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Opinion

  • In May 2015, an Amtrak passenger train derailed outside Philadelphia, killing eight people and injuring more than 200. The cause is still a mystery. The train was going too fast around a curve, but, according to recent news reports, federal investigators have not figured out why.
    Another accident occurred outside Philadelphia on April 3 of this year, killing two people and injuring more than 30.
    Two Amtrak routes run through New Mexico. The Southwest Chief runs between Los Angeles and Chicago, with stops in Raton, Las Vegas, Lamy (outside Santa Fe), Albuquerque and Gallup. The Sunset Limited runs between Los Angeles and New Orleans, stopping in Deming and Lordsburg.  
    The state is crossed by several freight routes. Freight trains can carry just about anything, including the most hazardous chemicals, with long lines of container cars moving faster than 100 miles an hour.
    Once in a while, a train derails with disastrous consequences. In 2013, a freight train carrying petroleum derailed in Quebec, leading to a fire that left 47 people dead.  
    So you might think it would be dangerous to allow a train to be operated by just one person, the engineer alone in the cab.
    That’s what I think, and I’m not alone. There’s even a Facebook page called Spouses and Families Against One Man Crews.  

  • BY ROBYN SCHULTZ
    Chair, Democratic Party of Los Alamos County

    Guest Columnist

  • BY DR. TRACY MILLER
    Center for Visions and Values

  • New Mexico’s air space has blessed us with three Air Force bases, but it didn’t just happen. Civic leaders pitched their communities as the nation was gearing up for World War II, and for a time the state was dotted with airfields.
    Fort Sumner snagged an installation that became Fort Sumner Army Airfield. This one trained glider pilots.
    Glider pilots?
    This had to be one of the Army Air Force’s more unusual programs. The boxcar-like WACO CG-4A gliders could carry 15 men – a pilot, co-pilot, and 13 heavily armed troops called “glider riders.” It could also carry a Jeep, an anti-tank gun or medical supplies and food. On release, the glider coasted down and made something like a controlled crash landing. The pilots, trained as commandos, then became infantry troops. The Brits had similar aircraft, and they all saw service in the D Day landing.
    “The center of glider training was Eastern New Mexico and West Texas,” said John McCullough, of Lubbock, during the New Mexico Historical Society conference last weekend in Farmington.

  • “If any town in the United States needs roads worse than us, it has my pity,” a citizen told his county commissioners. “Farmers,” said the local paper, “have been wedged between two sand hills long enough.”
    These were the first rumblings of the Good Roads movement in New Mexico. In 1915, farmers on the East Side threatened to take their produce to markets in Texas, where roads were better, if the Roosevelt County Commission didn’t do something.  
    The next time you get in your car, remind yourself that a century ago the nation’s roads were little more than dirt tracks and trails with no signs or bridges. In New Mexico, land owners fenced across roads, and drifting sand was a bigger hindrance than fences.
    New Mexico joined the national Good Roads movement, which produced a network of highways, such as they were. We know Route 66 best, but a few years earlier and farther south was the Bankhead Highway, one of the first transcontinental highways.
    It began in 1916 with the Bankhead Highway Association, whose namesake, U. S. Sen. John H. Bankhead, of Alabama, was a leader of the Good Roads movement. That year, Congress passed the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 over the objections of citizens like Henry Ford, who didn’t think roads were a good use of taxpayer money.

  • Follow a random path and the journey can get a little strange. This path started with a song, a terrible song, it must be said. I heard the song, “Truth or Consequences,” when I paused my dial flipping at KUNM, the public radio station at the University of New Mexico.
    What I could understand of the lyrics indicated unkind things about Truth or Consequences and about New Mexico. The song seemed to fit our situation.
    By email, I got the name of the song and the artist, Fish Karma of Tucson, aka Terry Owen. The lyrics, in part, say:
    “Well I was on my way to Santa Fe to take a brief vacation.
    “Feeling hungry I pulled in here to get a bite to eat.
    “That was about a month ago and they won’t let me leave.
    “I’m stuck in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
    “Ain’t no way out that I could see…
    “…the deepest pit of hell has gotta be better than this.”
    Unfortunately, the song appeared in 1992, just as we began an Intel-driven boom.

  • BY BOB MOOS
    Southwest Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid

  • Considering all the business smarts stored in the brains of seasoned executives, it would be a shame to let it go to waste.
    SCORE gives entrepreneurs the key to that stored knowledge by pairing them with volunteer mentors who have decades of expertise in all aspects of starting and running a business. It also hosts workshops and seminars that teach basic and advanced skills that are crucial for a business owner to have.
    When the nonprofit formed in 1964, its name was an acronym for the Service Corps of Retired Executives, because early mentors were recruited from the ranks of the retired. The organization later shortened its name, as many of its volunteers still hold jobs in a complex and rapidly evolving global economy.
    Thanks to its resource partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration and its nationwide network of volunteers, SCORE can offer its services at little to no cost.
    SCORE’s wide reach
    Santa Fe is home to one of the state’s most active — and oldest — SCORE chapters. Launched in the mid-1970s, it mentored more than 800 clients last year, and 500 more attended its workshops.

