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Columns

  • 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.

  • Interest rate limits needed to protect borrowers

    Getting a small loan license in New Mexico is a cinch. Just pay a $1,500 fee to the Department of Regulation and Licensing, show you have $30,000 in capital and a reasonably clean criminal record and you are in. There were 656 small loan operators in the state at the close of 2013.
    The powers that come with a license are astonishing. Outside of a very narrow product area technically defined as Payday Loans, licensees can charge any interest rate over any period of time with almost any loan terms they choose on amounts of $2,500 or less. Small lenders routinely burden unsophisticated borrowers with interest rates of anywhere between 200-600 percent and sometimes more than 1,000 percent. In the process, they often point to the license on their wall claiming their products are “state approved.” That license is, in fact, their license to steal.

  • The bloodstained banner

    Once again, the Confederate flag is in the news. Washington and Lee University recently announced it would take down the Confederate flags, which had been displayed next to the university’s statue of Robert E. Lee.
    Twelve African American law students protested the display as being “hate symbols representative of slavery and racism.”
    Supporters of displaying the flag countered that “the Confederate flag honors freedom-loving Americans who fought against Northern tyranny” and that removing the flag “besmirched Lee’s military honor.”
    You do have to respect freedom-loving people who owned slaves. I suppose they’re also proud that the university owned about 80 slaves who were used to build dormitories in the early 1800s.
    The university’s website states, “The Washington and Lee University community thrives on an ethic of honor and civility.”
    I’m sure that’s exactly how their slaves viewed it.
    The university’s President Kenneth Ruscio did remove the flags, but refused to apologize for Lee’s actions during the Civil War. Ruscio said, “Lee was an imperfect individual living in imperfect times.”

  • Supreme Court to Obama Administration: Congress writes laws, you don't

    Now that the dust has settled on the Supreme Court’s 2014 session, we can look at the decisions and conclude that the Obama Administration received a serious smack down. Two big cases got most of the news coverage: Hobby Lobby and the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) recess appointments. In both cases, the administration lost. At the core of both, is the issue of the administration’s overreach.
    Within the cases the Supreme Court heard, one had to do with energy: Utility Air Regulatory Group (UARG) v. Environmental Protection Agency — and it, too, offered a rebuke.
    The UARG v. EPA decision came down on June 23. The decision was mixed — with both sides claiming victory. Looking closely, there is cause for optimism from all who question the president’s authority to rewrite laws.
    A portion of the UARG v. EPA case was about the EPA’s “Tailoring Rule” in which it “tailored” a statutory provision in the Clean Air Act — designed to regulate traditional pollutants such as particulate matter — to make it work for CO2. In effect, the EPA wanted to rewrite the law to achieve its goals. The decision, written by Justice Antonin Scalia for the majority, stated:

  • A tailored approach needed to market N.M. Hispanics

    Doing business in New Mexico requires an awareness of — and sensitivity to — the attitudes and preferences of people who identify as Hispanic or Latino, because this demographic represents a plurality of New Mexico’s population. Hispanics are 47 percent of the state’s residents — the largest percentage of any other racial or ethnic group.
    In its annual statewide perception survey, the Garrity Group learned how Hispanics and Anglos feel about 17 industries and institutions and 14 professions and how people in both groups use different media for news, information and shopping.
    Likenesses and differences
    In some areas, the positive feelings of Hispanics and Anglos toward various institutions weren’t far apart. For example, both groups had similar feelings about the health-care system, with Hispanics expressing 52 percent favorability and Anglos 46 percent. Both groups also had poor opinions of journalists and lawyers.

  • Kit Carson left a complicated and controversial legacy

    Kit Carson Park in Taos will have a new name.
    The local argument over the name is one of those debates New Mexicans have from time to time that shows our lingering sensitivities. Navajos have strong feelings about the man, but let’s look more closely at the person and the place.
    Kit Carson was a man of his time. The frontiersman and trapper scouted for explorer John C. Fremont, fought in the Civil War and served as Indian agent. He once testified, “I think, as a general thing, the difficulties (with Indians) arise from aggressions on the part of the whites.”
    In 1862, Gen. James Carleton ordered Carson to attack Mescaleros, kill all the men and capture women and children. It was a brutal campaign, but Carson ignored the order to kill all the men, and the Mescaleros became the first to occupy the Bosque Redondo reservation on the Pecos.
    The next year Carleton ordered Carson to round up Navajos. Carson didn’t want to lead the campaign and tried to resign, but Carleton cajoled him into staying. In “Blood and Thunder,” author Hampton Sides describes how Carson grimly carried out the ruthless, scorched-earth campaign that Carleton demanded. After troops destroyed their crops, livestock and orchards, the starving Navajos surrendered.

  • Divorcing? Protect your finances, personal data

    No doubt you’ve seen many warnings against sharing personal or financial information with strangers, but what about your spouse — or ex-spouse? A recent study by McAfee uncovered some unsettling results:
    • Although 96 percent of adults surveyed trust their significant other with passwords, intimate photos and other personal content, only 32 percent have asked their ex to delete the information when ending the relationship.
    • One in five people said they’re likely to log into their spouse’s Facebook account at least once a month.
    • Some 30 percent admitted they’d “cyber-stalked” their significant other’s ex on social media.
    Given the high rate of divorce and how frequently marriages end acrimoniously, it’s not a big leap to think that a scorned lover could severely damage your credit and reputation. If you’re getting divorced, here are some important legal, financial and privacy considerations:
    If you and your spouse are in complete agreement on how you wish to divide assets and settle debts, you may be able get by with a do-it-yourself divorce kit. It’s still wise to have a divorce attorney review the forms to make sure you haven’t overlooked anything.

  • Oil boom in New Mexico? Well, we knew that already

    Thoughts from ConocoPhillips count for New Mexico. That’s because CP accounts for around 40 percent of the gas produced in the San Juan Basin and has at least two locations in Farmington with three nice looking offices and sundry outbuildings.
    A CP senior economist, Helen Currie, brought her Ph.D. to Farmington July 9 to outline the outlook for oil and gas markets. Her audience was 25 or so legislators attending a joint meeting of the Legislative Finance Committee and the Revenue Stabilization and Tax Policy committee.
    A national overlay is an oil boom in New Mexico. Our oil production is way up — Currie expects maybe another 30 percent growth by 2020 — Currie just didn’t call it a boom.
    In the state briefs section July 10, USA Today said, “Federal statistics show that (New Mexico) is in the midst of an oil boom. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said New Mexico, North Dakota and Wyoming were the largest crude oil producers on federal and tribal land during the 2013 fiscal year.”