About Mark Cathcart

I was formally an Executive Director of Systems Engineering and a Senior Distinguished Engineer at Dell. Prior to that, Formerly I was an IBM Distinguished Engineer working for the Systems Group in NY and Austin. I'm currently "retired until further notice (RUFN) while I make the move to Louisville CO. I organised and was ride leader for Jack and Adams Bicycle shop rides for 8-years; I own ATxD Multisports, a boutique sports management company; I'm an adviser to the Professional Triathletes Union, and to the Executive Director of Tri Equal, which aims to level the playing field and grow opportunity for professional and age group women in triathlon.

New York Values – Archie Bunker

It’s quite likely Donald Trump got many of his values, and was influenced heavily by Archie Bunker. If Trump wasn’t, many of his supporters absolutely were. It was a simpler time in the 1970’s.

New York was full of men and women descended from German, Irish, Italian, Polish, Greek and Jewish immigrants who were civil servants, union members and similar. They were “middle class” only in so much as they were neither working class, nor formally slaves.

Archie Bunker soon became the countries favorite TV character whe he appeared on TV in 1970. He is by todays standards, a man from another era. Watching episodes of All in the Family now, it’s easy to see that even back then the liberal media laughing at Archie, making fun of his customs and behavior. Archie was at heart though a democrat. Satire only really works, if it’s based on real life.

Archie and his generation had grown tired of the 1960’s liberal experiment and they blamed it for tearing apart “their” America. It was where the disenchantment about the welfare system came from and how welfare had become permanently associated with the African American, and exploded out of control.

The problem was, welfare never did anything to address the problems of ghetto life, racism, and endemic poverty. The white middle and working class saw the increasing lack of personal control of what happened to them.

You can trace many of the values held by Trump and his supporters back to this time, and Archie Bunker is their poster boy. Peter Hamill wrote in his April 1969 feature in the New York Magazine “The Revolt of the White Middle Class” .

The working-class white man is actually in revolt against taxes, joyless work, the double standards and short memories of professional politicians, hypocrisy and what he considers the debasement of the American dream.

If the stereotyped black man is becoming the working-class white man’s enemy, the eventual enemy might be the democratic process itself. Any politician who leaves that white man out of the political equation, does so at very large risk. The next round of race riots might not be between people and property, but between people and people. And that could be the end of us.

And that is, as much as anything, how we arrived where we are today. As an Englishman, I never really understood the use of term “middle class” in America, it seemed so at odds with the British middle class. Hamill put that in context, but Bunker represents the values, and thinking that has developed in the rancorous mob we see today, and that includes whatever Trump and Cruz think are “values”.

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Chemistry | The Nation

This is bad news all around, but once again confirms there is no such thing as cheap energy. Fracking likely has many long term problems, no one saw this one coming though.

http://www.thenation.com/article/global-warming-terrifying-new-chemistry/

Laughing at US Banks

aka too big to do anything useful.

So, most mornings lately, during breakfast, Chase Bank has been running these commercials on TV. Yep, they are selling their bank on the basis of being able to make easy check deposits. Most US Banks and Credit Unions provide some form of ATM check deposit, similar to this…

no-checks-400x506[1]So while most western countries are running from checks as fast as they can, some have even announced the end of checks/cheques as we know them, the US is not only persisting with the check model and clearance process, they are making ATM’s better at accepting checks and spending money to promote it.

Meanwhile, I can login to my UK Bank, and for free, transfer money to my Son in Berlin in a different country, and different currency and it is in his account in about an hour. To send money to people in the UK, it’s even quicker, less than 15-minutes on average. I’ve had the account for nearly 15-years and not had a checkbook for the last 12-years.

The easiest, simplest and by far thecheapest way for a person in the USA to send me money is to write a physical check, take a picture of the check on their cellphone, and email me the picture. I remote deposit it in either of my USA Bank Accounts. Way to go USA.

American Tax Avoidance and Panama

Kudos to MSNBC for writing up the story of the (lack of) Americans discovered in the “Panama papers”.

