Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
While generally just a touch checked out this past holiday week, I couldn't help but read with great interest a couple of pieces in the Albuquerque Journal over the past few days.
First, there was this: Gov. Generous With Your Money ... Thomas J. Cole's detailing of an extensive expansion of the cadre--and payscales--of paid political appointees in the state.
As I was reading, know what I was thinking? It went sort of like this...
Whoa!...DANG!!...jeez, holy mackerel...sigh.
Cole pulled no punches: "That growth in the patronage, or spoils, system of state government is one of the legacies of Richardson as he prepares to vacate the Governor's Mansion for a slot in Barack Obama's Cabinet."
Then along comes Bill Hume, formerly with the Journal until he was scooped up by the Guv in 2002. To say that Hume is ticked off in his Journal Op-Ed would be an understatement. He says it's Unfair To Tar Staff With 'Spoils' Brush, and that this piece is obviously an opinion piece--and a smear job at that--which doesn't belong on the front page as "news."
(I think Hume has missed the concept of these "Upfront" pieces on the Journal's front page. It's my understanding that they are opinion pieces.)
Most interesting to me, though, is that he doesn't actually address the question everyone has after reading that piece: what justifies that kind of expansion and increase in pay of state political appointees?
His outrage obscures the fact that we want to know the answer to that. He should give the public more respect, and answer it. It deserves a full airing given the corruption that keeps rearing its very ugly head.
And who knows, we might just agree with his perspective--if he were to share it.
Moving along...there's another op-ed by Gilbert Gallegos, Richardson's Deputy Chief of Staff:
Governor's Appointees Working Hard To Improve New Mexico. Gallegos comes a little closer to explaining why that big expansion is A-Okay: Richardson's tenure has brought great things to New Mexico (Rail Runner, Spaceport, Film Industry), and all of those people on the list provided by Cole are very accomplished, hard working professionals who could make a lot more in the private sector.
Taken together, these two op-eds say that because these are all good people, this expansion of the pool of exempt employees at the top is just fine. That's the argument. But it isn't a structural argument...it instead treads the path so often trod, based in personality and individual merit. It's reminiscent of the odd lack of understanding on the part of many when Jim Noel was given the job of state elections director.
Noel is the son-in-law of Tom Udall, and that position was one that oversaw the elections process in the state--during an election period when Udall was running for Senate. "But Noel's expertise and professionalism, not to mention integrity, are indisputable" was the seeming response to those who pointed out that such a position just wasn't quite right. As though those who pointed it out were impugning Noel's character. Nothing could be further from the truth. Noel rightly withdrew from that job in the end.
I'm sure Gallegos is right--the three examples he cites as evidence of what Richardson has done for the state are good ones. Especially the Rail Runner. But he still doesn't really answer the question...and perhaps there is no answer other than the obvious one that Cole presented: one of Richardson's legacies will also be a huge expansion of the cadre of paid state political appointees at the top--making big salaries in a poor state in which inequality continues to grow.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
George W. Bush on CNN:
"I've abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system."
So what does a system look like if its principles are abandoned, i.e.--tossed to the side?
It's somewhat amazing to me that he can say this with a straight face.
Bush went on to lay our economic crisis at the feet of greed and says he hopes people learn the lesson without dismantling the "free market." What does "free" mean, exactly, to George Bush?Let's get real. If there were such a thing as "free trade" then NAFTA would not require twenty two chapters that fill two thick volumes.
There is no "free-market" and one thing Bush ought to abandon ASAP is that euphemism, which is code for global corporate capitalism--a system that requires a lot of negotiation and regulation.
"You probably thought it was smart to buy a foreign import of superior quality, with better mileage and resale value. Maybe you even thought that years of market share loss might prod us into rethinking our process and redesigning our products with better quality in mind. But you forgot one thing: We spend a shitload of money on lobbyists. So now you’re out $25 billion, plus the cost of your Subaru. Maybe next time you’ll buy American like a real man. Either way, we’re cool."
