Friday, June 27, 2008

Funny stuff!


June 27, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
The Sam’s Club Agenda

Among the many dark tidings for American conservatism, there is one genuine bright spot. Over the past five years, a group of young and unpredictable rightward-leaning writers has emerged on the scene.

These writers came of age as official conservatism slipped into decrepitude. Most of them were dismayed by what the Republican Party had become under Tom DeLay and seemed put off by the shock-jock rhetorical style of Ann Coulter. As a result, most have the conviction — which was rare in earlier generations — that something is fundamentally wrong with the right, and it needs to be fixed.

Moreover, most of these writers did not rise through the official channels of the conservative or libertarian establishments. By and large, they didn’t do the internships or take part in the young leader programs that were designed to replenish “the movement.” Instead, they found their voices while blogging. The new technology allowed them to create a new sort of career path and test out opinions without much adult supervision.

As a consequence, they are heterodox and hard to label. These writers grew up reading conservative classics — Burke, Hayek, Smith, C.S. Lewis — but have now splayed off in all sorts of quirky ideological directions.

There are dozens of writers I could put in this group, but I’d certainly mention Yuval Levin, Daniel Larison, Will Wilkinson, Julian Sanchez, James Poulos, Megan McArdle, Matt Continetti and, though he’s a tad older, Ramesh Ponnuru.

Ross Douthat and my former assistant, Reihan Salam, are two of the most promising. This pair has just come out with a book called “Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream.”

There have been other outstanding books on how the G.O.P. can rediscover its soul (like “Comeback” by David Frum), but if I could put one book on the desk of every Republican officeholder, “Grand New Party” would be it. You can discount my praise because of my friendship with the authors, but this is the best single roadmap of where the party should and is likely to head.

Several years ago, Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor, said the Republicans should be the party of Sam’s Club, not the country club. This line is the animating spirit of “Grand New Party.” Douthat and Salam argue that the Republicans rode to the majority because of support from the Reagan Democrats, and if the party has a future, it will be because it understands the dreams and tribulations of working-class Americans.

They open the book with a working-class view of recent American history. Douthat and Salam write admiringly about the New Deal. They mention Roosevelt’s economic policies, but they also emphasize the New Deal’s intense social conservatism. Self-conscious maternalists like Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins ensured that New Deal programs were biased in favor of traditional two-parent families.

Liberals write about economic inequality and conservatives about social disruption, but Douthat and Salam write about the interplay between values and economics and the way virtue and economic security can reinforce each other.

In the 1950s, divorce rates were low and jobs were plentiful, but over the next few decades that broke down. The social revolutions of the 1960s and the economic revolution of the information age have emancipated the well-educated but left the Sam’s Club voters feeling insecure.
Gaps are opening between the educated and less educated. Working-class divorce rates remain high, while the mostly upper-middle-class parents of Ivy Leaguers have divorce rates of only 10 percent. Working-class kids are unlikely to complete college, affluent kids usually do.

Liberals have a way to address these inequalities — the creation of a Denmark-style welfare state. Conservatives have offered almost nothing. The G.O.P. has lost contact with its own working-class base. This is the intellectual vacuum that “Grand New Party” seeks to fill.
The heart of the book is the last third, where Douthat and Salam lay out a series of policy ideas to help working-class families cope with economic, health care, neighborhood and family insecurity.

“What all these ideas, from the sober to the speculative, have in common is a vision of working-class independence — from bosses, from bureaucracy, from entrenched interests of all kinds,” Douthat and Salam write. This is not compassionate conservatism (which flattered the mind of the compassionate donor), it’s hard-work conservatism, which uses government to increase the odds that self-discipline and effort will pay off.

I’m not sure how quickly the G.O.P. can swing behind this working-class focus and this vision of government-enhanced social mobility. But the McCain campaign really needs to. So far, McCain’s platform is like an omnibus spending bill — lots of decent ideas thrown together with no larger social vision.

It may take a few defeats for the G.O.P. to embrace a Sam’s Club agenda, but sooner or later, it will happen. Trust me.


