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Columns

  • Businesses can learn from crisis and communications mishaps

    Good policy fosters good public relations, just as flawed policy fosters bad public relations.
    New Mexico residents have only to look at recent crises at the Albuquerque Police Department, Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and state Human Services Department for proof of how an organization can exacerbate its situation with poor communication and vague, inconsistent messaging.
    Business owners can learn from these examples how — and how not — to handle crisis communications. First they need to understand why high-profile accidents or events develop into stories with “legs” that carry them forward for weeks or longer.
    The “News Bottle”
    The life span of a crisis depends on how quickly the afflicted organization shares facts with core audiences. This dissemination of information can be seen as a “news bottle.”
    When a crisis erupts and facts are few, the bottle fills with accusation as people assign blame for what happened. Absent experts, anyone can claim expertise, especially on unfiltered social media sites.

  • Help mom get organized this year

    Mother’s Day is May 11. If you’re wracking your brain for ways to show your mom appreciation for all the sacrifices she made while raising you, here’s a thought: Why not offer to spend some time helping to sort through her financial, legal and medical paperwork to make sure everything is in order?
    While flowers and candy offer immediate gratification, I’ll bet your mom will truly appreciate the long-term value of getting her records in order now so that she — and you — will be able to take appropriate actions later on, should the need arise.
    Some of the areas you might want to organize include:
    Retirement income sources. Gather these documents so your mom will have a better idea how much income she’ll have available throughout retirement:
    Register your mom at mySocialSecurity (socialsecurity.gov/myaccount) to gain access to personalized estimates of retirement, disability and survivors benefits, lifetime earnings records and estimated Social Security and Medicare taxes paid.
    You’ll also need your dad’s statement to determine any potential spousal or survivor benefits for which she might be eligible, so sign him up as well.

  • Entrepreneurs to connect with experts

    Entrepreneurs who seek a “temporary, mutually beneficial relationship” with a scientist or engineer might get lucky at a new and innovative style of event that aims to stimulate potentially productive hookups. The May 14 event, “The Eureka Effect,” is sponsored by the New Mexico Small Business Assistance (NMSBA) program, the Santa Fe Business Incubator (SFBI) and Los Alamos Connect, the principal economic development investment by Los Alamos National Security, LLC and Los Alamos National Laboratory, administered by the Regional Development Corporation.
    The sponsors liken the event to “speed dating, only smarter.” They hope to match LANL scientists and engineers with entrepreneurs who need free technical or scientific assistance to solve their technical challenges.
    Each entrepreneur gets about five minutes of individual face time with a diverse group of scientists and engineers from Los Alamos National Laboratory. “If there’s a spark, there will be plenty of time to kindle it” during the open networking section that follows, said Sean O’Shea, program director at SFBI.

  • Why disability insurance is critical

    Most people understand why having life insurance is a good idea: Nobody wants to leave their survivors in a financial lurch if they were to die suddenly. But what if you suffer an accident or illness and don’t die, but rather, become severely disabled? Could you or your family make ends meet without your paycheck, possibly for decades?
    Although most people are entitled to Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits if they’ve paid sufficient FICA payroll taxes over the years, the eligibility rules are extremely strict, applying can take many months, and the average monthly benefit is only about $1,150.
    So what are your other disability coverage options? Many companies provide sick leave and short-term disability coverage to reimburse employees during brief periods of illness or injury. Some also provide long-term disability (LTD) insurance that replaces a percentage of pay for an extended period of time.
    But employer-provided LTD plans usually replace only about 60 percent of pay and the money you receive is considered taxable income, further lowering your benefit’s worth. Plus, such plans often have a waiting period before benefits kick in, will carve out any SSDI benefits you receive, and cap the monthly benefit amount and maximum payout period (often as little as two years).

  • State Supreme Court finds lost tribe

     The Fort Sill Apaches are now, by order of the state Supreme Court, a New Mexico Indian tribe. But what impact that decision might have on the tribe’s tiny reservation near Deming and on economic development in southwestern New Mexico remains an open question.
    Luna County, where the tribe’s smokeshop and restaurant just off I-10 at Akela employs 11 people, could certainly use a boost. Its jobless rate was a whopping 18.8 percent in February, nearly three times the state’s 6.7 percent.
    The court’s decision requires Gov. Susana Martinez to invite the Fort Sill Apaches to the annual meeting where tribes and state discuss how to divvy up the pool of severance tax bonds set aside annually for tribal infrastructure.
    Tribal Chairman Jeff Haozous said he didn’t know what his people might hope to get out of this year’s summit, scheduled for July 17-18. “It’s like going to a new restaurant,” Haozous said. “When you first sit down at the table, you want to look at the menu and see what’s available.”

