The Grocery Shopping Marathon: Parent must buy a week’s worth of groceries for a family – with a child or children in tow. Extra points awarded if you’re not too embarrassed by the performance to return the next week.
The Young Child Schlep: Parent juggles children, including one who doesn’t yet know how or refuses to walk, and all the equipment needed for a 12-minute excursion from the house, including diaper bag, change of clothes, snack, drink, favorite toy, book, spare baby carrier, etc. Stroller not allowed. (You were just running out for a minute.) Extra points awarded if total strangers don’t offer major pitying looks.
The Public Toilet Germ Avoidance Dance: Parent must change baby’s diaper and/or assist older child on the toilet while simultaneously preventing any part of child and/or baby/child equipment from touching any part of the public facilities. Shoe bottoms an exception. Extra points awarded if family can exit restroom without anyone touching the door with bare skin.
Being Critical of Daschle’s “Critical”
Like legions of other health care policy wonks when I discovered that former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle was going to be Obama’s point guy on health care, I sent off for a copy of his book Critical. It’s a fast and easy read, but in its examination of the problem it doesn’t add much to superior books on what’s wrong with health care.
First, the former Senate Majority Leader promotes himself as a scholar of failed attempts at health reform past, and of course a witness to the most recent attempt. He’s been here, and seen this done wrong.
But the actual coverage solution Daschle proposes is to essentially expand the insurance program that covers federal government workers (something called the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program) with some improvements made by states like Massachusetts and to impose a pay (the government) or play (by providing insurance) option on employers. Daschle would also expand Medicaid and the current insurance for poor children – and then add an individual mandate with subsidies to those who can’t afford to buy-in to FEBHP.
This package is tied together, sort of, by a Federal Health Board.
Daschle lucky that he didn’t call this board Fannie Med, but he’s a victim of poor timing as he links his health board’s success to the accomplishments of the Federal Reserve at a time when that “success” is looking, shall we say, shaky.
The main role of the Federal Health Board would be as a cost-effectiveness review organization with teeth since that Medicare, Medicaid and the (newly expanded) federal employees benefit plan would all be bound to follow its guidelines. So essentially he’s advocating the creation of a national health insurance benefits package with federal supervision on rates and practices.
Critics on the loony right (old reliable Sally Pipes there in the Wall Street Journal) will call this rationing. More thinking critics will call it the slow emanation of a messy single payer system. That’s essentially what it’ll turn out to be as the private plans toss the worse (and most expensive) health risks into the federally supported pool and employers steadily get priced out of providing health benefits. Daschle, would be happiest with a U.K.-style single payer with a trade up option, but dismisses that course as unrealistic for the U.S. He also dismisses as unrealistic moderate attempts by Sen. Ron Wyden attempts to decouple health care insurance from employment and create a truer “market” based on social insurance (which is closer to the Dutch model).
It’s Still the Economy, Stupid
If it feels like the 1990’s are back, you are not alone. After O.J. Simpson’s return to the headlines – and cable TV – and the resurrection of Hillarycare, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sudden dirty plaid flannel shirts as Grunge makes a comeback.
And when it comes to politics, there’s a 1990’s catch phrase that may once again define the 2008 Presidential contest: “It’s the economy, stupid!”
Conventional wisdom says that the 2008 election will be determined by one issue: the war in Iraq. Will Americans withdraw into a protectionist cocoon or will we choose to stick things out and clean up the mess that was made? But conventional wisdom this far out from an actual election can often be wrong.
More often than not Americans vote on what they perceive to be their best interest. As the 21st Century opened, housing prices soared, liquidity sloshed through the economy and incomes rose with relatively no inflation and we could care about things like Iraq and what our troops were doing over there.
By and large, the war in Iraq has little effect on the day to day lives of most Americans. If you are not in the military or do you have a family member serving, the Iraq is little more than a philosophical or partisan discussion to be had mostly among people you know agree with you. If you are serving or know someone who has, your view is not filtered by the media and you likely know why we’re there, what we’re doing and the costs of failure.
But what will matter to most Americans when they go to the ballot box in 400 days is what affects their day-to-day lives. All signs are indicating that we’ll be feeling an economic pinch by then.
In Stockton, California, home foreclosures have increased ten-fold in the last year as rising interest rates sting homeowners tricked to believe that the housing bubble would not burst.
Consumers are staying away from retail stores in droves leading to lowered expectations from Lowe’s, Target and other retailers, many of them catering to the middle class.
The trucking industry is seeing declining tonnage month-to-month, signaling a decline in economic activity across the nation.
Milan’s Mobile Mosque
Milan city officials are grappling with a mosque so overgrown that hundreds of Muslims kneel on sidewalks to pray. The solution is igniting a game of NIMBY hot-potato as neighborhoods and politicians move services from one spot to another.
Last Friday, the ‘mobile mosque’ was around the corner from my house. On my way to a lunchtime piadina, a young man on a bike stopped to ask politely in a heavy foreign accent: “Scusi, signora (argh) how do I get to Vigorelli stadium from here?”
