Tagged: New Mexico

Operator of failing nuclear dump gets $1.9 million bonus


Visitors to Carlsbad, New Mexico, in proper summer attire

The contractor that operates the federal government’s underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico received a $1.9 million bonus just five days after an underground truck fire closed the facility.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday that the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Nuclear Waste Partnership the funds based on an “excellent” job performance in maintaining the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad.

Some observers say last February’s fire and the radiation leak that followed nine days later show the contractor failed at its job.

Initial probes by federal regulators into both incidents identified a host of management and safety shortcomings.

The Department of Energy says it is not considering revising or terminating its contract with Nuclear Waste Partnership.

The company has a contract to operate the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant through 2017.

Consistency is the leading mental illness in our government. Time in office, time on the job is considered praiseworthy and a sign of qualification by the Senators and Congress-critters that dole out taxpayer dollars like so many blue ribbons at a hog-calling contest. Quality of work is meaningless.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Project was run badly enough that the chief executive at the site was fired as a result of the equipment fire and, separately, the radiation leak.

There are nations with an honorable civil service, competent, dedicated bureaucrats. The United States just doesn’t happen to be one of them.

Thanks, Mike

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New Mexico the leader of the pack – turning coppers into militia

If you think local police look increasingly like soldiers armed for battle instead of civil servants responsible for protecting you, it’s not your imagination.

As noted in the Journal’s recent three-part series analyzing “mission creep” at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the federal government funnels millions of tax dollars to local police departments in the form of grants used to buy high-powered paramilitary style weapons and other gear.

Law enforcement agencies across the country are also tapping into a military surplus program to acquire Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Interestingly – some would say disturbingly – New Mexico police departments, representing one of the nation’s least populous states, have acquired more of these fearsome-looking armored vehicles than any other state, according to a New York Times analysis.

In an article published this month, the Times found that there are at least 42 MRAPs now stationed at New Mexico law enforcement agencies.

Texas – with 37 – had the second-largest number…

Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union released a report titled “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.” It’s a sobering analysis of the increasingly violent and invasive techniques police are using, especially in the war on drugs.

The ACLU report calls for the federal government to rein in the incentives for police to militarize. The civil liberties group also asks that local, state and federal governments track the use of SWAT raids, and the guns, tanks and other military equipment that end up in police hands…

The national trend of police militarization is clearly felt here in New Mexico,” said Peter Simonson, executive director of ACLU of New Mexico. “We have towns like Farmington operating armored vehicles and the Albuquerque Police Department shooting civilians at alarming rates.

“This military mindset, coupled with assault-style tactics and weapons, positions the public as the enemy, rather than human beings they have sworn to serve and protect.”

Who is going to protect us from our police?

Pic of the Day

Queen of the Hill
Click to enlarge

We caught rain with just the right timing this spring to kick off the prairie feathergrass in our back meadow. Though today is beyond the time of most of the long feathers, strands of flying seeds that show the wind direction, what stands is the main grass stem. Still higher than a man’s waist.

Standing higher than Sheila on our first walk this morning.

During the Great Recession, the states that already spent less on education made even bigger cuts

Our governor keeps her concealed carry gun permit up-to-date

Public schools have struggled during the long, slow economic recovery…I noted that urban districts — especially big-city districts — have been hit particularly hard. But there’s also tremendous variation by state.

Idaho, for example, spent 12 percent less per student in the 2011-2012 school year than in 2008-2009, after adjusting for inflation. More than 80 percent of Idaho’s school districts experienced cuts. North Carolina’s cuts were slightly smaller (11 percent on average) but even more widespread: Nearly all its districts reduced spending.

Compare those states to North Dakota, where per-student spending is up 8 percent since 2009, or New Hampshire, where it’s up 6 percent.

