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Columns

  • Priorities regarding energy independence

    If the goal is “energy independence,” what issues should be a priority in America?
    Recently, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) sent out a “2014 Priority Issues Survey” which contained a section on energy.
    Section VII, asks: “Which of the following will help America achieve energy independence?” It offers five options that do little to move America toward energy independence — which isn’t even a realistic goal given the fungible nature of liquid fuels. Additionally, most of the choices given on the DCCC survey actually increase energy costs for all Americans — serving as a hidden tax — but hurt those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale the most. The proposals hurt the very people the party purports to champion.
    The survey asks respondents to “check all that apply.”
    • Raising gas mileage standards for all new cars and trucks
    If it were technologically possible to build a cost-effective truck, or SUV that had the size and safety Americans want and that got 54.5 mpg, that manufacturer would have the car-buying public beating a path to its door. Every car company would love to be the one to corner that market — but it is not easy, it probably won’t be possible, and it surely won’t be cheap.

  • Spend your tax refund wisely

    Last year the IRS doled out over 110 million income tax refunds averaging $2,803. Another way to look at it is that collectively, Americans overpaid their taxes by nearly $310 billion in 2012.
    Part of that is understandable: If you don’t have enough tax withheld throughout the year through payroll deductions or quarterly estimated tax payments, you’ll be hit with an underpayment penalty come April 15. But the flip side is that by over-withholding, you’re essentially giving the government an interest-free loan throughout the year.
    If you ordinarily receive large tax refunds, consider withholding less and instead putting the money to work for you, by either saving or investing a comparable amount throughout the year, or using it to pay down debt. Your goal should be to receive little or no refund.
    Ask your employer for a new W-4 form and recalculate your withholding allowance using the IRS’ Withholding Calculator (irs.gov).
    This is also a good idea whenever your pay or family situation changes significantly (e.g., pay increase, marriage, divorce, new child, etc.) IRS Publication 919 can guide you through the decision-making process.
    Meanwhile, if you do get a hefty refund this year, before blowing it all on something you really don’t need, consider these options:

  • Political words: 'Stop at nothing,' 'Fire,' 'Journey.'

    Political types write funny. Not funny, ha, ha, but funny strange. One example is that all the opponents are “failedpolicies,” as if the alleged failing are one word. Or for the left, “waronwomen.” Fate placed me on some political email lists. Punishment for sins.
    Rep. Ron Barber of Tucson, Ariz., does it best. Emails come most days. Rather than running on his record, he has decided the conservative mega-rich Koch brothers are the problem. The March 31 email says, “Harold — I’m sorry for being so blunt.”
    Barber emails usually close with a pitch for money, often three dollars, which seems an odd amount. Clearly the advisors have decided three dollars makes for a soft enough touch that recipients will help Barber hold the line against the Kochs.
    An art exists to all this. Solicitations are to start with an attention grabbing invocation of the apocalypse and close with asking for money.
    In a March 25 blog post, Steve Terrell, political writer at The Santa Fe New Mexican, reported results of a poll that said Attorney General Gary King led the five Democrats running for governor with 34 percent. Then it was Sen. Howie Morales, 15 percent; Sen. Linda Lopez, 13 percent; Lawrence Rael, seven percent; Alan Weber, five percent.

  • Grisham and gridlock

    This could be the worst time in all its history to be a member of the United States House of Representatives.
    More than half of the House’s time is spent — wasted — not on the substance of issues, but on wrangling about procedural matters, said Democratic Congresswoman Michelle Luján Grisham, speaking last week to a hometown audience of supporters. Very little real work is getting done, and summer recess is coming up soon.
    Like every other member of the U.S. House, Grisham will be home this summer campaigning for re-election — as will New Mexico’s other members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat Ben Ray Luján and Republican Steve Pearce. The Washington pundits have ranked all of New Mexico’s districts as safe seats with the incumbents highly favored to win re-election. But Grisham takes nothing for granted. Because of national interest in our governor’s race, she’s assuming the state will be bombarded with big national Republican money.
    Calling Grisham a bundle of energy is probably cliché by now. It’s an apt description for a woman who is short, bouncy and so energetic she could be speaking from a trampoline. I can imagine her striding down hallways in the Capitol and cornering adversarial members twice her size.

  • Free-for-all democracy wilts

    A durable democracy is built on multiple means of inquiry. Since it s founding, our nation has thrived on three such methods: science, trial by jury, and generalized talk.
    Each method is ages old, indispensable and honored in its own right. Yet their vital distinctions grow dim in the flak of today’s politicking.
    A diligent focus on each method reveals what it does, how it does it and their defining differences. A clear sense of each method illuminates democracy itself.
    The scientific method seeks truth that applies reliably under hosts of varied conditions. To do this, science defines words with great exactness and seeks to include every factor that affects an outcome. The task of science is to determine how and to what extent each of many factors affects the net result. Over long periods, missing knowledge is filled in, but is never finished.
    Robust methods of inquiry also require means of testing the validity of conclusions.
    Science checks validity by replicating an experiment’s results and by peer review of both the experiments and the results. Replicating experimental results requires knowing, measuring and controlling every factor that affects the outcome. Validity grows more certain as an outcome is replicated more times in more places.