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
You guys might enjoy the Q&A I did with Claudia Medina, Enlace Comunitario's Executive Director. I think the work of Enlace is really important.
NMI Q&A with... Claudia Medina
To kick-off the Independent’s new feature highlighting New Mexicans from all walks of life, I connected with Claudia Medina — founder and executive director of Enlace Comunitario, which provides comprehensive domestic violence services to immigrant women.
Claudia, a Colombian immigrant who has lived in New Mexico for almost 20 years, received her Master’s degree in Latin American Studies, with a specialization in Community and Regional Planning, from the University of New Mexico in 1993.
Her work since then has led to the creation of three important projects in support of immigrant families in New Mexico: Enlace, El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos—an immigrant rights organization—and Mujeres en Accion, which is a cooperative that sells tamalas.
NMI: What led you to the creation of Enlace Comunitario?
CM: In 1994 I began working for UNM in the family planning program as a community planner in the South Broadway area of Albuquerque. I soon realized that domestic violence was a serious problem for the immigrant women I was encountering. I brought in volunteers and organized a training process that 13 women signed up for. Then, during that period one of the women was killed by her husband in a case of domestic violence. That changed my perception of what I needed to do. I realized I needed to do more–that this community really needed help.To read the full interview, click here.
You know the shoe-throwing Iraqi journalist, Muntader Al Zaida? Proxy for so many the world over? Siun at Firedoglake is speculating that he might be undergoing torture: credible Arabic news reports say he has a broken hand, broken ribs, and signs of torture on his thighs. He's been transferred to Camp Cropper, the U.S.-run detention center.
hat tip to Spencer Ackerman at the Washington Independent
Friday, December 12, 2008
Barb at Democracy for NM has an excellent point today.
The Republicans are more than willing to demand that union workers pay and benefits are slashed in Detroit before saving these 1000's upon 1000's of working class jobs, while not a peep about the enormous sums of money paid to the rank and file of AIG and other corporate titans of the financial and insurance world. Why is it just the CEO and top execs at those companies that the Republicans spout off about if they're so concerned about what workers get paid?
I'll tell you why.
It's because Republicans are solidly anti-union and they see an opportunity to destroy some of our last remaining union manufacturing jobs. And they're willing to let Detroit crash and burn over it.
The problem with GM, Chrysler and Ford is their staunch refusal to get on board with fuel economy vehicles. It's the top of the chain where that fault lies, not with the workers.
I got a second mailer from SunCal Corporation promoting TIDDs this week, and it seems that just about everyone I know in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County did as well. This direct-mail promotional effort must have cost SunCal a bundle.
The mailers are promoting the use of tax increment development districts as a source of jobs. “Tidds create jobs,” the mailers say.
Actually, TIDDs don’t create jobs. They simply allow developers to draw down future tax revenue generated from the places they develop to pay off bond proceeds that were used to build their infrastructure. Technically speaking.
Tax increment financing is actually a simple concept. Imagine a circle drawn around a given geographic area. A TIDD is created and at that time the current tax base is measured. What’s promised to the developer is a percentage, or increment, of the increase in taxes over that tax base in the future. The premise is that the development — and the upfront infrastructure the TIDD funds — is going to spur desirable growth in that area.
SunCal’s 55,000 acres adjacent to Albuquerque’s West Side are largely undeveloped, so the company would get a huge chunk of the taxes generated there for about 25 years. It’s got a handful of TIDDs covering about 4,000 acres of that 55,000-acre spread right now — and are just waiting for legislative approval to sell bonds supported by that promise of future tax revenue. For just those 4,000 acres, that sum would be about $629 million.
Hence the promotional pieces. SunCal will be at the Roundhouse in force when the Legislature convenes in January, and it is attempting to neutralize the public.
