Monday, December 31, 2012

Chinese Physicists Smash Distance Record For Teleportation

The ability to teleport photons through 100 kilometres of free space opens the way for satellite-based quantum communications, say researchers

Teleportation is the extraordinary ability to transfer objects from one location to another without travelling through the intervening space.  

The idea is not that the physical object is teleported but the information that describes it. This can then be applied to a similar object in a new location which effectively takes on the new identity. 

And it is by no means science fiction. Physicists have been teleporting photons since 1997 and the technique is now standard in optics laboratories all over the world. 

The phenomenon that makes this possible is known as quantum entanglement,  the deep and mysterious link that occurs when two quantum objects share the same existence and yet are separated in space. 

Teleportation turns out to be extremely useful. Because teleported information does not travel through the intervening space, it cannot be secretly accessed by an eavesdropper. 

For that reason, teleportation is the enabling technology behind quantum cryptography, a way of sending information with close-to-perfect secrecy. 

Unfortunately, entangled photons are fragile objects. They cannot travel further than a kilometre or so down optical fibres because the photons end up interacting with the glass breaking the entanglement. That severely limits quantum cryptography’s usefulness. 

However, physicists have had more success teleporting photons through the atmosphere. In 2010, a Chinese team announced that it had teleported single photons over a distance of 16 kilometres. Handy but not exactly Earth-shattering.

Now the same team says it has smashed this record. Juan Yin at the University of Science and Technology of China in Shanghai, and a bunch of mates say they have teleported entangled photons over a distance of 97 kilometres across a lake in China.   

That’s an impressive feat for several reasons. The trick these guys have perfected is to find a way to use a 1.3 Watt laser and some fancy optics to beam the light and receive it. 

Inevitably photons get lost and entanglement is destroyed in such a process. Imperfections in the optics and air turbulence account for some of these losses but the biggest problem is beam widening (they did the experiment at an altitude of about 4000 metres). Since the beam spreads out as it travels, many of the photons simply miss the target altogether. 

So the most important advance these guys have made is to develop a steering mechanism using a guide laser that keeps the beam precisely on target. As a result, they were able to teleport more than 1100 photons in 4 hours over a distance of 97 kilometres.  

That’s interesting because it’s the same channel attenuation that you’d have to cope with when beaming photons to a satellite with, say, 20 centimetre optics orbiting at about 500 kilometres. “The successful quantum teleportation over such channel losses in combination with our high-frequency and high-accuracy [aiming] technique show the feasibility of satellite-based ultra-long-distance quantum teleportation,” say Juan and co.

So these guys clearly have their eye on the possibility of satellite-based quantum cryptography which would provide ultra secure communications around the world. That’s in stark contrast to the few kilometres that are possible with commercial quantum cryptography gear.

Of course, data rates are likely to be slow and the rapidly emerging technology of quantum repeaters will extend the reach of ground-based quantum cryptography so that it could reach around the world, in principle at least. 

But a perfect, satellite-based security system might be a useful piece of kit to have on the roof of an embassy or distributed among the armed forces. 

Something for western security experts to think about.

Sean Hannity was One of the Big Losers in the 2012 Election

Right-wing Fox News host lost half his audience in the weeks after Obama's win 

In a fitting coda to 2012, we’ve learned that the ratings for rock-ribbed conservative Sean Hannity cratered after Barack Obama won his second term, with viewers tuning out the Fox News Channel talk-show host in droves.

According to Nielsen numbers, Hannity lost around half of his audience in the weeks after the election, while his Fox News colleague Bill O’Reilly — who steadfastly refuses to identify himself politically as a conservative — retained around 70% of his audience.

So what happened to Hannity?

The going wisdom is that viewers who basked in his preelection anti-Obama rhetoric tuned him out when they were stunned to wake up on Nov. 7 and discover that the President had won a second term — a scenario that Hannity had all but promised could never happen.

Before the election, Hannity was riding high in the ratings and topped thought leaders on the right, like Dick Morris, Ann Coulter, Peggy Noonan and talk radio bulldog Mark Levin, who predicted Obama would lose in a landslide.

Those voices — and many others like them — all but drove the political coverage on Fox News, talk radio and conservative blogs.

