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Opinion

  • Although Harold Morgan’s “Fixing Roads Is Better Than Building Bicycling Underpass” in last week’s Los Alamos Monitor seems more political agit-prop than analysis (referring to cyclists as a cult, and to the funding of bike facilities as the spending orgies of liberal Democrats), it’s worth, in its wake, reviewing a few things about bicycle infrastructure.
    Morgan overlooks that transportation is about moving people to where they need to go. To create an efficient system, the tool should fit the need.
    For short distances, bicycles work well as people movers. By contrast, short distance driving is not particular good for the car, the human, or the built environment. Such driving is often referred to as “severe use” as it doesn’t give the vehicle’s lubricating fluids time to heat up and drive out volatiles. For the human, sedentary lifestyles lead to a host of health problems.

  • By all accounts, Governor Susana Martinez blew a gasket when the recent 60-day legislative session adjourned.
    It’s a Roundhouse tradition at the end of any session for three or four deputized lawmakers to call upon the sitting governor for the purpose of informing him/her that the clock has run out and the Legislature adjourned.
    As custom has it, civilities and handshakes routinely prevail on such occasions, although after a particularly grueling session a bit of chiding and good natured finger-wagging have been known to cap things off.
    This year, however, when the legislative delegation reached the gubernatorial offices atop the 4th Floor of the Roundhouse to pay their respects, they reportedly found Martinez in a fit of rage, hurling accusations of obstructionism and a failure to compromise at Democratic lawmakers hither and yon.
    According to one senator in the delegation, Albuquerque Democrat Gerald Ortiz y Pino, “It really had the feeling of a dictator who had been thwarted.”
    Viewed from afar, it has the feeling of a bad comedy featuring the proverbial pot looking for a kettle to call black.
    To get some perspective on this bizarre contretemps, we should remember that this was Martinez’s fifth go-round with the New Mexico Legislature.

  • As an animal lover, you know just how hard it is to pass up that sweet puppy dogface while walking through your local shelter or rescue group. If adoption isn’t possible for you at the moment, fostering can be an amazing opportunity to provide a homeless pet with a nurturing, temporary home until they are able to find a permanent family.
    “It’s not as hard to find pets to foster as some might think,” said Susan Lobit, a veterinary technician at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and experienced fosterer. “Checking with rescue organizations is a always good place to start.”
    Before deciding to foster a pet, there are important aspects of the job you should be aware of that many people overlook.
    “You need to understand that you are in the middle,” Lobit said. “You help the pet get healthy, rehabilitated with any social or physical problems, and teach them about life in a loving home, but then have to be ready to send them on to a forever home.”
    Lobit explains that while letting go can be difficult to do, knowing that you’ve helped make such a huge difference in an animal’s life makes the separation worthwhile.

  • I hope by now most of you have seen fliers, received registration forms, or heard about the 5th Annual “Run for Her Life” at East Park on April 19.
    There is nothing more therapeutic than going out on a run. Running clears my mind and frees my soul, but it wasn’t always like that for me.
    Not too long ago, even the thought of jogging shorts and running shoes gave me panic attacks with flashbacks of a particular yelling gym teacher, a cramp in my side and frantically searching for my inhaler. I was one of those people who said “If I am running, you better run too because the only reason I would run is if it were away from something.”
    All of that changed four years ago when I moved to Los Alamos with my husband and our three small children. Due to a combination of health issues and poor lifestyle choices, I found myself weighing 240 pounds at 5 feet, 7 inches tall.  I could feel my body dying and I had to do something.
    With a family history of diabetes and cancer, I knew it was only a matter of time for that to be my fate as well.
    But luckily for me we were in Los Alamos and everywhere I looked there were happy, active people living and loving their healthy lifestyle.

  • In a country where people extol the virtues of free enterprise, why is the U.S. government involved in the delivery of mail? After all, it would be difficult to find a better example of a violation of the principles of free enterprise than the U.S. Postal Service.
    The Postal Service is a monopoly. That means that the law expressly prohibits anyone in the private sector from competing against the government in the delivery of first-class mail. If some private firm attempts to do so, the Justice Department immediately secures an injunction from a federal judge enjoining the firm from continuing to compete. If the firm persists, the judge jails the head of the firm until he agrees to cease and desist with his competition.
    Why should a country that prides itself on the virtues of free enterprise have a massive monopoly on mail delivery? Why not free enterprise in mail delivery?
     One option would be to simply repeal the postal monopoly. That would put the Postal Service in the same position as everyone else — as a competitor among many private firms that would be seeking people’s business.

