Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

1-04 Mr. Pearce Goes To Washington

I will be in Pasadena through Jan. 6 helping with the New Mexico Rose Parade float decorating and sending back reports from there. Reach me at 505-699-9982 or



WED, 1-04-06



Syndicated Columnist


      SANTA FE -- Rep. Steve Pearce of New Mexico's 2nd Congressional District is continuing to make a name for himself in Washington, D.C. despite being only a second-term member of Congress.

      Pearce vaulted over nearly all members of the House Parks Subcommittee of the House Resources Committee to become its chairman early last year. And now he has taken the unprecedented step of conducting a hearing on the 90-year-old Organic Act that created the National Parks system.

      At issue is a rewrite of National Parks Service management policies that appear to give at least equal weight to preserving the parks and allowing recreation in the parks. Longtime supporters of national parks interpret the Organic Act as making preservation of the parks the top priority and recreation second. Subsequent laws and court decisions have upheld the priority on preservation.

      Pearce's move appears directed at boosting recreation up the ladder of priority. Most of the witnesses invited to testify to his panel were from the recreation industry and supportive of motorized recreation in the parks. Advocates of parks being a place to get away from the sounds of motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and jet skis felt they didn't have as loud a voice.

      Following the hearing, Pearce said he wasn't sure what his next step would be, but advocates for the parks, including many National Park Service retirees living in his district are predicting the effort to redefine the mission of national parks will continue and that Pearce's panel is the easiest and most likely place for that to be done.

      Allowing off-roaders into the parks isn't the only matter top park service brass are trying to change. There is a major effort to make parks pay for themselves, or even make money for the federal government, in order to reduce the nation's growing deficits. Proposals have been made to sell 15 of the parks, allow development along the fringes of parks and sell advertising in the parks.

      Also on the agenda of the House Resources Committee is opening millions of acres of public land to miners and developers. Pearce voted for the provision in the congressional spending bill, but his fellow Republicans, Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson of Albuquerque, opposed it, fearing it could lead to a rapid sale of public lands throughout the West.

         Domenici is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which handles such matters in the Senate. He announced that he would work to drop the provision from the budget bill when it reached the Senate. Upon hearing that news, Rep. Jim Gibbons, a Nevada Republican, conceded defeat but vowed to be back to reintroduce the measure in 2006.

         Estimates of the effect of the proposed mining law change varied from a simple increase in purchase fees for obtaining mining land, from $5 to $1,000 an acre to the opening of millions of acres throughout the west, not only to mining but to land development. There was no time to iron out the widely varying interpretations because the measure passed the House Resources Committee without debate because it was part of the budget/spending bill. Opponents of the measure have demanded that the next time the issue arises, it be in the form of a bill that can stand on its on two feet and be fully debated on its merits.

         Throughout the 2005 session of Congress, Rep. Pearce was in the eye of controversial debates about the use of public land. His positions sometimes have put him at odds with fellow Republicans in the New Mexico delegation and with hunters and fishermen who don't want to see public land taken over by developers.

         Meanwhile, I continue to hear from constituents of Pearce, worried about his positions on federal land use and upset that they are not hearing back from their letters to him. Rep. Pearce may be making points with Washington higher-ups, but he has some brush fires back home he would be wise to tend also.

Friday, December 23, 2005

1-2 When Sir Richard and Gov. Richardson Get Together...

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- When wildly successful Sir Richard Branson and New Mexico's fast-forward Gov. Bill Richardson get together on something, the world had better take notice, even if it's a pie-in-the-sky plan to build the world's first spaceport for private vehicles.
Even more important than the world taking notice is for New Mexico taxpayers to snap to attention. The state of New Mexico will pay $135 million and local and federal governments will kick in the remaining $90 million of the projected $225 million price tag.
The plan is for Sir Richard to contribute nothing until he moves in. Then he will pay a million bucks a year rent. In a little over two centuries, he'll have that sucker paid off.
All we've been told so far is that the local money will come from the people of southern New Mexico in the form of a gross receipts tax increase. The spaceport will be near the Sierra/Dona Ana county line. Will it be just the people of those two counties who will pay?
Or will it be everyone in southern New Mexico? From the looks of our governor's travels to promote the spaceport, it may be everyone down south.
And how big a share of the remaining $90 million will southern New Mexico local governments pay? If they pick up half the tab, New Mexicans at the state and local levels will be assuming 80 percent of the $225 million cost.
When it comes to transportation, the federal government usually picks up most of the check. But spaceports are new territory for the feds. They like highways, railroads and airports because every member of Congress gets some of those goodies.
But if only two U.S. senators and one U.S. representative, from a small state, benefit from the nation's first private spaceport, how generous are the other 582 members of Congress likely to be? They also can point out that $35 million of the state's share comes from federal highway allotments.
It is important that New Mexicans begin thinking about this quickly. The New Mexico Legislature convenes on Jan. 17. That's when the governor will ask for $100 million in severance tax bonds, spread over the next three years.
How likely are lawmakers to spring for the funding? New Mexico currently is awash in severance tax receipts from oil and gas. So we can afford it, if we deem the spaceport construction a priority.
Lawmakers have been well-informed about the proposal. The day the grand announcement was made in mid-December at Santa Fe's Eldorado Hotel, legislators were hosted at a preliminary reception
There, they met Sir Richard and billionaire actress/skin care products magnate Victoria Principal, who has forked over $200,000 to be on the first launch with Branson.
It probably isn't necessary to say that the two fabulously successful entrepreneurs were charming and convincing. We can say that when the leaders of the House and Senate were given an opportunity to comment at the news conference, House Speaker Ben Lujan, of Nambe, guaranteed passage of the money.
Senate President Pro Tem Ben Altamirano, of Silver City, was less forceful, but noted that although it sounds like a lot of money, it is a good investment. He then added that if his Social Security check were to increase 10-fold, he could just about afford to take one of those trips.
Both Lujan and Altamirano are Democrats, but many Republicans also like the idea of a huge economic development investment in southern New Mexico. Much of the Republican legislative leadership is from nearby districts
So approval and implementation are on a fast track even though there hasn't been much coverage of the issue yet. As this is being written, the state's biggest newspaper has only mentioned it as a breaking story. It has ventured no editorial opinion and given the matter no in-depth coverage.
But, we'll be doing that in coming days and weeks as our Legislature takes 30 days to debate one of the biggest economic development issues in our state's history.
MON, 1-2-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


