Visions and Values

  • We may think of animal hoarders as wacky people like the Cat Lady with six felines. But in New Mexico, police have entered dwellings with upwards of 50 cats and dogs. An Otero County man had 208 dogs.
    The scene is uncomfortably familiar: Dozens of sick or starving animals with no food or water, a “home” with floors covered in filth, stacked cages of animals, and scattered carcasses.
    Local authorities pick up the animals and haul them to the local shelter, where many must be euthanized; others may be rehabilitated and adopted.
    Invariably, the owner of the horror show claims to be an animal lover who rescues unwanted pets. The man with 208 dogs started out as Mission Desert Hills Sanctuary for Dogs, and descended into animal hoarding.
    It’s a nationwide problem – so much so that it even has its own organizations and websites. One is the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC) at Tufts University, which spent 10 years studying the problem. They learned that anybody can be a hoarder.
    Veterinarian Debra Clopton, of Edgewood, insisted she loved her 49 dogs; last week, a jury convicted her of 22 counts of animal cruelty in Santa Fe District Court. Clopton testified that her doublewide trailer was a place for dogs with nowhere else to go. She said she was treating them successfully.

    Los Alamos County Councilor, Guest Columnist


  • The story went like this: You could install solar panels that would generate electricity on your roof. When the sun was shining, you’d generate enough to power your house and then your meter would run backwards, and the power company would send you a check instead of a bill. How cool was that!
    That works, and it’s called “distributed generation,” but the real world has complications. One complication is that the power generated while the sun shines is not stored. The utility still has to provide another source of power to turn the lights on at night.
    Beyond that – no surprise – utilities don’t like having to buy back power. That’s not unreasonable. Utilities have a mandate to provide reliable power all the time and must build and maintain costly infrastructure to meet that requirement.
    The more solar capacity you have on your house, the fewer hours you will buy. Therefore, the cost to deliver power to your house is more expensive per hour than for the typical household. To compensate, the utility does not pay you nearly as much for the power you sell as you pay for the hours you buy.
    The price of power today to New Mexico homeowners is about 12 to 13 cents per kilowatt hour, varying with each utility. What the utilities pay back also varies.

  • Bundles of cables ring the Las Vegas plaza like a wreath. Movie set crews, all New Mexicans, maneuver vehicles, lights and props while locally hired security people and cops steer people and traffic around the shoot for “Granite Mountain,” based on the Arizona firefighters who battled an epic blaze to save a town.
    The cast and crew seem to have the run of the Plaza Hotel, where we’re staying. For everybody, it’s good business.
    A gallery owner tells us the movie makers are paying every store on the plaza for the inconvenience and lost business. “Obviously, it didn’t keep you from coming in, and it’s a nice gesture,” she says.
    “Granite Mountain” employs 190 New Mexico crew members, 40 New Mexico actors, and about 1,300 New Mexico background talent, according to the state Film Office.
    This is a snapshot of a New Mexico success story. Against a backdrop of dreary economic numbers, the movie and television industry dazzles. Direct spending into the state economy for the fiscal year ending June 30 was $387 million, up from $288 million the year before – a new record.

  • Troll your archives and no telling what emerges.
    Recent thumbing of the shelves and the computer led to the report of a legislative committee looking into economic development, Arizona’s consideration of that state’s future, and a discussion of growth with a Colorado economist. The documents illuminate what we’re doing and not doing, over time, in New Mexico.
    Interim committees do much of the Legislature’s work.
    The interim Economic Development, New Technologies and Business Tax Study committee met six times in nine cities between June and November 1983. The chairs were two young and ambitious senators from Albuquerque – Tom Rutherford, Democrat, and Bill Valentine, Republican.
    Talk of process was the main product, the committee report indicates. Recruiting businesses and the Business Development Corporation, which eventually failed, were continuing topics. Everyone with half a claim to an economic development portfolio presented somewhere. Some really were involved in economic development. One presentation covered “the social impact of the computer revolution.” Note that the Mac debuted in 1984.

  • Like phone calls around the country between potential Gary Johnson supporters, political emails get little attention. That’s unfortunate because the grandiose and stupid style of a good many of these emails supports the notion that the other side is evil and worse, thereby feeding the much-lamented hyper-partisanship of today’s political world.
    For New Mexicans, a second reason to notice such messages is that one of our representatives in Congress, Ben Ray Lujan, is nominally responsible for some of them. Luján chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), a job he got via appointment by House Minority Leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Luján’s duties, beyond electing more Democrats to Congress, aren’t clear, nor is the time required.
    Presumably, DCCC time takes Luján away from tending constituent duties, such as follow-up on the 2015 mine waste spill into the Animas River. On July 5, NBCnews.com published a 1,575-word fluff piece without mentioning task and time topics. The story dwelt on Luján’s “Uncle Gus’s wingtip shoes.”
    I get these emails from both parties and their friends and until a year ago got DCCC emails. Maybe because I didn’t donate. There were ten DCCC emails in August 2015 through the 28th. The DCCC program continues, DCCC said.

