Inside the Capitol

Friday, August 31, 2007

9-7 When Rulemakers Don't Follow the Rules


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Wouldn't it be nice to have the power to make rules for everyone else, but not have to follow them yourself? It happens constantly, in both the public and private sectors, but it's more noticeable in the public sector.

      The New Mexico Legislature, for instance, made a rule that public meetings have to be open to the public but then exempted its own conference committees between House and Senate representatives.

      Then there is our president, who warned us for five years not to compare Iraq with Vietnam because "there is no comparison." But now that he has a convenient analogy, he is doing just that.

      Now we have the New Mexico Department of Transportation proclaiming that the state Procurement Code does not apply to its unusual method of financing a new headquarters building and transportation hub for the RailRunner train.

      But when questions are asked about some of its actions, the department spokesman has repeatedly cited the Procurement Code in refusing to answer.

      But then that's not one of the bigger problems faced by the Transportation Department right now. The Bernalillo County Metro Court money fraud scandal is spreading up to Santa Fe as some of people indicted in the Albuquerque charges are showing up as being involved with the Transportation Department project.

      And now we learn that the department has decided the 300,000 square-foot headquarters building it wants constructed in return for the contractor getting to develop the rest of the property near downtown Santa Fe only needs to be 170,000 square-feet.

      That's a big break for winning bidder Jerry Peters, who is a major contributor to Gov. Bill Richardson's campaigns. Further work on final negotiations on the contract has been suspended until investigation of that matter has been completed.

      That may sink my prediction that the state's RailRunner hub will be finished long before the city of Santa Fe's 10-year-old Railyard Project is off the ground. No public body can dither around longer than the Santa Fe City Council.

      A favorite joke around town these days is that the question of whether Santa Fe was founded in 1607 or 1610 has been settled. It was 1607. The confusion was created because Santa Fe officials took three years to issue a building permit for the Palace of the Governors.

   *  *     *

      When it came to trying to pry the door open on the Legislature's conference committees, the late Bob Johnson led the charge. He headed the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, which is dedicated to opening public meetings and records.

      Bob had a long career with the Associated Press and ended it as a top executive with the organization. He retired to New Mexico, taught some college classes in journalism and became the first director of the Foundation for Open Government, assisting attorneys general with training local public officials about open government.

      We worked together on the effort to learn why private money was paying for an official criminal investigation of whether Sheriff Pat Garrett shot Billy the Kid or someone else.

   Johnson tried to convince Attorney General Patricia Madrid that anonymously funded criminal investigations could lead to all sorts of mischief and that the source of funds had to become a public record. Unfortunately he ran into the same stonewall as I did.

   *  *     *

   Another former newsman passed away recently. Bob Huber wrote for United Press International and later wrote this column for a few years in the mid-1970s. At that time he also had a legislative bill tracking and analysis service.

   He left Santa Fe and moved to Portales, where he wrote a humor column for the Portales and Clovis papers. Obituaries in the two papers were very sketchy. News accounts of his death were all written by people who obviously did not know him.

   I have been unsuccessful in fleshing out the rest of his career. If anyone can help so I can pass it on to readers, I would appreciate it.



JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

New Mexico's Long Tradition of Violence

WED, 9-05-07


            SANTA FE – Evidently not all animal cruelty is equal. New Mexico received some black eyes for being one of the last two states to ban chicken fighting. Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez warned that a governor couldn't get elected president if his state still condoned cockfighting.

            That's debatable, but it's a good bet that if we had been the next to last state to ban dog fighting, Gov. Bill Richardson wouldn't have wanted to show his face nationally. Dogs and chickens are different, even though they both are God's creatures.

And even though New Mexico arguably was the wildest of the Wild West states, dog fighting would never be accepted here any more than in any other state. Chicken fighting likely held on as long as it did because of New Mexico's long tradition of violence.

From the time New Mexico was occupied militarily by the United States in 1846, our tradition of violence has been noted all the way back to the Potomac. Just five months after the U.S. occupation of New Mexico, our first governor, appointed from Washington, lay dead, the result of the Taos uprising that also claimed the lives of other state and local officials.

The revolt was quickly ended by a bloody counterassault. The perpetrators were quickly tried and publicly executed. Word traveled quickly and it was a factor in denying New Mexico statehood for the next 66 years.

New Mexico was the western battleground of the Civil War. Confederate troops fought their way up the Rio Grande until they were defeated near Glorietta in a battle termed the "Gettysburg of the West."

Following that war, Indian wars and range wars attracted the nation's attention. The Lincoln County War attracted gunslingers from throughout the Southwest. But it was one of our local boys who garnered the most publicity. To this day, Billy the Kid is the most recognized New Mexican to the rest of the world. And you know the message that delivers.

The Lincoln County War had the entire New Mexico territory in disarray. Nearly all men wore guns. Murder cases in those days often were dismissed with the familiar verdict: "The deceased came to his death accidentally after having given due provocation"

In 1878, President Rutherford B. Hayes declared Lincoln County in a state of insurrection. He dismissed Gov. Samuel Axtell and many public officials who were members of the scandalous Santa Fe Ring.

President Hayes prevailed on Gov. Lew Wallace, a respected military officer to take over as governor and bring peace to Lincoln County. Three years later, Wallace left in disgust, saying his friend Gen. Sherman was right when he suggested we get in another war with Mexico and make her take our state back.

The violence continued. Sheriff Elf ego Baca gained fame when he stood off 80 cowboys for 36 hours. Years later a movie dramatized his exploits.

The Hillsboro trial of the ranchers accused of murdering prominent politician Albert Jennings Fountain in 1895 drew national publicity as a tent city sprang up that rivaled the hoopla surrounding the O.J. trial a century later.