  • In its 239-year history, America has been involved in 222 years of fighting. Only a handful of presidents served during times of no war. Talk about boring administrations, eh?
    It seems that most presidents are remembered for their wars. George Washington and the Revolutionary War. James Madison and the War of 1812. James Polk and the Mexican-American War. George W. Bush and the War on Grammar.
    Some years after the Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman is credited with having said, “War is hell.”  About three generations later, after World War II, Harry S Truman remarked “Peace is hell.”
    I’m not an expert in the dichotomy of hell, but I do know that whereas the road to hell is paved with good intentions, it is not traveled by the best of us. By “us,” I mean those among us who are truly the divine gifts to civilization. Dogs.
    Seriously, is anything more beatific than a dog?  Even Pope Francis agrees with Goldcrest Films that all dogs go to heaven.
    Maybe that’s why ol’ Tecumseh never became president. He didn’t own a dog!  Who wants a president who doesn’t have a companion destined for the pearly gates?

  • Recently, the state auditor’s Government Accountability Office (GAO) released some staggering figures with respect to $4.5 billion of tax dollars sitting in more than 700 state accounts.
    As a result, many New Mexicans are rightly asking serious questions about whether this money is being put to work to meet the many needs of our state.
    The report, which is a compilation of the most recently available audited financial statements of state agencies (fiscal year 2014 in most cases) is the first in a series of reports the auditor’s office will be releasing to shine a light on fund balances building up in government.
    Moving forward, the GAO will also report on schools, municipalities and counties.
    This effort is aimed at enhancing transparency and accountability for the use of public monies that have already been allocated by the Legislature in years past for a particular use. As our state’s only independent office responsible directly to the voters for oversight of public dollars, the state auditor plans to share this information to start a public conversation about the most efficient and effective use of our tax dollars.
    In the years to come, these reports are intended to serve as a resource for the public, the governor and policymakers to make informed decisions.

  • The earnings and opportunities gap that separates high school dropouts and graduates is wide, and it’s widening all the time. Yet 40 percent of New Mexico’s public school students quit their formal education before earning a diploma that can improve their options over a lifetime.
    Those dismal statistics motivated David Sidebottom, a branch manager of Century Bank, to introduce the Choices education program to Santa Fe schools six years ago. Using a curriculum designed by the nonprofit Choices Education Group, Sidebottom and other volunteers visit eighth-graders for two hour-long workshops that illustrate in tangible, age-appropriate terms the consequences of quitting school prematurely.  
    They don’t lecture, but rather engage the young teens in role-playing activities.
    In one, a student receives “play” money that represents his wages for a job that doesn’t require a high school diploma. Another classmate pretending to be a high school graduate gets more cash, while the best payout goes to the student playing the college graduate. After students surrender money for rent, food and other essentials, it’s obvious who has money left over for entertainment and recreation.

  • If your loved one died leaving significant debt behind, would you know what to do?
    It’s a worrisome question for everyone. Young or old, based on particular debt circumstances or geographic location, death with debt can provide significant problems for surviving family members.
    Depending on state law and the specific credit relationships involved, they might be shocked to learn that they could be legally liable for a deceased relative’s outstanding debt — anything from unpaid mortgage balances and medical debt to unpaid credit card balances.
    Spouses who may share any kind of debt jointly, particularly credit cards in dual name, could face greater challenges. It also may spell problems for co-signers of any kind of loan.
    As with all financial planning, the best time to act is before an issue arises. Watching any family deal with extensive debt problems after a spouse or relative passes on illustrates the need for financial transparency while all parties are alive. No matter how difficult a family member’s credit circumstances are, spouses and adult children should face those circumstances while options are available to deal with any problems.

  • How are legislators supposed to decide on the relative competencies of healthcare practitioners?
    In these matters, we are asking lawmakers to make a tough decision on topics outside their expertise. In some cases, it’s not the public that’s asking, but the practitioners of healthcare professions.
    The dental therapist bill came back this year, but did not have enough — pardon the pun — teeth.
    The bill was widely publicized and debated in 2014. It attempted to create a new mid-level category of dental practitioner to provide care in underserved rural communities, based on a model that has been successful in other states. Last year, the bill stopped in a Senate committee. This year, the House version of the bill (HB 349, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan), passed the House and went no further.
    Its companion Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Benny Shendo Jr., D-Jemez Pueblo, stalled in committee.
    Though the details are technical, the argument is simple. Small rural communities need dental services, which the state’s dentists are not providing, but dentists are concerned about competency and training.
    As a dentist told me, you never know when a simple procedure like an extraction is going to be complicated until you do it and see what’s underneath.

