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Opinion

  • New Mexico’s three-strikes law may be due for an update because, says Gov. Susana Martinez, the current law does not take enough violent criminals off the street.
    I’m all for protecting us from violent criminals, but I find our policies and attitudes toward prison — New Mexico’s and the nation’s — confusing and contradictory.
    What is prison for? Is it to punish? Is it, as the name “corrections” suggests, to reform? Is it just to get dangerous people off the streets?
    In recent years, states have outlawed the death penalty but increased the use of solitary confinement and enacted laws, like three strikes, that increase sentences.
    “Tough on crime” is still a fashionable attitude for some politicians, and it’s well known the U.S. maintains the highest incarceration rate in the world.
    The current population of New Mexico’s prisons is around 7,200, says the Corrections Department website. About 90 percent are male. Most, according to department public affairs officer Alex Tomlin, do not have a high school diploma or GED.
    Most, Tomlin said, are incarcerated for a second or subsequent offense, and most of those offenses were violent.

  • The park manager at Bandelier National Monument is planning to re-open portions of a trail that was closed in the 1950s in order to protect archaeological sites.
    The reasons for this new trail project are ostensibly stated as a safety concern due to the possibility of flash floods in the canyon floor and to provide visitors with additional archeological remains to explore.
    No one can fault the National Park Service for wanting to develop trails that provide reasonable access to our public lands. This is something we all want in our parks. However, any new developments or changes need to be done thoughtfully and carefully to ensure that our actions do not destroy the very treasures we are trying to preserve.
    Unfortunately this trail project will result in damage to and destruction of the archaeological sites that Bandelier National Monument was created to protect.
    Archaeologists from neighboring agencies and institutions including the Santa Fe National Forest, the State of New Mexico, San Ildefonso Pueblo and the National Park Service toured the proposed project area in late 2013.
    The unanimous concerns were that caves and associated archaeological remains would be permanently damaged by the proposed trail access.

  • In totalitarian regimes, aka police states, where conformity and compliance are enforced at the end of a loaded gun, the government dictates what words can and cannot be used.
    In countries where the police state hides behind a benevolent mask and disguises itself as tolerance, the citizens censor themselves, policing their words and thoughts to conform to the dictates of the mass mind.
    Even when the motives behind this rigidly calibrated reorientation of societal language appear well-intentioned — discouraging racism, condemning violence, denouncing discrimination and hatred — inevitably, the end result is the same: intolerance, indoctrination and infantilism.
    It’s political correctness disguised as tolerance, civility and love, but what it really amounts to is the chilling of free speech and the demonizing of viewpoints that run counter to the cultural elite.
    As a society, we’ve become fearfully polite, careful to avoid offense, and largely unwilling to be labeled intolerant, hateful, closed-minded, or any of the other toxic labels that carry a badge of shame today.
    The result is a nation where no one says what they really think anymore, at least if it runs counter to the prevailing views.

  • For David Brooks, the key to the magic kingdom — or a side door, anyway — of major mainstream media and politics came from a smart-alecky spoof of William F. Buckley, the conservative guru and founder of the National Review, who was scheduled to speak at the University of Chicago.
    The student Brooks was closing his undergraduate time in the great books program at Chicago with a history degree. “The formative experience of my life,” he calls the Chicago time.
    During his speech, Buckley, known as I remember for his sense of humor, offered Brooks a job from the podium. After a brief time as a Chicago police reporter, Brooks joined the National Review as an intern in 1984.
    So began a path through companies such as the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard and now the New York Times and “The News Hour” on Public Broadcasting. Brooks is a star, in other words. The path brought Brooks to Santa Fe and St. John’s College June 26.
    The occasion was what St. John’s called a “Gala Benefit Dinner” that was the final event of the college’s yearlong celebration of its 50 years in Santa Fe.

  • Los Alamos cops, residents go above and beyond

    Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped rescue our dog, Sofie, from the bottom of Barrancas Canyon while we were away on vacation.
    Sofie’s adventure began on Sunday when she escaped our yard and climbed and/or fell into the canyon. Neighbors, friends, animal control officer Tom Beyers and our very conscientious dog-sitter searched high and low on Barranca Mesa, but by nightfall could find no trace of our wayward dog.
    Miraculously, our neighbor, Mary Langworthy, heard Sofie barking in the canyon early Monday morning and called Los Alamos police dispatch.
    Responding to the call for help, LAPD officers Cpl. Matt Lyon and Sgt. Brent Hudspeth climbed into the canyon and found Sofie, who was very weak and couldn’t walk on her own.
    These caring officers carried 13-year-old, 70-plus pound Sofie out of the canyon on their shoulders. Lyle Edwards heard the officers as they neared the top of the canyon around 6 a.m. and aided the rescue by dropping ropes so they could hoist themselves and Sofie up the final steep section.
    It was an amazing effort on the part of many that we have our beloved dog home safe and sound.

