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Today's Opinions

  • Mirroring the Marmota Monax

    Do you ever get the feeling that things will never change?
    With Groundhog Day approaching this weekend, it wouldn’t surprise me if I woke up and found myself back in the 1960s — flag-waving nationalists beating on foreigners, police beating on civil rights marchers, religious fundamentalists beating on homosexuals, bigots beating on minorities.
    Hang on. I need to check the calendar to make sure I’m not actually back in the ’60s!
    Monday, Punxsutawney Phil will once again look for his shadow, then predict the inevitable extension of winter for another six weeks.
    Actually, shadow or no, it’ll be 48 more days of winter, not six weeks (I checked to see when the Equinox occurs).
    But today, Jan. 30, is just as important a date as Feb. 2.
    In 1648, Netherlands and Spain signed a treaty — Peace of Munster — ending the Thirty Years War, a terribly destructive series of conflict in Europe that resulted in over 10 million deaths.
    It was a war to end all wars and its end brought forth an era of peace that reigned throughout Europe for years and years and years.
    Well, of course, there was that little skirmish between Portugal and Spain (Restoration War) for another 20 years. And then another 22 years of killing during the Anglo-Dutch War.
    Ah! But then there was peace!

  • ‘Blackhat’ much ado about nearly nothing

    There was considerable concern within the nuclear energy community about Michael Mann’s cyber-thriller “Blackhat” before its release.
    Much of the pre-release angst was generated by the trailers, which showed a catastrophic nuclear accident had blown open a gaping hole in a large, domed containment building. I went to see it the first day it hit the local cinema, and early on I suspected that the nuclear energy community’s angst was literally much ado about nearly nothing.
    My first inkling was when the control room was shown. I almost laughed because it had wall-to-wall windows overlooking a vast, steaming open pool of water.
    First, there are no windows in actual nuclear power plant control rooms. Also, the depicted control room looked much like a high-tech press box at a modern professional football stadium.
    Regardless, I was curious about the hot-water pool. I wondered if that was supposed to be the reactor.
    My speculation was soon verified. There was a series of long, vertical metal pipes deep within the pool — the supposed core. Surrounding these pipes were several rotating fan-like devices. It seems that these were supposed to be the circulation pumps.

  • Governor speech making has evolved, but still doesn’t produce consensus

    Political speeches are a hazard of reporting.
    The great journalist
    H.L. Mencken once wrote of a speech by President Harding, “It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line… of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights.”
    His main complaint was that Harding’s speeches were devoid of ideas and nothing but stump speeches loaded with platitudes.
    I can’t say I’ve ever heard a speech that bad. I remember Sen. Pete Domenici as direct, Sen. Jeff Bingaman as cerebral, Gov. Bruce King as smart and folksy at the same time, Rep. Heather Wilson as sensible, House Speakers Raymond Sanchez and Walter Martinez as eloquent.
    Gov. Bill Richardson was clear and understandable, although he sometimes bullied people from the podium.
    Former Senate President Manny Aragon, during a speech about the state’s huge needs and the difficulty in stretching the budget, grew so emotional that I half expected him to weep. This was before he decided his own needs trumped everyone else’s.

  • Illegal immigration: Is Europe losing control of its borders?

    The cargo ship recklessly headed towards the coast of Italy. The crew had abandoned ship and the Italian coast guard scrambled to intervene.
    After regaining control of the ship the coast guard discovered a troubling reality: 800 illegal immigrants were hiding in the hull of the ship. These men, women and children — most of them coming from Africa — were exhausted and terrified by the ordeal.
    Later that day — December 31, 2014 — the ship was brought safely to the Italian harbor of Gallipoli where the migrants got off.
    Scenes like this play out almost on a daily basis.
    Two days later, the same scenario occurred with another cargo ship that was carrying roughly 450 illegal immigrants.
    Illegal migrants from Africa, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq are desperately trying to cross the sea to reach Europe.
    There is a lot at stake for everyone involved and 2014 saw record numbers of immigrants. On January 13, 2015, the European Union Commission (EUC) released a statement that said in 2014 “more than 276,000 migrants illegally entered the EU, which represents an increase of 155 percent compared to 2013.”

