Left of center: is there a Texas political “center” and how’s it doing?

Packed house at #tribunefest for Kay Bailey and discussion of the Texas political "center"

Can the Center Hold?

To be (in the center) or not to be? Thus is the question today discussed with Evan Smith (Tribfest) with those listed above. Quotable quotes:

The system is dominated by money.

We don’t have any idea where we are going to. Republicans are talking nonsensical garbage.

Hutchinson – redistributing and gerrymandering. The primary system. If we are going to have the current primary system as it is in Texas, you have to appear to a narrow section of the voters, the ones who vote the primaries. Voters should VOTE in the primaries. (Compares the Texas system to the one in Louisiana, where the primaries are open to all voters.

Various quotes, typed off the cuff, filling in some missing bits and consolidating the various speakers without direct quotes, ideas to think about:

Because of social media, you now hear every insult cast, everything that used to happen behind the curtain is now out in the open. This gives more strength to [those looking for all the facts). But when it’s all out in the open, it seems like the angrier you are in public, the more likely you are to win.

But the bottom line is that you must vote. If you care, vote.

Money talks, the political center walks...to the right. #tribunefest

Bill Bradley  Jon M. Huntsman Jr.  Kay Bailey Hutchison  Ron Kirk 
Kasim Reed  Evan Smith (mod.)

Things are bad. Clinton said The subheading for the US Constitution ought to be “Let’s Make a Deal.” It used to be that you could make a deal and get a decision made, so that progress could be made. Compromise is not a four-letter words. Without the ability for compromise, America is in danger of not being considered an effective country in the eyes of others in the worlds.

Now, there are no more battles: there are only wars. Example: passage of the debt ceiling, congressional authority. These types of things did not used to blow up as they do now. Everything is escalated.

This might be caused by the constant money chase, as reelection is always on the minds of the elected officials, polluting their minds. There is an “opportunity cost” to this, politically.

For example, what did we do about the debts related to the civil war. Thomas Jefferson did not want to “bail out” the “spendthrifts.” Hamilton resolved it with Washington by offering to move the capital of the US. The deal was cut and the feds assumed the state debt. This is compromise at a very high level and an excellent example.

Try this one: we sold Louisiana, based on a deal that was struck. Now, no one can make any kind of deal, however small, these days. It’s just..unpopular and some would claim, un-American.

We’ve lost the balance of powers. The 2/3 rule, the 60 percent or 75 rule forced compromise. The reduction of the voting threshold in the US Congress, and the proposed threshold reduction for Texas Lege, is a negative for compromise.

When you are in government there is no place to run or hide. If you make an error you are bounced out of office. But in every organization, you have to cut deals and make compromises. But in the US Congress, there is no willingness to sit down and solve problems.

So, how do you change the culture from animosity to compromise seeking? But you have to give the people who WANT to solve the problems something to do, instead of making them sit on the sidelines watching the gridlock.

There is never an acceptable reason for not solving problems. If you fail to solve problems, you will be voted out of the Senate or the House. If there was a viable third party, everyone on this stage would be in it. This group is the center – in theory, the most liberal of the conservatives and the most conservative of the liberals.

Let there be no labels. In America, there is this belief that everything can fit into one of the other label of Democratic or Republican.

Duck, lie, and dodge – not an option as a mayor. Because the voters will see you in the streets and in a grocery store. You have to stand and deliver, and be willing to defend your words and actions to the people you meet in the street.

We are a country of disruptors. None of the existing labels work to realistically cover the immediate situation we are in right now in this country and we have to throw out the labels if we want to see discussions occur and compromises made that allow forward movement.

Ross Perot and that separate party – doomed not to succeed. The other parties will smash any attempts of Perot to success as an alternate to Dem/Rep. You will never defeat power except by power itself. There should be a third congressional party that stands for three or four key things, such as election finance reform. This group should run in selected districts and present the problem to the country: the problem is in congress. Let’s fix it by bringing in a candidate from this third central party. This could work as a six-year strategy, funded by interested parties. (wondering just who these people would be if campaign finance reform were to take place).

We need to have actions taken by people who are not the current “Gang of Six.”

During a spirited discussion, Kay finally interrupts one speaker to say, “May I say…may I interject and say…because I was ….there…” Yes, being there does have some weight, I hope, in this discussion about “what happened” in a political struggle.

Discussion of the Tea Party versus the President. What if we woke up tomorrow and the Tea Party was gone. Or, the current President was gone. Is this what it would take to get things moving again in congress?

Extremist who will not cut deals reveal themselves in voting situations when they block major infrastructure deals to move forward in congress and in similar situations. We could not come together during this very difficult, challenging time for America and this shows how serious the problem is.

