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Opinion

  • Politics leads the nation in constant fights for and against new pipelines. So why do so few partisans on either side sing out for smart tools on pipelines?
    No matter how you view pipelines, President Donald Trump has timely chances to change the old ways.
    “Smart tools” is a broad term for the steady stream of 21st century devices with computer chips that continuously inspect, analyze and report on the state of health of almost everything. Smart tools are known to business and industry for saving costs and improving the reliability of products and operations. Smart tools are used in fields as diverse as health care, farming, manufacturing, home security systems and maintenance of infrastructure.
    To maintain public safety, smart tools yield rapid, routine knowledge of the health of large civil structures, such as tall buildings, bridges, aircraft and pipelines. Over the years, this field evolved into a speciality with its own name – Structural Health Monitoring (SHM).
    SHM has a rich history. The discipline of SHM has an international society of its own with its own technical journal. The 10th International Workshop on SHM was held in 2015 at Stanford University. Princeton offers a graduate course in SHM. Researchers at the national laboratory in town work on SHM.

  • Grants Mayor Martin Hicks told a legislative interim committee last summer that the only remaining coal mine had laid off 150 people, the population has dropped to 8,500 from 18,500 when he was growing up in the town, and there are 22 empty buildings on the main drag.
    But Cibola County has some possibilities in tourism and logging.
    On the East Side, tiny Anton Chico has an old school building with a functional gym and kitchen that could be used to house small businesses. And the economic development group would like to take over a meat processing company, but the processor’s building is held by the bank. The organization needs help to enter e-commerce and find markets for area farm products.
    All either town needs from the state is a little help – money and knowhow.
    And so it goes.
    We may continue to dogpaddle in the economic toilet bowl, but in pretty much any community in the state, there are possibilities. And, surprisingly, hope.
    So what do we hear from our leaders?
    The state’s chief executive offers a package of get-tough DWI bills. And in testy language, she defended her budget and picked a fight with the Legislative Finance Committee over their budget.

  • By Harry Burgess
    Los Alamos County Manager

    I would like to take this opportunity to address safety concerns we have heard recently from the public regarding the intersection of State Road 4 (SR4) and the Truck Route. Over the last few months four serious motor vehicle accidents involving residents have occurred. These accidents typically involved a westbound turn by a motorist from SR4 onto the Truck Route at this signalized intersection. I think we all agree that the situation is dangerous and accidents can happen for a variety of reasons.

    Clearly this intersection backs up in all directions during peak commute times, and this factor played a part in recent accidents. There is personal responsibility on the part of all drivers to be attentive and aware of traffic entering any busy intersection. But there is a role for government with respect to road design as well. 

  • A Martinez administration mantra is, “We’ve cut taxes 37 times.” This repetition came Dec. 20 at the Tax Research Institute’s Legislative Outlook Conference. The speaker was the governor’s chief of staff Keith Gardner.
    But what exactly are those tax cuts? After a couple of requests spokesman Chris Sanchez provided a list of bill numbers by session date. The list is posted at capitolreportnm.blogspot.com. He did not provide estimated revenue impact, which I requested. I was unable to get the impact from the Legislature’s website, nmlegis.gov.
    Finding the bills is a little tedious, but easy enough.
    Taken as one, the list offers rather less than meets the eye. Repeating “We’ve cut taxes 37 times” is supposed to impress. I’m reminded of governors running for president—Bill Richardson comes to mind—claiming virtue from having balanced the state government budget. Such claims mean nothing; state constitutions require balanced budgets.
    The list showed 36 tax cut bills. The exception was Senate Bill 369 from 2012, which defined a number of terms relating to veterans.

  • New Mexico is finally complying with the federal standard for Real ID.
    Real ID is the new form of driver’s license (or ID card for non-drivers) that will be required beginning in 2020 to board a plane and for other federal purposes. Real ID confirms that you are genuinely you to the satisfaction of the federal government. When you next renew your license, or no later than October 2020, to get a Real ID license, you will have to present several documents to the Motor Vehicle Department.
    New Mexico’s Legislature delayed several years before adopting this standard. After studying the requirements, I see why. Pulling together the necessary documents will probably be easy for most homeowners. It will be hard for some low-income people, especially those who don’t have a stable address.
    The details are on the MVD website at mvd.newmexico.gov/real-id-information.aspx.
    You’ll have to present three types of documents: one with your Social Security number, one that identifies you by age, and two that establish proof of residence.