  • Climate change, air quality and health

    The third National Climate Assessment report, due to be released this month, confirms both the role of human activities in causing climate change and the broad range of adverse health consequences that climate change brings.
    The report was produced by the federal government’s multi-agency United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), established by Presidential initiative in 1989.

 The effects of climate change on human health are of particular concern to the physician and scientist members of the American Thoracic Society.
    Our patients have cardiopulmonary disease and, therefore, are particularly susceptible to the air pollution emitted along with the carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change, which, itself, is injurious to respiratory health.
    According to the World Health Organization, the No. 1 environmental cause of death in the world is particulate matter air pollution. The WHO estimates that outdoor air pollution in both cities and rural areas caused 3.7 million premature deaths worldwide in 2012.  

  • More resources, not jail time will curb behavioral health issues

     Wednesday’s Albuquerque Journal editorial expressing the need for a state law mandating outpatient treatment for seriously mentally ill persons, while provocative and while expressing a widely-held point of view, reaches a faulty conclusion. This is especially true when it attempts to link the need for this “Kendra’s Law” approach to the tragedy involving James Boyd.
    The editorial correctly points out that mandated outpatient treatment legislation has been considered and rejected several times by the Legislature in recent years. However, nothing in the Boyd situation changes the terms of the debate, or the reasons I’ve opposed Kendra’s Law in the past. Nor does it minimize the importance of finding a solution to both the need for more and better mental health resources and the need for the Albuquerque Police Department to stop shooting mentally ill people.
    While it is tempting to see forcing treatment on unwilling citizens as a single answer to two different issues, I actually don’t think it solves either.

  • The school of hard knocks

    There’s an old joke that goes “Why did the father hit his son in the head?”
    The answer is, “He wanted to make his head smart.”
    It’s really not that funny, especially when you consider the fact that students do get hit in the head, and it doesn’t make them smart.
    Head injuries have long been an ignored subject, and only recently have the dangers surfaced to public discussion. It took Dave Duerson’s suicide to prompt any real action to do more than just talk about whether or not it’s safe to get hit in the head.
    OK, I’m not a doctor. I haven’t studied the complexities of the brain. I don’t even know how the thing works.
    But my own brain works well enough to understand that hitting it repeatedly isn’t a good thing.
    Still, it’s big news when big money is involved. Last year, the National Football League agreed to a $765 million settlement for a lawsuit levied by retired players who were suffering from concussion-related injuries. The lawsuit stated that the league had failed to disclose the dangers of head trauma.

  • Organization helps businesses procure government contracts

    A business owner who believes the federal, state or local government could use his product or service often has little clue about how and where to make a pitch.
    Gil Torres found himself in this situation when he purchased Sigma Science in 2013 and wanted to expand the Los Alamos company’s reach beyond the work it did providing risk management and environmental safety and health services for Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories.
    Torres needed specific certifications to bid on certain government contracts. He began his search on the Small Business Administration website, where he discovered the New Mexico Small Business Development Center network’s Procurement Technical Assistance Program. PTAP is a federally and state-funded organization that helps small businesses obtain certifications and develop the capabilities and sophistication needed to compete for government contracts.
    Torres requested help from Elaine Palin, the PTAP adviser based in Santa Fe, to obtain 8(a) certification as a disadvantaged business enterprise based on his financial qualifications and ethnicity. He also wanted information about bid matching services and counseling to help him market his company to the Army, Navy and Air Force.

  • Resist urge to tap into retirement plans early

    I have yet to meet anyone who thinks they’re saving too much money for retirement. On the contrary, most people admit they’re probably setting aside too little. Retirement accounts must compete with daily expenses, saving up for a home, college and unexpected emergencies for every precious dollar.
    If taking money out of your IRA, 401(k), or other tax-sheltered plan is your best or only option, you should be aware of the possible impacts on your taxes and long-term savings objectives before raiding your nest egg:
    401(k) loans. Many 401(k) plans allow participants to borrow from their account to buy a home, pay for education, medical expenses, or other special circumstances. Generally, you may be allowed to borrow up to half your vested balance up to a maximum of $50,000 — or a reduced amount if you have other outstanding plan loans.
    Loans usually must be repaid within five years, although you may have longer if you’re using the loan to purchase your primary residence.
    Potential drawbacks to 401(k) loans include:
    • If you leave your job, even involuntarily, you must pay off the loan immediately (usually within 30 to 90 days), or you’ll owe income tax on the remainder — as well as a 10 percent early distribution penalty if you’re under age 59½.