© 2017 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES     7-31-17
Tilting at Wind Turbines
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
The first time I saw a wind turbine up close the combination of graceful aerodynamics and sheer size convinced me I was looking up at the future. No longer just filling stock tanks, windmills would power us into the 21st Century. 
That was more than 10 years ago touring New Mexico’s first utility-scale wind farm, where 136 turbines generate 200 megawatts of power. But now that we have nearly a thousand of them marching across the horizon they remind me more and more of H.G. Wells’ Martian war machines.
I find the solar arrays less obtrusive but even less appealing. The Ivanpah plant in Nevada covers five square miles of desert with 347,000 solar panels and three 460-foot steam towers to generate 392MW. Closing the coal-fired Navajo plant in neighboring Arizona took 2,250MW off the grid. Shutting down half the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington lost another 886MW of cheap, reliable electric power. Phasing out the nearby Four Corners plant would cost us another 1,540MW and leave 6 billion tons of coal in the ground.
New Mexico now has 1,353MW of wind power installed. Earlier this year Xcel announced plans to add another 522MW near Portales as part of a $1.6 billion investment in 1,230 additional megawatts.
But generating capacity and electricity produced are two very different things, especially with power sources that are variable, intermittent and stubbornly resistant to adjusting their schedules to suit the customers. Integrating renewables into a system where demand peaks and troughs are unrelated to how hard the wind is blowing or whether the sun is shining has proven to be an expensive technical challenge.
Currently only about 6 percent of New Mexico power is generated by renewables, three-quarters of that from wind farms. Solar exploded last year, adding 418MW for a total of 677MW today.
Thank the subsidy game for that. Both solar and wind costs have improved over the past decade, but whether that makes them genuinely competitive with fossil fuels remains an open question.
The federal renewable electricity tax credit was originally enacted in 1992, when wind and solar were still untried novelties we wanted to jump start. But subsidies are as difficult to kick as nicotine, and this one has been repeatedly renewed and expanded. Every year the renewable credit sunset looms lobbyists swarm in D.C. and there’s a burst of new construction before Congress relents and extends the deadline.
Like every other state with a strong breeze, New Mexico offers its own array of tax breaks for wind projects, including a Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit, industrial revenue bond financing that provides relief from property taxes and a Gross Receipts Tax exemption on equipment. The state also mandates demand for the product by requiring investor-owned utilities to derive 20 percent of their power from renewables by 2020.
Solar and wind are the most heavily subsidized and least efficient energy resources by a wide margin. The upside is they provide far more jobs per kilowatt-hour produced than coal or gas; the downside is they raise power costs on everybody else either directly through rates or indirectly through government subsidies.
Renewable energy is now a mature industry. Let it stand on its own and instead let’s direct those subsidies toward building a new nuclear plant. The latest designs are smaller than giants like Palo Verde but still capable of powering a city the size of Albuquerque. And because they’re modular rather than site-built, they’re a far cheaper source of energy than solar, wind, gas or even coal.
We have room for it out at the Spaceport.


© 2017 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES          7-17-17
A Word in Praise of Drilling Rigs
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
I like drilling rigs. They’re noisy, dirty and dangerous, which appeals to the teenage boy in me. And I’ve always felt the big flag on the derrick is a nice touch. As a combination of hard work, technical savvy and high-stakes optimism, oil and gas drilling is the quintessential American enterprise.
As with so much of the modern world, we invented it. Years ago, I met an oilman who had a photo of the famous Spindletop Geyser on his office wall, and he was happy to share the story. On Jan. 10, 1901, Lucas No. 1 in southeast Texas struck “black gold” at just 1,020 feet down. The gusher spewed a fountain of crude 150 feet in the air, blowing nearly a million barrels of oil over the landscape before settling down to pump a steady 10,000 barrels a day. As hundreds of derricks sprouted around that lone well on Spindletop Dome the price of oil dropped from $2 a barrel to less than a nickel and the American Century was underway.
New Mexico has consistently ranked among the top 10 energy-producing states during most of those years and is currently sixth in oil production and eighth in natural gas. In 2015 the state produced 1,445.5 trillion BTU in natural gas and 838.9 trillion BTU in crude oil. (One British Thermal Unit is enough energy to raise the temperature of a gallon of water by one degree Fahrenheit.) The industry provides 100,000 jobs here, and roughnecks earn good money. The typical rig employs 50 to 75 workers and the average roustabout makes $54,000 a year, while a field engineer makes $80,000 and a geologist $150,000 or more, according to one survey of oil field jobs.
Tourism Secretary Rebecca Latham recently announced that we welcomed a million more visitors last year than the previous, praising tourism as “an incredible economic driver” well worth the $10 million a year the state invests in marketing New Mexico True. Outdoor recreation in New Mexico supported 68,000 jobs paying $1.7 billion in wages and $458 million in state and local tax revenues in 2012, according to an industry trade group.
That’s less than a third what oil and gas pumped into the state general fund last year, however. Tourism and outdoor recreation make a valuable contribution to our economy, but we could turn the whole state into an open air Tri-Cultural Wilderness Adventure Theme Park without matching the jobs and tax revenues oil and gas provides. And anybody who’s been up on Colorado’s Western Slope recently can testify that tourism brings its own challenges to the local quality of life.
I don’t get people who believe the only way we can preserve our land for future generations is by giving the federal government more control over our lives. The implicit assumption is that we locals are too dumb and greedy to treat our shared national heritage respectfully and use it responsibly without adult supervision from Washington.
In Aldous Huxley’s dystopic “Brave New World,” New Mexico is an exotic vacation destination for the global technocratic elite. They jet in from London and venture out from the security of their luxurious resorts to sample the wilderness and observe the primitive lives of the indigenous inhabitants much as we view monkeys in the zoo today.
I would be unhappy in that world. The state motto, Crescit Eundo, "It grows as it goes," celebrates growth and change. Attempting to freeze the Land of Enchantment in some kind of ideal stasis Where the Wild Things Are circumscribes not just our own potential but the lives of our children and grandchildren.


© 2017 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES                    7-3-17
More Logging Means Less Firefighting
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
Along the road from Reserve into the Gila National Forest, you drive for miles through a dismal landscape of blackened stumps, thousands of dead trees standing like a surreal forest of telephone poles.
Five years ago this summer, the Whitewater-Baldy Fire swept through more than 465 square miles of the Gila. Ignited by lightning strikes, fanned by high winds and fueled by a tinder-dry mixture of ponderosa, piñon and juniper, the conflagration defied the efforts of more than 1,200 firefighters for more than a month before it was finally brought under control.
It was New Mexico’s worst wildfire, so far. Counting the loss of timber, damage to watersheds and ongoing stabilization and burned area rehabilitation work, the final bill was around $100 million.
The good news is that nature is stubbornly resilient. While there are still ugly drifts of black ash in the gullies, there is green on the slopes. Fire, we are constantly reminded, is a necessary part of the forest ecosystem. But looking over the thousands of acres of charred logs littering the landscape, it’s worth asking whether we would not have been better off cutting those trees ourselves rather than waiting for nature to take its course.
New Mexico has more than four million acres of timberland suitable for harvest, about two-thirds of it in our national forests and the balance on state, private and tribal land. That’s about 32 billion board feet of lumber.
We cut only a small fraction of that wood every year, and the harvest has been steadily declining over the past decade. New Mexico’s commercial timber harvest was about 29 million board feet in 2012, less than half the 2002 harvest. Thirty years ago we logged more than 200 million board feet annually. The number of forest industry jobs in New Mexico has shrunk by a third in the last 10 years.
A post-mortem analysis of the Whitewater-Baldy disaster and other major fires in the West laid the blame in part on “a virtual cessation of harvesting of valuable forest products” in recent years.
Part of the decline is straightforward economics, as the collapse of the housing bubble in 2007 depressed residential construction and reduced the demand for lumber. Partly the decline is due to unfair competition from subsidized Canadian timber imports, according to critics of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
But there’s also blame to be assigned to litigious environmental groups that have obstructed and delayed logging throughout the West over the past 30 years. Even relatively modest attempts to salvage timber from burned areas, take down standing dead wood and reduce the fuel accumulations in the forests have been met with administrative appeals and court actions.
As a result, the Forest Service has largely adopted the environmentalists’ philosophy of minimal intervention in the “natural” life cycle of growth and destruction. But like it or not, today’s forests are not natural. They are our creation. It’s pointless to blame climate change, drought, or careless campers for the devastating fires of recent years. Like our fields, our gardens and our cities, the forests are ours to manage responsibly.
When the harvesting of timber and thinning of hazardous fuels are precluded, access roads are closed and unreasonable restrictions are placed on fire suppression in Wilderness Areas, the early containment of wildfires is hampered and the scene is laid for devastating firestorms like Whitewater-Baldy.
Fifty years ago in the Whole Earth Catalog Stewart Brand wrote, “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.” Future generations will not thank us for shirking that duty.


© 2017 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES          6-19-17
Land of Many Uses or Just One?
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
The passionate defenders of our two new National Monuments overestimate their positive impact on local economies and ignore the lost opportunity cost incurred in locking up hundreds of thousands of acres of public land for narrow and non-productive purposes.
“Not only are these treasured landscapes a piece of our historical, cultural, and natural heritage, but they are also good for business,” Sen. Martin Heinrich claimed in denouncing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s initial report on the Bears Ears Monument in Utah. “Shrinking or eliminating our national monuments jeopardizes rural jobs and tourism dollars.”
Attributing the recent growth of Doña Ana County to the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Monument and the increased tourist traffic in Taos to the Rio Grande del Norte Monument ignores other significant factors. Las Cruces is benefiting from the same southward population wave that’s driving growth in Florida, Texas and Arizona, while Taos is enjoying spillover from the tourism boom Colorado has experienced since legalizing recreational marijuana three years ago.
And what jobs can be directly linked to monument status as opposed to the land’s previous BLM or Forest Service management regime are not the kind of jobs we need. About 12 percent of New Mexico’s non-farm workforce is employed in the leisure and hospitality industry, according to the state Department of Workforce Solutions. That’s nearly 100,000 jobs, compared to 26,000 in manufacturing, 47,000 in construction and 19,000 in mining, logging and oil and gas.
But not all jobs are created equal. The leisure and hospitality category includes hotels and motels, bars and restaurants, casinos and such recreational businesses as ski resorts. While some of these jobs are well paid, the majority are at the lower end of the scale. In April, construction work was paying an average of $21.32 an hour and manufacturing $22.40, while leisure and hospitality workers were earning an average of just $12.84 an hour. And those workers clocked an average of only 27 hours a week, while construction workers were on the job 37 hours a week and manufacturing workers 38.6 hours.
The average construction worker earns more than twice as much, the factory worker three times as much and the average oil and gas worker four times what his or her counterpart in Leisure and Hospitality makes.
There’s a great deal of moral preening and smug posturing in the debate over use of our public lands. I’m tired of hearing politicians in Washington and environmentalists in Boulder and San Francisco congratulating each other on “preserving the land for future generations.” They’re not trying to make a living and raise a family in one of the poorest states in the nation.
Personally, I’m more concerned with this generation and the next. We’re losing population and steadily falling behind our neighboring states because we don’t offer the same opportunities to our young people.
“There is no doubt that it is drop-dead gorgeous country and it merits some degree of protection,” Zinke said of the Bears Ears. “But designating a monument that encompasses almost 1.5 million acres where multiple-use management is hindered or prohibited is not the best use of the land and is not in accordance with the intention of the Antiquities Act.”
Democrats like to cite Republican Teddy Roosevelt in justifying the vast land grabs recent Presidents have made under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Here’s another quote to ponder from Teddy: “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”


© 2017 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES           6-5-17
America Needs to Return to the Moon
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
Jack Schmitt gave the keynote speech at this year’s Memorial Day ceremony in Albuquerque. I was surprised to see he’s an old man now.
I am too, of course, as the mirror reminds me every morning. But our youthful heroes are forever young in the mind’s eye, and Harrison Hagan “Jack” Schmitt is a genuine American hero. He was once a U.S. Senator, but any fool can be a senator. His enduring claim to fame is his membership in a far more exclusive and dwindling club of courageous men who have gone where no other has ventured before or since.
Born in Santa Rita and raised in Silver City, Jack was one of the bright young people who took up JFK’s 1961 challenge to land a man on the Moon within the decade. His expertise in the brand new field of astrogeology earned him a slot in the three-man crew of Apollo 17. 
In December 1972 he spent three days tripping around in the lunar dune buggy, collecting rocks and performing scientific experiments that greatly expanded our understanding of our nearest cosmic neighbor. Among his other achievements, he snapped the iconic “Blue Marble” photo of the Earth that instantly came to symbolize the nascent environmental movement. No man since has been far enough away to see the whole planet from space.
For Americans the Apollo adventure was a lonely bright spot in an otherwise dismal decade. The country was mired in a seemingly endless war abroad and violently divided at home. Too often it seemed our shared pride in Schmitt and his fellow astronauts was the only thing we all had left in common.
But 17 was the last Apollo mission. Budget cuts, bureaucratic bloat and mission creep drained popular support for manned space exploration, and no man has walked on the Moon since Schmitt and his comrade Gene Cernan left their footprints there 45 years ago. Cernan passed away in February of this year, leaving just six of the 12 moonwalkers still with us. Schmitt, who will be 82 this July, is second youngest of them.
Almost since the day of his Pacific splashdown, Schmitt has been advocating a return trip. Now, after nearly half a century, he believes the stars may be aligning to make that happen. In February he told a Congressional subcommittee that the factors which made the Apollo Project possible are with us again today. In China we have a geopolitical rival comparable to the old Soviet Union, and the Chinese are already well advanced in their own effort, not just to put a man on the Moon within the next 10 years, but ultimately to establish a permanent human base there.
Nothing energizes Americans like competition, and a race to the Moon would be the ultimate global reality show: Who will be the next man (or the first woman!) to follow in Jack Schmitt’s footsteps? It’s certainly a better outlet for international rivalry than close encounters in the South China Sea.
Like Schmitt, the Chinese see the lunar mission as the next step toward deep space exploration. Think of the Moon as a rest stop on the highway to Mars. In his Congressional testimony Schmitt estimated that with a budget of $20 billion a year we could be back on the Moon by 2024 and on Mars by 2040.
Why manned missions rather than robot technologies? To sustain a decades-long commitment we need human stories to capture the public imagination. And Americans need once again to see ordinary men like Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Jack Schmitt accomplishing extraordinary things. That’s what we’re all about.


