Tagged: New Mexico

Feds after oil and gas industry for underpaying workers

In states with the most oil and gas drilling, including Texas, Oklahoma and North Dakota, the U.S. Department of Labor has won back pay for over 4,000 energy industry workers in just the past year.

It totaled $6.7 million dollars, accounting for a third of all such settlements by all types of industries nationwide…

Cynthia Watson, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Regional Administrator, said companies were shorting their workers, sometimes thousands of dollars each. She cited Department of Labor cases since 2012 that include:

A Houston company that builds drilling rigs that paid back $687,000 in back wages to 133 roughnecks and crane operators

A Louisiana company that provides labor services to the industry and paid nearly $2 million in back wages to 2,267 workers

A New Mexico company that agreed to pay nearly $600,000 to 121 to drilling rig “mud logging technicians”

Galvin Kennedy, a lawyer in Houston who sues energy companies on behalf of workers, said his cases most often involved “mid-tier oil and gas companies” that got “sloppy or greedy” and misclassified their employees as independent contractors and avoided paying overtime and other benefits

The oil and gas industry says blah, blah, blah.

The oil and gas industry is run by exactly the kind of greedy bastards you think they are. They whine that the paperwork is too complex and that’s why there is a problem. Hogwash!

It’s been decades since I worked in the industry and the problem ain’t news. Manipulation of work hours and on/off contract work has been going on ever since the first lawyer clambered up out of a petrochemical sewer and showed folks in the front office how to steal a little more back from workers.

Not any different from the thievery that force states like New Mexico to sue one or another fossil fuel outfit for years of hidden back taxes every decade. Part of doing business with these creeps.

Dumb cop crook of the day

What are the chances of two men who say they were carrying a large amount of cash and transporting marijuana being pulled over twice by police on the same day on interstate highways in New Mexico…?

At the I-40 stop by a State Police officer, the men in the green 1995 Nissan sedan with Arizona plates claimed have to been hauling marijuana purchased legally in Colorado. They said they’d already been stopped a few hours earlier by another officer, hundreds of miles northeast, on Interstate 25 near the New Mexico/Colorado border.

That officer, they said, confiscated their marijuana and seized more than $10,000 from them without giving them a receipt or issuing a citation. But he did give them “$600 back in order to pay for their travel expenses on their way back to Arizona,” says an FBI statement filed in federal court.

The two men described the officer who took their pot and money as driving a “new, white Ford Explorer with blue writing on the side” and that the officer “had mentioned something about a DEA (federal Drug Enforcement Administration) investigation…”

After that, the FBI and State Police started an undercover investigation…Vidal Sandoval, of Cimarron, was arrested without incident on March 13 at the Colfax County Sheriff’s Office in Raton by FBI agents and State Police officers. His charge, previously reported as aiding and abetting a drug trafficking crime, is actually attempt to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, online court records show…

On Dec. 15, two undercover agents from the FBI and State Police, respectively, drove around Cimarron where Sandoval was known to patrol. Their undercover vehicle contained “a hidden compartment in the rear of the vehicle under carpeting and outfitted with several air fresheners, which are commonly used to mask the smell of narcotics, and a digital scale of the type often used to weigh narcotics.”

The agents had $8,000 cash with them and, at about 4:40 p.m., Sandoval pulled the agents over for speeding on N.M. 64. The threesome conversed mainly in Spanish, and Sandoval searched the car and found the hidden compartment. One of the agents was placed in the back seat of Sandoval’s patrol car while Sandoval made a phone call.

During the call, Sandoval told the other party that county dispatch did not know that he was out on a traffic stop, according to the FBI’s affidavit, and then asked the other party to pretend that he was a DEA agent.

Sandoval handed the phone to the undercover agent who, via the phone’s caller ID function, identified the caller as a former police chief in northeast New Mexico, named in the court documents but whom the Albuquerque Journal is not identifying in this article because the ex-chief has not been charged…That person told the undercover officer on the cell phone he was with the DEA.

Sandoval made another call to the same person and again handed the phone to the undercover agent, who was told by the “DEA agent” that cash found by Sandoval would be seized.

Sandoval then turned off his in-car and lapel recorders, and said “he wanted to be part of the criminal narcotics activity (the agent) was involved in and would let him pass through the area undisturbed with money and/or drugs in the future if they provided him with a portion of the profits,” the investigators’ affidavit says. Sandoval returned $500 to the agent and kept $7,500, and the agents left.

Three more of these sham drug deals and guarantees of safe passage for a cut of the cash – Sandoval was busted.

