If TED won’t talk, Sarah’s gonna sing about it! (MUSIC VIDEO)

Got those income inequality blues, dude.

You have no doubt watched, or at least heard of, the TED Talk videos. TED is a nonprofit, “devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading” and the TED.com website has compiled more than 900 short lectures — stimulating, provocative stuff from some creative, often quite brilliant, people.

Recently, however, the TEDnics in charge sparked considerable controversy, and some complaints of censorship, by refusing to post a talk by venture capitalist Nick Hanauer.

So what got Hanuer’s talk banned? Why it seems this very wealthy and hugely successful venture capitalist questioned what in 1 Per Cent circles is the holiest of holies — the proposition that, “If taxes on the rich go up, job creation will go down.” Hanuer doesn’t buy it. And he’s got charts and data to back his apostasy up.

You can read more about the brouhaha here and here and here and here, but first listen to the Sarah Kennedy’s original musical composition about the topic — her very first ukulele music video:

Governor Martinez’s Vetoes Killed Jobs (VIDEO)

It’s true. Despite all of the “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” rhetoric spinning out of the Governor’s office, the fact is her vetoes are costing jobs in New Mexico’s small towns and rural communities.

We know. You won’t read about it in the Albuquerque Journal.

But facts (and stats) are stubborn things, and Sarah Kennedy’s got a slew of ’em. Watch.

ABQ rally calls for jobs, not cuts

By Matthew Reichbach

A rally of about 150 people in downtown Albuquerque called for the federal government to stop cutting services and instead focus on jobs. The rally, one of hundreds across the nation organized by the progressive organization MoveOn.Org, was given a shot in the arm by the recent debate in Congress over spending.

The event was a kickoff of sorts according to Greg Sandoval, a regional organizer for MoveOn.org and one of the organizers of the rally. A number of progressive organizations unveiled the “Contract for the American Dream” this week. The contract is “ten critical steps to get our economy back on track,” which includes investing in America’s infrastructure, ending the wars in the Middle East and securing social security.

Sandoval said the number one thing that people at the rally wanted was to work.

“They want a strong America,” Sandoval said in an interview with Clearly New Mexico. “They don’t want to be collecting unemployment. They don’t want to be on welfare. People want to work.”

While many speakers focused on what they believed Congress and President Barack Obama should do, State Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, gave an example of something he thinks should be done during the upcoming special session.

Ortiz y Pino says that the legislature should pass the severance tax bond issue but only include projects that would create New Mexican jobs.

“We should only be spending that money this year on things that put New Mexicans to work,” Ortiz y Pino told the crowd. “They want to work. They’ve got a lot of energy, a lot of talent, we’ve got to get them back to work.”

Ortiz y Pino gave an example of “software programs put together by a consulting company in another state” as an example of something that the legislature would take out of the severance tax bond issue.

“It’s a small step, but when we start taking enough small steps, we’re actually going to turn this thing around and make the American dream realizable once again,” Ortiz y Pino said.

State Senator Eric Griego, D-Albuquerque, spoke to the crowd and invoked former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or FDR, who presided over the United States emergence from the Great Depression.

“What FDR said, and he said it in pretty clear terms, was we cannot turn our government over to corporations,” Griego said to cheers from the crowd.

Griego also said that government has a role in rebuilding the economy.

“When times are tough, you don’t turn government away from people,” Griego declared. “You turn government and public servants towards people. You put them to work by rebuilding the economy. By rebuilding our roads and our schools and our bridges and our green infrastructure.”

Homemade signs at rally echoed the statements of many of the speakers.

One, held by a charter school teacher fresh off of his first day of classes, said that the government should be funding “schools, health care, jobs — not the war machine!”

Interim Watch: Uranium Industry Makes Big Pitch to Resume NM Mining Operations

By Charlotte Chinana

As state officials look for ways to stimulate New Mexico’s economy and create more jobs, supporters of efforts to restart uranium mining operations in the state were handed a stage to make their pitch to legislators at this week’s meeting of the Economic and Rural Development Interim Committee in Grants.

And according to a panel devoted to the subject, prospects for the industry couldn’t be rosier as their key following talking points did attest:

  • New Mexico’s uranium reserves are among the richest in the nation – 2nd only to Wyoming;
  • The nuclear energy industry’s safety record is the “Best of any industry in the history of the world;” and
  • “The future is fairly optimistic for uranium (mining) in New Mexico”

New Mexico’s uranium rich reserves

According to the industry speakers, New Mexico has one of the richest uranium deposits in the United States, which “creates a lucrative opportunity to resume mining operations,” projected to “create thousands of jobs.”

“The world demand for uranium would double if the proposed nuclear reactors are built,” said Barbara Brazil, Deputy Secretary of the state’s Economic Development Department. According to estimates from the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are currently 440 operational reactors in the world – 104 of which are located across the United States.

“The U.S. consumes 20% of the world’s energy,” added John Bemis, Secretary-designee of the Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department. “This is the world as we know it today…everybody needs to remember that we need uranium to fuel those nuclear plants.”