  • BY Nathaniel Sillin
    Special to the Monitor

  • “The Entrepreneurial Mindset” is the latest great program to land in New Mexico.
    It’s not just for people who want to start businesses. It’s a way of thinking that enables any individual in any job to take personal responsibility for his or her work, applying initiative to the job and committing to be of service to others. It’s based on in-depth studies of hundreds of successful entrepreneurs.
    Through Central New Mexico Community College, the program has been taught to 100 employees of the city of Albuquerque. Mayor Richard Berry has committed to having at least 1,000 employees trained in it. It’s also offered to the public.
    The model was developed by Gary Schoeniger, CEO of the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative, who was here recently to train the facilitators who will teach the program to their colleagues from the city and other major local employers.
    If it works, hundreds of city employees will develop the entrepreneurial attitudes that let every person become an idea factory for process improvement and better service to the customers and taxpayers.  

  • Our rural counties did better last year than we first thought.
    The news is due to the annual revisions called “benchmarking” to the initially reported job numbers.
    Statistics get revised; it’s a rule. Frustration results and becomes anguish in our current situation. We get reports of one number, but no mention that it really is “the number,” plus or minus, depending on the mechanics of the survey. When more and better information becomes available, the number is revised. So it is with job numbers.
    The complication is that the numbers and associated expectations drive policy and business decisions. Change disrupts the decisions.
    The newest revisions, published in mid-March, take our monthly average employment for 2015 down by 3,000 to 825,600. The state’s job performance started decently and eroded during the year. Nine of 2015’s 12 months were revised downward. The numbers come from the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the state Department of Workforce Solutions.

  • Two recent headlines say it’s time to talk about our economy. One is, “NM second in fed dependency,” written like that’s a bad thing. The other: “We must reduce NM reliance on oil revenues.”
    New Mexico has a lot of pieces to its economy, and we’re getting a little smarter about promoting them. It’s late, slow and done on a wing and a prayer, but it’s movement.
    One of those segments is federal spending, and last week the website Wallethub said New Mexico is the second-most federally dependent state after Mississippi. Last year we were first. This is because of federal installations, agencies and labs, but also because we’re poor (Medicaid) and have an aging population (Social Security, Medicare).
    Looked at another way, federal dollars create jobs (28,000-plus in 2015), and we could do better.
    Terry Brunner, state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, recently wrote that every year his agency returns unused federal funds to Washington for lack of projects, and so do other federal agencies.

  • I come from a long line of Republican matrons. These were ladies whose courtesy toward those with political differences at odds with their own was nonetheless genuine and sincere.
    Mind you now, neighbors were courteous to one another, irrespective of partisan differences.
    Still, they were born and bred to hold their tongues, keep the peace when in the company of persons with political opinions significantly different from their own.
    One of my grandmothers even learned to tolerate the brash young Democrat her pretty daughter, Elizabeth, brought home during spring break from college and who shortly joined the family as her new son-in-law.
    They may have exchanged diverse views on social and political matters, but they were muted and circumspect, never confrontational. The president, “Ike,” was always spoken of admiringly and with respect for his courage and wartime heroism.
    Mrs. Eisenhower, the first lady, was routinely admired for the fussy little hats with which she adorned herself. Otherwise, she was simply Mrs. Eisenhower, the “first lady” who as far as my parents were concerned was known to be a “smoker.”
    As a child that was a shocker.

  • If you’re mentally ill or addicted, getting help means getting in to see your CSW, your community support worker. Your CSW understands you, understands your history, knows which medications have or haven’t worked. If you can’t see your CSW, it’s like being in your own sci-fi movie where you’re untethered in deep space.
    And if you even have a CSW, you’re one of the lucky ones.
    This is a little of the cold reality of what we like to call our behavioral health system after the state’s 2013 suspension of funding to 15 providers after accusing them of fraud. They provided 87 percent of services for the seriously mentally ill, substance abusers and emotionally disturbed children. They had served their communities for an average of 37 years.
    From news accounts we have an arsenal of smoking guns: Audits supporting the state Human Services Department’s accusations were doctored, the substitute Arizona providers were lined up BEFORE the audits, managed-care company UnitedHealth Group steered HSD to its conclusions and donated to the state Republican Party, the Attorney General cleared 13 of 15 providers of fraud, and a departing Arizona firm sued UnitedHealth saying its subsidiary OptumHealth accused the New Mexico providers of fraud to mask its inability to pay them.

