Tuesday, May 13, 2008

India to US: Dont Blame us - go on a diet

from nytimes.com

May 14, 2008
Indians Find U.S. at Fault in Food Cost
NEW DELHI — Instead of blaming India and other developing nations for the rise in food prices, Americans should rethink their energy policy — and go on a diet.
That has been the response, basically, of a growing number of politicians, economists and academics in this country, who are angry at statements by top United States officials that India’s rising prosperity is to blame for food inflation.
The debate has sometimes devolved into what sounded like petty playground taunts over who are the real gluttons devouring the world’s resources.
For instance, Pradeep S. Mehta, secretary general of the center for international trade, economics and the environment of CUTS International, an independent research institute based here, said that if Americans slimmed down to the weight of middle-class Indians, “many hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa would find food on their plates.”
He added, archly, that the money spent in the United States on liposuction to get rid of fat from excess consumption could be funneled to feed famine victims.
Mr. Mehta’s comments may sound like the macroeconomic equivalent of “so’s your old man,” but they reflect genuine outrage — and ballooning criticism — toward the United States in particular, over recent remarks by President Bush.
After a news conference in Missouri on May 2, he was quoted as saying of India’s burgeoning middle class, “When you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food, and so demand is high, and that causes the price to go up.”
The comments, widely reported in the developing world, followed a statement on the subject by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that had upset many Indians.
In response to the president’s remarks, a ranking official in the commerce ministry, Jairam Ramesh, told the Press Trust of India, “George Bush has never been known for his knowledge of economics,” and the remarks proved again how “comprehensively wrong” he is.
The Asian Age, a newspaper based here, argued in an editorial last week that Mr. Bush’s “ignorance on most matters is widely known and openly acknowledged by his own countrymen,” and that he must not be allowed to “get away” with an effort to “divert global attention from the truth by passing the buck on to India.”
The developing nations, and in particular China and India, are being blamed for global problems, including the rising cost of commodities and the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, because they are consuming more goods and fuel than ever before. But Indians from the prime minister’s office on down frequently point out that per capita, India uses far lower quantities of commodities and pollutes far less than nations in the West, particularly the United States.
Explaining the food price increases, Indian politicians and academics cite consumption in the United States; the West’s diversion of arable land into the production of ethanol and other biofuels; agricultural subsidies and trade barriers from Washington and the European Union; and finally the decline in the exchange rate of the dollar.
There may be some foundation to Indians’ accusations of hypocrisy by the West. The United States uses — or throws away — 3,770 calories a person each day, according to data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization collected in 2001-3, compared with 2,440 calories per person in India. Americans are also the largest per capita consumers in any major economy of the most energy-intensive common food source, beef, the Agriculture Department says.
And the United States and Canada lead the world in oil consumption per person, according to the Energy Information Administration, an Energy Department agency.
When it comes to trade, Western farming subsidies undercut agricultural production in fertile areas of Africa, India’s commerce minister, Kamal Nath, said in a telephone interview, repeating the point that Americans waste more food than people in many other countries.
The United States is responsible “many times more” than India for the world food crisis, said Ramesh Chand, an economist with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, which advises the government on farm policy.
The Bush administration has called for a truce. President Bush is a “great friend and admirer” of India, the United States ambassador here, David C. Mulford, said last week. He added that “this is a time for increased cooperation among nations to solve this problem and that hostile political commentary is not productive.”
A White House spokesman, Scott Stanzel, said, “We think it is a good thing countries are developing, that more and more people have higher standards of living.”
Some economists argue that blaming India’s growth is not only unfair, but makes little sense.
Food prices have not been rising continually as developing nations grew, said Ramgopal Agarwala, a former World Bank economist and senior adviser at RIS, a research institute in New Delhi. “They were static until 2006, then in 2007 and 2008 there was a sudden spark,” he said. But India has been growing for the last decade. This is “not last year’s phenomena,” he said.
“I don’t know who advised the president” on his recent comments, Mr. Agarwala added, but his analysis is “subprime.”
Mr. Mehta of the research institute conceded that his remarks on liposuction were meant to be tongue in cheek, but that “politically incorrect” attitudes like President Bush’s and Ms. Rice’s needed to be challenged. Rather than blaming India, Mr. Mehta said, the West should be adjusting to a changing world.
“If the developing world is going to develop, demand is going to go up and there are going to be new political paradigms,” he said.
Hari Kumar contributed reporting.

This would be laughable if it wasnt so sad. The food crisis is here to stay. There will likely be famines in Sub Saharan Africa. Many people will suffer and many will die. The rise of Chindia, the credit crisis in the US leading to low interest rates leading to the dollar crisis leading to commodity inflation all in an upward spiral. Money (Wealth) is ultimately denominated in terms of Energy available for consumption. This applies to food as well to actual energy sources. Growth is directly proportional to both growth of energy availability and the growth of energy efficiency.

Clinton Sweeps West Virginia

From nytimes.com
May 13, 2008

Clinton’s Remarks in Charleston, W.Va.

The following is a transcript of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech to supporters following the West Virginia primary, as provided by CQ Transcriptions.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Thank you all so much. Thank you.
You know, like the song says, it's almost heaven. (APPLAUSE)
And I am so grateful for this overwhelming vote of confidence.
Now, there are some who have wanted to cut this race short. They say, "Give up. It's too hard. The mountain is too high." But here in West Virginia, you know a thing or two about rough roads to the top of the mountain.
We know from the Bible that faith can move mountains.
And, my friends, the faith of the Mountain State has moved me.
I am more determined than ever to carry on this campaign...
... until everyone has had a chance to make their voices heard.
I want to command Senator Obama and his supporters. This continues to be a hard-fought race from one end of our country to the other. And, yes, we've had a few dust-ups along the way, but our commitment to bring America new leadership that will renew America's promise means that we have always stood together on what is most important.
Now, tonight, tonight, I need your help to continue this journey.
We are in the homestretch. There are only three weeks left in the final contests. And your support can make the difference between winning and losing. So I hope you'll go to HillaryClinton.com...
... and support our campaign.
You've heard this before. There are many who wanted to declare a nominee before the ballots were counted or even cast. Some said our campaign was over after Iowa, but then we won New Hampshire. Then we had big victories on Super Tuesday, and in Ohio, and Texas, and Pennsylvania. And, of course, we came from behind to win in Indiana.
So this race isn't over yet. Neither of us has the total delegates it takes to win. And both Senator Obama and I believe that the delegates from Florida and Michigan should be seated.
I believe we should honor the votes cast by 2.3 million people in those states and seat all of their delegates.
Under the rules of our party, when you include all 50 states, the number of delegates needed to win is 2,209, and neither of us has reached that threshold yet. This win in West Virginia will help me move even closer.
Now, in a campaign, it can be easy to get lost in the political spin and the polls or the punditry, but we must never lose sight of what really counts, of why all of us care so much about who wins and who loses in our political system.
An enormous decision falls on the shoulders of Democratic voters in these final contests and those Democrats empowered to vote at our convention. And, tonight, in light of our overwhelming victory here in West Virginia, I want to send a message to everyone still making up their mind.
I am in this race because I believe I am the strongest candidate...
... the strongest candidate to lead our party in November of 2008, and the strongest president to lead our nation starting in January of 2009.
I can win this nomination, if you decide I should. And I can lead this party to victory in the general election, if you lead me to victory now. The choice falls to all of you, and I don't envy you.
I deeply admire Senator Obama, but I believe our case -- a case West Virginia has helped to make -- our case is stronger. Together, we have won millions and millions of votes. By the time tonight is over, probably 17 million, close to it.
We've won them in states that we must be prepared and ready to win in November: Pennsylvania and Ohio, Arkansas and New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Michigan, Florida, and now West Virginia.
It is a fact that no Democrat has won the White House since 1916 without winning West Virginia.
The bottom line is this: The White House is won in the swing states, and I am winning the swing states.
And we have done it by standing up for the deepest principles of our party, with a vision for an America that rewards hard work again, that values the middle class, and helps to make it stronger.
With your help, I am ready to go head-to-head with John McCain to put our vision for America...
... up against the one he shares with President Bush.
Now, I believe our party is strong enough for this challenge. I am strong enough for it. You know I never give up. I'll keep coming back, and I'll stand with you as long as you stand with me.
Together, we will draw the stark distinctions that will determine the future direction of our nation, the difference between ending the war in Iraq responsibly or continuing it indefinitely, between health care for everyone and more uninsured Americans, between standing up for the middle-class families that you represent or standing up for the corporate special interests.
So I ask you, Democrats, to choose who you believe will make the strongest candidate in the fall and who is ready to execute the office of the presidency of the United States.
People ask me all the time, why am I in this race? Well, I'm in it because of the people that I have worked for my entire life and the people I meet along the campaign trail, people who need someone who fights for them, because they're fighting so hard every single day, the people who drive for miles to show their support, who come with the homemade signs, who raise money by skipping those dinners out, who have stood fast and stood strong.
I'm in this race for the millions of Americans who know that we can do better in our country...
... for the nurse on her second shift, for the worker on the line, for the waitress on her feet, for the small business owner, the farmer, the teacher, the coal miner, the trucker, the soldier, the vet, the college student...
