Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Beat: 14 Murders Yesterday

Fourteen persons were murdered in Juarez on Tuesday, including an eighteen month infant who was in the arms of an adolescent, also killed, who was carrying her. Another victim was found "encobijado," (wrapped in a blanket) as witnesses saw the body as it was rolled out of a vehicle in Col. Francisco Villa at 5 p.m. Also at 5 p.m. three persons in a Honda Accord were killed when the victims were exiting the car after parking in front of a pharmacy. See Diario for original story. By my count, which may be conservative, homicides so far this year are 608, with 216 killed in March. Last year at the end of March the homicide count was at 453. Remember, though, that last March was the first month of the presence of 7500 army troops in Juarez, and there was a temporary two-month lull in homicides before the pace picked up.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Mexico Still in Recession: And Another Brief Chat With Sen. J.A. Smith About Reserves

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia released an updated map today of it's monthly "states coincidence index map," which compiles an index using four variables for each state: nonfarm payroll employment, average hours worked in manufacturing, the unemployment rate, and wage and salary disbursements deflated by the consumer price index (U.S. city average). The data shows New Mexico, in February, to be one of the nine worst performing states; five of these including New Mexico are in the Rocky Mountain region. Unemployment in New Mexico is trending upwards (at 8.7% in February), per capita income was down (see Capitol Report here for story on this) by 1.2% in 2009, and the state is suffering from the worst fiscal crisis at least since the Great Depression, caused by a major slowdown in tax revenues caused by the recession. Two years ago revenues were about $6.1 billion; this year (FY2011) they are projected to be at about $4.8 billion, (but see below for adjustment for growth) a drop of over 20%.

Nationwide, the recession was declared over in the second and third quarters of 2009, as growth in GDP resumed. New Mexico, which in the past has been buffered somewhat against national downturns, is still in recession in spite of receiving several billion dollars in stimulus funds from the federal government.

The national recession began more than two years ago, in January 2008. New Mexico state tax revenues began feeling the pinch by the summer of that year, when the governor decided he needed to give taxpayers a rebate on taxes, in spite of warnings we couldn't afford it. Since that time, I've watched in amazement as much of the political class in both parties (with significant exceptions in each party) simply denied the bad news, vilified the messengers of bad news, such as Sen. John Arthur Smith, as though they themselves had invented the data just to show how wicked they were, and then blithely called for huge increases in taxes to cover the shortfalls, while doing virtually nothing to reduce the worst excesses in spending of the Richardson administration, long after his credibility had been squandered through the pay-to-play allegations that have been amply covered in the Albuquerque Journal, and long after many of his spending excesses had been amply uncovered by various media outlets.

I caught Sen. John Arthur Smith at a grocery store in Santa Fe this afternoon, and checked out some figures with him: At this moment, after a special session, the budget the state legislature passed ($5.67 billion) relies on a growth rate of 6% for FY 2011. At zero growth tax revenues will produce $4.8 billion. At 6% growth this will bring in revenues estimated at $5.1 billion. Tax increases of $235 million raises the revenues to $5.335 billion. But remember, the governor vetoed $68 million in food taxes, a measure applauded by many sectors as politically correct, so the total only goes up to $5.267 billion. And about $300 million in federal stimulus dollars available for FY 2011, brings the total up to $5.567 billion, about $100 million short of the total budget.

Now, Smith clued me in to the following: State reserves, which were $130 million in December are set aside each year to cover shortfalls in revenues. The state has spent $80 million in reserves since December (because last year's budget was too high), so the state has only about $50 million left. At the current rate of expenditure of reserves ($20 million per month), the state will run out of reserves in May. The governor has at his disposal about $20 million in leftover stimulus money for FY 2010, so this should take us to the end of June 2010, at which time the state will be completely without reserves. Should this come true, the state will begin FY 2011 on July 1 of this year with a $100 million shortfall and no reserve cushion. This alone would cause a serious cash flow problem and quick, possibly brutal, cost-cutting. But it gets worse: if the state grows only at 3% in FY 2011 instead of the 6% we are relying on, there will be a total shortfall of $250 million. If the state grows at only 2% the shortfall will be $300 million. WITH NO RESERVES THE FATE OF THE BUDGET DEPENDS ENTIRELY ON MATCHING THE 6% GROWTH RATE.

So a lot is riding on just how much the state will grow after June 2010. There is little reason, after today's Reserve Bank of Philadelphia report and map, to believe a good spurt of economic growth is likely to occur this year, much less a 6% spurt of growth for all of FY 2011. Get ready for more cuts next summer or fall. Plus, perhaps, a few more tax increases. Why is the political class of New Mexico not talking more about this? Why are we not preparing for more cuts? Why are our legislators not insisting that we cut the waste (readers will know my favorite candidate to be cut) NOW from state government? Why aren't they identifying which cuts can be made with the least damage? You want Governor Richardson to make these cuts for you? Can't you think on your own in the face of a lame duck governor who squandered his ethical credibility long ago and helped get us into this mess by spending like a drunken sailor? Where is your pride?

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Beat: Closing in on 600 Murders So Far This Year; Another Decapitation

In Praxedis Guerrero (a suburb of Juarez) armed men in two vehicles shot at the municipal police command post Saturday night at midnight, breaking windows in offices and automobiles. Five neighbors who witnessed the attack were apprehended, lined up, and shot. Included among the victims was a 17-year old man, who had been drinking beer at home with his girlfriend and mother when the attack began and he went with his girlfriend to investigate. Their bodies were found yesterday morning 600 meters from the Juarez-Porvenir highway on a dirt road near Km. 58, near the village of Placitas.

The whole Valle de Juarez, of which Praxedis is a part, has been victimized by severe violence in the past few days. Armed gangs have burned homes, and cardboard signs placed in Guadalupe (a village of Distrito Bravos not far from Praxedis) warned residents of the area to abandon their homes or their homes would be burned. At 9 a.m. Sunday morning a man was found shot to death on the Juarez-Porvenir highway at El Sauzal.

In Juarez a 19-year old man, Ismael Hernandez Rivas, was shot to death in front of his home at 3:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. A woman was found dead this morning in Col. Juarez "encobijada" (wrapped in a blanket, a common phenomenon).

