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Opinion

  • Last year, my cousin purchased a Jack Russell Terrier.
    Well, that’s what he thought he was buying.
    It turned out that it was a genetically modified crossbreed between a Miniature Schnauzer, an African wildebeest and a slightly overripe acorn squash.
    He can’t help but love the creature, and on the positive side the cute little vegetable does keep the family supplied in fresh milk, but the carpet cleaning bills are killing him.
    Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are a hot topic of debate and the arguments for and against them span from the inane to the insane. Technically speaking, one could claim that any intervention on man’s part to produce “genetic forks” in the pathways of evolution constitutes a GMO.
    Now, GMOs aren’t necessarily bad. Most vegetables we enjoy wouldn’t exist in the form we know them if not for selective breeding. Carrots would look more like horseradish roots, corn like a fat grass, potatoes like diseased mummified toads, and Chihuahuas would look like ... well, anything other than a Chihuahua.
    OK, I hear you arguing that Chihuahuas aren’t vegetables. Clearly, you’ve never owned one!

  • President Barack Obama has routinely promised greater transparency within the federal government. Now, Congress is making strides towards achieving this critical goal.
    The House of Representatives and Senate are currently considering nearly identical bills to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which provides the general public, including journalists, with access to federal government records.
    This legislation has received broad support across media organizations, including the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a coalition of which the Newspaper Association of America is a member. And here’s why:
    • Openness instead of secrecy would be the “default” key within the government.  
    The legislation would require agencies to release documents under a “presumption of openness,” reaffirming the principle that information should never be kept confidential to protect government interests at the expense of the public.
    Agencies would need to prove specific harm that could result from disclosures before withholding documents. While this policy has been in place since 2009, the legislation would ensure future administrations honor this objective for openness.
    • The process of obtaining FOIA records would be much more efficient.

  • Lawmakers considered some substantive water bills this year.
    As usual, successes were small.
    One of the most watched bills was House Bill 38, the Forest and Watershed Restoration Act.
    Lawmakers and interest groups — agricultural, environmental, and civic — have said the state’s current efforts to remediate wildfire devastation to forests and watersheds are inadequate, considering the extent of damage and potential for even more harm to critical water sources.
    The bill created an advisory board, attached to the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, and a fund. The board could adopt guidelines and best-management practices for projects, coordinate activities with various agencies and nonprofits and evaluate and prioritize projects for funding.
    The department would have the last word.
    The state Department of Agriculture said the bill’s $2.25 million in funding would step up the pace and reach of restoration work, and the State Land Office said some of the projects would make state trust lands more productive and reduce fire damage.
    The bill had bipartisan sponsorship (Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, and Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe), passed both chambers unanimously, and miraculously found funding. But EMNRD said HB 38 would duplicate work done by its forestry division.

  • For the second year in a row, the Small Business Administration is sponsoring a competition to award $50,000 each to 50 business accelerators, incubators, shared tinker spaces and co-working startup communities.
    This time around, Javier Saade, associate administrator for the SBA’s Office of Investment and Innovation, hopes to see more applicants from New Mexico. Only one accelerator in the state competed in 2014 — out of 830 applicants.
    Given that one objective of the program, according to the SBA, is to “fill geographic gaps in the accelerator and entrepreneurial ecosystem space,” New Mexico is just the kind of place the agency would like to spend money from its growth accelerator fund.
    “It is well known that the most successful accelerators to date were founded on the coasts,” according to the SBA. The National Venture Capital Association concurs, reporting that startups in San Francisco, San Jose, New York, Boston and Los Angeles have consistently received the lion’s share of venture capital funding over the past five years.
    The SBA awards are designed to stimulate more capital investment in parts of the country that lack conventional sources of capital and vibrant entrepreneurial networks.
    What they’re looking for

  • To remember the first Earth Day in Los Alamos County, one must give credit where it is due — the Los Alamos High School Students to Save Our Environment.
    A group of very concerned students answered the call of a teacher and formed a group to determine how to plan for a first Earth Day. They were linking up with the efforts of the newly formed Citizens for Clean Air and Water, a group of citizens and lab scientists who had begun addressing the deadly air pollution from the Four Corners power plants.
    The idea for the First Earth Day arose nationally in the midst of the Vietnam War as the nation’s awareness began to focus on issues, such as the Cuyahoga River in Ohio catching fire from oil slicks, oil spills off the California coast killing sea life and so many other issues raising public consciousness. Gaylord Nelson, Democratic Senator from Wisconsin and Pete McCloskey, a conservative Republic Congressman, joined hands to bring about the first national Earth Day. As the nation began to respond, so did the students.
    LAHS students approached the administrators who readily gave permission to celebrate the first Earth Day. The students formed “teams” on particular topics to research and prepare talks.

