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Columns

  • Thanks for the coffee

    My mother taught me that I should always thank people when appropriate.
    Over the past year, I’ve had countless occasions in which a hearty thank you was due, but it’s not always possible to thank the person face to face. And so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank some people that I haven’t had the pleasure of thanking in person.
    The other day, while sitting at Starbucks, my friend and I watched yet another dead-from-the-neck-up Los Alamos resident ignore the one-way signs and Do Not Enter signs as he turned into the parking lot.  My friend and I simultaneously said, “How much stupid can some people fit into one head?”
    But when I remarked that I’ve seen people do K-turns and U-turns right in front of the cafe, my friend told me that I was exaggerating. He agreed that people speed, use their cell phones while driving and even eat sandwiches while driving, but he refused to believe that anyone would be dumb enough to do something like that.
    And so I bet him a coffee that we’d see someone do exactly that before we left for the day.

  • Johnson trying to make inroads for Libertarians

    SANTA FE — Admit it. Wednesday night’s presidential debate would have been bearable with Gary Johnson added to the mix.
    As it was, moderator Jim Lehrer’s instruction to the crowd to remain silent throughout the debate was unnecessary. Within minutes the crowd was comatose and so were millions of Americans nodding off in front of their TVs.
    How nice it would have been to have former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson to liven the conversation with straight talk instead of carefully nuanced talking points.
    The sameness of it all has practically killed political conventions. National TV networks almost totally lost interest this year. By four years from now, what once were exciting nail-biters may be down to one-night pep rallies.
    Neither President Obama nor Gov. Romney got much of a bump in the polls after the conventions this year. It’s probably because no one watched enough of the coverage to form an opinion.
    Meanwhile, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson is receiving an unexpected amount of coverage from newspapers, magazines and blogs because there always is something interesting to say about him.

  • Money-saving tips on open enrollment

    Over the next few weeks, millions of Americans will receive their 2013 open enrollment materials. Although it’s tempting to simply check “same as last year,” that can be a costly mistake – especially if your employer is offering different benefit plans next year or your family or income situation has changed.
    Plus, an important feature of health care flexible spending accounts, which many people use to reduce their tax bite, is changing next year (more on that below).
    Here’s what to look for when reviewing your benefit options:
    Many benefit plans – especially medical – change coverage details from year to year. If you’re offered more than one plan, compare features side by side (including plans offered by your spouse’s employer) to ensure you’re choosing the best alternative. Common changes include:
    • Dropping or replacing unpopular or overly expensive plans.
    • Increased monthly premiums for employee and/or dependent coverage.
    • Increased deductible and/or copayment amounts for doctor visits, prescription drugs, hospitalization, dental or vision benefits, etc.
    • Revised drug formularies.
    • Doctors and hospitals sometimes withdraw from a plan’s preferred provider network.

  • ‘A moral adventure’

    Enraged, many times, has been the reaction on the part of former Sen. Pete Domenici to hearing priests from his Catholic Church talk about business and entrepreneurship. Domenici shared this bit of his history as a way of saying how pleased he was to have found a priest — Rev. Robert Sirico — to talk to Catholic New Mexico about entrepreneurship via his Domenici Public Policy Conference.
    The presentation from Sirico was part of moving the Pete V. Domenici Institute for Public Policy at New Mexico State University in the direction of helping New Mexicans understand free enterprise and entrepreneurship. The rationale for moving toward entrepreneurship is simple, Domenici said. It is the dearth of entrepreneurship on the part of New Mexicans.
    The conference was Sept. 19 and 20 in Las Cruces. Sirico was the only male on the Sept. 19 program. Sirico heads the Acton Institute of Grand Rapids, Mich. The Institute’s mission, its newsletter says, “is to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.”
    Domenici charged Sirico with teaching Catholic priests the capitalist system.

  • A view on charter items

    Our community has seen a lot of press recently about the four charter amendment ballot questions.  Citizens should vote NO on all four for three reasons: they embody logrolling, further disenfranchisement of voters and more petition exclusions.
    REASON 1: LOGROLLING.  The county has bundled 21 ordinances into four ballot questions, arguing that 1) there wasn’t space on the ballot to list them separately, and 2) they were all related within each question, such that none could stand on its own without affecting all the others in the bundle.
    LAGRI pointed out to council “limited space on the ballot” was not grounds for preventing the citizens from voting intelligently on individual and disparate issues; there was no haste to bring these proposals to the voters; and that these proposals could be presented in the special election being planned in the spring for the other charter amendment proposals (e.g. utilities, clerk).  It was also pointed out that a regularly scheduled separate municipal election, as practiced in every other New Mexico municipality, would reduce overload such as this on the general election ballot.

