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Opinion

  • This column’s continuing theme is that we don’t know the New Mexico economy.
    That idea got a boost, presumably inadvertent, from Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.
    “Those numbers blew me away,” he said. “That’s more than half a billion dollars that ripples annually though our entire community and economy.”
    Heinrich was speaking recently at the announcement of a $536 million, 836-job economic impact of the Air Force Research Laboratory on Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.
    Perhaps Heinrich’s surprise should not surprise. After all, two of the five topic headers on his website talk about “Building a Prosperous Energy Future” and “Growing New Mexico’s Outdoor Recreation Economy.”
    A third topic was Heinrich’s new spot of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
    Expecting much technology transfer from the Research Laboratory is fantasy. It is in the “warfighting technologies” business, as its website says.
    In 1993, Al Narath, then president of Sandia National Laboratories, explained the continuing overall reality of national laboratory technology transfer. He asked the rhetorical question of all the science here as contrasted to our low economic rankings.

  • If one tried to design a foreign policy to embroil Americans in endless conflicts that would otherwise be quite remote, one could hardly do better than recent presidents of the United States. What could you do that these men have not done to keep Americans mired in distant turmoil?
    Signs of apparent failure abound while the ruling elite feigns ignorance of the connection between U.S. intervention abroad and widening regional wars.
    Despite President Barack Obama’s assurances that America’s combat role in the unceasingly violent Afghanistan is over, we know it is not. ISIS expands under American and allied airstrikes, the best recruiting program the Islamists could want. There was no ISIS in Iraq or Syria before America invaded the former and called open season on the regime in the latter. In response, Obama seeks unlimited war power.

  • As a politician, I can state unequivocally that “I love all children.” They are our future. They are our most vulnerable citizens, needing the greatest attention. History will judge us by how we’ve treated them, and (never forget) they make for great photo ops.
    Every piece of campaign material should have a shot of the candidate reading to a group of smiling, eager-to-learn children gathered around the candidate who should be reading from a recognizable classic of children’s literature. And as George W. Bush learned, it is even better if the book is being held right side up while the candidate pretends to be reading.
    As a parent, however, I’m not as sure about this “love for all kids” thing. Oh, sure, I love all of my children, stepchildren and grandchildren; love them with a steadfast passion that survives every testing of the limits, angry outburst, repulsive habit, or plain bad decision they demonstrate. But sometimes other people’s children aren’t very loveable. Often, people who publicly shout their love for all children don’t have any themselves. Time-tested parents are wary of such effusion. They know better.

  • Legislation that would end the failed policy of social promotion cleared the House floor Wednesday by a bipartisan vote of 38-30.
    Social promotion passes kids onto the next grade even when they cannot read.
    On the House floor, Rep. Monica Youngblood pointed out that Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama both favor ending social promotion.
    “Improving our schools and helping struggling students learn continues to be one of our top priorities,” said Rep. Youngblood, a sponsor of the bill.
    “Today, we took a huge step in the right direction to improve our schools.”
    Among other things, the bill would help teachers identify struggling readers and provide them with the targeted instruction they need to catch up to their peers.
    The bill also emphasizes parental involvement. For example, once a struggling reader is identified, parents are given strategies to help their child improve his or her reading skills.
    Studies show that students are four times more likely to drop out if they are unable to read proficiently by the third grade. One study found that 88 percent of high school dropouts were not proficient readers in the third grade.

  • Stubbornness and squabbling are the biggest roadblocks to progress.
    As state legislators, we must reject Washington, D.C.’s dysfunction and gridlock if we hope to improve the condition of our state.
    The reality is Democrats and Republicans will never agree on every issue. But as elected officials, it is our job to make tough decisions and find middle ground — even if it means both parties don’t get everything they originally wanted.
    As Republicans, we know the value of compromise. After all, we served in the minority for over 60 years. The only way we were able to tackle important issues was by working with our Democratic colleagues.
    Even though we’re now in the majority, we still believe in the value of seeking common ground.
    That’s why last week we amended our right-to-work bill to include a minimum wage increase to $8 per hour.
    We believe that it’s a fair compromise to promote common-sense, job-creating legislation.
    To be clear, not everyone in my party or the business community was happy with the addition.
    Nonetheless, there are many reasons that all lawmakers, regardless of their party, should support it.

