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Columns

  • Udall right in middle of filibuster reform

    Reform of the U.S. Senate’s infamous filibuster rule could well be the first order of business when the nation’s 113th Congress convenes on the third day of the new year, 2013.
    At least that is what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been saying and it should be welcome news to New Mexico’s Democratic Sen. Tom Udall, a leading proponent of filibuster reform.
    Almost two years ago, on Jan. 5, 2011, Udall went to the Senate floor with a series of proposals to alter that chamber’s antiquated rules of procedure, including the filibuster.
    “Here in the Senate,” he said, “open, honest debate has been replaced with secret backroom deals and partisan gridlock…up-or-down votes, sometimes even debate on important issues, have been unreasonably delayed or blocked entirely at the whim of a single senator.”
    Udall’s proposed reforms two years ago were co-sponsored by Udall, Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) but they came to naught after Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) shook hands in a “gentlemen’s agreement” that Senate Republicans would not abuse the filibuster.

  • A small glimmer of hope

    A little bitty glimmer of light exists somewhere in the dark tunnel of the New Mexico economy. The tiny flicker is in construction, of all sectors. This word comes from economist Alison Felix of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
    Felix tracks New Mexico from the KC Fed’s Denver office. She came to Albuquerque the day after the election as part of the occasional KC Fed economic outlook and update road show. The star was Felix’s overall boss, Esther George, KC Fed president and CEO since October 2011.
    Back in the tunnel, our economic situation remains ugly with a 1.3 percent drop in wage jobs from September 2011 to September 2012. That performance ranked 49th nationally with West Virginia taking Mississippi’s role and finishing last. Nationally, wage jobs grew 1.4 percent in the year from the second quarter of 2011 to 2012, Felix said.
    For real personal income growth, we place 48th with a 0.4 percent increase for the period. The anemic increase puts New Mexico’s personal income over the prerecession level of 2008.
    Felix discussed the entire state. See http://www.kc.frb.org/publicat/speeches/2012-Felix-NMEconForum-11-07.pdf.

  • Last-minute ways to trim your taxes

    From now until New Year’s is probably when you have the least amount of time to spare on mundane financial bookkeeping tasks. But if you can dedicate a few minutes to review your benefits and tax paperwork, you might be able to shave hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars off your 2012 taxes.
    Here are a few suggestions:
    If you haven’t already maxed out on contributions, ask your employer if you can make a catch-up contribution to your 401(k), 403(b) or 457 plan before year’s end. Most people can contribute up to $17,000 in 2012 (a $500 increase over 2011), plus an additional $5,500 if they’re over 50.
    If you contribute on a pretax basis, your taxable income is reduced, which in turn lowers your taxes. At a minimum, if your employer offers matching contributions (essentially, free money), be sure to contribute at least enough to take full advantage of the match.

  • Saving grand old ladies

    Every community has old buildings that deserve some TLC, and those of us who value historic preservation hope somebody will come along and restore these grand old ladies.

    It happens, just often enough to give us hope. Jim Harris and his properties around the Lovington town square come to mind. So does the Sierra Grande Lodge in T or C.

    But I wouldn’t have given the Murray Hotel in Silver City much of a chance. Its size alone would have been daunting – a concrete hulk five stories high and a block long with 100 rooms. And if that didn’t discourage a redeveloper, its condition would have.

    Debbie Seibel, former manager of Silver City’s Main Street project, used to give tours of the Murray to outside experts.

    For years, it had harbored pigeons, strays and vagrants. You had to look hard to see its original charm. At one point, the city contemplated tearing it down, but found that the structure was so sturdy, imploding it would damage surrounding buildings.

    A local Realtor said in 2000, “Nobody is going to ride into town on a white horse and save us on this building.”

  • GOP needs to adjust more than tone

    The words “adjust” and “tone” recently came from Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio in a discussion of the Republican defeat.

    Considering the few African Americans, Hispanics and young people voting Republican, Portman said, “This is a party that needs to adjust. Some of it is policy. A lot of it is tone.”

    Portman weaseled on the rape comments from Senate candidates. (See www.capitolreport.blogspot.com for the sources of the comments here.) National (liberal) media got the blame from Republican guru Karl Rove for the rape comment outrage. “Offensive comments about rape by GOP Senate candidates in Missouri and Indiana gave the media an excuse to put social issues at the election’s center in a way that badly hurt the entire party…,” he wrote. So the outrage was manufactured? Oh, come now.

    Here’s a different observation about GOP attitudes toward women. “The GOP continues to provide evidence to women that the GOP hates them and does not respect their rights and abilities (unless they wear a burka and follow a respectful distance behind or are willing to work for less pay).”