Last Thursday five men and a woman were found shot to death is various parts of Cd. Juarez and Valle de Juarez. One of the victims had been decapitated. His head was wrapped in a black plastic bag and placed just outside the Michelle Bar, about 15 feet from the body. The body also showed signs of multiple injuries to the back.

Today La Polaka reports that three men were shot to death at the intersection of Golfo de Panama and Golfo de Honduras in the frequently violent Col. Ciudad Moderna. Armed men driving a black Expedition arrived in front of a house and shot three men standing near the entrance of the house.

At least 202 persons have been executed so far in March, and 594 so far this year, a record pace.

Compiled from stories in Norte, Diario (1) (2). Click for original stories.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tigres del Norte in El Paso April 11 at El Paso Coliseum

The U.S.-Mexico border (about 50 miles on each side) is a distinct cultural zone for both countries, and the cultural capital of the region is El Paso-Cd. Juarez. The Tigres del Norte band has been the center of gravity of border culture for several decades, and a review of the lyrics of their songs is more instructive and a lot more fun than reading several PhD dissertations on border sociology.

Judging from the Tigres, the topics of immigration and drug trafficking, as well as the more normal subjects of unrequited love and infidelity, have been foremost on the minds of border residents for about a decade. Unlike the official discourse on these subjects Tigres tell it like it is, without mincing words, from the perspective of the ordinary "little person," indeed, so much so that some of their best songs, including the current No. 1 best-seller La Granja, have been banished from radio stations in Mexico. This is strange, since in most songs, like the old westerners, law enforcement always wins.

In one popular song the singer comes to understand the drug lord driving the big golden SUV is actually living in a golden cage from which there is no escape. In another a Mexican American, feeling estranged in his own land, complains, "I didn't cross the border, the border crossed me," referring to the War with Mexico in 1846. In yet another a Salvadoran "mojado" (wetback) complains of the treatment he got in Mexico during the three times he traveled north. In the latest best-seller, La Granja, a chicken farm goes out of control when the dogs are unleashed during troubled times, and the singer asks for all the nearby farmers to help tie the dogs up again--a thinly veiled allegory about contemporary violence in Mexico. The organizers of a concert in Mexico City last October requested Tigres not to perform that song. This, in turn, caused the Tigres to cancel the concert.

I saw the Tigres at the Coliseum in El Paso a couple of years ago. The crowd was as exciting to watch as the musicians. There is a standing section in the center floor that fills up quickly, a lot of people bring flasks with them, and for a couple of hours you are at ground zero in a cultural zone where everybody knows there is a Mexico and a U.S.A (not always portrayed as friendly beings) but for a moment the border identity triumphs.

To hear La Granja click here and then click the You Tube button.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Notes from a PVA Meeting

I went to a PVA (Progressive Voter's Alliance) meeting on Thursday night. PVA has been around since a handful of Kerry supporters (2004) decided to continue meeting on behalf of liberal candidates and causes. The group has had success in recruiting candidates, especially for city council. I've heard a good deal of gossip about them, and some sectors of the community are afraid of their potential influence--sure markers of success. I've noticed that knowledgeable persons distinguish between liberals and progressives in Dona Ana county mainly by the relative newcomer status of the "progressives." Many people pause slightly before and after uttering the word as though to put quotation marks around it, suggesting they aren't quite sure what the word stands for. As near as I can tell it stands for someone who has the beliefs of a modern liberal, but wants to avoid the taint now associated with the word "liberal" in many sectors of the population, after the effective demonization of the term by Fox News and other cultural warriors.

Anyway, there were about 120 people at the meeting at Munson Center, gathered in an oval-shape due to placing several rows of chairs facing each other across the length of the room. The gathering had the feel of a relatively mature group, already institutionalized with customs and rituals, insiders feeling at ease rapping with old acquaintances, candidates pleased to have a venue to meet with people: a perfectly healthy civic gathering, far more energetic than the typical Democratic Party function.

Thursday night was reserved for legislators to talk about the session. Five showed up: Steinborn, Cote, Joni Gutierrez, Mary Jane Garcia, and Fischmann. Out of these Fischmann, the only freshman, was by far the most articulate, talking about the big issues, bottom lines, instead of the usual anecdote or two legislators provide at such gatherings about how a bill got killed or passed at the last minute in committee, or the typical comment on how difficult and busy the session was and how hard it was to kill the bad legislation and get the good stuff passed, "but in the end we did a pretty good job"--the usual formula designed to make voters feel positive about the legislator if not the legislature without holding themselves accountable about the outcome and knowing virtually no one really follows what happens in the legislature.

Fischmann talked about the need to cut costs: 49 out of 89 school districts (I hope I repeat accurately) with less than 1000 students, each with a superintendent earning $100,000 or more. Good: means he's been asking serious questions. He talked about the need to revise our tax codes: yes, we rely far too much on volatile items like the price of oil and gas, and the system has become highly regressive. He suggested we need more study of the $92 million giveaway to Hollywood, saying the cost-benefit analyses that have been done so far are contradictory, suggesting we need another study.

This was the one false note in his presentation: either he has not done his homework, or else he may be playing footsie with the powers behind this subsidy. The studies he cites are not equal in merit. The NMSU study, done by two highly competent scholars (Peach and Popp) without an axe to grind, suggests a rate of return of 14.4 cents on the dollar: in other words a total waste of money. The Ernst and Young study, hired by the New Mexico film agency of the state specifically to refute the NMSU study, has been torn apart by the LFC very effectively, among other reasons because they include the movie star's income into the return to New Mexico (they "calculate" $1.50 rate of return), assuming the actors will spend all their income in New Mexico: an absurdity. And a group out of New England, contemplating a similar subsidy, concluded New Mexico gets around 39 cents on the dollar after adjusting the data of the Ernst and Young study to more realistic levels. These studies have been widely reported in the New Mexico media. Click here and here and here and here for copies of the studies. Rep. Dennis Kintigh posted these on his web, which you can see here, and which has more studies than the ones I list here.