  • Just because e-cigarettes have a name in common with tobacco cigarettes, smoking one is not the same as smoking another.  
    Everyone knows this, but could some one break the news to anti-smokers?
    There is now and always has been a major disconnection between anti-smokers and the real world. The passive smoke that made their ranting famous is forgotten when it comes to e-cigarettes.  Early studies on the smoke by both tobacco companies and other researchers show the lack of toxic danger off the charts, but anti-smokers still want them banned. Why?
    It is all about de-normalizing smoking and smokers.  Fine.  Back in 1992, when anti-smoking first started gaining traction on public policy for smoking bans, if they would have said what they say now “We are trying to make smoking an anti-social behavior” they would have been dismissed as the control freaks that they really are.
    Instead they invented a health scare.  The dangers of passive smoke.
    Here are some of the facts:
    1. There has never been medical evidence of a real death ever documented to the stated passive smoke danger.  Tens of thousands every year are claimed.

  • Health care pricing has been likened to shopping blindfolded in a department store, and then months later receiving an indecipherable statement with a framed box at the bottom that says: pay this amount.
    Indeed, here in New Mexico it is easier to find information about the price and quality of a toaster than of a common medical procedure. Because information about price and quality is essential to almost every market transaction, this lack of transparency means that health care is more expensive than it would otherwise be.
    The high cost of health care has devastating consequences. More than 62 percent of personal bankruptcies in the U.S. are attributable to illness and health care debt, up from 8 percent in 1981. Many of these medical debtors are middle-class homeowners, and more than three-quarters of them have health insurance.
    Health care costs are also a heavy burden on state taxpayers, with more than 27 percent of New Mexico’s annual budget going to health care. As health care spending outpaces the growth of the rest of the economy, it threatens to crowd out spending on other priorities like education.

  • In what categories can you count yourself among “the two percent?”
    I’ll waste this sentence so you can really ponder that question.
    Did agriculture spring to mind? If not, you’ll find this statistic surprising: Less than two percent of Americans are directly involved in production agriculture. In other words, 98 percent of us are disconnected from the farm and ranch in terms of time, physical distance, or both.
    Because we are disconnected from farms and ranches, we are dependent upon them for the things that only they can provide: food, fiber and more. If ever there’s a time to be aware of and appreciate that fact, it is now during National Agriculture Week.
    A century ago, most people produced their own food either entirely or in part — and that was because they had to. But leaps in technology opened upon new ways of tending to farm and ranch work, new ways of sharing knowledge about farming and ranching, new ways to market what they produced. What hasn’t changed is the passion that farmers, ranchers, and others in production agriculture bring to their work.

  • Although we may be extra cautious when using household cleaners, automotive products, or pest control products in our homes and gardens, it may come as a surprise that the tasty morsel we just dropped while preparing dinner could endanger our best friend.
    Chocolate can be found lying around the majority of households, especially during the holidays. Depending on the size and type of chocolate, it can be very dangerous to your pet’s health if consumed.
    Make sure that your children are aware of this, as they might think they’re treating Fido by sneaking him a piece of chocolate cake under the dinner table. If your dog does get a hold of some, chocolate is absorbed within about an hour, so you should call your veterinarian immediately.
    “Additionally, grapes and raisins can cause renal failure in dogs if eaten,” said Dr. James Barr, assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
    “The exact cause of this is unknown, and the amount that needs to be consumed in order to be poisonous is unknown as well.”

  • For many teens, there’s nothing more exciting than receiving the first paycheck from a summer job — a sure-fire ticket to fun and freedom. It’s also a great opportunity for parents to encourage proper money management.
    Parents or guardians need to do some necessary paperwork first. Working teens will need his or her own Social Security Number (SSN) to legally apply for a job. They will also need a SSN to open a bank account to deposit their paychecks. Depending on state law, children under 18 may have to open bank accounts in their custodial name with their parents or guardians. It is also important for parents to check in with qualified tax or financial advisors about their teen’s earned income, particularly if it may affect any investments under the child’s name.

