Superintendent, Los Alamos School District

    Center for Visions and Values

    President, New Mexico Rio Grande Foundation

    Special to the Monitor

    Visions and Values

    PH.D. Greener Research, Los Alamos

  • New Mexico First just issued an ambitious Progress Report for the state, focused on the state’s big four issues: education, health, economy and water. The nonpartisan public policy group provides a frank, unemotional appraisal of where we’re at with the hope that legislators and organizations can use the information to find common ground.
    The report’s advisory committee, drawing from an array of sources, chose 35 indicators. Some we’ve heard before, but others give us new insight into our strengths and weaknesses.
    First, the good news: The state is making progress in pre-kindergarten enrollment, science and math college graduates, heart disease deaths, health insurance coverage, child immunization, adult smoking reduction, household income, unemployment, export-related employment, fiscal and regulatory policy, energy production, total water use, water use by public water systems, and water rights adjudications.
    And the bad: The state is getting worse in child hunger, mental healthcare access, healthcare provider access, substance abuse deaths, poverty, waterway impairment, and dams with safety deficiencies.
    Let’s look at the economy because it supports everything else.

  • Using a bank is one element of being money savvy. Overall, we are not especially money savvy, says gobankingrates.com, a personal finance website.
    In gobanking’s judgment of relative state money savviness (or not), New Mexico is in the group ranking from 31st to 40th. Criteria include using banks, saving and investing and a state’s financial education policies, such as requiring courses in high school.
    The 2013 National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation was an important source for gobanking.
    New Mexico’s 857,000 households are 10.9 percent what the jargon calls “unbanked,” without any bank account. That’s 42 percent more than the 7.7 percent of unbanked households nationally.
    Another 22.5 percent were underbanked, that is, they had a bank account but used “alternative financial services” such as money orders, check cashing, remittances, payday loans, refund anticipation loans, rent-to-own services, pawn shop loans, or auto title loans. During the 30 days before being surveyed, 15.1 percent had used alternative financial services. Another 14.9 percent used such services during the past year.

  • In the dark before dawn on Oct. 27, a longtime  friend of mine and I headed out from Los Alamos to catch a flight to Southern  California.
    My colleague is a three-term regent at California Lutheran University. In this capacity, he has brought a passel of insights, gathered in his career at Los Alamos National Laboratory, to be considered more widely at this 56-year-old private university in Thousand  Oaks, north of Los Angeles. The school aims to gain learning by doing, or applying facts to find answers.
    Our visit had a single purpose. We sought to advance the ideas of regulatory engineering that spring up as we look around and see the technical progress in fields on every hand. Over the last four years, a dozen of my columns here have explored the stream of smart tools and capabilities that work better, faster and cheaper in many fields.
    The peculiar question I ask is: Why not apply the same tools to make regulation also work better, faster and cheaper?  Up-to-date techniques that are little used in regulating include research and development (R&D), systems analysis,  actuarial science, data mining, drones, on-board diagnostics and the “Internet of Things.” These tools create still more prospects for regulatory engineering, a name coined in my columns.

    Executive Director, Energy Makes America Great

  • When the Dianna Duran scandal made headlines, I asked a different question.
    What was she doing with all that money in the first place, I asked?
    How does the secretary of state’s race generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions? Who is doing all that contributing, and what do those contributors want? Even though Duran has resigned, the question remains. Increasingly, this issue affects political races at every level.   
    According to the secretary of state’s own website, in 2014 candidate Dianna Duran received $356,208.08 in contributions and spent $359,073.20. What for?  
    I called Viki Harrison of Common Cause. She was so excited to talk about this, she practically jumped through the phone. Harrison echoed my concern that big money has invaded New Mexico politics, and it’s causing a serious shift in the whole way we do our political business. Harrison cited the 2012 state Senate race between Tim Jennings and Cliff Pirtle as a turning point.

  • Complete streets have room for fewer vehicles. That statement seems an oxymoron to me, too. The explanation is that “complete streets” is a technical term, a term of art, if you will, with a parent organization, Smart Growth America (smartgrowthamerica.org), and a director, Geoffrey Anderson, who is an alumnus of the Smart Growth Program at the Environment Protection Agency, the guys who did so well by us with the Animas River.
    The concept means fewer lanes with the remaining lanes narrower than we’re used to. This past spring, we tried narrower lanes on the Interstate as we entered downtown Philadelphia. Seriously scary.
    The complete-streets pitch came in an Oct. 5 presentation to the legislative Transportation Infrastructure Revenue Subcommittee. Two city councilors, Isaac Benton from Albuquerque and Carmichael Dominguez from Santa Fe, led the show, according to the committee’s agenda. I found the presentation on the transportation committee’s section under interim committees on the Legislature’s website. Find the streets group at completestreetsnm.org. Find the good guys, those interested in freedom and mobility, at the American Dream Coalition, americandreamcoalition.org.