12-30 Rose Parade

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Over 100 New Mexicans from throughout the state are descending on Pasadena, California in the days following Christmas to put the finishing touches on the state of New Mexico's first-ever Rose Parade entry.
This will be a float like none of us have ever built. This is professional -- no napkins, no cardboard, no paint. The superstructures of these masterpieces have been under construction almost since the last Rose Parade
We are coming in to add the tens of thousands of flowers and other living and recently living touches, such as bark, seeds and leaves that will cover the entire surface of everything on the float.
The number of flowers on a float exceeds the amount that an average American florist will use in five years of operation. Many of these flowers will be placed in individual vials of water and set into the float one by one.
We understand our float will have many types of beans to provide the earth tones of a pueblo. And we are told to expect to be covered in glue, petals, leaves and who knows what else by the time our shifts are over.
We will work under the direction of Neil and Jeremy Conrad, two supervisors who report to Jim Hynd, the vice president and floral director of Fiesta Parade Floats, the premier float builders of the Rose Parade.
They have a decoration manual listing the materials we will use, the method of application and when we will decorate each item on the float.
They know, in four-hour increments, what will be decorated on every square inch of the huge float. There is a separate manual for the floral design team and the detail artist assigned to the float.
We will work in approximately eight-hour shifts from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. The working conditions won't exactly be excellent. We'll be in an unheated tent. It has to be cool enough so that the flowers won't wilt. We've been told to wear work clothes, dress in layers, with a cap, gloves and comfortable shoes.
We also have been told to bring rain gear, a first-aid kit and that no smoking, food or drinks are allowed within the work area. Our hotels are over 10 miles away and parking is extremely limited. Other than that, they say we will have a great time. I'm sure we will find a way.
We were issued name badges before leaving New Mexico, which must be worn at all times. Security is very tight. We're not sure whether that's to protect us from something, protect the floats from vandalism, terrorism or industrial sabotage or to insure an efficient and orderly operation. Maybe all the above.
Some New Mexicans will travel to Pasadena in a classic car caravan, leaving from Tucumcari on Dec. 28, stopping for events in Santa Rosa, Moriarty and Laguna Pueblo's Route 66 Casino and spending the night in Acoma. The next night will be in Laughlin, Nevada, then on to Pasadena.
Other New Mexicans will arrive sooner, some as early as Dec. 26, when the decorating starts. Most will not arrive until the 29th or 30th, however. The float builder contracts with local non-profit groups to fill in the gaps during the early days so there will always be about 70 workers on every float.
Fiesta Parade Floats will be building several other floats in the same big tent as New Mexico's float. Reportedly, our float is not nearly the size of some of the entries by big companies. Some floats are said to run about $500,000.
The cost of New Mexico's will be in the $160,000 range. But from all reports, it still will be big enough to be beautiful and stunning.
The flower attaching will end early on the evening of Dec. 31, at which time workers will break for a New Year's Eve party organized in appreciation for all volunteers.
New Mexico's volunteer efforts will all be recorded for posterity by Joe Micalizzi, owner of The Motion Picture, in Burbank.
FRI, 12-30-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

