Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New Mexico Organization nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

I just got this from Mikey Weinstein over at Military Religious Freedom Foundation. This nomination for a 2010 Nobel Peace Prize is a huge honor for him and his group. It could be the first and only New Mexico organization ever to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Albuquerque-based Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the civil rights charitable organization that has worked both fearlessly and tirelessly to stop religious discrimination and oppression in the United States armed forces, has been nominated for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

Since its founding in 2005, the MRFF has become the undisputed national and international leader in the civil rights movement to restore the severely fractured wall between church and state in the United States military and to stop the ill effects of noxious religious discrimination both domestically and abroad.

MRFF has also fought aggressively for the Constitutional rights of United States service members who are Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists, agnostics and other religious minorities, and to stop the unbridled proselytizing of Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis and other foreign nationals by the U.S. military.

The MRFF has tenaciously taken on the U.S. military with a bold, brave approach to stopping the systemic and embedded discrimination against those who are not fundamentalist Christians in today's armed forces, as well as against the citizens of the Islamic countries where our military is presently engaged in combat operations. Such egregious acts of bigotry and prejudice include violence and threats against U.S. sailors, soldiers, marines, airmen, cadets and midshipmen who will no longer accept the unconstitutional abuse of forced religious oppression from their military chains of command.

“I am deeply and profoundly honored for the Foundation to be nominated; especially by such a respected and influential member of a foreign Parliament allied with America,” Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, MRFF's Founder and President said.

Weinstein is a former White House lawyer and also former General Counsel to Texas billionaire and two-time Presidential candidate H.Ross Perot and Perot Systems Corporation. Mr. Weinstein is a 1977 U.S. Air Force Academy honor graduate who has taken on and leads this civil rights mission for religious non-discrimination. Over the past five years, Weinstein, his family and MRFF have endured a steady diet of serious threats and offensive acts of reprisal and retribution.

Weinstein has been described by Harper's magazine as the "constitutional conscience of the U.S. military." He is the father of three children including two sons (and a daughter-in-law) who also graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy. His family includes three consecutive generations of military academy graduates and over 130 years of combined active duty military service in a plethora of U.S. combat theaters and situations spanning most of the last century.

In 2005, in response to overt religious discrimination at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Weinstein started MRFF. His specific mission at the time was to stop the ubiquitous religious discrimination from fundamentalist Christians at the Academy bent on converting mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics and non-Christians to their beliefs utilizing the draconian spectre of military command influence. That civil rights mission has now massively expanded over the last four years to include all of the approximately 1,000 American military installations scattered around the globe in over 130 host countries.

Weinstein is the author of “With God On Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military,” published in 2006 from St. Martins Press. The paperback edition, published in 2008, has a forward by Ambassador (retired) Joe Wilson. The book is an expose on the systemic problem of religious intolerance throughout the U.S. armed forces.

The winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize will be announced in October of next year by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo, Norway. The Committee reported that it had received the largest number of official nominees ever for the 2009 Peace Prize competition recently won by President Barack Obama; 172 individuals and 33 organizations were nominated worldwide.

To read the nomination letter click here.

Note: While the Nobel committee does not officially release the names of nominees for 50 years, the letter nominating the MRFF was authorized for release by the Foundation, though redacted so as not to reveal the identity of the nominating source at his request. The nominator of MRFF for the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize is identified as a Senator from a foreign nation, which is an ally of the United States, and the only Christian legislator in the upper chamber of that country's national parliament.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cost-saving ideas emerge out of frustration

While lawmakers in Santa Fe are starting to express frustration on limitations imposed on them by Gov. Bill Richardson’s special session proclamation, Republicans are blaming the Richardson administration for not preventing the problem in the first place.

On Tuesday, a group of Republican legislators released a list of 48 budget-cutting items they say the administration can enact without any legislative action, including releasing non-violent criminals three months early, selling the state’s jet and canceling the state’s contract for a float in the 2010 Tournament of Roses® Parade.