But as Conor Friedersdorf wrote in The Atlantic just after the election, “Outside the conservative media, the narrative was completely different.”

Because in reality, statistics proved the presidential race was in fact never even close — despite the lopsided picture delivered to faithful viewers by Hannity and those who shared his opinions.
Wrote Friedersdorf: “The right-leaning outlets like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh’s show are far more intellectually closed than CNN or public radio. If you’re a rank-and-file conservative, you’re probably ready to acknowledge that ideologically friendly media didn’t accurately inform you about Election 2012. Some pundits engaged in wishful thinking; others feigned confidence in hopes that it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy; still others decided it was smart to keep telling right-leaning audiences what they wanted to hear.”

And when the dust settled, it turns out Hannity’s viewers opted to vote again — with their remotes.
Adding insult to injury, two of Hannity’s rivals on MSNBC, Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow, held onto huge chunks of their audiences, while at CNN, far less politically polarizing host Anderson Cooper lost almost none of his viewers postelection.

It got even worse for Hannity in the “money demo” of viewers 25-54, who are prized by advertisers.
With this group, Hannity held onto less than half his preelection audience. O’Reilly, on the other hand, kept almost 70%.

And through the early part of December, Maddow actually beat Hannity in the coveted group — a shocking turn, because until the election, Hannity was unassailable by any of his rivals, at least in terms of ratings.

Despite the dip, at the end of the day, Fox News remains the dominent news channel, and will in fact call 2012 one of its best years ever.

Math makes my head hurt.

Senate Extends Warrantless Wiretapping

The Senate agreed on Friday to approve an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, legislation that allows the NSA and other US intelligence agencies to wiretap conversations involving foreign citizens without obtaining a warrant.

­Despite growing opposition to one of the most notorious and secretive US spying programs, the Senate voted 73-23 early Friday to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

First signed into law in 1978, FISA prescribes how the US government collects intelligence from foreign parties that may be detrimental to national security. Of particular significance, however, is the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, or FAA, which includes a provision that puts any US citizen engaged in correspondence with a person overseas at direct risk of being spied on.

Under the FAA, the government can eavesdrop on emails and phone calls made or received by Americans, as long as they reasonably suspect those conversations to include at least one person residing outside of the United States.

In May 2012, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) sent a letter to the National Security Agency asking for an estimate on just how many Americans have been targeted since the FAA went on the books. In response, Inspector General I. Charles McCullough replied that honoring their request would be “beyond the capacity” of the office, and that “dedicating sufficient additional resources would likely impede the NSA’s mission.”

“All that Senator Udall and I are asking for is a ballpark estimate of how many Americans have been monitored under this law, and it is disappointing that the Inspectors General cannot provide it,” Sen. Wyden told Wired’s Danger Room back in June. “If no one will even estimate how many Americans have had their communications collected under this law then it is all the more important that Congress act to close the ‘back door searches’ loophole, to keep the government from searching for Americans’ phone calls and emails without a warrant.”

On Thursday this week, Sen. Wyden echoed his concerns from earlier this year by warning that the threat to the Americans’ privacy "has been real and it is not hypothetical.”

The law should not be "an 'end run' around traditional warrant requirements and conduct backdoor searches for American's communications,” he urged.

Even though Sen. Wyden sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he says he has been told next to nothing about how FISA is used to target Americans. During Thursday’s debate, though, the committee’s chairperson, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), rebuffed Wyden’s concerns.

"No one should think the targets are US persons," Feinstein said. "Thirteen members of the intelligence committee who have voted on this do not believe this is a problem."

One person who did agree with Wyden’s concerns during Thursday’s debate was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky). The son of former presidential hopeful Ron Paul, the senator from Kentucky suggested that reauthorizing FISA would further relinquish what remains of the US Constitution.

"We allowed Congress and the courts to diminish our Fourth Amendment protection, particularly when our papers were held by third parties. I think most Americans would be shocked to know that the Fourth Amendment does not protect your records if they're banking, Internet or Visa records. A warrant is required to read your snail mail and to tap your phone, but no warrant is required to look at your email, text or your Internet searches. They can be read without a warrant. Why is a phone call more deserving of privacy protection than an email?"