SunCal is a massive real estate company that builds planned communities and housing developments throughout the West. The company bought 55,000 acres of undeveloped land on Albuquerque’s western fringe in 2006. On its Web site, you can see the huge expanse of green grassland the firm is hoping to build on.
There is a potential problem for SunCal, though. Between last year’s session — when the Legislature failed to approve the TIDD bonds — and now, at least 20 SunCal projects in other Western states have declared bankruptcy. To my knowledge, they’re all companies that were financed by Lehman Brothers, the financial company that went belly-up last summer.
SunCal representatives have claimed that the New Mexico project is solid — that it didn’t get financing from Lehman. As we previously pointed out, however, Lehman Brother’s had a 20-percent stake in D.E. Shaw, which is the principal investor in the New Mexico SunCal subsidiary — also known as Westland.
Given the current state of the financial sector — not to mention that the country seems to be teetering on the brink of cascading bankruptcies across the board — this is not very reassuring.
The TIDD statute, as far as I can tell, doesn’t address what happens if the company that gets the TIDD goes belly-up. TIDD proponents say there is no liability on the part of government to the bond holders if the company doesn’t complete the project and therefore does not have the tax revenue funds to pay off the bond holders.
But would government really let that happen? Or would another developer buy the property dirt cheap, put in crappy, sprawling housing developments and then use the tax revenue from the area to pay off those bonds that were meant for “good” infrastructure — not to mention “jobs”?
Interested taxpayers want to know.
Cross-posted on NMI.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Such a fun time reading the newspapers today -- with just a twinge of guilt for doing it so happily online, as the Tribune files for Ch. 11 because it can't figure out how to make money with the changing habits of people like me...
First there was the charming editorial in the Washington Post exploring the fairytale idea of Caroline Kennedy replacing Hillary in the Senate ... complete with matching uneasiness about political dynasties that I heartily share. I loved this piece's ping-pong logic that echoed my own misgivings about the subject.
Then a plea for social connection via physical urban and suburban pattern from David Brooks! Really! No more bowling alone, people! It's time to put Obama's $ where your hearts are: community activity centers! A very well-written and sensible piece, if rather pessimistic about the chances of it actually happening.
I had to laugh when I got to the end, though. It was another one of those "can you believe the synchronicity of the world?" kind of moments. I watched Peter Seller's Being There this weekend, which I'd never seen. It was slow if charming, or maybe the other way around.
It features a rather vacuous but good gardener who is taken for a political and economic genius when he happens to be in the right place at the right time and stays true to who he is and what he knows (hat tip, Marjorie!). Here's the pivotal, and timely, scene:
President "Bobby": Mr. Gardner, do you agree with Ben, or do you think that we can stimulate growth through temporary incentives?And here's David Brooks, ending his own charming version of common sensical plain-speak:
Chance the Gardener: As long as the roots are not severed, all is well. And all will be well in the garden.
President "Bobby": In the garden.
Chance the Gardener: Yes. In the garden, growth has it seasons. First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again.
President "Bobby": Spring and summer.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
President "Bobby": Then fall and winter.
Chance the Gardener: Yes.
Benjamin Rand: I think what our insightful young friend is saying is that we welcome the inevitable seasons of nature, but we're upset by the seasons of our economy.
Chance the Gardener: Yes! There will be growth in the spring!
Benjamin Rand: Hmm!
Chance the Gardener: Hmm!
President "Bobby": Hm. Well, Mr. Gardner, I must admit that is one of the most refreshing and optimistic statements I've heard in a very, very long time.
[Benjamin Rand applauds]
President "Bobby": I admire your good, solid sense. That's precisely what we lack on Capitol Hill.
Social change has a natural rhythm. The season of prosperity gives way to the season of economic scarcity, and out of the winter of recession, new growth has room to emerge. A stimulus package may be necessary, but unless designed with care, its main effect will be to prop up the drying husks of the fall.
Too good. Sometimes, life is just too good. Life imitates art, indeed.
