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Economy

The Battle for Democracy in Ukraine

Post-Soviet Russia is not the democratic heaven some have expected.  It was an oligarchy from the day Communism ruled, which meant you had an “Inner Party” of the privileged few, and the VERY poor, under-educated majority.  Fast forward to 2014 – Russia is still much the same kind of place – ultra-wealthy few (and the mafia) control the government, while most Russians are barely able to get ahead.

The components of the Soviet Union have gone their separate ways – or at least some of them have.  One fledgling democracy, if you want to call it that, is the Ukraine.  Their democratically-elected President has been unduly influenced by Russia’s Putin to NOT join the European Union, which all Ukrainians have called for.  The result is nothing short of violent revolution, with dozens of citizens dead and hundreds wounded by a police force trying to quell dissent.  Watch this video, and spread it around.

Compare “Obamacare” Insurance Rates Here

obamacare-medicare

According to the proponents of the Affordable Care Act, individuals and small businesses can now shop for insurance plans across state lines.  But can we compare the actual premium costs across all these “ObamaCare” offerings?  Yes.

Buried in the Healthcare.gov site are a couple of pages where you can review and download an Excel spreadsheet across all offered plans in all states.  I’ve provided links to the Small Business pages (up to 50 people) with estimated rates for various types of users (single 27-year-old, single 50-year-old, family, child, etc.).  You do not have to register on Healthcare.gov to see this.  Here you go:

Medical: https://www.healthcare.gov/shop-health-plan-information/

Dental: https://www.healthcare.gov/shop-dental-plan-information/

The Double-Dip Healthcare Crisis

Most Americans understand that the US Healthcare system is starting to strain under the load of the “Baby Boomers,” now entering retirement and a huge potential cost to Medicare.  But there’s a second wave of healthcare costs that we are only starting to understand, and it will occur right after this first wave, and last far longer: obesity.

Today, 69% of US adults are overweight (1 in 3 are obese), and children are far worse off – their obesity rates have tripled in a single generation.  First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign directly addresses childhood obesity, New York Mayor Bloomberg is outlawing huge sizes of soda, Kaiser Permanente is changing focus to wellness and prevention, and our current expenditures to treat obesity are $150 billion / year.  So it’s serious, but we’re handing it, right?  We are actually in for much worse.

brfss-self-reported-obesity-2012

The percentage of American obese projected in 2030 is astounding.  Try to imagine if the $150 billion per year (10% of all healthcare) doubled.  Add to that the reduction in productivity in the US workforce as obesity takes its awful toll. Why am I mentioning all this?  Healthcare reform can’t just be about new ways to pay for it all.  We don’t have that kind of money, even if Congress just wants to print more.

It’s time that the Federal Government gets serious about cutting costs, especially here – this growing threat plus already existing trillion-dollar annual deficits will make 2008 look like a picnic. Preventative care, nutrition education, physical fitness in schools, and yes, a public health infrastructure separate from the private tier that offers inexpensive medical care to the uninsured, those on Medicaid, undocumented aliens, etc.  This is a hard pill to swallow, I know – if we don’t do something now, our economy will collapse under the weight.

Microsoft as Innovative Underdog?

I once said that it would be a cold day in Hell if Microsoft actually started innovating.  Well, it’s getting chilly.  Microsoft has been behind in a number of respects over the past few years, but it’s responding in force nowadays.  The company is actually putting out a bevy of cool new stuff that I never would have thought they could do a few years ago.  Let’s go:

Phones: Windows Phone 8 is the latest iteration of a line of (frankly) unimpressive set of releases for phones – but each release has gotten better in big leaps.  I’m an iPhone user, but I have to say that Phone 8 is getting very close to a smooth, intuitive phone OS.

Cloud: SkyDrive is a serious contender for cloud storage, and Windows Azure is a compelling application environment for hosting your own apps  on Microsoft’s servers.  I’m not as impressed at the “cloudification” of some of their Enterprise applications, but the next version of Office and Outlook online look absolutely awesome.

Hardware Platforms: Surface actually shows promise as a tablet platform – and they are appealing to Windows diehards by including a great keyboard as a tablet cover.  The problem with it all is that they are splitting Windows into two platforms (RT, which runs on low power ARM chips, and Windows 8, which runs on Intel CPUs).  Not good to do that.

OS: Windows 8 seems like Windows 7 with a new skin – but it’s far more than that.  With every release since Vista, Microsoft has continued to refine the speed and utility of one of their core products.  The risk there is that Windows 7 is becoming the new XP – corporate clients will stick with 7 for years to come.  This will affect their profits long term.

Honestly, I’m starting to get impressed with them.  I know they are fighting for their financial lives in the shadow of Apple and Google, but barring any Ballmer-related goofs, they’ll live.

Where Is The Next Revolution?

