Monthly Archives: June 2012

PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Three LIttle Words That Will Improve Health Care: Medicare for All


By David M. Kinchen

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled on Obamacare, why don’t we simplify things and adopt the logical single-payer plan we should have done in the first place back in 1965: Medicare for all.

As faithful readers of this site know, I’ve blogged repeatedly on this subject, citing experts like Robert Reich and Paul Krugman to back up my arguments. Now comes my fellow Michigan native, Michael Moore, who makes the case for Medicare for all (link: http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/272-39/12160-focus-healthcare-victory-a-mandate-to-act).

He argues that the 5-4 decision upholding the individual mandate handed down by the Supremes on June 28, 2012  is — in the words of the headline to his column “…A Mandate to Act.”

Moore: “…. this is a victory for the people. Actually, more than a victory, it is a mandate that all of us must now make sure that a second-term Obama continues to move the ball down the field, toward a system like they have in every other First World country on the planet. He simply has to improve Medicare and then expand it to every citizen in the country. The countries that do this, their people live an average of two to four years longer than we do. Is there a reason anyone doesn’t want an extra four years of their lives? Or that our babies would have a better chance of surviving their first year like they do in the 48 countries that have a better infant mortality rate than we do? Exactly who is opposed to this? You’d have to be a bit…crazy.”

Now, I don’t always agree with Flint, MI native Moore, but he’s spot on here. When it comes to health care, I  abandon my libertarian leanings for common sense — the kind the Canadians practice routinely.

Moore’s call for Medicare for all has another supporter, Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman. He’s also a columnist at the New York Times and said in a June 29 Op-Ed headlined “The Real Winners” (link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/29/opinion/the-real-winners.html) that the “… law that the Supreme Court upheld is an act of human decency that is also fiscally responsible. It’s not perfect, by a long shot — it is, after all, originally a Republican plan, devised long ago as a way to forestall the obvious alternative of extending Medicare to cover everyone. As a result, it’s an awkward hybrid of public and private insurance that isn’t the way anyone would have designed a system from scratch. And there will be a long struggle to make it better, just as there was for Social Security. (Bring back the public option!) But it’s still a big step toward a better — and by that I mean morally better — society.”

Moore, Reich, Krugman, Kinchen: Sounds like a good golf foursome! We probably wouldn’t be the world’s best golfers, but we would all agree on something important to a slow-learning nation. (I’m beginning to sound like the Will McAvoy character in Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series “The Newsroom”).

Moore knows a lot about health care: he produced and directed a documentary about it called “Sicko.”
More from Moore: “So that’s the battle ahead of us: Organizing and mobilizing the majority of Americans to push for true universal health care, Medicare for All. At one time, back in Illinois, that was the position held by Barack Obama. He will not make this happen on his own. He will only be able to do it when the mass of American people rise up and demand it. Demand it. Why not start tonight?
“Five years ago this week, my health care documentary, Sicko, opened in theaters across the country. I have spent the better part of the decade on this issue, and for me, personally, fully aware of the current law’s limitations, I am very happy with today’s news – not because of its specifics or nuances, but because it is a road sign, and that sign points in the correct, humane and sane direction. THAT makes this a great day.”
* * *
Back in 2009, in a column advocating a rebranded Medicare for all, I quoted T.R. Reid, author of  “The Healing of America” which I … reviewed (link:http://archives.huntingtonnews.net/columns/091016-kinchen-columnsbookreview.html) in countries like Canada and Taiwan, which use plans similar to our Medicare, doctors and other medical providers have adapted to the reimbursement levels, even if they don’t like them. By the way, I recommend the Reid book to all, especially those who mistakenly believe that all foreign health insurance plans are single-payer “socialized medicine” schemes. That’s simply not true.
In my June 6, 2011 column (link: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/4972) I quoted Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s labor secretary and now a professor at the University of California-Berkeley on the game-changing powers of making Medicare available to all:

“Can we be clear about that budget problem? It’s not driven by Medicare. It’s driven by the same relentlessly soaring health-care costs that are pushing premiums through the roof and causing middle-class families to shell out more and more money for deductibles and co-payments.

“Some features of Obama’s new healthcare law will slow the rise – insurance exchanges, for example, could give consumers clearer comparative information about what they’re getting for their insurance payments – but the law doesn’t go nearly far enough.

“That’s why Democrats should be proposing that anyone be allowed to sign up for Medicare. Medicare is cheaper than private insurance because its administrative costs are so much lower, and it has vast economies of scale.If Medicare were allowed to use its potential bargaining leverage over America’s hospitals, doctors, drug companies, and medical providers, it could drive down costs even further.”

* * *
I didn’t deal with this aspect in my blogs on Medicare for all, but it’s a fact that small businesses have problems obtaining affordable group health coverage. With Medicare for all in place, with premiums paid by the employee,  most of these problems would disappear. My Medicare premium is deducted from my Social Security payment (direct deposit, in my case), so it’s relatively painless. It would be simple enough for employers to withhold money from each employee and forward the payment to Medicare.

To end this latest rant, I’ll turn my soapbox over to an even better ranter, Michael Moore:

It’s not blue state vs red state, liberal vs conservative, Democrat vs Republican. The split we have in America can be boiled down in its simplest form to this: On one side are the people who believe Adam and Eve rode on dinosaurs 6,000 years ago – and then there’s everyone else. On that first side are the people who’ve been fed a diet of fear and lies and hate. And who is feeding them? The 1%. The richest people in the country, the ones who aren’t done with us yet because they still don’t have enough wealth, have done their best to dumb down the population through destroying our educational system and using media to provide them with a vastly distorted sense of reality. The rich’s only obstacle is that they only hold 1% of the votes in the country. So they have to try to get a slim majority of Americans to vote their way. And fear, plus keeping them stupid, usually works.”