The headline of John Fleck's Upfront piece in the Albuquerque Journal is a pretty simple maxim: We know so much, Yet so little. Fleck talks about "the smartest person I know," which is a moniker he only bestows on a few people--in this case physicist Carlton Cave. What makes Cave so smart?
...only a few get the label "smartest person I know." Caves is one.
They share an important characteristic. In addition to knowing a lot, understanding it deeply and explaining it well, they are especially careful about understanding what they don't know.
Given the 58-year-old Caves' chosen profession — the strange world of theoretical quantum physics — that is a good thing. Serious conversation with members of his tribe eventually runs aground on the shoals of the things we don't know.
I like that last bit..."the shoals of the things we don't know." I agree with Fleck. To know what you don't know has got to be one of the things that makes a person truly smart. When it comes to "smart people" who run the world, I tend to think the actual application of this maxim --knowing what you don't know-- could make someone not only smart but maybe truly great. What gets a person to greatness, big or small, is when the outcome of their efforts incorporates not just what they know, but also what they don't know. You know, the "what ifs."
Monday, December 08, 2008
Yes, I stole from the Huffington Post, which leads this morning with "Getting into the car business." The NYT mentions a "car czar." Senators are saying GM's CEO has to go. Well, that's what you get when you go looking for money--someone becomes your boss if it's a big enough chunk of change. I don't know if you guys have noticed, but the newspaper industry is having a moment also. I think the government is right to take a hard line with the auto companies given that those very same companies have stood in the way of more fuel-efficient cars for so long. At the same time, we need to save our automobile industry if the problem ultimately is a domino effect from the credit crisis. Too many jobs are on the line.
Friday, December 05, 2008
I know you guys religiously read the NMI, but just in case you missed my bit about Richardson here it is (the second half, about trade, is the most interesting. free trade discussion, anyone?).
Commerce post will test Richardson's free-trade reputation
When the news that Bill Richardson would be named commerce secretary came out, political pundits immediately starting characterizing it as a “demotion.” His impressive resume was referenced as proof that such a gig just isn’t good enough. An angered Latino punditry claimed that the Latino community was being slighted by Obama’s Cabinet choices, compounded by the delay in announcing Richardson for the Commerce gig. Ruben Navarrette Jr. encapsulates these views by calling Richardson’s appointment not only a “snub” but being “slapped again” because many believe Richardson was second choice for the position.
As though joining the Cabinet is a personality contest. As though Richardson isn’t assuming a position of considerable power.
Richardson is probably getting exactly what he wants, short of secretary of state. As any cursory examination of Richardson’s activities during his years as governor shows, he has a significant interest in economic development. And the goal of the U.S. Commerce Department is to foster and promote U.S. industry, both at home and abroad. This is probably the reason its such a gargantuan department, with innumerable “bureaus” in what Politico describes as a “sprawling bureaucratic fiefdom.”
Richardson will be the head honcho in charge of the next U.S. Census — the one that sets the stage for a decade of statistical wrangling. In fact, Commerce accumulates, synthesizes, and spits back out a huge amount of data about the U.S. economy and population. It also administers the Patent and Trademark office, not to mention the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. You know, the “Internet.” The list goes on.
The point is that the Commerce Department is a grab-bag that ultimately makes sense. It’s about keeping the economy cranking — data and infrastructure are a big part of that, as is trade. And it’s a place that some think is well-suited for Richardson’s next move.
Read the rest here.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Gotta give props to the Onion for nailing the humor here in this satirical goodbye letter from Bush to us. I just wish they'd gone even farther to mention what he actually DID accomplish to mess everything up almost irrevocably (we hope for the best...).
I'm Really Gonna Miss Systematically Destroying This PlaceOh, America. Eight years went by so fast, didn't they? I feel like I hardly got to know you and methodically undermine everything you once stood for. But I guess all good things must come to an end, and even though you know I would love to stick around for another year or four—maybe privatize Social Security or get us into Iran—I'm afraid it's time to go. But before I leave, let me say, from the bottom of my heart: I can't think of another country I would've rather led to the brink of collapse.
