The Associated Press sad, new beat

Last week I told you how surprised I was when an Associated Press “analysis” piece published locally in the Albuquerque Journal on Aug. 24 resembled a John McCain press release. It was like finding out that your churchy maiden aunt pushes cocaine  the AP, sometimes dull, was above suspicion, its stock in trade the straight scoop. This week, after hours of googling, I can report the joke’s on me  I was ignorant. I had no idea there’s a new AP.

Here is some of what I have learned after visiting Editor and Publisher, the Huffington Post, the Washington Monthly and, most importantly,

First, it’s not just about Ron Fournier, author of the questionable story. It’s also about the reporters in the AP Washington bureau he leads.

Secondly  and here’s where I was way out of touch  their stories reflect AP’s considered new approach to political reporting.

Specifically, the old conventions of news writing no longer apply. Reporters may call it as they see it, personally, with emotion. Which may explain, from a Fournier lead paragraph in January 2008, “Obama is bordering on arrogance.”

Back on July 14, Michael Calderone reported the AP turnabout at length for He wrote that Fournier rejects the old, balanced approach because that’s “what prevented the media from challenging the Bush administration more aggressively on the Iraq war and other issues.”

“Others warn,” Calderone continues, “that what Fournier and other proponents see as truth-telling can easily bleed into opinionizing exactly the opposite of the AP’s mission of ‘delivering fast, unbiased news’.”

Of the Fournier approach, James Taranto, Wall Street Journal Best of the Web columnist and a frequent critic of what he sees as AP’s liberal bias, told Calderone, “It seems to me there’s a conscious effort to inject bias in the story, though obviously Fournier would see it differently. It’s a conscious move in the direction of advocacy journalism.”

Significantly, the AP’s big brass is defending Fournier against criticism from liberal blogs.

So there we have it. What I stumbled on is bigger than bias, it’s the Associated Press’s reinvention of self.

Understand  I don’t think Fournier is entirely wrong. Journalism does need to improve upon that old “objective” model. “He said, she said” doesn’t help readers sort out truths. In fact, to the extent we pretend to objectivity (impossible, except for the gods), we distort reality. But what are the new rules?

The Fournier “analysis” that grabbed my attention passed off opinion as fact. And AP writer Tom Raum adduced as evidence that McCain and the President aren’t very close on policy  get this  that McCain avoids Bush on the campaign trail. Silliness. (The story, in the Albuquerque Journal August 22, cited some real differences, too.)

And the AP’s new beat goes on. After Barack Obama’s acceptance speech, which most commentators (including neo-con Bill Kristol and conservative Pat Buchanan) agreed contained specifics, AP’s Charles Babington wrote it was lacking in specifics.

So where does this leave us? Newspapers and broadcasters can and do select what they use from the Associated Press. They can edit, too. So the buck stops with the editors at our local news businesses. I guess they know what I didn’t, that they can no longer assume AP copy is the straight scoop.

How unfortunate! Thanks to the Web and cable, we have a surfeit of opinion. What’s in short supply is what AP seems to be turning its back on  trustworthy basic information. Makes me sad. Probably makes a lot of AP staffers sad, too.…

Well, Udall isnt at the VERY bottom of seniority

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall

While there will still be a massive drop in seniority from Pete Domenici, who served six terms in the Senate, to freshman Sen. Tom Udall, at least Udall will not have to start at the very bottom of the pecking order.

According to CQ Politics, Tom Udall will only trail his Colorado cousin Mark Udall in terms of seniority — among freshmen, at least. Seven new freshman senators were sworn in on Tuesday with a few more on the way.

The Senate refused to seat Roland Burris as Illinois junior senator Tuesday morning, and the fate of the Minnesota Senate seat still has not been resolved. Add to that Vice President-elect Joe Bidens Delaware Senate seat (which he will resign in the next few weeks) and the seats of Secretary of Interior-designate Ken Salazar and Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton, and there will be a total of 14 new senators. New Mexicos Udall will be ahead of 12 of them in seniority.

