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Opinion

  • Is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) a bad trade agreement for the U.S.? That remains to be seen.
    However, Americans have little reason to trust their government regarding trade.
    The U.S. was the principal architect of the global economy and current trade deals, yet, it has failed to acknowledge the shortcomings of the agreements or try to correct them.
    The global economy was conceived during WWII to expedite post-war economic recovery, prevent future wars of territorial acquisition, provide employment in the developed nations and improve the lives of people throughout the world.  
    Unfortunately, the inherent difficulties of international trade, such as equitable currency exchange, currency manipulation, trade imbalances, the outsourcing of production and the creation of national and international winners and losers, remain problematic.
    Regardless of intentions, U.S. trade agreements have adversely affected U.S. workers, small manufacturers, national wealth, and the long-term viability of the United States (the losers).
    On the other hand, they have richly rewarded international corporations, Wall Street, large investors and foreign nations whose economies are based on exports or currency manipulation (the winners).

  • The two faces of WIPP: We get $73 million for our trouble related to leaking waste AND the government now contemplates storing surplus weapons plutonium in WIPP.
    Whatever its problems, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, will figure into national policy because hazardous waste storage is a necessity, and we have few options. Risk and reward are embedded in the debate.
    Holtec International wants to build an interim facility near Carlsbad to store spent nuclear fuel.
    So let’s look at a 1996 study by Stanford Law School student Noah Sachs, who looked objectively at questions of ethics and environmental justice related to a similar New Mexico project.
    In the early 1990s, the federal government offered grants to tribes and rural communities to study the possibility of storing nuclear waste. The Mescalero Apache Tribe responded quickly and moved steadily through the process, becoming the first to seriously pursue a project.
    The facility would be a large, guarded structure holding spent nuclear fuel in steel, reinforced concrete casks on a square-mile site of the tribe’s choosing. It would contain more than half of U.S. spent fuel for 40 years. And because we didn’t have any long-term facilities, the waste would probably stay there.

  • Much has been made of America’s crumbling infrastructure. Rusting bridges and crumbling highways are only a part of our neglect.
    A much bigger part, and one that many of us don’t see is the neglect of inner-city communities, distressed schools and long forgotten playgrounds.
    The recent protests in Baltimore, much like Albuquerque’s protests last year, may have been triggered by unjust police violence, but are much more deeply rooted in decades of neglecting our families and communities, especially communities of color.
    When Governor Susana Martinez was asked recently about the possibility of a special session to approve the financing of infrastructure projects, she said, “if it is, it’s got to benefit the private sector.” She made no mention of the needs of our families or communities, only the “private sector.” That was the reason that the bill didn’t pass in the first place!
    Lawmakers invested their capital outlay for projects like senior centers, tribal needs and community colleges, much of what she stripped from the bill.
    The tax committees met nearly every day of the legislative session and every day they heard bills that would divert even more of our public tax dollars to the “private sector.”

  • The Comprehensive Plan was completed in 1987. By now, even the updates are outdated.
    An effort to rewrite the whole plan in the early 2000s produced only a Vision Statement and Policy Plan, adopted in 2005, that is now cited by the Community and Economic Development Department (CEDD) as “the Comprehensive Plan.”
    This is 19 pages of aspirational platitudes that are so vague and ambiguous that they are useless to anyone attempting to satisfy the requirements of applications for permits and rezoning, or anyone attempting to defend their neighborhood against one of these applications.
    You’d think at least the county attorney would notice a problem here (not to mention the obsolescence of the Development Code — another story for another day).
    My neighborhood experienced the consequences of this ad hoc plan first-hand last year when University of New Mexico-Los Alamos applied to redevelop the apartments on 9th Street. The CEDD worked with UNM-LA to develop a proposal to the council for joint funding of the project, then it coordinated with UNM-LA’s Denver developer to plan for a non-conforming oversize structure and then it attempted to fast-track a rezoning through the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) using the policy plan as the justification.

  • Odds were always slim that we’d see a special session to resuscitate the $264 million capital outlay bill.
    It’s just too close to 2016 elections, and the lost spending bill is too big an opportunity for political missiles.
    Every county had a stake in the game, and the business community made its wishes clear. The parties and the governor apparently had reached some meeting of the minds on capital outlay. Had they left it at that, we’d have a special session and the desired public spending. But the governor wanted a package of tax breaks.
    There are three rules about special sessions: Have an agreement ahead of time, keep it simple, and keep it short.
    Everyone wants capital outlay. The tax breaks are another matter.
    They passed the House but probably would have run into resistance in the Senate. In the last two sessions, I’ve seen a rising bipartisan awareness that continuing to scatter tax breaks like seeds in the wind is not necessarily in the state’s best interest.
    We don’t even know if the last batch of tax breaks worked.
    Even so, I don’t think the governor ever intended to call a special session. The Democrats divined that and both played the hands they held. You could see it in the scripted statements and equally scripted responses.

