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Today's Opinions

  • Sifting through pieces of the HSD investigation

    Members of the legislative Behavioral Health Subcommittee last week pried open the circumstances leading the state Human Services Department to accuse 15 of the largest nonprofit providers of fraud and cut off funding.
    Information surfacing in chunks like wreckage at sea supports both HSD and the displaced providers.
    During the day-long hearing, the big moment belonged to Thomas Aldridge, of the Boston-based Public Consulting Group, whose audit incriminated the nonprofits. Aldridge admitted matter-of-factly that he had accompanied the governor and HSD officials to Arizona, on the taxpayers’ dime, to meet with Arizona service providers before the audit began.
    HSD Deputy Secretary Brent Earnest, standing in for Secretary Sidonie Squier, did a far better job at explaining things than his boss, who was last seen by legislators storming out of a committee meeting. Earnest, who is a grownup, said HSD first received whistleblower complaints about a variety of fraudulent activities.
    In November, HSD got a warning from Optum Health, which oversees behavioral health services for the state, related to irregularities in provider billings. And here, the story takes a couple of peculiar turns.

  • Lemonade, links to science literacy

    I came across a 7-year-old at a lemonade stand along a walking trail. He was selling the beverage — and something much more important.
    His sign said “$1: Lemonade and a great science lecture.” I recognize a good deal when I see one, so I purchased a cool drink and enjoyed a talk with a young man clearly inspired. At age seven.
    I spoke with the boy’s parents. Neither had a technical background and they struggled with finding new ways to nurture the boy’s passion for science. My message to them was simple: “You don’t have to know why the sky is blue to inspire him. You just have to point him in the right direction.”
    In my position as director of a national security science laboratory I come across many people inspired by science, technology, engineering and mathematics — what we call STEM. As a nation, we will need more of them. Unfortunately, I am also aware of others inspired by STEM who would use that knowledge to do harm to innocent people here or abroad.
    It concerns me that in the latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), American eighth graders were outpaced by nine countries in science and 11 countries in math. We have improved since the TIMSS studies began in 1995, but still have work to do.

  • 'Finding Home' tells American stories

    “Home to me is where your family is. Home is where you feel happy. Home is where you get along. Home is where you get help.” — Kathy Morgan, March 20, 1992, age 11.
    Sometimes life gets in the way of finding home, creating home. Disruptions can run from commonplace — call them “poor choices” — to hurricanes and tornados. In “Finding Home,” former Las Vegas Optic editor and Taos resident Sally Ooms tells stories of displacement and, as her subtitle puts it, “How Americans Prevail.”
    The full disclosure here is that Sally has been a close friend for more than 25 years. I couldn’t do a conventional book review. While “Finding Home” is hugely interesting and worthwhile, the decision belongs to you. Go to findinghomestories.com.
    When we spoke, Sally was in Meade, Kan., population 1,500 and along Sally’s commuting route between her Kansas City birthplace and New Mexico. One county east is Greensburg, 95 percent destroyed in 2007 by the first EF5 tornado ever measured.

  • Lack of funding affects quality of education

    I am concerned about the lack of funding for education in the state, and how it affects the quality of education in Los Alamos. The community is committed to strong education, but the funding is not supportive of the quality that this town has come to expect.
    Considering that, for the last few decades, the great schools in Los Alamos have attracted and kept many families in this town, the quality of education is not just a concern for current parents, but for the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the county, as well as other community members. It is a source of recruiting and retention for LANL. LANL supports our local and state economy, so our local economy relies on a healthy lab.
    Why is education a concern in Los Alamos? Student/teacher ratios are increasing, enrichment programs are at risk, programs for students with special needs and special gifts are affected, and teacher salaries are well below their worth. The funding is so tight that a small change in enrollment causes a cascade affect on resources. A reduction in enrollment by just a handful at a school causes the administration and the school board to revisit priorities and make new decisions regarding resources.
    If I had it my way, we would increase funding to all New Mexico school districts to improve the education system statewide. However, that is an insurmountable problem.

  • N.M. has money, can it be spent correctly?

