Category Archives: Current Affairs

on Europe

Martin Varsavsky has a great post on Immigration in Europe.  He’s got some great things to say but this was the most telling:

I am a Spaniard. I have the same rights as all the Spaniards. Still
Spanish newspapers keep referring to me as the Argentine entrepreneur
Martin Varsavsky. Indeed in some cases I have been even called the
Jewish entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky. I still have to find one article
that refers to me as a Spaniard or even as a Spaniard of Argentine
origin. Now don’t get me wrong, I am proud of being Argentine and proud
of being Jewish, but now I am a Spanish citizen building businesses in
Spain and elsewhere. Why does the American press write about me as a Spanish entrepreneur and the Spanish press as an Argentine entrepreneur

I have a friend who is French who is a great Silicon Valley entrepreneur.   He was born in France but his parents were from Tunisia (he’s Jewish).    He was born in France so he has no accent.   But he told me that he ultimately left France because everyone he met treated him as a Tunisian and not French.   Even though he was born in France, the French still felt he was an immigrant.   Now, he says is his very strong French accent, people in Silicon Valley treat him as an American.

Health Savings Accounts (HSA) in 2006

If you are a company setting up a new health plan or an individual getting a plan, you should consider getting a Health Savings Account (HSA). HSAs are the better cousins of Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) and were formed on Jan 1 2004.   I’ve had my HSA since then and i will go over the benefits, why you should get one, and things you should think about.

You should consider doing this for 2006.

(note: I’m not a health administrator so check the facts of this post before you proceed)

About HSAs

Health Savings Accounts allow you to put away pre-tax dollars to fund future medical expenses.   Unlike its ugly cousin, the MSA, the HSA is NOT use it or lose it.   Any money you do not use can be rolled over to the next year.   That roll-over money can be used for any medical expenses over time.

You can put away up to $2700 in 2006 for an individual and $5450 for a family.   Tax free.   This is a big savings … especially for those of you in

Silicon Valley

who have a higher tax bracket.   

You can invest your HSA in a variety of different options.   Unfortunately, since this is a fairly new space, there are not a ton of choices yet — but still enough to make it worth it.   Some good places:

HSA Bank – interest bearing account

First HSA – interest bearing account

Health Savings Administrators – allows you to invest in Vanguard funds

– a good list of other plans are at:–savings– 

Most of these services provide a debit card for purchases or an easy-to-use reimbursement form.   

High deductible plan

You can only use an HSA with a high-deductible plan.   Let’s say your deductible is $3000 — that means you pay for ALL medical expenses out of your own pocket (usually through your HSA tax-free account) up to $3000 for the year.   Anything beyond that is paid for by your insurance firm.   And this usually does not include prescription drugs.  And sometimes the plans have some added benefits (like a once-a-year $20 physical).   

And you’d be surprised what happens when you pay for your healthcare yourself … you quickly move to the front of the line, generally get better care, and usually even get things cheaper.   Cheaper?  Cheaper than insurance companies that bargain for everything??   Absolutely.

He’s why.   If you do to the doctor for your yearly visit you might want a cardiogram (a test that gives a good baseline of your heart).   This is a really good idea to get done.   now most doctors already have one of these machines and they have their medical assistants already trained to give you the quick test.   So the real cost of a doctor giving you the test is just electricity and a tiny bit of time (5 minutes) from someone of their staff.   So you frequently can get free things like cardiograms thrown in with your physical.  Especially since you are paying right away and the doctor does not have to worry about forms processing to the insurance company.

So if you are healthy and have healthy employees, then this is a good deal for you.   in fact HSAs will likely help you attract healthier employees because they will be more likely to opt in and work for you.

And, of course, with a high deductible plan you can go to any doctor you want.  Anyone. 

Spending your money

If you are like me, you don’t have a lot of medical expenses.   But when you do, you want a convenient way to spend the money.  I’ve found the easier way is to get an HSA with a debit card (most of them have one).   This makes everything really easy.   Charge your doctor, dentist, optometrist, etc.   even a lot of things you buy at the pharmacy are HSA-related.   In fact, if you use an online pharmacy (like they’ll ask for two credit cards — your HSA-related items will get charged to your tax free account and your other items will get charged to your normal card.

And you’d be surprised what is covered …

HSAs are best for start-ups

I’ve found that most people in

Silicon Valley

start-ups tend to be healthy.   Even though they work insane hours, they tend to have a fairly active life (biking to work and such).   

Full covering health insurance plans discriminate against your healthy employees in favor of your unhealthy ones.   For your avg 30-something in


, a high-deductible plan is about $80/mo where your common PPO is about $250/mo.   that means your company saves $170/mo (or $2040/year) … money you can give directly to the employee, contribute directly to their HSA account, or use in other productive ways.

And the HSA is a great benefit.  Like a 401K, it follows the individual for the rest of her life — so she gets to keep the benefit now.