© 2017 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES          5-22-17
Sage Advice from Dickens
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
I went to the Albuquerque Tea Party meeting half hoping a contingent of social justice ninjas would show up to punch Nazis, only to find themselves confronting a roomful of people who look like their grandparents earnestly discussing school administrative overhead costs and gross receipts taxes over coffee and donuts.
No protestors appeared, perhaps discouraged by the wet weather or perhaps because they see the “Taxed Enough Already” folks as irrelevant to the Struggle. Certainly fiscal conservatives can count few friends in Santa Fe and even fewer in Washington these days.
“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery,” Mr. Micawber warned young David Copperfield. But few read Charles Dickens today, and fewer still heed his antiquated advice. If remembered at all on campus he’s just another Dead White Male propping up the Capitalist Patriarchy. Passionate advocates of the human right to health care, free college education, a “living wage” and universal pre-K dismiss as heartless skinflints anyone with the temerity to ask, “Who’s paying for all this?”
The rainy evening gloom was not brightened by the Rio Grande Foundation’s Paul Gessing, come like an Old Testament prophet to preach on the “Rough Road Ahead: New Mexico’s Coming Economic Challenges.” 
There are glass half-full people and glass half-empty people, but Gessing is one of those who insists the glass is all but dry. New Mexico is in an economic “death spiral,” he warned, reciting all the familiar dismal statistics. Always among the highest in unemployment and lowest in labor force participation, poor New Mexico is falling farther and farther behind its neighbors. Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas are growing while the Land of Enchantment declines from economic backwater to outright basket case.
“And if you thought the last couple of years were bumpy, fasten your seatbelts,” Gessing continued, forecasting worse yet to come. That light at the end of the tunnel is the oncoming Medicaid train wreck. With nearly half the population now enrolled and federal matching funds diminishing, New Mexico’s Medicaid deficit is projected to balloon over the next few years.
Gessing did have a few modest successes to report. He took a victory lap to celebrate the defeat of Santa Fe’s soda tax, an idea so lame even the voters of New Mexico’s most liberal municipality couldn’t be persuaded to swallow it.
Defeating the minimum wage hike in the Legislature was another small victory for anyone who understands the law of supply and demand. What New Mexico needs more than anything right now is more jobs, whatever the pay. Kicking people off the lowest rung of the workforce ladder because they’re not making enough money is no way to fight poverty. Joblessness is at the root of our crime and drug abuse problems. Providing gainful employment would go a long way toward curing those and other social pathologies.
Another hopeful sign of fiscal sanity is the sudden interest in genuine tax reform in Santa Fe. Both Republicans and Democrats are at least paying lip service to revising our tax structure to incentivize productivity, create jobs and foster new businesses. But the time to act is now. Pushing tough political decisions down the road for weeks or months puts them too close for comfort to the next election.
And “revenue neutral” tax reform is only the necessary first step. We need to make painful budget cuts as well. Without controlling our spending, as Macawber puts it, “The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene and, in short, you are forever floored.”
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com


© 2017 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES          5-8-17
NAFTA is not a zero-sum deal
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
The older I get the harder it is to confess error. I like to think that’s because I’m out of practice, having already made most of the available mistakes at least once in my youth. But bad numbers lead to bad decisions, and it’s best to correct the record.
In my recent column on the illegal drug trade I made a passing reference to our “$500 million” legitimate trade with Mexico. That’s a three-decimal point miss. In fact, Mexico is our second largest export customer and third largest global trading partner. The United States and Mexico trade a half-trillion dollars in goods and services each year, more than a million dollars in bilateral commerce every minute.
New Mexico lags far behind neighboring states in cashing in on this business. Last year Texas exported $93 billion in merchandise to Mexico, Arizona $8.3 billion and New Mexico just $1.6 billion. But opportunity beckons. The Santa Teresa Borderplex and adjacent Union Pacific Intermodal Facility, as well as the Columbus Port of Entry and even the lonely border crossing at Antelope Wells all hold the potential to exponentially boost business between New Mexico and Mexico. 
Since passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement more than 20 years ago the United States and Mexican economies have become intertwined. Instead of simply selling finished goods to each other, we now build things together in an international manufacturing system that depends on a complex network of supply chains crisscrossing the border.
Nearly five million U.S. jobs are tied to our trading relationship with Mexico, according to one estimate. Some are in manufacturing but the vast majority are in the service sectors, including everything from finance to healthcare and retail.
It’s true that America runs a persistent trade imbalance with Mexico. Last year we imported $63 billion more from Mexico than we exported, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s up from $61 billion in 2015 and $55 billion in 2014, but down from a high of $75 billion ten years ago. Over that same period, total trade between the two nations has expanded by $178 billion, or more than 50 percent.
A trade deficit is not necessarily a bad thing if it yields other tangible but less economically quantifiable benefits. The underlying premise of NAFTA has always been that a prosperous and politically stable Mexico is a more desirable neighbor. New opportunities south of the border reduce the economic incentives driving migration and increase the demand for U.S. goods and services there.
The real question is not whether Mexico has benefited disproportionately from the deal, but how successful we have been in managing the costs to our own economy and especially to our labor force. The federal Trade Adjustment Assistance program attempts to mitigate that damage by assisting American workers who lost their jobs to foreign trade. But that program is too narrowly tailored and underfunded. We can better address the problem by devoting more resources to domestic workforce development and technological innovation rather than by imposing tariffs and other barriers to trade. The world is changing, and much as we might like to return to the 1950s you can’t get there from here. If the Mexicans don’t take those manufacturing jobs, the robots will.
That’s not to say NAFTA is perfect. Any bargain can benefit from periodic renegotiation to reflect changing circumstances. But a trade agreement, like a marriage, isn’t a zero-sum game where one partner must lose whatever the other gains. Treating it that way leads too often to a messy and mutually painful divorce.


© 2017 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES       4-24-17
An Expensive and Futile Gesture
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
New Mexico shares 180 miles of the U.S. border with Mexico. Aside from short stretches around Santa Teresa and Palomas, south of Columbus, most of that distance is guarded by a sturdy anti-vehicle fence designed by Sandia Labs.
Known as the ‘Normandy Barrier’ for its similarity to the obstacles the Germans placed on those World War II beaches, the X-shaped steel posts are connected with lengths of heavy rail. The rails are no barrier to critters – when I drove the line one morning recently a coyote ran across the road and under the fence in front of me – or to a man on foot.
But in the 60-mile drive from Columbus to Santa Teresa I was rarely out of sight of a Border Patrol vehicle parked on the occasional rise. I expect they are even more numerous after dark. These human eyes are supplemented by the aerostat hanging over Deming, together with motion sensors and infra-red cameras arrayed on the ground.
A hundred miles west of El Paso the line makes a hard left and runs south for 30 miles before turning back toward Arizona. This dogleg is a legacy of the 1854 Gadsden Purchase and an enduring reminder of the danger of relying on a bad map. The one used in drawing the new border after the Mexican-American War was wildly inaccurate, placing El Paso someplace around where Carlsbad is today. That error cost the U.S. the one thing we wanted most out of the conflict with our southern neighbors: a convenient southern travel route to the Pacific.
We corrected the mistake with the purchase of another 30,000 square miles of Mexico. At the same time we conceded the U.S. was unable to prevent the Apaches and the other ‘wild tribes’ from raiding into northern Mexico, despite posting most of the U.S. Army along the line. That deal pushed the border into the foothills of the Sierra Madre, which rise in sheer cliffs in the wilderness where Arizona, New Mexico, Sonora and Chihuahua meet. 
Most of the Bootheel border is a chest-high barbed wire fence. But crossing through that rugged country adds two nights’ trek to the highway, playing cat and mouse with the Border Patrol all the way. This defense-in-depth strategy leaves local ranchers somewhat exposed to trespassers, and the old Apache trails are still in use by some hardy smugglers and occasional migrants, but most of the illicit traffic crosses into south Texas and farther west in Arizona and California.
Building a wall across the deserts and mountains of southern New Mexico is not just an expensive and unnecessary waste of money, it’s counterproductive. Thanks to tough talk and high-profile arrests and deportations, illegal immigration from Mexico is already down substantially. Equipped with high-tech surveillance gear and backed by a functioning system to sort out those apprehended crossing the line, the Border Patrol should be able to handle the flow.
The traffic in illegal drugs is a different problem. The cartels have billions of dollars at stake in this game. They’ll tunnel under and fly drones over the wall, and they’ll find ever more clever ways to conceal their merchandise in the legitimate cross-border traffic. Stemming the tide depends less on imposing physical barriers than on effective coordination between federal, state and local law enforcement on both sides of the border. That spirit of cooperation is difficult enough to maintain without inflaming old resentments with a $20 billion symbolic gesture.


© 2017 NEW  MEXICO NEWS SERVICES        4-10-17
Shaking the Money Tree in D.C.
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
After 30 years in California my brother-in-law is retiring to Florida. He and his wife will stop for a visit on their way east but they won’t linger. Much as I’d like to have him as a neighbor, I can’t say I blame him. New Mexico has most of California’s problems plus a few of our own.
In the latest survey of the best and worst places to retire, New Mexico slipped from middle of the pack as 25th “Best State to Grow Old In” last year to fourth “Worst State to Retire,” according to a new Bankrate.com report. Our precipitous drop in the rankings isn’t due to anything we did but to changes in the weighting of factors considered, according to the analyst who prepared the report.
A sample of “non-retired” adults around the country was asked to rate the relative importance of cost of living, healthcare, crime, cultural vitality, weather, taxes, senior citizens’ well-being and “the prevalence of other seniors.” The first three are by far the most critical considerations in seeking a retirement destination.
New Mexico ranked just behind Arizona and California as third best in the nation for weather. We placed 14th for taxes and 23rd for overall cost of living. What dragged us down into the bottom of the rankings was a dismal 47th place in healthcare and dead last for our high crime rate. Another study based on the FBI’s 2014 numbers ranked New Mexico as the fourth most dangerous state in the nation, with 597.4 violent crimes per 100,000 population, compared to a national average of 366 per 100,000.
We also rank second in property crimes. Last month the National Insurance Crime Bureau began putting up billboards along Albuquerque’s freeways to raise awareness among those residents who haven’t already had their car stolen that the city is a “hotspot” for vehicle theft. The metro area had the second highest vehicle theft rate per capita in the nation in 2015.
Crime is largely a function of poverty, joblessness and dysfunctional families. New Mexico has an unfortunate abundance of all three, and our poverty makes it almost impossible to deal with our related woes. Our law enforcement agencies are understaffed, our courts underfunded and our educational system struggling. But we can’t raise taxes without further bleeding our economy.
Money can’t buy happiness, but it can go a long way toward alleviating certain social pathologies. Now that the Legislature has once again rejected marijuana legalization, it’s hard to see another source of quick cash on the horizon. A friendlier regulatory environment should help oil and gas, but coal is unlikely to revive, whatever the feds do.
Although our state’s economy is already far too dependent on the federal government, our best bet in the short term is to shake the money tree in Washington. President Trump’s proposed hike in defense spending could bring new jobs to New Mexico, as could his plans for infrastructure investment. But if the money is budgeted and where it’s spent ultimately depend on Congressional cooperation with the new administration.
Anyone who’s ever had to deal with a difficult boss or co-worker knows that constantly butting heads is counterproductive. There’s a time to push back and a time to work together toward shared goals despite policy differences and personality conflicts. Treating every presidential nomination as the last hill to die on is no way to get anything done.
Sen. Martin Heinrich deserves credit for crossing party lines to support Heather Wilson for Air Force Secretary, a job that puts her in position to do a lot of good for New Mexico.


© 2017 NEW  MEXICO NEWS SERVICES                   3-27-17
‘Black Money’ Fuels the Drug Trade
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
Second only to Mickey Mouse, Andrew Jackson’s is probably the most familiar and trusted face on the planet. Old Hickory’s portrait is negotiable currency anywhere from the Hindu Kush to the Sierra Madre.
A single $20 bill is 2.6 inches wide, 6.1 inches long and .0043 inches thick. A stack of Jacksons worth $20,000 is less than five inches high; $100,000 fits comfortably in a briefcase, a small backpack or your car’s spare tire.
Best of all, they’re virtually untraceable. Except in the very unlikely event that someone has taken the trouble to record the serial numbers someplace along the line, currency leaves no incriminating paper trail or electronic footprint.
Cash lubricates the international drug trade. The customer pays the dealer, who pays the distributor, who pays the transporters and so on to the producers and growers in Mexico and Latin America.
The U. S. Border Patrol seized $7.7 million in cash on our southern border in the last fiscal year, but that’s just a tiny fraction of the flow. By some estimates the Sinaloa cartel alone takes in $3 billion a year trafficking methamphetamine, heroin and marijuana. Prosecutors allege “El Chapo” Guzman, the captured Sinaloa boss now facing trial in New York, amassed a fortune worth $14 billion.
And the Sinaloa organization accounts for just one quarter of the total cross-border traffic in illegal drugs. No wall is going to stop that kind of money.
There is no limit on the amount of currency an individual may legally carry out of the U.S. But any traveler carrying more than $10,000 is required to fill out a form that includes some potentially embarrassing questions. Failing to file or falsifying that paperwork is a federal offense. Transferring funds through normal financial channels doesn’t carry the individual filing requirement, but all bank or wire transfers are reported to the IRS. Once again, inconvenient questions may arise concerning where the money came from and where it’s going.
The cartels devote considerable ingenuity to overcoming these obstacles. One way is to hide the cash in the more than $500 million in legitimate trade crossing the border annually. This can be done by concealing it in commercial shipments or by using front companies and unscrupulous bankers to disguise electronic funds transfers.
Homeland Security, DEA, Treasury and the IRS all have units dedicated to combating money laundering. The Mexican government wants us to do more, while the U.S. complains our neighbors aren’t doing enough. The State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report for 2017 lists Mexico as a “Major Money Laundering Country.”
Mexico is far from alone. The report lists 87 other countries, including every Central and South American nation except Chile, as major players in the trade. Laundering “black money” from drugs and other criminal enterprises is a $2 trillion annual business globally, according to the U.N. There are many rich and powerful people, not just in Washington and New York but all around the world, who have their own reasons for opposing stripping the international banking system of its veil of confidentiality.
John Kelly, the new head of Homeland Security, has promised Mexico we will do more to stop the flow of guns and money across the border. But in a global economy the Jacksons go where the action is, just as water naturally runs downhill. The law of supply and demand is as inescapable as gravity. Blaming Mexico for our drug problem is the classic addict’s defense. As long as Americans are willing to spend billions a year on dope we’ll always find someone eager to meet the demand, whatever obstacles government puts in the way.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com


