Tapping into hidden resources | New Mexico Independent

ALBUQUERQUE — Looking out at the urban sprawl on Albuquerque’s arid perimeter, it’s easy to envision an army of construction workers putting up block after block of cookie-cutter homes and developers hawking subdivisions as far as the eye can see. What’s harder to envision is the water for all those additional toilets, lawns and sinks.

But Sandoval County and a corporate partner are betting that the water is already there, just waiting to be tapped and cleaned. It will cost them millions of dollars to know for sure, and tens of millions more to get the water flowing, but the partners say wringing the salt out of brackish water from deep beneath the Rio Puerco drainage is their best bet to keep the houses coming.

The county and Recorp Partners Inc. are jumping on the desalination bandwagon, and by all appearances they’re getting on early. A new national report says desalination of brackish water could be a new source of an increasingly rare commodity — clean drinking water — but that many questions remain, including potential environmental side effects.

Recent advances in technology have made removing salt from seawater and groundwater a realistic option for increasing water supplies in some parts of the U.S., and desalination will likely have a niche in meeting the nation’s future water needs…. However, a coordinated research effort with steady funding is required to better understand and minimize desalination’s environmental impacts — and find ways to further lower its costs and energy use.

And New Mexico could end up playing a major role in that “coordinated research effort” as a new federal facility near Alamogordo prepares to begin work.

Another city, built from scratch

The ancestral residents in what is now Sandoval County chose to settle in the relatively lush Rio Grande Valley, where they had easy access to water. While newcomers to the county located between Albuquerque and Santa Fe have had to build farther from the river, that hasn’t kept the county from growing. Its biggest city, Rio Rancho, sprang out of the barren mesa on the northwest edge of Albuquerque in the 1960s and is the third-largest community in the state, with nearly 80,000 residents.

Now Recorp Partners, a Scottsdale, Ariz., developer, wants to build what some have called a “second Rio Rancho” in Sandoval County. Recorp has proposed to turn 12,000 acres of empty land west of Rio Rancho into a new city, Rio West. The plan calls for 30,000 homes, plus businesses, an airport, schools, parks, and, naturally, a golf course.

The catch is water.

In the old days, cities such as Albuquerque and Rio Rancho could provide water to their residents by buying surface water rights and pumping water out of the Rio Grande and other rivers or by drilling into ancient aquifers and tapping into the clean water. Many southwestern cities have done both.

But with an ever-growing population competing for a small slice of New Mexico’s total water supply (9 percent is used for drinking water, 76 percent for agriculture), competition for water is fierce. Water is not just fully allocated to existing users, it’s over-allocated, Laura Paskus wrote last year in a comprehensive story in the Santa Fe Reporter.

Sandoval County has seen its share of disputes over water, said county Water Planner Guy Bralley. After one such incident in Placitas, the county commission made a pre-emptive strike and said that, henceforth, developers in unincorporated areas must show they have a 100-year supply of water before a development is approved.

For Recorp, that meant either drilling wells or buying surface water rights from agricultural users, neither of which looked feasible, Bralley said. The aquifers are spoken for, while water rights could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Desalination, while expensive, looked like a better alternative, Bralley said.

“How are you going to keep growing,” he asked. “That’s the million-dollar question.”

Flood of desalination projects ahead?

Coastal communities have been taking the salt out of seawater for years, but inland cities are starting to join them out of need. El Paso was in danger of exhausting its aquifer when it decided to build a desalination plant, according to El Paso Water Utilities. Opened in 2007 at a cost of $87 million — including $27 million in federal funding — it churns out 27.5 million gallons of fresh water a day, or roughly a quarter of the city’s demand.

Tucson, Phoenix and Las Vegas are pondering desalination projects, too.

In early April, the state District Court in Alamogordo cleared the way for that city to tap the Tularosa Basin for about 1.3 billion gallons of brackish water a year. Work has already started on the desalination plant.

Other inland communities in New Mexico and beyond could follow suit as desalination technology improves, costs decline and environmental hurdles are overcome. Answering those challenges is exactly what Congress intended when it established the Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility in Alamogordo. The facility, operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, opened its doors last year but is just now starting to accept research projects, said manager John Walp. New Mexico State University and Sandia National Laboratories, through its Water Initiative, are partners, but the facility is open to other research proposals, he said.

