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Opinion

  • Unless a federal judge issues a preliminary injunction, the definition of the “Waters of the U.S.” will change, as of today — giving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate the water in your backyard. Even, according to West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, “any area where agencies believe water may flow once every 100 years.”
    Thirty-one states, in four districts, have filed motions with the federal courts to block the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) from beginning to enforce the new “Waters of the U.S.” rule (WOTUS), which represents a new interpretation of the Clean Water Act (CWA).
    WOTUS was published in the Federal Register on June 29 and will become effective today.
    The CWA used to apply to “navigable waters,” which now, as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently said, “include almost any piece of land that gets wet and puddles.”

  • About three years ago, my dad was driving the truck he uses for his landscaping business in Phoenix when he was pulled over. Two patrol cars cornered him for making a wide right turn.
    Yes, you read that right: Multiple police officers went out of their way to stop my dad for supposedly making a right turn too wide.
    The traffic cops grilled my dad and his co-worker about their immigration status. They let my dad, a Mexican immigrant and U.S. citizen, go on his way without even issuing a warning. Then they arrested his coworker, who happened to be an undocumented immigrant.
    What seemed like a normal drive to work turned into a nightmare.
    Traffic stops that often begin with this kind of racial profiling, along with parking tickets and other minor offenses, have led to two-thirds of the record 2 million deportations during the Obama administration. These daily expulsions have instilled a culture of pain and fear among all our nation’s immigrant communities.
    When some of those communities urged their local governments to do something about it, about 300 cities responded by becoming something called a “sanctuary city.”
    Maybe you’ve heard about these places, but don’t know what a sanctuary city is.

  • Nobody who saw the Animas River will soon forget the sight of the orange waters flowing our way from the spill at an old Colorado gold mine.
    The odd color increased fears of what was now in those waters.
    I grew up with that color.
    Orange tailings spilling from old shafts in Colorado’s mountains remind us of the state’s colorful, boomtown past. Now we call them “legacy” sites, a word that’s all too familiar in New Mexico. Our legacy mines are mostly uranium, but the mess, the issues and the costs are the same.
    As often happens, the reporting by small, local media has been the best — and in this case, the least hysterical.
    Samantha Wright, of southwestern Colorado’s online news site San Juan Independent (sjindependent.org), wrote that Cement Creek, an Animas tributary and first recipient of the Gold King Mine’s three million gallon spill, runs orange every spring.
    The Gold King is one of many mines honeycombing those mountains. Colorado has 22,000 abandoned mines because back then, there were no environmental laws. Some of the worst are around Silverton.

  • As the economy improves, today’s sellers are facing a very different environment than they were before the housing market stumbled in 2006.
    Today’s housing market features new procedures and standards, not the least of which are continuing borrowing hurdles for prospective buyers. If you are thinking about a home sale in the coming months, it pays to do a thorough overview of your personal finances and local real estate environment before you put up the “for sale” sign.
    Here are some general issues to consider:
    Make sure you’re not underwater. You may want to buy a new home, but can you afford to sell? The term “underwater” refers to the amount of money a seller owes on a house in excess of final sales proceeds. If what you owe on the home — including all selling costs due at closing — exceeds the agreed-upon sale price, then you will have to pay the difference out of pocket. If you’re not in a situation where you absolutely have to sell now, you may want to wait until your financial circumstances and the real estate market improves.
    Evaluate your finances. Before you sell, make sure you are ready to buy or rent. Making sure all three of your credit reports are accurate is an important part of that process.

  • Every now and then, you read a news story about an employee who went to a home to clean the carpet and later robbed the place.
    The perpetrator had a prison record.
    That is not only a trauma for the homeowner; it’s a serious problem for the business owner, who probably will be sued. The business owner, you’d think, has a duty to screen his employees and make sure he doesn’t expose customers to the risk of employees with a known criminal history.
    This poses a conflict with the “ban the box” movement.
    A standard practice on job application forms is to ask applicants whether they have ever been convicted of a felony. Check yes or no. The applicant who answers “yes” likely won’t be hired, or even get a second look.
    Advocates, such as the National Employment Law Project (NELP, nelp.org), want to eliminate that box.
    The “ban the box” movement says ex-cons deserve a chance to start fresh. If society won’t let them earn an honest living, the argument goes, they may have no choice but to resume criminal behavior.
    It’s in society’s interest to help them get back on their feet — but it’s loaded with obstacles.