Not addressed in any detail were a couple of none too rosy “economic opportunity caveats”:

  • Industry estimates that the state’s uranium reserves will be worth approximately $31 billion dollars are based on economic assumptions that the price per pound of uranium would hold steady at $90 to $100 per pound over a 30 year period. However, a more likely scenario is that the price will fluctuate.  The laws of supply and demand can be a pesky critters. For example, in 2000 the price per pound of uranium was $6 – and as of July 25 of this year, the uranium price per pound was $51.50.
  • Metal mining in the state doesn’t have the best track record in terms of economic stability. According to a 2008 report prepared for the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, the state has been through many copper mining boom and bust cycles, as well as one previous uranium boom and bust cycle (circa 1948 – early 1980s).

Also, another hardly insignificant issue touched on with regard to NM’s uranium reserves was the potential jurisdictional issues that can arise. Some of “the state’s” uranium deposits are located on Indigenous lands.

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New Mexico’s Empty Unemployment Rate Drop

By Matthew Reichbach

Despite headlines that the unemployment rate in New Mexico dropped to 6.8 percent in June, digging into the numbers shows the jobs situation in New Mexico remains dire.

The Santa Fe New Mexican noted that New Mexico ranked 50th in job growth. That’s dead last in the nation. Winthrop Quigley of the Albuquerque Journal said the numbers on jobs “are conflicting” and that “at least some employment data show New Mexico mired in a recession.” And the Santa Fe Reporter wrote that the numbers “don’t add up.”

Why?

Gerry Bradley, an economist and research director for New Mexico Voices for Children, told Clearly New Mexico that the unemployment rate largely reported in the media is “irrelevant” and that “no economist takes the unemployment rate as a good indicator of where the economy is going.”

Instead, Bradley suggests looking at the numbers from the Current Employment Statistics, or CES.

“The CES is a fairly large survey of employers in the state,” Bradley suggested in a phone interview with Clearly New Mexico. “At the same time that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is running this one program to get the unemployment rate, they’re running another survey that gives you employment data.”

Looking at this data paints a different picture from the unemployment rate that the media concentrates on.

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Interim Watch: Unemployment Insurance Fund (In)Solvency

By Charlotte Chinana

The Legislative Finance Committee met in Socorro Thursday to hear not only the latest projections for state revenues, but also the status of the unemployment insurance fund in the wake of Governor Martinez’s partial veto earlier this year of legislation that would have fixed the problem. A panel presentation on the subject pretty much says it all:  “Unemployment Insurance – Where are we headed in 2012? Insolvency, Federal Loans and Employer Contribution Increases.”

Celina Bussey, Cabinet Secretary for the Workforce Solutions Department (WSD), gave a detailed presentation about the unemployment outlook for New Mexico.

According to her office, as of May, the state’s average unemployment rate was 6.9%, and it has been steadily declining over a three-month period.

However, while the overall certified unemployment insurance claims have decreased during that period (from approximately 66,000 to 36,000), the state isn’t seeing a similar overall decline in initial claims being filed on a weekly basis. Moreover, there is a gap between people who are unemployed, and people who are unemployed and collecting unemployment benefits.

Secretary Bussey stated that, since the state trends tend to mirror federal trends – with a lag – there’s a concern that we might see an uptick in the unemployment rate in New Mexico.

Officials from WSD highlighted the fact that unemployment compensation payments have more than doubled by fiscal quarter since 2009, and that during peak periods (over the past two years) daily payments have hit the $1 million dollar mark. While the state had projected to pay out approximately $16 million in benefits for the 2011 fiscal year, the actual figure was closer to $17.2 million.

To address this shortfall, the state is looking into various scenarios, including increasing employer contributions, and taking out a loan from the U.S. Department of Labor). In addition, changes are to the reporting system are being contemplated to identify potential instances of overpayment, while ensuring that work search requirements are being met.

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Interim Leg Watch: Energy Industry Wants Less Regulations, More Incentives

By Charlotte Chinana

“You’re preaching to the choir…we need to put people back to work – we need to put people back in [the] uranium mines.”

~ Sen. David Ulibarri (D – Grants) commenting on (while simultaneously commending) presentations from representatives from the mining, oil and gas industries in NM.

The interim Economic and Rural Development Committee recently held their July meetings (in Tucumcari and Santa Rosa), and I had the opportunity to take a little “legislative road trip” to sit in on a couple of agenda items – namely the “Energy Panel: Update on Projects, Tax Incentives and Laws and Regulations That Are Helping or Hurting Industry,” and the “Oil and Gas Energy Report.”

During the committee hearing, industry panelists took a moment to mention what their companies have done and/or will do for New Mexico – with regards to the number of jobs created and payments made to the state (by way of taxes, fees and royalties); they also spent the bulk of their presentations outlining what the state can (additionally) do for industry – specifically related to relaxing (if not entirely eliminating) regulations, while providing more incentives to do business in the state.