© 2017 NEW  MEXICO NEWS SERVICES       3-13-17
Trading Guns Across the Border
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
We were stopped at two military checkpoints on our drive from Palomas to Agua Prieta and my old pickup was thoroughly searched. These Mexican soldiers looked very young to me, and teenagers armed with automatic weapons make me nervous. But these were crisply uniformed, well trained and very efficient young men.
There are, as President Trump says, some “bad hombres” in Mexico, and it’s not pleasant to think of those young soldiers facing guns made in the U.S.A. In our focus on the damage the illegal drug traffic does to our own country, it’s easy to lose sight of the other side of the deal. The Mexicans send us drugs and in return we send them guns and money.
Last year the Border Patrol seized 346 guns and 15,000 rounds of ammunition on the Mexican border. As with the illicit drug trade, it’s hard to guess how much crosses undetected. Of the nearly 18,000 guns Mexican law enforcement submitted to the U.S. for tracing in 2015, more than half were manufactured in the U.S. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they came across our joint border.
The small arms trade is a global enterprise and guns flow into Mexico from Central America and Eastern Europe as well as directly from the north. The U.S. manufactures 3 million pistols, rifles and shotguns annually and exports $500 million worth worldwide. Although legal sales are mainly to foreign governments and their armies, those guns frequently circulate to new owners. Mexican police have turned up American-made M16 rifles last seen in the hands of the South Vietnamese Army more than 40 years ago.
Of the 190,342 firearms reported lost and stolen in the U.S. in 2012, nearly 17,000 went missing from gun shops and dealers. How many more went over the counter to straw buyers is hotly debated.
New Mexico has a long and unsavory history in the gun business. In the 19th century some were suspected of trading guns and ammunition to the Apaches in exchange for livestock stolen in Mexico. During the Mexican Revolution it’s said Pancho Villa raided Columbus at least partly because a local merchant had burned him in a clandestine gun deal. Columbus was back in the news again five years ago when the police chief was arrested as part of gun-trafficking ring.
How many guns enter the pipeline through the “gun show loophole” is unknown. Anyone who’s been to a gun show knows the crowd is largely composed of current and retired cops and military. Even the boldest criminal is unlikely to feel comfortable shopping in that marketplace. Based on their response to the Legislature’s latest gun control bill, it appears few New Mexico law enforcement officers believe trying to regulate transfers between private individuals will do anything to stem gun trafficking.
Of the 12,628 U.S.-sourced firearms seized in Mexico in 2015, only half could be traced to a retail purchaser. Many of those serial numbers likely came up as stolen.
The 200,000 guns lost or stolen in 2012 represent a tiny fraction of the estimated 300 million guns in the U.S. But it’s not an insignificant number. Texas led the nation with 18,874 guns lost or stolen that year. New Mexico, home to an estimated one million guns, reported 2,143 stolen.
If you’re a gun owner who wants to do something to curb the violence in Mexico as well as on Chicago’s South Side and the streets of New Mexico’s own cities, secure your weapons. Few things are more embarrassing than reporting to the police that somebody swiped a loaded pistol from your unlocked truck.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com


© 2017 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES           2-27-17
South of the border, down Mexico way
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
Last week I drove from Palomas, the Mexican town opposite Columbus, all the way west to Agua Prieta, the twin to Douglas in Arizona. The highway first swings south to skirt the Bootheel and then strikes back north to within a few miles of the border, where it claws its way up the northernmost slopes of the formidable Sierra Madre.
Two narrow lanes squeezed between sheer cliffs and precipitous canyons, the road climbs a half mile in fewer than ten. There are neither shoulders nor guard-rails; only the little roadside shrines warn of the perils beyond the next hairpin turn. The blacktop is battered daily by the passage of hundreds of heavy trucks, some of them pulling double trailers up the steep grades. Bad as it is, this is one of just two highways over the mountains for hundreds of miles to the south.
At the top of the pass you cross the Continental Divide at 6,500 feet. From there you can look down and see the black line of the border fence running ruler straight across the plain far below.
The drive back from Douglas on the American side is a cruise-controlled siesta compared to the crossing from Chihuahua to Sonora. On NM 9 you follow the old railroad bed for mile after mile of gentle curves and long, level straightaways. The grade is scarcely noticeable when you crest the Continental Divide near Hachita. The contrast with the hair-raising Mexican highway adventure to the south reminds us why we offered our neighbors the kind of deal you can’t refuse for the Gadsden Purchase.
A few miles north of Hachita the Southern Pacific main line and Interstate 10 link the Pacific coast with the American heartland. That transcontinental connection has been worth far more to us than the $10 million (about $300 million in today’s dollars) we paid Mexico in 1853.
We could share the economic advantage by giving Mexico more access to that traffic corridor. Easing border restrictions to allow Mexican freight to move more efficiently from coast to coast would benefit not just Chihuahua and Sonora but New Mexico too.
Our three border crossings are a tremendous asset to our local economy and have the potential to make an even greater contribution if growth continues on its present trajectory.
“Sixteen years ago we were exporting $1 billion annually through the Santa Teresa Port of Entry,” said William “Bill” Mattiace, executive director of the New Mexico Border Authority. “Now we’re doing $1.3 billion a month.”
The port at Columbus-Palomas has seen comparable increases. Over the past decade we’ve invested about $50 million in federal, state and private money to support expanded cross-border traffic.
Even lonely Antelope Wells at the very bottom of the Bootheel would experience a boost if the Mexicans could finish paving the last few miles of the road south from there to Route 2. The money and the cement would be better spent there than poured into President Trump’s proposed border wall. In fact, if all the resources to be expended on that “beautiful” barrier were instead invested in Mexico’s highway system both our countries would benefit enormously.
Economic development is not a zero-sum game. By one estimate every three jobs added in Mexico creates one new job in the United States. Encouraging cross-border trade will do far more to boost the prosperity of both nations than erecting a paper wall of tariffs in a misguided effort to save jobs here.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com

 

© 2017 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES                   2-13-17
A bad idea is back again
By Bob Hagan
Bad ideas spring up like weeds in the legislative garden every session. Some of the worst are perennials that sprout again and again.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact died in the 2007 session and again in ’09. This year it re-appeared in a number of forms, including as a constitutional amendment. When enough states have signed the compact to make a majority of the Electoral College, the participants are pledged to cast all their votes for the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of the victor in their own states.
This wily plan first surfaced after Al Gore narrowly lost the 2000 race. Now the outcome of our most recent election has convinced a lot of people the Electoral College is a troublesome anachronism. The process seems an antiquated ritual, with the designated electors solemnly gathering in their respective state capitals to cast their votes every four years. But the ceremony re-affirms the key role the individual states play in the federal partnership we call these United States, which is why every state is guaranteed two electoral votes, plus one for each Congressional district.
That’s the problem, according to critics. Thanks to the Electoral College a candidate can win the popular vote but lose the election. It’s happened just five times in 57 Presidential contests, which makes it rare enough that people tend to be both surprised and upset. Pure democrats (small “d”) complain the Electoral College thwarts “the will of the people” by giving Wyoming cowboys and Mississippi cotton farmers an unfair advantage over the far more numerous voters in New York and L.A.
Amending the Constitution to fix this imbalance would require buy-in from Congress and three-quarters of the states, however. The Popular Vote Compact circumvents that obstacle with a mechanism that only needs approval by enough states to comprise a majority of the electors. By voting as a bloc the Compact states would effectively make the Electoral College obsolete, regardless of how the cowboys and farmers feel about it.
Not surprisingly the most populous states have been among the first to embrace this clever work-around of the Constitution. California, Illinois, New York and New Jersey are among the 10 that have already signed on, together with the District of Columbia. Combined they control a total of 165 electoral votes, more than halfway to the magic number of 270 that constitutes a majority. Supporters claim the plan is under consideration by another 33 state legislatures this year.
It’s hard to see what New Mexico has to gain by tossing our five votes into the pool. Proponents argue presidential campaigns will again become truly national contests rather than focusing on a handful of swing states that determine the outcome.
But it’s more likely candidates will spend even more of their time and money on the big cities where most voters reside. New Mexico, which has never been more than a quick pit stop on the campaign trail, will become a mere administrative unit in a monolithic national government. End running the Electoral College is another step toward the increasing concentration of political power in the largest urban states, accelerating the decline of the more thinly-populated states into the status of imperial provinces.
Circumventing the Constitution is like tinkering with an old truck; you may discard a part in order to get better mileage only to discover someplace down the road that you really need that piece. The U.S. is not a democracy, nor was it designed to be. It is as Ben Franklin said, “a republic, if you can keep it.”
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com
 

© 2017 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES         1-30-17
Trump, Mexico and the Art of the Deal
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
Feb. 5 marks another of those anniversaries we’d like to forget but need to remember. On that day in 1917 the last troops of the U.S. Punitive Expedition began marching back across the border at Palomas, ending a frustrating 10-month foray into the wilds of the Sierra Madre and the thorny tangle of Mexican politics.
Plunging into Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa after his raid on Columbus in March 1916, Gen. “Black Jack” Pershing’s little army never caught Villa but came perilously close to provoking a second Mexican-American War. Now, a hundred years later, we’re messing with Mexico again.
It’s possible our new president’s first moves toward building his promised wall are simply the opening gambit in driving an “Art of the Deal” bargain with Mexico. What if Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto offers to refund a cut of the $25 billion Mexican citizens send home every year, if in return Trump drops his wall project and instead spends that money on “enhanced border security measures,” including hiring more Border Patrol officers?
Congressional Democrats would find it hard to complain about thousands of new, unionized government jobs, and Trump could claim the Mexicans were paying for them.
But Peña Nieto has serious problems at home that limit his elbow room in negotiations with the United States. Last December his nation mourned the tenth anniversary of its war on drugs, which has claimed 200,000 lives since the government called out the army to deal with the cartels.
The war has tarnished the reputation of the military while the problem has metastasized. Decapitating the cartels has spawned a dozen new rival gangs to fight viciously for control of the drug trade. The violence has spread from a guerrilla war in the mountains to cities and towns all across the country, and the army is sick of it, according to Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda.
“I didn’t go to school to chase criminals,” he complained in December. The nation’s top military commander and a man who looks more like a general than Douglas MacArthur, “Hundred Fires” Zepeda is threatening to stand down his troops unless the government shapes up.
Discontented generals historically have played an important role in Mexican politics (Porfirio Diaz, their last dictator, was one and Santa Ana of Alamo fame, another) and the ruling party is looking at national elections in 2018. Peña Nieto rightly blames our insatiable appetite for illegal drugs for this problem, and he wants America to stem the southward flow of guns and money that fuel the bloodshed.
Trump complicates any settlement of the border issue by simultaneously demanding a do-over of our trade deal with Mexico. While we cheer new manufacturing jobs in the Rust Belt, the Mexicans resent losing those same opportunities. The peso fell hard with Trump’s election and is still struggling to get up, a 20 percent hike in gas prices has ignited street protests, inflation is on the rise and the economy is shaky. The Mexicans simply don’t have a lot to give away in re-negotiating NAFTA.
Finally, there’s a cultural gap Trump may be underestimating in cutting a deal. The Mexicans are not New York bankers or TV network execs; they’re a proud people with long memories of past injustice, and they won’t be bullied.
The outcome is unlikely to be armed conflict – although no one in 1910 could have predicted we would be invading Vera Cruz four years later – but might be an economic war damaging to the U.S. and potentially devastating for Mexico.
Destabilizing our southern neighbor won’t solve any of our own problems. It will only make several of them worse.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com


© 2017 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES       1-16-17
Confessions of an Aggravated Mope
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
I’m now officially a “suspicious person,” according to the Oxford, Miss., Police Department. My wife says the recognition is long overdue. “I could see you were trouble when you first rode up.”
Actually, I pride myself on being suspicious. Our current “fake news” fracas stems in large part from reporters and editors not being skeptical enough. “If your mother says she loves you, check it out,” as the old newspaper adage has it. If you’re not suspicious of the CIA, IRS, FBI, DEA, NSA and all the other alphabet agencies, you’re not paying attention.
And I’m accustomed to being treated with suspicion in the pursuit of my profession, justifiably so. “Writers are always selling somebody out,” a great one once said. But despite what I like to think of as a comfortably casual dress style and certain eccentric habits, I never considered myself a generic “suspicious person” until that morning in Mississippi.
Oxford is a pleasant little college town, proud to claim author William Faulkner as a former resident and struggling to preserve some semblance of his period’s genteel ambience despite the modern traffic choking the old courthouse square. The police make up in efficiency what they lack in Southern charm, however. I sought out a sunny bench while my wife went shopping but had scarcely sat down before the squad car arrived.
Our encounter opened cordially enough, and I offered up my name, stated my business and commented amiably on the weather. It wasn’t until the officer demanded ID that I suddenly realized I was neither a local nor even a tourist in his eyes. I was a mope. As when your mother used to tell you to “quit moping around the house” and sometimes jocularly phrased as “aggravated mopery with intent,” the term is cop slang for a wanderer without apparent purpose or destination, someone neither trespassing nor quite loitering but somehow “hinky.”
I protested but dutifully produced a driver’s license and even gave up my phone number before declining further questions. Like a good reporter, a good cop will keep asking questions as long as the subject will sit still for it; you never know what you’ll learn.
His demeanor was professional, mine resentful but compliant, and we parted on reasonably amicable terms. But I came away with new empathy for people who have to put up with this kind of thing all the time. If a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged, a libertarian is a conservative who’s been rousted by the cops.
I get it that law enforcement is dangerous, stressful work and police officers have to deal with some very tough characters. I understand the need for the Batman utility belt hung with gun, Taser, handcuffs and other equipment, and I certainly don’t object to the bullet-proof vest. But the increasingly popular black uniforms and black SUVs with smoked windows seem designed to intimidate rather than project lawful authority. And the combination of shaved head and wrap-around shades is not an Officer Friendly look unless you’re patrolling a pro wrestlers’ convention.
Chiefs, if your website proudly proclaims your commitment to Community Oriented Policing but your recruiting video features the department’s SWAT team kicking in doors and blowing off rounds at the range, you’re doing it wrong. More than aggressive street warriors, you need people who can manage adversarial encounters without escalating them into unnecessary confrontations.
I miss the day when they were known as “peace officers” rather than LEOs and the folks on the other side of the shield were citizens rather than “civilians.” The sheepdog metaphor has never set well with me. I prefer the pack.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com