The power of no – harness it for progress and not for stalemate. No, no, no, does not get it done.

Interesting that most of those on the stage are not going to run again for a political position; this might be a factor in their candor.

“I smile when I fight.” Let’s organize the angels in our fight to win for the good of the country. I love the fight, I love campaigns, as long as we do it such as way that it leads society forward.

I’m exited about helping the next generation of leaders. Every great revolution was started by someone in their twenties. The stock market is higher than its ever been. Our economy is growing. Our unemployment rate has been cut in half. We have millions of people with health insurance who did not have it before.

Healthcare: broken promises, broken state, broken healthcare system

Texas versus Healthcare, er, "Obama care"


Michael Burgess 
Garnet Coleman  Sarah Davis  Kyle Janek  Charles Schwertner  Charles Ornstein (mod.) 

(Update: This panel was packed and during the open questions section, the audience was extremely energized over the issues, going from laud applause to outright boos to panelists who were opposed to the Affordable Care Act. One audience member added that he was surprised that even the state of Oklahoma was ahead of Texas in finding a way to fund Medicare to meet the needs of its citizens.)

Some people just don’t deserve healthcare, apparently. We need healthcare reform, of yes of course we do. But getting it done like other other countries do, through a government program and through providing healthcare – and requiring it – to entire nation, is just not quite the way the Republicans want to do it. Not that any other options have been put on the table. It’s easy to trash an initiative. It’s a lot harder to work together to come up with a solution to the healthcare crisis that is helping to cripple the American economy.

To be eligible for healthcare subsidies and assistance in Texas, you have make less than $200 a month. But some people are concerned that a person who did the paperwork to qualify for healthcare support might somehow over the course of time earn more than $200 a month and therefore no longer deserve assistance. Madness.

The only way to get help for yourself or your family is to be without any source of (legal) income, whether it’s food stamps for children or the elderly, or healthcare. Oh, and while you are waiting for needed food or healthcare, let’s do a drug test for good measure. Because if someone has a drug problem, the last thing we might want to do is provide them with any kind of help. Heartless.

Ridiculous regulations were put in place to keep concerned helpers from giving information and instruction to the disadvantaged on how to sign up for healthcare. Because we wouldn’t want people to be misled. Better that they have no information at all. Cynical.

Garnet Coleman: “We all understand that people need healthcare. Texas constituents want us to provide this service for them….and with cancer …we have made a commitment to cancer [treatment] but not to those who need the cancer treatment.” (this got applause from the audience.

Opponents claim that Medicare expansion is not an option, that we can’t add “able bodied” people into a system that is already providing healthcare to a current set of Medicare recipients. What does “able bodied” mean in this context? Able to go out and pay for their own healthcare? Or able to go “get a job” in an economic scenario where most people can no longer obtain a full-time job that offers the benefit of healthcare as part of employment?

Kyle Janek, Commissioner of Texas Health and Human Services, suggested that people don’t need a healthcare card  – if they get sick they can already just show up  at some clinics (as opposed to hospitals? but it’s well known that most show up at the hospital, which is cripplingly expensive) and get care without having the “Obama” style healthcare plan in hand.

Garnet Coleman: “There is a difference between showing up at a clinic for care, and having an insurance card in your pocket and being able to have a primary card doctor…. it’s called certainty.”

Janek talked about a “safety net” that is currently dispelling the old myth that the only place you can go for help without a card is the hospital, as there are clinics that “stay open late” to provide healthcare to the uninsured. He admits that there is a “terrible” nursing shortage in Texas.

The children’s healthcare act is set to be sunsetted as the affordable care act was supposed to take over for this type of care. It’s not yet in place to provide that coverage.

Again, like every other failing system, right-wing anti-government spokespersons decry how Medicare is overburdened and underfunded – but it’s standard and well-understood operating procedure for Republicans to starve a program of needed funds for decades and make a campaign to shut down a “failing” system, when appropriate funding would keep the system running effectively. This has been seen locally with the cynical starving of funding for the mental health facilities in Texas, such as the state hospitals, followed by presentations to the Lege to close them and replace them with private, for-profit systems.

Panelist suggest that the Affordable Heathcare Act was extraordinarily “disruptive” to the system. Unlike tech conference culture, there is a lack of understanding about the positive potential for disruptive change – particularly a disruptive change in an area that is shockingly broken and corrupt.

So, it’s costing more money to get better healthcare. Hold the fake “surprise and dismay” about having to pay more, because the very folks who can afford to pay more are the ones complaining the loudest. And if healthy people are forced to pay into the very system that will be there for them when illness strikes, are we really supposed to care about that selfish whining? Anyone who works for a state agency that takes a percentage of the worker’s salary to put into a pension plan understands that some of the pool or workers will never get a pension, just like some people potentially might never “need” significant healthcare. But don’t count on it.

