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Columns

  • The cost of compassion

    At a Fourth of July potluck, we asked a neighbor who commutes to California for work how he was doing. Instead of small talk, we got a tirade about how he was working to support all those jobless loafers living on government handouts. A grandmother sitting with us pointed out, gently, that we’re paying for two wars that weren’t in the budget.
    Since that conversation, the news has brought us the faces of Central American children seeking safety within our borders and the bludgeoning death of two homeless men in Albuquerque. Which makes me wonder, whatever happened to compassion? The answer is, it’s still alive, but it’s being tested.
    This neighbor is in California because he lost his manufacturing job and was out of work for months before finding another job. Fortunately, his wife was still working, so they didn’t lose everything. Lots of people have relocated and made sacrifices to get work. They can look at it two ways: If I can find work, the rest of you shiftless people can find work. Or, hey, it’s really tough out there and people could use a hand.

  • Confronting our troubles: Mumbling and the Ross Perot fantasy

    Conversations about our economic, ah, problem, mess, disaster, lack of an economy… (you pick the word or phrase) are happening behind the scenes. I have few further specifics. Even if I had more, probably I couldn’t share. Our leaders — call them “power brokers” — are worried, as well they should be. In larger communities, the power brokers may even have regular, scheduled gatherings. In small towns, it would be the café across from the courthouse.
    When the broker conversations propose action, especially specific and public action, taking on Person or Organization A, and seek people to lead the charge, the candidates for the civic role tend to say, “I have a contract with Organization A and can’t afford to lose it.” Or, “I can’t take the risk.” Or, “I’m just too busy.” Or, “Another power broker opposes this action and I can’t annoy this other power broker.” Or whatever.
    The result is no action and continued wringing of hands.
    An informal survey of theoretically potential cage-rattling, meet-the-challenge organizations leads nowhere.

  • Healthcare access: Are some more entitled?

    Healthcare policy is an endless debate in the United States, and in New Mexico the debate has its own special complications.
    Thoughts about how theories and ethics bump up against pragmatic realities come to mind in the wake of two recent public discussions I attended.
    Is there such a thing as “deserving” healthcare, and do some people deserve more than others? Should some people be more entitled to access healthcare, or better quality healthcare, than others? (“Entitled” is a loaded word. I used it deliberately to provoke your thoughts.)
    Should those who can afford to pay for it have a greater right than those who don’t? Should smokers, or fat people, or drug addicts have less access, or be forced to pay more than others? Should young people be at the front of the line and old people forced to the back? These questions arise starkly when we consider extremely limited resources such as organs for transplant, but they permeate the entire healthcare system.
    To develop the system we really want, we have to know what our values are. This message emerged from a presentation titled “Balancing Universal Healthcare with Medical Rationing,” by David Teutsch, a rabbi and ethicist, speaking recently to a New Mexico audience.

  • EPA’s carbon pollution rules good for business, economy

    Some national business organizations have hammered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for proposing new rules on carbon pollution from existing power plants, cutting carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, using 2005 levels as a baseline. What planet are they on?
    It’s ludicrous to pretend that climate change isn’t happening, or that it won’t affect every industry. It’s beyond comprehension that large business advocacy organizations, including the United States Chamber of Commerce, think that our government should stand by and do nothing, while climate-related disasters in 2012 caused more than $139 billion in damages, while U.S. taxpayers shelled out $96 billion in climate-related damages in 2012 alone, or while sea levels rise 6.6 feet by 2100 — enough to swamp Miami.
    Let’s be clear: the costs from carbon pollution will be terrible for business. Climate change poses tremendous risks — insurance premiums will skyrocket, electricity prices will soar, jobs will be lost, food and transportation costs will dramatically rise and taxes will likely increase in order to pay for needed infrastructure upgrades.

  • The Great War at 100: Revisiting the Guns of August

    On August 3, 1914, British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey gave a speech before Parliament that “proved to be one of those junctures by which people afterward date events,” according to Barbara Tuchman in her magisterial “The Guns of August.”
    The dour secretary appeared “pale, haggard and worn,” as he dutifully explained “British interests, British honor and British obligations,” all of which conspired to produce a commitment to defend Belgium against the militarism of the continent’s mightiest power: Imperial Germany.
    The issue involved more than the troublesome neutrality of that inconveniently situated little country. A few hours after Grey’s speech, Germany declared war on France, with the full expectation that victory would be achieved “before the leaves have fallen from the trees,” as Kaiser Wilhelm II declared. The day ended with Grey remarking that “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime” — words that proved prescient. The gloomy German Chief of Staff Helmuth von Moltke conjured a more farsighted scenario when he exclaimed to a colleague that their country was embarking on “the struggle that will decide the course of history for the next hundred years.” 

