Healthcare in France vs in the US

I came across a really good clip on the comparison of healthcare in France and its counterpart in the US. I urge you to have a listen.

Granted, it’s impossible to have a 100% apple-to-apple comparison between any two countries. However, I think France is a good reference since 1) it is a developed country like the US and 2) it receives a lot of immigrants from other countries, especially from Africa due to geographical proximity. I once listened to a doctor opine that immigrants are the primary cause of the healthcare system. I think it’s false, but having France as a yardstick will, to some extent, take out that element.

According to the clip, France spends around $4,900 per capita every year while the figure in the US is $10,200. Despite spending more, the US delivers worse results whether it’s in infant mortality rate, life expectancy and rate of rehospitalization.

Furthermore, the clip mentioned the higher taxes French citizens have to pay in order for the government to cover the social security. The government is like a business. To cover expenses, it needs to have capital. It can’t print money to cover the costs nor run at deficit forever. To finance the social security, the money has to come from taxes. Even though the French pay more taxes, they don’t have to bankrupt themselves whenever care is needed. On the other, I think that Americans focus too much on lowering taxes and when the federal budget runs red, the government starts to look at where to cut. If it’s not military, then social security is the next big ticket item.

Between paying more in taxes like the French do and paying less in taxes while bankrupting myself like we do in the US, I know my choices. I don’t think having a carbon copy of the French healthcare in the US is without difficulty. Healthcare is an incredibly complex issue and any solution is almost guaranteed to carry baggage and influence other issues such as taxes, minimum wage, etc…However, I also believe that there are plenty of things we can learn from the French.

English is generally easy, except for the pronunciation

From my experience, English is one of the easiest and most logical languages to learn. There is no gender in English like it is in languages such as French or Spanish. There is no special alphabet in English as in the case of Japanese, Arabic or Chinese. Grammar can be a bit complex if it’s in the academic context, but our usual grammar in daily usage is fairly simple.

In English, if you know a noun, you can deduce what the verb, the adjective and the adverb that are related to the noun are, and vice versa. For instance, from the noun fright, I can guess the following: frighten, frightening, frightened. In difficult languages, you often have to learn by heart what each word means. Take Vietnamese as an example.

  • hai: it means number 2 or what you informally call your oldest sibling
  • hài: it means funny
  • hái: it means pick up fruits from a branch
  • hại: it means harmful
  • hãi: it means scary
  • hải: it means sea, often used in literature

None of those words are related to one another, yet they look awfully alike and there is no other way to learn their meanings, except by heart. But at least in Vietnamese, words are pronounced exactly the same as they are spelled. Unlike in English!

The most difficult part of English in my opinion is pronunciation. In Vietnamese, we don’t pronounce the ending letters in the words; which is often the differentiation in many words in English. For instance, without the letter “d”, “beard” would sound the same as “beer”. Some words such as “sixth”, “world” or “word” are a nightmare for us, Vietnamese, to pronounce correctly. So, take it easy on us for our pronunciation. We definitely try, but it’s just not what we are used to, growing up.

Another challenge lies in the irregularity of how words are pronounced. For example, “diversity” can be pronounced /ˈdaɪnəsti/ or /ˈdɪnəsti/, depending on whether you use American or British English respectively. Same for diversity, but the other way around.

Plus, there are words that require pronunciation very different from their spelling, such as colonel, zucchini, mischievous, February, Wednesday and so on… There are far more complicated words than what I listed, but it should give an idea of how a foreigner thinks of English.

Whenever you can help, do and do it kindly

I am working in the Marketing Analytics for a big private bank in America. I didn’t work in the banking industry before. The learning curve is really high. I have to learn not only the products and the terminologies, but also the data, the tools we use to extract data for different products (mortgage, loans, credit cards) and programming language (SAS, SQL). Having been here for some weeks, I still have a lot to learn. My manager told me that he expected me to be comfortable with what we do in at least 6 months and one year is a normal timeline.

Today, I was asking one of my teammates about a specific product and campaign at the bank. Even though it was around 4:30pm on a Friday when there were only two of us left in the office, he patiently explained to me and went over and beyond to show the code he did and what the code meant. In the end, he told me of his experience in his previous company where he was also trying to learn his way around like I am and he was discouraged since his former colleagues didn’t seem eager to teach him. He said their attitude made him try not to bother them and ask questions, unless he really really had to. The experience taught him to really take the time to help out others properly.