No public official was safe, as New Mexico became known as the only place in America where assassination was an integral part of the political system.

When Teddy Roosevelt formed his Rough Riders, New Mexico was the logical place to recruit the hard charging cowboys who made up over half his regiment.

Statehood didn't end our violent reputation. Pancho Villa came to pick a fight in 1916. In the 1950s, John Prather and other ranchers took up arms to keep the Army from taking their property for White Sands Missile Range. In the '60s, Reies Tijerina and his Alianza shot up the Rio Arriba County Courthouse. And in 1970, our National Guard got carried away putting down an anti-Vietnam demonstration at the University of New Mexico and people got hurt. The 1980 riot at the New Mexico state prison in Santa Fe ranked as the bloodiest penal uprising the nation ever had seen.

Big States Taking Cuts in Lineup


MON, 9-03-07


SANTA FE – Gov. Bill Richardson tried so hard to organize Western states for an early presidential primary. It's a shame that not only was he unsuccessful, now the big guys are taking cuts at the head of the line and spoiling his alternate plan for breaking from the pack of second-tier candidates.

Richardson entered the 2008 primaries with a plan to do well in the four small states that had been designated to get the selection process started. Those four states were picked because they represented different regions of the nation and because they were small and affordable for less well-financed candidates. It was a great plan. But then the roof fell in.

Richardson began his efforts for an early Western primary soon after his election as governor in 2002. But somehow, he never could create the necessary esprit de corps among Western governors to convince them to work together.

He wasn't the first to try. Back in the late 1990s, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who also harbored presidential ambitions, made the same effort – and was equally unsuccessful.

Leavitt visited then-New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson in a well-publicized effort to recruit his support for an early New Mexico primary. Johnson was completely unmoved by his fellow Republican, as were other governors.

An early Western presidential primary in 2000 wouldn't have helped Utah's Leavitt anyway. George W. Bush about had the nomination sewed up before it started. Bush's only real opposition turned out to be Sen. John McCain of Arizona – another Western state.

Leavitt wasn't left completely out in the cold, however. President Bush tabbed him to become head of the Environmental Protection Agency, a favorite spot for Westerners. That was followed by a cabinet secretary appointment to the Health and Human Services Department.

When Richardson couldn't get any Western state takers for an early 2004 presidential primary, he strong-armed New Mexico Democrats into an early caucus, which didn't require any change in the state's election law.

The change did bring Democrat presidential candidates to New Mexico, although not in the numbers they went to traditional early primary states. New Mexico did host the first Democratic presidential debate, with Gov. Richardson moderating.

For the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, Westerners took a different tack. The Democratic National Committee gave Nevada and South Carolina permission to hold early primaries in order to give representation to regions of the country not represented by Iowa and New Hampshire.

Nevada never had been a leader in advocating an early Western primary, but Senate majority leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, wielded power on the DNC and Richardson didn't object to Nevada, where he figured he could do well.

And he is doing well – in Nevada, Iowa and New Hampshire. But now, the big guys have decided they want to play too. Suddenly everyone can see the advantage of early presidential primaries.  Both parties may find themselves with presidential candidates nine months before the November elections.

Imagine how much mischief a campaign can get into with that much time for negative advertising and dirty tricks. It isn't to either party's benefit, so it may lead to some presidential primary election reform on which both parties can agree.

There are suggestions for various methods of rotating dates, rotating regions or even for holding one nationwide primary and being done with it. That eliminates an advantage for any state, but it also eliminates the chances of any candidates with a strategy of starting slowly and building momentum.

Meanwhile Richardson and other candidates who don't have big funding are in trouble. Richardson has been able to raise more money than other second tier candidates. His plan calls for him to do much better than those candidates in the small early states allowing him to break from the pack.

His only good news recently is that the major candidates may have ceded him the Indian vote by not appearing at the recent "Prez on the Rez" debate. It won't bring a lot of votes, but it might bring some nice donations.

World Heritage Site Conspiracy?

FRI, 8-31-07


SANTA FE – We've been talking about some of New Mexico's more fascinating conspiracy theories recently. It now appears as though Otero County might have one brewing. It won't rival the days of Oliver Lee but it's big enough to have some folks in a stew.        

It seems the officials at White Sands want to get their national monument put on the United Nations' list of World Heritage Sites, alongside Carlsbad Caverns, Chaco Canyon, Taos Pueblo and 851 other geographical or cultural marvels of the world.

It's an honor that requires a great amount of paperwork and drumming up a good deal of support. But the Otero County Commission isn't sure it wants to be on the list of supporters. Some commissioners have heard there might be a little more to being on the U.N. list than just an honor.

Everyone knows the United Nations is a pretty messed up organization. It never can seem to agree on much of anything. And when it does, it often doesn't seem to be in the best interests of the United States.

Some nations can't even agree to pay their dues. The United States has been one of those nations at times. Members of Congress just weren't sure it was worth all the dues we have to pay.

The United States pays a lot of dues because we're a rich nation and most nations aren't. They have a lot of debt. Some folks in Otero County have heard the United Nations secretly wants to take over all the World Heritage Sites and use them as collateral for the world debt.

Maybe they would even sell them to private developers. Or maybe they would take them over, keep the admission fees and hire their own people from countries around the world to replace the American staff.

How likely is that to happen? Not very. The United Nations is pretty good at making lists, but that's about as far as it goes. It is difficult to imagine that bunch of guys ever getting their act together sufficiently to take over 851 World Heritage Sites. If they took over even one, they'd surely run it into the ground immediately.

Or is there a secret cabal of the world's richest and most powerful people that is actually running the United Nations? If it is, the UN secretary general must not know about it because the United States managed to leverage its choice into the position last January against the wishes of a great many UN members.

