Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New Mexico Magazine Layoffs Overdue

The recent layoffs at New Mexico Magazine, a division of the Department of Tourism, surprised and pleased me. Small publications are dynamic, if nothing else. But this is the government.

Seven of the 17 magazine staffers depart October 5. For the magazine to have lost more than $1.4 million over two years, as I read, without staff changes months ago reflects its government owned status. Just how did the old regime lose all that money. A new editor did appear in May with a new publisher set now.

My perspective is dated. My New Mexico Magazine experience as an employee was in the fall of 1979 and I have paid only occasional attention to it for years.
The magazine has two main problems, being part of the government and a northern tilt in the editorial.

I would create an "authority" to run New Mexico Magazine, keeping it within the state umbrella, but freeing it from the strictures that get in the way. One example is in the games that my boss played to get around the purchasing act. Such games are necessary to function, silly, possibly illegal and certainly inefficient. A later publisher was fired for being what I called "too entrepreneurial." Something about trading ski passes to ad buyers.

Also, I have always found the vacation planner incoherent.

The layoff prompted a letter to the editor that stands as one of those classically parochial whines about the purity claimed from being born in the state. Excerpts:

“It makes me sad to know that with the Sept. 20 layoff, New Mexico Magazine now has even fewer native-born New Mexicans working at its office…
“No longer are there any people of color represented on the policy-making staff, an occurrence that hasn’t been seen in decades…
“New Mexico Magazine — written, edited and presented without our native people — is like making green chile stew and substituting spinach for the chile.”

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Redistricting: Martinez Abandons Campaign Position

During the primary campaign last year, I posed some questions to each of the candidates for governor. There were three questions. One of my newspaper columns was allocated to the answers to a question. Some candidates answered. Others didn't, blowing off the exercise. One of the questions was about redistricting. That was because I knew that redistricting was a partisan mess and because I have become enamored of the idea of independent redistricting commissions. Iowa sets the standard. Arizona and Washington are good.

This was, I admit, also a set up. The answer allowed me to hold the winner accountable. So it is with Susana Martinez. The redistricting special session of the legislature adjourned with no decisions (well, few). The whole thing is going to the courts. That's a cop out, not at all the work for which the governor and legislators get paid. And certainly not bold, to come back again to Martinez campaign slogan. The question and Martinez' answer follows from my mid-May 2010 column.


Will you introduce legislation in the 2011 regular session of the Legislature creating an independent commission to handle redistricting of congressional, legislative and other districts? Why or why not?

Martinez Answer: I support legislation sponsored by Keith Gardner which amends the New Mexico Constitution and establishes a bipartisan redistricting commission that draws lines for Congressional and state legislative districts consistent with federal and statutory requirements and based on the most recent federal, decennial Census. I support this legislation because too often politics drives this process and detracts from critical discussions like reducing our state’s historic budget deficit and turning our economy around while rooting out corruption.

Keith Gardner is Martinez' chief of staff. "Too often politics drives this process..." Still does, it seems.

Friday, September 23, 2011

2Q Personal Income Up 1.1%

The personal income of New Mexicans grew 1.1% in the second year of the year from the first quarter, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported yesterday. That growth rate, down from a 1.6% first quarter increase over the fourth quarter of 2010, tied the national growth rate and was good for 35th nationally.

Personal income increased 4.9% in New Mexico from the second quarter of 2010 through the second quarter of 2011.
For the one-quarter increase, Arizona grew 1.2%; Utah, 1.4%; Colorado 1.1%.

By percentage, dividends, interest and rent led New Mexico’s growth with a 1.9% increase, followed by transfers at 1.2% and net income 0.9%.
Construction earning dropped 2.6% during the second quarter. Accommodation and food services dropped 0.4%. Health care and social assistance earnings grew 2.1% during the quarter.

Revisions knocked 1.1% off New Mexico’s previous reported 2010 personal income and 1.3% off the 2009 estimate.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rural Counties Add 7,200 Wage Jobs. Metros Lose.

The Department of Workforce Services released new job numbers today. In my Sunday (9/18) entry, I covered the big picture, using the federal figures. Today I’ll concentrate on the metro areas. The numbers that follow are for wage jobs and are not seasonally adjusted.

