Lobbying group tryw to change city's min wage laws

From KOB-TV.com - By: Maria Guerrero, KOB Eyewitness News 4 - A lobbying group located three and a half hours away is trying to change Albuquerque’s minimum wage ordinance, specifically when it comes to tipped workers like waiters and bartenders. The group wants Albuquerque residents to vote on changes that would essentially triple wages for tipped workers, but it’s not necessarily designed to be pro-worker.
     The Albuquerque City Clerk said the group filed its accepted Notice of Intent on July 18 and now has 60 days to circulate the petitions. As of January 1, 2013, tipped workers in the city of Albuquerque started getting paid at least $3.83 an hour, plus tips.
     The proposal also wants to remove the percentages the employer has to pay in cash wages. Meaning, as long as the employee gets $9.50 an hour, the employer could reduce their wage from $3.83 an hour to $2.13 an hour, the federal wage for tipped workers.
     "This just allows that flexibility to that employer while still maintaining the employee gets a higher wage but gives that flexibility to the employer to be able to do it through tips and cash wages, instead of having that higher cash wage," said Smith.
     The group is now trying to gather 12,091 validated signatures of registered Albuquerque voters. The deadline is September 16th. If the group gets all the signatures needed, the proposal then goes to the city council for a vote and possibly even a special election at a later date.
     Even if the group gathers the signatures required, the proposal will not go on October’s ballot. More

Audit shows mismanagemnt of mental health funds

From KRQE-TV.comJessica Garate - Patients, their families, and employees working with mental health and substance abuse providers said Tuesday they are fearful and upset about how the state has handled an audit showing more than a dozen providers possibly abusing the system.
     A mother whose son suffers with a mental illness said she is worried service will be disrupted. “I am fearful as a parent,” said Gay Finlayson. “This is a fragile system with fragile, fragile people and we need to support that and what has happened has not been supported, at least not to my family at all.”
      A five-month state audit exposed mismanagement, fraud, waste and abuse among 15 mental health and substance abuse providers across the state. The state said companies over-billed taxpayers by $36 million.
     The state is paying more than $15 million to an Arizona company to train and oversee the agencies. Once new management is in place , Medicaid payments will be restored. In the meantime, those companies must still provide services to patients. The governor says state action is necessary to avoid corruption.
      “Approximately $36 million are not going to those who deserve it and need it the most. Instead, [the money] was lost, misused, misspent, stolen. We're not going to put up with that,” said Gov. Susana Martinez. Attorney General Gary King refused to release the audit publicly because his office, along with the FBI, are still investigating to see if anyone will be charged criminally. More

First case of West Nile virus reported in state

From KOB-TV.com - By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4 - A 13-year-old boy from San Juan County is New Mexico’s first human case of West Nile virus this year. The boy is recovering at home after a short stay in the hospital, but West Nile can be a very serious illness, especially for people over 60.
     Mosquitoes carry West Nile, and they’re breeding like crazy with all of the rain we’ve been getting. New Mexico sees most of its cases in August and September, so we’re just getting started.
     “Mosquito populations are increasing and we should expect West Nile Virus activity throughout the state,” said Dr. Paul Ettestad, the state’s public health veterinarian.
     Symptoms include fever, nausea, headache and muscle ache. In rare cases it can lead to meningitis and encephalitis. Best advice: avoid mosquito bites. When you’re outside, use insect repellents containing DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or IR3535 on skin and permethrin on clothing.
     The state had 47 West Nile cases last year, with one fatality. More

NM House members defied party leaders in NSA vote

From Capitol Report New Mexico - It’s not often that the one Republican and two Democrats in New Mexico’s House of Representatives delegation on Capitol Hill vote the same way but it happened. Democrats Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Luj├ín joined the GOP’sSteve Pearce in voting for an amendment calling for the defunding of the National Security Agency phone metadata program.
     The amendment failed 217-205 but the closeness of the vote drew plenty of attention, indicating growing calls form some Americans to rein in government surveillance programs. The amendment’s sponsor, libertarian Republican Justin Amash of Michigan took to Twitter to write, “We fight on.”
     Both New Mexico Democrats voted for the amendment even though the Obama administration defended the phone log collection program and labeled the amendment a “blunt approach” that is not “the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.”
     Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, and the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, each voted against the amendment, meaning that each member of the New Mexico delegation bucked their party leadership.
     The domestic spying issue makes for strange political bedfellows: joining the left wing’s concerns about civil rights and whose adherents express sympathy for the likes of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange with the libertarian wing of the GOP that worries about the size and scope of government infringing on individual liberties.
     On the same day as the vote on the NSA amendment, a Washington Post/ABC News poll showedAmericans overwhelmingly think the NSA surveillance efforts intrude on some citizens’ privacy rights – 74 percent say so – and about half, 49 percent, see the spying as an intrusion on their own personal privacy. More