12-28 Does Our Guv Need Ritaline?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Gov. Bill Richardson has come in for some more tacky treatment from our state's biggest newspaper.
On Sat., Dec. 17, the Albuquerque Journal ran a headline story about our "Hands-0n Governor," complete with pictures. The picture with Lt. Gov. Diane Denish appeared to signal that those hands sometimes are where they shouldn't be.
Denish says Richardson never has touched her in an improper way. But the governor was sufficiently rambunctious one day at a Bernalillo train depot groundbreaking to get the attention of a Journal photographer, who took five or ten minutes of shots.
Those photos were then shown to the lieutenant governor by an inquiring reporter and Denish was asked for reactions. She unloaded much like an exasperated big sister informing on a pesky little brother.
The governor's actions were nothing new. It is impossible that he was anything other than a hyperactive little kid, because he's a hyperactive adult. No doubt about it.
Maybe he covers that in his book. I've got to read it sometime, but since he didn't send me a review copy, I'm waiting to receive it for a gift. There's still time. My birthday is Jan. 7.
So we have a governor with a short attention span, who is easily bored. Should he see a meditation guru to help him find inner peace? That might solve the problem of his acting like a kid, or a roughhousing teenager.
But there may be advantages to a governor who is on fast-forward fulltime. We get a lot more work out of him. And we get a lot more work out of the staff with whom he comes in contact.
It all depends, of course, on whether all that activity is productive. Richardson has increased the visibility of New Mexico. His detractors insist he's interested only in his own visibility, but really, it's both.
No governor has ever started so many new projects. The big question is whether they will be good for the state. And that's what the Albuquerque Journal and all the rest of us in the business should be looking at.
Are Richardson's railroad, spaceport, pre-k initiative, immigration policy , etc. on the right track? The Journal does deserve credit for an excellent series on immigration, but that's about it.
Investigating whether he ever had a formal major league baseball offer and reporting on his boyish shenanigans when bored aren't very important compared with the many needs of this state.
It's probably true that more people are interested in whether the governor stretched the truth, told a fib or patted something he shouldn't have. The Journal is in the business of selling papers. And they sell a lot more than I do.
New Mexico has had two boyish governors in a row. Now that former Gov. Gary Johnson's terms are over, he has reverted to extreme sports and long hair. New Mexicans re-elected him and they are very likely to do the same with Richardson, so we don't seem to hold youthfulness against them.
The presidency may be a different story. When Richardson starts his quest toward Washington, anything will be fair and unpresidential demeanor certainly will be included.
One thing the Albuquerque media should be commended for is its treatment of the divorces of former Gov. Johnson and Mayor Martin Chavez. The events were reported and dropped, just as private matters should be.
Gary Johnson may be out of sight and flat on his back from a paragliding accident, but he's not completely forgotten. Jim Romero, a candidate for Santa Fe mayor, has adopted Johnson's campaign slogan "People before politics." It worked well for Johnson statewide, but he never carried Santa Fe. It will be interesting to see what the Capital City thinks of such a pledge.
We'll end this ramble with another mention of immigration. It will be thrust into the spotlight again soon when a New Your-based group puts up billboards in New Mexico, North Carolina and Wisconsin suggesting that our driver's license restrictions for immigrants aren't tough enough to prevent terrorists from getting a license.
WED, 12-28-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Monday, December 19, 2005

12-26 Pearce Climbs DC Ladder

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Rep. Steve Pearce, of New Mexico's 2nd Congressional District, is climbing the Washington political ladder quickly.
Soon after taking office in 2003, the representative from southern New Mexico became an assistant whip for Republicans in the U.S. House. Those sorts of assignments usually don't come that quickly.
Shortly after being re-elected to office with 62 percent of the vote, Pearce was appointed chairman of the Parks Subcommittee of the House Resources Committee.
That's quite an accomplishment considering that Pearce had less seniority than almost everyone else on the panel.
Rep. Heather Wilson, from New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, also demonstrated her ability to move quickly when she was first elected in 1998.
A hard worker, with a proven competence to grasp issues quickly, Wilson received more than her share of committee assignments, including the Select Committee on Intelligence.
Sen. Pete Domenici had taken Wilson under his wing during her first campaign, when it appeared to be faltering. His tutelage continued after Wilson arrived in Washington.
Rep. Bill Richardson, from New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District, also was a fast riser. He hitched his star to then-House Speaker Jim Wright , of Texas. Unfortunately for Richardson, Wright had to step down amid ethics charges filed by Rep. Newt Gingrich. And Richardson had to start over.
Rep. Pearce has gotten off to a quicker start than any New Mexico member of Congress in my memory. He hitched up his wagon to both House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo.
When DeLay got into trouble, Pearce was still in good shape to get a subcommittee chairmanship from Pombo, a Stockton, California farmer/rancher.
While Rep. Wilson has backed away from DeLay since his indictments for misuse of campaign funds, Pearce hasn't done so yet. Wilson recently returned $48,000 in DeLay campaign contributions. So far, Pearce has kept his $20,000 donation from DeLay.
Rep. Pombo has been a controversial committee chairman, most recently drawing fire for proposing that the federal budget deficit be reduced by selling off 15 national parks, including Theodore Roosevelt Island in the Potomac.
That particular suggestion has raised many hackles, since Roosevelt not only was a Republican president but the father of the national park system.
Soon after Pearce was appointed chairman of the Parks Subcommittee, he created a stir by calling the first congressional oversight committee hearing ever to examine the Organic Act, which is the law that established the National Park Service in 1916.
National parks have received much attention recently because of a Bush administration effort to privatize and commercialize them. National Park Service retirees have gone on the warpath to fight for retaining the intent that preservation is the most important function of the National Park Service.
This has put parks retirees at odds with many of their former colleagues, who now must take a loyalty oath to support Bush administration policies in order to serve at middle management and higher levels.
A recent rewrite of Park Service management policies that will allow snowmobiles, off-road vehicles, cell towers and commercial advertising in national parks received heated opposition from a bipartisan group of senators in a hearing before the Senate National Parks Subcommittee. The Department of the Interior was told the proposed changes were not consistent with law.
Rep. Pearce's hearings on that 89-year-old law may be designed to address that situation. He is being lobbied strongly by the many Park Service retirees who have chosen to live in Pearce's district, which has numerous Park Service sites.
Some of those retirees have written him and not received answers. Those letters are starting to make their way to newspapers in Pearce's district and to this column.
You'll likely be hearing more on this subject.
MON, 12-26-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Saturday, December 17, 2005

