Texas Shows Tort Reform Works

 

   "Dr. Donald W. Patrick, executive director of the Texas Medical Board, with applications for medical licenses sent to it."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article quoted, and cited, below. 

 

HOUSTON, Oct. 4 — In Texas, it can be a long wait for a doctor: up to six months.

That is not for an appointment. That is the time it can take the Texas Medical Board to process applications to practice.

Four years after Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment limiting awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, doctors are responding as supporters predicted, arriving from all parts of the country to swell the ranks of specialists at Texas hospitals and bring professional health care to some long-underserved rural areas.

The influx, raising the state’s abysmally low ranking in physicians per capita, has flooded the medical board’s offices in Austin with applications for licenses, close to 2,500 at last count.

“It was hard to believe at first; we thought it was a spike,” said Dr. Donald W. Patrick, executive director of the medical board and a neurosurgeon and lawyer. But Dr. Patrick said the trend — licenses up 18 percent since 2003, when the damage caps were enacted — has held, with an even sharper jump of 30 percent in the last fiscal year, compared with the year before.

“Doctors are coming to Texas because they sense a friendlier malpractice climate,” he said.

 

For the full story, see: 

RALPH BLUMENTHAL.  "After Texas Caps Malpractice Awards, Doctors Rush to Practice There."  The New York Times  (Fri., October 5, 2007):  A21.

 

Think “Passports” When You Hear a Call to Grow the Government

 

     In an earlier blog entry, I expressed my own personal outrage at the passport debacle. 

 

HOUSTON, June 6 — With government phone lines jammed by record numbers of passport-seekers, Veronica Alvarez and three anxious friends hoping to travel to Cancun next week showed up at the federal building here on Wednesday at 3 a.m.

There were 11 people in line ahead of them.

“We’ve been calling for a week every day,” said Ms. Alvarez, 29, a bank clerk, who joined about 1,200 people who have been besieging the downtown office here daily for word on their passports, some of which were requested in February.

The State Department has acknowledged long delays from “unprecedented demand” after new rules requiring passports for travelers returning from Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. It expects to announce new measures soon to ease the nationwide crush.

. . .

Much of the spike in applications is attributed to the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which went into effect Jan. 23 and requires passports, merchant mariner documents or frequent-traveler Nexus cards for air travelers returning from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda. Next January, the requirement is likely to be extended to ship, rail and road travelers.

But somehow, the government seemed caught by surprise when crowds began besieging passport offices this spring.

. . .

“Basically, they’ve taken my money,” said Kevin Owens, 39, an oil industry employee, who sent in an expedited application April 20 and, with a June 14 trip to Jamaica looming, was still passportless. “The whole process is —” he searched for a word — “lacking.”

. . .

 A nervous Brianna Pollinger, 35, of suburban Katy, Tex., arrived at the passport office on Tuesday not knowing whether she would be able to leave Friday on a 10-year anniversary trip to Mexico with her husband. But after waiting nearly eight hours, she emerged with a prized blue-covered booklet. Was she mollified? “Oh, no,” she said. “I definitely minded.”

 

For the full story, see: 

RALPH BLUMENTHAL.  "Travelers Face Frustrations With Passport Rule Changes."  The New York Times   (Thurs., June 7, 2007):  A20.

(Note:  ellipses added.)

 

  Notice how excited those in line seem to be at hearing what passport official Eric Botts ist telling them.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 

Let There Be Light

 

  One of Mark Bent’s solar flashlights stuck in a wall to illuminate a classroom in Africa.  Source of the photo:   http://bogolight.com/images/success6.jpg

 

What Africa most needs, to grow and prosper, is to eject kleptocratic war-lord governments, and to embrace property rights and the free market.  But in the meantime, maybe handing out some solar powered flashlights can make some modest improvements in how some people live.

The story excerpted below is an example of private, entrepreneur-donor-involved, give-while-you-live philanthropy that holds a greater promise of actually doing some good in the world, than other sorts of philanthropy, or than government foreign aid. 

 

FUGNIDO, Ethiopia — At 10 p.m. in a sweltering refugee camp here in western Ethiopia, a group of foreigners was making its way past thatch-roofed huts when a tall, rail-thin man approached a silver-haired American and took hold of his hands. 

