Fear of change

(c) gapingvoid.comReading back my Britain vs America post, I can see now that really what drives this is the fear of change.

In a big country, geographically, and by population, change is something you don’t want. It is too easy to get lost, to be left behind.

It explains a lot of the things that have been said and done during the recent US Presidential Election. People are afraid, either if the President was re-elected, or if Romney got in, that things would change.

Generally even in the less wealthy areas, among the poorer people, change is undesirable. It’s easy for the those not on benefits to see those that are, and demonize them, even if they are only marginally better off, they are afraid that the burden on the government by those on benefits will pull them down too. Those that are on benefits, see those that are not as those out to get them and take from them the only things they have. And so it goes, up the chain. The rich are fighting the tax reforms and the Presidents stated objective of “raising taxes for the rich” not because they need the money, but because they too fear change.

Everyone, in some way, is comfortable. When I went to look for a graphic to illustrate this post, I found HUGH MACLEOD @gapingvoid.com cartoon, which says it all really. America has got to learn to change, because change is inevitable.

to Tax or Not to Tax…. debt is the question

Sat watching the BBC News tonight, my heart rate raced a few beats higher as I watch the Chief Accountants from Apple, Google and Starbucks in the UK defend their accounting process which has meant they’ve largely avoided paying UK Corporation tax, and particularly the hapless public policy wonk from Amazon.com, Andrew Cecil.

I’m glad I’m not working at Google in the UK, who at least as far as their management seemed to be concerned, don’t “innovate” in the UK. oops. Interestingly I used to work with Nelson Mattos at IBM, I wonder what he thinks now?

Starbucks came in for some extra questioning since they were paying dividends to shareholders and telling them, their business in the UK was doing fine, while at the same time declaring a financial loss and using the tax scheme, appropriately to shelter their profits from that loss. The BBC News piece is here.

Margaret Hodge, who chairs the parliamentary committee, told the BBC that she thought it was right for customers to boycott the three companies.

As entertaining as this was, and at first watch/read I was inclined to agree with Margaret Hodge over a boycott. After 15-mins of reading revealed a much more open/shut case that the MP’s need to deal with, that effectively shows Ms. Hodge protestations to be little more than a magicians use of mis-direction.

It was Hodge’s peers in the Labor Government which she joined in 1994, that handed over the water industry to the private sector. Where was the rambunctious questioning, hand waving, pointing and questioning while the water industry was moving all it’s money overseas, and steadily doing a better job at avoiding tax?

Thames Water have paid shareholders handsomely, moved money offshore, and burdened their company with so much artificial debt that according to Moody’s, the credit rating agency, says they can no longer afford the debt aka investment needed to do the infrastructure projects like the new $4.1-billion Thames bypass tunnel, proposed to stop sewage draining into the River Thames.

As Will Hutton’s article in the Guardian sums it up the best, Thames Water – a private equity plaything that takes us for fools. Let’s see the politicians doing something about this, and avoiding asking the taxpayer to either underwrite, or bailout Thames Water before going after the “tech titans”, otherwise these hearings remind me of the barn door, shut after the horse has bolted.

Britain vs America

On a pure headcount basis, for talent Britain appears to beat America hands down. Of course, it doesn’t there is so much “undiscovered” talent in America. As a Brit’ abroad, I regularly get asked why either people or a certain style or culture seems to catch on and then move over to the US. Most recently this came up on Greg Wilsons’ blog in relation to electronic dance music and here is the answer I gave. It does though, in my opinion, apply to almost everything.

America is a very different place from the movies, and a massive country compared to the UK. Leaving aside the racial aspect to dance music, and from the 1970’s the fact it was heavily tied to the gay scene; and the disco is dead revolt of the late 1970’s, all of which made it much harder for dance music to get heard.

America is a culture, where the country is massive and they only way to succeed, largely, is to associate with established clubs/cults. You dress, think and act like them, and to succeed, you are then the best amongst them. This applys in across both geographic and societal barriers.

There are almost no national media outlets, even today, those that are have to pander to the masses, or fail. People, music etc. that are out of the norm’ are mostly excluded, even the extremes are pretty normal and/or manufactured rather than organic. News travels slow.

Compare that to the UK, the country is VERY (geographically) small, people live next to each other, on top of each other, in close proximity.  All media, for the most part is national, news travels fast. Something that catches on in the UK only has to be 1/100th as popular as the USA, or even less.

In the UK, different is celebrated, not shunned. Add to that a more tolerant sexual society, a less racial society, and a more progressive music industry where change makes money, not controlling interests protecting their investment. Dance music came along, it caught on with a small crowd, it was celebrated, successful and grew in the UK, after a while each generation moves on, my daughter(29) now bemoans the state of dance music, much as I did back in the 1980’s, but it will carry on.

The same thing happens here in the USA, but they are complaining and comparing the AOR music from 1980/90’s while EDM has captured the youth market because the music business no longer controls the distribution channels in the same way.