Why does seniority matter? Legislators in both houses with more seniority are generally given better committee assignments and, usually, lawmakers with more seniority are given the committee chairmanship. A recent exception is Rep. Henry Waxman, who successfully wrested control of the House Energy and Commerce Committee from his fellow Democrat, Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, late last year.

Other benefits include having a desk closer to the floor of the Senate and a better office when those higher up the seniority food chain vacate their offices. You can ask Udall about his first office in Washington, D.C., when he was first elected to Congress. Or you can ask freshman Rep. Ben Ray Lujan — he was given the same office this year.

Udalls seniority is a far cry from Pete Domenicis, however. Domenici would have been the most senior Republican in the Senate, had he decided to run for another term as senator. And had he won, of course.

In fact, Domenici would have been fourth behind just Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.V.), Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) in terms of seniority had he retained his seat.

But it could be worse for Udall. If the Minnesota case drags on for months as expected, Al Franken will come into the Senate as 100th in seniority out of 100 senators.

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Balderas asks prosecutors to look at housing audit

State Auditor Hector Balderas has completed and is asking prosecutors to take a look at a long-awaited special audit of the state’s scandal-plagued regional housing authority system.

Balderas is also releasing the special audit and other reports to the public today. The move follows a two-year investigation that began when the state Legislature asked him to take a look at the state’s affordable housing system in early 2007. Balderas says his work confirms previous reports detailing widespread problems with the system.“In my opinion, the five regional housing authorities audited by my office were plagued by weak internal controls and a lack of adequate oversight,” Balderas said today in a news release. “The poorly managed fiscal operations were a colossal failure to low-income citizens and the state of New Mexico.”

The attorney general’s office has already been investigating — most of the housing authority system collapsed in 2006 — and plans to take its case before a grand jury next month. How the auditor’s work might affect the attorney general’s plans is not immediately clear, and the AG’s office does not comment on or even confirm grand jury proceedings because they are secret.

In addition to referring the audit to the AG, Balderas is referring it to the FBI.

The scandal began when one of seven regional housing authorities in New Mexico, the Albuquerque-based Region III authority, defaulted on $5 million in bonds it owed the state in mid-2006. Soon thereafter, the State Investment Council released a report that found widespread misuse of the bond money, which was supposed to be spent on houses. Instead, almost $600,000 went to former Region III Director Vincent “Smiley” Gallegos as salary and benefits. Almost $700,000 was loaned to the Las Cruces-based Region VII authority, which did little to provide affordable housing and has since shut down.

Perhaps the most intriguing misuse of money revealed in the investment council report was a $300,000 loan the housing authority made to a private company owned by Gallegos under the guise of purchasing more than 30 lots in Las Cruces lots that had already been purchased by the authority.

In 2007, the Legislature gave Balderas’ office $200,000 to perform an accounting of all Region III assets, because the situation was such a mess that it was difficult to even determine what had happened and how much was lost. Last year, the Legislature extended the appropriation and asked Balderas to conduct a special audit.

Balderas’ office had to conduct 15 financial audits for the regional authorities that had never been completed before conducting its larger, special audit of the system.

In today’s news release, Balderas said his office found that two of the seven regional authorities are current with their audits and fiscally sound. He referred in the release to the other five, including regions III and VII, as “troubled.” Most have shut down since the scandal began.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov Diane Denish and Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, are pushing a bill in the 60-day legislative session that begins Tuesday that would reform the housing authority system to restructure them and expand oversight.

NMI hopes to have a more detailed report on the audit findings later today.…

John McCains night | New Mexico Independent

ST. PAUL Political “maverick” John McCain clicked the final piece of the 2008 presidential race into place Thursday with a speech that solidified his acceptance into the mainstream Republican fold.

On Thursday night before a jam-packed convention hall, he formally accepted the Republican Partys nomination to run for president of the United States.

McCain triggered his biggest applause from the Republican National Convention crowd at St. Pauls Xcel Center when he pledged to lower  taxes, increase school choice and win the Iraq War all major planks of the Republican Party.

Earlier in the evening, a Republican Party video reviewed the events of Sept. 11 and played on fears that it could happen again unless America elects John McCain.

That focus on fear of future terrorist attacks was just fine with New Mexico delegate Jonathan Sena of Hobbs, who said he thinks thats the most important issue facing America right now.