The Energy Panel Updates

Representatives from two of the state’s utility providers, Xcel Energy (an electric and natural gas company that operates in eight states – including NM), and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association (a wholesale electric power producer/supplier that serves 44 rural electric cooperatives and public power districts in four states – with 12 in NM), spoke extensively about the reliability of service provided by their companies, as well as the importance of cost containment measures.

While each highlighted the need to keep and utilize a diverse energy portfolio, it was stressed that the companies pretty much only added solar and wind, because they were mandated to do it.

Sonia Phillips, the NM State Affairs Manager from Xcel Energy, noted the cost difference in terms of solar production, using the example that it costs her company about 13 cents to generate a kilowatt of solar, vs. 2 or 3 cents to generate that same kilowatt – using coal. Phillips also said that some “basic, good incentives” would be nice which, according to a handout from her company, would include:

  • Expedited permitting;
  • Transmission cost recovery riders;
  • Clean energy improvement riders; and
  • Less regulatory lag (as regulatory lag increases investment risk)

Sen. Clinton Harden (R – Clovis) asked if NM’s current electricity demands were being met, to which Phillips replied “yes,” and elaborated that utility companies in the state are meeting the demand “92% of the time.”

Phillips then when on to mention that her company has “customers who want power when they want it” – as part of a pitch for an investment in infrastructure modifications to the power grid/s that the state uses (which were built in the 70s), and that “customers have been able to enjoy low rates for over 35 years” – related to possible, future rate increases.

Rhonda Mitchell, from Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, added that her company was doing what it can to educate their co-op members about the rising cost of energy production and transmission (i.e. why customers can expect to pay more), though it was unclear as to whether or not said education equally emphasizes energy conservation.

As for the reliability factor, she added that:  “Sometimes, we do too good of a job in being reliable … people [can] take it for granted.”

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company towns in good company

By Walker Boyd

Rio Rancho real estate map

Rio Rancho, New Mexico’s third-largest city has been an easy target for environmentalists and critics of development-oriented growth. It relies completely upon the aquifer for its water supply; its municipal government is small (it didn’t incorporate until 1981) and arguably beholden to the interests of corporations like HP and Intel who have moved to Rio Rancho to take advantage of property tax abatement and other government-provided incentives.

But if ahistorical (and unchecked) growth is Rio Rancho’s signature, then  it is really a reflection of the same growth that Albuquerque has undergone. The City of Albuquerque’s population in 1980 was only 3/5 of what it is today.

Rio Rancho and Albuquerque’s stupendous growth underlies many problems they face going into the 21st century.

The other day I was poking around Zimmerman library’s scant collection of books and theses about Rio Rancho. A 1998 thesis by Patricia Pollock argued that “AMREP [American Real Estate and Petroleum, Rio Rancho’s developer]’s sole motive in purchasing land in New Mexico was to tap into the profit potential of land speculation.

Likewise, the growing residential market enhanced the investment potential for individual owners.” Another 1994 article talks about how Rio Rancho is a new template  for 21st-century company towns; in this light Rio Rancho is McDonald, Ohio, and Intel is this century’s Carnegie Steel.

But these arguments cast Rio Rancho as anomalous; despite isolated fears about groundwater and air pollution in Corrales, Intel’s presence has been generally well-received. Despite some frustrations about lost tax revenue, it’s hard to imagine anyone in Albuquerque or Rio Rancho city halls complaining about Intel and the overall boast it has supplied to the regional economy.

And when compared to SunCal, Eclipse Aviation, and any number of other failed developments, Intel comes across as both a model and an exemplar of successful development.

As Clearly New Mexico pointed out, the most recent SunCal bid for TIDD tax-breaks didn’t fail because of organized opposition to the development of the West Mesa, but because their proposal was transparently untenable; politicians know that tax breaks are only worth it so long as gross receipts tax from the actual construction of houses makes up for their losses.

We weren’t so lucky with Eclipse Aviation, but like other failed developments, Eclipse failed not because it was a bad idea but because it was in the wrong place at the wrong time: demand for private jets fell because of the recession, and beleaguered Albuquerque tax payers were no longer willing to subsidize their construction for non-existent customers.

Questions about water and the environment take the back seat to development and growth in cities like Albuquerque. But what if development is permanently stalled, and subsistence, let alone sustainability, becomes a priority?

Here, critics of growth for growth’s sake have more ground to stand on. A critical view of Intel and Rio Rancho yields a different insight on growth. The United States has enshrined freedom of trade in its Constitution, and as long as the status quo prevents New Mexico from assuming a more regional, self-sustaining outlook, national and international trends will determine the arc of development.

But critical uneasiness is well-founded. So long as our economy grew at a rapid pace, projects like the Hoover and Imperial Dams made sense to satisfy a growing population. But as population growth stagnates and housing prices fall, the wisdom of planning for more growth appears more circumspect.

India and China, two economies that are still rapidly growing, can afford audacious projects to mitigate the effects of drought. But the wisdom of such autocratic, growth-at-all-costs government, authoritarian by nature and with annual growth rates as the only clause in the social contract doesn’t fit New Mexico very well.