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Columns

  • Bond to help schools

    On Jan. 29, the voters of Los Alamos County will have the opportunity to build a brighter future for students with their vote on an all-mailed ballot for a $20 million construction bond that would not raise the tax rate.
    The upcoming bond will fund the replacement of the academic wing of Aspen Elementary School.
    The bond will also fund a variety of infrastructure costs such as new sewer and water lines for several schools. The bond will fund other much needed infrastructure costs including replacement of windows, repairs to some locker rooms, and improved fire alarm systems. In addition, the bond will fund the design costs for renovating the music wing of the high school, the middle school gym, and the next elementary school after Aspen. Some funding from the upcoming bond will be set aside to reinstate the courtyard that had been value engineered out of the middle school project.

  • Blaming the victim

    When arrested for robbing the convenience store, the man quickly told police his defense for the “so-called” robbery.
     “I walked into the store, and not even one person objected.  The sign on the door even said “Welcome — Come on in!”
     “The store’s owner did nothing to hide the fact that he had lots of cash in the store.  There is was, all green and crispy, flashing like a seductive fashion model, yelling out — Look at me!  Don’t you want me?”
     “If that guy didn’t want to be robbed, why then does he own a store with money in it?”
     “So when I held up the store and took the money, can you really blame me?  The store was just asking for it.  And the clerk gave me that money.  Willingly “gave” it to me.  He didn’t yell “Robbery!” while I was there taking the money.  Oh no, he waited until after I left.  Doesn’t that tell you something?”
     The police summarily released the man.  It was clear to any thinking person that this was not a “legitimate robbery.”

  • Key to fracking is tell-tale data

     Great passions are expended in disputing the pros and cons of regulation. Yet people on both sides of it act afraid that regulation will be improved. The trait is mystifying unless we look inside.  
    A current event shows the shrouded impulses at work.
    New York State is on the verge of a giant boost in extracting natural gas from deep shale formations by means of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The prospects for the next 30 years are to see tens of thousands of gas wells drilled and fracked.
    To look ahead, New York is undertaking a new review of the safety risks. News stories on the nature of the review breed slim hope it will do anything new or better.
    The stories say the review is focused on health and environmental risks. The review is headed by New York’s health commissioner, who is an able physician. “Health” is the subject; “regulation” is unmentioned.
    A study of fracking and health problems will find places where they occur and many more places where they do not. The result tells us nothing not already known.
    A decision will be made on fracking, either to stop or proceed. Lawsuits will be filed by one or more sides. The old course will be run again, yielding little in return for the time and money lost in the run.

  • Where are the state’s New Deal art treasures?

    SANTA FE – What’s the deal with New Mexico’s New Deal art? We have a whole lot of it – and should have even more.
    Back during the Great Depression, from 1933 to 1943, the U.S. government had some honking big jobs programs. You’ve probably heard of the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration. There also were programs to employ thousands of artists nationwide. Being a favorite spot for artists, New Mexico had a big share of those programs.
    In New Mexico, a committee of well-known artists was chosen to travel the state interviewing artists and inspecting their art.
    The artists chosen produced murals, paintings, photographs, furniture, dishes, wrought iron fixtures, copper items, weavings and other decorative items.
    The pieces were not purchased. The artists were paid a regular weekly salary, depending on their level of expertise, to produce more art. Since the artists worked for the government, their work belonged to the government.
    It was placed in public buildings throughout the state.
    Almost every school building had at least one piece of art. In addition, art was placed in all manner of other public buildings, including court houses, libraries, post offices, county and municipal buildings and universities.

  • Another look at medical marijuana

    Marijuana could be a cure for drug addiction.  That’s right: a cure.  Maybe.
    This was one fascinating revelation from a recent presentation on the opioid epidemic.  
    In fairness to the speaker, the statement about marijuana was a minor point in a generally grim presentation about the growing problem of addiction to and death from prescription opioid drugs. The emphasis on marijuana is mine.
    The speaker was Scott Goold, an economist who recently trained as a Community Addiction Recovery Specialist with Project Echo, a University of New Mexico medical education program.  Project Echo provides specialty training and expertise to health care professionals throughout the state via distance learning.
    The news about prescription pain medication keeps getting worse.  According to Goold, the problem is, in part, that opioid medications are really effective at relieving pain.  Someone recovering from an injury might want help with pain for several weeks.  But it takes only about two weeks for physical dependence to occur.  People with injuries can become addicted to these drugs while doing what seems perfectly reasonable.   