Or maybe President George W. Bush is a member of that cabal that secretly controls the United Nations. After all, his father, President George H.W. Bush, talked about the New World Order 20 years ago when he first ran for president.

Most of us were never quite sure what that meant, but George H.W. was a United Nations ambassador at one time. And he does have those two middle initials, which may be a giveaway.

Would that mean Gov. Bill Richardson is in on the conspiracy? He was a UN ambassador. Would he have been told? What about John Bolton, President George W's appointee? He was so outspoken and no-nonsense, he'd have been sure to find out and spill the beans.

All things considered, there just doesn't seem to be that much to worry about. Reports from other World Heritage Sites indicate that the only adverse impact is from too many tourists tromping around and degrading sites that are fragile.

I'm no expert, but it doesn't seem that White Sands is as fragile as most sites. Alamogordo might welcome more tourists, in fact. Competition, reportedly, is fierce worldwide to became a site because of the big tourist payoffs.

Tourist guidebooks now tout World Heritage sites. Companies schedule tours especially to hit as many sites as possible. As long as we keep an eye peeled for black helicopters, it appears to be a good deal.

Friday, August 24, 2007


We'll be in PHX thru Tues. for baby shower. Taking computer. Cell: 505-699-9982.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

8-29 New Mexico Conspiracies


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- New Mexico is a fun place to live. Our wide open spaces seem to attract adventure, mystery and wild notions about what causes the West to be wild.

   The wildest notions of all involve flying saucers and visitors from outer space. Books and movies about space creatures usually take place in big cities but stories about claimed encounters invariably happen in the middle of nowhere.

   New Mexico has more than its share of these encounters. Three crashes have been claimed near Roswell, one near Socorro, one near Magdalena and one near Aztec, which has since been recanted. But visitors still stop there on UFO treks through New Mexico.

   Then, there is the monstrous, underground UFO base in northern Rio Arriba County, in the vicinity of reported cattle mutilations. And there are reports of alien abductions all over the place.

   Why do space aliens prefer New Mexico? It all seemed to start in 1947 a little less than two years after, and a little less than 100 miles from, Earth's first nuclear explosion.

   New Mexico also has the world's largest listening station for audio transmissions from outer space, located on the Magdalena Flats, not far from a reported UFO crash.

   Ufologists say that the Roswell crashes are among the less believable encounters that have been reported. But until a spaceship lands somewhere and an alien says, "Take me to your leader," Roswell will remain the UFO capital of the world.

   That's because Roswell is the only place a government ever has claimed to have captured a flying saucer. Sure, the story changed the next day and changed twice more 50 years later.

   You can bet the farm that none of the military top brass, sitting around a conference table at Roswell Army Air Force Base, on July 8, 1947, believed we had found a flying saucer.

   They figured it was something secret being developed at White Sands Proving Grounds, or some other secret site, that needed covering up.

   So an instance of governmental secrecy gave thousands of space nuts over the past 60 years their best opportunity ever to invent a whole wave of slightly believable conspiracy theories.

   It has helped our tourism immeasurably. The state Tourism Department currently is using space creatures to promote New Mexico as the best place in the universe to visit. Roswell tourism has boomed for more than a decade and now appears to be turning into economic development.

   The past few years have seen a focus on a possible conspiracy between Sheriff Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid for Garrett to shoot someone else and claim it was the Kid so Billy could sneak away and live a boring life in Arizona or Texas.

   The Texas claim is ludicrous. The Arizona claim is difficult to prove or disprove because no one ever got to interview John Miller. But the recent controversy over digging everyone up has led to an increase in magazine issues devoted to Billy, plus TV documentaries, at least one movie and a major museum exhibit.

   Also there may be new information on the hundred tons of gold reputedly buried at Victorio Peak a few miles east of where Spaceport America will be located. The story of buried treasure has involved presidents, the Treasury Department, the CIA, digging by the Army, the Watergate hearings, F. Lee Bailey and some deaths.

   Many stories tell of caverns under Victorio and nearby hills, filled with gold and treasure from nearby Spanish mines, added to by Carlotta when Maximilian was overthrown as emperor of Mexico and then used by Apaches to store their loot from raids.

   All legal activity ceased in the area after the Army took it over for White Sands Missile Range. The Army insists that there is no treasure there and that it has never even looked. But treasure hunters, who have sneaked in, claim to have seen Army trucks carrying away huge loads.

   This may be New Mexico's greatest unsolved mystery.

WED, 8-29-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


8-27 Who Bankrolled Investigation of Kid's Death?


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- One of the big mysteries of the four-year Billy the Kid investigation can now be revealed.

   We now know where the private money came from to finance the official criminal investigation into whether Sheriff Pat Garrett might have shot someone other than Billy and then covered it up.

   When two Lincoln County sheriffs filed the investigation, we thought it peculiar that private money would finance a criminal investigation. That means that anyone with money and a grudge could go looking for a law enforcement official willing to conduct an investigation.

   The situation screamed for some journalistic scrutiny. There has to be an unusual reason for someone to want to finance a criminal investigation. This was like criminal justice in Billy the Kid's day, when the notorious Santa Fe Ring controlled much of law enforcement and the judicial system in New Mexico.

   I contacted Attorney General Patricia Madrid but somehow was never able to get her interested. Recently the Ruidoso News revealed that Gov. Bill Richardson's press secretary delivered $6,500 of financial support from private backers for the investigation.

   Questions still remain about who provided the money that came through the governor and why. Folks down in Billy the Kid country are not without ideas about who and why.

   Governmental secrecy is the genesis of most wild conspiracy theories. One of those theories may be correct about who was financially backing the investigation. Or it could just be a Billy the Kid aficionado with money to burn.

