Topics: Free Games, Religion, Finance, Politics, Weekly Recap

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lessons from Japan

After having spent a bit of time in Japan, there's a few things that the US could probably learn from them. First of all, the real estate crisis and aging population was seen in Japan many years before it hit the US and is part of what caused them to be in a state of deflation with near 0% interest rates for so many years. The main reason I hear that we don't end up the same way is that we have a growing population, but that seems mostly due to immigration.

Another thing Japan does different from the US and we seem to be trying to head toward is health insurance is required. When I went to get my alien registration card I noticed the sign that said if I don't have health insurance, I will be required to buy the government run one. We don't have the government run health insurance, but I'm not sure what kind of cost their government run insurance creates. They are saddled with debt as well and it'd be interesting to know how much cost this program puts on the government. I've also heard that their health insurance companies are NPOs, which could be interesting to try in the US.

For energy and green ideas, we seem a bit behind the times here too. First of all, our cars are entirely too big and consume too much gas. Something like the smart car isn't a safety hazard in Japan cause all the other cars on the road are fairly small too, including the trucks. The buses are usually the biggest vehicles on the road by far. Added to that, their mass transit system is way ahead of us in coverage, convenience, and punctuality. I tried taking the bus from Binghamton to Poughkeepsie, but never again. Absolutely dreadful. The trains are also not only faster, but nicer.

Nuclear power also seems to be fairly widespread in Japan. I have noticed some windmills as well, but not nearly as many as in Europe. I think one of the energy resources that work for Japan though is the geothermal energy. With all their on-sens, this seems to be a naturally rich source of energy for them that's not in limited supply. If Brazil and Japan have figured out native sources of energy, why can't we?

Energy conservation also seemed to be bigger in Japan. The AC at work is not cranked nearly as high there as it is here. There's a fixed almost uncomfortable temperature of the office during the summer and everyone uses hand fans at times. In the bathroom there's no paper towels. There's an air blower but most people carry a handkerchief for drying their hands. They don't observe daylight savings either... and they don't know why we do.

As far as CEO compensation goes, my understanding was that it is not nearly as out of control there as it is here. I'm not sure how that gets controlled though. Could it be that the shareholders and populace in general is a bit more frugal when it comes to finances and so they can't get away with the outrageous stuff they get away with here?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Week in Review - 3/19/10

I finished my shogi game this week and won even though I did a careless move near the end. We played about 15-20 minutes during lunch each of the days. The last day we spent a little more to allow for talking about the game and how things could of been played better. I think the biggest problem for my opponent was deployment. He moved the rook and bishop around a bit without gaining anything while I was able to move many of my pieces to control more of the board and limit his movement. He wants to have a rematch some day since I now have a winning record against him of 2 games to 1. I look forward to it.
I finally got my alien registration card for Japan just in time for my return trip to New York. Maybe I won't need to get fingerprinted the next time out here. I bought a nice Xiangqi board that hopefully will fit in my luggage. I figured I already have a nice shogi board and chess board so might as well finish out the set.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Health Care

Health Care... Just saying those words elicits feelings of hope, depression, anger, bewilderment, and concern. I don't really know how to feel about all of it. This weekend may mark passage of this monumental bill, but what will it do?

President Obama says it will bring down costs, so I ask how. The theory seems to be that if everyone is required to buy health insurance including the young and healthy who might consider it fine to risk going without it, then premiums should be reduced. Sounds kind of like requiring safe drivers to have car insurance. The counter point to this though is that we want people with pre-existing conditions to not be denied coverage. That would mean costs going up. To me the 2 combined sound like a wash, but I don't have the data (and doubt anyone does but some actuarists at insurance companies) to know what net effect this will have on the premiums.

A second counter point to lower premiums is that if more people now find themselves with insurance will they visit the doctor or hospital more than they did before causing a larger overall cost of health care in the country? If the cost is higher than before, the average weighted cost of what each american is paying for health care is going to be higher.

Another way it might bring costs down is for those that pay for individual coverage and don't get the discounts like people in large companies. Companies often don't go along with just getting less revenue so how will this be offset? One point is that since there are more people having to buy in, they are getting more revenue. Well that may be nice theory, but if a "discount" becomes standard, then there is no longer a discount. I think it's logical to conclude that this legislation is to do away with the discounts now enjoyed by employees of large companies. I don't have a problem with this, but to me that seems the logical outcome.

Another thing President Obama said is that this will not increase the deficit and will actually bring savings. So again I ask how. Insurance companies will be making just as much money if not more than before. Pharmaceuticals... Hospitals... Malpractice lawyers... I really don't see who will be getting less money so how will the government be paying less? Someone has to either be paying more or getting less for this to happen. We are decreasing the medicare budget but have this new budget for providing subsidies for those that can't afford the premiums. Who qualifies and how do we know how much we will be paying out for subsidies?