12-23 Christmas with Gov. Bill

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Merry Christmas to all, with a special thanks to Clement Clarke Moore, whose 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas," created what we know now as "traditional" Christmas.
Before that, there was no sleigh, reindeers or sliding down chimneys. Later St. Nick became Santa Claus and "Happy Christmas" became "Merry Christmas."
Moore didn't set out to change Christmas. The poem was never in print until a family friend sent it to a newspaper. Moore didn't claim authorship until 1844.
Previously, Christmas had not been a popular celebration. Churches avoided it because it typically was a public celebration with much drunkenness. Moore's poem helped make Christmas a family celebration, but also led to the commercialization of present buying.

* * *

'Twas the night before Christmas at the governor's house.
When the guv returned from a book signing in Taos.

Soon Bill was nestled all snug in his bed,
While visions of White Houses danced in his head.

"It's been a good year," said the guv to his mate.
"I lowered some taxes and gave all New Mexicans a rebate.

"I gave everyone some goodies from the big state surplus
And quieted my detractors so they won't fuss.

"Conservative commentators are making me a hit,
So it doesn't really matter that my suits don't fit.

"I bought a jet plane, a railroad and a space port
I need all those things, since spending's my best sport.

"Unfortunately, my claimed baseball career
Was revealed never to have happened this year.

"But I can keep up my image by hiring the press
To work at my side and clean up this mess."

Then out on the lawn there arose such a clatter
Bill sprang from his bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window he flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

And there on the crest of the new-fallen snow
Was a State Police helicopter all ready to go.

"Come Bill," said the pilot, so lively and quick.
"The Democrat National Committee says you're its pick.

"We'll take you to Broadway, where you'll be on Times Square
To wave at your fans from the Jumbotron there."

Bill sprang to his copter, to his team gave a whistle.
And away they all flew like a Virgin Spaceport missile.

But I heard him explain as he zoomed out of sight,
"Tell New Mexicans I love 'em, and they'd better vote right."
FRI, 12-23-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Friday, December 16, 2005

12-21 Such a Deal

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- New Mexico has an opportunity to be "the launch pad for the new space industry," as British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson puts it.
Becoming the world's first commercial spaceport is exciting. We have an adventuresome governor and possibly the world's best businessman to lead us in this quest. We also have a huge state surplus that can provide us the stake to get into the game.
But it's not a done deal yet. New Mexicans still have to approve the gamble. Gov. Bill Richardson will ask the next three legislative sessions for a total of $100 million in severance tax bonds to build the spaceport. The state's transportation budget will kick in another $35 million.
Congress and local communities in southern New Mexico will be asked to come up with the other $90 million. The local government contribution would be in the form of a gross receipts tax.
There is sure to be lively discussion at all levels of government about whether this Buck Rogers venture is meant for us.
The odds on the gamble aren't a complete roll of the dice. Paul Allen and Burt Rutan, who sent SpaceShipOne 65 miles up to win the $10 million X Prize, will build SpaceShipTwo for Branson. It will accommodate seven or eight passengers, instead of the three of its predecessor.
Branson is known as a Midas, whose touch turns all his projects to gold. He parlayed a single record store in London into a global conglomerate of entertainment, communications, airline and railroad companies, all bearing the Virgin brand.
The guy is amazingly charismatic and would make a great salesman for New Mexico. But his new Fox-TV show "Rebel Billionaire" hasn't turned to gold yet, although it is doing well in Australia.
The first of SpaceShipTwo's launches are sure to make major headlines. Branson is scheduled to be on the first flight, along with actress Victoria Principal. But the first year or so of launches will be from the Mojave air strip in California, while New Mexico's spaceport is being completed.
By the time they reach New Mexico, will some of the newness have worn off? Maybe not all of it. Gov. Richardson says he plans to be on one of the first flights after the launches begin in New Mexico.
Assuming he wins the governor's race next year and doesn't go anywhere before his term is over, he'll still be governor in 2010 for that flight. New Mexico would then have the first governor to climb Mount Everest, followed by the first governor into outer space.
Safety will be of paramount importance on these flights. Over 50 test flights are planned before the SpaceShipTwo will be ready for passengers. Trouble with any of the flights would greatly diminish the value of New Mexico's investment.
But if all goes well, it appears the sky is not the limit. Branson says he already has 100 fully-paid reservations for $200,000 and nearly 40,000 deposits from 126 different countries. The 100 reservations equal $20 million and the nearly 40,000 deposits, at $20,000 apiece, fully refundable, appear to have put another $800 million in the bank.
So that brings up the question of why Branson can't foot the $225 million for a spaceport himself. Development of SpaceShipTwo will be expensive, but the prototype already has been developed and tested. SpaceShipOne reportedly cost $20 million to build.
If Branson built the spaceport himself, would he build it here? I'm guessing he would build it in California, from where the first flights will occur.
So we have to make some investment to get him here. We've been beating ourselves up for 20 years because we let Microsoft get away. Knowing what we do now, we'd have seen to it that Bill Gates and Paul Allen got the $35,000 loan they needed in 1978. But keeping Microsoft would have been much more complex than that.
Maybe Richardson and Branson have all the questions answered. And maybe they don't. In the coming weeks and months, we'll pose some of the questions that may help New Mexicans and their public officials make an informed decision.
WED, 12-21-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Thursday, December 15, 2005