  • Smoke signals are usually associated with American Indians dancing around a fire sending up Morse-Code-like puffs of white dots and dashes, spelling out messages like “The war party is attacking at 2:30 from the North! Prepare the troops! And don’t forget to pick up some milk and eggs on your way home today!”
    Actually, smoke signals were more often a simple series of large puffs of smokes, sometimes a continuous stream, or multiple fires with the number of smoke columns depicting the message. And the smoke was usually black.
    Smoke signals have been used across the world since ancient times to warn of pending attacks, to communicate one’s whereabouts, or to announce to your neighbors that you put too much lighter fluid on your barbecue.
    But in the same way that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, smoke is sometimes just smoke.
    And sadly, that’s exactly what it is at Los Alamos High School.
    New Mexico Education Admin Code 6.12.4 makes it illegal for anyone to use tobacco products on school property. So students walk to the sidewalk, a few feet off school property. 
    There, they can play American Indian message games, send up smoke columns, and enjoy their cancer sticks without breaking any school rules.

  • On Feb. 19, 1945, 20-year-old Bill Young of Mooresville, North Carolina, disembarked an LST on a miserable hunk of black rock called Iwo Jima. He was part of a 75-mile-long convoy of ships preparing to dislodge the Japanese from this volcanic remnant of an island. The territory was formally part of Japan, meaning it was considered literal sacred ground to Japanese soldiers.
    Just how many Japanese were there, and where, was a mystery to Young and the approaching Marines. It took his crewmen six weeks to arrive. They slept in cots under a tarp erected on the deck — all beds below were taken up by as many men as the U.S. military could jam on one boat. But that little bit of discomfort was nothing compared to what was unexpectedly awaiting them.    
    “The plan was to be at Iwo Jima just a few days to mop it up — less than a week we were told,” Young told me. They would tidy up things and then move on. The Japanese, however, had other plans.      
    “I ended up there for 37 days,” Young said, who stayed for the full duration of the unforeseen hell ahead. “We ran into more resistance than we ever thought imaginable. It was a real killing field.”    

  • Ethics and morality are different.
    Ethics involves “developing personal qualities of excellence.” The big picture, morality, “requires command-issuing universal law… willingness to obey the laws of God and nature.” The distinction comes from Eva Brann, a teacher at St. John’s College.
    Now comes the advent of Moral Monday, a construct in New Mexico of the New Mexico Federation of Labor, according to New Mexico Voices for Children, which used the Feb. 9 event to pitch its agenda through 10 speakers.
    Wikipedia calls Moral Monday “a grassroots social justice movement” that began in 2013 in North Carolina in response to the evil (my word) conservative deeds of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, elected in 2012 along with Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature. Getting arrested seems part of the North Carolina approach.
    The approach here seems more laid back, from what I can deduce from the Voices release.
    Still, the whole thing is fraught with arrogance. Nothing seems to be happening that has passing acquaintance with the laws of God and nature. Pope Francis seems to have cornered this topic with his continuing message of pastoral work.
    Government is quite different. Go way back to 1690 and John Locke, who provided an early articulation of today’s approach.

  • Our courts require additional resources to meet the justice needs of New Mexico’s citizens. Each day, courts address the aftermath of strained social and economic conditions, including crime, child and domestic abuse, and broken family and business relationships. Our independent court system also supports economic growth and investment by enforcing contracts and resolving business and property disputes. And it does all of this with less than 3 percent of the state’s overall budget.
    Inadequately funding the Judiciary undermines our ability to serve the public and fulfill our constitutional responsibility to provide fair, timely and impartial justice to all New Mexicans.

  • House Bill 41, the controversial mandatory flunking bill passed the House floor by a vote of 38-30.
    “We need to get our priorities straight. Our children’s education is crucial to our state’s success and we should be making an honest effort to make sure that they are thriving. This bill pushed through by Republicans will prevent generations of New Mexicans from getting a fair shot to succeed. Flunking children is not the way to advance our state. I am incredibly disappointed that Republicans continue to assault our children’s futures by forcing legislation in order to gain cheap political points,” said Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton (D-Albuquerque).
    “This particular piece of legislation is problematic for many reasons. Mandatory flunking is a sweeping measure that does not account for the individual circumstances of each student when they are faced with retention.