    Even as New Mexico continues to get low rankings in all sorts of economic and social measures, it might make sense to take stock of our resources that have not been used in aiding the state’s economy.
    Most readers do not realize that New Mexico has America’s third-largest sovereign wealth fund, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, an organization that monitors these government managed investment funds.
    Coming in at slightly more than $17 billion in size, it’s also the 31st largest such fund in the world.
    The Institute also ranks fund managers on how much integrity and transparency they exhibit in their fiduciary duties; New Mexico actually scores pretty high in this category as well.
    That’s the good news. The bad news is the New Mexico Permanent Fund can only be used to invest in public education. But what if there was an opportunity to take a one-time piece of the fund, say 15 percent of the principle, and apply it over a four- to five-year New Mexico budget cycle, with some additional changes in the gross receipts tax, and then cut all New Mexico income taxes to zero, and do so on a permanent, sustaining basis?
    Then do it from that point forward.

  • Traffic tickets can ruin more than your day

    We all know that sinking feeling when you get pulled over for a traffic violation. If you’re lucky, you might just get a “fix-it” ticket for a broken tail light. But what if it was a more serious offense, like speeding or reckless driving?
    Depending on your driving record, you could get slapped with a sizeable penalty, or even a jail sentence — and your insurance rates will almost certainly go up.
    Let’s say you absentmindedly ran through a stop sign, or made an illegal left-hand turn. You’ll probably know right away how much the ticket will cost, but it could take months before your insurance company receives notice of the infraction and adjusts your premium.
    If the suspense is killing you, Insurance.com has a handy tool called the “Uh-Oh! Calculator” that estimates the average rate increases for the 14 most common traffic violations. And, if you enter your age, ZIP code, residence type, marital status, length of time with your insurance carrier and current premium, the calculator will generate a more customized estimate based on your personal data.
    Some of the average premium increases are pretty shocking:
    Reckless driving: 22 percent
    DUI first offense: 19 percent
    Driving without a license or permit: 18 percent
    Careless driving: 16 percent

  • Herds’ trails make history and news

    The New Mexico state fossil, the Coelophysis (SEE-low-FY-sis), is not your plain everyday dinosaur fossil.
    The critter gets no leading roles in movies, though its adventures match any for surprising turns through time.
    Coelophysis was an early dinosaur of the late Triassic period, some 210 million years ago. History shows that movie fans are drawn more to the Jurassic period, which came later. Bigger dinosaurs make a louder rumble on the screen.
    A brief sketch of Coelophysis shows its features. See an animal half as tall as a man with a tail more than twice that long bounding swiftly across the landscape on two legs. See numbers of them running in a pack or a flock.
    The name comes from the Greek “koilos,” meaning “hollow.” Coelophysis had hollow, lightweight bones, as birds do, which made it a fast and agile runner.
    Its eyes were large and well suited for hunting prey. Its sharp, jagged teeth are typical of meat-eaters.
    Of all the Earth’s beings, humans have the most peculiar mind for sizing up time and change.
    One day in 1947, a deposit of fossils came to light by chance in north-central New Mexico.
    It happened on what was then, and still is, the Ghost Ranch retreat and education center.

  • Dirty Drilling

    In a speech marking the 50th anniversary of the historic march on Washington,
    President Obama said “change does not come from Washington, but to Washington.”
    We agree. Last week Americans submitted more than one million comments urging President Obama to protect our national forests, parks, and the drinking water they provide from dirty gas drilling.
    Fracking — a dirty and dangerous method of drilling for oil and gas — has wrought widespread environmental damage across the country, including in New Mexico, turning treasured landscapes into industrial zones and contaminating drinking water sources.
    Now, the oil and gas industry is pushing to expose the best of our natural heritage to fracking, including Otero Mesa and outside Chaco Canyon National Historic Park.
    We are looking to President Obama to recognize the change knocking on Washington’s door. We, along with a growing number of Americans, urge President Obama to protect our forests, our parks, and the drinking water sources for thousands of New Mexicans from this dirty drilling.
    Sanders Moore
    Environment New Mexico