Sandoval was an unsuccessful candidate for sheriff last year. In a campaign statement to a weekly newspaper, he said, “I want to modernize the report taking and record keeping as well as the chain of custody and security of evidence.”

Sandoval pleaded not guilty…

Protect and serve…drug dealers passing through New Mexico.

New Mexico’s declining middle class


Click to access interactive/larger map

Stateline, a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts, put together a neat (albeit sobering) infographic this week analyzing how much the middle class is shrinking in each state.

The news isn’t good for anyone, as all 50 states saw a drop in middle class households since the turn of the millennium. But it’s especially bad for the Land of Enchantment.

New Mexico’s middle class saw a drop of nearly 5 percent between 2000 and 2013, or more specifically from 48 percent to 43.2 percent of the state’s households.

That’s comparable to states like Nevada, Georgia, North Carolina, North Dakota and Ohio. Only Wisconsin, according to the chart, had a higher middle class drop during the same time period, totaling 6 percent…

Each of New Mexico’s neighboring states’ share of middle class sit between 45 percent and 52 percent of all households—which are all higher that New Mexico.

Each of our peers at the bottom – like New Mexico – has a Republican governor.

Undocumentados obey tax laws — New Mexico refuses to hand over refunds


“How can I be Republican VP candidate if I obey the law?”

A national and a statewide civil rights group have filed lawsuits against New Mexico and the state’s tax department alleging that refunds are being withheld illegally from people filing taxes using federal tax ID numbers.

Two suits filed in state court…on behalf of a couple and two other workers seek refunds and an injunction to block what the organizations call an “unlawful and discriminatory practice.”

Plaintiffs’ attorneys say the state Taxation and Revenue Department in 2012 began a policy of denying tax refunds to New Mexico residents who file returns using their federally-issued tax ID.

They say the state has sent at least 14,500 letters to filers citing discrepancies on their returns and seeking supporting documents. Meanwhile, the same people have been receiving federal refunds from the IRS.

Since these folks can’t get a regular social security card they have acquired the federal alternative used by immigrants nationwide. Perfectly legal as witness the IRS forking over refunds when due.

The problem is our so-called moderate Republican governor hates undocumentados as much as she hates unions. So the state – which always paid refunds when owed by the Tax and Revenue Department under previous Democrat administrations – now refuses to hand over folks’ refunds.

So much for asking immigrants to obey the law. When the governor won’t.

Yup – education is SO important

Dont-care

What if there was an election and no one showed up to vote – not even the candidates themselves?…That’s precisely what happened in the recent Hagerman, New Mexico, school board election…Three candidates ran unopposed: None received a single vote, not even their own.

It was a lack of opposition and not a lack of interest in education that kept the town’s 1,034 eligible voters away from the polls, said Superintendent Ricky Williams, who supervises the three-school district of fewer than 500 students.

The fact that the candidates were unopposed – and that the election was held in Roswell 26 miles away – may have had something to do with it, he said. Polling stations were not open in the southeast New Mexico community, a decision made by Chaves County…

None of the candidates for three open seats on the five-member school board was an incumbent, so each candidate needed at least one vote to be elected…

Cindy Fuller, Bureau of Elections chief for Chaves County, said that with no contested positions, no write-in candidates and no questions or bonds on the ballot, state statute permits the clerk’s office to handle the election. There were voting convenience stations in Roswell, she said, but not Hagerman.

That turned out to be not convenient enough

BTW, in the population center of the state, Albuquerque, less than 2.6 percent of voters showed up to vote for Albuquerque Public Schools and Central New Mexico Community College board elections. Of 297,291 eligible voters, only 7,668 cast ballots.

Governor Susana manages to kill $100 million in Health Exchange funding


Not unless the governor says so!

A sharply worded letter from Governor Susana Martinez to the Secretary of Health and Human Services cost New Mexico almost $100 million in funding to build out and run our state’s health exchange, and that has exchange staff scrambling to build a new exchange without any money.

Staff of the health exchange (NMHIX) say that there appears to be no process to appeal or reapply and New Mexico appears to be the only state in the country denied funding to complete the build out of the state’s insurance exchange, publicly known as Be Well NM.

New Mexico has already received $122.3 million from the federal government ($34.3M in 2011, $18.6M in 2013, $69.4 in 2014) to set up and run the exchange through the end of 2014.

In November 2014, states were permitted to apply for additional funds to build out the remaining parts of their state-based exchanges and operate for three full years, beginning in January 2015…

But when the state submitted it’s application to the federal government for funding, it included letters from state leaders, including Governor Martinez and then-Secretary of Human Services, Sidone Squier.

