The Greatest Social Challenge of our Generation — Strong Towns

This is one of the best blogs of many on the Strong Towns blog. American suburbia is only viable with heavy government subsidy and planning — It would be unaffordable otherwise.

As we see the Growth Ponzi Scheme unwinding and the first decades of what journalist Alan Ehrenhalt has called The Great Inversion, Americans are experiencing a return to normal living conditions. In many ways, it’s a traumatic transition; who-moved-my-cheese on a continental economic scale.

Source: The Greatest Social Challenge of our Generation — Strong Towns

She said, he said

Friday evening we were waiting for a table for dinner, or a place at the bar, everything was looking pretty busy. I stood at the bar by a couple that looked like they were finished eating, but couldn’t get the attention of the bar staff. “She” spoke up to get the barmans attention. I thanked her and after we’d got our drinks, and cleared up that I wasn’t from Australia, the conversation went like this:

Her: How are things in Europe?
Me: Not so good, Nice sounds terrible. I suspect though at 7pm tonight, at a bar somewhere in Europe a couple were chatting and saying “what about all the gun violence in America, it’s not safe to go there anymore”.

Her: Oh, I hadn’t thought of that perspective.

Does the Austin Mayor use Cabs?

NYC-Taxi-Drivers-2014-Calendar-9[1]In the fallout from the withdrawal of Uber and Lyft from Austin, following a defeat on Prop-1, Mayor Adler has come up with his 7-point plan to manage the vacuum.

He, along with many others are hoping that Austin is such a jewel in the Uber/Lyft crown, that they’ll soon be back, tail between their legs asking to be allowed to operate in Austin again. I’m not so sure.

This farce could have been completely avoided if Austin, and by implication Mayor Adler, and more importantly his predecessor, Mayor Leffingwell, had actually been planning for the future rather than retrospectively legislating for the past.

What I find staggering about Adlers 7-point plan is that it contains NOTHING that addresses how shitty the current taxi cab service is in Austin. There is nothing magical about Uber and Lyft, or for that matter other transportation networking companies (TNCs).

Instead of focusing on issues which, while valid, are not a major problem, Austin should have renegotiated and mandated the cab companies have to deliver the innovation that the TNC’s have bought to transportation.

I’m sick of getting a cab at Austin Bergstrom airport with a driver in a cab who doesn’t know where the address is; doesn’t understand my accent; and misses the turns that I’ve told him to make; and then says can’t do anything about the fee as its “on the meter”… How about we legislate to make transportation modern and efficient… I could care less if the drivers can’t speak English, or can but don’t understand my English…

There are way too many other many things like this… credit cards… “yeah sorry, my machine isn’t working”…. stinky cars full of trash and worn out seats, worn out suspension, no real ability to feedback or rate the service; no feedback; no drivers ID’s displayed, and buttons clipped all over them… when you get out the car after a disagreement, no way to track or feedback about the service, the list goes on and on…

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/

American Tax Avoidance and Panama

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.

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.

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?

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

We are all anchor babies

Trump is such an ass, he typifies the greed and avarice of the last century. Despite all his boasts, he really hasn’t done much except bully his way through life.

I’m delighted to see Richard Digance has finally seen the light and allowed much of his 1970’s song and some of his poetry material to make it on to youtube. He, or his record company, had previously fought and issued take down orders for anyone trying to provide copies, and in some cases, even links to copies.

I saw Digance twice live, and was there for one of the nights at the Rainbow Theatre in 1974 when his “Live” album was recorded. Of those tracks, “How the West was lost” was pretty influential on me at the time.

A couple of years later when recovering from knee surgery after a motorcycle accident, I spent a lot of time in the library researching American history. Digance songs, and his poems were intelligent, articulate, and often funny, quite the opposite of Trump.

Letting “them” win.

US AlertThe “media” (rather than actual news) is all over the US State Departments general, extended travel warning. The warning is pretty useless, anyone paying attention should have assumed most of this already.

Despite the worldwide spying, intelligence, phone hacking, the NSA has carried out, this is the best they can come up with?

At the same time governments are using this as a reason to demand more intrusive technology, and less privacy for us. Remember, the French bombers did not use encryption… yet the cries to break or insert back doors into encryption grow daily.

I’m travelling anyway…  If two planes get blown up,  or 100 Americans killed,  that would be terrible, but you are still more likely to die of heart disease or a traffic accident,  or shot by a white guy with a legal gun in the cinema or at a school. The fact that 100,000 people every year are wounded  or killed in America by guns every year, puts the Paris tragedy into context.

The worst thing about these vague, generalized threats is they are being used as a justification for more war, even boots on the ground. There is no easy answer, but lets remember that the middle east is a western created mess going back over 100-years.

The US never really fixed Korea, or Vietnam, or for that matter Afghanistan. The memorial wall for the Vietnam soldiers alone killed in action contains some 58,000 names. Does anyone really think that letting in Syrian Refugees in would cost 58,000 lives? If you have kids, are you willing to let your kids be part of the draft?

It’s impossible to imagine we can fix the Middle East by bombing alone. [See this, and this].

Remember, if you have NOT been protesting the bombing done in our names, you have no right to protest the refugees.

Don’t be intimidated over travel, ask yourself,  what would chuck Norris do…  Otherwise you are letting them win…

Them being the war mongering American politicians,  and ISIS.