• 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.

  • In the last month there have been some very emotionally charged letters to the editor published in various media outlets here in town, by Jody Benson, a member of the Sierra Club, demanding a ban on plastic shopping bags in Los Alamos County.
    Understandably, this topic is going to generate a lot of discussion because it concerns how people choose to shop and live their lives.
    Before we ban plastic bags and allow needleless government intrusion into a private transaction let’s look at some facts regarding plastic shopping bags.
    • Plastic bags are made of No. 2 (high-density polyethelyne, HDPE) or No. 4 (low-density polyethelyne, LDPE), both of which are 100 percent recyclable through the “Bag-2-Bag” program Smith’s participates in.
    • Smith’s also recycles its own cardboard and other waste, thus not impacting the county’s solid waste system.
    • Ninety percent of plastic shopping bags are reused in households. The most common reuse is to line trashcans and to dispose of pet waste.

  • Engineers aim to streamline everything to work better, faster and cheaper.
    Over the years, countless techniques for doing this have been launched and proved valuable. More come every year.
    Almost every process works better, faster and cheaper than it did 10 years ago. A dusky exception is the vital process of regulating.
    Regulating has built up a backlog of inefficiencies that have remedies on hand in other fields.
    This is not surprising for a system like regulating that works, not by design, but as shaped by a long chain of votes cast on a tangle of super politicized issues.
    The system of regulating emissions has four main steps: rule-setting, permitting, inspection and enforcement. Each step affects all the other steps and each affects the efficiency of the regulating system as a whole.
    Yet, the steps are designed separately, with barely a glance at the thriving engineering field of systems analysis.
    Systems analysis comes in forms that range from very complex to common-sense simple. Systems analysis in the 21st century can use information theory and game theory to shape high-level math problems run on computers.

  • Probiotics, or “good bacteria,” can be defined as living microorganisms that, when administered in adequateamounts, can offer multiple health benefits to the host. Though they have been gaining popularity amongst humans in the past decade, the possibility of similar probiotic supplements for your pets’ health is on the rise.
    “Essentially, we are trying to give live bacteria in supplement form that have beneficial properties to ananimal in order to improve their digestive health,” said Dr. Jan Suchodolski, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “It is imperative that bacteria are alive once they reach the gut and that they are also delivered in high amounts. That’s why a high-quality product is needed.”
    In order to fully understand how probiotics work, it’s important to know that the beneficial effects of probiotics are bacterial strain specific, meaning every bacterial strain has a potentially different effect. Some probiotic strains, for instance, stimulate the immune system, while other strains produce anti-inflammatory biomolecules or antimicrobial molecules to combat pathogens.

  • There has been a great deal of conversation in the community and the media about immunizations against certain communicable diseases.
    In fact, one recent story (lamonitor.com, Feb. 6) noted Los Alamos County was “… second in the state for the number of vaccination exemptions at 3.1 percent for children ages 4 to 18….”
    For Los Alamos, the number of parents who requested vaccination exemptions (immunization waivers) amounted to about 100 students out of the more than 3,500 enrolled in school. The vaccination exemptions requested by parents were primarily based on religious or medical reasons, which are allowed by state law.
    Our community will be pleased to know Los Alamos Public Schools is in compliance with the New Mexico Department of Health rules and New Mexico School Manual regarding immunizations and exemptions.
    Michele Wright RN, LAPS Nursing Team leader stated, “Either students have completed their vaccines, are following a schedule to catch up on missing vaccines, or have valid religious beliefs or medical conditions for not receiving their vaccines.”

  • Earlier this week, millions of people wasted their time watching the Oscars.
    With so many other things happening in the world, you’d think people would demand more variety. It’s the same old thing year after year.
    But on the same day as the Oscars, in Daytona, Florida, Matt “Megatoad” Stonie (world class eating champion) consumed 182 slices of bacon in five minutes (a little more than six pounds). Watching someone gulp down 28,000 milligrams of sodium is true entertainment.
    And they know how to do it right in Guadalajara, Mexico, too. With 2,600 pounds of pork, 2,400 pounds of tortillas and enough hot sauce to kill a Roman Legion, 130 people constructed a 2-mile long chain of tacos! Yes, this is entertainment with a bite!
    Whether its a competition to see who can squirt milk the furthest from their eyeballs, or attempting to break the world record for spit distance (currently at 7 feet), humans know no bounds on the extents of pure sport and merriment.
    It took a while for people to realize that the true value of setting a record is that it offers someone the opportunity to break it.

  • Parental notification on abortion, an issue I hoped had been put to rest years ago, is back with New Mexico, thanks to House Bill 391, sponsored by Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Valencia.
    The bill requires that if a minor is seeking an abortion, her parents must be notified first. The requirement is notice, not consent.
    The bill provides exceptions, including so-called judicial bypass — a way for the minor to get approval from a judge instead of her parents in certain circumstances. It also requires statistical reporting by all doctors who perform abortions (not limited to minors) — a provision that might be seen as a prelude to more restrictive legislation.
    Should the law require girls under the age of consent — or the healthcare providers who want to help them — to notify parents before they can get an abortion? This question is not just about abortion. It’s about parenting and the precious protective relationship between parents and children.
    Except sometimes the relationship is not protective.
    How you react to this question depends on the point of view you take when you think about it. Some people take the issue personally. They relate the legislation to their own children, grandchildren, relatives or other favorite kids.