Swickard: Horsemeat to the zoo as an act of love

© 2013 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. Especially out West, horses have a special place in our lives. Personally, any day I get horse snot on me is a good day. Along with my love of horses comes a sense of duty. This includes endorsing the idea of a horsemeat packing facility in Roswell.
     It is not my first choice to send viable horses to the packers, but right now in America there are about 200,000 unwanted horses. They will die one of three deaths: packers, left to die by the side of the road or in Mexico where who knows how humane they will be.
     The reason for this glut involves the bad economy along with the skyrocketing cost of feed. If I had my way, I would care for all of them. But a look at my bank account tells me it is not possible.
     Society has turned its back on the plight of the horses for a number of years. Several years ago Congress pulled the funding of the horsemeat packing facilities around the nation. The politicians felt righteous. They did not know that they made things much worse for unwanted horses. The horses had to be meat packed in Mexico without any guarantee of humane treatment.
     Now there is a proposed horsemeat packing facility in Roswell. This has people outraged. Unfortunately, there is little that can be done to save the hundreds of thousands of unwanted horses. This is like having to put down unwanted dogs and cats. No one wants to do it but it must be done because there is no way to care for the millions of unwanted pets.
     The only thing worse is to leave them on their own to perish in horrible conditions.     So thousands upon thousands of horses will die in Roswell or they will die of malnourishment or they will be meat packed in Mexico. No amount of wishing and hoping will change this fact. The only question is if there is going to be any positive in the death of the horses. Could something good come of the death of a horse? Well, there is lots of valuable meat.
      Where is the meat going? It will not be consumed by Americans. But there is something Americans love. They love to go to Zoos to look at Lions and Tigers. Horsemeat is used by Zoos as part of the large cat diet. Read full column

NM 6th in growth … for state spending

From Capitol Report New Mexico - Economic downturn be damned, in the space of 10 years state government spending increased in every single state in the nation between 2001-2011 and New Mexico racked up the sixth-largest rate of growth.
     The numbers come from the U.S. Census Bureau and are compiled by the Tax Foundation, a Washington D.C. think tank that calls for “fundamental tax reform and restoring America’s global tax competitiveness” and is considered right of center politically.New Mexico saw a 41.8 percent increase in direct state spending in real dollars per capita from 2001 to 2011.
     Only Louisiana, Wyoming, New Jersey, Arizona and New Hampshire saw bigger increases. Every state saw escalations and only one — Alaska (at 8.9 percent) — saw its spending numbers go up less than 10 percent.
     New Mexico’s numbers did not surprise Paul Gessing, the president of the Rio Grande Foundation, the free-market think tank based in Albuquerque that champions low tax rates. “Spending really exploded during the heyday of the Richardson Administration (when the national and state economies were strong prior to 2008),” Gessing said in an e-mail. “And, while Richardson really opened the taps to bigger spending, that overspending ended in New Mexico and elsewhere in the economic downturn.”
     Bill Jordan of New Mexico Voices for Children, a nonprofit in based in Albuquerque considered left of center, said of the map, “The real question is not whether spending is growing or not, but whether it is meeting basic needs. More

NM receives early childhood education funds

New Mexico will receive a $12.5 million federal grant for its smallest learners, Gov. Susana Martinez announced Tuesday. 
The grant is part of the federal Race to the Top program, in which states compete for education grants that reward certain types of reform. This is in addition to a $25 million Race to the Top grant for early learning the state received last year. 
The money will be used to create systems that track students’ progress in preschool and provide them with support before elementary school. Specifically, it will be used to expand teacher training opportunities, create a student data system that different agencies can access and develop a kindergarten assessment process that will be consistent statewide. 
Some of these programs have already begun, but opportunities for students are expected to dramatically increase in August, according to the news release. 
Fourteen states received money through the “early learning challenge” portion of Race to the Top.


City replacing traffic circle at cost of over $100,000

NewsNM:Swickard - KOB, my old television station from when I worked there in the 1970s is hinting that there is some influence. Could be. From KOB-TV.com - By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4 - The city of Albuquerque has demolished a traffic circle out in front of the Albuquerque Country Club, and now plans to replace it with (trumpet fanfare please) a new improved traffic circle!
     Most neighbors will tell you that the traffic circle was there for six months, maybe eight months. But city officials say nope, make it two years. At any rate it was never intended to be permanent, just a cheap asphalt pin-down job to see how people liked the traffic circle concept, and it seems they did.Price tag? About $16,000. “It’s materials we can save and use at another location, so it’s not a waste of money,” said city Municipal Development chief Michael Riordan. “Then there is some pavement striping, some temporary striping. That will be a lost cost, but most of that $16,000 we’ll be able to use somewhere else in the city.”
     The new traffic circle will be made of stouter stuff – concrete, curb-and-gutter, nice landscaping – with a price tag of about $150,000. “It seems a bit much to me,” said neighbor Gordon Wohlert. “These are difficult times. $150,000? Well, that’s more than I have in my pocket!”
     City officials plan to meet with neighbors next month to get their ideas about landscaping and design. We feel compelled to point out that the Albuquerque Country Club is a well-known hub of affluence and influence. And the surrounding neighborhood is far from shabby! We’re just saying. More

