February 11, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Hispanic Support for Obama Was No Sure Thing (Charlie Cook, 2/11/13, National Journal)

 In January 2012, Obama's approval rating among Latinos stood at only 55 percent, 12 points below his share of the 2008 Latino vote. During 2011, his rating among this group dropped as low as 48 percent, with a 41 percent disapproval rating. In other words, Obama's big electoral win among Latino voters, who made up 14 percent of his total vote according to national exit polls, was not a foregone conclusion.

For much of the president's first term, grumbling among Latino voters was considerable. The jobless rate was significantly higher among Hispanics than the population as a whole; indeed, the Latino unemployment rate was at 12 percent or higher for 20 of 24 months during Obama's first two years in office; it was in double digits for 45 of the entire 48 months. Not that many blamed Obama for a recession that began before his election, but who could fault Hispanics for feeling disaffected or less-than-energized about his reelection?

And although Hispanics took offense at much of the rhetoric emanating from many conservatives and certain Republicans at the time, the deportation rate of undocumented workers was running at a higher rate in the first three years of Obama's presidency than it had during George W. Bush's administration. Given the key role that Latinos had played in Obama's 2008 win, this particular leg of his coalition looked pretty wobbly just a year and a half before Election Day.

Little wonder that when pollsters, including Gallup, Peter Hart and Bill McInturff for NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, and others, asked Latino voters eight or nine months ago how enthusiastic they were about voting or how likely they were to vote, the response was like the sound of one hand clapping. It looked as if Obama might not only get a lower percentage of the Latino vote""that is, winning it but by an unimpressive margin""but that turnout among this key group might be lower as well.

So what happened? The president's trial-heat matchups against Romney and other potential Republican challengers were always better than Obama's often underwhelming approval ratings. Romney only exacerbated this lack of enthusiasm for the GOP by suggesting that some Hispanics might consider "self-deportation" and by making other clumsy moves as he sought to outflank Texas Gov. Rick Perry on the right during their party's presidential primaries. So to a certain extent, Romney's troubles were self-inflicted.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


Sequester debate offers House Republicans chance at redemption (Judd Gregg, 02/11/13, The Hill)

From the summer of 2011 until the end of 2012, House Republicans effectively removed themselves as an entity that the American people could look to for anything other than dysfunction and chaotic misdirection.

They were not seen as contributing to the process of leading the nation. To most folks on Main Street, they seemed irresponsible and destructive.

After the year-end "fiscal cliff" debacle, it did not look like much would change as the backbench breast-beaters talked with great bravado about how they would not allow a debt-ceiling extension. This was a course of assured self-destruction.

The national media, joined by a president panting for the chance for payback, were waiting to annihilate any remaining credibility Republicans had as stewards of the government. Little Big Horn would have looked like a win for Custer compared to what would have happened to the House Republicans had they chosen to fight on the debt ceiling.

It was therefore something of a delight to see a sudden burst of strategic reason prevail as the House Republicans turned their attention away from the debt ceiling and toward the sequester.

There will never be a better chance for Republicans to accomplish their goal of containing the rate of growth of spending than is now presented by using the sequester as the vehicle of leverage.

Posted by orrinj at 2:00 PM


Pope Benedict's resignation: a stunning shock : As John Paul II's right-hand man, he watched a papacy fall into decrepitude. Benedict may have had no wish to follow suit (Andrew Brown, 2/11/13, Guardian)

During the decrepitude of John Paul II, Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, was his right-hand man. It may be that his experience then planted in him a wish to leave office while he was still able to discharge his duties. Modern medicine does not work well with autocratic regimes traditionally renewed by death or disease, and the papacy remains the last absolute monarchy in Europe.

In Benedict's resignation statement can be seen an implied rebuke to his predecessor, who argued that clinging to life and power for as long as possible was itself a form of witness to Christ's suffering. Benedict, however, says: "I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today's world ... both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me."

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


Pope Benedict XVI to Resign (KEVIN DOLAK, Feb. 11, 2013, ABC News)

Pope Benedict XVI announced today that he will resign Feb. 28, saying his role requires "both strength of mind and body."

The pope's decision makes him the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years. A conclave to elect a new pope will take place before the end of March. The 85-year-old pope announced the decision to resign in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals.

The Reformation rolls on...

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Obama's Turn in Bush's Bind (PETER BAKER, 2/10/13, NY Times)

If President Obama tuned in to the past week's bracing debate on Capitol Hill about terrorism, executive power, secrecy and due process, he might have recognized the arguments his critics were making: He once made some of them himself.

Four years into his tenure, the onetime critic of President George W. Bush finds himself cast as a present-day Mr. Bush, justifying the muscular application of force in the defense of the nation while detractors complain that he has sacrificed the country's core values in the name of security.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


IBM's Watson Gets Its First Piece Of Business In Healthcare (Bruce Upbin, 2/08/13, Forbes)

[H]ospitals and health care networks who sign up will be able to buy or rent Watson's advice from the cloud or their own server. Over the past two years, IBM's researchers have shrunk Watson from the size of a master bedroom to a pizza-box-sized server that can fit in any data center. And they improved its processing speed by 240%. Now what was once was a fun computer-science experiment in natural language processing is becoming a real business for IBM and Wellpoint, which is the exclusive reseller of the technology for now. Initial customers include WestMed Practice Partners and the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine & Blood Disorders.

Even before the Jeopardy! success, IBM began to hatch bigger plans for Watson and there are few areas more in need of supercharged decision-support than health care. Doctors and nurses are drowning in information with new research, genetic data, treatments and procedures popping up daily. They often don't know what to do, and are guessing as well as they can. WellPoint's chief medical officer Samuel Nussbaum said at the press event today that health care pros make accurate treatment decisions in lung cancer cases only 50% of the time (a shocker to me). Watson, since being trained in this  medical specialty, can make accurate decisions 90% of the time. Patients, of course, need 100% accuracy, but making the leap from being right half the time to being right 9 out of ten times will be a huge boon for patient care. The best part is the potential for distributing the intelligence anywhere via the cloud, right at the point of care. This could be the most powerful tool we've seen to date for improving care and lowering everyone's costs via standardization and reduced error. Chris Coburn, the Cleveland Clinic's executive director for innovations, said at the event that he fully expects Watson to be widely deployed wherever the Clinic does business by 2020.