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Columns

  • Job growth seen at 1.1 percent per year

    For economists, mid-speech applause is unusual.
    Jeffrey Mitchell got the treatment during his talk to the Economic Outlook Conference, presented by Albuquerque Business First, a weekly newspaper. Mitchell is the newish director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico and runs UNM’s forecasting model.
    I suspect that the applause reflected the frustration of the several hundred people in the audience, presumably business types, with the state of the New Mexico economy and the paucity of proposals for real action beyond tinkering at the margin.
    Audience approval came when Mitchell said, “It’s a matter of where we are uniquely strong and build on that.”
    In a post-conference email exchange with Mitchell, I said, “I believe we do not know and/or understand our various strengths and specialness. A detailed look at the state and its various economies might provide insight leading to policy actions that might move us.”
    Mitchell replied, “Perhaps you’re right that we’re not clear on makes the state special. But I strongly believe that any long-term improvement in the state’s economic situation must begin by addressing this question. And I think that people are beginning to recognize this.”

  • Pet Talk: How to properly catch a feral feline

    Feral cats, unlike strays, have been born and raised in the wild, or have been abandoned and must revert back to their primitive ways in order to survive.
    Most of these cats, fearful of humans and too skittish to be handled, often live in groups and take refuge wherever there is available food and shelter.
    Because of this, they are unfortunately subject to harsh weather conditions, starvation, or diseases and sometimes even eradicated by humans in attempts to deplete the feral cat population.
    Here is a few ideas on what you can do to help these undomesticated cats:
    You will be able to tell if you have come in contact with a feral cat rather than a stray by their standoffish and notably quiet demeanor. They will most likely keep their distance from you and scamper off when approached.
    However, this shouldn’t deter you from trying to help.
    Feral cats have a great chance of survival if they live in a group, or colony, maintained by a dedicated caretaker. This means providing regular feeding and proper shelter, as well as spay/neuter services. A popular and effective way to do this is the Trap-Neuter-Return method, or TNR.

  • There's no safety on stupidity

    Benjamin Franklin said, “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”
    Here in America, we can proudly claim that we have a lot of hard working people!
    Consider the “I were born igorent, and dang if I ain’t gonna stay igorent” folks whose rendition of the Constitution reads, “from my cold dead fingers.”  These deep thinkers of domestic sociology hold that the best offense is a soft-tipped defense.
    Utah has been working very hard to lead the pack, with 70 percent of its citizens believing that creationism should be taught in public schools. Of course, the evolution-creation debate can get pretty violent, and so it only makes sense to arm the teachers with facts, data, well-aged scientific research (usually from the 1300s), and laser-equipped 15-round Berettas.
    I know, I know. Utah would never act so irresponsible as to issue Berettas to its teachers!  That would be ridiculous! After all, the State Firearm is a Browning M1911.
    You’ve got to admire the work ethic of a state that spends tax dollars to vote in a State Firearm.
    Of course, it’s difficult to tell if they’re serious. Their State Fossil is the Allosaurus, a dinosaur that roamed early America three or four thousand years ago.

  • A symbolic battle against a way of life

    As the author of a 1998 book, “Talking So People Will Listen,” I perked up when an article within an issue of The Atlantic earlier this year was brought to my attention: “How to Talk About Climate Change So People Will Listen,” by Charles C. Mann — which offers some noteworthy insights.
    Mann is obviously a believer in anthropogenic (or man-made) climate change, making his observations all the more interesting.
    Much of his essay is spent deriding the left for its unrestrained rhetoric that it uses to “scare Americans into action.” He says “the chatter itself, I would argue, has done its share to stall progress.”
    Within his argument is some history and context that is illustrative for those who see climate change as cyclical — something natural that has happened before and will happen again, rather than something that is new, scary and human-caused.
    Those of us who believe the climate changes, but that human activity is, certainly, not the primary driver, struggle to understand the cult-like following of alarmists like Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org.

  • Old dogs can learn new tricks

    Whether you plan on getting a new puppy or just want Fido to finally nail the “sit” command, it is never too late to begin training your dog.
    Here are some tips for having a well-behaved pooch just in time for the holiday season.
    “The first few commands are usually basic obedience commands such as sit, down, stay, walking on leash and most importantly, to come when called,” said Elizabeth Bachle, a technician at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences pharmacy and an agility instructor at Puppy Love training. “These are a great foundation to training more complex behaviors and can keep your pet out of harm’s way.”
    New puppy owners often get caught up in the excitement of having a four-legged friend to play with and forget that training them early on is most effective.
    However, don’t believe the saying that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Even your loyal, more seasoned companions can improve on current techniques or learn new skills.

  • Reform or more of the same in Santa Fe?