  • As Americans, we strive for safety — the safest medicines, safest cars, safest toys.
    But when it comes to women’s reproductive health, our state legislatures are passing laws putting women’s health at risk — about 250 since 2011.
    And now they do it under the guise of “women’s safety.” Women of color, especially African-American women, are disproportionately being affected by these policies throughout the Southern states where I live and spend much of my time mentoring young physicians and health professionals.
    The most serious health risks for women are coming from politicians cutting back access to family planning services and telling doctors how to practice medicine especially around procedures related to terminating a pregnancy.
    Costly clinic licensing standards, invasive ultrasound procedures and lengthy mandatory waiting periods (as if women haven’t already thought about this decision) are unnecessary because legal abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures available.
    In the United States, nearly 90 percent are done in the first trimester when abortion is safest.
    Once again, Texas is the battleground in the war over women’s bodies.

  • When Eric and Celina Quintana started their residential and commercial cleaning service in 1994, their goal was to dominate the janitorial services market in northern New Mexico.
    Two decades later, Performance Maintenance Inc. provides janitorial equipment and supplies to Los Alamos National Laboratory and sells environmentally certified cleaning products nationwide.
    PMI is poised to introduce its own bio-based cleaning products in July, when it hosts a grand opening for its new 10,000-square-foot retail warehouse and distribution center in Española.
    One part of the company’s growth was securing a five-year, $660,000 contract with the laboratory eight years ago — a contract that has since been renewed, Eric Quintana said.
    To improve his chances of getting that pivotal deal, Quintana schooled himself in the government procurement process at classes and workshops offered by the laboratory’s Small Business Program Office, the Regional Development Corporation (RDC) and the New Mexico Small Business Development Center at Northern New Mexico College. The RDC provided business expansion assistance funded by an investment by Los Alamos National Security, LLC — the company that manages the laboratory.

  • Question: Should Los Alamos High School offer a non-AP Calculus course?
    I’m asking this question because I’m interested in ascertaining what parents and students think.
    Now, I should emphasize that I am not asking this on behalf of Los Alamos High School. I’m asking it on behalf of what I personally believe makes sense to do.
    Obviously, I think we should offer the course. But the real question is: Do YOU think we should offer the course?
    If you already have an answer to that question, you can go to johnpawlak.com and complete a very brief survey to provide your response and comments.
    However, I would ask that you read my column before making a decision. I desire as many people as possible to respond, whatever their opinion. Your voices matter and I want them to be heard.
    LAHS currently offers Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus courses. Students taking AP courses can earn college credit.
    AP courses also provide a cumulative grade bump. Whereas an “A” normally equates to a “4”, a “B” to a “3”, etc., in AP courses an “A” equates to a “5”, a “B” to a “4”, and so on.
    What is non-AP Calculus?

  • In May, I wrote a column called “Follow the Money,” and I suggested taking the county’s budget discussions to a new level; adopting an approach that would allow the public, the county staff, and council members to better focus on the link between costs and service outputs, rather than focusing on costs by county department.
    That approach would enable more public involvement in how tax dollars are spent. It would also provide important decision information to help elected representatives and county staff consider the trade-offs necessary to balance the budget; and it would help us understand how well our actual spending aligns with the goals outlined in our Strategic Plan.
    It sounds obvious. Decide what’s important through Strategic Planning, then frame spending decisions in a way that shows whether spending actually flows to the highest priorities.

  • Last winter I heard two very different views of the New Mexico economy. An upbeat Jon Barela, Secretary of Economic Development, said the state was shrugging off the recession.
    “We’re recovering,” Barela told a committee in January. “The private sector is growing.”
    “New Mexico’s economy has really not begun to recover from the recession,” Jeff Mitchell, director of University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, told another committee. “We’re seeing real declines in the numbers of people in the labor market. An unprecedented number of people are leaving the state.”
    They were both right. The men two have different readings of the economic pulse because they occupy different positions along the timeline.
    Barela, an economic developer, has the pleasant duty of announcing new companies and expansions of existing companies. And he hears from economic developers around the state that inquiries are up.
    Mitchell, an economist, is reading data from the past year or previous quarters. When the ship begins its slow turn, it’s more apparent if you’re standing at the bow.

