April 2008, Part 4
Jim Miller on Politics
Commodity Bubbles? That's what Anatole Kaletsky suspects we may be seeing in the food and energy markets.
To set against these scary features of global commodity inflation there are, however, three items of good news. The first is that the recent bout of food and energy inflation does not seem to reflect a permanent imbalance in global supply and demand any more than did the price spike of the 1970s. The recent doubling in rice prices does not mean that the world is running out of food and this week's prediction by the chairman of Opec that oil prices may soon rise to $200 has less to do with careful analysis than with greedy wishful thinking.And he thinks the bubbles may already be starting to collapse. If they are, that would be good news for almost everyone.
I have no idea whether he is right, and he doesn't give enough numbers for me to check his thinking on oil or food. But it is an interesting thought.
(For what it is worth, he mentions a number of recent declines in the prices of other commodities, including gold, nickel, and lead.)
- 6:18 PM, 30 April 2008
Good Timing: So far, Kaletsky's argument looks pretty good. I checked the closing prices on the Chicago Board of Trade and found that all commodities were down, except for corn and oats. Here's how they summarize the gold market, which is sensitive to inflation:
The gold contract forged another big range down extension on Thursday and clearly the action in gold was in many ways linked to a broad based mass liquidation in the commodities market. Seeing the June Dollar fall to the highest level since the big spike up recovery attempt on April 18th seemed to further the idea that the Dollar has indeed made a major bottom. With crude oil, soybeans, copper, cocoa and various other physical commodity markets under intense selling pressure the gold market was ripe to see more weak handed longs move to the sidelines.(Here's a live chart of recent gold prices, which shows the drop in the last two weeks.)
They do add that these markets might reverse tomorrow, if the jobs report is bad. And, of course, one shouldn't make too much of one day's results. As Morgan famously said, markets will fluctuate.
- 3:42 PM, 1 May 2008
More: Steven Pearlstein agrees that we are seeing a commodity bubble in world markets. Like Kaletsky, he thinks it will soon burst. One quibble: Pearlstein says that it takes a long lead time to expand production of these commodities. That's true in many cases, but not all.
- 8:34 AM, 2 May 2008 [link]
A Balanced Ticket: One of the perils of identity politics, as the Democrats are learning — again — is that a win for one group (for example, blacks) often means a loss for another group (for example, feminists). A win for the Obama supporters will mean a loss for the Clinton supporters, and vice versa.
Old style political organizations had a standard solution for this problem; they selected representatives from each group for a whole set of offices. For example, in 1961, the New York city Republicans ran a ticket headed by Lefkowitz, Fino, and Gilhooley. (They lost, as Republicans usually did in New York, in those days.) The larger the set of offices, the easier it was to provide a representative for each group, to provide what Jesse Jackson might call a "rainbow coalition" of candidates.
Could something like that work for Obama or Clinton this year? It is hard to see how either could do it, since they only have two offices to work with. As of now, I think it unlikely that either would accept second place, even if it were offered. And adding a substitute would look just a little too obvious. Thus I think it unlikely that Obama, should he win the nomination, will choose a white woman as a running mate, and I think it unlikely that Clinton would choose a black man. (Either might choose a Hispanic man. I suspect that one reason the Clintons are furious with Bill Richardson is that they were considering him for that spot.)
They both might try to balance their ticket in another way, for example, by choosing a former military man to look stronger on security. But I can't think of any obvious choices in that category. If I were either candidate, I would look for a governor, or former cabinet member, to provide additional executive experience, but I'm not sure either is as troubled by their lack of executive experience as they should be.
- 4:16 PM, 30 April 2008 [link]
Maybe Not So Prescient After All: In February, I noted with some amusement that unnamed economists were saying that we were already in a recession. To say that in February, the economists had to be prescient, had to able to see the future, because we had slow growth in the fourth quarter of last year, and the first quarter of this year was not over. Today, the preliminary growth figures came out for the first quarter, showing slow growth, .6 percent, but no recession. The numbers might be revised downward later, but for now we can not say that the economy is in a recession. Unless, of course, we are prescient.
This news makes me a little more optimistic about the economy, a little more inclined to think that we may avoid a recession entirely this year. And that would be quite an achievement, considering how long this expansion has lasted already.