   There is nothing illegal about private individuals contributing money to a government agency. But my understanding is that it needs to be publicly identified in the agency's income and expenditure reports, which was not done.

   Making the investigation official made the gathering of evidence much easier. Deputy Steve Sederwall says flashing a badge gains a lot more access than just expressing an historical interest.

   That won't be possible any longer. In June, Sederwall and Deputy Tom Sullivan, who was sheriff when this all began, submitted their resignations to current Lincoln County Sheriff Rick Virden.

   Their hope was that this would lead to an end of public information requests from people wanting to know what was going on. I was likely the most frequent requester in the early days until we got the digging for bodies in Silver City and Fort Sumner stopped.

   But others continued the effort, which, reportedly, was a hassle to the current sheriff, who had nothing to do with the investigation.

   The former sheriffs' investigation will continue but they won't be deputies. Now they are private investigators. But there is plenty they still can do with the knowledge and publicity they have gained.

   During the course of the investigation, their focus strayed to an investigation of how Billy killed Deputy Bell at the courthouse, which also served as the jailhouse.

   Actually, the deputies' interest seemed to be involved with the entire Billy the Kid legend. My guess is that they are intrigued with Billy's life; they'd like to bring some tourism to Lincoln County and if they can gain a little fame along the way, so much the better.

   And that they have done. They made the front page of the New York Times. They have appeared in at least one TV documentary. And they were involved with a French movie, which garnered them a trip to the Cannes Film Festival for the movie's showing.

   Now they are on the trail of DNA from Billy pretenders in other states. I'm not wild about digging up bodies, especially when they are in graves so old the disturbed bones may be someone else's. That apparently happened when two graves were excavated with a backhoe in Prescott, Arizona.

   That was over a year ago and no DNA results have been released. If the investigators were to eventually claim a match with Billy's blood, I'm afraid they'll have to start putting up with me again.

MON, 8-27-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Monday, August 20, 2007

8-24 Do Elected Officials Need More Ethics?


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Are New Mexico elected officials in need of higher ethical standards?

   We talked recently about a study showing New Mexico ranks near the midpoint of states in the number of elected officials convicted on federal charges. We scored a little below the average of 2.12 convictions per 100 elected officials over a 10-year period.

   But what about having ethical standards that might reduce criminal convictions by heading off such behavior? Congress and every state legislature is looking at that question seriously after a big dose of convictions at the federal level and problems in many states.

   New Mexico has exceeded its 10-year quota with a conviction and a plea bargain for our past two elected state treasurers. So it appears to be time to impose stricter ethics standards here.

   For three years, the New Mexico Legislature has been considering ethics proposals but doing precious little about them. Sen. Joe Carraro, an Albuquerque Republican has presented the Legislature with his 3rd Hoodwink Award for its attempt at fooling the public into thinking they actually are trying to reform their own ethical conduct.

   Carraro asserts that the very few ethics bills that do pass the Legislature are carefully crafted to continue the system that now exists while appearing to deal with the concerns of the public. He says the ethics legislation he introduces is never even scheduled for committee hearings by Senate leaders.

   Nevertheless, Gov. Bill Richardson's ethics task force is attempting for a third year to convince lawmakers to swallow another small bite of ethics legislation.

   The speed at which this group is able to force feed ethics reform causes suspicion that lawmakers may feel if they accept a tiny morsel at a time, they will slow the process to a pace such that they will be ready to retire before there is any significant change.

   This isn't to say that all members of the Legislature are part of the game to stall legislation. House Democratic leader Ken Martinez, of Grants, is a member of the governor's ethics task force and has taken the lead in the House to push task force legislation. He has worked with House Republicans to secure overwhelming support for task force proposals.

   Ethics legislation reaches a screeching halt in the Senate at the hands of Senate Democratic leader Michael Sanchez. At least Sanchez is the point person for the obstructionism. He couldn't continue to be reelected to his position if other senators wanted reform as much as Sen. Carraro.

   Possibly Sanchez is doing what most other senators want him to do. Possibly there's even an agreement with the House to bury the legislation it sends over. At least the Legislature gives the appearance of being half committed to ethics reform.

   We may get a hint of how things work beginning next month. The Legislature has created an interim subcommittee to consider ethics proposals from the governor's task force, which winds up this month. The legislative panel will hold meetings the next four months.

   And talk about power. This subcommittee is composed of the two top party floor leaders in both houses. If this group comes up with anything at its final meeting on Dec. 13, there aren't many reasons it shouldn't pass.

   Of course, legislation can always run out of time at the last minute. Or need further study during the next interim. Or get derailed by disagreement between the houses. Or be sidelined because of a spat with the governor. Get the picture?

   At least there seems to be more attention focused on ethics reform this year than ever before. Maybe time has finally brought the pot to a boil. Maybe indictments in the Albuquerque courthouse scandal will involve more elected officials. Something seems to be afoot.

   So, with a decent chance that a majority of lawmakers will be serious about ethics reform this year, this column intends to cover some of the hot topics that should be of interest to everyone.

MON, 8-24-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


8-22 Hope for Pluto


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- OK, all you Pluto lovers. I apologize for reporting your planet's demise while there is still life and hope left in the heavenly body.

      Since writing a June 27 column reporting very little life left in the effort to resurrect Pluto from obscurity, I have heard from some of you saying, not so fast, the new definition of a planet has major problems and an abundance of Pluto supporters are working to see the demotion overturned.

      Upon checking sources for my column on Pluto's expiration, I discovered they were contained in a Houston Chronicle article and all were from Texas. These Texas astronomers are well aware that Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto, was a New Mexican.

      And New Mexicans are well aware that Texas has never been out to do us any favors. Texas invaded us twice in the mid-1800s. The first time we marched them barefoot to jail in Mexico City.