  • Babies are being born alive, only to be butchered for their parts, harvesting tiny hearts, brains and livers.
    Fetal organs are being transplanted into lab rats for research. Horror shows are usually like that: repulsive, disturbing, barbaric and sickening.
    Except that Planned Parenthood’s horror show is not a movie, but a real nightmare that keeps getting worse.
    No one is above the law. The trafficking and sale of aborted baby body parts for profit is illegal and unethical.
    In fact, it is a federal felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000 (42 U.S.C. 289g-2). If this had been any other medical facility or hospital, there would be unquestioned support for immediate investigation.
    Claims of innocence do not suffice.
    Hillary Clinton admitted the videos “are disturbing” and went on to say, “this raises not questions about Planned Parenthood so much as it raises questions about the whole process, that is, not just involving Planned Parenthood, but many institutions in our country.”
    Clinton added that if there’s going to be a congressional inquiry into the videos, “it should look at everything,” and not just one organization.

  • Medicare has just begun publishing star ratings for home health care agencies to help consumers tell the good providers from the bad.
    Medicare pays for health care you receive in the comfort and privacy of your home if you meet certain requirements. You must be homebound, under a physician’s care and in need of part-time, skilled nursing care, or rehabilitative services.
    One in 10 people with traditional Medicare relies on home health services in a given year. A third of all home visits are for patients released from the hospital but still requiring attention. The other two-thirds are for people trying to stay out of the hospital in the first place.
    Medicare’s website — medicare.gov — is a convenient place to begin your search for a home health agency. With a few clicks, you can compare the providers in your area, check on the types of services they offer and the quality of their care.
    To help you understand the differences in quality between agencies, Medicare has added star ratings to its website. One star means “poor,” two stars are “below average,” three stars mean “average,” four stars are “above average” and five stars mean “excellent.”

  • The Hillary Clinton campaign’s newly announced “ambitious renewable energy plans” move far beyond Barack Obama’s highly criticized efforts that have increased costs and jeopardized reliability.
    Obama’s policies push a goal of producing 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewables by 2030 — hers is 33 percent by 2027. We are at 7 percent today.
    At a rally in Ames, Iowa, Clinton said, “I want more wind, more solar, more advanced biofuels, more energy efficiency. And, I’ve got to tell you, people who argue against this are just not paying attention.”
    I’ve got to tell you, the Clinton campaign isn’t paying attention — or, it is paying attention to the demands of wealthy campaign donors.
    The White House has received aggressive push back and a Supreme Court’s smack down over the administration’s policies designed to cut carbon dioxide by requiring renewables.
    A growing list of governors refuses to comply with Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) — the cornerstone of his climate agenda — and Congress has pending legislation giving the governors the authority to “just say no” if such plans would negatively affect electricity rates, reliability, or important economic sectors.

  • Few, if any, New Mexicans seem to notice, let alone mind, that their lawmakers schedule the state’s presidential primaries so late as to seriously limit their choice of presidential candidates.
    Yet it happens every four years.
    Think upon it. By June 7 of next year, when New Mexico holds its 2016 primary elections where Republican and Democratic voters can vote for the candidate they wish to be their parties’ standard bearers at the November general election, that decision will already have been made by voters in 40 other states.
    By then some candidates currently presumed to be in it for the long haul will have dropped out of the race altogether.
    There are (at present count) fully 17 individuals who have declared their candidacy for the Republican nomination, far more than necessary, even most Republicans would surely agree.
    Yet such are the vagaries of presidential politics that just last week one of the most recognizable of those candidates, former-Texas Gov. Rick Perry, made it known that for want of sufficient “liquidity” in his campaign treasury staffers at his headquarters will go unpaid for the time being.

  • Stress can come from everywhere — career, school, family, relationships, health — and especially money.
    The American Psychological Association (APA) recently reported that money remains the number one stressor for 72 percent of Americans. In fact, money has led the APA’s annual stress survey since its debut in 2007, the year before the financial crash that took the U.S. economy into its worst slump since the Great Depression.
    Are you financially stressed? Here are 10 major signs of financial stress and ways to take action.
    You wonder if your job is secure. Even though the economy has improved in recent years, employers still cut and reassign workers and make occasional adjustments in pay and benefits. If you’ve spotted changes in other departments or news accounts suggest a shift in your industry, start thinking ahead. Action Plan: Build up your emergency fund to cover six months or more of basic living expenses, update your resume and get organized for a potential job search.

