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Today's Opinions

  • Make teachers happy

    I keep talking with public school teachers who are miserable. They’re all looking at their bank accounts trying to figure out when they can retire.
    The purpose of the school system is to educate students, not to make its employees happy. Students come first. But it’s hard to imagine that students are getting the best possible education when their teachers show up each morning feeling beaten and dispirited.
    They say it’s because of testing — too much testing, too little time to teach, testing results applied to their evaluations in ways that they say are unfair or illogical.
    Some complain about Common Core standards, but testing is still the primary theme.
    They are echoing a common complaint of unhappy employees. Employees are unhappy, it’s said, when they have no sense of control over their work, when they think things are being done wrong but they can’t do anything about it, when they don’t trust management and believe management won’t listen to them.
    That’s the classic formula, virtually guaranteed to produce low morale.

  • Reform or more of the same in Santa Fe?

    New Mexico’s Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, arguably the most powerful elected Democrat in the state, recently laid out some of his views on the upcoming legislative session.
    He claimed to support “compromise,” but it is clear that what he really means is that he has no plans to support reforms that will boost New Mexico’s struggling private sector economy.
    Sanchez’s intransigence is not surprising given that he and his allies have controlled New Mexico’s Legislature for many decades and see the recent GOP takeover of the House as a temporary loosening of control as opposed to a decisive break. That big-government ideology, by the way, has driven New Mexico to the bottom of most good lists and the top of most bad ones.
    Sanchez, despite his rhetoric of compromise, has stated firmly that he opposes “right to work.” On the other hand, he supports a new $50 million “closing fund” designed to bring new businesses to our state.
    His positions are not surprising for two reasons. Despite both policies ostensibly being “pro-business,” right to work will cost zero tax dollars, reduces the fundraising power of a key special interest group, and has reams of studies showing that its effectiveness.

  • Continuation not vision

    If a vision for the state and the articulation of action for confronting our myriad deep structural problems appeared at the recent New Mexico Tax Research Institute legislative outlook conference, it slipped out the door faster than it entered.
    Ferreting out a vision will be further obstructed by the newest job performance report, which appeared three days after the TRI meeting.
    From November 2013 to November 2014, a seasonally-unadjusted 14,700 new wage jobs appeared, a 1.7 percent increase that is the best in a long time.
    The growth is “close to the long term average,” said Tom Clifford, Department of Finance and Administration Secretary. I suspect that the happy news will divert the existing slight attention to matters such as our pathetic labor force participation, which is toward the top of the structural problems.
    What, me worry?
    In another venue, the December Consensus Revenue Estimate, reality begins to intrude. The report cites University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, which “points out that New Mexico is the only state that has experienced so weak a recovery and questions whether the state’s weak performance is a cyclical, temporary phenomenon or if it indicates a more troubling structural change in the state’s economic competitiveness.”

  • Letters to the editor 12-28-14

    Special relations needed for council
    Arin McKenna’s story in Wednesday’s Los Alamos Monitor (Dec. 24) about the training received by new county councilors inspires me to comment.
    The relationships between the council and the county manager and the county attorney are critical to the effectiveness of the council. It is important for councilors especially to be cognizant that these relationships are more than social niceties, and that the council is not just the nominal top layer of a smoothly functioning top-down corporation.  
    In a democracy, the power flows up, not down, and the council is how the people on the bottom — you and me — get their non-professional, incoherent ideas into the organization.
    Newly elected officials typically come into office understanding this concept — diamonds-in-the-rough, so to speak. But they tend to rock the boat, so professional government staffers all over the country set up these educational forums, ostensibly to teach the neophytes the technical details of government, certainly a noble endeavor.
    In the process they like to “train” the democratic ideas out of their students, to knock off those rough edges. Same thing happens with boards of directors of corporations, which the article correctly analogizes to the council.

