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Today's Opinions

  • James Madison and the War of 1812

    Presidents Day reflections typically commemorate the exploits of two of our larger than life chief executives whose birthdays we celebrate in February — George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. This piece instead assesses the contributions of a different American colossus — James Madison — and examines the War of 1812 as we observe the 200th anniversary of the treaty that ended the conflict, which the U.S. Congress approved on Feb. 16, 1815.
    Madison’s image does not adorn Mount Rushmore, and he has no memorial in Washington, D.C. However, he played a pivotal role in devising the United States, especially in framing the Constitution and promoting religious liberty. One of the nation’s most cerebral and articulate founders, he served in numerous legislative bodies, including the Continental Congress and the House of Representatives.
    Madison penned the extremely influential Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments in 1785 to argue for ending Virginia’s Episcopal establishment and providing complete religious freedom. Historians label it “the most powerful defense of religious liberty ever written in America.” No other founder had as much impact on the nation’s conception and practice of freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state.

  • Letters to the editor 2-15-15

    Misconceptions of Open Space Plan

    I am writing to correct any misperceptions that may have been created by the Los Alamos Monitor’s coverage of my comments to the County Council regarding the Open Space Management Plan made at Feb. 6 meeting.
    As reported, I am a member of the County Planning and Zoning Commission. The Los Alamos Monitor’s story stated I opposed the Open Space Management Plan. That is not correct. At the beginning my verbal comments, I voiced my support for the Open Space Management Plan, that it was necessary and long overdue.
    My comments were critical of two portions of the plan:
    • The provision proposing, in effect, a Vista/Viewpoint zoning overlay district, without any guidance on how to enact it.
    • The inclusion in the proposed open space map of virtually all of the vacant land owned by the county (not all the vacant land in the county), particularly a large parcel in Pueblo Canyon adjacent to the sewer plant, recently acquired from the federal government and previously proposed for economic development by the Open Space Advisory Group.

  • U.S.-backed loan program helps businesses buy growth assets

    Small companies often lease space before buying or building a property that allows them to expand or modernize. When they’re ready for that leap of faith, the U.S. Small Business Administration can help by underwriting a significant portion of any loan they need.
    The SBA’s 504 loan program is a public-private partnership administered through a Certified Development Company (CDC) that helps small, independently owned companies secure the fixed assets — such as land, building and equipment — that they need to grow and be competitive. If the business owner can provide a minimum of 10 percent of the loan amount, the CDC will underwrite 40 percent — up to $5.5 million in some circumstances — and this makes lenders more comfortable offering a first mortgage for the remaining 50 percent.
    The Loan Fund, a community development financial institution, works with the SBA and CDCs to help business owners obtain 504 loans and access money they might not be able to get. This lets business owners conserve cash for other operating costs.
    Who is eligible?

  • Origin of the fear of Friday the 13th

    A fun aspect of teaching math is that I get to share stories about numbers with my students.
    The number “13” of course holds a special place in society and students love learning words like triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13).
    I explain to them that “tris” means “three” and “dek” means “ten.”
    This gives me the opportunity to demonstrate how words contain numerical prefixes taken from Latin and Greek, using these prefixes to define properties of cardinality, such as bi-cycle, cent-ennial, and sex-agenarian (one of my favorites!).
    Now today, being a Friday the 13th, I get to use the word friggatriskaidekaphobia (fear of Friday the 13th). But in this case, the prefix “frigga” has nothing to do with numbers.
    A few ago, a student told me that she had gone to see the movie “Thor” the day before (a Thursday) and was raving about how good it was.
    So I said, “Well then, it’s a happy coincidence that you saw the movie on Thor Day.”
    This led to a discussion on how days of the week were named after planets and gods. Sunday and Monday, of course, are immediately recognized as being named after the Sun and the Moon.
    And, as per our discussion, Thursday was named after that hammer wielding beastie-boy, Thor.

  • Paying for roads may require robbing Peter and Paul

    Rep. Cathrynn Brown was describing roads in southeastern New Mexico. The pit rule, which requires trucking oil waste to another site, has added to the already heavy traffic on state and county roads.
    Drivers take the shortest route, whether or not the road is safe.
    “Fatalities are a great concern to all of us,” said the Carlsbad Republican. “I got to a point where I dreaded opening the newspaper in the morning. Eddy and Lea counties do the best they can (but) we’re really hurting.”
    On the subject of transportation, you can say the same for every county in the state, from the patched and repatched northern U.S. 285 to McKinley County’s war-surplus bridges that can’t even hold a school bus.
    These debates within the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee grow more urgent every year.
    The governor now supports bonding $300 million in road projects, but last week Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith condemned the proposal as irresponsible. The state, he said, is already overextended.
    What he meant is the state has borrowed to the hilt for transportation. Bonds are IOUs.

  • Regarding House Bill 41 — Retention is not the answer

    A wise man once told me that people vote for politicians as they do in well-funded popularity contests.
    It is questionable that the current and impending actions of some policymakers represent the wider public’s interest, and it is difficult when some view election or re-election as unbridled support for their stance on important issues in our state.
    There are many people in New Mexico who feel like they have no voice beyond the voting booth, myself included. I continue to have serious concerns about the current state of our education system and how it reflects our collective beliefs and values, and I know I am not alone.
    My purpose in writing this is to respond to a recent column about House Bill 41, and to urge consistent interaction between the public and their elected officials even after this session’s dust has settled.
    That will take commitment, communication, information, and a willingness from all sides to take the time needed to sit down and consider options without expecting to find a “silver bullet” that will “fix” our education system forevermore.
    We are an ever-changing society. We need processes, beyond the ballots, in place to be able to adapt to changing times. Our founding fathers called this process “democracy,” and it encompasses more than a vote in November.

  • Time to end failed policy of social promotion

    Knowing how to read is one of the most important life skills you could ever learn. When you know how to read, knowledge is at your fingertips and nothing is far from reach.
    Unfortunately for New Mexico, too many of our children are unable to read proficiently. Yet, year after year, we pass them onto the next grade without blinking an eye.
    This is called social promotion — it’s a failed policy that sets our children up for failure. And it’s high time we put an end to it.
    That is why I have joined two colleagues — Rep. Monica Youngblood and Sen. Gay Kernan — in sponsoring legislation that will not only eliminate this policy, but also give teachers, parents and students the resources they need to succeed.
    The truth is, it is not compassionate to move along our children when they are unprepared.
    Doing so only sets them up for failure. In fact, students who cannot read before the third grade are four times more likely drop out of high school.
    It’s not hard to see why. From first grade through third, our children learn to read. After those critical years, they read to learn.

  • Behavioral health audit is finally public

    The now-infamous 2013 audit of 15 nonprofit New Mexico behavioral health providers has finally been released to the public by our new Attorney General, Hector Balderas.
    You remember. That’s the audit that led the state Human Services Department to accuse all 15 of massive fraud and stop paying them for services under Medicaid, which led to 12 of those providers being starved out of business, a behavioral health system thrown into chaos and several thousands of very vulnerable clients — including many children and a few possibly dangerous individuals — abandoned.
    Sudden forced withdrawal from psychotropic medications, because there wasn’t anybody left to write the prescriptions, was just one of the disastrous consequences of this event.
    Among the 15 providers, over a three-year period, there were $36 million in cost overruns, the audit claimed. That’s a lot of taxpayer money. But I wonder if there might be other explanations for some of this spending.