Cross posted at Sound Politics.(In that February post, I said that the most common definition of a recession is two quarters of declines in the GDP. That's probably true, and it is certainly true that almost all recessions have at least two such quarters, but that isn't the semi-official definition used by the NBER.)
- 1:11 PM, 30 April 2008
More: I am not the only one who now thinks that the odds are against a recession this year. So do the bettors at InTrade. And if you disagree with us, you can, as I write, get odds of almost 2-1 for your bet.
- 1:50 PM, 30 April 2008 [link]
Worth Reading: Law professor Ann Althouse takes a lawyerly look at Barack Obama's latest press conference. You'll want to read the whole thing, especially if you like to see examples of how a politician tries to deceive the public without lying (very often, anyway). I particularly liked the way she caught him dodging away from a question about black liberation theology.
- 12:47 PM, 30 April 2008 [link]
No Recession Yet: But no return to strong growth, either.
The bruised economy limped through the first quarter, growing at just a 0.6 percent pace as housing and credit problems forced people and businesses alike to hunker down.(If you read the next paragraph, you'll notice that the Associated Press has not given up hope that a recession will start later this year.)
Democrats are going to be very disappointed. And Republicans are going to be disappointed too, though less so, since this slow growth does not help them with the voters.
(Incidentally, you may have heard, as I have, that a recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth. Not so, says Gerard Baker, who thinks LBJ might be responsible for the confusion. So I checked with the National Bureau of Economic Research and found that he is right. Unfortunately, their definition is less straighforward, though possibly more sensible.
Just to make things more confusing, almost all recessions do include at least two quarters of negative growth.
For fun, you might want to look through this historical table of recessions. In recent years, they have been shorter, less frequent, and shallower than they were earlier in our history.)
- 10:09 AM, 30 April 2008 [link]
Is Iran's Nuclear Program Really An Enigma? That's what the New York Times calls it in this article on photos of their centrifuges.
Some analysts see the centrifuges, despite the disclosures of the presidential tour, as a continuing enigma.Is there really any doubt about what the regime wants these for?
(It is almost almost always annoying to have judgments made by unnamed "experts". In this case, it is absolutely infuriating not to know who William Broad is hiding. Incompetence at that level deserves exposure, not protection.
And there are two obvious explanations for them showing us the pictures now: They may be doing an early victory lap, rubbing it in. Or they may be using this tour to distract our attention from other programs, which are more advanced.)
- 4:08 PM, 29 April 2008 [link]
Lots Of Snow at Mt. St. Helens, too.
And one joker who skied up there to check it out.
I have been looking at the Mt. St Helens webcam for years. This winter I have seen more snow there than in any previous winter. (By the way, I learned from the Forest Service site that Mt. St. Helens now has a high definition (1024x768) webcam in addition to the one I have been using for years. At the moment, the camera isn't showing anything interesting, but it may be, by the time you read this.)
- 2:58 PM, 29 April 2008
More: That's a gnome in the picture. As I write, there is another paper plate message in the view. According to a story I heard on King 5, the gnome is standing on top of about 20 feet of snow.
- 10:24 AM, 30 April 2008 [link]
The Magic Bullet: It's exercise.
"The single thing that comes close to a magic bullet, in terms of its strong and universal benefits, is exercise," Frank Hu, epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in the Harvard Magazine.And Jane Brody has a bunch of links for anyone who wants to follow up those claims. Or the other claims in the rest of the article.
(Exercise, not health insurance, but I repeat myself.)
- 12:48 PM, 29 April 2008 [link]
Even Eugene Robinson has had enough of Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
I'm sorry, but I've had it with Wright. I would never try to diminish the service he performed as pastor of his Chicago megachurch, and it's obvious that he's a man of great charisma and faith. But this media tour he's conducting is doing a disservice that goes beyond any impact it might have on Obama's presidential campaign.That should be obvious to anyone who knows even a little about the range of black experiences in America.
I'll have more to say about Wright's return to the spotlight later today, or tomorrow, but I want to wait to write a post until I am a little less angry at his demagoguery.
(Barack Obama used a similar rhetorical trick in his famous speech.
I can no more disown him [Wright] than I can disown the black community.But Obama could easily have disowned Wright without disowning the black community. In fact, he could have disowned Wright because Wright has been bad for the black community.)
- 9:48 AM, 29 April 2008
Obama may have had enough, too. Or, he may believe that he should say he has had enough, if he wants to be president.