  • Chomping down on the fine steak before me, I wondered if it was a local product — one of the happy animals standing knee deep in green grass that we’d passed on our way.
    No, said our host. He’d love to be serving local beef, but regulations require them to buy from licensed food processors.
    The same regulations allow them to combine ingredients to make a cake or stew but not to make their own butter to demonstrate self-sufficiency.
    That was one of many lessons of two days at the recently opened Concho Hills Guest Ranch, perched in the foothills of the San Mateo Mountains west of Magdalena in western New Mexico.
    The dude ranch is a passion for Tim and Marilyn Norris, nuclear engineers who worked all over the world (including a stint at Urenco, near Hobbs) before falling in love with New Mexico and deciding to pursue their dream here. They opened Concho Hills (ConchoHillsRanch.com) in April.
    Being around newcomers is an antidote to the New Mexico Blues, in which we dwell on our troubles and forget to count our blessings.
    The Norrises’ interest and enthusiasm is contagious.
    They’re also an example of what happens with every new business, a subject of keen interest to business groups and the legislative Jobs Council.

  • By the time a client gets a loan from The Loan Fund, she’s in a committed partnership with the nonprofit lender. That’s because The Loan Fund offers business development consulting to all potential clients — not just those who receive loans.
    The Loan Fund loan officers provide “pre-loan consulting” the moment they receive an inbound call or greet an office visitor.  And consulting continues after the client walks out the door — either to get more prepared or to start putting the loan money to work building a business, creating jobs and improving communities. The Loan Fund is fully invested with the people whose business startup and expansion plans it helps finance —even with those who aren’t ready for a loan.
    To fulfill its mission “to provide loans and assistance to improve the economic and social conditions of New Mexicans,” The Loan Fund offers the kind of advice and support that help businesses grow and reach sustainability.

  • Since 2009, New Mexico has waived federal work requirements tied to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.
    More than 21 percent of all New Mexicans receive food stamps, leaving us behind only Mississippi.
    Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration has proposed to reinstate rules limiting able-bodied people — including parents of children older than six years — to three months of SNAP benefits unless they work, do volunteer work or attend job training classes at least 20 hours per week.
    Children and the myriad food programs targeted at them, as well as those who simply cannot work are not up for changes.  
    New Mexico is not alone in re-instating these modest requirements. According to a September 2014 report from the Pew Center, no fewer than 17 states were working to re-instate work requirements on able-bodied adults.
    In 2014, Maine re-imposed a three-month limit (out of every three-year period) on food stamps for able-bodied adults without minor dependents — unless they work 20 hours per week, take state job-training courses or volunteer for about six hours per week.
    The number of such people receiving food stamps in Maine has dropped nearly 80 percent since the rule kicked in, to 2,530 from about 12,000.

  • Justice in America is not all it’s cracked up to be. Just ask Jeffrey Deskovic, who spent 16 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit.
    James Bain spent 35 years in prison for the kidnapping and rape of a 9-year-old boy, but he too was innocent of the crime. He was finally freed after DNA testing proved his innocence.
    In comparison, Mark Weiner got off relatively easy. Weiner was wrongfully arrested, convicted, and jailed for more than two years for a crime he too did not commit.
    In his case, a young woman claimed Weiner had abducted her, knocked her out and then sent taunting text messages to her boyfriend about his plans to rape her. Despite the fact that cell phone signals, eyewitness accounts and expert testimony indicated the young woman had fabricated the entire incident, the prosecutor and judge repeatedly rejected any evidence contradicting the woman’s far-fetched account, sentencing Weiner to eight more years in jail. Weiner was only released after his accuser was caught selling cocaine to undercover cops.

  • We’re in peak tourist season, and the number of Texas license plates and happy crowds of shoppers are a welcome sight.
    Gov. Susana Martinez traveled to several communities with the announcement that visits are up a whopping 30 percent over last year and credited the “New Mexico True” campaign.
    As reporters dug into the numbers, they found that the 30 percent was local visitation. Critics panned her announcements as Not So New Mexico True, with a few saying the numbers were bogus.
    Not exactly, but they mean different things.
    To the local economy, my lunch when passing through Española, or my recent stay in Cloudcroft provides the same lift as a lunch or stay by a Texan or Coloradoan. To the state’s economy, it’s money recycled internally, so the buck has less bang.
    Former Tourism Secretary Monique Jacobson, with every speech, urged her audience to see New Mexico.
    And the department directed several campaigns at New Mexicans.
    It’s a point well taken. If we’re not willing to be tourists in our own state, why should we expect anyone else to come here? In 2014, New Mexicans made 661,000 more in-state visits than they did in 2013, so either New Mexico True worked on us or we were “staycationing.”