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Teavangelicals’: The Tea Parties Are Still There: Many of Them Are Joining Forces with Evangelicals

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'The Teavangelicals': The Tea Parties Are Still There:  Many of Them Are Joining Forces with Evangelicals

David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) answers the question (to paraphrase Francois Villon’s famous question Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” “Where are the snows of yesteryear?”) “where are the Tea Parties of yesteryear” in his book “The Teavangelicals: The Inside Story of How the Evangelicals and the Tea Party are Taking Back America” (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Mich., 272 pages, notes, index, $22.99). Quick answer: The Tea (Taxed Enough Already) Partiers have settled in, appeal to conservatives of both parties, and may be the key to Mitt Romney’s win in November.

Belonging neither to red states nor blue states, the Tea Party movement erupted onto the national scene three years ago with a mission to reclaim America, he writes. They have a caucus in the Texas legislature and they played a major role in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s successful attempt to foil a recall effort by liberals in the Badger State a few weeks ago. They’re past staging massive rallies — at least for now — and many of them are intent on joining forces with evangelicals — hence Brody’s coinage “Teavangelicals” — to deny Barack Obama a second term.

Brody: “In the span of one election season, the Tea Party gained popularity and notoriety seen only a few times in our nation’s history. At this pivotal point in our development as a nation, the Tea Party has come to represent individual freedom and the American spirit. Committed to values and integrity and aligned with most social conservatives, the Tea Party found a partnership in the evangelical movement, drawing in Christians from all corners of conservatism.”

 

David Brody

David Brody

 

Now, these Teavangelicals are poised to draw a line in the sand, Brody says. He profiles the players among the Teavangelicals and outlines the history and issues of this nascent movement.

 

Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are appealing to independent voters, but could the Tea Party folks, along with socially conservative evangelicals be another critical voting group that Obama, Romney and the mainstream media has overlooked?

Brody says yes, “Teavangelical turnout is the key to Romney’s political future.”

Brody explores Teavangelicals, the evangelicals that make up more than half of the Tea Party in his new book and argues they are much more important than most people know.

“From now until Election Day, Teavangelicals will be fully mobilized. This was not the case four years ago when the Obama campaign was too much to handle,” says Brody.

Brody argues Teavangelicals could:

> Hold the key to Romney’s election
> Help determine who he chooses for his vice presidential running mate
> Affect the convention

Libertarians and devotees of Ayn Rand aren’t going to be as big a factor in the November election as independent voters will be, Brody writes. Independents are the key to winning in swing states like Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, he notes. If asked about the atheist author of “Atlas Shrugged” many Teavangelicals are liked to respond “Ayn Who?” Brody says. The only “Rand” that excites them is Rand Paul. Ayn Rand — the author who has influenced many libertarians — doesn’t register on the Teavangelical meter. People like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul count more than doctrinaire libertarians, who don’t care about same-sex marriage (Teavangelicals do!) and are often disdainful of a country — Israel — that evangelicals love.

 

Brody writes (Page 174) that it’s important that Teavangelicals understand the still controversial Russian-born writer: “The very nature of libertarian thought and the Tea Party movement as a whole is derived from her [Ayn Rand’s] philosophies. Her view on objectivism sees the individual as the primary moral authority and leaves God entirely out of the equation. The dirty little secret is that this is indeed a conflict in worldview between Libertarians and Evangelicals. Because Ayn Rand is such an important Tea Party figure, evangelicals must be well informed about both the good and the bad in [Ayn] Rand’s concepts.”

 

Much of the book deals with both the mainstream media, which is the natural enemy of Teavangelicals, because liberal reporters are antagonistic toward religion in general and evangelical religion in particular, Brody says, noting that liberals and “progressives” in the mainstream media are more concerned about attacks on Islam than they are about attacks on Christianity and Judaism.

 

In this regard he points out that the reporters and talking heads of the mainstream media bestowed their love on the Occupy Wall Street movement that began last September, despite many attacks by a vocal minority with the OWS campers on “Zionists,” Israel and Jews in general.

 

On page 187, Brody writes that his CBN colleague Paul Strand witnessed this left-wing anti-Semitism at the OWS site “first hand when he ran into self-identified Communists who burned a dollar and then stomped on the American flag. They exclaimed that the American flag ‘represents true evil for me.’ Another guy told Strand that the Jews were to blame for the financial crisis: ‘The Zionists are unscrupulous in their ways, unsavory. They commit more white collar crimes than any other ethnic, religious group.'”

 

“The Teavangelicals” is an important book, whether you support the movement or not. Ignoring Teavangelicals is not an option for those who want to gain favor with independent voters, a significant percentage of the potential electorate.

 


About the Author

David Brody is the Chief Political Correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network and his interviews with the top political figures in America can be seen nationwide on The 700 Club. Brody hosts a TV show called The Brody File, which features his interviews with top newsmakers and takes a deeper look into the intersection of faith and politics through a Christian worldview. Brody is a graduate of Ithaca College and lives in Rockville, Maryland with his wife of 22 years and his three children. His website:http://blogs.cbn.com/thebrodyfile/

For more of Brody’s views as posted at the Huffington Post, click:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-brody/mitt-romney-and-the-teava_b_1605726.html

ZILLOW: Most Economists Agree Home Prices Will Bottom by 2013, But Majority Surveyed Expect Homeownership Rate To Dip Further

  • By David M. Kinchen

The light at the end of the real estate tunnel may not be mounted on a speeding locomotive, according to Seattle-based Zillow Inc.: Economists continued to predict home prices will decline only slightly in 2012, falling 0.4 percent for the entire year, and will increase thereafter, according to the June 2012 Zillow® Home Price Expectations Survey, compiled from 114 responses by a diverse group of economists, real estate experts and investment and market strategists.

For the first time, the individual economists surveyed were largely in agreement on the trajectory of home prices nationally, signaling that a true bottom may be imminent.