  • There was a big celebration in Taos last weekend, at the center of which were two pieces of legislation enacted by the last Congress.
    Who would have thought? A celebration of a couple of bills passed by one of the most maligned and unpopular Congresses ever convened under the Capitol Dome!
    Yet there they were — the measures’ key sponsors, U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, former-U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Congressman Ben Ray Luján — congregated for the at-home unveiling of the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 19 and for, as well, the Manhattan Project National Historical Park Act, which went into effect with the president’s signature one week earlier.
    The Columbine Hondo Wilderness Act is precisely what the name says it is, but the process of bringing it into being began in 1980, three-and-a-half decades ago, when Congress passed the Columbine Hondo Wilderness Study Act.
    In other words, such are the ways of our national legislature that it took a sum total of 35 years of “study” for Congress to finally decide to set aside some 46,000 acres of a pristine mountain basin situated in the Sangre de Cristos near Taos.

  • As the national economy shows signs of real improvement, New Mexico’s recovery has been challenging and slow.
    Working families want to know when we will see more jobs, higher salaries and access to quality education at every level. The state legislature has an opportunity to put New Mexico in a position to provide that economic security and rebuild the middle class.
    Unfortunately, the first bill to gain traction at the Roundhouse is a divisive plan backed by out-of-state political operatives designed to divide working families. The so-called Right-to-Work plan championed by special interests would do more harm than good.
    Consider these consequences:
    • In states with similar anti-worker laws, workers earn, on average, $5,000 less each year than their counterparts in competing states.
    • Six in 10 states with the highest unemployment rates have these anti-worker laws.
    • Twelve of the 14 states with the worst pay gap between men and women are anti-worker states.
    • Workers in states with these anti-worker laws earn fewer benefits.
    • Worker safety suffers in these anti-worker states where the rate of deaths on the job is 54.4 percent higher.

  • Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard was explaining economic-base jobs to fellow members of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
    The Los Alamos teacher had learned as an advisory member of the Jobs Council that economic-base jobs sell goods or services outside the state.
    It was one of those moments of clarity that cut through the political haze. Finally, after years of chasing anything that might have a payroll, lawmakers are educating themselves on the basics of a real economy.
    This is why the pyrotechnics last week in the House Judiciary Committee over Right-to-Work was so disheartening. In the last two years, the Jobs Council drew together both parties, along with business, labor, the administration and councils of government, to create proposals that would move us down the road.
    Now House members were jeopardizing that bipartisan goodwill with marathon, brutal debates over union membership as a condition of employment.
    Twice last week, the cavernous House chamber filled with business people and labor, one suited up, the other in blue jeans.
    They’re two sides of the same pancake. They need each other, they all want jobs and there is plenty of legislation that they do agree on.
    In the Republican-majority House committee, Right-to-Work was bound to pass, just as it will on the floor.

  • Presidents Day reflections typically commemorate the exploits of two of our larger than life chief executives whose birthdays we celebrate in February — George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. This piece instead assesses the contributions of a different American colossus — James Madison — and examines the War of 1812 as we observe the 200th anniversary of the treaty that ended the conflict, which the U.S. Congress approved on Feb. 16, 1815.
    Madison’s image does not adorn Mount Rushmore, and he has no memorial in Washington, D.C. However, he played a pivotal role in devising the United States, especially in framing the Constitution and promoting religious liberty. One of the nation’s most cerebral and articulate founders, he served in numerous legislative bodies, including the Continental Congress and the House of Representatives.
    Madison penned the extremely influential Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments in 1785 to argue for ending Virginia’s Episcopal establishment and providing complete religious freedom. Historians label it “the most powerful defense of religious liberty ever written in America.” No other founder had as much impact on the nation’s conception and practice of freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state.

  • Small companies often lease space before buying or building a property that allows them to expand or modernize. When they’re ready for that leap of faith, the U.S. Small Business Administration can help by underwriting a significant portion of any loan they need.
    The SBA’s 504 loan program is a public-private partnership administered through a Certified Development Company (CDC) that helps small, independently owned companies secure the fixed assets — such as land, building and equipment — that they need to grow and be competitive. If the business owner can provide a minimum of 10 percent of the loan amount, the CDC will underwrite 40 percent — up to $5.5 million in some circumstances — and this makes lenders more comfortable offering a first mortgage for the remaining 50 percent.
    The Loan Fund, a community development financial institution, works with the SBA and CDCs to help business owners obtain 504 loans and access money they might not be able to get. This lets business owners conserve cash for other operating costs.
    Who is eligible?

