NM Amtrak riders fear end of service

Southwest Chief at Raton Pass
From KRQE-TV.com - SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Twice a day, Amtrak's Southwest Chief pulls into the sleepy railroad depot in Lamy, N.M. The rest of the day, the station, part of the transportation network that links Northern New Mexico to the rest of the country, is deserted.Train advocate Ford Robbins has been following the saga of the Southwest Chief for years. He's the kind of guy who gets Trains magazine delivered to his house. He rides trains wherever he travels, if at all possible, often renting a car at the other end for the final leg of his journey. His daughter and two of his grandchildren visited last week from Illinois, and, of course, rode Amtrak both ways. Now insiders are suggesting passengers like Robbins and his family might eventually have to use other transportation. Some fear rail service on the Southwest Chief is in jeopardy, all the way from Raton to Albuquerque, partly because of questions about whether the state government can get out of an agreement to buy 200 miles of the railroad line. Last year, the Colorado Rail Passenger Association issued a news release making dire predictions about the survival of the route. Jim Souby, association president, said local governments in the other two states have now pulled together $100,000 for lobbying and advocacy. Now he's hoping that more New Mexico communities will get on board. Getting the federal government to sufficiently fund Amtrak the business it established in 1971 still appears to be an uphill battle, he said. Some of the New Mexico congressional delegation are advocating for increased Amtrak funding. Democratic Sen. Tom Udall is among dozens of federal lawmakers who sent a letter last week to congressional leaders calling for greater support of Amtrak investments, not just for operations but for capital expenditures required for the current route of the Chief..Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján has also voted against efforts in the past to cut funding for Amtrak and supports putting enough money into the program to provide vital service to New Mexico, his spokesman said.Currently, federal spending on trains is dwarfed by what the government spends on other modes of transportation. In the last federal fiscal year, about $43 billion went to highways and $16 billion went to airports, compared to $4.3 billion allocated for railroads ($1.6 billion of which went to Amtrak). Since a major transportation bill expired in 2008, Congress has been passing extensions rather than establishing new policies. In March, the U.S. Senate approved a new transportation bill that includes some provisions to keep railroad funding in place. Consideration of the plan by the House hasn't moved very far, and on Thursday, officials agreed to another 90-day extension of the old funding plan. Read more


Santa Fe Republican voter challenges Varela’s ballot petition

Representative Luciano "Lucky" Varela
From Capitol Report New Mexico.com - Luciano “Lucky” Varela has served in the state House of Representatives for 25 years and is one of the most influential Democrats in the Roundhouse but Capitol Report New Mexico has learned that a registered Republican in Varela’s district is looking to oust Varela from the ballot in the upcoming primary election on June 5. Santa Fe resident John Onstad and his attorney filed a formal complaint in Santa Fe District Court claiming that Varela did such a careless job collecting signatures to get on the primary ballot and failed to specifically list the district he represents on many of his petitions that a judge should declare Varela’s candidacy void. “This is grand scale sloppiness,” Onstad said by phone Wednesday morning (April 4), adding that, “To me, Lucky has been there so long he probably handed it over to somebody else and they messed it up … but rules are rules.” Onstad’s attorney says the case has been assigned to Judge Raymond Ortiz . No hearing date has been set yet it must be done within 10 days of filing. Onstad’s papers to the court say that Varela submitted 181 signatures (90 were required) on 15 nominating petitions and goes on to say that seven of the nominating petitions do not list Varela’s district (House District 48) and therefore should be ruled invalid. Read more


Swickard: Fairness, opposed to winning the lottery

Commentary by Michael Swickard - This last week was pretty tough on 100 million Americans. The Mega Millions lottery jackpot reached a reported $640 million. Oh, my! Serious money and to get it all anyone had to do was buy one lottery ticket. So there were many people who stood in long lines dreaming of what they would do with all of that money. 100 million people bought tickets for the lottery and 99.9 percent did not win. Curses! Who could have seen that coming? I think it is sweet of them to make some new American millionaires with their dollars. I really do. Our country needs more millionaires and this method works well enough. It does show that math education is lacking in many people. Not because they wager a dollar, rather, that they had any anticipation of winning. I like the lottery because it is a voluntary tax. People stand in lines to pay it. But would they if fairness dictated that everyone gets the same amount from buying a ticket? Doubtful. Lotteries exist to make winners and losers. Governments cannot talk about fairness and income redistribution while they run lotteries. Read column


