Friday, May 29, 2009

Health Uncle:Maintaining Your Brain

There are three main types of exercise that are important to brain health.According to the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health,physical activity is one type of exercise that preserves brain function.It can be any kind of exercise,from gardening and janitorial work,to running or walking.As long as you aren't lounging in a bed or chair,you are helping your brain.
The second main category of useful brain exercise is intellectual.Puzzles of any sort are beneficial.If you are solving problems,evaluating,critically thinking in any way,you are maximizing cerebral longevity.
The third sort of good brain workout is social interaction.Whether in person,on the phone or online,dealing with others is an effective cognitive stimulant.Thought and memory begin to suffer if the brain is neglected for very long.The effects of age on the brain will be more acute without brain workouts,the University of Wisconsin researchers believe.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

PE Firms Shopping Around

A consortium of private equity firms,including W.L. Ross and Company and The Blackstone Group,L.P. has taken over Bank United FSB,which was closed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.The FDIC will share the risk of the bank's troubled assets with the consortium.It is the first of several such deals the consortium is interested in.Bank United has 86 branches,served by 1,000 employees.The deal will cost the FDIC 4.9 billion dollars.Bank United will now be led by former North Fork Bank CEO John Kanas.

The End or Beginning

The cost of credit has started to ease,Mr.Geithner informed the U.S. Senate.Businesses are finding it easier to raise money in the capital markets.This is all welcome news,but I want to emphasize this is just the beginning.We still face a prolonged repair and adjustment.The combined effect of the programs will help.We're working very closely with the Small Business Administration.Refinancing of commercial real estate is a major challenge.The best thing we can do is 1.provide capital where it is necessary;and 2.have the Federal Reserve extend lending to Commercial Mortgage-Backed Securities,or CMBS.These are two very important steps to take.
About half the AIG risk has been taken down.To be fair,the management of this firm is finding it incredibly difficult to disentangle the businesses.Our options were substantially constrained by the complexities of this firm,Tim Geithner pointed out.Wearing a charcoal suit,white shirt and blue striped tie,the Treasury Secretary maintained his composure and seriousness through the intense exchanges with the demanding senators.

How Things Have Changed

Concern about systemic risk has started to diminish,Mr.Geithner told the Senate Banking Committee,and there are signs that credit conditions have improved,but we still have a long way to go.The economy is still shrinking;the system is still damaged.We're gonna do no more than what it takes to fix the system.Leverage has declined;banks are funding themselves more conservatively.The vast majority of banks have more than enough to be well-capitalized.Restoring lending in the commercial real estate market is critical.Treasury will pick fund managers for the Public-Private Investment Partnership,or PPIP,in the next several weeks.Treasury still has 123.7 billion in Troubled Asset Recovery Program,or TARP, funds available.

Geithner Briefs Senate Panel

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has been briefing the Senate Banking Committee on the current situation.We are looking at ways to get more capital into community banks,he said.Unless we are prepared to contemplate the risk to the system of default by AIG,we have no choice but to fund it.I believe what Congress did at that point was absolutely essential.The bleeding has slowed substantially from the height of the financial crisis.It will take longer than a year for the government to exit AIG.
Demand for credit is falling as businesses repair their balance sheets,Mr.Geithner observed.The expansion of the Targeted Asset-backed securities Loan Facility,or TALF,to a wider range of securities will help repair capital markets.The government has unwound about half its risk from AIG financial products.The demand for credit is greater than what looks like the available supply.We have somewhat north of 100 billion of capital to get credit flowing again.We've got a pretty effective series of programs in place,but they're just getting started,and we have to keep at it,Mr.Geithner admitted.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Health Uncle:Pistachios Beneficial