The Wall Street Journal earlier pointed out that 617 intermediary companies that were listed in the papers that operate here in the USA, but no details will be available until sometime in May. So far the only American directly implicated is Marianna Olszewski a financial “pundit” from NY.

article-doc-9n7p3-3x3xJf8qEp7439795a58657c8166-790_636x382[1]As I remarked in my original post about the Panama Paper release, this is no reason for Americans to feel smug. The MSNBC spells out the reasons for that, importantly because for the most part:

  • Delaware, Nevada, along with the U.S. Virgin Islands, are known in particular for loose regulations and low taxes. You can park your money in America behind a dubious corporate facade, without going “offshore”. America rates third behind Switzerland and Hong Kong as a popular tax haven, and far higher than Panama, at 13th. When you here about those massive corporations with billions overseas, it’s not actually sitting in banks in 3rd world countries, it’s often in “tax avoidance” holding companies, who have their cash here in the USA. It’s all bookkeeping entries a rather than overseas.
  • US Tax rates are already super-low, contrary to what you hear from Presidential candidates. Super-rich Americans have less need to seek tax havens because they have less to lose.

Many small and large American and foreign companies help wealthy clients set up offshore shell corporations — that itself is not illegal, as long as the those they set them up for are not trying to hide criminal proceeds or dodge tax obligation.

Remember though, as Bloomberg News said back in January, before the “Panama Papers” were known: The World’s Favorite New Tax Haven Is the United States. Remember, for each dollar a corporation or wealthy individual doesn’t pay, it has to get made up somewhere. That either means someone else pays it, or services get cut.

Fran Hendys offshore blog has good coverage of tax related issues, it’s her specialist subject, where as I just angry more people can’t see what is going on.

Sanctions work – North Carolina

There isn’t as far as I know, a formal method of US States, or the US Federal Government putting official sanctions on a state, unlike say a country like Iraq, Iran, North Korea or South Africa.

The decades long disinvestment sanctions, against South Africa, are possibly the most interesting and best parallel for North Carolina. Since passing house bill 1532, North Carolina has faced an increasing push by companies, other states, and cities. This is how it should be.

However, it is not sufficient to depend on commercial companies and a some major liberal forward thinking cities to undo this legislation. What happened with South Africa was that it took years to see the collapse of the apartheid regime and in the end it was people pressure that forced large companies to withdraw, rather than simply laws and sanctions.

PayPal are among the first companies to withdraw from North Carolina, but there need to be many more. Companies and institutions won’t do this though unless they are pressured to do so. WE as individuals have a responsibility to boycott. Don’t use companies that tolerate this bs and continue to do business with the state. Don’t go on vacation there, don’t go to college there, advocate that relatives and friends in the state do the same, as best they can.

_48470148_iran2207_sanct_poster_gSure, it will punish people who had nothing to do with the legislation if jobs are lost, offices are closed etc. People will learn to exercise their vote carefully…

Sanctions alone do NOT work, only in conjunction with actual action will they deliver results.

Panama Papers, don’t be smug

_89082388_cfoiqttwsaadnoj[1]I woke up early yesterday, after a few minutes decided to read my phone, and there was the blow-up over the “Panama papers”. I read the BBC’s excellent “live” page which in twitter-timeline style was posting news and highlights as they uncovered details.

And then I went back to sleep. There wasn’t anything really new here, it just confirmed what many people already knew, third world dictators, power junkies and desperate wanna-live-forever celebrities were cheating on a massive scale.

Later in the day many of my politically minded friends posted links, articles and critiques on facebook and twitter. Ultimately the leak is a big deal as it takes away on of the key value propositions of this type of activity, secrecy. Without secrecy, the sorts of deals, services and tax avoidance is sort-of-meaningless.

What most ordinary people have overlooked, or turned a blind eye to is that they more than likely benefit from similar schemes. If you’ve used the services of, or bought stuff from IKEA, Pepsi, Starbucks, Microsoft, been to Walt Disney theme park, then you too have benefited or contributed to tax avoidance. Indeed, almost everyone orders from Amazon, and in many cases, doesn’t pay tax that they would have paid had they bought the self same product from a local store.If you bank with Barclays, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, JP Morgan, then yep, same thing.

“The World’s Favorite New Tax Haven Is the United States.” Why? Because even American law firms dedicated to protecting the financial assets of the world’s elite say the US is a perfectly effective tax haven”

What make the Panama papers different, is it gives the tax authorities around the world the chance to go after individuals. Thats much easier and much more interesting than going after these big tax avoiding companies. As always, it’s divide and conquer.

