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Columns

  • 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.

  • Spectacular, ornacular, vernacular

     Why is a mouse when it spins?  Well, why not?
     That’s a “koan,” a nonsensical question given to a Buddhist student to help teach them the art of meditation and contemplation.  For me, it was just a great question to ask during an interview and then watch to see how long it took for the candidate to start breathing again.
      In high school, I always did well in math and I took equal pride in my inability to do well in my language classes (or should I say I dint do good).  I recall reading that the great mathematicians throughout history were usually terrible at language.  And at some point in my not-so-accurate education, I was told that people are either left-brained or right-brained (which by the way isn’t true), and that the left-brain controlled mathematics and language.
     And so the theory was that if you were good at math, you didn’t have any “brain room” for language.   I was subsequently told that I was “left brained,” which made perfect sense to my parents who often remarked that I was not in my right mind.
     But as I’ve gotten older (I’m still waiting for the getting wiser part), I’ve found language to be a truly amazing area of study.  The sheer volume of words out there leaves one nonplussed.

  • Tips for buying pet toys

    Tennis balls, Frisbees, rawhides, and Kongs. Dog toys line the shelves of multiple aisles at pet stores. With all of the choices, which toys should or shouldn’t you buy for man’s best friend?
    Dr. Mark Stickney, Clinical Associate Professor and Director of General Surgery Services at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said that when first giving your dog toys, buy a variety of toys to see what the animal prefers.
     “They are going to have a toy preference the same way that children have toy preferences,” he said. “Once you determine their favorites, you can adjust your selection and your budget accordingly for the toys that entertain your pet.”
    To help guide your purchases, Stickney said it’s important to make sure the toy is made of nontoxic material and the appropriate size toy for the animal. A five-pound Yorkie, for example, will not be able to use an extra-large Kong toy made for a Rotweiller. Kong toys, he added, are one of his favorite brands because it keeps the pets busy by challenging them to get a treat out of the small hole of the toy.

  • GOP works to attract Hispanic vote

    SANTA FE – OK, so here’s the latest national plan to woo Hispanics into the GOP. Showcasing Latino top officials such as Govs. Susana Martinez and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio didn’t help much in the 2012 elections.
    So the latest plan is to create a super-PAC. Republicans are good at those. The idea isn’t to buy Hispanic votes. Hispanics are too honorable for that. It’s for buying congressional votes. That is usually pretty easy.
    The biggest fear of moderate Republican members of Congress is getting “primaried” by the tea party and other right wing organizations. It happened in 2010 and 2012 and lists of Republicans who might stray from the fold already are being made for the 2014 GOP primary elections.
    The new super-PAC, to be called Republicans for Immigration Reform, is intended to begin repairing the political damage left by years of anti-illegal immigrant rhetoric.
    The organizers are former George W. Bush Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Washington lawyer Charlie Spies. Ironically, Spies was a co-founder of the pro-Mitt Romney super-PAC Restore our Future, which aired ads during this year’s GOP presidential primaries accusing some of Romney’s rivals of being too liberal on immigration.

  • State keeps struggling with disappointment

    SANTA FE – New Mexico’s once-famed Spaceport America, the only purpose-built spaceport in the world, has lost its luster. No longer does it have two of the planet’s best pitchmen, Sir Richardson Branson and Gov. Bill Richardson, promoting it.
    Richardson is gone and Branson is entertaining offers from other states and nations. The United Arab Emirates has purchased a big chunk of Virgin Galactic and has an agreement to build a spaceport in that country.
    Meanwhile New Mexico has a new governor who began her term saying private money should finance the remainder of the spaceport and now has warmed to the point she is saying she would like to take a space ride and she will sign any future appropriations the Legislature passes.
    But Gov. Susana Martinez is not out promoting our spaceport to aerospace companies around the nation and world. The only proposal she really has put a hip into is an effort to deny driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
    Martinez has gone all out with that effort, including spending PAC money and getting involved in legislative races. She says it will make us safer but it certainly doesn’t attract jobs or improve our lagging economy.