    Practical Money

  • Is a small family farm a business, a hobby, a living museum or something else?  
    It’s increasingly clear we can’t have it both ways – business and quaint tradition. The recent state Supreme Court decision on workers’ comp coverage for farms and ranches puts that in sharp relief.
    The court decided the special exemption for farmers and ranchers is unconstitutional. Agricultural employers are now required to buy insurance if they have three or more employees, just like other small businesses. (Construction is an exception, requiring all employers to have coverage.)
    One insurance professional commented to me that he is impatient at the way New Mexico has coddled family farmers. They are running businesses, he said. They should develop budgets like other businesses, make businesslike decisions about who is an employee and treat employees as the laws require.
    That’s what this court decision will force them to do, but we also may be losing a valuable part of our traditional culture. The change will mean more formality and bureaucracy. Probably some family farms will be scared to hire anybody, even when they need help, and some farmers will decide farming is not worth the trouble.  

  • David Abbey, the longtime director of the Legislative Finance Committee, has said the state is running on fumes, and he’s not one to exaggerate.
    Because the recession hangs on and oil and gas prices dropped, tax revenues were down for 11 months of the last fiscal year by a whopping $543.3 million. Even though legislators cut budgets and swept spare change from every possible corner during the last session, we’re now spending money we don’t have.
    That might be a fine American tradition, but it’s illegal. The federal government can run deficits; New Mexico state government can’t.
    So Democrats, now joined by some Republicans, want a special session, but the governor is waiting for numbers from the entire year – as if one month’s revenues will make a difference – before calling a special session.
    Nobody likes a special session, especially during an election year, when the inevitable ugly decisions could affect votes.
    But the longer they wait, the worse it gets. They’ve used cash reserves to plug the hole, so the account hovers at 1 percent of state spending, or $63 million, down from $319.8 million last year. Good governance calls for higher balances.

  • Countries become more prosperous by producing and selling more stuff. One approach is having more people produce the same amount for each person. This might apply in New Mexico where a low proportion of our population works. Just hire more people.
    Using technology to have each person produce more is better. Or combine old ideas into a new application, the technique of Vasari21 (vasari21.com), a Taos-based website launched by Ann Landi, a four-year Taos resident transplanted from New York City. Landi has been a freelance writer for publications including the Wall Street Journal and ArtNews.
    Vasari21, is an online publication directed at artists, not art consumers. “There’s nothing like it,” she says. With decades of contacts at the top of the art world and with the internet, Landi is able to operate from Taos.
    Topics include how artists make their way, why critics act the way they do, and talking to a gallery.
    So far, so good, she says. Vasari21 has “a very low bounce rate.”
    Landi has learned that means people stick around the site for a while instead of clicking away in a few seconds.
    Major corporate innovation came recently to my Gillette brand shaving cream, made by Proctor and Gamble. The shaving cream cap has been a 2.5 inch diameter, two-inch-high plastic item.

  • “Cardboard” is a versatile concept. A “cardboard” person is thoroughly unattractive—flat, stiff, dull and banal. By contrast, real cardboard is a marvel – efficient, sturdy, useful and adaptable.
    “Cardboard box” is a generic name for boxes of all uses and sizes made from paper-like materials. Think of cereal boxes, juice boxes, a box of candy, brown boxes that store archives, shipping boxes and the “shoebox,” that cache of humble treasures.
    It is no small truth that kids take to the empty box as eagerly as they play with the grand toy that came in the box. What else makes so fine a fort, a lion house and a big bass drum? So strong is the cardboard box’s appeal as a child’s plaything that in 2005 a cardboard box was added to the National Toy Hall of Fame. It is true.
    The cardboard box drove us to reuse stuff long before it was a strategy. Cardboard was well suited for recycling long before recycling was thought about. The gods of yore may have helped more than we know.
    In the 1870s, corrugated cardboard hit the market and began to replace wooden shipping crates. The term “tree hugger” was used in India as long ago as 1730. The term was reborn in the 1960s and is popular today as an honor or an insult in natural resource conflicts.  