Valley Meat Co. denied wastewater permit

The New Mexico Environment Department on Monday dealt a new blow to a Roswell company's hard-fought attempts to begin slaughtering horses next month, declining a request to renew Valley Meat Co.'s wastewater discharge permit. 
The denial came the same day that actor Robert Redford and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson joined the divisive debate, announcing formation of an animal protection foundation to fight a return to domestic horse slaughter. 
The NMED says it won't renew the permit without a public hearing, noting it has received more than 450 comments against letting the former cattle slaughterhouse open as a horse slaughter plant. 
Valley Meat Co. attorney Blair Dunn cried foul, saying the agency was unfairly targeting a small family-owned business. He says the plant can still open, but would have to haul its waste.


State Auditor takes legal action over audit findings

Hector Balderas
The New Mexico State Auditor is taking legal action against Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration after being denied the ability to review an audit commissioned by the NM Dept. of Health and Human Services. 
The audit claims mental health providers around the state defrauded Medicaid by overcharging to the tune of $36 million.  NM State Auditor Hector Balderas asked to review the findings, but Cabinet Secretary Sidonie Squier, NM Dept. of Human Services, denied Balderas. 
Eyewitness News 4 asked Gov. Martinez why the administration refuses to provide the audit to the State Auditor.  She replied "the state auditor himself doesn't do audits." 
Santa Fe District Court judge Sarah Singleton signed off on a court order filed by Balderas’ office to force Squier to release the documents by Monday morning at 10 a.m.  
Squier didn’t comply with the court order.  


AG gives two answers to same sex marriage in NM

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King says a state prohibition on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. 
King told the state Supreme Court on Monday in written arguments that it should invalidate the gay marriage ban if the justices agree to consider a lawsuit filed by two Santa Fe men who were denied a marriage license. 
However, King also said the lawsuit isn't properly before the high court and the justices should deny the men's request to order the Santa Fe County clerk to issue them a marriage license. 
King said New Mexico law effectively doesn't allow gay marriages although there's no statutory provision that specifically prohibits or authorizes gay couples to be married. But he also said the prohibition on gay marriage violates the state constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law.


Rain uncovers mystery hole in backyard

From KRQE-TV.com - by Chris McKee - LBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Friday's heavy downpour created a mystery in an Albuquerque backyard. After a lot of rain fell in a short time, the earth opened up revealing a deep underground pit at the home of Alex Sanouvon.
     "I've been here 25 years and I have never seen anything like that," said Sanouvon. "Then suddenly, I just hear this collapse and all of the water rushed down and I came to look at it, and there was that hole.” Sanouvon said.
     The hole is a little less than 10 feet deep and about 3 ½ feet wide. Cinder blocks show the hole was built by someone and a large pipe sits at the bottom. Sanouvon said when he moved in to the house decades ago, the hole wasn't mentioned.. "No, we never knew anything about it," he said.
     His neighbors were just as surprised. "When he pointed this out to me, I was really concerned about this sinkhole here because of all his grandkids that he has come over,” said Efrain Madrid, who lives close by.
     Madrid called the City Planning Department and a water utility authority for answers but had no luck getting answers. On Monday afternoon, a city plumbing inspector went to the house and solved the mystery. Turns out the hole is actually an abandoned septic tank, not some menacing natural collapse of the yard. Now that Sanucon knows that, he said he’ll fill it up.More

Flood waters hit Santa Clara Pueblo

From KOB-TV.com - By: Mike Anderson, KOB Eyewitness News 4 - The Santa Clara Canyon got more than two inches of rainfall yesterday, sending a nine foot wall of water downstream toward the Santa Clara Pueblo. Homes weren’t hit and no one was injured, but the water caused major damage throughout the canyon.
     KOB Eyewitness News 4’s Chopper 4 flew overhead Sunday afternoon to survey the damage. Floods knocked down trees and washed away parts of roads near the intersection of Tribal Roads 601 and 602.
     Flash flooding is always a concern in the area because of the Los Conchas Fire burn scar.
     The tribal sheriff says he’ll likely ask Santa Clara Pueblo’s governor to declare a state of emergency. That would allow them to use emergency money for cleanup and damage control.
     On Monday, crews will send heavy equipment into the canyon to clear debris. It is closed to the public until further notice More