The survey, sponsored by leading real estate information marketplace Zillow, Inc. (NASDAQ: Z) and conducted by Pulsenomics LLC, is based on the projected path of the S&P/Case-Shiller® U.S. National Home Price Index during the coming five years. Link to S&P/Case-Shiller’s latest (June 26) report:www.standardandpoors.com/indices/sp-case-shiller-home-price…

However, a majority (56 percent) of respondents also believe that, in five years, the U.S. homeownership rate will be below 65.4 percent, the rate recorded in the first quarter of 2012. One in five believe the homeownership rate will be at or below 63 percent, testing or breaking the 62.9 percent rate established in 1965, the lowest on record.

“It’s good to start to see some convergence of expectations among economists, as it lends further support to the claim that a bottom is real,” said Zillow Chief Economist Stan Humphries. “However, the fact that more than half of respondents believe that the homeownership rate will fall lower should be a sobering reminder that significant challenges remain ahead for the housing market, from negative equity to millions of foreclosed homeowners who now have impaired credit, making a return to homeownership harder than it would be otherwise.”

Looking further into the future, respondents’ expectations remained relatively consistent with their March 2012 outlook.

The most optimistic quartile of panelists predict a 1 percent increase in 2012, on average, while the most pessimistic[ii] predict an average decline of 2 percent. The June survey results also indicate that most of the panelists expect home prices to increase for the remainder of this year after falling 2 percent in the first quarter.

While the stronger signals of an imminent market bottom and turn are encouraging, the expected pace of housing recovery over the coming three years is significantly weaker now than it was two years ago.

“In June 2010, the average cumulative appreciation in U.S. home prices expected by our panel was 10.3 percent for the years 2012 through 2014. Now, two years later, the average prediction among our experts for the same period is just 3.5 percent,” said Terry Loebs, founder of Pulsenomics. “This translates into $1.25 trillion less housing wealth than expected nationally over the coming three years.”

Additional details regarding this portion of the survey are available atwww.pulsenomics.com.

This is the 14th edition of the Home Price Expectations Survey, and it was conducted from May 31-June 14, 2012, by Pulsenomics LLC on behalf of Zillow, Inc.

For full survey results and graphics, please visit Zillow Real Estate Research atwww.zillow.com/blog/research, or www.pulsenomics.com .

About Zillow:

Zillow (NASDAQ: Z) is the leading real estate information marketplace, providing vital information about homes, real estate listings and mortgagesthrough its website and mobile applications, enabling homeowners, buyers, sellers and renters to connect with real estate and mortgage professionals best suited to meet their needs. In addition, Zillow operates an industry-leading economics and analytics bureau led by Zillow’s Chief Economist Dr. Stan Humphries. Dr. Humphries and his team of economists and data analysts produce extensive housing data and research covering more than 150 markets atZillow Real Estate Research. Zillow, Inc. operates Zillow.com®, Zillow Mortgage Marketplace, Zillow Mobile, Postlets®, Diverse Solutions™ and RentJuice®. The company is headquartered in Seattle. 

BEHIND THE WHEEL: 2013 Dodge Dart Arrives at Dealership; But It’s a Look, Don’t Drive Teaser Car

 By David M. Kinchen

The 2013 Dodge Dart has arrived at my dealership, but it’s a look, don’t drive model. On Wednesday, June 27, 2012, I got to sit in the car, start the engine, check it out, photograph it, but I didn’t get to drive the six-speed manual transmission, fully loaded Rallye model with the 1.4 liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder turbocharged engine. Boo-hoo!

The salesman at Port Lavaca (TX) Dodge Chrysler Jeep  said cars should be arriving during July, so I’ll report back when I get to test drive a car.

Here are my first impressions:

>The 16-valve Intercooled MultiAir Turbo twin-cam four cylinder engine delivers  a very respectable 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. I’m guessing it will be the choice — along with the six-speed manual transmission — of those who want a performance car on a budget. Another  engine option  is a 2.0 liter non-turbo four with the same 160  horsepower as the 1.4 turbo, but with 143 lb-ft of torque. The other  1.4 liter Rallye transmission option is a six-speed dual-clutch automatic. The CVT tranny on my Caliber is no more. The car I looked at was sticker priced at just under $24,000 and featured a rear-view camera.

> The driver’s seat is adjustable for height, just like my 2010 Dodge Caliber, the model the Dart four-door sedan replaces. I’m 6-1, and my head didn’t scrape the headliner, even with my straw porkpie hat firmly in position. I’m pleased to note that the shifter and controls are perfectly positioned for American drivers. With the stick shift model, the car won’t start unless the clutch is depressed — a good safety feature.

> The trunk is large and has a small door opening up between the back seats, presumably for long objects that otherwise won’t fit in the trunk. When I inspected the trunk, I noticed plenty of sound deadening material,  so this should be a quieter car than my Caliber.

> The workmanship appears to be first rate and the oft-criticized hard plastic of my Caliber has been replaced with softer textured material.

> There is no hatchback model, unlike offerings from other manufacturers in this entry class, and unlike my Caliber. All the Calibers at the dealership have been sold, presumably snapped up quickly by customers who want this feature.

> The gasoline filler cap is on the wrong side, just like my 2007 PT Cruiser, which I traded in for the Caliber, which has the filler door on the driver’s side — where it should be on left-hand drive cars. I don’t know why the company placed the gasoline cap in a position suitable for right-hand drive cars.

> The steering wheel telescopes and tilts; my Caliber — and the PT — only have the tilt feature. A plus for the Dart.

> The car is assembled in Chrysler’s Belvidere, IL plant, just like the Caliber, the Jeep Compass and the Dodge Nitro, which use the Caliber platform. The PT Cruiser was assembled in Mexico.