  • About 60 demonstrators were waving signs in front of PNM headquarters the morning of the company’s 2015 Annual Meeting.
    Inside, behind a security cordon of nervous rent-a-cops, CEO Pat Collawn delivered the obligatory bland speech to a handful of local stockholders, while the bullhorn-led protestors four floors below chanted, “No nukes, no coal! Solar is the way to go!” and “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho! Dirty coal has to GO!”
    A disclaimer to reveal my bias: I’m thrice-related to PNM.
    First, I’m a shareholder. If that conjures up visions of Rich Uncle Pennybags off the Monopoly box, think again. PNM is almost entirely owned by conservative mutual funds that pool the savings of millions of small investors.
    If your nest egg is tucked away with Fidelity or Vanguard, you may be a PNM owner, too.
    Second, I used to work there.
    Looking back over my long and checkered career, I can honestly say it was the best job I ever had. The company demanded a full day’s work for a day’s pay, but the money was good, at least by New Mexico standards, helping me put two kids through college.
    Finally, I’m a PNM customer. The monthly bill is higher than I’d like, and it’s going to be even stiffer if the company’s current request for a 12 percent rate hike is approved.

  • When somebody’s dog gets caught in a leg-hold trap meant for a wild animal, the incident gets publicity.
    Meanwhile, out of sight and unreported, wild animals are getting caught in those traps.  
    Suddenly, in response to an alleged need that has not been demonstrated, New Mexico has a proposal to allow trapping of mountain lions, coming from our Game Commission.
    If this proposal is approved, Gov. Susana Martinez may someday find herself explaining on national TV why her state not only allows, but has increased the scope of animal trapping.
    One of New Mexico’s persistent problems is that we still have not succeeded in updating our public relations image.
    Much of the industrialized world still thinks New Mexico is a third-world backwater. A great way to perpetuate that negative stereotype is to get a worldwide reputation for being cruel to animals.
    Last year the state earned a national black eye from coyote-hunting contests. It may be necessary for ranchers to shoot coyotes to keep them away from livestock, but there is something gruesome about making that into a game with prizes. A move to ban the contests did not pass in this year’s legislative session.

  • Iran acts like a Persian Gulf hegemon because it can. Tehran’s military, while capable of making a less-than-concerted attack costly, would be overmatched by the armed forces of the United States and those of the Persian Gulf states and crumble quickly along with its regime
    The window of opportunity is closing with Russia’s announced intention to deploy S-300 anti-aircraft, anti-ballistic missiles. Furthermore, if Tehran bamboozles Washington into a nuclear arms deal involving the lifting of economic sanctions look for Russia, China and some European defense companies to provide a cornucopia of modern arms. Nevertheless, it takes time to develop a defense system capable of thwarting U.S. “hyper-war” capabilities.

  • A young adult’s first months out of college are about personal freedom and finding one’s path as an adult. Building solid money habits is a big part of that.
    Most grads are managing money alone for the first time — finding work, places to live and if they’re in the majority, figuring out how to pay off college loans. For many, these are daunting challenges. If you are a young adult — or know one — here are some of the best routines to adopt from the start:
    Budgeting is the first important step in financial planning because it is difficult to make effective financial decisions without knowing where every dollar is actually going. It’s a three-part exercise — tracking spending, analyzing where that money has gone and finding ways to direct that spending more effectively toward saving, investing and extinguishing debt.
    Even if a new grad is looking for work or waiting to find a job, budgeting is a lifetime process that should start immediately.
    A graduate’s first savings goal should be an emergency fund to cover everyday expenses such as the loss of a job or a major repair. The ultimate purpose of an emergency fund is to avoid additional debt or draining savings or investments. Emergency funds should cover at least four to seven months of living expenses.

  • It costs nothing to tell someone that you love them, but FTD would rather you say it with flowers.
    Cadbury wants you say it with chocolate. And Oscar Mayer says, “Yell it with bacon!”
    But shouldn’t speech be free?
    A few years ago, an Oxford student told a mounted police officer, “Excuse me, do you realize your horse is gay?” He was arrested for violating the Public Order Act, which prohibits homophobic remarks.
    A judge with more sense than the officer (whose intelligence bordered on that of a sea slug) threw the arrest out. Free speech outweighed free stupidity.
    Speech may be free, but it often presents itself as a painful reminder of the maxim, “You get what you pay for.”
    Recently, a school district hosted a “Draw Muhammad” art contest, promoting itself as a “Free Speech Exhibit.” Of course, it was in fact specifically designed with one intent in mind — to incite hatred.
    And it succeeded. Two radical Muslims arrived, started shooting, and were quickly killed by the heavily armed Garland, Texas “Kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out” SWAT team.
    Was this art contest really free speech? Yeah, it was. Here in America, you have the right to criticize most anyone and most anything.

