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Opinion

  • Inspired by the public advocacy of terminal brain cancer patient Brittany Maynard, lawmaker in Washington, D.C., and at least 16 other states — from California to New York — have introduced bills that would authorize the medical option of aid in dying.
    This legislation would allow mentally competent, terminally ill adults in the final stages of their disease the option to request a doctor’s prescription for aid-in-dying medication that they could choose to take it if their suffering becomes unbearable.
    As a Catholic and a physician, I feel compelled to dispel the myths about these bills perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church, some disability groups, and the American Medical Association (AMA).
    The Oregon law that is the model for this legislation has a stellar 17-year track record, with no scientifically documented cases of abuse or coercion. Dying adults who go through the lengthy process of obtaining the medication in Oregon hold onto it for weeks or months, as Brittany did, before taking it, if they take it at all.

  • Major credit card processors are imposing tougher security measures on credit card issuers in the industry’s ongoing efforts to combat credit card fraud.
    These global standards — called EMV for Europay, MasterCard and Visa, the companies collaborating on the new system — include embedding computer chips into “smart” credit cards that offer greater security for point of sale (POS) transactions than the magnetic strips on traditional credit cards.
    Many chip-embedded cards require a personal identification number (PIN) instead of a signature to complete the POS transaction and close the security loop; these “chip-and-PIN” cards are the norm around the world, though they’ve been slow to catch on in the United States.
    One incentive for the changeover is the soaring cost of fraud. According to the payment industry’s Nilson Report, credit card fraud cost banks and merchants more than $5 billion in the U.S. alone in 2012. By contrast, credit card fraud in face-to-face sales has dropped dramatically in countries around the world that have adopted the new technology.
    Deadline looms

  • The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear four cases involving the issue of same-sex unions. These cases come from the Sixth Circuit where the U.S. Appeals Court had earlier upheld Michigan’s definition of marriage as limited to one man and one woman. That decision (DeBoer v. Snyder) created what is called a “conflict among the Circuits” and forced the Supreme Court to address the issue.
    The court will be likely to issue a decision in June 2015 with arguments in April.
    There are two questions that the court has agreed to take up. Does the 14th Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
    Secondly, does that same Amendment “require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?”
    How should the Supreme Court decide these cases? Specifically, the justices should reject the recent rash of federal court decisions that have, for the time being, forced same-sex marriage on the citizens of 31 states who had democratically chosen to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

  • There’s a classic story about a philosophy professor who presented the students with a test asking a single question — “Why?” As the story goes, the only person who received an ‘A’ was a student who submitted the answer, “Because.” Another version of the story has the student answering “Why not?”
    The story is of course an academic myth, an allegory promulgated on the premise that philosophy defines its own worth and that the value of questioning the questions is itself in question. Myth or not, the story does underscore a related question that merits answering — “Why ask why?”
    Why should anyone seek an answer if there is no obvious value to having the answer other than simply to have it?
    Why is the sky blue and the sunset red? Why does a refrigerator get cold? Why does a stick of butter float in water? Why you should never mix bleach and ammonia?
    If curiosity killed the cat, does a cat that never questions anything live longer? Why are people so willing to accept what they’re told and not ask why?
    If we stick our heads in the sand and cannot see the things we fear, are we safer? If ignorance is bliss, you would think that this world should be a much happier place.

  • Lyme disease, a common tick-borne disease in humans, can be contracted by our canine companions as well. The disease, which is caused by a spirochete bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, can often be difficult to diagnose.
    “Hard-shelled ticks of the genus Ixodes transmit Borrelia burgdorferi,” said Dr. Carly Duff, veterinary resident at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “The tick attaches to its host, and then as the tick is feeding, spirochete bacteria migrate onto the host.”
    Clinical signs in canine patients may include fever, enlarged lymph nodes, a lack of appetite, and lethargy. Others may develop acute lameness as a result of joint inflammation, which lasts for a few days before returning days later, not necessarily in the same leg. This is known as “shifting-leg lameness.” More serious complications can include kidney damage and heart or central nervous system abnormalities in rare cases.
    Fortunately, your dog’s disease does not put you or your family at risk. “Dogs do not appear to be a source for infection in humans,” Duff said, “because they do not excrete infectious organisms in their bodily fluids to any appreciable extent.”

