Will New Mexico get its broadband chance with the Recovery Act?

(Credit: Jim Hannon/The Times Daily, via AP)

(Credit: Jim Hannon/The Times Daily)

Even though it was the United States Department of Commerce that championed the Internet as a means of universal commercial and democratic information exchange, the U.S. ranks 12-16th in broadband penetration. We are the only developed country in the world without a coherent broadband strategy. New Mexico, despite being host to such high-tech agencies as Los Alamos National Labs and Sandia National Labs, lags behind almost all other states in broadband penetration.

This was supposed to change when President Obama added $4.7 billion of spending to the 2009 Stimulus spending bill to

accelerate broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas and to strategic community institutions that provide important public benefits.

How is this to be accomplished?

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Recission Roulette and Inside the Baucus Caucus (with Senator Bingaman)

If you tuned into This American Life last Saturday, you heard the segment about the health insurance industry practice of rescission – the invalidation of policies at precisely the time when the insured actually need medical care.

Two stories were featured — there’s the woman who was denied breast cancer surgery because she hadn’t reported being treated for acne in the past, and the one about the fellow whose policy was rescinded because his insurance agent had incorrectly entered his weight on the application form. (Read what former CIGNA exec Wendell Potter had to say about recissions.)

Despite health insurance industry claims to the contrary, recission is not rare. The odds are shockingly high that you’ll get the axe if you get seriously ill. Taunter breaks down the numbers:

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Putting Corporate Taxes in Perspective

Central to the debate over health care reform is the question:  “How do we pay for it?”  One idea we’ve discussed at Clearly is the proposal to enact a surtax on the incomes of the wealthiest 1% of households.

Which brings us the question of corporate taxation.  Over the past 30 years we’ve seen how, through the strategic use of campaign contributions and well-paid Washington lobbyists, big corporations have extracted huge tax breaks and tax loopholes out of Congress. Many corporations end up paying no taxes at all.  A 2007 Treasury Department report estimated that all these corporate tax breaks will reduce federal revenues by more than $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. Sounds like money that could help plug those looming budget deficits.

Defenders of favorable tax treatment for corporations insist that tax breaks mean job creation.  Ironically, corporations have even gotten tax breaks for shipping American jobs overseas.  During the same period, middle class incomes have stagnated and American jobs have become less secure than ever before.

Discussion Question:

Should we restore fairness to the tax code by making corporations pay their fair share of taxes?

To join in the discussion, click here

Racism Redux

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, I guess.  But I have to say I was kind of surprised to see local blogger Mario Burgos write today that people who’ve dared  speak out against the arrest of Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates in his home are being too sensitive about race and “clinging to the past.”

Here’s what Burgos said on his blog:

Is there still racism in America? The simple answer is yes. However, the vast majority of us are not racists. As a nation, we have made tremendous strides. Unfortunately, recent events involving Henry Louis Gates, Jr. show that too many people are clinging to the past:

Gates had trouble getting into his home because of a damaged door.

Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley was dispatched on a possible break-in. He found Gates there and asked for identification.

Police say Gates initially refused, became angry and accused the officer of racism. Gates was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, which was dropped.

And this from Burgos:

Personally, I wouldn’t be offended if a police officer asked me for identification while I struggled to enter my home. In fact, I would be grateful that they were so responsive to policing the community and protecting my property. Based on what I’ve read and heard, it seems to me that Professor Gates is the one with the problem here.

Hmmm. As a black person, I know I love “clinging to the past” when Jim Crow was around and segregation was legal. Or is he talking about that delightful past when slavery was the order of the day?  Good times, good times.

I guess that’s why I – and people like me  – enjoy indiscriminately pulling everyone else back into that dynamic whenever we can. It’s so pleasant for us – and so advantageous!  I mean, why else would we keep bothering everyone else so much by doing it? I guess we just need to stop, because everything would really just be okay if we just follow all the rules like Burgos does.

Just in case we suspect Burgos doesn’t know how it feels to have a run-in with the police, he relates an example from his past:

I actually had something like this happen to me once. When I was much younger and living in Los Angeles, I was driving a $500 car with a broken backseat window. I had broken the window myself because the locks didn’t work on the car and the way for me to let myself into the car was from the inside. Well, while driving around, I was pulled over one day by a police officer.

He flat out told me that he pulled me over to check and see if I had stolen the car. At the time, I was in my early twenties. It was summer so I was pretty dark and sporting a mustache and goatee, which my wife always thought made me look like a gang member. Probably a pretty accurate assessment since I actually landed a role in a low budget film as a gang member with that look.

Did I take offense that the police officer pulled me over? Did I become belligerent and argumentative? No, he was doing his job. If Professor Gates had assumed the same instead of jumping to a conclusion that officer’s actions were motivated by racism, this all would have been a non-issue.

