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Columns

  • Keeping funeral costs affordable

    Anyone who’s put a loved one to rest knows that death is not cheap. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average adult funeral cost $6,560 in 2009 (their most current data).
    That doesn’t include such common add-ons as a cemetery plot, headstone, flowers, obituaries and limousine, which can add thousands to the bill.
    Because death is a frequently avoided topic, many people aren’t armed with information about the many variables — and costs — involved in planning a funeral.
    Thus, just when survivors are grieving and most vulnerable, they’re bombarded by decisions that must be made quickly, often without even knowing what their loved one would have wanted.
    The key message for the living is to decide on preferred funeral arrangements ahead of time and to convey those wishes to your family – ideally in your will.
    Another important lesson: Know your legal rights and what funeral-related goods and services cost so you — or your survivors — don’t feel pressured into buying things you don’t want or need. The Federal Trade Commission oversees “The Funeral Rule,” which regulates how funeral providers must deal with consumers. Among its provisions:

  • Misrepresenting the NRA

    Mr. Pawlak’s recent column demonstrates a common approach to gun control among those of a utopian pacifist persuasion and others who cannot accept that there really are evil people in the world that will kill with a gun, a knife, a baseball bat, a car or any other tool they can get their hands on.
    That approach is simple, when they can’t argue the facts or logic; they resort to name-calling, insults, derision, and worst of all exaggeration and misrepresentation.
    Let’s start with Mr. Pawlak’s blatantly dishonest exaggeration and misrepresentation. The NRA did not recommend that we:
    “Convert public schools to firearms depots.”
    “Arm all the teachers with guns.”
    “Patrol the hallways with a few mercenaries.”
    “Have a couple of Humvees equipped with Browning .50 cal machine guns ride protective circles around the school playground.”
    What Wayne LaPierre and Asa Hutchinson of the NRA did recommend can be read by anyone honest enough to seek out the truth at nraschoolshield.com.
    You can see for yourself that the actual transcript of the December 21, 2012 press conference and The National School Shield program doesn’t resemble Mr. Pawlak’s assertions at all.

  • Food of the Gods

    Back in high school, history was far from my favorite subject. I was a terrible student — never reading the lessons, never doing my homework, never listening in class.
    I suppose you can see why I became a teacher, right?
    I now regret not having paid more attention.
    History is a wonderful subject and over the years I’ve found myself fascinated by the history of almost everything. For instance, did you know that babies used to wear dresses, girls and boys alike?
    There’s a great picture of President Franklin Roosevelt at the age of two, posed nicely wearing the cutest baby dress you’ve ever seen.
    Anyway, I happen to enjoy cooking and over the holidays it’s become rather a tradition for me to make homemade chocolates.
    It’s a form of stress management for me.
    With chocolate drenched air filling the house, it prompted me to read up on the history of chocolate.
    The botanical name for the cacao tree is “Theobroma”, from ancient Greek and Latin meaning “Food of the Gods.”
    Today, it is often spelled “cocoa”, which many cacao enthusiasts argue is somehow a bad thing.
    Ah, but I’ve tried both and they’re equally delicious!

  • Economic disaster and the fiscal cliff

    The recently passed bill to “solve” the Fiscal Cliff economic crisis should not have been passed. It is a bad bill and a worse law. But not because it is too liberal or too conservative.
    The Fiscal Cliff bill passed jointly by Republicans and Democrats will now turn the United States into a perpetual borrowing nation.
    This nation has real debt and deficit problems. We haveaccumulated a $16.4 trillion national debt from decades of spending beyond the taxes and fees the government receives.
    And each year for the last five years, the nation has run a national deficit, or annual loss, of more than $1 trillion.
    That amounts to the U.S. borrowing 40 cents for every federal dollar spent each year.
    The above said, the problem is not due to one party overspending, or to the 2008 banking disaster and resulting Big Recession, or the government choosing to do jobs that it should not be doing.
    The reason we have a national borrowing addiction is because of two primary factors: the President Bush tax cuts since 2001 have starved the U.S. Treasury of at least $700 billion a year in tax revenues from all sources, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been funded through borrowing, rather than cutting spending elsewhere or raising more taxes, or both.

  • Contemplating white elephants

     

    SANTA FE — When I suggested in a recent column that Spaceport America might be a good location for the $1 billion research ghost town a one-man international development company is promoting, I was only half serious. 

    It does seem that New Mexico’s much-heralded spaceport could be on its last legs Gov. Susana Martinez and the New Mexico Legislature work very hard in the next few months to keep it. 

    Some very exciting offers have been made to Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic by some deep-pocketed suitors. 

    Virgin Galactic now says it was sold a bill of goods when former Gov. Bill Richardson painted a picture of Virgin being the center of a thriving spaceport. After several years, Virgin remains the only tenant at the site. 

  • Protecting kids in schools

     During a newsroom discussion about guns about a decade ago, a woman piped up: “I don’t understand what the big deal is. I’m from Santa Rosa. We grew up with guns.”

    In New Mexico and other rural states, we begin the discussion from different sides of the fence. In the country, a gun is a tool used to hunt and protect livestock against varmints. In the city, the varmints are two-legged.

    Since the nightmarish shootings in Connecticut, the arguments and analyses fly back and forth like an old western shoot-out, which leads me to a few observations.

    First, gun ownership is a personal decision. I lived for eight years in a tough neighborhood where people kept telling me I should have a gun. 

  • Two speakers

     

        At the turn of the New Year, the Speakers of two Houses of Representatives were much in the news.

        In New Mexico the death of Ben Luján, longtime Democratic Speaker of the state House of Representatives occasioned glowing tributes to a man characterized as “a political giant” and “a statesman.”

        Back in the nation’s capital, the weakened U.S. House Speaker John Boehner’s inability to manage his fellow House Republicans, never mind the Congress itself, left not a few onlookers wondering how much longer his speakership could endure.

        House Speakers are traditionally elected by the majority party in that legislative chamber. In New Mexico there have been exceptions to that custom.  

  • Booming Lea, Eddy counties lead economy

    For 2012, Lea and Eddy counties brought the gain to the New Mexico economy. Albuquerque, Las Cruces and state government were the drain.
    Before taking a closer look at the state’s 2012 economic performance, a reminder of the disappearance of a previously important element in our economic performance is appropriate.
    Economy watchers, me included, formerly comforted themselves with the notion that while we lagged the nation during times of growth, we also performed better during national recessions.
    The quilt of mediocre steadiness is gone. Even if we could depend on national economic growth to drag us along, the slow growth of the national economy is little help to us.
    A comment about Albuquerque nicely applies statewide. “Albuquerque, meanwhile, is proving almost as resistant to recovery as it was against recession; it remained the only Mountain metro in the weakest national group,” said Mark Muro and Kenan Fikri, writing last month in the Brookings Mountain West Mountain Monitor.
    The following year-over-year numbers all apply to the time between November 2011 and November 2012. The Department of Workforce Solutions released the report the afternoon of Dec. 31. Except for numbers from Lea and Eddy counties, the numbers are for wage jobs.

  • Baiting the development hook with a different tax

    This year’s hot term in economic development jargon is the “single sales factor.”
    Some of the current buzz in economic development circles is that the single sales factor is the first concern of businesses considering locating in New Mexico.
    If we don’t have it, the rumor goes, they won’t look further. (They used to say that about workers’ comp, but that issue is off the endangered species list for the moment.)
    The single sales factor is at the top of the wish list Economic Development Department Secretary Jon Barela is calling the New Century Jobs Agenda, a package of mostly legislative proposals that EDD is hoping will boost our state’s persistently lagging private sector economy.
    If New Mexico is serious this year about economic development, our legislators have to pay attention to the fact that business wants the single sales factor, and 25 other states have it.  
    That’s the nature of the highly competitive game of economic development these days.

  • If you think this is crazy ...

     Over the past 20 years, more than 300,000 people have died from alcohol-related driving accidents.  
    Did you see politicians passing laws to allow “concealed bottles of rum” carry licenses?  Do you remember all the arguments claiming that more alcohol will reduce drunk driving?
     Of course not.  That would be moronic.
     Speaking of morons, NRA Chief Wayne LaPompous is shooting his mouth off again.  He and other “geniuses” think the solution to school shootings is to convert public schools to firearm depots.  
    Arm all the teachers with guns.  Patrol the hallways with a few mercenaries. Have a couple Humvees equipped with Browning .50 cal machine guns ride protective circles around the school play grounds.
     Fight guns with guns! Bullets with bullets! You can have my Barrett REC7 M4 5.56 NATO assault rifle when you pry it from my cold dead fingers!
     And the LaWackos out there proudly yell, “If you think this is crazy, well then, call me crazy!”
     Okay. But why stop there? Wayne, you’re stupid too!
    The Newtown Elementary School massacre has reignited the gun control debate and both sides are armed to the teeth with senseless rhetoric, contrived statistics and high capacity misrepresentations of the facts.