The man, a Sudanese refugee, announced that his wife had just given birth, and the boy would be honored with the visitor’s name. After several awkward translation attempts of “Mark Bent,” it was settled. “Mar,” he said, will grow up hearing stories of his namesake, the man who handed out flashlights powered by the sun.

Since August 2005, when visits to an Eritrean village prompted him to research global access to artificial light, Mr. Bent, 49, a former foreign service officer and Houston oilman, has spent $250,000 to develop and manufacture a solar-powered flashlight.

His invention gives up to seven hours of light on a daily solar recharge and can last nearly three years between replacements of three AA batteries costing 80 cents.

Over the last year, he said, he and corporate benefactors like Exxon Mobil have donated 10,500 flashlights to United Nations refugee camps and African aid charities.

Another 10,000 have been provided through a sales program, and 10,000 more have just arrived in Houston awaiting distribution by his company, SunNight Solar.

“I find it hard sometimes to explain the scope of the problems in these camps with no light,” Mr. Bent said. “If you’re an environmentalist you think about it in terms of discarded batteries and coal and wood burning and kerosene smoke; if you’re a feminist you think of it in terms of security for women and preventing sexual abuse and violence; if you’re an educator you think about it in terms of helping children and adults study at night.”

Here at Fugnido, at one of six camps housing more than 21,000 refugees 550 miles west of Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, Peter Gatkuoth, a Sudanese refugee, wrote on “the importance of Solor.”

“In case of thief, we open our solor and the thief ran away,” he wrote. “If there is a sick person at night we will took him with the solor to health center.”

A shurta, or guard, who called himself just John, said, “I used the light to scare away wild animals.” Others said lights were hung above school desks for children and adults to study after the day’s work.

 

For the full story, see:

Will Connors and Ralph Blumenthal.  "Letting Africa’s Sun Deliver the Luxury of Light to the Poor."  The New York Times, Section 1  (Sun., May 20, 2007):  8.

(Note:  the title of the article on line was:  "Solar Flashlight Lets Africa’s Sun Deliver the Luxury of Light to the Poorest Villages.")

 

 EthiopiaMap.gif   Source of map:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 

Easily Available Capital and Technology Lower Barriers to Entry in Oil Industry

 

CobaltOilDataAnalysis.jpg   "Cobalt scientists analyze data to help pinpoint oil deposits."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

(p. 1)  HOUSTON.  JOSEPH H. BRYANT, still boyish-looking at 51, jostles with glee among tens of thousands of people here at the Offshore Technology Conference, one of the energy industry’s biggest trade fairs. He is surrounded by newfangled technologies occupying more than half a million square feet of display space: drills stuffed with electronic sensors, underwater wells shaped like Christmas trees, mini-submarines and pipes, pumps, tubes, gauges, valves and gadgets galore.

“There is every little gizmo you need to make this business work,” Mr. Bryant says, joyously. He stops at a plastic model of an offshore oil rig, an exact replica of a huge platform he commissioned while running BP’s business in Angola a few years ago. “I love this stuff.”

Like the pieces of a giant puzzle, the parts showcased here could fit together and build an oil company — and that’s exactly what Mr. Bryant set out to do two years ago after a 30-year career directing energy projects for the likes of Amoco, Unocal and BP. With a team composed largely of retired energy executives, he wants to hunt for oil in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico or offshore West Africa, challenging Big Oil in its own backyard.

The American oil patch, once left to languish during an extended period of low oil prices, is on the rebound. Wildcatters like Mr. Bryant are ready to pounce. With oil prices now hovering around $60 a barrel — three times higher than they were throughout the 1990s — the industry is expanding at a pace last seen decades ago.

“The oil industry has changed dramatically in the last 20 years,” Mr. Bryant says. “Barriers to entry have dropped significantly. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the business 100 years or 100 days.”

Easily available capital and technology, once the preserve of traditional oil companies, are reordering the business. Investors are lining up to finance energy projects while leaps in computing power, imaging tech-(p. 7)nology and collaborative online networks now allow the smallest entities to compete on an equal footing with the biggest players.