As those who have significant health issues say, if you are healthy and “able bodied” now, you are basically the temporarily able, because illness and disease does not prey exclusively upon morally lazy people – even the hardest working person may find themselves stricken with serious illness, faced with the loss of their job – and if healthcare is tied to their job, then they can look forward to the loss of their home, to overwhelming debts, and crippling burdens for themselves and their families.

Cynical or myopic denial of the need to work with the necessary “disruption” of “Obamacare” is delaying the solution. Some blame the “budget deficit” saying that if we appropriately fund the system, we are just borrowing from the future. But proponents like Garnet Coleman say that more people are invested in not finding solutions and throwing around inflammatory rhetoric instead of working towards a realistic and ethical solution to the problem of healthcare.

Texas transportation and High-Speed Rail: more of a wish than a plan, but the money is there

TxTribfest Transportation

Transportation what’s next?   Robert Eckels  Clay Jenkins  Bill Meadows  Jonathan Stickland 
Marc Williams  Aman Batheja (mod.)  (speakers not seated in order of names listed, hotlinked name list is from the Texas Tribune Festival Website)

I’m not as excited as the panelists about the “exiting opportunities” for Texas transportation, as it has beenimplemented over the last decade. Honestly, with the demographic data in hand, and the politics imposed on what should be a clear-eyed effort to provide decent infrastructure for every citizen – not just those who can afford to pay to drive on toll roads – a fantastic amount of resources are now needed to build Texas out of the hole its fall in, thanks to a lack of vision and political will  in decades past.

Gimlet-eyed communities who looked askance at high-speed for fifty years are waking up to the urgent need for mass transit options.

There is an interesting initiattive for high-speed rail from Mexico to states above Texas. This is exactly the direction that planners should go in, as this mirrors the I-35 corridor. TxDOT should facilitate this project and stop thinking of itself as a builder of road. TxDOT should be a provider of transportation infrastructure in whatever shape or form is needed for future travelers.

Oklahoma is now in “project-level” development with Texas on a plan to consider high-speed rail for the corridor, from Oklahoma to South Texas. Mexico is interested in building and linking a system to that proposed system.

There are the types of visionary ideas that need to be funded. They of course want this to be funded through private investment – because apparently it is not longer appropriate or possible to get basic transportation needs funded by the United States government.

Starting with the corridor between Houston to Dallas would be an interesting direction for development.

There are scoping meeting planned for areas most tangent to the proposed route for high-speed rail. Smaller towns along the way understand that, if the train does not come near their town, it never will, so communities understand what is at stake economically if they resist the plan.

But  the state’s role in high-speed rail is diminished by the entry of the private players. The argument is that there is such stringent opposition to use of government funds, in part to the ongoing, toxic war between fundamental conservatives and progressives that taking the funding private does an end run over political gridlock. It is also an admission that Texas is bankrupt, as far as transportation funding for rail goes.

Get ready for roads and rail built by private companies who will be involved in making decisions that involve bulldozing areas that are in the way of the straight line needed for the rail to travel. Voters, who have not been able to see their own needs as their transportation system started to crawl, will take a back seat to industry now –  and it’s full speed ahead for the folks with the bags of money to invest in a system that the rest of us seem to have given up on.

Weirdly enough, I feel sort of hopeful. These guys don’t want to see future failure and they seem pretty psyched about this plan.  We are at the breaking point  – TxDOT has a five million transportation funding deficit. Too bad venture capitalist  are not as excited about funding high-speed rail as they are in Uber, AirB&B, and grocery delivery apps. But between the twin devils of politicians and private investors, maybe its time to back the one who can actually build a high-speed rail.

Where there’s a weirdo, there’s a way: why weird wins over vanilla every time

Michael Lazerow wants you to be weird. Because weird is good. He’s in the right place: he’s at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, in a vortex chock full of smart chocolate chip weirdos rolled up in a big all of marketer and VC goo. But even burnt — and we are all pretty burnt after three days of non-stop SxSW activities — it’s still tasty.

Michael gets messages late at night from Gary Vanderchuk telling him that he loves him. He offered to pay Michael’s two sons $200 bucks apiece to become Jets fans. (they declined. They came back hard at Gary, asking for $5,000 to switch. Gary came back with a $1,700 offer. See Vimeo for the full story.) He thinks differently. He’s living the life he wants to live. It’s working out just fine. 

(You can read Micheal’s entire post on the topic here: http://www.lazerow.com/2011/09/gary-v-offers-5000-to-cole-myles-to-like-jets.html )

Or take James Atucher (see his Twitter for samples of his tweets: crazy stuff  pops out there at 3 am. https://twitter.com/jaltucher ). He went on television to suggest that everyone should quit their jobs immediately. Since all companies are firing every employee, anyway, just go ahead a quit preemptively …because you should know that employed people are “like the living dead.”

