December 12, 2017

Benghazi must continue to speak to us

Posted on 31. May, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics

Along with millions of other Americans, I have been following the Benghazi hearings. From that very tragic day on Sept. 11, 2012 when our Consulate and later its annex were stormed I watched in sadness as armed terrorists crashed through the barriers of these facilities and began shooting and looting, ultimately killing four of our citizens.

Since I was a part of that diplomatic world for 20 years it brought back a flood of memories, memories of many dedicated people and the procedures they used to safeguard against, or at least ameliorate, such attacks. There are some things that the average American is not aware of, however. One of those is the Marine Security Guard Program and the tougher than nails Marine Security Guard Detachment (MSGD) personnel that are assigned to our embassies around the world. The size of the embassy and the threat level of the host country usually determine the size of these contingents of seasoned young professional Marines most of whom are in their early 20s. They typically serve one hardship and one normal tour of embassy duty before their time in the program is up. In total numbers, the program comprises nearly one full battalion of the Marine Corps.

These brave young men stand guard over our facilities and are fully prepared to give up their lives if necessary to protect the thousands of Foreign Service Personnel who are assigned to our embassies. (A little known fact, however, is that their primary responsibility is to safeguard the classified material in an embassy along with securing the facility and protecting its personnel.)

They’re constantly training, keeping themselves in top notch condition (I know, I trained with a few of them and was fortunate to befriend many more). The MSGD is headed up by a Master Sergeant or Gunnery Sergeant who reports to the Regional Security Officer (RSO) in the embassy who in turn reports to the Ambassador. The RSO is part of the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), the security and law enforcement arm of the State Department.

On a local level, the RSO liaises with host-country security forces, helps to set up training programs for them and for the many private security guards who protect our facilities overseas. They also participate in assessing threat levels at post and then communicate that information back up the chain of command.

The MSGD and the RSO are intuitive well-disciplined professionals. They know that any hole in our security plans will be exploited by our enemies and that that can cost human lives. Benghazi is a case in point. There are many unanswered questions about our security there that address the level of training and loyalty of our local guards at the consulate. There are other even more painful ones not widely discussed in the press such as: “Why did our Ambassador even go to Benghazi at a time when it was widely known to be an extremely dangerous place? Why were repeated requests for more and better security refused by the State Department?” And finally, “Why was no military unit sent to Benghazi to at least intimidate the attackers with a show of force to get them to stand down before lives were lost?”

To me, the answers to these questions are more important than ones concerning the inane and deceitful talking points offered up by the Whitehouse and State Department or which numbskull thought it entirely appropriate to cite a totally unrelated video as the cause for the attack. THAT dog will never hunt!

One of the principal reasons offered for not giving the military ‘go’ order was the time it would have taken to get to Benghazi (as if we would have known in advance how long the attacks would continue!). That attitude born of 20/20 hindsight reminds me of a joke (I know that sounds insensitive, but hear me out) that was widely told in Russia when martial law was imposed in Poland under puppet General Wojciech Jaruzelski in December 1981. It went like this…

It was the first few days under martial law and a curfew was in effect. The Russian military was called in to assist in carrying it out. Two curfew guards, Alexei and Yuri, stand on a busy Warsaw street corner. Yuri sees a man on a bicycle pedaling hard in his direction. He holds up his hand and blows his whistle for the man to stop. He does, screeching to a halt in front of Alexei.Yuri quickly asks the man for his papers while Alexei walks around the nervous man’s bike a couple of times. Then Yuri looks down at the man’s papers and then up to meet the man’s frightened gaze and asks, “Is this where you live?” The man says, “Yes,” whereupon Yuri pulls out his sidearm and shoots the man dead. Alexei is shocked and screams at his partner, “Why did you do that? He was not armed and was heading home!” Yuri flashes him a steely look and says, “I saw his address. He would have never made it home in time.”

Very macabre, but the kind of humor that was spread by people who had lost all trust in their government and who knew that that same government would concoct any story to justify highly questionable actions.  We must let the Benghazi hearings continue until we get the facts. We owe it to the victims’ families, to our fidelity to the truth and to all who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect us.

- Editor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

High Noon on Energy: Five Energy Stories

Posted on 31. May, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Energy/Environment

Article 1: Fisker: a free ride to make flashy cars in Finland

With nearly a year’s worth of exclusive reporting on Obama’s green-energy crony-corruption scandal, you might think we’ve covered them all—but the hits just keep on coming. This week Fisker is in the news due to its failure to meet a Monday payment on their Department of Energy (DOE) loan with $10 million due, and Wednesday’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing: “Green Energy Oversight: Examining the Department of Energy’s Bad Bet on Fisker Automotive.”

Along with researcher Christine Lakatos who writes The Green Corruption Files, I’ve addressed Fisker before. In last week’s column I harkened back to an October 2012 report we did on 2009 Obama’s green-energy projects that were in trouble. We highlighted two companies on that list: Suntech and SoloPower. Suntech was recently put into bankruptcy and, about SoloPower, we said: “SoloPower’s power is waning.” On April 22, the Oregonian’s headline read: “SoloPower moves to power down Portland factory, gut remaining workforce.”

Fisker, the taxpayer-funded company making $100,000+ electric cars in Finland, was also on that October 2012 list. At the time, I wrote: “Though the company has balked at Solyndra comparisons, Fisker may well be on ‘death’s door.’”

Despite defaulting “on loans or investment conditions at least four separate times” and squandering more than $1.3 billion in investment capital and government loan money, the company’s founder and former CEO, Henrik Fisker (Fisker left the company in March over  “disagreements with management”), in testimony before the House Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday, argued that the company was still viable. In both the opening and closing of his testimony, Fisker used the following statement regarding the company that bears his name: “Fisker still has the potential to build on these achievements if the company can secure financial and strategic resources.”

While Fisker’s testimony indicates that he is proud of the company’s “many notable achievements,” Subcommittee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH), declared in his opening statements: “Fisker should have never received taxpayer money; it was rated CCC+…it was a junk grade investment.”  So why did Fisker get the loan in the first place and continue to receive funding even after it “missed a crucial production target?”

While Wednesday’s hearing didn’t reveal any smoking gun, and Fisker claimed: “I am not aware and do not believe that any improper political influence was used in connection with the company’s loan application or subsequent negotiations with the Department of Energy,” experience in reporting on the various stimulus-funded loan guarantee programs, grants and tax credits indicates otherwise.

True, unlike many of the other stories, no one from the Fisker organization itself served on Obama’s (now-disbanded) Jobs Council, nor is there an obvious connection such as a former DOE staffer sitting on the board. But, surprise, there are political connections nonetheless.

In the case of Fisker, the cronyism comes first in the form of the venture capital firm with private investments that needed government funds to make their 2008 investment good. The company in question? Kliener Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB)—which, according to New York magazine, “has both former Vice-President Al Gore and John Doerr, a very big-ticket Obama donor, on its board of directors.” Doerr has had roles inside the Obama White House since early 2009, from jobs, to economics, to crafting the energy sector of the 2009-Recovery Act, from which his firm, KPCB, has been rewarded handsomely. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), in 2008, reported that the Fisker deal was “one of the first deals in which former Vice President Al Gore provided advice for Kleiner.” KPCB’s Managing Partner, Ray Lane, told the WSJ that their investment was more than $10 million and was “one of our bigger investments.”

In an earlier report, I said: “Doerr jumped on the Climate Change bandwagon in 2005 and credits Al Gore for his ‘environmental awakening’—though his conversion may have been more financial than spiritual, as he saw green-energy as the ‘mother of all markets’ and ‘the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century.’”

Despite a green-energy push from the White House, these funds haven’t “delivered the returns expected on the timeline expected for most venture capitalists.” In fact, Doerr admitted in a November 2009 speech that the government funding saved them: “If we’d been able to foresee the crash of the market, we wouldn’t probably have launched a green initiative, because these ventures really need capital. The only way in which we were lucky, I think, is that the government stepped in, particularly the Department of Energy. Led by this great administration that put in place these loan guarantees.”

Clearly the Fisker “investment” wasn’t going as well as KCBP expected. In Wednesday’s hearing, a 2009 email from Bernhard Koehler, Fisker cofounder and COO was addressed. In it, he pressured someone inside the DOE, regarding the need for the taxpayer-funded loan, because they couldn’t meet payroll.

The Fisker loan had three specific strikes against it: it had a dismal credit rating—a “junk bond” CCC+; it was initially rejected by the credit review board; and the loan was twice the value of the collateral. While the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) program received 150 applications, only 5 were awarded loans—and all had some political connections or ramifications: Fisker—$529 million; Ford—$5.907 billion, Nissan—$1.448 billion; Tesla—$465 million; and The Vehicle Production Group, LLC—$50 million.

Companies without connections didn’t get approved. In November, I reported on XP Technologies, one of those companies whose loan application was rejected. Alleging that “criminal activities did take place by DOE staff and affiliates,” XP Technologies has filed a lawsuit concerning the DOE’s denial. Following the publication of my column on XP Technologies, another applicant, who also didn’t have any political connections, contacted me.