The new Dart is not just another model for Chrysler, which is owned in large part by Italy’s Fiat; it’s a make-or-break vehicle for Chrysler, a company which is lacking in the entry-level segment. Unlike Ford, which has both the Focus and Fiesta models, and the other manufacturers with similar offerings, Chrysler’s Dodge Dart is the sole entry-level car for Mopar fans. A lot is riding on this car, based on an Alfa-Romeo sedan.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck’ Showcases Wit, Wisdom of Nora Ephron: Novelist, Journalist, Screenwriter, Director

Author-screenwriter Nora Ephron dies

Nora Ephron, who cast an acerbic eye on relationships, metropolitan living and aging in essays, books, plays and hit movies, including “Sleepless in Seattle,” “When Harry Met Sally…” and “Julie & Julia,” died Tuesday in New York. She was 71.

here’s my review of her 2006 book “I Feel Bad About My Neck”.  I’ve always thought of Nora Ephron as a latter-day Dorothy Parker.

Aug. 12, 2006
BOOK REVIEW: ‘I Feel Bad About My Neck’ Showcases Wit, Wisdom of Nora Ephron: Novelist, Journalist, Screenwriter, Director


Reviewed By David M. Kinchen

Everything is copy – Phoebe Ephron, Nora’s late mother

I am led to the proposition that there is no fiction or nonfiction as we commonly understand the distinction; there is only narrative. – Author E.L. Doctorow, quoted in “I feel Bad About My Neck”

What’s a guy doing reviewing Nora Ephron’s “I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman” (Knopf, 160 pages, $19.95)?

Short answer: Because I can and because I like Nora Ephron’s writing. She’s from my pre-Boomer generation, born in 1941 to my 1938 so we’re on the same page in many respects.

Ephron is a New Yorker born and bred, although she spent serious time in the Los Angeles area where her parents Henry and Phoebe Ephron were the screenwriters of such classic movies as “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “What Price Glory” and “Desk Set.” Nora is the oldest of four sisters and she often collaborates with her sister Delia. The other two are Hallie and Amy.

Nora Ephron has taken up the family business and then some: co-writing the screenplay for “Silkwood” directed by Mike Nichols (don’t miss his recounting to her of the peninsula story) and writing and directing romantic comedies like “Sleepless in Seattle,” “When Harry Met Sally” and “Heartburn.”

The 15 essays in “I Feel Bad About My Neck” include the title one about the dubious joys of growing old – but “consider the alternative” – as the wrinkles and wattles on one’s neck can only be reduced by a full face lift, which Ephron doesn’t want.

Several essays deal with similar female “maintenance” topics, which men can often relate to – except for the bikini waxing parts. Not that Ephron wears a bikini anymore. She suggests putting one on at age 24 and keeping it on until you turn 34!

Her best-selling 1983 novel “Heartburn” was based on her second marriage – and its covered-by-all-the-tabloids breakup — to Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame and was made into a 1986 movie starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson. It’s a reminder to anyone contemplating marriage to a journalist (Ephron started her writing career as a reporter on the New York Post in 1962, after graduating from Wellesley) that “everything is copy.”

Ephron uses her divorce from Bernstein and return to Manhattan from Washington, DC to describe her finding a to-die-for apartment in the Apthorp building at 79th and Broadway on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The hassles of dealing with New York landlords make for delightful reading, as do her musings on what constitutes a home as she leaves her dream apartment after more than a decade for a smaller one on the East Side.

Ephron had no children from her first marriage, to Dan Greenburg or her current marriage, to author Nicholas Pileggi, author of “Wiseguy”, which became a 1990 movie called “Goodfellas.” Ephron and Bernstein had two sons, Jacob and Max, both fully grown and no longer living at home. They don’t even have a guest room in the smaller East Side apartment, Ephron assures us. They’re copy, too, although they’re not mentioned by name in the essay “Parenting in Three Stages.”

Here’s Ephron on kids growing up and leaving: “But eventually college ends, and they’re gone for good. The nest is actually empty. You’re still a parent, but your parenting days are over. Now what? There must be something you can do. But there isn’t. There is nothing you can do. Trust me….Meanwhile, you have an extra room. Your child’s room. Do not under any circumstances leave your child’s room as is. Your child’s room is not a shrine…Leaving your child’s room as is may encourage your child to return. You do not want this.”

Having recently reviewed a book that had as one of the true characters a woman who spent $35,000 in embezzled funds on designer handbags, I was particularly drawn to the essay “I Hate My Purse,” in which Ephron wonders aloud why purses become black holes for a myriad of often messy and disgusting objects and why on earth would anyone fly to Paris and buy a used Hermes “Kelly” bag for $2,600 at the city’s famed flea market, as a friend did, with Ephron tagging along for company and sightseeing. Her own eventual choice of a bag pleased me, because it resembled something I recently gave my wife, another female plagued by purses. What I gave my wife is the equivalent of a “gimme” baseball cap and it cost the same – nothing.

The book contains essays about two presidents, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy. Ephron was an intern in JFK’s White House press room, hired by Pierre Salinger in 1961. She says the famous womanizer — JFK, not Pierre — never made a pass at her and she wonders why. It’s a perfect gem of a short essay.

Two previous collections of Ephron’s outstanding journalism, “Crazy Salad” and “Scribble, Scribble,” were bestsellers, and I predict “I Feel Bad About My Neck,” with a first printing of 100,000, will be one, too.

I really don’t have to justify reading – in one two-hour sitting – and reviewing a book so attuned to women, do I? OK, here’s the deal: After a lifetime of trying, I still don’t understand women. No man ever does. Reading “I Feel Bad About My Neck” helped me, so consider it a self-help book! Really, truly, and I believe 100 percent in Phoebe Ephron’s “Everything is copy” aphorism. That’s the spirit of a true journalist.