The National Research Council study released last week says environmental research should be the highest priority, particularly in the field of energy use. One type of desalination, reverse osmosis, uses 10 times more energy than traditional treatment of surface water, the report says, and its authors urged researchers to look into integrating solar, wind and other alternative energy sources to lower the carbon footprint of desalination.

Sandoval work just beginning

Sandoval County and Recorp already have drilled two wells in the Rio Puerco basin that hit a large reservoir of brackish water. Because the aquifer is more than 2,500 feet below the surface and because the salinity is extremely high — about one-third the salinity of seawater — the partners don’t need water rights or permission from the Office of the State Engineer to use the water.

They do, however, need a state permit before they can determine how much water lies below, which is a key to the project’s feasibility. Testing will require the wells to run continuously at 300 gallons per minute for a month, Bralley said. That’s nearly 13 million gallons of brackish water that must be contained or used, and the state Environment Department has to OK the water disposal plan. The testing should be accomplished this summer, he said.

Beyond the big question — is there enough water for 100 years? — there are dozens more questions that must be answered before work might begin. One of the big ones is what to do with the toxic waste salt. Coastal desalination plants can dilute it and send it back into the ocean; inland plants may be able to inject it deep underground, but only if the area’s geology allows it. “You don’t want it creeping off to other places,” Bralley said. Otherwise it might have to be stored in lined pits.

Energy costs are unknown now, but could be substantial, he said. Recorp has installed equipment at the site to see if wind or solar energy might be used, but alternative energy sources would likely have to be combined with natural gas or electric power, he added.

The total cost of the project won’t be known until more questions are answered, but the bills are coming in already. Each of the two test wells cost about $2 million to drill, Bralley said, and other work is expected to bring the total of this exploratory phase to about $6 million. The county had asked for financial help from the state Water Trust Board on the preliminary planning, but the request was nixed last week.

Sandoval County and Recorp last year agreed to split the costs and the water, once it comes. The county will pay 66 percent of the expenses in exchange for any water beyond that required by Recorp, Bralley said. The company has claims on the first 18,000 acre-feet per year — nearly 9 billion gallons — which is expected to be enough for the proposed community, but may not need that much until Rio West develops. In the meantime, the county could sell the unused water to Rio Rancho or other communities, he said.

There’s no doubt the plant will be expensive — $20 million is “on the low end,” Bralley said, and some published estimates put it at $40 million. But the people and businesses of the booming Southwest need water, he said, and desalination appears to be the least expensive route. “There’s a fair number of things you can do if you’re willing to pay the price,” he said.


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N.M. gives over $5B in tax breaks every year

Gov. Bill Richardson vetoed an obscure little tax budget bill in 2007 — and it’s a veto that may come back to haunt Santa Fe in a big way.

As next month’s legislative session approaches, so do some very hard decisions, as legislators face a looming budget deficit that by all accounts is going to be massive. But now Richardson is leaving just as the financial picture is heading south, and his veto prevents lawmakers from having a clearer picture of their options for finding revenue to keep programs funded.

The bill that Richardson vetoed called for the state’s Taxation and Revenue Department to issue an annual list of all the tax revenue that is not collected due to the many tax credits, deductions and exemptions that are on New Mexico’s books.

The total of these so-called “tax expenditures” exceeds $5 billion, according to a report by New Mexico Voices for Children. That’s almost equal to the state’s entire general fund.

Tax credits, deductions and exemptions are familiar to all of us. Just about everyone uses them come tax time to reduce the amount of taxes we owe. The legislation Richardson wouldn’t sign would have itemized all of these, estimating how much tax revenue forgone it represents that year and noting who benefits from it.

Norton Francis, chief economist for the Legislative Finance Committee, said the intent of the bill was to add transparency to the tax system.

“It would be valuable to remind legislators about individual [tax expenditure] items — in terms of how much they cost, what the intent of each is and who benefits. And had the bill been passed two years ago, we’d have it now that we are in this downturn,” Francis told the Independent.

“It would allow us to make more informed decisions about various segments of tax policy that might need revisiting.”