U.S. has world's highest tax rate

From the American Thinker - by Rick Moran -  The U.S. rate is well above the 25 percent average of other developed nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). In fact, the U.S. rate is almost 15 percentage points higher than the OECD average. This gaping disparity means every other country that we compete with for new investment is better situated to land that new investment and the jobs that come with it, because the after-tax return from that investment promises to be higher in those lower-taxed nations. Our high rate also makes our businesses prime targets for takeovers by businesses headquartered in foreign countries, because their worldwide profits are no longer subject to the highest-in-the-world U.S. corporate tax rate. Until Congress cuts the rate, more and more iconic U.S. businesses such as Anheuser-Busch (which was bought by its Belgian competitor InBev in 2008) will be bought by their foreign competitors. To get back in line with international norms, Congress needs to reduce the rate so the combined federal and state rate matches or falls below the OECD average. Some will contend that with deficits north of $1 trillion annually, we simply can't afford such a large rate reduction. But the actions of the nations we compete with for new investment show that these nations understand that lowering the corporate tax rate is necessary because of the boost to economic growth it provides. Read more


Firefighters donate Mega Millions winnings to fireman

Albuquerque Firefighter Vince Cordova
From Yahoo News - Five Albuquerque Station Eight firefighters who won a $10,000 share of the Mega Millions jackpot last week have decided to donate an unspecified part of their winnings to fellow fireman Vince Cordova, who is suffering from a life-threatening tumor. "We decided to get tickets ten minutes before the sales closed," said Capt. Jed Hyland told local news affiliate KOB. "I ran in shouting that we hit 5 of the 6 numbers." After convincing their fellow firemen that it wasn't an April Fools' joke, Hyland and his four fellow winners (Steve Keffer, Paul McClure, Clinton Anderson and Si Do) decided to donate part of their winnings to the local firefighters Survival Fund. "Everybody at the station agreed that this would be a good opportunity," Hyland said. KOAT reports that Cordova, 24, has a rare aggressive tumor that puts pressure on his brain. He'll die if the tumor isn't removed, but life-saving surgery from a specialist in Los Angeles costs several hundred thousand dollars. While the $10,000 is only a small portion of Cordova's total medical bills, his fellow firemen hope that their donation will help raise awareness and encourage others to donate. KRQE News 13 reports that Cordova has already undergone two of the three necessary operations, with the final to be performed on Wednesday. "I'm nervous. I'm scared. I've got these butterflies in my stomach that just won't leave, but I'm hanging in there," Cordova told the station in an interview before his first operation on Saturday. "I can't believe that the fireman bond is so strong." Read more

Chief Justice: States Have Compromised Their Sovereignty

Chief Justice John Roberts
From the New American.com - Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said last week what has long been known but seldom spoken. During the third and final day of Supreme Court hearings on whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is unconstitutional, Roberts said states have been compromising their sovereignty for decades through increased reliance on the federal government for money and accompanying directions on the governance of state affairs. "It seems to me that they have compromised their status as independent sovereigns because they are so dependent on what the federal government has done," the chief justice said during Wednesday's nearly three hours of hearings on the controversial health insurance law. Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid is expanded to include a larger number of parents, as well as low-income adults with no dependent children. Half of the 32 million who would get new health insurance coverage under the law would receive it through Medicaid. Starting in 2014, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the cost of newly eligible participants. The federal share would be scaled back to 90 percent by 2020. States would still have the right to opt out of the program, but would stand to lose all of the federal funding, including the money they are already receiving. Currently all 50 states participate in the program. Read more