The worst part about leaving is knowing I can never screw up anything this big again. Don't get me wrong, I'm only 62. I could still bankrupt an oil company, or become the next MLB commissioner and ruin baseball. But I'll never get the opportunity to fuck up on this massive of a scale again. Even if you put me back in charge for another term, I could only take the U.S. from a rapidly declining world power to not a world power at all. I don't mean to gloat, but I think it's safe to say that no one can ever unseat the American empire like I unseated the American empire.
The real Bush lines that are really getting me these days are his attempts to re-write yet again the origins of the Iraq War. In his recent interview with Charlie Gibson, Bush said a few things that just cannot be true based on what we know (or used to know before all the administration's efforts to swap out what we know with what they want us to believe):
Gibson: "What were you most unprepared for?"
Bush: "Well, I think I was unprepared for war. In other words, I didn't campaign and say, 'Please vote for me, I'll be able to handle an attack.' In other words, I didn't anticipate war. Presidents -- one of the things about the modern presidency is that the unexpected will happen."
No one talks about this anymore, but doesn't anyone remember the Project for a New American Century? It was the global manifest destiny version of Karl Rove's intention to plant the Republican flag on a generation of politics for a lasting majority. Remember this?
"Further, the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor."
Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century,
The Project for the New American Century
This report was prepared for Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush, and Scotter Libby -- all part of the PNAC, the group that said explicitly that America could exploit a new "Pearl Harbor" to catapult our efforts to be a dominating power for this new century.
From Wikipedia's entry of signatories on documents or statements from this group, these are the names I recognize as close to the resulting Bush Administration (also has table with a lot more names that also explains their roles - love Wikipedia!):
- Elliott Abrams
- Richard L. Armitage
- John R. Bolton
- John Ellis "Jeb" Bush
- Richard B. Cheney
- I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby
- Richard Perle
- Donald Rumsfeld
- Paul Wolfowitz
Gibson: "You've always said there's no do-overs as President. If you had one?"
Bush: "I don't know -- the biggest regret of all the presidency has to have been the intelligence failure in Iraq. A lot of people put their reputations on the line and said the weapons of mass destruction is a reason to remove Saddam Hussein. It wasn't just people in my administration; a lot of members in Congress, prior to my arrival in Washington D.C., during the debate on Iraq, a lot of leaders of nations around the world were all looking at the same intelligence. And, you know, that's not a do-over, but I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess."
Except that the intelligence was different. See below.
Gibson: "If the intelligence had been right, would there have been an Iraq war?"
Bush: "Yes, because Saddam Hussein was unwilling to let the inspectors go in to determine whether or not the U.N. resolutions were being upheld. In other words, if he had had weapons of mass destruction, would there have been a war? Absolutely."
Except that Saddam actually DID let inspectors go in, but when they didn't find anything, Bush claimed falsely that it was because Saddam was hiding things and not cooperating. Click and scroll down for "Inspectors Redux."
Gibson: "No, if you had known he didn't."Bush: "Oh, I see what you're saying. You know, that's an interesting question. That is a do-over that I can't do. It's hard for me to speculate."
But Bush DID know. It just wasn't what he wanted to know. Very inconvienient to his plans to invade regardless.
I understand that every President, and for that matter, every person, wants to believe and promote the best version of events to shed good light on their actions. But letting Bush get away with this wanton revisionist history in clear refutation of facts drives me nuts! We're so lazy and forgetful as a people about events that have changed the world for the worse possibly forever. Can't we try to keep the facts straight and not treat bald-face lies with straight-faced acceptance?
Gwyneth Doland quite accurately points out over at the Independent that the "news" a la Monahan alligators isn't always the actual bona fide news.