For proponents of FISA, though, renewing the act meant a necessary step in securing America’s role in the so-called war on terror. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who was instrumental in actually having the bill being brought before debate, attacked Sen. Paul’s stance and insisted that failing to act would allow America’s enemies the opportunity to attack.

"When the clock strikes midnight tomorrow, we will be giving terrorists the opportunity to plot against our country undetected. The senator from Kentucky is threatening to take away the best tools we have for stopping them,” Reid warned.

"We all remember the tragic Fort Hood shootings less than two years ago. Radicalized American terrorists bought guns and used them to kill 13 civilians. It is hard to imagine why the senator would want to hold up the Patriot Act for a misguided amendment that would make American less safe,” Reid said.

The US House of Representatives approved the reauthorizing of FISA and the FAA in September, but the Senate had been unable to agree on renewing the acts until Friday morning. Earlier this month, in fact, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia) asked his colleagues on Capitol Hill to reauthorize FISA without holding any debates in the Senate in order to pass the bill before it expired. Had no action occurred before December 31, the warrantless wiretapping provisions would have eroded and the NSA would no longer be able to eavesdrop on Americans’ communications.

Senator Reid responded by saying that FISA is “an important piece of legislation,” though “imperfect,” but nonetheless warranted a full-on debate in the Senate.

Even before the Senate convened this week, the Obama administration already acknowledged that they favored reauthorizing FISA and the FAA. In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama voted in favor of FISA and the FAA, but said his attorney general would “conduct a comprehensive review of all our surveillance programs, and to make further recommendations on any steps needed to preserve civil liberties and to prevent executive branch abuse in the future."

Not only did that never happen, but the Senate rejected a series of amendments proposed this week that would have provided privacy safeguards for Americans under FISA.

“Without Senate action these authorities expire in four days and that’s the reason the House bill is before us,” Feinstein said on Thursday. “That is why I urge my colleagues to vote no on all amendments.

“There is a view of some that this country no longer needs to fear attacks — I don’t share that view.“

President Obama must sign the bill before it officially is reauthorized for another five years.

Friday, December 28, 2012's Best Political Cartoons of 2012

Republicans Now 100 Percent AWOL From Fiscal Cliff Talks

John Boehner gave up on fiscal cliff negotiations after he was unable to get House Republicans to agree to any proposal at all, even one that he himself had crafted. The fate of the Republic, he said, was now in the Senate's hands. So how is Mitch McConnell handling things?

An aide said Wednesday that McConnell had not been in contact with any top Democrats, including Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the majority leader, during the holiday break....Always cautious, McConnell has kept a decidedly low profile during the last few weeks of political theater in the Capitol....Behind the scenes, he  helped devise Boehner's Plan B maneuver, which failed to gain enough Republican votes to be brought up in the House. In the aftermath of that defeat, however, McConnell may be unwilling to take on the job of deal-maker. The reasons reflect the pressures that have buffeted his fellow Republicans.

"I cannot emphasize how little a constructive role he will play in this," Democratic strategist Jim Manley, a former top Reid aide, said of McConnell. "He's going to be very reluctant to get involved, and to the extent he does get involved, he's going to move very slowly."

No Republican dares to be associated with a tax increase, including McConnell. Grover Norquist and his blood pledge still control them all. Will this change after January 1, when the conversation is no longer about raising taxes, but about lowering them? That would make sense, but sense is in short supply these days in the GOP caucus. Here's the best quote in the entire story:

"The president made a strategic miscalculation and overreached," said one GOP aide granted anonymity to discuss party strategy. "He could have worked to reach a fair agreement, but instead he picked a fight, poisoned the well, and now we are likely to have a rather unproductive next four years. The decision he made only hurts himself."

The president overreached! He spent an entire year campaigning on letting tax rates go up modestly on the rich, and then, after winning a convincing victory in November he insisted on....letting tax rates go up modestly on the rich. In GOP-land, that constitutes "poisoning the well," and it will now become the official excuse for another four years of bitter obstruction and spittle-flecked conspiracy theories. The whole process took less than two months from start to finish. Happy New Year, everyone.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The 12 Days of a Capitalist Christmas

On the first day of Christmas my employer gave to me ONE penny for every $3 the richest 130,000 Americans make. It's been a national tradition since 1980.

