Texas, It’s not like anywhere else

austin_bumper_stickerLiving in Austin it’s all to easy to think you are in Texas, but really like it’s often said “Austin is a liberal oasis in Texas“. More often, Austin isn’t in Texas, but you can see it from here!

One of the first things I had to get used to is the Texas Legislator only being in town once every 2-years. That’s right, in what seems a total anomaly  the elected officials of the State of Texas are only in the capital to make/pass law every two years.  I’d guess this stems from the days when they had to ride horses to get to and from their constituents?

So while they work on the bi-annual budget as a key part of their initial work this year, there are a few key things that Texas does differently…

  • The Texas execution machine took a break over the year end, with near-weekly executions scheduled and most carried out. In all, Texas put to death 15 men in 2012. The state will kick off 2013 with the rare execution of a woman, Kimberly McCarthy on January 29th.
  • In all, Governor Rick Perry has presided over 239 execusions, surpassing all modern governors and marking the 478th Texas execution since the reinstatement of capital punishment in 1976.
  • While we await the outcome of Vice President Joe Biden to report back on gun control, Texas and Austin resident Alex Jones demonstrated perfectly why people are right to be concerned about “nut jobs” with easy access to legal guns when he “discussed” it with Piers Morgan on cnn.com.
  • Talking of “nut jobs”, over in Lubbock County Texas, Judge Tom Head claimed on local TV that a proposed tax increase would be needed to put down civil unrest and defend the country from invading UN forces should President Obama be reelected.
  • Down the street from me is a closed restaurant, Jovitas. It’s waiting the return of its owner, Amado Pardo. The restaurant was closed when Pardo was arrested by the FBI with 15-others for allegedly running a longtime heroin-dealing operation out of his eatery. What was really surprising was that Pardo was a twice convicted murderer, even more of a surprise was that Pardo was released on bail today, he has terminal cancer. Where’s the tough on crime, three strikes and you are out, when you need it?
  • Not quite as close to home, across Austin, in the Hot Bodies Mens Club, Victoria Perez, 21, was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon following a fight among seventeen women in the dressing room. A Male strip club employee was seriously injured when Perez hit him in the face with a spike heeled shoe and may have blinded him. As Alex Jones might have it, should we ban high heeled shoes? Hell no.
  • As a final vote of confidence, Buzz Bissinger, author of the book, Friday Night Lights about an Odessa Texas high school football team, tweeted that “if Dallas slid into a sinkhole, nation’s IQ would raise by 50 points”.

So, much for calm, rational people with legal access to guns. It’s interesting now that Texas has stricter controls over a womans uterus than guns. Texas now prescribes invasive gynecological procedures for Texas women, while at the same time making even harder for many thousands of Texas women to even visit a gynecologist.

And finally, it looks like the governor and the legislator don’t read my blog, otherwise they might have focused on what’s going to happen to all those children that are going to escape an unwanted death in Texas. The Governor continues to make it clear he is diametrically oppossed to any expansion of Medicaid in Texas, that pays for most of these births, and will do everything in his power to undermine national health care in Texas.

@pointaustin, writer and Editor Michael King points out that in Governor Perrys political universe, “Fetal pain” has an expiration date. Once that new Texas citizen takes his or her first breath, they are on their own. Writing in the Chronicle, King says “When the Governor says Suffer the little Children – he really means it.”

The Law of Unintended Consequence

“”The fetus is the property of the entire society,” he proclaimed. “Anyone who avoids having children is a deserter who abandons the laws of national continuity.””

This month marks 40-years since the 1973 Roe vs Wade landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court, legalizing abortion. As some states are now trying us back to pre-1973, with little fanfare, Virginia and Michigan Republican governors recently signed new abortion bills into law. There are issues other than simply obvious one of abortion.

It’s possible to draw a lot of parallels between the former President of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu, and the Tea Party, also with a number of recent issues and topics that have come up in Texas, for example the teaching of Sex education in schools, abortion rights etc. It would behoove those that espouse the same policies, to note what became of Ceausescu. He was executed after a short show case trial by his own people, long before the Arabic Spring.

[from ceausescu.org] “Ceausescu made mockery of family planning. He forbade sex education. Books on human sexuality and reproduction were classified as “state secrets,” to be used only as medical textbooks. With contraception banned, Romanians had to smuggle in condoms and birth-control pills. Though strictly illegal, abortions remained a widespread birth-control measure of last resort. Nationwide, Western sources estimate, 60 percent of all pregnancies ended in abortion or miscarriage.”

Freakanomics authors Dubner and Levitt posit that the data proves that this was partly responsible for the huge rise in social unrest in Romania some 15-20 years later; as recently as 2009, the BBC uncovered the still appalling state of some of Romania’s orphanages, some 20-years after the fall of Ceausescu. This growth, the number of babies and children in orphanages and in need adoption and fostering, should have been an obvious consequence.

Law of unintended consequences

  1. The subsequent rise in crime was an unintended consequence. Ceaucescu expected these “forced birth” babies to grow and become part of his mass people automation workforce, instead, the grew up in a suboptimal environment and many turned to anti-social behavior and crime
  2. The demands of this growth in unwanted babies places a huge additional demand on their society, which Romania at the time never lived up to, or only minimally tried; in the early 1990’s Save the Children started compiling dossiers and records of the children from as many as 600 Romanian orphanges, only to find many had simply vanished without trace. “”We never found out what happened to them. Some could have ended up on the streets, or been trafficked to other places. No one knows,” said Silvia Boeriu, the head of Save the Children in Romania.
  3. You can’t hide the societal effect of such actions, it cost Ceaucescu and his wife their lives. While I’m not suggesting the same will happen in the USA, it’s safe to assume that none of the current politicians will be remembered or looked on positively in years to come if they persist in this direction..
  4. If Dubner and Levitt are indeed right, that Roe vs Wade and the legalization of abortion in the early 1970’s had a direct correlation to the drop in crime in the 1990’s because there were significantly less “unwanted” babies that had matured to the peak age for committing crimes, and especially violent crimes; should this push to either rollback the clock, or make it seemingly impossible to offer abortion services, we better be ready for 2032 and all that will come.

These are all unintended consequences that can be proven by data, except #4, which is supposition, supported by historic data and trends. What is really a logical side of the Dubner/Levitt research, was in fact that the majority of women who were given the choice, later went on to have  “loved” babies in what todays passes as stable homes. Obvious really.

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.