Albuquerque lost wage jobs for the 35th consecutive month on a year over year basis. The loss was 1,600 wage jobs (0.4%) for the year with a 400-job gain between July and August. One reason, DWS said, is that mining, while growing nicely statewide with an 1,800 job, or ten percent, August to August increase, have only two or three jobs in metro Albuquerque and therefore can’t help things grow.

Leisure and hospitality in Albuquerque, which more or less means tourism and local restaurants, added 1,300 jobs (3%) year over year which losing 300 jobs between July and August.

Las Cruces dropped 100 jobs year-over-year while adding 1,800 between July and August. The improvement had nearly everything to do with New Mexico State University getting backing session.

Santa Fe added 400 jobs for the month and lost 100 for the year. That 100-job loss is 0.2%, nearly nothing.

Farmington added 1,100 jobs over the year, a nice 2.3% gain and had no change between July and August.

The four metro areas together lost 700 jobs year-over-year. The means the rural counties added 7,200 jobs.

Things continue to improve on my ten percent unemployment measure. We’re down to two counties with more than ten percent unemployment—Luna and Mora, both with rates approaching 13%.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Real Economic Development: Sandia, Cray Form Institute

Real “development” of any economy comes from doing new things or doing existing things more productively. Doing new things can mean luring a new company to an area. Or it can mean existing companies doing something new.

Back in May I got a news release from Sandia National Laboratories about a new partnership with Cray Inc., the supercomputer manufacturer. It slipped to the bottom of the electronic pile, but in thinking about developing our lagging economy and in my continued annoyance at those whining about “dependence on the government,” I dug it out.

Much of Sandia’s release follows. What the release doesn’t say is that New Mexicans at national laboratories have led large-scale scientific computing since before there were national laboratories. Los Alamos was known as the Manhattan Project in those days. When I started following such things in the 1980s, New Mexico had more supercomputers per capita than any state.

Here is the release: May 27, 2011 6:01:54 AM MDT ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sandia National Laboratories and supercomputer manufacturer Cray Inc. are forming an institute focused on data-intensive supercomputers. The Supercomputing Institute for Learning and Knowledge Systems (SILKS), to be located at Sandia in Albuquerque, will take advantage of the strengths of Sandia and Cray by making software and hardware resources available to researchers who focus on a relatively new application of supercomputing.

That task is to make sense of huge collections of data rather than carry out more traditional modeling and simulation of scientific problems. Sandia and Cray signed a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) to establish the institute.

“It’s an unusual opportunity,” said Bruce Hendrickson, Sandia senior manager of computational sciences and math. “Cray has an exciting machine [the XMT] and we know how to use it well. This CRADA should help originate new technologies for efficiently analyzing large data sets. New capabilities will be applicable to Sandia’s fundamental science and mission work.”

Shoaib Mufti, director of knowledge management in Cray’s custom engineering group, said, “Sandia is a leading national lab with strong expertise in areas of data analysis. The concept of big data in the HPC [high-performing computing] environment is an important area of focus for Cray, and we are excited about the prospect of new solutions that may result from this collaborative effort with Sandia.” Rob Leland, Sandia director of computing research, added, “This is a great example of how Sandia engages our industrial partners. The XMT was originally developed at Sandia’s suggestion. It combined an older processor technology Cray had developed with the Red Storm infrastructure we jointly designed, giving birth to a new class of machines. That’s now come full circle. The Institute will leverage this technology to help us in our national security work, benefitting the Labs and the nation as well as our partner.” Red Storm was the first parallel processing supercomputer to break the teraflop barrier. Its descendants, built by Cray, are still the world’s most widely purchased supercomputer. The XMT, however, has a different mode of operation from conventional parallel-processing systems. Says Hendrickson, “Think about your desktop: The memory system’s main job is to keep the processor fed. It achieves this through a complex hierarchy of intermediate memory caches that stage data that might be needed soon. The XMT does away with this hierarchy. Though its memory accesses are distant and time-consuming to reach, the processor keeps busy by finding something else to do in the meantime.” In a desktop machine or ordinary supercomputer, Hendrickson said, high performance can only be achieved if the memory hierarchy is successful at getting data to the processor fast enough. But for many important applications, this isn’t possible and so processors idle most of the time. Said another way, traditional machines try to avoid latency (waiting for data) though the use of complex memory hierarchies. The XMT doesn’t avoid latency; instead, it embraces it. By supporting many fine-grained snippets of a program called “threads,” the processor switches to a new thread when memory access would otherwise make it have to wait for data. “Traditional machines are pretty good for many science applications, but the XMT’s latency tolerance is a superior approach for lots of complex data applications,” Hendrickson says. “For example, following a chain of data links to draw some inference totally trashes memory locality because the data may be anywhere.” More broadly, he says, the XMT supports programs very good at working with large data collections that can be represented as graphs. Such computations appear in biology, law enforcement, business intelligence, and in various national security applications. Instead of a single answer, results are often best viewed as graphs. Sandia and other labs have already built software to run graph algorithms, though “the software is still pretty immature,” Hendrickson said. “That’s one reason for the institute. As semantic database technology grows in popularity, these kinds of applications may become the norm.” Among its other virtues, the XMT saves power because it runs at slower clock speeds. This normally bad thing is good here because rapid computation is not the goal but rather the accurate laying-out of data points. SILKS’ primary objectives, as described in the CRADA, are to accelerate the development of high-performance computing, overcome barriers to implementation, and apply new technologies to enable discovery and innovation in science, engineering, and for homeland security.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