“The governor has the power to approve cuts in executive agencies. If he would have taken proactive steps, we would not be spending $50,000 a day debating this problem,” House Minitority Whip Keith Gardner (R-Roswell) said.

The governor’s office was quick to respond to the House Republicans.

“The same legislators who are critical of spending during the past seven years are conveniently forgetting important details about those budgets, including the overwhelmingly support from the Legislature for each of those spending plans,” a message on the governor’s blog said.

Slamming the door on early release?

But the early release of non-violent criminals, to save money, isn’t sitting well with all Republicans.

“We need less criminals on the street,” Bernalillo County Sheriff Darren White said. “I would need to know how they define ‘non-violent criminal. Burglars are not classified violent, but we’re trying to take them off the street and reduce property crime in Albuquerque.”

Gardner said he would consider a burglar to be violent too, and said he doesn’t agree with all the items on the list himself.

“Were talking about people who make a ‘knucklehead decision – folks who get sent to jail for contempt of court,” Gardner said.

He said anyone who breaks the law deserves to be punished, but he’d like to consider alternative sentencing or other forms of punishment.

“We should not have people in jail that we’re mad at and need to keep people in jail that we’re scared of. The judiciary is best poised to decide who is or is not a threat to society,” Matt Kennicott a staffer with the Republican House Caucus. “Keep in mind, the point of the list is that they are ideas that the executive could have enacted to help fix the budget before calling the legislature into special session at the rate of $50,000 per day.

Getting the most 'bang for the buck'

Gardner also wondered out loud if the New Mexico Tourism Department’s participation, for the fourth time in five years, gives the state the most ‘bang for the buck?’

NM Tourism Secretary Michael Cerletti has defended the state’s participation.

“It is important that the New Mexico tourism industry does everything it can to take advantage of unique opportunities to reach potential visitors,” Cerletti said. “The exposure offered New Mexico each year is significant.”

In fact, nearly 40 million Americans in 16.5 million households watch the parade on television New Year’s day. The Parade is also broadcast live in 150 countries and territories worldwide.

Will lawmakers settle for a hodgepodge fix?

Gardner said if the structure of government isn’t changed lawmakers would be settling on a ‘hodgepodge fix.’

Lawmakers had wanted to consider a combination of expenditures and revenue measures, but the Governor isn’t willing to consider them until January.

Putting it all on the table

“We needed to have both expenditures and revenues on the table to find a combination would get us to a balanced budget as required by the Constitution,” Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe), the Vice-Chair of the Senate Rules Committee said.

Wirth isn’t the only senator that feels that way. Several of his colleague are echoing his remarks.

“As legislators, our responsibility is to craft a balanced budget. To do that we need to consider all options; we cannot balance the Fiscal Year 2010 budget without somehow generating revenues. That’s why I voted for finding some of the tax measures germane in spite of the Proclamation’s language – something I see as restricting our constitutional duties,” Sen. Bernadette Sanchez (D-Bernalillo), Chair of the Senate Conservation Committee said.

Sounding frustrated himself, Gardner wants the governor to enact cost-saving ideas now.

“We have to quit spending, and we need to decide on more than just taking baby-steps here. We need long-term solutions. We have to act now, “ Gardner said. “Every month we don’t act we add an additional 1/12th burden, because we’ll have fewer months to recover.”

“He (the Governor) has a fiduciary responsibility to help solve this problem,” Gardner said. “He wants to spend one-time dollars, the same as a cash loan, and then he hopes the problem rights itself — if the economy improves.”

No one is making any predictions

At the conclusion of the fourth day of floor debate and caucus meetings, Gardner isn’t making any predictions when the session might adjourn.

“I want to be home by the weekend. Unfortunately, I’m not confident that we will be,” Gardner said. “If we don’t look at long-term solutions then we could get called back into session, or we’ll be dealing with the budget problems big time in the 30-day session (in January).

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NM senators expressing frustration in Santa Fe

Four Democrat senators, in Santa Fe on Tuesday, expressed frustration over the limitations imposed on their deliberations by the Governor Bill Richardson's proclamation convening the special session.

