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Opinion

  • The death of Reies Lopez Tijerina in an El Paso hospital late last month occasioned a good deal of comment and commentary.
    Tijerina invited comment and commentary, even sought it.
    His main claim to fame occurred almost a half century ago when he and a band of followers stormed the Rio Arriba County Courthouse in Tierra Amarilla, wounding a jailer and police officer and taking a reporter and the sheriff hostage.
    It was a big deal. “Tijerina’s Rio Arriba Court House raid,” it came to be called, and he ended up spending a couple of years in federal prison. But that was sometime later and unrelated to his Court House rampage.
    Tijerina and his fellow raiders initially got away by escaping into nearby Kit Carson National Forest. His grievance was the injustice he considered New Mexico’s original Hispanic settlers to have experienced when their land grants were abrogated or outright taken from them.
    It made him quite a celebrity, even something of a hero to many young Hispanic and Latino activists who seized upon the land grant issue and made it “a cause celebre.”
    This was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when ferment and activism was abroad in the land.

  • American politics are dominated by those with money. As such, America’s tax debate is dominated by voices that insist the rich are unduly persecuted by high taxes and that low-income folks are living the high life.
    Indeed, a new survey by the Pew Research Center recently found that the most financially secure Americans believe “poor people today have it easy.”
    The rich are certainly entitled to their own opinions — but, as the old saying goes, nobody is entitled to their own facts.
    With that in mind, here’s a set of tax facts that’s worth considering: Middle- and low-income Americans are facing far higher state and local tax rates than the wealthy.
    In all, a comprehensive analysis by the nonpartisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy finds that the poorest 20 percent of households pay on average more than twice the effective state and local tax rate (10.9 percent) as the richest 1 percent of taxpayers (5.4 percent).
    ITEP researchers say the incongruity derives from state and local governments’ reliance on sales, excise and property taxes rather than on more progressively structured income taxes that increase rates on higher earnings. They argue that the tax disconnect is helping create the largest wealth gap between the rich and middle class in American history.

  • A strain of common belief says super-sized contributions to election campaigns weaken environmental safeguards. All things considered, is this so?
    All things considered, no one knows. Things to consider are scattered too widely to judge as a whole.
    When data are scattered widely, we naturally focus on what we see first. But we can zoom out to see more.
    Begin at home. Big corporations make large donations to U.S. election campaigns. Pollution from big corporations is easily seen. Ergo, some say that worse pollution stems from hefty campaign contributions.
    These puzzle pieces start the idea that the quality of the land, air and water would be better sooner if corporate money had less influence in politics.
    A wider scan sees more to puzzle over.
    Corporate money has much less influence in Chinese politics. Yet, pollution is plainly worse in China than the U.S.
    The 2008 Summer Olympics in China’s capital city, Beijing, proved the point to the world. The government shut down plants in the region during the games to improve air quality.
    At a glance, we see worse harms in fumy places where corporations and capitalism alike are held in less regard than in our country. Harm simmers in many kettles of governance.
    And there is more to take in. A still wider scan brings to light more complications.

  • There was considerable concern within the nuclear energy community about Michael Mann’s cyber-thriller “Blackhat” before its release.
    Much of the pre-release angst was generated by the trailers, which showed a catastrophic nuclear accident had blown open a gaping hole in a large, domed containment building. I went to see it the first day it hit the local cinema, and early on I suspected that the nuclear energy community’s angst was literally much ado about nearly nothing.
    My first inkling was when the control room was shown. I almost laughed because it had wall-to-wall windows overlooking a vast, steaming open pool of water.
    First, there are no windows in actual nuclear power plant control rooms. Also, the depicted control room looked much like a high-tech press box at a modern professional football stadium.
    Regardless, I was curious about the hot-water pool. I wondered if that was supposed to be the reactor.
    My speculation was soon verified. There was a series of long, vertical metal pipes deep within the pool — the supposed core. Surrounding these pipes were several rotating fan-like devices. It seems that these were supposed to be the circulation pumps.

  • Do you ever get the feeling that things will never change?
    With Groundhog Day approaching this weekend, it wouldn’t surprise me if I woke up and found myself back in the 1960s — flag-waving nationalists beating on foreigners, police beating on civil rights marchers, religious fundamentalists beating on homosexuals, bigots beating on minorities.
    Hang on. I need to check the calendar to make sure I’m not actually back in the ’60s!
    Monday, Punxsutawney Phil will once again look for his shadow, then predict the inevitable extension of winter for another six weeks.
    Actually, shadow or no, it’ll be 48 more days of winter, not six weeks (I checked to see when the Equinox occurs).
    But today, Jan. 30, is just as important a date as Feb. 2.
    In 1648, Netherlands and Spain signed a treaty — Peace of Munster — ending the Thirty Years War, a terribly destructive series of conflict in Europe that resulted in over 10 million deaths.
    It was a war to end all wars and its end brought forth an era of peace that reigned throughout Europe for years and years and years.
    Well, of course, there was that little skirmish between Portugal and Spain (Restoration War) for another 20 years. And then another 22 years of killing during the Anglo-Dutch War.
    Ah! But then there was peace!