12-19 Bonehead Politicos

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- When it comes to bonehead moves by New Mexico public officials, Gov. Bill Richardson probably doesn't deserve all the criticism he gets.
Ranking at the top of the bonehead list, no doubt about it, comes the state treasurer's office. Former treasurer Michael Montoya has admitted his culpability for demanding payoffs and explaining that's the way we do business in New Mexico.
Robert Vigil, Montoya's successor, maintains his innocence but is currently in a very uncomfortable spot. We'll hold our fire on that issue because enough has been said already.
So let's turn our attention to the state Capitol Building and its latest trauma, a big time water leak that will cost taxpayers $100,000 before insurance starts kicking in.
Apparently it was caused by low temperatures, but not lows that set any records. So how come nothing happened to other big buildings in the area with similar plumbing?
And how come frozen pipes don't blow every day in buildings in northern states where the highs often don't get above zero? The answer, of course, is design. Architects and engineers allow for such things, along with a considerable cushion, just in case.
But sometimes that doesn't happen around our capital city. The state Taxation and Revenue Department had similar problems a few years ago, as did the state Printing Office.
When a walkway was built between the Capitol Building and the remodeled North Capitol Annex a few years ago, water poured from the Capitol into the walkway for months before a design error was corrected.
Who's at fault? Not surprisingly, no one wants to take the blame. Could it have been that margins of error were reduced in order to make design plans come in within budget? Insulation of pipes isn't showy, so maybe that took a backseat to the cherry wood that highlights the public areas.
Proper maintenance is also a question. If the Capitol was built with pipes that weren't well insulated, timely draining or added insulation was in order.
State officials aren't the only ones with problems in Santa Fe. The city's multi-million dollar Genoveva Chavez Community Center began leaking like a sieve within days of its completion.
The north annex to our state Capitol Building was a poorly-conceived project from the beginning. It first was the state Library, built at the same time as the Capitol in 1966. The Capitol went through a complete renovation 25 years later, but the library wasn't touched.
The library eventually got a new home and the old building was completely renovated to remove all the killer asbestos that had been taken out of the Capitol years before.
Since the remodeled library was to be used for housing an overflow of legislative offices, it was in for some special treatment. To soften the blow on junior lawmakers who would have to walk from next door, a block-long enclosed walkway was constructed.
The walkway is very pretty and provides a great venue for display of the Capitol Art Foundation's magnificent collection. But state payrollers say the money could have been used more efficiently on additional office space.
So too, with the annex itself. Much needed office space was taken there to build a mini-rotunda for the lawmakers displaced from the Capitol Building.
So now, Gov. Richardson is getting socked for using the state police helicopter to fly around the state an average of twice a month. I just can't get too upset about that. And I'm not one to go easy on the governor. I don't need a job. Neighbors of the governor's residence say all governors for many years have used helicopters.
Richardson did talk the Legislature into a $5.5 million jet airplane for his use -- along with other state agencies. And he did speed around in a Lincoln Navigator. But he traded that in for a gas-saving hybrid.
So pick on him for something else for awhile.
WED, 12-6-00

