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Opinion

  • The workers’ compensation system, we sometimes observe, is a patchwork of contradictory and inconsistent rules that are hard to understand and even harder to live with.
    Our courts don’t make this any easier.
    We were reminded of this recently at the annual conference of the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Association, where we heard several recitations of the weirdness of workers’ compensation case law.
    One presentation, by attorneys Jim Rawley and Kelly Genova, focused narrowly on issues related to return to work.
    When a worker is recovered from an injury, something is supposed to happen: he goes back to his old job, or he chooses not to go back to the job, or because of his injury he can no longer do the job, or a hundred other possibilities.
    Workers’ compensation is a statutorily micromanaged system. The law is supposed to provide explicit guidance about who is obligated to do what for whom. But reality plays tricks.
    Do you know the TV show, “What Would You Do?” This column is like that game. Read and guess.

  • Despite unseasonably cold and wet weather during the weeks leading up to the Dog Jog, April 25 dawned sunny and calm, allowing hundreds of runners and walkers and their eager dogs to enjoy participating in the 18th Annual Dog Jog. Our new location for pre- and post-race activities at Rover Park was a big hit with humans and canines alike.
    This year’s Dog Jog raised over $14,000 for Friends of the Shelter. Friends of the Shelter (FOS) is a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to abandoned animals and to pets and their owners in northern New Mexico. Our catastrophic care program pays for veterinary care for sick or injured animals that have no owners or whose owners cannot afford the treatment. Our spay/neuter program provides grants to our partner organizations, including the Española Valley Humane Society and the McKinley County Animal Shelter so that they can provide low- or no-cost spay/neuter services to their clients. FOS also encourages responsible pet ownership and promotes adoption of shelter animals through education and outreach.

  • Cougars and bears: Are they game, predators, varmints, wildlife in need of protection?
    The state Game and Fish Department and the Game Commission are once again in the crosshairs of conservation groups over proposals to control cougar and bear populations.
    The department revisits its plans every four years and suggests it’s time to trim both populations. The public debate has focused on numbers, drought, timing and trapping.
    Like a whirlwind raising dust, the discussion also drags in the old welfare rancher vs. tree-hugger feud. We hear that Game and Fish coddles ranchers and that the commission is a bunch of good-’ol-boy political appointees.
    Let’s dispense with those first.
    If your livelihood depends on livestock, you’ll lean on the department for protective measures. And the commission has always been political. Gov. Bill Richardson caught flak for appointing campaign donors to the commission, and he certainly wasn’t the first.
    This same commission in 2013 accepted the resignation of department director Jim Lane, a Kentuckian with no interest in biology, who would have painted a bullseye on the side of every predator in the state.
    So ranchers and conservationists aren’t going to agree. But there are some troubling aspects of this debate.

  • Recently, Gov. Jerry Brown of California signed a pact with 11 other states and countries to slash greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change.
    The non-binding agreement pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. A United Nations summit on climate control will take place in Paris later this year.
    “Climate change” and “environmental pollution” are not very well delineated. Air pollution that extends tens of thousands of feet upward is hard to miss. Neither is dense, choking smog in Beijing. These are examples of mankind’s polluting the environment and not of global climate changes. The greenhouse effect makes common scientific sense. It is the magnitude of the effect of such pollutions on a global scale and the non-human effects that are the issues.
    Having delved into the matter, it is not clear that we are destined for a 2-degree Celsius rise over the current global level that is currently getting lots of press and TV coverage. Pollution is something mankind can moderate and should! Global climate control is something else!

  • When my daughter told me that Mark Ruffalo — an actor and leftist activist — would be receiving a prestigious prize at her 2015 commencement at Dickinson College, I was dismayed but not surprised.
    Dickinson, an elite liberal arts college in central Pennsylvania, is a hotbed of “sustainability” which permeates virtually everything it does, from curriculum to architecture to what’s featured in its quarterly magazine. It came as no shock that Dickinson chose Ruffalo to receive its $100,000 prize for “global environmental activism.”
    My dismay came from the sinking suspicion that the commencement experience was likely to be a series of unending left-wing bromides. On this score, neither Ruffalo, nor Sam Rose, who introduced him, disappointed. Rose, the prize’s benefactor, claimed that man-made climate change, not ISIS nor terrorism nor illegal immigration nor [fill in the blank], is the main threat to humankind.
    He was dismayed, too, that there’s anyone on Earth who doesn’t wholeheartedly accept the left’s premises about climate change. So, argued Rose, we need to bring people around, “by hook or by crook,” to recognize these indisputable truths. In other words, when it comes to saving civilization from itself, the ends justify the means.

