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Opinion

  • Seniors, take note: A state agency is about to terminate the contract of the organization that provides senior services to most of New Mexico.

    The termination demand has already been delivered, but a transition is in place, through Feb. 1. The organization that got axed is complying with the transition process while also fighting the decision.

    This potentially affects roughly 70,000 seniors who receive services such as meals at senior centers, home delivered meals, transportation, and caregiver respite care through government-authorized programs delivered by local providers.

    The state assures us services to seniors will not be disrupted. But a number of officials, including a few state legislators and Congressman Ben Ray Lujan, are crying foul and demanding that the state rescind its decision. They do not believe the state’s assurance of uninterrupted services to seniors. Lujan’s office said he will ask the relevant federal agency to investigate.

  • BY CLIFFORD JOHNSON
    University of Southern California, Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

    How often do you, outside the requirements of an assignment, ponder things like the workings of a distant star, the innards of your phone camera, or the number and layout of petals on a flower? Maybe a little bit, maybe never. Too often, people regard science as sitting outside the general culture: A specialized, difficult topic carried out by somewhat strange people with arcane talents. It’s somehow not for them.

    But really science is part of the wonderful tapestry of human culture, intertwined with things like art, music, theater, film and even religion. These elements of our culture help us understand and celebrate our place in the universe, navigate it and be in dialogue with it and each other.

    Everyone should be able to engage freely in whichever parts of the general culture they choose, from going to a show or humming a tune to talking about a new movie over dinner.

    Science, though, gets portrayed as opposite to art, intuition and mystery, as though knowing in detail how that flower works somehow undermines its beauty. As a practicing physicist, I disagree.

  •  Early-stage businesses, or even those that are more established, often find it hard to land the right cash infusion, especially when traditional bank financing can be elusive. Under this common scenario, funding through the Venture Acceleration Fund (VAF) could be the needed boost.

    Information sessions to help businesses apply for VAF are taking place in Northern New Mexico until Feb. 9, when the application process officially opens. Applications for funding will be accepted until March 12. 

    According to Carla Rachkowski, associate director of the Regional Development Corp. (RDC), which administers the program, VAF has been key as seed financing for early-stage businesses for more than a decade. The point, she said, is to assist entrepreneurs with taking innovations to market more quickly. VAF helps them through marketing and technology development, proof-of-concept, prototyping, developing market share and product launch. Sometimes it’s used to leverage more funding.

  •  Legislators go to meetings. That’s what they do.

    Legislators also get a lot of mail, both paper delivered by the postal service and email. Some of the mail, maybe much of it, is read. The proportion of read mail might be a measure of legislator diligence or engagement. 

    Our legislators are described as unpaid, part-time, citizen legislators who meet in fixed-length sessions or 30 and 60 days in alternate years. 

    None of this is quite true. 

    Though legislators get no salary, there is a $164 per diem to allegedly cover expenses during the session in Santa Fe or for other legislative business, such as interim committee meetings. The amount is laughable. Few decent hotel rooms in Santa Fe cost less than $164.

  • By Finance New Mexico 

    For years I have wondered whether our criminal justice system makes sense. 

    I think first about my own safety. Does our system make me safer? Does it prevent crime? Does it make prudent use of my tax dollars? Is it pragmatic?

    Then I think about fairness and justice. Does our system teach criminals the lesson that will prevent them from committing crimes again? Does it prevent others from committing crimes? Do tougher penalties deter criminals from offending again? What is the system doing to prepare them for when they get out?

    I want data. Rather than being driven by emotions, either of compassion or retribution, I’d like to know what actually works.

    A group called NMSAFE (nmsafe.org) has done some of this homework. 

  • BY PAUL J. GESSING
    President, Rio Grande Foundation

    With tax reform taken off the agenda by New Mexico’s Democrat legislative leaders, it is clear that the 30 day session will be more about going through the motions and positioning for 2018 than about considering much-needed economic reforms. This is unfortunate because in spite of higher oil prices, New Mexico remains mired in an economic slump.

    The unemployment rate remains elevated at 6.1 percent (second-highest in the nation) and as Bruce Krasnow reported recently in the New Mexican, “the state is in the midst of its slowest population growth since statehood – and that is not likely to change.”

    One would think that given these (and many other problems) that the Legislature would be on a mission to enact as many needed reforms as possible in the coming short 30 day session. Unfortunately, the list of reforms that won’t happen is much longer than those that might be considered. Here’s a few that the Rio Grande Foundation has put forth over the years that are “off the table.”

