Andrew Taylor

Well written editorials from a UH student

Archive for August 2009

Local music scene a hidden gem

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I have come to realize that Houston has an undiscovered music scene. Travel distances, crime, overshadowed character and a bad reputation constrict it.

To many Houstonians, music is not only an escape from the reality and stress, but one of the most popular hobbies.

Houston has always been and will always be a commuter city. When people hit the town, they worry about several problems and confront many constraints.

Traffic, distance to town, lack of parking, futile metropolitan transit and crime that results from the latter two combine to mask our city’s resources and creativity.

But, sometimes the music is worth fighting all these troubles.

Houston’s music scene does not lack quality, creativity or resources, but a strong character that withstands criticism and hardships. These obstacles result in a diminished character, one that is passed over and too often given up.

As the fourth largest city in the U.S., we boast more than 150 venues and independent shops where local talent can be discovered. Numbers like this keep Houston from silencing the music.

The Bayou City has a handful of excellent record and music stores, but Austin offers a larger variety.

Other cities, notably Austin, have more attuned characteristics because of fewer constraints and an abundance of spirit flowing through their city. With a metropolitan area that is lively and concentrated, Austin becomes music friendly, and in turn, a better place to be a musician.

We all know the motto citizens of Austin love to say: “Keep Austin weird.” Two nationally recognized festivals, Austin City Limits and South by Southwest, provide the city with a rich musical culture.

Austin’s acknowledgment and persona is not so monstrous that Houston has to settle for second. Eleanor Tinsley Park was home to the heart and soul of Houston’s music scene on Aug. 8. Thousands shared the grassy slopes of the park, uniting for one love.

Houston demonstrated that it lacks little in the department of spirit. Plus, those who attended exhibited their demand for livelier, top-notch music events.

It appeared that everyone was collectively saying, “We do not have to be the dusty guitar in the corner. No longer will we pawn our instruments and amplifiers in hope of a pilgrimage to somewhere more music-friendly.”

Free Press Houston (FPH) deserves an enormous amount of appreciation for shining a light on the potential that this city holds. One of the directors of the festival publicized his gratitude and said Houston will have another festival soon.

FPH should also be thanked for leading our city in spirit and character.

Houston has a ravenous appetite for music, countless talent and, most of all, locals who dream big and cannot to be stopped. With hope, our music scene will accelerate past Austin and the rest of the nation.

Andrew Taylor is an economics junior and may be reached at opinion@thedailycougar.com

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Written by aktaylor

August 28, 2009 at 2:12 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Unified curriculum vital to solid education

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Through the course of students’ collegiate experience, the last thing students critique or dissect is the singular value of core curriculums and their value to students and society.

Granted, one part of this premise is always heavily criticized. The math requirements plague many liberal arts undergraduates.

Despite endless frustration and semesters of stress and dread, mathematical courses still haunt many. The debates dissolve and the material is eventually forgotten.

The argument that students do not need a mathematically intense course during their college education is understandable, but still debatable. Core courses, such as college algebra, history or composition, are required because they serve a particular purpose, despite whether a student values that purpose.

Students should evaluate the quality, purity, efficiency and utility of the courses.

We should strive toward unanimously approving core curriculums that focus on lessons that are free of bias. If this occurs, the opinions of students and professors, along with the leaders of academia, could begin to converge.

The goal of unifying students and professors with leaders of academic institutions to define what is important in education should be worked toward continuously. It is difficult to eradicate politics from a college institution, but focusing on learning fundamental lessons is not.

In a New York Times article published Monday, Stanley Fish proposes an argument on how to teach. One of his ideas is to “teach the subject matter and (not) adulterate it with substitutes.”

This enlightening proposal not only makes sense, but would also make education and core curriculums more efficient and useful. Teaching subjects without cheap and useless filler is a solid plan for teaching objectively without confusion.

A concise and accurate lesson, depending on the subject matter, still has potential to be confusing. So, why do so many professors spend time inflating their lesson plans with not-so-subtle undertones and partisanship?