© 2017 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES                                   1-2-17
What Can Trump Do For Us?
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
Now that the Electoral College Bowl is past, it’s time for our Democratic Congressional delegation to work its way through the five stages of grief and ask the question New Mexicans traditionally ask at the advent of a new Presidential administration: What’s in it for us?
Ever since General Kearny and his dragoons clattered into the Santa Fe plaza in 1846 New Mexicans have prided themselves on their talent for tapping the federal treasury. It’s a skill that’s served us well through 33 Presidencies.
In 2014 we ranked fifth in the nation in federal dollars spent per capita, at $13,213. Another survey last year put us in first place for federal contract dollars per person. For every dollar New Mexicans pay in federal taxes, we get back $3 in federal spending. Very few private sector investments pay as well.
During the course of his campaign, candidate Trump promised to “rebuild our depleted military,” upgrading the Navy and Air Force with the latest high-tech weaponry and investing in “a serious missile defense system” as well as modernizing our nuclear arsenal to match the Russians and Chinese.
On the civilian side he has pledged “investments in transportation, clean water, a modern and reliable electricity grid, telecommunications, security infrastructure, and other pressing domestic infrastructure needs.” Other possibilities include developing a new generation of nuclear reactors and research into a revolutionary new electromagnetic drive that could cut the trip time to Mars from months to just weeks.
With three airbases and a missile range as well as two national labs, New Mexico has the scientific resources and the brainpower to make a valuable contribution to any or all of those efforts. But federal contracting is a political game. That’s why voters return even the most venal and incompetent legislators to Washington again and again so that they accumulate seniority to steer plum projects back to their home state. West Virginia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Idaho all have national labs, and all five states cast their electoral votes for Trump. Oklahoma and Texas – also Trump states – have 10 Air Force bases.
Four-fifths of the New Mexico congressional delegation are proudly and vocally anti-Trump. Only Rep. Steve Pearce can stake any claim to the incoming President’s gratitude.
I’m a great believer in principles and optimist enough to believe at least some of our Congressional delegation have a few of those.
But practical politics is the art of compromise, and flexibility is at least as valuable a character trait as honesty in the partisan arena. We need people in Washington who can bring home some of that sweet federal pork. Defiant intransigence may earn applause at Democratic fundraisers and praise at Georgetown cocktail parties, but it won’t bring jobs to New Mexico.
Perhaps Senator-emeritus Pete Domenici could take our senators and Congressional representatives aside and offer some advice on horse-trading with a President of whichever party. I wouldn’t expect Sen. Udall or Sen. Heinrich to roll over if the President nominates Ivanka to the Supreme Court or proposes selling the Statue of Liberty for scrap. But I would hope they’ll pick their battles carefully. There’s no excuse for sulking in the corner when there’s work to be done and federal money to be had. A willingness to seek out some common ground for cooperation with our new President might yield significant dividends for New Mexico.
Instead, Sen. Heinrich and the New Mexico House Democratic Campaign Committee are already fund-raising for the 2018 campaign, promising to “take on the right-wing special interests and stand up to President-elect Trump’s extreme agenda.” That’s not a good sign.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com


© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES        12-19-16
The Grinch Descends the Mountain
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
I’m spending the week before Christmas bucketing gloomily over the Great Plains, flying my old pickup like Santa’s sleigh two feet above the pavement at more than a mile a minute. Ahead lies only a bleak vista of snow-packed highways, black ice overpasses, congested construction zones and depressing roadside motels, ending in a grim Midwestern metropolis with a winter climate that makes Leningrad look like Miami Beach.
Why not fly? Don’t get me started on today’s air travel. A better question is, why am I not sitting comfortably at home, sipping cider in front of a warm fire and bouncing a grandchild on my knee?
The answer is that though born and raised in the Land of Enchantment, my son now makes his living in the frozen wastes of the Northland, and his employer finds his services so vital to the continued success of its enterprises that the boy can’t be spared even for a long weekend. If we want to spend the Holiday Season with son and his wife, it is his mother and myself who must go merrily o’er the river and through the woods (or across endless miles of frozen tundra and harvested cornfields) to make it happen.
I wouldn’t share these complaints about the winter of my personal discontent if I didn’t suspect my experience is far from uncommon among those of us who cling so stubbornly to New Mexico, the land that we love. One of my old friends is spending Christmas with his son and family in North Carolina. Another is bound for Denver to visit his eldest daughter, while a third must travel all the way to the dismal pine barrens of New Jersey to see her new grand-daughter.
Forget chile, cheese and beef or oil and gas. New Mexico’s most valuable export is its children.
Like 19th Century Ireland, we are sending too many of our young people away to seek opportunity elsewhere. According to one recent survey, New Mexico is one of the top states in the percentage of college graduates who go someplace else to pursue their careers. And you don’t need a degree to leave; our population is declining, especially in the key 15-to-29 age bracket. Losing these young people places not just a strain on family ties but a drain on the state’s already moribund economy.
If economics is “the dismal science,” the study of New Mexico’s economy is one of its more consistently depressing topics. I won’t dive too deep into the numbers in this joyous season, but the state has just turned up near the bottom of yet another of those best-worst lists. We didn’t even beat poor Mississippi on this one. Our high crime rate, low labor force participation and shaky state finances landed us in 49th place, saved from the basement only by violent, corruption-ridden Illinois.
Our unemployment rate is second highest in the nation, nearly a quarter of our people live in poverty, and our state finances are drowning in red ink. This is unacceptable.
In the New Year we all need to resolve to put aside the ongoing Democrat-Republican feud and work together for a more prosperous New Mexico in 2017. I know that won’t be easy, especially with both a swing Congressional seat and the governor’s office in play in 2018. But certain perpetual campaigners and Machiavellian “consultants” who are forever seeking some short-term political advantage need to sit down and shut up while the adults in the room put the state’s fiscal house in order. Payback and posturing can wait.
I’m getting too old to be making these wintry road trips.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com
 

© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES          12-7-16
Snaring the Great Northern Snowbird
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
The sandhill cranes begin arriving sometime in late fall, about when the cottonwoods are turning gold in the bosque. A hunter I know says there’s good eating on those birds, but I just enjoy watching them fly along the river. I feel the same way when I begin seeing Minnesota, Wisconsin and Canadian license plates on I-25. It’s a sure sign the northern snowbirds are back.
Their migration patterns are little studied here, even though they make a significant contribution to our economic ecology. Depending on the weather, it’s generally November or early December when they begin winterizing their nests up north and hitting the road for warmer climes.
Along the Gulf Coast, where they’re known as “Winter Texans,” they roost in miles of condos lining the shore around Corpus Christi and Padre Island. Far more alight in Florida, where the elderly population swells by as much as 20 percent in the winter months.
To our west, hundreds of thousands flock to Tucson and the Valley of the Sun every year. Hard numbers are scarce, but according to one study done more than a decade ago, more than $600 million was injected into the Arizona economy by 300,000 out-of-state visitors living in RVs, trailers and mobile homes during the winter.
The problem in measuring their economic impact is that some stay in RV parks while others rent or own their own residential property, and it’s not easy to tell what portion of local gross receipts taxes and general business activity is attributable to part-time residents.
One thing that’s clear is that the annual migration has been increasing as the Baby Boomers retire. Still active and adventurous in their 60s, many Boomers find the snowbird lifestyle allows them to stay close to family and friends up north for much of the year and then explore the Southwest rather than shovel snow in the cold season.
One of New Mexico’s chief attractions for these winter refugees is our extensive state parks system. Parks in the southern part of the state hosted nearly 200,000 visitors from December of last year through this past February, up almost 10 percent from the same period in 2014 and 2015.
Elephant Butte is the most popular, reporting 82,000 campers in the past winter season. The three parks to the south along the Rio Grande counted 47,000 in those months, followed by Rockhound State Park outside Deming with 28,600 and Brantley Lake near Carlsbad with 13,800.
All these and others in the state have seen a significant increase in RV usage over the past few years during the winter months. Alex Mares, superintendent of Leasburg Dam State Park, attributes that in part to colder, wetter winters in Canada and the northern Plains and Midwestern states. “If the future weather models hold true – with milder and drier winters forecast for the desert Southwest – this will only make our part of the world more attractive to those same folks,” he added.
Leasburg Dam is adding more RV sites with power and water and upgrading existing campsites to accommodate the demand, and plans are underway for improvements at City of Rocks, Bottomless Lakes and other parks. Upgrading and expanding these facilities is a worthwhile investment. State Parks is one of the few state agencies that more than pays for itself in user fees and the economic activity generated in nearby communities.
Canadians are nice people, eh. Treat them kindly, feed them well and urge them to bring their friends when they come back next year. Like the cranes, they’re welcome guests. Just don’t talk politics with them.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com


© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES           11/21/16
Pot Farming Becoming a Big Business
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
Duke Rodriguez brought a three-week-old pot plant to the State Fair, touching off a silly kerfuffle that highlights the absurdity of our current marijuana laws.
Rodriguez is president and CEO of Ultra Health LLC, based in Scottsdale, Ariz. The plant he displayed to fairgoers is just one of 450 Ultra Health is permitted to grow on its 11-acre pot ranch in Bernalillo. For publicly exhibiting a marijuana plant, the state demands Ultra Health suspend sales for five days, a penalty Rodriguez says will cost him $100,000.
There’s serious money in the legal marijuana trade, and a lot more in sight on the horizon.
There are now 31,000 patients in New Mexico’s Medical Cannabis Program, almost twice last year’s enrollment and triple the number four years ago. The 35 licensed providers reported revenues of $35.5 million in the first nine months of this year, up 66 percent over the same period in 2015. Growers harvested nearly three tons of marijuana in the three months ended Sept. 30. The retail price ranged from a low of $6.92 a gram to a high of $32.13. In Colorado, where both medicinal and recreational use is legal under state law, the price ranges from $5 to $12 a gram.
A rapidly growing market where the state restricts the number of participants and caps production while leaving suppliers free to set their own prices to a captive customer base is any businessman’s dream. But Rodriguez has more ambitious plans. In February, Ultra Health announced it was partnering with the Las Vegas (Nevada) Paiute Tribe to build a $5 million greenhouse and retail center there. California and Nevada voters have now approved recreational as well as medical marijuana, adding millions of potential new customers in those markets.
Rodriguez would like to cut a similar deal with a New Mexico pueblo or tribe. The attraction lies in the feds’ decision to give tribal governments the same latitude allowed the states to manage marijuana. Other entrepreneurs are pursuing the same business plan. In October Acoma Pueblo and the Grants-based Bright Green Group of Companies announced plans to build a high-tech greenhouse on the reservation to produce “medicinal plants.”
And the medical market is just the tip of the green iceberg. Colorado reaped $135 million in taxes last year on nearly $1 billion in marijuana sales, much of it from visitors who helped boost the state to another record tourism year.
One recent study by economist Kelly O’Donnell estimates that besides the patients with medical cards there are another 180,000 New Mexican users either growing their own or buying on the black market. Adding in an estimated 119,000 Texas tokers within 200 miles of our shared border, O’Donnell predicts that legalizing recreational marijuana could generate more than $400 million in sales the first year and create 11,400 new jobs.
Do we want to hand such a potentially lucrative business over to the tribes as we did casino gambling?
The only worse choice would be to leave it to the drug cartels. Last year the Border Patrol seized 1.5 million pounds of pot crossing the Mexican border, 30 tons in the El Paso sector alone. How much got through is anybody’s guess, but the smugglers must get lucky often enough to make it worthwhile to keep trying. By one estimate Americans consume 26 million pounds of marijuana a year.
With eight states now having legalized recreational use and another 20 with medical programs, marijuana prohibition is no longer a realistic option. The only question is who will benefit from the trade going forward.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com


© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES          11/7/16
The VA health care lesson
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
Yes, I’m a veteran, but please don’t thank me. It’s embarrassing. I was an indifferent soldier, enlisted only to avoid being drafted to fight in a war already lost. I wanted no more than to emerge intact from the other end of the sausage grinder we called the Green Machine.
But if I was little credit to the uniform I was privileged to serve with some real soldiers. Our company first sergeant was a formidable presence who had left a hand in the Ah Shau Valley. We called him “The Hook” and I still have vivid memories of the way he would tap some unlucky draftee on the breastbone with that fearsome stainless-steel prosthesis to emphasize his disappointment as he catalogued the boy’s shortcomings in attitude, performance and soldierly demeanor.
The most decorated man in our unit was a Mescalero Apache whose rows of ribbons included a Silver and two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts and a Navy medal. The last was awarded for rescuing a comrade who fell into the harbor while disembarking from a troop ship. Weighted down by his equipment, the soldier would have sunk like a stone if the Mescalero man had not jumped into the water and held him up until the sailors tossed them a line and pulled them to safety. He told me the story in fewer words than that.
I may not be entitled to the thanks of a grateful nation, but men like those are.
Lincoln acknowledged our obligation “to care for him who shall have borne the battle” while the Civil War was yet raging, and Obama recently called our commitment to the nation’s 21 million military veterans “a sacred covenant.” But words are in inexhaustible supply, the politician’s stock in trade. It’s proven far tougher to make good on our promise.
It’s been three years since rumors first began leaking about problems in the Veterans Administration’s giant health care system. Patients were waiting months to receive critical treatment and sometimes dying while they waited. Administrators at the Phoenix VA were caught making the numbers dance to hide the delays, and it soon became clear the problem was spread throughout the Southwest. More than 300 veterans died, including two New Mexicans who experienced “significant delays that may have affected the patients’ clinical outcomes.”
Bureaucrats lied and people died, to paraphrase the anti-war demonstrators of a few years ago. Congress commissioned a 300-page report that detailed the VA’s “systemic, critical problems,” including “growing bureaucracy, leadership and staffing challenges.” The report offered suggestions for sweeping reforms but gloomily noted the agency is “not well positioned to succeed in the transformation.”
A new secretary was appointed and a handful of employees were fired, transferred or otherwise disciplined. Memos were disseminated, policies revised and dust raised. The VA spent $68 million on a task force commissioned to “develop a detailed plan to implement change.”
That effort failed entirely, according to a report released last month by the Government Accountability Office. The VA “cannot be certain that the changes being made are effectively addressing deficiencies; nor can it ensure lessons learned can be applied to future organizational structure changes,” the GAO complained.
Although periodically shaken by tremors of scandal, the VA may simply be too fossilized to fix. Every government agency is ultimately strangled by its own bureaucracy. According to one theory, that’s why the Maya quit building pyramids and went back to subsistence farming.
That’s a lesson we need to keep in mind as we discuss how to fix not only the VA but Obamacare, Medicare and Medicaid.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com


© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES           10/24/16
Cutting the golden goose’s budget
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
“If it’s tourist season, why can’t we shoot them?”
I still recall that grouchy old bumper sticker whenever I find myself stuck behind one of those big RVs with out-of-state plates. But then I like to visualize the vehicle blocking my view ahead as a sort of mobile ATM randomly scattering $20 bills along the roadside.
Tourism is big business in New Mexico and a pillar of the state’s economy. Last year 34 million travelers spent more than $6 billion here, supporting 90,000 jobs and generating $629 million in state and local tax revenues. The business grew by 3.6 percent, its sixth year of steady growth and a record few other New Mexico industries can match.
We didn’t do as well as our neighbors, of course. (Somehow, it seems, we never do.) Arizona welcomed 42 million visitors who spent $21 billion, yielding $3 billion in taxes or about $1,180 for every household in the state. Tourists spent $8 billion in Utah and $19.1 billion in Colorado, where a record 77.7 million visitors generated $1.13 billion in tax revenue, about $500 per household.
Leisure travelers spent $650.8 billion nationwide last year, and over the last five years the industry has outperformed the national average in job creation, according to a trade group. So far this year the travel industry has been adding an average of 5,700 jobs per month.
The number of trippers who hit the road each year is largely determined by the price of gas, the weather, foreign exchange rates and a host of other factors, and nobody really knows to what extent advertising drives destination choices. But every state has its own marketing campaign, each flashier and more seductive than the last. Colorado spent $20.2 million promoting its “Come to Life” brand in the last fiscal year, and Utah has upped its budget by $3 million in each of the last three years to a current $21 million to lure visitors.
New Mexico has spent $30 million on its “New Mexico True” campaign, including $9.5 million in the last fiscal year. Another $9.7 million was planned for this year before the legislators gave the agency the standard haircut in September’s special session. Now Tourism “is examining scenarios that meet the 5.5 percent reduction without impacting the advertising investments supported by both the Governor and the Legislature,” according to a department statement.
If you spread less fertilizer on the field you’ll get a thinner crop. Cutting our ad budgets while surrounding states boost their own marketing efforts can only increase our competitive disadvantage and ensure that the Land of Enchantment will continue to trail its neighbors in yet another profitable business enterprise.
The department claims every dollar spent on New Mexico True advertising and promotion yields a healthy return on investment of $7 in new tax revenues. If that ratio holds true, a half million dollars cut from ad spending will reduce this year’s tax revenues by $3.7 million, requiring further budget cuts next year. That’s not a trend line I’d like to see on my own chart.
Or you can spread the fiscal pain around to those local communities most likely to notice and complain to their legislators. In October the department closed half the state’s visitor centers, cutting nine jobs and saving about a half million dollars annually. Shutting the roadside stands in Raton, Chama, Anthony and atop La Bajada outside Santa Fe was justified because fewer and fewer people were stopping there, according to Tourism Secretary Rebecca Latham.
That would make a great slogan for Tourism’s next campaign. “New Mexico: Because Nobody Stops There Anyway!”
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com


© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES                         10/10/16
Hunting a plus for the state and the animals, but for the hunters?
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
In the old days about this time of the year, the ciboleros would be returning from the buffalo range with robes and meat to help see the people through the winter. Everybody would turn out to welcome them home, and there would be a fandango in the plaza and a thanksgiving Mass in the village church.
We don’t celebrate hunters the way we used to, although they still make an important contribution to our local economy. More than 90,000 elk, deer and other big-game hunters and 30,000 small-game and bird hunters were in the field last year, together with 180,000 anglers. According to a study commissioned by the state Game and Fish Department a couple of years ago, anglers spend $268 million a year on fishing-related activities, and hunters spend $345.5 million a year on their sport, supporting 8,000 jobs statewide. The overall impact on the New Mexico economy amounts to nearly $1 billion annually.
A significant portion of that money comes from out of state. While a New Mexico resident pays $90 for an elk license and spends an average of $770 on his or her hunting trip, a nonresident pays $548 for the license and another $3,600 for expenses, much of it spread around in the rural counties that most need the business.
Properly managed hunting has also proved to be a good deal for the animals. Extinct in New Mexico a century ago, elk number between 70,000 and 90,000 in the state, together with about 100,000 mule deer and 45,000 to 50,000 pronghorn. We also now have ibex, oryx, Barbary sheep and other exotics that draw hunters from around the world, not to mention more than 8,000 bears, 4,000 cougars, javelinas, turkeys and other game animals.
The $25 million New Mexico collects from the sale of licenses pays for programs to expand and improve habitat for all these and other species.
Whether it’s a viable economic proposition from the individual hunter’s point of view is more questionable. A good rifle and scope or a state-of-the-art bow might run $1,000 or more, and clothing and equipment can add substantially to the investment.
And then there’s luck. First, there’s the luck of the draw. Big game licenses are allocated through a complex lottery system, in which hunters list their first, second, third and sometimes fourth choices for a particular type of animal in a given hunting area. A computer then shuffles the applications and randomly awards the tags.
For the most popular hunts there are always more applicants than tags available, and while Game and Fish offers some tips on how to improve your odds, the department cautions that, “luck still plays a big part in drawing success.” One hunter I talked to has only drawn a tag in three of the past seven years.
Then there’s the luck of the chase. More than 36,000 elk licenses were issued in the 2014-2015 hunting season but just 39 percent of those hunters filled their tags.
For many, if not most, hunters the dollar value of a freezer full of meat misses the point, however, and it’s not uncommon for a successful hunter to share with less fortunate neighbors. This year the Roadrunner Food Bank, with a little seed money from Game and Fish, has launched a new program to expand on that tradition. “New Mexico Hunters Helping the Hungry,” encourages hunters to donate all or part of their deer or elk to be distributed through food banks and free kitchens.
The old ciboleros would be proud.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com


© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES                  9/26/16
Subsidizing the cheese business
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a cold morning
Before you bite into your next green chile cheeseburger, pause for a moment to consider the importance of that chunk of cheese, not just to the taste of your burger but to our local economy.
With 150 dairies averaging more than 2,000 cows each, New Mexico ranks ninth in the nation for milk production and fifth for cheese. The average New Mexico dairy ships 44 million pounds of milk a year worth nearly $6 million. Much of it goes to Southwest Cheeses in Clovis, which employs 300 people to turn 3.8 billion pounds of milk into 388 million pounds of cheese annually.
According to NMSU’s Ag Science Center, dairy is the number one agricultural employer in the state, providing 12,524 jobs paying $600 million a year in wages. In 2014 the average dairy farm worker earned $47,811, compared to the state’s average mean wage of $42,230. At $1.5 billion, dairy is about tied with beef cattle for economic impact and together the two rival the oil and gas industry.
But while it’s a big business, it’s not a particularly lucrative one. A milk cow eats 100 pounds of hay and grain every day. In return she produces six to seven gallons of milk. Dairy farmers live on the difference between the cost of her feed and the price of her milk, usually expressed as the cost vs. price per hundredweight of milk.
That spread was positive in just seven of the last 15 years, and New Mexico dairy farms earned a negative rate of return of minus 10 cents a hundredweight over that period. The worst year in recent memory was 2009, when milk prices tanked and 40,000 dairies went under nationwide.
Milk has become a global commodity, and the market is driven by a bewildering array of factors. When Vladimir Putin retaliated against sanctions imposed on Russia due to fighting in the Ukraine by boycotting dairy imports from the European Union, farmers in Curry County felt the pinch caused by a glut on the world market. Over the last two years U.S. cheese exports have dropped almost 20 percent and butter exports are down 90 percent. The average milk price of $14.50 per hundredweight in May was the lowest in six years, and July’s price was $4 less than the previous November.
A boom and bust cycle is not a good thing in managing a nation’s food supply. As the saying goes, any society is only three square meals away from anarchy. During the Depression we recognized the importance not only of saving the family farm but of ensuring a steady stream of cheese sandwiches to the nation’s lunch tables. Until 2014 Congress tried to cushion market volatility through the purchase of surplus cheese, which was then distributed free to food banks and other charitable outlets. From 1995 through 2014, these subsidies totaled $5.6 billion nationwide, including $46.6 million in New Mexico.
With the last Farm Bill, Congress tried to replace subsidies with an industry-funded insurance plan that kicks in when profit margins are too tight, but flaws in that program have limited its effectiveness. In August industry groups asked the feds to buy up to $150 million in cheese, reducing the surplus by about 90 million pounds. The administration agreed to spend just $20 million.
I’m not a fan of government subsidies, but $150 million is scarcely a rounding error in our gargantuan federal budget. We paid out billions to the big Wall Street banks in gratitude for cratering the economy back in 2008, and they didn’t even give us any free cheese. Plus, the dairies smell better.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com

© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES                  9/12/16
Is there a future for New Mexico ethanol?
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a cold morning
Set aside for a moment the argument over whether ethanol will ruin your pickup’s engine, raise the price of tacos or kill fish in the Gulf of Mexico. Let’s ask instead whether there’s lemonade to be made in the alternative fuels business. Could improved technology and the right feedstock revive New Mexico’s moribund ethanol industry?
It’s a tempting thought. At one time the industry provided close to 400 jobs here paying $22 million in wages, and it’s been a bonanza for Iowa and other Corn Belt states. Renewable fuel production employed 86,000 people nationwide last year and half the states with the lowest jobless rate were among the top ethanol-producing states.
But while there are 42 bio-refineries in Iowa and 22 in Nebraska, New Mexico’s only plant is closed, the owner in Chapter 11. The problem is water. Distilling corn into alcohol uses about 4 gallons of water to produce a gallon of fuel. A typical ethanol refinery uses as much water as a town of 5,000 people.
And growing the feedstock requires water as well. Where there’s not enough rainfall, that means irrigation. By one estimate it takes nearly 800 gallons of ground water to produce a gallon of ethanol from irrigated corn.
In western Nebraska and Kansas, the farmers are pumping the Ogallala Aquifer to grow corn for ethanol. Underlying the Plains from Nebraska and Wyoming down to the Texas Panhandle and eastern New Mexico, the Ogallala is a precious but rapidly dwindling resource. It’s fossil water, a gift from last ice age. Hydrologists estimate it will take 6,000 years to refill what we’ve been draining since we invented center-pivot irrigation shortly after World War II.
Mining the West’s scarce water to grow corn to burn as fuel is nuts. It’s the kind of misguided social policy you suspect got the Easter Islanders in trouble.
Ethanol, on the other hand, is not a bad idea. If you want efficient engines, you need to add octane to the fuel mix. We used to use lead, but we gave that up around the time most of us quit smoking. You can make octane from petroleum, but it’s costly. Or you can add alcohol distilled from plant matter.
“Ethanol is the cheapest source of octane on the planet,” according to an industry spokesman. The key is in using a feedstock that is water thrifty and rich in sugar content. (For those of you trying this at home, if you want alcohol you start with sugar.) Sorghum fits the bill. Sweet sorghum produces the same amount of ethanol per bushel as corn and can survive long, hot summers without a lot of water.
Hemp is another biofuel feedstock that can be dryland farmed. But even though it lacks any psychoactive properties, hemp is illegal in the United States, thanks to its family relation to marijuana (kind of like being denied a job because a distant cousin is a convicted embezzler).
Another promising alternative is switchgrass, a perennial native to the prairie that once covered most of the Great Plains. Research has shown it can serve as a biofuel feedstock, and as a bonus the fields provide better wildlife habitat than row crops.
The refining process, which is the value-added piece of the supply chain, remains a challenge. But the industry has made substantial progress toward improving water efficiency. The newest plants use less than three gallons of water to produce a gallon of ethanol. Advancing technology could make New Mexico ethanol a reality again.
Sound visionary? Maybe we could work on ethanol while we’re waiting for the first spaceship to land at our Spaceport.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com


© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES           8/29/16
The Battle of the Bears Ears
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
I love New Mexico, but there’s something about the Canyonlands that draws me back again and again. The scenery is so stunning you scarcely notice the people. There’s not many of them to see; San Juan County is the largest in Utah and the least populated, with just 15,000 people in 8,000 square miles.
At nearly two million acres, the proposed Bears Ears National Monument would be twice the size of Utah’s five National Parks combined, four times bigger than the Organ Mountains Monument here in New Mexico, and larger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island put together.
I didn’t talk to anybody in southeastern Utah who likes the idea. Bill Boyle, the editor of the San Juan Record (“Hometown Newspaper since 1915”), tells me there are some supporters out there, “but the closer you get to it the more opposition you find.”
Just 8 percent of the county is private property, and almost all the rest is already managed by the BLM, Forest Service or National Park Service. But local people fear a monument would bring substantial new restrictions, curtailing such traditional activities as firewood and piñon nut gathering, hunting and grazing, as well as recreational uses.
When originally proposed several years ago, the new monument would have been limited to the Cedar Mesa area, where most of the cultural sites the Antiquities Act is designed to protect are located. Local concerns led to a “Public Lands Initiative” (PLI) to bring all the stakeholders together around a plan everybody could support.
As might be expected when you have ranchers, mountain bikers, hikers, hunters, rock climbers, tribal representatives, ATV enthusiasts and a half-dozen other interest groups all gathered around the table, the PLI deliberations were highly contentious. What emerged was a plan that didn’t completely satisfy anyone, which is the mark of a good negotiated settlement, and which two of Utah’s Congressmen were prepared to sponsor.
But then the tribes abruptly quit the process, complaining they were being disrespected. They aligned themselves instead with environmental groups pushing for a monument to include far more than the original Cedar Mesa proposal. The new Bears Ears Coalition plan would give the tribes a “partnership” role in managing the new monument, a precedent-setting model for federal-tribal collaborative land management that has attracted support from tribal governments all across the West.
The Coalition also has the backing of environmentalists who don’t believe the PLI plan goes far enough in protecting the land and outdoor-sports interests that see an opportunity to make Bears Ears a recreational attraction.
The locals accuse advocates of spending millions to lay an Astroturf of popular support over grass-roots opposition, buying national ads and busing in hundreds of people from out of state to pack public meetings. If we want to preserve that land for future generations, we ought to listen instead to the people who are actually raising their children there.
But the Antiquities Act gives the President the power to designate national monuments at his discretion, and no politician is likely to heed a handful of voters in the Utah backcountry over deep-pockets donors and key political supporters in San Francisco and Denver.
Getting a bill through Congress is a slow, messy and frequently frustrating process, but that’s democracy for you. To me, petitioning the White House for a Presidential Proclamation feels more like peasants trudging up to the castle hat in hand to crave a boon from the king. He may graciously grant the favor, but you walk away less a citizen than a subject. As President Obama says, “That’s not who we are.”
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com


© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES               8/15/16
Can a village rescue a fort?
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
There’s always something a little sad in seeing an old friend again after the passage of a year or two. You notice the new wrinkles and sagging jowls, the thinning hair and other telltale signs of the constant pull of gravity and implacable march of time.
Fort Bayard is like that for me.
I don’t get to Silver City very often, but when I do I always stop by the old fort. It’s a quiet and contemplative place – you rarely see another living soul in an hour’s stroll around the grounds – and a little eerie. It hasn’t been preserved or restored but just left undisturbed, as though all the people had simply gone away unexpectedly and might return at any moment to take up their lives again.
The substantial fourplexes lining what was once Officers’ Row were built to the pattern common to army posts all across the 19th century West. It’s not hard to imagine portly, dignified men in brass-buttoned blue coats smoking cigars on the verandas while their wives sit fanning themselves in the shade and a sergeant drills a squad of recruits on the parade ground before them. More poignant are the swing sets in the backyards and an ancient teeter-totter half swallowed by weeds, all seeming to echo with the laughter of children long gone.
If there are ghosts they’re likely clustered around the modest bronze statue at one end of the old parade commemorating the 13 soldiers awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their bravery in action around Fort Bayard during the 40-year struggle to win the Southwest. Others are buried in the nearby cemetery.
On my latest visit I was dismayed to see the advancing deterioration. The old veterans’ hospital is gone now. Architecturally undistinguished, it was no great loss. But the sturdy old buildings along what was Officers’ and then Doctors’ Row more and more resemble Disney’s Haunted Mansion, porches and staircases succumbing to dry rot as large chunks of stucco fall off the walls. The more modest houses behind them, once the homes of nurses and staff, are in even worse shape.
The neighboring Village of Santa Clara has an agreement with the state General Services Administration to fill potholes in the roads, and a handful of volunteers do what they can to keep the grass cut and chop back the weeds. But neither village nor state has the budget to maintain the property.
Fort Bayard was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002, but that recognition is no guarantee of government financial support. With 5,000 properties listed, New Mexico has far more history than we can afford.
The state went fishing for a buyer a couple of years ago but got no attractive nibbles. Santa Clara has come up with a new proposal prepared by a consulting firm that participated in the successful San Francisco Presidio project.
As with the Presidio, the plan calls for a hybrid of public and private sector use that could make the old fort financially self-supporting while retaining its historic character. Unfortunately, while there are tax breaks for this kind of investment, state and federal grant money is scarce. And what’s worked for a property on the doorstep of a major metropolis isn’t a surefire recipe for success in New Mexico.
But a Hail Mary pass could be Fort Bayard’s best shot. The only alternative may be to let nature take its course. As Tolkien rhymes it:
This thing all things devours;
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal.
Time catches up with us all in the end.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com

 © 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES           8/1/16
Pot will get us through times of no money
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
I’ve seen dozens of economic development schemes over the years. Some were visionary, others simply delusional. Almost all involved tapping the taxpayers to benefit a handful of politically savvy lobbyists and their clients.
I can count the number of winners on one hand. New Mexico wine, which scarcely existed 30 years ago, is now a $60 million business expanding at 10 to 15 percent a year. Beer has grown from 25 craft breweries five years ago to 45 today with an estimated $340 million in economic impact.
Both succeeded without government subsidies and in the teeth of Prohibition-era laws and bureaucratic inertia. Real businesses flourish not by rent-seeking in Santa Fe or Washington to get the government to underwrite their costs and mandate customers to purchase their product, but by producing something consumers actually want to buy.
If the Drug War has taught us anything over the past 40 years, it’s that people want to buy marijuana.
Since Colorado’s first pot shop opened two years ago, that state’s legal recreational market has grown from zero to nearly $600 million last year and may top $1 billion this year. The state rakes in more than a quarter of that with a hefty 27.9 percent levy on sales.
Legalization has been equally lucrative in Washington, where the state has collected more than $250 million in taxes on marijuana sales.
Contrast that with poor New Mexico, which finished last fiscal year $150 million in the red and is looking at a hole twice that deep this year. Ironically, we’re raiding the Tobacco Settlement Permanent Fund to make ends meet, when we could be reaping a new windfall in marijuana taxes.
The economic effects extend far beyond the flow of new tax revenues. Warehouse space is at a premium in Denver, where growers are snapping up buildings suitable for large-scale cultivation, and struggling small towns are finding marijuana farming can create well-paying jobs, boost real estate values and revitalize the local economy.
Legal marijuana sales will total nearly $7 billion nationwide this year and triple that by 2020, according to one market analyst. Public opposition is declining rapidly – 58 percent now favor legalization, according to Gallup – and the question could be on the ballot in Arizona, California and Nevada this year, together with three other states back east.
The boom won’t last. As more states legalize, we’ll undoubtedly see prices and tax rates decline. But there’s no reason New Mexico marijuana, like our wine and chile, can’t be competitive over the long term. And in the short run there’s considerable money lying on the table for those bold enough to seize the opportunity.
If the governor wants a one-day “get ‘er done, cowboy” special session to deal with the state’s financial crisis, I suggest legislators lay a bill on her desk adopting Colorado’s marijuana law with its accompanying rules, regulations and tax structure, effective Jan. 1. If she rejects it, ask her why she prefers to break her “no tax increases” pledge or slash government services rather than accept a billion-dollar industry that’s now legal in four other states.
We’ve watched Colorado for two years and the dire unintended consequences predicted by legalization opponents have not materialized. There’s been no pot-fueled crime wave or epidemic of “driving while stoned” accidents. The black market is fading away as prices drop, and there’s no increase in teen drug use.
Our alternative is painful budget cuts, higher taxes and a continuing dependence on the vagaries of the oil and gas markets. In these tough times we can’t afford to reject a potential bonanza from the pot business.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com


© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES                                   7/18/16
The Erosion of Trust
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
A couple of years ago I had a roadside encounter with a rancher down on the edge of the Gila Wilderness. He was an angry and frustrated man who bent my ear for the better part of an hour decrying the iniquities of the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery program.
 I was chasing a different rabbit that day, and I discounted his tale of federal misconduct as typical of the griping we’ve been hearing from folks in Catron County for years.
Now comes the Interior Department Inspector General with its report on an investigation requested by U. S. Rep. Steve Pearce. Turns out I would have been better served listening to a stranger chance met on a country road than the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
The report (available in full online at doioig.gov) is not as bad as painted in some media accounts, but it’s nevertheless troubling. The investigators substantiated complaints made by Catron County residents going back more than three years, finding that the program field team coordinator failed to properly record wolf “nuisance complaints” and attempted to shield her favored wolves from blame for depredations. In one instance a rancher found a pack of wolves feeding on a downed elk in his backyard, but the subsequent Fish & Wildlife report placed the incident on public land some distance away.
Ranchers who lost valuable calves to the wolves weren’t paid. One complained he had lost 109 animals but had only been compensated for 18.
The report paints a picture of a woman so committed to the success of the wolf reintroduction program that she allowed her personal feelings to compromise her professional judgment. According to one second-hand account cited in the report, she cried when one of her favored wolves had to be killed.
I recently talked to a man at state Game & Fish whose job occasionally requires him to put down “problem” bears. He hates doing it, but he recognizes that his primary responsibility is not to the animals he manages but to the people of New Mexico. The Fish & Wildlife team leader apparently lost sight of that priority.
In its defense, Fish & Wildlife noted that she was reassigned to an “administrative” position in Arizona in August 2013.
“Prior to the Department of Interior Inspector General investigation, regional leadership had identified the issue via multiple sources that brought it to our attention,” Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle announced. “We examined the issue, made a management decision to resolve it, and then executed an appropriate and proper solution.”
"We are sorting through the details of the report, and deciding what further adjustments or corrective actions may need to take place,” he added.
It’s unlikely that statement mollified my rancher acquaintance, and it certainly didn’t satisfy Steve Pearce.
“Merely reassigning one person in an Agency does not fix the larger issue that has existed for years,” Pearce responded. “Those at the top levels at FWS tolerated a culture of lies, falsification, mismanagement, and manipulation of scientific data, ultimately at the cost of livelihoods and the public trust.”
Restoring that trust is far more important than restoring the Mexican Gray Wolf.
Over the past few years, we’ve caught IRS officials lying about targeting conservative political groups, the VA manipulating patient waiting lists, ATF concealing its gun-running to Mexican drug cartels, the EPA obfuscating a disastrous accident contaminating the Animas River, and Justice and State stalling public information requests and stonewalling Congress.
The public’s confidence in government is a shallow pool at the best of times, and we’re dangerously close to draining that pool to its bitter dregs.

Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com

 © 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES                                   7/11/16
New Mexico needs more people
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
New Mexico’s economic development efforts focus on bringing in new jobs. Maybe we ought to try harder to bring in more people.
The Legislative Finance Committee’s April economic report illustrated the problem in a set of graphs comparing New Mexico and four neighboring states in 1950 and in 2014. Over those years Colorado’s population quadrupled from 1.3 million to 5.5 million, and Arizona’s increased nearly tenfold, from 750,000 to 6.8 million, while New Mexico tripled from 681,000 to a little over 2 million.
Now even that modest growth is petering out. Our population grew 20 percent between 1990 and 2000, by 13 percent between 2000 and 2010 and is projected to grow by just 6 percent between 2010 and 2020. Even that dismal forecast may be overly optimistic, since we’ve had a net decline over the last two years.
More bad news: the people we’re losing are those we need most.
“New Mexicans, especially those who are younger and better educated, are leaving the state for better-paying and more available jobs,” according to the report.
A flat or declining population results in a stagnant economy, with low wages and high unemployment motivating more people to leave, further depressing the economy. We’re truly becoming the Land of Enchantment, slumbering like Sleeping Beauty while the rest of the world moves on without us.
We need more people. Ideally, they should be people who have money to spend and won’t compete for our existing jobs. Tourists fit that profile nicely. Visitors spent more than $6 billion in New Mexico in 2014, supporting 91,000 jobs and contributing $700 million to state and local tax coffers.
A similar resource we’ve barely tapped is retirees. The Baby Boom generation, now 75 million strong, began entering their golden years in 2011 and they’re now retiring at the rate of about 10,000 a day. So far, most are staying put in familiar surroundings, but millions are looking around for the home of their dreams.
Every couple of months a new list appears ranking the “Best” (or “Worst”) Places to Retire. All look at roughly the same factors: climate, crime rate, taxes, cost of living, housing costs, health care, and some amorphous “quality of life” calculation that tries to answer the big question: How happy will I be there?
New Mexico most often winds up somewhere in the middle of the pack. We’re the 25th-“Best State to Grow Old In,” according to a recent Caring.com report.
The list makers give us high marks for climate, recreational opportunities and other lifestyle factors, and we generally rank in the lowest quartile for cost of living and housing, at least outside of Santa Fe and a few other pricey enclaves.
But we’re high on crime and chancy on healthcare, depending on what data the list is based on. Caring.com, for example, ranks us 24th in that category, while another list places us near the bottom at 47.
While crime rates and healthcare are intractable problems, we could easily do something to improve our mediocre score on taxes. New Mexico offers some tax breaks for seniors, but they’re capped at income levels that offer little incentive for the kind of middle- and upper-income retiree we should be trying to attract.
No individual retiree brings in hundreds of jobs or offers a photo op for the governor at a groundbreaking ceremony, and so economic development devotes its efforts to landing bigger fish. But by one estimate every senior who relocates here creates one to one-and-a-half new jobs.
And we don’t have to build another spaceport to lure them in.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com


© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES                                   6/20/16
Connecting Rural New Mexico
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
The June issue of the Catron Courier devotes its front page to portraits of this year’s graduating class from Reserve and Quemado high schools. They’re a handsome group of young people, but there are just 18 of them – 10 Quemado Eagles and 8 Reserve Mountaineers -- and few of those are likely to remain in Catron County.
Most will go off to college somewhere. If we’re lucky, they’ll make their careers and raise their families in Albuquerque or Las Cruces, or perhaps they’ll wind up farther away in Phoenix or Denver or Houston. But it’s increasingly probable the most ambitious will gravitate toward the megacities.
Half the job growth since 2010 has been concentrated in just 2 percent of the nation’s counties, according to an Economic Innovation Group (EIG) study. The handful of counties with more than a million residents added 3.3 million jobs while those with fewer than 100,000 people created fewer than a million. The least-populated lost both jobs and residents. The drop in new business formation in rural areas is another sign of ebbing economic vitality.
You don’t have to fear a future “Hunger Games” dystopia to suspect this is not a positive development for American society. But contrary to what the sociologists say, demography is not destiny. Instead, we can shape demographics to achieve our desired end. In the 19th century we embraced “Manifest Destiny” and gave away millions of acres of free land and built thousands of miles of railroad to settle the West. A much more modest effort today might stem the flow of our best and brightest out of New Mexico.
“The development strategies of the future must focus on removing barriers to entry for new firms and fostering local ecosystems of investment and entrepreneurship throughout the country,” according to the EIG study. Removing barriers might even save us a few bucks if we trim a couple floors off the state Regulation & Licensing Department and retire half the 30-plus boards and commissions overseeing dozens of professions and occupations.
And since an important share of rural economic activity is funded by state and local government dollars, we should also re-tune the procurement system to direct spending not just to New Mexico contractors in general but to small businesses in the rural counties.
The Legislature makes some money available for smaller communities from Capital Outlay funds, Economic Development has a “Business & Rural Development” team and Finance has specialists to assist in obtaining block grants. But our economic development efforts are focused on the Rio Grande Corridor. That’s where most of us live and where the infrastructure is in place to support new businesses and jobs.
The growing economic concentration in our biggest cities reflects “the clustering of knowledge-based economic activity in large, connected cities,” according to the EIG report. But in today’s virtual reality world there’s little reason for that flocking behavior. You can chat with a friend in Boston, connect with a supplier in Manila and a customer in Kansas City and collaborate with colleagues scattered from Prague to New Zealand without ever leaving your front porch – if you’re connected.
 If there’s one thing rural New Mexico is not, it’s connected. In parts of the state you still can’t even get reliable cell phone service, much less broadband. We can fix that. We built a web of railroads to link our smallest towns with the outside world and then paved roads all across New Mexico to connect with the automobile age. There’s no good reason we can’t build a statewide electronic superhighway for the Information Age.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com

 © 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES                            5-30-16
Betting the Ranch on Rain and Regulators
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
The abandoned houses are still there, strung out along the back roads where New Mexico touches the Oklahoma Panhandle. Classic images for black and white photography, sagging porches and wooden siding warped and weathered gray in the Western sun, silent windmills silhouetted against the sky, fieldstone chimneys likely to endure as long as the ruins in Chaco Canyon.
Most are relics of the Dust Bowl, others date to the “Big Dry” of the 1950s or perhaps the 1970s drought. The people are mostly gone. Harding County is least populated in the state with fewer than 800 residents; DeBaca has just 1,828 and Union 4,201.
The good news is that the grass is coming back, and the people who remain are a stubborn breed. It’s not unusual to meet a rancher whose family has been on the land three or four generations.
There are about 7,000 ranches and 18,000 farms in New Mexico. Some are big – Ted Turner’s Vermejo Park spread is 590,823 acres, or 920 square miles – but the average is only about 2,000 acres and many are considerably smaller in deeded land. Almost all depend on grazing their cows on the public lands. The majority are family-owned and operated. Three-quarters of the farms and ranches in New Mexico report annual sales of less than $100,000.
“A man has to be numb on both ends to make his living on a horse,” according to the old rodeo joke, but nobody slow-witted lasts long in the cattle business. You do have to be a mule-headed optimist with a high risk tolerance, since you’re betting your livelihood on the uncertain confluence of local weather and distant commodity markets. You breed your cows in summer, calve in the spring and ship in the fall, always guessing what the graze and beef prices will be like next year.
This year the drought is officially over, green-up left the range in most places looking better than in a long time, and ranchers are rebuilding herds in hopes of a decent monsoon.
But beyond worries over weather and market, ranchers today are set upon by bureaucrats and lawyers representing a dizzying array of state and federal agencies and advocates championing everything from the Mexican Gray Wolf to the Lesser Prairie Chicken. The feds are backpacking wolf pups into the Gila country in defiance of the state’s demand they present an actual plan before re-introducing a major predator into the local ecosystem. (Where’s the line between “not enough” and “too many”?) Up north the Forest Service is fencing off miles of stream to protect the Jumping Meadow Mouse, in violation of pastoral rights first granted by the King of Spain.
One state agency not only wants to tax the annual sale of elk tags but demands retroactive payment for past years. Another wants ranchers to pay workers’ comp insurance for “neighboring,” the traditional gathering of local families, including women and children, who pitch in on roundup.
It’s no wonder some ranchers are angry as a bear fighting bees. Bruce King wouldn’t have stood hitched for this kind of thing back when he was governor, but the population drift from rural to urban has left ranchers with less influence in Santa Fe or Washington these days.
I don’t much like range cattle, myself. I got chased by a bull once, years ago, the only time I ever cleared a three-strand barbwire fence from a running start. And I bet the jumping meadow mouse is a cute little critter. But I do enjoy hamburger, and I’ve seen too many vacant houses in the back country. If I have to choose, I’ll ride with the cowboys.

Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com


© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES
5-23-16                             
How do we save our smallest towns?
By Bob Hagan
Coffee on a Cold Morning
“How you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” It’s a catchy Tin Pan Alley tune that last topped the charts shortly after the Great War. I probably haven’t heard it sung in better than 50 years, but the lyric has been running through my head ever since I started browsing U.S. Census records.
New Mexico’s stagnating population numbers are somewhat disguised by the rapid growth of the Albuquerque and Las Cruces metro areas and the oil and gas boom in the southeastern and northwestern corners of the state. But while the population in Bernalillo and Doña Ana Counties grew more than 20 percent and Lea County jumped 28 percent between 2000 and 2015, the picture is far grimmer in the rural areas.
Fifteen of the state’s 33 counties registered a net loss of population over those same years and two others saw minimal change. Hidalgo County in the Bootheel was loss leader, down more than a quarter, and four other counties experienced a decline of between 10 and 20 percent.
While the raw numbers aren’t large, the impact on rural communities is significant. Santa Fe could spare a thousand or more without noticeably reducing the traffic on Cerrillos Road, but the loss of 584 people cost Mora County 11 percent of its residents, and DeBaca’s loss of 412 was an 18 percent decline in that county’s population. Each departure means one more vacant seat in the local school, one less customer at the local grocery, one less taxpayer chipping in to maintain the county roads, one less volunteer on the fire department roster.
Imagine that 15 years ago you stood six feet tall and today you’re a foot shorter. Feel any different?
The bank closes first, then the hardware store or cafe, followed by the convenience store on the highway, and soon you’re driving 80 miles round trip for groceries. Before you know it passing tourists are stopping briefly to snap pictures of the abandoned storefronts on Main Street, and you’re living in that quaint “ghost town” they read about in New Mexico Magazine. By then, unfortunately, you don’t have anything to sell them, so they drive on.
It’s not a problem unique to New Mexico, and is in fact much worse in some of the Plains states, where whole towns have disappeared over the past two generations. Why is it happening? And what, if anything, can we do to slow or even reverse the flow, short of binding people to the land like medieval serfs or Mexican peons?
The bright lights of “Gay Paree” have been luring boys and girls off the farm since before the Prodigal Son took off for the fleshpots of Ur. And as his dad realized, there’s not much we can do about it but pray the kid will survive the experience. But few young people move to the city to squander the family savings (though any parent who’s sent a kid off to college might dispute that). They go instead for the economic opportunity that’s lacking in their hometown.
Urbanization is a global phenomenon and the shift in population from rural areas to the city has been ongoing in this country since the Civil War. But if we’re confident enough in our power over man and nature to believe we can control the climate and direct the rise and fall of the seas, surely we can take on the challenge of saving our small towns.
Those communities are as much a part of our ecosystem as bears, wolves and prairie chickens.
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through trackingnana.com

 © 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES                                   5/16/16
Decision making on public lands needs to be close to users
By Bob Hagan
“How much land does a man need?” Leo Tolstoy asked. His ironic answer was, a burial plot just six feet by three.
But that’s if you’re dead. If you’re alive, you need more elbow room to survive, if not thrive. And the poorer the land, the more you need. As many early homesteaders discovered to their cost, a man can starve on 160 acres. In some parts of the state you need 50 acres just to support a cow and her calf.
There’s 121,589 square miles of New Mexico, but it’s a desperately hard land to make a living on. We need to make the best possible use of every acre to support ourselves and our families.
There aren’t that many of us, just 17 per square mile, which makes ours the sixth loneliest state in the union. There were 327,301 of us in 1910 and a little more than 2 million a century later. Since then, we’ve barely been holding our own. While U.S. population increased 4.1 percent from 2010 to 2015, New Mexico’s grew just 1.2 percent. (During those years the D.C. population jumped 12 percent.) Last year we added 9,236 in “natural increase,” but waved adios to 9,694, a net loss of 458 people.
Why are we so poor and jobless that some of us have to pull up stakes and move on?
We’re rich in natural resources. We’re short of water, and the gold and silver are mostly gone, but there’s still copper in the ground, oil and gas in abundance and a century of coal in the San Juan Basin. I’m betting the wind will still be with us whatever climate change may bring, and the sunshine too will endure.
Yes, we have drug and alcohol issues, but those are more symptom than cause. I believe a steady job at a good wage would cure a great many of our social ills. People in New Mexico, like those in Appalachia, turn to drugs when the reality around them is too bleak to endure.
Part of the answer is, we live on this land, but we don’t own most of it. More than a third of New Mexico is under the stewardship of the federal government, and so we share title with 330 million other people who are essentially absentee landlords. Sadly, very few of them will ever see more of the Land of Enchantment than they pass through on the interstate from Tucumcari to Gallup. And what appears good and wise from the window of a San Francisco law office or from behind a desk in Washington can look far worse on the ground.
There are now 53 species in the state listed as endangered or threatened, with another 19 under consideration. Each imposes significant restrictions on the use of both private and public land. And adding to the 1.7 million New Mexico acres already designated as wilderness severely limits the land’s economic value. The 162,000 acres locked up by the feds in our new national monuments and wilderness study areas deprived the State Land Trust of more than $9 million in potential annual revenues for New Mexico’s school children.
I’m not in favor of privatizing our public lands, although a 21st century Homestead Act might be fun to watch. But we need to find ways to push the decision-making process closer to the ground we live on. It would help if some in Congress stopped cheerleading the remorseless expansion of federal control over the lands of the rural West and instead listened more to the people who make their living here. We’re endangered too.

 

© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES                 4-25-16                  

Looking to nuclear power
By Bob Hagan
I’ve discovered an amazing new energy source!
I call it “Unicorn Power.” My tame unicorns reliably produce electricity night and day, rain or shine, wind or calm. They don’t kill birds, pollute the air, warm the climate, block our mighty rivers or obscure our view of the horizon with forests of towering machines. Unicorn Power is safe, clean and cheap, and New Mexico can claim it as a native sun (pun intended).
Doesn’t that conjure up delightful visions of unicorns and rainbows? But call it “nuclear” and popular opinion pulls a 180-degree bootlegger’s turn. You’ve seen the “Simpsons” episodes with the three-eyed fish, right? Or that Jane Fonda movie where a nuke plant nearly melts down to China?
In politics we now refer to a drastic and potentially devastating choice as “the nuclear option.” Thanks, Jane.
That silly movie was released in 1979, when disco was still queen. That was the same year the Three Mile Island plant released a small cloud of radioactive gas, the most serious incident in 60 years of U.S. civil nuclear power. No one was injured. Of the three major accidents in the industry globally, only the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown resulted in any loss of life.
We can argue about the criminal fecklessness of Soviet engineering and construction, or the odds of a 45-foot tsunami hitting a seashore plant, but all that’s past history.
Let’s look instead to the next generation of nuclear power.
For decades, nuclear research and development has been starved for funding while “green energy” has prospered. The U. S. Department of Energy’s fiscal 2017 budget requests $2.9 billion for “Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy,” a 40 percent increase over the previous fiscal year and three times more than requested for nuclear research, which is up less than one percent over the previous year.
The federal Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy was birthed in the 2009 federal stimulus and given $400 million to “instigate a second industrial revolution” through “world-changing energy technologies.” Behind the press-release bloviation, however, the new agency was under pressure to deliver “shovel ready” success stories.
ARPA funded 37 different projects, including research into turning algae into fuel. A new generation nuclear reactor was judged too expensive and long-term an effort to win support. Plus, there was that word “nuclear” again. From a bureaucrat’s point of view, it was far better to defend funding pond scum rather than admit to backing nuclear energy.
It’s as though we had given up on automobiles after rumors of a Stanley Steamer explosion and instead gone back to breeding better horses.
But there are several little companies out there that have developed innovative new designs. The Small Modular Reactor would be about one-third the size of a conventional nuclear plant and assembled from factory parts, dramatically cutting construction costs. New safety features would eliminate the risk of human or computer error in controlling the reactor, and one design would address the industry’s most intractable problem by feeding on nuclear waste.
The Energy Policy Modernization Act passed by the Senate last week directs the Secretary of Energy to establish a “National Nuclear Innovation Center” to partner with the private sector in pursuing one or more “novel reactor technologies.”
Too early to say whether this provision will survive in the final bill, or whether the new center will wither on the vine like previous attempts.
But renewable energy will never meet all our power needs. If we are determined to shut down the coal industry, we have just one realistic option to provide that baseload generating capacity.
Unless we decide to go with unicorns.



© 2016 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES                 2/29/16   
Run for the border
By Bob Hagan
     Every year about this time, I begin to feel the itch to make a run for the border, but this year is special. Not only is it an election year, which should make any sensible person hightail it for the nearest exit, it’s a significant anniversary for the sleepy little village of Columbus, N.M., and an occasion well worth remembering for all of us.
     On one side of the line was Woodrow Wilson, who a Mexican aptly dubbed the “Puritan of the North.” Smugly self-righteous and unshakably confident that he was always the smartest guy in the room, our first Progressive President rarely if ever paused to heed a discouraging word. With the lofty arrogance of a college professor, he determined “to teach the Latin American republics to elect good men!” This conceit disguised as high principle led him to meddle in Mexican affairs with consequences as disastrous, if not as far-reaching, as his later bungling of the Versailles Treaty.
     Otra de lado was “the Centaur of the North.” Bold as a lion and dangerous as a bear, generous to his friends, ruthless with his enemies and unfortunately possessed of a volcanic temper, Pancho Villa was an emotional rather than an intellectual man who fought passionately for the people Wilson claimed to care so much about but never really understood.
     The two never met in person but clashed by proxy on the streets of Columbus as a fiery dawn broke on March 9, 1916. Eighteen Americans and more than a hundred Mexicans died.
     Largely bypassed by both time and economic development, the town today looks much as it did a century ago. A visit to the excellent little museum and an hour’s leisurely walk provides an overview of the raid and the “Punitive Expedition” that followed. For those who want know more, this year’s Centennial Commemoration (see ) on Saturday, March 12, includes speakers on topics related to the raid and Gen. Pershing’s subsequent foray into the Sierra Madre. (Spoiler alert: he never did catch Villa.)
     Highlight of the annual event is the arrival of the cabalgata of Mexican and American horsemen from the border crossing at Palomas, followed by a parade, speeches, and a fiesta in the plaza, with Mexican and American bands, street food and laughter, and a conscious spirit of good will. In past years people have come up from Palomas and Juarez, Casas Grandes and even Ciudad Chihuahua, as well as from Deming, Lordsburg, Silver City and as far away as Santa Fe and Albuquerque to remember our common story.
     Three miles to the south, away from the mariachi music, you’ll find The Wall, as ugly a barrier as any this side of the North Korean border; only someone who’s never seen it up close could wish it extended from sea to shining sea. One of the bridges the Pope wants us to build pierces the wall at Palomas, where an $80 million upgrade of the existing port of entry is in the planning stage. It’s less a gateway than a 21st Century sally port, guarding what’s becoming the world’s biggest gated community. If you plan on visiting Palomas just across the line, don’t forget your passport.
     But for at least one Saturday in Columbus we can come together to remind ourselves of all we share with our neighbors. As Lincoln said, “Physically speaking, we cannot separate. We cannot remove our respective sections from each other, nor build an impassable wall between them. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”
Contact Bob Hagan at rhagan66@yahoo.com or through http://www.trackingnana.com/.



© NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES
11/23/15
The Red Queen’s Justice
By Bob Hagan
     Albuquerque is flouting state law by seizing vehicles of suspected drunk drivers, a practice banned in New Mexico since July 1, according to a lawsuit filed by Sen. Lisa Torraco, R.-Albuquerque, and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, last week.
     Santa Fe, Las Cruces, and Rio Rancho have similar programs, while Roswell has a more narrowly-tailored seizure ordinance.
     Unlike criminal law, under which prosecutors must first prove the accused guilty, civil forfeiture allows law enforcement to seize vehicles, cash and other assets on suspicion the owner has committed a crime. The owner may not even be charged or indicted, much less tried or convicted, but instead must prove his innocence to recover the property.
     Putting the burden of proof on the accused turns due process on its head. It’s the Red Queen’s justice, straight out of Alice in Wonderland: “Sentence first, verdict afterwards.”
     The bill banning civil forfeiture sailed through the 2015 legislative session unopposed, propelled by a covert video that caught a city attorney indiscreetly enthusing over the lucrative possibilities of the tactic. The reformed law earned libertarian praise as “best in the nation,” four words that rarely appear in the same sentence as “New Mexico.”
     But the state ban “only applies to seizures and forfeitures done under laws that specifically apply the New Mexico Forfeiture Act,” according to Albuquerque City Attorney Jessica Hernandez, and the city’s anti-DWI measure is a “nuisance abatement ordinance.”
     Whatever you call it, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a fowl, according to Ivey-Soto. “It’s a simple geography question,” he said. “The law says ‘only criminal forfeiture is allowed in this state.’ Is Albuquerque in New Mexico? Last time I checked, it was.”
     Predictably, Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry was quick to seize the moral high ground – a reflexive response among today’s pols.
     “Our ordinance is narrowly tailored to protect the public from dangerous, repeat DWI offenders and the vehicles they use to commit DWI offenses, placing innocent citizens' lives and property at risk,” Berry said in a prepared statement.
     So if you’re against the cops taking some (alleged) drunk’s pickup without those pesky safeguards embedded in the Bill of Rights, you must be in favor of drunk driving.
     That could be why Attorney General Hector Balderas, the state’s chief legal officer, has yet to venture an opinion on the issue. Another state legislator asked the AG for his take on Rio Rancho’s ordinance back in May, but Balderas is still chewing on the question. No aspiring governor wants to risk being painted as a friend to drunk drivers.
     As a society, we’re increasingly eager to justify the means based on the urgency and critical importance of the desired ends. When that old letter from Dead White Males we call the Constitution stands in the way, we’re quick to seek some end-run around those antiquated rules to meet the perceived needs of the moment.
     Brad Cates, a former state legislator and federal prosecutor who ran the federal asset forfeiture program back in the 1980s, would like to see civil forfeiture cut back closer to its roots in admiralty law, when it was used to combat smuggling, slave-trading and piracy on the high seas.
     “We have rights as citizens of the state of New Mexico and the United States of America,” Cates said. “We have the right to be secure in our ‘persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.’ Everyone agrees that we have a problem with DWI in New Mexico, and we need to address that problem. But skipping by the Constitution is not the way to do it.”

 © NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES     8/31/15
Can We Do Business Through a Wall?
By Bob Hagan
     Imagine for a moment that President Donald Trump, or whoever assumes the nation’s highest office in January 2017, executes the border policy he is now advocating: sealing the border with an impregnable wall and making Mexico pay for it by taxing or confiscating the $20 billion in remittances Mexican expatriates send south every year, increasing visa and border crossing fees, and imposing new tariffs on Mexican imports.
     The ensuing trade war would have ugly consequences for both countries, with New Mexico and the other border states taking a disproportionate share of the pain on this side of the line. The resulting economic disruption might well ignite a conflagration unlike any seen on the border since Pancho Villa burned Columbus.
     Our trade with Mexico has increased six fold since the North American Free Trade Agreement was implemented 21 years ago. Mexico is now the 15th largest exporter in the world and the United States is Mexico's single biggest trading partner, absorbing three-quarters of that country’s exports, while Mexico is our third biggest customer after Canada and China, importing $294 billion in U.S. goods last year alone. (All these figures refer to legal, legitimate cross-border trade, of course; the value of the illicit traffic is impossible to estimate with any accuracy.)
     New Mexico exported $1.5 billion in goods and merchandise to Mexico last year, more than triple the figure five years ago. That’s a lot of money for our local businesses, but small change compared to Arizona’s $8.6 billion, California’s $24.4 billion, and Texas with a huge $102.6 billion in exports to our southern neighbor.
     Twenty-three other states also do more business with Mexico than we do, but what’s just passing through also adds jobs and local economic activity on the border. The Santa Teresa Point of Entry, just across the state line west of El Paso, is the largest livestock import-export facility on the border, crossing hundreds of thousands of cattle each year. Just in July, the last month for which figures are available, nearly 9,000 trucks, 50,000 other private vehicles and 24,000 pedestrians crossed at Santa Teresa.
     The traffic is far heavier through El Paso, but plans are in the works to expand the New Mexico crossing with an international rail connection similar to the one just completed linking Brownsville and Matamoras on the lower Rio Grande. With Union Pacific’s 2,200-acre intermodal facility, Santa Teresa could become a major distribution point.
     In the first half of 2015, the U.S. exported $117.3 billion worth of goods to Mexico, and imported $145.1 billion, a $27.8 billion imbalance in Mexico’s favor. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Mexico is “taking us to the cleaners,” as Trump says.
     For one thing, that deficit has shrunk proportionately even as the total volume of trade has increased exponentially in recent years. For another thing, there are the significant off-balance-sheet costs America’s insatiable appetite for drugs has imposed on our southern neighbors over the past 40 years. If I were Mexico’s Trump, I would be talking about going to the U.N. and demanding reparations from the U.S. for the enormous damage our War On Drugs has done to Mexican society.
     We can’t simultaneously embrace Mexico as a trading partner and push her away as an inconvenient neighbor. Picture North America as the chest and shoulders of a man lying on his back, his arms extended north to Alaska and south to the Panama Canal. Effectively sealing the U.S.-Mexico border would be the equivalent of tying a tourniquet on the giant’s arm at the shoulder. As the magician said while sawing his lady in half, “Don’t try this at home.”

 © NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES     8/17/15
Saving the Endangered Hunter
     The state Game Commission meets August 27 to consider trapping cougars, hunting bears and saving wolves. Not on the agenda is another endangered species: the New Mexico Hunter.
      According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the number of hunters nationwide declined slightly over the 20 years from1991 to 2011, even as total population rose by nearly a quarter. Here in New Mexico, the number of hunting licenses issued fell about nine percent between 2004 and 2013.
     That may be a reflection of changing demographics. As the Baby Boom enters our creaky and overweight “Golden Years,” more and more of us are reluctant to trade the comforts of the man-cave and a warm bed for the pleasure of tramping the mountains on a frosty fall morning. Another factor may be increasing urbanization, with more of us living in the city rather than in the small town farm-and-ranch country where hunting is traditional.
     Whatever the cause, a decline in hunting participation is bad news both for the state’s economy and the wildlife we share the land with.
     New Mexico’s 87,000 hunters spent more than $265 million on their sport in 2013 and contributed another $61 million to the state’s economy in labor, income and taxes, according to Game and Fish. Much of that flows through the rural counties that most need the money, which is why you see all those “Welcome, Hunters!” signs in the back country.
     Fewer hunters is also bad news for wildlife because hunting licenses and fees fund conservation programs, habitat management and anti-poacher efforts,
     Game and Fish has an outreach program to recruit new participants, especially among young people, but it’s an uphill battle as long as the Game Commission’s own rules discourage hunters from actually taking the field.
     The state’s wildlife specialists set the game harvest based on their estimate of the number that can be taken annually while maintaining a sustainable population. But who gets to bag those animals is a political decision.
     First, the tags for the most popular big game – elk, antelope and bighorn sheep – are divided between sportsmen and landowners based on a complex calculation. Last year half the elk licenses and 70 percent of the antelope licenses went to a relatively small group of landowners. Selling those tags can be a lucrative business for even a small rancher, but greatly increases the cost to the individual hunter who is the end user.
     The remaining licenses go into a lottery, with 84 percent earmarked for New Mexico residents and 6 percent for out-of-state applicants. Unlike other Western states, New Mexico also sets aside 10 percent of its Big Game tags for customers of the state’s 286 licensed outfitters, guaranteeing them clients.
     “It is very difficult for the average person to draw a big game tag, largely because of the policies Game and Fish has enacted,” said Joel Gay, spokesman for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “That is driving a lot of hunters out of New Mexico. The system has made it more difficult and more expensive, and when residents can’t draw a hunt in their own state, they often go up to Colorado, Wyoming or Montana to hunt.”
     The commission could fix this system, but as political appointees the commissioners answer to the governor (and her supporters) more than to the public. As a result, the ranchers and outfitters drive the wagon while the hunters who are paying the freight ride back in the bed.
     As Gay says, “New Mexico is one of the poorest states in the nation. The commission should be doing everything in its power to let residents fill their freezers.”

 © 2015 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES                                   7/20/15
Taking back the forests from the feds
By Bob Hagan
     With all the uproar surrounding the Confederate flag these days, perhaps it’s time to take another look at secession. Certainly, there are more than a few New Mexicans, and not just in Rio Arriba and Catron County, who believe the Land of Enchantment would be better off out from under the heavy hand of the federal bureaucracy.
     Actually exiting the “one nation, indivisible” is not a viable option, of course. Even if Washington took a more relaxed view of the question than it did 150 years ago, New Mexico could scarcely survive economically without the dollars flowing in from all those good people in Ohio, New Jersey and other states that pay out more than they get back from the federal coffers.
     According to usaspending.gov, Washington dispensed $14.1 billion in New Mexico in the last fiscal year through 28,974 contracts, grants, loans and other financial assistance. That’s somewhere between a fifth and a quarter of the state’s total gross domestic product. If you think we’re poor now, wait until we send the feds packing.
     The lion’s share is funneled through the Department of Energy, which spent $4.8 billion in the most recent fiscal year, followed by $4 billion in Social Security, $2.5 billion to Health and Human Services, and $981 million in veterans’ benefits. Comparatively little went to maintaining the feds’ extensive land holdings in New Mexico.
     Which brings us back to what might be called the “new secessionist” movement. Not Southern this time but Western, it harks back to the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s, seeking to wrest control of public lands from the federal government and return it to state and local governments.
     In New Mexico, the feds own 27 million acres, about a third of the state’s total 77.8 million acres. Could Santa Fe manage that land better than Washington?
     Comparing federal and state land management practices in New Mexico and three other Western states, the Montana-based Property & Environmental Research Center (PERC) found that those states earn an average of $14.51 for every dollar spent on their acreage, while federal agencies generate only 73 cents in return for every dollar spent.
     Utah passed a bill in 2012 demanding the federal government turn over 30 million acres to the state, and seven other Western states are exploring the idea. Recognizing their chances of prevailing against the feds in a land claim lawsuit are slim, advocates of local control have instead turned to Congress.
     Chief target of the critics is the Forest Service, which has literally come under fire in recent years as drought-fueled wildfires have swept the West. The PERC study found that the Forest Service, which manages 9.4 million acres in New Mexico, generates just 10 cents in revenue for every dollar spent on land management. What’s worse, that management has created unhealthy forests vulnerable to devastating wildfires.
     In March, the Senate approved a budget amendment sponsored by Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski that supports the general idea of transferring federal land to the states. (Both New Mexico’s Senators voted against.)
     If the critics cannot win ownership, they’re determined to make the feds more responsive to local interests. On July 9, the House passed the Resilient Federal Forests Act, which aims to streamline the Forest Service environmental review process and discourage the litigation that now hampers every proposed action. (Rep. Steve Pearce voted for, Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Lujan both voted against.) The bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, but if the Republicans succeed in winning the Senate and the White House next year, we can expect to see more comprehensive legislation in 2017.

 

 

Bob Hagan