  • Should a dream wedding mean delaying a down payment on a home? That’s a tradeoff many couples make these days.
    The Knot, a wedding planning and publishing company, recently released its Real Weddings Study of average wedding costs for 2014, announcing a national average price tag of $31,213 — and that’s not including the honeymoon.
    The average cost of a wedding is a good point of comparison against other major financial goals in a new marriage.
    Considering that the average price of a new home in America is now $200,000, that wedding estimate would cover the majority of a 20 percent down payment ($40,000). Despite getting married to my wife at family home 15 years ago, I still remember the sticker shock for all the wedding costs — a whopping $10,000 for the entire event from tux, dress, flowers, food and honeymoon.
    Here are a few suggestions to plan a wedding that won’t break the bank:


  • Star Trek” fans (Trekkies) all have their favorite alien characters.
    Mine are the Ferengi, shameless greedy little creatures who cackle with delight as they rationalize any effort to make a buck.
    Their “Rules of Acquisition” outline directives for profit. Rule 34 states, “War is good for business.”
    Given that the United States has been involved, with direct or indirect military actions, for 217 years out of its 239-year history, business has been good for America.
    Not particularly good though for the American warriors who fight the battles.
    A friend asked, “Why do we say ‘Happy Memorial Day?’ What are we happy about?”
    Good question. It seems natural to use the word “happy” when you identify the day as something to be cheerful about. Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries. These are happy events.
    There’s nothing to be happy about on Memorial Day. It’s a day set aside to remember and honor those who have died serving in the military.
    But here in America, we thrive on being happy, taking any excuse to have a party, a barbecue, or to rush off to the shopping malls for sales on things we don’t need. What better way to honor fallen warriors than by getting that SpongeBob T-shirt for your kid?

  • Entrepreneurs are naturally passionate about providing a service or product, but many avoid digging into the financial aspects of running a small business — perhaps because they don’t have simple tools that can help them understand their finances.
    This avoidance can cost a business dearly, because financial success requires that the owner understand the target customer, how to price a product or service and how to keep track of cash flowing in and out of the business.
    It all begins with understanding who — if anyone — wants the product or service the business is selling.
    “Businesses can’t take a shotgun approach to marketing,” said Kim Blueher, vice president of lending at WESST — a nonprofit lender and small-business development and training organization with six offices in New Mexico. A marketing strategy needs to be based on “a realistic picture of how many people want their product.”
    At WESST, Kim and Amy Lahti teach business clients how to identify that customer. They also introduce clients to simple spreadsheets that help them compute how many products or services the business needs to sell to cover expenses and make a profit.

  • Gov. Susana Martinez is apparently OK with tripling the state’s medical marijuana harvest, but adamantly opposed to growing hemp.
    Why?
    The variety of cannabis commonly known as “industrial hemp” is cousin to marijuana, but without the psychoactive components. You could burn a bushel in your bong without inducing anything more than a dull headache.
    Although lacking medicinal value or recreational appeal, hemp is an enormously useful plant. The seeds are a high-protein food source, and the oil can be used in cooking as well as in paint, wax and numerous other applications. The fiber from the stalks is similar to linen and is used in clothing, insulation, carpeting, paper and rope.
    Hemp could be “a hugely beneficial cash crop” for New Mexico farmers, according to Stuart Rose, founder of the Bioscience Center, a business incubator in Albuquerque.
    It requires much less water than cotton and literally grows like a weed, without expensive pesticides and fertilizer.
    “You can grow twice the value of alfalfa for half the water,” Rose said.

  • The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to issue its decision in King v. Burwell in June.
    The ruling could have tremendous consequences for the healthcare law commonly known as Obamacare — and more importantly, it could have a huge impact right here in New Mexico.
    King v. Burwell was argued before the high court in March 2015. The case hinges on an interpretation of the Obamacare law.
    The plaintiffs argued that the text authorizes premium subsidies for people in “exchanges established by [a] State.”
    A separate section describes the creation of a federal exchange by the Secretary of Health and Human Services for states that do not create their own exchanges.
    An IRS rule issued in 2012 allowed premium subsidies to be paid through exchanges established by the secretary. The plaintiffs argue these subsidies are illegal, since there is no congressional authorization for the spending.
    If the justices concur, states that have not created exchanges under the law could see some dramatic changes.
    However, New Mexico has a “hybrid” exchange.