Politics and the overbearing power of academic leaders are part of the reason, but there must be a way to return to basics.

Fish also weighs in on a more evolved question, which focuses on curricular alternatives also discussed by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

“What can a core curriculum do that the proliferation of options and choices (two words excoriated in an ACTA report) cannot?” Fish said.

He found an answer written in the same ACTA report.

“The important benefit of a coherent core curriculum is its ability to foster a ‘common conversation’ among students, connecting them more closely with faculty and with each other,” ACTA said.

As Fish says in the New York Times article, ACTA’s answer can be obtained no matter what is in the core curriculum. What is in these courses is not as important as professors’ focus on teaching each subject fundamentally and accurately.

Lesson plans that are free of confusing filler will preserve an educational core. If every student has a mandatory curriculum, core plans should always strive to be as unadulterated as possible.

Andrew Taylor is an economics junior and may be reached at opinion@thedailycougar.com

Written by aktaylor

August 28, 2009 at 2:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Hope for Change: Successful health care options need publicity

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Despite the rumors, faulty information, lies and half-truths, a working public health care plans have been successfully executed.

San Francisco and Massachusetts have begun using public option plans, creating competition between private and public health plans. The result is more honest, affordable prices, which is precisely the point of a public plan for health care.

On July 1, 2007, Healthy San Francisco went into effect. The plan, created by Gavin Newsom, is not insurance, but medical aide and support provided by the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

The program is tantamount to private health insurance, but works with one restriction: services are offered only in San Francisco. So far, more than 45,000 citizens of San Francisco have enrolled. Factored into the city’s nearly 60,000 uninsured, the plan is a model for success.

The program is funded through the cooperation of businesses that use an employer-spending requirement. It has shown businesses can work with the department of public health to achieve a successful public plan.

William Dow, a senior economist for former President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers, and two notable health care economists, Arindrajit Dube and Carrie Hoverman Colla, believe San Francisco’s success is rightfully noted.

“We have seen how concern over employer costs can be a sticking point in the health care debate, even in the absence of persuasive evidence that increased costs would seriously harm businesses,” Dow, Dube and Colla wrote in a New York Times article published Friday. “San Francisco’s example should put some of those fears to rest. Many businesses there had to raise their health spending substantially to meet the new requirements, but so far the plan has not hurt jobs.”

Through research, Dow, Dube and Colla discovered the channels from which employers dealt with the added costs from the employer-spending requirement.

“More than 25 percent of restaurants, for example, have instituted a ‘surcharge’ — about 4 percent of the bill for most establishments — to pay for the additional costs. Local service businesses can add this surcharge (or raise prices) without risking their competitive position, since their competitors will be required to take similar measures,” they wrote. “Furthermore, some of the costs may be passed on to employees in the form of smaller pay raises, which could help ward off the possibility of job losses.”

Many of the costs are projected to dissolve in the long run, when the fear of losing health insurance and affordability disbands.

“Over the longer term, if more widespread coverage allows people to choose jobs based on their skills and not out of fear of losing health insurance from one specific employer, increased productivity will help pay for some of the costs of the mandate,” they wrote.

The substantial proof from San Francisco’s model is ripe for use to combat the fears and doubts of opponents of the public plan proposal.

Similar to Healthy San Francisco, Massachusetts has a plan called Health Connector. Health Connector is an independent state agency that helps its residents find coverage and avoid tax penalties.

The plan has two options, Commonwealth Choice and Commonwealth Care. Commonwealth Choice offers many name-brand health insurance options, while Commonwealth Care claims to offer low or no-cost health insurance to those who qualify.

Health Connector is saving residents’ money and providing top-notch insurance. In a message from Health Connector Executive Director Jon Kingsdale, proof of affordability and value can be seen.