We also know Governor Richardson would not allow anyone to touch this giveaway last year or this year, and of course, now we know why: Richardson is being considered for a film industry lobby job that pays $1.4 million. So, with the $92 million the state will spend this year on the subsidy, plus the $82 million paid out last year, New Mexico taxpayers have shelled out $174 million to beef up the governor's resume, and we have maybe $25 million to $68 million to show for it, during the worst fiscal decline the state has experienced since at least the Great Depression. The $92 million taxpayers will shell out this year is far more than the $68 million the legislature approved (and the governor vetoed) in food taxes. Spending more taxpayer money on a new study will not change these facts.

New Mexico has been a liberal state in some ways since the Great Depression, although conservative bastions exist in many corners, including agriculture and mining, and business. The PVA is openly liberal about many issues and they have every right to recruit candidates to reflect their views. If somebody doesn't like it, let them organize their own group instead of wringing their hands over PVA.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Richardson Vetoes Food Tax: Sen. John Arthur Smith on How Solvent Is State Government?

"With this latest veto, right now, state finances are being held together by a wish and a prayer....If the state economy doesn't grow as quickly as the governor projected, he won't have the tools to rectify the shortfall...(and) the next governor will have to make some serious cuts." Sen. Finance Chair John Arthur Smith

Governor Richardson yesterday vetoed the $68 million dollars the legislature hoped to raise to meet a growing revenue shortfall when it reinstated the gross receipts taxes on food last month. To evaluate the impact of this veto on the overall fiscal picture I called Sen. John Arthur Smith this morning and had a lengthy chat. Major points:

1. As of now revenues for the next year are projected to come in at $4.8 billion. The budget passed last month is $5.6 billion. To pay for the $800 million shortfall (which must be balanced, no deficit allowed), the state is relying on about $500 million in stimulus funds from the federal government and $300 million from a growth in tax revenues based on a 6% growth in the economy during FY 2011. It is this optimistic 6% growth projection that has Smith worried. If economic growth in New Mexico is only 3% (far more realistic, given the poor performance of the economy nationwide) this will create a shortfall of $150 million.

2. The governor's veto of the food tax will produce a revenue drop of only $50 million, not $68, because of other actions the governor has taken: $13 million from the new cigarette tax will now go directly to the General Fund, earmarked for early childhood, and the governor generated another $5 million in revenue in a separate veto.

Bottom Line: if the state grows only 3% next year there will be a $200 million shortfall ($150+$50).

Other Points:

3. The Film Credit Scandal: How it Hurts New Mexicans. Corporate Income Taxes are not generating expected revenues in part because of the cost of the governor's film credit, which is paid for by corporate tax revenues. Corporate income taxes for FY 2010 were estimated at $160 million. As of a month ago, only $12 million in revenues have come in. The governor's film credit, which pays one quarter of all expenses Hollywood producers incur in filming in New Mexico, will cost taxpayers $92 million this year, up $10 million from last year. These costs have been skyrocketing, as Hollywood producers realize they have a blank check in New Mexico at taxpayer expense. In the last two years alone taxpayers have forked out $174 million to Hollywood, with an economic development rate of return to taxpayers estimated at 14.4 cents on the dollar, for a net loss of $149 million. While corporate tax revenues are expected to improve in the last five months of the fiscal year, the best current estimate is that instead of generating $160 million, they will generate only $100 million, leaving the state budget with a shortfall of $60 million, which will have to be plugged up somehow.

4. Rainy Day Money: To plug up possible shortfalls, the legislature left the state with $132 million in reserves, between 3% and 4% of the budget--normally they like to leave about 10%. In addition, after the legislature (without authorization to do so) appropriated $25 million of the governor's discretionary stimulus money on education (the governor did not veto this tricky movida), the governor is left with only $20 million in federal stimulus money that he can use at his discretion. If a $60 million shortfall develops in corporate taxes, the governor will have to use almost half of his reserves just to plug up this year's budget. If the economy grows at only 3% instead of 6% during the second half of FY 2011, with the $50 million loss of revenue from the food tax, the shortfall will be $200 million, far above the level of reserves we have today. At that point only severe cuts in state spending will be able to cover the shortfall. But of course, by that time Uncle Bill will be on his way to his next job (maybe, according to published reports, in Hollywood?), leaving the shortfalls to the next governor.

5. Other Outrages: Aside from the Governor's Hollywood Giveaway funds (GHG), there are other things that need fixing. Legislators were outraged to learn that the Department of Health, which was exempted from the hiring freeze in state government, has just gone out and hired 536 employees! So much for exercising prudent judgment in a fiscal crisis. And of course nothing has been done about the unauthorized exempt positions, with high salaries nobody can quite justify, nor the conversion of some exempt positions to regular positions in state government that do not automatically expire at the end of a gubernatorial term in office. If the governor were serious about solving the fiscal crisis he would cut at least some of the fat he has accumulated in staff positions. As former UNM professor Allen Reed said in an op-ed piece yesterday in the ABQ Journal (click here) there is virtually no agency that could not trim off 10% without serious cuts in service, after the huge splurge in state spending over the past few years

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Health Care Reform Passes House: Harry Teague Voted No: My Take

There were sound reasons to vote against Health Care. It does nothing to curb costs. Many of the 200-or-so Republican "ideas" Speaker Pelosi boasted about including in the bill, we will soon find out, are gimmicks tossed in by lobbyists to make the health care industry happier with it, not to make it more bipartisan. My premiums will continue to rise faster than inflation and when Medicare time arrives I will find my coverage reduced. My income taxes will go up to help pay for someone else's health care. Big Pharma is happy: they get an increase of 30 million potential customers while Americans will continue to pay the highest prices in the world for drugs. For the Democratic Party to come up with this piece of legislation, with all of its "cornhusker kickback," "Louisiana Purchase," and countless other special interest provisions, is another sad reminder that our political system is now thoroughly corrupted--in both parties--by the growing Rule of Money, rather than the rule of law.

On the other hand, pathetic as the Health Care bill may seem to the naked eye, it nevertheless represents a continuation of the flame, however flickering, of modern liberalism. The passage of Health Care represents the first serious social achievement by the Democratic Party since the mid-1960s. And just like social security, equal treatment under the law for minorities, and medicare, universal health care will become one of the very few untouchables in American politics. After three decades of being indoctrinated about the marvels of unregulated free markets, the evils of Big Government, the patriotic glories of tax cuts to the rich, and the seeds of Liberty that spring forth when government services are privatized, the public, believe me, will ignore all of this dogma as so much empty verbiage, grab their newly-found entitlement to health care, and protect it with the same ferocious conviction as an NRA gun owner confronting a gun control proposal. And serious protection of this entitlement will require serious government regulation which will inevitably ensue.