  • The climate alarmists appear practically giddy over Pope Francis’ recently released climate encyclical.
    Even Al Gore, who admits he was “raised in the Southern Baptist tradition,” has declared he “could become a Catholic because of this pope.”
    The Sierra Club’s former executive director, Carl Pope, chimes in. On June 22 in EcoWatch, he bashes “American conservatism” and positions the papal publication as being responsible for a “new dynamism” that he calls “palpable.”
    “It is more a gale than a fresh breeze,” Pope exclaimed, “when the most ground-breaking pope since John XXIII links poverty and climate.” He offers a litany of news stories to support his position.
    There is a link between climate policy and poverty, which is why many European counties are returning to fossil fuels and retreating from renewables — led by German capacity payments to keep coal-fueled power plants open.
    In PV Magazine, Stelios Psomas, policy advisor at the Hellenic Association of Photovoltaic Companies, laments Greece’s “policy U-turn towards lignite.”

  • Doing new stuff is one of the key ways to build an economy.
    The proposal by Sen. Cisco McSorley, Albuquerque Democrat, to legalize growing hemp for industrial purposes was one such idea. McSorley’s bill met the governor’s veto pen.
    Liberals were outraged. According to Wikipedia, hemp incorporates several varieties of the Cannabis plant and is used for rope, fiber and oil, among other things. If “Cannabis” sounds familiar, think marijuana.
    A side benefit of the bill was to illustrate that even mega-liberals, of which McSorley is one, can think productively about capitalism once in the while.
    So can government.
    The Museum of New Mexico is one of those parts of state government that I see as a good thing. That the people working for the museum add to total government employment is, well, so what.
    A side note is that the museum still suffers from the name confusion of really being a system of museums and including what it calls “historic sites” such as Coronado, Jemez and Lincoln.
    It is the largest, state-run museum system in the country, the system’s “corporate” parent, the Department of Cultural Affairs, confirms.

  • As June bled into July, top-tier Republican politicos evidenced signs bordering on bonkers.
    First the Supreme Court ruled that there are no legal impediments to prevent Obamacare from proceeding on course. Then it decreed it within the rights of same-sex couples to enter into the legal relationship know as marriage?   
    There were exceptions, of course. New Mexico’s Republican governor, Susana Martinez, pretty much kept her cool throughout it all.
    She had never been keen on same-sex marriage, the governor noted, but with the court’s ruling it is now lawful and, basically, we should just get on with our business.
    As for the Affordable Care Act, Martinez was that rare Republican governor to sign onto the program from the start by instituting an insurance market exchange for New Mexico, if only because she recognized that it would effectively reduce the state’s high rate of medically uninsured residents.
    What we witnessed in this instance was a pragmatic governor doing her job and leaving the grandstanding to others.
    The lion’s share of other high profile Republicans, on the other hand, reacted to the high court’s rulings as if they had been plunged into a nightmare from which they can’t awaken.

  • As we celebrate our independence and astounding development from a fledging nation to the world’s superpower, we should applaud the extraordinary contributions of numerous founders.
    One of them whose accomplishments are often overlooked is John Adams. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and his cousin Samuel Adams typically receive the lion’s share of the credit for the creation and early success of the United States.
    In fact, John Adams has frequently been viewed as “somewhat of a loser.”
    He is the only president among the first five who was not reelected, his Federalist Party never again captured the White House and scholars have not ranked him as a great or near-great president.
    While David McCullough’s best-selling 2001 biography and the acclaimed 2008 HBO miniseries depicting his exploits increased public interest in his life, Adams still does not receive the recognition he deserves.
    Consider these facts. Adams played a pivotal role in the founding of the United States, especially the campaign for independence, the devising of state constitutions and the establishment of America’s diplomatic tradition.

  • The feat is to pick up the pace.
    New Mexico is known for stark White Sands and surreal bat caves, not for green pastures. A natural result is public surprise at the numbers reached by the New Mexico dairy industry.
    Dairy is the number one agricultural business in New Mexico. New Mexico ranks eighth in the nation in the value of dairy products. California tops the list.
    From 2001 to 2006, New Mexico’s milk production was the fourth fastest growing in the U.S., with a growth of 33 percent over five years.
    How does a large and fast-growing dairy business tend cows with no pastures? The answer is feedlots.
    Feedlots are large arrays of pens with provisions to feed lots of cows. New Mexico has more than 350,000 milk cows on some 150 dairy farms. Having 2,000 cows in a feedlot is typical.
    You don’t have to be an old cowhand to guess the by-product and problems that come from a pen of 2,000 cows.
    An average dairy cow produces six or seven gallons of milk a day and 18 gallons of wet manure. The story thickens.
    Nitrogen has key roles in nature’s schemes for all major life forms. The involved pathways are found under the heading “nitrogen cycle.”