    New Mexico’s Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, arguably the most powerful elected Democrat in the state, recently laid out some of his views on the upcoming legislative session.
    He claimed to support “compromise,” but it is clear that what he really means is that he has no plans to support reforms that will boost New Mexico’s struggling private sector economy.
    Sanchez’s intransigence is not surprising given that he and his allies have controlled New Mexico’s Legislature for many decades and see the recent GOP takeover of the House as a temporary loosening of control as opposed to a decisive break. That big-government ideology, by the way, has driven New Mexico to the bottom of most good lists and the top of most bad ones.
    Sanchez, despite his rhetoric of compromise, has stated firmly that he opposes “right to work.” On the other hand, he supports a new $50 million “closing fund” designed to bring new businesses to our state.
    His positions are not surprising for two reasons. Despite both policies ostensibly being “pro-business,” right to work will cost zero tax dollars, reduces the fundraising power of a key special interest group, and has reams of studies showing that its effectiveness.

  • Continuation not vision

    If a vision for the state and the articulation of action for confronting our myriad deep structural problems appeared at the recent New Mexico Tax Research Institute legislative outlook conference, it slipped out the door faster than it entered.
    Ferreting out a vision will be further obstructed by the newest job performance report, which appeared three days after the TRI meeting.
    From November 2013 to November 2014, a seasonally-unadjusted 14,700 new wage jobs appeared, a 1.7 percent increase that is the best in a long time.
    The growth is “close to the long term average,” said Tom Clifford, Department of Finance and Administration Secretary. I suspect that the happy news will divert the existing slight attention to matters such as our pathetic labor force participation, which is toward the top of the structural problems.
    What, me worry?
    In another venue, the December Consensus Revenue Estimate, reality begins to intrude. The report cites University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, which “points out that New Mexico is the only state that has experienced so weak a recovery and questions whether the state’s weak performance is a cyclical, temporary phenomenon or if it indicates a more troubling structural change in the state’s economic competitiveness.”

  • Unsustainable subsidies and an unstable system

    On Dec. 3, while 190 governments were meeting for two weeks of climate change talks in Lima, Peru (which, after 30 hours of overtime, produced a compromise deal that environmental groups said “went from weak to weaker to weakest”), Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet agreed to a package that continues Germany’s optimistic ‘ though unrealistic — goal and increases subsidies for measures designed to cut emissions.
    Regarding Germany’s “climate protection package,” Barbara Hendricks, Environment Minister, admitted: “if no additional steps were taken, Germany … would miss its targets by between five to eight percentage points.”
    The results of the German agreement will require operators of coal-fueled power plants to reduce emissions by at least 22 million tons — the equivalent of closing eight of them. The Financial Times (FT) believes the plan will “lead to brownouts in German homes.”
    With the goal of generating 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, Germany has aggressively pursued a green dream with unsustainable subsidies that have produced an unstable system described by FT, on Nov. 25, as: “a lesson in doing too much too quickly on energy policy.”

  • A white noise Christmas

    So, another Christmas is nearly upon us. The streets will soon be littered with drying Yuletide trees, the shipping industry busy with items being returned and neighbors taking bets on how long it will take that jerk across the street to take down his 54,000 watt solar-flare holiday display.
    Perhaps we should take a step back and remember what the true spirit of the holiday season is fear of losing sunlight! Winter Solstice is Sunday, the “shortest day of the year.”
    This is very confusing though. I own a rather nice stopwatch and I’ve carefully measured Solstice for several years running, and I’ve discovered that it is not the shortest day. In fact, it’s the same length, 24 hours. I’m going to have to do more research on this.
    Pagans, Druids, Wiccans and other Sun worshipers will gather at Stonehenge “hoping in earnest” that the Sun will rise again. As daylight hours continue to wane, the ancients would worry that the Sun had finally given up on human civilization and might decide to call it quits. Hence the celebrations upon the “return of sunlight” as the days would again begin to increase after Solstice.

  • What is PNM thinking?

    New Mexicans breathed a sigh of relief last year in hearing that PNM would be closing down two of the dirtiest coal-fired plants in the nation.
    Those two generators at the San Juan Generating Station in northwestern New Mexico are responsible for six million tons of carbon pollution in our skies every year, not to mention other pollutants like mercury, sulfur dioxides, etc.
    Unfortunately, our relief was short-lived. PNM has a backward plan to make up for its loss of generating capacity from closing half of the San Juan coal plant. Rather than making an investment in clean, abundant solar and wind power, PNM has stuck with what it knows best — dirty, expensive and dangerous coal and nuclear generators.
    PNM proposes to derive more than 40 percent of its total generating capacity from coal through 2053! In addition, it will increase its use of nuclear power (created at the Palo Verde site in Arizona) to 30 percent, while getting less than 4 percent from solar and no new wind.
    At a time when the rest of the world is in a race to develop the most efficient technologies to lead the world into a cleaner and prosperous energy future, the powers at PNM are stuck trying to extract every bit of profit from coal and nuclear.