Category Archives: Politics

H1N1 Vaccines and Government Inefficiencies

I’ve started seeing a lot of people complaining about their inability to get the H1N1 Vaccine for themselves, their kids, and their pet cockatiel Roy. I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about the government munging this. And how the government isn’t making enough vaccines.

First off people, the government isn’t making the vaccines. It’s a company called Novartis. This is one of those private partnerships that Republicans like to talk so much about. Those partnerships that are far superior to anything the government could do. So here we are. This is (supposedly) better than the government can do. So quit your whining. Or not. Just direct it appropriately.

Novartis is delivering lots and lots of vaccines. The problem is that it’s not going to deliver vaccines for everyone who wants one. Why? Because they only have so much manufacturing capacity. And there’s no value to them of having extra H1N1 vaccine after flu season is over. They’ve done the math and exactly the number of doses that they’re making is what makes sense for them. A certain number of deaths is ok in their fiscal plan to not overbuild vaccines or manufacturing capacity.

So why isn’t the federal government that concerned? Because so far the deaths are pretty much on target with any other bad flu season. So realistically everything’s working the way it’s supposed to.

But it makes me concerned, and we should use this public outrage to do something. Does it really make sense to outsource vaccines? Isn’t this one of those things like having a military where the federal government should just have factories on standby ready to make vaccines for every American?

If we translated our vaccine policy to the military it would be like outsourcing the military, and having the private company decide that really it only made fiscal sense to have resources available to protect about 10% of the United States. The rest would probably get captured, probably some of the states would raise militias that could fight the invaders off, the wealthy would hire private security firms but we’d just accept that there would be some substantial loss of life and territory. A politician trying to sell that would have to be nuts.

And yet that’s basically our national vaccine policy. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t use private labs to develop vaccines. I think that part of the equation is working well. We should just set it up where we pay some large chunk of royalties to the company that comes up with a viable vaccine and then the US government produces it. If anything it would get more players in the market as scientists could work on developing vaccines without having to have a massive manufacturing capability to build out what they produce. Essentially the US government pays for the development of open-source vaccines to use a software analogy.

Because frankly flu vaccines are small potatoes. It’s debatable if they really work at all (since what goes in each year is just best guess). What happens when we really need a vaccine to some new disease, that’s killing more than a percentage of a percentage? And we can only provide vaccines to 10% of Americans? It seems like we’ve outsourced a pretty important part of our national security.

Why Variances Can Be Good

So there’s been a bit of talk lately about the Grayco Development along Lakeshore. Save Town Lake is against it because they believe that the 40′ height limit should be absolute. Chris Reilly (one of our new council members) has weighed in on why he supports it. His argument is that they are only asking for a height variance and they are offering a massive number of incentives to the city in return (public plazas, preserving trees, park improvements, sidewalks, etc).

I’ve become somewhat pessimistic about development in Austin. It seems that these initial offers are generally their best offer, and they tend to get to build what they want in the end. The Northcross debacle is just one of many where we were going to get something pretty nice from the developers, but in the end the city is quite a bit poorer and we’re getting a generic Walmart. As far as initial offers go, this is a great one, and is completely in keeping with the ideals of the new East Riverside plan. But while the pro/anti development track is a pretty common argument, I don’t really want to address it in this case.

I also don’t want to address it in the sense of ugly vs. nice developments. One of the things that being on a Neighborhood Association Board convinced me of is that you cannot create rules to avoid ugly. You can create rules for well-kept. You can create rules to effectively use space, but you can’t avoid ugly.

That said, I wanted to compare the two properties that are side by side. The Grayco Development and the Amli development next door. You can view a map at the Chronicle’s writeup on the issue. I want to compare them simply from a lakefront utilization perspective.

Here’s a view of the where the Grayco development will be from across the lake. It will be behind the second tree line (per the variance agreement those trees stay). There’s an existing two story apartment complex there. You’ll need to expand the picture and look very closely to see it.

Here’s a view of the area from the actual hike and bike trail. It’s taken from right next to the water fountain which is halfway between Lakeshore Boulevard and the closest the Hike and Bike trail gets to the water.