  • Commitment to lean manufacturing

     When David Smith, owner of Taycar Enterprises in Albuquerque, phased out the use of paper in his sheet metal fabrication and assembly plant, it pushed some office workers beyond their hard-copy comfort zones.
    Going paper-free was just one part of Smith’s efforts to bring the principles of lean manufacturing to the business his father started in 1983, but it was harder than the changes he instituted to make his job shop operate more efficiently. Now the business stores all its records electronically and conducts all its correspondence by email.
    Smith got involved with lean manufacturing about seven years ago after he heard that another manufacturer in his industry was attending workshops run by the New Mexico Manufacturing Extension Partnership. Smith attended a workshop and has since sent every permanent employee at least once for training in lean manufacturing principles.
    What it is
    The New Mexico MEP is part of a nationwide network of nonprofit centers. Its mission is to help managers and core workers at New Mexico companies understand and apply the principles of lean manufacturing through workshops and on-site training and analysis.

  • Driving while intexicated

     DWI, Driving While Intexticated.  This cute buzzphrase is becoming more and more popular as more and more people are driving into more and more trees while texting their friends.
     But driving under the influence of phone is no joke.  Visiting the morgue to identify the body of your child underscores the somber reality of cell phone usage while driving.  Studies show that simply using a cell phone while driving impairs one’s ability as much as having had four bottles of beer. And texting while driving is far more dangerous.
     One of the more interesting studies comes from a most definitely-not academic oriented organization, Car and Driver.  They conducted their own road test to see the effects of texting.  Their results were “sobering” to say the least.  Their drivers performed better while drunk than they did while texting.
     Earlier this year, Chance Bothe, a college student, became the posterboy for the dangers of texting when he drove off a cliff seconds after texting “I need to quit texting.”  Miraculously, he survived, but sustained brain injuries and broke nearly every bone in his body.

  • Congress continues to get meaner

    SANTA FE – Washington, D.C. continues to get increasingly meaner with no end in sight. The recent national election changed nothing. The players are still the same and even if they had changed, little good would have resulted.
    A major change in attitude must take place. Moderates currently get “primaried” by their own parties for not being radical enough right or left. This polarization was not always the case.
    Fifty years ago our nation faced huge problems – communist fears, racial tensions and our first Catholic president. Many figured the Pope would move into the Lincoln bedroom and start running the government. But Washington remained basically civil. Moderate Democrats and Republicans managed to hammer out problems despite the crazies on the fringe.
    Now extremists are causing enough problems that Congress and the president are afraid to move. The causes likely are many. One of my favorite solutions is that members of Congress should get to know each other.
    Senators, except a few from neighboring states, still live in Washington. But House members usually don’t anymore. The thought of congressmen living in their offices was downright weird. In fact, it wasn’t allowed until recently.

  • I’m thankful I am still on course

    What if you were diagosed with cancer? You’d be thankful just to get through it and survive, right? Well, what if you had cancer 4 times? What would be your thoughts? Could you still be thankful? I mean, who beats cancer four times?
    When I recently got news of my fourth cancer diagnosis, all I could think of was “how on earth can I go through this again? Why can’t I just beat this?” Consumed by thoughts of my family, and not being with them, I couldn’t be thankful for anything. Here I am, desperately trying to reach my children’s 18th birthday like it’s the 18th hole of a golf course, and it feels like I’ve just been disqualified at the 8th hole, 10 years too early.
    I was filled with anger. My body had let me down yet one more time. I suddenly began to doubt my usual unshakable optimism and think there was nothing left to be thankful for. And then I felt like a hypocrite. I’ve just spent most of September telling audiences across the Tri-Cities how to be, not just a survivor, but a Thriver: to make everyday precious and never quit, even when you’re in the bunker in a force 10 gale. Be thankful for what you have today, not what may come tomorrow.

  • Make sure to cut your holiday expenses

    The closer the holidays loom, the less time harried families have to buy gifts, plan seasonal events and make travel arrangements. Unfortunately, when time is at a premium and you’re forced to make last-minute decisions, it’s usually your budget that suffers.
    As an occasional procrastinator myself, let me share a few tips I’ve picked up over the years that can help take the expense – and stress – out of holiday planning:
    Before you start shopping, calculate how much you can afford to spend on the holidays as a portion of your overall budget. If your finances are in good shape, spend no more than 1.5 percent of your annual income. But if you’re deeply in debt, can’t meet your regular monthly expenses or don’t have an emergency fund, this isn’t the time to rack up additional debt.
    Once you determine an overall amount, tally up expected holiday-related expenses including gifts, decorations, new clothes and accessories, giftwrap, cards, postage, special meals and year-end gratuities. Don’t forget travel-related expenses if you plan to leave town, and try to recall unanticipated expenses from last year.
    If you’re looking for ways to cut back, consider: