• I didn’t realize that there’s a “reality” TV series called “Dating Naked” until last weekend, when I came across mention of it in a review of the new book “How to be a Victorian.”
    “Living, as we do,” the reviewer mused, “in a culture so vulgar as to barely yawn” at television programs like “Dating Naked,” It’s little wonder that people glamorize the Victorian era of yore.
    There probably isn’t a single mover-and-shaker in New Mexico’s Democratic Party these days who gives a hoot about the Victorians, but if the November election was any kind of effort at courtship a lot of them emerged from the encounter stripped down to their political skivvies if not of their birthday suits.
    Any realistic stock-taking of the terrain on which they currently stand makes it abundantly clear that they are in “deep dodo,” to filch a phrase popularized some years back by former President George H.W. Bush.
    At the state level, their party is basically leaderless and has been for some time and will be for some time to come.

  • I am a residential solar installer working in Albuquerque for Positive Energy Solar.
    I humbly request that you reject both PNM’s proposed power replacement plan for the San Juan Generating Station and the proposed rate case on economic, public health and environmental grounds to make way for clean, renewable energies in the Land of Enchantment.
    In its 2013 Commission Code of Conduct (Res. No. 01-03-13), the commission resolved to “treat the office of commissioner as a public trust by using the powers of the office solely for the benefit of the public rather than for any personal benefit.”
    Spending a combined $576 million on gas, coal, nuclear energy purchases and generating capacity does not serve the best interests of the public. Similarly, a dramatic rate increase falling disproportionately on residential customers has no benefit for the vast majority of New Mexicans. Contrarily, it bodes well for PNM’s investors, who received an 8.1 percent dividend increase on Dec. 9.
    Instead of draining dividends out of New Mexico, PNM should invest in its state.
    The company’s PR folks deem their plan as the “most cost-effective option for customers out of thousands analyzed for cost, risk and reliability.”

  • The headlines and presenter observations from the New Mexico Tax Research Legislative Outlook Conference provide a brief indication of economic and tax matters coming in the 2015 legislative session. The conference was Dec. 16 in Albuquerque.
    Tom Clifford, secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration: Part of the severance tax bonding capacity will be earmarked for highways in the southeast.
    Charles Sallee, deputy director of the Legislative Finance Committee: Medicaid pays for 70 percent of the births in New Mexico. A quarter of the children entering kindergarten in high poverty schools are unable to identify one letter. Eighty percent of children are behind on the day they enter kindergarten. The problem with children who are behind is not ethnicity; it is poverty.
    Gary Tonjes, president of Albuquerque Economic Development: He supports the increase from $15 million to $50 million that is proposed for the Local Economic Development Act by the Jobs Council interim legislative committee. The money serves as a job closing fund from which state government provides capital for business expansion.
    “As a result (of the previous increase to $15 million), deals are happening. We are far more competitive,” Tonjes said.

  • Businesses invest lots of human and capital resources into marketing, asset purchases and outreach. Their goal, of course, is to generate the best return on every dollar spent, every hour worked and every keystroke made.
    Return on investment, or ROI, measures how much money or other tangible benefits the business makes on every investment.
    For example, if a business invests in a modern computer system to expand its reach and improve its service to Internet shoppers, the return on investment would measure how many new customers it gained and how much these newcomers spent. These gains would be analyzed in relation to the amount of the investment.
    ROI should be considered for every business investment, and various formulas can be used.
    Classic formulas
    and variations
    To calculate the classic ROI formula, the prospective business investor divides the cost of the investment into the estimated benefit or gain — the returns after costs are subtracted.
    The equation, expressed as a percentage, looks like this: Percent ROI = (Gains – Cost) / Cost.
    It seems straightforward and simple: A negative number equals a poor ROI, while a positive one suggests a good investment — and the higher the positive number the better the investment potential.

  • It is only a paper moon sailing over a cardboard sea …”
    These vintage lyrics chronicle the human condition. The words ring true in matters as normal and dramatic as the circus and political theatrics.
    Theatrics held the spotlight for years in the saga of New Mexico’s rule for safeguarding the soil and water while drilling wells to produce oil and gas. The rule sought to have drilling leave less waste on the land.
    The saga was recaptured in short form in a mid-2013 story in the Carlsbad Current-Argus. The news report read in part: “The Oil Conservation Commission approved the so-called pit rule Thursday, following testimony and deliberations that spanned more than a year. The regulations govern how producers handle drilling mud and other waste in pits, buried tanks, sumps and closed-loop systems.
    “The industry had argued that regulations adopted in 2008 and 2009 pushed producers from the state, costing New Mexico jobs and revenue. They petitioned in 2011 for the regulations to be amended.”
    The first step toward a rule is sufficient years of technical work. A leader in that work was a retiree from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Dr. Don Neeper, representing New Mexico Citizens for Clean Air & Water.