... all of the hardworking men and women who defy the odds to build a better life for themselves and their children, you will never be counted out, and I won't, either. You will never quit, and I won't, either.
The question is, why do so many people keep voting? Why did 64 percent of Democrats say in a recent poll they wanted this race to continue? Because...
... in the face of the pundits and the naysayers, they know what is at stake. They know that we have two wars, an economy in crisis, on the brink of a recession, $9 trillion of debt, oil prices shooting through the roof, gas prices and grocery prices hurting people who desperately are looking for a way to just keep going day to day.
They know they need a champion. They need someone who's going to never stop fighting for health care that covers everyone, no exceptions; for an economy that lifts everyone up; for good jobs that won't be shipped overseas; for college affordability; for all that you can do to own a home and then to keep it.
AUDIENCE: Hillary! Hillary! Hillary! Hillary! Hillary! Hillary! Hillary! Hillary! Hillary! Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!
MRS. CLINTON: This election is fundamentally about whether or not the American dream remains alive and well, for our children and our grandchildren. This is the core of my life and my political beliefs, that we owe so much to future generations, that we do not want to see that dream recede, that we know people have to work hard, and we expect you to do just that, and to take responsibility.
But at the very least, you should have a president who's on your side again.
And I believe that this campaign has been good for the Democratic Party and good for our country. People are discussing and debating issues. They are turning out in record numbers to register and to vote. There is an excitement about politics that is the lifeblood of our democracy.
For me, this election isn't about who's in or who's out or who's up or who's down. It's about the common threads that tie us together: rich and poor, young and old, black and white, Latino and Asian, Democrats, Republicans, and independents, we are united by common values.
We all want a better world for our children, and we want the best for our country. And we are committed to putting a Democrat back in the White House.
And our nominee will be stronger for having campaigned long and hard, building enthusiasm and excitement, hearing your stories, and answering your questions. And I will work my heart out for the nominee of the Democratic Party to make sure we have a Democratic president.
So as we look at the stakes in this election, I think we can all agree it's been unprecedented. We haven't had an election like it for as long as anyone can remember.
It is still so close, and it really does depend upon those who will vote in these next contests and those who have the awesome responsibility as delegates of our great Democratic Party.
I'm asking that people think hard about where we are in this election, about how we will win in November, because this is not an abstract exercise. This is for a solemn, crucial purpose: to elect a president to turn our country around, to meet the challenges we face and seize the opportunities.
It has been a long campaign. But it is just an instant in time when compared with the lasting consequences of the choice we will make in November.
That is why I am carrying on. And if you give me a chance, Democrats, I'll come back to West Virginia in the general election, and we'll win this state, and we'll win the White House.
I am honored and grateful for the support and hospitality of the people of West Virginia. I spent a few minutes with your wonderful national treasure, Senator Byrd, this morning.
And we talked about his beloved West Virginia. I told him where I'd gone and what I'd seen. I talked about the people I had met. And he just broke into the biggest smile.
I don't know that any man has ever loved a state more than Robert C. Byrd loves West Virginia.
I am grateful for the graciousness of Governor and Mrs. Manchin. Governor Manchin is winning a great victory himself tonight, and I want to thank Joe and Gayle for welcoming me to Governor Manchin's hometown, as we went to Fairmont for a great election last night.
I want to thank Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin, former Governor Hulett Smith, Brigadier General Jack Yeager, all of the West Virginia veterans who honored me by their support, and I honor their service.
Thanks to my friends in the labor unions who stood with us every step of the way. We wouldn't be here without you.
And a special thanks to my outstanding staff, volunteers and supporters here in West Virginia and across America.
You know, at least once, usually a half-a-dozen times a day, Bill and Chelsea and I check in with each other. And I wish every West Virginian could have heard our calls as we compared our experiences here in this state.
We've had the best time.
And I will be back. As we move on now to the next contests, in Kentucky and Oregon, in Puerto Rico, in Montana and South Dakota, tonight I'm thinking about Florence Steen from South Dakota, 88 years old and in failing health when she asked that her daughter bring an absentee ballot to her hospice bedside.
Florence was born before women had the right to vote, and she was determined to exercise that right...
... to cast a ballot for her candidate, who just happened to be a woman running for president.
Florence passed on a few days ago, but I am eternally grateful to her and her family for making this such an important and incredible milestone in her life that means so much to me.
I'm also thinking of Dalton Hatfield, an 11-year-old boy from Kentucky, who sold his bike and sold his video games to raise money to support my campaign.
This is a great and good nation because of people like Florence Steen, Dalton Hatfield, and their families. Her memory and his future are worth fighting for, as long as we remember that there is no challenge we cannot meet, no barrier we cannot break, no dream we cannot realize.
So let's finish the job we started. America is worth fighting for.
Thank you, and God bless you, and God bless America. Thank you all so very much.