This applicant acknowledged that he really didn’t know the system and, therefore, looking back, wasn’t surprised that his application was denied. However, he told me that he received no help or encouragement from the DOE; they did nothing to make it easier for him. It was like they weren’t really interested in anyone but the favored few. Accepting applications was, perhaps, just for cover.

Fisker’s $529 million loan was approved in September 2009, and the first tranche was funded May 2010. But it took a lot of finagling to get there.

Vice President Biden stepped in to move the loan along—we don’t know why, but we know he did. (We also know more about other green-energy projects in which Biden was involved.) In August 2009, Fisker visited a Delaware GM factory, which was scheduled to be shut down. According to a 2009 WSJ report, once politicians in the state got wind of Fisker’s possible interest, they ratcheted up the pressure. Saving the plant, according to officials involved in the decision, “gave fresh urgency to the DOE’s quest for Fisker.” However, by August, the December 2008 application still wasn’t approved. “Delaware’s governor and congressional delegation began peppering U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu with calls on Fisker’s behalf.

They also had repeated discussions with Vice President Biden and his staff.” Five days after Governor Merkell had a September meeting with Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, “Chu announced the government had signed a provisional agreement” for Fisker’s loan. Part of the deal included, not just the $529 million DOE loan, but also $21 million in grants and loans from the State of Delaware.

On October 27, 2009, Biden toured Fisker’s Delaware plant to tout the DOE’s Loan Program. ABC News reported: “Standing in a shuttered General Motors plant in Wilmington, DE, Vice President Biden proclaimed that a half-billion-dollar Department of Energy loan would transform the idled site into a production line for electric cars.”

“Biden heralded the Energy Department’s $529 million loan to the start-up electric car company called Fisker as a bright, new path to thousands of American manufacturing jobs,” and stated: “This is seed money that will return back to the American consumer in billions and billions and billions of dollars in good, new jobs.”

Referencing Delaware’s involvement, the state’s chief of economic development, Alan Levin said: “We had in the vice president a secret weapon.”

In addition to Doerr and Gore championing the Fisker Project, and the Biden “secret weapon,” Fisker had a few other friends in high places. The National Legal and Policy Center reports that Fisker was receiving advice regarding their loan application from Debevoise & Plimpton LLC, a law firm with a history of donating to President Obama and other Democrats—which taxpayers also funded. Too bad XP technologies, and other applicants without connections, didn’t know to hire Debevoise & Plimpton.

Now, we all know that Fisker never made one car in Delaware—or anywhere in the US. The Delaware plant is “absolutely empty.” We know that Fisker lost $557,000 on each flashy sports car it sold and has laid off most of its employees. And we know that Fisker will likely be the next taxpayer-funded green-energy project to go bankrupt.

While we do not know all the political connections that got Fisker a free ride to make flashy cars in Finland, we do know there is crony-corruption. As the WSJ reports: “The Obama Energy Department is keeping tight rein on documents, so we don’t know.” We just don’t know the full story.

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Article 2: A vote for permanent poverty

Late last month, the elected officials of a small, rural New Mexico county became the first in the nation to vote for permanent poverty. Mora County’s unemployment is double that of most of the country and nearly 500% greater than that of some other parts of the state where oil and gas development is taking place, and 23.8% of Mora County’s residents live in poverty.

With that in mind, you’d think that the Mora County Commissioners would welcome the jobs that are boosting the economy in the southeastern part of the state. Instead, they voted, 2-1—in a session that may violate the Open Meetings Act as the notice did not contain the date, time, and place of the meeting—to pass an ordinance that permanently bans oil and gas drilling.

Defending his vote, Chairman John Olivas, an employee of New Mexico Wilderness Alliance with no political experience, explained: “We need to create other jobs. First, sustainable agriculture; second, business development; and third, eco-tourism to keep people on the land.”

Frank Trambley, the Mora County GOP chairman, disagrees: “In our economic climate, we simply cannot afford to needlessly throw the possibility for jobs down the drain.”

Currently, Mora County has no oil and gas activity—and now it looks like it never will (though the outcome of potential lawsuits could change that). But there is reason to believe that the potential for development and jobs is there. Shell Oil has 100,000 acres leased for development—not to mention private interest—in Mora County, and there are more than 120 leases on state lands within the county.

In adjacent Colfax County, there are 950 natural gas wells. There the Commissioners don’t seem too troubled by the activity. The Colfax Country Commissioners are looking at drafting an ordinance that would “allow oil and gas drilling to continue while setting standards and regulations to give county officials control over aspects of the industry’s work that affect landowners and other citizens.”

But this story is bigger than the sparsely populated—less than 5000 and declining—northeastern New Mexico County. Following the passage of their “ban” ordinance, the two “yes” vote commissioners sent a letter to all the county commissioners in the state: “We’re sending you this letter to urge you to consider adopting a similar law.

In Mora, we decided that ‘fracking,’ along with other forms of oil and gas drilling are not compatible with Mora farming, forestry, and our quality of life.” Apparently unemployment and poverty are “compatible” with the Mora “quality of life.”

How did Mora come to believe that it might become the little county that could “force” change aimed at “restoring democratic control of our communities”? They had the help of an out-of-state environmental group: the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF)—which helped draft Mora’s “Community Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance.” Thomas Linzey, executive director of CELDF explained: “This is the fight that people have been too chicken to pick over the last 10 years.” The CELDF press release on the ban states: “Mora is joining a growing people’s movement for community and nature’s rights” and brags about CELDF’s involvement in other communities across the country.

The Mora Commissioners’ letter—on County letterhead—encourages all other New Mexico Commissioners to join them and invites participation in a gathering “hosted by a new group, the New Mexico Coalition for Community Rights (NMCCR) which was formed this past year to begin to change how our system here in New Mexico functions.” Kathleen Dudley, a “community organizer” and CELDF staffer, is the “contact person for that event.”

Wayne Johnson, a Bernalillo County Commissioner, alerted me to the Mora letter that may be in violation of state’s code of conduct—to which every elected official is subject. Johnson told me: “I believe I would at least be violating the spirit of the law if I sent out a letter on Bernalillo County letterhead that directly promotes the political activities of a specific group.

Imagine the uproar that would be caused if I sent out—at taxpayers’ expense—a letter promoting an NRA conference or a Right to Life meeting. The First Amendment guarantees the right to express their political opinion. However using government resources to do so is inappropriate.”

The letter also includes this: “You may be unaffected by fracking and oil and gas drilling in your county.” Wrong. There is no county in New Mexico that is “unaffected.” In response to the letter, Greg Nibert, Chairman of the Chaves County Commission, shot back: “The oil and gas producing counties bear more than 40% of the entire state budget.

We send money to Santa Fe that pays for educating the children of New Mexico. It is difficult to swallow that a county who may be blessed with such rich resources would enact such an ordinance.” Along with the other counties in the region, the Chaves County Commissioners plan to send a “strong letter in opposition to the Mora County Commission letter.” In a recent radio interview Mora’s Olivas said that he had no problem accepting state revenue from energy development in other counties, but is unwilling to allow any production and contribution from his own.

If the other counties followed Mora’s lead and banned fracking and/or oil and gas development, the state would lose 33,000 jobs—that’s 33,000 people who would be unable to put food on their families’ tables, pay their bills without worry, and even save for retirement. The states’ budget would be short a combined $5.73 billion dollars of investment. The majority of New Mexico’s 50,000+ wells use hydraulic fracturing for decades.

Nibert hopes some brave citizens of Mora County will step forward and bring a law suit against Mora County and at least its two commissioners who enacted the ordinance, as it takes the real property of its citizens without compensation, which is guaranteed by the US Constitution and the Constitution of New Mexico. To date, no one has come forward. “I know some lawyers who would love to take the case!”

Nibert may get his wish. Several groups are looking at a legal challenge.

The one dissenting vote was from Commissioner Paula Garcia, who believes the ordinance goes too far. Federal and state law typically overrides local county legislation, but in regards to oil and gas extraction, the Mora ordinance puts the county above state and US government. Garcia says: “It is trying to reclaim local decision making that isn’t recognized in the law currently, and, in essence, it is challenging existing laws.” She “worries the ordinance won’t hold up in court and that Mora County can’t afford a pricey lawsuit.”

The state says its Oil Conservation Division can still issue permits to drill in Mora County, but permit holders will now likely have to go to court to fight the county ordinance. Likewise, officials at the Bureau of Land Management say that they are not bound by local ordinances. Yet, the little county’s ordinance has the gall to demand an amendment to the state Constitution “to explicitly secure a community right to local self-government that cannot be preempted by the State”—even threatening secession.

Olivas believes Mora County is prepared: “What we’re doing to prepare ourselves is signing with a legal firm to represent us. At the next County Commissioner meeting, we will sign a retainer with the firm.” It is reported that CELDF is the firm—charging $1 for representation, and that Mora County is working to establish a fund to help pay for the living and travel expenses involved in representation.