  • I’m a natural-fiber kind of person. Whenever I can, I prefer to purchase and wear clothing that is 100 percent cotton.  
    I have learned recently about the pollution involved in the growing of my favorite fiber.
    Conventional cotton is filthy. It uses more herbicides and pesticides per acre than most other crops.
    For that reason I was doubly disappointed when Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the industrial hemp bill.
    Hemp has been demonized in the United States because it is biologically very close to marijuana, but it won’t get anyone high. It’s a useful and amazingly versatile plant. Until it was banned because of its similarity to marijuana, hemp was used all over the world for centuries for an astonishing variety of purposes — food, clothing, paper, building material and, famously, rope.
    Sources agree growing conventional cotton uses as much as 50 percent of all the pesticides consumed in the nation. Hemp grows like a weed. It should be of special interest to New Mexico because it doesn’t need much water.
    Wouldn’t it be useful if New Mexico researchers could help New Mexico farmers know when to use hemp as an alternative crop?
    A massive amount of information is widely available extolling the benefits of hemp and refuting the old bugaboos about its similarity to pot.

  • I’m a natural-fiber kind of person. Whenever I can, I prefer to purchase and wear clothing that is 100 percent cotton.  
    I have learned recently about the pollution involved in the growing of my favorite fiber.
    Conventional cotton is filthy. It uses more herbicides and pesticides per acre than most other crops.
    For that reason I was doubly disappointed when Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed the industrial hemp bill.
    Hemp has been demonized in the United States because it is biologically very close to marijuana, but it won’t get anyone high. It’s a useful and amazingly versatile plant. Until it was banned because of its similarity to marijuana, hemp was used all over the world for centuries for an astonishing variety of purposes — food, clothing, paper, building material and, famously, rope.
    Sources agree growing conventional cotton uses as much as 50 percent of all the pesticides consumed in the nation. Hemp grows like a weed. It should be of special interest to New Mexico because it doesn’t need much water.
    Wouldn’t it be useful if New Mexico researchers could help New Mexico farmers know when to use hemp as an alternative crop?
    A massive amount of information is widely available extolling the benefits of hemp and refuting the old bugaboos about its similarity to pot.

  • The Feb. 15 Washington Post reported that an outgoing superintendent of public schools in Montgomery County, Maryland, Joshua P. Starr, is lamenting the short tenure of school superintendents.
    Starr took the job of school superintendent in 2011 and is now leaving because he failed to garner the support of the local school board.
    Unfortunately, all too many believers in public schools just don’t get it: it doesn’t matter whom they get to be superintendent and it doesn’t matter what reforms they adopt. The problem with public schooling is public schooling. It is an inherently defective system.
    That means it cannot be fixed and it cannot be reformed. In fact, oftentimes when a system is inherently defective, reforms only make the situation worse.
    Public schooling is inherently defective because it is a socialist system, which itself is an inherently defective paradigm. It always produces a shoddy product no matter who is in charge of the system and no matter what reforms are brought to the system.
    The only solution to socialism is to dismantle it, which means the free market, which is the only system that works. It produces the best possible product.

  • The impending departure of the staff chief at the Association of Commerce and Industry offers opportunity to ACI and the state.
    New blood and new people are needed. The older baby boomers need to step aside.
    But for whom? That is the troubling question. After all, how are we going to create the enormous changes we need in our state without new ideas and probably very different ideas?
    If the task is going to fall to an organization, the Association of Commerce and Industry, by definition of its name if nothing else, is the statewide organization. The name is not linked to geography, a business segment or any people demographics.
    Any claims otherwise notwithstanding, the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce is only Albuquerque and not all of Albuquerque. The Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce has carved a role. NAIOP takes a broad view, but is an organization of commercial real estate developers.
    ACI offers a unique capability of creating a statewide dialogue about the New Mexico situation and dilemma.
    OK, how? A number of people close to ACI provided background for this column. None are executive committee members.
    ACI is “member driven,” it says.
    Not exactly. In professional organizations, the person with the hands on the wheel, the person really driving, is the staff director.

  • In my previous column, I gave a brief overview of the budget process. Today, I will focus on a few highlights in the Fiscal Year (FY) 16 budget proposal to be presented by staff.
    As I mentioned in the last column, this budget proposal should ideally reflect the initial council budget guidance discussed early in the budget process, as well as staff input regarding their operational needs.
    It’s no surprise to anyone living in Los Alamos that spending has been down at Los Alamos National Laboratory — our biggest employer — for several years. LANL drives most of our revenue, contributing directly and indirectly to 97 percent of the local economy.
    While we are working hard on new economic development initiatives, such as the new tourism attraction opportunity that will be created by the opening of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, the reality of our present-day situation is that LANL-reduced spending impacts our local economy.
    Over the past five fiscal years, our gross receipts tax (GRT) collections have fallen by 29 percent, with the greatest impact to funds that rely on that revenue source — primarily the General Fund, the fund that runs most of the usual governmental functions.