  • Exorcising the voter fraud phantoms

    One of the few issues to be laid to rest this campaign season is voter fraud. Fears, mostly on the right, that noncitizens might be voting, manifested in voter identification bills here and across the nation.
    Bearing the voter-fraud torch was Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who proceeded to botch the effort from beginning to end. She announced early last year that New Mexico had a “culture of corruption,” a charge repeated in national media. (Just what we need.) Later she referred 64,000 possibly fraudulent voter records to the State Police. That number plummeted a year ago to 104 voters who were illegally registered to vote and 19 who actually voted illegally.
    In her report, Duran stuck her jaw out and accused her critics of being partisan while insisting that her office was “simply not in that game,” and that even though 19 didn’t sound like much, any instance of vote fraud was significant. Democrats returned fire.
    More telling was the response of the nonpartisan Common Cause New Mexico. The group applauded Duran’s effort to clean up the state’s voter records but charged that Duran was “deliberately undermining public trust in New Mexico elections purely to promote policies, such as voter photo ID, which are designed to prevent qualified New Mexicans from casting a ballot.”

  • One take on Ashley Pond

    In response to the Sept. 21 Los Alamos Monitor article regarding the Ashley Pond project meeting.  This was a 30% design meeting to discuss the renovations at the pond, by no means the final.
    Why have the meeting if the public input is not welcome or its considered too late. People can not always attend all the meetings, but I was at the earlier meetings, I voiced my concern about the stage on the water but there was no response. I realize majority rules. But so should common sense.  
    People were not there to protest at this last meeting, it was a nice discussion.  I think all those in attendance at this meeting are for the renovations and don’t want delay, some of us that voiced our opinions just want this stage on the water rethought.
    It could certainly save the County lots of money if they leave off this stage. Funny how the project consultant, George Radnovich could not even tell us how much this stage would cost. Only what  the cover for the stage would be depending on the style selected. It was mentioned that the cover would have to be removed after each event, where would it be stored, how much time will this require?  

  • All about Super PACS

    SANTA FE — Super PACs have overwhelmed the political scene this year. Their presence is gigantic. It takes 10 million $10 contributions to equal the hundreds of millions that one high roller drops in.
    During the presidential primary nearly every candidate had a personal billionaire on hand for any help that might be needed. And the way these billionaires sidled up to the candidate of their choice — even appearing on stage with them — it seemed obvious that the rule about not coordinating with the candidate’s campaign was a complete joke.
    Comedy Channel program hosts Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart had a slapstick routine for several programs in which Colbert formed a Super PAC staffed by volunteers from Stewart’s office, which was just down the hall in the same building.
    Stewart, as a candidate, supposedly wanted to follow the rules and not do any coordinating. But that was rich guy Colbert’s total plan. So Colbert chased Stewart all over the building with doors slamming and Stewart screaming for help.
    Sadly, Colbert raised over $1 million for his Super PAC simply by making a joking request for funds one night. The donations didn’t cause Colbert any paper work since names of Super PAC contributors are secret.

  • Drill and kill

    Yeah yeah yeah, I can hear the energy baggers whining already.  Well back off, you oil addict freaks.  I’m not writing about drill baby drill.  We’ll fight that battle some other time (like maybe when you’re fighting over the last drop).
     No, my topic today is about drilling students.
      Years ago, I shared an article with my colleagues discussing the value of having students memorize mathematical basics (like the times table, common square roots, conversion between percentages and fractions) so that the students would have more “brain processing power” dedicated to working more complex concepts.  I was quickly “scolded” by an administrator who simply said “Drill drill drill! Kill kill kill!”
      This is a buzz-phrase one learns while getting a professional lobotomy.  It means, “If you force a student to memorize material, it kills their motivation to acquire knowledge through discovery and contextual relevance.”

  • College cultivates human beings

    Scott Buchanan and Stringfellow Barr did not cause the revolution in college education they desired when, 75 years ago, they brought what is called “The New Program” to St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md.
    Overall, though, they did well. Their efforts saved the nearly bankrupt Annapolis St. John’s, led to a second St. John’s – the one in Santa Fe, now nearly 50 years old – and their “New Program” is the gold standard for those favoring reading books, sometimes difficult books. The full disclosure is that I attended the Santa Fe St. John’s the first three semesters it was open, did far too little of the work and decamped for the University of New Mexico.
    While the Santa Fe St. John’s status as a significant New Mexico business is beside the point here, it should be mentioned. The numbers are about 175 employees, 450 students, an operating budget of around $30 million, plus being a draw for visitors from around the country, especially during summer.
    Saying what St. John’s really does isn’t easy.