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

12-16 Move Over Taos Hum

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Now that the Taos Hum has spread worldwide, New Yorkers are coming up with a new sensation. It's a sweet smell, similar to maple syrup.
It may be a public relations gimmick. New York City isn't often thought of as smelling good. Rotten eggs would be more descriptive of a typical New York smell.
Some New Yorkers smell a rat. They figure it's an odor of mass destruction, disguised with a sweet scent.
Police, fire and environmental investigators were quickly dispatched from the city Office of Emergency Management with sniffing machines, but could report only that the smell was of no immediate danger to the public.
So what was the smell? King Kong eating breakfast, maybe? Since the smell had occurred previously in October, it wouldn't have been the sweet smell of success. In their customary October Disappointment, the Yankees, once again, fell to the Angels in the first round of the Major League Baseball playoffs.
Some described the scent as caramel. Others said it was like a freshly-baked pie. A "Big Apple" pie, no doubt. There we are, back to the public relations promo again.
At least with this smell sensation, no one has started worrying that they are going crazy as they have with the Taos Hum. Sweet smells may become too much of a good thing for New Yorkers but the Taos Hum soon starts driving some Taosenos out of their minds.
An amazing number of Web sites now chronicle the Taos Hum, which has spread throughout the nation and world. The hum may not have begun in Taos. It may be just that Taosenos, who treasure their quality of life, notice it more.
In downtown Manhattan, a sweet smell is a bit of a shock. But who's going to notice a hum? In Taos, it's something to complain about.
And Taosenos have complained. When Gov. Bill Richardson was a member of Congress, he had it investigated by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, on which he served. That was in the early 1990s. Richardson said he thought it was a defense-related activity.
But, as with all defense-related activities, a positive finding would have to be kept secret for "national security" reasons. And that meant that even if Richardson found out, he couldn't report back to his constituents.
Now that the hum has spread nearly everywhere, we are beginning to hear reports that when complaints get loud and frequent, the hum mysteriously stops.
For those still in doubt about all this, check out the Taos Hum on the Internet. There are a surprising number of Web sites worldwide and most use the name Taos Hum. From scanning some of them, it appears that many people relieve their anxieties by setting up a Web site to learn more about what is happening to them and to learn who else is experiencing the same phenomenon.
Besides Taos, the other hum location most frequently mentioned is Kokomo, Indiana. But for the most part, reports on Web sites I reviewed came from very small towns or completely rural locations.
Certainly the sound would be most noticeable in isolated locations. And when the sound stops, people in quiet locales say it is quite a jolt. The fact that the sound does stop, is a good indication that it is external and not something that is happening solely within an individual.
In 1994, the television show, "Sightings," took on the Taos Hum. It rigged up a "Faraday cage" in which it placed "hearers" to see if the sound could be blocked out by a 350-pound steel box designed to eliminate electromagnetic signals. But it didn't work and the mystery continues.
Some of the few things we do know about the Hum are that less than 10 percent of people are hearers and there are places they can go to get away from the noise.
Otherwise, it remains a likely military secret.
FRI, 12-16-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Monday, December 12, 2005

12-14 Global Warming

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Can humans affect the weather? U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman is preparing to take on the Bush administration over the question.
Bingaman was a keynote speaker last week at an international convention on global warming. The Montreal conference was the 11th in a series of meetings that began with the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement among most the world's major nations to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas we pour into the earth's lower atmosphere.
Many scientists believe that tailpipe and smokestack emissions are responsible for the period of global warming our planet is experiencing. The Bush administration doesn't agree that we are experiencing global warming and contends that humans don't have any effect on the weather anyway.
The United States has been the major stumbling block in reaching international accord on reducing pollution. President George Bush contends mandatory curbs would harm the economy, while exempting developing nations such as China and India.
Even with its exemptions, China still isn't willing to cooperate. But the major obstacle to progress of this international effort is the United State's refusal to participate. Bingaman says the general feeling in Montreal was that any serious greenhouse gas reductions will have to wait until 2009, when Bush leaves office.
Bingaman doesn't want to make that assumption. He is working on legislation to set modest limits on emissions. His proposal is based on work of the National Commission on Energy Policy, a group of environmentalists, academics and industry representatives that came together to try to find workable solutions to the issue.
The panel realizes there will be a cost to reducing greenhouse gas but is heartened by a federal Department of Energy analysis that concludes the economic effect of the limits would be less than half a percent reduction in Gross Domestic Product by 2025.
Bingaman feels confident he and others can craft legislation that will pass the U.S. Senate. But passing the House is another question. House members are much more likely to fall in line behind the president and back any position he takes. But Bingaman says this is the only path he sees open to him.
At least the debate may force both sides in this issue to take a more realistic look at the situation. Conditions may not be as bad as the global warming alarmists predict. Our world is warming, but are we causing it? Or might this just be a natural phenomenon that has been occurring since life began?
According to Dave Clary of Roswell, my resident expert on just about everything, the political hot air expended on this issue may be the real cause of global warming.
Simplistic arguments on either side do no one any good. Climate reflects a bewildering array of natural activities -- the drift of continents, the exchange of heat between the tropics and the polar regions by means of hurricanes and ocean currents, wobbles in the Earth's axis as it rotates and variables in solar radiation, to name a few.
That is why it is so difficult to comprehend. To say flatly that human activities can tilt all this in one direction is scientifically unsupportable because it is hard to detect positive evidence.
Carbon dioxide has been increasing in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, and especially the last half-century, but whether that is coincidence or cause and effect is hard to prove.
And yet there is no good argument for poisoning our air with our tailpipes and smokestacks, or butchering our tropical forests -- for health's sake, if not the climate's.
The Kyoto and Montreal protocols should be encouraged, if for no other reason than to reduce the ways we foul our own nests. The Bush administration is flat wrong on digging in its heels. To be on the safe side, it would be a good idea to clean up our act. And it wouldn't hurt us in our standing with the rest of the world.
WED, 12-14-056-00

