Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Top Stories

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

It is the end of the year and the end of the decade; time to review the top stories of the year.

In the past I have relied on the Associated Press’ list of the top ten stories. This year the story came from the national bureau. The State’s AP bureau was recently reduced in size and I would contend that the absence of the list is just one of the examples of the diminished service.

So I offer my list of top stories for the year; I present them in no particular order.

Albuquerque Mayoral Election

Albuquerque voters on October 6, 2009, elected their first Republican Mayor since Harry Kinney completed his second term in office in November 1985. State Representative Richard “R.J.” Berry defeated three-term Mayor Martin J. Chávez, below left, and fellow Democrat, former State Senate Pro Tem Richard Romero, right.

Needing more than 40 percent of the ballots cast to avoid a run-off, Berry secured 40.83 percent surprising not only his opponents, but many long time political observers. Chávez received 35.02 percent and Romero collected 20.98 percent.

Two new City Councillors were elected, Dan Lewis, left, defeated incumbent Michael Cadigan in District 5 while Michael Cook was elected in District 7 after incumbent Sally Mayer withdrew from the race. Three other incumbents were reelected: District 1 Councillor Ken Sanchez was unopposed, District 3 Councillor Isaac Benton defeated former Councillor and current term-limited County Commissioner Alan Armijo, and District 9 Councillor Don Harris defeated David Barbour.

Though City elections are “non-partisan,” meaning that candidates don’t run on party platforms and political parties do not hold primaries, there is nothing non-partisan about the outcome. Councillors Lewis and Cook join District 4 Councillor Brad Winter, District 8 Councillor Trudy Jones, and District 9 Councillor Harris to make a 5-4 Republican majority on the Council. It is not a veto proof number, but with Berry being a Republican the political power shifted slightly. Partisan politics is not as sharply defined as it is at the state and national levels.

The new council is now comprised of: Councillors Lewis, Jones, Sanchez, Debbie O'Malley, Benton, Cook, Harris, Rey Garduño, and Winter.

Manny Aragón Sentenced in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse corruption scandal

Former Democratic State Senate Pro Tem Manny Aragón began serving a 67-month sentence after pleading guilty before Federal District Judge William P. Johnson.

Seen with his lawyers, Miles Hanisee and Ray Twohig, after the sentencing.

Aragón's co-defendants included: former Albuquerque Mayor Schultz; architect Marc Schiff; then construction manager Michael Murphy; electronics subcontractor Manuel Guara; former Metropolitan Court Administrator Toby Martinez and his wife Sandra Mata Martinez; and audio-visual contractor Raul Parra. All pleaded guilty and were given sentences ranging from probation to prison. They all were fined and ordered to pay restitution for skimming $4.3 million from the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Courthouse construction.

Governor Bill Richardson’s withdrew his name from consideration for appointment as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce

On January 4, 2009, Governor Bill Richardson withdrew his name from consideration when the Federal Bureau of Investigation was unable to forward a report to the Senate Commerce committee for confirmation because his name came up in an grand jury investigation into allegations of possible “pay-to-play” with several of his former high ranking administrative staffers and aides and the Los Angeles based CDR Financial Products, Inc.

The secret New Mexico federal grand jury was only one of several grand juries across the country investigating government corruption scandals into the possible links between large donations to Richardson’s political campaign and to his nonprofit organizations, "Moving America Forward" and "Si se puede," from donors who received lucrative contracts with the State.

The United States Attorney for New Mexico Greg Fouratt, above, forwarded the grand jury findings to the Justice Department in Washington, D.C.

Because of the secrecy surrounding a grand jury it is impossible to determine if the panel was used only as a prosecutor’s investigative tool or if they were asked to vote on an any indictments.

Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, above, visited town on June 5, 2009, for a Homeland Security Advisory Council Meeting at the University of New Mexico. Richardson did not attend. Holder refused to entertain any questions related to the grand jury investigation during a press conference, saying he would not even confirm a grand jury’s existence.

The Department of Justice decided not to pursue any criminal charges.

Richardson’s name was linked through press reports with several other investigations including Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich who was indicted for multiple counts of corruption. Another investigation in New York involved some of the same individuals and accusations.

