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Today's Opinions

  • Credit score updates people should know

    Credit scoring has evolved over the last three decades and this fall, FICO made one more important change.
    Borrowers who have struggled with medical debt and those with a limited credit history might see better FICO numbers in the future. Even if these situations don’t apply to you, understanding how credit scoring is changing can help you better manage your credit over time.
    FICO Score 9, rolled out last fall, is described as a more “nuanced” version of the original FICO Score that the leading credit scoring company introduced in 1989.
    It is offered by three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. It now bypasses collection agency accounts and weighs medical debt differently than non-medical debt on a person’s credit record.
    Borrowers with a median score of 711 whose only negative credit data comes from medical collections will see their credit score go up 25 points under the new system.
    As for consumers with limited credit histories — what the industry calls “thin files” — FICO says the new system will better determine the ability of someone in that situation to repay a debt.

  • A dream come true: An astronomy buff visits new nature center

    Yesterday Helen Cake and Richard Sokoloff reminded me that the new Nature Center (Pajarito Environmental Education — PEEC) was opening at 2 p.m. I got there late due to working on my latest book reprint order, but what a big crowd and what a beautiful nature experience with gorgeous view over the canyon, and best of all, the planetarium.
    Many years ago in Michigan, after finding the H.A. Rey book, “The Stars,” then standing on frozen McKane Lake with my mom, (Grandma Ashley), listening to the rumbling of the ice under pure black skies, (with quick runs inside to get warm), we found the Lion, the Big Do, and even the Little Dog, plus the Big Hunter Orion with his triple star belt. I have been hooked on star gazing ever since!
    I co-sponsored the Los Alamos High School Astronomy Club for many years and also did UNM-LA’s astronomy outdoor lab for beginning Astronomy. I took LAHS astronomy kids to planetariums and observatories in Chicago, Denver, Hutchinson, Kansas, Flagstaff, Arizona, Kitt Peak, Arizona, Los Angeles, San Diego and The Very Large Array near Socorro in New Mexico. The out-of-state trips were by Amtrak, and we got more members for the California trip by including Disneyland.

  • GMO — giving my opinion

    Last year, my cousin purchased a Jack Russell Terrier.
    Well, that’s what he thought he was buying.
    It turned out that it was a genetically modified crossbreed between a Miniature Schnauzer, an African wildebeest and a slightly overripe acorn squash.
    He can’t help but love the creature, and on the positive side the cute little vegetable does keep the family supplied in fresh milk, but the carpet cleaning bills are killing him.
    Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are a hot topic of debate and the arguments for and against them span from the inane to the insane. Technically speaking, one could claim that any intervention on man’s part to produce “genetic forks” in the pathways of evolution constitutes a GMO.
    Now, GMOs aren’t necessarily bad. Most vegetables we enjoy wouldn’t exist in the form we know them if not for selective breeding. Carrots would look more like horseradish roots, corn like a fat grass, potatoes like diseased mummified toads, and Chihuahuas would look like ... well, anything other than a Chihuahua.
    OK, I hear you arguing that Chihuahuas aren’t vegetables. Clearly, you’ve never owned one!

  • Why strengthening the Freedom of Information Act is so important

    President Barack Obama has routinely promised greater transparency within the federal government. Now, Congress is making strides towards achieving this critical goal.
    The House of Representatives and Senate are currently considering nearly identical bills to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which provides the general public, including journalists, with access to federal government records.
    This legislation has received broad support across media organizations, including the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of which the Newspaper Association of America is a member. And here’s why:
    • Openness instead of secrecy would be the “default” key within the government.  
    The legislation would require agencies to release documents under a “presumption of openness,” reaffirming the principle that information should never be kept confidential to protect government interests at the expense of the public.
    Agencies would need to prove specific harm that could result from disclosures before withholding documents. While this policy has been in place since 2009, the legislation would ensure future administrations honor this objective for openness.
    • The process of obtaining FOIA records would be much more efficient.