    Aforementioned revenue-neutral reform of the gross receipts tax;

    Adoption of “Right to Work” to allow workers to choose whether to join a union or pay union dues;

  • “Political correctness”(“P.C.”) is an infection that eats away the vitality of our democracy. The ills have spread far. Symptoms get worse while being ignored.

    A debate today about the national harms of political correctness is a debate between two afflicted organs – P.C. in the camp of the left and P.C. in the camp of the right.

    The habits of P.C. weaken discourse, which if left to fester, kills ideas. The two parties and their boosters talk less than before about policy work in Congress. Instead of crafting policy, more skills go into heckling the enemy party and its bad breed of supporters. Our times have lapsed into a rite of political correctness.

    The top news fare pulls P.C. camps toward the far poles. But, look twice. See ideas find other ideas to fill the gap between the poles. Stay alert to signs of both.

    Exhibit A: football players kneeling during the singing of the national anthem. There began a string of stories. In 2016, a mixed-race quarterback in the National Football League began kneeling during the national anthem to protest some facet(s) of race relations, as he saw it, in the U.S. The action drew some support and more players took similar steps.

    Fans took sides for and against.

  • BY LISA SHIN
    Guest Editorial

    Recently, one of my patients told me, “They should have saved for the lean years” as we discussed the possible change in LANL management and GRT revenues. She was referring to the Biblical account of Joseph and his rise to power from slavery.

    Pharaoh dreamed of  seven fat cows, devoured by seven starving cows. Then he dreamed of seven ripe, healthy sheaves of wheat, devoured by seven dead, dry ones.   Joseph correctly predicted the meaning of the Pharaoh’s dreams.

    “Immediately ahead are seven years of great abundance in all the land of Egypt. After them will come seven years of famine and all the abundance in the land of Egypt will be forgotten. As the land is ravaged by famine, no trace of the abundance will be left in the land…And let Pharoah take steps to appoint overseers over the land, and organize by taking a fifth part of the land’s produce in the seven years of plenty....Let that food be a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will come upon the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish in the famine.”

    The principle is simple: save during the plenteous years to be ready for the lean years.

  • The Washington Post published this editorial on the Department of Health and Human services instructing some of its divisions to avoid certain words or phrases in official documents that are being drafted for next year’s budget:

    Words are power. Whether used to twist or reveal, language matters, especially that used by the people who govern a nation devoted to free speech. This is why it was such a shock to hear the Department of Health and Human Services instruct some of its divisions, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to avoid using certain words or phrases in official documents being drafted for next year’s budget. It sounds like thought police at work.

    If that judgment seems harsh, consider what happens in China, where thought police really exist. China routinely censors articles containing politically sensitive words such as “Taiwan,” ‘’Tibet” and “cultural revolution” from publications because it does not want its people to think about them. Writing about democracy could lead to trouble in Belarus, Cuba or Vietnam, too. In Russia, words that refer to gays positively can trigger a penalty. In Saudi Arabia, a blogger, Raif Badawi, sits in jail for his online appeal for a more liberal and secular society.

  • BY DAMON SCOTT
    Finance New Mexico

    WESST, the statewide nonprofit best known for consulting and training programs that support entrepreneurs and small businesses, hit a milestone in 2017: It made its largest loan ever.  WESST loaned $150,000 to Dinéland Protection Services Inc. of Fruitland to help the company launch the security services it provides to the Navajo coal mine on the Navajo Nation.

    While the bulk of WESST’s services focus on one-on-one consulting and deep-dive business workshops, WESST also wants to make sure its clients have the funds needed to grow their businesses. Kim Blueher, vice president of lending at WESST, said the loan program is about 10 percent of the overall services they offer, but it makes a significant impact.

    “A lot of people think money is going to fix their problems,” said Blueher. “They come in the door or call thinking they want and need a loan. But we look at their situation and do a more holistic analysis. Many times, they aren’t ready for a loan. We work to prepare them a little better,” she said.

  • The Japan News published this editorial Dec. 20 on the National Security Strategy President Donald Trump’s administration unveiled.

    To counter China and Russia, both of which are attempting to coercively reshape the post-war international order, the United States will reinforce its military power and strengthen ties with its allies, thus promoting peace and stability. It is significant that such a pertinent strategy has been clearly presented.