  • I checked my New Mexico Constitution the other day, and the provision is right there where I left it: Article IV, Section 16, “Subject of bill in title; appropriation bills.”
    “The subject of every bill shall be clearly expressed in its title, and no bill embracing more than one subject shall be passed except general appropriation bills and bills for the codification or revision of the laws; but if any subject is embraced in any act which is not expressed in its title, only so much of the act as is not so expressed shall be void....”
    This is called the single-subject provision. I wrote about it a couple of years ago, pointing out how nasty it is when Congress violates this principle and what a relief it is that New Mexico, along with 41 other states, has a single-subject requirement.
    Congress regularly sticks multiple unrelated subjects into the same bill, so members have to vote for the part they disagree with in order to support the part they agree with. How many bills have come out of the U.S. House of Representatives that include something about undoing the Affordable Care Act, for example?  
    The House of Representatives was barely able to pass a bill funding the Homeland Security Department for more than a week because some members insisted on holding the funding hostage to extraneous provisions.

  • Family vacations produce memories for a lifetime, but they can also teach kids great money lessons they’ll need as adults.
    Involving kids in planning family vacations not only helps them appreciate the overall benefits of travel, but offers an opportunity for even the youngest kids to learn lessons about budgeting, saving and essential money management they will encounter every day.
    If you have trouble tearing your kids away from their smartphones, you might be in luck. The technology kids use can be very effective in budgeting, pricing and planning travel. Surfing travel destinations can teach kids a great deal about what travel really costs.
    The first step in planning the family vacation should be creating a budget for the trip. Set a realistic dollar limit for the trip and bΩe prepared to discuss why that limit exists. For example, if there is a home renovation project scheduled that particular year, explain how that affects the overall family budget and the resources for the trip. It’s an important lesson in balancing fun and family priorities.

  • New Mexico is a culturally rich and diverse state with 22 American Indian Tribes, Pueblos and Nations that exercise sovereignty over their land and people.
    Our tribes have exercised these rights since time immemorial and prior to the Spanish, Mexican and United States governments.
    Tribes have the inherent right to govern and protect the health and welfare of their citizens, and oral health care should be no different.
    There is an oral health care crisis in our New Mexico tribal communities that must be addressed. Many tribes are located in rural areas, and most are in dental provider shortage areas.
    Even those living in urban areas have little to no access to dental care.
    Dental decay and disease are highly prevalent in the American Indian population. In one New Mexico Pueblo, 70 percent of adults suffer from untreated dental decay, and 58 percent of the children live with untreated dental decay.
    These children are missing school and suffering needlessly. Adults miss work, and elders cannot eat nutritious foods.
    This is needless suffering when a proven solution is readily available. By utilizing the dental therapist model all tribal, rural and underserved people throughout the state of New Mexico could benefit from much needed oral health care.

  • Sometimes We the People don’t elect the most upstanding candidates.
    Or we elect upstanding candidates, but they appoint people who aren’t cast from the same material.
    Or the power and temptation that come with the position alter them in ways that would surprise their grandmothers.
    Stuff happens. Most of the time, the first to know are subordinates or co-workers. Unless they’re willing to come forward, the bad seed grows and, undetected and unchecked, spreads aggressively.
    I have a lot of respect for whistleblowers and have worked with a number of them over the years. I know there are soreheads and disgruntled employees and even office romances gone wrong. They’re outnumbered by bona fide informants.
    Let me introduce you to them.
    They rarely see themselves as heroes. They’re ordinary people who really, really, really didn’t want to complicate their lives or step into the limelight.
    But they’re witnesses to something they could no longer stomach. The way they see it, they have no choice.
    Whistleblowers risk everything, everything — job, health, reputation, marriage — by going public.

  • I can’t help but compare the discussion involving the merits of the CIP project for the proposed North Community Regional Park and Community Links with what I do for a living: provide apartment housing for people living in Los Alamos.
    I own and manage a number of buildings in town that are almost the same age as is the golf course and believe it or not, there are more similarities than you might think.
    By the time our current projects are completed this summer, we will have invested well over $1,500,000 in upgrades and innovations in recent years. We do this because we have to meet or exceed the needs and desires of our customers.
    As a result, we have stayed competitive in the market and have a successful business.
    The same cannot be said for the golf course in Los Alamos.
    There is little disagreement that the course needs a new irrigation system. The current system is nearing 30 years of age, was not properly installed in the first place and is a component that typically requires replacement every 20-25 years.
    What is being debated is the proposed renovation of the course, which would include completely new turf and the re-design of several holes for safety concerns.

