Saturday, June 27, 2009

Reforming Healthcare in the U.S.

The recent news that healthcare reform is coming eventually to the U.S. may have a modicum of veracity to it, yet that is as far as it goes.

Quite simply, unless the government truly takes this as its main prerogative, few things, if any, will be accomplished.

For one, the healthcare industry is very wily at lobbying politicians and aldermen to support their insurance policies and other egregious schemes. This is perhaps best exemplified by Hillary Clinton's failure to revamp healthcare back in 1993 when she was the First Lady. Alas, things in this respect have hardly changed since.

In addition, many people are going to U.S.-certified clinics abroad to get first-class treatment at a fraction of the cost in the U.S. Places such as Thailand and China have a plethora of clinics that depend on medical tourism, primarily from the U.S.

Thus, at times of global crises, such as the Great Recession and multiple worldwide crises (from North Korea's bomb and missile tests to Iran's disputed presidential election), it is unlikely that healthcare will be a priority for the U.S. leadership, despite what is being relayed to the public.

If anything nascent does occur in this sector, it will be in at least several years, not months.

Rest assured.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

California's Grim Quandary

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest plan to plug a budget hole of $24.3 billion is one that may be more symbolic than anything else in achieving its goals, but it is most certainly original.

The latest plan to plug the gap is to phase out traditional textbooks in favor of online ones, which would be downloaded to laptops, iPods, and other electronic devices.

While Californian bureaucrats say that digital textbooks would cost much less than the roughly $100 or so students are forced to dish out for each new textbook today, the greater issue (read: problem) is the dire condition of the state's cumulative finances.

Unfortunately, this will only go a very minor way in alleviating California's ills. The state's main reason for such a budget shortfall is a mismanagement of resources and the housing bust, which has resulted in massive foreclosures plaguing the state--and, hence, a shortfall in tax revenues from erstwhile mortgage-paying families. Likewise, the state's resources are strained due to the massive amounts of money it pours into social programs like healthcare. Unsurprisingly, the most populated state in the U.S. also has its largest number of illegal immigrants, most of them from Mexico.

Although Mr. Schwarzenegger has ruled out tax increases, other mooted measures include mandatory furloughs of government officials--which have already gone into effect--and a shorter school year. Some prisons may be letting out its jailbirds ahead of time, too.

But cutting the budget by 15% for state departments is easier said than done. Such infamous fiscally profligate institutions will have to get used to this new reality. Yes, moves such as phasing out textbooks may make sense, but they are unlikely to get the job done.

Therefore, I am lead to believe that perhaps precisely such a move had a different goal in mind: creating hullabaloo to garner more domestic attention from Capitol Hill and hence rally more people behind Arni's other budget plans?

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Big 20-Year Jubilee

Today is 20 years to the day that I arrived to the United States of America.

However, at the time I did not know anything about the land I was arriving to.

I had just turned four at the time I left Minsk, the capital of the erstwhile Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR) and present-day Belarus.

We were refuseniks, or Jewish refugees, seeking an accommodating land full of opportunities--and opportunism. Or, in other words, any other country that would be a near antithesis to the U.S.S.R.

Boy, America sure didn't disappoint. Today, I own an upstart business, with my father having opened (and closed) several companies. Likewise, I've had at least a dozen places I have worked at--everything from fast food joints and pizzerias to health clubs and retail stores.

It has been quite a ride, to put it lightly.

And I sincerely hope that the next 20 years will be just as interesting, if not more so, than these last 20.

Friday, June 5, 2009

FREE Admission to U.S. National Parks for Three Weekends!

Remember that post about the recession and how, despite all of the obvious negatives of such an occurrence, there are quite a few offers to be had when times are this bad?

Well, here's one of the most enticing ones yet, and it comes courtesy of the U.S. government.

For three weekends -- June 20-21, July 18-19, and August 15-16--the 147 of the U.S. National Parks that usually charge admission (generally up to $25 per vehicle) will be free for all visitors.

The website contains a full list of all the parks that will be offering free admission. This includes the most popular ones, such as Yosemite and Yellowstone National Park, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

The remaining 244 national parks are always free to enter. And, for these three weekends, some twelve dozen more parks that are listed on the aforementioned link will be joining the list.

Indeed, not all things are bad in the midst of the "Great Recession." :)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

An Economic Mirage

The recent uptick in commodities really beguiles me.

There is a severe paucity of economic fundamentals to support a recovery. Indeed, the recent momentum of the stock market and data across the board that show a deceleration of the rate of decline have acted in concert to push the U.S. dollar down and commodities, such as gold and oil, up to six-month highs. Quite simply, when investors start to feel that the worst is over, they become less risk averse, resulting in a drop in demand of the U.S. dollar, which is considered low-yielding and, thus, an anti risk taker's sweet tooth. And since most commodities are priced in dollars, their price rises when the dollar is weak to make up for the "artificial" shortfall in value that has occurred (and vice-versa).

Yet this is precisely that: a deceleration in the rate of decline (coupled with a modest rise in consumer sentiment).

Indeed, economies the world over are still declining sharply--from powerhouses such as the U.S. and Japan to smaller countries that have been hit by the credit crunch, notably Iceland and Latvia. Even erstwhile tiger economies, such as those of Ireland and Spain, which have relied on a bullish housing market, are still wobbly, to put it lightly.

It is thus why I can't fathom that such a recovery is long-lasting, much less real. It is, perhaps, a mirage that the fundamentals do not support. Yes, a recovery will be under way eventually--and, yes, Asia is likely to be the first region to emerge from this protracted recession--yet this is not a real recovery by any means of the word. Perhaps just a sign that that this is the beginning of the end--yet things are still very, very bad.

Therefore, I wouldn't be surprised to see another correction (read: drop) in the price of commodities in the very near future, as it seems that investors and speculators have again got ahead of themselves. In the meanwhile, such a rapid rise in the oil price to nearly $70 per barrel--up more than 100% since its $32 per barrel low just as recently as February--suggests quite the opposite: that the recession may be prolonged as a result.

Indeed, when consumers are so strapped for both cash and (particularly) credit, it is hard to believe that rising prices, first and foremost at the pump, will spur them to make more purchases and, hence, pull the world economy out of the gutters.

It is much more likely to have the opposite effect.