    The U.S. administration under President Donald Trump unveiled its National Security Strategy. It will serve as the basic principle for the administration’s foreign and security policies. It is said to be the first time for the security strategy to have been formulated by any administration in its first year in the White House. It is expected to bring about such effects as eliminating, to a certain extent, concern over the unpredictable words and deeds of Trump.

  • BY FINANCE NEW MEXICO

    Brothers Kyle and Jim Rhodes have big ambitions for the family business they’ve owned since 1970. It’s not enough that their Farmington company Process Equipment & Service Company Inc. (PESCO) has a solid reputation as a manufacturer of natural gas and oil production equipment and that the company continues to grow even as gas prices rise and fall, employing more than 300 people and serving national and international customers.

    The Rhodes brothers want to earn their place among the winners of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which Congress established in 1987 (and named for a former Commerce Department secretary) to recognize American companies with exemplary quality-management systems.

    To that end, and to find inspiration and ideas, the co-owners send a delegation of PESCO employees each year to the Quality New Mexico Learning Summit, where recipients of the Baldrige award describe what led to their recognition. Kyle and Jim Rhodes hope to learn from these top achievers what more they can do to make PESCO a better place to work, to expand its profile in the industry and to continually improve its products.

  • The trouble with regulation is what I call the Rule of One, as in, there’s always one. It applies to the regulated and to the regulators.

    Regardless of the industry, most of the regulated do their best to operate within the rules, but there’s always at least one company abusing the process, the consumer, the environment or its own employees. Once the abuses come to light, regulators come down on everybody, and no good deed goes unpunished.

    On the other side of the fence, most regulators try to be conscientious but fair and don’t assume that every entity they oversee is up to no good. But there’s always one who doesn’t wear the mantle of authority well or applies the rules in ways lawmakers never intended. Often they have no idea what the impact of their actions will be.

    I’ve reported on this see-saw for years and heard horror stories on both sides. It’s the reason we swing back and forth between lax and intrusive regulation. Now you can hear it in the arguments for and against net neutrality. And, of course, it’s political. Republicans favor less regulation; Democrats want more.

    Last week that the Federal Communications Commission abandoned net neutrality rules debated for more than a decade in favor of what FCC Chairman Ajit Pai calls a regulatory “light touch.”

  • I applaud the County Council for finally approving improvements at the aquatic center that are not directly related only to exercise or athletics. (My surprise at the voting pattern notwithstanding!)

    Some years ago, I served on a CIP citizen’s committee that explored how to use an expected GRT windfall to improve the quality of life in Los Alamos. The proposals were very similar to what the Council has recently made decisions about.

    After years of dithering, some projects were realized: the Ashley Pond Pond improvements, the
    Nature Center, WR visitor center, library, Youth Activity Center and senior center improvements, trails, ...

    But at the time, Steve Lynne very sensibly warned not to count on the best GRT scenario. The first issue to be addressed by The County and by The People, in the context of higher taxes to pay for them (which were voted down), was a set of improvements at the aquatic center: zero-entry pool, lazy river, water slide. 

    I acknowledge a selfish interest: Although too late for my own children, I hoped to treat visiting grandchildren to some of these aquatic experiences. And it’s getting late even for that.

  • By Mick Rich
    Republican candidate for U.S. Senate

    Our Democratic U.S. Senators were AWOL when President Obama stripped the New Mexico Air National Guard (NMANG) of its F-16s. Since 2010, our Air National Guard now has had no airplanes. It’s the only state that doesn’t. (Even Puerto Rico’s ANG has airplanes.)

    Now that Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson (former Republican U.S. Rep. from New Mexico) has said she is not optimistic about New Mexico regaining its F-16s, our Senators have pitched her with a lame idea: helicopter training for our NMANG’s pilots.

    The only mission apparent is their mission to save face.

    According to the Albuquerque Journal, Martin Heinrich sent a letter to Wilson suggesting that the NMANG ‘s 150th Special Operations Wing at Kirtland AFB receive 12 “legacy” HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters “to use for training, and, if necessary, use in missions.”

    That word “legacy” is key. These helicopters came into operation 35 years ago, in 1982. The few currently in use by Kirtland’s 58th Special Operations Wing will soon be sent into retirement in Arizona. The helicopter’s replacement – the HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter – is due to arrive at Kirtland’s 58th in 2020.

  • Economics is known as the dismal science. It has certainly been dismal in New Mexico for a while.
    A few sobering facts were offered at the recent Data Users Conference sponsored by the UNM Bureau of Business and Economic Research. The presenter was Jeffrey Mitchell, director of the BBER. There were no big surprises, but no easy answers either.

