How military outsourcing turned toxic

IN AUGUST 2016, an inspector from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency arrived at Barksdale Air Force base in Louisiana, a nerve center for the U.S. military’s global air combat operations, to conduct a routine look at the base’s handling of its hazardous waste. Barksdale, like many military bases, generates large volumes of hazardous materials, including thousands of pounds of toxic powder left over from cleaning, painting and maintaining airplanes. For years, Barksdale had been sending a portion of its waste to an Ohio company, U.S. Technology Corp., that had sold officials at the base on a seemingly ingenious solution for disposing of it: The company would take the contaminated powder from refurbished war planes and repurpose it into cinderblocks that would be used to build everything from schools to hotels to big-box department stores — even a pregnancy support center in Ohio. The deal would ostensibly shield the Air Force from the liabililty of being a large producer of dangerous hazardous trash. The arrangement was not unique.

Second Santolina backed group goes after ABQ council candidates

A new Santolina backed political committee popped up an electronic billboard and sent out mailers on Albuquerque’s west side late last week to support the re-election bid of City Councilor Ken Sanchez. Energize Albuquerque filed a campaign report showing a $20,000 contribution from Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, the company seeking to create a massive master planned community in far west Bernalillo County that would be called Santolina. Over the past two weeks, another committee backed in part by Santolina developer Jeff Garrett, called Make Albuquerque Safe, blanketed the city with negative ads against mayoral candidate Tim Keller. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. Both Energize Albuquerque and Make Albuquerque Safe are helmed by Denise Romero, Chairperson, and Donna Taylor, Treasurer.

Coal. Guns. Freedom?

I saw these three words on a little sticker affixed, discordantly, to the window of a car in a small Colorado town. It struck me as funny at first: Coal and guns being elevated to the status of platonic ideals or, even more loftily, the refrain of a bad country song. All it was missing was Jesus, beer and Wrangler butts. A few days later, though, as I sat on a desert promontory overlooking northwestern New Mexico, the sticker didn’t seem so funny. As the sunrise spilled across sagebrush plains and irrigated cornfields, it also illuminated a narrow band of yellow-brown clouds on the horizon.

Why do border deaths persist when the number of border crossings is falling?

In July, a sweltering tractor trailer ride in Texas became the latest harrowing example of the perils of crossing the U.S. border illegally. From the hospital, one survivor told authorities that he had paid smugglers to get him across the Rio Grande and then cram him on a northbound truck with what he guessed were nearly 100 people. The survivor managed to keep breathing in the pitch black trailer without food or water. But when the doors were opened in a San Antonio Walmart parking lot, eight migrants were dead, their bodies “lying on the floor like meat,” the truck’s driver subsequently said. Another two expired later.

Woman arrested in ATF sting pleads guilty for reduced sentence

Jennifer Padilla has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute meth in return for a two-year federal prison sentence. If a federal judge accepts the plea deal, the 39-year-old mother of five could be free in less than a year because of the 13 months she’s already spent in the Santa Fe County jail. Friday’s proposed sentence represents a significant reduction from the 10 or more years Padilla was facing behind bars. This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. The plea agreement, negotiated between Padilla’s Santa Fe-based lawyer, L. Val Whitley, and federal prosecutors, came less than two months after Padilla alleged misconduct by a confidential informant in a 2016 operation conducted by the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

In monuments report, a skewed view of protections

In late August, Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke submitted a report detailing the results of his review of 27 national monuments to the White House. Zinke’s suggestions, kept secret at the time, were recently made public by the Washington Post. The report calls for boundary changes at Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah, Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada, and Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which straddles the border between Oregon and California; and looser restrictions on activities at Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande Del Norte National Monuments, both in New Mexico. It also proposes trims or changes to allowed activities at three marine monuments and one monument in Maine. This story originally appeared on High Country News and is reprinted with permission. Monuments are intended to protect significant landmarks, structures, or “objects of historic or scientific interest” on federal land under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

Lifeline for New Mexico: New international treaty bans nuclear weapons research and production

On Wednesday September 20 at the United Nations, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will open for signature. For signatories, this treaty prohibits nuclear weapons altogether. Its explicit goal is a universal norm against all forms of participation in the nuclear weapons industry. Designing, testing, producing, possessing, threatening with, deploying, and using nuclear weapons are to be banned. Crucially, assistance or encouragement in these illegal acts will also be banned, as will stationing of nuclear weapons, both of which impact U.S. nuclear alliances including NATO.

Video: Federal sting draws responses in ABQ mayor’s race

Criticism of a massive undercover drug- and gun-crime sting spilled into the Albuquerque mayoral race last week, when candidates were pressed about a 2016 federal law enforcement operation that netted a disproportionate number of black people. It was a serious question, made all the more serious by the man asking: Joe Powdrell, a longtime local activist past president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which sponsored the Sept. 8 forum.This story originally appeared on the New Mexico In Depth website and is reprinted with permission.The operation has drawn community and legal scrutiny for alleged racial profiling and for scooping up many who did not fit the “worst of the worst” profile trumpeted by federal officials after New Mexico In Depth investigations. Picking up on the alleged racial targeting, Powdrell asked the candidates “where your head is at in terms of this biased policing.”

Only three of the seven candidates who attended the forum addressed the sting directly. Dan Lewis, a second-term, Republican city councilor who has spoken out on a number of police-related issues during his seven-plus years on the council, gave the most forceful response.

Don’t let Martinez politicize science education

Next Generation Science Standards focus on hands on, problem solving based learning rather than rote memorization and teaching to a test. They also equip students with the updated science information and skill sets needed to compete for 21st Century jobs. Unfortunately, Susana Martinez has failed over the last four years to put these new standards in our classrooms, even after her own staff professionals recommended them. That’s why we sponsored the Next Generation Science Standards bill in this past year’s legislative session. During one of the committee hearings, a former member of her staff admitted the reason for the governor’s decision.

The Trump administration plans to end a refugee program for children

The Trump administration plans to stop accepting refugee applications from children with U.S.-based parents from three violence-riddled Central American countries — El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala — according to the summary of a presentation the State Department made recently to refugee organizations. The decision to end the Central American Minors program, which began in 2014 and is the only refugee program aimed at helping people from that region, could put hundreds of families split between two countries in a delicate situation. The children will no longer be able to come legally to the U.S. Of course, they can still attempt to cross without authorization and then either request asylum or try to navigate the border region without being detained or injured — just the kind of dangerous illegal immigration that the CAM program was meant to discourage. (And if the children do cross the border, as ProPublica recently reported, they could expose their parents to an investigation for child smuggling.)

“Ending the program would force desperate children into the arms of smugglers and traffickers because they don’t have a safe and orderly way to get to the U.S.,” said Lisa Frydman, a vice president of Kids In Need Of Defense, an immigration advocacy group. “This administration is giving the unconscionable message that Central American children are not welcome here for protection.”

Refugee organizations were alerted to the impending demise of CAM two weeks ago by State Department officials, according to a memo summarizing the meeting that was obtained by ProPublica.