Artistic masterpiece tarnished by scandal: Lack of state oversight, nearly $500k missing

From - Inside a towering fortress on the grounds of the National Hispanic Cultural Center, museum patrons will find both an artistic masterpiece and a government scandal involving hundreds of thousands of misspent taxpayer dollars. Santa Fe artist Frederico Vigil spent nearly a decade creating a 4,000-square-foot fresco mural depicting centuries of Hispanic culture and history. But the fresco itself is not controversial. The money behind it is. "There's a right way and a wrong way to spend taxpayer money," said Rick May, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Finance. "This project was the wrong way." A Larry Barker investigation discovered almost half-a-million dollars in state tax money earmarked for Vigil's work of art was illegally diverted by a former high-ranking state official and inappropriately spent by a private foundation. "This could be test case of how government is not supposed to work," May said. State legislators funded the fresco project with $812,500 in appropriations. Because the fresco was to be part of a state museum -- the National Hispanic Cultural Center -- the state Department of Cultural Affairs was in charge of the money. That's where the trouble began. Instead of accounting for the money, former Cultural Affairs Secretary Stuart Ashman simply gave it away to the Hispanic Cultural Center Foundation, a private organization. The foundation is the fundraising arm of the Hispanic Cultural Center. "This transaction ... was not by the book in any way shape and form," May said. "It was completely, completely the wrong way to use taxpayers' money." Veronica Gonzales, current secretary of the cultural affairs department, agreed, saying she can find no records indicating the money was properly spent. In addition, she said the transfer of the $812,500 violated state law. "This money should have been safeguarded through the Department of Cultural Affairs' oversight and accountability," Gonzales said. But it wasn't. Read more from

Swickard: Shell Oil and I abandon hope for America

From NM - Commentary by Michael Swickard, Ph.D. - Last week Shell Oil abandoned four years of work and a $2 billion investment in the potentially oil-rich waters in the Arctic Ocean off the northern coast of Alaska. Delay after delay plagued the project. The final deal-buster by the EPA’s environmental appeals board was Shell could not drill 70 miles off shore because of a village of 200 people that could be impacted by the diesel exhaust emitted by an ice-breaker boat. One boat (yes, one boat) working 70 miles away would so foul the air that the village could not survive. Shell decided the answer would always be no and walked away from the whole project. At stake was about 27 billion barrels of oil that could make more than a trillion gallons of gasoline. That represents around 7,000 gallons of gasoline for every American household. And the money would stay in our country. This is not an enemy of our nation smothering us; it is our own government. Consider the difference in keeping this energy wealth in our country or sending it to other nations. Read column

Biofuel Bandits Steal Fast Food Grease

From -Soaring gasoline prices have spawned a new kind of crime in Albuquerque - grease theft, as in restaurant grease. On Monday, Albuquerque police arrested 45 year old Darin Espinosa after watching him pump grease from another company’s dumpster into the grease tank on his truck. The episode occurred at Sadie’s Restaurant, a popular North Valley eatery featuring New Mexico cuisine. Brian Stafford of Sadie’s said the restaurant saves vegetable oil from its fryers to sell to biofuel producers, but this was from the dumpster reserved for animal fats, like grease from hamburger.  More News New Mexico

Bloomfield Says No Drivers Licenses for Illegals

From -Bloomfield city officials are trying to prohibit illegal immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses.  Councilors tabled a resolution Monday that mirrored a recent bill that would revoke and deny illegal immigrants driver's licenses in New Mexico. Though championed by Gov. Susana Martinez, it was turned down by the House of Consumer and Public Affairs Committee in February.  The measure, though controversial, is within Bloomfield's scope of authority.  "If they want to opt out they can," said S.U. Mahesh, spokesperson for New Mexico Taxation and Revenue.  Because Bloomfield's Motor Vehicles Department is state-contracted but operated by the city, Bloomfield has the right to refuse to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. State-run departments, such as Farmington's Motor Vehicle Division, are not entitled to deny such a service.  More News New Mexico

Audit Says Four NM School Districts Have Major Compliance Issues

From An audit conducted by the state’s Public Education Department (PED) shows at least four school districts out of 34 across New Mexico have “major compliance issues” that need to be addressed.  The audit comes after a marked increase in what’s called “funding units” in schools across the state. These units determine how much money districts receive, based upon factors such as the number of students enrolled in special education, poverty in a given district and teacher experience.  Over the past year, the number of funding units increased by 116 percent, but the number of new students increased just 1 percent. The discrepancy resulted in a larger than expected spike in expenses and, given the difficult economic times, that meant budgeting for education spending in New Mexico will come under even more pressure.  More News New Mexico

Environmental Groups Endorse Heinrich

Martin Heinrich
From the -Environmental groups are giving an early endorsement to Democratic Congressman Martin Heinrich in the race for New Mexico's U.S. Senate seat. The League of Conservation Voters Action Fund and the Conservation Voters New Mexico announced their endorsement of Heinrich on Tuesday.  Since taking office in 2009, Heinrich has a 100 percent rating by the League of Conservation Voters for his pro-environmental voting record. The national group's political committees made nearly $119,000 in independent campaign expenditures in support of Heinrich's re-election last year.  More News New Mexico


