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Columns

  • Testing Susana's teflon coating

    Half jokingly, this reporter recently observed that the ease with which Gov. Susana Martinez sails through potentially damaging scandals makes one wonder if she had herself dipped in Teflon before taking office.
    Only days later, along comes a lengthy National Journal article by Chicago-based reporter Daniel Libit detailing the substantial and pervasive influence her top political advisor, 39-year-old Republican consultant Jay McCleskey, enjoys over the governor, and Susana’s smooth sailing turned turbulent.
    “The Shadow Governor,” McCleskey has been dubbed.
    McCleskey claims credit for masterminding Martinez’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign. It’s a case of claiming credit where credit is due.
    After winning the election, however, McCleskey, stayed on behind the scenes as her political consultant, the eminence grise without any kind of official position in state government. The portrait that emerges is of an inexperienced and pliant governor dependent on her wily and controlling overseer.
    It’s a widely shared view in New Mexico political circles, Republican no less than Democratic, and has been for some time. But Libit’s National Journal account documents that impression and gives it credibility beyond the realm of political gossip and grousing.

  • Afghanistan remains daunting

    Last week a remarkable exchange about the future role of the United States military in Afghanistan took place on the MSNBC program “Andrea Mitchell Reports.” In a discussion of the U.S. government’s uncertain negotiations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the continued presence of U.S. troops beyond 2014, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, pointed out that, between the Karzai talks and the negotiations with Afghanistan’s next-door neighbor Iran, the Obama administration has a daunting task.
    Part of the administration’s objective, Engel said, is to protect the legacy of America’s longest war. For a lot of the soldiers we’ve been speaking to, this is personal. They’ve come here time and time again. They’ve invested so much. They’ve put their family lives on hold. They’ve lost friends here. So the collapse of Afghanistan would be in a certain way a personal affront to what they have done. So you also have to keep the investment, personal and otherwise, that the United States has put into military into this conflict — and that’s also part of this calculation.
    To which the show’s host, Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Mitchell, replied, “That’s probably the most important part of the calculation.”

  • How to prepare for a holiday puppy or kitten

    If you ask most children what they would like for Christmas, at some point in their young lives the answer will be a puppy or kitten. This answer has always been a difficult one for anyone trying to keep up Santa’s image. Unlike most gifts, it can’t be simply put away in a toy box or given away to some charity after the new has worn off. And, of course, all cute puppies and kittens grow up to be not-so-cute cats and dogs with needs and concerns of their own.
    Having an answer that will delay the expectation of owning a pet to a time that is more appropriate is a good start for those who are not ready to take on the responsibility.
    For those thinking of adding to their family this holiday season, October is the time to begin planning for a 15 to 20-year commitment, not the week before Christmas when your child asks for a new pet.

  • Solar company doubles productivity at Socorro plant

    Dennis Grubb will tell you that partnering with the New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) was one of the best business decisions he ever made — not counting the decision to move his solar products business, Solaro Energy, from California to New Mexico.
    Within a year of building a production facility in a business park just outside Socorro, the solar industry veteran had doubled productivity at the plant where his company’s solar powered attic fans and electronic skylights are assembled. He had outgrown his original space, requiring the construction of two more buildings.
    Grubb, who designed and engineered every Solaro innovation, applauds the business-friendly environment in New Mexico and the training he and his work force obtained from MEP, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping businesses increase profitability and competitiveness by streamlining production to its most efficient essentials.
    The collaboration began with a phone call from MEP at just the right time — when Grubb realized his company needed to purge the production process of bugs and bottlenecks. “We realized we needed to improve our efficiency,” he said.

  • Fear of '13' and origins of words

    A fun aspect of teaching math is that I get to share stories about numbers with my students. The number “13” of course holds a special place in society and students love learning words like triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13). I explain to them that “tris” means “three” and “dek” means “ten.”
    This gives me the opportunity to demonstrate how words contain numerical prefixes taken from Latin and Greek, using these prefixes to define properties of cardinality, such as bi-cycle, cent-ennial, and sex-agenarian (one of my favorites!).
    Other favorites of mine are the months Sept-ember, Oct-ober, Nov-ember and Dec-ember. I get to tell my students how October got its name, it being the eighth month of the year and “oct” means “eight,” as in octopus or octagon.
    It always takes a minute or two for one of them to realize that October is the 10th month of the year, and then I get to talk about the history and mathematics of calendars and dates.
    Now, we have a Friday the 13th approaching in December. So I’ll get to use the word friggatriskaidekaphobia (fear of Friday the 13th). But in this case, the prefix “frigga” has nothing to do with numbers.