I think she meant "time to COMMEND Senator Obama and his supporters." This is not about being the nominee anymore. This is about being in history books. And I say Good for you Hillary. You have been a good foil for Barack. The dual campaigns have been driving Republicans CRAZY! They dont have enough time to brand Barack Hussein Obama by transposing his name and his picture with Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden." Take your campaign all the way to the convention and buy Barack more time.

There is always next year...

Toll Bros. CEO: Customer Traffic 'Worst We've Ever Seen'
May 13, 2008: 03:40 PM EST

The housing market is improving in some areas of the country though "there is no indication that the end [of the downturn] is in sight," Toll Brothers Inc. ( TOL) Chairman and Chief Executive Robert I. Toll said Tuesday.
In a conference call after the luxury-home builder released preliminary results of its fiscal second quarter, Toll said home sellers seem to be more worried about whether they can sell their homes than about declining prices.
In its release, Toll Brothers said the average price of contracts signed in the quarter was $590,000, down from $711,000 a year earlier and $634,000 in the fiscal first quarter.
Robert Toll said current customer traffic is "the worst we've ever seen," but noted that potential buyers are well-qualified, with an average credit score of 747.
Asked for evidence of pent-up demand for homes, Toll described the company's recent efforts to sell homes in the Washington, D.C., area, which included many phone calls by salespeople and deals on prices. He said the number of customers who turned out to look at homes was five or six times the usual number and some signed contracts.
"They're there but they're scared," Toll said.
His best news was that Toll Brothers has almost eliminated its backlog of speculative homes, those built without a contracted buyer, in western Florida, and it recently raised home prices in Naples, Fla.
"That was a huge event," he said.
Offering to rate regional housing markets in the 21 states where Toll Brothers builds, the CEO gave Connecticut and the counties north of New York City a B- plus, New Jersey an average of C, the Philadelphia suburbs a C-minus and Delaware a D. F-minuses went to Illinois, Minnesota, the Poconos area of Pennsylvania, the Maryland shore, Atlanta, the Charlotte, N.C., area and the Hilton Head, S.C., area.
Toll rated Las Vegas F-minus-minus, saying the company simply can't sell homes there.
Earlier Tuesday, Toll Brothers reported a 30% drop in home-building revenue and said that with weak market conditions and challenging times ahead, it expects pretax write-downs of $225 million to $375 million.
Net signed contracts declined 44%, while cancellations fell 20% and Toll's backlog fell 50%.
The company is expected to report fiscal second-quarter results June 3.
Toll's shares traded recently at $23.19, up 18 cents, or 0.7%.
-By Kathy Shwiff, Dow Jones Newswires; 201-938-5975; Kathy.Shwiff@dowjones.com
(Saba Ali contributed to this report.)

