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Columns

  • Do teachers have to be defiant to do their jobs?

    The special education teacher told me the kind of story you’d want to hear from a special education teacher.
    A girl in fifth grade couldn’t read and could barely speak. Nothing was working for her.
    The teacher found a reading program designed for autistic children and fought the bureaucracy to get approval to be trained in it. She gave the program to the girl and it worked. Other special education teachers have heard the story and are asking for the same program.
    She can’t fight any more, she says. She’s on a long leave of absence and may simply retire.
    I’ve been asking New Mexico teachers how they are faring in the brave new world of public education. My question: Is there still room for creativity or spontaneity in teaching? Are they able to bring their own ideas and abilities into their activities? Can they to respond to whatever is happening, in the world or in that classroom, regardless of what’s on the day’s official task list?
    The first thing to know is this: Nobody’s happy. The problem, they say, is testing, testing, testing.
    We’ve all been hearing these complaints: Too many days spent on testing itself, too many more days devoted to teaching just for the tests, and test results applied not to improve students’ education, but to grade teachers.

  • Sky's the limit on small-loan interest rates in New Mexico

    Payday loans, title loans, signature loans. New Mexico has more than 656 small lenders operating in nearly every town. On a nearby street, they’re so thick they perch next to one another, like turkey vultures on a snag.
    There’s a small argument to be made for their services, but they’re basically a drain on the economy.
    Lawmakers have tried to get a handle on small lenders since at least 1999, but we haven’t seen much impact. In 2007, the Legislature cracked down by limiting payday loans to 35 days, prohibiting indefinite loan rollovers, and capping interest rates at 400 percent. The small lenders just found ways around it.
    Cash Loans Now and American Cash Loans (with offices in Albuquerque, Farmington and Hobbs) avoided the net by shifting from payday lending to signature loans, which require no collateral.
    In 2009, the attorney general sued the two companies for predatory lending and for an interest rate in excess of 1,400 percent a year. On June 26, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of borrowers. The interest rate, said both courts, was “unconscionable.” One borrower earned $9 an hour at a grocery store; the $100 loan had a finance charge of $1,000. Another, earning $10.71 at a hospital, got a $200 loan with a finance charge of $2,160.

  • Defending our right to be wrong

    I love this country and everything it stands for, especially our Constitutional rights to pursue happiness and to taunt the relatives of gay soldiers at funerals.
    It’s no coincidence that the Founding Fathers chose “2,” the first prime number, as the Amendment to highlight our right to bear heavy armaments. It’s a prime example of the wisdom that allows our nation to boast some of the highest firearm injury and death rates in the world.
    Uruguay and El Salvador still beat us in the suicide-by-firearms statistics, but with a little help from gun rights advocates, we’ll get there! Nothing says, “I’m proud to be American” better than shooting your mouth off with low caliber thinking.
    Recently, law abiding citizens were once again under attack by pinko fascist socialist hippie Nazi zombies who want to take away all our guns and sharp knives, and force us to eat soggy free-range veggie burgers on recycled paper plates.
    I happen to know that the Founding Fathers did not eat veggie burgers.
    OK, so a 9-year old girl accidentally shot and killed a shooting range instructor with a fully automatic 9mm Uzi.
    Six years ago, a similar incident occurred when an 8-year old boy died after shooting himself in the head with an Uzi at a gun show in Massachusetts while shooting at a pumpkin.

  • Social Security to resume mailed benefit statements

    Call it a paperless experiment that didn’t quite pan out. In 2011, a budget-strapped Social Security Administration (SSA) stopped mailing annual benefit statements to workers over 25 in order to save $70 million on annual printing and mailing costs.
    In return, the agency launched the “my Social Security” online tool that allows 24/7 access to your statement, as well as other helpful information. (Your statement shows a complete record of your taxable earnings, as well as estimated retirement, disability and survivor benefits.)
    Although more than 13 million people have opened accounts, that’s only about 6 percent of the American workforce. With millions of Baby Boomers at or approaching retirement age, Congress was justifiably concerned that not enough people were accessing this critical retirement-planning tool.
    That’s why this month SSA will resume mailing paper statements every five years to workers from ages 25 to 60, provided they haven’t already signed up for online statements. The expectation is that more people will migrate to electronic services over time, as Social Security continues to close field offices and reduce in-office paperwork services — thanks to years of funding cutbacks.

  • Fix social issues by legalizing pot

    New Mexico has a mix of fermenting social problems that could be fixed by the passage of a bill that would regulate marijuana like alcohol.
    Legalizing recreational marijuana use and possession for adults would provide users with a safer alternative to alcohol given the likelihood of it creating safer access for them.
    Safer access means consumers buying their product from a state and county-licensed retailer instead of an anonymous street dealer with cartel connections.
    Generally, marijuana has been a safer alternative because users tend to remain in control of their behavior and don’t generally commit acts of violence, or sexual assaults as people occasionally do when they are drinking.
    Reported sexual assaults, murders, and robberies have all decreased in Denver, since marijuana was legalized in January 2013. My hunch is that there are fewer black-market drug deals going bad. More people socializing with weed means less women are being sexually assaulted by aggressive drunks at parties.
    In New Mexico, drinking alcohol is ingrained as a cultural norm.
    During the last 30 years that the United States Census Bureau collected comparable data, New Mexico was among the top-three states for total alcohol-related deaths.