Swickard: Cheating the test, cheating the society

© 2013 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. School grades for New Mexico public schools are out. Here is the problem: the mania for testing has no real value for the students. Further, teachers must stop teaching more of their time and prepare for tests to evaluate the school. This has no educational basis. It supports a bloated school administration and nothing else.
     What is the purpose of education in New Mexico? To create citizens who have the skills, abilities and knowledge to thrive in our society. This is the one goal, the only goal. There is no other legitimate purpose for public school education. Know this: education should not be primarily a jobs program for adults.
     For students their purpose is not to get high scores, attend college or to win academic awards. Again, their purpose is to become productive members of our society. Scores, college and awards may help but they are not the purpose. Graduation rates and college attendance are interim goals, not the purpose.
     Sadly, the purpose of the accountability testing in New Mexico is to label public schools B or D as if it makes any difference for students becoming productive members of their society. Show me the study saying going to a D school keeps students from becoming a productive member of the community. There are none.
     The dirty little secret is that the avalanche of testing is harmful to students and teachers alike. Students will never get a job taking tests and have no lasting need for test-taking skills. Students spend an inordinate amount of time on tasks of no long-term value for themselves.
     For teachers the testing mania is a never ending nightmare. Administrators demand results because their jobs are on the line. Adults are trying to protect their jobs. Whole school staffs have been fired when a school does poorly on the tests.
     But if you swap the entire staff of a low-performing school with the staff of a high-performing school the next year will look essentially the same, it is not the teachers that make the biggest effect. Yes, good teaching is great, but schools have a long history tied to the parents.Read full column

Spaceport America gets private loan

Spaceport America got a green light Wednesday to take out a $20.8 million private loan to build two visitor centers in southern New Mexico, a move supporters described as an important business step for the commercial space flight venture. 
Members of the state Board of Finance, including Gov. Susana Martinez, voted 7-0 to authorize the loan, which spaceport officials said could be completed within 30 days. Construction of the visitor centers could begin soon after. 
However, several Board of Finance members expressed concern Wednesday about the possibility state funds will have to be used to pay back the loan if the spaceport’s visitor estimates prove to be overly optimistic. 
Already, $209 million in state money has been appropriated to pay for construction of the main Spaceport America facilities.


AG says behavioral health audit investigation could take months

 Attorney General Gary King says it could take several months for his office to complete an investigation of overpayments and possible fraud by behavioral health providers in New Mexico's Medicaid program. 

King told the Legislative Finance Committee on Wednesday that his office hasn't made a determination about the allegations forwarded to his office by the Human Services Department. The department froze payments to 15 nonprofit groups last month after an audit found what the agency said was a high rate of billing problems. 

Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier defended her agency's action in testimony to the committee and assured lawmakers that steps were being taken to prevent an interruption of mental health and substance abuse services to patients.


Free roaming cattle creating problems in Rio Rancho

From KOB-TV.com - By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4 - A problem straight out of the old Wild West is troubling a Rio Rancho neighborhood these days – free range cattle. Trouble is, these cows take the “free” part of free range pretty seriously. They come and go as they please in the North Hills subdivision, leaving behind frequent and fragrant reminders that they were here. Cow flops.
     North Hills is plastered with them. They’re on the sidewalks. They’re in the parks. They’re even in your front yard! And that’s not the dangerous part about this herd of 8 or 9 cows. “When you’re driving along the road and they just come popping out of the arroyo or something, it’s bad,” said North Hills homeowner Edward Kisner. “There’s cars going both ways. One will swerve into the other one’s lane. I’ve had close calls where I've almost made ground beef!”
     We found the cattle shading themselves beneath a scrawny-looking juniper tree on the open range right next to the subdivision. Open range means the owner of the cattle doesn’t have to fence them in, It’s up to other property owners to fence them out – and North Hills is not exactly a walled fortress.
     For now, Rio Rancho cops keep herding the cattle out of the neighborhood with their patrol cars, and the cows keep coming right back in search of fresh grass and water. Neighbors say police officers tell them they have to tolerate the visitors.
     “It’s a nuisance,” said Kisner, who’s lived in North Hills for 17 years. “I’m sick and tired of it. They’re unpredictable. This is my neighborhood. I shouldn't have to smell cow poop in the morning!” Read more

APD officer bumps into wall, shoots another officer in leg

From KOB-TV.com - By: Elizabeth Reed, KOB.com - lbuquerque police have released more information about an officer shooting late Monday. Police were searching for an armed person near Gonzales and Old Coors when Sgt. Darcy McDermeit bumped into a wall and her gun went off. The bullet hit officer Scott Maher in the lower leg.
     Officials tell KOB Eyewitness News 4 he is expected to make a full recovery. Sgt. McDermeit will be on administrative duty until the investigation is over. MORE