These two dimwit Republicans questioned whether or not the changes would be beneficial – and they saw no reason to follow Federal uniform standards and procedures. About as elitist, parochial and incompetent as you can get.

Result? New Mexico is the only state of those applying for additional funds to update and codify a hybrid health exchange – to be refused. The Feds point out it was the letters from Governor Susana and Sidone Squier that encouraged that decision.

RTFA from ProgressNowNM. All the details, planned uses, dotted i’s and crossed t’s are there.

Shot by Albuquerque coppers — “I regret to inform you your son is deceased”

christopher torres

Stephen Torres was meeting with a client at his law office, in downtown Albuquerque, on April 12, 2011, when he received a call from a neighbor, who told him that police officers were aiming rifles at his house. He left work and drove to his home, in a middle-class suburb with a view of the mountains. There were more than forty police vehicles on his street. Officers wearing camouflage fatigues and bulletproof vests had circled his home, a sand-colored two-story house with a pitched tile roof. Two officers were driving a remote-controlled robot, used for discharging bombs, back and forth on the corner.

Stephen’s wife, Renetta, the director of human resources for the county, arrived a few minutes later, just after three o’clock. A colleague had heard her address repeated on the police radio, so her assistant pulled her out of a meeting. When Renetta saw that the street was cordoned off with police tape, she tried to walk to her house, but an officer told her that she couldn’t enter the “kill zone…”

Renetta knew that the only person at home was the youngest of her three boys, Christopher, who was twenty-seven and had schizophrenia. Two hours earlier, he had stopped by her office for lunch, as he did a few times a week. Then he visited an elderly couple who lived two houses away. He said that he needed to “check up on them”; he often cleaned their pool or drove them to the grocery store. Because he found it overwhelming to spend too much time among people, he tried to do small, social errands, so as not to isolate himself…

At around five-thirty, a female officer stepped out of a mobile crime unit, an R.V. where detectives processed evidence, and waved the family over. “She was so detached,” Renetta said. “All she said was ‘I regret to inform you that your son is deceased.’ ” She did not tell them how their son had died or where they could find his body. The Torreses asked if they could go home, but the officer said that it was still an active crime scene…

It is not clear what the officers thought they were doing at that point. In a report filed later that day, one officer wrote, “Detectives believed another person was inside the house refusing to exit. Supposedly they saw movement in the house.” Another wrote, “There may be three people still inside the residence and all were possibly armed.”

There was no one in the house. Christopher Torres’ body was in the back yard. Shot in the back, point blank, three times. He was dead.

The lies the police told have been contradicted by an eye witness.

Albuquerque TV stations, print media journalists, make a big deal about courageous investigative journalism. Most of it is laughable, useless, cow country comedy. Rachel Aviv – for the NewYorker – knows what she is doing. This is a masterful piece of writing. Detail included you never get in TV news-bites; but, nothing extraneous. Worthy of a Pulitzer Prize.

Mike, one of our regulars, emailed me the link. I sat and read it it and decided I wanted to hold off on posting it till the weekend. This is not something you dash through on your coffee break at work. Read it and reflect.

Albuquerque politicians are stuck into spin and denial. Their sell to the public, after all, is we’re Republicans, we’re going to solve these problems. Trouble is – they weren’t the ones to contact the Department of Justice and ask for an investigation into police killings. Were they, now?

It ain’t just Albuquerque’s problem – it’s America’s problem.

Here are links to the Rolling Stone article on the shooting of James Boyd and a Washington POST article on the Albuquerque PD’s response, their treatment of the DA who dared to indict a couple of their cops for murder.

Photographer captures ice halo phenomena in Red River, NM


Click to see original

A photographer from Texas, Joshua Thomas, recently captured a photo in New Mexico of a rare ice crystal halo phenomenon.

In order to point out the interesting details in the photo, the US National Weather Service of La Crosse, Wisconsin made the photo into a diagram that shows the different aspects of the halo.

The phenomenon occurs when minuscule ice crystals in the atmosphere reflect and refract light in a certain way. The halos can be created by light from the sun or the moon, and seeing one often means there will be some kind of precipitation within the following 24 hours.

Delightful. A good reason to go outdoors in the winter. :)

Hastening death and suicide are different

In recent weeks, all of America was captivated by the story of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year old terminally ill brain cancer patient. She died on Nov. 1 of her own free will with the aid of physician-prescribed medication.