Publisher’s web site: www.aaknopf.com

 

S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices: Home Prices Rise 1.3% in April, Following 7 Months of Falling Prices; Home Prices Back to 2003 Levels

  • By David M. Kinchen
S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Indices: Home Prices Rise 1.3% in April, Following 7 Months of Falling Prices; Home Prices Back to 2003 Levels

Data through April 2012, released Tuesday, June 26, 2012 by S&P Indices for its S&P/Case- Shiller Home Price Indices showed that on average home prices increased 1.3% in the month of April for both the 10- and 20-City Composites. This comes after seven consecutive months of falling home prices as measured by both indices.

As of April 2012, average home prices across the United States are back to the levels where they were in early 2003 for the 20-City Composite and to mid-2003 levels for the 10-City Composite. Measured from their June/July 2006 peaks through April 2012, the decline for both Composites is approximately 34%. Both Composites recently reached their index level lows in the current housing cycle in March 2012, down approximately 35% from their peaks.

April’s data indicate that on an annual basis home prices fell by 2.2% for the 10-City Composite and by 1.9% for the 20-City Composites, versus April 2011. While still negative, this is an improvement over the annual rates of -2.9% and -2.6% recorded for the month of March 2012. Both Composites and 18 of the 20 MSAs saw increases in annual returns in April compared to those published for March; only Detroit and New York fared worse in April, posting annual returns of +1.2% and -3.8% respectively, falling below their March returns of +3.9% and -3.0%.

 

For the seventh consecutive month, Atlanta posted the only double- digit negative annual return at -17.0%, its 22nd consecutive month of negative annual returns. Ten of the 20 MSAs saw positive annual returns – Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Tampa and Washington D.C. No cities posted new lows in April 2012.

In April 2012, both the 10-City and 20-City Composite Home Price Indices were up by 1.3% in the month, resulting in annual returns of -2.2% and -1.9%, respectively.
“With April 2012 data, we finally saw some rising home prices,” says David M. Blitzer, Chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Indices. “On a monthly basis, 19 of the 20 MSAs and both Composites rose in April over March. Detroit was the only city that saw prices fall, down 3.6%. In addition, 18 of the 20 MSAs and both Composites saw better annual rates of return. It has been a long time since we enjoyed such broad- based gains. While one month does not make a trend, particularly during seasonally strong buying months, the combination of rising positive monthly index levels and improving annual returns is a good sign. The 10-City and 20-City Composites each rose by 1.3% for the month and posted annual rates of return of -2.2% and -1.9% compared to April 2011, better than the -2.9% and -2.6% annual rates seen in March 2012.”

Blitzer added: “We were hoping to see some improvement in April. First, changes in home prices are very seasonal, with the spring and early summer being the most active buying months. Second, while not as strong and we believe less reliable, the seasonally adjusted data were also largely positive, a possible sign that the increase in prices may be due to more than just the expected surge in spring sales. Additionally, the last few months have seen increased sales and housing starts amidst a lot of talk of better housing markets, so some price gains were anticipated.”

“Detroit and New York stand out this month as the only two MSAs that saw their annual rates of return deteriorate compared to March,” Blitzer said. “While Detroit posted a positive annual rate of 1.2%, it was still well below March’s +3.9%; New York was -3.8% in April down from -3.0% in March. Detroit was also the only city to show a monthly decline, down 3.6%. All other MSAs improved versus March.”

“Atlanta and Phoenix, two markets we have followed closely in 2012 for their contrasting trends, have continued along their opposite paths,” Blitzer added. “Atlanta continues to be the only city with double-digit negative annual returns, -17.0%, whereas Phoenix fared the best in terms of annual returns at +8.6% in April.”

* * *


Source: S&P Indices and Fiserv Data through April 2012


BOOK REVIEW: ‘Winner Take All’: China Uses ‘Soft Power’ to Gain Control of Mineral Resources, Other Valuable Commodities

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'Winner Take All': China Uses 'Soft Power' to Gain Control of Mineral Resources, Other Valuable Commodities

I don’t know how much the leaders of the People’s Republic of China have studied Joseph S. Nye Jr. — perhaps the world’s foremost theorist of “Soft Power” — but they’ve put Nye’s ideas into practice in regions like Africa and South America in their quest to corner the market for resources to fuel their booming economy, as Dambisa Moyo writes so eloquently in “Winner Take All: China’s Race for Resources and What It Means for the World” (Basic Books, 272 pages, notes, index, $26.99).

I didn’t see any references in the book’s index to either Nye, born in 1937, or “soft power,” a term coined by Nye in the late 1980s and which first came into widespread usage following a piece he wrote in Foreign Policy in the early 1990s. He is the chairman of the North American branch of the Trilateral Commission and served in the Clinton Administration. It’s a shame he has no position in the Obama Administration.

In my July 29, 2011 review of Nye’s “The Future of Power” I wrote:

Nye, the influential policy thinker who coined the term “soft power”, examines the changing nature of power since the Cold War, the new ways in which it is exercised, and how those changes impact America’s role in the world.

Nye writes that in the era of Kennedy and Khrushchev, power was expressed in terms of nuclear missiles, industrial capacity, numbers of men under arms, and tanks lined up ready to cross the plains of Eastern Europe. By 2010, none of these factors confer power in the same way: industrial capacity seems an almost Victorian virtue, and cyber threats are wielded by non-state actors. Politics changed, and the nature of power—defined as the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes you want—had changed dramatically. Power is not static; its story is of shifts and innovations, technologies and relationships.

Dambisa Moyo

Dambisa Moyo


Nye is a long-time analyst of power and a hands-on practitioner in government. Many of his ideas have been at the heart of recent debates over the role America should play in the world: his concept of “soft power” has been adopted by leaders from Britain to China; “smart power” has been adopted as the bumper-sticker for the Obama Administration’s foreign policy. This book is the summation of his work, as relevant to general readers as to foreign policy specialists.

