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Columns

  • What the MVD has been doing to improve customer satisfaction

    New Mexicans rightfully demand that the Motor Vehicle Division provide fast, easy and reliable service in a customer-friendly environment at all of our offices.
    Gov. Susana Martinez also directed that we turn things around at the MVD in a reasonable amount of time and meet public expectations for operating more efficiently.
    Here’s what we’re doing to make that happen.
    Over the past 18 months, we’ve cut our wait times in MVD offices and at our call center. A majority of our offices now have average wait times of 15 minutes or less — the lowest in years. The average hold time in our call center is now less than four minutes.
    MVD is doing a better job listening and learning from our customers. We recently implemented the country’s first motor vehicle customer satisfaction capture system in most of our offices.
    At the end of each transaction, you can press a button, which tells us how well we’ve met your needs. By empowering our managers to address customer issues right when they occur, service-related complaints have dropped dramatically.
    Since we launched this system last year, more than 800,000 New Mexicans have provided customer feedback. More than 98 percent of MVD customers now rate our service as “good” or “excellent” — every office, every week.

  • A court for every conflict: Resolving business disputes in New Mexico

    A clear, detailed contract with a dispute resolution clause is the best defense when a business and client disagree over performance or other conditions.
    But even the most airtight agreement can’t inoculate a business from all potential conflicts with customers, partners or other businesses.
    Simple arguments can be resolved through formal mediation or arbitration, but more complex disagreements require judicial intervention.
    Different courts
    for different conflicts
    If a business believes a client or competitor has broken federal law, say, by infringing on a trademark or copyright, it can bring the case in state or federal court.
    If a business needs to collect from a client who’s seeking bankruptcy protection, it files its claim on the client’s assets in Bankruptcy Court.
    But most disputes between businesses and their clients, investors or colleagues involve breaches of contract — including violations of confidentiality or non-compete clauses or of the terms of employment — or disagreements over service agreements, lease terms and real estate transactions. And most of these are heard in state courts.
    Size matters

  • Carbon Dioxide is our friend

    YouTube can be a hoot. You can watch someone launch themselves with a giant slingshot towards a small pond, overshoot the pond and land on a boulder. The search for videos like this usually require the keywords “human,” “slingshot” and “splat.”
    Or you can watch someone spray themselves with lighter fluid and set their body on fire, which is simply called “The Fire Challenge.” Imitating the Human Torch from the “Fantastic Four” is what I would call “The Atrophied Brain Challenge.”
    Lots of fun videos to watch and lots of laughs.
    Some years ago, I watched what might be the funniest video of all — “Carbon dioxide is our friend.” It’s an “educational documentary” produced by The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit, non-think tank funded by tea bag sources like the Koch brothers and several “unbiased” companies such as the Ford Motor Company, Philip Morris Company, Texaco Inc. and the Scaife Foundation (an extremely liberal organization).

  • How much testing is enough and when is it too much?

    What do you remember fondly about your school days? When you look at photos that capture these early years in school, you remember how nervous you were in your carrot costume before your big part in the school play. You remember how proud you felt standing next to your blue-ribbon science fair project. Oh! There you are with the turkey you colored after tracing your little hand on a piece of paper.
    And you remember using a No. 2 pencil to bubble in multiple-choice answers on a test. OK, maybe a photo of this last one didn’t make it into your grandma’s album.
    There was a time not so long ago when students were given a comprehensive assessment at the end of third grade and eighth grade, and then took the ACT/SAT tests for college purposes. These were informational tests, telling parents what their children had achieved academically and how they compared to other students across the country.
    When the results came in from that big test, teachers gave their students a little more practice as needed, and parents may have pulled out the flash cards for a little extra help at home — and everyone remained focused on teaching and on raising whole children.

  • Do teachers have to be defiant to do their jobs?

    The special education teacher told me the kind of story you’d want to hear from a special education teacher.
    A girl in fifth grade couldn’t read and could barely speak. Nothing was working for her.
    The teacher found a reading program designed for autistic children and fought the bureaucracy to get approval to be trained in it. She gave the program to the girl and it worked. Other special education teachers have heard the story and are asking for the same program.
    She can’t fight any more, she says. She’s on a long leave of absence and may simply retire.
    I’ve been asking New Mexico teachers how they are faring in the brave new world of public education. My question: Is there still room for creativity or spontaneity in teaching? Are they able to bring their own ideas and abilities into their activities? Can they to respond to whatever is happening, in the world or in that classroom, regardless of what’s on the day’s official task list?
    The first thing to know is this: Nobody’s happy. The problem, they say, is testing, testing, testing.
    We’ve all been hearing these complaints: Too many days spent on testing itself, too many more days devoted to teaching just for the tests, and test results applied not to improve students’ education, but to grade teachers.