This is precisely why Republican Party leaders invested such gut-wrenching, sometimes hysterical, energy in fighting the very idea of universal health care even though they might have made it even more palatable to special interest groups they represent had they gone along. They understood that no matter how much some Republicans yearn to turn back the clock on this vote, punishing those who voted for it and talking of repeal, in the end Republicans will accept universal health care as a given, as they do social security, equal treatment of minorities, and medicare--measures they also once voted against. Health Care passed because Americans overwhelmingly want universal coverage, just like citizens everywhere, in spite of all denials to the contrary. And the idea of universal coverage passed--and will survive--in spite of the administration's self-serving fawning for months over enemies of health care, in spite of the lobbyists best efforts to leave consumers with nothing, and in spite of the mantra, sung endlessly by the same people who promoted trillion-dollar wars of choice and trillion dollar bailouts to the greediest and least patriotic corporations, that we cannot afford it, just can't, no sir, just can't, we can't.

So Harry Teague, alone among his New Mexico colleagues in Washington, voted against the tide of history, as well as against his party leaders. It was a predictable vote, after he inexplicably voted for cap-and-trade last Spring, a measure favored by Speaker Pelosi, but not in the oil patches of the state. I doubt whether this vote will affect his chances of re-election one way or the other. Liberal voters are highly unlikely to vote for Steve Pearce. The cap and trade vote was far more damaging to Teague. But Congressmen do a lot besides casting votes: they try to bring the bacon back home, they try to please constituents through their field offices, and they help party organizations with fund raisers, speeches, and appearances. It is too early to tell just what factors will determine the outcome of the Pearce-Teague race this year. A lot will depend on just how Pearce, who served three terms in the same position, decides to present his challenge.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

U.S. Consul Raymond McGrath: Information Suggests Consulate Murders Another Case of Mistaken Identity

In an exclusive interview with Diario yesterday (click here to see story) U.S. Consul General Raymond McGrath indicated all of the information he has received from Saturday on suggests the murder of Lesley Enriquez and the husband of another U.S. Consul employee (killed in a separate attack) last Saturday were cases of mistaken identity. Apparently the assassins were looking for a white SUV. Lesley Enriquez was driving a 2009 white Toyota Rav 4 while the husband of the other Consul employee was driving a white Honda Pilot. Both cars are reasonably similar in appearance, although the Pilot is larger.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Senate Finance Chair John A. Smith: Budget Passed Requires 6% Economic Rebound This Year

Senator John Arthur Smith expressed concern that revenue projections Governor Richardson and the legislature relied on in authorizing a $5.6 billion budget two weeks ago are overly optimistic. Unless revenues increase by 6% during the second half of 2010 the legislature will have to meet again to make further cuts. Smith said at the current rate of decline, there will only be $4.8 billion in revenues--not $5.6 billion--as the price of natural gas continues to decline, and as revenues from other tax sources continue to decline. Should the governor veto the so-called "food tax," Smith said the legislature will have to meet immediately just to get us through to July 1 of this year. He also expressed concern that the stimulus package was used to "plug in holes in revenue with one-time-only money." Since the funds were used largely to maintain current levels recurring expenditures, when they run out, more cuts will have to be made unless the economy rebounds strongly.

Rep. Joseph Cervantes indicated the legislature has been "limping" along in this fiscal crisis, "just getting by" without solving the long term problems in the budget. Apart from this overall failure, Cervantes indicated the fact that everyone went home unhappy was a good sign, that pain at least is being distributed across the board.

Some of the most influential senators in New Mexico spoke at the Fire Station in Mesquite last night at a function sponsored by the Mesquite Community Action Committee. President Pro Tem of the Senate, Timothy Jennings, Senate Finance Chair John Arthur Smith, Vice Chair of the New Mexico Finance Authority Oversight Committee Mary Kay Papen, Chair of the Senate Education Committee Cynthia Nava, and Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia, all spoke about the Special Session that ended less than two weeks ago in Santa Fe. Reps. Joseph Cervantes and Mary Helen Garcia, who represent the South Mesilla Valley, were also on hand.

Jennings defended the increase in the food tax, saying "it was the only stable tax we had" to deal with the shortfall, guaranteeing that revenues would be there to pay for state government. Other tax increases, such as increasing taxes on corporations, or the extractive industries would have left us subject to stronger declines should the economy not turn around.

Martin Lopez, manager of the Mesquite Water system (now part of the Lower Rio Grande Water Users Authority) expressed gratitude that the Colonias bill, carried by Sen. Papen in the Senate with strong support from Reps. Nunez, Cervantes, and Garcia, but added that the executive branch still has work to do in allowing water systems to seek funding from that source. Sen. Nava explained the workings of HB 100, which she helped steer through the legislature, permitting fire chiefs to use certain funds for gasoline expenses incurred by firemen in the course of their duties. This bill originated in a meeting held in Mesquite on Dec. 17 last year, at which Sen. Nava was present. Sen. Mary Jane Garcia explained her role in helping through the Colonias bill, as Majority Whip of the Senate.

Commissioners Karen Perez and Oscar Butler were present as well. Perez reiterated the need to find mechanisms to allow the efficient expenditure of funds in projects requiring county, federal, and state funds to avoid un-necessary delays duplication of efforts in projects like the Berino Road.

Butler asked the senators what they did to stop un-necessary spending, such as the "double-dipper" problem, the governor's pet film industry credit, and consolidation of agencies to save costs. Senators Jennings and Smith, while pointing out concrete steps taken to eliminate waste, such as solving the double-dipper issue, admitted more could have been done to curtail costs. Seconding Butler, Jesus Caro, Trustee in Mesilla, criticized the failure of the spaceport project to result in jobs in Southern New Mexico, and other expenditures that could have been cut, such as the film credit, especially in the middle of a serious recession.

We often complain we are forgotten in Santa Fe. Last night was a reminder that the center of gravity of power in the Senate is held by Southerners. It is up to us to try to gain access to it. The discussion was open, candid, with a lot of give and take.