It’s sad when somebody doesn’t feel like asking you for help even when that somebody really needs help. Reaching out for assistance isn’t easy. In my opinion, it takes a little bit of courage as nobody wants to appear vulnerable, inferior or incompetent in a professional environment. If you can help out, please do. If you are busy at the time, schedule another time or point to another source of information. Nonetheless, don’t try to explain a complex issue in 1-2 minutes and abruptly leave and say: I am so busy, I don’t have time for this. It makes things even worse. It’s humiliating to the other person.

One of the most important things I have learned growing up is that you show your true color more when you deal with people who are inferior, less unfortunate than you, not when you deal with people superior to you. Plus, I don’t think anybody can be good at anything without once having a mentor or help along the way.

Liverpool delivered a sensational comeback. Football is so amazing

I am referring to the sport watched and loved by billions of people on Earth, the one in which Ronaldo and Messi are gods, not Tom Brady.

The second leg of a Champions League semi-final took place today between Liverpool and Barcelona. Barcelona, a Spanish 7-time world champion, beat Liverpool at home in the first-leg 3-0. They came to the game today as an overwhelmingly strong favorite. One goal at Anfield, Liverpool’s stadium, would require the home team to score at least 5 to advance. And if you follow football a bit, you’ll know that stopping Barcelona from scoring is exceedingly challenging, especially when they have arguably the best player in the history of the sport, Lionel Messi.

But Liverpool did it anyway. They delivered a magnificent upset for the ages today by winning 4-0. I am not a Liverpool fan, but it was epic.

Liverpool vs Barcelona (Semi-final 2nd leg)

This season’s Champions League has featured some of the most dramatic games I have seen for a while such as Manchester United vs PSG, in which the deciding penalty was awarded in the dying minutes

Or Tottenham’s unlikely win against Manchester City, in which the fans’ emotions went on a roller coaster in the last seconds.

I heard some in America say that they don’t like the real football because it’s not as unpredictable as American football. The three games above, only three out of so many, proved that it wasn’t the case. Yes, admittedly, there is a sense of boring predictability in some cases such as Bayern’s dominance in Germany, PSG’s reign in France or Juventus winning year after year in Italy for the past 7 years. But do watch Champions League. It will take your emotions to the new heights or sink them down to the new lows that you didn’t know before.

I love football. It’s amazing. I have been watching it for over 20 years and I don’t imagine I’ll stop doing so for the rest of my life.

I’d like to finish the post with an inspiring photo of Mo Salah, a Liverpool player who couldn’t play today because of injury. Indeed, never give up!

Image result for salah never give up

My 3rd Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Meeting

Since I came to Omaha in 2016, going to the Shareholder Meeting has been an annual activity for me. At first, it was an experience as the meeting is something that if you never saw before, you should whenever you could. Last year and this year’s meetings are more like appreciating the two legendary guys who are still very active despite their old age.

The Berkshire Hathaway weekend includes a lot of activities from Friday to Sunday, but I only go to the Q&A session on Saturday morning. To participate in any activity, it is mandatory to have a pass. If you hold Berkshire shares, you are allowed up to 4 passes. Otherwise, find a person who does and ask for a pass

The Q&A session starts around 8:30 at the Century Link stadium in Omaha, but the gates are open around 7, I believe. There are a lot of people attending, so if you prefer a closer look at the two main speakers and the stage, be early.

Above is the seat I got for arriving at 7:30! So if you want a better view of the stage, you better start very early.

As usual, the meeting starts at 8:30am with the exclusive video that is only displayed at the meeting. No filming, no taking photos, no streaming. The video introduces the companies in Berkshire Hathaway portfolio and some funny segments that feature Warren Buffett and sometimes celebrities who reportedly contribute their time for free. The videos in 2017 and 2018 were much better than the one this year, in my opinion. The segment that stood out in this year’s video for me is the clip about Warren’s mobile application shot at Apple’s headquarter with Tim Cook. Geico is prominently featured as its ads are shown at least 3 times.

The video is about an hour long or so. After that, the Q&A session starts, breaks at 12 for an hour and ends at 3pm. The questions must be related to Berkshire and the companies in its portfolio such as Wells Fargo, BNSF, Oriental Trading, Geico or Apple, just to name a few. Personally, I think if you want to know their opinions on the portfolio companies, attending the meeting once or twice should be enough as the opinions shouldn’t change that much or that quickly. If a major development happens such as the scandal at Wells Fargo or his love for Apple stocks, Warren Buffett does interviews frequently enough that you won’t get new insights from the meeting.

