October 30, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 PM


Pirate attacks off Somalia plummet thanks to navies, armed guards (Mike Pflanz, October 30, 2012, CS Monitor)

As many as four in five vessels motoring through the Gulf of Aden or south past Somalia's coast now contract armed guards, roll barbed wire along deck railings, and carry powerful hoses, all as anti-piracy measures.

Piracy experts reckon that it is these new tactics that have made the most significant contribution to the reduction in successful attacks off Somalia in recent years.

In 2009, one in three ships that pirates targeted were successfully seized, their crew taken hostage. Now, that figure is closer to one in 20, according to Stig Jarle Hansen, a Norwegian piracy expert.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 PM


Presidential Race Dead Even; Romney Maintains Turnout Edge (Andy Kohut, 10/30/12, Pew Research)

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Oct. 24-28 among 1,678 registered voters, including 1,495 likely voters, finds Obama holding a statistically insignificant two-point edge among registered voters: 47% to 45%. This is little different from the 46% to 46% standoff among registered voters observed in early October, in the days following the first debate.

When the sample is narrowed to likely voters, the balance of opinion shifts slightly in Romney's direction, as it did in early October. This reflects Romney's turnout advantage over Obama, which could loom larger as Election Day approaches. In both October surveys, more Republicans and Republican leaners than Democrats and Democratic leaners are predicted to be likely voters. In September, the gap was more modest.

Indeed, surveys over the past month have found Republicans becoming much more upbeat about the race and about Mitt Romney himself. More Republicans now see the campaign as interesting and informative. And compared with September, a greater proportion of Romney voters now say they are voting for him rather than against Obama.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 PM


Do secondhand smoke laws prevent heart attacks? (Genevra Pittman, Oct 29, 2012, Reuters)

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota found that in the 18 months before the first ordinance was enacted, the rate of heart attacks in Olmsted County was 151 for every 100,000 people. By the 18 months following the second ordinance, that fell to 101 per 100,000 people.

Dr. Richard Hurt said a few other studies, including one from Montana, have also suggested smoke-free workplace laws could impact heart attack rates.

But, he told Reuters Health, "There have been lingering doubts among some people about whether or not this was a real finding. We think we have produced the most definitive results that anyone can produce related to smoke-free laws and heart attacks."

Hurt, who led the research, said other predictors of heart attacks - including cholesterol levels, blood pressure and diabetes and obesity rates - all held steady or increased in Olmsted County over the study period.

"The only thing that really changed here was the smoke-free workplace laws," he said.

About 3,600 municipalities have laws on the books that restrict where people may smoke, according to the American Nonsmokers Rights Foundation, with more than 1,000 including a smoke-free provision of some kind.

According to Hurt, the findings also make sense biologically. Exposure to secondhand smoke can cause immediate changes in the lining of the aorta, and can make blood platelets stickier - so they're more likely to form a dangerous clot.

The study is in line with the Institute of Medicine, which advises the U.S. government and said in a 2009 statement that, "data consistently demonstrates that secondhand-smoke exposure increases the risk of coronary heart disease and heart attacks and that smoking bans reduce this risk."

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


This Early Vote Calculation from Gallup Looks Terrible for Obama (David Weigel, Oct. 30, 2012, Slate)

As it conducted tracking polls (which have been paused for now), Gallup asked voters whether they'd cast ballots or intended to before election day.  The early voters broke 52-46 for Mitt Romney. The dawdling voters who would vote before election day were tied, 49-49. The voters waiting for November 6 broke for Romney, again, by a 6-point margin.

This would be easy to explain away if Obama had lagged in 2008's early vote. After all, this study includes votes in Georgia and Texas and other places that have broken away from Obama. But... in 2008, Obama was winning this vote. An identical Gallup study taken around the same time gave Obama a 53-43 lead with early voters and a 50-44 lead on voters who would wait for election day. 

...the Obama camp is turning out its die-hard voters early while the Romney camp is getting out the slackers.
Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM

Decorator's Dream Cookies  (Michael Knock, 10/30/12, Press Citizen)

This was the second recipe I tried. The first one tasted pretty good, but they just didn't look right. Thus, I went back to an old standby from the "King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion" book. It's a great cookbook with no photos and lots of great recipes. 

This is one of them. The dough comes out wonderfully smooth, and it rolls out like, well, like a decorator's dream. 

1 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water
3½ cups flour

Cream the butter, sugar and corn syrup until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and salt. Add the egg/water mixture and beat until smooth. Divide the dough in half. Place each half in a plastic bag, and flatten slightly. Refrigerate for an hour. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

On a lightly floured countertop, roll out one of the balls of dough to a thickness of about ¼ to 1/8-inch. Cut out the dough with a 3-inch cookie cutter. Transfer the cookies to an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake the cookies until they are lightly browned around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining dough. 