  • The Pew Research Center reports that 4 in 10 American adults have at least one step-relative, defined as a stepparent, a step-or-half sibling, or a stepchild in their family.
    While the Pew study says that many stepfamilies operate harmoniously, it also notes that adults “feel a stronger sense of obligation to their biological family members than they do to their step kin.”
    That is one reason why blended family finances can get so messy.
    Couples planning to blend families often have to make financial arrangements that respect previous relationships with ex-spouses and their families. Issues range from childcare and eldercare to potentially complex matters involving businesses, investment assets and real estate.
    That’s why involving trained experts in stepfamily financial planning is a must.
    Here’s a basic checklist of issues and solutions potential spouses and partners should consider:
    • Start with all cards on the table. Today’s first-time marriages or partnerships alone can introduce some staggering financial variables — business and inheritance issues, college debt, consumer debt or even past bankruptcies. Couples planning stepfamilies face even more complications.

  • As the new year begins, I can’t help but take a look back and gaze at the wonders of the year past.
    By “wonders,” I mean that I can’t help wondering how civilization survived another year of its continuing bizarre behavior.
    For instance, the Pepsi company almost succeeded in destroying life as we know it by test marketing a Doritos flavored soda. What says “I’ve lost what little mind I have” better than saying it with a mouthful of fizzy Doritos?
    Not to be outdone on the stupidity meter, James Manning, pseudo-pastor of the ATLAH “church” accused Starbucks of flavoring its lattes with the “seeds of sodomites.”  Actually, I think they only do that with the Frappuccinos.
    Yes, 2014 was a good year. A company released a kiddie coloring book featuring Ted Cruz fighting off serpents (Obamacare and social programs), flying on the back of eagles (defending the Second Amendment and the rights of firearm manufacturers), and various pages designed to give the children nightmares (images of Palin, Beck and Bachmann).
    The publisher originally wanted to make it a “color by numbers” book, but Cruz had trouble with the double digits.

  • The last words out of the mouth of strangling victim Eric Garner are actually a metaphor for how libertarians feel about the entire welfare-warfare state under which modern-day Americans have been born and raised.
    Don’t his words express precisely how we libertarians feel? Leave us alone, we say to the state. Get out of our faces. Get out of our lives. You’re suffocating us. You’re killing us — literally, spiritually, financially and economically.
    Thomas Jefferson described this phenomenon in the Declaration of Independence: the king’s government was sending “swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.”
    There is hardly any part of our lives that government officials aren’t involved in. They just won’t leave us alone. Drug laws. Economic regulations. Income taxation. IRS audits. Asset forfeitures. Home raids. Secret surveillance. Draft registration. Permits and licenses. Minimum-wage laws. Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Terrorist blowback from an interventionist foreign policy. Checkpoints. Perpetual crises and chaos.
    It never stops.
    The direct cause of Eric Garner’s death was obviously the chokehold that the cops put on his neck, which prevented him from breathing.

  • I keep talking with public school teachers who are miserable. They’re all looking at their bank accounts trying to figure out when they can retire.
    The purpose of the school system is to educate students, not to make its employees happy. Students come first. But it’s hard to imagine that students are getting the best possible education when their teachers show up each morning feeling beaten and dispirited.
    They say it’s because of testing — too much testing, too little time to teach, testing results applied to their evaluations in ways that they say are unfair or illogical.
    Some complain about Common Core standards, but testing is still the primary theme.
    They are echoing a common complaint of unhappy employees. Employees are unhappy, it’s said, when they have no sense of control over their work, when they think things are being done wrong but they can’t do anything about it, when they don’t trust management and believe management won’t listen to them.
    That’s the classic formula, virtually guaranteed to produce low morale.

  • If your 65th birthday is around the corner or you’re anxious about Medicare, it’s a good time to start focusing on your options.
    Healthcare choice is becoming a bigger factor in the lives of pre-retirees as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) — better known as Obamacare — brings significant change to employer-sponsored and individually purchased health plans.
    Though a separate federal health insurance system with no connection to Obamacare or its online marketplaces, Medicare is going through its own evolution in terms of plan offerings and customer access.
    Here’s a basic primer for future Medicare enrollees:
    • What is Medicare? Medicare is a government-provided health and hospitalization insurance program for people 65 and older and for some people under age 65 based on disability or particular forms of illness.
    • What does it cost? Though you’ve likely paid taxes into the Medicare system your entire career, Medicare isn’t a completely free program; you’ll pay premiums deducted from your Social Security checks for some portions of your benefits. There may be copays and deductibles for certain services. If you have health issues already, it’s a good idea to investigate coverage based on the services you’re likely to need over time.