  • Pet Talk: Be aware of benign tumors in dogs

    The discovery of a fatty tumor underneath your pet’s skin can be disconcerting to any pet owner. Luckily, the most common fatty tumors, lipomas, are benign and usually not cause for concern.
    “Lipomas are common tumors of dogs, and although the gross appearance and texture of these tumors is characteristic, they are benign tumors in most cases,” said Dr. Rita Ho, veterinary intern instructor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
    Most lipomas feel fairly soft and movable under the skin and do not usually typically make pets uncomfortable unless they are in a location where normal movement is disrupted. Once your pet develops a lipoma, it is common for additional tumors to appear. If this does occur, each tumor should be checked individually.
    “Dogs can form lipomas under any conditions, even if the dog is in good body condition,” said Dr. Ho. “It is not related to any known cause or environmental factor.”

  • We are rut, so fight we musth

    Musth is a period in which adult elephants experience “testosterone overload,” inducing extreme levels of agitation, violent tendencies and rogue behavior. During musth, elephants discharge a thick tar-like substance called temporin, a warning sign that the elephant may charge in a dangerous frenzy with no apparent provocation at all.
    For male moose and elk, this testo-explosion is called “rut,” during which the animals fight with each other.
    And that urge to fight is simply uncontrollable. Elephants will charge almost anyone or anything in a seemingly mindless state of enraged fury. Moose in rut go head-to-head with each other (literally) in an attempt to demonstrate who is the superior male.
    It’s a macho-fest of the animal world, where “kill or be killed” is replaced with “kill and impress the girls!”
    The etymology of musth is very apropos. The word derives from the Persian “mast” meaning “intoxicated.” When raging in a manic killing craze, an animal exhibits the same level of judgment one might expect from someone who has ingested a dozen glasses of rum and coke (minus the coke).

  • Open N.M. primaries to get better government

    In a primary election in the not-too-distant future, a handful of voters will come tottering into the polls on walkers and canes and decide which candidates everyone will vote on in the general election.
    OK, I’m exaggerating a little.
    Only one in five voters — those declaring themselves either a Democrat or Republican — marked a ballot in the June primary, and yet more New Mexicans consider themselves independents. “Declined to state,” or DTS, in bureaucratese. Nationally, independents now make up 45 percent of the electorate.
    Studies show that young Americans increasingly describe themselves as political independents, and recently an Albuquerque Journal poll showed the same trends in New Mexico. For 18 to 24-year-olds, 38 percent are independents, compared with 36 percent Democrats and 25 percent Republicans. The older the voter, the more likely they are to occupy a party camp.
    Our younger generation is disgusted by the deadlocks in Congress (aren’t we all) and they don’t want to be hemmed in by the narrow ideologies of either major party.
    Who can blame them?

  • Few jobs from sunsets, many from oil and gas

    Oil and gas industry discussions by public officials and industry tend toward the many worthy numbers.
    For example, nearly all (96.6 percent) the interest from the Land Grant Permanent Fund goes into the state’s general fund, providing for continuing operations of government. The permanent fund predates statehood. Oil royalties appeared in 1924. Every county gets oil and gas production revenue.
    Find the report, “Fiscal Impacts of the Oil and Gas Industry,” at the New Mexico Tax Research Institute (nmtri.org). Check the right side of the page.
    Other numbers from David Martin, secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, at the Legislative Finance Committee’s July 9 meeting in Farmington: Jobs, direct, indirect and induced: 68,838. Average salary: $70,666. State gross domestic product portion: 9 percent.
    The numbers obscure oil and gas as a way of life with a long history here.
    Flush with “enchantment,” sunsets, and mystically seeking God, aesthetes miss this. They fail to track production numbers from the well to the permanent fund to investment income to the general fund to paying for the government they wish to expand.

  • Udall scores a win in tough battle

    Forget for the moment, if you will, all variant partisan predispositions — at least long enough to grant that New Mexico’s U.S. Sen. Tom Udall is one of those rare politicians who will persevere in the service of a conviction.
    Let me explain my point, and for starters we should recall that the United States Constitution has been amended only 27 times since it was adopted in 1787.
    We need also remind ourselves that that fully 10 of those amendments were adopted all at one time, right after the present republic was instituted when what we call the Bill of Rights was appended to the original Constitution.
    In short, amending the Constitution isn’t the least bit easy.
    It requires time, tenacity and resolve, which is precisely what the constitutional framers intended when they hammered it out in Philadelphia back in 1787. They even made it hard to so much as propose an amendment to the Constitution.
    One constitutionally permissible method for proposing an amendment would have at least two-thirds of the states call conventions for that purpose. It is an approach so cumbersome that it has never been used, mainly because getting two thirds of the states to act in concert is next to impossible.