January 28, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Secret Group in House Finalizing Plan for Immigration Reform (John Parkinson, 1/28/13, ABC)

As a group of senators unveil their bipartisan proposal for immigration reform today and President Obama heads west this week to rally support for his own ideas, a separate bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives is on the verge of finalizing its own designs for comprehensive immigration reform.

The discussions, which top aides close to the talks discussed on the condition that they not be identified, are described as "Washington's best-kept secret."

Last week, House Speaker John Boehner spilled the beans on the secret group, revealing that the lawmakers had been "meeting for three or four years now" and that they are almost ready to present their proposals publicly.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Israel gave birth control to Ethiopian Jews without their consent (ALISTAIR DAWBER, SUNDAY 27 JANUARY 2013, Independent)

Israel has admitted for the first time that it has been giving Ethiopian Jewish immigrants birth-control injections, often without their knowledge or consent.

The government had previously denied the practice but the Israeli Health Ministry's director-general has now ordered gynaecologists to stop administering the drugs. According a report in Haaretz, suspicions were first raised by an investigative journalist, Gal Gabbay, who interviewed more than 30 women from Ethiopia in an attempt to discover why birth rates in the community had fallen dramatically.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Democrats, tea party unite vs. Mitch McConnell (Manu Raju, January 28, 2013, Politico)

Tea party activists looking to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a GOP primary may get some help from an unlikely source: Democrats.

Big Democratic donors, local liberal activists and a left-leaning super PAC in Kentucky are telling tea partiers that they are poised to throw financial and organizational support behind a right-wing candidate should one try to defeat the powerful GOP leader in a 2014 primary fight.

The idea: Soften up McConnell and make him vulnerable in a general election in Kentucky, where Democrats still maintain a voter registration advantage. Or better yet, in their eyes: Watch Kentucky GOP primary voters nominate the 2014 version of Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock, weak candidates who may actually lose.

"We are doing a lot of reaching out to some of the tea party folks across the state," said Keith Rouda, a field organizer with the liberal group MoveOn and the Democratic super PAC, Progress Kentucky. "What we're finding -- at least in this stage of the race -- we're finding that our interests align"

They could hardly be more natural allies.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Senators hope to approve bipartisan immigration reform within months (Michael O'Brien, 1/28/13, NBC News)

The major development involves the pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers that would be established under the Senate plan. Conservatives have resisted similar proposals -- even when they were proposed by President George W. Bush -- and labeled them as "amnesty" for individuals who entered the United States illegally.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said that Americans "have been too content for too long" to allow many undocumented workers to provide basic services "while not affording them any of the benefits that make our country so great."

"It is not beneficial to this country to have these people here, hidden in the shadows," added McCain, whose own experience on the issue of immigration provides an instructive example of why immigration reform has been so elusive for Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


David Attenborough's demographic determinism : The TV naturalist is still banging on about there being 'too many people', just when others fret about declining population. (Patrick Hayes, 1/28/13, spiked)

David Attenborough has interesting timing. Just as reports were being published last week warning that the population of the human race is projected to decline, the TV naturalist declared that humans are a 'plague on the Earth' and that the growth of the 'enormous horde' that makes up the population must be curbed or things will get 'worse and worse'.

Attenborough and his Malthusian colleagues at Population Matters - the 'working name' of the sinister-sounding Optimum Population Trust - have long liked to cite statistical evidence to suggest that drastic curbs need to be made to population growth, lest we bring about the apocalypse. And, like the Reverend Thomas Malthus - one of their most notorious forebears in citing dodgy science to predict doomsday scenarios - time and again they underestimate the capacity for human beings to innovate and find creative solutions to any resource shortages.

But now it seems even the data may be against them, with recent research suggesting that population growth is slowing and could peak at about 10 billion during the middle of the century, before dropping over the coming centuries. These findings have even led one writer to hint at the start of an underpopulation panic; 'we could be looking at the literal extinction of humanity', he writes.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


On verge of "difficult" free-trade negotiations (Robin Emmott, 1/26/13, Reuters) 

The United States and the European Union are wrapping up final preparations for talks on a free-trade agreement that would encompass half the world's economic output, Europe's trade chief said on Saturday, while warning of "difficult negotiations."

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht will travel to Washington on February 5 to put the finishing touches on a joint EU-U.S. report. He gave his clearest signal yet that Brussels and Washington are ready to embark on the accord.

"Essentially the report is ready. I will go to Washington to discuss a couple of small items and for a final reading. But essentially we're on the same page," De Gucht told Reuters in an interview in the Chilean capital Santiago.

If it results in a deal, the UR will have some legacy besides continuing W's democratization of the Middle East and the Heritage Foundation's health care mandate.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


The quiet liberal plans for entitlement reform  (David Nather, January 27, 2013, Politico)

Here are the highlights of the Democratic entitlement reform menu:

Social Security: 'Chained CPI'

Savings: $112 billion

The idea is to change the way the government figures out how much more seniors should get in Social Security benefits each year to account for changes in their cost of living.

This new formula -- a tweak to the consumer price index -- would assume that people switch their buying habits when prices rise, rather than just buying the same things over and over. So, for example, if the price of ground beef goes up, someone might buy chicken or fish instead.

The result: Social Security benefits will rise more slowly.

Obama has offered the change before -- he supported it during his fiscal cliff talks with Republicans in December. And two think tanks that supply ideas to the Democrats -- the liberal Center for American Progress and the more centrist Third Way -- have included it in their Social Security plans, giving Obama plenty of cover in case he decides to go that way again. [...]