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Thursday, December 08, 2005

12-12 Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Watch the skies. New Mexico will forever be a part of the Space Age. We were first into space and the action continues with a major announcement expected this week and an unbelievable pronouncement made last month..
First there was Dr. Robert Goddard and his pioneering rocket experiments near Roswell, in the '30s. Then there were the captured V-2 rockets tested at White Sands Proving Grounds between Las Cruces and Alamogordo, beginning in 1946. Then there was the flying saucer captured by a detail from Roswell Army Air Field, in 1947.
Then, last year, the X Prize Foundation, of St. Louis, announced New Mexico will host annual competitions designed to get private spaceships with paying passengers into space.
Nearly everyone thought at the time that such space travel was far into the future. But only a few months after the New Mexico announcement, SpaceShipOne, financed by part-time Santa Fean Paul Allen, matched the original NASA flights by soaring 65 miles to the edge of space and winning the first $10 million X Prize.
Now, on December 14, we understand British airline and entertainment tycoon Richard Branson will announce that New Mexico is his choice as a launch pad for sending tourists into space beginning in 2008.
New Mexico will break ground in January on a spaceport near Las Cruces, to serve two companies already planning to launch payloads from there. It is expected that Virgin Galactic also will launch from that spaceport.
Sound out of this world? Well, how about an intergalactic war with space aliens. That's what Paul Hellyer, a former Canadian defense minister says President George Bush is plotting.
Hellyer became concerned about this planet's intergalactic relations after noticing the amount of secrecy surrounding all matters relating to the Roswell incident.
That concern was rekindled after Hellyer watched Peter Jenning's UFO special on ABC in February. It prompted him to read Phil Corso's book "The Day After Roswell."
In the book, Corso, a former Pentagon official, alleges that the spaceship reportedly captured in Roswell was reverse engineered by the military and its big defense contractors. That convinced Hellyer that the United States now has weapons with which it thinks it can conduct war against hostile space aliens.
Hellyer is suspicious about President Bush's sudden interest in going back to the moon. He expects to see the U.S. military build a forward base on the moon to keep track of the comings and goings of visitors from space. And to shoot at them -- with devastating consequences.
The charges that President Bush is plotting an intergalactic war were made at a University of Toronto conference this fall. Reportedly, Hellyer received a standing ovation at the end of his speech.
Since then various organizations have joined him in petitioning the Canadian Parliament to conduct hearings designed to lift the veil of secrecy and let the truth emerge about what we learned from Roswell.
There is no word about how likely those hearings are to take place. Canadians may be more likely to accept such ideas. St. Paul, Alberta, has built an unidentified flying object landing pad, dedicated to making space travel safe for all intergalactic beings.
Hellyer attended that landing pad dedication back in 1967, when he was Canadian defense minister. He said at the time that UFOs are as real as the airplanes that fly overhead.
It usually takes a lot more than that to make Americans believe anyone is coming after them with weapons of mass destruction. But then, Americans may be moving toward believing more of the unbelievable.
I mean, who would believe that a former U.S. attorney general would be on the defense team of its current Public Enemy #1?
As for what we learned at Roswell is concerned. The lesson is that ridiculously high military secrecy about the crash of a rinky-dink spy balloon test can cause some very wild stories to develop.
MON, 12-12-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Monday, December 05, 2005