Not doubt entirely coincidentally, when I collected my mail yesterday, I got a full FACTA request/disclosure from my bank, FirstDirect, a subsidiary of HSBC. So, they can make it very difficult for me to maintain a bank account back in the UK, and will directly report to the US Inland Revenue Service, I on the other hand can do nothing about their deliberate tax avoidance, that the UK and US Tax authorities know all about.IMG_20160405_073140

Government US style

It’s clear that many Americans view “Big government” as a bad thing, it seems though that they are OK with lots of branches of small government, that is ineffective, costly and open to misuse, and often technology challenged.

Given the size of the USA, any government is going to be a big government. With over nearly 320-million people, and almost the largest country in geography in the world, most people clearly are clueless about the scale and the challenges of delivering services in what was the worlds most advanced country. Listen to this 10-second clip from NPR’s Morning Edition today, a piece by Frank Morris of KCUR on the FBI and Apple privacy debate.

Seems to be a pretty widely held view. I heard it on the way back from going to trade-in my state of Texas Drivers License for a state of Colorado Drivers License. I had to drive some 12-miles to Longmont CO, wait in line outside for 30-mins until it opened at 8a.m.; go in and explain to a clerk/assistant/helper what I was there to do, exchange my drivers license and trade-in my state of Texas car plates and register my vehicle with the State of Colorado.

I was helpfully told that I was in the wrong office to register my vehicle, and asked for the relevant ID etc. in order  to get my license. I was given a number of told to wait. When I was called, I spoke with a clerk who was helpful and polite, I glanced over at the desks of the other clerks, you could see from the windows on the PC terminals that they were using dated text mode applications. Credit card processing had to be done by hand, typing numbers in. Questions had to be spoken in English and answered in English, there were no touchpad or tablet interactions. I had to say, outloud, with little privacy my social security number, and after checking my eye sight, and paying I was told to go and wait again.

After a short wait, I was shown a printed version of the questions I was asked, the information I had given, and ask to sign “wholly” within a box at the bottom. If the signature wasn’t entirely in the box it would “invalidate” the application as it couldn’t be scanned in. That done, I went through the take a picture exercise, was given my documents back and told the new license would show up in the mail in 7-10 days.

I left some 70-minutes after arriving. Not bad I guess.

Compare that though to many other Western countries, and many emerging economies, and you get a different picture. Change address in the UK? It’s done online and free. Pictures, signatures and details are held securely centrally.

In the clip above, it’s claimed that the government can’t run USPS, healthcare or anything else. Yet, despite being severely constrained in the services it offers, the US Postal Service is actually pretty dam good, reasonably efficient and pretty cheap. Anyone who thinks that private companies, like FedEx, or UPS and some magic form of new state regulated and/or run service would do better simply isn’t thinking about or is clueless when it comes to understand that scale problem, and the investment needed.

The US Government doesn’t run Healthcare, it never has. It it funds the medicare and medicaid programs. Yes, the US dept. of Veterans Affairs does run medical care and benefits for veterans, given the US has been in a constant state of war of one form or another since 1940, and given the physically size and scale, it is again a pretty decent operation. A good friend of mine, Lee, actually is looking forward to the veterans benefits and healthcare  for the rest of his life. Yes, the VA has its’ problems.

But still, most Americans seem to think it’s better to deal with things “locally” even if that does mean inefficiency, a mistake prone system, lack of privacy, time wasting, out of date technology, duplication, cost and more.

Meanwhile, later this week I’ll be heading to Boulder County to office to register my car; right before I start looking for State of Colorado healthcare market place, trying to resolve the naming error on my City waste management account; filling my taxes with the US Revenue Services and the property taxes with a county in Texas…. and yeah, most Americans have the least amount of vacation time, work the longest hours, and get fewest paid benefits, and things like paid maternity leave. So, no problem waiting online then?

Go, West!

Today also marks the day that the Chemical Safety Board reported back on the West disaster, another recent shadow over Texas.