* * *

Since the Chinese are among the smartest people on the planet, I’m guessing that they had Nye in mind when they decided to help African countries build infrastructure, roads, railroads, schools, hospitals — in exchange for access to commodities. Moyo says they attach no strings to this development, unlike the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Chinese commodity seekers deal with dictatorships and democracies and make no judgments; as long as they can buy an entire mountain in Peru for the copper under it they don’t judge the people who sell them the mountain.

Moyo’s book is also a primer on commodities like copper, coal, arable land, water, and, of course petroleum. Commodities permeate virtually every aspect of modern daily living, but for all their importance — their breadth, their depth, their intricacies, and their central role in daily life — few people who are not economists or traders know how commodity markets work. For those concerned about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as “fracking” — Moyo explains (pages 186-188) why this approach to secure natural gas may not offer a reprieve in a world of diminishing fossil resources.

There is no shortage of warnings of impending doom — shortages of arable land, clashes over water, and political conflict as global demand for fossil fuels outstrips supply. The picture is bleak, but our grasp of the details and the macro shifts in commodities markets remain blurry. Moyo puts this blurry picture into sharp focus and she’s a realist when she writes that the developed countries — all too often hampered by lack of cash to buy the commodities that the Chinese obtain — complain that the Chinese are overpaying for the resources they buy, driving up the price beyond the market value. She says this all too often is a case of sour grapes. As everybody knows — or should know — China has almost endless resources when it comes to cash!

“Winner Take All” focuses on the global implications of China’s rush for resources across all regions of the world. The scale of China’s resource campaign for hard commodities (metals and minerals) and soft commodities (timber and food) is among the largest in history. Moyo points out that while China is not the first country to launch a global crusade to secure resources, it’s the country that today is far ahead of the developed nations — including the U.S. — in securing commodities.

She gives us the historical context for this race, from Britain’s transcontinental operations dating back to the end of the 16th century, to the rise of modern European and American transnational corporations between the mid 1860’s and 1870’s, the industrial revolution that powered these economies created a voracious demand for raw materials and created the need to go far beyond their native countries.

Although still in its early stages, the breadth of China’s operation is awesome, and seemingly unstoppable, says Moyo. China’s global search for commodities is a story of the nation’s quest to secure its claims on resource assets, and to guarantee the flow of inputs needed to continue to drive economic development. Moyo, an expert in global commodities markets, explains the implications of China’s resource grab in a world of diminishing resources.

“Winner Take All” is an important book and should be read by everyone seeking to understand the importance of commodities in a world where population growth is outpacing the supply of the commodities needed to sustain life.

About the Author

Dambisa Moyo, born in 1969 in Zambia, is an international economist and one of the world’s leading experts on macroeconomics and global affairs. In 2009 Moyo was named by Time as one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World,” and was named to the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders Forum. Her writing regularly appears in economic and finance-related publications such as the Financial Times, the Economist, and the Wall Street Journal. In September 2009 Moyo was featured on Oprah Winfrey’s “Power List” of twenty remarkable visionaries. She has appeared as a guest CNN, CNBC, BBC, and Fox Business. She has done numerous speaking engagements at organizations including OECD, World Bank, IMF, Council on Foreign Relations, and the American Enterprise Institute. In 2009 she spoke at the TEDx conference at the EU Parliament. She holds a PhD in economics from Oxford and an MPA from Harvard. She lives in New York and London.

Publisher’s website: www.basicbooks.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Age of Miracles’: Coming of Age in a Time of Chaos

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

 

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Age of Miracles': Coming of Age in a Time of Chaos

We didn’t notice right away. We couldn’t feel it. We did not sense at first the extra time, bulging from the smooth edge of each day like a tumor blooming beneath the skin. — Opening lines of “The Age of Miracles”

As if being an eleven-year-old girl in a southern California middle school isn’t difficult enough, Julia, the protagonist in Karen Thompson Walker’s debut novel “The Age of Miracles” (Random House, 288 pages, $26.00, also available as an eBook) wakes up one morning and learns — with the rest of the world — that the earth’s rotation is slowing. The days and nights grow longer, the environment is affected — including such things we take for granted as gravity — and the world becomes divided between those who follow the government’s mandated time scheme — called “clockers” — and “real timers” who believe in adapting to the realities of the “slowing.”

Many “real timers” move to communes in the desert, where they escape the persecution of the “clockers,” but those who stay, like Sylvia, Julia’s piano teacher, become increasingly isolated in place, living their lives under a veil of suspicion by their neighbors.

Walker calls Julia’s middle school experience “the age of miracles” because of the changes in the children as they approach adulthood. Julia has a best friend, Hanna, a Mormon, who moves to Utah with her parents, leaving Julia confused and isolated to a degree she couldn’t have imagined. She has a crush on Seth Moreno, the twelve-year-old boy who has piano lessons after her and they soon develop a relationship, exploring the crumbling cliffs that have deposited McMansion house on the beach. and watching beached whales. 

 

Karen Thompson Walker

Karen Thompson Walker

 

Coincidently as I was writing this review, the bullying of school bus monitor Karen Klein, 68, in Greece, NY. near Rochester, took over the web. link:http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/22/us/new-york-bus-monitor/index.html?hpt=hp_bn1).

She was bullied by middle school students, the same kind who taunted Julia in “The Age of Miracles.” In one instance, while waiting for a school bus, she had her shirt pulled up by a classmate who wanted to discover if she was wearing a bra! I knew about high school bullies, but these little demons in middle school seem to have taken over.

Joel, Julia’s father, is an obstetrician, specializing in difficult pregnancies and deliveries, so he’s used to working odd hours at the local hospital. The gradual changes brought about by the “slowing” don’t bother him as much as it does her mother, Helen, a former actress who is much more judgmental and apprehensive about the future. She hangs onto her brief career in show business by teaching drama at the local high school.