  • The basic problem with America’s educational system is not that college is too expensive. Nor is the basic problem that public school teachers are underpaid or that educators are poorly trained. The basic problem with America’s educational system today is that far too many children are given the implicit message at home that education is not a priority. “Perhaps the nerds and the geeks need these educational skills, but in our home, they just are not that important.”
    Our schools face a huge challenge today, because the educational message that teachers are trying to inculcate into their students is far too often dismissed at home. If you live in a subculture where education is not valued, it is unlikely you will come to value your own educational opportunities. We cannot expect our schools to inculcate values of learning when there is little to no reinforcement at home.
    The reality of life is that education and learning is not always fun. I was, and still am, an eager learner; nevertheless, some topics were uninteresting and seemed pointless when I first learned them.

  • I’m proud that the House of Representatives recently passed a budget that will not only keep New Mexico on solid financial ground, but also chart a better course for the future of our state.
    With this budget, we underscore our commitment to fiscal responsibility while also putting our families first. We did this by dedicating a large chunk of new revenue toward education reforms aimed at helping struggling students learn. On top of that, we secured funding to diversify our economy and protect our children.
    I am proud to say that these legislative priorities are not partisan policies, which is why both Democrats and Republicans backed the final budget. Together, we understand that what matters most is making New Mexico a better place for you and your family.
    It starts with education. Our budget invests an additional $44.7 million into K-12 education, with more dollars going directly into the classroom than ever before.
    With this money, we will be able to expand tutoring and interventions for a total of $61.7 million.
    The money goes toward important programs like Pre-K and K-3 Plus, a program that provides additional instruction to struggling students.
    The funding also calls for raising the starting teacher salary from $32,000 to $34,000 a year.

  • On Jan. 1, 2005, food bought at New Mexico’s grocery stores was excluded from the gross receipts tax (GRT). In exchange for the break, the GRT was hiked on all other purchases.
    A decade later, it’s clear that the tax shift was a mistake.
    With several proposals before the legislature to reinstate the GRT on food, it’s time for an honest examination of how and why the well-meaning exemption failed.
    While it’s all but forgotten now, many of the state’s liberal activists and organizations opposed ending the food tax. In 2003, New Mexico Voices for Children argued that the “very poorest people will not receive the benefits,” because most “use food stamps, which are not subject to gross receipts taxes.”
    Currently, a qualifying New Mexico family of four receives $514.32 per month, tax free, in food stamps. A staggering 21.5 percent of our citizens participate in the federal program.
    In addition, many household essentials such as soap, paper products and toothpaste remained taxable. Utility and motor-fuels taxes were not touched, either.

  • We’ve reached saturation with gaming.
    Because tribes and racinos scramble for every new dollar, it makes for some strange politics.
    Last Saturday, the legislative Committee on Compacts heard from tribes and examined every pore of the compact produced by intense negotiating between the Governor’s Office and five tribes — the Navajo Nation, the Jicarilla Apache Nation, the Mescalero Apache Tribe, and Acoma and Jemez pueblos.
    For a change, party affiliation didn’t matter. Republican committee members wanted to move the compact for Gov. Susana Martinez, but that didn’t stop them from pointing out its flaws and trying to amend them despite time constraints.
    Democrats dug in for their Native American constituents, but they too didn’t hesitate to flush out problems and demand renegotiation.
    Most interesting was Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Democrat who defended his constituents, the Fort Sill Apaches, perched on 30 acres near his city of Deming, and their right to have a casino. Smith also worried that we’ve exceeded market saturation.

  • If you’re worried about paying for your child’s college education, keep this statistic in mind: during the 2011-12 school year, the U.S. Department of Education reported that 85 percent of all full-time, four-year college students were receiving some form of financial aid.
    Consider planning way ahead of time to develop a college savings strategy that fits with your finances. If you need more resources to cover additional costs, get to know the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, better known as FAFSA (fafsa.ed.gov).
    FAFSA is the universal application for current and prospective U.S. college students to receive college financial aid. It is the gateway to grants, student loans and work-study programs on the federal and state level.
    If you have a kid headed for college, it’s a good idea to learn about the FAFSA as early as possible. The universal form is the first step for any current or prospective student who needs help paying for higher education. For the 2014-15 academic year, the College Board reported that annual tuition, room and board (trends.collegeboard.org) averaged $18,943 at in-state public universities, $32,762 for out-of-state students and $42,419 at private, nonprofit schools.