Next look at the Amli complex. This is a project that did not request a variance and is within waterfront overlay height limits:

That large concrete building is a parking garage. Don’t get me wrong. I actually like the Amili development. Looking at the way it integrates with Riverside you can imagine how Riverside is going to become a nice strollable boulevard of shops and apartments, rather than a bunch of run down strip malls:

But is “Save Town Lake” right to contend that the Grayco development is some sort of monstrosity that will destroy the spirit of the lake? That development is going to be behind the treeline. It’s going to have a lot of units, which means more people who can enjoy the lake, and it’s going to preserve the Hike and Bike trail (something the Amli development is not extending, you still get to run by it on the sidewalk). There will be a plaza to engage the public and bike routes and sidewalks through the development to make getting from Riverside to the Trail easier.

Is a parking garage really the best utilization of a waterfront view? Shouldn’t people be enjoying the view instead of a concrete wall? Shouldn’t we encourage developers to seek variances when following the rules would lead to something that is obviously not the best utilization of a site?

I think we need to take variances to get what we really want. Keep the views for the people. Keep density in the East Riverside area and bring in new commercial development to a historically under-served community.

A Neighborly Conversation

Just listened to “A Neighborly Conversation” on KOOP. A discussion between Jeff Jacks and Chris Bradford (Austin Contrarian). Not a lot of new ground. Jeff Jacks does appear to be absolutely against new development in neighborhoods which is interesting. I wouldn’t have thought he’d put it quite that strongly. But he did bring up that we’re not pushing for density in the new development in Austin that’s not in existing neighborhoods. South Park Meadows is suburban sprawl. West Austin is nothing but sprawl. 969 is sprawl. That’s a real failure. While we can’t change what Round Rock, Cedar Park, or Buda are doing, we can change what we’re doing as a city. We really need to view the entire City of Austin as being “downtown”. Because it will be shortly. The fact that all of our new construction within the city limits isn’t at least as dense as Mueller (which isn’t very dense) is a real failing on our part.

What do you think the solution is to getting more people into Austin without sprawl?

The Real Problem with Republicans

No room for your dumb ass

I was reading the Alcalde this morning. The Alcalde is UTs Alumni magazine. They recently did a profile on the lack of alumni engagement from those alumni who went to UT in the 1980s. Letters came in this month and a lot of people mentioned that the reason they didn’t get involved was that their kids were going to another school thanks to the 10% rule. One letter in particular said he blamed UT’s political correctness more than the legislature for creating the problem. Which is really the problem here.

So Republicans hate the 10% rule? A rule that was enacted because affirmative action was unfair. A law that was needed thanks to a court case pursued to the supreme court by Republicans. A case that was pursued to end political correctness in admissions at UT. A law created in response to that decision by a Republican legislature, signed by a Republican governor. Yeah, you’re right. It’s those politically correct liberals at UT who are keeping your kid from getting in.

We really need a new party so we can have honest discussions between the informed adults left in this country. And we can leave the Republican party to attract all the morons. It really sucks that politics is about winning votes and you have to appeal to these jackenapes.

A Helpful Guide to Your Position on Healthcare Reform

1) Check your investments.
2) Do you have investments? (Yes – goto 3, No – goto 10)
3) Do you have health care investments? (Yes – goto 4, No – goto 10)
4) Store your annual rate of return in field A
5) Check your health care plan.
6) Do you have a health care plan? (Yes – goto 7, No – goto 10)
7) Store your annual rate increase in field B
8) Is field B less than field A (Yes – goto 9, No – goto 10)
9) You have made a good investment and should be against health care reform.
10) You are for health care reform.

It’s interesting to me that the anti-tax group seems to be the anti-health care reform group. So they’re unwilling to pay anything for government services, but if it is a private service they expect, nay demand, to pay through the nose for it!

Franken is unimportant

There has been a lot of talk about Al Franken giving the Democrats a filibuster proof majority in the Senate. This will not allow Democrats to push through a liberal agenda. The reason is that the Democratic party is no longer even remotely liberal.