  • Crooks target businesses

    In an age when many products sell in cyberspace and the buyer and seller never meet, creative crooks are finding new ways to defraud businesses — especially web-based businesses and individuals selling items through online platforms.
    One scheme involves counterfeit versions of a time-honored currency – the cashier’s check.
    Scammers commit cashier’s check fraud using an authentic-looking cashier’s check to buy a product. The seller deposits the check and her account is charged for the amount when the check bounces back to the bank as a fake.
    Another version of this scam involves checks written for more than the sales price.
    The “buyer” typically asks the seller to remit the excess funds via a wire transfer or Western Union, offering a superficially plausible reason for the overpayment. When the phony check bounces, the seller is liable for the entire amount.
    While this scam usually targets individuals, businesses can also fall prey. To protect themselves, businesses should accept only easily verifiable payment methods.
    Scams directed at businesses often exploit new technology to commit classic crimes.

  • Understanding 401(k) fees

    If you’re like many Americans – 71 percent, according to an AARP survey – you might be under the impression that your 401(k) plan administrator doesn’t charge you anything to maintain your account. You’d be wrong.
    In fact, these companies typically charge fees equivalent to 0.5 to 2 percent of your account balance each year – sometimes as high as 5 percent. In addition to ongoing tariffs for managing your investment options, plan administrators often deduct numerous other fees from individuals’ accounts, including charges for administrative costs, sales commissions, advertising, insurance, and trading expenses.
    Perhaps equally disturbing is that many employers – which have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the retirement plans they sponsor have reasonable fees and expenses – often don’t know what fees their employees are being charged either.
    Over time, out-of-control fees can take a serious toll. The Department of Labor estimates that paying just 1 percent in extraneous fees each year could reduce your account balance by 28 percent during an average working career.

  • State tops on death spiral list

    The most recent economic ranking to wander through here paints New Mexico harshly. Certainly the words are blunter than usual. We lead a group of eleven states called “death spiral states” by Forbes.com. http://forbes.com/sites/baldwin/2012/11/25/do-you-live-in-a-death-spiral...
    “Death spiral” is harsh. So is the “taker/maker” distinction employed in the post by staffer William Baldwin, who says, “A taker is someone who draws money from (state or local) government, as an employee, pensioner or welfare recipient. A maker is someone gainfully employed in the private sector.” To make the spiral list, a state needs more takers than makers and to be in the lower half of a credit analysis by Conning & Co., a money manager that measures risk in insurance company portfolios.
    New Mexico has the highest taker / maker ratio at 1.53. Mississippi is second. There it is. We’re in excusive company. California, New York and Illinois are among the eleven. The future is “a rising tax burden, deteriorating state finances and an exodus of employers,” Baldwin says.

  • The quest for perfection

    New Mexico businesses that want help becoming more efficient frequently call on the New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership — a nonprofit agency of the U.S. Commerce Department that helps small and mid-sized U.S. businesses create and preserve jobs, become more profitable and save time and money. In New Mexico, where most businesses are small, MEP services are used by doctors’ offices, machine shops, small farms and agricultural operations, and businesses that serve the oil and gas industry.
    MEP uses multiple techniques to help businesses increase profits by standardizing production and administration to provide continuous improvement that eliminates waste and strives for perfection.
    Lean manufacturing theory recognizes that there will always be some degree of product variation but it seeks to minimize aberrations that result in added expenses when products must be discarded or returned to the production line for repair or reassembly. Motorola, in its drive toward perfection in 1986, introduced an idea called Six Sigma based on the letter in the Greek alphabet used to measure mathematical variations from a standard. Motorola aspired to refine its manufacturing process to a sigma rating of six, meaning that 99.99966 percent of its products would have zero defects.

  • More loan availability for non-profits

    Mark Medley was working with a business consultant to recover from identity theft when he heard about Accion New Mexico – Arizona – Colorado.
     What Medley learned while trying to repair his credit prompted him to start a nonprofit — ID Theft Resolutions — to help others protect themselves from identity thieves and to rebound as quickly and completely as possible if their efforts fail.
    Medley got a loan from Accion to help him get the nonprofit going after obtaining his designation as a 501c(3) nonprofit. Accion offers loans as small as $200 and as large as $300,000 to people who might otherwise be turned down by lenders because they are a startup or have credit problems.
    Medley qualified in both cases: His credit score was destroyed by identity theft and his nonprofit was the equivalent of a startup.

    A first for Accion
    The loan to Medley is Accion’s first to a nonprofit, according to Lynn Trojahn, Accion’s vice president of advancement.
    “We decided to include nonprofit lending in our toolbox, as the entrepreneurs who create nonprofits are as visionary, tenacious, committed and often as underfunded as for-profit startups,” she said.