  • Part 1 of 2

    The scope of our government is easy to forget.
    Like fire hydrants, government is in the background much of the time, doing whatever.
    Then, like a fire hydrant that doesn’t work — surprise — government can get our attention. In the broken hydrant case, the firefighters run the hoses to the hydrant in the next block, one that does work.
    Other attention getters are momentary. Last winter, Bernalillo County government bumped the gross receipts tax rate by 0.1875 percent, making the Albuquerque rate 7.1875 percent.
    I first noticed the change three weeks into July when a $32.10 ($30 plus 7 percent) became $32.16 ($30 plus 7.1875 percent). The change brought some mumbling while writing the check and slid to the shadows.
    “Highlights 2015” is the annual report about the legislative session from the Legislative Council Service, the staff to the Legislature.
    The table of contents shows 45 separate topics, some covering multiple sectors. The alphabetical list starts with alcohol and ends with water.
    The topics are policy. The Legislative Finance Committee’s annual “Post Session Review” discusses the money side.
    The regular session saw introduction of 1,755 items of legislation including 1,449 bills.

  • Statistical studies claim that extracurricular activities in school promote a higher rate of academic success.
    One study showed that 30.6 percent of students who participated in extracurricular activities earned a GPA of 3.0 or greater compared to 10.8 percent for students who did not participate.
    Keep in mind, though, that 87.14 percent of all statistics are purely fabricated, especially those that are presented with decimal points.
    Statistics aside, it’s just common sense that out-of-class activities promote both mental and physical health.
    Extracurricular activities help reduce behavior problems. In sports, students learn discipline and planning skills. Clubs and community organizations teach them responsibility and social inclusion.
    Students involved in activities gain higher self-esteem, more confidence and learn valuable interaction skills.
    And of course, there is a correlation between club involvement and higher academic performance. The creation of clubs and promotion of sports helps the students, helps the schools, and helps the community. It’s a win for everyone!
    But perhaps the most important benefit is it’s fun! Sometimes “fun” is more than enough reason!
    Being a teacher, I don’t want to downplay the importance of classroom studies.

  • I have a love-hate relationship with ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.
    I love the convenience and level of service that traditional taxis don’t offer. But I hate what they portend for the future of work with their rapidly expanding business model that pretends regular workers are franchisees.
    For one thing, casting employees as entrepreneurs offloads risks, along with the security and benefits that a traditional job used to offer.
    Workers toiling in the so-called sharing economy get no paid vacation or sick leave, no company match for a 401(k) retirement plan and no employer-paid health insurance. They may benefit from greater flexibility that they need for family obligations or even some fun, but these folks are missing out on big swaths of the safety net.
    What’s more, the CEOs and investors who are driving this share of our economy can get pretty stingy when it comes to sharing the profits with those who made those profits possible.

  • I’d like to meet Ignacio Padilla one of these days.
    Padilla is the fellow who recently got booted from his post as treasurer of the Santa Fe County Republican Party for having invited folks around the local plaza to whack away at a piñata fashioned to look like the “Great Bloviator,” Donald Trump.
    What it tells us about a sizeable bloc of rank-and-file Republican voters I shudder to think, but as these lines are written a goodly number of usually reliable polls indicate Trump to be leading the race for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.
    Yet, since announcing his bid for the Republican nomination over a month ago, the billionaire real estate mogul has systematically set himself to the task of alienating first one and then another segment of the American electorate with an abandon that takes the breath away.
    His rivals for the nomination he alternately scorns as “idiots,” “weak,” “incompetent,” “jackasses.”
    Mexican immigrants, including naturalized citizens, “bring us drugs and crime. They’re rapists,” he raged, before going on to malign the military service of John McCain, who spent five years interred as a POW in Vietnam.

  • Light in living rooms is an ancient and basic need.
    Yet, filling this need reflects the long and shifting trials of society, business and the environment.
    In times past, cave dwellers filled their rooms with wood smoke. Today’s fluorescent light bulbs utilize mercury.
    The story line from then to now is a mini-history of the human race.
    The oil lamp, teaching of smoke and smells, was a new thing in 4500 BC. By 3000 BC, the candle was the latest and best.
    Candles use consumable wicks to control the rate that fuel is burned and thus control how much light is produced and for how long. Candles even tell time.
    As seen in many fields down through history, inventions in lighting came at a quickening pace. Is this effect driven by world population?
    A larger population brings with it more inventors and more demands for products. The world population in 4500 BC is estimated at six million, roughly like today’s Dallas-Fort Worth. By 1800, world population was near one billion.
    For more than 5,000 years, living rooms were lit by improved designs and better fuels for lamps, candles and fireplaces.
    We pick up the story again in early America, in the bloom of revolution.