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Opinion

  • The legislative session looks to be nasty, Steve Terrell, political writer for The New Mexican newspaper, told Albuquerque Press Women a week before Tuesday’s session start. The big difference between 2015 and 2016 is that this year’s gathering will shorter, mostly focused on finances.
    But as to contemplation of fundamental reforms for our floundering state, much less action, uh, no. The exception is the continuing tax crusade by Republicans Rep. Jason Harper of Rio Rancho and Sen. Bill Sharer of Farmington.
    Outside the legislative bubble, the world continues with people not working, government investing in businesses, an athletic discussion and world-class research.
    Nationally the labor force participation rate was 62.6 percent in December, a near-record low. That’s the proportion of people either working or looking for work. The rate has dropped for five years.
    The rate was 57 percent for New Mexico in November, says the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. No doubt we were affected by all the commonly cited factors, from aging population (retiring Baby Boomers) to welfare systems, with little push to find work. Indeed, as unemployment benefits increase, the value of work goes down. Casey Mulligan of the University of Chicago works on these topics.

  • Environmentalists like a good crisis. Spreading fear is a proven fundraising technique — with manmade climate change as the fear du jour. But, back in 2005, the “looming crisis,” according to the Kansas Sierra Club, was the end of cheap oil. The post concludes: “The end of cheap oil, followed by the end of cheap natural gas, threatens to cripple strong economies and devastate weak ones.” The author posits: “The world burns oil faster than new oil is discovered.”

    Today, slightly more than 10 years later, thanks to American ingenuity and initiative, the world is awash in oil and natural gas — with America being the world’s number one energy producer. As a result oil and natural gas are cheaper than anyone imagined just a few years ago when the price of gasoline, due to a “red-hot global economy and fears over dwindling supplies,” spiked to $4.11 a gallon in 2008. All time highest average gasoline prices of $3.60 in 2012 — during the last presidential election — gave credence to the “end of cheap oil” gloom-and-doom scenario. 

  • The Obama administration’s lack of understanding of the spiritual depth and commitment of private religious charities is shocking. The callousness of the federal effort to compel a noble Catholic religious order — the Little Sisters of the Poor — to forsake its faith commitments shows the depth of the intolerance of the behemoth secular state under President Barack Obama.

    The story is one of courageousness on the part of the nuns of this religious order. Founded in France in 1839, the Little Sisters of the Poor has spread to many other countries, including the United States, with the charitable goal of giving aid and comfort to the poor. The sisters take the normal vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, but also add hospitality, which they extend to some of the “least of those in our midst.”

    In March, the nuns will continue their long battle against the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its head, Sylvia Burwell, when the sisters and their lawyers come before the Supreme Court.

  • In the back of the restaurant, out of sight of the patrons, an employee is trying to avoid sneezing on your dinner.
    He shouldn’t be there. He should be home in bed, but he can’t afford to stay home because his wages barely cover his expenses and his employer does not provide paid sick leave. Working sick is one reality of the new American economy.
    The movement to require employers to provide sick leave has not taken hold in New Mexico so far. Legislation on this issue is not expected in the upcoming 2016 session. What is expected is another attempt to pass right-to-work.
    Right-to-work is the principle that a worker employed in a unionized company or organization should not be required to join a union or pay union dues in order to keep his or her job. Supporters say the lack of right-to-work is holding New Mexico back because businesses won’t come to a non-right-to-work state. Opponents say that’s based on outdated information.
    There’s even a dispute about whether right-to-work is intended to damage or weaken unions. Right-to-work advocates say it isn’t. That’s nonsense. Intended or not, it will damage them.

  • BY DAN MCCARN
    Los Alamos

  • From its conceptual box of chile, art and opera for the January issue, New Mexico Magazine stepped to the millennial bright lights of arts and technology entrepreneurship.
    The issue, the magazine says, features “some of the creatives who are shaping 21st-century New Mexico culture (and the business incubators that love them)… Neo Santa Fe: America’s oldest capital city has an exciting new vibe (and) ABQ Awakening: New Mexico’s urban core is being reinvented as a hub of creativity and commerce.”
    New Mexico Magazine is the state-owned tourism and lifestyle promotion publication. The nmmagazine.com description is, “Functioning as an enterprise fund in state government, the magazine is self-sufficient with virtually no funding from the taxpayer other than office space.”
    The description sounds about right, based on my brief stint long ago as the magazine’s business manager. I also scored a cover story about the border, which was highly instructive to me. The other side of state ownership is jumping through incredible bureaucratic hoops to get anything done. My boss, publisher Bob Davis, had some inventive techniques for subterfuge.