  • “N.M. College Enrollment Decline Leads Nation.”
    Thus, did one local headline chronicle the news last week of the precipitous drop in the number of students entering New Mexico’s universities this academic year compared to just last year.
    The numbers are stark: Almost 11,000 fewer students enrolled at New Mexico’s institutions of higher education for the fall semester of 2014 than in the fall of 2013.
    Think upon it. We’re talking here about a decline of 8.3 percent in only 12 months. The rate of decline in college enrollment, nationally, was 1.9 percent, so to report that New Mexico‘s decline “leads” the nation is to understate the case dramatically.  
    It also dramatically underscores the tenacity with which the Great Recession of 2008 continues to hold New Mexico in its grips. Nor does it help that New Mexicans have chosen a cadre of state and local political leaders demonstrably ill-suited to turn things around.
    Of course, New Mexico “leads” the nation in declining college enrollments. Under the circumstances how could it be otherwise?
    It is also one of the few states that “leads” the nation in a documented loss of population. More people have actually moved away from New Mexico than to New Mexico since the Great Recession of 2008.

  • Is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) a bad trade agreement for the U.S.? That remains to be seen.
    However, Americans have little reason to trust their government regarding trade.
    The U.S. was the principal architect of the global economy and current trade deals, yet, it has failed to acknowledge the shortcomings of the agreements or try to correct them.
    The global economy was conceived during WWII to expedite post-war economic recovery, prevent future wars of territorial acquisition, provide employment in the developed nations and improve the lives of people throughout the world.  
    Unfortunately, the inherent difficulties of international trade, such as equitable currency exchange, currency manipulation, trade imbalances, the outsourcing of production and the creation of national and international winners and losers, remain problematic.
    Regardless of intentions, U.S. trade agreements have adversely affected U.S. workers, small manufacturers, national wealth, and the long-term viability of the United States (the losers).
    On the other hand, they have richly rewarded international corporations, Wall Street, large investors and foreign nations whose economies are based on exports or currency manipulation (the winners).

  • The two faces of WIPP: We get $73 million for our trouble related to leaking waste AND the government now contemplates storing surplus weapons plutonium in WIPP.
    Whatever its problems, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, will figure into national policy because hazardous waste storage is a necessity, and we have few options. Risk and reward are embedded in the debate.
    Holtec International wants to build an interim facility near Carlsbad to store spent nuclear fuel.
    So let’s look at a 1996 study by Stanford Law School student Noah Sachs, who looked objectively at questions of ethics and environmental justice related to a similar New Mexico project.
    In the early 1990s, the federal government offered grants to tribes and rural communities to study the possibility of storing nuclear waste. The Mescalero Apache Tribe responded quickly and moved steadily through the process, becoming the first to seriously pursue a project.
    The facility would be a large, guarded structure holding spent nuclear fuel in steel, reinforced concrete casks on a square-mile site of the tribe’s choosing. It would contain more than half of U.S. spent fuel for 40 years. And because we didn’t have any long-term facilities, the waste would probably stay there.

  • Much has been made of America’s crumbling infrastructure. Rusting bridges and crumbling highways are only a part of our neglect.
    A much bigger part, and one that many of us don’t see is the neglect of inner-city communities, distressed schools and long forgotten playgrounds.
    The recent protests in Baltimore, much like Albuquerque’s protests last year, may have been triggered by unjust police violence, but are much more deeply rooted in decades of neglecting our families and communities, especially communities of color.
    When Governor Susana Martinez was asked recently about the possibility of a special session to approve the financing of infrastructure projects, she said, “if it is, it’s got to benefit the private sector.” She made no mention of the needs of our families or communities, only the “private sector.” That was the reason that the bill didn’t pass in the first place!
    Lawmakers invested their capital outlay for projects like senior centers, tribal needs and community colleges, much of what she stripped from the bill.
    The tax committees met nearly every day of the legislative session and every day they heard bills that would divert even more of our public tax dollars to the “private sector.”

  • The Comprehensive Plan was completed in 1987. By now, even the updates are outdated.
    An effort to rewrite the whole plan in the early 2000s produced only a Vision Statement and Policy Plan, adopted in 2005, that is now cited by the Community and Economic Development Department (CEDD) as “the Comprehensive Plan.”
    This is 19 pages of aspirational platitudes that are so vague and ambiguous that they are useless to anyone attempting to satisfy the requirements of applications for permits and rezoning, or anyone attempting to defend their neighborhood against one of these applications.
    You’d think at least the county attorney would notice a problem here (not to mention the obsolescence of the Development Code — another story for another day).
    My neighborhood experienced the consequences of this ad hoc plan first-hand last year when University of New Mexico-Los Alamos applied to redevelop the apartments on 9th Street. The CEDD worked with UNM-LA to develop a proposal to the council for joint funding of the project, then it coordinated with UNM-LA’s Denver developer to plan for a non-conforming oversize structure and then it attempted to fast-track a rezoning through the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) using the policy plan as the justification.