What’s going on? Given the disproportionate impact on urban districts, you might think the hardest-hit states would be those where the highest proportion of students live in cities. But it turns out there’s no clear relationship there: City-heavy California has experienced big school funding cuts, but even more urban New York has seen per-student spending increase…

What turns out to make a difference is actual spending levels. States that spend less per-student, such as Idaho, Utah and many Southern states, have made significantly bigger cuts (on a percentage basis) than states, such as New York and Connecticut, that spend more. The relationship isn’t perfect: Arkansas, a low-spending state, has increased funding, while big-spending Hawaii has made big cuts. But…there’s a clear relationship.

How does your state rank? Click here to see the table.

We have a game we play here in New Mexico. If there’s bad economic news, PR about mediocre healthcare, poverty, education – we look to see if we’re worst or second worst. That gives you an idea of the sum of decades of over-relying on the federal dole from military bases, extractive industries like oil, gas, lumber. Couple that with state government dominated by Conservative Democrats and Republicans.

Right now we have a Republican governor who tries to be all things to all people. She lies a lot. Elected because she ran against a truly forgettable Dem who was nominated “because it was her turn” – Susana Martinez was inevitable. We’re consistent in New Mexico politics; so, her challenger for a second term is Gary King, son of a previous governor. Now, it’s his turn to be governor as far as Democrat party hacks are concerned.

And Governor Susana campaigns on “her” improvements in education among other lies. The reality is the Albuquerque Public School system – normally run like most state highway departments – brought in someone with knowledge and smarts a couple years ago and he’s turned things around a bit. Since he’s in charge of a third of the schoolkids in the state – he makes a difference. No one, including me, has any idea of his politics. Frankly, I don’t know why many good teachers are working anywhere in our state’s schools – given mediocre pay and little voice in direction.

That doesn’t matter to Governor Susana. She’ll gladly take credit.

Thanks, Helen

Cook charged for licking cheese before making sandwiches for probation and parole officers

Yolanda Arguello, a cook at the South Valley New Mexico Women’s Recovery Academy, was arrested for allegedly slobbering on cheese slices and ice cubes before serving them to officers.

The 59-year-old cook at a New Mexico facility that trains state corrections employees was charged with battery for allegedly licking the insides of sandwiches and then presenting them to probation and parole officers.

Yolando Arguello was arrested this week after colleagues witnessed her strange behavior at the South Valley New Mexico Women’s Recovery Academy in Albuquerque…

The woman, according to interviews conducted by authorities, was seen licking cheese slices and then inserting into sandwiches. She would also suck on ice cubes, spit them into a cup, and then serve the container to officers.

Witnesses said Arguello didn’t want to prepare meals for probation and parole workers and that she messed with their food to show them who was special and “better than others.”

The woman also dumped ice on the floor, scooped it into pitchers and poured tea into them before giving the drinks to diners.

Eeoough!

New questions about radioactive leak at waste storage facility in New Mexico


Not exactly tidy

New questions are being raised about what was mixed with the waste that caused a radiation release from the government’s underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Thursday that Los Alamos National Laboratory approved using products that some experts say are widely known to cause a heat reaction when mixed with other contents in the drums that were shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.

New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said the leading theory continues to be that the leak was caused by a reaction between nitrate salts and the organic cat litter packed with the waste to absorb moisture. However, emails posted online by the New Mexico Environment Department show Los Alamos approved using other organic ingredients known to be incompatible with nitrate salts in the waste.

Department chemist Cole Smith called the products “a bad combination.”

But, why waste time on sound chemistry when you can blame environmental controls? Especially when the accusations come from sources earning a lifelong income rationalizing nuclear weapons.

The emails show that Los Alamos approved the use of two products requested by contractor EnergySolutions to neutralize the pH balance of drums sent to the nuclear waste dump.

In one email asking for approval in August 2013 to use a new liquid, EnergySolutions industrial hygienist Zeke Wilmot noted “criticality safety issues are not my area of expertise,” using a term referring to nuclear engineering that focuses on preventing an inadvertent nuclear chain reaction.