Prior to her death, Maynard and her family moved to Oregon, one of only three states that have enacted legislation – known as “death with dignity” or “aid-in-dying” legislation – that sets out strict requirements for competent adults with terminal diseases who wish to end their suffering by being aided in death. Washington and Vermont also have similar laws on the books.

Two other states – Montana and New Mexico – have not passed laws on the issue but have court decisions in place that effectively allow such deaths to take place. The Montana case was Baxter v. State; in the New Mexico case, known as Morris v. Brandenberg, Second District Judge Nan Nash – whose decision is currently being appealed – wrote that:

“If decisions made in the shadow of one’s imminent death regarding how they and their loved ones will face that death are not fundamental and at the core of these constitutional guarantees, then what decisions are..?”

When it comes to making the emotional appeal for such laws, Maynard, with the aid of Compassion & Choices, a leading aid-in-dying organization based in Oregon, told her story in about as articulate, intelligent and compassionate a way as humanly possible. Yet although her story made all the major media outlets, there was one point that was never picked up by any media with perhaps one exception –- what she planned to do, as she explained in one of her video clips, was not a suicide.

Despite this, many of the media captioned her story as one involving her “suicide” or “assisted suicide” (because the medication she used was lawfully prescribed by a licensed physician)…

But when we consider death with dignity, or aid-in-dying, the words “suicide” or “assisted suicide” should forever be banished from the lexicon.

I made this point a few years ago in a “friend of the court” brief for the Baxter court case in Montana; my argument was mentioned in a concurring opinion once the case was decided…

Physicians and other health professionals point to advances in palliative care to assuage the pain and suffering experienced by terminally ill and dying patients as one reason that ending one’s own life may now be avoided in these situations. It is certainly true that such advances have been made, but on balance, a competent adult with a terminal illness or disease must have a choice to end life with dignity on terms arrived at by that person.

A law like Oregon’s permits this option, and allows for what should be a basic human right at the end of life – a right that is to be granted only to those suffering from a painful terminal illness, not those wishing to end their lives for other reasons.

Which is my only dispute with the article. Although in general I don’t find many reasons legit – I can imagine one or another coming to pass. And I would want the right to make that decision.

Before she died, Maynard brought to the public’s attention her well-formed decision-making process and showed how it should apply to people in her specific situation…

In the end, as human thought advances over time, our views on ideas once held sacrosanct change. This is part of the human condition and ingrained within the fabric of social transition. Isn’t it high time that all of us discuss and evaluate the Brittany Maynards of our existence with the proper language that excludes the words suicide or assisted suicide, including anyone who writes, speaks or legislates about the subject in an open forum?

Let’s get little stuff out of the way. Regardless of questions about death with dignity, freedom of choice, you need to take care of the legal clutter impacting anyone in the clutches of the medical-industrial complex. Yes, that’s tongue-in-cheek. I’ve had some damned decent, thoughtful doctors in my life – they can help a great deal in discussions on the topic.

Here in New Mexico, you first should sort out a power of attorney with friend, spouse or significant other. Standard info on Advance Directives is available over here from the UNM medical school. Here’s one of the forms [.pdf] they suggest. I offer the link because it’s the one my wife chose – and she does a better job at this kind of search than I do.

I have to remember to keep my fey sense of humor out of the way. We had our first Death Panel get-together with my wife’s doctor a few weeks back. I have nothing but contempt for the conservative idjits who coined that term – so, of course, I deliberately use it as a joke. My wife’s doctor didn’t smile.

And we were the first patients I think she ever had bring up the topic. My first official discussion with my own doctor is next month – who is the husband of my wife’s doctor. Not really relevant; but, interesting.

The most important thing we learned was this Advance Directives form is more important, thoughtful and primary than the DNR [Do Not Resuscitate] form often referred to in discussions like this. I have one mate up in Canada who has it tattooed across his stomach. But, he’s in terrible health with a truly failing heart. My honey and I are essentially in good health. I have several worn-out bits here and there; but, the basic meat machine still works fine.

A DNR doesn’t allow for accidents or even health disasters which used to be considered inevitably fatal, lingering or otherwise. My wife’s doctor made a sensible case for reliance on this advance directive. A DNR can be added in person or via power of attorney if you end up teetering on the edge. but, a DNR can get in the way of what is reasonable resuscitation, nowadays – with years of perfectly satisfactory life following.

And we live in New Mexico, so unless the state succeeds in challenging current case law, we can rely on assistance from our doctors in a reasonable end to a terminal condition. At least I hope so. That’s the discussion I have next month. My doctor is bright and reasonable. I just presume that includes agreeing with me. :)