 

Just like the cats and dogs of the neighborhood, who sensed the “slowing” before the humans, Julia senses the growing discord in the relationship between Joel and Helen. When she discovers that her father and Sylvia are seeing each other, her confusion accelerates — compounded by the departure of Hanna, her relationship with Seth, and her developing friendship with other classmates.

Readers familiar with apocalyptic novels like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and Justin Cronin’s “The Passage” will detect similarities, of course, but I think Walker’s voice is her own, enhanced by evocative and poetic prose. Here’s a sample:

“This was middle school, the age of miracles, the time when kids shot up three inches during the summer, when breasts bloomed from nothing, when voices dipped and dove. Our first flaws were emerging, but they were being corrected. Blurry vision could be fixed invisibly with the magic of the contact lens. Crooked teeth were pulled straight with braces. Spotty skin could be chemically cleared. Some girls were turning beautiful. A few boys were growing tall. I knew I still looked like a child.”

Readers unfamiliar with California may be puzzled by Walker’s reference to the Thomas Guide. It’s a book of maps for each county in the state, with individual pages showing enlarged areas and a key map indexed to the large scale individual maps. Julia and her family use a Thomas Guide to locate a commune that may be where her eccentric grandfather, lives. As a reporter at the Los Angeles Times, I had a set of Thomas Guides for Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange and San Diego counties so I could negotiate my way around the Southland.

I loved this book from the first page. Walker perfectly captures the feelings of her young protagonist and her friends and, with the experience that comes with being an adult, does the same with Joel, Helen, Sylvia and the other adults in the cul-de-sac of a coastal California suburb. Only at the end of the book do we learn that the narrator is a 23-year-old Julia. My only regret was that the book was too short; I wanted it to be longer, like Cronin’s “The Passage.”

From the publicity material, I learned that there was a bidding war to publish the novel, that it has been sold in 30 foreign territories in addition to the U.S.and the U.K., and that the movie rights have been purchased by River Road Entertainment, with Seth Lochhead hired to adapt the book to the big screen. Productions from River Road have included “The Tree of Life, “Into the Wild” and “Brokeback Mountain.” Lochhead most recently wrote the script for “Hanna.” I enjoyed Terence Malick’s 2011 film “The Tree of Life” and my wife and I both were entranced with “Hanna”, a 2011 thriller directed by Joe Wright.

While “The Age of Miracles” is obviously adult literary fiction, I think young adult readers will enjoy it, too.

About the Author

Karen Thompson Walker is a graduate of UCLA and the Columbia MFA program and a recipient of the 2011 Sirenland Fellowship as well as aBomb magazine fiction prize. A former editor at Simon & Schuster, she wrote “The Age of Miracles” in the mornings before work. Born and raised in San Diego, she now lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

Publisher’s website: www.randomhouse.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The End of Normal’: Bernie Madoff’s Crimes Killed His Son, Ruined His Daughter-in-Law’s Life

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'The End of Normal': Bernie Madoff's Crimes Killed His Son, Ruined His Daughter-in-Law's Life

I was angry at just about everybody when I finished reading Stephanie Madoff Mack’s “The End of Normal: A Wife’s Anguish, A Widow’s New Life” (Plume paperback, 272 pages, $16.00).

 

Mack — she and her husband changed their last name after Bernie Madoff’s multimillion dollar Ponzi scheme became public — is the widow of Mark Madoff, son of the disgraced Wall Street icon. They just added an “M” to “ACK” — the call letters for Nantucket Airport, on one of their favorite vacation spots. Mark Madoff Mack hanged himself on the second anniversary of his father’s arrest, leaving Stephanie to raise her children as a single mother.

Let me count the ways I’m pissed off at everybody:

Naturally I was angry at Bernie Madoff, whose criminal behavior caused grief and death to people who trusted him with their money. His two sons, Andy and Mark, get points for turning him in, but I don’t see how they couldn’t have known about his activities while working in a separate business in the same Lipstick Building at 885 Third Avenue in Manhattan that housed Bernie’s fictitious fund. Stephanie insists — and the evidence is strong in her favor — that the two brothers didn’t have a clue about Bernie. Still, they were drawn into the scandal and Mark became despondent and took his life.

 

I was also angry at Mark and Stephanie and their privileged life, vacationing on St. Barth’s, the Hamptons, Key West, the Seychelles, houses in Manhattan, Greenwich, CT and Nantucket. Stephanie describes her life before Mark as “comfortable,” but it seems to this 99 percenter to be much more than that, with her growing up in a luxury apartment on the East Side of Manhattan and attending private schools. Call me judgmental — more than a few people have — but her life was privileged beyond the comprehension of “normal” people.

 

Andy Madoff went on with his life, so I’m wondering why Mark Madoff had to kill himself. Yes, I’m angry with this handsome, gifted man, who married the beautiful Stephanie (he had been married before, with two children) and was obviously deeply in love with her.

 

Most of all, I’m angry with the culture of greed that has permeated this country. I’ve covered business and real estate in my 46 years in journalism and what I’ve seen and reported on often disgusts me. I’m angry at the Clinton Administration that spurred Congress in 1999 to repeal the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, that separated commercial banks from risky “investment” banks. Like many commentators with far more knowledge than I possess, I want Gramm-Leach-Bliley repealed and an even stronger Glass-Steagall installed. I want to see pay caps for executives in any institution that gets federal funding — and that’s just about all of them. If they insure deposits with FDIC — part of the Glass-Steagall Act that was retained — then they should be subject to limits on greed. I want people — who don’t have the common sense of our beautiful cat, Greta —  to stop falling for Ponzi schemes: If it sounds too good to be true, it is! I’m against the government telling everybody they should be a homeowner — one of the driving forces behind the housing meltdown, and a flawed policy of both political parties.