  • On the hunt for a new apartment? A move can be an exciting opportunity to explore a new area or meet new people. However, competitive rental markets can make it difficult to find a desirable place on a budget.
    Keep these ten tips in mind to manage the process like a pro. They’ll help you stand out from the crowd, get a good deal, enjoy the neighborhood and manage your rights and responsibilities as a renter.
    1. Talk to Other Tenants. Speak with current or past renters to get a sense for the building and landlord. Ask about the neighborhood, noise, timeliness with repairs and any other pressing questions. Consider looking for online reviews of the landlord as well, and research the neighborhood.
    2. Upgrade Your Application. Go beyond the basic application requirements and include pictures, references, credit reports and a short bio about yourself and whoever else may be moving in. Try to catch the landlord’s eye and show that you’ll take care of the property. You can order a free credit report from each bureau (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com.  

  • I’ve seen dozens of economic development schemes over the years. Some were visionary, others simply delusional. Almost all involved tapping the taxpayers to benefit a handful of politically savvy lobbyists and their clients.
    I can count the number of winners on one hand. New Mexico wine, which scarcely existed 30 years ago, is now a $60 million business expanding at 10 to 15 percent a year. Beer has grown from 25 craft breweries five years ago to 45 today with an estimated $340 million in economic impact.
    Both succeeded without government subsidies and in the teeth of Prohibition-era laws and bureaucratic inertia. Real businesses flourish not by rent-seeking in Santa Fe or Washington to get the government to underwrite their costs and mandate customers to purchase their product, but by producing something consumers actually want to buy.
    If the Drug War has taught us anything over the past 40 years, it’s that people want to buy marijuana.
    Since Colorado’s first pot shop opened two years ago, that state’s legal recreational market has grown from zero to nearly $600 million last year and may top $1 billion this year. The state rakes in more than a quarter of that with a hefty 27.9 percent levy on sales.

  • Uncertainty about the commercial viability of an innovation or idea — in addition to the cost of renting or buying the machinery needed to build a working prototype — has stifled many an entrepreneurial impulse. But the makerspace movement that’s gaining a foothold in several New Mexico communities is trying to change that.   
    Makerspaces offer access to expensive equipment and expert mentoring that innovators need to turn a concept into something tangible. Their advocates see them as cauldrons of entrepreneurism and economic development — as early-stage business incubators.
    Nurturing creativity
    New Mexico is home to half a dozen makerspaces, many of them only a few years old.
    Los Alamos Makers calls itself “a scientific playground for all ages,” and its members can use all sorts of industrial, mechanical, laboratory and electronic equipment that the organization has procured in its two years of existence.
    Lots of people have ideas, said founder Prisca Tiasse, a former biologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, but they lack the means to invest in something that might not go anywhere. “That is a major hurdle for entrepreneurism.”

  • The 2016 presidential contest is down to two people. That’s what Deborah Maestas, Republican chair, would have us believe.
    In a July 17 op-ed she called for “Republicans and conservatives” to unite behind Donald Trump. “Trump’s success represents a shift that our country desperately needed,” she said. However laughable Maestas assertion in the op-ed, she was just doing her job.
    But, well, no. While unhappiness is everywhere, more is happening here than an either-or choice. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over, as Yogi Berra said.
    A phone call came a couple of weeks ago from my sister-in-law in southwest Wisconsin. A Catholic and a Democrat, she works for a branch campus of the University of Wisconsin in a community of 12,000.  She is distressed at the prospect of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump being president. Her protest vote in the Wisconsin primary was for Bernie Sanders.
    After a few minutes, the topic of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson entered the conversation, as you might expect. My wife, the Clinton supporter, gave me the phone. I said, “Policies aside, Gary is honest.” The other two are serial, purposive liars, among other things.

  • The U. S. Senate, as you probably know, left Washington for a lengthy summer recess without passing an appropriation for research on the Zika virus. Though most senators agreed on the funding, Democrats disagreed with provisions unrelated to this issue, which had been included in the bill by Republicans.
    Among those provisions were restrictions on funding for birth control services from Planned Parenthood, weakened clean water laws governing pesticides and, as if the nation needs something else to motivate people to shoot each other, a provision that would have allowed the Confederate flag to be displayed at military cemeteries.
    Let us not, for this moment, debate the Planned Parenthood issue, the pesticide issue or even the Confederate flag issue. Let’s talk about process.
    This process, sometimes called logrolling, is what happens when legislation is written so that in order to vote for one thing that a legislator is in favor of, the legislator has to vote for something he or she opposes.
    In this case, according to the news reports, U. S. senators on both sides are now waiting for a few American babies to be born with tragic deformities so they can point fingers at each other. At least New Mexico, with its low humidity, is not a heavy mosquito state.  

    Los Alamos Police Department

    Professor, University of Wyoming