Coke caves in face of Democratic boycott threat

From the Washington Examiner - Democratic officials Wednesday launched a two-pronged attack on states with new laws requiring identification before voting, the highlight being a call to boycott Coke, Walmart and others that back a leading organization pushing for voter ID laws. Coke was quick to react to the political boycott threat, pulling support from the targeted group just five hours after it was called. Walmart said that support for a group does not mean it backs every decision by those groups. At issue: Liberal claims that some states are trying to keep minority voters from the polls via voter ID laws, a suggestion conservatives call silly. “We are organizing. We are not agonizing,” said Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., who is leading a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee effort to get government identification into the hands of the estimated 2-3 million Democrats who don’t have one. “We have staffed up,” he said. Those efforts came on the heels of a new report released Wednesday by the Center for American Progress condemning new voter identification laws in Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Kansas and Wisconsin. The group complained that some states want to limit the time allotted for early voting, bar ex-felons from voting and require government identification to vote. Polls show that most Americans back the laws. But Clyburn compared them to segregation era "Jim Crow" laws and he said that he is “very, very anxious” that the conservative Supreme Court “as it is presently constituted” will support the new anti-voter fraud laws.Despite the complaints, several states attorneys claim that voter fraud is a growing concern, adding that requiring voters to show identification is not overly burdensome. Read more


Balls and strikes: making the calls with Major League Baseball Umpire Doug Eddings

Las Cruces native Doug Eddings (AP photo)
From the Las Cruces SunNews - by Teddy Feinberg - Entering his 14th year as a Major League Baseball umpire, Las Cruces native Doug Eddings has seen his fair share on the field. After spending 10 years in the minor leagues, the 43-year-old Eddings made his Major League debut in 1999. Since then, he's called an All-Star Game, a Division Playoff Series, and the American League Championship Series. Eddings still calls Las Cruces home - a resident of Picacho Hills, he is the co-owner of the local restaurant Ump 88 Bar and Grill. Thursday, he will open the MLB season, however, umpiring second base at Wrigley Field in Chicago, when the Cubs host the Nationals. After getting behind the plate for the series finale on Sunday, Eddings will then head to Texas for a three-game set between the Rangers and Seattle Mariners, before hitting the road once again to Miami. Such is summer living for Eddings. And it's been that way the past 24 years. Read interview with Doug Eddings

US agriculture deputy on mission to encourage next generation of American farmers, ranchers

Kathleen Merrigan
Washington Post — U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan sees an epidemic of sorts sweeping across America’s farmland. It has little to do with the usual challenges, like drought, rising fuel and feed prices or crop-eating pests. The country’s farmers and ranchers are getting older and there are fewer people standing in line to take their place. New Mexico has the highest average age of farmers and ranchers of any state at nearly 60 years old, and neighboring Arizona and Texas aren’t far behind. Nationally, the latest agricultural census figures show the fastest growing group of farmers and ranchers are those over age 65. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is beginning work on its 2012 census, and Merrigan is afraid the average age will be even higher when the data is compiled. “If we do not repopulate our working lands, I don’t know where to begin to talk about the woes,” she told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “There is a challenge here, a challenge that has a corresponding opportunity.” Read More News New Mexico


NBC News Producers Have No Shame

According to the Washington Post, NBC News issued a muted apology yesterday for its troubling editing and omitting of key elements of the 911 conversation between George Zimmerman and a police dispatcher in the Trayvon Martin case.
After it became clear that NBC News producers aired a patchwork audio clip of the call that completely changed the meaning of the words used by Zimmerman in an effort to make him appear to be an unrepentant racist, NBC rather quietly announced late last week that it had launched an "internal investigation."
In the statement released yesterday by NBC we found a muted and completely incomplete apology for producer actions that can only be described as an effort to foment racial paranoia and widespread anger. The language used by NBC says it all, "During our investigation it became evident that there was an error made in the production process that we deeply regret. We will be taking the necessary steps to prevent this from happening in the future and apologize to our viewers."
An error? It was as if the network merely acknowleged some sort of typographical mistake or that somehow the wrong audio mute button had been pressed accidentally by a low level staffer.
What actually happened is much more sinister. NBC News producers knowingly and willingly edited audio to provide a completely false version of a local shooting incident. In doing so it provided ratings grabbing raw material for its radicals on sister network MSNBC. The partisans at MSNBC wasted no time using that doctored audio to exploit racial divides to fire up the "base" and increase the potential number of political block votes cast for their favorites. They did so in a case in which the facts remained under investigation by law enforcement. In engaging this type of behavior, NBC producers demonstrated the most reprehensible approach to ethics imaginable. Is it any wonder that the Fox News Network has been flourishing for fifteen years? Chet Huntley and David Brinkley must be rolling over in their graves. In the meantime, news people of integrity, men like Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams seem to be whistling and kicking at the dirt, while their once respected network surrenders the last scrap of decency it ever had.