President Calderon in Juarez Today: Third Visit in Six Weeks

President Felipe Calderon will arrive in Cd. Juárez today for the third visit in less than six weeks. His arrival demonstrates, if nothing else, an admirable courage: he will face the anguished and sometimes angry families of murdered victims one more time; he will be exposed to the U.S. media which, fueled by the death of a U.S. citizen working for the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, will be paying more attention than usual; he comes to town knowing that local, state, and federal agencies on the El Paso side, as well as larger sections of the public, are suddenly, after years of blissful ignorance, shocked--shocked I tell you--that a bloodbath is taking place in the largest sector of the largest international metroplex in the world, the Cd. Juárez-El Paso-Sunland Park perimeter. He will face the municipal, state governments of Cd. Juarez and Chihuahua fully aware of the deep-seated, embedded layers of corruption in law enforcement at all levels. He knows he is under the glare of disgust at the highest levels of the United States Government, which is increasingly, if belatedly, concerned about the dangers to U.S. national security inherent in the serious threats to the rule of law in the state of Chihuahua.

He also arrives as the death count has exceeded 500 murders so far this year, a higher daily average than last year, and double the level two years ago when a spike in violence prompted the deployment of the Mexican Army to Juárez in Joint Operation Chihuahua.

He arrives less than a week after one of the three major parties in Mexico, the PRI, currently in control of municipal government in Juárez and state government in Chihuahua, has just nominated as candidate for mayor of Juárez the same man who occupied the mayor's seat from 2004-2007, and during which time honest officials appear lost complete control of municipal police forces to corrupt, elements. For years the former mayor, now candidate for mayor again, has been accused in the national media of having close ties with cartel bosses. Never before has a former mayor ever been nominated again in Juarez for the same job. It appears to be a cynical consolation prize by the national PRI party for nominating someone else to be governor of the state, in view, ironically, of the negative image he might provide as governor. "But he was a popular mayor, a populist, and the people liked him," seems to be the official line.

In this context, yes, it takes a lot of courage to come to Juárez, facing up to a major failure of security in the fourth largest city in Mexico. The question, fairly simple, is this: do the people and institutions of the state of Chihuahua have the political will to join in with the president and retake control of Juárez? They certainly have the means to do so.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Beat: US Consulate Employee Murdered In Cd. Juarez: Part of 24 Executions this Weekend

A pregnant mother, Lesley Ann Enríquez Cattón, 36. who worked at the U.S. Consulate in Cd. Juárez was murdered on Saturday afternoon along with her husband, Arthur Haycock Redelfs, 34, near the Santa Fe bridge after leaving a children's party given by another person who works at the consulate. A three-month old daughter of the couple was left unscathed, but orphaned, in the attack. The family was driving in a 2009 white Rav 4, with Texas plates. During the attack the vehicle hit two other cars on Francisco Villa and Bernardo Norzagary. A 9 mm. spent cartridge was found near the scene. Lesley Enriquez was found shot through an eye, and her husband had gunshot wounds to the neck and left arm.

At about the same time an SUV carrying the husband of a woman who works at the U.S. Consulate was attacked, killing Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, 37 años, a maquiladora employee, along with the husband of Hilda Antillón, a U.S. Consulate employee. Two of the Salcido children, 4 and 7, were injured in the attack. FBI agents have arrived in Cd. Juárez to assist in the investigation. Their assistance, according to a federal Attorney General spokesperson, Ricardo Nájera Herrera, will be at the level of "exchange of information" only. Click here for related story.

Lesley Ann Enríquez Cattón was the daughter of a well-known businessman in Juárez, Manuel Enriquez Savignac, whose brother at one time was Secretary of Tourism in Mexico and General Secretary of the World Organization of Tourism.

Twenty four persons, including the three mentioned above, were murdered in Juarez over the weekend, bringing the March total to 74.

Meanwhile, the PRI announced on March 10 they would nominate Hector Murguia, for mayor in the July 2010 elections. Mr. Murguia, who served as mayor of Juárez from 2004 to 2007, has been widely accused of having connections to narco-trafficking in Mexico, a charge he has denied. I will post some relevant materials when I get a chance.

Compiled from stories in Diario , Norte, Hoy.

Martinez Wins First Spot on Ballot for GOP Guv; Colon First for Dems Lt. Gov. Spot

Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez won a decisive victory over her competitors to win first place on the GOP ballot for governor in the June primary election. After a quiet effort that went under the radar screen of most observers, some of whom did not take her campaign seriously, Martinez won fully 47% of the delegates to the convention, in a field of five candidates. Coming in second was Allen Weh, with 26 percent of the vote, the only other candidate to reach the 20% quota needed to get an automatic spot on the ballot. Biggest surprise at the GOP pre-primary convention was the poor showing of Pete Domenici, Jr., who received less than 5% of the vote, in spite of having the highest name recognition among the candidates, and in spite of grabbing an early lead among Republicans in polling. (See my posting on Feb. 21, for results of a poll I took with my students).

Candidates who do not receive 20% of the pre-primary vote may still get on the ballot in inferior positions by going out and getting additional petitions signed.

Being first on the ballot carries a number of advantages, not the least of which is increased credibility and access to potential donors. In this case it is probably also a commentary on who Republican leaders believe to be the most electable person to go mano a mano against Diane Denish, who will receive the Democratic nomination in June.

At the Buffalo Thunder Casino in Pojoaque Diane Denish, of course, received the only position on the ballot, since she is the only candidate. Democrats placed Brian Colon first on the ballot and Lawrence Rael second, for Lt. Governor. The job of Lt. Governor carries few responsibilities in New Mexico and the candidate for this position rarely makes a difference in the outcome of a gubernatorial race. Colon is said to be the choice of Governor Bill Richardson, having served as his handpicked Party Chairman. Rael is said to be the favorite of Diane Denish. If this is true the outcome in Pojoaque might indicate that Richardson backers still have more influence in the party than Denish's backers. On the other hand it may mean only that Colon used his contacts with party leaders to gain support for his candidacy, a natural advantage he enjoyed over Lawrence Rael, who was not as active in party affairs.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Spaceport Director Meets in Mesquite To Discuss Broken Promises to Dona Ana County for Spaceport Jobs: Says Changes in Procurement Process Needed

Steve Landeene, Executive Director of the Spaceport, met with a group of 14 persons on Wednesday evening, March 10, to hear complaints about the failure of the Spaceport to provide jobs to Dona Ana County firms. Several truckers expressed frustration at seeing out-of-state firms hauling for the Spaceport while their trucks in Dona Ana County sit idle, particularly in light of the promises made by state officials when, three years ago, they came to Dona Ana County asking citizens to vote themselves a tax increase to support the Spaceport. One of those in the audience was Raymond Diaz, business manager of the Sheet Metal Workers of New Mexico.