  • Pet Talk: Finding the right place to sleep

    Just as we desire to curl up in bed after a long day at work, our pets enjoy a comfortable place to rest from an afternoon of guarding the house or chasing squirrels in the backyard. With so many types of elaborate bedding to choose from, selecting the right one for Fluffy and Fido can be a bit daunting. Here are some tips to make the bedding hunt a little easier.
    The best bedding for your dog or cat is one tailored to their specific needs and preferences. First, observe how they prefer to sleep. Does Fido like to sprawl out on the floor, cuddle on the couch or rest on a big pillow? This can give you a good idea of what exactly they would enjoy in their own bedding. Next, factor in their age, size, and any specific health requirements they might have.

  • Over-testing is driving education out of schools

    Over the last few years our state has seen a massive push from the governor’s administration to drive education improvements through an increase in testing in our schools. In isolation this might seem like results-minded reform, but in conjunction with the testing efforts already in place, the resulting “over-testing” is taking the learning right out of our schools.
    In the last few months, I have received hundreds of complaints about over-testing from teachers, parents, students, principals and concerned New Mexican Democrats and Republicans. These complaints also stress deep objection to the continuing trend of out-of-state, for-profit testing companies’ intrusion into the classroom.
    Conceptually, citizens and legislators agree that our state is in dire need of improvement in our education system. Over the last decade our school system, locally and nationally, has been transforming. New technologies, new challenges and new pedagogy have changed the way we learn and the way we teach. We also have come a long way with academic performance measurement. We now know just how behind our kids are and how we stack up to other states because of standardized testing and common core curriculums, which enable comparison and progress-tracking year after year.

  • New Mexico workers’ comp. system doesn’t help in competition for jobs

    This year’s big news about workers’ compensation is that things are getting slightly worse, slowly, though some of the trends are not so bad. In other words, it’s not big news. As a factor in the state’s economic competitiveness, it’s not good news.
    The National Council on Compensation Insurance, NCCI, presented its annual New Mexico statistical report recently. NCCI provides the analysis used by the insurance industry to set rates in workers’ comp.
    Premiums will be going up. That’s never good news. New Mexico businesses insured in the voluntary market (where most businesses buy insurance) will see an average increase of 4 percent in the coming year. The residual market, also called the Assigned Risk Pool, will see a 2.2 percent increase. This market is for businesses that can’t get coverage in the voluntary market, usually because they are new, very small or higher risk. It always costs more.
    About half the states that report to NCCI are showing premium reductions rather than increases this year. New Mexico’s 4 percent increase is among the highest in the country.

  • Over age 70? Don’t forget mandatory IRA withdrawals

    With final holiday preparations looming, the last thing anyone wants to think about is next April’s tax bill. But if you’re over age 70½ and have any tax-deferred retirement accounts (like an IRA), put down the wrapping paper and listen up: IRS rules say that, with few exceptions, you must take required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your accounts by December 31 of each year — and pay taxes on them — or face severe financial penalties.
    Here’s what you need to know about RMDs:
    • Congress devised IRAs, 401(k) plans and other tax-deferred retirement accounts to encourage people to save for their own retirement. Aside from Roth plans, people generally contribute “pretax” dollars to these accounts, which means the contributions and their investment earnings aren’t taxed until withdrawn after retirement.
    In exchange for allowing your account to grow tax-free for decades, Congress also decreed that minimum amounts must be withdrawn — and taxed — each year after you reach 70½. To ensure these rules are followed, unless you meet certain narrowly defined conditions, you’ll have to pay an excess accumulation tax equal to 50 percent of the RMD you should have taken; plus you’ll still have to take the distribution and pay regular income tax on it.

  • Governor should remove training wheels

    After the governor went to New Jersey to campaign with her counterpart, we saw a lot of media gushing over the possible Republican dream team of two moderates — Chris Christie and Susana Martinez.
    Here in New Mexico, we wondered about this newly minted moderate and bipartisan governor. Is this the same Susana who ran blistering, below-the-belt attack ads against Democrats in 2012? The same Susana who has spent far more time with her dukes up than her hand outstretched toward legislative Dems? The same Susana who… You get the drift.
    When I’ve asked Democratic lawmakers during the session if they’ve seen the governor, most haven’t. One said she had: “She basically told us what she wants us to do.”
    Apparently the omniscient national pundits don’t know that, but now they know about New Mexico’s Karl Rove.
    A Nov. 23 National Journal story about Martinez and her ever present political consultant, Jay McCleskey, exploded into the political heavens, bringing hope and campaign fodder to the five Democratic candidates for governor and slowing the trajectory of Martinez’s national star.
    The story was pretty much old news here, but it dangled a few revelations.