In this case, its regarding an email sent by District 30 State Rep.-elect Karen Giannini to a few friends about the pickle she's in with her job. As it turns out, Honeywell won't give her a 60-day leave of absence, or hasn't so far. Giannini told Doland the email wasn't meant for distribution, that she sent it to a small group of people she thought she could trust, and that she was sorry to see it leaked to the press because she was still hoping her employer would compromise with her:
When contacted last night by the Independent, Giannini was shocked that the message had made it beyond its intended recipients. She asked that we not publish anything about the situation because she was working hard to negotiate a compromise at work and feared that any attention would hamper those efforts — maybe even get her fired.
But one of Monahan's alligators whispered in his ear about it so here we are. It makes me think of the gossip game. You know the one...you whisper a sentence in someone's ear, who then whispers it into the next persons, and so on...and you see how the sentence comes out on the other side. If you've ever played the game, you know it's usually not quite accurate.
Just like Monahan's reporting this morning, when he mentions the email and says that in it, Giannini is looking for a new job:
They say she sent out an e-mail to supporters asking for help in finding a new gig so she can serve.
"They"--by the way--are the "alligators."
Way to go, Joe.
I saw Giannini's email myself--yep, it made the rounds. No, it didn't say Karen needed a new job.
There are a few lessons here:
1. Never, ever send sensitive emails. As much as I write, I don't put much in mine that might come back to bite me. This is an inculcated trait from my years living on the street (just kidding, sort of).
2. Take Monahan's gossip game with a big fat grain of salt. It's sometimes on the mark, but just as we see here--sometimes not. That's what you get with anonymity.
3. Not everyone can actually serve in our volunteer state legislature due to the enormous commitment of time required. This is something to keep in mind when considering the outcomes each year.
I thought about scanning the SunCal direct mail piece I got the other day, but Coco did it for me. In her piece, which I hope you read in its entirety, she reminds us that we've already subsidized sprawling real estate development on the west side:
...while developers fund many improvements, a major contribution to the sprawl infrastructure of Albuquerque's westside has come from public tax dollars - namely:
What about the river crossings at Alameda, Paseo del Norte and Montano? Freeway interchanges at Coors, Unser and Paseo del Vulcan? Extension of Paseo and Unser through the escarpment? That water and sewer line extension all the way out to Double Eagle and the mattress factory?In other words, we've already spent a lot of money helping those developers out. So why do we need to subsidize a massive, sprawling private real estate investment, again? I mean, beyond the usual suspect argument..."jobs."
Last I checked, job creation is already happening in Albuquerque without the SunCal development. Sometimes I imagine these people are robots. Otherwise, I don't get how a real estate company can send out direct mail pieces during the great recession, which is directly related to housing mortgages, asking for public money to support their new housing developments.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
From the NYT comes this description of three road trips to Congress [emphasis mine]:
Mr. Wagoner [CEO of General Motors] is scheduled to drive to Washington in a Chevrolet Malibu hybrid vehicle, a concession to criticism from lawmakers who chided the Detroit executives for flying on private aircraft to last month’s hearings.
Mr. Mulally was en route to Washington on Tuesday in a Ford Escape hybrid, and Mr. Nardelli was set to leave drive in one of Chrysler’s hybrid S.U.V.’s.
The criticism from Congress about jet travel and big executive paychecks hit home, Mr. Mulally said during a telephone interview from the road, as he was traveling through the state of Ohio.“Its all part of a learning experience for me,” he said. “I think it’s really important that I drive to Washington to show that Ford gets what Congress is saying.”
I just want to say...welcome, fellows. Welcome to the world of road trips.
I can't help but wonder if Wagoner and Mulally played the counting game on their drives. In this case, it could be the one about how many Ford trucks one passes compared to Chevy's.
More seriously, I'm glad to see the union is not being scapegoated, by much anyway. The road trips in their hybrids seem to signify that they recognize their folly and that they know they won't be let off the hook this time when it comes to making a shift to competitive fuel efficient vehicles.
Or will they?