Pistachio nuts may be helpful in lowering LDL cholesterol by up to 12%.The Penn State study shows that one or two handfuls a day may be effective.Besides being linked to lower cholesterol,the nuts are high in fiber and cell-protecting anti-oxidants.A 100 calorie serving of pistachios amounts to about 30 nuts.
When you've eaten your nuts,consider flossing or rinsing to prevent gum disease.Gum disease is associated with a number of other chronic diseases,from heart conditions to oral and lung cancers.Particles of food stuck on or between the teeth attract the bacteria that eventually infect your gums.More than 75% of Americans suffer from some stage of gum disease.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sony Reports Loss

Sony has reported its first loss in 14 years.The Japanese multinational lost one billion dollars in the previous quarter,due to falling sales in electronics and computer games.Sony is expecting a slight recovery in the second half of its fiscal year.This is consistent with many economic forecasts.It is restructuring by reducing costs,closing plants and laying off workers,in response to the financial crisis.

A Burdensome Bureaucracy

We have an urgent requirement in Afghanistan,General Craddock pointed out,that was 80 weeks to fulfillment.We got it down to 60 weeks;our goal is 35 weeks.There are urgent requirements on the ground.This is simply untenable.We cannot do this.NATO has no counter-piracy policy,either,though it has participated in individual operations.Internal guidance is slow.Parallel tracks for funding is a problem.We were unable to reduce the number of headquarters.We had to salami-slice each HQ to meet manning requirements.NATO and the European Union have to find opportunities to coordinate,sharing the burdens of procurement,counter-piracy and training.We have to get political direction to open those doors.For administrative issues,business issues,the routine business of the alliance,we need to move beyond consensus.The NATO Secretary General needs more authority for timely action.
I started as a lieutenant 37 years ago guarding the Fulda Gap.I am optimistic,but absent the balance,we may well face difficulties and problems in the coming years,General Craddock concluded.With his gray hair and spectacles,he had a grandfatherly quality as he quietly addressed The Atlantic Council of the United States in Washington,D.C.

Dear Readers

Please be patient.I need some more time to complete this article.

Political Leadership Is Lacking

NATO nations have yet to source all of their operation plans,General Craddock noted.We need to balance national and alliance issues.Political leadership in NATO is AWOL,absent without leave.That is why,to a great extent,this imbalance exists.We are in operations;NATO has had to accommodate national interests.The problem is generated when,over time,the accommodations layer over top of one another.We've got 70 caveats.The accommodations have created regional fiefdoms in Afghanistan.They won't do anything else when asked by ISAF,the International Security Assistance Force.Friction in NATO is of a different nature now that we have our forces in harm's way.We're under a 1999 strategic concept.This strategic concept has to find a balance between the level of ambition and political will.We're manned at about 82% in the command structure.We need to know how to engage with the Russian Federation.This alliance is challenged internally and externally.There have to be agonizing reappraisals.We've got to get this one better than we have,SACEUR insisted.

Special Access:With the NATO Commander

General Bantz J. Craddock,U.S. Army,recently evaluated the state of the Western defense alliance,NATO,for The Atlantic Council of the United States,a foreign affairs study group.General Craddock will complete his tour as Supreme Allied Commander Europe,SACEUR,a post once held by Dwight D. Eisenhower,in July.We are making slow progress in a part of Afghanistan,the general said,but we are stalemated in the south and east.We cannot prevail until greater control is taken in Pakistan.Secondly,the narcotics industry in Afghanistan is supporting the insurgency there.Governance is the critical path.If it fails,we fail.It's up to the Afghan people.Unless they see government as a positive factor in their life,we fail.We build;the Taliban extremists destroy,because they know they will lose if governance succeeds,General Craddock explained.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Health Uncle:Cancer Documentary Airs Tonight