I found this picture of Blagojevich when he sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” as part of the seventh inning stretch during a June 22, 2003, inter-league baseball game between Chicago's crosstown rivals teams, the Cubs and the White Sox.

Former New Mexico Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron was indicted on 59 counts by a Bernalillo County grand jury for the misuse of millions of federal dollars meant for voter education.

Richardson pushed for "election reforms" including reverting to all paper ballots for the 2006 state elections.

As Secretary of State, Vigil-Giron implemented the all paper ballots. She claimed to have done so with no money and had to go back to the legislature to fund outstanding bills.

Upon being term limited out of office, she was appointed to head the New Mexico Film Museum. When an audit of the Secretary of State's office was begun, the museum job offer was withdrawn and Vigil-Giron was assigned to the State's Department of Workforce Solutions.

More recently critics alleged that Richardson was protecting her employment even after she was indicted.

Vigil-Giron, above, a block away from her office, watched her close political ally, Richardson, below center, sign a firefighter health protection bill at Albuquerque Fire Station Number 1 downtown on Silver Ave. S.W.

Her name was made public as one of 59 exempt State employees being laid off by order of the Governor's office as part of budget crisis.

Death of former Governor Bruce King

Former three-term New Mexico Governor Bruce King died November 13, 2009. He was 85.

King is seen addressing the Albuquerque Press Club during the 1970 gubernatorial campaign against Pete Domenici, which King won.

King was eulogized by former President Bill Clinton at his funeral in Moriarty. Clinton said King mentored him when he was Governor of Arkansas, serving in office beginning in 1979; King’s second term stared at the same time.

Economy: President Obama Visits Rio Rancho to talk about Credit Card Debt

President Barack Obama, above, visited New Mexico speaking at Rio Rancho High School about credit card reform. His speech, in the town hall format, shortly after passing a major economic bailout, was part of the series of laws associated with the stimulus package.

New Mexico traditionally economically lags behind the rest of the country, during both recessionary and boom periods.

Trying to come to grips and understand the economic situation and government’s role in controlling business, financial, and medical insurance, New Mexico held its own Tea Parties.

Rookie Democratic Congressman Martin Heinrich, seated left, hosted a Health Care town hall meeting at UNM. The session lacked the incivility of many such gatherings in other parts of the country. The participants, no matter their position, spoke passionately yet eloquently. Much of the credit belongs to the choice of the moderator, former television newscaster Augusta Meyers, left, and the inclusion of a broad spectrum of represented ideas on the panel.

Even though there were more than 20 local law enforcement officers, led by APD Chief Ray Schultz, there were no problems requiring legal intervention.

Opening up State Legislature to Sunshine

The 60-day legislative session began with news that leadership of the State Senate, defying their own rule to provide a live video record of floor proceedings, dismantled three recently installed remote-controlled cameras for web casting.

Openness of the legislature became the watchword for the media. Transparency took center stage over all other issues.

Republican State Representative Janice Arnold-Jones, above, took a web cam into the Taxation and Revenue Committee, and Voters and Elections Committee the hearing rooms bringing a degree of openness by broadcasting her committee’s activities.

Arnold-Jones stated that House Taxation and Revenue Committee Chair Ed Sandoval, D, Bernalillo, above, said that he didn't ask her to turn off the camera. Rather, he posed the question as a rhetorical statement: if he were to ask her if she would turn the camera off, she wouldn’t would she?

Arnold-Jones said she was going to leave the camera on. Sandoval made no further public issue of the matter.

However, the House leadership, through the Rules Committee took up the issue the next day. Facing a phalanx of press and on-line news bloggers, the committee deferred any action against Arnold-Jones. Over the next few days the House determined their floor proceedings would be webcast in audio form and two other Republican House members began webcasting their committee meetings.

Before the session was over, both houses were providing an audio link of floor activities through legislative websites.

The Senate agreed to reinstall one stationary video camera located in the back of the chamber, a little more narrow view, above, than this image.

More stories were published or posted on the topic of open government than any other single issue.