Green Energy’s Too Expensive

From Townhall.com - by Marita Noon - On Wednesday, July 10, the House passed H.R. 2609—which Bloomberg News called a “$30.4 Billion Energy-Water Spending Measure.” The 2014 Energy-Water Development appropriations bill will cut spending on renewables and other green energy programs in half and was passed mostly along party lines—with 4 Republicans voting against and 7 Democrats for it.
     Democrats offered amendments to the bill aimed at restoring funding to renewable energy programs, which failed. Republicans’ amendments focused on cuts: Rep. Tim Walberg of Michigan sponsored an amendment that would eliminate spending for a national media campaign promoting alternative energy, and Rep. John Fleming, M.D. of Louisiana sponsored an amendment to stop a $3.25 billion green energy loan program—both were approved.
     While many of the different taxpayer funded green energy programs introduced in the 2009 stimulus bill —which have produced more than 50 bankrupt, or near bankrupt, projects—have now expired, the Fleming amendment draws attention to a pot of money that is, currently, largely unspent. Fleming describes this remaining boondoggle: “The Obama 2009 stimulus bill cost taxpayers about $830 billion, and much of it was wasted on growing government and administration giveaways, like a $3.25 billion loan program that put taxpayers on the hook for failed green energy projects. A company could take a government loan and walk away from a project without paying taxpayers back, even if the company remained in business. In a free market economy, companies may turn to banks and investors to borrow money, but the government should not force taxpayers to be lenders, even as it gives borrowers a pass on paying back their loans.” Read full column

Inmate uses code for prison drug smuggling

From KRQE-TV.com - by Chris McKee - A New Mexico prison inmate thought he was being sneaky having phone conversations about shirt colors and cutting the grass that corrections officials say was really code for trying to get drugs into prison. Now one man that was free is locked up.
     New Mexico Corrections Department officers listened to the phone conversations of three people for about a week in June. In the recordings, a man and woman were heard getting orders from an inmate who apparently was not ready to give up his criminal ways.
     “Our agents have to stay one step ahead of this at all times and they really have done a fabulous job of that,” said Alex Tomlin, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Corrections Department.
     The recent incident that tested officers happened at the Central New Mexico Corrections Facility in Los Lunas, involving a man named Reynaldo Vargas. Vargas is an inmate there doing time for drug possession, assault, escape and trafficking charges.  Vargas is accused of trying to get his friends to sneak drugs in through a letter. Corrections officers discovered it while sweeping the mail with a drug detecting K9 which picked up on the scent of a drug called “Suboxone.”
     “Suboxone is unique because it is not illegal out in the free world, it's a prescription you can go get,” said Tomlin. But in prison, Suboxone is illegal. The drug mimics the effects of heroin and typically used to help wean people off of narcotic addiction.
     Once corrections officers found the drug, they looked into how the inmates tried to get it in. “They went back and listened to some phone messages, they did some investigative work, they called in state police,” said Tomlin. Read more

Swickard: The radical I have become

© 2013 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. Ronald Reagan explained he did not leave the Democrat party, the Democrat party left him. The principles he embraced when he joined the Democrats were no longer being embraced. Reagan had three choices: first, try to change those core values back to what they were when he joined the party. Second, he could belong to a party not representing his principles. Or third, he could leave, which is what he ultimately did.
     Reagan became a Republican and the rest is history. His core principles stayed the same, but his political label changed. What party would Reagan join today? His core beliefs are central to neither major party.
Lately I am seen as a radical for my core beliefs. What beliefs? That we Americans are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Further, that with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we Americans mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor in defense of our country.
     My beliefs in God, the U. S. Constitution and my right to protect myself were mainstream in the society to which I was born. I still pray to God each day and view the Constitution as the guiding principle for our nation including my right to have and use a means to protect myself.
     Know this: the God of my birth is still my God. The Constitution of my nation’s birth is still my Constitution. My right to protect myself, a right I had at birth, is still paramount. Read full column

Abortion debate heats up in NM

The abortion debate could be moving from Texas to New Mexico
A group in Albuquerque, Voices for Family Values has started a petition to put an ordinance on the November ballot that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
 Chris Donnelly of Voices for Family Values says this ordinance would bring "common sense" legislation regarding abortion laws. 
The group has until July 25 to get 15,000 signatures to get the ordinance on the ballot. According to the city, if the group does get the signatures, the city will put this on the November ballot. If it does pass, it would be challenged immediately because the state law already addresses abortion rights in New Mexico
Currently, the New Mexico law bans partial birth abortion.