  • Water bills dried up in this legislative session

    Lawmakers considered some substantive water bills this year.
    As usual, successes were small.
    One of the most watched bills was House Bill 38, the Forest and Watershed Restoration Act.
    Lawmakers and interest groups — agricultural, environmental, and civic — have said the state’s current efforts to remediate wildfire devastation to forests and watersheds are inadequate, considering the extent of damage and potential for even more harm to critical water sources.
    The bill created an advisory board, attached to the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, and a fund. The board could adopt guidelines and best-management practices for projects, coordinate activities with various agencies and nonprofits and evaluate and prioritize projects for funding.
    The department would have the last word.
    The state Department of Agriculture said the bill’s $2.25 million in funding would step up the pace and reach of restoration work, and the State Land Office said some of the projects would make state trust lands more productive and reduce fire damage.
    The bill had bipartisan sponsorship (Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe), passed both chambers unanimously, and miraculously found funding. But EMNRD said HB 38 would duplicate work done by its forestry division.

  • Business accelerators invited to compete for SBA funds

    For the second year in a row, the Small Business Administration is sponsoring a competition to award $50,000 each to 50 business accelerators, incubators, shared tinker spaces and co-working startup communities.
    This time around, Javier Saade, associate administrator for the SBA’s Office of Investment and Innovation, hopes to see more applicants from New Mexico. Only one accelerator in the state competed in 2014 — out of 830 applicants.
    Given that one objective of the program, according to the SBA, is to “fill geographic gaps in the accelerator and entrepreneurial ecosystem space,” New Mexico is just the kind of place the agency would like to spend money from its growth accelerator fund.
    “It is well known that the most successful accelerators to date were founded on the coasts,” according to the SBA. The National Venture Capital Association concurs, reporting that startups in San Francisco, San Jose, New York, Boston and Los Angeles have consistently received the lion’s share of venture capital funding over the past five years.
    The SBA awards are designed to stimulate more capital investment in parts of the country that lack conventional sources of capital and vibrant entrepreneurial networks.
    What they’re looking for

  • Earth Day in Los Alamos County started 45 years ago

    To remember the first Earth Day in Los Alamos County, one must give credit where it is due — the Los Alamos High School Students to Save Our Environment.
    A group of very concerned students answered the call of a teacher and formed a group to determine how to plan for a first Earth Day. They were linking up with the efforts of the newly formed Citizens for Clean Air and Water, a group of citizens and lab scientists who had begun addressing the deadly air pollution from the Four Corners power plants.
    The idea for the First Earth Day arose nationally in the midst of the Vietnam War as the nation’s awareness began to focus on issues, such as the Cuyahoga River in Ohio catching fire from oil slicks, oil spills off the California coast killing sea life and so many other issues raising public consciousness. Gaylord Nelson, Democratic Senator from Wisconsin and Pete McCloskey, a conservative Republic Congressman, joined hands to bring about the first national Earth Day. As the nation began to respond, so did the students.
    LAHS students approached the administrators who readily gave permission to celebrate the first Earth Day. The students formed “teams” on particular topics to research and prepare talks.

  • Lost opportunities in hemp production

    I’m a natural-fiber kind of person. Whenever I can, I prefer to purchase and wear clothing that is 100 percent cotton.  
    I have learned recently about the pollution involved in the growing of my favorite fiber.
    Conventional cotton is filthy. It uses more herbicides and pesticides per acre than most other crops.
    For that reason I was doubly disappointed when Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the industrial hemp bill.
    Hemp has been demonized in the United States because it is biologically very close to marijuana, but it won’t get anyone high. It’s a useful and amazingly versatile plant. Until it was banned because of its similarity to marijuana, hemp was used all over the world for centuries for an astonishing variety of purposes — food, clothing, paper, building material and, famously, rope.
    Sources agree growing conventional cotton uses as much as 50 percent of all the pesticides consumed in the nation. Hemp grows like a weed. It should be of special interest to New Mexico because it doesn’t need much water.
    Wouldn’t it be useful if New Mexico researchers could help New Mexico farmers know when to use hemp as an alternative crop?
    A massive amount of information is widely available extolling the benefits of hemp and refuting the old bugaboos about its similarity to pot.