Many other states have such transparent tax budgets. The one maintained on this Minnesota state Web site shows that it’s a pretty straightforward presentation. Each exemption or deduction is listed with the date it was implemented, a description and the estimated tax revenue it represents.

So why shouldn’t New Mexico make such a budget?

Jim Nunns, director of New Mexico’s Taxation and Revenue Department, told the Independent that producing a budget showing all the tax-relief items is not as cut-and-dried as it may sound.

First, he said, these tax breaks reflect the deliberate use of the tax base to achieve certain policy goals — like making charitable donations tax-deductible to encourage giving.

“It’s not that you aren’t collecting money, it’s like you’re collecting it and spending it at once,” he said. “The government is allowing people or businesses to exempt or deduct certain revenue from taxation in order to achieve a certain public-policy outcome.”

But an annual budget that includes everything would be misleading, he said, because not all of these tax breaks are targeted at achieving a special policy outcome — rather, some are there to correct the flawed structure of the tax code.

For instance, deductions for business purchases of items used in the production process are on the books because not including them would lead to double taxation, Nunns said.

Nunns hired a consultant in 2007 to examine each area of the tax base and determine what he calls the “correct” tax base so that the “actual” tax expenditures can be identified. Presumably, this means some of the exemptions and deductions would be listed on a tax-expenditure budget, should one be made, but others wouldn’t.

Tom Clifford, research director at the New Mexico Tax Research Institute, agrees with Nunns that such budgets can be misleading. Without the large set of breaks for business transactions, he said, double taxation would be common: once when a product is purchased for use in production, and again on the income from the sale of the final product.

These complications are a function of how New Mexico’s tax code was designed, he said. Some states, he explained, have “additive” systems, which start small and then add items to the code.

“But New Mexico taxes everything,” Clifford said, “then subtracts its way to a proper tax code. This makes it necessary to have a large set of exemptions and deductions that shouldn’t be thought of as tax expenditures meant to achieve public-policy goals.”

But Gerry Bradley, an economist and research director for Voices for Children, thinks New Mexico’s tax code works well for the state. And, he said Nunns and his consultant, Thomas Pogue, are essentially redesigning New Mexico’s tax code in their research into the “correct” tax base.

“The reports they are producing are filled with the word ‘should’ — this means that they are designing a new tax code, rather than producing a straightforward tax-expenditure budget,” he said.

“Our tax code was created in the early 1970s by Franklin Jones and Gerry Boyle, who were hardly radicals. It’s a strong tax code and a good foundation for our general fund. And it is our tax code. This makes me the conservative one on this topic.”

Bradley said there’s no reason the Legislature and the public shouldn’t have the benefit of a tax-expenditure budget that shows all the deviations from the tax base.

Norton Francis seems to agree, although he sees the value in the studies being undertaken by the Taxation and Revenue Department.

“They’re doing fairly academic research about how a tax code should ideally be structured, which makes sense. But it could take a long time at this rate,” he said.

“I think a simple enumeration of the current expenditures would be a good first step. Then people can decide for themselves what is important or not.”

Contact the reporter by sending an email to mchildress@newmexicoindependent.com.


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NMI Q&A with… Frank Young

Frank Young runs LANL: The Rest of the Story, a blog about the inner workings at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

Young, aka Pinky and the Brain to his regular readers (the Brain is his wife, Dorothy), has operated the blog for more than a year, picking up the mantle from two predecessors who provided a forum for lab insiders to vent, while giving outsiders a window into one of the U.S.’s most famous laboratories.

What Young’s blog lacks in numbers of readers it makes up for in quality and influence. Readers at Congressional offices and the Pentagon are among his regular viewers, he says, as well as folks as far away as Russia and China.

Young, who is 45 and now lives in Houston, says he became interested in the lab after working there for a contractor. Later, he became sick from what he believes was exposure to high-level liquid radioactive waste at the lab. He has written about his sickness here.

The blog is a blend of news about the lab and the nuclear community, articles contributed by readers and articles Young has written himself. Most of the content is contributed by readers in the comment threads, he says.

“Those [comments] are the most interesting part of this,” Young says. “There’s a mix — some hateful stuff, some humorous stuff and some very thoughtful stuff.”

