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Columns

  • Analyze your benefits

    Admit it: You probably spend more time comparison shopping online than reviewing your annual benefits enrollment materials.
    That’s a big mistake because the money you could save by choosing the right employee benefits package probably far exceeds any savings you could get on a big-screen TV.
    For example, many people don’t sign up for an extremely valuable benefit – flexible spending accounts (FSAs).
    If your employer offers them, FSAs let you pay for eligible out-of-pocket health care and/or dependent care expenses on a pre-tax basis – that is, before federal, state and Social Security taxes are deducted from your paycheck.

  • Time to restructure

    As Jerome Block Jr. joins the roster of bad boys and girls forced to leave the state’s Public Regulation Commission, let’s look back and see how we got here.
    In 1996 voters passed a constitutional amendment to combine the State Corporation Commission, whose three members were elected on a statewide basis, and the Public Utility Commission, whose three members were appointed.
    It would be replaced by the Public Regulation Commission, whose five members would be elected by district.
    This super-agency would regulate utilities, phone companies, water and sewer systems, insurance, pipelines, and tow-truck operators.

  • It gets better

    They say death is the great equalizer. We all feel pretty much the same after we die.
    And when a loved one dies, the living all suffer the same pain of loss. And so it was for my friend when Bill died.  
    My friend was inconsolable and there was little anyone could do to ease the torment in his heart. Bill had died of AIDS and Mark was his friend, his life mate, his lover. But not his husband.
    As Tina Turner sang, what’s love got to do with it?
    Mark and Bill had lived together in a loving relationship for more than 20 years (far longer than most heterosexual marriages I know.)  
    The disease that took Bill’s life had been contracted by an infected blood supply, not by infidelity or promiscuity.  

  • Gerrymandering lives on

    Elbridge Gerry had quite a life. Born on July 17, 1744, in Marblehead, Mass., he died 70 years later in Washington, D.C.
    In the intervening years, Gerry graduated from Harvard University, where he immersed himself in classical studies.
    A decade later, he was serving in the Colonial House of Delegates before going on to become a member of the Continental Congress.
    It would be a dazzling political career that put Elbridge Gerry among that select group of American patriots who signed the Declaration of Independence and later among those who served in the new nation’s First and Second Congresses.
    His final triumph came in 1812, when he was elected vice president of the United States under President James Madison.

  • Stepping back from dam power

    Just over a century ago, when William Howard Taft was president and I was a young woman, an entrepreneur named Thomas Aldwell started building a dam in the Northwest woods of the Olympic peninsula in Washington.
    The 108-foot-high Elwha dam became an early hydroelectric powerhouse, helping to fuel population and industrial growth related to activities as varied as forestry and ship-building.  
    Over the following decades more hydro-dams in the West were built.
    Mega-dams like Grand Coulee and Boulder rose across rivers, and the cost for electricity to users dropped sharply.

  • Government only helps

    Here’s the recipe for growing an economy:
    “The growth rate of real per capita output is the sum of the growth rate of real per capita labor input and productivity growth.
    Productivity … is determined by the technology and regulatory structure of the economy and therefore is largely independent of spending policies.”
    The good words come from two economists, Harold L. Cole of the University of Pennsylvania and Lee E. Ohanian of UCLA. Their essay appeared Sept. 26 in the Wall Street Journal.
    Growing real per capita labor input means more people working more. Doing more stuff and doing existing tasks more efficiently grows productivity.
    Companies are doing something about growing real per capita output.

  • Fracking cracks open the crannies

    “Fracking” is shoptalk for hydraulic fracturing. The technology uses mixtures of fluids and sand under pressure to crack rocks underground and prop open the cracks.
    In the right rocks, the technique frees natural gas trapped in mini-pockets and adds greatly to the nation’s supply of the popular fuel.
    It works too for extracting oil. The industry proudly promotes fracking. A persistent TV ad shows a lady riding a see-through elevator deep into the Earth to highlight the value of fracking while suggesting no risks.
    But everything has risks. The chance of error and unknowns lurks on every side.
    The policy questions are what are the risks, who bears the risks and how can the total risk be cut.

  • Call for broadband access

    This week, two New Mexico health care professionals, two online learning educators and a small business owner, will travel to Washington, D.C. to ask congressional leaders to support efforts to expand broadband access to rural and underserved areas.
    Debra Newman, a physician’s assistant at a rural health center in Espanola, will lead the delegation.
    Joining her on the trip are William Dubois, a diabetes educator and resident of Pecos Valley; Alice Hopkins-Loy, Field Manager of Fast Forward New Mexico and resident of Santa Fe and Eva Artschwager, University of New Mexico distance-learning professor and resident of San Miguel County.

  • Just A Wag 09-30-11

    Facing one’s fifth decade with grace

    Rumor has it that a certain director of a local organization has come to the end of her 40s on Thursday — turning old enough to join her very own program.

    Send us your wags

    “Just a wag” features initial snippets of news heard around town. 
    The wags may grow to larger stories or simply remain snippets, either way this is meant to spark interest and provide food for thought.
    E-mail wags to lanews@lamonitor.com.

  • Breeding better wheat

    I spent this past summer trudging through six-mile treks each weekend with two good friends.
    We walked along the edge of wheat fields outside of town.
    My friends and I qualify as middle-aged ladies, so the walks counted as significant exercise — sad but true.
    One of the interesting things about the walks was simply observing the growth and ripening of the wheat fields by which we passed.
    We depend on wheat for bread, pasta, animal feed, noodles and perhaps most importantly — fresh-baked cinnamon rolls.
    Watching a whole field of wheat grow up, turn from green to gold, and finally be harvested is a magical production that never grows old, at least for us hayseeds.