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from Photographers' Blog:

New Mexico’s Holy Week

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New Mexico

By Brian Snyder

The high desert of northern New Mexico, with Taos as its unofficial capital, is a confluence of cultures and eras.  Native American, Spanish, Mexican and American cultures co-exist and show themselves in both modern and old ways. Holy Week in this area is celebrated in a very public manner within the safety of the region, beyond the notice of much of the rest of the United States. The rites and customs are very much of the place and cultures found there.

On Holy Thursday a youth group re-enacted the Stations of the Cross at the Sanctuario de Chimayo. The Sanctuary is a church built over a source of sacred dirt that is believed to have healing powers. It is also the destination for thousands of pilgrims from all over during Holy Week. The youth group from Our Lady of Sorrows church in nearby Bernalillo has been doing the performance for years, with new teenagers replacing the previous year’s every year or two. The whips hitting the man playing the role of Jesus are real (though the blood is make-up) and the teens are convincing in their roles as Mary, the women of Jerusalem, Veronica and Roman soldiers.

If the pilgrimage at Chimayo is well-known and better publicized, the pilgrimage in Ranchos de Taos and Talpa on Good Friday is a very local, traditional and communal activity. The several mile walk begins at the famous San Francisco de Asis church in Ranchos and from there the Stations of the Cross are marked in various fields, front yards, moradas, and capillas along the route. Four men carry a large cross and lead the procession, with several hundred believers following behind. In many ways Good Friday is the apex of Holy Week. Worshipers, including many young people, pray out loud, sing, and even chat and laugh with one another as they make their way through the countryside.

The moradas, which are unsanctified chapels, are the spiritual home of the Hermanos, a private, secretive, lay group of Catholic men with a history dating back hundreds of years. During Holy Week the Hermanos worship at the moradas and welcome the pilgrims as they pass by on their walk. With the Hermanos are a group of girls dressed all in black, including black veils, representing Veronica (who in the Bible wipes Jesus’s face).

from MuniLand:

The promise and peril of energy tax revenues

Of the $763 billion in tax revenues that states collected in 2011, only $14.6 billion – less than 2 percent – came from severance taxes on coal, gas and oil. Energy production is very concentrated in the United States: Just nine states receive over 5 percent of their tax revenues from energy producers. Currently, the bulk of severance revenues comes from oil production. Alaska, a state floating on an ocean of oil, gets 76 percent of its revenues from a handful of big oil companies that have drilling rights on the North Slope of the state.

Although there has always been natural gas production in America, hydraulic fracking has given rise to substantial drilling activity in several Northeastern states along the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio have substantial reservoirs of natural gas, but the impact this boom will have on state finances is not yet known. These new supplies have come to market when demand is down and have swamped the nation's usage and storage capacity, driving gas prices down to record lows. States that rely on, or plan for, revenues from energy severance taxes will face a lot of volatility from demand and price changes. Natalie Cohen, head of municipal research at Wells Fargo, sketched it out in a recent report:

from MuniLand:

Proximity to the madness

More alarms are ringing in muniland today. Moody's issued a statement announcing that it was putting on review five states which have Aaa ratings. Aaa is Moody's highest rating, and the agency is concerned that knock-on effects from the federal government could weaken the ratings of these states.

I made this chart detailing the specific rationale Moody's used for each state from the statement they released today. Note that states which have a large dependence on federal jobs and contracts dominate the list.

from Photographers' Blog:

Tips on the fire line

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My rental SUV smells like a junior high school locker room manned by a chain-cigar-smoking gym instructor and I am standing on the side of the road with my pants and shirt half off cleaning myself with baby wipes and I am itching in areas that are not suppose to itch like that… yeah, I am in the field covering a wildfire.

Luckily I keep a "go" bag with all my own fire gear in it. I got the call in the evening and had arrangements to fly to Albuquerque, New Mexico, the next morning. I was being sent to cover the Wallow Wildfire, which has turned into Arizona's largest fire in history, and was right on the border with New Mexico heading to the community of Luna, New Mexico. Thankfully I had editors that trusted me and knew I had been to a few of these rodeos before and would let me make the calls as to where I would go for photos and take the risk of getting out ahead of the fire.

from Oddly Enough Blog:

Hey Billy, you’re gettin’ out of hell!

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Blog Guy, I need your help. I have too much important stuff on my mind lately, and I need something to think about that is totally irrelevant.

PARDON/BILLYTHEKIDI mean, this needs to be so inconsequential that after I think about it, I'll feel dirty just for wasting my time on it.

from Tales from the Trail:

Arizona immigration law controversy hits border governors’ conference

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The simmering row over Arizona's tough-as-nails immigration law has led to a shift in venue for the U.S.-Mexico border governors' meeting, an annual event usually characterized by unity and good will.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, canceled the bash she was due to host after six border governors from Mexico pulled out in protest at the desert state's crackdown on unauthorized immigrants she inked into law in late April.

from Left field:

Bracket busting in the year of the mid-Major

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NCAA/The madness of March continued today as we saw the fall of the top overall seeded Kansas Jayhawks to the #9 Northern Iowa. Additionally #2 seed Villanova collapsed against #10 St. Marys and #3 New Mexico lost to #11 Washington. Cinderella has arrived to the Sweet 16 and brought along some friends.

Brackets everywhere have been busted wide open.

Northern Iowa was not intimidated by Kansas and played solid all game long. Kansas fought back at the end, but the Panthers’ 3 point shooting solidified the upset. The Jayhawks are now the first #1 seed eliminated and the shocking loss is now the exclamation point on a growing list of surprises helping to establish this year’s tournament as a classic.

from Environment Forum:

Group wants oil, gas drillers to follow rules in U.S. West

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An environmental group this week issued a report saying oil and gas companies have enjoyed exemptions to common sense anti-pollution federal rules that govern companies in other industries. This has led, the Environmental Working Group claims, to fouled groundwater, creeks and acres and acres of formerly pristine land in the U.S. West.

The report, "Free Pass for Oil and Gas in the American West," contains county-by-county maps of what it says are examples of mismanagement of the oil and gas industry.

from Tales from the Trail:

Weather looks good for most of U.S. on Election Day

WASHINGTON - Election Day is finally here, the final opinion polls are in and now it's time for Americans to make their way to the voting booth -- but will weather be a factor?

According to the latest forecast maps, most of the country will not have adverse weather conditions, but there could be rain showers in two battleground states.

from Tales from the Trail:

Obama, with sniffles, reassures Democrats about White House win

obama2.jpgALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico - Democrats are getting nervous -- and Barack Obama seems to sense it.

The Illinois senator, fresh from a trip to Hawaii where he picked up a cold, has been rallying supporters in the past two days, urging them not to be anxious about Republican attacks that have helped lift Arizona Sen. John McCain in the polls.

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