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Today's Opinions

  • Doing the math on math

    The orphanage door was locked and the only way to open the door was to punch in a cryptic key, the deranged design of an eccentric locksmith.
    The key was a zero of a quartic equation displayed above the door, a labyrinth of logic for your average citizen.
    As smoke billowed from the rooftop, firefighters were unable to get inside to rescue the children.
    The fire chief yelled out, “Quick! We need to know how to determine the x-intercepts for this quartic!”
    Fortunately, I was ready, armed with the algebraic knowledge that allowed me to recognize the quadratic form embedded in the esoteric equation. I quickly derived the root, entered the key and rescued the children!
    OK, so this didn’t really happen. I’m still waiting for my chance to be an algorithmic hero, but I’m sure that one day, knowing how to factor a polynomial will be a life-changing event.
    When studying new concepts, my math students always ask, “What am I going to ever use this for? What good is it?”
     I could tell them, “Well, it keeps me employed,” but if that were really the reason, I’d be the first to say we shouldn’t teach it!
    So why do we study math? Or more to the geometric point, why do we study the math we study?

  • A deepening divide



    For those pining for a Democratic Party that tries to represent more than the whims of the rich and powerful, these are, to say the least, confusing times.
    On the presidential campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has been promoting standard pro-middle class rhetoric, yet also has been raking in speaking fees from financial firms.
    One of her potential primary challengers, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, has been sounding anti-Wall Street themes, but only after finishing up two terms in office that saw his state plow more public pension money into Wall Street firms, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in financial fees.
    Similarly, in Washington, the anti-Wall Street fervor of those such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren sometimes seems as if it is on the ascent — that is, until big money comes calling.
    Indeed, on the very same day Reuters reported on big banks threatening to withhold campaign contributions from Democratic coffers, Democratic lawmakers abruptly coalesced around Charles Schumer as their next U.S. Senate leader.
    CNN captured in a blaring headline how unflinching an ally the New York senator has been to the financial elite: “Wall Street welcomes expected Chuck Schumer promotion.”

  • No new taxes vs. no new debt: The standoff

    Deciding which public works projects to fund, even in a good year, exposes our fault lines — political, rural-urban, and governmental — but it also validates need.
    The whittling for this year’s failed capital outlay (pork) bill was more hard-nosed than usual.
    From the $200 million-plus hog, the governor asked for $60 million in capital outlay: $45 million for roads and $15 million for the economic development closing fund.
    State Bill 159 emerged from the Senate Finance Committee and passed the Senate unanimously. It included $45 million for roads, an attempt to accommodate the governor, and money for local projects of all 42 senators and 33 House Democrats.
    But not House Republicans. This is because the Democratic majority in the Senate, the Republican majority in the House, and the governor couldn’t agree.
    Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, has said the state is up to its eyeballs in road debt. He refused to approve any more without a new funding source, namely an increase in fuel taxes.
    In committee, some Republicans weren’t opposed, but the governor, positioning herself for the national stage, was adamant.
    No new taxes vs. no new debt. Stalemate. When diplomacy fails, manipulation takes its place.

  • Medicare hospice benefit helps terminally ill patients, families

    Choosing hospice care isn’t about giving up. It’s about making every day count.
    Terminally ill people who make the choice receive care for their physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs. They’re no longer seeking a cure, but they do want to live out their last weeks and months as comfortably as possible and with dignity.
    Unfortunately, many people with Medicare aren’t aware of the hospice benefit.
    Hospice programs follow a team approach. The specially trained team typically includes doctors, nurses, counselors and social workers, among others. A doctor and nurse are on call 24-7 to care for you and support your family when you need it.
    The hospice benefit allows you and your family to stay together in the comfort of your home, unless you require hospital care. If your hospice team determines you need inpatient care at some point, it will make the arrangements for your stay.
    Hospice’s main goal is to relieve your pain and manage your symptoms. As long as the care comes from a Medicare-approved hospice, Medicare covers the physician services, nursing care, drugs, medical equipment and supplies, and physical and occupational therapy.