   The second time, we sent them scurrying to and fro down the Rio Grande, going hundreds of miles out of their way to be sure to avoid any further battles.

   Maybe we should treat this situation in a similar manner, although I understand opposition to Pluto goes further than that. But now that we know Texas can't push us around, we might as well take on the world.

   We have a lot of friends out there, according to Laurel Kornfeld, a reader in New Jersey. She is associated with one of many efforts to overturn the International Astronomical Union's decision exactly a year ago to adopt a new definition of planets that excludes Pluto.

   Chief among those opposing the IAU's demotion of Pluto to a dwarf planet is Dr. Alan Stern, the lead scientist of NASA's New Horizons robotic mission to Pluto. Stern calls the new definition that downgrades Pluto "sloppy science that would never pass peer review."

   Why is it sloppy science? The added criterion for being a planet is that it must clear the path around its orbit. That means having enough gravitational pull to either suck them up or brush them aside. Since Pluto's orbit overlaps that of Neptune, it does not clear its neighborhood.

   But then Neptune doesn't clear its zone of Pluto, so it shouldn't be a planet either. And the seven other planets all have thousands of asteroids in their orbital paths.

   So, by definition, there are no planets. And it's time for astronomers to reconsider and come up with something not quite so embarrassing.

   The big battle is between two branches of astronomy. The planetary geologists came up with a definition that a planet is round and orbits the sun. But the dynamicists, who study the motion and gravitational effects of celestial objects, wanted a more precise definition.

   They couldn't sell their idea to the total group, so they waited until the closing ceremonies of the 10-day conference. All but 424 of the 2,500 delegates already had caught flights home. The revolt successfully hijacked the vote on Pluto. The IAU has 10,000 members and no electronic absentee voting, so the vote was only a small percentage of the membership.

   If you would like to see astronomers go back to the drawing board and work out a definition that includes Pluto, go to for a delightful discussion about Pluto and its worldwide popularity, along with a petition you can sign online.

   If you would like a hard copy of a petition, with about 20 signature lines, e-mail Laurel Kornfeld at It could be a fun activity for a group of believers in the tiny little planet that has captured the hearts and imaginations of so many.

   It also would be a good classroom exercise. Materials, pro and con are available on the Web, along with Web sites at which students can vote on whether they think Pluto should be reinstated as a planet or not.

WED, 8-22-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Friday, August 17, 2007

Comment on Your Post, "Pluto Demoted Again"


Thank you,

Laurel Kornfeld


Pluto supporters are not going to win this one??? Not so fast.  The so-called "new planet definition" has major problems, and contrary to your claim, there is an abundance of Pluto supporters who are working to see the demotion overturned, both among astronomers and lay people.

Most noteworthy is the glaring error in your opening paragraph, namely the statement that Pluto "was bumped from its position as the solar system's biggest dwarf star."  Pluto is not and never was considered by anyone to be a star.  The term you most likely meant to use is "dwarf planet," the new definition created by the IAU last year.

That term is highly problematic, which is why within days of its adoption, 300 plus astronomers led by Dr. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of NASA's New Horizons Mission to Pluto, signed a petition saying they rejected the new definition and will not use it. Stern plans a conference of 1,000 astronomers to re-open this issue.

There are also many petitions by lay people, both hard copy and online, in circulation supporting the overturning of Pluto's demotion, still gathering many signatures almost a year later.

The IAU determined that a "dwarf planet" is not a planet at all, which makes no linguistic sense.  The vote was conducted by 424 out of 10,000 members, most of whom are not planetary scientists but a narrow group with a specific agenda. The requirement that an object "clear its orbit" to be considered a full fledged planet is vague and arbitrary.  It sets up a double standard because Neptune does not clear its orbit of Pluto, and even Jupiter and Earth do not clear their orbits of nearby asteroids.  For all these reasons, the "new" definition is untenable.

Eris is slightly bigger and more massive than Pluto, but there is no reason both cannot be considered full fledged planets. Both have achieved hydrostatic equilibrium and orbit the sun.  The IAU made a serious blunder with this decision. As more and more discoveries are being made, we should be broadening, not narrowing, our understanding of what constitutes a planet.  I strongly believe and wholeheartedly look forward to this ridiculous vote being overturned, the sooner the better.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

8-20 We Should Know More About the Effects of Trinity


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Were you a "downwinder" from the Trinity nuclear test? Where were you or your loved ones on July 16, 1945 and during the weeks that followed?

      Generally, if you lived northeast of Trinity Site, which is 40 miles west of Carrizozo, you were a downwinder and may have received a big dose of nuclear fallout that extended into Colorado.

      A recent Inside the Capitol column told of newly released studies indicating that many New Mexicans may have received larger doses of radiation from the world's first atomic blast than previously thought -- or admitted.

      Although Enrico Fermi and others had predicted before the test that radiation would be a problem, the concern at the time was about immediate effects and not long term harm. Thus measurements were incomplete -- as far as we know.

      But to take a peek at what information might never have reached the light of day, the Centers for Disease Control authorized a several-million dollar search of millions of records at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

      New information is being uncovered concerning Trinity Site exposure as well as other exposure of radiation releases at the laboratory. An interim report, released last month, reveals some of those findings. The search has another two years until completion.

      So what does a New Mexican do to learn the amount of radiation likely received as a result of the Trinity test? The information is available online in Appendix N of the "Interim Report of the Los Alamos Historical Document Retrieval and Assessment (LAHDRA) Project" at

   The 47-page appendix contains very interesting background information on the 1945 Trinity test, including maps of fallout patterns and a discussion of gaps of knowledge remaining to this day.

   For those of you without computer knowledge or access, it might be worth contacting a friend, relative or library to secure this information if you feel you might have suffered adverse effects from the Trinity radiation.

   And what if you learn that it is likely you or your loved ones have been adversely affected by the test? I've heard many stories over the past few weeks. The strongest evidence came from a woman whose father and two brothers have cancer or have died of cancer. The third brother, who moved to California, does not have cancer.

   She reports the skin of their cattle turned white and the hair fell off their horses within days of the blast.

   Unfortunately, all most people can expect from reading the Trinity findings is to gain some knowledge about causes of health problems in their family. The woman spoken of earlier reports her family was visited by government agents but were told the cancer in the family is genetic because they are Hispanic.

   Anti-nuclear and environment groups are now asking for a full assessment of the amounts of radiation to which people living near Trinity Site were exposed. The process is called dose reconstruction.

   Numerous detailed dose reconstructions were made for people who lived downwind from the Nevada Test Site, but none, as far as we know, have been released for people exposed to Trinity..

   Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch secured legislation in 1990 creating the Radiation Exposure and Compensation Act. It applied only to victims in parts of Utah, Arizona and Nevada. Senators from Idaho and Montana now are trying to expand the act to cover their constituents.

   My contacts reveal that there is sufficient evidence to consider adding downwinders of the Trinity test to this act. It should have been done in 1990, but now would be a good time to add them into the current U.S. Senate bill to expand RECA coverage to other states.

   So, if you feel you or loved ones may have been harmed by the Trinity test, an option is to support the groups now seeking a full assessment of the radiation doses received by Trinity downwinders.

   Contacting New Mexico's U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman about supporting the assessment and seeking victim compensation would also be appropriate.

MON, 8-20-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

8-17 Richardson Stumbles But May Have Picked Up Speed


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Maybe Gov. Bill Richardson shouldn't have ducked out of debating John Dendahl during last year's gubernatorial race. It would have been good practice for the big time.

      Dendahl would have loved to debate every day of the campaign. Besides being very intelligent and articulate, debating was about the only arrow in Dendahl's quiver. He got into the race late. He couldn't raise money. And he didn't get any help from the national Republican Party.

      Of course, those were all good reasons for Richardson to skip the debates. Why should he give his opponent free publicity, especially when the debates would be videotaped for possible use against him when he ran for president?

      Now, it is apparent that the governor's debate skills could have used some sharpening. Richardson stepped onto the big stage in the same shape as a rookie pitcher who skipped spring training.

      There are ways to recover, but will Richardson avail himself of them? The answer is likely no. Several weeks ago, this column begged him to slow down, get some rest and pay attention to his debate coaching.

      Did he listen. Of course not. That's just not Bill. He wants to be genuine. I gotta be me, he says. But some Democrat big wigs are beginning to have doubts about whether they want a president, vice president or secretary of state who can get tripped up and occasionally say the opposite of what he means.

      Richardson's slip at the forum on gay issues may not lose him many votes from that community, because he can point to his record. But it might lose him some money from gay leaders who have become uncomfortable about him not being quite ready for prime time.

      Our governor prefers to be either raising money or meeting voters one-on-one. That's his strength. But performing poorly with an individual voter is far different from doing it in front of cameras that will preserve one's mistakes forever.

   So, once again, Bill. Get some sleep and get some good debate coaching. You likely already are receiving good coaching. But you aren't listening. You can't just play in the games. You have to go to practice too. And when the coach tells you how to say it better, please listen.

      Otherwise, Bill, your best bet is to go back to Congress. An energetic guy like you can shake hands in a congressional district to make a difference. And speaking of energy, Bill. You are now 59. That's not old, but it's definitely at the slowing down stage. You can't continue to go 16 hours a day without some consequences.

      Surprisingly, no negative consequences were noticeable in the latest national poll taken while people were digesting the gaffes from Richardson's debate on gay issues. His national numbers look almost as good as his numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire. That's a first.

      He's now at 7 percent in the American Research Group survey. Up from 3 percent in July. Sen. Joe Biden trails Richardson at 4 percent, with the remaining candidates below 1 percent.

      Could it be true that any publicity is good publicity? Maybe Richardson's gaffes at least have gotten him noticed. That wasn't the plan, however. Richardson was to get close enough that he could vault to the front when the big three make mistakes.

      Oh well. Richardson continues to forge ahead with two new ads in Iowa, both focused on jobs and economic development. One of them is the fourth in his humorous "job interview" ads.

   Richardson is hanging out in the hallway as an interest group looks for someone with a proven record for economic development. He waves at them, but it doesn't register with the group.

   The ads don't portray Richardson in a forceful, dynamic manner, but they do get across the message that the best candidate is out there in the bushes still going unnoticed.

FRI, 8-17-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Friday, August 10, 2007

8-15 How Politically Corrupt is New Mexico?


Syndicated Columnist


      SANTA FE -- Is New Mexico the most politically corrupt state in the nation? It's a perception held by more than a few New Mexicans. Last spring it was bolstered by the departure of former GOP state chairman and gubernatorial candidate John Dendahl.

      Dendahl's parting shots before leaving for Colorado were that New Mexico had become far too politically corrupt for him to want to stick around.

   Also last spring, author and journalist Greg Palast appeared in Santa Fe to expand on New Mexico corruption charges made in his latest book "Armed Madhouse."

   So I decided to google "political corruption" to see if a picture of the New Mexico state capitol appeared next to the definition. I found no mention of New Mexico in the first 100 or so entries.

   But I did find a very interesting ranking of political corruption, contained in a book of that title by Arnold Heidenheimer and Michael Johnston. It ranked all states except Hawaii according to the number of federal misconduct convictions per 100 elected officials between 1986 and 1995.