Beyond LANL, Young has begun to track larger issues. He just returned from a nuclear deterrence summit in Washington the first week of December.

“They invited me,” Young says. “I had to pay travel and expenses, but they waived the $1,100 registration fee. They consider me a member of the press.”

We talked more with Young about The Rest of the Story and the politics and science of blogging.

NMI: What is your relationship to LANL?

FY: The Army brought me out West. My last duty station was Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. [After leaving the Army,] I took a job with a firm in Albuquerque that does business throughout New Mexico. Most of our work was with a few big customers. The lab was one of them. I’ve probably worked at almost every tech area in the lab. As an electrical engineer, I tested power systems and also did repairs and upgrades. Just to be clear, I was never an employee of the lab.

Frank Young

How did you get interested in the goings on at LANL?

I started following the story of safety and security problems because I was involved. The big issue for me was becoming sick and wanting to know what I had been exposed to. The last place I worked at Los Alamos was TA-55 [Tech Area 55, the plutonium facility where plutonium pits are made]. That was a two-week project that started April 1, 2002.

I have not worked since then. Accidents happen. I don’t blame anybody and I’m not interested in suing anybody. I just want an answer.

How did you come to take up the original blog for the LANL community?

When I first discovered the original blog, it was like a gold mine to me. I read it daily and fast-tracked my understanding of how the weapons-complex worked. It’s not an easy thing for an outsider to teach himself. When that blog ended, someone else took up the mantle for awhile. When the second blog ended, I decided to do it if no one else would. I’ve been doing it since April 1, 2007. None of the blogs are anti-lab, by the way, just anti-bad management.

How do you get your information?

People at the lab contact me through the blog’s email address. They’ll send me ideas, material they want posted … I even get fan mail. I try to keep it mostly related to LANL. I think that’s about as much as one person can handle.

Do you allow people to remain anonymous when they send you stuff?

Absolutely. Anyone can email me anonymously. Often they don’t hide who they are from me but still request that I publish what they sent without naming them. I have been doing this long enough that if I released their names, word would get around and people would stop sending me stuff. Heck, for the first year, I was anonymous. I understand the situation my readers are in.

How many contributors do you have?

I’ve never counted but I’d say easily over a hundred. There are regular contributors who send me stories they want posted every day, and then there are a lot of people who have contributed only once or twice.

How do you get the content?

I’ve only written a few of the posts myself. Most are news articles or written by a reader. The majority of the content is contributed by readers in the form of comment threads that trail posts.

Why do you think they participate in the blog?

I think most readers are seeing things they believe aren’t right and they want a way to fix them and they don’t see any other way other than the blog. It gives them a voice in a way that poses no risk to their careers.

What is your relationship with the labs’ administration?

There are a lot of people who I or the blog readers have criticized harshly who probably don’t like it. There are also people in the administration who are some of my sources. It’s hard to view the lab as one single entity. It is a bunch of groups that sometimes fight with each other. It’s Balkanized.

Do you see yourself as fulfilling a public service?

I don’t think the public benefits a lot, because I think the public is mostly not paying attention. I guess it’s a service for the Los Alamos community and stakeholders.

What is the most rewarding part of providing the blog?

What is humbling to me is who reads it. The Senate, the House, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Department of Energy, all the branches of the military, all the other labs. I get hits from all over the world. There is a person in Sweden who reads it for hours every day. The only domain I can think of that I have never seen reading the blog is whitehouse.gov.

Where do most of the hits come from?

The lab recently blocked Internet communication with the blog’s stat counter and site meter, so I don’t see hits from LANL.gov anymore, though you can still read the blog from work at LANL. Before that about 80 percent of my hits came from the lab.

Do you get feedback from the Pentagon or the Senate, or the House?

Indirectly, yes. I’ve gotten feedback that they read it every day. I can also see what they are reading by looking at the logs.

The principal assistant deputy administrator for National Nuclear Security Administration Defense Programs came to Los Alamos for an an all-hands meeting and said the blog was “one of the most informative sources of information he’s found regarding what’s going on inside the Lab.”

At the Nuclear Deterrence Summit this month, a deputy director of another lab told me that what I was doing was great, was improving things, and to keep up the good work. He also mentioned he was thankful I wasn’t blogging about his lab.