As Landeene explained it, Gerald Martin, the firm hired by the state to oversee construction at the Spaceport, made a decision to break the work into five packages before he was hired as executive director. Concerned that the five packages were of such a large scale that New Mexico firms would be left out of the bidding altogether, he, Landeene, fought successfully to break the work into 13 separate packages to make New Mexico firms more competitive. As it turned out the work went to out-of-state firms and Albuquerque firms. The bidding process was "low-bid" rather than "best value," as a cost-saving device. Landeene said he was proud that at least some of the jobs landed in New Mexico due to his efforts to break the work into more packages.

One person in the audience voiced concern that materials used on-site is not always up to specifications, Landeene expressed complete confidence and personal assurances that every centimeter of material used was completely validated.

Landeene indicated one thing residents wanting jobs might ask for is for them to work with the Dona Ana County delegation to change the procurement code permitting a "small percentage" of larger contracts to be subcontracted out to local firms.

The larger question is why, after selling the tax increase to Dona Ana residents (it passed by less than 300 votes) on the basis of the "thousands" of high paying jobs promised during the construction phase, the responsibility now falls on those wanting jobs to initiate a difficult and cumbersome process of working out legislation with elected officials, basically, for left-over crumbs, after being promised first-class jobs. Reminds me of the TV ad where a little girl is given a bicycle but not allowed to ride outside the yellow line six inches away. Citizens of Dona Ana County have every right to be irate, but we hear not a peep of concern about this from the rah-rah local promoters of the Spaceport tax increase three years ago. So in the middle of a serious recession with high unemployment, Dona Ana truckers sit idle, after raising their taxes for the spaceport three years ago, while out-of-staters and Albuquerque firms get the jobs. Something wrong with this picture?

Friday, March 12, 2010

NM Senate Leadership Will Be in Mesquite Tuesday Evening

Last December 17 Sen. John Arthur Smith, Sen. Mary Kay Papen, Commissioner Oscar Butler, Commissioner Karen Perez, and Sen. Cynthia Nava met at the Fire House in Mesquite with a small group of constituents interested in hearing what might be in store at the legislature this year. The prognosis was grim. The session over, several of these, plus a few new faces, will return to the scene on Tuesday, March 16, at 5:30 p.m., for a post-session review.

President Pro Tem of the Senate Timothy Jennings has confirmed his presence, as has Sen. Howie Morales, from Silver City. Other legislators interested in attending are welcome. The idea is simply to meet with the same group of constituents from last December to discuss legislative performance from the perspective of the Fire House at Mesquite.

As I posted on Dec. 29 ("Is There Something Wrong With This Picture?") Fire Chief Alfred Nevarez complained that night he was having serious difficulties recruiting and retaining competent firemen, EMS has been suspended indefinitely, and firemen are complaining they don't have enough money to pay for gas out of their own pockets. Sen. Smith said the $82 million film credit to Hollywood for filming in New Mexico was "near and dear" to the governor's heart, and so he was threatening to veto any effort to reduce or eliminate the subsidy. Martin Lopez of the new Water Users Association complained he was unable to qualify for federal funds because the state was demanding three years of audits, while the Association has only been in existence a few months and cannot produce them. Senate and House leaders will be on hand on Tuesday to discuss the session and other matters of interest to the audience in Mesaquite.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Billy Garrett: Candidate for County Comission Dist. 1

He approaches the job of county commissioner from the perspective of a long-time senior manager, and with the quiet self-confidence and demeanor of a Westerner. "Service is the key word for me," he explained between sips of tea at Milagro Coffee Wednesday morning. "The idea of a professional means you have a client to serve." In this case the client is the public, sometimes with conflicting views of what is best.

At a different point in the conversation he said, "we are going to be dealing with change, whether we like it or not. The question is, what kind of change do we want to see?" Then he went on to say managers need to ask their clients these questions and be able to satisfy them that their plans reflect the values implicit in the answers.

Garrett is a thoughtful man, and a careful listener with an open mind. But he's faced enough hard-to-solve, real-life problems to know the tough ones aren't easy to solve. If he listens carefully, it is also with a critical ear, but without rendering judgments. He picked up on my ideas readily, probing for more with good questions. In the end it wasn't so much an interview as a conversation about finding approaches to policy making at the county level that work.

Garrett comes equipped with an enviable set of tools he would bring to the county commission table: he retired last year after a full career in the National Park Service, and after eleven years as the operational manager of Gateway National Recreation Area, a 25,000-acre national park located in the New York City metro area. Knowing how aggressive New Yorkers can be, this cannot have been an easy job. He managed a budget of $20 million which, with special projects, was even higher. Before that he was Chief of Architecture, Denver Service Center, apparently a planning hub for the park service, where he oversaw planning, design and construction services for all national parks. So he has had experience in one of our best national agencies dealing with multiple constituencies, choosing priorities, planning new systems, and even designing buildings. They also had enough confidence in his diplomatic skills to get him to negotiate restitution of tribal rights within Death Valley National Park. In my experience very few top planners are also excellent people persons. From what I've seen Garrett is one of this small elite, the kind you would love to have as your boss.

What most appealed to me was Garrett's understanding of the scale of effort it takes to promote community involvement in decision-making and convert that, through tireless efforts to integrate institutions, bureaucrats, elected representatives, business groups, etc., into a solid plan that you turn over to competent managers for completion. He's obviously had serious experience doing this at the National Park Service, and I have no doubt he would lift the bar a little higher in terms of what the commission expects from its staff. The Park Service also gets by on a shoestring of funding, so I would expect Garrett to be quick to spot waste and inefficiency and know how to handle it quietly.