Sunland Mayor-Elect Denied Oath of Office

KOB - The New Mexico Supreme Court has denied the request of the mayor-elect of Sunland Park to allow him to take oath of office. Daniel Salinas had asked the Supreme Court to modify his jail release conditions to allow him to be sworn into office before April 5. Salinas was elected into office last month despite being accused of trying to blackmail another mayoral candidate with a lap dance video. Salinas' attorney, Joshua Spencer, said the he is only accused and is not convicted of the extortion and bribery charges and should not be denied his First Amendment right to be sworn into office on city property. Read full story here: News New Mexico

NMSU Beats UNM, Winning Streak is 14

Rocky Ward
Rocky Ward's New Mexico State baseball team extended its winning streak to 14-games after defeating Rio Grande Rival New Mexico 7-5 at Presley Askew Field, Tuesday, April 3. It's the third time this season NM State has defeated the Lobos and the fifth-straight victory over UNM dating back to the 2010 season. The Aggies are now 23-8 on the season while UNM falls to 12-15. Starting pitcher Adam Mott stays undefeated and goes to 4-0 as he worked six innings striking out four batters. Senior closer Scott Coffman added another save to his total making it six on the year and 19 on his career. He went two innings, striking out two batters without giving up a hit or a walk. "I've been lucky enough to do this for the past couple of seasons, so I understand what I have to do now," Coffman said. "It was a total team effort and I have to give credit to everyone on the team." The Aggies open Western Athletic Conference play with a three-game series against Nevada starting, Thursday, April 5 at Presley Askew Field.


Taxpayer's Will Pay for Wolf "Investigation"

KOB - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has confirmed it's investigating the death of a Mexican gray wolf. An agency spokesman declined to release any details about how the wolf died or when and where the animal was found. The agency's latest survey shows there are at least 58 wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico. The federal government's effort to reintroduce the endangered animal to the Southwest has been hampered over the years by everything from illegal shootings and problems with livestock to court battles over management of the program. Read full story here: News New Mexico


Is Las Cruces Business Friendly?

Jim Harbison
We continue to read about declining GRT revenues, increased unemployment, declining home values, and increasing numbers of our citizens’ dependant on multiple government assistance programs. The city has not met its growth rate goals this budget year, retail sales continue to decline, and construction GRT was down 12.9% this month and down more than $1 million this budget year. If you talk with business owners you will hear how difficult it is to open a new business or operate an existing business in Las Cruces.
Yet, our City Council continues to champion policies that have not improved jobs or returned economic prosperity to the City. Instead of finding real solutions they have embraced a rigid, environmentally oriented anti-growth agenda that undermines real economic development. Rather than working with business our Council adopts policies that are decidedly hostile toward them and implemented with a lack of customer service and an obstructionist attitude.
Las Cruces City Hall
Impact fees have made it more expensive to open a business or buy a home. Contractors wait unreasonable periods for permits to build new facilities or remodel existing commercial space, which is a key component for business and job expansion. Single-minded focus on regulating development by some restrictive smart code/smart growth theory must seem effective to academicians in council chambers, but it hurts businesses on Main Street struggling to survive.
The Council is currently considering increasing the park impact fee from $800 to over $4,000 on new single family homes and nearly $3,000 per new apartment. These Impact fees adversely impact young and low-income families by potentially adding nearly $14,000 to new home costs and will, in turn, undermine their chances to become homeowners. This will also cause apartment rents to increase. Read rest of the column here: News New Mexico