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Columns

  • I'm dreaming of a white Santa

    Well, another Christmas come and gone. Insanely long lines of people waiting for stores to open so they could buy the Santa-butt neck pillow have been replaced with insanely long lines of people waiting for the exchange window to open so they could return the Santa-butt neck pillow they received as a gift.
    Christmas, as we know it, began when the church adopted the annual festival of Saturn (“Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun”) and declared Dec. 25 to be the birthday of Jesus.
    Saturnalia was quite the celebration back then. For a week, Roman authorities would discard law and order, punishing no one for theft, rape, damaging of property and other fun holiday activities. One “honored” person would be declared “Lord of Misrule,” forced to gorge himself on rich foods and engage in physical pleasures for the week and then murdered as a sacrifice to Saturn.
    The holiday’s intent was to commemorate the return of light (Winter Solstice). The mayhem and sex and murder were added just to make the week more fun.
    Today, the holiday is a time for quiet family dinners, solemn religious observances, and frantic ripping open of packages to see what Uncle Bob got you for Christmas. (Damn it! He got me a Santa-butt neck pillow!)

  • Help the unemployed, not Wall Street

    When holiday shoppers make a bad choice, the worst result may be an ugly sweater. But Congress recently made a bad choice that will ruin the holidays for more than one million families — and will spoil the coming new year for millions more.
    That was the decision — imposed by conservatives — not to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, while maintaining huge tax loopholes for wealthy Wall Streeters and multinational corporations. Congress can reverse its choice in early January, but the clock is ticking.
    We are emerging from the worst employment crisis in three-quarters of a century. Job losses in the Great Recession were very deep. The unemployment rate hit 10 percent for only the second time since the 1930s, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Moreover, the ranks of the long-term unemployed — those out of work for more than six months — hit a post-World War II record. Even now, over a third of those out of work have been so long term.  
    And little wonder: in November, there were almost three unemployed people for every job opening. The problem isn’t that people don’t want to work; it’s that there aren’t enough jobs.

  • Do homework before buying timeshare

    Full disclosure: I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of timeshares. I understand the appeal of having a guaranteed vacation home in an area you love and being able to swap your unit for a place halfway around the world.
    But I worry that many buyers don’t consider all associated costs and mistakenly think timeshares are sound financial investments that will appreciate in value. In fact, sellers rarely make a profit — some only get pennies on the dollar. Plus, the waters are filled with sharks eager to rip off people desperately trying to unload unwanted timeshares.
    Before you buy a timeshare, understand how they work, challenges you may face when trying to resell and scams to avoid:
    Timeshares are usually either:
    • “Deeded,” where you own a share of the property, usually for a particular unit for a specified time period — typically one or two weeks a year. Depending on your contract, you either own it for life, for a specified number of years, or until you sell it.

  • A community’s beating heart

    It’s Christmas. Let’s talk about love. Specifically, love of community.
    Last month, a friend and I had our noses pressed to the glass of the Artesia Public Library, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Peter Hurd mural rescued from Houston’s former MD Anderson Cancer Center, which was demolished last year. The construction foreman spotted us and invited us in for a tour.
    The Hurd, even shrouded in protective plastic, was magnificent, and the rest of the library, with its inviting children’s area and computer stations was also impressive.
    The mural, all 58,000 pounds of it, was trucked 840 miles to storage in a Midland hangar until the library was ready. Our guide explained how they removed a portion of the roof to lower the 46-by-16-foot painting on its original curved wall, ever so carefully, into place. It’s the largest fresco ever to be moved successfully.
    Of the library’s $12 million cost, half is shouldered by private donations, and the name we kept hearing was Estelle Yates. Artesia’s first library was her doing, we were told, and she was the prime mover of this one.

  • One of the most powerful lessons during Christmas

    The entire country pauses on Dec. 25, as Christians commemorate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, known to Christians as God’s Christ and Savior, and known to many as The Prince of Peace.
    The impact of this one special life has reverberated through the centuries. Kingdoms and governments rise and fall; the celebrities of one generation are largely forgotten by the next; powerful institutions and organizations — from central banks to giant business enterprises to mighty armies — come and go, but the influence of Jesus of Nazareth endures.
    From the very beginning, Jesus’ mission was misunderstood. Many of his own people had expected God to send them a mighty man of war, not a healer and teacher.
    Today also, Christians often misunderstand their Savior, as when they invoke the New Testament as justification for government to forcibly redistribute wealth in the name of charity. The social gospel, social justice, and liberation theology strains of Christianity have overlooked one fundamental principle of Jesus’ life — one that should be especially obvious at this time of year when we think of Jesus as a tiny infant: He never used force to compel others to do good.