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N.M. congressional delegation support for Bush split on sharp partisan lines in ‘08 « New Mexico Independent

During a year in which 60 percent of New Mexico’s delegation to D.C. won’t be back for the swearing in of new members next week, looking back at how much the delegation supported George W. Bush’s stances on issues this year is more or less a novelty. And only one member — Jeff Bingaman — will still be in the same spot as he is now.

Sen. Pete Domenici is retiring, while Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce both lost Senate  bids this year — Wilson in the primary to Pearce and Peace in the general to Democratic Sen.-elect Tom Udall.

But what about those numbers? Congressional Quarterly looked at the votes of those in Congress based on issues where President Bush took a stance.

NM Support/Opposition to Bush
Support Oppose Participation
Domenici 83 17 98
Bingaman 28 72 100
Wilson 73 27 93
Pearce 70 30 96
Udall 14 86 99
Numbers from Congressional Quarterly

The “support” shows the percent each member of New Mexico’s delegation voted in agreement with what Bush supported. The “oppose” shows the percent each member voted against the wishes of Bush. The “participation” column shows the percent of time each member participated in a vote that Bush took a stance on.

Let’s put this in a little more context. How did our delegation compare to the rest of their colleagues? CQ crunches the numbers:

Moderate Republicans fled from the president as the election neared, and the average House Republican supported Bush just 64 percent of the time. That’s down 8 percentage points from a year ago and the lowest for a president’s party since 1990, midway through Bush’s father’s term in the White House. His average support score of 70 percent among GOP senators was also the lowest for a president’s party since 1990. As in 2007, Democrats voted with Bush far less often than they had when the Republicans were in charge and could set the agenda. House Democrats voted with Bush just 16 percent of the time on average — above their 2007 support score of 7 percent but still the second lowest for any president. Democratic senators joined Bush on 34 percent of roll call votes, down from their average support score of 37 percent a year ago.

The Democrats — Bingaman in the Senate and Udall in the House — voted less with Bush than their Democratic colleagues as a whole. The Republicans — Domenici in the Senate and Wilson and Pearce in the House — voted with Bush’s wishes much more than the average Republican.

So what happened with these vote numbers in an election year? This year, the Democrats pulled off an historic sweep of all the seats up for grabs; a Senate seat and two House seats switched hands, while Udall’s House seat stayed with the Democratic Party.

With a new Democratic president, strong Democratic control of both the House and Senate, and a True Blue New Mexico delegation, it looks like party unity will be very high among the New Mexico delegation in 2009.


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Legislature to take another look at digital medical records

A revolution in digital technology is changing how we interact in everyday life. With a mouse click, you can send digital photos to someone thousands of miles away. The same is true for music, business reports and videos.

So it should come as no surprise that there is a parallel move among physicians and other health professionals to digitize medical records, a change that proponents say portends a trend toward better diagnoses and a reduction in health care costs.

Like much of the nation, New Mexico is home to the shift, with the state estimating that 10 percent to 15 percent of the state’s 4,000 physicians already use electronic records. And in all likelihood the number will increase, particularly with President-elect Barack Obama’s talk of codifying the trend, proponents say. Obama has tied the idea of electronic medical records to his economic recovery plan.

But with changes in how medicine is practiced, there are also unresolved questions, in particular as they relate to privacy, says Bob Mayer, the chief information officer at the New Mexico Department of Health.

And Mayer and others hope that state lawmakers will pass a law during the upcoming legislative session to plug what he says are gaps in privacy protection. It’s not an easy sell, as supporters found out in 2008 when they twice pushed for the bill but were denied.

“What we were trying to do is fill those gaps to protect the consumer,” says Sen.-elect Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, who sponsored a bill in the regular and special 2008 legislative sessions when he was in the House.

Most medical records fall under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a Clinton-era law outlining a consumer’s privacy rights in regard to medical information. It establishes who does and does not have access to your medical records.

But as more and more records are digitized in New Mexico and across the country, there is a debate among professionals and policy makers whether HIPAA covers all the newly digitized information. For example, Mayer says, Microsoft is storing protected medical information, and Microsoft is not a covered entity under HIPPA.

