Thursday, May 21, 2009
Speaking of Taco Bell, I liked this observation in Sarah Hepola's piece on cheap and fast foods during this Great Rececssion:
There is something unsettling about the audaciously punctuated "Why Pay More!" Taco Bell value menu. I don't mean health concerns -- though those are aplenty -- but the confounding question of how a restaurant could possibly profit selling nachos at 79 cents. The nachos come covered in refried beans and goopy fluorescent orange cheese drizzled with red sauce, a wan imitation of Tex-Mex that made me weep for my years spent in Austin, Texas, but still … 79 cents! Even for recession prices, that feels low. The 89 cent Cheesy Double Beef Burrito, meanwhile, was so hefty I could practically bench-press it. It was crammed with the chain's signature chili-cheese artery-clogging mix.Anyway, Nestle writes:
Adam Drewnowski and his colleagues at the University of Washington have been doing a series of papers on the cost of food per calorie. The latest is a research brief answering the question, "Can low-income Americans afford a healthy diet?" Not really, they say. Federal food assistance assumes that low-income people spend 30 percent of their income on food, but that assumption was based on figures from an era when housing, transportation, and health care costs were much less.
As Drewnowski has shown repeatedly, healthier foods cost more, and sometimes a lot more, when you look at them on a per-calorie basis.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Of course, Japan's problems are not the same as our problems. Japan relies quite a bit on exports, and the global contraction does not help.
The Japanese gross domestic product shrank 15.2 percent on an annualized basis. It marked a fourth straight quarter of contraction and the biggest decline since Japan began keeping records in 1955.It was also a deeper fall than during the last quarter of 2008, when the economy shrank a revised 14.4 percent on an annualized basis.
But, to me, this is yet another reason not to get all too optimistic with talks of green shoots.
I would, however, place my bets on economic growth in India--it is a continent of its own, and it relies very little on foreign trade--both imports and exports. Elections have delivered greater stability to the current policies. No wonder the stock market is shooting up and up there.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
As an Indian who has made his home in the U.S., I say to Barack Obama: Don't neglect India. Go to India, and go there soon. Or if you can't leave town, invite Manmohan Singh to stop by. This is an investment of your time that will pay very rich--and very reliable--dividends.Yes, I am Indian who has made his home in the US. But, those are not my words--they are from Tunku Varadarajan's column in Forbes. I have nothing to disagree with what Varadarajan has to say there.
I miss his columns at WSJ. They had an off-beat quality to them, which, for some reason, is missing in the Forbes edition. I wonder if this resulted from a systematic thinking through in terms of the audience?
- It is not unrealistic. It looks like Pakistan's government and military are really following up on the understanding that their country is at risk, and are now expanding their all-out-assault even beyond Swat Valley, into the tribal areas where bin Laden might be living. Of course, I want to see the action happen in order to believe that Zardari and his people are serious about it--there is always the possibility that they are putting on a show in order to shake loose a few more billion from the US government.
- "Defence" has always been the GOP's mantra as their qualification, and the Democrats' liability. So, it will be quite a counter to that if the "liberal" Obama ends up capturing bin Laden, something that Bush/Cheney/GOP could not. The GOP then loses its ultimate, maybe its one and only, political asset. And when that is gone, well, the GOP is gone, for all purposes. It will be quite an effort for Republicans to reshape their party.
- Which means that gerrymandered seats will be the only way Republicans will be able to make their voices heard in the House of Reps. Senate elections being state-wide elections, well, Republicans will be screwed. Senate seats and governorships will come down to individual personalities and charisma. Presidency? They may as well forget until 2016, at the earliest, and 2020 is more realistic.
- I am sure Obama and his people are acutely aware of this. After all, if I can think along this logic!!! I wonder if this, too, is the reason why there is so much of a focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan now. I would not be suprised at all, if such political considerations have influenced their decision as much as genuine national security reasons have. In fact, I say there is nothing wrong in that: after all, bin Laden is the #1 most wanted criminal.
I suppose America was so blindered by its ideological framework that not only did we not recognize that Pakistan is even worse than the Israel/Palestine situation, we even continued to pour money into Pakistan.