Trambley told me: “The County is split on the drilling issue, but people are afraid to speak out against the ban—afraid that if they do, they’ll lose their job. It’s maddening to see sweeping bans being made without accurate information about the economic and environmental effects of drilling.”

A recent poll from the Western Energy Alliance supports Trambley’s position. Responses showed that “prior to any presentation of the facts, almost a majority (49%) of voters support” the use of fracking. However, “if and when the public understands what industry is doing to protect their safety and the environment, their support for hydraulic fracturing increases up to 71%.”

I firmly believe that government closest to the people is the best. I’ve rallied with hundreds of people from other New Mexico counties who are fighting federal overreach that denies them their economic freedoms. But, when an out-of-state entity is driving an issue by spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt, and when the Commission has to hide the time and location of the meeting to get the vote through—that is not the true voice of the locals.

Commissioner Olivas defends his actions by claiming that his vote followed through on a campaign promise. Sources tell me that his campaign was heavily funded by a single source that doesn’t primarily live in the county and whose money comes from the Progressive Insurance fortune.

While this is a New Mexico story, beware. CELDF has its sights set on a national movement. Emboldened by its success in Mora County, they may be coming to a community near you. You may find that your local leadership voted for permanent poverty.

A tweet from Occupy New Mexico following the Mora announcement: “After the victory in Mora, the #communityrights movement is spreading across New Mexico. Next up, #SantaFe #NM! @OccupyWallStNYC @350 #NMPOL” You can be sure they are not just “spreading across New Mexico.”

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Article 3: A six-pack of scandals could define and destroy the Obama presidency

It’s been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week at the White House—and it isn’t looking like next week will be any better. You probably know about Obama’s trifecta of troubles: the Benghazi story about the attack that killed four Americans and the aftermath that falsely blamed a YouTube video that “continues to smolder on the far-right side of the dial,” the IRS targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny while giving liberals a pass, and, the one that got the mainstream media engaged: the “broad and potentially chilling probe” conducted by the Justice Department on journalists’ phone calls at the Associated Press (AP).

The place in which the President finds himself has been compared to that of Nixon on May 17, 1973, about which US News and World Report states: “The scandal and cover-up came to define and destroy Richard Nixon’s presidency. It’s too early to tell if the scandals plaguing President Barack Obama … rise to a similar level.”

It may be too early to tell whether the three scandals will “define and destroy” Barack Obama’s presidency—but they do reveal a propensity to massage the message and reward their friends while destroying their enemies. And, there are more than the trifecta of troubles that make this point, there’s a six-pack of scandals.

In addition to the three-widely covered stories, there are three more with the same characteristics.

EPA Favors Friendlies

We see favoritism in the EPAs treatment of friendly groups vs. a “concerted campaign to make life more difficult for those deemed unfriendly.” A few days ago, the Washington Examiner reported on the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s (CEI) review of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to see how equally the agency applies its fee waiver policy. The results are shocking.

Chris Horner, Senior Fellow at CEI, told me: “The IRS and EPA revelations are near-identical uses of the state to enable allies and disadvantage opponents. Granting or denying tax-exempt status can make or break a group. The same is true with FOIA fee waivers being tossed like Mardi Gras beads at greens, and denied to opponents of a bigger regulatory state. Fees for FOIA document productions can run into the six-figures.”

We’ll be hearing more about the EPA friendlies scandal. On Friday, May 17, Senator Vitter’s office sent a letter to EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe requesting “your prompt attention to this matter as we investigate EPA’s process for granting FOIA fee waivers.” The letter was signed by David Vitter, Ranking Member, Committee on Environment and Public Works, U.S. Senate; Darrel Isa, Chairman, Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, U.S. House of Representatives; James Inhofe, Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Oversight Committee on Environment and Public Works, U.S. Senate; and Charles E. Grassley, Ranking Member, Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate.

The May 17 letter states: “According to documents obtained by the Committees, EPA readily granted FOIA fee waivers for liberal environmental groups–effectively subsidizing them–while denying fee waivers and making the FOIA process more difficult for states and conservative groups. This disparate treatment is unacceptable, especially in light of the recent controversy over abusive tactics at the Internal Revenue Service, which singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny.”

It reveals that the “EPA manipulated the FOIA fee waiver process.” Fee waiver requests sent by environmental groups were granted for 92% of the requests while EPA denied a fee waiver for 93% of requests from CEI and overall only granted fee waivers for other think tanks 27% of the time. “The startling disparity in treatment strongly suggests EPA’s actions are possibly part of a broader effort to collude with groups that share the agency’s political agenda and discriminate against states and conservative organizations. This is a clear abuse of discretion.”

The Washington Examiner reports: “all requests from Franklin Center and the Institute for Energy Research were denied.”

Wind farms get a pass

We see the same “startling disparity in treatment” in the way the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act is applied. Under both acts, the death of a single bird—without a permit—is illegal. On May 14, the AP reported on an investigation that showed that nearly 600,000 birds are killed each year by wind farms, including an average of about one golden eagle a month in Converse County, WY—which the AP calls: “one of the deadliest places in the country of its kind.” California’s Altamont Pass wind farms “kill more than 60 per year”—making it the “industry’s deadliest location.”

Yet, “so far, the companies operating industrial-sized turbines here and elsewhere that are killing eagles and other protected birds have yet to be fined or prosecuted—even though every death is a criminal violation. The Obama administration has charged oil companies for drowning birds in their waste pits, and power companies for electrocuting birds on power lines. But the administration has never fined or prosecuted a wind-energy company, even those that flout the law repeatedly.”

Back in August 2011, oil company executives were hauled into court, by Timothy Purdon, the US Attorney for North Dakota, over the death of 28 migratory birds—including ducks. Businessweek reported: “The maximum penalty for each charge under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is six months in prison and a $15,000 fine.”

The case was thrown out of federal court in January of 2012 by district Judge Daniel Hovland, who rejected US Attorney Purdon’s “expansive interpretation of the law” because it “would yield absurd results.” The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) called the ruling “withering” and said: the “selective prosecution was probably an expression of its political hostility to oil and gas companies.” The report concludes with: “Mr. Purdon takes the prize for dodo prosecutor of the year.”

The WSJ didn’t point out Purdon’s resume. The LA Times reports: “Purdon is a prominent Democratic donor and fundraiser,” who served on the Democratic National Committee and who “has no experience as a prosecutor.” Purdon was chosen over several, apparently, more qualified candidates, who probably didn’t have Purdon’s pedigree. He was selected because he’s a loyalist who’d do what the White House wanted—and that included prosecuting oil companies for duck deaths.

Similarly, the AP reports that ExxonMobil paid $600,000 for killing 85 birds and BP was fined “$100 million for killing and harming migratory birds during the 2010 Gulf oil spill. And PacifiCorp, which operates coal plants in Wyoming, paid more than $10.5 million in 2009 for electrocuting 232 eagles along power lines and at its substations.”

“Meanwhile, the Obama administration has proposed a rule that would give wind-energy companies potentially decades of shelter from prosecution for killing eagles.” The wind-energy industry has been part of the committee that drafted and edited the guidelines that the Interior Department updated last year that “provided more cover for wind companies that violate the law.” The AP states: “In the end, the wind-energy industry … got almost everything it wanted.”

Former US Fish and Wildlife Service enforcement agent Tom Eicher aptly sums up the scandal: “What it boils down to is this: If you electrocute an eagle, that is bad, but if you chop it to pieces, that is OK.” Yet, in an interview with the AP before his departure, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar “denied any preferential treatment for wind.”

Expect more coverage of the preferential application of regulatory enforcement. Rep. Doc Hasting, Chairman of the House Natural Resources committee, made the following statement through spokeswoman Jill Strait: “There are serious concerns that the Obama administration is not implementing this law fairly and equally.” The Committee is in “the beginning stages of an investigation.”

Propping up green energy

We see similar favoritism across the bigger energy spectrum. Despite President Obama’s frequent touting of increased domestic oil and gas production, “federal government policies are suppressing development,” says Kathleen Sgamma, Vice-President of Government and Public Affairs for the Western Energy Alliance (WEA). “Unfortunately, the federal government is standing in the way of increasing production of valuable energy resources that could spur further job creation, economic growth, and energy security.”

To support her comments, the WEA press release offers the following numbers: “From FY2008 to FY2011 the Bureau of Land Management offered 81% less acreage, which has resulted in a 44% drop in leasing revenue, down from $356 million to $201 million. Nationwide, royalty and leasing revenue have declined 12% from $4.2 billion to $3.7 billion.” Meanwhile production and revenue on private lands increased.

Additionally, despite numerous reports regarding the positive economic impacts and environmental safety of the Keystone pipeline it has been continuously delayed—now for more than 1700 days. On Thursday, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee passed a bill that, according to the WSJ, “effectively pushes through approval of the 875-mile pipeline by eliminating the need for Mr. Obama to issue a special permit for it.” Transportation committee chair Rep. Bill Shuster said: “After more than four years of bureaucratic delays, this bill will finally allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. This project has been studied more than any other project of its kind.”