“Right now we have electronic medical records in the state. We have nothing on the books to lay out how those things should be managed,” says Mayer. “What we and many other states have begun to do is look at building privacy protections into state laws.”

The 2008 versions of the bill would have extended to electronic records the privacy protections in the federal law that already apply to paper medical records. The bills also would have created an audit log to ensure that authorities could track how an inadvertent disclosure of a consumer’s medical records occurred, Wirth says.

Under the proposal, the audit log would have shown the identity of the person who accessed the information as well as the identity of the person whose information was obtained and the date that the disclosure occurred.

It also would have filled those gaps in privacy protection as technology has outstripped the legal framework, Wirth says.

While supporters say a transition to electronic records would save money over the long term, opponents, including some physicians, have argued that the transition to electronic records would be costly, requiring physicians to spring for programs that run into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Beyond the debate over money, proponents of digitized medical records predict that the use of electronic records over the long term will lead to more evidence-based care because digital records are more interactive than paper records. For example, the New York Times notes in a recent article: “A paper record is a passive, historical document. An electronic health record can be a vibrant tool that reminds and advises doctors.”

The Times goes on:

“It can hold information on a patient’s visits, treatments and conditions, going back years, even decades. It can be summoned with a mouse click, not hidden in a file drawer in a remote location and thus useless in medical emergencies.”

Despite its failure twice in 2008, the electronic medical records act has come close to passage.

After dying in the 2008 regular session, a similar piece of legislation came close to clearing the Legislature during the August special session. The House and Senate each passed separate electronic medical record bills. They both went to a conference committee –- a group of lawmakers impaneled to reconcile differences between House and Senate versions of the competing bills. The conference committee agreed to changes. The House passed the conference committee report, but the Senate did not, meaning the bill was left stranded, Wirth says.

Of course, just because legislation has come close before doesn’t guarantee passage. Legislatures, it has been said, are better at killing legislation than producing it. A quick survey of past legislative sessions reveals that the New Mexico Legislature –- like state legislatures elsewhere — is a graveyard where most legislation goes to die.

The last 60-day session, in 2007, produced more than 3,000 bills, including memorials and resolutions, but only 368 were signed by the governor and enacted into law, according to the Legislative Council Service.

Likewise, the 30-day 2008 regular session produced nearly 1,500 bills when factoring in resolutions and memorials, but fewer than 100 were signed and enacted into law by Gov. Bill Richardson.


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New Mexico Independent » McCain and No Child Left Behind

The Trail reports that Sen. John McCain is interested in reforming President George W. Bush’s signature domestic achievement, the No Child Left Behind Act, according to an adviser. The 2002 legislation sought to improve poorly performing public school systems in many states by mandating national performance standards.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) hasn’t said much about how to fix America’s schools. But an adviser yesterday said the presumptive Republican presidential nominee supports using federal dollars for teacher merit pay and wants to change the No Child Left Behind law championed by President Bush.

Lisa Graham Keegan, former Arizona superintendent of public instruction and a McCain education policy adviser, said McCain wants annual testing to stay, and that schools would continue to be required to report those scores. But she said he wants educators to have more say in how to fix struggling schools…

McCain envisions a system in which students have access to tutoring and choice long before their school is labeled as failing, Keegan said. States also could pitch innovative reforms.

The law has been criticized in many state legislatures for wresting control over public education away from the states. Many teachers have also opposed the measure because they say it forces them to tailor their curriculum to standardized tests. The National Education Association, the country’s largest teacher’s union, opposes performance-based merit pay but has long supported reforming NCLB to put more control for school improvement in the hands of states, school districts and teachers. 

While the Arizona senator has not yet formally rolled out his education proposals, this early statement from the campaign could represent another effort to reach out to women  – and more specifically to supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton. According to 2004 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, 71 percent of the nation’s approximately 6.2 million teachers are women. Teacher’s unions have long been a core constituency of the Democratic Party. The 1.4 million-strong American Federation of Teachers endorsed Clinton in October. The NEA, which represents 3.2 million teachers, has yet to officially endorse a candidate. 

One stumbling block could be McCain’s vaguely-worded support for “school choice” on his campaign Website — a hot-button issue for conservatives. The NEA also opposes voucher programs that would allow parents to send their children — along with federal dollars that otherwise would go to public schools — to private schools.