Overall, if you are getting your own health insurance plan or getting one for your company, I highly recommend a HSA.   I think you’ll find that it is a strong option worth considering

Bill Simon is a stand-up guy

Bill Simon is a great guy

i’ve known Bill since 2001 and am a huge fan of his as he is a man of incredibly integrity and talent. last year he decided he was going to run for Treasurer of California. right when i heard this I immediately write him a check to contribute to his campaign since i strongly felt that Bill would make a great public servant and is also perfect for the Treasurer position.

a few months ago, Bill decided not to run and pulled out of the race. i thought it was really unfortunate because i strongly believed in Bill Simon and because, especially now, we need people of high integrity in government. and he had a good chance of winning. but i respected his decision.

then today, out of no-where, i get a check in the mail. my campaign contribution has been returned in full. Bill Simon returned the campaign contribution of every one of his donors. this is extremely rare in politics. often candidates will use that money as influence and donate it somewhere to gain special favors. of course, this action is another piece evidence pointing to Bill’s high sense of ethics.

summation: Bill Simon is a stand-up guy

Canada on the Rise

the last issue on the Economist had a great special report on Canada.

125pxflag_of_canadasvgsome interesting stats:
– canada now has the second largest proven oil reserves (after saudi arabia). this is good news for the world
– canada has a really strong economy and is basically the only G8 country with no debt. it had had the highest growth of any G8 country in the last five years and it has tons of natural resources

but more importantly, Canada is very immigrant friendly. i think that is one of the most important criteria for future economic growth. i was in Toronto in August and i was amazed at the city’s diversity. Vancouver is also one of the most diverse cities in the world. the Pew Center did a polls of people in different countries and asked “Are immigrants a good or bad influence on your country?” — almost 80% of Canadians said they were a good influence (as compared to about 50% in the U.S. and only 35% in Germany).

forget China … if i was looking to move to a new land to strike it rich i’d choose Canada …

consevative activists detest Tom DeLay

i spent last week (Oct 31 – Nov 4) in DC meeting with various folks in govt and helping out one of my portfolio companies.

throughout my conversations with many grassroots activists, i was struck by how much they hated Tom DeLay. this was a shock to me as Congressman DeLay is generally seen as being supported by those in the grassroots. And while my activist survey was far from scientific, I found he had extremely little support. most people actually thought he should resign from Congress. i was shocked … this wasn’t coming from the left but was coming from the heart and soul of the conservative right.

and it had little to do with the current ethics violation … it seems that most activists are not as troubled by that as most of the media. the activists blame Mr. DeLay for the spending excesses in Congress … especially the recent highway bill which DeLay was instrumental in passing. This bill has become a national joke with the Bridge to Nowhere. Much has been discussed including a good George Will column.

if you really want to learn about the heart and soul of the conservative movement, spend some time surfing and you’ll get a sense of what people feel … and see a great article about this by Tim Chapman.

Mark Pincus likes to call the activists the “ants.” Well, the ants are definitely rising in the conservative party. it is possible they might get trampled but they seem very determined to take back the “small government” mantle.

metric system and paper

One thing the Europeans do right is the metric system … it is so easy to figure our measurements, distances, weights, etc (everything except time is really easy to calculate). We use the English system … which has long since been abandoned by the English …

But their ingenuity even applies to the size of paper (as Alan Peterson informed me). Our standard 8 1/2 x 11″ paper makes no sense in the grand scheme of things …

In Europe, all paper is in the shape of a perfect rectangle (supposedly the most beautiful shape — basically the length = width * Phi constant). The biggest size of paper is A1 — which is in the shape of a perfect rectangle and is a total of a square meter (it is very big). Half of that is A2. half of A2 is A3. half of A3 is A4 (the standard European paper that is a competitor to our inferior American 8 1/2 x 11″ paper).

Half of A4 is A5 (which is the common large European envelop size) …

popping the housing bubble

Chris Yeh asks: Is there any doubt now that the housing bubble is starting to deflate?

i have heard from real estate agents in the South of Market Area in San Francisco that bids on homes have started to go down dramatically. identical homes in the same building that had 11 bids last year are now averaging 6-7 bids. still high, but a decrease.

and while the top bid is higher today than it was last year, the median bid is actually falling. and falling dramatically (and even below asking in the SOMA area). so while there are a few Google millionires that might be moving the market, on a whole, people are becoming more wary of high home prices.

Danish govt pays prostitutes to sleep w disabled people

The headlines blurt: Danes provide prostitutes for the disabled

Brad Plumer has a great analysis of this crazy govt policy. snip:

1) Whoa…; 2) Only once a month? We pay taxes here in America and get screwed every single day; 3) Not that far a leap from this to taxpayer-subsidized sex for everyone—why not subsidize brothels for unattractive or shy people? Same principle, no?; 4) Well, what of it? If adequate housing and a decent living and all that jazz are things lefties think government should help guarantee, why not a happy sex life too?; 5) Assuming there aren’t enough male prostitutes, or gay prostitutes, or tranny prostitutes, or whatever, to go around, aren’t there discrimination issues here?

the next president of the World Bank

World Bank president James Wolfensohn will step down from his role in May and President Bush has the opportunity to appoint a game-changer to head up the bank at this critical time. Since there has been a lot of speculation recently about Carly Fiorina filling that role (who I think would be great), there are two other Silicon Valley candidates that should also be considered.

KvammeThe first is Floyd Kvamme. Floyd is partner emeritus at Kleiner Perkins — one of the most prestigious venture capital firms in the world and he’s currently co-Chair of President Bush’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (P-CAST). He was one of five founders of National Semiconductor in 1967 and he’s had extensive international dealings (especially in Asia) ever since.

ScaliseThe other candidate is also a semi guy. George Scalise is currently president of the Semiconductor Industry Association and also chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. At SIA, he has to travel the world and build strong ties with people in many countries.

President Bush is already well acquainted with both Floyd and George and he should think strongly about looking to appoint one of them as the next president of the World Bank.