The biggest unknowns to me on this legislation still is how will it handle care for illegals? Is this bill going to change anything for them?

Maybe all the secret meetings over this is politics as usual, but it makes me hope they don't pass this any time soon because I still don't know what it is going to do.

Web Readings: 3/14/10-3/20/10

F.C.C. Plan

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Week in Review - 3/12/10

It was slightly colder than normal in Tokyo this week with New York having some warmer days. Tuesday evening there was actually a snow flurry that covered the sidewalks with slush making for some slippery walking. By midnight the snow had all turned to rain though and by morning there wasn't a trace of the snow.

I've started to play shogi again with a coworker and the board positions from after the 2 sessions of play are below. It's not too hard to figure out how to play if you can remember the kanji. I learned overnight from wikipedia. The most exciting factor is being able to place pieces that you capture anywhere on the board for your side. I'm the player on the bottom and have a decent position at this point with a pawn (歩) in hand.

Lastly, I saw quite the site this morning. One of the little lunch trucks drove by and to my utter amazement there was a brick pizza oven in the back of that thing. No idea how they managed to fit it in there or how much it weighs, but that's definitely fresh pizza on the go.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Web Readings: 3/7/10-3/13/10

Not The One They Were Hoping For

Threat Finance

The Stimulus Packages

I'll just come out and say it... I hate the stimulus program! Media and politicians like to float the number of people employed but that doesn't seem to answer the practical question. What is the net benefit we are getting from it?

There's a walkway in front of work that they've demolished and repaved a number of times. On my office board we have guesses as to how much money has been spent on this walkway. We're sure it's in the tens of thousands by now with all the equipment and workers that have been employed. The problem we have though is we didn't know the sidewalk had any problems to begin with. Sure it's nice and new and has some nice crisp curbs, but what was the overall benefit to the business? I could maybe see if this was the sidewalk in front of the main lobby for customers to see a really nice exterior, but it's not like it had any cracks in it or was discernibly uneven. The point is, you could spend a ton on making things look nice but that doesn't help you sell more product. You don't want it to be a dump, but just spending more on something doesn't mean you'll get more.

Those that are not familiar with should check it out some time. I do have to give President Obama and his administration props for creating this website. It has spending broken down by the following categories: entitlements, tax benefits, contracts, grants, and loans. It even has pretty charts and pictures for all you ADD types.

I'm going to ignore the entitlements part since that's just a way of pushing money into one of our current budget gaps and not really about stimulus or creating jobs. Also paying someone to do nothing isn't job creation. Helping someone provide for their basic necessities during a down turn is a good thing, but the bad part is how this promotes fiscal irresponsibility. We had negative savings rates for too many years when we could have been saving for the bad times and keeping our debt more in check. There are some other negatives as mentioned by the following article. I can't blame government for bailing out businesses when it's become such common practice for individuals. News flash: welfare and unemployment insurance is main street's bailout.

Tax benefits I can understand and if the government is running up our debt (thus my portion of the US debt) by giving people the money for that debt at the fed low interest rates then fine by me. I don't understand why some people get upset about the debt going up to give tax breaks. They gave us the money to pay it back should they then raise the tax rate instead cutting the budget. Where's the problem? My only issue is when you are targeting certain groups of people to get the tax break and not all people who pay taxes...robbing Peter to pay Paul.

That being said I am not a big fan of the tax credit for new home buyers. It does help the economy, but we are encouraging further creation of debt while at the same time giving large sums to a select number of people that very well would've bought a house anyway. Pretty close to cash for clunkers but at least the additional home buyers means new sources of income for schools and local government.

So that brings me to the next 3 for which you can see the breakdown of awards by state and look at the state maps to see exactly who was awarded what. Wonderful! Looking out there for my area I pretty much just see universities and schools being awarded the money. In the case of schools I'd have to assume they are classifying it as saving a job (what govt refers to as job creation... must be from a special course like Govt Econ 101). With all the money we are paying in school taxes, why is it never enough? Schools will have to make cuts eventually... we are just holding off the inevitable which is the exact opposite any normal business would do things.

In the case of universities I can only guess what academia would be doing with it. Are we funding all the pet research projects going on there or is this some big experiment academia is doing to see if they can figure out how to create jobs? Basically I am left having no idea what this money is trying to accomplish because it doesn't seem to be about creating new permanent jobs.

So instead of this government talking about "creating" jobs. I want to hear leadership. I want to know what we as a country should be focused on creating here that will provide value. Maybe it's high speed rail. Maybe it's rare minerals. Maybe it's alternative energy. Maybe it's education reform. If they want to talk stimulus, that's what they should be selling us.