“There’s a lot of money out there looking for opportunities,” said John Schaeffer, the head of the oil and gas unit at GE Energy Financial Services. “It seems like everyone wants to own an oil well now.”

Still, oil exploration remains a costly business fraught with peril. While the odds have improved, success is elusive; three-quarters of all exploration wells come up dry, either because there is no oil or because geologists miss its exact location. All of which means that Mr. Bryant’s start-up, Cobalt International Energy, which plans to begin drilling next year, faces formidable hurdles.

“There’s no sugar-coating this — at the end of the day, it’s a high risk venture,” Mr. Bryant says. “Financially, we’re definitely wildcatting. It’s either all or nothing.”

 

For the full story, see: 

JAD MOUAWADA.  "Wildcatter Pounces; Oil Riches Lure the Entrepreneurs."  The New York Times, Section 3  (Sun., May 20, 2007):  1 & 7.

 

 BryantJosephOilWildcatter.jpg   Wildcatter entrepreneur "Joseph H. Bryant started Cobalt."  Source of caption and photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 

Most New Jobs Created in Opportunistic Newcomer Cities

 

Over the past 15 years, it has been opportunistic newcomers — Houston, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas, Riverside — that have created the most new jobs and gained the most net domestic migration. In contrast there has been virtually negligible long-term net growth in jobs or positive domestic migration to places like New York, Los Angeles, Boston or the San Francisco Bay Area.

. . .

Fortunately the jobs are headed in the same direction. After all, companies depend not only on elite MBAs but upon on the collective skills of middle managers, technicians and skilled laborers. Most companies also tend to be more mindful of basic costs, taxes and regulations than the average hedge-fund manager or trustafarian.

This perhaps explains why the largest companies — with the notable exception of Silicon Valley — have continued to move toward the more opportunistic cities. New York and its environs, for example, had 140 such firms in 1960; in 2006 the number had dropped to less than half that, some of those running with only skeleton top management. Houston, in contrast, had only one Fortune 500 company in 1960; today it is home to over 20. Houston companies tend to staff heavily locally; this is one reason the city was able to replace New York and other high-cost locales as the nation’s unchallenged energy capital. Another example of this trend is Charlotte’s rise as the nation’s second-ranked banking center in terms of assets, surpassing San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles, indeed all superstar cities except New York.

 

For the full commentary, see: 

JOEL KOTKIN.  "The Myth of ‘Superstar Cities’."  The Wall Street Journal  (Tues., February 13, 2007):  A25.

(Note:  ellipsis added.)

 

Immigrant Entrepreneurs Thrive in New York City

   Manuel and mother Mercedes of the entrepreneurial Miranda family, inspect the corn flatbread called "arepa."  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited below.

 

Immigrant entrepreneurship contributes to the vitality and dynamism of New York and the nation.  Note the graphic at the bottom of this entry shows that employment increases in the same areas of the city in which immigrant entrepreneurship is thriving.   

 

Manuel A. Miranda was 8 when his family immigrated to New York from Bogotá. His parents, who had been lawyers, turned to selling home-cooked food from the trunk of their car. Manuel pitched in after school, grinding corn by hand for traditional Colombian flatbreads called arepas.

Today Mr. Miranda, 32, runs a family business with 16 employees, producing 10 million arepas a year in the Maspeth section of Queens. But the burst of Colombian immigration to the city has slowed; arepas customers are spreading through the suburbs, and competition for them is fierce. Now, he says, his eye is on a vast, untapped market: the rest of the country.

. . .

“Immigrants have been the entrepreneurial spark plugs of cities from New York to Los Angeles,” said Jonathan Bowles, the director of the Center for an Urban Future, a private, nonprofit research organization that has studied the dynamics of immigrant businesses that turned decaying neighborhoods into vibrant commercial hubs in recent decades. “These are precious and important economic generators for New York City, and there’s a risk that we might lose them over the next decade.”