  • Los Alamos Public Schools will soon begin testing students in third through 11th grade on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC). This will mark the first year this test has been administered in our community.
    The purpose of the assessment is to help determine our students’ understanding of the Common Core State Standards in reading, language arts and mathematics, as well as provide data about our students’ college and career readiness. For example, a fifth grade student who demonstrates proficiency on the PARCC assessment is viewed as on a path to college and career ready.
    In the past, the annual assessment was known as the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment (SBA), which was administered over a two-week testing window.
    In contrast to SBA that students took in the past, the PARCC will be taken online. Students in Chamisa and Mountain Elementary Schools will be the first to participate in the PARCC testing. Other schools in the district will soon follow.
    PARCC will be administered in two phases. As such, students in grades 3-11 will be assessed in three tests in English Language Arts and two tests in mathematics in March. In April, students in grades 3-11 will take two end-of-year tests in English Language Arts and two end-of-year in mathematics.

  • There is a lot of misinformation circulating regarding the upcoming Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test (PARCC) that will be administered to students from grades 3-11 this spring. I want to clarify the options parents have in deciding to opt their children out of taking this test.
    Many of you have expressed concern and, indeed, dissatisfaction with the intensity of the current amount of standardized testing taking place in our schools.
    One of the top concerns I share is the elimination of a parent’s right in deciding whether or not their child has to take the test. I was appalled to be notified that school districts are intentionally telling parents that they cannot “opt out” their children from taking standardized tests.
    This blatant effort to misinform parents is a violation of a parent’s right to choose what is best for their children and it is unacceptable. Our children must not be used as leverage in a misguided national trend of high-stakes testing in public education.
    The fact is, according to the United States 14th Amendment of the Constitution, parents do have a say, and their rights are protected by Supreme Court decisions, especially in the area of education. It is their right to choose to have their children take these tests or not.

  • After six years of dithering, the Keystone pipeline project has finally cleared both the Senate and the House with strong bipartisan support — mere percentage points away from a veto-proof majority. Now it goes to the White House where President Barack Obama has vowed to veto it.
    The Keystone pipeline should have never been an issue in Congress. Because it crosses an international border, the pipeline requires State Department approval.
    With millions of miles of pipeline already traversing the country and dozens already crossing the U.S.-Canada border the Keystone pipeline should never have made news, except that Obama’s environmental base has made it the literal line in the sand.
    Within the president’s base, only two groups feel strongly about the Keystone pipeline — the unions want it, the environmentalists don’t. Each has pressured him to take its side.
    I’ve likened the conflict to the classic cartoon image of a devil on one shoulder prodding an activity saying, “Oh it will be fun, everyone is doing it,” vs. the angel on the other warning, “be careful, you’ll get into trouble.”

  • This column’s continuing theme is that we don’t know the New Mexico economy.
    That idea got a boost, presumably inadvertent, from Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.
    “Those numbers blew me away,” he said. “That’s more than half a billion dollars that ripples annually though our entire community and economy.”
    Heinrich was speaking recently at the announcement of a $536 million, 836-job economic impact of the Air Force Research Laboratory on Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.
    Perhaps Heinrich’s surprise should not surprise. After all, two of the five topic headers on his website talk about “Building a Prosperous Energy Future” and “Growing New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Economy.”
    A third topic was Heinrich’s new spot of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
    Expecting much technology transfer from the Research Laboratory is fantasy. It is in the “warfighting technologies” business, as its website says.
    In 1993, Al Narath, then president of Sandia National Laboratories, explained the continuing overall reality of national laboratory technology transfer. He asked the rhetorical question of all the science here as contrasted to our low economic rankings.

  • If one tried to design a foreign policy to embroil Americans in endless conflicts that would otherwise be quite remote, one could hardly do better than recent presidents of the United States. What could you do that these men have not done to keep Americans mired in distant turmoil?
    Signs of apparent failure abound while the ruling elite feigns ignorance of the connection between U.S. intervention abroad and widening regional wars.
    Despite President Barack Obama’s assurances that America’s combat role in the unceasingly violent Afghanistan is over, we know it is not. ISIS expands under American and allied airstrikes, the best recruiting program the Islamists could want. There was no ISIS in Iraq or Syria before America invaded the former and called open season on the regime in the latter. In response, Obama seeks unlimited war power.

  • As a politician, I can state unequivocally that “I love all children.” They are our future. They are our most vulnerable citizens, needing the greatest attention. History will judge us by how we’ve treated them, and (never forget) they make for great photo ops.
    Every piece of campaign material should have a shot of the candidate reading to a group of smiling, eager-to-learn children gathered around the candidate who should be reading from a recognizable classic of children’s literature. And as George W. Bush learned, it is even better if the book is being held right side up while the candidate pretends to be reading.
    As a parent, however, I’m not as sure about this “love for all kids” thing. Oh, sure, I love all of my children, stepchildren and grandchildren; love them with a steadfast passion that survives every testing of the limits, angry outburst, repulsive habit, or plain bad decision they demonstrate. But sometimes other people’s children aren’t very loveable. Often, people who publicly shout their love for all children don’t have any themselves. Time-tested parents are wary of such effusion. They know better.