  • The cargo ship recklessly headed towards the coast of Italy. The crew had abandoned ship and the Italian coast guard scrambled to intervene.
    After regaining control of the ship the coast guard discovered a troubling reality: 800 illegal immigrants were hiding in the hull of the ship. These men, women and children — most of them coming from Africa — were exhausted and terrified by the ordeal.
    Later that day — December 31, 2014 — the ship was brought safely to the Italian harbor of Gallipoli where the migrants got off.
    Scenes like this play out almost on a daily basis.
    Two days later, the same scenario occurred with another cargo ship that was carrying roughly 450 illegal immigrants.
    Illegal migrants from Africa, Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq are desperately trying to cross the sea to reach Europe.
    There is a lot at stake for everyone involved and 2014 saw record numbers of immigrants. On January 13, 2015, the European Union Commission (EUC) released a statement that said in 2014 “more than 276,000 migrants illegally entered the EU, which represents an increase of 155 percent compared to 2013.”

  • Political speeches are a hazard of reporting.
    The great journalist
    H.L. Mencken once wrote of a speech by President Harding, “It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line… of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights.”
    His main complaint was that Harding’s speeches were devoid of ideas and nothing but stump speeches loaded with platitudes.
    I can’t say I’ve ever heard a speech that bad. I remember Sen. Pete Domenici as direct, Sen. Jeff Bingaman as cerebral, Gov. Bruce King as smart and folksy at the same time, Rep. Heather Wilson as sensible, House Speakers Raymond Sanchez and Walter Martinez as eloquent.
    Gov. Bill Richardson was clear and understandable, although he sometimes bullied people from the podium.
    Former Senate President Manny Aragon, during a speech about the state’s huge needs and the difficulty in stretching the budget, grew so emotional that I half expected him to weep. This was before he decided his own needs trumped everyone else’s.

  • Income inequality is back in the news, propelled by an Oxfam International report and President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. The question is whether government needs to do something about this — or whether government needs to undo many things.
    Measuring income inequality is no simple thing, which is one source of disagreement between those who think inequality is a problem and those who think it isn’t. But it is possible to cut through the underbrush and make some points clear.
    We can identify two kinds of economic inequality, and let’s keep this in mind as we contemplate what, if anything, government ought to do.
    The first kind we might call market inequality. Individuals differ in many ways, including energy, ambition and ingenuity. As a result, in a market-oriented economy some people will be better than others at satisfying consumers and will hence tend to make more money.
    The only way to prevent that is to interfere forcibly with the results of peaceful, positive-sum transactions in the marketplace. Since interference discourages the production of wealth, the equality fostered through violence will be an equality of impoverishment.

  • The state capitol is once again filled to the brim with legislators, lobbyists, state agency executives, legislative staff members and thousands of assorted visitors.
    If you’ve never been there, it’s worth a trip to see your representative democracy in action. With any luck, you’ll catch a hot debate or at least see a good show at the noon hour in the rotunda or a lively demonstration outside.
    The capitol is just a few blocks from the train station and an easy walk for the able-bodied if the weather is good. Parking is a problem, but drivers can sometimes find a parking spot in the new parking lot just west of the building. Hint: Some parking becomes available after the lunch hour when presentations in the rotunda are ended.
    Even on a dull day, you can enjoy the capitol’s art collection, which is spectacular. The art collection, managed by a foundation, has its own website, nmcapitolart.org, so you can read about it in advance.
    Part of the collection is in the new North Capitol annex and worth walking to see if you have spare time.
    Unless you call ahead, you might not see your representative or your senator, at least not up close. Legislators are very busy during the session.

  • It’s time for your lawmakers to get to work. There is much to do this year, and we’re ready for the challenge.
    There is a lot of excitement in Santa Fe — the result of last year’s election. For the first time in 60 years, the people of New Mexico have chosen Republicans to lead the House of Representatives. It is an honor that we do not take lightly, and we promise to fight every day to advance our state.
    A lot of people ask me, “What does it mean now that Republicans are in the majority?” No matter who I talk to, whether they are Democrat or Republican, my answer never changes: Our goal is to put New Mexico’s families first.
    After all, the voters have spoken — they want an end to the politics as usual in Santa Fe. They want their leaders to reject the political dysfunction and gridlock that has become the hallmark of Washington, D.C. In the end, political games hurt our families and derail progress.
    Some may we have a daunting task ahead of us — they say it’s impossible for Republicans and Democrats to work together.
    I disagree. I believe we can come together. And we can start by working on common ground and finding ways to create good jobs for all New Mexicans.