How many people thought THIS would usher in the future?

Futurists, venture capitalists, and people like me all want to know where the next huge revolution will appear – that is, the next event which will facilitate a change in how we live, and usher in new methods, industries, even fields of study.  Most refer to this as disruptive technology, because it shakes up and replaces the status quo.  Examples of this include the birth of the personal computer (shown in the Apple 1 above), the Internet, the printed book, irrigation, fire – go back as far as you like.

But where will it appear next?  Whose garage is it being developed?  This is a crucial question for businesses, investors, even governments – the answer is simple:

Any industry controlled by a few is a target for disruptive change.

This may seem obvious, but the application of this idea is not.  Think of all the industries in which a select few people (or organizations) were in control of it.  Those industries were generally very expensive (or impossible) to compete in without the blessing of the establishment.  Pricing was set by that small group, and without an alternative, people just HAD to deal with it and pay up.  Remember paying 25 cents / minute for long distance phone calls?

The only way that these oligarchies were toppled was to introduce disruptive technology that allowed the common man to easily access an alternative to that product or service.  This allowed the Next Big Thing to bypass the establishment easily and quickly to bring about change.  Cell phones replaced phone booths, computers replaced typewriters, electricity replaced whale oil for lighting – the list goes on.

So what’s next?  The trick is not necessarily knowing where to look, but how to look.  Think of every activity today that is controlled by a small group, or is very expensive – then keep an open mind that it could be different, and eventually somebody will figure out a way to make that happen.  THAT is where the Next Revolution will happen.

Want some examples of disruptive technology that has appeared or will appear?

  • Personal space travel (has already been privatized, but it’s very pricey still)
  • Medicine (imagine a home machine which synthesizes medicine for you based on your own DNA, or visiting your doctor via webcam)
  • Energy production (generating electricity at home cheaper than utilities)
  • Fresh water reclamation (Solar condensers, or at-home rainwater processing)
  • Crowdsourced travel (chipping in on private transport instead of using airlines)
  • Do-It-Yourself Homes (well-built, cheap housing that you assemble like legos)
  • Private TV stations (taking YouTube to the next level – TV made for YOU)
Sound nuts?  Some of these things are already in process, and they would change the world if they are properly commercialized.  The question is: are YOU going to make it happen, or are you going to sit back and let someone else do it?  I pick Option A.

What if America Wasn’t “Addicted To Oil?” Would We Be Safer?

Let me first say that the presentation I’m about to show you is by a man I admire quite a bit – he has a passion for efficiency that makes me look like an amateur.  Check out this great presentation (and admire the style of the slides as well), then let’s discuss it for a minute…

Now, what would happen if we actually DID THIS?  What if America moved totally to an oil-free economy by 2050?  While I agree we need to strive for this goal, I started to think of the actual results on the rest of the world.  See if this makes sense:

  • The world price of oil would collapse to $20/barrel or less

Think of what would happen if the largest consumer of oil in the world stopped importing any oil?  The price of oil would not go to $0, since China and India still would need it in the short term.  But do you think OPEC would let America just STOP?  Of course not.

The price of oil would be drastically reduced, and a fair number of America’s population would desperately hold on to their oil-based machines since it would be so much cheaper to operate them (pollution be damned).  The only way we would totally stop using oil is if there weren’t any left.  But this would result in other effects…

  • The economy of the Middle East would collapse, fueling more extremism

There are a number of countries in the Middle East, Africa, and South America that depend on oil sales as their number one source of revenue – so what would happen if oil reduced in value by 80%?  Absolute economic chaos, that’s what would happen.

Many countries have grown so accustomed to oil revenue that they haven’t developed any secondary industries to supplant it (Libya and Iraq could be classified this way.)  Saudi Arabia has created so many obligations that they NEED the price of oil to stay high – if it didn’t, their governments would be toppled quickly.  So extremists would rise out of economic desperation to confront us once again.

  • The US would not maintain a strategic advantage using these technologies

Think of the companies that have or will develop clean technology – I would assume that most of them are publicly traded.  So if the US developed a revolutionary way to run our entire economy without oil, do you think the Federal Government would prevent those companies from selling these products abroad?  Would they be kept for Americans?

Probably not – in order to please Wall Street, these companies would have to open their markets internationally, and sell these technologies to our economic competitors (unless those nations just decided to take advantage of cheap oil, which they probably would).

My point is this: getting off oil is a dream for many (including myself), but it would not result in an economic revolution.  It might be a way to keep manufacturing in the US for a while, and it will definitely reduce our carbon footprint – but as long as oil exists and is cheap, other countries will continue to burn oil and our long-term problems will remain.  It would take an international mandate to abolish oil to affect real change – and that will not happen in this century, I’m afraid.  I think we should still develop a clean economy, of course, but the true impetus of change will have to be something other than money.