  • Odds were always slim that we’d see a special session to resuscitate the $264 million capital outlay bill.
    It’s just too close to 2016 elections, and the lost spending bill is too big an opportunity for political missiles.
    Every county had a stake in the game, and the business community made its wishes clear. The parties and the governor apparently had reached some meeting of the minds on capital outlay. Had they left it at that, we’d have a special session and the desired public spending. But the governor wanted a package of tax breaks.
    There are three rules about special sessions: Have an agreement ahead of time, keep it simple, and keep it short.
    Everyone wants capital outlay. The tax breaks are another matter.
    They passed the House but probably would have run into resistance in the Senate. In the last two sessions, I’ve seen a rising bipartisan awareness that continuing to scatter tax breaks like seeds in the wind is not necessarily in the state’s best interest.
    We don’t even know if the last batch of tax breaks worked.
    Even so, I don’t think the governor ever intended to call a special session. The Democrats divined that and both played the hands they held. You could see it in the scripted statements and equally scripted responses.

  • About 60 demonstrators were waving signs in front of PNM headquarters the morning of the company’s 2015 Annual Meeting.
    Inside, behind a security cordon of nervous rent-a-cops, CEO Pat Collawn delivered the obligatory bland speech to a handful of local stockholders, while the bullhorn-led protestors four floors below chanted, “No nukes, no coal! Solar is the way to go!” and “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho! Dirty coal has to GO!”
    A disclaimer to reveal my bias: I’m thrice-related to PNM.
    First, I’m a shareholder. If that conjures up visions of Rich Uncle Pennybags off the Monopoly box, think again. PNM is almost entirely owned by conservative mutual funds that pool the savings of millions of small investors.
    If your nest egg is tucked away with Fidelity or Vanguard, you may be a PNM owner, too.
    Second, I used to work there.
    Looking back over my long and checkered career, I can honestly say it was the best job I ever had. The company demanded a full day’s work for a day’s pay, but the money was good, at least by New Mexico standards, helping me put two kids through college.
    Finally, I’m a PNM customer. The monthly bill is higher than I’d like, and it’s going to be even stiffer if the company’s current request for a 12 percent rate hike is approved.

  • When somebody’s dog gets caught in a leg-hold trap meant for a wild animal, the incident gets publicity.
    Meanwhile, out of sight and unreported, wild animals are getting caught in those traps.  
    Suddenly, in response to an alleged need that has not been demonstrated, New Mexico has a proposal to allow trapping of mountain lions, coming from our Game Commission.
    If this proposal is approved, Gov. Susana Martinez may someday find herself explaining on national TV why her state not only allows, but has increased the scope of animal trapping.
    One of New Mexico’s persistent problems is that we still have not succeeded in updating our public relations image.
    Much of the industrialized world still thinks New Mexico is a third-world backwater. A great way to perpetuate that negative stereotype is to get a worldwide reputation for being cruel to animals.
    Last year the state earned a national black eye from coyote-hunting contests. It may be necessary for ranchers to shoot coyotes to keep them away from livestock, but there is something gruesome about making that into a game with prizes. A move to ban the contests did not pass in this year’s legislative session.

  • Iran acts like a Persian Gulf hegemon because it can. Tehran’s military, while capable of making a less-than-concerted attack costly, would be overmatched by the armed forces of the United States and those of the Persian Gulf states and crumble quickly along with its regime
    The window of opportunity is closing with Russia’s announced intention to deploy S-300 anti-aircraft, anti-ballistic missiles. Furthermore, if Tehran bamboozles Washington into a nuclear arms deal involving the lifting of economic sanctions look for Russia, China and some European defense companies to provide a cornucopia of modern arms. Nevertheless, it takes time to develop a defense system capable of thwarting U.S. “hyper-war” capabilities.

  • A young adult’s first months out of college are about personal freedom and finding one’s path as an adult. Building solid money habits is a big part of that.
    Most grads are managing money alone for the first time — finding work, places to live and if they’re in the majority, figuring out how to pay off college loans. For many, these are daunting challenges. If you are a young adult — or know one — here are some of the best routines to adopt from the start:
    Budgeting is the first important step in financial planning because it is difficult to make effective financial decisions without knowing where every dollar is actually going. It’s a three-part exercise — tracking spending, analyzing where that money has gone and finding ways to direct that spending more effectively toward saving, investing and extinguishing debt.
    Even if a new grad is looking for work or waiting to find a job, budgeting is a lifetime process that should start immediately.
    A graduate’s first savings goal should be an emergency fund to cover everyday expenses such as the loss of a job or a major repair. The ultimate purpose of an emergency fund is to avoid additional debt or draining savings or investments. Emergency funds should cover at least four to seven months of living expenses.