la manera en que los promotores han dibujado los límites del municipio."

Algunas personas, como el Sr. Roberto Medina, han especulado que los promotores deliberadamente no incluyeron a Green Acres como parte del municipio propuesto, aunque las propiedades en aquella comunidad contribuirían áltos niveles de impuestos de propiedad, porque temían que los residentes de Green Acres se opondrían a la incorporación y que hubieran dedicado recursos para montar una campaña en contra. Otras personas me han comentado, en calidad reservada ("off the record"), que muchas personas temen represalias hacia los que se expresaran en contra de la incorporación.

Betty González, quien dedicó muchos esfuerzos para elaborar un plan maéstro para Anthony, en una reunión pública en Anthony el mes pasado criticó fuertemente a los promotores de incorporación (Victor Montoya, Pat Banegas, y Mr. Frank Coppler) por su falta de transparencia, y por no haber proveído información fidedigna sobre sus planes para el municipio propuesto.

Moralez Cannot Run for Mayor: More Questions Raised About Transparency of Incorporation Leadership

I have learned this morning that Andrew Moralez, who has been widely discussed as a potential mayor for Anthony, does not live within the proposed boundary lines. If incorporation passes, Mr. Moralez will not be eligible to run for mayor. Several people have indicated in comments posted here they would vote for incorporation only because they thought Mr. Moralez might run for mayor.

Contacted by phone, Mr. Moralez said, "I support incorporation of Anthony under the right conditions. However, I have concerns about the way the lines were drawn."

News that Mr. Moralez does not live in the district renews questions raised earlier about why the boundary lines were drawn the way there were. Some people, for example, have asked why Green Acres was not included in the incorporation map, since the property tax base there would add considerably to the tax base, which is extremely low. Robert Medina, who attended both public meetings last month, told me he believes the lines were drawn strategically to avoid opposition. Green Acres would have opposed incorporation, knowing their taxes would be going up if it passed. Once incorporation is a fact, he said, he believed the city would annex Green Acres. Three other persons I've spoken to, all of whom asked not to be identified, confirmed they believed Green Acres was left out deliberately to avoid opposition.

Promoters of the incorporation were criticized last month by Betty Gonzalez in a meeting in Anthony for their lack of transparency and refusal to include more than a tiny minority about their plans, should incorporation pass.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Saturday, January 2, 2010

First Killings of the Year, and an Armed Robber Gets Beaten by Neighbors

La Polaka reports the first person killed in Juarez this year was shot by assassins, apparently in the early morning hours on January 1, in Parajes de Oriente. Diario reports that two men were kidnapped from a drug rehabilitation center last night at about 8:15 p.m. in Col. Azteca; both were shot and dumped at the corner of Níquel y Del 57, in front of the Temple of Golgotha. The men were identified as brothers. Mario Antonio Díaz, 28 años, was dead but his brother José Manuel Díaz,32, survived, wounded in the neck, foot, and hand. Diario reports a total of seven killed yesterday, the first day of the year.

In another story reported in Diario, armed thieves tried to extort money at gunpoint from the owner of Mariscos Océano, a small restaurant on Héroes de la Revolución. The owner refused to pay, and was shot in the arm. The thieves then fled the scene, chased by witnesses and entered a residence about a block away, which was empty at the time. When neighbors saw the thieves enter they entered the house, after one thief fled, and began beating the remaining thief. Police rescued him and arrested him. This was the third case in less than a month in which citizens have chased down and beaten extortionists. On December 18 an alleged armed robber was run over by a pickup after the driver noticed that the gun the thief was using as a weapon was a toy gun.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Beat Last Year: 2657

From two stories inDiario this morning: In 2008 the official count was 1623. In 2009 the unofficial count is 2657. Women: 163. Thirty three of the women were killed in December, which was the annual total in 2005. Sixty six of the homicides last year were against police agents.

The pace of the killing, after a pause when 7500 army troops and 2300 federal police agents joined local police in March, increased dramatically after May. Common criminals, apparently emboldened as they observed that the strong presence of troops had not stemmed drug trafficking activity or homicides, began a wave of car thefts, kidnappings and extortions, mortifying the local population. Until this year most citizens felt relatively safe in Cd. Juarez, since the vast majority of homicides involved persons associated with drug trafficking.

With the new wave of violence hundreds of citizens fled the city, and many of those who can afford it have moved or are moving to El Paso. Several top restaurants in Juarez have moved over to El Paso, such as Maria Chuchenas and Shangri La, since the threat of violence has strongly reduced the number of persons willing to go out to dinner at night.

One of the last persons killed in 2009, according to La Polaka, was Jesus Reyes Favela, the owner of a hardware store, shot to death yesterday by gunmen apparently for failure to pay an extortion fee.

Car thefts: 12,923 as of December 31, according to Norte. This translates to a car theft rate of 861.5 per 100,000, slightly higher than Albuquerque's rate of 821.69 in 2007 and 730.81 in 2008, which gave Albuquerque a ranking of 8th place out of 361 MSA's in 2007.

The security crisis in Cd. Juarez is extremely serious, and the seven homicides per day is only the tip of the iceberg of a city under severe security stress.

Happy New Year! Feliz Año Nuevo!

I don't get a lot of readers, but the quality of my readership is high, and I am grateful for those who follow this blog, which is little more than a year old. The posting may seem schizophrenic: violence in Cd. Juráez, mischief within the political class in New Mexico, events in the South Mesilla Valley, and occasionally national issues. But Cd. Juárez is only minutes away from the South Valley, a metroplex of 1.5 million people. They are our neighbors, and part of our economic growth will depend on our relationship with Cd. Juárez. But the state news media doesn't cover it except when something drastic makes national news. New Mexico should make a much stronger effort to be good neighbors with Juárez and Chihuahua. Our economic future is a lot more closely tied to them than to any of our neighboring states.

Mischief in New Mexico politics directly affects us here in the South, which is the poorest region in the state, systematically neglected by the political system. It affects all of us in New Mexico, of course, and as citizens we need to be much more demanding about our political class, which sometimes acts badly in part because there is little accountability except for the Albuquerque Journal which can't cover it all. And sometimes national issues, the state of the economy, developments in the Hispanic world, have strong impacts on this region, which is growing rapidly. So there is a kind of coherent logic in the sorts of things I cover.

So Happy New Year, Feliz Año Nuevo, and I hope the Beat section here next year has fewer postings.