Social Security: Lift cap on taxable earnings 

Revenues: $500 billion or more

Even if the Democrats accept chained CPI, they're going to want some goodies in return. One big one: Let the highest earners pay more Social Security payroll taxes.

Right now, employers and workers only pay those payroll taxes on the first $113,700 of income. [...]

Social Security: Change the benefit formula

Savings: Would close half of Social Security shortfall

Another big item on the liberals' agenda would be to change the way Social Security is distributed -- giving more to low-income seniors and less to high-income seniors.

Both CAP and Third Way have proposed the option, which they say would strengthen Social Security's role as a safety net for vulnerable seniors while giving the higher-income ones more incentive to save for their own retirement. It also acknowledges that the seniors who live the longest tend to be the people with high incomes and education levels, according to Van de Water. [...]

Medicare: Expanded means testing

Savings: $20 billion

Obama has said he won't consider Medicare changes that would shift costs to seniors, but an expansion of the program's means testing is the one benefit cut Democrats have hinted they might accept -- because it would hit wealthier seniors and spare the rest.

There's already some means testing of premiums for Medicare coverage of doctors and prescription drugs, thanks to Obamacare and the 2003 law that created the Medicare prescription drug program. The version that Obama proposed in his 2011 deficit plan, and could put on the table again, would extend that means testing to charge higher premiums and hit a larger group of seniors.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


Euro and trade will make EU irrelevant : Appeal will diminish amid a eurozone economic union and transatlantic free-trade zone (Wolfgang Münchau)

Then there is pressure from outside the eurozone, from proponents of a transatlantic free-trade area. The idea is not new but there has been some buzz about it recently because the US and EU are both keen on developing the idea.

The most important consequence of a free-trade area would not be the abolition of tariffs. These are not very high to begin with. It is that it would allow products regulated in one jurisdiction to be traded freely elsewhere in the zone without further regulatory impediment.

Hammering out such a treaty would not be easy. It is not that clear whether the Europeans, for example, would allow the import of genetically modified organisms. But the geostrategic and economic case for a transatlantic single market is overwhelming. At a time when many people are concerned about the decline of the wider North Atlantic region, the two largest economies would come together and create a de facto single economic zone, covering about 50 per cent of global economic output.

Even if Britain were outside the EU, it would without a doubt be a member of such a zone. So there can be no question of it being cut off from trade.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Carrots for Doctors (BILL KELLER, 1/28/13, NY Times)

WITH its ambitious proposal to pay doctors in public hospitals based on the quality of their work -- not the number of tests they order, pills they prescribe or procedures they perform -- New York City has hopped aboard the biggest bandwagon in health care. Pay for performance, or P4P in the jargon, is embraced by right and left. It has long been the favorite egghead prescription for our absurdly overpriced, underperforming health care system. The logic seems unassailable: Reward quality, and you will get quality. Stop rewarding waste, and you will get less waste. QED! P4P!

If only it worked.

For if you spend a little time with the P4P skeptics -- a data-bearing minority among physicians and health economists -- you will come away full of doubts. In practice, pay for performance does little to improve outcomes or to control costs. [...]

Instead of leverage, P4P employs incentives. Reduce the length of stay for acute-care patients, cut the rate of readmission for pneumonia cases, make sure heart-attack victims get a talk about diet before they are discharged, and you stand to find a little windfall in your paycheck.

Critics, who have evidence from a host of pilot programs, say that the bonuses are typically too small to change behavior; New York's would be a maximum of 2.5 percent of a doctor's salary, and most P4P programs pay less than that.

The carrot has to be that the money you don't spend on health care is yours to save and or spend on useful things.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Is America in decline? (Robert J. Samuelson, January 27, 2013, Washington Post)

For starters, the U.S. economy is still the world's largest by a long shot. Gross domestic product (GDP) is almost $16 trillion, "nearly double the second largest (China), 2.5 times the third largest (Japan)." Per capita GDP is about $50,000; although 10 other countries have higher figures, most of the countries are small -- say, Luxembourg. The size of the U.S. market makes it an attractive investment location.

Next, natural resources. In a world ravenous for food and energy, the United States has plenty of both. Its arable land is five times China's and nearly twice Brazil's. The advances in "fracking" and horizontal drilling have opened vast natural gas and oil reserves that, until recently, seemed too expensive to develop. The International Energy Agency predicts that the United States will become the world's largest oil producer -- albeit temporarily -- by 2020.

In turn, the oil and gas boom bolsters employment. A study by IHS , a consulting firm, estimates that it has already created 1.7 million direct and indirect jobs. By 2020, there should be 1.3 million more, reckons IHS. Secure and inexpensive natural gas also encourages an expansion of U.S. manufacturing, Goldman argues. That's another plus.

Poorly skilled workers are often counted as a U.S. economic liability. Goldman's perspective is different. American workers will remain younger and more energetic than their rapidly aging rivals. By 2050, workers' median age in China and Japan will be about 50, a decade higher than in America. Moreover, the United States attracts motivated immigrants, including "highly educated talent." A Gallup survey of 151 countries found the United States was the top choice for those wanting to move, at 23 percent. At 7 percent, the United Kingdom was second.

Finally, Goldman expects the United States to remain the leader in innovation. America performs the largest amount of research and development (31 percent of the global total in 2012) and has more of the best universities (29 out of the top 50, according to one British ranking).