  • The recent report of Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s video-recording its members chanting a racist song wasn’t really what I would call news.
    A bunch of college boys sing proudly and loudly using the N-word in celebration of their promise to exclude blacks from membership in their club?
    “There will never be a n----r at SAE.  You can hang him from a tree, but he’ll never sign with me!”
    That’s not news. Making fun of others to exclude them from one’s clique is an old and proud American tradition. And you don’t mess with tradition!
    Like many people, I was disgusted when viewing the video, saddened to see how little has changed in so many years. And like many, I cheered when the chant-leaders were expelled and the fraternity was kicked off campus.
    The SAE Fraternity Manual declares SAE as “The Singing Fraternity,” boasting that it has “many songs that our members should learn.”
    I’m guessing that the members might want to take that out of their manual now.
    The fraternity’s motto is “The True Gentleman,” and its mission statement defines this as “the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety,” adding “one who thinks of the rights and feelings of others.”

  • Legislative sessions often leave the tracks during the final days, but last week was weird even by those standards.
    There was the usual House snipping that the Senate isn’t hearing their bills and more than the usual strain between parties. Rumors of retaliation floated in the stale air. Personal slights or bad behavior provoked demands for apologies.
    Tensions escalated until a University of New Mexico regent’s confirmation exploded in mid-air. When a long-serving senator resigned abruptly a day later, it was almost anti-climactic.
    Through it all, they kept working. The process pauses but doesn’t stop. All that blather in bloggerdom about the “do-nothing legislature” just ain’t so.
    The regent showdown had been brewing for days.
    The governor nominated former District Attorney Matthew Chandler as UNM regent. The Senate Rules Committee approved the nomination, then asked that its record be expunged and hauled Chandler back in.
    If lots of raised eyebrows had a sound, we could have heard a whoosh.
    The three-way face-off among Chandler, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto (all lawyers) shocked even veteran political reporters. Gone were the accustomed niceties observed in the Legislature, replaced by accusations flung back and forth.

  • Responsible parents would never gamble with their child’s college savings account.
    Yet that is precisely what the New Mexico Lottery is proposing to do with the Lottery Scholarship, which serves as the college fund for many New Mexico students from low- and middle-income families.
    The New Mexico Lottery is attempting to pass Senate Bill 355, which would eliminate the requirement that a minimum of 30 percent of lottery revenues be dedicated to the scholarship fund. This requirement was enacted in 2007, based on a proposal by Think New Mexico.
    Prior to that time, there was no minimum percentage that the lottery had to deliver to the scholarship fund. The lottery was required to dedicate at least 50 percent of revenues to prizes, but once that requirement was met, the lottery paid its operating costs and sent whatever was left over to the scholarship fund.
    As a result, scholarships received an average of only 23.76 percent of lottery revenues a year from 1997-2007.
    Fortunately, the legislature enacted the 30 percent requirement, and it has resulted in an additional $9 million a year going to the scholarship fund.

  • Bill Richardson’s decision to donate his accumulated papers to the University of Texas at Austin’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History has raised eyebrows and ruffled feathers in certain quadrants of New Mexico politics.
    Which only stands to reason. Richardson’s political career began in the early 1980s with his election to the U.S House of Representatives from the state’s 3rd Congressional District and culminated, so to speak, in 2002 when he was elected to the first of his two terms as governor of New Mexico.
    Along the way he rose to a position of leadership in Congress, served as President Bill Clinton’s Ambassador to the United Nations and as U.S. Energy Secretary in the Clinton administration.
    Throughout it all, Richardson gained a national reputation and a measure of celebrity as a gifted diplomatic trouble-shooter and negotiator called upon by Democratic and Republican presidents alike to aid in the release of American hostages in such countries as North Korea, Sudan and Iraq.
    Indeed, such was Richardson’s reputation for diplomatic wizardry that just days after taking his first oath of office as governor, a delegation of North Korean emissaries appeared on his doorstep in Santa Fe seeking his counsel on their dealings in Washington.

  • Anyone who operates a business in New Mexico is familiar with the gross receipts tax, or GRT — a tax not on sales but on companies and people who do business here.
    Unlike a sales tax, the GRT is imposed on the seller of property or services. It is not a tax the seller collects from the buyer and delivers to the state; it’s due even if the seller doesn’t charge the buyer.
    The tax is imposed on the gross receipts of businesses or people who sell property, perform services, lease or license property or license a franchise in New Mexico. The same goes for those who sell research and development services performed outside New Mexico when the resulting product is initially used here.
    “Gross receipts” are the total amount of money or other consideration received from the activities covered in the tax law. They include sales of property handled on consignment and commissions received.  
    But they exclude GRT billed to the buyer, as that would constitute taxing a tax. Also excluded are cash discounts; taxes imposed by a Native American tribe or pueblo that is exempt from New Mexico GRT; interest or other types of time-price differentials; or amounts received solely on behalf of another in a disclosed-agency capacity — like an in-state florist who fulfills an order placed with an out-of-state company.