January 14, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 PM


On Immigration, Rubio Recycles Bush (SCOTT GALUPO, January 14, 2013, American Conservative)

To salvage some sort of positive news from the fiscal cliff deal, in which taxes went up but spending didn't go down, it was said that the real winner was George W. Bush--with 98 percent of his tax cuts having been made permanent. If that's the case, then Bush 43 is winning again. This time, on immigration.

Rising Republican star Sen. Marco Rubio revealed the basic outline of his stepwise plan to reform immigration law. The central question of any such proposal, of course, is how it deals with the 12 million or so undocumented workers who live here illegally: if not deport them, what then?

Rubio's plan, according to a Wall Street Journal interview, is as follows:

The special regime he envisions is a form of temporary limbo. "Assuming they haven't violated any of the conditions of that status," he says, the newly legalized person could apply for permanent residency, possibly leading to citizenship, after some years--but Mr. Rubio doesn't specify how many years.

If that sounds familiar, it should. It was a central element of the Bush plan and its McCain-Kennedy congressional vehicle. 

Ultimately, W's biggest problem turned out to be that he understood America better than it understood itself.   We are simply on a journey back to where he was leading us in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 PM


Shale Gas Will Fuel a U.S. Manufacturing Boom (Kevin Bullis, January 9, 2013, MIT Technology Review)

People predicting a manufacturing renaissance in the United States usually imagine whirring robots or advanced factories turning out wind turbines and solar panels. The real American edge might be in something entirely more mundane: cheap starting materials for plastic bottles and plastic bags.

The plummeting price of natural gas--which can be used to make a vast number of products, including tires, carpet, antifreeze, lubricants, cloth, and many types of plastic--is luring key industries to the United States. Just five years ago, natural-gas prices were so high that some chemical manufacturers were shutting down U.S. operations. Now the ability to access natural gas trapped in shale rock formations, using technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, has lowered American prices to a fraction of those in other countries (see "King Natural Gas").

Over the last 18 months, these low prices have prompted plans for the construction of new chemical plants to produce ethylene, ammonia for fertilizer, and diesel fuels. Dow Chemical, for example, plans to spend $4 billion to expand its U.S. chemicals production, including a new plant in Freeport, Texas, that's due to open in 2017. The plant will make ethylene from the ethane found in many sources of natural gas. (The last such plant to be built in the U.S. was completed in 2001.)

The impact of the resurgence is being felt most strongly in the $148 billion market for ethylene, the world's highest-volume chemical and the foundation for many other industries.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 PM


What Food Crisis? We Just Need To Make Use Of What We Have (Ben Schiller, Co.Exist)

The report, from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, a U.K. membership group, says we currently waste between 30% to 50% of all food generated--or up to 2.2 billion tons annually. In other words, we could make up much of the projected shortfall just by being more efficient.

"The potential to provide 60-100% more food by simply eliminating losses, while simultaneously freeing up land, energy and water resources for other uses, is an opportunity that should not be ignored," the report says.

The food waste problem varies according to the development level of the country. In fully industrialized countries, waste tends to occur further up the chain: with supermarkets that reject crops for appearance reasons, or consumers who buy too much and never use it. One U.K. study found that fully 46% of potatoes never made it to market; another found that 30% of all vegetables are never harvested. In the developed world, the problem--if it can be called that--is that food is too cheap. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


Defense Cuts Could Burst the D.C. Business Bubble (JOSH BOAK and ERIC PIANIN, 1/14/13, The Fiscal Times)

The Census Bureau reported that seven of the nation's ten richest counties surround the capital, with Loudon County in Virginia the best-off with a median household income of $119,134. [...]

For every federal procurement dollar, the Virginia-D.C. suburbs get 15 cents, according to data tracked by economists at George Mason University. The four Virginia congressional districts within a relatively short commute of the capital received $45 billion in defense contracts during 2011, according to the Center for Security Policy. These contracts bred wealth, but also vulnerability as efforts to foster other industries were stunted by the easy flow of government money.

Things may be even tougher if the debt ceiling talks fail and the sequestration part of the Budget Control Act takes effect. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is departing the administration, believes the Pentagon won't be able to escape the additional $50 billion of automatic defense spending cuts scheduled to take place this year under sequestration and has ordered a freeze on civilian hiring. That would cut about 10 percent of the Pentagon's non-war-fighting budget.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Information In America Moves 33,480,000 Times Faster Than It Did 200 Years Ago (Jason Torchinsky, Jalopnik)

It's a map of Post Roads, roads built and maintained for the primary purpose of giving mail carriers access to the country, as required by the constitution. This map is from 1804, and shows a surprisingly well-developed network of roads. What we're really looking at here, aside from being the great-grandfather of our national highway system, is the Internet of the early 1800s.

The post road network was how almost all information was exchanged in the US at the time. Like today, you could send an email, though the "e" then stood for "equine" and it was just mail and I've exhausted the possibilities of that stupid bit of wordplay. But you get the idea.

If we go along with the now/then speed computations I did with travel with information, and really, we may as well, the numbers get nice and ridiculous. Let's say a fresh, well-trained postal horse could run at 20 MPH, which means that's how fast one page of information (say, a one-kilobyte letter) could travel. A one kilobyte email travels at, oh, the speed of light, basically, so that's close to 670 million MPH.

So, that means information now travels at 33,480,000 times as fast. I hope everyone now appreciates just how damn quick we are now.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


Cory Booker faces backlash from New Jersey Democrats (Rachel Weiner, January 14, 2013, Washington Post)

Newark Mayor Cory Booker's decision to go ahead with a bid for for the seat held by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) has ruffled feathers in the state party. 

Lautenberg, 88, has yet to announce his own 2014 plans, and some see Booker's campaign as premature. 
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Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


The Placebo Phenomenon : An ingenious researcher finds the real ingredients of "fake" medicine (Cara Feinberg, January-February 2013, Harvard Magazine)

TWO WEEKS INTO Ted Kaptchuk's first randomized clinical drug trial, nearly a third of his 270 subjects complained of awful side effects. All the patients had joined the study hoping to alleviate severe arm pain: carpal tunnel, tendinitis, chronic pain in the elbow, shoulder, wrist. In one part of the study, half the subjects received pain-reducing pills; the others were offered acupuncture treatments. And in both cases, people began to call in, saying they couldn't get out of bed. The pills were making them sluggish, the needles caused swelling and redness; some patients' pain ballooned to nightmarish levels. "The side effects were simply amazing," Kaptchuk explains; curiously, they were exactly what patients had been warned their treatment might produce. But even more astounding, most of the other patients reported real relief, and those who received acupuncture felt even better than those on the anti-pain pill. These were exceptional findings: no one had ever proven that acupuncture worked better than painkillers. But Kaptchuk's study didn't prove it, either. The pills his team had given patients were actually made of cornstarch; the "acupuncture" needles were retractable shams that never pierced the skin. The study wasn't aimed at comparing two treatments. It was designed to compare two fakes.

Although Kaptchuk, an associate professor of medicine, has spent his career studying these mysterious human reactions, he doesn't argue that you can simply "think yourself better." "Sham treatment won't shrink tumors or cure viruses," he says.

But researchers have found that placebo treatments--interventions with no active drug ingredients--can stimulate real physiological responses, from changes in heart rate and blood pressure to chemical activity in the brain, in cases involving pain, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and even some symptoms of Parkinson's.