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New Mexico Independent » Hillary at State Depatment could have huge impact for women worldwide

Photo by Roger H. Goun

Much has been made of Obama’s “team of rivals” selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. But little has been said so far about what impact this prominent feminist and health care expert could have on the lives of women in other countries. But women’s rights activists say they’re extremely hopeful about the changes that Clinton will bring.

The president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards, blogged today about how she believes Sen. Clinton will improve the lives of women worldwide through her new job as secretary of state. It’s something that’s been almost entirely overlooked by the mainstream media:

The selection of Senator Clinton represents an important first step down a new path for American foreign policy — an enormous shift represented by the selection of a champion of women’s health and rights to be in charge of American foreign policy. …

Senator Clinton understands that improving the status of women is not simply a moral imperative; it is necessary to building democracies around the globe. Improving the status of women is key to creating stable families, stable communities, and stable countries. Women’s ability to control the size of their families, regardless of economics, nationality, or culture, has a direct impact on their economic well-being and that of their children. Senator Clinton understands that women’s quality of life directly affects the major issues confronting the globe: national security, environmental sustainability, and global poverty.

In a speech that, by the standards of the Bush administration, sounds positively radical, Clinton addressed the Cairo Plus Five Forum at the Hague in 1999, saying, “Women’s reproductive health and empowerment are critical to a nation’s sustainability and growth … we now know that no nation can hope to succeed in the global economy of the 21st century if half of its people lack the opportunity and the right to make the most of their God-given potential. No nation can move forward when its women and children are trapped in endless cycles of poverty; when they have inadequate health care, poor access to family planning, limited education.”

And by “almost entirely overlooked,” I mean by everyone except today’s Boston Globe:

“This is a new opportunity. We’re very optimistic,” said Daphne Jayasinghe, Amnesty International’s acting advocacy director for Europe/Central Asia and violence against women. The human rights group is pushing for ratification of a UN document calling for an end to gender discrimination, as well as programs to counter violence against women and girls.

…Women’s rights advocates are confident that Obama will lift the so-called “Global Gag Rule,” a US law that prohibits American government funds from going to organizations that perform or “actively promote” abortion as a family planning option. The law was imposed under former President Reagan, lifted by former President Clinton, and reinstated by President Bush.

Further, the human rights groups are hoping for a more assertive approach by the new administration to stop mass rapes of women in war, and a more vocal stance against such practices as genital mutilation and forced marriages for girls.


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New Mexico Independent » Tinsley wins GOP nod in CD 2

Ed Tinsley has won the Republican 2nd Congressional District primary.

With 89 percent of precincts reporting, Tinsley had 31 percent of the vote to 20 percent each for Aubrey Dunn Jr. and Monty Newman, 17 percent for Greg Sowards and 10 percent for C. Earl Greer.

“We’re excited, and it was obviously a close race,” Tinsley said in an interview. “There were a lot of great candidates, and I’m honored.”

Tinsley was speaking from the K-BOB’s restaurant he owns in Ruidoso moments after telling supporters at the restaurant that he won the race.

Meanwhile, the Democratic 2nd District race remains too close to call. Tinsley said he’s ready to face either Democratic candidate — Harry Teague or Bill McCamley — in November.

“We look forward to an invigorated general election,” Tinsley said. “I think they’re both great gentleman and I think they both stand for their party issues. I just think there will be distinct differences.”

Tinsley praised some of his primary opponents, saying Newman “ran a great race” and Sowards “really exceeded expectations.” Tinsley said he considered Dunn the frontrunner through most of the race, but stayed consistently on Dunn’s heels and remained patient.

And he said he sympathizes with his opponents because he’s been in their shoes. Tinsley lost the Republican 2nd District primary in 2002.

“We’re excited about what’s occurred tonight and I want to reiterate the fantastic people that I’ve run with and against during this campaign,” Tinsley said. “They are champion folks.”

Newman said he was “thankful to be a part of the process.”

“Ed did a good job and ended up with a win tonight,” he said. “We’re very pleased with our performance and what we’ve done in a short time.”

The Dunn campaign had no comment. Sowards and Greer could not immediately be reached for comment.