Powder found at Santa Fe Courthouse not dangerous

Authorities say a suspicious substance found in mail sent to a judge at the Santa Fe Courthouse isn't dangerous. 
Santa Fe Fire Department Assistant Chief Jan Snyder said Wednesday that preliminary testing identified the white powdery substance as sodium bicarbonate, commonly considered baking soda. Additional testing will be done at a laboratory in Albuquerque
The courthouse was evacuated for several hours but it's reopening for business in the afternoon. Chief Judge Raymond Ortiz said 20 people in the court clerk's office were isolated after a worker found the powder in an envelope addressed to District Judge Stephen Pfeffer.


Pentagon eyes cut in danger pay

From the San Angelo Standard-Times The Pentagon is eyeing plans to eliminate danger pay for service members in as many as 18 countries and five waterways around the world, saving about $120 million each year while taking a bite out of troops’ salaries, The Associated Press has learned.
     Senior defense and military leaders are expected to meet later this week to review the matter and are poised to approve a new plan. Pentagon press secretary George Little declined to discuss details but said no final decisions have been made.
     Senior military leaders came up with the proposed list of locations in their regions that no longer were perilous enough to warrant danger pay, including several countries in the heart of the tumultuous Middle East, such as Jordan, where hundreds of troops have recently deployed because of the bloody Syrian civil war on its border.
     Defense officials said the proposal would strip the stipend — which can be up to $225 per month — from as many as 56,000 service members, including thousands stationed in Kuwait, which was a key hub during the Iraq War. It also would affect thousands of sailors who routinely travel through the Persian Gulf region on ships or airmen who fly over the Gulf.
     The $225 monthly cut in pay would come regardless of the service member’s base salary, which can range from a low of roughly $18,000 a year for a brand new recruit to a high of nearly $235,000 a year for a four-star general with more than 40 years in the military. Troops also can receive a variety of other allowances for housing, clothing or job specialties.Read more

NM declines quick approval of WIPP expansion

The state of New Mexico has declined the Department of Energy's request for quick approval of a proposal to bring radioactive waste from Washington state's Hanford Nuclear Reservation to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad. 
Instead, the New Mexico Environment Department says it will hold public hearings before any decisions are made. 
Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn in a statement Monday evening said the decision will ensure that "the public's views are carefully considered" before the state acts on the Department of Energy's request to modify the WIPP permit to allow the waste to be brought from Washington state. 
The DOE in March asked the department for a quick approval of a change in the WIPP permit so it can bring 3.1 million gallons from leaking waste tanks at Hanford.


USDA offers fire assistance to agricultural producers

USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service is accepting applications for financial assistance from agricultural producers in New Mexico impacted by wildfires of 2011, 2012 and 2013 under the new Burned Lands Initiative. 
The financial assistance will help address resource concerns on private land through NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP). 
Applications will be accepted through Friday, July 19, 2013 for producers impacted by wildfires such as the Jaroso Fire, Las Conchas Fire, Little Bear Fire, Silver Fire, Thompson Ridge Fire, Track Fire, Tres Lagunas Fire, Wallow Fire and Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire.


Rio Grande to run dry

With the flow between Elephant Butte and Caballo reservoirs ending on Monday, the shortest irrigation season in the history of the Rio Grande Project is quickly coming to an end. 
Although a limited flow will continue between the two reservoirs for the next few days, there are no further releases scheduled for 2013. Flows from Caballo Reservoir for Rio Grande Project water delivery will end on July 14, which will mean the river channel between the two reservoirs and downstream of Elephant Butte will begin to dry. 
Water levels at Elephant Butte Reservoir are at a historic 40-year low. The current level is 3.1 percent of total storage capacity. Irrigators on the Rio Grande Project received an initial allotment of just six percent of a full supply this year. 
The irrigation season began on June 1.


Oil boom creating traffic problems in Eddy County

From KOB-TV.com - By: Lauren Hansard, KOB Eyewitness News 4 - Eddy County in Southeast New Mexico isn't known for traffic problems until now. The oil industry is booming, add in normal truck traffic and you have a problem law enforcement is cruising to solve. The biggest challenge for drivers and law enforcement is rush hour.
     "If you live in Eddy County you know between 5:00 in the evening and 7:00 in the morning it is hard to get anywhere," said Lieutenant James Page with the Eddy County Sheriff Department. Page says they have increased patrols to keep up. "I think we're doing a good job, just trying to keep pace to this ever expanding field.”
     The Sheriff’s Department got a $20,000 grant just to manage traffic in the oil fields. "The increase in traffic is exponential from what it was 10 years ago," said Page. They’re putting more deputies on patrol in those areas especially during peak times. The department has logged 289 hours of overtime patrols this year with over 500 tickets issued during those hours.
     "Some days it is nonstop from the time we come in to when go home at night, it can be crash after crash," said Page. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant has also started an initiative to help make highways safer.
     "We're working to see how we can reduce accidents in SE New Mexico," said Susan Scott, the Deputy Manager of Communications at WIPP. WIPP lost two employees last year in car accidents and have been holding meetings with the Sheriff Department all year to make roadways safer. Read more