  • What to do with surplus from the War on Terror

    Now that even President Barack Obama has noticed the Imperial Storm Trooper syndrome spreading through our law enforcement agencies, maybe we can start talking about how to rid ourselves of all that expensive military surplus hardware the Pentagon has been handing out.
    A young friend who served a tour in Iraq managing a motor pool recently explained to me why the Army was so eager to unload all those heavily-armored white elephants: “maintenance and maneuverability.”
    The battle to overcome the IED threat in Iraq and Afghanistan makes a fascinating case study in the symbiotic evolution of opposing weapons systems, ongoing since the first man learned to tie his sharp rock to a stick and the other guy started stacking his rocks to make a wall.
    What started with the troops jury-rigging steel plates to their humvees to defend against artillery shells buried in the roadway continued with a crash program to develop ever more “mine resistant” vehicles, while the jihadists responded by building bigger and more sophisticated bombs.
    With the final generation of mine-resistant vehicles, we arrived at an evolutionary dead end: nearly invulnerable armored behemoths too heavy to venture off the main paved roads and too clumsy to maneuver through narrow city streets. (The dinosaurs made the same mistake.)

  • Opening up primary elections … or not

    There is a good chance that state Sen. Bill O’Neill and state Rep. Emily Kane, both Albuquerque Democrats, will be reelected this fall and soon thereafter find themselves once more at the Roundhouse for another 60-day legislative session.
    Which leaves the rest of us ample time to reflect upon legislation they intend to propose at the 2015 Legislature that would substantially change the nature of primary elections in New Mexico.
    Primary elections were widely adopted by the states in the last century as a way of breaking the stranglehold powerful and often corrupt political bosses had in deciding who would be allowed to run for public offices under the banners of the two major parties.
    It was the reformers’ idea that registered members of those parties should be able to go to the polls in a primary election and decide such matters for themselves. Thus, for decades now in states across the country, registered Democrats and registered Republican pick the candidates who will appear on their general election ballots.
    But times and party registration change. As noted a couple of weeks ago in this column, there are today almost as many registered voters who are neither Republican nor Democratic as there are registered Democrats and Republicans combined.

  • Mission creep in Iraq

    There are several reasons not to intervene militarily in another country’s conflict, even modestly. One is the potential for mission creep.
    We already could detect the signs of mission creep in Iraq. Now, with the stepped-up United States airstrikes after the Islamic State’s horrific execution of American reporter James Foley, the signs are clearer than ever.
    On Aug. 7, President Barack Obama said that the U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq were to protect Americans from the Islamic State’s threat to the Kurdish city of Erbil, where the U.S. government has a consulate. He also said Americans would be protected anywhere in Iraq, including Baghdad. Finally, he said airstrikes would be part of a humanitarian mission to save “thousands — perhaps tens of thousands” — of Yezidis who were trapped and desperate on Mount Sinjar.
    But in later statements Obama intimated that he had other objectives.

  • Liability, strategy concerns help business owners pick structure

    The form a new business should take isn’t always obvious. Though many self-employed entrepreneurs begin as sole proprietors, an individual can structure her business in many other ways. The best structure is the one that fits her business’s strategy and size and offers the greatest protection from liability and taxes.
    Flying solo
    A sole proprietorship, the simplest business form, is logical for many startups or solo professionals, such as consultants, private investigators, or freelance writers. In a sole proprietorship, the business is not separate from the owner and his business income and losses are included on his personal tax returns.
    A sole proprietor often has little overhead, and personal assets are used in the business. He operates under his own name or creates a “doing business as” moniker. Because the sole proprietor is personally responsible for all his business’s debts and liabilities, he might want to incorporate or become a limited liability company to protect his assets.
    A sole proprietor rarely has to do more than obtain a business license and gross receipts tax number, but his business type might require registration with licensing authorities.
    Choosing partners

  • Signs that your pet needs to see a vet

    Though our pets may pet may dread the veterinarian, there are many instances when a trip to the local animal hospital or clinic is essential to their health. Since Fido can’t express to you in words when he isn’t feeling himself, there are many symptoms you can look out for to help determine if it’s time for a vet visit.   
    “It is most important to remember that everything should be taken within the context of the other signs,” said Dr. Jean Rubanick, veterinary resident instructor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (CVM). “Basically, if there are multiple signs, then taking a pet to the vet is indicated.”
    Some common signs of irregularity may include extreme lethargy, increased respiratory rate, profuse vomiting or diarrhea, anorexia, or increased drinking and urinating. While these are most widely recognized as indicators for veterinary attention, some symptoms may be more unique and less recognizable.
    “Abnormal circling (not to be confused with the occasional circling of an excited dog), head pressing, seizures, inability to rise, weakness, respiratory distress, changes in the gum color, and bubbles coming from the nose are some other sign to look out for,” Rubanick said.