God Yes, Religion No?

From nytimes.com
May 13, 2008

The Neural Buddhists

In 1996, Tom Wolfe wrote a brilliant essay called “Sorry, but Your Soul Just Died,” in which he captured the militant materialism of some modern scientists.
To these self-confident researchers, the idea that the spirit might exist apart from the body is just ridiculous. Instead, everything arises from atoms. Genes shape temperament. Brain chemicals shape behavior. Assemblies of neurons create consciousness. Free will is an illusion. Human beings are “hard-wired” to do this or that. Religion is an accident.
In this materialist view, people perceive God’s existence because their brains have evolved to confabulate belief systems. You put a magnetic helmet around their heads and they will begin to think they are having a spiritual epiphany. If they suffer from temporal lobe epilepsy, they will show signs of hyperreligiosity, an overexcitement of the brain tissue that leads sufferers to believe they are conversing with God.
Wolfe understood the central assertion contained in this kind of thinking: Everything is material and “the soul is dead.” He anticipated the way the genetic and neuroscience revolutions would affect public debate. They would kick off another fundamental argument over whether God exists.
Lo and behold, over the past decade, a new group of assertive atheists has done battle with defenders of faith. The two sides have argued about whether it is reasonable to conceive of a soul that survives the death of the body and about whether understanding the brain explains away or merely adds to our appreciation of the entity that created it.
The atheism debate is a textbook example of how a scientific revolution can change public culture. Just as “The Origin of Species” reshaped social thinking, just as Einstein’s theory of relativity affected art, so the revolution in neuroscience is having an effect on how people see the world.
And yet my guess is that the atheism debate is going to be a sideshow. The cognitive revolution is not going to end up undermining faith in God, it’s going end up challenging faith in the Bible.
Over the past several years, the momentum has shifted away from hard-core materialism. The brain seems less like a cold machine. It does not operate like a computer. Instead, meaning, belief and consciousness seem to emerge mysteriously from idiosyncratic networks of neural firings. Those squishy things called emotions play a gigantic role in all forms of thinking. Love is vital to brain development.
Researchers now spend a lot of time trying to understand universal moral intuitions. Genes are not merely selfish, it appears. Instead, people seem to have deep instincts for fairness, empathy and attachment.
Scientists have more respect for elevated spiritual states. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania has shown that transcendent experiences can actually be identified and measured in the brain (people experience a decrease in activity in the parietal lobe, which orients us in space). The mind seems to have the ability to transcend itself and merge with a larger presence that feels more real.
This new wave of research will not seep into the public realm in the form of militant atheism. Instead it will lead to what you might call neural Buddhism.
If you survey the literature (and I’d recommend books by Newberg, Daniel J. Siegel, Michael S. Gazzaniga, Jonathan Haidt, Antonio Damasio and Marc D. Hauser if you want to get up to speed), you can see that certain beliefs will spread into the wider discussion.
First, the self is not a fixed entity but a dynamic process of relationships. Second, underneath the patina of different religions, people around the world have common moral intuitions. Third, people are equipped to experience the sacred, to have moments of elevated experience when they transcend boundaries and overflow with love. Fourth, God can best be conceived as the nature one experiences at those moments, the unknowable total of all there is.
In their arguments with Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the faithful have been defending the existence of God. That was the easy debate. The real challenge is going to come from people who feel the existence of the sacred, but who think that particular religions are just cultural artifacts built on top of universal human traits. It’s going to come from scientists whose beliefs overlap a bit with Buddhism.
In unexpected ways, science and mysticism are joining hands and reinforcing each other. That’s bound to lead to new movements that emphasize self-transcendence but put little stock in divine law or revelation. Orthodox believers are going to have to defend particular doctrines and particular biblical teachings. They’re going to have to defend the idea of a personal God, and explain why specific theologies are true guides for behavior day to day. I’m not qualified to take sides, believe me. I’m just trying to anticipate which way the debate is headed. We’re in the middle of a scientific revolution. It’s going to have big cultural effects.