  • A fun aspect of teaching math is that I get to share stories about numbers with my students.
    The number “13” of course holds a special place in society and students love learning words like triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13).
    I explain to them that “tris” means “three” and “dek” means “ten.”
    This gives me the opportunity to demonstrate how words contain numerical prefixes taken from Latin and Greek, using these prefixes to define properties of cardinality, such as bi-cycle, cent-ennial, and sex-agenarian (one of my favorites!).
    Now today, being a Friday the 13th, I get to use the word friggatriskaidekaphobia (fear of Friday the 13th). But in this case, the prefix “frigga” has nothing to do with numbers.
    A few ago, a student told me that she had gone to see the movie “Thor” the day before (a Thursday) and was raving about how good it was.
    So I said, “Well then, it’s a happy coincidence that you saw the movie on Thor Day.”
    This led to a discussion on how days of the week were named after planets and gods. Sunday and Monday, of course, are immediately recognized as being named after the Sun and the Moon.
    And, as per our discussion, Thursday was named after that hammer wielding beastie-boy, Thor.

  • Rep. Cathrynn Brown was describing roads in southeastern New Mexico. The pit rule, which requires trucking oil waste to another site, has added to the already heavy traffic on state and county roads.
    Drivers take the shortest route, whether or not the road is safe.
    “Fatalities are a great concern to all of us,” said the Carlsbad Republican. “I got to a point where I dreaded opening the newspaper in the morning. Eddy and Lea counties do the best they can (but) we’re really hurting.”
    On the subject of transportation, you can say the same for every county in the state, from the patched and repatched northern U.S. 285 to McKinley County’s war-surplus bridges that can’t even hold a school bus.
    These debates within the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee grow more urgent every year.
    The governor now supports bonding $300 million in road projects, but last week Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith condemned the proposal as irresponsible. The state, he said, is already overextended.
    What he meant is the state has borrowed to the hilt for transportation. Bonds are IOUs.

  • A wise man once told me that people vote for politicians as they do in well-funded popularity contests.
    It is questionable that the current and impending actions of some policymakers represent the wider public’s interest, and it is difficult when some view election or re-election as unbridled support for their stance on important issues in our state.
    There are many people in New Mexico who feel like they have no voice beyond the voting booth, myself included. I continue to have serious concerns about the current state of our education system and how it reflects our collective beliefs and values, and I know I am not alone.
    My purpose in writing this is to respond to a recent column about House Bill 41, and to urge consistent interaction between the public and their elected officials even after this session’s dust has settled.
    That will take commitment, communication, information, and a willingness from all sides to take the time needed to sit down and consider options without expecting to find a “silver bullet” that will “fix” our education system forevermore.
    We are an ever-changing society. We need processes, beyond the ballots, in place to be able to adapt to changing times. Our founding fathers called this process “democracy,” and it encompasses more than a vote in November.

  • Knowing how to read is one of the most important life skills you could ever learn. When you know how to read, knowledge is at your fingertips and nothing is far from reach.
    Unfortunately for New Mexico, too many of our children are unable to read proficiently. Yet, year after year, we pass them onto the next grade without blinking an eye.
    This is called social promotion — it’s a failed policy that sets our children up for failure. And it’s high time we put an end to it.
    That is why I have joined two colleagues — Rep. Monica Youngblood and Sen. Gay Kernan — in sponsoring legislation that will not only eliminate this policy, but also give teachers, parents and students the resources they need to succeed.
    The truth is, it is not compassionate to move along our children when they are unprepared.
    Doing so only sets them up for failure. In fact, students who cannot read before the third grade are four times more likely drop out of high school.
    It’s not hard to see why. From first grade through third, our children learn to read. After those critical years, they read to learn.

  • The now-infamous 2013 audit of 15 nonprofit New Mexico behavioral health providers has finally been released to the public by our new Attorney General, Hector Balderas.
    You remember. That’s the audit that led the state Human Services Department to accuse all 15 of massive fraud and stop paying them for services under Medicaid, which led to 12 of those providers being starved out of business, a behavioral health system thrown into chaos and several thousands of very vulnerable clients — including many children and a few possibly dangerous individuals — abandoned.
    Sudden forced withdrawal from psychotropic medications, because there wasn’t anybody left to write the prescriptions, was just one of the disastrous consequences of this event.
    Among the 15 providers, over a three-year period, there were $36 million in cost overruns, the audit claimed. That’s a lot of taxpayer money. But I wonder if there might be other explanations for some of this spending.