  • The best state sales tax systems (or gross receipts tax, as it is called in New Mexico) are broad, low, and don’t tax necessities, like food.  
    If tax systems are broad and low, that means that the tax burden is shared widely by different products and services and doesn’t fall too heavily on any one product or service.
    Meanwhile, most states avoid taxing necessities so that citizens who live paycheck to paycheck are not forced to choose between paying the rent and putting food on the table.   
    Unfortunately, New Mexico‘s gross receipts tax (GRT) is neither broad nor low. At last count, there were 338 exemptions for everything from boxing matches to all-terrain vehicles and these exemptions significantly narrow the tax base.
    The GRT also averages more than 7.25 percent across New Mexico, which is relatively high, according to the Tax Foundation.
    The one area where New Mexico’s GRT gets it right is the fact that, since 2005, New Mexico no longer taxes food or medical services. This was an important reform, since the food tax not only fell on a necessity, it was also very regressive in that it fell hardest on those who could least afford it.

  • The best state sales tax systems (or gross receipts tax, as it is called in New Mexico) are broad, low, and don’t tax necessities, like food.  
    If tax systems are broad and low, that means that the tax burden is shared widely by different products and services and doesn’t fall too heavily on any one product or service.
    Meanwhile, most states avoid taxing necessities so that citizens who live paycheck to paycheck are not forced to choose between paying the rent and putting food on the table.   
    Unfortunately, New Mexico‘s gross receipts tax (GRT) is neither broad nor low. At last count, there were 338 exemptions for everything from boxing matches to all-terrain vehicles and these exemptions significantly narrow the tax base.
    The GRT also averages more than 7.25 percent across New Mexico, which is relatively high, according to the Tax Foundation.
    The one area where New Mexico’s GRT gets it right is the fact that, since 2005, New Mexico no longer taxes food or medical services. This was an important reform, since the food tax not only fell on a necessity, it was also very regressive in that it fell hardest on those who could least afford it.

  • Last week, we picked up our sweet old dog and paid a vet bill with the complexity of a hospital bill, minus the shock. That’s because the clinic first gave us an estimate.
    Let’s say you need a hip replacement. Why can’t you get an estimate? Why aren’t hospital costs comparable?
    Think New Mexico answers the question with its proposal for transparency in healthcare costs. The pros far outweigh the cons.
    New Mexico hospitals charge a surprisingly wide range of prices for the same procedures, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Studies. Higher priced care may reflect a higher readmission, error or infection rate rather than better care.
    Think New Mexico found that patients at the same hospital receiving the same treatment from the same doctor are charged different prices, depending on who is paying the bills. (The six most expensive hospitals are owned by Community Health Systems, which has reportedly hired lobbyists to fight the bill.)
    When insurers and hospitals negotiate reimbursement rates, a gag clause forbids disclosure. The uninsured, with no bargaining power, have the highest rates. Secrecy and varied pricing add to complexity, which increases administrative waste in the system.

  • René Descartes was a truly amazing person. He invented analytic geometry, giving us the standard notation we use today for avariables, and created the coordinate plane system, allowing us to graphically represent algebraic equations.
    He is known for having creating the “rule of signs,” a method for determining the number of positive and negative roots of an equation. He also invented exponential notation and figured out the principal of refraction, creating what today is known as Snell’s Law.
    In summary, he gave math teachers a plethora of ways to torture students.
    Perhaps even more amazing is that mathematics was only a hobby of Descartes. His primary focus in life was philosophy, employing his “method of doubt” in a passionate search for truth. With his establishment of using logic and reason to define the natural sciences, he is known as “the father of philosophy.”
    And as such, the one thing he is best known for is his famous philosophical declaration, “Je pense, donc je suis,” a statement of proof of being.
    You probably know it as, “Cogito, ergo sum,” or “I think, therefore I am.”
    Whether or not one exists, philosophers and psychologists are still debating who exactly is the “we” who thinks?