“I believe that one of the most important jobs of any president is to protect his people, and I trust John McCain to do that,” said Sena just after the speech.

In a marked diversion from the address given Wednesday night by vice-presidential running mate Sarah Palin, McCain limited his attacks on Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama to just a few jabs.

Also, unlike Palin, McCain appeared to reach out to the millions of Americans who are suffering with job losses, home foreclosures, unaffordable health care and the rising cost of gas and groceries. 

But McCain, a Vietnam veteran, spent most of his time onstage talking about his time as a prisoner of war and describing how it changed him from a cocky young soldier into a humble man who grew to love his country and not take it for granted.

In fact, much of the night took on a valedictory tone, as speaker after speaker told of McCains valor as a soldier and prisoner of war.
That part of McCains story scores huge points with New Mexicans, especially Hispanic New Mexicans, many of whom are veterans themselves and share a deep sense of patriotism, said Ivette Barajas, southwest regional communication director for the McCain campaign.

Barajas said she spent most of Thursday doing interviews in Spanish with CNN Espanol, Radio Bilingue and Voices of America.
Most of the interviews focused on the Republican Partys efforts to reach out to Latino voters, she said.

In addition to appreciating his military service and sacrifice, some Hispanics tend to like McCain because he stood against others in his party to support more humane policies regarding immigration, said Barajas.

Before McCains speech on Thursday, I asked Barajas what she thought about criticism from some commentators that Palins speech the night before lacked much mention of the economic woes affecting many Americans.

“We have to understand that this was her introductory speech,” said Barajas.  “There will be plenty of time for her to get into the deep issues. Last night, it was really important for her to address the criticisms that she was not qualified to lead.”…

NMI punched in arm, called stupid by boys who secretly love us « New Mexico Independent

Last week, in a two-page internal memo announcing cuts and newsroom layoffs, Albuquerque Journal Editor Kent Walz explained the many painful decisions hes had to make, then closed with this memorable line: And despite the challenges, our goal is for the Journal to continue to set the bar for real journalism in New Mexico.

While the announcement of layoffs at the Journal sent us reaching for the Alka-Seltzer (hey, we work in the same industry and it sucks all around), we were amused by that last line, particularly the part about real journalism. So was the floor sweeper (no, not really) who leaked the memo to us.

Who exactly is it thats producing fake journalism in New Mexico? What is fake journalism? Is that like The Daily Shows fake news? (But wait, isnt The Daily Shows fake news actually pretty much real news?)

Were confused. Certainly Walz didnt mean no us? Well, if he did, we heartily encourage Gov. Bill Richardson to file a restraining order against the New Mexico Independents Trip Jennings, because that crazy fake news reporter is stalking him!

Meanwhile, in a posting about the Journal cuts, blogger Joe Monahan mentioned layoffs at KOB-TV, the Santa Fe New Mexican and at NMI, then, four paragraphs down, kicks us right in the shin. Original statewide coverage of New Mexico news is essentially limited to the Journal, a smallish AP presence and three television stations, he writes.

Joe Monahan is a big stupid poopy head, and he is NOT invited to our birthday party!

And we hereby invite all the reporters at KUNM, The Santa Fe New Mexican, the Santa Fe Reporter, the Las Cruces Sun News, the Clovis News Journal — and, hell, everyone else who gets paid an annual salary much smaller than David Harris deferred compensation to pore over campaign finance reports, chase down a recalcitrant governor, attend mind-numbing press conferences and ask hard questions of people in power — to join us in sticking our tongues out at him.

Oh, this childishness is exhausting.…

Circling the Drain | New Mexico Independent

I came across a familiar kerfuffle the other day while scanning, my favorite Web site for media industry news. 

Ive read for years. Its the best compendium of media news out there, and old-school newspaper journalist Jim Romeneskos companion blog keeps track of every triumph, tragedy and dust-up at virtually every newspaper in the country.

So it was on that I learned that Denver media consultant Jason Salzman, who writes a media criticism column for the Rocky Mountain News, was publicly spitting nails after the Rocky refused to publish one of his recent columns.

