November 23, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Why immigration reform didn't happen in 2007 (Sean Higgins, November 20, 2012, The Examiner)

Now that immigration reform is back in the news, it is worth looking back at what exactly happened in that last failed effort.

Kennedy and McCain had tried to get a bill going in 2005 and 2006 without much success. Most Republicans were automatically opposed to anything that smacked of amnesty -- like the bill's pathway to legalization for existing immigrants. But in 2007, the Democrats regained control of the House. That meant -- in theory, anyway -- the main obstacle was a GOP Senate filibuster. But a deal arose with the support of several moderate and even conservative Republicans, such as Arizona's Jon Kyl.

It was at this point that many on the Left began to step away. Frank Sharry, who was then executive director of the National Immigration Forum, told The Washington Examiner that although conservative opposition was the biggest stumbling block, there were also "divisions on the Left."

"There was little mobilization in support of the bill," Sharry said. Organized labor was split. The Service Employees International Union favored a deal. But the larger AFL-CIO opposed guest-worker programs, which were expanded in the bill to win Big Business and GOP support.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Another Republican lawmaker ditches Norquist tax pledge (Meghashyam Mali,11/22/12, The Hill)
Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) on Wednesday said that addressing the nation's looming "fiscal cliff" took precedence over honoring the anti-tax pledge he signed for conservative activist Grover Norquist.

"I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge," said Chambliss to local Georgia television station 13WMAZ. 
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Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Another Republican lawmaker ditches Norquist tax pledge (Meghashyam Mali,11/22/12, The Hill)
Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) on Wednesday said that addressing the nation's looming "fiscal cliff" took precedence over honoring the anti-tax pledge he signed for conservative activist Grover Norquist.

"I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge," said Chambliss to local Georgia television station 13WMAZ. 
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Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


Antifragile: How to Live in a World We Don't Understand by Nassim Nicholas Taleb - review (David Runciman, 11/21/12, The Guardian)

[A]ntifragile jumps around from aphorism to anecdote to technical analysis, interspersed with a certain amount of hectoring encouragement to the reader to keep up. The aim, apparently, is to show how much more interesting an argument can be if it resists being pinned down.

There are two problems with this. First, the book is very hard going. Everything is taken to link to everything else but nothing is ever followed through. Taleb despises mere "theorists" but still aspires to produce a theory of everything. So what we get are lots of personal reminiscences buttressed by the ideas of the few thinkers he respects, almost all of whom happen to be his friends. The result is both solipsistic and ultimately dispiriting. Reading this book is the intellectual equivalent of having to sit patiently while someone shows you their holiday snaps.

The other difficulty is that too many of the ideas contained here appear thin and brittle rather than rich and flexible: fragile rather than antifragile. Taleb is keen on "heuristics" - shortcuts to wisdom that encapsulate human experience - but often these seem simply to reflect his own prejudices. To take just one example: Taleb thinks modern states become fragile when they get into debt, and that a prerequisite of political antifragility is rigid fiscal conservatism. This is nonsense. Eschewing debt makes states just as fragile as having too much of it. The durability of both the British and American states throughout their history has depended on their ability to use public debt to adapt to different challenges. As political analysis, Taleb's heuristic - "when you don't have debt you don't care about your reputation ... and somehow it's only when you don't care about your reputation that you tend to have a good one" - is glib and unconvincing.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 AM


Poetic justice: Romney likely to finish at 47 percent (Greg Sargent, 11/22/12, Washington Post)

When all the votes are counted, could Mitt Romney really end up achieving perfect poetic justice by finishing with 47 percent of the national vote? Yup. Dave Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report says new votes in from Maryland put Romney at 47.56 percent. He predicts with certainty that with all of New York and California counted, Romney will end up below 47.5 percent of the vote.

Rounded, of course, that would put the final tally at 51-47.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 AM


Cancer Survivor or Victim of Overdiagnosis? (H. GILBERT WELCH, 11/22/12, NY Times)

So here is what we now know: the mortality benefit of mammography is much smaller, and the harm of overdiagnosis much larger, than has been previously recognized.

