Obama's the first Democrat to face down rising gas prices in an election year since Carter. But he has advantages his unfortunate predecessor didn't.
Cars line up for gasoline during the 1979 fuel shortage / Image: Wikipedia
Gas prices are up, and there's a Democrat in the Oval Office seeking reelection. What year is it?
For Politico, 2012 is 1980 all over again, and the newspaper is now pondering whether President Obama will end up "owning" high gas prices much the way Jimmy Carter did by the end of his term in the White House.
It's certainly possible that, as fuel costs inevitably rise in the coming months, enough cash-strapped voters will start casting blame on the president to cripple his reelection chances. You never know. But economically, comparing Carter's dire predicament, which he notoriously mishandled, with Obama's is silly, in part because you can't look at gas prices in a vacuum. The late 1970s were an economic nightmare in which fuel costs were one of several scourges. Today, we're looking at a strengthening recovery that's better equipped to withstand a bit of pain at the pump.
Here are four big reasons to ignore those Carter comparisons:
No. 1: The U.S. isn't in a fight to the death with inflation
If there's a single graph that captures the misery of America's economy in the 1970s and early 1980s, it's the one below. That blue line? It's the non-core inflation rate, which includes the cost of goods like food and energy which get left out of other measures. Notice that in late 1978, when the Iranian revolution helped send oil prices soaring, prices were already rising at more than 7 percent a year. U.S. policy makers had been trying and failing to slay inflation for most of the decade, and the sudden shock of high oil prices helped set the rate completely out of control. Expensive crude made gas, as well as consumer goods, more expensive. That sent workers bargaining for higher wages, which made prices to rise further. Presto chango: an inflationary spiral.
But it got worse. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker's early, haphazard attempts to slow down runaway prices and save the value of the dollar led to sky high interest rates, which sent the economy tumbling into recession by the summer of 1980 -- right in the middle of Carter's re-election campaign. By July, unemployment topped out at 7.9 percent (it eventually dropped back to 7.1 percent by November).
Today, inflation is just about dead last on America's list of potential economic problems. Workers also aren't in much of a position to bargain for higher pay based on their weekly gas tab. So high gas prices aren't going to lead to the same terrifying wage-price spiral that, along with some clumsy tinkering by the Fed, demolished the economy under Carter.
No. 2: We don't have ridiculous regulations on selling gas
The long lines of drivers waiting outside gas stations for a chance to fill up might be the iconic image of Carter-era economic malaise. But the gas shortages that yielded those lines weren't a direct result of high prices. Rather, they were the produced of an ill-designed system of price and distribution controls, which led gas stations to sell off what limited fuel they had on a first-come-first-serve basis, then close up shop early. To get a sense of how horribly the government's regulation distorted the market for gasoline, check out this 1979 paper from the Brookings Institute. Among their myriad unintended consequences, the controls actually made it more profitable for refineries to stash away gasoline supplies and sell them at a later date, even if there was an immediate shortage. Thankfully, those kinds of regulations went out of style along with disco.
No. 3: Iran (probably) isn't going to stop selling oil
One of the eeriest similarities between today and the Carter era is the role Iran is playing in sending up gas prices. Then, it was fallout from the Iranian revolution. Today, it's uncertainty generated by U.S. and European attempts to stop Tehran's nuclear program. But there are big, gaping differences between the challenges of of 33 years ago and today.
In December of 1978, following the revolution, Iran's new leaders halted all oil shipments (they resumed a small amount the following March). At the time, the country was the world's second largest oil exporter. The market panicked, and the price of crude increased 150 percent over the coming year. Gasoline prices followed, jumping 55 percent in six months.
The current confrontation between Iran and the West is scary, yes. But unless it erupts into outright war, chances are we won't see similar supply disruptions compared to what happened in 1979. The U.S. has levied sanctions on Tehran aimed at limiting it's ability to sell oil. But as I wrote yesterday, they're not intended to take all of their crude off the market. Iran, for its part, is reportedly so desperate to to sell oil that it's offering barter deals.
No. 4: We're used to high gas prices
There's no question about it: When oil prices rise rapidly, they can hurt the economy. But when it comes to determining just how bad the damage will be, it's important to look at where oil prices have been in the recent past. James Hamilton, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, has come up with a formula for doing this that I call the rule of three. He's found that when oil prices quickly spike to a new three-year high, they can cause a damaging shock to the economy. That's because both businesses and consumers suddenly have to rapidly adjust their budgets, and often drastically cut spending. The rule of three is not a hard and fast law, but more a decent rule of thumb. It happens to describe what happened in 1979 fairly well. At the time, the only frame of reference anybody had for an oil crisis was the 1973 OPEC embargo. Nobody expected a repeat.