The column, which Salzman posted on his personal blog, deals with some of his questions about the recently-announced sale of the Rocky Mountain News. The E.W Scripps Company, which owns the Rocky, said on Dec. 4  that it was putting the paper for up sale and would close it if no buyer emerged by mid-January. If the Rocky closed, it would leave Denver with just one paper, the decidedly more conservative Denver Post. 

Anyone else feeling deja vu?

Because thats exactly what played out earlier this year with the Albuquerque Tribune, an afternoon paper also owned by E. W. Scripps. After publishing the Trib for more than 75 years, Scripps closed the paper Feb. 28 when no buyer came forward by the seven-month, Scripps-imposed deadline. 

I was working at the Albuquerque Journal at the time of the pending closure and remember jumping out of my skin at the lack of media coverage of the entire situation. 

There was no real explanation of exactly how the Tribune was linked to the Journal through their Joint Operating Agreement, which was supposed to run for several more years and involved profit-sharing and much more.  And there was certainly no honest admission of the fact that a finding buyer for the beloved (but very-low circulation) Tribune was highly unlikely, mostly because Scripps was not going to sell its share in the JOA.

Frankly, most people dont understand the way newspapers operate, and they certainly dont comprehend Joint Operating Agreements, or JOAs, such as the one between the Journal and the Trib. The Justice Department arranged these complicated exceptions to anti-trust laws by way of the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970.  The JOAs were designed to help keep two competing newspapers—and their unique editorial voices—alive by allowing them to share operating costs, including a printing press and other business functions. 

A number of U.S. cities have newspapers with JOAs (this list was complied in 2004 and Albuquerque, Madison and Cincinnati have since dropped off). 

The JOA between the Journal and the Trib, forged in 1933, was the nations first. But if Scripps wasnt selling its share in the JOA, then whoever bought the Trib would be buying just a name and about 30 editorial employees—no building, no printing press, no circulation or advertising folks, no delivery trucks. 

Part of the problem was that the Tribunes circulation had dropped to below 10,000. It was an excellent product, but it was an afternoon newspaper with no Sunday edition, in a market that favored morning newspapers with fat, lucrative Sunday sections. 

I knew, as did most Albuquerque journalists, that no buyer would emerge, and that Albuquerque was going to lose the Trib. Yes, we at the Journal competed against the Trib.  But my colleagues and I were journalists because we loved newspapers, and believed that the more voices and viewpoints in the public discourse, the better. 

Interestingly, the privately-owned Journal didnt write about it the Tribune as it was slowly circling the drain. I know of at least one column and …

Widening income gap partly due to NMs high illiteracy rate

A report released last week pointed to a widening income gap between the richest 20 percent of New Mexicans and the poorest 20 percent, finding that the most affluent earned eight times more than the poorest, up from 6.3 in the late 1990s.

Additionally, the gap between the richest 20 percent and the middle 20 percent has grown from 2.3 to 2.8 times the average income, the report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute showed.

According to some, one explanation for the growing divide may be found in the states shift to a knowledge-based economy, represented by the states emphasis on developing the high-tech and film industries.

In a May 2007 commentary in The New York Times, George Mason University economics professor Tyler Cowen addressed the connection between income inequality and education and drew upon a National Bureau of Economic Research study titled, “The Race between Education and Technology: The Evolution of U.S. Educational Wage Differentials, 1890 to 2005.” He writes:

“Improvements in technology have raised the gains for those with enough skills to handle complex jobs. The resulting inequalities are bid back down only as more people receive more education and move up the wage ladder.

“Income distribution thus depends on the balance between technological progress and access to college and postgraduate study. The problem isn’t so much capitalism as it is that American lower education does not prepare enough people to receive gains from American higher education.”

In New Mexico, almost half of adult New Mexicans 46 percent are functionally illiterate, said Heather Heunermund, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition for Literacy.

This may illuminate the issue of why income inequality is rising during a period in which New Mexico seems to be successfully developing knowledge-based industries. Such a high rate of functional illiteracy dims the prospects of success for a wide swath of New Mexican workers in an economy that increasingly values knowledge-based labor, a dilemma that New Mexico Voices for Children identified in its 2005 report, “The Path to a High Road Economy: Investing in People, Creating Opportunity”.

The authors write:

“… A growing percentage of our workforce lacks the basic education and skills necessary for better jobs in a high road economy. It is critical to the state’s economic health for the immediate future, and for decades to come, that those currently in the workforce get more education and skills training. If they do not, the skills gap between what business needs to maintain high productivity and what the workforce can offer will continue to widen. The result will be that New Mexico will be less and less able to compete economically.”

People who want to lure businesses to New Mexico agree. Albuquerque Economic Development recently announced an initiative that seeks to “…address the looming workforce shortage by helping connect New Mexico students and graduates who have left the state with job opportunities here.”

This initiative acknowledges that New Mexico’s increasingly knowledge-based economy needs a workforce with a higher skill set than currently exists within the state.

Voices for Children identified several policy proposals to address the problem, including significant increased state funding for adult basic education and literacy classes, while simultaneously investing in higher education.

In an email exchange, Heunermund said it was important to qualify Voices recommendation to tackle illiteracy by increasing literacy classes in the adult basic education system.

“In New Mexico, adult basic education works with adults who are performing at higher levels of literacy, but the roughly 46 percent of adults who are functionally illiterate are not served by this system through …

Highlands/CSF merger includes refinancing bond debt

Its official. New Mexico Highlands University will take over the College of Santa Fe.

There are several interesting aspects of the takeover, including this little bullet point, one among many in a story by the Santa Fe New Mexican. According to the letter of intent outlining the deal, there is: 

• An agreement for both schools to cooperate in refinancing the colleges debt, which totals about $35 million, $25 million of which is in revenue bond debt. 

Bing! Bing! Bing! Is that ringing any bells for you? In the wake of GRIPgate, refinancing CSFs debt will likely receive far more scrutiny than it normally would have.

In August, Bloomberg News reported on CSFs debt:

The College of Santa Fe in New Mexico is stuck with debt thats threatening to consume a larger share of its $27 million budget. The rate on a $25 million bond sold by the college is now at 10 percent, more than double a year ago. The college has been unable to persuade a bank to put up a letter of credit that would guarantee the bonds from default and help lower rates, said David Rivard, the schools vice president of finance.

NMHU, which will help refinance that debt, has many of the same connections that are under scrutiny in a federal probe of bond deals involving Gov. Richardsons GRIP projects and the University of New Mexico. In March 2008, NMHU regents approved a bond purchase agreement with New Mexico Finance Authority that involved RBC Dain Rauscher Capital Marketing, one of the firms involved in UNM bond deals. And RBC Dain Rauscher was a contributor to Richardsons Si Se Puede political action committee. 

NMHUs bond counsel is Duane Browne of Modrall, Sperling, the same attorney and the same firm used by the New Mexico Finance Authority to advise on details of the GRIP financing.

An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to the New Mexico Mortgage Finance Authority. 

Faith in Santa | New Mexico Independent

I knew it was going to happen eventually, but when the moment came, I was completely unprepared.

Mom? said my nine-year old as we whizzed through the aisles at Target right before Thanksgiving.  I dont think I really believe in Santa Claus anymore.

I was rushing, but I took the time to stop and look my youngest in the eye.

Aidan, why would you say that?

I just dont.

Honey, I want to talk to you about this, but not right now, okay? We will have this conversation later.

I was stalling, because I wanted to know what he knew, and why he thought he knew it.
But for all practical purposes, I realized it was too late, that he had already come to the end of Santa all on his own.  Because the second a kid that age starts questioning Santa is the second its over.

I mean, once a kid starts thinking about it REALLY thinking about it the reality of an actual person named Santa Claus, who delivers toys in one night to every child in the world, makes no sense.

Over the next few weeks, my thoughtful, logical little guy gave me an earful.

Mom! Hes never sick? Hes been alive for hundreds of years? He goes around the whole world in one night?

And it sort of breaks my heart. Because I know, even if he doesnt, that the cold-eyed rationalism hes so proud to show me signals the beginning of the end of his childhood.

Even though I still remember exactly when and how I figured out Santa wasnt real (Santa uses the same wrapping paper as my parents???) Im the mom now, Im the grown-up, and I know whats coming tuition and jobs and car payments and mortgages and worryinglots of worrying.

And Aidan hes my baby. Im not having another one. This is my last shot at Santa too.

So I tell him, Dont be in such a hurry to grow up, and  Relax, just be a kid and enjoy it. But I cant bring myself to tell my little brainiac that Santa Claus is real.

Thank goodness for my husband, whose attitude about Christmas and Santa I have, up to now, found kind of annoying.

But now I think Im finally getting it.

Believe in this wonderful idea called Santa, he tells the kids, and it will be better for everyone. Not just for them Santa brings wonderful presents but for him, too. Because he actually BECOMES Santa (and he makes me do it too),  planning out elaborate schemes and giving the kids things that their regular old mom and dad never would.

Without Santa there would be no whispered conversations between mom and dad, no secret late night toy assembly sessions, no surprises all around on Dec. 25.

I think our oldest son Gabriel gets it, too. I know he doesnt believe in Santa anymore, but he keeps quiet.

So I think Santa will come anyway this year. And if were lucky and smart and happy and all those things families should be, Im pretty sure hell keep right on coming.…

Daniel Brasier’s first job in New York was with Morgan Stanley on the top floors of the World Trade Center.

Daniel Brasier’s first job in New York was with Morgan Stanley on the top floors of the World Trade Center. His first day was September 10, 2001. His last was the next day when highjackers crashed two planes into the twin towers, killing thousands. “I was on the 61st floor of the second tower when everything happened,” Brasier recalls. “When I left New York to go back home to Mississippi two days later, I was sure I didn’t want to come back again.” But the dream of building a career on Wall Street never completely faded and three years later, Brasier summoned his will and returned to the Big Apple for another shot.

Today, Manhattan is home for the 32-year old Brasier who has built an unlikely but successful career as the director of business development for Canada at OTCQX International, an upstart market exchange that attracts global companies eager for a trading platform in the U.S., home to the world’s most expansive investor base. In three-and-a-half years, the number of companies listed on the QX (as it is known) has grown to include 132 member companies with a combined market cap of around US$750 billion.

Included are some of the biggest companies in the world, such as Adidas Group, Roche and Air France-KLM. But it is Canada that has become QX’s biggest and most important market. From one listing in 2007 to nine in 2009, the number of Canadian companies has ballooned this year, reaching 40 in mid-September. The majority are small and mid-sized mining and energy companies, which, on average, have experienced significant increases in trading volume after jumping to the QX. (Six months post-QX listing, Canadian companies have increased their U.S. volume by more than 300%, and their home-market volume by 58%.)

When Brasier first started approaching Canadian companies about the possibility of listing, he was immediately struck by the number of big firms in this country that listed on the NYSE and NASDAQ, but even more so by the number of companies not listed on any American exchange. He says most of these Canadian companies wanted exposure to United States financial markets, but after evaluating the big exchanges and the cost of Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) reporting, they dismissed it as a viable option. In the process, they also often closed themselves off to alternative ways to access investors south of the border. “A lot have stuck their heads in the sand and given up,” he says. “It’s been my job to explain to them there is another way that is effective and inexpensive.”

Established in March 2007, the QX — the initials stand for quality and excellence — is owned and operated by Pink OTC Markets Inc., the third-largest equity trading venue in the U.S. Like other junior platforms, such as the Over the Counter Bulletin Board and Pink Sheets, also offered by Pink OTC Markets, companies listed on the QX are not required to file with the SEC nor adhere to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
They must, however, meet other standards. For example, they have to be listed on a qualified non-U. S. exchange, such as the TSX or Venture exchanges in Canada, to qualify for listing. They must also be sponsored by an American investment bank or attorney and disclose their home country on the QX website.
To establish a listing, companies pay a minimum US$5,000 application fee, an annual listing fee of US$15,000 plus sponsorship fees. By comparison, the cost of cross-listing on the NYSE or Nasdaq can top US$1 million and even more for bigger companies given the costs of regulatory requirements.…