Wilmot said “it may be advisable to have LANL personnel weight in on these issues as well…”…A subcontractor approved the change in September.,,

Flynn said…investigators are getting closer to figuring out what happened, but sampling still needs to be done on the materials inside the breached container.

Sometime in the next three years or so, DOE investigators may be able to acquire those samples and investigate the chemistry behind the reactions that caused the radioactive leak. Instead of relying on snap judgements from professional mouths.

I don’t pretend to sufficiently up-to-date knowledge of the chemistry involved. But, my involvement with the American nuclear industry dates back to the late 1950’s – including weapons designs so stupid as to be incongruous, as lethal to the military using them as they could be to any “enemy”.

Thanks, Mike

Doctors continue to get million$ from Medicare after their licenses yanked

SouthernNM H&V Group

The first time cardiologist Robert Graor lost his Ohio license to practice medicine was in 1995, after he was convicted of 10 felony theft counts for embezzling more than $1 million from the Cleveland Clinic and sentenced to three years in jail.

The second time was in 2003, after he’d won back the license following his release from prison. This time, the Ohio Board of Medicine found he repeatedly misrepresented his credentials over a two-decade period and permanently barred him from practicing medicine.

That didn’t stop Graor from participating in Medicare, the government’s health insurance program for the elderly and disabled. In 2012, Medicare paid $660,005 for him to treat patients in New Mexico, which gave him a license to practice in 1998. Graor declined to comment…

At least seven doctors who’d lost a medical license because of misconduct collected a total of $6.5 million from Medicare in 2012, according to federal data. The list includes doctors accused of gross malpractice, a brutal sexual assault and violating prescription drug laws. Their continued participation in the $604 billion program reflects what some members of Congress and others call a permissive approach that lets providers with questionable backgrounds keep billing taxpayers. All the doctors notified Medicare of the loss of their licenses, records show…

CMS has “discretionary authority” to ban a doctor from the Medicare provider list if his license to practice has been revoked by a state, spokesman Aaron Albright said in an e-mail. The agency would not reveal if it has taken any action against the providers identified by Bloomberg as having lost their licenses to practice, saying such a disclosure would be a violation of the doctors’ privacy.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General also can ban a doctor from Medicare if a state has revoked a medical license. Like CMS, it isn’t required to do so. Donald White, an agency spokesman, says the revocation of a license falls into a “permissive area where they will not necessarily be excluded” from Medicare. He said doctors are “generally not excluded” in cases where one state has pulled a license but another allows that doctor to continue practicing, with the knowledge of the first state’s action.

In all seven cases identified by Bloomberg, the doctors stripped of a license in one state were allowed to practice in another state and continued to bill Medicare.

RTFA for all the gory details. Graor is practicing cardiology, etc. down in Deming, New Mexico. Wonder if folks know – or care – about his history. I wonder why the Feds consider doctor’s privacy a higher priority than patient safety. A doctor who lost his license twice.

Red Moon, Green Beam — Apache Point Observatory

red moon, green beam
Click to enlarge

This is not a scene from a sci-fi special effects movie. The green beam of light and red lunar disk are real enough, captured in the early morning hours of April 15. Of course, the reddened lunar disk is easy to explain as the image was taken during this week’s total lunar eclipse.

Immersed in shadow, the eclipsed Moon reflects the dimmed reddened light of all the sunsets and sunrises filtering around the edges of planet Earth, seen in silhouette from a lunar perspective. But the green beam of light really is a laser. Shot from the 3.5-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory in southern New Mexico, the beam’s path is revealed as Earth’s atmosphere scatters some of the intense laser light.

The laser’s target is the Apollo 15 retroreflector, left on the Moon by the astronauts in 1971. By determining the light travel time delay of the returning laser pulse, the experimental team from UC San Diego is able to measure the Earth-Moon distance to millimeter precision and provide a test of General Relativity, Einstein’s theory of gravity.

Image Credit & Copyright: Dan Long (Apache Point Observatory) – Courtesy: Tom Murphy (UC San Diego)

Thanks, Ursarodinia