  • BY ROBERT GIBSON
    Los Alamos

  • Finance
    NEW MEXICO

  • Food stamps have been a battleground for two years.
    On Jan. 1, with New Mexico’s unemployment the highest in the nation, a new rule kicked in that returns pre-recession requirements. Thousands of New Mexicans must work, with or without pay, to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
    Nonprofits, religious organizations and the public objected to the new rules and some even sued. The state Human Services Department modified a few rules and pushed them through.
    We’d like to think this move would create more wage earners, but that’s unlikely. Economic reality and systemic weaknesses will sandbag the administration’s wishful thinking.
    The new rule requires most able-bodied, childless adults aged 18 to 49 to show 80 hours a month of approved work to qualify for SNAP, formerly called food stamps. Otherwise, they get just three months’ benefits in three years. On Oct. 1, people aged 16 to 59 and parents of children 13 and older will come under the rules. That’s 24,000 people, HSD estimates.
    The idea is that these people can work without pay in a job that “gives a person experience in a job or industry, tests a person’s job skills, or involves volunteer time and effort to a not-for-profit organization,” the regulation says. They can also participate in state-supervised activities like filling out job applications and contacting employers.

  • As best my research has been able to determine, testing American drivers’ skills as a prerequisite to operating motor vehicles on public arteries began in 1899, and it started in two U.S. cities, Chicago and New York City.
    The purpose of that testing was to validate motorists’ ability safely to use and operate all those automobiles and other motorized locomotives that had suddenly started lumbering along the local roadways and streets which previously had served mainly as thoroughfares for horses and buggies, oxen and wagons.
    The new tests also measured a would-be motorist’s “knowledge of the road,” including speed limits, stop-and-go regulations, rules governing left turns and right turns and all the other protocols involving the art of operating motor vehicles.
    When a person passed one of those tests, he or she would be licensed to drive and would be given an actual artifact known as a “driver’s license” which validated his or her ability safely to drive.
    It wasn’t nuclear science or brain surgery, of course. It was simply a very sensible thing to do. If you are going to have all these vehicles running around on public roadways, make sure you set down some rules to ensure that persons operating motorized vehicles have passed the required tests.
    So what have we done with this common sense arrangement?
    Well, here in New Mexico lately, we have pretty much screwed it up.

  • When people leave an area, unemployment should drop. That’s because, so the theory goes, the people leaving (migration is the technical term) have some tendency to be unemployed. That doesn’t seem to apply here. Migration declined ever so slightly in 2015 from 2014, but unemployment stayed essentially the same.
    The applicable theory appears to be the old Lew Wallace maxim, “Every calculation based on experience elsewhere fails in New Mexico.” Wallace was governor of New Mexico from 1878 to 1881.
    During the year ended July 1, 2015, there were 13,352 people pulling up their New Mexico stakes and leaving, according to the annual population estimates released by the Census Bureau Dec. 22. The population dropped 458 during the year.
    For the year ending July 1, 2014, it was 14,154 departures and an overall population decline of 1,323. The decline in out migration was 802 people, or 5.7 percent,
    The departure total since the April 2010 census is 43,041 with 27,506 going during the last two years.

  • BY MARITA NOON
    Executive Director, Energy Makes America Great

  • On rare occasions, the world opens itself to being inspected in new and unusual ways. Such a time came in 1883 on a scale that was unthinkable.
         Some story lines of the past grow larger in hindsight. In 1883, Karl Marx died; Bernard Kroger opened his first grocery store; and Charles Fritts used selenium and gold to make the first working, solid-state solar cell. Their aftereffects are with us today.
         The larger news was in August that year: A volcanic island exploded in the Sunda Strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra. The blast went round the world and turned the island with the oddly harsh name – “Krakatoa” – into a treasure trove for science.
         Effects of the rarity advanced the ways in which we know the world. The stories fill a global canvas.
         Evidence says the blast was the loudest sound on Earth in recorded history. The British ship Norman Castle was 40 miles from Krakatoa at the time of the explosion. The ship’s captain wrote in his log, “So violent are the explosions that the ear-drums of over half my crew have been shattered.”