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Richardson replaces three regents at NMSU

LAS CRUCES — Gov. Bill Richardson replaced three of five members of the New Mexico State University Board of Regents today, opting for new blood at a time when the university is going to be making a second attempt at finding a new president.

With little explanation, Richardson replaced Steve Anaya, Bob Gallagher and Student Regent Ed Kellum with Thomas “Dick” Salopek of Las Cruces, Javier Gonzales of Santa Fe and Student Regent Christopher Anaya. The new regents’ terms will begin on Jan. 1, a news release from Richardson’s office stated, but the appointees must be confirmed by the Senate before they can begin their work, and the Legislature doesn’t convene until Jan. 20.

In the meantime, the terms of Steve Anaya, Gallagher and Kellum end on Dec. 31.

In an e-mail, Gallagher claimed that he was told he was going to be reappointed, “so I expected to be able to continue some very important work we are in the middle of, and I would like to complete these projects.”

“I think some experience and continuity would make sense here. The timing of the announcement is curious in that the Senate must hold hearings and confirm regents, and the Legislature does not even convene for two months,” Gallagher said. “I am honored to serve NMSU, and my record shows I always put the university first. I would be honored to serve again, should I be asked.”

Asked why he believed the governor didn’t reappoint him, Gallagher said: “Private conversations between the governor and I should stay that way. I do not think I am in the position to answer that.”

Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said in this in response to Gallagher’s comments:

“When a regent comes up for reappointment, the governor typically takes the opportunity to appoint someone new,” he said. “The governor likes Bob Gallagher personally, but he wants news blood on the Board of Regents. The governor also believes the addition of these three outstanding new regents could help the board with its presidential selection process.”

Salopek is a pecan farmer who has a bachelor’s in agronomy and soil science from the university. Gonzales, a former Santa Fe County commissioner, is a well-connected politico who has spent the past four years as chairman of the New Mexico Highlands University Board of Regents and has a bachelor’s in accounting from NMSU. Christopher Anaya is a sophomore majoring in government.

Richardson’s appointments come less than a week after the regents, led by Gallagher, suspended their search for a new president to replace Michael Martin, who left earlier this year to be chancellor at Louisiana State University’s main campus in Baton Rouge. In scrapping their search process after spending some $90,000, Gallagher and others complained that a state law requiring the regents to publicly name five finalists was unfair and hampered the process.

The regents decided to restart the search next year. Waded Cruzado will remain interim president, and she may be allowed to apply for the permanent position the second time around, though she was not during the search that ended last week.

The Las Cruces Sun-News and Albuquerque Journal have been highly critical of Gallagher’s complaining about the state law he said doomed the presidential search.


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New Mexico Independent » No foie gras on the menu this time

Eager to avoid charges of hypocrisy, leaders at a UN summit on the world food crisis, meeting this week in Rome, have banned foie gras and lobster in favor of a more modest menu. 

As the London Times Online reported today: 

“It does not look good if leaders discussing global starvation are seen to be dining lavishly,” an official of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said. “At the last summit in 2002 we did not give enough thought to the menu and were open – unfairly, in our view – to the charge of hypocrisy.”

The 2002 menu, published by The Times, began with foie gras on toast with kiwi fruit and lobster in vinaigrette, followed by fillet of goose with olives and seasonal vegetables and ending with a compote of fruit with vanilla, all accompanied by an array of fine wines. This time the catering was scaled down. Leaders first ate vol au vent stuffed with sweetcorn and mozzarella, followed by a pasta dish with a sauce of pumpkin and shrimps, and then veal meatballs and cherry tomatoes, with a fruit salad and vanilla ice-cream for dessert.

The food summit opened today with the UN harshly criticizing U.S. policies supporting farm subsidies and biofuels, while slashing aid programs to the world’s hungry.

“$11 to $12 billion a year subsidies in 2006 and protective tariff policies have the effect of diverting 100 million tons of cereals from human consumption, mostly to satisfy the thirst for fuel for vehicles,” Jacques Diouf, head of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization told the New York Times.

But Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the president of Brazil (a major sugarcane biofuel producer) snapped back, “It offends me to see fingers pointed at biofuels, when the fingers are coated in oil and coal.”


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