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Today's Opinions

  • Us ‘n’ them: Reflections on West Texas

     

    Texans fascinate me. It’s not an uncritical admiration, but I can’t help looking across the border and wondering why they zoom out of the recession while we in New Mexico spin our wheels.

    From a recent annual meeting of the West Texas Historical Society, held in Odessa, I returned with some ideas to share with you.

    “Texas exceptionalism.” 

    This phrase, tossed out during one talk, is a fancy way to capture the confidence, the bravado, that permeates the atmosphere the way the smell of money from bobbing pumpjacks fills the air for miles around Odessa. What other state could name a major Austin museum exhibit “It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true?”

  • Supreme Court case has lessons for mortgage lenders

     

    Lenders that resell or buy mortgage loans might feel the impact of a February decision by the New Mexico State Supreme Court that affects their ability to foreclose if the borrower defaults.

    The case, Bank of New York v. Joseph A. Romero, involved a Chimayó man who refinanced a mortgage he had taken on a home he inherited from his father decades earlier. Romero secured the original loan to open a business in Española; the 2006 Equity One refinance was done to pay off that older mortgage and other debts.

    Romero claimed his business made approximately $5,600 per month, but Equity One didn’t confirm that information or require an appraisal. To satisfy provisions of the state Home Loan Protection Act, or HLPA, Equity One had Romero and his wife sign a document stating that their $30,000 cash payout from the transaction was “a reasonable tangible net benefit” to them. 

  • Free-for-all democracy wilts

    A durable democracy is built on multiple means of inquiry. Since it s founding, our nation has thrived on three such methods: science, trial by jury, and generalized talk.
    Each method is ages old, indispensable and honored in its own right. Yet their vital distinctions grow dim in the flak of today’s politicking.
    A diligent focus on each method reveals what it does, how it does it and their defining differences. A clear sense of each method illuminates democracy itself.
    The scientific method seeks truth that applies reliably under hosts of varied conditions. To do this, science defines words with great exactness and seeks to include every factor that affects an outcome. The task of science is to determine how and to what extent each of many factors affects the net result. Over long periods, missing knowledge is filled in, but is never finished.
    Robust methods of inquiry also require means of testing the validity of conclusions.
    Science checks validity by replicating an experiment’s results and by peer review of both the experiments and the results. Replicating experimental results requires knowing, measuring and controlling every factor that affects the outcome. Validity grows more certain as an outcome is replicated more times in more places.

  • Climate change, air quality and health

    The third National Climate Assessment report, due to be released this month, confirms both the role of human activities in causing climate change and the broad range of adverse health consequences that climate change brings.
    The report was produced by the federal government’s multi-agency United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), established by Presidential initiative in 1989.

 The effects of climate change on human health are of particular concern to the physician and scientist members of the American Thoracic Society.
    Our patients have cardiopulmonary disease and, therefore, are particularly susceptible to the air pollution emitted along with the carbon dioxide that contributes to climate change, which, itself, is injurious to respiratory health.
    According to the World Health Organization, the No. 1 environmental cause of death in the world is particulate matter air pollution. The WHO estimates that outdoor air pollution in both cities and rural areas caused 3.7 million premature deaths worldwide in 2012.  

  • Resist urge to tap into retirement plans early

    I have yet to meet anyone who thinks they’re saving too much money for retirement. On the contrary, most people admit they’re probably setting aside too little. Retirement accounts must compete with daily expenses, saving up for a home, college and unexpected emergencies for every precious dollar.
    If taking money out of your IRA, 401(k), or other tax-sheltered plan is your best or only option, you should be aware of the possible impacts on your taxes and long-term savings objectives before raiding your nest egg:
    401(k) loans. Many 401(k) plans allow participants to borrow from their account to buy a home, pay for education, medical expenses, or other special circumstances. Generally, you may be allowed to borrow up to half your vested balance up to a maximum of $50,000 — or a reduced amount if you have other outstanding plan loans.
    Loans usually must be repaid within five years, although you may have longer if you’re using the loan to purchase your primary residence.
    Potential drawbacks to 401(k) loans include:
    • If you leave your job, even involuntarily, you must pay off the loan immediately (usually within 30 to 90 days), or you’ll owe income tax on the remainder — as well as a 10 percent early distribution penalty if you’re under age 59½.

  • Organization helps businesses procure government contracts

    A business owner who believes the federal, state or local government could use his product or service often has little clue about how and where to make a pitch.
    Gil Torres found himself in this situation when he purchased Sigma Science in 2013 and wanted to expand the Los Alamos company’s reach beyond the work it did providing risk management and environmental safety and health services for Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories.
    Torres needed specific certifications to bid on certain government contracts. He began his search on the Small Business Administration website, where he discovered the New Mexico Small Business Development Center network’s Procurement Technical Assistance Program. PTAP is a federally and state-funded organization that helps small businesses obtain certifications and develop the capabilities and sophistication needed to compete for government contracts.
    Torres requested help from Elaine Palin, the PTAP adviser based in Santa Fe, to obtain 8(a) certification as a disadvantaged business enterprise based on his financial qualifications and ethnicity. He also wanted information about bid matching services and counseling to help him market his company to the Army, Navy and Air Force.

  • Political words: 'Stop at nothing,' 'Fire,' 'Journey.'

    Political types write funny. Not funny, ha, ha, but funny strange. One example is that all the opponents are “failedpolicies,” as if the alleged failing are one word. Or for the left, “waronwomen.” Fate placed me on some political email lists. Punishment for sins.
    Rep. Ron Barber of Tucson, Ariz., does it best. Emails come most days. Rather than running on his record, he has decided the conservative mega-rich Koch brothers are the problem. The March 31 email says, “Harold — I’m sorry for being so blunt.”
    Barber emails usually close with a pitch for money, often three dollars, which seems an odd amount. Clearly the advisors have decided three dollars makes for a soft enough touch that recipients will help Barber hold the line against the Kochs.
    An art exists to all this. Solicitations are to start with an attention grabbing invocation of the apocalypse and close with asking for money.
    In a March 25 blog post, Steve Terrell, political writer at The Santa Fe New Mexican, reported results of a poll that said Attorney General Gary King led the five Democrats running for governor with 34 percent. Then it was Sen. Howie Morales, 15 percent; Sen. Linda Lopez, 13 percent; Lawrence Rael, seven percent; Alan Weber, five percent.

  • Grisham and gridlock

    This could be the worst time in all its history to be a member of the United States House of Representatives.
    More than half of the House’s time is spent — wasted — not on the substance of issues, but on wrangling about procedural matters, said Democratic Congresswoman Michelle Luján Grisham, speaking last week to a hometown audience of supporters. Very little real work is getting done, and summer recess is coming up soon.
    Like every other member of the U.S. House, Grisham will be home this summer campaigning for re-election — as will New Mexico’s other members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat Ben Ray Luján and Republican Steve Pearce. The Washington pundits have ranked all of New Mexico’s districts as safe seats with the incumbents highly favored to win re-election. But Grisham takes nothing for granted. Because of national interest in our governor’s race, she’s assuming the state will be bombarded with big national Republican money.
    Calling Grisham a bundle of energy is probably cliché by now. It’s an apt description for a woman who is short, bouncy and so energetic she could be speaking from a trampoline. I can imagine her striding down hallways in the Capitol and cornering adversarial members twice her size.