   New Mexico ranked 19th, with a little less than two convictions per 100 elected officials. Virginia led the rankings with over 10 convictions, followed closely by Florida and Maryland.

   Next came all but one of the deep South states (Arkansas) along with some of the biggest states (California, New York, Ohio and Illinois). New Hampshire and Vermont were the cleanest.

   So maybe New Mexico isn't that bad after all. From over a half century of talking with people from other states, it seems most of them think their state is the most politically corrupt. They also think their weather is the most changeable and they all tell dumb jokes about their neighboring states.

   But even two crooked public officials out of every 100 is too many. So how do we fix it? That's a question currently being addressed by an ethics task force appointed by Gov. Bill Richardson.

   That task force began its work two years ago, but the 2006 and 2007 legislatures didn't do much with its recommendations, even in a special session earlier this year, in which the governor asked them to give it another try.

   The big stumbling block is that it seems logical for the rules to apply to all three branches of government. But lawmakers, mostly Senate leaders, say they don't need any rules because they are not the problem.

   Careful guys. That sort of thing can turn out to be very embarrassing, like when the details of the Albuquerque metro court indictments are revealed.

   This time, the ethics panel is expected to recommend another special session to address the very complex questions of whether an overall ethics commission is needed, what its powers should be, and whether a code of ethics similar to the existing judicial code is needed as a basis for judging ethics violations.

   It may not be surprising that all states are wrestling with these questions. We won't be the first, and hopefully not the last, to begin finding some solutions.

   New Mexico's first step needs to be a decision on when best to begin this deliberation. The Ethics Commission is expected to recommend a special session before April 1, 2008. This would get some laws into effect for the 2008 election cycle.

   The majority thinking at this point is to have a session immediately following adjournment of the 2008 Legislature in Mid-February. That would be most cost effective. This will be a short, 30-day session, so lawmakers may not be as worn out.

   But primary election campaigns are facing all 112 lawmakers next spring. They'll be wanting to hurry home to start getting nominating petitions signed and fundraising started for their June primary elections.

   The one issue on which everyone agrees is that the decision and date for a session needs to be acceptable to both the governor and Legislature and decided in advance, this time.

WED, 8-15-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Thursday, August 09, 2007

8-13 Inside Politics With Lt. Gov. Denish


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Lt. Gov. Diane Denish will be teaching a course on women in politics next semester at New Mexico State University. It's appropriate; it's needed and there's no better time to be doing it.

      Actually, it has been needed for decades, but it wouldn't have been thought appropriate back then.

   Ironically, there was much interest in getting women involved in politics 90 years ago. New Mexico's fourth governor, Octaviano Larrazolo, was a strong supporter of women's suffrage.

   Larrazolo proposed a constitutional amendment to the 1919 Legislature giving women the right to vote. He was a Republican and so were both houses of the Legislature.

   But because amending the elective franchise of our state constitution requires large supermajorities, the proposal to put the amendment on the ballot failed narrowly.

   Larrazolo was the only governor in our state's early years to be interested in getting women into politics. Interestingly, he was the last Hispanic to be elected governor for the next 55 years.

   In 1920 a federal amendment was passed, giving women the right to vote. The following year, New Mexico passed an amendment giving women the right to run for office and the race was on for women in politics.

   In 1922, Bertha Paxton of Dona Ana County was elected to the Legislature. Before the decade was over, 10 more women joined her. The 1930s saw 18 women elected to the Legislature, followed by 17 women in the 1940s.

   It appeared women were well on their way to attaining equal political status. But in the 1950s, only nine women were elected to the Legislature. In the 1960s, that number dropped to five. Those were mostly wives of legislators who died in office, and most of them failed to win reelection.

   Much valuable ground was lost during this period. Finally, in the 1970s, women lawmakers bounced back into the double digits and by the '80s, women were up to 28 legislators  and were back on their way to at least partial equality.

   Today 33 women serve in the 112-member Legislature. Seven of them hold leadership positions, including Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who presides over the Senate. Women also hold the offices of secretary of state and U.S. Representative. In addition, Lt. Gov. Denish is a leading contender for governor in 2010.

   On the national level, Rep. Nancy Pelosi is the first female speaker of the House of Representatives and Sen. Hillary Clinton is the leading contender for president at this point.

   It takes awhile for women to move up in seniority and assume leadership posts, although some of the trail blazers came years ago. Sen. In the late 1930s, Louise Coe of Lincoln County was the first and only female Senate president pro tem . And in 1947-48, Georgia Lusk of Eddy County, was New Mexico's first female member of Congress.

   Undeniably, women are now on the move in politics and this is a great time for NMSU to recognize the fact with a class aimed at providing an insider's view of politics. Although the focus will be on women, the class is not limited to women.

   Issues to be discussed also will pertain to men. Enrollment will be open to graduate and undergraduate students and at last word, spaces still are available.

   The class will be co-taught by Mary Benanti, a former political reporter in Washington, D.C. during parts of the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations.

   No one could be happier than this columnist to see women moving toward political equality. For the past 20 years, Inside the Capitol has encouraged and chronicled the advance of women in politics.

   It is appropriate at this point to recognize Dr. Dan Chavez, a retired professor from the University of New Mexico, who has long researched and recorded the political history of New Mexico since statehood. Dr. Chavez has been particularly enthusiastic about recording the march of women in politics.

   His extensive research also appears in New Mexico Blue Books.

MON, 8-13-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

8-10 Richardson's Iraq Plan Attracting Attention


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Gov. Bill Richardson's plan to get us out of Iraq by year's end has been attracting a good deal of attention.

   Public opinion polls indicate a majority of likely voters are saying that's what they meant by the message they delivered last November. Richardson's latest fundraising letter is aimed at those folks.

   But his fellow presidential candidates are calling his position unworkable and irresponsible. They contend that if we start now, it will take until next April (soon to be next May) before we can get our troops out in an orderly fashion.

   In that fundraising letter previously mentioned, Richardson calls such an assessment "politics and posturing." And maybe he's right.

   In response to the message voters delivered last November, the George Bush administration did just the opposite. It began a "surge." The president said it would have to have a chance to work. Like until October, almost a year away at the time. Now he's saying we need a bit longer.

   Richardson's Democratic opponents are playing along, letting the president draw it out. And why not? If we are still surging in November 2008, voters almost surely will want to throw out everyone who didn't listen.

   That will benefit Democrats but it will have delayed bringing home our troops by two years. Maybe that is the "politics" Richardson is accusing his opponents of playing.

   Richardson believes a more rapid withdrawal is possible. He wants to put the focus on diplomatic efforts with Iraq's neighbors, especially Iran and Syria, which have the biggest stake in seeing a stable Iraq on their border.

   So does our withdrawal have to be slow? I don't know much about military science, but what about shock and awe? We got to Baghdad in two weeks. Ten days later we declared victory throughout the entire country. If it took two weeks to get in, how come it takes ten months to get out?

   If the answer is that the enemy we're fighting now is a lot stronger than the enemy we faced then, that means the enemy is getting stronger all the time. We'd better not waste any more time getting out.

   Richardson's plan of diplomatic action makes sense in a war on terrorism. Military action doesn't work. Promotion of health, education and democracy does. It's a long term effort. But time is on our side.

   The Cold War took a half-century but communism finally collapsed without the superpowers going to war with each other. Al Qaida isn't nearly as tough. But, again, military action isn't the answer.

   Could politics also be playing a role in Democrats' lack of enthusiasm about demanding the resignation or firing of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales?

   Some members of Congress are even calling for his impeachment, but top Democrats are turning a deaf ear. Could it be a decision has been made that Gonzales is more valuable to Democrats' reelection strategy by remaining in office?

   Meanwhile Richardson remains at the top of the second-tier candidates, struggling to break into the first tier. In some states, he occasionally breaks through, only to fall back. If he does break away, it is likely to be because a top candidate falls from favor as Howard Dean proved is possible four years ago.

   The money Richardson is raising this year would have been very respectful for a first-tier candidate four years ago, but this year Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are setting entirely new standards.

   Richardson's fundraising is being given a nice boost by Act Blue, an online clearinghouse for Democratic candidates. He is running second to John Edwards from that source.

   With all Richardson's wooing of the entertainment industry to get movies and TV series to New Mexico, it would seem that he would do well with contributions from that source. But those folks seem to be betting almost everything on Clinton or Obama.

   Guess they want to pick a winner.

FRI, 8-10-08


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)


Friday, August 03, 2007

8-8 Will Explosion Affect Spaceport America?


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- The commercial space industry has suffered its first fatalities. How will that affect New Mexico's Spaceport America?

      We know it has had some effect because a news conference to announce the architect and design for our spaceport was cancelled by director Rick Homans in deference to the deaths.

   Five days later a simple news release told of the selection but no details were given pending an eventual rescheduling of the news conference.

   That may take awhile. New Mexico officials don't want the California explosion that killed three workers and seriously injured three more to crowd out a focus on our state's spaceport.

   A team of U.S. and British architects was chosen to design the main terminal and hangar facility. Many had predicted that the team with a British component might get the bid because of the major involvement of British-based Virgin Galactic in the spaceport project.

   Another reason for the postponed news conference may be that Virgin Galactic has been very secretive about its operation and about the construction of SpaceShip Two by Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites at Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

   A fleet of five SpaceShip Twos will carry paying passengers to the edge of space from New Mexico's Spaceport America beginning in late 2009 or early 2010.

   Virgin Galactic's secrecy about the project has visibly frustrated Rutan who couldn't answer questions he would have liked to have fielded at the news conference following the explosion.

   In fairness to Virgin Galactic and its founder Sir Richard Branson, there now is hot competition in all phases of the commercial space field.

   Along that same line, Mojave Air and Space Port is New Mexico's biggest competition. Mojave already is certified and is the nation's first inland spaceport. It didn't get Branson's business because the state of California didn't offer him as sweet a deal as New Mexico did.

   Branson may have cast his lot with New Mexico but Rutan is sticking with Mojave. He is predicting big things ahead for Mojave. He recently told the local newspaper that significant infrastructure will be built within the next year to handle the space tourism business.

   Rutan predicts Mojave will beat out New Mexico because passengers want to see the ocean, not just desert on their flights. The first several flights of SpaceShip Two are scheduled to fly out of Mojave since Spaceport America won't be ready for two or three years.

   Even before the explosion at Mojave, while a component of the space plane was being tested, there was plenty of chatter about the risks of commercial space flight.

   A Virgin Galactic official has told a group of investors that the public understands the danger of space travel after two disasters involving NASA shuttles.

   And before that was the disaster involving an Apollo space capsule. Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were burned to death during a routine simulation. No independent inquiry into the incident was ever conducted. The exact cause of the disaster remains unknown.

   Grissom knew that 20,000 failures of the spacecraft cabin and engines had been recorded. He wasn't anxious to be locked in that cabin.

   We learned of their deaths because they already had gained fame. But how many deaths of workers in the development of the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and shuttle programs do we not know about? As far as NASA ever told us, there were none, but there likely were quite a few.

   Some critics predict that in a state already divided over the spaceport that there won't be the political will to continue the process. I don't see that happening, but spaceport officials appear to be a little gun shy right now

   It obviously is a difficult time for the California firm and the families of the workers. Investigations currently are under way by Scaled Composites, the Mojave spaceport and California's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. That's as it should be.

WED, 8-08-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)