A report to be issued by the center today highlights both the potential and the challenge for cities full of immigrant entrepreneurs, who often face language barriers, difficulties getting credit, and problems connecting with mainstream agencies that help businesses grow. The report identifies a generation of immigrant-founded enterprises poised to break into the big time — or already there, like the Lams Group, one of the city’s most aggressive hotel developers, or Delgado Travel, which reaps roughly $1 billion in annual revenues.

In Los Angeles, at least 22 of the 100 fastest-growing companies in 2005 were created by first-generation immigrants. In Houston, a telecommunications company started by a Pakistani man topped the 2006 list of the city’s most successful small businesses.

 But even in those cities and New York, where immigrant-friendly mayors have promoted programs to help small business, the report contends that immigrant entrepreneurs have been overlooked in long-term strategies for economic development.

. . .

Now, some children of the early influx are trying to build on their parents’ success — success that itself has increased the cost of doing business, by driving up rents and creating congestion.

One example is Jay Joshua, a Manhattan company that designs souvenirs and then has them manufactured in Asia and imported. Jay Chung, who arrived from South Korea in 1981 as a graduate student in design, started printing his computer-graphic designs for New York logos and peddling them to local T-shirt shops. His company is now one of the city’s leading suppliers of tourist items, from New York-loving coffee mugs to taxicab Christmas ornaments.

Mr. Chung’s son Joshua, 26, who was 3 when he immigrated, joined the company after studying business management in college, and recently helped land orders for a new line of Chicago souvenirs. But frustration mixes with pride when the Chungs, both American citizens now, discuss the company’s growth.

“It’s really hard to conduct a business over here as a wholesaler,” Mr. Chung said in the company’s West 27th Street showroom, chockablock with samples. “We get a ticket every 20 minutes, no matter what. We need more convenient places with less rent, less traffic.”

Thirty years ago their wholesale district was desolate. Now hundreds of Korean-American importers are there, said Jay Chung, who is a leader of the local Korean-American business association. They face a blizzard of parking tickets and high commercial rents — nearly $20,000 a month for 1,400 square feet, he said.

 

For the full story, see:

NINA BERNSTEIN. "Immigrant Entrepreneurs Shape a New Economy."  The New York Times  (Tues., February 6, 2007):  C13.

(Note:  the ellipses are added.)

 

The author of the New York Times article has contributed to a New York Times digital video clip that is based on the article and is entitled "Immigrant Entrepreneurs:  A Tour of One Bustling Ethnic Enclave."

 

 EntrepreneuvsJayJoshua.jpg   Entrepreneur father Jay and son Joshua own a firm that supplies New York City souveniers.  Source of photo:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 

  Source of graph:  online version of the NYT article cited above.

 

Guns Deter Crime

 

Knoxville, Tenn.

IT’S a phenomenon that gives the term “gun control” a whole new meaning: community ordinances that encourage citizens to own guns.

Last month, Greenleaf, Idaho, adopted Ordinance 208, calling for its citizens to own guns and keep them ready in their homes in case of emergency. It’s not a response to high crime rates. As The Associated Press reported, “Greenleaf doesn’t really have crime … the most violent offense reported in the past two years was a fist fight.” Rather, it’s a statement about preparedness in the event of an emergency, and an effort to promote a culture of self-reliance.

. . .  

Criminals, unsurprisingly, would rather break into a house where they aren’t at risk of being shot. As David Kopel noted in a 2001 article in The Arizona Law Review, burglars report that they try to avoid homes where armed residents are likely to be present. We see this phenomenon internationally, too, with the United States having a lower proportion of “hot” burglaries — break-ins where the burglars know the home to be occupied — than countries with restrictive gun laws.

Likewise, in the event of disasters that leave law enforcement overwhelmed, armed citizens can play an important role in stanching crime. Armed neighborhood watches deterred looting in parts of Houston and New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

 

For the full commentary, see:

GLENN REYNOLDS.  "A Rifle in Every Pot."  The New York Times  (Tues., January 16, 2007):  A31.

 

Glenn Reynolds is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee, and is the blogger of Instapundit.com.  In 2006, he published:

Reynolds, Glenn. An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths. Nashville, TN: Nelson Current, 2006.

 

    Source of book image:  http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/P/1595550542.01._SS500_SCLZZZZZZZ_V1136930360_.jpg