  • What does N.M. want from an electric power company?

    The debate over PNM’s proposed long-term plan is raising questions that go beyond the plan itself, if New Mexicans are willing to engage in that discussion.
    Though most of the state is served by electric co-ops, PNM’s economic and environmental influence reaches well beyond its service boundaries.
    The Public Regulation Commission must make a decision with far-reaching consequences. Environmental concerns — including the health of New Mexico children — appear to clash with economic objectives, which also affect New Mexico citizens.
    But maybe the clash of objectives is not real. The argument may be broader.
    Three PRC commissioners recently spent more than two hours at a session devoted entirely to public comment about the PNM plan. Under the plan, two of the coal-fired units at the San Juan Generating Station will be shut down.
    The controversy is over what replaces the power from those units. Will it be a mix of coal, nuclear, renewable and natural gas — a plan already agreed to by federal and other state regulators — or, as some New Mexicans demand, will it be changed to scrap the coal and nuclear and rely much more on solar and wind?

  • Reasons to ban single-use carryout plastic bags

    The United States used more than 100 billion plastic bags in 2009.
    Significant resources are used to create these bags — oil or natural gas are used as the feedstock. And considerable energy is used transporting them to the stores where they are dispensed. The very idea of using scarce and expensive resources on an item intended to be used once, for a few hours, and then thrown away is the antithesis of sustainability.
    These bags are intended to be used once to carry groceries or other purchases to the car, then to the house and then be discarded.
    Many opponents of a bag ban say they make additional use of the bags before disposal. I have no doubt this is true for those people, but the statistics show that most bags are not reused. And even if they are reused, they still go into the trash, where they eventually end up in the ocean, scattered over our landscape, or in a landfill where they do not decompose for hundreds of years, and remain a problem if they ever make their way back to the surface.
    It should also be noted that there are biodegradable products available for all of the uses to which these bags are reused by some. They have to be paid for, but that cost reflects the fact that they are not hard on the environment.

  • Highway finance still is the elephant in the room

    No additional money will appear during the next year or so for construction and maintenance of New Mexico’s roads and highways, barring a special session of the Legislature, an event that Gov. Susana Martinez said March 30 was highly unlikely.
    More money was in the deal that wasn’t a deal at the end of the recent legislative session. The opinions about sources of money were strongly held. No compromise wandered into the negotiations, and so nothing happened.
    The administration and the Legislature again kicked the proverbial can down the, ummm, road.
    The administration wanted to move motor vehicle excise tax revenue (around $144 million, this budget year) back into the road fund from the general fund, which would punch an equal hole in the general fund.
    The road fund, source of construction and maintenance money, is different from the general fund, which is allocated by the budget.
    The administration also figures it is OK to borrow against severance tax revenue, something legislators oppose partly because road construction money was borrowed under the Gary Johnson administration and the payments still eat a nasty piece of the money that is available for roads.
    The Democrats proposed raising the gasoline tax, a move the governor opposes. Nyahh, so there, they said to one another, and the session ended.

  • Abolish the income tax and IRS

    For some time now we’ve lived with the scourge of civil asset forfeiture, under which the police can seize a person’s property on the mere suspicion it was used in a crime and without having to charge the owner with an offense. Since the authorities have no burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the burden of proving innocence falls on the hapless citizen who wishes to recover his property.
    Amazingly, people describe as free a society that features this outrage.
    Now it comes to light that the Internal Revenue Service does something similar. The New York Times reports that the IRS seizes bank accounts of people whose only offense is routinely to make deposits of less than $10,000. If you do this enough times, the IRS may suspect you are trying to avoid the requirement that deposits of $10,000 or more be reported by the bank. The IRS keeps the money, but the depositors need not be charged with a crime.
    You read that right. The government demands notification whenever a bank customer deposits $10,000 or more. If you are merely suspected of avoiding that requirement, it can cost you big time.
    Welcome to the land of the free.