  • Sky's the limit on small-loan interest rates in New Mexico

    Payday loans, title loans, signature loans. New Mexico has more than 656 small lenders operating in nearly every town. On a nearby street, they’re so thick they perch next to one another, like turkey vultures on a snag.
    There’s a small argument to be made for their services, but they’re basically a drain on the economy.
    Lawmakers have tried to get a handle on small lenders since at least 1999, but we haven’t seen much impact. In 2007, the Legislature cracked down by limiting payday loans to 35 days, prohibiting indefinite loan rollovers, and capping interest rates at 400 percent. The small lenders just found ways around it.
    Cash Loans Now and American Cash Loans (with offices in Albuquerque, Farmington and Hobbs) avoided the net by shifting from payday lending to signature loans, which require no collateral.
    In 2009, the attorney general sued the two companies for predatory lending and for an interest rate in excess of 1,400 percent a year. On June 26, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of borrowers. The interest rate, said both courts, was “unconscionable.” One borrower earned $9 an hour at a grocery store; the $100 loan had a finance charge of $1,000. Another, earning $10.71 at a hospital, got a $200 loan with a finance charge of $2,160.

  • Defending our right to be wrong

    I love this country and everything it stands for, especially our Constitutional rights to pursue happiness and to taunt the relatives of gay soldiers at funerals.
    It’s no coincidence that the Founding Fathers chose “2,” the first prime number, as the Amendment to highlight our right to bear heavy armaments. It’s a prime example of the wisdom that allows our nation to boast some of the highest firearm injury and death rates in the world.
    Uruguay and El Salvador still beat us in the suicide-by-firearms statistics, but with a little help from gun rights advocates, we’ll get there! Nothing says, “I’m proud to be American” better than shooting your mouth off with low caliber thinking.
    Recently, law abiding citizens were once again under attack by pinko fascist socialist hippie Nazi zombies who want to take away all our guns and sharp knives, and force us to eat soggy free-range veggie burgers on recycled paper plates.
    I happen to know that the Founding Fathers did not eat veggie burgers.
    OK, so a 9-year old girl accidentally shot and killed a shooting range instructor with a fully automatic 9mm Uzi.
    Six years ago, a similar incident occurred when an 8-year old boy died after shooting himself in the head with an Uzi at a gun show in Massachusetts while shooting at a pumpkin.

  • Social Security to resume mailed benefit statements

    Call it a paperless experiment that didn’t quite pan out. In 2011, a budget-strapped Social Security Administration (SSA) stopped mailing annual benefit statements to workers over 25 in order to save $70 million on annual printing and mailing costs.
    In return, the agency launched the “my Social Security” online tool that allows 24/7 access to your statement, as well as other helpful information. (Your statement shows a complete record of your taxable earnings, as well as estimated retirement, disability and survivor benefits.)
    Although more than 13 million people have opened accounts, that’s only about 6 percent of the American workforce. With millions of Baby Boomers at or approaching retirement age, Congress was justifiably concerned that not enough people were accessing this critical retirement-planning tool.
    That’s why this month SSA will resume mailing paper statements every five years to workers from ages 25 to 60, provided they haven’t already signed up for online statements. The expectation is that more people will migrate to electronic services over time, as Social Security continues to close field offices and reduce in-office paperwork services — thanks to years of funding cutbacks.

  • Fix social issues by legalizing pot

    New Mexico has a mix of fermenting social problems that could be fixed by the passage of a bill that would regulate marijuana like alcohol.
    Legalizing recreational marijuana use and possession for adults would provide users with a safer alternative to alcohol given the likelihood of it creating safer access for them.
    Safer access means consumers buying their product from a state and county-licensed retailer instead of an anonymous street dealer with cartel connections.
    Generally, marijuana has been a safer alternative because users tend to remain in control of their behavior and don’t generally commit acts of violence, or sexual assaults as people occasionally do when they are drinking.
    Reported sexual assaults, murders, and robberies have all decreased in Denver, since marijuana was legalized in January 2013. My hunch is that there are fewer black-market drug deals going bad. More people socializing with weed means less women are being sexually assaulted by aggressive drunks at parties.
    In New Mexico, drinking alcohol is ingrained as a cultural norm.
    During the last 30 years that the United States Census Bureau collected comparable data, New Mexico was among the top-three states for total alcohol-related deaths.

  • What to do with surplus from the War on Terror

    Now that even President Barack Obama has noticed the Imperial Storm Trooper syndrome spreading through our law enforcement agencies, maybe we can start talking about how to rid ourselves of all that expensive military surplus hardware the Pentagon has been handing out.
    A young friend who served a tour in Iraq managing a motor pool recently explained to me why the Army was so eager to unload all those heavily-armored white elephants: “maintenance and maneuverability.”
    The battle to overcome the IED threat in Iraq and Afghanistan makes a fascinating case study in the symbiotic evolution of opposing weapons systems, ongoing since the first man learned to tie his sharp rock to a stick and the other guy started stacking his rocks to make a wall.
    What started with the troops jury-rigging steel plates to their humvees to defend against artillery shells buried in the roadway continued with a crash program to develop ever more “mine resistant” vehicles, while the jihadists responded by building bigger and more sophisticated bombs.
    With the final generation of mine-resistant vehicles, we arrived at an evolutionary dead end: nearly invulnerable armored behemoths too heavy to venture off the main paved roads and too clumsy to maneuver through narrow city streets. (The dinosaurs made the same mistake.)