On the second day my doctor showed me TWO Americans needing mental health care, but only one of the two could afford treatment. The doctor informed me that the 50 states have cut $1.8 billion from their mental health budgets during the recession, and that the 2013 Republican budget proposes further cuts. "It's crazy," I protested. "Some states are allowing guns in schools and daycare centers and churches and bars and hospitals, but they're cutting mental health care?" The doctor just nodded in frustration.

On the third day The Economist told me that it costs just THREE cents in administrative expenses for every $100 raised through a Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) in the United Kingdom, versus $1.42 for the personal income tax and $1.25 for the corporate income tax. With up to THREE quadrillion dollars in total U.S. financial transactions, we could replace federal income taxes with a tiny FTT.

On the fourth day a food pantry gave me FOUR dollars worth of food. That's about what food stamp recipients get each day through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). To pay for rent and utilities, a family of three gets $400 per month from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which comes to about FOUR dollars a day per person.

On the fifth day a financial advisor introduced me to his FIVE richest investors, who were the only ones out of 100 Americans to increase their wealth over the past 25 years, by the impressive rate of almost 20 percent. It's like that throughout the entire country, the advisor said: only 5 percent took almost all the gains.

Five golden rings, indeed.

On the sixth day, as the traditional 12-day song started to get annoying, Santa appeared to take me by the hand to the U.S. corporate offices, where the tax lawyers gave to me SIX cents for the national treasury. "Hey," I said, "this used to be 25 cents. You've doubled your profits in the last 10 years, but individual and payroll taxes have to pay 94 cents out of every dollar!" The lawyers just smiled. Santa shook his head in frustration.

On the seventh day a guidance counselor informed me that one out of SEVEN Americans between the ages of 16 and 24 is neither working nor in school.

On the eighth day an IRS agent gave me these matching facts: Over EIGHT percent of the GDP (8.4 percent) goes for tax expenditures (subsidies provided through the tax code, mostly to the very rich). That's almost exactly the same amount (8.4 percent of the GDP) that goes to Social Security and Medicare.

On the ninth day an unemployed dietitian told me that the average male has increased his weight by NINE percent over the past 20 years (180 to 196), and the average female by 12 percent (142 to 160). As a NINE dollar per hour food-service worker gave me and Santa our burgers and fries and shakes, my jolly old partner chortled, "Ho Ho Ho, soon you'll all look like me!"

On the 10th day a Forbes article confirmed that the TEN richest Americans made more than our entire national housing budget in just one year. That's over $50 billion. The 20 richest Americans made more than our entire education budget. Santa assured me that the transfer of wealth from society's needs to a few individuals was not the norm around the world.

On the eleventh day a creditor gave me a bill for ELEVEN trillion dollars of debt incurred by the American consumer, including mortgages, student loans, and credit card liabilities.

And on the twelfth day Santa gave me an IOU for TWELVE trillion dollars, the U.S. share of up to $32 trillion held overseas, untaxed. "One problem," cautioned Santa, "my reindeer haven't been able to find any of it yet."

After all this I stood perplexed. "What does it all mean?" I asked Santa.

"Well, that's capitalism," I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight. "It's all about the individual getting all he can, because that will benefit everyone. And let me tell you," he added with a twinkle, "those benefits are just as real as I am!"

And with that he was gone.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Cam Cardow Copyright 2012 Cagle Cartoons

West Antarctic Warming Faster Than Thought, Study Finds

West Antarctica has warmed much more than scientists had thought over the last half century, new research suggests, an ominous finding given that the huge ice sheet there may be vulnerable to long-term collapse, with potentially drastic effects on sea levels.

A paper released Sunday by the journal Nature Geoscience reports that the temperature at a research station in the middle of West Antarctica has warmed by 4.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1958. That is roughly twice as much as scientists previously thought and three times the overall rate of global warming, making central West Antarctica one of the fastest-warming regions on earth.

“The surprises keep coming,” said Andrew J. Monaghan, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., who took part in the study. “When you see this type of warming, I think it’s alarming.”

Of course, warming in Antarctica is a relative concept. West Antarctica remains an exceedingly cold place, with average annual temperatures in the center of the ice sheet that are nearly 50 degrees Fahrenheit below freezing.