A documentary that chronicles the illness of actress Farrah Fawcett airs on NBC at 9PM tonight."Farrah's Story" is an intimate look at Ms.Fawcett's two-year struggle with anal cancer,a rare malignancy.Contradicting tabloid reports,Ms.Fawcett's friends deny that she is near death.One of her doctors,eminent oncologist Dr.Lawrence D. Piro,says she has not been in a coma;nor is she down to 86 pounds.Her appetite is suppressed,as is common for cancer patients,but she is getting nutrition.On the other hand,friend Ryan O'Neal says Ms.Fawcett has has a tough,painful year.Ms.Fawcett intends to watch the documentary tonight.Clips from it show her still looking beautiful,and drawing on her religious faith to help her through the ordeal.She hopes to be an inspiration to others in a similar predicament.May she be blessed with every success.
In the midst of economic distress,the NASA astronauts are proving inspirational in their own right.Yesterday's spacewalk-the first of five-was 99.9% successful.They completed installation of a new Wide Field Camera,the third in the history of the Hubble Space Telescope.A stubborn bolt threatened the mission,but prudent persistence won out.Reflecting on this accomplishment may help dispel down thoughts.We are still achieving.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It Could Take Years

Don't look for a full economic recovery any time soon,according to David Kelly of JP Morgan Asset Management.The market is still dozens of percent below its all-time high.It's gonna be a rocky road.We're not quite out of the woods yet.Investor sentiment is still rather fragile.We could have a long period of years for employment to come back.Stocks are a long term bet,Mr.Kelly says.You do want to have an international position.The other countries will benefit from a U.S. recovery.Indeed,in the long run,they will grow faster than the U.S.,Mr.Kelly predicts.

Managing Systemic Risk

A critical part of risk management is understanding the linkage between incentives and risk-taking,Ben Bernanke believes.The structure of compensation is a safety and soundness issue.Our supervisors are emphasizing that maintaining risk management is equally important in good times and bad.The Federal Reserve is the consolidated supervisor of bank holding companies.We are working to bolster the ability of the financial system overall to withstand shocks,creating increasingly stringent standards and targets for market participants.We must be sure we continually increase our expertise,to match it with the situation.A macro-prudential agenda has many elements.Precisely how best to implement this agenda remains open to debate.An approach to supervision that focuses narrowly on individual institutions can miss threats to the financial system,in Chairman Bernanke's view.

Status Quo Problems

For Ben Bernanke,the way things are isn't good enough.Current law still hampers bank supervision.The Fed is asking Congress for tools necessary to monitor bank safety and soundness.The market infrastructure for derivatives still lacks adequate transparency and efficiency.There is a need for heightened vigilance and forcefulness on the part of supervisors to make sure standards are being met.Holding companies must serve as a source of strength for their subsidiary banks.We are monitoring the major firms' liquidity positions on a daily basis,the central banker indicated.

Banking Supervision Examined

Ben Bernanke,Chairman of the Federal Reserve,has been reflecting on banking supervision in light of the financial crisis.There are two questions,Mr.Bernanke said:1.What have we learned? and 2.How can we apply those lessons? Increasing the effectiveness of supervision must be a top priority of our institution.The Federal Reserve is now requiring banks to identify the unintended consequences of new financial instruments.We coordinate closely with foreign supervisors,Mr.Bernanke revealed.Our close relationships have proved very helpful as we have dealt with this crisis.The crisis underscores the importance of liquidity in banks.International collaboration has enabled U.S. supervisors to learn from the experience,Mr.Bernanke pointed out.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Health Uncle:Orthopaedic Project Resumes

Wellspan Health,a nonprofit,integrated health system for Southcentral Pennsylvania and Northern Maryland,is resuming its Rehabilitation and Specialty Hospital project.The project was halted when economic conditions deteriorated.The hospital will be located in York County,Pennsylvania's Apple Hill medical campus.It will offer 73 beds and four orthopaedic operating rooms.With the graying of the population,such a facility will be increasingly useful in the years ahead.Joint replacement is one of the most common surgeries among the elderly.It is often minimally invasive,and the quality of the replacement joints is significantly better than in the past.They can last for up to 20 years now.In osteoarthritis,the cartilage between the joints wears away,and the bones then rub against each other,causing debilitating pain and stiffness.Knees,hips and shoulders affected by it are replaced by the hundreds of thousands each year.Athletes of every age are also turning to orthopaedic procedures to extend their careers.
Some 450,000 people live in Wellspan Health's service area.The health system is anchored by York and Gettysburg Hospitals.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Wellpoint Enrollment Down