While federal policies are suppressing traditional energy that is effective, efficient and economical, they are propping up projects that have been repeatedly found to be failures—but that benefit Democratic donors.

Through Obama’s 2009 Stimulus Bill—which Democratic donors such as John Doerr, and George Soros (personally and through the Soros-funded Apollo Alliance) helped craft—nearly $100 billion dollars have been made available for green energy projects. With the help of researcher Christine Lakatos who’s been working on it since 2009, I’ve been extensively covering the green-energy crony-corruption scandal for the past 12 months. We’ve found that nearly all of the Department of Energy-funded projects had meaningful political connections and many got special treatment—such as fast-tracked approvals with little scrutiny over environmental damages that would have taken any other energy company months, if not years, to get—from the Department of Interior. The policies benefitted insiders such as Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry—just to name a few. To date, 25 have gone bankrupt and four are about to go under—though 29 others have various issues. Denying the dismal record, Obama’s 2014 budget calls for more taxpayer dollars for green energy projects. It’s scandalous.

Now that The Hill is holding hearings and investigations on Benghazi, the IRS, the AP, the EPA, and the green energy industry’s not-so-green slaughter of protected species, it is time to look at the financial and regulatory favors extended to friendlies while erecting obstacles to anything or anyone they oppose—and that includes the green-energy crony-corruption scandal that could be the biggest of them all.

These six scandalous stories illustrate the standard operating procedure of the Obama White House—and, as such, there’s likely to be even more. It may be too early to tell whether these scandals will “define and destroy” Barack Obama’s presidency, but they are certainly a distraction to his second-term agenda and display a side the administration didn’t want made public.

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Article 4: Americans fighting their own government for economic survival

No wonder the national debt is at nearly $17 trillion—and ticking higher every day. Polls repeatedly show most Americans believe that reducing the budget deficit should be a top priority, yet policy gets in the way of democracy and prevents practical solutions.

I’ve previously participated in, and reported on, various public meetings and hearings where the local citizens rally to draw media attention to their plight and plead with the government agencies that control their economic future.

Some of these stories include the Otero County Tree Party where hundreds of residents of a small mountain community, who live in fear of fires fed by overgrown forests—due to management designed to save the habitat of an endangered species—gathered to force the Forest Service to stop fighting them and start cooperating. I was honored to play a part in the Tree Party.

They’ve had success! County Commissioner Ronny Rardin told me it would have never happened without the public outcry. Using a newly created County Compliance Program, non-violent people charged with a misdemeanor avoid jail time and do community service by cutting down selected trees and thinning the forest—saving money for both the county and the Forest Service, while saving the community from a wildfire’s devastation.

Hundreds of people gathered in an airplane hangar to protest the endangered-species listing of the sand dune lizard that could have severely hampered oil and gas extraction and ranching in the region and killed the economic base of local communities. I was one of the speakers at the rally. At the post-rally hearing, people waited into the night for the opportunity to express their opinion to the bureaucrats from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

After an 18-month battle, the answer came back from Washington, DC. The sand dune lizard escaped listing, oil and gas development and ranching activities continue in the Permian Basin region of Texas and New Mexico.

Now, the people in the Permian Basin are joined by those in Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma to fight the proposed listing of the lesser prairie chicken—which would wreak similar economic havoc as the sand dune lizard listing (this time to a larger region). In February, I emceed the hangar-held rally and attended the public comment session manned by FWS staff.

The comment period was cut off before everyone who wanted to could voice their opinion—leaving angry, unheard, citizens. Pressure has been put on Senators, as their constituents inundated their offices with calls asking them to use their weight to stop the lesser prairie chicken listing. As a result of the effort, on May 9, Senator Tom Udall’s (D-NM) office released a statement supporting the plan to prevent the listing of the lesser prairie chicken: Senator Udall “believes that the Five State Plan, if done correctly, can be a win-win solution resulting in habitat protection and regulatory certainty for the farmers, ranchers, and the oil and gas industry. Senator Udall continues to be engaged with the Administration to ensure the Five State Plan receives proper consideration and has every opportunity to succeed in its goal.”

On May 8, I drove 2.5 hours to attend a public meeting about a new management plan for federal lands in three New Mexico counties—it was the last of three such public meetings. The plan was outlined, but attendees were not allowed to ask questions or comment during the presentation. Maps lined the room’s perimeter. In short, myriad acts and laws have to be taken into account in the management of public lands including the Endangered Species Act, the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA)—just to name a few.

By the time all of these layers of regulation are applied to nominated portions of federal lands, virtually all economic activity is prohibited or severely limited—including ranching/grazing, mining, and oil and gas extraction. Even recreational uses, such as off-highway vehicles (OHV), can be banned or severely restricted.

After the 2-hour session, I felt agitated and frustrated. In the brief public presentation, we were told that they were holding these meetings because NEPA requires public participation. However, unlike the other public meetings I’ve attended, no public comment was allowed at the meeting. Additionally, when attendees were instructed on how provide written comment, we were told that we were to offer only “substantive comments” on the data and/or the science—not to vote in favor of, or opposition to, the Resource Management Plan (RMP).

Following the meeting, I spent time with Bill Childress, the District Manager for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for the Las Cruces office and Dave Wallace, the Assistant District Manager. I pointed out that their format discourages public comment, as no average person is ever going to read the 500+ page document—or be able to offer comment on the science or the data. “That’s the way it is,” was the response.

Regarding the BLM’s comment process, Joanne Spivack, an activist fighting the closure of roads and trails to motorized use, told me: “The only thing that matters are comments that specifically challenge how the RMP analysis is being done. That’s what ‘substantive’ means. 99.999% of the public don’t understand what that means.

It takes a firm understanding of the NEPA process to write a comment that can challenge the agency and lead to an appeal (and lawsuit). The only things we can submit that can be used for our appeals, or in a lawsuit, are our formal comments submitted by the deadline. Those comments must be based solely on what is in the written Draft RMP and its associated documents.”

With Childress and Wallace, another meeting attendee and I discussed the known oil and gas resources and the potential presence of rare-earth elements. The TriCounty RMP designates several ACECs (Area of Critical Environmental Concern)—which are essentially managed as “wilderness areas,” though ACECs are not designated by Congress. Childress and Wallace explained that the process of creating ACECs is at the discretion of the Bureau; it is qualitative not quantitative, and subjective. They told us that generally conservation groups nominate the ACECs. Spivack noted: “There is no place or time in the process for the public to oppose the ACECs.”

Surprise! The Wilderness Society’s website offers their “Wish List for the BLM in 2013”—which includes: “Designate Otero Mesa as an ACEC in the TriCounty RMP and initiate an administrative mineral withdrawal for the area to protect its innumerable natural and cultural resources.”

The proposed 198,511-acre ACEC for Otero Mesa includes the following potential resource-use limitations:

  • Exclusion and limitations of new rights-of way,
  • Closure to mineral sales and geothermal leasing,
  • Closure to vegetation sales, and
  • Limitation of vehicle use to designated routes.

Spivack explains it this way: “The RMP doesn’t have specifics about what will be banned, why or where. There are no facts, no analysis and no proof that an ACEC is needed. But the RMP lays the groundwork for future lock-downs, by creating ‘conceptual’ frameworks such as ‘desired conditions’ and by creating new designation areas like ACECs.

The RMPs have vague wording about future restrictions, which could be imposed in order to ‘protect the values’ of the ACEC. The ACEC is a way of creating management ‘goals’ which trump multiple use. The ACEC is a blank check and can be used restrict any activity under any excuse they want to cook up.”

The Otero Mesa portion of the BLM managed lands has the potential for oil and gas resources, and rare-earth elements. Due to existing land-use restrictions—before the proposed RMP is even implemented—a company interested in developing the rare earths was required to do its minimal-impact exploration with 19th century technology: horses and hand tools.

When the exploration was complete, a hand rake was used to erase the footprints and restore the land. A company executive reported: “The RMP has the potential to adversely impact future mineral development.”

Commissioner Rardin and all his fellow county commissioners in Otero County are excited about the potential economic benefit the rare-earth mining project could bring: $25 million in the first year alone. Rardin believes one of the goals of the RMP is to stop the mining project.

He told me: “The BLM is taking away our ability to make a living. As long as I am commissioner, I will challenge them and look to properly use our lands.” In Otero Country—a county as big as the state of Connecticut with 62,000 residents, only 12% of the land is taxable. The potential for mineral extraction, including oil and gas, is important for the community—and the people want it. Locking up the resources constitutes a government taking.

Ranchers in the region feel the same way. Steve Wilmeth, a rancher from southern New Mexico whose family came to New Mexico beginning in 1880, wrote about these attacks on the culture and customs of the West: “Increasingly, Westerners are governed not by laws, but by policy and regulations. Local governance isn’t planning or crafting solutions for communities. Rather, local governance is defending itself against the latest project being driven by conservation cooperation agreements.”

Regarding the policies to be instituted and policed by the agencies, Wilmeth, in The Westerner, writes: “There is no grassroots land planning in this debacle. This is an end-run legislative proxy. It is being engineered by the environmental brokers.”