Or consider Cyndy Gallup. Michael says that Cyndy is one of the most successful and happiest people he knows. She’s head of an ad agency. She’s known for her fabulously decorated home in Manhattan. She’s half Chinese, half British and spent some time in the socially oppressive  Brunei. She has a Chanel machine gun art on the wall, a Gucci chainsaw, and erotic Jade sculptures on the coffee table. She got a Ted talk without telling them her topic. She discussed her sexual experiences with men in their early twenties. She observed that young men are so immersed in hard-core porn that they believe that sex, as it is depicted in the fictional world of porn, is reality. This leads to some bizarre and hilarious ideas of how men think they are expected to behave in bed. She launched Make Love, Not Porn, and encourages healthy discussions around the topic of sex. See her Ted Talk on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FV8n_E_6Tpc  (Or check her twitter site https://twitter.com/makelovenotporn )

Michael posted a piece with LinkedIn on why weirdos are better than normal people that got more than 700 comments. Some said that embracing their weirdness was the turning point in their lives, where they really began to live in an authentic way. (Full article is here: http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130324141810-1714080-why-weirdos-outperform-normals )

His point is this: everyone is born different. We grow up with some powerful motivators to tuck our heads down, get in line, and fit in. Next thing you know you are a lawyer or an accountant – and then it just gets worse, going forward. Forget passion (unless of course you have a burning desire to operate as a CPA or patent attorney).

During the 1950s,  psychologist Solomon Asch performed a conformity experiment and found that most people were willing to deny the evidence of their own eyes and conform to the incorrect responses of planted subjects who gave the wrong answer deliberately. And you know, intuitively, that you’ve done this yourself, so don’t lie: under the right circumstances, most of us will avoid the confrontation of going against the crowd. (See Wiki on the experiments here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments )

There’s survival at stake on this conformity thing. Growing up, most of us get a LOT of practice at following orders. Stepping out of line is risky. And yet it might be the most important thing you do.

In the Milgram experiment, another classic early psychology research test that is now considered by most to be unethical, subjects were coerced verbally by an authority figure to shock a person, while screams went on the adjacent room. (See wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment ). Turns out that most of us are conditioned to obey.

None of us can sit in judgment on the casual cruelty that goes on all around us – in institutions, in corporations, in any power dynamic where authority is surrendered to another person who tells you what to do. Ethics start with institutional structures, because once the average person is dropped into a structured system, they all pretty much behave the same, whether for good or ill.

So, how could we build in nonconformity into the process of education? Currently, the entire system is set up to drill students on required material for standardized testing and teacher salaries and school system allotments are based upon the results of those tests.

Check out Alfie Kohn: how do grades reduce quality? Grades reduce an interest in learning; they encourage you to pick easy tasks, easy classes, instead of taking on challenges where failure is possible, and they encourage lazy thought. The end product, for society, is an army of average Joes, doing the same thing day after day, performing  Homer Simpson quality work, and drifting from one low expectation to another until they drop into the grave. (See Kohn’s article: http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/tcag.htm )

Look at how conformity has affected music, something we used to think was a place where you might expect to encounter creativity. Now, a huge contingent of listeners are hearing the same top 40 songs on Spotify.

So, how did all this boring stuff happen? The sad answer: chasing the brass ring.

Americans have become excellent at being average. How do we get out of this situation? Try getting in touch with your inner weirdness.  Find out what makes you NOT a commodity, what makes you special and unique, give that weirdness a big hug, and don’t be afraid to stick out. Because being weird is better. And being weird is easier. Because you get to be yourself. At last.

So, how can we, as individuals, deal with the pressure and the challenges? Michael gave us a  bullet list on what being a weirdo could look like (in bullet points):

  • Social influence: weirdos are comfortable sticking out in a crowd. They are comfortable about who they are.
  • Influence: weirdos are willing to question common beliefs publicity with conviction.
  • Authority: weirdos listen to their gut and are follow their nose, motivated by their own desires and unafraid to pursue their dreams.
  • And do it now. There’s never been a better time to stand up for your own weird self.

So, to get back to James Atucher: is it time to quit your job? What would be an authentic life – for you?

Links

More images from 2014 South by Southwest Interactive
http://www.flickr.com/photos/clairwiloh/sets/72157642467963724/

http://eventifier.co/event/sxsw14/photos

2014 SxSW Interactive Presentations on Soundcloud 

https://soundcloud.com/officialsxsw/sets/sxsw-interactive-2014

Find out more about the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin Texas

http://sxsw.com/

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