It spells out the matters the legislature can consider during a special session to fix the state budget deficit, reads very narrowly.

It specifically stated that the matters to be considered “shall not include measures reducing salaries or raising tax rates, reducing or eliminating tax credits, rebates, exemptions or deductions, or imposing new taxes.”

Political analyst, blogger and Albuquerque photographer Mark Bralley said lawmakers should have adjourned immediately after reading the governor's proclamation on Saturday.

"They should have returned the proclamation back to the governor and waited until he sent them a document that didn't strip them of their constitutional prerogatives," Bralley said.

“We were not given the opportunity to vote on important options for balancing the budget. While I would not personally support some of the tax options that were introduced and found not germane under the Proclamation, we should at least have had the opportunity to debate those measures and vote on them,” said Senator Carlos R. Cisneros (D-Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, Santa Fe and Taos), Vice-Chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

Republicans came up with a list of 48 actions they believe Richardson should have taken before calling them back to Santa Fe. Surprisingly, the list included releasing non-violent offenders from corrections three months early. Not as surprising, they also said the governor should have sold the plane. They also want the state tourism department to cancel its contract to participate with a float in the 2010 Rose Bowl Parade.

Echoing the sentiments of Cisceros, Senator Richard C. Martinez (D-Los Alamos, Rio Arriba & Santa Fe), Vice-Chair of the Judiciary Committee said, “regardless of the merits of the individual revenue measures that were not found germane, we never had an opportunity to weigh their merits or the merits of any other options.”

“We needed to have both expenditures and revenues on the table to find a combination would get us to a balanced budget as required by the Constitution,” said Senator Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe-25), Vice-Chair of the Senate Rules Committee.

Several other senators echoed Wirth's remarks. They noted that because of the proclamation, they were compelled to vote “no” to considering the taxation measures when the Committees’ Committee reported they were not germane because of the language in the Proclamation.

“As legislators, our responsibility is to craft a balanced budget. To do that we need to consider all options; we cannot balance the Fiscal Year 2010 budget without somehow generating revenues. That’s why I voted for finding some of the tax measures germane in spite of the Proclamation’s language – something I see as restricting our constitutional duties,” said Senator Bernadette Sanchez (D-Bernalillo-26), Chair of the Senate Conservation Committee.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Sen. Papen suggests legislators reduce per diem pay

With the state's combined budget deficit, for the 2009 and 2010 fiscal years, approaching a billion dollars one Southern New Mexico senator wants her colleagues to 'share the pain" of the states' financial distress.

Sen. Mary Kay Papen (D-Dona Ana-38), has introduced a resolution asking fellow legislators to voluntarily reduce their per diem reimbursement by a minimum of ten percent for the remainder of the forty-ninth legislature.”

Her resolution notes that “while legislative agencies are included in the budget cuts, the rate of per diem reimbursement for legislators is set in the constitution of New Mexico.”

“I believe it’s important that the people of the state know that their legislators understand and are willing to share in the cuts that will need to be made in order to achieve a sound, balanced budget. And if this is done on a voluntary basis, I think it underscores the commitment of our legislators to do what is right and what is best to achieve that result,” Papen said .“A majority of Democratic Senators quickly signed onto SCR 1. I am encouraged that others will follow suit by supporting this effort. And I am hoping that we get a similar response in the House,” added Senator Papen.

If approved by the Senate, the measure then goes to the House for consideration and possible approval. The measure would not need the Governor’s signature.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Brooks says state budget can't be balanced on cuts alone

Reacting to Governor Bill Richardson's proposal to cut state education funding by 1.5 percent, Albuquerque Public Schools' Superintendent Winston Brooks said the state's largest school district might be able to handle those level of cuts and keep the spending reduction from impacting classrooms directly.

But Brooks warns 'the state's budget can’t be balanced by cutting waste alone.'

“I’ve worked in APS now for almost two years and I just don't find the waste that most people think exists there. In fact, our general administration budget is less than 1%. You can't cut that and balance any budget,” Brooks said.