    Visions and Values

    Executive Director for Energy Makes America Great

  • During a brutal game with the Aggies, UNM football star Clarence Heald suffered a concussion that knocked him cold. He got up and played, semiconscious, to the end of the game, when he took another blow to the head and was unconscious for half an hour.
    It was 1906. UNM’s slogan at the time: “Do or die.”
    Today, we know that young Clarence probably paid for those injuries the rest of his life with dizziness, slurred speech, difficulty focusing or depression, among other things.
    We’ve learned a lot about brain injuries and sports in New Mexico.
    UNM’s Brain Safe Project, which began in 2013, uses MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) taken over time to study the long-term effects of brain concussions on student athletes. By 2014, it had the world’s largest database of student athletes and concussions. Some of its subjects had already looked at the images, decided not to press their luck, and stopped playing.
    State law prescribes brain-injury protocols for school sports, including training for coaches, and the New Mexico Activities Association provides clear information about concussions to parents and students on its website.
    So we’re more aware and better informed, but we’re not quite there yet.

  • Something like a vision has crept from the technocratic veneer of the Martinez administration. This is not the grand morally uplifting poetry preferred here. But it will have to do, given that the administration’s big picture, so far as I have figured it out, has been the major and appropriate crusade with public education and tinkering at the edges of the tax system.
    The environment for the unveiling came courtesy of the Association of Commerce and Industry, which invited Scott Darnell, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, to be the luncheon speaker at ACI’s fall policy summit in Albuquerque. Darnell’s job is policy oversight for a big piece of state government.
    The full disclosure here is that Darnell and I have been close enough neighbors to occupy the same ward table at Republican meetings, back when I attended such things. Then Darnell went to graduate school at Harvard, Martinez became governor and the rest, as they say….

    Executive director for Energy Makes America Great

  • The year was 1972 and America eagerly sat down to watch the beginning of the third season of “All In The Family.”  After two years of spouting bigoted, sexist and racial epithets, he had won the hearts of our nation.
    How could you not love someone so despicable and close-minded? We laughed at his stupidity. We laughed at his inane philosophies.
    We laughed at what he represented – evolution’s greatest accomplishment of a non-thinking life form.
    The human race.
    The season’s opening episode was particularly funny, mostly because it went off the scale of sanity.
    Archie is invited as “a man on the street” to appear on television and present his views on gun control. As usual, he goes off on a ridiculous rant, embarrassing his family by suggesting that skyjackings could be prevented by arming all the passengers. No need to search for firearms ... just hand them out at the gate! If everyone is packing, no one would dare pull out a rod and try anything!
    It was funny, hilarious, to even think that anyone with a brain connected to their mouth would suggest that arming people would eliminate the possibility of a crime.
    Well, we have to apologize to Archie.  His ideas on domestic peace were visionary.

  • My son and I just had The Discussion. Not the one about the birds and the bees, or the car keys (his or mine). No, this is the one where I told him plainly that I did not want to be a lump of meat being kept alive by machines. Pull the plug, I said.
    This was an easier conversation to have because I’m not expecting to check out any time soon and because he’s finishing his residency as an emergency physician.
    “I’ve seen a lot of people die,” he said, “and it’s never like you see it on TV.”
    It’s a discussion I wish we’d had with my dad. He was always so healthy it was a shock when he suddenly contracted an irreversible disease. The only thing passing for instructions was his occasional joke: “When the time comes, just screw me in the ground.”
    So the time came, and we found ourselves in a hospital meeting room absolutely unprepared for the most excruciating decision any of us had ever made. I wanted to spare my next of kin that anguish.

  • Simply listing a bank’s percentage of deposits in the state is one way to report on banking, as an Albuquerque publication did recently. Thought and history offer another approach.
    The annual deposit report from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (https://www5.fdic.gov/sod/index.asp) motivated the listing. It shows deposits and other figures as of June 30 for the given year and appears about three months later.
    Discussions of New Mexico’s poorly performing economy suggest – but don’t prove – that banking has something to do with it. The infamous Dodd-Frank act is a standard villain. A recent FDIC report indicated that Dodd-Frank might not have been all that injurious to community banks.
    I’m not one to argue the FDIC’s numbers. However, any regulation that forces a small business (and small banks are small businesses) to hire staff or consultants to deal with it causes injury. The money to pay that staff comes from the operating margin of the business and basically means less profit.
    For banks, less profit means pulling in the risk horizon; less room exists for making a loan that might – just might – develop a problem. Overall, fewer loans get made and that, folks, constrains the community’s growth.