While oil prices are rising pretty quickly today, they're still close to where they reached during the Libyan revolution last year. They could go higher -- I'm not going to try and predict -- but at this point, even if it's painful, most Americans have an idea of how to cope with higher fuel costs. Back in 1979, it was still relatively new and frightening. Today, it's old hat.
They weren’t the first victims of a mass shooting the Florida radiologist had seen—but their wounds were radically different.
As I opened the CT scan last week to read the next case, I was baffled. The history simply read “gunshot wound.” I have been a radiologist in one of the busiest trauma centers in the nation for 13 years, and have diagnosed thousands of handgun injuries to the brain, lung, liver, spleen, bowel, and other vital organs. I thought that I knew all that I needed to know about gunshot wounds, but the specific pattern of injury on my computer screen was one that I had seen only once before.
In a typical handgun injury that I diagnose almost daily, a bullet leaves a laceration through an organ like the liver. To a radiologist, it appears as a linear, thin, grey bullet track through the organ. There may be bleeding and some bullet fragments.
A new book pieces together the strange legal saga that was sparked by a 2007 Gawker post outing the billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel.
Bollea v. Gawker isn’t just one of the most consequential lawsuits in the history of modern American media. It’s also probably the strangest. In 2016, Hulk Hogan, the professional wrestler, won a nine-figure lawsuit that ultimately bankrupted Gawker Media, a fleet of sites that epitomized the barbed brilliance of New York’s young media crowd. The lawsuit concerned a video of Hogan (né Terry Gene Bollea) having consensual sex with his best friend’s wife, while that same friend recorded the encounter—secretly, according to Hogan and later reporting. Behind the scenes of this tawdry affair, a more shocking story was playing out, in which Peter Thiel, the billionaire investor, seemed to be exorcising a deep grudge against Gawker by bankrolling Hogan’s lawsuit to destroy the media company that published the sex tape.
Many seniors are stuck with lives of never-ending work—a fate that could befall millions in the coming decades.
CORONA, Calif.—Roberta Gordon never thought she’d still be alive at age 76. She definitely didn’t think she’d still be working. But every Saturday, she goes down to the local grocery store and hands out samples, earning $50 a day, because she needs the money.
“I’m a working woman again,” she told me, in the common room of the senior apartment complex where she now lives, here in California’s Inland Empire. Gordon has worked dozens of odd jobs throughout her life—as a house cleaner, a home health aide, a telemarketer, a librarian, a fundraiser—but at many times in her life, she didn’t have a steady job that paid into Social Security. She didn’t receive a pension. And she definitely wasn’t making enough to put aside money for retirement.
Joe Arpaio made his name by building a harsh jail in the desert. Now, Trump is promising to take his punitive approach to immigration national.
On the eve of the Iowa Caucuses in January 2016, when Donald Trump’s presidential campaign still seemed a long-shot, he landed a crucial endorsement. Joe Arpaio, the Phoenix-area sheriff hailed by conservative activists for being tough on immigration, embraced Trump with a prescient message. “Everything I believe in,” Arpaio declared, “he’s going to do when he becomes president.”
The former sheriff rose to national prominence by running an outdoor jail in the desert he once proudly referred to as a “concentration camp.” Arpaio, who is now running for the United States Senate, sees no reason to reconsider the remark. “I’m not going to back down,” Arpaio said in a recent interview. “So what? Maybe it is a concentration camp. I don’t want to make it look nice, like the Hilton Hotel. I want to say it’s a tough place so people don’t want to come there.”
The Florida senator's political and cultural boundary-crossing is hurting him now, but it may be just what America needs in the future.
There’s something about Senator Marco Rubio that inspires seething hatred in his detractors. But what is it, exactly? It’s natural that progressives wouldn’t be terribly fond of him, as he is an avowed conservative. What’s puzzling, though, is that Rubio seems more intensely disliked on the left than politicians well to his right, who don’t share his zeal for making the tax code more generous towards the working poor. Rubio’s critics on the right, meanwhile, ridicule him for his inconstancy, and his supposed tendency to buckle under pressure. Yet many of these same critics are admirers of President Donald Trump, who is hardly a model of ideological rectitude.
The real reason Rubio is such a lightning rod, I suspect, is that it is in his nature to cross cultural and political boundaries. I’m reminded of the work of the Tomás Jiménez, a Stanford sociologist and a leading expert on immigration-driven cultural change. In The Other Side of Assimilation, Jiménez observes that assimilation is not just a straight-line process in which newcomers, whom he defines as immigrants and the children of at least one immigrant parent, come to resemble established Americans, his term for the U.S.-born children of two U.S.-born parents. Rather, it is a relational process, which “involves back-and-forth adjustments in daily life by both newcomers and established individuals as they come into contact with each other.”