  • On April 20, the county council will begin their dialogue and discussions about the proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 16 budget.
    My fellow councilor Susan O’ Leary is spearheading a discussion on additional ways to communicate with the public. With this theme in mind, I would like to use this first column to “set the stage” for these upcoming budget hearings by giving our citizens some background about the budget process and responsibilities.
    It takes several months to develop and adopt a budget. The process begins late winter. The council holds discussions in their regular sessions with the county manager to talk about strategic goals, short term and long-term financial policies, expected or emerging trends on a state or national level that may impact the county, along with forecasted revenues and expenses.
    The result of those discussions is adopted by council as a “budget guidance” document.
    Using that guideline, the county departments begin working on their new FY budgets. They concentrate on finding ways to meet the county’s goals, while providing operating funds and services for existing items.

  • “The Great Gatsby.” “To Kill a Mockingbird.” “Deliverance.” “Moby Dick.” “Lord of the Flies.”
    Every high school English class student knows these titles. The list of classic novels is long and each book conjures up images of intense classroom discussions on the need for conformance and the value of individuality, the responsibilities and dangers of social judgment, the merits of courage and the price of self-sacrifice.
    The characters in these novels put life itself on trial and allow us to levy verdict on what does and what does not define our world.
    Yes, very poetic.
    One might even think I’ve read those stories. Well, if seeing the movies counts, then sure, I’ve read them.
    Myself, I was a comic book reader. I marveled (no pun intended) at the heroics of my favorite red-white-and-blue patriot, Captain America.
    I played ‘detective’ (pun intended) while reading Batman’s investigation of some super-villain’s latest attempt to thwart justice.
    I found myself wondering if I put on a pair of glasses, would no one recognize me?  Seriously, Lois Lane had to be the dumbest person on the Planet (yeah, pun definitely intended).

  • Retirement planning can face derailment after a divorce.
    Married, two-income couples have the advantage of splitting living expenses and pooling all their investment assets, including retirement accounts. Once the marriage is over, costs for separate households may limit the ability of ex-spouses to keep their retirement on track.
    After a divorce, individuals generally walk away with a share of joint retirement assets based on how they negotiate that split. However, returning to singlehood means the end of shared expenses with housing, food, transportation and related expenses now being paid out of one wallet, not two.
    This can mean considerably less money to direct toward retirement and other savings and investments.
    To assure a comfortable retirement, many experts advise individuals to save and invest over time so they can live annually on at least 70 percent of their pre-retirement income. Divorcing couples should retain separate qualified financial experts to assure an equitable split of assets and a continuing plan to build a solid retirement in single life.
    Here are a few steps to reset one’s retirement goals after divorce.

  • One thing everyone agrees on is that this was a more difficult, more demanding session than usual.
    Still, there are insights, revelations and lighter moments. Here’s my third annual Quotes of the Session.
    Richard Anklam, executive director, New Mexico Tax Research Institute: “It’s important to remember the process itself is by design slow and tedious. The legislative process is the sand in the wheels of progress — and that’s not always a bad thing. For every good idea there are lots of not-so-good ones, and political expediency often yields the worst legislation. Even good policy requires extensive vetting to be well crafted and properly implemented. So, thank your elected officials for their hard work and a job well done.”
    Rep. Randal Crowder, R-Clovis: “Fifteen days from now I will leave this chair and go sit in another chair as city commissioner, and the fire chief will be sitting in front of me. In the older parts of Clovis, we have fire hydrants that wouldn’t put out enough water to make a pot of coffee.”
    Sen. George Muñoz, on the budget: “We’re going to turn on the sprinkler and things will get kind of green, but nothing will grow.”