Ched MacQuigg of Diogenes' Six and I collaborated with the New Mexico Independent to video webcast the introduction of all Senate ethics legislation before the Senate Rules committee.

We also covered the Senate floor debates of the death penalty, above, and webcasting votes.

Arnold-Jones suggested to New Mexico Tax and Revenue Department Secretary Rick Homans and Chairman of the Budget Balancing Task Force, above, that he webcast the meetings.

Efforts to webcast were not immediately successful, but by the last meeting the staff had worked out the bugs and 26 people logged on to watch the task force meeting.

University of New Mexico scandals

In February the UNM Faculty Senate held a meeting in Popejoy Hall and took a vote of no confidence on the leadership of the university.

UNM President David Schmidly leaving the stage after he spoke for five minutes defending himself. The faculty voted no confidence of Schmidly by a three to one margin.

On September 20, 2009, newly hired University of New Mexico Head Football Coach Mike Locksley was involved in a physical altercation with one of his assistant coaches, J.B. Gerald. Gerald filed a police report with the Albuquerque Police Department rather than UNM PD. The incident happened on UNM property. Gerald did not want to press criminal charges.

A week later Peter St. Cyr broke the story.

UNM’s sports department, headed by Athletic Director Paul Krebs handled the events that followed in a ham-fisted manner. There was a poorly executed cover-up. It took weeks and an expose on ESPN cable show, “Between the Lines,” before Locksley was suspended for 10 days.

The local District Attorney failed to step in and bring a misdemeanor charge of simple battery in the name of the people of the State of New Mexico vs. Michael Locksley.

A New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert, a junior was suspended indefinitely for her physical actions, elbowing, punching and pulling an opposing player to the ground by her ponytail, during a semifinals game with BYU in the Mountain West Conference tournament.

Time Magazine listed Lambert number 10 on their top 10 pariahs, 10. Soccer's Ponytail Yanker.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Season to You!

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This is Silvio DeAngelo speaking before the City Council December 7, 2009. He was complaining about the use of the phrase, "Happy Holidays,” rather than “Merry Christmas.”

His argument seems to follow the talk radio diatribe pushing a religious agenda on society.

Then today, over on Heath Haussamen’s site Michael Swickard, Ph.D. in his routine column takes up the issue in a post entitled, “The majority of Americans overruled by a minority.”

“The America of my youth was without doubt a Christian nation,” Swickard writes. It also was a nation that still practiced racial inequities in the name of being a Christian nation. We’ve changed a lot of things in Swickard’s lifetime. We have plenty of more things to still change.

Maybe Mohandas Gandhi put it best:
I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
At the moment the majority is still the majority in a number of categories; there’re a few that continue to change. Some in the majority find reason to fear such changes. Nothing prohibits the majority from sending their elected representatives to the seats of government based on common beliefs, as long as they don’t violate the minorities right to exist in the same manner.

DeAngelo and Swickard are intelligent men who often argue legally complex issues with great aplomb. However, they both seem challenged by the paradoxical nature of the initial two sections of the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…
Thomas Jefferson’s powerful statement in the preamble of the Declaration of Independence holds the key:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
“…(E)ndowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” The most basic civil right is that of individual thoughts and beliefs.

Unalienable Rights, means you can’t take rights away from somebody or impose your ideas onto someone else.

Jefferson invoked the Creator; that makes it even more contradictory.

It is not a minority overruling the majority, it’s the majority acknowledging and assuring the minority’s equal place in our country.

It is simple, government may not endorse any religion, no matter how many people in this country believe in it. At the same time, government cannot prohibit anyone from practicing their own beliefs.

Individuals may pray or make religious reference all they like. However, individuals may not get the government to allow them to pray or make religious reference in any of their institutions. In other words you can't get government to make others pray or place them in situations where prayer takes place.

"In God We Trust," on money or over the rostrum in the U.S. House of Representatives are just examples of pure religious arrogance in defiance of the core principle of the First Amendment.

In the Great Hall of the U. S. Supreme Court the Ten Commandments are not spelled out, but referenced in the frieze over the Chief Justice's seat.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Nothing; it's just my on line season's greeting card.