 

We shouldn’t put up with people like JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon losing billions of dollars and having a Senate Banking Committee fawn over him as if he were undergoing a job interview. Yes, this happened and was reported everywhere, including The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

 

All this said, Stephanie Madoff Mack has crafted a touching love story memoir that will appeal to many readers. Putting my judgmental hat aside, I grieve with her over her loss. Her children have been estranged from their paternal grandparents and will suffer because of this. Despite the name change, the children may be bullied in school, given the low level of human decency that prevails today.

 

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Quiet’: Cherishing the Invaluable Contributions of Introverts in an Extrovert World

  • Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'Quiet': Cherishing the Invaluable Contributions of Introverts in an Extrovert World

At least one third of the people in the highly extroverted United States are introverts, and Susan Cain in “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” (Crown Publishers, 352 pages, notes, index, $26.00) says we should value their contributions — not try to make extroverts out of them.

Introverts are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; people who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled “quiet,” it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society — from van Gogh’s sunflowers to Apple’s Steve Wozniak’s contributions to the invention of the personal computer. The high-tech world is replete with the contributions of introverts like Microsoft’s Bill Gates.

Written by a woman who herself is an introvert, “Quiet” shows how we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. She explores the psychological aspects of introversion and extroversion from development by Carl G. Jung to the present day and takes the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School — where extroverts rule — from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch in Orange County, California, Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects.

She talks to Asian-American students who feel alienated from the brash, backslapping atmosphere of American schools. She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts.

Susan Cain

Susan Cain
credit: Photo (c) Aaron Fedor

Cain introduces us to successful introverts, from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions, to a drummer and music journalist who saw himself on the screen when the movie “The Revenge of the Nerds” played in his hometown of Detroit. She describes her transformation to a fully functioning introvert as at Wall Street law firm and she offers invaluable advice on everything from how to better negotiate differences in introvert-extrovert relationships to how to empower an introverted child to when it makes sense to be a “pretend extrovert.”

Cain is married to an extrovert and shows how this combination can work, using the example of Franklin D. Roosevelt, an extrovert, like most presidents (think Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) and his powerful in her own way introvert wife Eleanor.
And if you wonder if you’re an introvert or a “pretend extrovert”, Cain can help you determine your status. As Jung himself pointed out, no one is a pure introvert or extrovert.

If you’re a parent of an elementary, middle school or high school introvert child, pay special attention to Chapter 11: On Cobblers and Generals: How to Cultivate Quiet Kids in a World That Can’t Hear Them, beginning on page 240. Cain provides case histories of introvert children and how they function in schools that are designed for extroverts. She writes that “…introverts react not only to new people, but also to new places and events. So don’t mistake your child’s caution in new situations for an inability to relate to others. He’s recoiling from novelty or overstimulation, not from human contact.”

She writes that “many schools are designed for extroverts. Introverts need different kinds of instruction from extroverts, write College of Education William and Mary education scholars Jill Burruss and Lisa Kaenzig.”

Cain says there’s nothing “sacrosanct about learning in large group classrooms, and that we organize students this way not because it’s the best way to learn but because it’s cost-efficient…”
Here’s an excerpt from “Quiet”:

Today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts—which means that we’ve lost sight of who we really are. Depending on which study you consult, one third to one half of Americans are introverts—in other words, one out of every two or three people you know. (Given that the United States is among the most extroverted of nations, the number must be at least as high in other parts of the world.) If you’re not an introvert yourself, you are surely raising, managing, married to, or coupled with one.

If these statistics surprise you, that’s probably because so many people pretend to be extroverts. Closet introverts pass undetected on playgrounds, in high school locker rooms, and in the corridors of corporate America. Some fool even themselves, until some life event—a layoff, an empty nest, an inheritance that frees them to spend time as they like— jolts them into taking stock of their true natures. You have only to raise the subject of this book with your friends and acquaintances to find that the most unlikely people consider themselves introverts.

It makes sense that so many introverts hide even from themselves. We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal—the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk- taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He favors quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong. She works well in teams and socializes in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual—the kind who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” Sure, we allow technologically gifted loners who launch companies in garages to have any personality they please, but they are the exceptions, not the rule, and our tolerance extends mainly to those who get fabulously wealthy or hold the promise of doing so.

Introversion—along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness—is now a second- class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.

The Extrovert Ideal has been documented in many studies, though this research has never been grouped under a single name. Talkative people, for example, are rated as smarter, better- looking, more interesting, and more desirable as friends. Velocity of speech counts as well as volume: we rank fast talkers as more competent and likable than slow ones. The same dynamics apply in groups, where research shows that the voluble are considered smarter than the reticent—even though there’s zero correlation between the gift of gab and good ideas. Even the word introvert is stigmatized—one informal study, by psychologist Laurie Helgoe, found that introverts described their own physical appearance in vivid language ( “green- blue eyes,” “exotic,” “high cheekbones”), but when asked to describe generic introverts they drew a bland and distasteful picture (“ungainly,” “neutral colors,” “skin problems”).

But we make a grave mistake to embrace the Extrovert Ideal so unthinkingly. Some of our greatest ideas, art, and inventions—from the theory of evolution to van Gogh’s sunflowers to the personal computer— came from quiet and cerebral people who knew how to tune in to their inner worlds and the treasures to be found there.


About the Author

SUSAN CAIN’s writing on introversion and shyness has appeared in the New York Times; the Dallas Morning NewsThe AtlanticO, The Oprah Magazine; Time.com; and PsychologyToday.com. Cain has also spoken at Microsoft, Google, the U.S. Treasury, and at TED 2012. Since her TED talk was posted online, it has been viewed more than one million times. She has appeared on national broadcast television and radio including CBS This Morning, NPR’s All Things Considered, and NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show, and her work has been featured on the cover of Time magazine, in WiredFast CompanyReal Simple,FortuneForbesUSA Today, the Washington Post, CNN, Slate.com, and many other publications. She is an honors graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School. She lives in the Hudson River Valley with her husband and two sons.