The fiscal cliff deal handed Democrats a tax victory years in the making, but it also means the party will need a new playbook for the budget battles that lie ahead.That's because many Democrats readily acknowledge that they've exhausted their ability to raise taxes on the richest Americans by jacking up their rates.
The writer Lawrence Wright doesn't seem at all the sort of person you'd find in public wearing a black cowboy shirt emblazoned with big white buffalos. He's shy, soft-spoken, a little professorial. But as if he didn't have enough to do, besides working on three plays simultaneously and getting ready to publish a new book in two weeks, Mr. Wright has been taking piano lessons with Floyd Domino, the two-time Grammy winner, and on a recent Saturday, in his buffalo shirt, he played in a concert at the Victory Grill here with the band WhoDo. Mr. Wright was at the keyboard, and sang solo on "Sixty-Minute Man" and the Count Basie tune "She's Funny That Way." Not bad for a bookworm."I decided a while ago that I would only do things that are really important or really fun," Mr. Wright said. "This is really fun."More fun, probably, than dealing with lawyers. His new book, "Going Clear: Scientology, Celebrity, and the Prison of Belief" (Knopf) is about the famously litigious Church of Scientology, and he said he has received innumerable threatening letters from lawyers representing the church or some of the celebrities who belong to it. [...]Mr. Wright, whose previous book, "The Looming Tower:" Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007, is no stranger to writing about secretive organizations. In the case of Scientology, he said, he had been looking for what he calls a "donkey" -- a character strong and sympathetic enough to carry a complicated story. "I don't mean it in a disparaging way," he explained. "A donkey is a very useful beast of burden." In 2010 he finally found one in Paul Haggis, the winner of back-to-back Oscars for "Million Dollar Baby," which he wrote, and "Crash," which he wrote and directed, who defected from Scientology in 2009, after 34 years in the church, during which he rose to one of its highest ranks.In 2011 Mr. Wright published a profile of Mr. Haggis in The New Yorker, and in the course of the fact-checking process Tommy Davis, the international spokesman for Scientology, did Mr. Wright an unwitting favor. He showed up in The New Yorker offices with four lawyers and 47 white binders full of material about the church."I suppose the idea was to drown me in information," Mr. Wright recalled, "but it was like trying to pour water on a fish. I looked on those binders with a feeling of absolute joy."
The meta-analysis, published this week in The Journal of the American Medical Association, reviewed data from nearly a hundred large epidemiological studies to determine the correlation between body mass and mortality risk. The results ought to stun anyone who assumes the definition of "normal" or "healthy" weight used by our public health authorities is actually supported by the medical literature.The study, by Katherine M. Flegal and her associates at the C.D.C. and the National Institutes of Health, found that all adults categorized as overweight and most of those categorized as obese have a lower mortality risk than so-called normal-weight individuals. If the government were to redefine normal weight as one that doesn't increase the risk of death, then about 130 million of the 165 million American adults currently categorized as overweight and obese would be re-categorized as normal weight instead.To put some flesh on these statistical bones, the study found a 6 percent decrease in mortality risk among people classified as overweight and a 5 percent decrease in people classified as Grade 1 obese, the lowest level (most of the obese fall in this category). This means that average-height women -- 5 feet 4 inches -- who weigh between 108 and 145 pounds have a higher mortality risk than average-height women who weigh between 146 and 203 pounds. For average-height men -- 5 feet 10 inches -- those who weigh between 129 and 174 pounds have a higher mortality risk than those who weigh between 175 and 243 pounds.
The vanishing comparative advantage of Asian cheap labor isn't the only reason for companies to question offshore manufacturing. Natural catastrophes can occur anywhere, but the risks of long supply lines became apparent in 2011, when the Japanese earthquake and tsunami interrupted shipments of computer chips and floods in Thailand left disk-drive factories under 10 feet of water. Meanwhile, higher oil prices have quietly raised the cost of shipping goods. And a bonanza of cheap natural gas has made the U.S. a relatively cheap place to manufacture many basic chemicals and is providing industries with an inexpensive source of power.The kind of manufacturing in which labor costs are most important isn't ever coming back from low-wage countries (assembling five million iPhones for a product launch can still only be done in China), but the recent economic shifts are giving companies a chance to adjust course. One major line of thinking, the one most vocally endorsed by the White House, is that the U.S. should focus its efforts on advances in the technology of manufacturing itself--the set of new ideas, factory innovations, and processes that are also the focus of this month's MIT Technology Review business report.The U.S. holds advantages in many advanced technologies, such as simulation and digital design, the use of "big data," and nanotechnology. All of these can play a valuable role in creating innovative new manufacturing processes (and not just products). Andrew McAfee, a researcher at MIT's Sloan School of Business, says it's also hard to ignore coming changes like robots in warehouses, trucks that drive themselves, and additive manufacturing technologies that can create a complex airplane part for the price of a simple one. The greater the capital investment in automation, the less labor costs may matter.