When the cookies are completely cool, you can start frosting them. 

This recipe made about 34 cookies when I made them. You'll get more or less depending on how thick you roll out the dough...
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Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


The Promise of a Romney Presidency (Ramesh Ponnuru Oct 29, 2012, Bloomberg)

Romney has been disappointingly vague about his health-care plans. But if elected, he will face enormous pressure to deliver on his promise to repeal Obama's health law, and legislation to that effect is unlikely to succeed unless Romney couples it with a conservative alternative. It is easy to picture what that would look like: Its most important feature would be a change in the tax treatment of health insurance to restrain costs and increase access.

Even if Romney fails to replace the health law, he can be expected to moderate it. The Obama administration's regulation forcing almost all employers to cover contraceptives -- even those that some employers reject as abortion drugs -- would go. The U.S. would remain a country where access to contraception is easy, but also one that respects the autonomy of religious institutions.

-- The budget. Raising taxes on high earners would narrow America's future deficits a bit, while also reducing economic growth. For the most part, though, closing the fiscal gap is a question of how much to raise middle-class taxes, how much to reduce the growth of middle-class benefits, and how to go about doing both.
I would prefer to do all the work on the spending side of the budget. There's a paternalistic case for taking some money from the middle class and giving it back later. That way, nobody ends up destitute through foolish choices or bad luck. That case has a built-in limit: We shouldn't raise people's taxes in order to give them back even more money than needed to avoid poverty.

But enacting deficit reduction might require a bipartisan deal, and thus a compromise that raises taxes and cuts spending. The compromise will probably look better if Romney is president because those who want to keep taxes and spending down will have more bargaining power.

That is partly because Romney has taken the wiser position on entitlements. He believes the growth of Social Security benefit levels should be restrained, especially for affluent retirees, to match the program's revenue. He wants to let health-insurance plans compete for Medicare recipients' business on the theory that it will improve the quality of care and restrict costs. These steps may not be sufficient to the challenge of rising entitlement expenses -- the U.S. also probably needs to change benefit levels for today's Medicare recipients, something both candidates are denying -- but they would vastly improve our long-term fiscal health.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


The return of Bain Capital (ALEXANDER BURNS and MAGGIE HABERMAN | 10/29/12, Politico)

[W]ith a little over a week left in the race, several of the Democrats' top independent spenders are leaning hard into the Bain message, eschewing a pure policy message for a gut-punch reminder that the former Massachusetts governor made his fortune through controversial deals in the private-equity industry.

The late emphasis on Bain, Democratic strategists say, reflects both the potency of Bain as an attack against Romney in general...

...but you can in a week?

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


NPR Poll Finds Presidential Race Too Close To Call (RON ELVING and MARA LIASSON, 10/30/12, NPR)

The poll was the third conducted by this year's iteration of the NPR bipartisan polling team. The Republican pollster Whit Ayres of Resurgent Republic was joined in the effort by Democratic counterpart Stan Greenberg of Democracy Corps (and the firm of Greenberg, Quinlan & Rosner). Their joint report was based on interviews with 1,000 likely voters conducted from Tuesday through Thursday last week (Oct. 23-25). The margin of error for such a poll is 3 percentage points for the national sample and 4.5 percentage points for the smaller sub-sample (462 respondents) in the battleground states.

Four weeks earlier, just before the first debate in Denver, the NPR team produced a report showing the president ahead by 7 points nationally and by 6 points in the battleground. That poll included a higher-than-usual elevated number of respondents who identified themselves as Democrats (7 points more than Republicans). The current poll shows those identifying with each of the two major parties to be closer to even (4 points).

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


The president who seems not to care (Richard Cohen, October 29, 2012, Washington Post)

One of the more melancholy moments of the presidential campaign occurred for me in a screening room. The film was Rory Kennedy's documentary about her mother, Ethel -- the widow of Robert F. Kennedy. Much of it consisted of Kennedy-family home movies, but also film of RFK in Appalachia and in Mississippi among the pitifully emaciated poor. Kennedy brimmed with shock and indignation, with sorrow and sympathy, and was determined -- you could see it on his face -- to do something about it. I've never seen that look on Barack Obama's face.

Instead, I see a failure to embrace all sorts of people, even members of Congress and the business community. I see diffidence, a reluctance to close. I see a president for whom Afghanistan is not just a war but a metaphor for his approach to politics: He approved a surge but also an exit date. Heads I win, tails you lose.

I once wondered if Obama could be another RFK. The president has great political skills and a dazzling smile. He and his wife are glamorous figures. He's a black man, and that matters greatly.

At the end of the day, it's all that ever mattered.  It enabled folks like Mr. Cohen to convince themselves that Barack Obama was someone he manifestly never was.