  • Entrepreneurs are naturally passionate about providing a service or product, but many avoid digging into the financial aspects of running a small business — perhaps because they don’t have simple tools that can help them understand their finances.
    This avoidance can cost a business dearly, because financial success requires that the owner understand the target customer, how to price a product or service and how to keep track of cash flowing in and out of the business.
    It all begins with understanding who — if anyone — wants the product or service the business is selling.
    “Businesses can’t take a shotgun approach to marketing,” said Kim Blueher, vice president of lending at WESST — a nonprofit lender and small-business development and training organization with six offices in New Mexico. A marketing strategy needs to be based on “a realistic picture of how many
    people want their product.”
    At WESST, Kim and Amy Lahti teach business clients how to identify that customer. They also introduce clients to simple spreadsheets that help them compute how many products or services the business needs to sell to cover expenses and make a profit.

  • Your local Boy Scouts and Letter Carriers (NALC-4112) would like to thank the community for their generosity in supporting the LA Cares Food Bank with your donations of food and supplies during last weekend’s Spring Food Drive. We would also like to take this opportunity to thank RE/MAX Realty, Knights of Columbus No. 3137, Smith’s Foods, Los Alamos Monitor, Los Alamos Daily Post, KRSN 1490, TRK Management, Retired and Senior Volunteers, and Los Alamos County for providing a variety of resources that support the food drive.  
    Additional donations of non-perishable food and personal care supplies to LA Cares are accepted year-round at the aquatic center and at Los Alamos County Social Services at 1505 15th Street, Suite A, during regular business hours. Monetary donations can be sent to: LA Cares, P.O. Box 248, Los Alamos, N.M. 87544.
    Thank you for helping to battle hunger in our community and mark your calendar for our next food drive that will be this fall on Nov. 21.
     
    Bill Blumenthal
    Northern New Mexico District – Boy Scouts of America
    Food Drive Coordinator
     Terry Jones
    National Association of
    Letter Carriers – 4112
    Food Drive Coordinator

  • The next time you see an out-of-state plate on the road this summer, you might take a moment to thank the National Park Service.
    According to an NPS study, visitors to New Mexico’s national parks and monuments make an important contribution to our state’s economy.
    In 2014, park visitors spent an estimated $88.8 million in local communities while visiting NPS lands in New Mexico, according to the Park Service. That spending supported 1,400 jobs paying $36.9 million in wages and salaries to local workers, and generated $107.7 million worth of economic activity in the state’s economy.
    Nationwide, the NPS estimates visitors to its parks, monuments and historic sites spent an estimated $15.7 billion in the nearby “gateway” communities, supporting 277,000 jobs paying $10.3 billion in wages, salaries and benefits, and producing $29.7 billion in economic activity.
    The lodging sector saw the highest direct contributions with 48,000 jobs and $4.8 billion in local economic activity attributed to the park visitors, while restaurants and bars benefited with 60,000 jobs and $3.2 billion in economic activity.

  • From the surprising number of tourism-related features, I assumed they had government help.
    In this poor, but well-established Mecca for adventure travelers, the hiking trails were well developed, nicely painted signs directed hikers to the different hotels, English was widely spoken and everybody had business cards.
    But when I asked one young hotelier about help from the government, he laughed and said something like: Are you kidding? The government collects taxes, but does nothing for us.
    This was Nepal in 1998. We were visiting our son in the Peace Corps and meeting our future daughter-in-law, and when in Nepal, you trek.
    As a business editor, I was fascinated by the entrepreneurism I saw. When trekkers first started to show up in the early 1970s, the citizens of remote villages clinging to impossibly steep mountainsides knew an opportunity when they saw one.
    Beginning by making an extra bed in the kitchen for travelers, they had bootstrapped themselves into enlarging a room and then building an addition or tea room. Some eventually created stand-alone hotels.
    It was all done with non-existent resources. One young man admitted to my son that his children were malnourished because he needed to buy building materials to enter the hospitality business. Now that’s sacrifice.

  • Late last month, the County Council, county staff and members of the public spent about 16 hours examining and approving the county’s 2016 budget.
    I learned some important things about the process that I’d like to share with you. Please remember, these are my views as an individual councilor and they don’t necessarily reflect the views of the other councilors.
    First, I want to compliment the talented and dedicated professionals on the county staff. They’ve significantly cut operating expenses over the past five years to address a 29 percent decline in the Gross Receipts Tax revenues that the county relies on for most of its funding; and they’ve done a great job of minimizing the impact to citizen services in managing those cuts.
    They’ve achieved this by decreasing county staff by over 20 positions through attrition since 2014 and by cutting other operating costs and delaying projects. The staff’s dedication to meeting the service needs of our community is noteworthy.
    When I was running for the council, I campaigned with a goal of improving the alignment between strategic goals, citizen needs and resource allocation.