  • Like Chicken Man, taxes are everywhere – they’re everywhere.
    We forget that. The latest gross receipts tax increase quickly recedes into the background. When economic life is good, as it was when oil and gas drilling boomed for a few years until mid-2014, we forget recent history. Yet when history reappears and life for state government revenue reverts, life is just awful.
    The links are easily lost. Cities and counties get a lot of their revenue from gross receipts taxes. Local tax increases are one reaction. Eleven governments across the state hiked gross receipts rates as of January 1. Those basic local services are necessary. Gov. Susana Martinez may say no tax increases. Tuition increases at universities are doing the job for her.
    Last month the Taxation and Revenue Department (TRD) summarized the sad situation for seven of the state’s largest income categories. The 19-page paper, presented Dec. 5 to the Legislative Finance Committee, got into some of the matters seldom considered except by those paid to pay attention. The reminder is useful as we approach the 60-day legislative session with a chance of comprehensive tax reform.

  • The Wall Street Journal on Congress’ ethics reform controversy:

    The 115th Congress flopped into Washington on Tuesday with House Republicans proposing and then dropping marginal changes to an internal ethics office. The reversal is an unforced political error, but the GOP is right that the investigative body has the power to destroy reputations without due process.
    By the way, Paul Ryan was re-elected Speaker Tuesday with one GOP defection, while Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi lost four Democrats. But that news was dwarfed as the House considered rules for the new Congress, and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte offered an amendment to restructure the Office of Congressional Ethics.
    The office is composed of political grandees, often former Members, and it has no prosecutorial power. But it conducts investigations into Members or staffers and makes recommendations to the House Ethics Committee. The proposal limited what information can be released to the public and barred the committee from having a press secretary. Also banned: anonymous tips.

  • Happy New Year!
    I think a fresh start is something needed by so many people and start with a positive outlook.
    I am elated to say that the nominations for the Community Asset Awards was the best since the event started years ago. We have more nominations for youth and higher totals than we have ever.
    C’YA, the LANL Foundation and the LACDC will look forward to the Jan. 21 event and I believe almost all of the notifications have taken place…with the exception of a few people needing to return to work to find out. Truth be told, there was one person nominated with just a first name and an address,
    We have individuals, couples, clubs, businesses and our youngest is a fifth-grader.  Remember this is a project that is open year long, so once we hold the event in January, the nomination process will begin again.
    I have heard a number of people saying they won’t be making any resolutions this year, what’s the point?
    I say, there’s always something you can do to be better or make the world better and often you can do such small things that make a big different.
    My first hope is for folks to join the Assets movement! This isn’t just some neat, fun idea of mine, this is based on decades of research, shown to improve so many areas of life for young people.

  • A witness hired by New Mexico oil and gas interests steps before the hearing officials with his written testimony. The court reporter greets him with these antique words: “Raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” He solemnly swears he will indeed. 
    Forms of this terse ceremony have been in use since Roman times and today’s forms are still recited countless times each day in venues looking for the truth. The phrases race by so fast that their mandates are fuzzy. 
    Think a moment on that middle phrase – to tell “the whole truth.”
    What do the words intend? The whole truth extends very far and is hard to know. No one can know everything.
    Since they cannot know everything, people tend to fill in what they do not really know with guesses, hopes and rumblings. What most people bring to the table are some pieces that mostly help one side.
    The court system knows the ways of people. So courts assemble the “whole” truth out of parts gathered by questioning a range of relevant people about what each of them knows. Firm questioning works to separate what is truly known from guesses, feelings and rumblings.  

  • BY NATHANIEL SILLIN
    Practical Money Skills

  • In the early days of Gary Johnson’s governorship, I had occasion to be at the State Capitol talking with some of his new appointees.
    “Oh,” one of them said to me, “so you work for the Department of Labor.” He looked pleased with himself.
    “No,” I said. “I work for the Workers’ Compensation Administration.”
    “Right,” he said, “Department of Labor.”
    “No,” I said, but he didn’t believe me.
    Several similar conversations happened with other appointees of the new administration.
    A few weeks later, I saw taped to a wall in the Capitol an organization chart of state government, showing a dotted line between the Department of Labor and my agency. We had at one time been “administratively attached” to that department. But we had never been part of it.
    The chart was several years out of date. This new gang of managers were relying on it as reference information to learn what they were now in charge of.

  • BY NATHAN SILLIN
    Practical Money Skills

  • MONTEZUMA—A warm and sunny December day in this international enclave suburb of Las Vegas had 237 teenagers beavering away at their studies. From the road, N.M. 65, the students and the roughly 100 adult staff supporting their academic work were invisible. 

    Their main building, the approximately125-year-old Montezuma Castle, gets attention as it rises four stories above the trees, plus towers, with spectacular Queen Anne design. 

    The students disperse a few days later for winter break. If everyone goes home, it would be to 75 countries. 

    Discrete signs on the road say, “United World College.” 

    New Mexico’s college president carousel brought new leaders to four institutions during 2016. Victoria Mora came to United World College after 24 years at St. John’s College in Santa Fe. St. John’s also has a new president, Mark Roosevelt. (The other 2016 newbies are Stephen Wells at New Mexico Tech and Richard Bailey at Northern New Mexico.) 