- 1:12 PM, 29 April 2008
More: Reverend Wright wants you to think, to use Robinson's metaphor, that he is the tree, not the twig. He wants you to think that his church represents all black churches. It doesn't come anywhere close to that, as the numbers show. According to the United Church of Christ, Wright's church has about 8,000 members. There are almost 40 million blacks in the United States, so about 39 million do not belong to his church. There are about 1 million blacks in Chicago. If housing patterns there are similar to what they were when I lived in Chicago, about half of the blacks live on the south side, where Trinity United is. Suppose that only half of them attend church. Then, we can conclude that almost one quarter of a million blacks on the south side of Chicago attend churches other than Trinity United. To put it another way, roughly (very roughly) 1 in 60 blacks on the south side of Chicago attend Wright's church, and roughly 1 in 30 of those who attend church choose his. So he has no claim to be the spokesman for all black churches, or even all black churches on the south side of Chicago.
- 2:22 PM, 29 April 2008 [link]
Is Barack Obama A Muslim? Almost certainly not. (Although with this strange man, one can never be absolutely certain.) But he was a Muslim as a child, even though he now denies it.
Obama's having been born and raised a Muslim and having left the faith to become a Christian make him neither more nor less qualified to become president of the United States. But if he was born and raised a Muslim and is now hiding that fact, this points to a major deceit, a fundamental misrepresentation about himself that has profound implications about his character and his suitability as president.As so often happens, when a journalist checks what Obama has said about his past, they find discrepancies. And, in this case, many journalists found discrepancies, as Daniel Pipes documents. That pattern of discrepancies bothers me far more than the time Obama may have spent reciting Muslim prayers as a little kid.
(It is only fair to add that Obama claims that his father lost his Muslim faith and was an atheist at the time he "married" Obama's mother. But in the same piece, Obama claims not to be an extremist on abortion and blames "staff" for making it appear otherwise.)
- 6:02 AM, 29 April 2008 [link]
Thanks, Congressman McDermott: The Seattle congressman just made a big campaign contribution to the Republican party.
It is good to see McDermott contributing to a good cause.
What makes this all wonderfully ironic is that the illegally taped phone call was innocuous, but neither McDermott, nor the New York Times, which published an article based on the illegal tape, realized that, so blinded were they both by partisanship.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 4:11 PM, 28 April 2008 [link]
Credit For President Bush: From the Seattle PI. Which is not in the habit of giving President Bush (or any other Republican) credit for anything.
Incidentally, these achievements are recognized in much of Africa, but not in the much of the United States. And I think that almost any political consultant would have told President Bush that his efforts to fight AIDS in Africa would do him little good here in the United States. Bush knew that, but decided to go ahead with the program anyway, because he thought it was the right thing to do.
Imagine that, a politician doing something because he thought it was the right thing to do. That's almost as startling as finding this editorial in the Seattle PI.Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:22 PM, 28 April 2008 [link]
Those Redistributionist Rebates: They started appearing in direct deposit accounts today. What almost no one* has mentioned is that the rebates redistribute massive amounts of money from the rich to the poor and to the middle class. Here's how the IRS describes the payments.
How much will you get? The actual amount depends on the information contained on your tax return. Eligible individuals will receive between $300 and $600. Those who are eligible and file a joint return will receive a total of between $600 and $1,200. Those with children will get an additional $300 for each qualifying child. To qualify, a child must be eligible under the Child Tax Credit and have a valid Social Security number. We have various examples for you check out.The IRS site does not tell you how the rebates phase out, but you can find the numbers here. For a single person, the rebates begin to phase out at $75,000, for a married couple at $150,000.
So most of the payments will go to people who are not rich, by any standard. (In some places, a couple earning $150,000 a year would be considered pretty well off, though I am not sure whether most would call them rich.) The rebates even go to some people who have such low incomes that they pay no income taxes at all. The rebates are limited to a maximum of $600 per earner and $300 per child, so they will mean more, proportionately, to the poor and middle class than they will to the upper middle class.
Now, where will the money for these rebates come from? In the short term, from borrowing. In the long term, from individual income tax payments. And since our income tax system is moderately progressive, hitting the rich harder than the middle class (and the poor almost not at all), the money will come eventually from those who are better off.