In this Q&A session, Warren does most of the talking and Charlie only speaks once in a while. When he does, it is often very short and, as I find, funny. His famous line is “I have nothing to add”. Otherwise, he is just there on the stage, chilling, eating snacks and drinking coke. What I really appreciate is that the two guys are willing to make jokes, at times on themselves.

Besides the meeting in the stadium, there are exhibitions of the companies in the portfolio throughout the stadium. You can see the products and make purchases on the spot. It’s like a marketing event and from what I have seen, folks do make purchases at these exhibitions.

Berkshire Hathaway Exhibitions
If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it!

With GDP per capita 25 times smaller than that of America, Vietnam still pays more for gas

On 2nd May, 2019, an increase in gas price in Vietnam was announced, an 8th time such a development took place in 2019. Here is a chart that illustrates the gas price in 2019 so far. The number is in VND, our national currency. The exchange rate is at 23,314 VND for $1

Source: Le Nguyen Huong Tra

Those are the two types of gas we use in Vietnam with the green one as the more popular choice and we measure it in liter, not gallon. With the exchange rate of 23,314 VND for $1, Vietnamese pay approximately $0.95 for a liter (22,190 divided by 23,314).

According to gasprices.aaa, the national average gas price in the US is $2.888 per gallon. As a gallon is worth 3.785 liters, on average Americans pay $0.76 per liter for gas. Given that GDP per capita in the US and Vietnam in 2017 is $59,532 and $2,343 respectively, according to WorldBank, it’s extraordinary that we pay more per liter in the poorer country.

I am not a chemical expert and the gas used in each country may be different in essence, but it serves the same function and the living costs in both countries are affected by gas prices.

The difference is even worse when you compare the gas price in Vietnam to affluent states in America. Keep in mind that different in America, where gas price varies from one state to another, Vietnam has universal gas price regardless of where you live in the country. Take Massachusetts as an example. GDP per capita in the state in 2017 is $64,507, but the gas price in the state is just $0.75 liter, compared to $0.95 in Vietnam.

Unless I am missing something terribly important in my assumptions, the expensive gas price that we have to pay in Vietnam is ridiculous and ludicrous. And how many companies would give employees a raise 8 times in a span of 5 months to keep up with the increasing living costs? Exactly!

Public dog poop bag and our taxes

On my way for a walk around downtown Omaha in a beautiful weather, I saw this dog poop bag dispenser on the pavement. It must have been newly installed either yesterday or today as I didn’t see it two days ago.

Downtown Omaha can be littered with dog poop at times, even in the winter. I accidentally got myself in trouble at least a couple of times for not looking where to put my feet. Hopefully, this new dispenser will alleviate the issue and make it easy for pet owners to keep the streets and their neighbors’ shoes clean.

It brings me to taxes. What is the connection? These things cost. they are expense items on the income statement of the city government (I don’t have evidence, but I believe this kind of things comes out of the city government’s pocket). A government is like a business. You don’t spend what you don’t have or expenses must be covered by revenue. To implement this type of projects, small or large, the city government needs revenue which comes mainly from taxes.

I have a Vietnamese friend who complained about living in Democrats-led states since taxes are higher in those states than in GOP-led ones. A lower tax may look tempting and good on the surface. However, it’s just a part of the big picture.

Without sufficient tax revenue, how could a city government run properly and maintain public infrastructure? Without sufficient tax revenue, what about public school where your kids go to, parks where we all love to visit once in a while, public libraries where we can borrow books for free, city buses that can make transportation less painful or streets that can render commute more enjoyable?

I wrote about my experience with buses from Austin airport to Austin downtown here. The bus runs once every 15 minutes and costs $1.5. Here in Omaha, it runs once every 30 minutes and only for a few hours a day, only on weekdays. A one-way trip from downtown Omaha to the airport, which is not a long ride, costs around $7-10. An airport is a highly popular place at any city, yet getting there isn’t easy for folks in Omaha. In general, public transportation in Omaha needs drastic improvement and I would love to pay more taxes to see that happen.

I wrote also about my love for the local library through which I often borrow books for free. If the library were in financial trouble and needed help, I’d be willing to pay a bit more taxes to keep it.