Addressing the proposed ACECs, Wilmeth’s comments echo Spivack’s. He told me: “The BLM, by FLPMA authority, can designate ACECs. In the draft, you will notice they are intending to manage the Nutt Grassland ACEC (newly declared) as a Wilderness Study Area, as if it is being prepped for “Wilderness” status. FLPMA does not make that a mandatory action. So, we might not be immediately forced out of an ACEC, but the BLM, in their conservation cooperative action with environmental groups, is shaping and managing toward de facto wilderness without Congressional authority.”

In addition to his dawn-to-dusk ranching responsibilities, Wilmeth, representing the Council of Border Conservation Districts, the New Mexico Coalition of Conservation Districts, and the Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District; County Commissioners such as Rardin; oil and gas companies with a stake in the outcome; and OHV organizations are each working through the Draft RMP to address their opposition to this latest federal land grab and will have their comments in by the July 11 deadline. Will you join them?

This may seem like just a New Mexico issue, but the same thing is happening in many locales throughout the West—where most states have a high percentage of federally managed land. I am sure readers could tell me similar stories from the surrounding states.

When the ranchers hate it; the county commissioners oppose it; the OHV folks are fighting it; and the miners and oil and gas companies can’t stand it—but, the environmental organizations in cooperation with the government agencies are for it—you know you’ve got a project that will stop all potential economic input. Once again, policy trumps growth and economic potential.

When Americans have to fight their own government for their economic survival, you know something has to change.

——

Article 5: Environmentalists are killing the US economy

Last month, Earth Day came and went. Perhaps you missed hearing about it. For 2013, the theme was “The Face of Climate Change.” Other than a change in the Post Office cancellation mark on your letters from the usual wavy lines, to the four stick-like wind turbines and a sun symbol, there was little note of what was once an event celebrated by 20 million Americans. Tim Wagner, Utah representative for the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America Campaign, groused: “Media coverage of global warming has virtually disappeared.”

According to EarthDayCentral.com, one of the goals of Earth Day is to help you “Discover what you can do to save the environment.”

Perhaps, people no longer see the need for planetary salvation.

The Christian Science Monitor offered an Earth Day 2013 report card on global warming. The author starts with: “When Earth Day observances first began in 1970, Cleveland had recently doused a pollutant-fueled fire on a section of the Cuyahoga River. Cities were often shrouded in thick blankets of smog. And large portions of Lake Erie were so fouled by industrial, farm, and sewage runoff that sections of the 241-mile-long lake were pronounced dead.”

And later, he reports: “Since that first Earth Day, the air over major cities is cleaner. Lake Erie is healthier. So is the Cuyahoga River, which groups in Cleveland would like to turn into a centerpiece of urban life. The improvements have come with ‘yes, but…’ as other environmental challenges have elbowed their way to the fore. But for the most part, tools are in place to deal with them.”

As Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, explains, the ‘80s ushered in the age of environmental extremism. The basic issues, for which he and Greenpeace fought, had largely been accomplished, and the general public was in agreement with the primary message. In order for the environmentalists to remain employed, they had to adopt ever more extreme positions.

Moore says: “What happened is environmental extremism. They’ve abandoned science and logic altogether.” Their message today is “anti:” anti-human, anti-science, anti-technology, anti-trade and globalization, anti-business and capitalism, and ultimately, anti-civilization.

Moore’s view helps understand how the environmental movement has gone from trying to save the planet to killing the US economy.

The American economy has some basic problems. We need more well-paid jobs, increased revenue, and our trade balance is out of whack. Each of these issues could be easily addressed, but environmentalists are doing everything they can to kill potential solutions. Three such examples are coal mining and exporting; natural gas extraction and conversion to liquefied natural gas (LNG) that can then be exported; and the Keystone pipeline—all of which face extreme opposition from environmentalists.

COAL

The US has the world’s largest economically recoverable coal resources—with more than one-fourth of the world’s reserves. Unfortunately, our policies have stymied growth in the mining industry. Bill Bissett, President of Kentucky Coal Association, told me: “Our industry is accustomed to market fluctuations and competition with other fuel sources, but having a federal government place additional regulations on one geographic region (Eastern KY and WV) and one industry (coal mining) is absolutely unfair.”

Last month, environmental groups (including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace) sent a letter to newly-confirmed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell calling for a moratorium on the leasing of federal lands for coal mining in the Powder River Basin (PRB) of Montana and Wyoming—which accounts for about forty percent of US coal reserves.

The results of a recent lease sale in Wyoming, offers insight regarding the economic importance of leasing these federal lands for coal mining. Peabody Coal paid nearly $800 million to the US Government for the rights to expand an existing coal mine and maintain their current workforce. The $800 million was a “bonus payment” and gives them the right to lease the coal and pay 12.5% of the sales price as a royalty. According to data from the Bureau of Land Management, 13 active coal mines in the Wyoming portion of the PRB alone, employ more than 6800 workers.

While, as Bissett addressed, policy under this administration has harshly singled out coal and the coal miners for punishment, coal’s low cost and abundance continues to make it a highly preferential fuel for power generation in developing countries like China and India. And, as I’ve previously written, even Europe is increasing its use of coal for electricity generation, as they’ve discovered the prohibitively high cost of renewables. In 2011, exports to European and Asian markets represented 76% of total US coal exports—up 31% compared to 2010.

Currently, US coal is easily shipped to Europe from ports on the east coast, but the US is missing out on the important Asian market—now being met by more expensive Australian competitors—due to infrastructure opposition from environmental groups. In the Los Angeles Times (LAT), Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and a legend in the world of climate activism, wrote: “Those exports can’t really take off, however, unless West Coast ports dramatically expand their deepwater loading capacity. … Environmentalists are trying desperately to block the port expansion.”

Addressing the situation, the Wall Street Journal states: “there are now no major coal exporting facilities on the US West Coast. Washington State, with its proximity to coal-rich Wyoming and Montana, is seen as the best place to start.” PRB coal is being shipped to China and India through Vancouver. Additionally, the countries’ needs are being filled by Australian and Indonesian coal—so environmentalists’ fears that shipping US coal will undermine “everything we’ve accomplished,” as Sierra Club spokesman David Graham-Caso says, are wrong.

The coal is being shipped and used—but the US is losing out on the jobs (which would be mostly union jobs), the revenue, and the benefit to the trade deficit. The LAT/McKibben piece cites KC Golden, policy director of Seattle’s Climate Solutions group: “Can you imagine standing at the mouth of the Columbia River, watching ships sail in from Asia carrying solar panels and electric car batteries and plasma TVs, passing ships from America carrying coal?” Worse, can you imagine all those goods coming in—manufactured using Australian coal-fueled electricity, and nothing going out? That’s what we have now.

A report from the Energy Policy Research Foundation states: “US production will merely replace higher cost production. … Neither net world coal combustion nor GHG emissions will change as a result of an expansion of US coal exports.” The report concludes: “The higher net value received is in effect a wealth transfer from foreign consumers to US producers and the national economy.

This net gain to the national economy shows up in higher returns to invested capital, greater employment opportunities from expanded investment, higher revenues to state, local and federal governments, and higher lease values on coal reserves from federal and state lands.”

But environmental groups don’t want this “net economic gain to the national economy.” Apparently, they’d prefer that we continue to borrow from China’s Australian coal-fueled economy.

LNG

LNG faces a similar problem. Natural gas was once the favored choice of environmentalists—until privately funded hydraulic fracturing (or high pressure drilling) advancements made it plentiful and, consequently cheap. The low-cost fuel snatched away the fossil fuel-free dream that seemed to be almost within reach. Now environmentalists oppose natural gas as well. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas site claims: “Increasing reliance on natural gas displaces the market for clean energy.”

Many countries want US natural gas. Unlike coal, natural gas cannot just be put on a ship and sent to the awaiting customer. It must first be liquefied—hence the term LNG. The liquefaction process requires costly facilities, which, for economic reasons, need a large customer base—many with which the US does not have free trade agreements (though the Energy Department can permit them, provided it determines that such ventures are consistent with the public interest).

The International Business Times, on March 1, 2013, reports that: “As of this date, 17 applications for multibillion-dollar facilities to turn the commodity into liquefied natural gas, or LNG, for export are under review by the Energy Department.” Let’s hope they don’t take as many years and as many reviews as the Keystone pipeline.

LNG exports could have a tremendous positive impact on the US economy. A recent IHS global insight report concluded that LNG exports would “result in the creation of over 100,000 direct, indirect, and economy wide jobs and have an immediate economic impact resulting in $3.6 to $5.2 billion in potential annual revenues.”

And, LNG exporting would not only create jobs and increase revenue, it would also reduce trade deficits. A just-released report from the Rio Grande Foundation states: “The United States currently runs a $6 billion trade deficit with Japan. That nation is particularly eager to import LNG from the US due to the nuclear accident at Fukushima.”