The superintendent said lawmakers will ‘definitely’ have to look at revenue enhancements, but said APS might be able to handle cuts up to 3 percent.

“We have a plan to try to keep our cuts as far away from the classroom as possible. If it's any more than 3% we're in a heap of trouble,” Brooks said. If it’s more, Brooks said, “The legislature is going to have to change some legislation to allow us to use some of our SB-9 and HB-33 for operational expenses. That's a lion's share of it. The rest of it is taking stimulus money that we had planned to use for our special education and Title 1 kids and use it for our operational budget.”

Brooks said lawmakers who claim raising taxes will hurt the re-election should take a close look at the new poll by Research and Polling, Inc. for for New Mexico Education Partners which shows 81 percent of New Mexico voters don't support education cuts.

“They all say they can't raise taxes because it will hurt their election, if that be the case then I would think they would pay some attention to this poll that says if they do cut education their election is in jeopardy,” said Brooks.

Meanwhile, in a prepared statement proposing his 1.5 percent education cuts, Richardson said he made it "very clear to legislators that any cuts to education must be minimal and not affect our classrooms, kids and teachers.”

The governor credited the minimal cuts to his administration's efforts over the last seven years to keep cash reserves at 10 percent or higher.

Putting more money in the classroom

On Saturday, Rio Grande Foundation's Paul Gessing said he'd like to see more money in the classroom and less money on bureaucrats.

“New Mexico, contrary to popular belief, spends a lot of money on education. We have the eighth highest per capita spending on education in the country. There’s plenty of administrators and other highly paid folks we can look at getting rid of,” Gessing said. “We have proven that bureaucracies actually harm education results. The top five states in the country as far as results spend about 65% of their money in the classroom on education, whereas the bottom five of which surprise, surprise New Mexico is a part, along with those perennial all-stars like Louisiana and Mississippi, that we also find ourselves in the midst of, we spend 59.5% in the classroom.

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Sen. Keller urges fiscal responsibility in special session

Freshman New Mexico Senator Tim Keller introduced three bills during the opening of the special session. He said they're all aimed at making the state's finances more fiscally responsible.

“The Governor has called us all up here and we are costing the state money each day we are in session," Keller said. "The least we can do is work on these issues; there is lots of dead time as we wait for all the various sides to negotiation the budget. This is a matter of principle, these bills should be germane in that they directly impact to our state budget solvency."

While the legislature ruminates over the specifics of the budget solvency package there is an opportunity for lawmakers to work on related legislation to improve our state’s fiscal situation,” Senator Keller stated.

The specific pieces of legislation will now go to Committee’s Committee to determine if they are germane for the special session.

Senator Keller’s proposals that include a tax expenditure bill that mirrors a 2007 bill which would require the state to track all tax expenditures and incentives, such as the ones currently being offered to the film industry, and their associated benefits.

“We are going to need this going forward to deal with structural problems in our government financing," Keller said. "This bill is long overdue, all interim we have been debating what works and what don’t in terms of incentives and tax subsidies. We are one of only 9 states that doesn’t track return on investment on these. It’s time we start making good analytical decisions based on data rather than economic guesstimates.”

Keller also introduced a bill for forecasting that has a circuit breaker provision in it.

Currently the state bases the budget on forecasts made by key individuals at different times in the year. Keller's bill would adjust on a proportional basis any cuts that are made in the special session to compensate for any increase in revenue estimates.

“A circuit breaker provision is really just about sounds financial planning; historically we have been up to 12% wrong in our forecasts as a state," Keller said. "This bill would give us an automatic adjustment to restore funding that was cut based on incorrect estimates."

He also introduced a federal match funding exclusion bill designed to protect the budget from negative multiplier effects, which would result in cutting state funds that are matched by federal funds.

“It's convenient for politicians to do across the board cuts, but when we cut Medicaid at the state level until we realize that for every 1 dollar we cut, we lose 4 dollars in federal funds," Keller said. "Cutting this type of matching fund is like throwing free money way."

Both the house and the senate are expected to reconvene the special session just after 1pm today.

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