  • On Dec. 14, the governor announced her DWI proposals for the Legislature, and within days she was apologizing for an employee bash and her own behavior after she committed GWI – governing while intoxicated.
    If you are one of the three people who didn’t hear the recording, you missed a tipsy Susana Martinez haranguing a desk clerk and two police dispatchers. Somebody complained about noise coming from a staffer’s hotel room, where the governor insisted six people were “eating peetzahhhh.”
    After the internet joking subsided, local and national pundits began pronouncing her star fallen.
    Maybe, but we still need to talk about DWI.
    The governor wants legislators to toughen up DWI penalties – adding jail time for certain repeat DWI offenders, expanding habitual-offender laws to include felony DWI offenses, and cracking down on people who lend vehicles to a DWI offender with a suspended or revoked license. She also wants to have volunteers monitor DWI cases in some counties.

  • Let’s humiliate the schools a little more, says the state Public Education Department. That’s a great way to motivate and encourage students.
    While this is going on, there’s a bright spot.
    The humiliation: PED has released the “grades” of schools throughout the state, and the grades are a little lower than last year. This, says the department, is because of the standardized PARCC tests that were forced on school districts. Students didn’t do well on the unfamiliar tests, so the test results depressed the evaluations of the schools. All very logical, unless your motive is to give some encouragement to a state that is constantly being beaten up by low rankings.
    Here’s the bright spot.
    A school in Albuquerque came up with a program that empowers kids, brings parents into the education process, makes good use of school facilities, involves teachers and community volunteers in a friendly way, and supports learning, all at the same time. And it provides a free meal.
    The program is called Homework Diner. It started at Manzano Mesa Elementary School, located in a low-income neighborhood in Albuquerque. It has spread to several other schools.

  • BY NATHANIEL SILLIN
    Practical Money Skills

  • Most action during the 2016 legislative session beginning Jan. 19 looks to come in bits and pieces.
    Beyond the bits, the action will be political posturing for the 2016 election and, maybe, incremental movement on the big topics of tax reform and highways.
    This conclusion comes from more than four hours of listening to senior state government officials, “interested stakeholders,” four legislators and Scott Darnell, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Susana Martinez. The occasion was the annual legislative outlook conference of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute, held Dec. 17 in Albuquerque.
    The constraints are lack of money for anything exciting and the governor’s agenda, or crabby types might say, the non-agenda other than education.
    “New money,” projected at $231.7 million, is defined as expected recurring revenue in the coming year minus recurring spending this year. That $231.7 million is up 3.7 percent from the current year appropriation but down $62 million from the August forecast.
    David Abbey, director of the Legislative Finance Committee, began with recounting past crunch times for the state. “I am confident we can get through it again,” he said.

  • BY STEVE PEOPLES
    Associated Press

  • BY DR. L. JOHN VAN TIL
    Visions and Values

  • By Marita Noon
    Executive Director, Energy Makes America Great

    The Sierra Club has announced their next effort: “to prevent the extraction of fossil fuels right from the start” – a campaign known as “Keep it in the ground.” The plan, reported The Hill, is to “shut down coal mines, and crack down on hydraulic fracturing, along with stopping the transportation of fossil fuels in oil trains, pipelines and coal export terminals.”
    The plan sounds ludicrous to anyone who understands energy or follows the topic – after all, Germany’s plans to “go green” have failed miserably – but activists who are committed to the cause are buoyed by several recent victories.
    A post, “Keep It in the Ground Movement Scores Another Victory Over Fossil Fuel Interests,” on Greenpeace.org states: “Remember when we told you that the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground was gaining momentum? We weren’t making that up.” The author then goes on to list the “much-discussed” successes:
    • Shell’s departure from the Arctic;
    • Rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline; and
    • Exxon’s history of climate denial.
    She then touts something that slipped under the radar for most news watchers: on Dec. 7, the Bureau of Land Management “ announced a last minute delay to a fossil fuel lease sale,” which the post claims is due to “grassroots opposition.”