I have mixed feelings about the rebates, as an economic stimulus. I am not sure that they are the best package for our current problems, or even whether we should just accept some temporary pain and do without such efforts. (They may well have been the best package that could be passed through this Democratic Congress.) But I am fascinated by the fact that we are giving billions and billions to the poor and middle class, billions that we will later reclaim mostly from the well off — and no one in the "mainstream" media seems to have noticed.
(*A quick Google search of news sources on "rebate + redistribution" found just two mentions of the redistributionist effects, here and here. Neither is a "mainstream" news source.
If you are wondering, in general I am not opposed to redistribution from the rich to the poor — within limits.)
- 1:39 PM, 28 April 2008 [link]
Who Are You Going To Believe? Obama then, or Obama now? Like Charles Johnson, I don't care whether or not Obama wears a flag pin, but I do think he should get his story straight.
And, on a related point, Tom Maguire notes something interesting about Obama's first explanation.
Apparently it is OK for Obama to pass judgment on other people's patriotism based on his assessment of their policy differences. In a symmetrical world, that would mean that questions about his patriotism based on policy differences would be acceptable.(As you may, or may not, recall, when the flag pin controversy first came up, Obama implied that other politicians were not patriotic if they disagreed with him on veteran's benefits.)
- 8:29 AM, 28 April 2008 [link]
Top Movie In France? This one.
Since its release on Feb. 20, an unassuming low-budget comedy, "Bienvenue Chez les Ch'tis" ("Welcome to the Sticks"), has been attracting filmgoers in astounding numbers. The movie has sold close to 19 million tickets in a country of 65 million people, and is on course to overtake the all-time domestic record of 20.7 million set by "Titanic."Where, naturally, he gets along wonderfully with the locals, and even begins to like their stinky cheese.
The equivalent gate for the United States would be about $900 million.
The reporter thinks the popularity of the movie may be a criticism of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, though I can't see why. But this is the New York Times, and they are not going to miss a chance to take a lick at any friend of the United States, especially a friend who likes President Bush.
(I am not sure that Ch'tis should be translated as "sticks". My 1994 Petit Larousse doesn't have the word, but it does have Ch'timi" which is both an adjective and noun meaning "originaire du nord de la France". The movie site has a picture of "Le ch'ti de la semaine, which probably means something like "the hick of the week". If that's right, then we might translate the movie title as "Welcome to the Home of the Hicks". Even that isn't quite right, because the ch'tis are not just hicks, but hicks from a specific region in the north of France.
If your French is better than mine — which is not hard — please suggest an alternative translation, or a correction, if one is needed.)
- 8:30 PM, 27 April 2008
The Times is wrong: But I wasn't quite right, either. I kept digging and found this answer. Chti refers to a language (and, by an obvious extension, the people who speak that language):
Picard is known by several different names. Residents of Picardie call it picard; but in Nord-Pas-de-Calais its dialects are more commonly known as chti or chtimi, in and around the towns of Valenciennes and Lille as rouchi; or simply as patois by Northerners in general. Linguists group all of these under the name Picard. Indeed, whether it is called patois, picard, chti or rouchi, it is the same language, and in general the variety spoken in Picardie is understood by speakers in Nord-Pas-de-Calais and vice versa.The Wikipedia article has examples in Picard (chti), French, and English. You don't need to know much French to see how hard it might be for someone from another part of France to understand someone speaking chti.
I still can't think of an American equivalent for chti. "Cajun" captures the language difference but, for most Americans does not have the same connotations that chti does. In one example, the article translates it as "Nordiste", or northerner, which doesn't work at all here.
- 9:02 AM, 28 April 2008 [link]
Health Care ≠ Health: In this brief post, I argued that health insurance ≠ health care, in spite of what the candidates often say. (They almost all say "health care" when they mean "health insurance", which is confusing, intentionally I think.)
In this post, I want to take a big step farther and argue that — within limits — health care ≠ health. Specifically, I want to argue that the amount of medical care we receive does not, within very broad limits, make very much difference in our life expectancies. That's not just my opinion, that's the finding of some academic studies, as this New York Times article notes:
Taken to their extreme, the numbers can be striking: a 2006 study found that Native American men in southwestern South Dakota could expect to live to 58, while Asian women in Bergen County in New Jersey had a life expectancy of 91.(My emphasis.)