  • The first school for Seeing Eye Dogs was opened on Jan. 29, 1929 in Nashville, Tennessee.
    Following a short-lived program in Germany after World War I, this guide school trained dogs to assist those in need, and since then has influenced programs all over the world, including the Texas A&M’s Aggie Guide Dogs and Service Dogs (AGS).
    Today, service dogs are exposed to very thorough and extensive training, and their duties can extend much farther than assisting only the blind.
    “When people see a service dog in a vest, they automatically think it’s a guide dog. When in reality, a huge percentage of service dogs assist people with all sorts of other medical, physical and emotional things,” said Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, faculty advisor for AGS and Clinical Assistant Professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.  
    Some examples include mobile assistance dogs, which help people who have trouble getting around due to cerebral palsy, severe arthritis or other conditions, and hearing dogs, which help the hearing impaired by responding to sound with a certain behavior.
    For instance, when they hear a knock at the front door, they might be taught to go sit in front of the person to alert them.  

  • After initially driving down the price of oil by increasing its production, which gave Americans a welcome drop in prices at the pump, could Saudi Arabia now be pushing them back up?
    Prices at the pump have gone up nearly 40 cents a gallon from the January low. Every year, at this time, refineries shut down to make adjustments from the “winter blend” to the “summer blend.”
    However this year, the increase is exacerbated.
    The unexpected extreme weather in the south has caused some of the refineries in the south to shut and restart, resulting in disruption for a couple of days. There was a California refinery explosion.
    Then we have the expanding steelworker’s strike — the first in 35 years.
    Opinions vary on why the United Steelworks chose now to strike — especially in a time when labor unions, according to the WP, “rarely exercise that right.”
    The paper explains, “There were only 11 strikes involving more than 1,000 workers last year, down from hundreds annually in the 1970s.”
    What if the union workers chose this time to strike because of outside influence — specifically Saudi Arabia? There are many coincidences that seem too obvious to ignore.

  • A legislative tradition is a speech by each member of our congressional delegation to a joint gathering of the two houses.
    The exercise is useful. It puts the people self-selected to live on airplanes flying between New Mexico and Washington, D.C., in front of a bipartisan political audience. A chance exists of something useful or revealing.
    From Albuquerque Rep. Michelle Luján Grisham, a Democrat, on Feb. 17 came the charge, “It’s time you declare a war on poverty in New Mexico.”  The comment was in an Albuquerque Journal story.
    The sentiments are noble. Questions arise, however. (I can hear the liberal knives sharpening. Gasp! Question a principle of pious liberalism?)
    It’s not that Luján Grisham is wrong. It would be nice to eliminate poverty. The trouble is that such words are easy to say and tough, if not impossible, to execute. This would be a state level war, I suppose.
    To talk of solving a social problem such as poverty, Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson once observed, is itself a problem. “‘Solution’ implies a perfect resolution, but many social problems do not admit to that.” Poverty is one of the “conditions with which we have to struggle, for better or worse.”

  • I’m writing to voice my opposition to the idea of a plastic grocery bag ban that’s been going around lately.
    Bag bans have become the latest Eco-Fad for people that don’t have anything better to do than to punish everyone for the actions of a few. They are just a warm fuzzy feel good idea that’s completely ineffective.
    Most of the time I shop at Smith’s I bring my own cloth bags since they are sturdy, carry more, and I get bonus rewards points for doing so.  However, I don’t keep any cloth bags in my truck for various reasons, so if I’m driving my truck I need the plastic or paper bags available at the store. Today I rode with a friend to Smith’s to get some lunch. I don’t carry my cloth bags in my wallet, so used plastic provided by Smith’s.
    I re-use my grocery bags for many things. I’ve actually run out of bags at the house and had to intentionally leave my cloth bags in the car on the next shopping trip just so that I could obtain more.
    Plastic bags are likely the most re-purposed and reused product that people bring into their home! If there is a bag ban, I’ll just have to buy them from Amazon.

  • As these lines are written the bumptious Republican majority that controls the U.S. House seems prepared to shut down the Department of Homeland Security or, perhaps, avoid a shutdown by funding its operations for only three weeks.
    It’s madness. By a large bipartisan margin, the Senate has already sent the House a measure funding the department through September. It is a straight-forward funding bill, no gimmicks, no distractions.
    But wingnuts in the Republican House are demanding a measure that includes language invalidating some of President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration reform. Slipping extraneous stuff like that into a bill is called adding a “poison pill,” something calculated to kill a proposal.
    House speakers who are serious about getting things done, especially where national security is concerned, usually knock heads of supporters who foster such nonsense and tell them to cool it. But the current House Speaker, John Boehner, acquiesced and tried to borrow three weeks to avoid an immediate shutdown.
    Boehner has accomplished little as Speaker, but he plainly likes the title.
    His latest caper began last fall when congressional Republicans joined Democrats in sending the president a measure funding the federal government, pending his signature.