Senator to save NMSU football by de-emphasizing

Will NMSU ever be playing in the New Mexico Bowl?
Commentary by Milan Simonich: They still play football at Cumberland University, a school that lost to Georgia Tech in 1916 by the record-breaking score of 222-0. Cumberland, with an enrollment of 1,400, has a schedule this fall that includes Faulkner University and Bluefield College. Playing mighty Georgia Tech is only a bad memory.
     Cumberland administrators learned long ago that their school in central Tennessee could not be a football powerhouse so they scaled back the program. New Mexico State Sen. Howie Morales envisions a similar change on the border.
     Morales, D-Silver City, says the New Mexico State Aggies can compete at the highest level in basketball but not in football. He says NMSU should maintain an intercollegiate football program, but scale it down to Division II or the Football Championship Subdivision.
     "The reality of it is that you've got to be competitive if you're going to keep playing football," said Morales, who received his Ph.D. from New Mexico State.
     His argument against NMSU remaining at the highest level in football will be clear to all by late summer. Read full column

Wherry Elem students dismissed due to power outage

NewsNM: Swickard - Wherry Elementary is my first public school almost 60 years ago. I smile as I go by it when I am in Albuquerque. 
From KOB-TV.com - By: Elizabeth Reed, KOB.com - Due to a power outage, Wherry Elementary School is releasing students in its K-5 summer school early on Monday.
     According to Albuquerque Public Schools spokesman John Miller, a transformer failed and now PNM crews are waiting on a part to fix it.
     Miller said parents are encouraged to pick their children up, but if they cannot, the school will hold them until their regular dismissal time of 3 p.m.
     No word yet on whether or not school will be in session on Tuesday. More

Silver Fire moves closer to full containment

From KOB-TV.com - By: Jeffery Gordon, KOB.com - The Silver Fire burning in the Gila Wilderness is closer to complete containment. Crews have improved the fire's containment to 80 percent. Crews are also focusing on the burn scar to reduce flooding and erosion from the recent rains. The Silver Fire has burned more than 138,000 acres near the town of Kingston.

APD shooting: Life to death in 4 minutes

NewsNM: Swickard - perhaps we need Public Service Announcements to tell citizens that the police will shoot them dead if they do the wrong things. Both in Las Cruces and Albuquerque this last week the police were forced, yes, forced, to take a citizen's life because that citizen made bad choices. And in both cases mental illness may have played a part. While I have been critical of the police at times, they did exactly what must be done and I thank them for their service to our community.
From KRQE-TV.com - ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - A fatal drama played out quickly in northeast Albuquerque Friday night after police responded to a report of a man armed with butcher knives threatening two kids near a movie theater. Albuquerque police were dispatched to the restaurant and entertainment district on San Mateo Boulevard NE north of Montgomery after a security guard called 911 saying two teens were approached by an older black man armed with two 10-inch butcher knives.
     "As the call was being dispatched one of the officers, based on the description of the black male, thought she knew who he was and that he was a male she had dealt with prior who was suffering from mental health issues," APD Chief Ray Schultz said during an impromptu news conference outside the crime-scene tape late Friday night.
     The call came in at 7:39 p.m., and Schultz said shots were fired at 7:43 p.m. In those four minutes officers arrived at the north side of the mall at Montgomery and San Mateo boulevards, talked to the security guard and found out the suspect was gone.
     By then he'd moved north to the Circle K store on the northwest corner of San Mateo and McLeod Road. The first officer to arrive there met the suspect face-to-face. "We have witnesses who state that the male subject lunged at the officer, and the officer began to retreat from the man," Schultz said. "The man continued to advance to the officer, lunging at him with the knife.
     "When the second officer arrived on scene as the suspect continued to aggressively go to the officer, that second officer, a female officer, discharged her firearm multiple times."
     A third officer, part of the APD Crisis Intervention Team, arrived just as the shots were fired. The man was taken to UNM Hospital where he later died. At last report investigators were still trying to confirm his identity. Read more