But to be honest, that general message has been around for more than a decade. Why isn't it getting more traction?

The reason is that no other medical test has been as aggressively promoted as mammograms -- efforts that have gone beyond persuasion to guilt and even coercion ("I can't be your doctor if you don't get one"). And proponents have used the most misleading screening statistic there is: survival rates. A recent Komen foundation campaign typifies the approach: "Early detection saves lives. The five-year survival rate for breast cancer when caught early is 98 percent. When it's not? It decreases to 23 percent."

Survival rates always go up with early diagnosis: people who get a diagnosis earlier in life will live longer with their diagnosis, even if it doesn't change their time of death by one iota. And diagnosing cancer in people whose "cancer" was never destined to kill them will inflate survival rates -- even if the number of deaths stays exactly the same. In short, tell everyone they have cancer, and survival will skyrocket.

Indeed, if we had a massive public health campaign to tell everyone that cancer is a natural part of being human it might destigmatize the condition enough that folks would calm down and deal with it rationally.
Posted by orrinj at 4:39 AM


'Power of One' author Bryce Courtenay dies at 79 : Derided by critics and adored by the public, Bryce Courtenay, the shrewd advertising executive who became Australia's most popular author (Jonathan Pearlman, Sydney3:56AM GMT 23 Nov 2012, The Telegraph)

Born in Johannesburg in 1933, he is said to have based The Power of One on his troubled childhood. He was the illegitimate child of a dressmaker, Maude Greer, and a clothing salesman, Arthur Ryder, who lived with his wife and their five children. He spent several years in an orphanage shortly after his birth and later claimed that he overcame brutal beatings by learning to box and tell stories. He claimed he was "one of the most applied and academically gifted children the school has seen" but was banished from the country after teaching literacy to black people.

Though various elements of his biography have been challenged - including tales of accidental encounters with Stephen King, Clive James and Germaine Greer - he admitted falsifying aspects of his life but never for personal or financial gain. And he denied claims by his sister that he lied about his difficult upbringing in South Africa.

Courtenay's 21st and final book, Jack of Diamonds, was released in Australia on November 12. He was married to Benita for 40 years - before their divorce in 2000 - and the pair had three sons. His 1993 bestseller April Fool's Day, was a tribute to his youngest son, Damon, who contracted HIV/Aids via an infected blood transfusion in 1991 and died at the age of 24.

In one of his final interviews, he claimed that he tried to be honest but that ultimately the "only thing that is authentic about what a writer writes is his work."
"My job, and that's my job, is to dress the naked truth," he told ABC Television.

"To make it interesting, to make it viable, to make it seem like something you understand and feel and love."

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Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


Higher Gas-Tax Idea Joins Fiscal-Cliff Talks (JOSH MITCHELL, 11/23/12, WSJ)

The federal gas tax was last raised in 1993 and 1990, each time as part of a deficit-reduction plan. After failing for years to overcome public opposition, supporters of another increase see the current talks as a once-in-a-generation chance to raise the tax, which finances highway and transit construction.

The U.S. government spends roughly $52 billion a year on highway and transit projects, but the gasoline tax is generating only about $37 billion annually. That has created a roughly $15 billion annual shortfall that Congress has filled in recent years by taking money from the government's general fund, adding to the budget deficit. Transportation experts say that without a permanent fix, the shortfall will widen with declines in gasoline consumption as Americans drive more fuel-efficient autos and use other means of transportation.

"Anybody in the transportation community's been talking about a need to raise the fuel tax for many years now," said Bill Graves, head of the American Trucking Associations, which represents truckers. "No one [in Congress] wants to publicly acknowledge it, no one wants to publicly go there. But privately they all they get it."

The gas-tax revenue is distributed to states to finance transportation projects, such as repaving highways and building new subway stations. Business groups supporting an increase say these projects create jobs, reduce traffic congestion and speed the transport of workers and goods, helping the economy.

The 2010 Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission proposed raising the gas tax as part of a broad deficit-reduction plan.

It's especially important to be able to raise the consumption tax as the price falls.

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