Anyway, Professor Steven David writes in Foreign Policy that:
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
What then can the United States do to reduce the threat from Pakistan? Washington must first do more to mitigate the tensions between India and Pakistan, thus encouraging the Pakistanis to redirect their military away from the Indian threat and toward the more pressing dangers posed by the Taliban. The United States must be more creative in ways that might help the Pakistanis ensure the security of their arsenal, including assisting them with better command-and-control procedures and safer deployment options for their nuclear forces (thus avoiding a hair-trigger posture). For the long term, the United States can work to build up the Pakistani state, improve Pakistan's education system, enhance its economy (through the elimination of tariffs on Pakistani textiles), and subtly convince the Pakistanis that the moderate Islam for which the country is known is the best path.
Although all of these steps are necessary, none will end the threat of a Pakistani nuclear weapon falling into the wrong hands. So what the United States must do is confront the awful possibility that the Taliban or al Qaeda might one day get its hands on a Pakistani nuclear weapon. To prepare for that contingency, Washington must do more to learn where the Pakistani nuclear arms are located (to destroy or seize them), do a better job at preventing the smuggling of nuclear weapons, and, most horribly, prepare for the nightmare of losing an American city to a Pakistani bomb. That means issues such as continuity of government and public health plans must be made now, for "the day after." It also means that Washington must do better at determining the source of a nuclear explosion and think seriously about how to react if one occurs. Lashing out at Pakistan, especially if the regime was not behind the attack, makes little sense. Learning from the Pakistanis just how many weapons went missing, how it happened, and whether it could happen again might not be as emotionally satisfying as a counterstrike, but makes more sense.
Even during the worst days of the Cold War, Americans and Soviets recognized that a nuclear strike would be folly. The same is not true for the groups that are poised to seize Pakistani nuclear weapons. With luck, we may all survive this crisis. But that does not change the realization that an American city faces a far greater threat of nuclear destruction from a wayward Pakistani nuclear weapon than it ever did from a deliberate Soviet attack.
The Onion reports that:
White House budget chief Peter Orszag said that with April consumer prices stable and production declining at a slower rate, the worst of the recession is over. What do you think?
Air Quality Tester
"Seriously? But I just learned how to save money."
"I don't understand economics very well, so could you put the question to me again in analogy form? To help you, my favorite analogies involve old dogs, apples, and fishes on bicycles."
"What great news for people whose lives exactly mirror economic data reported by the government."
Sunday, May 17, 2009
In today's NY Times, Frank Rich writes that we need to do this, and now:
the new administration doesn’t want to revisit this history any more than it wants to dwell on torture. Once the inspector general’s report on the military analysts was rescinded, the Obama Pentagon declared the matter closed. The White House seems to be taking its cues from the Reagan-Bush 41 speechwriter Peggy Noonan. “Sometimes I think just keep walking,” she said on ABC’s “This Week” as the torture memos surfaced. “Some of life has to be mysterious.” Imagine if she’d been at Nuremberg!
The administration can’t “just keep walking” because it is losing control of the story. The Beltway punditocracy keeps repeating the cliché that only the A.C.L.U. and the president’s “left-wing base” want accountability, but that’s not the case. Americans know that the Iraq war is not over. A key revelation in last month’s Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainees — that torture was used to try to coerce prisoners into “confirming” a bogus Al Qaeda-Saddam Hussein link to sell that war — is finally attracting attention. The more we learn piecemeal of this history, the more bipartisan and voluble the call for full transparency has become.
And I do mean bipartisan. Both Dick Cheney, hoping to prove that torture “worked,” and Nancy Pelosi, fending off accusations of hypocrisy on torture, have now asked for classified C.I.A. documents to be made public. When a duo this unlikely, however inadvertently, is on the same side of an issue, the wave is rising too fast for any White House to control. Court cases, including appeals by the “bad apples” made scapegoats for Abu Ghraib, will yank more secrets into the daylight and enlist more anxious past and present officials into the Cheney-Pelosi demands for disclosure.
It will soon be every man for himself. “Did President Bush know everything you knew?” Bob Schieffer asked Cheney on “Face the Nation” last Sunday. The former vice president’s uncharacteristically stumbling and qualified answer — “I certainly, yeah, have every reason to believe he knew...” — suggests that the Bush White House’s once-united front is starting to crack under pressure.
I’m not a fan of Washington’s blue-ribbon commissions, where political compromises can trump the truth. But the 9/11 investigation did illuminate how, a month after Bush received an intelligence brief titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” 3,000 Americans were slaughtered on his and Cheney’s watch. If the Obama administration really wants to move on from the dark Bush era, it will need a new commission, backed up by serious law enforcement, to shed light on where every body is buried.