What we’ve seen happen over the past decade is the polarization of the Republican party. They keep moving right. They’ve thought they were moving the country right. But what they’ve actually been doing is leaving people behind with no party. I don’t think this is the same thing as the traditional “swing-voter”. These are people who might be anti-union and pro-business, but feel that a reasonable level of taxation is required to keep the government providing the sorts of infrastructure that business needs to run efficiently. They might be very traditionally conservative, but had a falling out with the party because they’ve had an abortion. Or a gay son or daughter.

So in effect the Republican party is made up of people who are either

  1. Batshit-insane
  2. Unable to quit the party. Probably because they are small-‘c’ conservative and change doesn’t come easily to them

So basically the Democrats may have a majority, but it’s just a majority made up of the non batshit-insane. Which means that we’ll continue to see these extremely moderate bills that one might expect to see when there’s a very balanced congress, rather than this one where one party has a clear majority.

I’d still love to see a truly liberal majority in Congress. But this isn’t it. And that’s probably ok. The center needs to get drug back a little closer to center, so we can start talking reasonably again.

The one thing that makes me optimistic is that the Democrats in Congress are doing a really good job of compromising. It’s really a reflection on the American public at large, that once you cut out the crazy right there’s a lot of good discussion and compromise going on about the role of organized labor, business taxes, and healthcare.

So let’s just ignore the crazies and they’ll go away (or get put in prison for blowing things up or shooting people). Eventually the Democrats will probably have to split into two parties, and that’s for the best.

You can blame the dealers

There are a lot of car dealerships that are very angry right now. A large number of Chrysler and GM dealerships are being cut loose. The general sentiment is “poor car dealership”, but I don’t buy it.

The dealers did it to themselves. GM didn’t build the cars that the American public wanted. They didn’t build the cars GM wanted. They built the cars GM dealers wanted.

I worked for 5 years, getting information out of dealer’s mainframes and onto websites. Something that a large number of dealers resisted. Mainly because they didn’t want to expose their prices. On the one hand they obviously wanted people to come into their dealership where they could play hardball. But they also didn’t want consumers to be able to compare prices.

NRA – National Rube Association

So according to this CNN article, it’s getting very hard to buy gun ammunition:

“In the last two months it’s gotten very, very difficult to find ammunition,” says Richard Taylor, manager of The Firing Line, a gun shop and shooting range in the Denver, Colorado, suburbs.

“There are a lot of rumors floating around that the present government would like to increase taxes on ammunition. I think [there is] just a lot of panicked buying going on

Of course, the federal government has not floated any of these rumors. If you read the news agendas on the actual white house sites, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Obama administration hasn’t actually given gun controll or otherwise a second thought.

But on the NRA’s front page you can find quotes like this:

On ABC’s “Good Morning America,” when pressed about her goals for gun legislation, Pelosi said the following: “… the Supreme Court has ruled in a direction that gives more opportunity for people to have guns. We never denied that right. We don’t want to take their guns away. We want them registered … and we have to rid the debate of the misconceptions that people have about what gun safety means.”

Pelosi’s idea of “gun safety” is every gun ban, ammunition ban and licensing scheme that has come across her desk. She’s spent an entire congressional career voting to deny the rights of lawful gun owners.

So apparently it’s actually Nancy Pelosi who’s creating a run on ammunition. Republican lawmakers better watch out though, lest their campaign contributions dry up completely. Why would Winchester Ammunition give money to Republicans when keeping Democrats in power is much better business? This administration has been such a boon to talk radio advertisers that I can’t imagine they’ll give Republicans another cent.

Recession? What recession? Ammunition suppliers are working overtime to supply our nation’s need for ammunition. Thanks Democrats!

No next Bill Gates

Another teabagger on CNN. The best part:

Commentary: Next generation won’t have a Bill Gates

If we cannot borrow money…The next generation won’t have a Bill Gates, a Steve Jobs or a Mark Zuckerberg because the budding American entrepreneur won’t be able to secure the financing to create the next dynamic technology company that would have energized the economy.