Leaving aside the interesting assumption that being “pretty dark” and having a mustache and goatee somehow makes someone “look like a gang member,” I have a message for Burgos: That day, when the police pulled you over, you were an honorary black person.

Congratulations, and welcome to the club.

I guess it happened to you that day because you were young and “pretty dark” and daringly hairy and driving through Los Angeles in a $500 dollar car with a broken backseat window.

You just didn’t see it though.

You got a gold star for being polite to the policeman, who thought –  on sight – that your car was stolen and you were a thief.   Think about that for a second.

But that day, everything worked out just like it should for you – which apparently means it always does for everyone else, especially when they follow all the rules, just like you did.

Except racial profiling incidents like the one that happened to you don’t always turn out that way. Not for a big group of people who aren’t just “pretty dark” in the summer. And it happens whether they have a goatee or a $500 car or a broken window, or not. Or whether they teach at Harvard and have a big house in Cambridge, or not.

Racism is a slippery thing.  I don’t go around thinking about it all day and I don’t hop up and down with anger (or glee) when I see it.

In the days of slavery and Jim Crow, blatant manifestations of racism transformed and warped American society in grotesque, inhuman ways.

Laws and procedures and regulations exist today to curb it, but racism will never be stamped out. People are always going to think and hate and feel whatever they want.

I am willing to live with that, and to speak out when I think I need to.

But I am not willing to stand by while someone declares that racism is on the way out – and that people who call it when they see it are simply having some kind of silly, knee-jerk reaction that can be dismissed by logic, politeness and proper police procedure.

Revealing Images

Satellite photos, Point Barrow Alaska (U.S. Geological Survey)

Satellite photos, Barrow, Alaska (U.S. Geological Survey)

It’s funny to see climate deniers quoting cherry-picked articles about climate change that hardly take scientific models into account. With my minor having been in climate science , I find it ironic to see data and reports presented from the EPA, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and other science-based groups that rely heavily on good data and research deemed as worthless and biased by many people who have never studied climate science, but suddenly are experts. These groups’ studies were exactly what my climate teachers had us students reading in class.

Yet, we all know the IPCC, which consists of thousands of scientists from around the world and has been doing climate studies for 21 years now, obviously has been doing this great work all these years in order to propagate a huge tax (a whopping $175 per year increase) on Americans and destroy our economy. They definitely don’t have the health of all the ecosystems we humans rely upon in mind when talking about the effects of climate change.

But it becomes slightly easier to understand why climate deniers are so adamant when you note that for the past eight years, the Bush administration was either denying, covering up or doing absolutely nothing about climate change despite recommendations from longstanding, science-based organizations.

So it’s not surprising (at least to me) when very revealing satellite images of arctic ice from a few years ago were just released a couple of weeks ago. These images date back as far as 1996 and were never released by the Bush administration for public viewing.

I’m assuming that putting out images showing how huge tracts of Arctic ice have retreated in very short time frames of 1-2 years is not your best move when trying to argue a change in climate is not happening.

Just take a look for yourself at a few of these recently released images, and you’ll understand what they were trying to hide these past few years. I look forward to seeing photo-shopped copies of these images from climate deniers that show the ice suddenly growing back.

SunCal TIDD: Reasons for optimism?

There’s a billboard on the side of interstate 40 near the Carlisle exit which reads, “20,000 jobs.” SunCal’s proposed development of the area surrounding Petroglyph National Monument on Unser Blvd. depends on the state government’s willingness to issue roughly $400 million in bonds to help pay for construction of roads, sewers, and water pipelines on SunCal land. SunCal’s position is simple: the state of New Mexico should pay for all this because SunCal’s development will end up paying for itself. To that end, SunCal proposed what is called a TIDD, or Tax Increment Development District, be created to around the site of their development. What is a TIDD? SunCal’s online site TIDDfacts.com says:

TIDDs issue bonds based upon the new businesses and values generated from within the 9 Districts. The bond sale proceeds reimburse SunCal for the costs of the public infrastructure. The bonds are repaid from the new business taxes and other taxes generated within the Districts – NOT from current Albuquerque taxpayers or current businesses. By using TIDDS, the new development pays for its own infrastructure instead of having the City pay for it from its general fund.

It would seem that the issue really is as simple as the billboard on I-40 states: the only way you can conceivably be opposed to a SunCal TIDD is if you object to 20,000 new jobs in New Mexico. Why, then, did 33 of 66 lawmakers at the state capital conspire to prevent the gainful employment of 20,000 people?