12-9 'Tis the Season

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- What is the meaning of Christmas? What is a traditional Christmas? Is it appropriate to observe a holiday season instead of Christmas?
These questions and many others have arisen lately -- many more than in previous years. And New Mexico's 2005 Capitol Holiday/Christmas Tree has been right in the middle of it.
Our gift to the nation began its journey as a holiday tree and quickly became a Christmas tree upon its arrival in Washington, D.C. The switch was made by U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert. And it didn't go unnoticed.
Congress decided to put in its two cents worth and came down on Hastert's side. That set off newspaper editorials and columns around the nation. And Fox News jumped into the middle of it to turn the matter into a political debate.
Readers of this column know that it comes down on the Christmas tree side of the issue. But the heated discussions about "taking back Christmas from the liberals" have headed toward polar opposites that should be explored in order to avoid further bloodshed.
Currently liberals are being thrown to the lions on talk radio and conservatives are being skewered by late night comedians. And neither seem to be making much sense.
Much has been said of Americans' need to take back their traditional Christmas. But traditions have a habit of changing. Christmas wasn't even celebrated by the early Christians who came to our shores.
The Catholic Church opposed it. The Puritans believed that Christmas as celebrated in Europe was un-Christian and hoped to keep it out of America. They traced Dec. 25 to a Roman heathen celebration and noted that there was no mention of the date in the Bible.
On their first Dec. 25, the Puritans worked on building projects and ignored the holiday. When the state of Massachusetts was created, celebrating Christmas was made a crime.
Until the mid-1850s many mainline churches closed on Dec. 25 to emphasize that they did not accept the day as a holy one. At the time, only 18 states recognized Christmas.
It was Germans who brought us the Christmas celebration. Few Germans arrived in this country until the 1700s and they didn't have much effect on traditions until the 1800s.
It wasn't until the 1920s, when the retail industry adopted Christmas as a shopping season, that commercialism became a part of Christmas. Religious leaders strongly objected. Those objections still are voiced from the pulpit, with reminders about the true meaning of Christmas.
It appears they work with a large number of Americans. But there still are the hordes who line up at stores in the wee hours of Black Friday morning, the day after Thanksgiving.
And there seem to be few businesses that don't enter the Christmas commercialism act. One of the funnier entries has been Fox Television, a leader in the "take back Christmas movement." Fox opened the season by advertising "Holiday Collections" in its online store.
Featured among the items was the "O'Reilly Factor Holiday Ornament." Commentator Bill O'Reilly has led the battle to encourage shoppers not to buy at stores that have replaced "Christmas" with "Holiday." Bloggers caught the hypocrisy first, and Fox has gotten religion.
Perhaps, like corporate execs under indictment, they didn't know, but it demonstrates the confusion about Christmas that reigns over the land.
One group urges us to be more inclusive so as not to hurt anyone's feelings. But other cultures don't have the same traditions, especially when it comes to Christmas trees. And for the most part, non-Christians seem to adapt to the Christmas season rather well, understanding that they live in a country where theirs is not the majority religion.
A clever approach has been taken by another movement, which reasons that if the government determines that any religious ties have to go, then government services should continue during the Christmas and Easter seasons -- and maybe Sundays too.
FRI, 12-09-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Friday, December 02, 2005

12-7 Pearl Harbor, etc

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- In a V-J Day column last summer, I lamented that none of the calendars in our house recognize that our victory over Japan 60 years ago was the most celebrated day in our nation's history.
Today, it is forgotten, erased from memory lest we hurt anyone's feelings.
But the feelings we should be worried about hurting are those of the brave men and women who fought in that war, who risked their lives to assure our freedom to ignore their sacrifice. We also should think about the feelings of those who lost loved ones in that war.
In that column, I expressed the desire to find a calendar that indicates V-J Day and also V-E Day, in May. I said I not only wanted to buy such a calendar, I wanted to give the printing company some publicity.
A few days later, I received an e-mail from retired Air Force MSgt Earl Nielson, in Alamogordo, saying his B-17 Flying Fortress Historical Calendar, from a company called Bomber Legends, has both V-E Day and V-J Day on it.
I quickly went to their Web site. Instead of ordering the B-17 calendar, I ordered the biggest, fanciest calendar they had. When I received it a short time later, I was disappointed to find that V-E Day and V-J Day were nowhere to be found.
In an e-mail to the company, I told them of my disillusionment. A reply soon came explaining that the fancy calendar was an experiment this year and was printed by a different company.
A few days later, a package arrived with a complimentary B-17 calendar and a B-24 Liberator calendar, along with three issues of Bomber Legends magazine.
So now I'm set. When the free calendars arrive from my banker, my stockbroker and Jack Daniels, I can toss them because they have been found lacking. I can fill the house with Bomber Legends calendars.
If you would like to do the same, just call old George Welsh, toll free, in Ramona, California, at 866-788-3624 or visit his Web site at But please remember not to buy the expensive one.
Today, of course, we observe the beginning, rather than the endings of World War II. A few calendars still recognize "Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day." Evidently it is somewhat more politically correct to recognize our defeats. That won't hurt anyone's feelings but our own and, somehow, that is now all right.
I certainly wish I got to make up the rules.
Just as I did with the past two years of Billy the Kid adventures, I will be compiling this year's World War II columns into a book that will be available from Sunstone Press in Santa Fe.
It will follow the New Mexico National Guard from its activation in early 1941 to its release from prison camps in the fall of 1945.
It also will follow my personal odyssey last summer, tracing the war in the Pacific from Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki, with stops at the major battlegrounds from Midway and Okinawa in the north to Guadalcanal and New Guinea in the south.
At this time 60 years ago, most of the 900 surviving members of the New Mexico National Guard were leaving their hospitalizations at Bruns in Santa Fe and several other hospitals in the Western United States and heading to their homes around New Mexico.
Appreciation banquets were held for them. They were glad to be home, but the trauma of three-and-a-half years of captivity made it difficult for many.
Gen. Jonathan Wainwright, who stuck with his troops on Bataan and Corregidor and endured the same prison camp hardships, came to New Mexico to honor the fierce fighters of the 200th and 515th Coast Artillery regiments.
In a December 1945 speech in Deming, the location of the 200th's headquarters, Gen. Wainwright acknowledged that the 200th was the first unit to go into action defending the American flag in the Pacific. They also were the last still fighting when they were surrendered.
WED, 12-07-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)