    People are leaving New Mexico. Net outmigration (years 2011 to 2015) is more than 150 persons leaving for every 100 who move in. All our neighboring states are going in the opposite direction.

    The groups leaving are young people, young families, and seniors. Those staying are older working age adults, ages 45 to 64.

    Individuals with associate and bachelor’s degrees are leaving in the highest numbers.

    Around 1940, Mitchell said, New Mexico was number 21 in percentage of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

    In the 1960s we ranked fourth highest in that category. Nationally, people are getting more education, but New Mexico is dropping in that ranking. We are currently number 39.

  • By FINANCE NEW MEXICO

    Hannah Johnson left Cedar Crest, New Mexico, to get a biology degree, and after a stint in shorebird conservation, she returned to start a coffee shop in her hometown in the eastern Sandia Mountain foothills.

    The owner of Cabra Coffee, which opened in spring 2017, started making quality coffee at college. “My first job working in the industry was when I was going to school at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma. It was just the coffee shop in the school, but we were getting coffee from a cafe in Seattle, and they would come down and train us. That’s where I first learned how to make coffee professionally.”

    During her subsequent conservation work with the piping plover at Massachusetts Audubon, Hannah found that her side job in a coffee shop brought her more joy because it offered social interaction. “I wasn’t working with anybody, … and I needed a way to make friends. The coffee shop (in Nantucket) was brand new. I realized that I knew more than anybody else there just from working at the coffee shop at my school. So I was put into the manager position, overseeing everything to do with the coffee. And that’s when I really discovered that it was something I liked doing and that I was good at.”

  • BY LISA SHIN AND KATHLEENE PARKER
    Guests Editorial

    Our nation is divided. Must Los Alamos be too? Why, so often, are letters or comments at public meetings about personal attack? Perhaps we should remember Thomas Jefferson’s, “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle.”

    In the Dec. 1 edition of the Los Alamos Monitor, Jess Cullinan – incidentally, a prime driver in asking the school board to pass a sanctuary policy – wrote labeling “those vocal few” as seeking to “sow chaos and to sabotage” the school board’s and superintendent’s efforts to protect vulnerable students.

    But, it is that assumption – that students are even vulnerable – that is our right to question. Cullinan’s letter defines that federal immigration policy “prohibits by law” asking about immigration status and that ICE activity in schools is restricted, proof – based on Cullinan’s own information – that the Los Alamos effort is not about solving a real problem but make a political statement.

  • New Mexico’s border crossing at Columbus small but brisk.

    Tiny Columbus’s claim to fame is Pancho Villa’s raid in 1916, commemorated by a state park. Snowbirds hunker down in the campground to spend a comfortable winter. The only shopping is a Dollar Store close to the international boundary.

    Across the border, the much larger Palomas gets a steady stream of Americans shopping at the Pink Store, getting dental work done or buying cheap over-the-counter drugs.

    Border guards on both sides are friendly and professional. The atmosphere is relaxed.

    You can’t visit the border without contemplating The Wall.

    The existing wall here of 18-foot steel columns is of fairly recent vintage. I try to imagine a new wall of the prototypes on display in California and envision a tourniquet that squeezes trade and relations between the two countries.

    In October the U. S. Customs and Border Protection unveiled eight giant rectangles made of concrete or composites. If you live in Ohio, you might believe a wall of this stuff will keep us safe and hold the hordes at bay.

  • FINANCE NEW MEXICO

    Barring congressional intervention, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is ending, and DACA recipients — or “Dreamers” — are subject to deportation when their work permits expire if they didn’t get an extension before the Oct. 5 deadline.

    The demise of the program has created uncertainty among employers who are required to fire DACA recipients the day after their permits expire but risk discrimination charges if they act too soon to terminate — or even identify — DACA recipients on their payrolls.

    Companies risk fines for employing ineligible workers. They’re also advised to prepare carefully for this sudden change in circumstances for up to 800,000 young people whose parents brought them into the United States without proper documentation when they were children.

    A delicate question

    All employees, regardless of their citizenship status, must fill out an I-9 form and provide multiple forms of identification to verify their eligibility to work in the United States. Noncitizen workers carry papers that authorize them to work here temporarily; the paperwork includes a code that specifies the basis for the permit, but employers are discouraged from using the code to identify DACA recipients.