“In a press release issued earlier this week, we announced that the Commonwealth Care program has experienced an annualized premium trend of 4.7 percent since program inception through the fiscal year ending June 2010,” Kingsdale said. “This compares to private market trends on the order of 8 to 10 percent during the time period. This significantly lower trend for Commonwealth Care translates to a savings in excess of $100 million for the taxpayers of the Commonwealth.”

With savings of more than $100 million for one commonwealth of tax payers and record numbers of enrollment in San Francisco, similar plans should be demanded at town hall meetings in Houston and other cities.

Andrew Taylor is an economics junior and may be reached at opinion@thedailycougar.com

Written by aktaylor

August 28, 2009 at 2:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Healthcare Hysteria, a point/counterpoint

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Will Obama’s plan help the uninsured or is it another excuse for government expansion?

By Timothy Mathis

By Andrew Taylor

Published: Monday, August 24, 2009

Updated: Sunday, August 23, 2009

POINT

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has famously stated that one should never let a serious crisis go to waste.

It should come as no surprise that President Barack Obama’s administration has used the recession as an excuse to expand the role of the U.S. government.

This enlargement includes a $787 billion stimulus package, the Markey-Waxman cap-and-trade bill, government takeover of GM and Chrysler. Now Obama has his eyes set on health care overhaul.

The speed of this administration is unprecedented, using what Obama inaccurately calls the worst economy since the Great Depression in an attempt to enact policies so quickly that debate will be almost non-existent.

Americans were against the stimulus plans in many polls. Rasmussen polling indicated that only 12 percent of Americans strongly supported Markey-Waxman.

Obama, however, remained popular due to his charisma. Public opinion in the U.S. moves quite slowly. Obama has capitalized on this and retained his popularity, despite a majority of Americans who are opposed to his policies. He depended on his exquisite oratory and the bitter aftertaste of former President George W. Bush to sell the snake oil called “change we can believe in.”

The administration initially avoided public debate. Now, people are looking beyond communication to the actual results of the policies his administration and cohorts in Congress have enacted.

The stimulus, which was supposed to cap unemployment at 8 percent, failed to do so. The GM and Chrysler takeovers were designed to save the automakers from bankruptcy, but they failed.

The Markey-Waxman bill will not be effective in reducing greenhouse gases, according to the EPA. The Cash for Clunkers program ran out of money in about one week. Given these monumental failures, it is not hard to realize why Americans are skeptical about a government-led overhaul of health care.

Skepticism of the government is as American as apple pie, baseball and “tea party” protests. The debate about the push for health care is based on what is in the President’s plans.

The House bill will cost more than $1 trillion and still leave 15 to 20 million of these individuals uninsured. The U.S. deficit is at $1.3 trillion, and quite frankly, we cannot afford to double it.
Obama dismissed the problem by sneering that the Bush administration had a spending problem as well.

Although Obama ran on fiscal conservatism and fixing the deficit, his approach on the deficit appears to be “fix it by spending more.”
By Obama’s rationale, firemen should try putting out flames with kerosene.

Timothy Mathis is a history junior and may be reached at opinion@thedailycougar.com

COUNTERPOINT

Texans are familiar with broken systems and health care failures. Houston is home to 13 hospitals, some of the nation’s leading technology and research, as well as the country’s largest ratio of uninsured patients (30 percent).

Uninsured patients are the targets of President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul plan. Americans without insurance are an enormous burden on the U.S. health care system, so it is quite sensible to find a way to give them coverage.

Many academics who study health care policy have agreed on the importance of adding government-operated health care clinics. These health centers are designed to alleviate pressure from overcrowded emergency rooms, hospitals and doctor offices.

In an article written by Chris Baltimore, published on Reuters.com, Baltimore astutely notices the reform and speaks with officials who realize reform is sorely needed.

In a discussion between Baltimore and El Franco Lee Health Center Director Ricci Sanchez, Sanchez said community clinics will not only help alleviate pressure and costs.