Social Compacts and Adult Conversations

As America transformed itself from a colonial backwater to the country with the highest living standard on the planet, a couple of basic principles applied in our society. First, the vast majority of adults willingly helped their neighbors when genuine basic needs went unmet. Second, if adults chose to have children, the adults (and their extended families) understood implicitly that it was THEIR responsibility to provide for all children. Until the mid-1960’s most Americans thought long and hard about the implications of taking on the expenses of having children prematurely. Americans who chose to have children before they had done what was necessary to acquire valuable job skills were virtually assured of having severely limited living standards. And they knew it.
Suddenly as some of our leaders try to face the realities of getting our financial house in order, we are hearing the phrase, “Social Compact.” Is compact the right word? Compacts are agreements. And as we hear this phrase, we are led to believe that somehow we all previously “agreed” to this vague notion of a social compact. We are also led to believe that somehow if government doesn’t raise taxes or borrow more money, we will all be “guilty” of violating a “sacred” compact.
Let’s put the phrase “social compact” in proper historical context. With partisan majorities in both houses of Congress (sound familiar) LBJ believed government should underwrite many of the negative consequences of adults making poor life decisions. The benefits of pursuing the sequential stages of job skill development where supplanted by an easier path involving less sacrifice and less difficulty. “I have an entitlement to more creature comforts right now,” became a socially acceptable mentality to embrace. The beginning of what President Obama now calls a sacred “social compact” began with these false promises made by a few under completely false premises.
Today’s focus group experts who counsel politicians will never tell us that Lyndon Johnson actually created a deadly economic trap for American society. And slick demagogues who rather enjoy experimenting with the development of new government programs routinely use phrases like “social justice” or “the fight for seniors and working families,” to justify their follies. Unfortunately, while duplicitous phrases can win elections, they can’t change economic realities. And the reality is far too many Americans have been led to believe they can skip the job skill development stage of their lives and simply become content with ever-increasing entitlement base lines. And too many middle aged Americans are being told once they reach 65, their government will have the means to take care of them.
With this historical perspective in mind the proper reaction when you hear President Obama use the phrase we must not “violate the social compact,” is to know it is code for something else. Our president is hell bent and determined to PRESERVE the entitlement mentality rather than encourage us to put an end to it. His hope is to continue to preside over an increasingly dysfunctional society where the act of seeking government assistance is becoming the more popular alternative to drive, energy, and ambition.
There is another phrase we hear these days. It speaks of having an “Adult Conversation” about entitlements. Maybe we should form a social compact and reject the idea of allowing our elected officials to make false promises based on false premises before we completely destroy what it actually means to be an adult. Then we can have grown up conversations about lots of things.


Job Killers in Charge at Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

Steve Pearce
Roswell, NM (April 27, 2011) Congressman Steve Pearce responded to claims by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that listing the dunes sagebrush lizard as endangered will not kill jobs yesterday. Congressman Pearce was told by top officials in Fish and Wildlife that Fish and Wildlife does not have to consider jobs when deciding on this matter. These comments were made during a meeting with the office of the director of Fish and Wildlife last month. Fish and Wildlife has admitted that economic considerations do not play into decisions to list a species, which raises the question of their basis for making any economic claims. Nonetheless, Fish and Wildlife talking heads have chosen to publicly claim that no jobs will be lost by the listing, even while ignoring repeated requests for economic data.
“Fish and Wildlife is making economic claims without facts,” said Pearce. “My office has asked for data from Fish and Wildlife on how jobs will be impacted, and they claim they don’t have the information.” Fish and Wildlife recently contested claims that listing the dunes sagebrush lizard as endangered would be a job killer, saying these statements are “absolutely not true.” However, the comments came not from economists, but from a spokesperson and an ecologist, who offer no economic data. Congressman Pearce has advocated for the CCA and CCAA—agreements by local private and public entities to work to preserve the species without an endangered listing. Fish and Wildlife has said that “economic development and conservation are not diametrically opposed concepts.” Congressman Pearce wholeheartedly agrees with this statement, which is why he has urged Fish and Wildlife to allow these agreements time to work. As Fish and Wildlife has made clear, once a listing is made, they will make no efforts to preserve jobs. Congressman Pearce therefore advocates an approach wherein all parties continue to work together to protect jobs and the lizard.
A 2005 working group document, to which Fish and Wildlife was a leading agency, acknowledged the devastating economic impact of an endangered species listing, and advocated other, voluntary measures, like the agreements advocated by Congressman Pearce: “Land management decisions that restrict or preclude full mineral development of certain state and federal lands thus affect the flow of revenues into local and state economies.” Furthermore, the document stated: “...ranchers who voluntary adopt grazing practices intended to benefit at-risk species should receive appropriate economic compensation, as well as protection from future additional regulatory burdens in the event of listing.”
It was based on these assertions that the CCA and CCAA agreements were established, to engage all concerned parties. Nonetheless, Fish and Wildlife has now reversed these claims and is acting with utter disregard for the economy of southeastern New Mexico and west Texas. Furthermore, Pearce pointed out that it is concerning that Fish and Wildlife is speaking out in favor of the listing while they are still taking public comments on the issue and certainly before any final decision has been made. “It is alarming that Fish and Wildlife seems to have already made their decision while the public comment period remains open,” said Pearce. “My constituents have a legal right to a voice in this matter, without prejudice or bias.” Congressman Pearce will attend a rally to oppose the listing tomorrow night, Thursday, April 28, at the Great Southwest Aviation Airport Hangar in Roswell, NM at 5:00 pm, just before the end of the verbal public comment period on the issue. All concerned individuals are encouraged to attend.