  • Identity theft is one of the fastest-growing fraud issues at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
    Online thieves have been capturing Social Security numbers and other tax filing data to file fraudulent returns, principally for the purpose of stealing refunds.
    Just this past tax season, TurboTax, the leading tax preparation software company, had to stop transmitting state tax returns and introduce new safeguards after a run of suspicious returns. In March, the U.S. Treasury Department reported slightly over 2.9 million incidents of tax-related identity theft in 2013, up from 1.8 million in 2012.
    As to dollar loss, in January, the General Accounting Office (GAO) said the IRS had prevented an estimated $24.2 billion in fraudulent identity theft tax refunds in 2013, but actually paid $5.8 billion in refunds later determined to be fraudulent.
    In terms of damage, tax identity theft is really no different than any other form of identity theft.
    Thieves illegally obtain your Social Security number through online or other resources and then go to work on your finances and reputation.

  • Why does soda get cold when you put ice cubes in it?
    When I pose this simple question to my students, I get many different and interesting answers (like “cold is easier to share”).
    It’s not easy to teach and it’s even more difficult to learn.
    All too often, we blur the definitions between “knowledge” and “understanding.” There’s a huge difference between elemental knowledge (learn to count up to 100) and conceptual understanding (perceive the relationship between a number and its prime factors).
    But whereas conceptual understanding is unarguably important, we shouldn’t discount the value of “simply knowing something.”
    For example, I know that it’s not a good idea to drink bleach. No one ever taught me that. I just “know” it.
    As a teacher, I’m constantly looking for some magic formula to transfer knowledge from my head into someone else’s head. Quite frankly, I’m more than willing to let others take ownership of the neural noise between my ears.
    But back to the question, how do students learn? How do students cross the didactic valleys between the mental mesas of “I can do it” and “I actually understand what I’m doing?”

  • I’ve spent my whole life in the Northeast, but I have Southern roots.
    My late grandfather came from a long line of sharecroppers who toiled in the fields of Decatur, Georgia, for generations. Their history of hardship was common in the South.
    Where my grandfather grew up, poor whites often blamed their misfortune on the only group of people less fortunate than they: black people. For these marginalized whites, the Confederate battle flag came to symbolize what might have been.
    To me, the Confederate battle flag represents the dehumanization of black people. Renewed calls to banish it from public spaces across the South pit a national drive to stamp out prejudice against the region’s pride in its history — even if that particular history is nothing to be proud of.
    Many Southerners insist that the emblem merely salutes Southern heritage. But lynch mobs have never rallied behind sweet tea and collard greens.
    Separatist flags signified white defiance during the Civil War. A century later, they were embraced by the millions of whites who refused to acknowledge black people’s rights amid the racist backlash against the civil rights movement.

  • What a difference one sentence can make!
    The decision by the state Human Services Department to strike one crucial sentence in an auditor’s report gave it carte blanche to yank the funding of 15 behavioral health providers.
    This is just one revelation in the 10 inevitable lawsuits, three of them filed last week, against the state for a move that was questionable from the outset.
    To recap, in February 2013 HSD hired Public Consulting Group to audit 15 providers and look for evidence of fraud.
    This was not a page-by-page forensic audit, intended to shake out the spiders, but a sampling of invoices. So, from $42,500 in overbilling found in the samples, the consultant conjured up $36 million in suspected overbilling.
    That alone was spongy evidence, but here’s the real kicker: the consultant reported that all 15 failed the audit, but also said there was no evidence of widespread fraud nor was there “credible allegations of fraud,” or significant concern about consumer safety, according to documents filed in the lawsuits.

  • On Friday, in the 5-4 decision of Obergefell v. Hodges, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution requires all 50 states to license marriages between same-sex couples.
    The court’s action places the religious liberty of all New Mexicans at risk. As Justice Clarence Thomas noted, “the majority’s decision threatens the religious liberty our nation has long sought to protect.”
    Churches are at greater risk. Justice Thomas noted, “marriage is not simply a governmental institution: it is a religious institution as well. It appears all but inevitable that the two will come into conflict, particularly as individuals and churches are confronted with demands to participate in and endorse civil marriages between same-sex couples.”
    Regarding the tax exempt status of religious institutions opposed to same-sex marriage, Chief Justice John Roberts noted, “There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this court.”
    Businesses are at greater risk. Already in New Mexico, a business has been found to violate state law for refusing to photograph a same-sex “commitment ceremony.” New Mexico’s Christian businesses should be very concerned.