So there are very large differences among groups in the United States, but one can not explain those differences with income alone, and having health insurance doesn't do much for your longevity. Or, putting the two together, the amount of health care a person can buy doesn't make much difference in a person's longevity.
Why would this be so? Here's my best guess: The things that make the most difference in longevity are almost all cheap. Safe water, vaccines, antibiotics, and nutritious diets do not cost much, at least in the United States. On the opposite end, heart bypass surgery is enormously expensive, but doesn't seem to make much difference in longevity.
But where we live and our habits do make a difference. We can improve our longevity by living in safe neighborhoods, not smoking, exercising regularly, drinking moderately, and building a supportive network of family and friends. Unfortunately for politicians, those are harder for the government to deliver than airy promises to provide health insurance for everyone.
For individuals, however, these findings should be cheering. Your heath and your longevity depend far more on what you do than on what the government does for you, above a certain minimum.
(There are, of course, exceptions, expensive procedures that do save lives, or at least extend them. But we should recognize that those are exceptions, not the rule, when we are thinking about public policy.
Related thoughts here.)
- 3:40 PM, 27 April 2008 [link]
Happy Easter! To all those who celebrate it today.
Did you forget that the Orthodox Easter is usually on a different day than the Easter celebrated by Catholics and Protestants? (I did, but I was reminded yesterday when I saw that a local Greek restaurant was closed for the holiday.)
(There's much more on the dates for Easter here.)
- 2:57 PM, 27 April 2008 [link]
One Last Set Of Pictures From My 2007 Disaster Area Tour: Mostly because some may benefit from the lesson I learned at Crater Lake. On my way back from Shasta and Lassen, I stopped at Crater Lake. I had hoped to climb the highest point in the park, Mt. Scott, but felt a little under the weather and decided to skip that and just take the boat tour to Wizard Island.
I knew they ran boat tours all day, so I did not hurry to buy a ticket, getting to the ticket office about 11:30 in the morning. They were sold out for the day — and this was a Monday, when one would expect fewer tourists in the park. This picture of the Phantom Ship will show you why I should have gotten there earlier.
If you look closely at the left side of the ship, you will able to see the tour boat. It is no surprise that a boat that small sells out early. This summer, I will definitely have to get to the trailer where they sell the tickers earlier, so I can take that tour.
(You can find the previous 2007 disaster area tour posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
You can find the last posts, with links to earlier posts, for the 2006 and 2005 tours here and here.)
- 2:35 PM, 25 April 2008 [link]
Nat Hentoff Makes An Obvious Point: And an important point, but one that will not make the front page of your newspaper or appear in a lead story on network news. On one important issue, Barack Obama is, unquestionably, an extremist.
I admire much of Obama's record, including what he wrote in "The Audacity of Hope" about the Founders' "rejection of all forms of absolute authority, whether the king, the theocrat, the general, the oligarch, the dictator, the majority ... George Washington declined the crown because of this impulse."Obama is more extreme on this issue than Speaker Nancy Pelosi, more extreme than even NARAL.
Should this matter to those like me who are moderates on abortion, who want to see more restrictions on abortion than we have now, but do not think that abortion should be banned entirely? Yes, because it shows us something about the real Obama hiding behind all those warm and soft speeches, something hard and cold. For me, learning about Obama's extremist stance on abortion was like seeing a snake slither out from behind a stuffed bunny.
- 1:25 PM, 25 April 2008 [link]
Don't Believe What Obama Says: Who says so? His long time pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
Wright said he was hurt by what he considers unfair use of the sound bites, but understood why Obama had harsh words about his statements during a speech on race that the candidate delivered in Philadelphia. Wright said he is obligated to speak as a pastor, but Obama addresses audiences as a politician.(My emphasis.)
I think we all understand what Reverend Wright means by that; when Obama condemns some of what Wright has said, Obama is just saying what he has to say, as a politician. Which, Wright is implying, may not be what Obama actually believes. Reverend Wright may be wrong about that, but he has known Obama for more than twenty years.
- 12:27 PM, 25 April 2008
More: Allahpundit now agrees with me.
Wright: Obama criticized me in order to get elected(The pronouns could be clearer in that last sentence. Allahpundit means to say that Wright thinks Obama will say whatever he needs to say to get elected.)
- 5:33 AM, 29 April 2008 [link]