Consumer sentiment is ugly


Consumer sentiment at lowest level since 1980
By Burton Frierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Consumer confidence fell more than expected in June, hitting another 28-year low as surging prices and mounting job losses contributed to a bleak outlook, according to a survey released on Friday.
The Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers said five-year inflation expectations remained steady at the peak of 3.4 percent reached in May, which was the highest in 13 years.

Federal Reserve officials have focused on long-term inflation expectations and the persistence of such pressures heightens their dilemma -- whether to fight price growth or support a weak economy in the grips of the worst housing slump since the Depression of the 1930s.

The Surveys of Consumers said the final June reading for its index of confidence fell to 56.4 from May's 59.8. The report said the pace of consumer spending is likely to sink at least through the start of 2009.

"Moreover, gas prices have risen to an all-time peak, food prices posted the largest increases in decades, home prices have fallen faster than any time since the Great Depression, and there has been widespread distress associated with foreclosures," the report added.

Also weighing on consumers, data earlier this month showed U.S. employers shed jobs for a fifth straight month in May and the unemployment rate jumped to 5.5 percent, its highest in more than 3-1/2 years.

Economists had expected a reading of 57.0, according to a Reuters poll. Their forecasts ranged from 55.9 to 60.0. The final June result is slightly below the preliminary figure of 56.7 released on June 13.

"Overall, no new information, only confirmation of prevailing weak sentiment," analysts at RBS Greenwich Capital said in a note to clients about the report.

Financial markets showed little immediate reaction to the report. Stocks were flat and the dollar was down against the yen. Government bonds were higher on the day.

The June reading is the lowest since 51.7 in May 1980, which was also the lowest reading ever. The index dates back to 1952, though the survey has been conducted since 1946.
One-year inflation expectations declined to a still-elevated 5.1 percent from May's 5.2 percent. May's one-year inflation expectations reading was the highest since 5.2 percent in February 1982.

The index of consumer expectations fell to 49.2 in June -- its lowest since May 1980. This was down from May's 51.1. Meanwhile, the index of current personal finances fell to 69 in June -- the lowest on record -- from 80 in May.
(Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

As expected, it is getting uglier - FAST. This is a consumer led recession. Expect consumer spending to drop dramatically once the short term bounce from government refund checks runs out. All consumer discretionary items are going to get hit at the median to upper consumer levels. Restaurants, Retail, Autos, Electronics, Housing (but we knew that!), Vacations, Road Trips - all of it! Once full fledged layoffs start - I expect targeted education industries to do well. I expect collection and repo agencies, bankruptcy lawyers and consultancies (on both consumer and business levels) to do booming business.

No excuses. Work out.