  • BY NATHANIAL SILLIN
    Practical Money Skills

  • BY D. DOWD MUSKA
    New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation

  • What you need to know about the Standing Rock standoff is how much you don’t know. This confrontation, playing out in frigid North Dakota, has drawn thousands of people from across the country and the attention of New Mexico’s senators.
    In April the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe camped in the path of a $3.8 billion pipeline project to protest plans to tunnel under the Missouri River, which the tribe says would jeopardize its water supply and destroy cultural sites. On Sunday, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected the current route.
    It’s not over.
    Here are five things you should know:
    One: Organizers say they’re not opposed to the oil and gas industry. This is about protecting Standing Rock’s drinking water. The company insists the pipeline is safe. Protesters don’t believe it. Since 2010 regulators count 3,300 leaks and ruptures ranging from a few gallons to hundreds of thousands of gallons, according to the Center for Effective Government. Just last week, a natural gas liquids pipeline exploded near Kansas City.

  • “Tendency to whine” should be a business-climate rating category. New Mexico’s tendency to whine probably would be high.
    Just before Thanksgiving there was news that New Mexico has the second worst state business climate for construction contractors. So says the Associated Builders and Contractors, a national trade group. Only Illinois is worse.
    That same day complaints claimed Facebook’s standards for contractors working on its $250 million data center near Los Lunas were too tough. Faced with the whining, ever sensitive Facebook acquiesced to an old New Mexico joke, if the standards are too high, lower the bar. Facebook said it was committed to using local companies and that some of the requirements were only guidelines.
    Our review of rating studies continues. The source is the annual “Toward a Competitive Colorado” report, produced by the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. (metrodenver.org). The report provides 75 measures gathered under the general headings of economic vitality, innovation, taxes, livability, K-12 education, higher education, health, and infrastructure. We continue braving the statistical gods by averaging the measures within each general heading, some of them averages of yet other measures.

  • The Augusta Chronicle, Georgia, on Donald Trump’s Twitter account:

    From the daily news reports, you get the impression the Trump administration is already collapsing on itself.
    Since the election, the nation’s news syndicates have produced an unending string of nearly apocalyptic Tales of Dread. The transition is too slow! His chief counselor is a “conservative provocateur” and “controversial conservative firebrand” who may be anti-Semitic! Trump’s children may be helping pick the Cabinet! Foreign policy may change! His appointments are scary — and maybe even “anti-Islamist”!
    He may be planning “extreme vetting” of immigrants and refugees! It’s been two weeks since the election, and Trump still hasn’t cut his lifelong business ties!
    Good grief.
    Give the man a chance. He’s forming a new administration from scratch — and as a political newcomer, it really is from scratch. But as a savvy businessman, he’s doing a thorough job of screening candidates.
    Moreover, his meeting with Mitt Romney — who bitterly opposed Trump during the campaign — is a tremendous gesture of the kind of good will presidents should engender.

  • An idea results when one or several persons put some things together in their heads. Every new thing that humans invent or create starts as an idea.
         The history of ideas began with defense tactics and ways to defeat them, then came food craft and farm tools. Ideas branched out into new materials, forms of writing, ethics, art, medicine, music, science, governance, law and transport of goods and ideas.
         Ideas are not as simple as cartoonists suggest with light bulbs casting rays above leading characters. And a column can only begin to sketch the nature of ideas and their ventures in different fields. Yet these few brief points explain the drought of budding ideas in politics.  
         First, consider the chief traits of ideas. At its core, an idea is a splendid risk. Look back at how the idea to distill and purify kerosene in the mid-1800s curtailed the last of the profit in whale oil. The gain and loss from that idea depend on how you see things today.  
         At first airing, an idea is as lonesome as a space alien. An idea, as are computer chips, can always be refined, improved and built on. In a word, ideas grow.

  • An effortless way to help education

    Take the time to vote for the public schools bond in January.  It’s easy and almost effortless.  If your house is anything like mine, there’s a stack of papers on the counter where important things may get lost or overlooked.  Apparently, every college in the country feels the need to send a glossy publication to my home because a high school senior lives here.  When I get my ballot in January, though, I will open it immediately and check the yes boxes, sign and seal it, place a stamp on the envelope and put it in the mailbox right away.  It’s too important to get lost in the shuffle of pictures of impressive buildings and happy students promising a bright future.
    It hasn’t been that long ago that my oldest son started kindergarten and now, unbelievably, we’re nearing the end of his school years in Los Alamos.  The buildings have changed along the way with many improvements for which we are extremely grateful.  It’s been amazing to watch the transformation of the high school, middle school and Aspen, and for my kids to reap the benefits of new and remodeled buildings.  One thing that hasn’t changed at all is the team of dedicated teachers, guiding and encouraging my children from beginning to end.