Once again, environmentalists oppose jobs, revenue, and trade-deficit reduction. Earlier this year, more than 40 groups and individuals took out a half page ad in the New York Times that said: “Exporting Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) to overseas markets will mean more drilling and fracking on US land, which are dirty and dangerous practices.”

KEYSTONE

Like coal mining and export, natural gas extraction, liquefaction, and export, the Keystone pipeline would create thousands of union jobs and increased service employment in supporting communities; benefit local and state economies, and provide additional revenues to the federal coffers; and help balance the trade deficit, as some of the refined product would be exported. But once again, environmental opposition has targeted the pipeline—causing delay after delay that has now postponed the economic benefit of the pipeline.

Last week, Russ Girling, TransCanada, CEO, said: “I believe that those that are fundamentally opposed to our pipeline are getting louder and more shrill as we move towards a decision.” He announced that the potential start date must be moved from the previously planned late 2014 or early 2015 to late 2015.

The Keystone pipeline saga is the same song, another verse.

These are just three current examples of how the influence of environmental organizations is driving policy in the name of planetary salvation that is, in reality, resulting in economic devastation that could lead to humanity’s ultimate starvation. Environmental motivations are less about saving the planet and more about killing the global economy—while enriching themselves at taxpayers’ expense.

The above articles were submitted by the author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon, who serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Together they work to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom, and the American way of life. Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations’ combined efforts serve as America’s voice for energy.

New Mexico Housing Market On Slow Road to Recovery

Posted on 30. May, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Economy

Housing trends reported to the REALTORS Association of New Mexico (RANM) for April show a continuing increase in the number of sales, while monthly median prices are slightly lower than prices recorded in April of 2011 and 2012.

New Mexico reflects national growth in number of sales.  1,387 April 2013 New Mexico sales were reported to RANM.  In April of 2012, 1,273 sales were reported and in April of 2011, there were 1,110 reported sales.  2013 year to date sales are nearly 10% more than 2012 and over 20% more than 2011 numbers.  Homes are selling at a faster pace than previous years which is good news for sellers.

Citing research from the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS, RANM President Cathy Colvin reports, “Existing-home sales continue to improve, although inventory constraints are preventing stronger growth.  After four years of relatively flat activity from 2008 through 2011, nationally, existing home sales rose 9.4 percent to almost 4.3 million in 2012 and are forecast to increase to nearly 5.0 million this year.”

New Mexico median prices (median price indicates half the properties sold for more and half for less) for the month of April 2013 show a -0.3% decrease from April 2012 ($164,000 to $164,490) and a

-0.6% decrease from April 2011 when the reported median was $165,000.

M. Steven Anaya, RANM CEO, says “Nationally, median home prices are rising.  While April 2013 median prices dropped slightly, year to date New Mexico median prices reflect this rising trend.  Year to date April 2012 New Mexico median was $160,000; January through April 2013 median is reported at $165,000.”

The trends and numbers reported are only a snapshot of market activity.  If you are interested in buying or selling, consult a REALTOR familiar with your market area; he/she can provide information on specific trends in your neighborhood.

Statistical information and trends are based on information furnished by New Mexico Member Boards and MLSs to U. S. House Stats. Current reporting participants are: Greater Albuquerque Association of REALTORS, Las Cruces Association of REALTORS MLIS, New Mexico Multi-Board MLS (Artesia, Carlsbad, Clovis/Portales, Deming, Gallup, Grants, Hobbs, Las Vegas, Sierra County areas), Otero County Board of REALTORS, Roswell Association of REALTORS, Ruidoso/Lincoln County Association of REALTORS, Santa Fe Association of REALTORS, San Juan County Board of REALTORS, Silver City Regional Association of REALTORS, and the Taos County Association of REALTORS. Reports represent single family residential data only.  Information does not necessarily represent all activity in any market/county.  Figures based on reports run 5/21/13.  Visit www.nmrealtor.com (housing trends) for county and board statistics.

This information was submitted by: The REALTORS Association of New Mexic, one of the state’s largest trade associations, representing over 5,400 members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate market.

Latino Democrats Battle Each Other in Heated California Congressional Race

Posted on 30. May, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Politics

From The Rothenberg Political ReportWhat looked like an easy road to Congress for Redlands, California Mayor Pete Aguilar has turned into a complicated race among a trio of Hispanic Democrats. What is more, this has the potential to divide Latinos in California and Washington, D.C. Aguilar is running for the Democratic nomination in order to face Rep. Gary Miller (R), in one of the most Democratic districts currently represented by a Republican.  To read the entire article, log on to: www.rothenburgpoliticalreport.com

 

 

 

 

New Law- New Long-term Insurance Program

Posted on 17. Apr, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Healthcare, NM, Politics

New Law- New Long-term Insurance Program Would Allow New Mexicans to Keep More of their Assets While Qualifying for Medicaid- takes effect June 14, 2013

The law:

  • Gives New Mexicans more choice to do with their own money
  • Incentive allows estate to retain value of policy that could be passed to heirs
  • Saves Medicaid program when people are on private insurance.

(Santa Fe)  It is now law. A person does not necessarily have to be destitute in order for  Medicaid to pay  their nursing home expenses.

Freshman Senator Lee S. Cotter (R-Las Cruces) sponsored SB 196- Long Term Care Insurance Partnership and it has been signed into law.

It allows New Mexicans with private nursing home insurance to be able to exempt the amount of their insurance benefit from the amount of assets they can retain in order to qualify for Medicaid. They could still qualify for Medicaid if their assets total only $2,000. The amount of the insurance benefit would be separated out and would not be taken into consideration for qualifying purposes.

“New Mexicans who have invested in long-term care insurance will have more choices in how to spend their own money.  They will not have to spend their assets, including their insurance benefit, down to that last $2,000 in order to qualify for Medicaid if they need to go into a nursing home,” Senator Cotter said. “

They can keep amount of their insurance benefit and use it how they like.  They can use it to improve their lives while in a nursing home or they can leave their assets to their heirs.  The value of the insurance benefit is theirs to spend it as they see fit.”

Senator Cotter said the new law, which will go into effect June 14, 2013, will also help save the federal Medicaid program dollars. He said New Mexicans will appreciate the incentive of purchasing their own private insurance and might not ever go on the federal program. Others would have to be on the federal program, until their private insurance is exhausted.

Senator Cotter said the long-term insurance incentive program has been passed by 42 other states. Senator Cotter reiterated, “The program allows New Mexicans to have a choice. It gives them an incentive to save assets and provide for their long term health care instead of forcing New Mexicans to reduce their assets to $2,000 before they can apply for Medicaid.”

He said it modifies Medicaid eligibility rules by requiring that, individuals’ assets counted when considering Medicaid eligibility, exclude the amount of qualified long-term care insurance. The lower the “counted assets” the higher the chance the person will qualify for Medicaid.

SB 196 requires that the Human Services Dept. (HSD) modify the state Medicaid Plan and create a long-term health insurance partnership program in consultation with the Superintendent of Insurance to give incentives for individuals to obtain long term care insurance.

This was submitted by the New Mexico Senate Republican Office. For more information, contact: Diane Kinderwater at diane.kinderwater@nmlegis.gov

The middle class breadline?

Posted on 17. Apr, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Social/Cultural

I had a feeling of déjà vu the other day as I pushed my shopping cart through the cavernous maze of Costco. Every time I enter this pantheon of discount bulk foods I’m drawn back in time to countries I lived in like the twin island nation of Trinidad and Tobago which lies 25 miles off the coast of Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea.

Shopping in the islands was an experience. There were no Safeway’s, Albertsons or Piggly Wiggly’s. Small grocery stores and specialty markets with high prices were the rule. If we wanted more variety and a sashay down aisles wide as the interstate we had to fly to Miami. Munich, Germany was much the same way, and while the stores were bigger the aisles were smaller. Go figure it.

I suspect that the experience of American supermarket shopping with its piped in music and spacious surroundings never translated well to the Europeans who had limited time to shop after work, used public transportation to and from the market AND had a tradition of buying fresh food every day.

Plus, there were the outdoor markets offering every imaginable food choice from produce to meats to freshly baked bread. In Munich, there was the ‘Viktuelienmarkt’ (from the Latin word, victualia meaning provisions) which was located just a few blocks from the physical center of town easily accessible by the tram and not far from an underground station.

Back to Costco. I have a few pet peeves about this wondrous concept, the biggest is I never know with absolute certainty where anything IS except for the frozen food lockers, the produce section and the meat counter and maybe the OTC medicines, the electronic/computer products and the Eyeglass and Photofinishing counters as well as the wine racks. OK, maybe there are not THAT many things that are moved around like peas in a shell game, but it seems that way every time I can’t find a canned good or paper product.

Costco could take a lesson from Sam’s Club, their venerable competitor just down the street. Sam’s puts up the names of categories on signs high above the aisles so people can navigate without fear of taking a wrong turn and ending up in Zanzibar without a sextant. I’m a member of both not because of the different product assortments or the lower prices on cat food (Sam’s is best) but because I can get a free lunch in two places any time I want!

Actually that’s not true, but I suspect it might be for some people. This week I did some undercover research. I pretended to shop at both Costco and Sam’s but really observed the eating habits of my fellow shoppers. Both stores offer what I call the middle class breadline.

This takes the form of portable food sample carts with steam tables or tabletop skillets that cook exotic items and slingshot the aromas with an irresistible ‘come taste me’ invitation into every nook and cranny of the store. Beware the shopper who just came in to pick up his vacation photos or have his eyeglass rims tightened, he will be tempted.

Costco and Sam’s are the modern day equivalent of Shéhérazade who mesmerized the Persian King with stories that lasted 1001 nights. The difference is they do it at lunchtime with food, and so well that it’s not unusual to see a whole family huddled around a three bean green chili salad or mini-pizza cart like baby sparrows in a nest waiting for the next morsel from mama bird.

I know the stores do this to sell more food, but some of my friends are suspicious. They think this might be a secret Obama Administration plot to reduce the number of food stamp recipients and help out the working poor by keeping them off the Government’s poverty statistics. All I know is that these people are always blocking the aisles making it much more difficult for me to get lost. Enough already!

- Editor

Thirty-five New Mexico writers to converge on Moriarty

Posted on 17. Apr, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Social/Cultural

Mystery! Suspense! Action! History! Drama! Fiction! Non-fiction! On Saturday, April 20th, 35 home-grown writers from New Mexico will be on hand at the Moriarty Civic Center at 202 Broadway from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm to meet the public, sign books and speak about the ‘mystery and magic’ of writing.

This is the seventh such event, and ‘Authors for Literacy,’ is generally very well-attended and is supported by the New Mexico Coalition for Literacy and the United Way of Central New Mexico.

In addition to being able to meet local published authors, there will be two discussion panels: the first starts at 11:00am and includes authors who will discuss the writing process and at 1:00pm a panel on reader expectations.

For more information, please contact: Tina Cates-Ortega at the Moriarty Public Library. Her telephone number is: 505/832-2513

 

Margaret Thatcher: global warming provides a marvelous excuse

Posted on 17. Apr, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Energy/Environment

In honor of Margaret Thatcher’s memory, favorite quotes from the Iron Lady have popped up everywhere. This one came across my Facebook newsfeed: “Global warming ‘provides a marvelous excuse for worldwide, supra-national socialism.’”

The hundreds of comments the quote received covered a variety of sentiments from hostility to adoration. A couple accused Thatcher of launching the entire global warming hoax to end a coal-miners’ strike. Another cited an earlier Thatcher quote: “The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations. Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world’s environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community.

No one should under-estimate the imagination that will be required, nor the scientific effort, nor the unprecedented co-operation we shall have to show. We shall need statesmanship of a rare order. It’s because we know that, that we are here today. But the need for more research should not be an excuse for delaying much needed action now.” CFACT, the poster of the comment, responded: “Thatcher evolved. Millions have joined her.”

I do not know if Thatcher started the whole hoax. I do not know the facts behind her “evolution” on the topic. What I do know is the damaging impacts climate change mitigation attempts have had on the economy—a viewpoint the American government still clings to while the Brits (as evidenced by Thatcher’s comments) have “evolved.”

Perhaps, Thatcher did perpetuate the idea that CO2 emissions were warming the planet, but the theory was readily embraced in Europe. Natural-resource rich, the US has historically had lower energy costs than our European allies—which gave us a competitive advantage. Pushing the global warming narrative—which promotes wind and solar power as a curative—attempted to level the playing field by moving all of us to higher-priced energy.

Regarding the 2011 UN climate change talks in Durban, the Financial Times said the European Union (EU) “is pushing hardest among developed countries for a new global deal” and is “the greenest voice among wealthy countries at the talks.” In a column I wrote in December 2011, I posit that the EU supported the climate change narrative specifically to raise energy prices in the US.

Richard Courtney, a consultant on matters concerning energy and the environment who has served as an expert peer reviewer for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, calls the global warming issue “political.” He says: “Each government has its own special interests in global warming but, in all cases, the motives relate to economic policies.

In general, the USA fears loss of economic power to other nations while this is desired by those other nations. Universal adoption of ‘carbon taxes,’ or other universal proportionate reductions in industrial activity, would provide relative benefit to the other nations.”

Whatever the motive, the EU has led the way on renewable energy—especially wind and solar. Germany, home of the Energiewende (energy transformation) has garnered a reputation as the country to follow when it comes to green energy. Having passed the Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz (renewable energy law) in 1991, Germany has poured huge subsidies into wind and solar power.

Twenty-two percent of Germany’s power is now generated with renewables (“solar provides close to a quarter of that”)—which are “guaranteed more-than competitive rates”—despite the fact that “producing electricity from sunlight costs 10 times more than generating power using coal or nuclear energy.” Power companies are passing the costs on to consumers in the form of higher rates.

I frequently hear Germany’s record being held up as a shining example. After all, if Germany can get nearly a quarter of its electricity from renewables, why can’t the US do the same? I’ve had listeners of a radio show where I am a guest call in and tout Germany’s record. If one doesn’t know the whole story, it does sound admirable. I ask: “Have you been following Germany recently?” Silence.

Post-Fukushima, Germany announced the closure of eight of its 17 nuclear power plants, with the remaining 9 to be closed within the next decade. To replace the 17 power plants, it was announced that Germany would build or revamp 84 power plants—more than half would be fossil-fuel-powered, including 17 coal-fueled. This winter, it was reported that energy costs in Germany were so high that its residents were literally cutting down trees in city parks and stripping the forests in order to heat their homes.

The tree thefts are just one of the bizarre consequences of the EU’s adoption of the climate change narrative. One of the newest revelations, reported by The Economist, is: “By far the largest so-called renewable fuel used in Europe is wood”—which it calls “the fuel of the future.”

The Economist reports that nearly half of Europe’s renewable energy comes from “biomass,” while in some countries—like Poland and Finland—“wood meets more than 80% of renewable energy demand.”

Apparently, wood was included as a renewable that would help cut CO2 emissions—the supposed driver of climate change—because if the wood came from “properly managed forests, then the carbon that billows out of the chimney can be offset by the carbon that is captured and stored in newly planted trees. Wood can be carbon-neutral.”

As a result of the decision to allow wood to qualify for the “renewable” mandate, its usage has “soared.” In fact, wood has saved coal-fueled power plants that would have been shut down—making it popular with power companies. Unlike expensive forests of wind turbines that require brand new, expensive, transmission lines, the coal-fueled power plants are already connected to the grid.

They can also be “adapted to burn a mixture of 90% coal and 10% wood (called co-firing) with little new investment.” Additionally, wood-fueled electricity generation doesn’t require back-up (redundant) power.

While the EU’s goal of getting twenty percent of its energy from renewables by 2020 is hurting the European economy and individual ratepayers, it is helping Canada.

Europe’s energy policy ends up helping the economies of both Canada and the US—both of which didn’t jump into “renewables,” as the EU did. The US never signed on to the Kyoto Protocol and Canada abandoned it in 2011.

Europe doesn’t have enough wood to meet demand, so a substantial chunk of it will come from imports—which has created a booming new business in Canada and the southeastern US. Gordon Murray, executive director of the Wood Pellet Association of Canada, calls it “an industry invented from nothing.” Who would have thought that not only is the US now a net exporter of gasoline, but now we are fueling Europe with “biomass?”

The EU is seeing the error of their ways. “The European Environment Agency said, in 2011, the assumption “that biomass combustion would be inherently carbon neutral…is not correct…as it ignores the fact that using land to produce plants for energy typically means that this land is not producing plants for other purposes, including carbon otherwise sequestered.”

In fact, using trees for energy production actually, increases “carbon emissions compared with coal” and scientists have now concluded that the idea of using wood as a renewable fuel was an “oversimplification.”

Unlike Margaret Thatcher, the EU is unlikely to “evolve”—giving the US a competitive energy advantage Europe’s global warming encouragement was intended to erase.

While the US didn’t sign on to a binding commitment to CO2 reductions, our energy policies have, like Europe, pushed the more expensive energies and punished the cost-effective. Data from the Energy Information Agency reveals that the average all-in cost for electrical energy to the customer has risen at twice the rate of inflation—with no real identifiable and quantifiable fiscal benefit.

Thatcher was correct. Global warming has provided “a marvelous excuse.” The question is, will the US “evolve” and correct its course like others, or will we allow the climate change hoax to steer us toward full-on socialism?

This article was submitted by the author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon, who serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Together they work to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom, and the American way of life. Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations’ combined efforts serve as America’s voice for energy.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Energy Security Trust?

Posted on 03. Apr, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Energy/Environment

In his first energy speech of his second term, “President Barack Obama tried to move past partisan fights over energy policy on Friday with a modest proposal to fund research into cars that run on anything but gasoline.” The “modest proposal” is what he introduced in the State of the Union Address: an Energy Security Trust (EST)—which is a central part of his economic strategy.

