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Opinion

  • White poles frame the lanes of N.M. 279 at its intersection with N.M. 124 just north of Laguna and form a cluster.
    For the first-time observer, the white hilltop cluster is odd: “What in the world is that?” Turn north on 279 and the purpose — if not the rationale — becomes evident. The poles channel traffic, such as it is, through the intersection.
    Our years long, nine-figure difference between what ought to be done maintaining and building highways and the money available, as defined by the state Department of Transportation, must be a matter of policy. It has continued so long that it must be on purpose.
    Just kidding. I hope.
    Within the policy, some things stand out — the ghostly cluster, for example.
    One doesn’t just build a road. My sample of the materials from a Transportation Commission meeting is a five-eighths-inch thick book.
    Examples of work DOT likes appear in the department’s annual report. While the project descriptions are all happy news, some interesting hints slide in. The 2013 report’s description of rebuilding the I-10/I-25 interchange south of Las Cruces mentions reconstruction of two bridges “to meet current design standards.”

  • Great community
    outcome for Earth Day

    On behalf of the Pajarito Environmental Education Center and as chairperson for the Earth Day Festival at the new Nature Center, I would like to thank the committee, the many volunteers, the staff, the community and the weather for making our Earth Day Festival a wonderful celebration. Fit in amongst the moving, settling and opening of the Los Alamos Nature Center was planning for the celebration of our planet Earth.
    The committee included volunteers and staff of PEEC, the Los Alamos Co-Op Market, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Bradbury Science Museum, and University of New Mexico-Los Alamos. Although we have sponsored an Earth Day Festival for 15 years, this was a new place, which presented new challenges. Each contributor’s ideas and dedication were greatly appreciated.
    Our sponsors included Los Alamos National Bank, LANL, Atomic City Transit, UNM-LA, the Los Alamos Monitor, the Los Alamos County Environmental Sciences and Los Alamos Mainstreet. We could not have done it without their support.
    We would especially like to thank Kristin Henderson, chairperson of the County Council, who took time to be our Master of Ceremonies.

  • Back in early April, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez found himself in Roswell speaking to the Chaves County Republican Party’s annual dinner.
    It’s the sort of thing lieutenant governors do, part of the unofficial job description that goes with the position: If the governor can’t or doesn’t wish to make a speech before a group of local party leaders, send the lieutenant governor.
    Normally news coverage of such appearances goes largely unreported except, perhaps, by the local newspaper. In this case, however, after the lieutenant governor made it known to Chaves County’s top Republicans that “pressure is growing for a special session of the Legislature,” the story made a good deal of news.
    Naturally the Roswell Daily Record picked it up, but so did numerous other New Mexico papers and statewide TV newscasts. It even showed up in the conservative Washington Times back in the nation’s capital.
    Which makes a certain amount sense, inasmuch as only a few days earlier Gov. Susanna Martinez made it abundantly clear that she wasn’t keen on a special session. Mixed signals coming out of any governor’s administration make headlines.

  • “If your children are no better than you are, you have fathered them in vain, indeed you have lived in vain,” according to Alexander Solzhenitsyn in “Cancer Ward.”
    Actually, I am not satisfied merely if my children are better than I am, for I have set that bar rather low. At the very least, my goal is that my children will be above average, better than their peers.
    I am not speaking of academic ability. We are drowning in evidence of academic strengths and weaknesses, based on required standardized testing.
    Instead, I am thinking of positive youth development, sometimes referred to as character development.
    Do people view me as a man of integrity? Do people view my children as people of integrity? Are they contributing members of society, in their families, at the workplace, and in their churches?
    Psychology is not as accurate when it comes to measuring positive youth development. It is a more subjective domain — the evidence is easier to misinterpret and exaggerate.
    A large amount of research in psychology is based on survey data, in which people describe themselves.

  • Credit scoring has evolved over the last three decades and this fall, FICO made one more important change.
    Borrowers who have struggled with medical debt and those with a limited credit history might see better FICO numbers in the future. Even if these situations don’t apply to you, understanding how credit scoring is changing can help you better manage your credit over time.
    FICO Score 9, rolled out last fall, is described as a more “nuanced” version of the original FICO Score that the leading credit scoring company introduced in 1989.
    It is offered by three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. It now bypasses collection agency accounts and weighs medical debt differently than non-medical debt on a person’s credit record.
    Borrowers with a median score of 711 whose only negative credit data comes from medical collections will see their credit score go up 25 points under the new system.
    As for consumers with limited credit histories — what the industry calls “thin files” — FICO says the new system will better determine the ability of someone in that situation to repay a debt.

  • Yesterday Helen Cake and Richard Sokoloff reminded me that the new Nature Center (Pajarito Environmental Education — PEEC) was opening at 2 p.m. I got there late due to working on my latest book reprint order, but what a big crowd and what a beautiful nature experience with gorgeous view over the canyon, and best of all, the planetarium.
    Many years ago in Michigan, after finding the H.A. Rey book, “The Stars,” then standing on frozen McKane Lake with my mom, (Grandma Ashley), listening to the rumbling of the ice under pure black skies, (with quick runs inside to get warm), we found the Lion, the Big Do, and even the Little Dog, plus the Big Hunter Orion with his triple star belt. I have been hooked on star gazing ever since!
    I co-sponsored the Los Alamos High School Astronomy Club for many years and also did UNM-LA’s astronomy outdoor lab for beginning Astronomy. I took LAHS astronomy kids to planetariums and observatories in Chicago, Denver, Hutchinson, Kansas, Flagstaff, Arizona, Kitt Peak, Arizona, Los Angeles, San Diego and The Very Large Array near Socorro in New Mexico. The out-of-state trips were by Amtrak, and we got more members for the California trip by including Disneyland.

  • 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.”