Why? Because kids with super rich parents will no longer get massive amounts of money from their parents with which they can startup a business? While I understand where this guys coming from, Venture Capital is actually one of the few places that is in no way impacted by the banks having trouble loaning. And Microsoft was hardly started by poor kids with no means, securing standard small business loans with a brilliant business plan.

The US’s spending is in a scary place. The bailouts are scary. But if anything we should be talking about how we regulate these markets so that no single bank can fail in the future and take out the rest of the banking system. If a company is being watched for being too big to fail, it should be broken up. Trust busting is essential to keeping the free market moving.

Stimulus Watch

This is a pretty cool project – You can vote on what you think should be stimulus priorities. So here goes with mine:

Boardwalk on Lady Bird Lake – so important. If you don’t think so try heading East from South Congress on the hike and bike trail. Then try not to get hit by a car as you walk through the lovely Austin American Statesman parking lot. Also enjoy the exhaust as you go over IH-35. Mmmmm…. tasty.

Waller Creek Tunnel Project – not as critical to me, but it would be nice to not have a river of basically sewage running through the middle of downtown Austin. I’m not as passionate about having a river walk as I am about having a nice way to get from the middle of downtown to the hike and bike trail easily. I always feel weird running through the middle of downtown in my running clothes.

Burnet Road Sidewalk Project – I am passionate about sidewalks. Because I really want them to be there when I need them.

East 7th Street upgrades – This is one of the main entryways to East Austin. Having spent a lot of time at the Off Center I can tell you that there are a lot of accidents and problems on this road. I believe this is also where we’ve had a number of child fatalities crossing the road. This is near a grocery store too, so we’re talking about sidewalks that get used.

North Lamar Sidewalk Project – I’m still passionate about sidewalks. This is also a low income area served by one of the most useful buses in Austin. The ADA accessibility is a must. I have trouble on a lot of these sidewalks in town with a jogging stroller. I don’t want to think about it with a wheelchair.

South 1st Street Side Walks – People actually walk on this street. A lot. Why don’t we have awesome sidewalks…?

Roy Guerrero Colorado River Park – This is in my neighborhood so I’m biased, but it does essentially extend the hike and bike trail to 183. And it’s just a beautiful park. I highly recommend it. We saw deer last time we were there. I can’t wait for the trail to be finished. While I like Town Lake, the natural beauty of the Colorado River is truly stunning.

Bowie Street Bicycle and Pedestrian Tunnel – Again, I highly believe that people don’t walk when they can’t get places. Build them tunnels and they will use them. I believe this is part of the Waller Creek plan.

William Cannon Sidewalk from Pleasant Valley to IH-36 Again, lots of poorer people. Multiple traffic fatalities. This is just a no brainer. The fact that you can’t walk from your house to the grocery store in the area is just ridiculous.

Brodie Lane Sidewalks from Travis County Line to Slaughter – I believe in sidewalks, what can I say. This just makes sense as Brodie has become like the Lamar of Far South Austin.

Lamar Street Bridge Lighting – I’m trying to figure out why people would vote against lighting the Lamar Street Bridge. This is really important for pedestrians in the winter months and when it’s foggy over the river.

AISD – Provide Access to Broadband to Low Income Students – As someone who makes a lot of money due to the fact that my parents had a computer and modem when I was very young, I strongly support efforts to get low income students access to technology.

Cap Metro – More Buses – I cannot argue with Cap Metro having more buses. More buses mean more trips. More trips mean more convenience. More convenience means more people using the bus.

Cap Metro – Rails and Trails – Add hike and bike trails along the red line. I think this is one of the best ideas I’ve seen in a long time. Even though I may disagree with how useful the red line is, having a hike and bike trail that cuts through Austin in this manner is a great idea. It would make riding your bike into town from Leander feasible and safe. It would make it trivial to walk from a restaurant downtown to see a show at the Off Center.

Cap Metro Signage Project – This is extremely important. The idea is to create a unique ID for each bus stop in Austin. You could then call a number to find out schedule times based on the exact stop you’re at. You’d memorize your home stop number and you’d never be lost again. This will improve service and make it easier to ride CapMetro.

So tell me, what would your priorities be? Which of mine do you think are silly?