Economics, stupid. The proposed TIDD on SunCal lands would, by the time they are estimated to be paid off in 2047, require more than $1 billion in state, county, and city funding (viii). Forty years is a long time, you might say, but it’s not very long to the state. Furthermore, when it comes to ensuring tax revenue in the future, one might argue that development is the only viable way to proceed.

Yet SunCal admits that it hasn’t taken inflation into its accounting of future tax revenues or costs of maintaining all those new streets and underground pipes. Add this to the city’s estimate that an Albuquerque population growing at a middling 1% a year would run out of viable supplies of drinking water in 2060, and you realize that opposition to SunCal may not have been because legislators in Santa Fe hated the idea of more jobs for New Mexicans. (Part of SunCal’s 20,000 estimate consists of high-paying Aeronautics jobs).

When one takes in the whole of New Mexico politics, it is easy to be frustrated by the corruption, vagrance, and various chicaneries that seem to define it. Yet this is to miss the forest for the trees. SunCal, for all its high-paying lobbyists and advertising campaigns, could not see the simple truth, that it faced an all-too-rare moment of sanity in Santa Fe: SunCal’s last message on its Twitter account, dated March 19th, says “SunCal Tax Plan a Benefit to State!” On March 20th, Legislators defeated their proposal.

But this isn’t a reason to celebrate quite yet. The TIDD issue will almost certainly come up before the legislature again in the next session, and SunCal will continue to skew the facts as long as it thinks it can get massive amounts of bond money from a captive state legislature.

It’s Time for Wealthiest 1% to Pony Up

Over the past weeks I’ve heard arguments back and forth about whether or not we’re actually addressing costs in the current versions of the healthcare bills moving through the House. I’d like to start this with a simple premise that seems to get lost in the debate.

Expanding coverage is a NECESSARY component of costs containment.

Still there remains the issue of how to fund expanded coverage, which leads to the question:

Should we institute a surtax on the wealthiest Americans to help pay for healthcare reform?

Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently spoke of being open to a tax that would be levied on families that have an income of over a $1 million to help pay for the price tag on healthcare reform.

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Fettered Capitalism Reconsidered

We all know how the collapse of the Soviet Union consigned communism to the dustbin of history in the eyes of the world.  Now the global financial market crash has succeeded in doing much the same for the other great vision of false utopia — that of deregulated capitalism.  And more alarmingly, the recklessness and criminality of the wizards of Wall Street is giving American democracy a pretty big black eye as well. That’s the view of Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz.

As part of Clearly New Mexico’s ongoing examination of the proper role of government, we recommend his essay in July’s Vanity Fair – Wall Street’s Toxic Message.

Stiglitz on the state of market fundamentalism:

… the debate over “market fundamentalism,” the notion that unfettered markets, all by themselves, can ensure economic prosperity and growth. Today only the deluded would argue that markets are self-correcting or that we can rely on the self-interested behavior of market participants to guarantee that everything works honestly and properly.

On markets and the role of government:

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Navajo Nation Passes Green Jobs Bill

Navajo Nation Summer Council

Navajo Nation Summer Council

Great news comes today from Window Rock, AZ as the Council of the Great Navajo Nation passed legislation enacting a Green Economy Commission and Fund to support a transition to a healthier and more sustainable economy.

I first heard of this initiative when a co-worker and I attended a Black Mesa Water Coalition meeting that focused on bringing a green economy to the Navajo Nation.  As time has gone by the coalition has grown, and it’s exciting to see a how a group of young people are playing their part to help change politics in native communities.

From the official press release:

“This legislation will set up the infrastructure needed to capture federal money already earmarked for green job development.  What’s more this legislation will focus on small-scale, community development— a form of economic development that empowers local communities and allows folks to work near their homes and communities.   This moves the Navajo Nation and the Navajo people one step closer to a green economy.”

A big congratulations goes out to everyone at the Navajo Green Jobs Coalition for all their hard work.  And another thanks to the Navajo Nation Council for realizing the potential of a green economy.

No Wonder They’re Pushing Nuclear

It is a constant source of wonderment to me why so many energy proponents and politicians have chosen to highlight nuclear as the energy source answer to our climate change (as well as rising costs in energy production) woes.

Why would they argue for more nuclear reactors to be built when the United States is already dealing with the big problem of storing/depositing the high amount of radioactive waste we already have produced?

Now the story comes out about the proposed costs to build two new reactors in Ontario.  Looks like  price isn’t going to serve as a convincing argument for nuclear power much longer either.  Why?  The price quoted last week ($23 billion dollars to be exact) by the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd to the Ontario provincial government was three times higher than what had been expected.

Will the Ontario  government start considering the use of solar power now, inasmuch as the price quoted for nuclear power averages out to be about $3,500 more per kilowatt of energy produced when compared to solar prices?

The Accidental Deliberations blog sums it up rather well:

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