June 24, 2008
Personal Health
Fit, Not Frail: Exercise as a Tonic for Aging

Fact: Every hour of every day, 330 Americans turn 60.
Fact: By 2030, one in five Americans will be older than 65.
Fact: The number of people over 100 doubles every decade.
Fact: As they age, people lose muscle mass and strength, flexibility and bone.
Fact: The resulting frailty leads to a loss of mobility and independence.
The last two facts may sound discouraging. But they can be countered by another. Regular participation in aerobics, strength training and balance and flexibility exercises can delay and may even prevent a life-limiting loss of physical abilities into one’s 90s and beyond.
This last fact has given rise to a new group of professionals who specialize in what they call “active aging” and an updated series of physical activity recommendations for older adults from the American Heart Association and the American College of Sports Medicine. These recommendations are expected to match new federal activity guidelines due in October from the United States Health and Human Services Department.
But you need not — indeed should not — wait for the government. Even if you have a chronic health problem or physical limitation, there are safe ways to improve fitness and well-being. Any delay can increase the risk of injury and make it harder to recoup your losses.
Miriam E. Nelson, director of the John Hancock Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Tufts University in Boston and lead author of the new recommendations, observed last fall in The Journal on Active Aging that “with every increasing decade of age, people become less and less active.”
“But,” Dr. Nelson said, “the evidence shows that with every increasing decade, exercise becomes more important in terms of quality of life, independence and having a full life. So as of now, Americans are not on the right path.”
Jim Concotelli of the Horizon Bay Senior Communities in Tampa, who oversees fitness and wellness program development for communities for the elderly in several states, noted this year in The Journal on Active Aging that many older Americans were unfamiliar with exercise activities and feared that they would cause injury and pain, especially if they have arthritis or other chronic problems. Yet by strengthening muscles, he said, they can improve joints and bones and function with less pain and less risk of injury.
The key is start slowly and build gradually as ability and strength improve. Most important is simply to start — now— perhaps under the guidance of a fitness professional or by creating a program based on the guidelines outlined here.
Although medical clearance may not be necessary for everyone for the moderate level of activity suggested, those with a known or possible problem would be wise to consult a doctor. And a few sessions with a trainer can help assure that the exercises are being done correctly and not likely to cause injury.
Until recently, physical activity recommendations for all ages have emphasized aerobics, or cardiovascular conditioning, through moderate to vigorous activities like brisk walking, cycling, lap swimming or jogging for half an hour a day five or more days a week. For those unable to do 30 minutes at a time, the activities can be broken up into three 10-minute intervals a day. If you have long been sedentary, start with even shorter intervals.
For people who prefer indoor workouts, a treadmill, cross-trainer, step machine or exercise bike can provide excellent aerobic training for the heart, lungs and circulation. Those unable to do weight-bearing exercise might try swimming or water aerobics. Keep in mind that 30 minutes a day of aerobic activity five days a week is the minimum recommendation. More is better and can reduce the risk of chronic disease related to inactivity.
Contrary to what many active adults seem to believe, physical fitness does not end with aerobics. Strength training has long been advocated by the National Institute on Aging, and the heart association has finally recognized the added value of muscle strength to reduce stress on joints, bones and soft tissues; enhance stability and reduce the risk of falls; and increase the ability to meet the demands of daily life, like rising from a chair, climbing stairs and opening jars.
Strength training can be done in a gym on a series of machines, each working a different set of major muscle groups: hips, legs, chest, back, shoulders, arms and abdomen. Or it can be done at home with resistance bands or tubes, hand-held barbells or dumbbells or even body weight. One program, the Key 3 program diagrammed here, was devised by Michael J. Hewitt, research director for exercise science at the Canyon Ranch Health Resort in Tucson. It can be completed in 10 minutes with practice.
As Dr. Hewitt explained in the International Longevity Center-USA newsletter, skeletal muscles can only contract and thus are always arranged in pairs. “One muscle of the pair pulls to bend the joint (flexion), and its antagonist pulls to straighten the joint (extension).” Thus, a strengthening program must be balanced, he said, “pairing every pulling lift with an opposite pushing action.”
Dr. Hewitt emphasized that to reduce the risk of injury and premature muscle fatigue, the large muscles should be exercised first, followed by the smaller muscles, with the postural muscles exercised last. For example, one would start with chest and upper back muscles, then the arms and shoulders and finally the lower back and abdomen.
Muscles have to be overworked to grow stronger. The goal for each exercise is three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions to muscle fatigue. Muscles also need time to recover. So strength training should be done two or three times a week on nonconsecutive days.
The new recommendations add flexibility and balance to the mix. Improving balance and reducing the risk of falls is critical as you age — if you fall, break your hip and die of pneumonia, aerobic capacity will not save you. Ten minutes a day stretching legs, arms, shoulders, hips and trunk can help assure continued mobility, and daily exercises like standing on one foot and then the other, walking heel to toe or practicing tai chi can improve balance.
The recommendations, issued last August, are geared to healthy adults 18 to 64, with a companion set for those 65 and older or those 50 to 64 who have chronic health problems or physical limitations. Details can be found at Under “Influence,” click on Physical Activity Guidelines From ACSM and AHA.
The experts who made these recommendations urge all adults to adopt them now. As C. Jessie Jones, co-director of the Center for Successful Aging at California State University, Fullerton, said, “People can’t wait until they’re in residential or long-term care to get started.”

I firmly believe that if I can make it up to age 70 in "solid" good shape, advances in medical technology will allow me to live longer and healthier. I imagine a world where cloned organ transplants will be common, where nano robots will clean out my arteries and where cancer will have been conquered.