  • The Silver City economy was thriving in 1996 when Christina Montoya bought her family’s bus company from her parents and continued its contract with the Cobre Consolidated School District to transport students.
    In 2001, Montoya approached The Loan Fund for money to finance the replacement of two of Montoya Transportation’s older buses.
    When two Silver City bus companies announced they were looking for buyers, Montoya secured a loan with local AmBank to buy both fleets and assume their contracts with Silver City schools.
    But just as Montoya’s business was expanding, the local economy contracted. Starting in 2002, hundreds of mine workers left town after massive layoffs at the Chino copper mine — the area’s largest employer.
    School enrollment shrank, leaving Montoya with lots of buses but fewer young passengers.
    “It was a struggle to make it every month,” Montoya recalled of those years when she was supporting six children on a shrinking paycheck. “There were times I had nothing left over.”
    Persistence and
    partnerships

  • Personal transportation vehicles powered by fossil fuels — cars, SUVs and pickups, that is — will be around for a long, long time.
    So will commercial trucks, which, with rail, are vital links in moving goods around the country.
    Roads will be around, too. Roads were crucial well before the combustion engine appeared. Check your Roman history. All this means we’re stuck with building and maintaining roads.
    And paying for this work.
    Governments pay for nearly all roads — federal, state and local. Yet, for years the state has been well short of having the road money it claims it needs.
    The recitation of this banal obviousness comes because the state’s political leadership has ignored the situation, a derogation of duty. Here is a summary of our sources of money.
    About $840 million will come into the Department of Transportation during fiscal 2016, the budget year starting July 1, according to “Legislating for Results: Appropriation Recommendation,” published by the Legislative Finance Committee in January. DOT requested $837.7 million; the LFC recommended $842.7 million.
    The difference, though large from the perspective of nearly all individuals, is small on the scale of things.

  • There’s something exotic about painting with oils. Many artists will say that no other medium compares to working with the same medium as the great masters of old. Painting in oils is like painting with butter. Oil paint is thick and can be spread, pushed, troweled, brushed and scraped. Because it dries slowly paintings can evolve, with colors mixed on the canvas in order to create an effect.
    Artist Trevor Lucero wants to help students share in the mysteries of getting the paint to reflect their vision, to capture reflected light so realistically it delights the viewer. Although he developed this class with intermediate students in mind, he welcomes raw beginners, as well as more accomplished oil painters. Lucero say, “The amazing light of our New Mexico landscapes gives artists a great excuse to mash colors together.”
    In his class “Traditional Genres in Oil Painting” Lucero will teach how to build a painting in the traditional way: constructing an underpainting and working toward a completed image using a succession of glazes to achieve luminosity. Students will work on portraits, still lifes, or landscapes using photographs. The class meets from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Thursdays April 16-30 at the Fuller Lodge Art Center.

  • The notion of “paying it forward” is a popular one, and while we may not think about our income taxes as a form of paying it forward, that’s exactly what we’re doing.
    The public works that we all depend upon today — roads and highways, schools and parks, telecommunications and electrical grids, even courts and prisons — were made possible in part by taxes paid by past generations. And the taxes we pay today won’t just go toward keeping these systems and infrastructure in good repair, they will also be needed to plan for our future and address unexpected issues and opportunities.
    This kind of long-term vision is the foundation upon which the United States was built.
    Our public works and infrastructure don’t just improve our quality of life, they also make our modern economy possible. Savvy American corporations understand that they depend on this infrastructure and that they bear responsibility for helping to pay for it.
    As the new report “Burning Our Bridges” (Center for Effective Government) shows, much of our nation’s infrastructure needs could be covered simply by collecting income tax on the profits that several corporations have retained overseas.

  • The “news” is too much with us.
    True, print news venues have troubles galore, have had for a long time now.
    But anything electronic — television, blogospheric, streaming, screening, online, live, recorded, you name it — positively fibrillates as it belches forth endless servings of routinely unedited rumor, claims, charges/counter-charges, pure hokum and mindless opinion masquerading as “news.”
    Last week, when a guy named Tom Cotton opined to the effect that it would be far easier simply to bomb Iran than to continue negotiations designed to forestall that country’s efforts to develop its own nuclear weapons, I became halfway persuaded that too many loonies are making too many headlines today.
    It was Cotton, a brand new Republican U.S. senator from Arkansas, who whipped out that infamous letter (co-signed by 47 other Senate Republicans) to Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei basically warning him that the negotiations were doomed inasmuch as the GOP controls both houses of Congress.
    Cotton had been in the Senate only a matter of weeks, but the media — particularly online — snapped it all up: Cotton, his letter, his cohorts, their bomb, the whole thing. They couldn’t get enough of it.

  • For those who enjoy the great outdoors, camping during the springtime can be a perfect weekend getaway. However, if you don’t want to leave your four-legged friends behind while setting out on your adventure, try bringing them along.
    “Many campgrounds allow pets, with certain rules and regulations,” said Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
    Often, the rules regarding pets can be seen posted on their website, and if not, questions can be easily answered over the phone. However, it is not advised that you show up with your pet without prior research and consent.
    “Most rules will include things such as having your pet on a leash, making sure they are supervised at all times, and requiring proof of vaccinations,” Stickney said. “Even if they don’t require health records or vaccination certificates, it’s a good idea to bring them along just in case.”