  • Health care options for 65-plus

    If your 65th birthday is around the corner or you’re anxious about Medicare, it’s a good time to start focusing on your options.
    Healthcare choice is becoming a bigger factor in the lives of pre-retirees as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) — better known as Obamacare — brings significant change to employer-sponsored and individually purchased health plans.
    Though a separate federal health insurance system with no connection to Obamacare or its online marketplaces, Medicare is going through its own evolution in terms of plan offerings and customer access.
    Here’s a basic primer for future Medicare enrollees:
    • What is Medicare? Medicare is a government-provided health and hospitalization insurance program for people 65 and older and for some people under age 65 based on disability or particular forms of illness.
    • What does it cost? Though you’ve likely paid taxes into the Medicare system your entire career, Medicare isn’t a completely free program; you’ll pay premiums deducted from your Social Security checks for some portions of your benefits. There may be copays and deductibles for certain services. If you have health issues already, it’s a good idea to investigate coverage based on the services you’re likely to need over time.

  • Valles Caldera’s experiment finally comes to an end

    If the Valles Caldera National Preserve were a person, its epitaph would be: They tried.
    What a preserve brochure called an “experiment in public land management” will end with the signing of federal legislation.
    In 1997 owners of the Baca Ranch, aboriginal land of Jemez Pueblo and later a Mexican land grant, decided to sell. The 89,000-acre property might have been subdivided and sold but for the movement to keep it whole through a sale to the federal government.
    The Baca wasn’t just any chunk of real estate.
    Within its boundaries is the Valles Caldera, a gargantuan volcanic bowl created in the Jemez Mountains by violent eruptions 1.4 million years ago. The caldera’s green meadows, streams and ponds are home to a variety of wildlife.
    Congress bought the ranch for $101 million in 2000. Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman fashioned legislation that combined public and private, ranching and recreation in a national preserve governed by an appointed board of trustees.
    They were to maintain a working ranch but offer recreation, fishing and hunting while protecting the land and its creatures. And they had 15 years to make the property self-sustaining.
    It offered something for everyone, and that was the problem.

  • Happy New Year

    Like many men, my father wanted sons, and my mother was kind enough to endure the pain of giving him five.
    And like many women, my mother wanted daughters. One can understand why she was disappointed when I was born and my father was boasting yet another son to his buddies in the waiting room. But Mom was so upset over yet another XY-mouth to feed that she went into a tantrum with the nurses, throwing things and crying out that she wanted a girl.
    I still own the pink baby bracelet the nurses put on me in a chromatic effort to calm her down. I’m lucky Dad didn’t name me Katherine just to make amends for sharing the wrong chromosome.
    As Ma lay in bed huffing and puffing over how unfair life was, the nurses brought in her roommate’s baby boy. The baby had been born with no fingers, and yet the woman never once complained. She held her newborn with the accepting love that only a mother seems able to give in the worst of situations.
    My mother immediately demanded to have me brought back into the room so that she could check my fingers. And of course, she ceased her ridiculous tantrum.
    It was a lesson my mother never forgot, and one that benefited me by her sharing the story with me.

  • Sea change for the New Year

    “This is a sea change as our nation is finally embarking on a 21st century approach with Cuba,” said Tom Udall last week after President Barack Obama’s announcement that the United States is abandoning its half-century old policy of pretending the island nation 90 miles off the shores of Florida didn’t exist.
    Only recently, the Democratic senator and Arizona’s Republican Sen. Jeff Flake had traveled to Cuba and met with Cuban officials, proof if proof be needed that Cuba does indeed exist.
    What hasn’t existed for decades now — at least in Washington — has been the common sense and political courage to admit that a policy fashioned in the 1950s when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president had long since demonstrated itself to be an abject failure, punishing to the Cuban people without serving the interests of these United States.
    To their credit, the majority of New Mexico’s congressional delegation, including Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich, appears to favor the president’s decision.
    Democratic Rep. Michelle Luján-Grisham was decidedly mealy-mouthed in expressing her support, but only 2nd Dist. Republican Congressman Steve Pearce actually came unglued upon hearing the news, complaining that it set “an extremely dangerous precedent.”