This debate will only be held in coffee houses of the intellectual "elite." Try discussing this with deeply religious people from Middle America or the Middle East for that matter. Ok then, carry on...

The Millenial Generation

from nytimes.com

May 13, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Here Come the Millennials
An important aspect of the presidential race so far has been the generational divide, with Barack Obama doing very well with younger voters and Hillary Clinton drawing strong support from those who are older. A similar split can be expected in a general election race between Senator Obama and John McCain.

However the election ultimately turns out, the Obama campaign has tapped into a constituency that holds powerful implications for the future of American politics. The youngest of these voters, those ranging in age from roughly the late teens to the early 30s, are part of the so-called millennial generation.

This is a generation that is in danger of being left out of the American dream — the first American generation to do less well economically than their parents. And that economic uncertainty appears to have played a big role in shaping their views of government and politics.

A number of studies, including new ones by the Center for American Progress in Washington and by Demos, a progressive think tank in New York, have shown that Americans in this age group are faced with a variety of challenges that are tougher than those faced by young adults over the past few decades. Among the challenges are worsening job prospects, lower rates of health insurance coverage and higher levels of debt.

We know that the generation immediately preceding the Millennials is struggling. Men who are now in their 30s, the prime age for raising a family, earn less money than members of their fathers’ generation did at the same age. In 1974, the median income for men in their 30s (using today’s inflation-adjusted dollars) was about $40,000. The figure for men in their 30s now is $35,000.

It’s not hard to understand why surveys show that overwhelming percentages of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track. The American dream is on life support. Polls show that dwindling numbers of Americans (in some cases as few as a third of all respondents) believe their children will end up better off than they are.

The upshot of all this is ominous for conservatives. The number of young people in the millennial generation (loosely defined as those born in the 1980s and 90s) is somewhere between 80 million and 95 million. That represents a ton of potential votes — in this election and years to come. And the American Progress study shows that those young people do not feel that they have been treated kindly by conservative policies or principles.

According to the study: “Millennials mostly reject the conservative viewpoint that government is the problem, and that free markets always produce the best results for society. Indeed, Millennials’ views are more progressive than those of other age groups today, and are more progressive than previous generations when they were younger.”

The Demos study pointed to the very difficult employment environment confronting young adults. Fewer jobs offer the benefits of paid vacations, health coverage or pensions. And moving up the employment ladder is much harder.

As the study noted, “The well-paying middle-management jobs that characterized the work force up to the late-1970s have been eviscerated.” The longer-term outlook is depressing. Except for the expected continuing demand for registered nurses, the occupations projected to add the most jobs over the next several years do not offer much in the way of pay, benefits or career advancement. Demos listed the top five occupations in terms of anticipated job growth: registered nurses, retail sales, customer service reps, food preparers and office clerks. Often saddled with debt, and with their job prospects gloomy, young Americans feel their government ought to be doing more to enhance their prospects. They want increased investments in education, health care and initiatives aimed at expanding the economy and fostering the growth of good jobs.

The American Progress study found that Millennials are more likely to support universal health coverage than any other age group over the past 30 years. By huge percentages, they want improvements in health coverage and support for education, even if it means increases in taxes.
The landscape is changing before our eyes. Younger voters struggling with the enormous costs of a college education, or trying to raise families in a bleak employment environment, or using their credit cards to cover everyday expenses like food or energy costs are not much interested in hearing that the government to which they pay taxes can do little or nothing to help them.
Whether young Americans can shift the balance of the presidential election is an open question. But there is very little doubt that over the next several years they are capable of loosening the tremendous grip that conservatives have had on the levers of American power.

Have faith Bob. Infrastructure Development, Alternative Energy and Biotechnology advances will change the dynamics for the Millenials soon. I HOPE.