  • State's finances look pretty good, job growth approaches zero

    Looking ahead at the coming budget year for state government, the overall view from the Legislative Finance Committee is, “All of a sudden we find ourselves in a pretty good fiscal situation.”
    That means that $293 million in “new money” should appear during the year starting July 1, 2014, LFC Director David Abbey told the Legislative Outlook Conference of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute.
    The conference was Dec. 19 in Albuquerque, attracted the central players in the New Mexico tax conversation, about 150 business people, lobbyists, economists, legislators, government officials and policy wonks.
    The new money results from 5.5 percent growth in revenue to the general fund, the state’s main operating pot of money, and declining Medicaid costs, which eat one-sixth of the budget, Abbey said. The 2014 legislative session offers “quite a good opportunity to address the needs,” he said.
    The new financial situation follows a tough few years. Fiscal years 2009 and 2010 saw a 20 percent drop in general fund revenue. During the next two years, the state fought to maintain key services and adequate reserves. Then the state had to undo the previous four years of patches.

  • 2014: Out with the old, in with the … old?

    At years end reflections on some of the people and events that helped shape the political news during the final weeks of 2013 seem appropriate.
    Preeminent among those people, in this reporter’s opinion, is the late John Dendahl.
    For anyone who has paid the slightest attention to New Mexico political affairs over the past quarter of a century, John’s passing at age 75 on Nov. 9 is cause for remembrance. Dendahl was a sophisticated man, graceful in comportment and gracious in manner, a witty and bright conversationalist, with a sense of humor as keen as his political passions.
    I liked him.
    But he was a fierce political adversary who spent nearly a decade (1994-2003) as New Mexico Republican Party chairman, a post in which his seemingly natural instinct for the jugular could stun and enrage political opponents of the Democratic persuasion.
    I once told John that he was easily the most partisan person I had ever known, Republican or Democrat. He laughed and said, “Well, thank you, Hal. Coming from you, that’s a compliment.”
    In a way, it was.

  • Why was your credit card transaction denied?

    We’ve all had these moments: You’re at a romantic restaurant and the evening went great. But just as you and your date are readying to leave, an embarrassed waiter appears and whispers, “I’m afraid your card has been denied.” So much for romance.
    The same thing can happen at the grocery store, when shopping online or worst of all, when you’re traveling and don’t have a back-up means of payment. Why do credit card transactions get denied and what can you do to prevent it?
    Banks and other credit card issuers have developed complex algorithms that track credit card behavior and highlight unusual usage patterns commonly associated with card theft or fraud.
    “Unusual activities” that jump out to card issuers include:
    • When you ordinarily use your card only rarely, but suddenly make several charges in one day.
    • Making multiple purchases at the same store (or website) within a few minutes of each other.
    • An unusually large purchase — say for a major appliance, furniture, or jewelry. Alert your card issuer before making large purchases.
    One small purchase quickly followed by larger ones. Thieves will test the waters to see if a small purchase is denied; if it’s not, they’ll quickly run up major charges.

  • Turn down the volume on education reform

    Ever wonder why we never make any headway in the education debate?
    Instead of rearguing the same points, maybe we should be looking at the language, the people, and the need to separate education from politics.
    The discussion tends to sound like this:
    “Our test scores are terrible. Our kids can’t read.”
    “Tests discriminate against New Mexico’s English-language learners and cultural groups, so the scores tell us nothing.”
    From the get-go, the parties to the discussion don’t accept a common measure of progress. It should be possible to design an acceptable test and agree to a frequency, but mistrust runs too high.
    We usually think of the state’s kids as being like the ones we know. Because local economies in the state vary wildly from flush to flushed, it’s hard for people who are comfortable to imagine kids who go to school hungry, kids who stay home to protect their moms from an abusive dad, kids who nod off in class because they’re working full-time to help support the family.

  • Eichenberg obvious choice for Democratic state treasurer nomination

    ’Tis the season of good cheer, virtuous thoughts, and, for some us, without apology, celebrating holidays by the actual names — Christmas, Hanukkah, even Kwanzaa.
    Amidst all this high-minded sentiment lurk people seeking to lay upon the society their word, their logos or scheme for the world.
    This laying upon comes under the umbrella of paternalism. A persuasive exploration of this idea is found at spiked.com, a British online current affairs magazine that calls itself “a metaphorical missile against misanthropy.” See capitolreportnm.blogspot.com for the link.
    John Wertheim, of Santa Fe, offers local salvation in his campaign for the Democratic nomination for State Treasurer. Wertheim has run for office before. In 1996, not yet 30, he took on Rep. Steve Schiff and was soundly trashed. That experience propelled him to chairmanship (probably I should say “chair” to remove gender identity) of the Democratic Party.
    A Wertheim fundraising email said, “From full funding for critical Early Childhood Education to a ‘New Mexico Tomorrow Fund’ to help New Mexico families struggling to pay for college, I have a vision for what the state treasurer’s office can do to kick-start New Mexico’s economy, create good jobs and invest in kids.”