  • Exit rate up four-fold, income is stagnant

     The number of people moving from New Mexico increased almost four-fold during the 2012-2013 year. Rats leaving the ship? Maybe. Even the silvery minnow, that ever-endangered consumer of money in the mid-Rio Grande, is in more trouble than usual.
    The silence from our so-called leaders is deafening.
    The numbers are from the Census Bureau and are the most recent available. The rate calculation is mine. Births, deaths and moving provide the numbers adding to total population change. The sum of births and deaths are what the jargon calls “natural increase.”
    The deaths part of natural increase has gotten closer the past few months. In addition to my mom leaving us last August, four friends lost parents in the past few months. A group worth passing mention and honor are the people who as young scientists and support people staffed the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos during World War II and, after the war, stayed and made New Mexico the world-class center of research for national security.
    Six counties had too few births to offset the number of deaths during the 2010-to-2013 time. Sierra County led with a “negative natural increase” of 406. The others were Catron, Grant, Guadalupe, Quay and Union.

  • The national media take on Susana

    For the second time, a national magazine has published a tell-all article about Gov. Susana Martinez. Both articles have aimed at getting behind the gauzy image projected by her tightly controlled, nonstop campaign machine to expose the workings of the machine itself.
    The previous article, published last November in National Journal, dealt in depth with the relationship between Martinez and her excessively influential political adviser Jay McCleskey.
    The current article, in the left-of-center magazine Mother Jones, is titled, “Is New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez the Next Sarah Palin?”
    It’s based in large part on unusual source material, which the author describes as “previously unreleased audio recordings, text messages and emails obtained by Mother Jones that “reveal a side of Martinez the public has rarely, if ever, seen. In private, Martinez can be nasty, juvenile and vindictive. She appears ignorant about basic policy issues and has surrounded herself with a clique of advisers who are prone to a foxhole mentality.”

  • McMillian's remarks need clarification

    Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Charlie McMillan’s April 9 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee regarding plutonium infrastructure and pit production, summarized by the Los Alamos Monitor on April 18, contained errors, lacked context and should be clarified.
    McMillan’s remarks create the impression that a) it is necessary to build expensive new pit production facilities at LANL sooner rather than later (or never), and b) LANL should create all, not just some, of the analytical chemistry (AC) necessary for large pit production campaigns. In McMillan’s view, NNSA should ignore existing plutonium labs elsewhere in the nuclear weapons complex, which might provide cost-effective expansion space if needed, in favor of building additional new space at LANL.
    McMillan exaggerates the risk of shipping very small analytical chemistry (AC) samples of plutonium to other sites, and assumes shipment would be done through commercial vendors. Such shipments are routine today and believed safe. Risks could be mitigated further if desired, and in any case small shipments need not be done (and have not always been done) commercially.

  • Easter-themed pets can be a huge responsibility

    From the abundance of chocolate candies lining the grocery store aisles to the colorful dresses hung in the children’s departments at the mall, there are many joyous symbols associated with the Easter holiday.
    Two very popular symbols, both irresistibly adorable and covered in fluff, are a chick or bunny on Easter morning. While giving these as gifts may seem like fun ways to celebrate the holiday at the time, it is important to remember that they are still long-term commitments that come with a lot of responsibility.
    Are you prepared to take on the challenge of caring for your little Easter fur ball once the holiday passes?
    Baby chicks are available for purchase at most any feed supply store for the low price of $1 for 3. Because of their easy availability and low initial cost, chicks are often impulse Easter purchases that people make without taking into consideration their present and future care requirements. As with all other pets, they too will soon outgrow their cute, baby-like phase.
    “An impulse pet is always a bad purchase,” said Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “It may look cute in the store, but Easter is gone in a day and then you have an animal to take care of long term.”

  • Some lines just can't be crossed

    A few weeks back, there was some discussion in the paper about the N-word.
    Earlier this year, the NFL began formal discussions on whether the N-word should be banned, and if so what penalty should be levied against a player for using it.
    African-American Richard Sherman, football cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks, thinks banning the N-word is in itself racist. He noted, “It’s weird they’re targeting one specific word. Why wouldn’t all curse words be banned then?”
    Sherman added that when spoken by an African-American and pronounced ending in “-a”, it is not racist.  In fact, in that situation, it’s considered a term of endearment.
    Term of endearment?  Harry Carlson, another African American NFL player, but from a generation prior, disagrees. He challenged younger players who use the “-a” version to “go visit your grandfather and use it on him. See how endeared he feels!”