The idea for an EST was developed by a collaboration of high-volume oil consumers and military leaders concerned about US energy security—put forth through a report titled “A National Strategy for Energy Security: Harnessing American Resources and Innovation.”

The unique backgrounds of the advocates garnered attention from both sides of the aisle. However, a key component of the Trust was omitted from the President’s Friday speech: increased domestic energy development—the piece that, according to one of the idea’s developers, was designed to win bipartisan support and “keep both sides engaged.”

In response to Obama’s presentation of an EST—which would set aside royalties from oil and gas extracted on federal lands and direct them toward research and development for transportation technologies that reduce our dependence on oil—House Speaker John Boehner’s office says: “For this proposal to even be plausible, oil and gas leasing on federal land would need to increase dramatically. Unfortunately, this administration has consistently slowed, delayed and blocked American energy production.”

Once again, Obama’s speech touted America’s growing “energy future:” “We produce more oil than we have in 15 years. We import less oil than we have in 20 years. …We’re producing more natural gas than we ever have before.” This is true, however Boehner is correct. A new report from the Congressional Research Service “confirms what many have known to be true.”

Marc Humphries, the government specialist in energy policy who authored the “U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production in Federal and Non-Federal Areas” report, says: “All of the increase (in oil and natural gas production) from FY2007 to FY2012 took place on non-federal lands, and the federal share of total U.S. crude oil production fell by about seven percentage points. … In general, the regulatory framework for developing resources on federal lands will likely remain more involved and time-consuming than that on private land.”

Increasing resource development on federal lands is one of the key features of the EST. In fact, the idea is that the funds set aside for the trust would come solely from new development. Yet, Friday’s speech never mentioned that—despite media reports stating: “the new program…would be paid for through royalties generated by offshore drilling of oil and gas development of the outer continental shelf.”

I had a post-speech conversation with Sam Ori, Director of Policy for Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE)—the organization responsible for the Energy Security Leadership Council (about which Obama spoke) and the idea for the EST. While SAFE is pleased that its policy proposal has been picked up by the Administration, Ori wouldn’t comment on the President’s cherry-picking approach to the plan.

He did, however, say: “The speech is not the final place. If the EST doesn’t offer new oil and gas development on federal lands, the Republicans won’t sign on.” Ori emphasized that in order for the EST to be a success, it needs to have something that is “attractive to both sides.” The alternative energy research is the carrot for the left and the increased drilling is there for the Republicans. Ori also pointed out—as did Robbie Diamond, Founder, President and CEO of SAFE, during our December conversation—that the EST is for research and development of technologies that will lesson our dependence on oil, not deployment of said technologies.

Somehow, in a time when deficits and government spending are front-page news stories, Obama wants to “divert” revenues already coming into the US treasury into “a dedicated slush fund for alternative energy.” In Friday’s speech, he pointed to SAFE’s proposal when he said: “let’s take some of our oil and gas revenues from public lands and put it towards research that will benefit the public so we can support American ingenuity without adding a dime to our deficit.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski disagrees. Robert Dillon, spokesperson for the Senator told me: “The president hit on a good idea when he called for a trust fund to promote energy innovation. But unlike Sen. Murkowski’s proposal, he would not enable new energy production to pay for it.

The president says he wants to divert a share of the royalties from offshore production that has already been factored into the budget, which could mean either deficit spending or less funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. More likely, the president’s real plan is to raise taxes on oil and gas. There’s a better way that not only funds investment in research, but also addresses our need for affordable and abundant energy. It’s Sen. Murkowski’s plan. We hope the president will embrace it.”

Forbes writer, Christopher Helman, takes it one step further. He believes that “this Energy Security Trust could well serve as the tip of a wedge that could some day lever open a new carbon tax.” According to Helman, Connecticut Congressman John Larson, said “that the very purpose of the Energy Security Trust fund was to serve as a conduit for the collection of carbon taxes.”

True, Larson does have a proposal from 2006 that is all about a carbon tax, and his proposal bears the same name—but the similarity of the plans stops there. SAFE has never advocated a carbon tax. Because Obama favors a carbon tax, connecting the two plans with the same name is a logical leap, but it misrepresents the current plan.

If Obama was truly “seeking to build some common ground on energy,” he should have included both sides of the equation; incorporating both increased drilling and R & D “investment.” Instead, in his “first energy speech of his second term,” he continued to put partisan considerations before the national interest.

The speech included some populist themes:

  • “Our top priority as a nation” should be “reigniting the true engine of America’s economic growth.”
  • “Few areas hold more economic promise for creating good jobs and growing our economy than how we use American energy.”
  • “What most Americans feel first when it comes to energy prices—or energy issues are prices that they pay at the pump.” And,
  • “We’ve worked with the auto companies to put in place the toughest fuel economy standards in history.”

Yet, he omitted any solutions that would help American’s today. The only mention of a pipeline was this: “as long as the pipeline for research is maintained…” No mention was made of the “good jobs” that could be created if he’d quickly approve the Keystone pipeline—something Dave Mallino of the Laborers’ International Union specifically chastised him about on the air with Neil Cavuto.

Regarding fuel economy standards, as we’ve seen with cellulosic ethanol, just because government mandates it, doesn’t make it so.

Friday’s speech didn’t address expanded access to America’s natural resources. It did, however, threaten that the “so-called sequester” would cut into the “muscle and the bone.” Obama claimed that “because of this sequester, we’re looking at two years where we don’t start new research.”

The speech, which was reportedly about freeing “our families and business from the painful spikes in gas prices,” did suggest “more solar power, more wind power”—neither of which do anything to touch “spikes in gas prices.”

SAFE’s EST, which aims to bring both sides together for “energy security,” is admirable, and Ori hopes “that we can be successful.” If shuttling some of the funds from new development—that the government already collects (not a new tax)—toward R & D will cause this administration to finally “stop being an obstacle,” I am all for it. However, I hate that we have to bribe them to do what they should have been doing all along. If this “first energy speech” is any indication, I can’t say I share Ori’s optimism.

I have to agree with Helman. He says we already have an EST. “It’s this: the hard work and innovation of the tens of thousands of engineers at American oil companies who have unlocked a plentiful supply of energy that will keep the nation moving and growing for decades. And all without taxpayer handouts.”

The article was submitted by the author of Energy Freedom, Marita Noon, who serves as the executive director for Energy Makes America Great Inc. and the companion educational organization, the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). Together they work to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom, and the American way of life. Combining energy, news, politics, and, the environment through public events, speaking engagements, and media, the organizations’ combined efforts serve as America’s voice for energy.


 

Cast a vote for Roadrunner Food Bank

Posted on 02. Apr, 2013 by Stephan Helgesen in Social/Cultural

Help the Food Bank receive a Walmart grant to fund child hunger programs on Facebook with the ‘click’ of a mouse

All month, Roadrunner Food Bank is hoping the public will use their computer mouse to vote for the Food Bank to earn a $45,000 Walmart grant for childhood hunger programs at the Food Bank. Votes can be cast on Facebook until April 30 at 11:59 pm est.

The grants will be awarded to food banks with the most number of votes. The Food Bank is encouraging the public to take three easy actions to help achieve the grant.

“We are so grateful for this opportunity and we hope the community will take action and vote for our project.  Funding like this helps us ensure the Food for Kids program is there for nearly 4,000 children every week.  Without it, many of our children wouldn’t have access to regular weekend food.  Your vote helps us secure food for vulnerable children,” said Melody Wattenbarger, president and CEO of Roadrunner Food Bank.

The grant is part of Walmart’s “Fighting Hunger Together” initiative.  By voting, the public decides what organizations will receive grants.  More than 300 different hunger relief organizations from across the US are competing. The more votes a Feeding America food bank receives, the better chances they have of receiving the grant. At the conclusion of the voting, top vote getters will split $3 million in funding from Walmart. The funds won will then be used to support local child hunger relief programs.

Roadrunner Food Bank would utilize the grant to help fund its Food for Kids Program.  The program is targeted to providing low-income elementary school aged children food to eat over the weekend.  Every week, 45 schools receive backpacks filled with food for low-income children to take home on Fridays.  Children eat the food over the weekend and then return the backpack to be filled again.  Often, the food in the backpack is the only food a child might eat for two days.

Funding for child hunger programs is especially critical given the significant need that exists. According to the USDA, more than 16 million children in the United States struggle with hunger. Roadrunner Food Bank serves about 90,000 hungry children every year, however there is an estimated 146,000 children who struggle with hunger in New Mexico.

For more information about Roadrunner Food Bank visit www.rrfb.org.  To vote, please visit: https://apps.facebook.com/walmartlocal/?applet=hunger&organization=1

This was submitted by the Roadrunner® Food Bank, a Feeding America member. It is the largest non-profit dedicated to ending hunger in New Mexico and operates warehouses in Albuquerque and Las Cruces.  Last year, the Food Bank distributed nearly 23 million pounds of food through its own programs, a statewide network of partner agencies, and regional food banks helping nearly 40,000 children and adults weekly.  The Food Bank also rescued more than 16 million pounds of food last year keeping food out of landfills.

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