It is a pottery window arrangement in a Santa Fe shop of a seasonal display, next to it was a carved nativity scene in the Santo’s style.

So I expect my governments, in recognition of the probability that just about everybody’s belief system has some winter event of note, to say “Happy Holidays” and at the same time will accept the particular greeting from any individual’s particular belief or religious system.

This was the sunrise on the 21st, the winter solstice, the sun farthest south in the sky, the shortest day of the year, for those to whom it is important.

The tolerance to accept all beliefs and expressions is what makes this country so special and unique.

So to all; The Season… and to Silvio, Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

300th Blogspot

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

The RailRunner is poised in the Santa Fe station for a southern trip at sunset during the most recent Legislative special session. The train, which I have written about several times, has been around almost as long as this blog.

I posted my first blogspot Tuesday, March 28, 2006, three years, eight plus months ago as part of an Electronic Publishing class project.

I posted the one-hundredth blogspot one year later on Wednesday, March 28, 2007.

I posted the two-hundredth blogspot on Thursday, March 6, 2008.

Now I post the three-hundredth blog 21 months later.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

The snow on these fall flowers at the end of October fell and melted within an hour are somewhat illustrative of how themes in my posting seem to play out. These thematic concepts don't fit the norm, yet exist, and though fleeting, they are captured and recorded for posterity. Often there are efforts to spin such observations to discount their significance.

I write this post to update my progress and to look at where I am against where I was. It’s a self-evaluation. I also look a little beyond what just happens on this blog to include what happens in my community of fellow journalists and bloggers.

The last 100 posts, I sense, have been more analytical and the time between posts has been extended. I seem to write closer to once a week on average than before. The length of the work seems longer and the analytical component greater.

I am not big on journalistic scoops. However, I break a story every once in a while. I reported Democratic State Senator Tim Eichenberg who was considering a run for lieutenant governor, had a discussion with current Lt. Gov. Diane Denish the uncontested Democratic candidate in next years governor gubernatorial race. Eichenberg indicated to a room full of people that he told Denish because of her “complacency or complicity with the ‘pay-to-play’” atmosphere surrounding the administration of Governor Bill Richardson, and her standing quietly behind him, Eichenberg was unwilling to invest a half million dollars in a losing campaign.

This report caused quite a stir, especially amongst Democrats. I have faced an onslaught of accusations against my reputation. Eichenberg told the Albuquerque Journal he did not know I was a blogger or that he was being interviewed.

Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer Sean Olson, left, wrote an article headlined, “Dem Joins Attacks on Denish?” Olson accepted Eichenberg at face value and published his smear of me. Olson didn’t do any fact checking, he didn’t ask anyone at the meeting if Eichenberg spoke openly. It is uncommon for the Journal to acknowledge a blog as an original source. However, Olson did write that the story originated on this site. In a later article he simply referred to the source as a blog.

A year ago, at a legislative orientation for newly elected lawmakers Eichenberg, right approached me and said he read and appreciated my blog for bringing issues to light in ways he would not have otherwise thought. He was one of four who said virtually the same thing that day.

I took what they said as the highest form of praise. If I have the law makers considering what I write, what more could I ask for in the public square?

The last hundred posts covered two political campaign seasons, the national primary and general election and the local mayoral election.

One of the best received political pictures was this shot of Alaskan Governor Sara Palin, flanked by her husband, Todd, and Republican Presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, both hitching up their pants. I’ll let the political psychologists explain what that body language means.

This photograph, taken Friday October 30, 2009, at noon just days after the municipal election denotes that there is more power than just the corner office of the eleventh floor, it denotes the power also resides in the number one parking spot in City Halls’ parking garage. It didn’t make it on my site because I withheld my cynical view that then Mayor Martin Chávez was literally out to lunch.

On election night 2009, City Attorney Bob White and former City Attorney David Campbell watch returns come in at election center in Council chamber. State Representative Richard R.J. Berry defeated incumbent Mayor Martin Chávez and former State Senate Pro Tem Richard Romero. Little would the average citizen be able to tell, from this picture, that White and Campbell would be major players in Berry's new administration; White remaining as City Attorney and David Campbell appointed chief administrative officer.