Death Panels open in US Health Insurance

Americans were frightened out of a single payer, medical health care system similar to one in operation in many countries using a number of tactics, including by using the term “death panel”. Sarah Palin, who claimed “proposed legislation would create a “death panel” of bureaucrats who would decide whether Americans—such as her elderly parents or child with Down syndrome—were worthy of medical care.”

Palins claim was totally debunked by fact check organizations, and it was named 2009 “Lie of the year” by Politifact.

So a federal or national health care system, or single payer system passed into history and we ended up with whats become known as Obamacare.

As an executive, who is divorced, and has no dependents, I have the best medical plan available through my employer, it comes with an EXPRESS SCRIPTS prescription plan. Recently they started sending out communications on the changes for the 2013 plan. It included a word I’d never before heard “formulary“.

My formulary letter
Express Scripts

In essence, what it is is major aspect of what Sarah Palin referred to as a death panel. Express Scripts tries in its communication to pass it off as an employer choice. They write “Medications not on [insert employer name here] formulary will remain available, but you will pay full price for them.” (highlighting theirs).

This is EXACTLY what happens with the UK NHS Prescriptions. You pay a flat charge of £7.65 approximately, $12. Thats pretty much all drugs, except mostly untested, unapproved ones. Many of the long term sick and unemployed get exemptions from the charge. We though have a copay, no one is exempted from the copay, and it varies from drug to drug.

Express Scripts list though is pretty short in total, the good news is it does include viagra and cialis. So, with none of the real benefits, we’ve got death panels by the back door.

All thats wrong with US Healthcare

image

This article in Saturdays Wall Street journal was mostly about healthcare industry stocks, but what blew me away was the chart that was included. I’ve long felt the US Healthcare system aka “industry” was not only too expensive, you can’t have a balanced discussion about it, people immediately get very defensive.

Once you’ve been treated a few times it becomes obvious that insurance is used as a blanket to cover

  • a vast array of unnecessary services, loads of extra tests, samples, examples, scans and xrays. Often because upfront you’ve paid your co-pay, pre-pay etc. so what do you care? The medical facility is paid for what they do, not their results.
  • Excessive administrative costs – for example, during my recent broken collarbone rather than visiting a single hospital and doctor/specialist, I had to visit 2-separate facilities, each duplicating the entire billing, insurance debacle, requiring many pages of documentation and background information. Every medical facility comes with it’s own army of billing and administrative staff to negotiate the insurance rules, claims and reclaims.
  • Inefficiently delivered services – Americans with insurance take great pride in the system as it delivers choice and prompt service and treatment. The reality it doesn’t, it does it through the illusion of choice based on whats available through insurance, and through a long list of appointments which are “first” available, but compared to a single payer system where you can move quickly and efficiently between providers, it isn’t efficient. For those without insurance there is little or no option but to sit in the emergancy room and hope for the best.
  • Prices are too high – because they have to cover an inefficient system and high administration costs.
  • Fraud – of course there is fraud, in any efficient system there are always those that seek to exploit the system; also in a system which excludes many, they look for a way to get what they can.
  • Missed prevention opportunities – and of course any system which generates huge amounts of money to deal with problems isn’t really focussed on prevention. While their are pockets of good practice in prevention, mostly there is a lack of priority in prevention.

Add up the numbers, you could pay for a single payer system with everything except the prevention missed opportunity.

Makin’ Hay or not

On the drive home yesterday I heard an interesting piece that tied my crop and drought posts into a neat closed loop, on the Marketplace show from American Public Media. You can read the summary here but the full radio interview is available here and is much more interesting.

In summary the rancher, Ken Lenox is a fifth generation cattle rancher in Rolla, Missouri says:

  • The rain from Isaac isn’t nearly enough
  • started feeding the cattle hay in August
  • Normally doesn’t start doing this until January
  • They’ve driven a 400-mile round trip to buy hay from western Missouri

Which endorses the significance of the drought; the fact that there is a real shortage of hay already, and that the livestock industry is in for a long dry Autumn and trouble ahead.

Crop Insurance – Welfare to not work?

The Republicans have been making a big deal out of the changes to the welfare rules, bitching about the removal of the requirement to work for welfare. I’ve been reading about “crop insurance” – it’s a huge transfer of income from the Government money to private businesses, many of which are effectively multi-millionaires if you take into account their estates/assets.

We are in the worst drought in living memory here in Texas. Farmers along with >50% of US States are designated drought disaster zones. More than 84% of farmers have drought insurance, it covers corn, rice, barley etc. It’s paid for through federal tax dollars. I’m wondering what the Republicans will explain this… over $7-billion goes from the US Government to private companies to offer insurance, the Government then make payments to farmers to help cover their premiums. Welfare with no work…

Farm states are politically important; the numbers of voters are to a degree, relatively low compared to the urban areas. The Republicans are bitching about the Urban poor, mostly but not always non-white. The Farmers are mostly old white guys, and the Republicans are appealing to old white guys. There are just 2% of the attendees at this years Republican National Convention that are non-white.

Right around now Congress is about to sign a new crop-insurance bill. Let’s hear it for old white guys, winning even under a black President.