BLS Says Jobs Up, "Employment" Down

New Mexico didn’t stand out in the August jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, released Friday, September 16. The labor force, on a seasonally adjusted basis, shrank by another 6,500, bringing it to 929,700, down 24,000 from August 2010. Employment, 889,800 a year ago, was 868,300 in August 2011. The number of officially unemployed—people who say they’re looking for work—dropped to 61,400, but that’s only because so many have given up and bagged the whole job game. Our 1.9 percentage point drop in the unemployment was the nation’s largest. It would be nice if that meant improvement in the economy. Total wage jobs (different from “employment”), still using seasonally adjusted numbers, was 805,500 in August, increased 3,100 (not quite four tenths of one percent) from July and 7,400 from August 2010 (approaching one percent). Among the sectors, construction spent the summer at around 40,000 jobs with manufacturing at 29,000. At least they’re not dropping. Trade, together with transportation and utilities for some reason, gained 5,000 (138,600) during the August-to-August year. Finance gained 2,300. Professional and business services, with 93,900 employees, remained in the summer range, but still is down 5,500 for the year. Leisure and hospitality, which sort of means tourism, has spent the year at about 83,000 wage jobs. Government, with 194,600 jobs, is down 1,300 for the year. Education and heath services (127,200 jobs) was steady during the summer and is up 7,600 since August 2010.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Refuge? In the Public Education Department?

That's what the sign says, though, "Area of Refuge." From what? When is the area to be used? The sign is in a stairwell in the Santa Fe building housing the Public Education Department. I took the photo Tuesday, September 13. I thought church's or spiritual organizations such as the Lama Foundation offered places of refuge.
I was in the education building looking for the Legislative Education Study Committee, which turned out to be across the street. LESC took about two minutes to agree to help find information addressing some questions that the Public Education Department has ignored for several months.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Abq Homes Sales Up in August

Metro Albuquerque home sales increased in August over July. The news surprised me because the 815 pending sales of single family detached homes during July were a 119 unit, or 13% drop from June. Pending sales provide a rough leading indicator of sales closed the following month. Therefore I expected August sales closed to drop. The difference came in the proportion of July pending sales that turned into closed sales during August. Sales closed during August represented 79% of July’s pending sales. Sales closed during July were 67% of sales pending during June. Why? No idea. A hint comes from the prices of those sales closed during August. Both the median price ($163,808) and the average price ($197,671) hit the second lowest level of the year and were down more than 10% from August 2010. The August median price dropped 8% from July. The average was down 6%. With an average of 76 days on the market, single family detached homes has the shortest sales period of 2010. The average sales period was 89 days during February. Some insight for us comes from Elliott D. Pollack & Company of Phoenix. The oversupply of homes there is getting absorbed, however slowly. However, Pollack sees a housing market recovery taking four or five more years. Phoenix is adding a few jobs, 22,300 in the year from July 2010 to July 2011.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sanchez: Put Valencia in One District

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez has a bright redistricting idea for his home territory—Valencia County. Compact and contiguous seems to characterize the proposal. Sanchez has introduced a bill, prepared at his initiative and without consultation, proposing that Valencia County go into one congressional district. Now the county is sliced in half, roughly along the Rio Grande. Sanchez would put the county into district one, which is dominated by Albuquerque.
Sanchez pitched his idea today to the Senate Rules Committee which is chaired by Linda Lopez. A Rio Rancho resident objected to Sanchez putting “the heart of Rio Rancho” into district one. Most of Rio Rancho now is in district three. Photo by Mark Bralley.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

American Cities No Place for Cyclists

The Economist hit the proverbial elephant sitting on the bicycle seat with this headline, “With very few exceptions, America is no place for cyclists.” The magazine’s point is that “lanes are protected from motor vehicles by a line of white paint—a largely metaphorical barrier that many drivers ignore and police do not vigorously enforce. Bicyclist behavior, often erratic in my experience, is another factor, one not mentioned. Speed kills, the magazine said of the obvious. A car striking a pedestrian at 30 mph has 45% chance of killing the pedestrian. At 40 mph, the odds go to 85%. On Indian School Road in Albuquerque, equipped with those metaphorical white line “barriers,” 50 mph is not an uncommon speed. I have briefly followed a few of the maniacs just to check. Northern European cities separate cyclists from cars with physical barriers such as concrete buffers, trees or parked cars. Speed limits are lowered to about 19 mph, sometime that is done in Albuquerque in couple of places. The death toll is low. Portland is the only American city taking even most of the steps. “The result” more bikes and fewer deaths.”

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

This is Economic Development?

Two television shows filmed (taped?) in Albuquerque will end after their respective fifth seasons. They are “Breaking Bad” and “In Plain Sight.” Wrung hands have ensued. But consider another perspective, the economic development perspective. Had a developer appeared before the developer’s board with the proposition below, that developer would have been laughed out of town if the board was at all sentient. Here’s the deal: 100 employees. (excellent!). Part time, eight months a year at best. Five years in business would be considered a great success. One or two years is more likely. We, the local and/or state government, kick back to the company 25% of all spending in New Mexico. We think we can find more such companies, but there is no guarantee.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Martinez Speech Disappointing, At Best

“Disappointing” is the nicest description possible of Gov. Susana Martinez’ “remarks” (not a speech) last Wednesday, August 31, to the Domenici Public Policy Conference in Las Cruces. The disappointment began with the introduction of Martinez by NMSU president Barbara Couture who repeated the nonsense (true nonsense, but nonsense) that Martinez was “born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley.” Born and raised in El Paso, Martinez hid behind the euphemism for most of her race for governor. Probably someone gave Couture the script and Couture didn’t think much about it. But why are Martinez people still unwilling to admit her birthplace. It’s just silly. This birth place thing is not quite as absurd as Bill Richardson’s claim of having been drafted by a major league baseball team. But with each repetition, it gets closer. Martinez said she was in Las Cruces to help celebrate the beginning of a new minor at NMSU, in child advocacy, I think she said. If Martinez is serious about reducing government activity in New Mexico, the last thing (or maybe the next to last thing) she should be doing is expanding the state’s profligate higher education system. But this was Las Cruces, NMSU and a subject close to Martinez' heart. Martinez repeated her campaign promise to cut the staff at the governor’s mansion. Old news. Whoppee. She said, proudly, “In the end we balanced the budget.” Balancing the budget is required by the constitution. Any governor who brags on balancing the budget is blowing major smoke. The next brag was on Union Pacific starting work on the multi-modal facility at Santa Teresa. Martinez indicated that the project was the result of her pro-business policies. Well, no. Martinez did support reauthorization of a locomotive fuel gross receipts exemption (or something like that) vital to the multi-modal. But the tax exemption, previously extended, has been around for maybe five years and the multi-modal idea has been around for maybe 25 years. Kevin Boberg invented the project and honored me with one of the first presentations. Probably the gross receipts extension was a slam dunk. Martinez had little to do with it. To claim more credit for the project was disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst. Martinez trashed legislative criticism of her ever expanding agenda for the special session of the legislature that starts tomorrow. She said legislators only wanting to do redistricting just want to protect themselves. True enough, but so what. Martinez did not pursue the idea of an independent redistricting commission, a notion that during the campaign she told me she favored. Martinez gave the same speech (er, remarks) earlier in the day to the Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce. At least I didn’t have to go to both meetings.