My photographic support of other bloggers also changed.

From August 2006 to January 2009 I provided photographs to “New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan,” we terminated our working arrangement. Here Monahan is hosting one of his election night radio shows on KANW 89.1 FM.

The Santa Fe Reporter tried to out Monahan’s unnamed sources, which he calls alligators. I was named in an article, but I never considered my self an alligator because I worked directly with Monahan, he used my photographs, I was upfront in my reporting. I didn’t need the cover of being an alligator to cover gossip. Just because Monahan didn’t always attribute my statements didn’t make me a swamp creature.

I picked up two other bloggers as clients.

I convinced KKOB 770’s Chief Political Reporter Peter St. Cyr, right, to put online complete interviews from which he could only air seconds long sound bites on radio. I offered to illustrate his work. Starting Thursday, October 9, 2008, “What's The Word with Peter St. Cyr,” went on line. He promoted it as an, “Audio blog featuring interviews with national, regional, state and local newsmakers.”

He would come to mutter and spit and blame me for dragging him into the dark world of blogging. However, he has thrived. He has given wider exposure for the true political junkies to the completed interviews. More recently he has expanded his own expertise in taking his own photographs and videos and as a result has expanded his outlets to being a contributor to Heath Haussamen on New Mexico Politics site and a correspondent on the local Public Broadcasting station, KNME’s Friday night’s “In-Focus.”

The other blogger is Ched MacQuigg’s Diogenes' six. He first published one of my picture’s Tuesday July 08, 2008. By September 30, 2008, he would regularly use my images. His site had been fairly limited to taking on the Albuquerque Public Schools and their Board of Education. Since using my pictures, MacQuigg has broadened his view and taken on the larger issues of ethics and open government at the federal, state and local levels.

I don’t always agree with all of MacQuigg’s premises, but under my belief in the First Amendment Right, I supply him with photographs from my archives.

MacQuigg and I have teamed up to provide video in collaboration with the New Mexico Independent in webcasting the Senate Rules committee hearings on proposed ethics bills with staffers Gwyneth Doland and Marjorie Childress.

We also provided service on the death penalty debate and the Senate’s own video coverage last session.

The rate of false and illegal arrests against me went up.

On May 24 2008, former Mayor Chávez had me physically removed from a press conference where he proposed an Ethical Public Service Act. Sponsored by Councillors Ken Sanchez and Don Harris, the bill was referred to the Finance and Government Operations Committee where it was postponed four times and deferred four times and expired on June 1, 2009. The bill would have repealed the existing Conflict of Interest Ordinance.

The introductory purpose was:
To Create A Value Based Ethics Code and Promote A Culture of Ethical Public Service For All City of Albuquerque Public Servant.
The irony of the stated purpose of the bill and my being ejected by police couldn’t have shown a more stark contrast.

The national blog, “Photography is Not a Crime It's a First Amendment Right,” written by Carlos Miller reported on two of these events; The US Secret Service throwing me out of the UNM Student Union Building for taking pictures, above, and being thrown out of a Diane Denish speech by UNM police from an event to which I had a formal invitation.

I faced UNM Police Officer D. Gallegos, right in each of these three photos, who told me I could not take pictures on campus.

I challenged him and he then told me I had to have permission to take pictures on campus.

I informed that there was a First Amendment and he relented. I took one more picture of him to prove the point.

My photographs are commercially available for journalistic publication. Only a few outlets have chosen to use my work. I don’t mind when publications decide not to use my work. Santa Fe Reporter’s David Maas, above left worked diligently to get me to illustrate his final lead story on electronic tracking of paroled sex offenders.

However, a number of entities, political campaigns in particular, have simply stolen my protected work off the internet and used the pictures in negative advertising.

Despite the hassle imposed by having to chase down the thievery, I will be continuing the blog. No bets on how long it will take to reach 400.

Of all the topics of which I write, obituaries are the most disconcerting. There were too many of them, 13 in 11 postings. However, it is an honor to report on the lives of those I knew. Hopefully there will be fewer.

Thanks for taking the time to read.