  • A tourist’s guide to the Roundhouse

    The state capitol is once again filled to the brim with legislators, lobbyists, state agency executives, legislative staff members and thousands of assorted visitors.
    If you’ve never been there, it’s worth a trip to see your representative democracy in action. With any luck, you’ll catch a hot debate or at least see a good show at the noon hour in the rotunda or a lively demonstration outside.
    The capitol is just a few blocks from the train station and an easy walk for the able-bodied if the weather is good. Parking is a problem, but drivers can sometimes find a parking spot in the new parking lot just west of the building. Hint: Some parking becomes available after the lunch hour when presentations in the rotunda are ended.
    Even on a dull day, you can enjoy the capitol’s art collection, which is spectacular. The art collection, managed by a foundation, has its own website, nmcapitolart.org, so you can read about it in advance.
    Part of the collection is in the new North Capitol annex and worth walking to see if you have spare time.
    Unless you call ahead, you might not see your representative or your senator, at least not up close. Legislators are very busy during the session.

  • Two kinds of income inequality

    Income inequality is back in the news, propelled by an Oxfam International report and President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. The question is whether government needs to do something about this — or whether government needs to undo many things.
    Measuring income inequality is no simple thing, which is one source of disagreement between those who think inequality is a problem and those who think it isn’t. But it is possible to cut through the underbrush and make some points clear.
    We can identify two kinds of economic inequality, and let’s keep this in mind as we contemplate what, if anything, government ought to do.
    The first kind we might call market inequality. Individuals differ in many ways, including energy, ambition and ingenuity. As a result, in a market-oriented economy some people will be better than others at satisfying consumers and will hence tend to make more money.
    The only way to prevent that is to interfere forcibly with the results of peaceful, positive-sum transactions in the marketplace. Since interference discourages the production of wealth, the equality fostered through violence will be an equality of impoverishment.

  • Working on a plastic bag ban

    When I was 4, we lived on a farm in Maryland. One day, in a weedy pasture where sunflowers grew higher than my head to hide the trash that the locals threw there, and through which ran a drain, that at the time seemed to me a stream, I found in that drain a discarded empty bottle of Halo shampoo out of which spewed bubbles.
    I thought those bubbles were beautiful as they caught, prismed and sparkly, in the weeds at the side of the seep. I called my dad. “Look! Look! See how pretty?” But he came and stopped me from picking up the bottle and told me it was trash and that people shouldn’t litter like that. It took only a moment of training to understand that what I thought was excellent was, when viewed through the maturity of right and wrong, a bad thing.
    It took decades to train us, and laws to forbid it, but nowadays most people know it’s bad to toss trash from the car window, or to casually drop a wrapper, bottle, or McDonald’s bag in the parking lot. Only arrogant kids or ignorant adults litter. Trashing is not something caring people do.

  • Job growth seen at 1.1 percent per year

    For economists, mid-speech applause is unusual.
    Jeffrey Mitchell got the treatment during his talk to the Economic Outlook Conference, presented by Albuquerque Business First, a weekly newspaper. Mitchell is the newish director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico and runs UNM’s forecasting model.
    I suspect that the applause reflected the frustration of the several hundred people in the audience, presumably business types, with the state of the New Mexico economy and the paucity of proposals for real action beyond tinkering at the margin.
    Audience approval came when Mitchell said, “It’s a matter of where we are uniquely strong and build on that.”
    In a post-conference email exchange with Mitchell, I said, “I believe we do not know and/or understand our various strengths and specialness. A detailed look at the state and its various economies might provide insight leading to policy actions that might move us.”
    Mitchell replied, “Perhaps you’re right that we’re not clear on makes the state special. But I strongly believe that any long-term improvement in the state’s economic situation must begin by addressing this question. And I think that people are beginning to recognize this.”