“We’re catching up with a lot of unmet demand. A lot of them were crowding the emergency rooms, and a lot of them were not seeking care at all,” Sanchez said.

The successes of these clinics prove that the lack of coverage among Americans is the main culprit of rising costs. These clinics are designed to care for patients early and regularly. Plus, they provide a cheaper and more efficient alternative to waiting in emergency rooms.

In Baltimore’s article, Guy Clifton, a neurosurgeon at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, voiced his recognition that community clinics are the correct step in reform.

“Harris County’s clinic-building effort is exactly the right move, and statistics indicate that such efforts have spurred a decline in emergency room usage,” Clifton said.

Clifton knows price is the first issue to address, as improper spending could be fatal to reform.

“To make emergency rooms work and primary care work, you have to get them covered,” Clifton said. “But if we don’t deal with cost, and we are not dealing with costs, this is going to end very badly.”

Despite statistical proof of improving reform, Obama has been continually derailed by decisive partisan politics. During his campaign for presidency, he spoke of ending this division.

Obama appears to have picked a challenge bigger than any other, and the unrelenting right has refused to lift their efforts toward reason or logic.

Obama demonstrated an ability to push through obstacles and overcome inorganic fear during his run to the White House. We can only hope that he also succeeds with health care overhaul.

Andrew Taylor is an economics junior and may be reached at opinion@thedailycougar.com

Written by aktaylor

August 28, 2009 at 1:55 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Energy Industry Carries Us Through the Recession

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Houston’s relationship with energy industries and The Port of Houston has kept us relatively protected from the painful recession that has firmly gripped our nation.

As oil prices drop and demand remains low, investment, production and drilling have slowed. This drop in business will be felt by numerous energy and oil firms in Houston, as they scale back due to reduced business and incentive to drill.

In a question and answer session published in the Houston Chronicle on August 1, L.M. Sixel reports the statements of some of the Houston area’s leading energy gurus and economists.

When asked how the Houston economy stacks up compared to the rest of the nation, the response was mixed. Dana Johnson, chief economist of Comerica Bank, isn’t as optimistic as others about Houston’s forecast.

“During the past six months, Houston’s economy is no longer outperforming the nation,” Johnson said.

Johnson sees economic prosperity in Houston’s future in relation to exports as the economy rebounds, but is not as positive in terms of our energy leaders.

“Global trading has been slammed and the energy market isn’t doing as well,” Johnson said. “Natural gas prices have declined so far and aren’t likely to recover, which means drilling activity will remain fairly subdued this year and next.”

Marcela Donadio, oil and gas leader for the Ernst & Young Energy Center in Houston, feels Houston’s energy leaders have handled the price volatility well.

“Even though crude prices in the last year fell from $145 a barrel to $30 a barrel, Houston hasn’t seen the ‘slash-and-burn’ type of adjustments that were used in downturns during past decades when companies aggressively pared their payrolls,” Donadio said.

Donadio’s brighter outlook is largely because of energy companies’ measured response to the recession.

“While energy companies in general have been downsizing and adjusting their capital budgets, they’re also trying very hard to retain staff and continue their capital spending programs. That long-term outlook is helping the city of Houston,” Donadio said.

David Santana, president of the Greater Heights Area Chamber of Commerce, predicts Houston will rebound faster than most because of our strengths that kept us protected at the start of the recession.

“Houston will rebound faster, largely because real estate never reached the overinflated levels of Florida, Nevada or California,” Santana said.

Paul Bettencourt, president and corporate executive officer of Bettencourt Tax Advisors, is keeping an eye on local spending, namely “two to three months of rising sales tax revenues. It’s the best governmental indicator I know,” Bettencourt told the Chronicle.

As a whole, the Houston economy has toughed out one of the worst recessions in history. Our challenges should bring more opportunities for the future.

Andrew Taylor is an economics junior and may be reached at opinion@thedailycougar.com

Written by aktaylor

August 4, 2009 at 7:25 pm

Posted in Uncategorized