There is no surprise that the report findings include damning conclusions on the disaster; a massive explosion at a fertilizer storage and distribution facility fatally injured twelve volunteer firefighters, two members of the public and caused hundreds of injuries. . The preliminary findings are here.

In the months following the disaster, I for one was appalled at the actions of then Texas Attorney General, now Texas Governor, Greg Abbotts actions. I wrote first about this in a June 2015 post called “The Texas Freedom Illusion“. In that, I remarked

The good news is Texas isn’t much worse than many others, at least we still have the ultimate freedom, to leave.

Which, coincidentally what I’ve done, leave. I also discussed West in the guise of the restrictions of information, when discussing the 1947 Texas City Disaster.

What the West report tells us is that 33(83% of the total) facilities in Texas that store fertilizer grade ammonium nitrate still are located within a quarter mile of homes. Apart from weakening the reporting and classification requirements, the only substantive thing Governor Abbott has done is to remove your right to find out if you live near a storage location.

Remember, you too have the freedom to leave.

Way to go Texas

I’ve been quiet recently for no other reason than I’m mid-move from Austin Texas to Louisville Colorado. I don’t think Texas will miss me, or care if I’m gone, but I can’t help but be glad to turn my back on the what must be some of the most vindictive, small minded, and regressive politicians I’ve ever come across.

11380987_867608403331615_1505800615_n[1]It kind of doesn’t matter where you stand on the abortion issue, I’m pro-choice. However, when you look at the time, effort, money and all the laws, regulations that Texas has pursued in their attempt to de-fund Planned Parenthood, it is nothing less than a scandal. Worse though are the indirect consequences, the way womens health has just become an acceptable casualty in the battle, little more than mere shrapnel.

While the Texas politico’s have gone after Planned Parenthood, what they’ve actually achieved is the large scale closing of family planning clinics around the state. Of the 82 clinics that have closed, only a third were Planned Parenthood. Those clinics didn’t perform abortions, they were not there just to encourage women to have sex outside of marriage, they provided obstetrical care, gynecological care, and Pap smears.

For those that remain open, there are often massive distances to travel, and long waits, less than a quarter of those that should be seen, are being seen for subsidized preventive health care treatment. That would barely meet the World Health Organization requirements for a third-world country. Welcome to Texas.

Wade Goodwyn has a good report on NPR on the state of affairs in Texas, from George W. Bush childhood home of Midland, far west Texas. The most depressing thing Goodwyn says in his report is:

Texas is becoming the model for other conservative states that would like to defund all family planning clinics associated with abortion providers.

http://www.npr.org/player/embed/464728393/464744500

69!

It’s David Bowies 69th Birthday today, Happy Birthday David.

It’s also 44-years since a 1972, a wet evening photo-shoot in Heddon Street in London gave us one of the more iconic album covers ever; and finally, it’s the release date for Bowies 28th studio album, Blackstar.

He was hugely influential on me in my early teens. I saw him live a few times, including during the first Spiders from Mars Tour in 1972 at his second gig that year in High Wycombe. I also saw Bowie at the Milton Keynes bowl in 1990 as the UK Leg of the Sound+Vision Tour, which famously was the last outing of his back catalog. The concert was overshadowed though by a car crash on our way home, when another driver ran a red-light and very nearly killed both me and my wife Wendy.

Asides from trying to copy his style in the early 1970’s, I used used many lines and couplets from David Bowie lyrics in my English language course work. Sadly I don’t have any of that now but can recall getting A’s for some of the submissions. Mr (Paul) Coffman must have known, but I assume since I could actually explain the structure that was good enough.

YoungerTowards the end of 1974, the end of Ziggy Stardusts 5-Years, I started working on Wembley Market, selling pub mirrors and 7-inch singles on two stalls(Proprietor: Tony Clifford),  as Bowie switched to a more soulful music direction, so did I.

Robert Elms on BBC Radio London featured Bowie today in his “fourfer” weekly segment, where listeners call-up and request their favorite four tracks. You can hear the whole program here, the fourfer starts at 1:05:00.

The foufer featured only 1-track I would have chosen, but it did make me think what my personal fourfer would be. Enjoy.

“And it was Stalking time
for the Moonboys, the Bewley Brothers”


And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor
And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there
Your face, your race, the way that you talk
I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk