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Today's Opinions

  • 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.”

  • What it means to have a Republican majority

    It’s time for your lawmakers to get to work. There is much to do this year, and we’re ready for the challenge.
    There is a lot of excitement in Santa Fe — the result of last year’s election. For the first time in 60 years, the people of New Mexico have chosen Republicans to lead the House of Representatives. It is an honor that we do not take lightly, and we promise to fight every day to advance our state.
    A lot of people ask me, “What does it mean now that Republicans are in the majority?” No matter who I talk to, whether they are Democrat or Republican, my answer never changes: Our goal is to put New Mexico’s families first.
    After all, the voters have spoken — they want an end to the politics as usual in Santa Fe. They want their leaders to reject the political dysfunction and gridlock that has become the hallmark of Washington, D.C. In the end, political games hurt our families and derail progress.
    Some may we have a daunting task ahead of us — they say it’s impossible for Republicans and Democrats to work together.
    I disagree. I believe we can come together. And we can start by working on common ground and finding ways to create good jobs for all New Mexicans.

  • Re-imposing food tax doesn’t add up

    The best state sales tax systems (or gross receipts tax, as it is called in New Mexico) are broad, low, and don’t tax necessities, like food.  
    If tax systems are broad and low, that means that the tax burden is shared widely by different products and services and doesn’t fall too heavily on any one product or service.
    Meanwhile, most states avoid taxing necessities so that citizens who live paycheck to paycheck are not forced to choose between paying the rent and putting food on the table.   
    Unfortunately, New Mexico‘s gross receipts tax (GRT) is neither broad nor low. At last count, there were 338 exemptions for everything from boxing matches to all-terrain vehicles and these exemptions significantly narrow the tax base.
    The GRT also averages more than 7.25 percent across New Mexico, which is relatively high, according to the Tax Foundation.
    The one area where New Mexico’s GRT gets it right is the fact that, since 2005, New Mexico no longer taxes food or medical services. This was an important reform, since the food tax not only fell on a necessity, it was also very regressive in that it fell hardest on those who could least afford it.

  • Objections to transparency in healthcare costs don’t hold water

    Last week, we picked up our sweet old dog and paid a vet bill with the complexity of a hospital bill, minus the shock. That’s because the clinic first gave us an estimate.
    Let’s say you need a hip replacement. Why can’t you get an estimate? Why aren’t hospital costs comparable?
    Think New Mexico answers the question with its proposal for transparency in healthcare costs. The pros far outweigh the cons.
    New Mexico hospitals charge a surprisingly wide range of prices for the same procedures, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Studies. Higher priced care may reflect a higher readmission, error or infection rate rather than better care.
    Think New Mexico found that patients at the same hospital receiving the same treatment from the same doctor are charged different prices, depending on who is paying the bills. (The six most expensive hospitals are owned by Community Health Systems, which has reportedly hired lobbyists to fight the bill.)
    When insurers and hospitals negotiate reimbursement rates, a gag clause forbids disclosure. The uninsured, with no bargaining power, have the highest rates. Secrecy and varied pricing add to complexity, which increases administrative waste in the system.

  • I will that I won’t

    René Descartes was a truly amazing person. He invented analytic geometry, giving us the standard notation we use today for avariables, and created the coordinate plane system, allowing us to graphically represent algebraic equations.
    He is known for having creating the “rule of signs,” a method for determining the number of positive and negative roots of an equation. He also invented exponential notation and figured out the principal of refraction, creating what today is known as Snell’s Law.
    In summary, he gave math teachers a plethora of ways to torture students.
    Perhaps even more amazing is that mathematics was only a hobby of Descartes. His primary focus in life was philosophy, employing his “method of doubt” in a passionate search for truth. With his establishment of using logic and reason to define the natural sciences, he is known as “the father of philosophy.”
    And as such, the one thing he is best known for is his famous philosophical declaration, “Je pense, donc je suis,” a statement of proof of being.
    You probably know it as, “Cogito, ergo sum,” or “I think, therefore I am.”
    Whether or not one exists, philosophers and psychologists are still debating who exactly is the “we” who thinks?

  • Letters to the editor 1-22-15

    Donate for Valentines for Vets

    The Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 8874 in Los Alamos is a nonprofit organization of volunteers who donate their time and talents for the benefit of our veterans at home and abroad.  
    We send care packages to our military overseas, as well as phone cards (via Operation Uplink) to our deployed military personnel.  
    On the home front, we financially support the VFW National Home for Children, Unmet Needs and Cancer Aid and Research programs, we continually work to obtain legislation that will benefit our veterans and their families, we sponsor the Young American Creative Patriotic Art, Outstanding Young Volunteer and Americanism youth programs in our schools, we assist local families of disabled and needy veterans, and we visit the VA Hospital in Albuquerque every February for the Valentines for Vets event.
    The Valentines for Vets event consists of visiting our veterans and distributing amenities along with Valentine’s Day cards made locally and collected by our Girl Scouts.  
    This year’s event will be at 1 p.m. Feb. 8. Since the Albuquerque Veterans Hospital services the entire northern area of our state, we are soliciting donations from everyone in our connected communities.  

  • Home remodel for the new year

    Our 2014 huge positives were the first grandchild, a new kitchen and hanging out by the ocean in Monterrey, California. The negatives were many, many trips to doctors.
    The kitchen came courtesy of an inheritance from my mother. In developing the project, we considered many things. Our research led us to million dollar homes with sloppy work. Most of our ideas worked; some didn’t, demanding compromise and rethinking. Our experience may lend some insight as you contemplate such a project.
    While we managed without a $10,000 stove, the project was extravagant. Fortunately we could not enlarge the kitchen because our house encircles it.
    We had the cash. Obvious advice, item one, be able to pay. Call me an outlier in our consumption ethos, but I’ve never been a borrower. Only for houses, but not for cars (once, only) and definitely not now with a fixed income.
    We didn’t worry about recapturing remodeling cost on sale of the house. We plan to be in the house long enough to render such an analysis moot. We did the project for us, not for the next guy.