  • If the Valles Caldera National Preserve were a person, its epitaph would be: They tried.
    What a preserve brochure called an “experiment in public land management” will end with the signing of federal legislation.
    In 1997 owners of the Baca Ranch, aboriginal land of Jemez Pueblo and later a Mexican land grant, decided to sell. The 89,000-acre property might have been subdivided and sold but for the movement to keep it whole through a sale to the federal government.
    The Baca wasn’t just any chunk of real estate.
    Within its boundaries is the Valles Caldera, a gargantuan volcanic bowl created in the Jemez Mountains by violent eruptions 1.4 million years ago. The caldera’s green meadows, streams and ponds are home to a variety of wildlife.
    Congress bought the ranch for $101 million in 2000. Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman fashioned legislation that combined public and private, ranching and recreation in a national preserve governed by an appointed board of trustees.
    They were to maintain a working ranch but offer recreation, fishing and hunting while protecting the land and its creatures. And they had 15 years to make the property self-sustaining.
    It offered something for everyone, and that was the problem.

  • Like many men, my father wanted sons, and my mother was kind enough to endure the pain of giving him five.
    And like many women, my mother wanted daughters. One can understand why she was disappointed when I was born and my father was boasting yet another son to his buddies in the waiting room. But Mom was so upset over yet another XY-mouth to feed that she went into a tantrum with the nurses, throwing things and crying out that she wanted a girl.
    I still own the pink baby bracelet the nurses put on me in a chromatic effort to calm her down. I’m lucky Dad didn’t name me Katherine just to make amends for sharing the wrong chromosome.
    As Ma lay in bed huffing and puffing over how unfair life was, the nurses brought in her roommate’s baby boy. The baby had been born with no fingers, and yet the woman never once complained. She held her newborn with the accepting love that only a mother seems able to give in the worst of situations.
    My mother immediately demanded to have me brought back into the room so that she could check my fingers. And of course, she ceased her ridiculous tantrum.
    It was a lesson my mother never forgot, and one that benefited me by her sharing the story with me.

  • “This is a sea change as our nation is finally embarking on a 21st century approach with Cuba,” said Tom Udall last week after President Barack Obama’s announcement that the United States is abandoning its half-century old policy of pretending the island nation 90 miles off the shores of Florida didn’t exist.
    Only recently, the Democratic senator and Arizona’s Republican Sen. Jeff Flake had traveled to Cuba and met with Cuban officials, proof if proof be needed that Cuba does indeed exist.
    What hasn’t existed for decades now — at least in Washington — has been the common sense and political courage to admit that a policy fashioned in the 1950s when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president had long since demonstrated itself to be an abject failure, punishing to the Cuban people without serving the interests of these United States.
    To their credit, the majority of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, including Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich, appears to favor the president’s decision.
    Democratic Rep. Michelle Luján-Grisham was decidedly mealy-mouthed in expressing her support, but only 2nd Dist. Republican Congressman Steve Pearce actually came unglued upon hearing the news, complaining that it set “an extremely dangerous precedent.”

  • St. Nicholas is, in fact, the greatest saint in the history of Christianity. Forget Peter, Paul, or Mary; St. Nicholas has them all beat. No other saint enjoys his unique relationship to all three branches of Christianity — Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant — nor his persistent presence in secular culture.
    Archbishop Nicholas of Myra and wonder-worker of the late third and early fourth century, has been and continues to be venerated ecumenically by all the various households of the Christian faith. Although rites and customs vary, some begin their remembrance of St. Nicholas as early as Dec. 6 (his feast day on the liturgical calendar) and continue to celebrate him all through the Twelve Days of Christmas until Jan. 5.
    The mode or means of veneration can vary as well. The Orthodox and Catholic churches through hymns and litanies ask him to pray for us and recount the miracles attributed to his intercessions or direct intervention. Outside of church in Orthodox and Catholic cultures, children can usually expect gifts to be given in the name of St. Nicholas. It is in this tradition of giving that St. Nicholas persists in Protestant cultures. And it is unmistakably St. Nicholas even in the most dogmatically Protestant of countries (e.g. “Sinter Claas” in 17th century Holland).

  • Holidays can be a challenging time for residents of long-term care facilities and their families. Two questions are often asked: Can I bring my loved one home, or to a holiday celebration, and what can I do to ensure a successful visit that doesn’t feel awkward?   
    Regarding visits away from a nursing home, residents receiving skilled nursing care may participate in short visits away from a facility without danger of losing their Medicare coverage. The Medicare Benefit Policy manual outlines rights of residents granted a short leave of absence to attend a family or religious occasion without jeopardizing their Medicare status. As long as a resident returns to the nursing home by midnight on the day of the leave, the facility may still bill Medicare for their stay. For families wishing to have a loved one home for an overnight visit, residents can leave a skilled nursing facility for short periods without losing their coverage, however, facilities may bill residents to hold their beds. For more information, visit medicareadvocacy.org/you-can-leave-the-nursing-home/. Residents who utilize Medicaid for long-term care services may also be allowed to leave a nursing home for brief periods. The state Medicaid plan covers three reserve bed days for brief home visits without prior approval. A physician’s order is required for this arrangement.

  • There was a time when contractors building McMansion-style home additions or Michelin-worthy kitchens were a regular sight in many neighborhoods — until around 2006, when the Great Recession began to take hold.
    Here’s the good news: home improvements are starting to add value in a rising housing market. Here’s the bad news: you have to be very careful about the renovation or remodeling projects you select to avoid over-stretching your budget.
    In 2014, completing successful home improvements comes down to two critical questions, will you get most of your money back when you sell your property (the days of 100 percent-plus returns on renovations are over, at least for now) and how will project costs affect your overall financial plan?
    Here are questions to fuel your planning:
    • How long you plan to live in the home after the renovation. The Great Recession proved many homeowners didn’t recoup elaborate — or sometimes modest — improvement costs when selling their homes. Even in a recovering market, it’s good to be wary. For now, renovate for the long haul and your personal enjoyment, not overnight sale.

  • The letter in the Dec. 4 Los Alamos Monitor from Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation promoting the misnamed “Right-to-Work” cries out for a rational response.
    Gessing continues to push the idea that “right-to-work” legislation will cure all our economic problems, supporting this idea with a long list of beneficial outcomes that he claims are associated with RTW states, in spite of the patent illogic that reducing union representation will somehow induce companies to offer higher wages, better pensions and safer working conditions to their employees. Why would they?
    The statements and quotes contained in his letter are standard conservative rhetoric spread by organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, in spite of his claim that the Rio Grande Foundation is “non-partisan.” This rhetoric frames the issue as protecting the rights of workers, when the legislation is actually designed to destroy the protections workers struggled for two centuries to achieve from exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

  • Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez recently held forth in what some might consider enemy territory.
    The Belen Democrat addressed Economic Forum, an Albuquerque organization of CEOs and power brokers.
    They had two things on their minds: wages and Right to Work. And, of course, the question that follows Sanchez everywhere he goes: with a new Republican majority in the House, will there be gridlock in Santa Fe?
    The discussion was civil, respectful and productive, an example of what happens when people listen to each other.
    Sanchez let them know up front that he’s not anti-business. “I come from a family that’s business-oriented,” he said. He and brother Raymond, a former House Speaker, grew up in their parents’ bakery and restaurant in Belen, and his law practice is a business.
    He’s felt the lingering recession. “In my practice it’s been difficult. It’s hard for people to pay. There just isn’t money going around.”
    In a conversational tone of voice, Sanchez touched on the hot-button issues: tax cuts (he’s not convinced they bring new business to the state), drought (we need a comprehensive water plan), and education (we need to listen to teachers about what works and doesn’t work).

  • The Power Rate Adjustment provision currently in the proposed electric rate ordinance should be removed. There are sound policy reasons for opposing the provisions. But more importantly the provision violates Charter Art. 504. I apologize for the length, but I am attempting to provide useful background and analysis to help council make a considered decision.
    Background: The Charter (Art. 504) defines the role of council and Board of Public Utilities in the rate process. Perhaps because there was concern about abuse of the rate process, all actions on rates must be done after public hearings by both the BPU and the council. The language in the charter is mandatory. In addition, there is no latitude for either body to deviate from charter process or to create alternate processes than may be more facile.

  • Most people looking at election results believe that the person with the most votes “won” and the person with the fewest votes “lost.”
    The real win-lose story is more complicated. Admittedly vague, this concept considers actions candidates take (or do not take) that determine the results.
    A presumably stronger candidate may run a straightforward campaign and even win the vote total without “winning” the race. The determinant would be that the other candidate “lost,” as did the legislative candidate who came close, but ended the campaign with money in the bank.
    The example is Land Commissioner Ray Powell, whose modest campaign was not a winner, but who might slip a higher vote total from the current recount than challenger Aubrey Dunn.
    Carroll Cagle has been around the policy-punditing-journalism-political scene even longer than I have, which is saying something.
    He graduated from Roswell High School and edited The Daily Lobo, the University of New Mexico student newspaper. These days he does a policy and political blog for the New Mexico Prosperity Project (newmexicoprosperity.org), a voter education outfit, where he was executive director.
    Our exchange of emails a few days ago is the basis for what follows.