  • One number and one question.
    Those are where the New Mexico economic discussion goes.
    The number is the ratio of employment to population. The question is why we are so low.
    A second number lends insight. That is the percentage of our population on Medicaid, which is approaching 50 percent. That half our population needs a form of welfare is astonishing, but the situation goes back to work. If more people were working for more money, there would be less Medicaid.
    Employment occupied 53.5 percent of the population in 2015. Our average employment ratio for 2014 was 56.6 percent, a decline from 2013. The definition is what you would expect. The Pew Research Center defines the ratio of employment to population as “a measurement of employed people as a percentage of the entire adult civilian non-institutional population” 16 and over. Nationally the ratio is 59.8 for February and has been nudging fitfully up since mid-2011.
    For employment-to-population, we placed 48th nationally, our usual position. Two of the other states in the bottom four—West Virginia and Kentucky—have coal as a simple explanation for their troubles. Check with Barack Obama on that issue. Mississippi’s explanations appear more complicated, although, from what I have read, racial legacies are a big part.

  • Warning to everybody who goes to work: New Mexico finally has a workers’ compensation drug and alcohol law that almost makes sense. If you are irresponsible enough to drink or use drugs at work, or before work, or you are an employer who allows that sort of behavior, it’s time to shape up.
    WORKERS: If you get injured at work, do not refuse to take a drug test. If the test shows you were drunk or stoned, your workers’ compensation cash benefits will be reduced. If you refuse to take the test, you’ll get no money.
    EMPLOYERS:  If you do not have a drug-and-alcohol-free workplace policy, you need one. The law takes effect July 1, but don’t wait to do this. Model policies are available online, or contact your insurance carrier (contact information should be in a poster on your wall that you should have put there). You can also check with the New Mexico DWI Resource Center (dwiresourcecenter.org).

  • Boos for the state chairwoman and bunches of Bernie babies with signs, cigarettes and slot machines. All appeared at the Democratic Party pre-primary convention March 12.
    For their pre-primary convention, Democrats needed a bigger room than Republicans. Around 1,200 people attended the Democratic show at Isleta Casino. The Republican convention drew about 500. For the Democrats’ meeting, people came and went, nametag or not. The Republicans had people at the entrances, looking for nametags. No nametag, no entry.
    Draw your own conclusions about inclusiveness.
    The cigarettes and slot machines came with the location – the “Bingo Showroom” at Isleta Resort and Casino south of Albuquerque. The cigarettes and slot machines were next door in the casino. As the program got a little tedious – no criticism, such events get tedious – conventioneers drifted to the casino and the slots.
    With no contested races, Chairwoman Debra Haaland observed that the purpose of the convention became making new acquaintances and renewing old acquaintances.
    Haaland began her remarks by saying, “I want to talk today about the need for unity in our party.”

  • New Mexico ag secretary: Let’s appreciate what farmers, ranchers put on our plates – and into our communities
    Milk, beef, chile, pecans…Cheese, lettuce, spinach, grapes…Alfalfa, cotton, corn, onions and more – what’s not to get excited about as spring approaches? Agriculture is alive and well in New Mexico, and the food and crops mentioned here are just a sample of the diverse culture of production that makes New Mexico special.
    On Tuesday, we celebrated National Agriculture Day across America. In New Mexico, I’m asking you to stretch the occasion out for the full week. Ag Day/Week asks us to recognize the important contributions farmers and ranchers make to our dinner plates and local communities. The food on your plate doesn’t just happen. After many months of care and nurturing by people who truly care about our health and safety, the crops grown become our breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and don’t forget snacks). Additionally, our communities thrive from the stable economic impact of agricultural production, as well as the green space it creates.

  • Last week, the governor’s biases were on display as she released the state’s annual pork bill and communities learned which of their public projects will receive capital outlay dollars.
    In a multitude of line-item vetoes, she came down hard on Navajos, Democrats, courts, and acequia associations.
    The governor chastised legislators in a nine-page message for squandering infrastructure funding and spending on local public works. She said some projects were underfunded or unwanted by local governments, and some spending was for items that will wear out before the bond is paid off. And legislators aren’t always working together, she said.
    No argument there, but she also vetoed any request for $10,000 or less, saying it’s not enough to accomplish anything. That’s pretty arbitrary. Some small projects can cost that amount or less.
    The big problem is that many of her vetoes are inconsistent, or they don’t align with her written message.
    Zuni Pueblo has no backup pump on its main well. Three legislators pooled their capital outlay money to buy and install a pump ($190,000), which was vetoed while dozens of other well projects around the state were approved.

  • BY JIM HALL
    President, Los Alamos School Board