He has deep roots in the Mesilla Valley. His sister is married to Judge Jim Locatelli, and his father was a professor at NMSU, so he grew up here. He now lives in the same house his father designed in the mid-1960s. He's married to Cynthia Garrett, who also retired from the National Park Service. He's running for the seat now held by Oscar Butler, who in my book has been one of the strongest commissioners we've had in years.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Juarez on Monday: Not At All Like Friday

In my posting on Friday I implied the use motorcycle police all over town might signal a strategic shift of resources. It appears I was wrong. I was in Juarez this morning and the motorcycles were gone. Possibly the governor, or a cabinet officer or other VIP, might have been visiting on Friday, accounting for the very heavy presence of motorcycle police all the way through Anapra. This morning I saw a few more patrol vehicles about, and a few more soldiers--nothing like Friday's show of force.

Padres: Eduquen a Sus Hijos! Here's Why

Click here for larger image and story.

Not long ago I posted a chart from Calculated Risk, which I titled "Guess Who's Hurting?" showing that the lower the salary level of a group, the higher the unemployment rate at the end of 2009, in the middle of a very severe recession. Today's chart shows that the higher the education level, the lower the unemployment. The lesson seems clear: young people need to set their sights on finishing college, at least. NMSU is still a great bargain: a fine university, outstanding in several subject matters, especially engineering, in which it is globally competitive, and relatively much cheaper than most. The South Mesilla Valley ought to think about getting the Gadsden School District to partner up with NMSU to help qualify students at an early age with the kinds of things they need to know to make it into college and to survive all the way through.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Pearce Visits Mesquite Fire Station: Promises to be a "scrappy fighter" for jobs in Southern New Mexico

Former Congressman Steve Pearce faced a lively, energetic crowd of about 36 persons (including six children) at a gathering at the Mesquite Fire Station this morning.

In response to a question and several pointed remarks about the failure of the state to use the Spaceport project to bring jobs to Southern New Mexico (most contracts go to out of state firms or Albuquerque even though Dona Ana County taxed itself $35 million after being promised thousands of jobs) Pearce drew on the board a map of White Sands, the Texas border, and El Paso. He had learned when in Congress that virtually all of the jobs on a $200 million project at White Sands were going to El Paso and Texas firms, instead of to New Mexico, and he described the struggle he went through to ensure contractors (and local firms) did everything possible to get New Mexicans their fair share of jobs. "I can't promise perfect success," he said, "but I will scrap hard" to make sure Southern New Mexicans get access to the good jobs available from the expansion of Ft. Bliss and the stimulus and other federal funds.

Earlier Pearce emphasized he was from a very small community 35 miles South of Hobbs, and that he understands just what it is like to be "left totally out of the loop." From comments today and in previous gatherings this pretty much summarizes the way people in the South Mesilla Valley feel about their current interaction with government and government officials.

Two women who did not speak English (but have been citizens for over twenty years) complained bitterly about a "hole" that surfaces when a young couple goes to college, unable to qualify for food stamps, but cannot make ends meet to pay the bills and rising tuition, leaving the parents to try to fill that hole. "We just don't have enough money to plug that hole," said one of the women. Mesquite had a per capita income I have estimated at about $9379 compared with the U.S. per capita income of $36,031 in 2008. The other woman complained about widespread corruption through which "we always end up getting the cleaning-lady jobs," in federal projects, which Pearce agreed was significant in scale, enough to hurt the economy.

County Commissioner Karen Perez (the only elected official there) complained about needless delays in getting stimulus money activated, due to overlapping requirements by state, local, and federal agencies for similar information. She called for (and Pearce agreed) stronger cooperation between different levels of government to streamline projects. In his initial remarks Pearce suggested waste and corruption "don't probably filter down to here," calling this a Washington problem. Perez was pointing out these were not just Washington problems.

In response to a question I asked about jobs, Pearce jumped to his feet and sketched out on the blackboard a series of links between education, employment during a recession, waste-fraud-and-deficit spending, and bringing good manufacturing jobs back from China: bottom line: jobs will come back when waste and fraud are truly eliminated and when government policy encourages U.S. manufacturers to come back to the U.S. from China. He also said he would have allowed the banks to fail instead of bailing them out so they could lavish themselves with bonuses. There appeared to be strong agreement with Pearce on this last point.

I asked Espy Holguin what her estimate of the crowd composition was between Republicans and Democrats. "Casi todos son puros Democratas," she replied: all but one or two are Democrats.

I've been following the South Mesilla Valley pretty closely. Citizens are skeptical, listening carefully to what they are told by politicians, asking tough questions and telling them what they expect in the way of performance. And they should. After all, the numbers suggest the race between Pearce and Teague might be decided right here, in the South Mesilla Valley.

Biased Poll? No Weh: Top Republican Demographer Validates Poll

On February 21 ("Shooting the Messenger") I wrote that Allen Weh accused me and my students of deliberately rigging a poll we took, showing Domenici to be the favored candidate at this early stage in the Republican primary for governor, with a very high undecided factor. Not content when these accusations made the front page of the Las Cruces Sun News, Weh's campaign then circulated an email to Republicans repeating accusations we had "grossly inflated" the results and adding another, that we might have "misused university resources" to the benefit of one candidate.

Up to that point I had decided to let the grapes sour where they might, but these new accusations of serious impropriety were so over the top I wrote him a letter suggesting he should put specific allegations of misusing public funds in writing and send them to my superiors for action. I also sent all of the 444 interview forms and the spread sheet we used to compile the poll to Senator Rod Adair, from Roswell, asking him to review our work for any signs of bias. Adair is one of the top two or three political demographers in the state, widely respected for his analytic capabilities, he is Republican, and he has not endorsed anyone for governor. Here is his answer:

"I have reviewed the full documented record of the poll of the Republican
gubernatorial field conducted by a New Mexico State University political
science class under the direction of professor Jose Z. Garcia.

The internal documentation of the mechanics of the poll is as solid and
complete as can be found for any survey of opinion, and is open for peer
review or public examination. The methodology for the poll both for sampling
and demographic weighting is without error. The poll is random, scientific
and valid by every statistical measure. I can see no evidence of any intent
to bias the poll in favor of any candidate."