A few seconds later, I remembered the city had given worshipers use for prayer services — just for one week — there. After lunch, I went to check it out. The last time I’d been to the stadium, a Fascist-era bike racing track, Fiat had sponsored a faux-ski run in it. The venue is never particularly busy, it’s an odd size and not well served by public transport.
The Face of Foreclosure
The lawyer sits across from us, trying his best to look concerned and caring, but clearly he is in a hurry. He has a waiting room full of people just like us and, he tells us, a month’s backlog.
We are there to file for bankruptcy and, while he respects the paperwork we’ve brought along, to facilitate things he’s prepared a packet that we should fill out at home and return along with his fee. He asks us about the two properties we have just lost in foreclosure: one we were supposed to sell to offset the cost of the other which, up until two days ago, we’d lived in.
Fighting What You Eat: The Diet Cong
Think of your body as a machine and adapt your energy input to your energy output. This is basic science, verified over 100s of years. But the current funky diet “theory” isn’t even “theory” in the scientific sense – it’s a guess based on hopeful correlations, if that. Matching caloric input to output always works and it’s generally healthy if you’re careful to eat a balanced diet. But it requires discipline.
If you love speed and you live in India, there’s little you can do on its crowded roads. So, the rich have found a way around this challenge; they’ve taken to the water. It’s the new craze- zip away from the madding crowd in a glittering yacht, complete with all the luxuries.
This new passion is what makes much-anticipated events like the second International Boat Exhibition, to be held in Mumbai from the 28th of this month, all sold out affairs. It’s a chance for manufacturers of leading brands to showcase their top-of-the line products, which, needless to add, fetch astronomical prices. It’s only the second year for this exhibition, but, apparently, a whopping $100 million has already been spent, between last year and now, by the rich and famous on buying the latest floating objects-of-desire.
The change that’s taken place is interesting. Yachts were once seen as playthings meant only for likes of Vijay Mallya – popularly known as India’s Richard Branson – who owns, among others, the Indian Empress, a boat costing over a $100 million. Smaller version of this wonder are now being bought by the “common” people. That’s common, of course, compared to Mr. Mallya, but still filthy rich. To reach as many customers as possible, the boat exhibition offerings start at a few thousand dollars, going up to millions.
This is why yacht clubs are said to be the next big thing in India. The country, being a peninsula, has over four thousand miles of coastline just waiting to be explored by avid holiday goers – well-off Indians who are looking for new ways to de-stress, live it up, and spend their money.
To add to this, this year the Volvo Ocean Race (once known as the Whitbread Round the World race and co-sponsored by the British Royal Navy Sailing Association) has included Kochi – a pretty city in the picturesque South Indian state of Kerala – as one of its stopovers. It’s considered a matter of pride, since this high-profile race, held every four years, is popularly seen as the one of the ultimate sailing events. And its stop in India – a first – is bound to fuel further interest in Indian sailing.
What is needed now is infrastructure, particularly marinas. Right now you could own a million dollar boat, but you’d still have to hop your way to it. As with much of the country, finding a place to put things – cars, people, houses – is an issue. It may be a recent craze but there are already too many boats and not enough parking spaces, especially in Mumbai.
The Real Deal
Of course, our focus on authenticity in our popular culture is flawed. Gangsta rap and punk are supposed to be authentic, but bubble gum pop and teeny boppers are fake. There are music fans that don’t care, listening to whatever strikes their fancy, and I suppose you could charge that they are lacking in artistic values. But you could just as easily charge certain discriminating hipsters and intellectuals as being snobs.
Worries For Iraq
I was at an impromptu dinner party here in Abu Dhabi last night and one of the guests, the mother of a former Spanish diplomat asked me what I thought would happen in Iraq. The other guests around the table grimaced; Iraq is a well-worn and tiresome topic here in the Gulf emirate and many have made up their minds already as what is going to happen.
But despite White House statements that every year is a make-or-break year for that poor country, I really do believe 2008 will be a crucial one for Iraq.
Iraq and the United States face huge challenges this year. But the gains made under the current surge strategy aren’t the only measure of what’s going on in Iraq; it remains a series of delicately balanced accords. If one worsens it can be managed, but more than that and the U.S. would again be overwhelmed. Everything has to go just right for Bush to hand a stable and relatively peaceful Iraq off to his successor.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the issues that will confront George W. Bush in his last year in office — and what lies in store for the next president
The Surge: The surge is coming to an end this summer, like it or not. Five combat brigades — about 30,000 troops — will leave Iraq by the end of July because their deployments are up and there aren’t any more reserves ready to go. There’s just no getting around it. The big question is then: Will there be an increase in general violence once the U.S. presence is back down to around 140,000 troops, about the same number who were in-country during the worst of the 2004-2006 violence?
Some say it’s not the numbers of troops, but the mission, and the U.S. has been far more aggressive getting troops into neighborhoods and protecting Iraqi civilians. That’s led to more intelligence tips and a routing of al Qaeda in Iraq to the northern part of the country.
But the competency of the Iraqi security forces, while improving, is still in doubt. With fewer U.S. troops on the ground, the Iraqis will have to pick up the slack. The White House says it intends to continue withdrawing troops after a brief pause to assess the situation. Which means there are likely to be even fewer troops if things go pear-shaped in the fall.