Illegal firework hotline nets 750 calls, 8 citations

From KOB-TV.com - By: Elizabeth Reed, KOB.com - Bernalillo County fire officials said their illegal firework hotline was so busy, they couldn't keep up with the calls on the Fourth of July. The Albuquerque Fire Department handed out an estimated eight citations and fielded nearly 750 calls about illegal fireworks in the past two nights.
     According to preliminary numbers from AFD, fire marshal inspectors issued one illegal firework citation on July 3 and seven on July 4. The city's illegal firework hotline received 666 calls on the Fourth of July alone. The number of calls slightly surpassed last year's by 18.
     Bernalillo County fire spokesman Larry Gallegos said they sent extra patrols to the Bosque and the North Valley neighborhoods due to increased fire risk. "We are not only going in the bosque where we know it's dry, but in neighborhoods," he said. "We believe people really like to see the fire department out checking - checking for those illegal fireworks, but also for illegal burns."
     AFD reminds the public that despite the rain, wildfires and structure fires can still occur with the improper use of both legal and illegal fireworks. Read more

Happy 4th of July

News New Mexico will be playing best of shows Thursday and Friday to allow our employees to be with their families.
May God Bess and Keep the United States of America

Swickard: It pays to be the money broker

© 2013 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. What is most destructive to a nation of laws is ambiguity in said laws. Yet that is now the way to hold onto power in Washington D. C. The power is for those who make the laws ambiguous enough that fights can pit one moneyed group against the other with politicians in-between harvesting money from both sides.
     In years past most contributors would select one party or the other for the majority of their contributions. Now all but the most political give money somewhat equally to both parties to hedge their bets. By giving equally to both parties smart money says that some of the ambiguity of laws can be thwarted.
     Example: the Internal Revenue Service provides a means for money and power to the members of the Congressional Ways and Means committee. This is not in actual cash, but in the ability of make winners and losers with each decision. Each decision means mega bucks for one group and that group must pay the political price with money and power. In some ways the most powerful people in our nation’s capitol are in Congress rather than the White House.
     There are two reasons to think this: first, the President is term limited while members of Congress can serve right to the grave. Secondly, the power of the purse, the real power of the money is what makes all of the power in our nation’s capitol work. It is the political “Golden Rule.” He who has the gold makes the rules.
     The more you look at the way Congress is organized to provide its members with power and money, the less it looks like the first Congress in 1788. That was a Congress of citizens who served and the service took a toll on their lives and fortunes. Not so any more. Read full column

Gov. orders flags half staff this week for AZ firefighters

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has ordered flags flown at half-staff in honor of the 19 firefighters killed in Arizona

The governor issued an executive order for flags to be lowered from Tuesday through sunset on Friday. 

Martinez said Monday the firefighter deaths hit close to home for New Mexico. Just weeks ago, the Granite Mountain Hotshots from Prescott, Ariz., traveled to northern New Mexico to help battle a fast-moving fire that charred more than 37 square miles of the Valles Caldera National Preserve. 

On Sunday, the 19 firefighters — all members of the elite Hotshot crew — were killed when flames overcame them as they fought a wildfire near Yarnell, Ariz. 

Martinez is asking New Mexicans to keep the firefighters' families in their thoughts and prayers.

PNM expanding its wind and solar portfolio

New Mexico's largest electricity provider says it has a plan for adding more solar and wind power to its portfolio.

 Public Service Company of New Mexico unveiled its proposal Monday. It must be approved by state regulators. The plan calls for building three solar generating stations in the Albuquerque area and purchasing more electricity from a wind farm in Cibola County

PNM says its renewable energy resources will provide enough electricity to power about 132,000 homes by 2015. The utility also expects a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of about 915,000 metric tons. 

With the proposal, 83 cents would be added to the average residential monthly bill starting in 2014.


Marita Noon: Obama’s Climate Action Plan: Emphasize What Won't Work; Penalize What Works

Commentary by Marita Noon - For months President Obama has been in the uncomfortable position of straddling a barbed-wire fence—does he appease his ardent environmental supporters or advocate for economic growth that will help all of America? In his speech outlining his Climate Action Plan, he made his choice clear. He’s abandoning what is best for America and has bowed to the political pressure from environmental lobbyists like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
     White House Climate Advisor, Daniel P. Schrag told the New York Times: “Everybody is waiting for action, the one thing the president really needs to do now is to begin the process of shutting down the conventional coal plants. Politically, the White House is hesitant to say they’re having a war on coal. On the other hand, a war on coal is exactly what’s needed.” However, the American public is not clamoring for the closure of cost-effective coal-fueled power plants. What they want is cheap energy, but Obama is, as the Washington Post states: “a president bizarrely antagonistic toward domestic energy production and low energy prices.”
     In the Pew Research Center’s annual policy priorities survey, just 28% say dealing with global warming is a top priority for the president and Congress this year. In fact, the president’s own research shows that his favorability rating “plummeted” with focus groups when he vowed to attack climate change—yet, promising to use executive action, he’s pushed forward with plans he knows couldn't get through Congress. Read more