Rod Adair
New Mexico Demographic Research
Sent from my BlackBerry Smartphone provided by Alltel

I received this email from Adair on Monday and sent it on to Mr. Weh. Subsequent polls are completely consistent with our findings. I have yet to hear a peep from the Weh campaign. Some of my students have wondered out loud how Weh could jump to conclusions, repeating outlandish accusations without a shred of evidence. I keep hammering at them to internalize the concepts of "validity" and "reliablity," explaining why you need to be careful in research. The politics of polling puts pressure on the pollster to defend the poll. In this case we did quite well. Perhaps the Weh campaign learned something too: you can try to shoot the messenger, but that won't make the grapes taste one bit sweeter.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Chihuahua Attorney General Asserts Active Duty Police May have Been Involved in the Murder of the Fifteen High School Students

Patricia González Rodríguez, state Attorney General, said investigators believe active duty police officers were complicit in the operation which mistakenly killed fifteen high school students last month. This information comes after the arrest of Aldo Fabio Hernández Lozano, alias "el 18," a police officer from 2000-2008. Mr. Hernández received about $150 per week from the street gang known as "La Linea," to act as an assassin, according to the attorney general's office. He was released from active duty in October 2008 when he failed a reliability test administered by the police department. After his arrest he confessed his participation in the massacre, and apparently indicated there were numerous active duty police that night who conspired to make sure police were absent from the vicinity of the neighborhood in which the killings took place. Police are still hunting for eleven suspected accomplices to the murders.

Compiled from articles in Norte

Cd. Juarez Friday Morning

There is definitely a new feeling in the air, caused by the strong presence of motorcycle police stationed at hundreds of intersections, and a lot more military and federal police patrols appearing much more randomly and frequently. The last time I saw this kind of highly visible presence of law enforcement, spread out extensively throughout a large area, was in March 1965, in Harlem, a few months after serious race rioting had shaken New York City. In other troubled city's I've been to law enforcement personnel were highly concentrated only in clearly strategic spots such as large public gathering spots or major government buildings, or else they moved in long convoys throughout potentially conflictive neighborhoods as a show of force.

The new visibility is not just for show: there were motorcycle police at virtually every intersection in Anapra, an area without heavy traffic, all the way to the end of the village. The deployment appears designed at least to reduce the huge spike in homicides occurring out in the open, in traffic, in broad daylight. If this extensive presence is maintained, it may not reduce the overall homicide rate much, but will certainly push it off the major streets, probably back to the neighborhoods where the victims live. If behind the scenes efforts to nab extortionists is as serious as this latest effort seems to be, I would expect a strong downward trend in extortions this year.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Another Scandal? ABQ Journal Reports Allegations in Letter of Resignation

This morning's Albuquerque Journal reports AJ Salazar, who resigned as Director of the Bureau of Elections in the Secretary of State's office, wrote a letter of resignation alleging Secretary of State Mary Herrera solicited money from firms that contract with her office in part to "sponsor" elections seminars and training events for county clerks. The Journal goes on to state that Deputy Secretary of State Francisco Trujillo II, in a telephone conversation with the Journal,indicated these "sponsorships" were part of normal practice, and that when Salazar complained about it, the Secretary of State's office sought legal advice from an attorney who advised against continuing the practice.

The practice seems pretty sleazy to me, but given the highly aggressive ways politicians have skirted fund raising laws in the past few decades, often without challenge, it could be ruled "not illegal," or not proven to be illegal. Sleazy, but not illegal: a pretty good description of how our political system has come to legalize, or at least not illegalize, the kind of sleaziness common folk used to call illegal.

More than a year ago I stated here it was time to clean up the state in the wake of the multiple scandals involving not just the governor, but two former state treasurers, a powerful former state senator, a former mayor, public housing funds, bilingual education funds, wi-fi contracts in Sandoval county, hundreds of millions in pension funds, etc., etc. After two sessions of the legislature, I'm still waiting. Sometimes, when the political class refuses to clean up, the voters have to do the job themselves.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why Richardson and the Legislature Refused to Cut the $92 Million Giveaway to Hollywood

A report by Heath Haussamen this morning clarifies why, in the middle of the worst state fiscal crisis since the 1930s, the legislature refused to cut the Hollywood film tax credit, which credible analysts say returns about 14 cents to New Mexico for every dollar spent: Governor Bill is looking for a million-dollar paying job with the film industry! Taxpayers have therefore paid $174 million in the past two years alone, to pave the way for Richardson to have a good chance at it! Richardson, of course denies that he even wants the job. But as Houssamen points out, this is what he says every time he starts looking for a job. You think he'd turn it down if offered?

Here's one way of looking at how the Senate wants you to pay next year for the $92 million it will cost to reimburse Hollywood one quarter of all expenses paid in New Mexico while filming. The Senate budget bill taxes out-of state businesses an extra $12 million next year by increasing the number of firms subject to the compensation tax. Then it adds $24 million next year by taxing smokers an extra 50 cents per pack. Then it raises $60 million by increasing gross receipts taxes by one eighth of one percent. All in all this raises $96 million, 4 more than needed to pay for Hollywood's welfare check this year.

The Senate last night opted to raise taxes $238 million next year. Fully 39% of that amount could have been saved by telling Hollywood, sorry, but New Mexico is in a fiscal crisis and we don't think New Mexicans can afford to cut you a welfare check next year.

The real question here is why the legislature, more than a year after the governor disgraced himself with all the revelations of wrong-doing, would go along with this. A bill to do away with the film credit died in the House Labor and Human Resources Committee by a vote of 5-2. No debate, no hearing in other committees, just dead on arrival. Why would this be so? Why are the governor's sacred cows, which seem sleazier every day, so sacred to the legislature? Why no outrage? Why such silence from people we elected to represent our interests?

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Glimmer? February Homicides in Juarez Down from Last Year

Counting the four persons executed on Sunday, February closed in Cd. Juarez with a homicide toll of 149, down from the 207 registered in February 2009. As of this morning there have been 378 homicides so far this year. It is too early to tell whether the trend is downward. A year ago the armed forces brought in about 7500 troops to patrol streets accompanied by municipal police, and this was associated for a couple of months with a reduced level of violence, which then crept up again as criminal elements realized the presence of troops was not an effective deterrant to crime. After that there was an unprecedented spike in homicides, kidnappings, and, especially, extortions, which have all but traumatized the city during the past several months.

See note in Diario here.