It can be argued that many are fed up with their city governments’ inability to spend their tax money appropriately. That’s fair, but it’s another matter. It’s about electing the right folks to run the government. What I am trying to say is that lower taxes for individuals and corporations don’t come without consequences. There is a reason why Western European countries with high taxes have quite good social benefits and infrastructure. And to be honest, I prefer that to paying lower taxes and having dated and insufficient infrastructure.

Electricity price hike – Why I prefer not living in Vietnam

Last month, Vietnam Electricity (EVN), the state-owned company that has a monopoly over electricity in Vietnam, announced an 8% price hike, citing an increase in production cost. Obviously, it leads to the hike in everything’s price and living cost overall. But what frustrates me the most is the fact that as a monopoly, the company is terribly run. It invests in other verticals where it doesn’t have the knowledge or capabilities, on top of a terrible management, something that is not uncommon in Vietnam. As a consequence, EVN suffered huge financial losses. According to this article, EVN’s loss amounts to $94 million, despite having the monopoly. The loss includes ridiculous expenses such as building a golf course or luxury villas for the company’s officials. To cover these losses, it routinely jacks up the electricity price. There is almost no oversight.

Even more frustratingly and shamelessly, they hiked the electricity price during the hottest season the country has even encountered. The highest temp recorded is 43.4°C (110.12°F). At 6AM, it’s already at 87.8°F.

This kind of egregious behavior isn’t exclusive to EVN. Gas price in Vietnam frequently increases, thanks to Petrolimex, another monopoly. The problem is that once these crucial commodities become more expensive, everything else will as well. When the price of the commodities is lowered; however, the living cost rarely follows or gets cheaper. Meanwhile, the wage in Vietnam is not even close to keeping up with the rising living cost, rendering whatever income an ordinary folk earns increasingly small.

I love my country. We have great cuisine and sceneries as well as an authentic culture. However, I don’t want to live in a place where I cannot meaningfully save anything simply because living costs increase almost on a monthly/quarterly basis while wage does once a year at most. This and among other reasons I will share in the future whenever it is appropriate

I learned new things about Rwanda today

I came across two cool videos on Bloomberg YouTube channel on Rwanda, a country in East Africa. The first video is about how Kigali in Rwanda is nowadays. It’s surprising and cool to learn about a city where there is no plastic bag, coffee is good, cleanliness is prioritized and economy is throwing.

The second video is about how drones produced by Zipline, an American country, are used to aid doctors and patients in Rwanda. As the road infrastructure in the country is in so bad a shape that it’s challenging at times for doctors and hospitals to procure blood. The drones alleviate such a problem. This is one of the best examples of how technology can be used to save lives. The part where the drones are stopped and grounded is awesome. Such precision.

Insufficient Wages – Who Should Be Responsible?

A friend of mine sent me this link in which a Congresswoman questioned CEO of JP Morgan, Jamie Dimon on a specific case in which a permanent employee couldn’t make ends meet despite working at one of the biggest and richest companies in the world

While I appreciate the intention, I don’t think it’s practically helpful. The ones that should be questioned are the lawmakers that allow this atrocity to happen in the first place.

Strictly speaking, your behavior is only illegal if it’s outside the boundaries of the laws. If a company isn’t required by the laws to pay employees a minimum wage, how is the company’s failure to pay the minimum wage illegal? The answer is that it’s not illegal. Should JP Morgan have paid employees more? Yes, it should. But put yourself in their shoes. If you could maximize profits and personal wealth while staying in the boundaries of the laws, would you do the same? Personally, I am not so confident that I would have done differently.

The thing that annoys me with all this questioning is that only the lawmakers have the power to change this. If they really care about citizens, pass the regulations requiring a minimum wage. Together, every state raises the minimum wage so that the corporations headquartered here in the US have no choice, but to comply. What would they do? Leave the US? It wouldn’t make much business sense to some companies to leave the country, just to avoid a higher minimum wage.

A higher minimum wage will surely result in social and economic ramifications. But that’s the job of the lawmakers. That’s why they are elected to the office. All their working time is supposed to be devoted to figuring out a way to better our lives. It’s not our job to figure out all the complex policies while having to make ends meet ourselves.

Insufficient wage is a real issue in the US. However, the ones that should answer all the burning questions regarding this should be the lawmakers. Even if corporation executives are questioned like this, without a legal framework, how could they be held accountable?