  • Our 2014 huge positives were the first grandchild, a new kitchen and hanging out by the ocean in Monterrey, California. The negatives were many, many trips to doctors.
    The kitchen came courtesy of an inheritance from my mother. In developing the project, we considered many things. Our research led us to million dollar homes with sloppy work. Most of our ideas worked; some didn’t, demanding compromise and rethinking. Our experience may lend some insight as you contemplate such a project.
    While we managed without a $10,000 stove, the project was extravagant. Fortunately we could not enlarge the kitchen because our house encircles it.
    We had the cash. Obvious advice, item one, be able to pay. Call me an outlier in our consumption ethos, but I’ve never been a borrower. Only for houses, but not for cars (once, only) and definitely not now with a fixed income.
    We didn’t worry about recapturing remodeling cost on sale of the house. We plan to be in the house long enough to render such an analysis moot. We did the project for us, not for the next guy.

  • Religious deception and hucksterism is certainly not a new phenomenon.
    From Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry to televangelist Jim Bakker to some proponents of the Prosperity Gospel, fictional and real life examples abound.
    So the revelation that Kevin Malarkey fabricated his six-year old son’s account of his near-death experience (NDE) in “The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven” is not shocking.
    In response to a letter by the now 16-year-old Alex, its publisher, Tyndale House, has announced it will no longer market the book, which has reportedly sold more than one million copies.
    Claims have long circulated that Malarkey embellished, exaggerated, or even invented the experiences and visions he attributes to Alex. For several years, Beth Malarkey, Kevin’s ex-wife, has questioned the account.
    “Buyer beware,” she wrote. “There is only one absolutely infallible and true book: God’s Word. It does not need fancied up or packaged for sale.”

  • Our 2014 huge positives were the first grandchild, a new kitchen and hanging out by the ocean in Monterrey, California. The negatives were many, many trips to doctors.
    The kitchen came courtesy of an inheritance from my mother. In developing the project, we considered many things. Our research led us to million dollar homes with sloppy work. Most of our ideas worked; some didn’t, demanding compromise and rethinking. Our experience may lend some insight as you contemplate such a project.
    While we managed without a $10,000 stove, the project was extravagant. Fortunately we could not enlarge the kitchen because our house encircles it.
    We had the cash. Obvious advice, item one, be able to pay. Call me an outlier in our consumption ethos, but I’ve never been a borrower. Only for houses, but not for cars (once, only) and definitely not now with a fixed income.
    We didn’t worry about recapturing remodeling cost on sale of the house. We plan to be in the house long enough to render such an analysis moot. We did the project for us, not for the next guy.

  • With the stock market at an all-time high, a bonanza of cheap gasoline, and unemployment at 5.8 percent, there is increased optimism about the U.S. economy. Yet challenges abound, both from the inside and abroad.
    Participation in the labor force remains at the lowest levels since the late 1970s, with over 6 million less people in the workforce since President Barack Obama assumed office. The time of reckoning for the Fed is arriving.
    The Fed will likely begin introducing higher rates early this year. If it waits until 2016 it might risk causing a negative short-term impact just before the presidential election.
    With over $7 trillion of new borrowing no other president in U.S. history has increased the debt as much as Obama. Eventually these policies need to be reversed, causing painful readjustments.

  • Most baby boomers couldn’t envision their early adult years without a car. However, times are changing and younger commuters are leading the way.
    According to an October study by U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) and the Frontier Group, millennials — those born between 1983 and 2000 — are driving significantly less than older Americans. Many post-college drivers swimming in college debt are opting for urban living where walking, biking and mass transit tend to be easier options. Increasingly, those with a temporary need for four-wheel transportation can do so by smartphone.
    Today, there are many options to conventional car ownership, but it’s important to match solutions and their specific costs to your needs. Here’s a road map for exploring what’s right for you.
    Start with the cost of driving. If you already drive and budget carefully, you will have an idea of what driving costs you can incur each year in financing, fuel, fees, maintenance and insurance.

  • Multinational franchises like McDonald’s and KFC started small and worked their way up the food chain over decades.
    That methodical approach to growth seems too slow for the owners of two Albuquerque businesses.
    Before Olo Yogurt Studio opened its first store in 2010 and WisePies served its first pizza in 2014, the owners of both ventures planned to become franchises — and to waste no time doing it.
    Olo Yogurt opened a second store — a carbon copy of its colorful original — within three years and was strengthening its brand for further expansion.
    WisePies was less than a year old when it announced its intentions to open 20 new stores within a year and to offer franchise licenses for $35,000.
    In December, the company signed a $5 million deal for naming rights to the University of New Mexico basketball arena, commonly known as The Pit, now the WisePies Arena.
    The franchise or chain store model isn’t the only way for a business to grow, but its appeal is obvious.
    A franchisor can recruit talented go-getters who want to run a business with a built-in market, name recognition and institutional support. And they can do it without draining their capital budgets, as franchisees typically pay much of their own startup costs.