The revolutionary ideals of Black Panther’s profound and complex villain have been twisted into a desire for hegemony.
The following article contains major spoilers.
Black Panther is a love letter to people of African descent all over the world. Its actors, its costume design, its music, and countless other facets of the film are drawn from all over the continent and its diaspora, in a science-fiction celebration of the imaginary country of Wakanda, a high-tech utopia that is a fictive manifestation of African potential unfettered by slavery and colonialism.
But it is first and foremost an African American love letter, and as such it is consumed with The Void, the psychic and cultural wound caused by the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the loss of life, culture, language, and history that could never be restored. It is the attempt to penetrate The Void that brought us Alex Haley’s Roots, that draws thousands of African Americans across the ocean to visit West Africa every year, that left me crumpled on the rocks outside the Door of No Return at Gorée Island’s slave house as I stared out over a horizon that my ancestors might have traversed once and forever. Because all they have was lost to The Void, I can never know who they were, and neither can anyone else.
Decades before he ran the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort’s pursuit of foreign cash and shady deals laid the groundwork for the corruption of Washington.
The clinic permitted Paul Manafort one 10-minute call each day. And each day, he would use it to ring his wife from Arizona, his voice often soaked in tears. “Apparently he sobs daily,” his daughter Andrea, then 29, texted a friend. During the spring of 2015, Manafort’s life had tipped into a deep trough. A few months earlier, he had intimated to his other daughter, Jessica, that suicide was a possibility. He would “be gone forever,” she texted Andrea.
His work, the source of the status he cherished, had taken a devastating turn. For nearly a decade, he had counted primarily on a single client, albeit an exceedingly lucrative one. He’d been the chief political strategist to the man who became the president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, with whom he’d developed a highly personal relationship.
How did Missouri’s Republican governor go from rising star to felony charges in barely one year?
It’s customary to refer to a politician’s quick rise as “meteoric.” Overlooked in that cliché is a truth about what happens to meteorites: They strike the ground violently and destructively.
That’s worth considering in light of the meteoric rise of Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, who was arrested Thursday afternoon and charged with felony invasion of privacy charges in connection with a 2015 extramarital affair. The first-term Republican has not resigned, but he’ll face an uphill battle to hold onto his office, and his once-bright political career seems likely to, well, crater.
Greitens’s troubles began in early January, when several outlets reported that he had engaged in an extramarital affair in 2015. The ex-husband of Greitens’s former lover surreptitiously recorded her describing how Greitens had photographed her nude and indicated that the images would serve as blackmail material. “You’re never going to mention my name, otherwise this picture will be everywhere,” she quoted him as saying on the tape.
Archaeologists in Nubia are struggling against erosion, desertification, and government plans to develop the land.
In 1905, British archaeologists descended on a sliver of eastern Africa, aiming to uncover and extract artifacts from 3,000-year-old temples. They left mostly with photographs, discouraged by the ever-shifting sand dunes that blanketed the land. “We sank up to the knees at every step,” E. A. Wallis Budge, the British Egyptologist and philologist, wrote at the time, adding: “[We] made several trial diggings in other parts of the site, but we found nothing worth carrying away.”
For the next century, the region known as Nubia—home to civilizations older than the dynastic Egyptians, skirting the Nile River in what is today northern Sudan and southern Egypt—was paid relatively little attention. The land was inhospitable, and some archaeologists of the era subtly or explicitly dismissed the notion that black Africans were capable of creating art, technology, and metropolises like those from Egypt or Rome. Modern textbooks still treat ancient Nubia like a mere annex to Egypt: a few paragraphs on black pharaohs, at most.
Tales of people losing their way, before and after GPS
The last time I was ever truly lost was in the summer of 2013. It was in St. Petersburg, Russia. I traveled there for work, and after four days of fighting jet lag to cram in sightseeing on the side, I fell asleep on a bus, nodding off over the copy of A Clash of Kings I’d been carrying with me during the trip.
When I woke up, I had no idea how long I’d been out and if I’d missed my stop. The stop was right across the street from my hotel—pretty easy to spot if you’re not asleep. So I tried to ask the bus driver if we’d passed the Park Inn. I didn’t speak Russian and he didn’t speak English, but he nonetheless made it very clear that passengers were not allowed to talk to him.
I was saved by a young Russian woman who overheard my distress. She tried to explain to me, in English, how to get back to the hotel (we had definitely already passed it), but perhaps seeing that her directions were not breaking through the fog of my panic, ended up getting off the bus with me at the next stop and drawing me a map. She had perfect winged eyeliner, and once she noticed my book, we talked about Game of Thrones for a while.