Feeling the impact of the financial crisis,health insurer Wellpoint's enrollment was 34.6 million at the end of Q1-down 2.3% as companies cut health benefits for their employees.CEO Angela Braly says we're just now getting into the health care discussion.We know the Obama administration has been very interested in listening.Of those who are uninsured,25% are eligible for government programs;25% can afford their own insurance;we need a bridge for the rest,so they can get the coverage they need,Ms.Braly believes.Wellpoint is America's largest private health insurer,covering one in nine citizens through its Blue Cross plans.It is a holding of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway.

Michigan's Got the Goods

We've got the capacity,Governor Granholm insisted.We've got a workforce that's hungry.We want to be the ones that produce those electric vehicles.Come on over! We want Chrysler to be big and vibrant,producing those vehicles that lead us to be independent of foreign oil.This bankruptcy gives us the ability to leapfrog,to be the place where that happens.This is a defining moment for Michigan.Michigan has blue ribbon factories for not producing waste.This is not your father's UAW,the Michigan Democrat observed,who has been mentioned as a U.S. Supreme Court prospect.

A Rough Ride Ahead

General Motors has a significant hurdle to climb with the bondholders,Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm noted.You can read the tealeaves in the Chrysler news.GM is the next shoe to drop.Let's support the home team,the governor urged.Let's make sure we have a viable company on the other side of bankruptcy.We're gonna have a tough period of time as the Chrysler plants go into hibernation for the next 30-60 days.People feared there would be a liquidation,but these companies are not gonna go away.The bankruptcy announcement will ensure the survival of Chrysler.If the court does what it's supposed to do,the risk to jobs will be greatly diminished,Governor Granholm pointed out.

Confident in Chrysler

Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm is confident in the future of Chrysler,which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.We are gonna see Chrysler emerge as a stronger,leaner,greener company, she said.They've got agreements with the vast majority of stakeholders.The hedge funds were offered a premium,but they rejected it because they wanted more.I don't know that hedge funds were acting in their investors' best interest,the governor remarked.Saving Chrysler is about jobs-38,000 jobs inside Michigan alone,Governor Granholm indicated.Under the agreements,which must be approved by a bankruptcy court,the U.S. government will get an 8% stake in Chrysler,the third-largest North American automaker;the Canadian government will get 2%;Italian automaker Fiat will get 20-35%,depending on whether targets are met;and the United Auto Workers and Canadian Auto Workers will get a 55% stake in the firm,which was privately held by Cerberus Capital Management.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Health Uncle:Dealing With Swine Flu

At this point,the swine flu outbreak is less severe than the regular flu.About 36,000 Americans die of the regular flu each year.So far,only one death from swine flu has been reported in the U.S.,and that was of a Mexican child.That doesn't mean there isn't a major problem.The problem is,we don't know how this new virus will evolve.It's starting out mild beyond Mexico's borders,but that doesn't mean it will stay that way.It could disappear over the summer,then return in the autumn in a much worse form.That is why the public health authorities are so concerned.Probably a vaccine for it will be developed within a few months,and perhaps included in the standard flu vaccine this autumn.In the mean time,many with sniffles may become alarmed.It is most likely hay fever,if no fever is present.Now is the height of oak pollination in many places,and this makes the allergic moderately ill.To protect against hay fever,consider keeping your windows closed.
The media and public health authorities have to be vociferous and proactive.It's the only way they can protect the public,should the worst case scenario be realized.Unfortunately,this creates an intense environment on top of the economic stress of the day.Let's rest easy in the knowledge that everyone who can do something about these issues,such as the World Health Organization,seems to be making a strong effort.The rest of us can help by following their good advice and exercising sound judgement in our daily affairs.