  • Take a glance at any contemporary parenting blog, website or social media group and you’ll see the “mommy wars” playing out.
    The battles range from helicopter parenting versus free-range kids to sling versus stroller and cloth versus disposable diaper.
    While the battles (and the guilt that comes with them) are real, they are keeping our attention from the real mommy wars: the abysmal lack of national policies to protect new mothers in the workplace.
    Almost three-quarters of mothers are in the labor force and they are the primary breadwinners in 40 percent of U.S. households. Still, the U.S. is one of the few nations on the globe that does not ensure that new moms have paid maternity leave. In fact, we have no federal policies on paid leave of any kind and our policy on unpaid leave does not protect enough working women.
    This Mother’s Day we need national policies that reflect our nation’s true family values.  
    Every country except the U.S., Suriname and Papua New Guinea provides paid maternity leave according to the World Policy Forum. Even in countries with poor civil rights records, such as Somalia, Iran and North Korea, women get at least some paid maternity leave.
    Women receive 12 weeks in India, 16 weeks in the Netherlands, and almost 70 weeks in Sweden.

  • As the Chair of the County Council, one of the biggest concerns I hear — and am also concerned with — is the idea of expanding beyond being a “one-horse town.”
    As a local government, there are several ways to try to encourage that. Some are harder than others.
    The first is to have policies that support the local businesses here now. This is a high priority for this council, and the staff knows and is working on that. Another is to have policies that encourage lab spinoffs; this has a lot of complications, but there are efforts towards this as well.
    A third is to be known as a great small town to relocate to and as a great place to visit.
    There are many businesses that can “live anywhere,” and the owners both support themselves and often hire others. They might even be small restaurant and shop owners.
    The current branding initiative is an effort by the County Council to work on the last two; becoming known, outside our community, as a great place to live and a great place to visit.
    There are few things branding is not. Branding is not about a slogan for our town, or how we feel about ourselves, or what we do here.

  • Every homeschooling parent has been asked the S-Question: “What about socialization?” The implications (real or imagined) of the question are less than flattering:
    • Students who attend schools outside the home are socialized better because they spend so much time with their immature peers, whereas students who attend school within the home are poorly socialized because they spend so much time with their mature parents.
    • Home school families do not interact with one another.
    • Socialization that occurs on the soccer field, during debate rounds and in church doesn’t count (or is somehow inferior).
    • Students who attend school outside the home are always well socialized.
    • Your kids are so weird.
    I would like to put the S-Question to rest by summarizing research I conducted along with my colleagues.
    We surveyed 223 families (asking questions of one teen and one parent), 95 of whom were schooling at home. The results point to three important observations: homeschooling teens socialize more than other teens, they socialize differently than other teens, but both of these observations miss the point. Socialization is not a home schooling issue; it is a religious phenomenon.

  • It’s easy to annoy teachers.
    Tell them that they’re overpaid. Or that you wish you had a cushy job like they have. Or that it’s all their fault when students perform poorly.
    But if you really want to provoke them, just say the word “PARCC.”
    Actually, PARCC isn’t a word. It’s an acronym, or perhaps more accurately an acrimoniousym. Over time, an acronym can become a word. If this happens for PARCC, it’ll probably be used as a curse word (kind of like ‘frack’).
    PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
    The “partnership” refers to corporate partners of Pearson LLC who are making billions in profits off the backs of teachers and students (and taxpayers).
    But I do love acronyms. One of my favorites when discussing PARCC is FUBAR. I forget what that means, but it’s in the same general ballparcc.
    OK. I should mention that I signed a security confidentiality agreement promising not to discuss the content of the PARCC assessments.
    I did not, however, sign anything prohibiting me from saying that the test is a politically motivated pile of yak droppings. Of course, I wouldn’t say that. It’s not my style.

  • Many innovators wouldn’t dream of launching a business without a plan and a pile of money, but that’s precisely the “lean startup” approach that advocates say is revolutionizing and democratizing entrepreneurship.
    The methodology, introduced in 2011 by serial entrepreneur and startup coach Eric Ries, shuffles the traditional deck by putting the cart (the product or service idea) before the horse (the business organization), “selling” the wares before investing time and money building something that customers don’t really want.
    If it sounds counterintuitive, it’s because the conventional business development template begins with a business plan, followed by a search for financial backing and recruitment of a core management team. After months or years spent quietly developing and building the product, the creation is introduced to consumers through advertising and marketing.
    But many businesses fail after all this investment in product development and capital expenditure because people just don’t want the product being offered.
    The lean startup path seeks to avoid such waste of time and money by “selling” products before building them.
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