But the temperature there does sometimes rise above freezing in the summer, and the new research raises the possibility that it might begin to happen more often, potentially weakening the ice sheet through surface melting. The ice sheet is already under attack at the edges by warmer ocean water, and scientists are on alert for any new threat.

A potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is one of the long-term hazards that have led experts to worry about global warming. The base of the ice sheet sits below sea level, in a configuration that makes it especially vulnerable. Scientists say a breakup of the ice sheet, over a period that would presumably last at least several hundred years, could raise global sea levels by 10 feet, possibly more.

The new research is an attempt to resolve a scientific controversy that erupted several years ago about exactly how fast West Antarctica is warming. With few automated weather stations and even fewer human observers in the region, scientists have had to use statistical techniques to infer long-term climate trends from sparse data.

A nearby area called the Antarctic Peninsula, which juts north from West Antarctica and for which fairly good records are available, was already known to be warming rapidly. A 2009 paper found extensive warming in the main part of West Antarctica, but those results were challenged by a group that included climate change contrarians.

To try to get to the bottom of the question, David H. Bromwich of Ohio State University pulled together a team that focused on a single temperature record. At a lonely outpost called Byrd Station, in central West Antarctica, people and automated equipment have been keeping track of temperature and other weather variables since the late 1950s.

It is by far the longest weather record in that region, but it had intermittent gaps and other problems that had made many researchers wary of it. The Bromwich group decided to try to salvage the Byrd record.

They retrieved one of the sensors and recalibrated at the University of Wisconsin. They discovered a software error that had introduced mistakes into the record and then used computerized analyses of the atmosphere to fill the gaps.

The reconstruction will most likely undergo intensive scientific scrutiny, which Dr. Bromwich said he would welcome. “We’ve tested everything we could think of,” he said.

Assuming the research holds up, it suggests that the 2009 paper, far from overestimating warming in West Antarctica, had probably underestimated it, especially in summer.

Eric J. Steig, a University of Washington researcher who led the 2009 work, said in an interview that he considered his paper to have been supplanted by the new research. “I think their results are better than ours, and should be adopted as the best estimate,” he said. He noted that the new Byrd record matches a recent temperature reconstruction from a nearby borehole in the ice sheet, adding confidence in the findings.

Much of the warming discovered in the new paper happened in the 1980s, around the same time the planet was beginning to warm briskly. More recently, Dr. Bromwich said, the weather in West Antarctica seems to have become somewhat erratic. In the summer of 2005, the interior of West Antarctica warmed enough for the ice to undergo several days of surface melting.

Dr. Bromwich is worried that this could eventually become routine, perhaps accelerating the decay of the West Antarctic ice sheet, but the warming is not fast enough for that to happen right away. “We’re talking decades into the future, I think,” Dr. Bromwich said.

U.S. Needs Fast Exit to Stop Mindless Killing

There is perhaps no time in American history when our leaders have fought a war with so little support.

More than 60 percent of Americans want out of Afghanistan. Even at the peak of the anti-Vietnam War movement, after a majority had turned against the war, there were still a large number of citizens who believed in the war and its official justifications. Today, as my colleague Robert Naiman of Just Foreign Policy notes, "Western leaders have largely given up trying to explain or justify why Western troops are still in Afghanistan and why they are still killing and being killed."

Yet the war goes on, and even the White House plans for too slowly reducing the U.S. troop presence meet resistance from the Pentagon.

In a replay of the internal fight over the American withdrawal from Iraq, U.S. commander Gen. George Allen was pushing just a few months ago to keep the current level of troops for another year. The military would also like to maintain a permanent presence of 6,000 to 15,000 troops.

That is not going to happen, as the Afghan people don't want foreign troops in their country any more than we would want armed fighters from al-Qaida here in the United States. But the attempts to establish a permanent base of operations will make it more difficult to negotiate an end to war.

And yes, ironically, the United States will most likely end up negotiating with the Taliban to end this war, something our government refused to do after 9-11 when it launched the invasion instead. So, 11 years of war, more than 2,000 U.S. troops dead and tens of thousands wounded will have all been for nothing, to arrive at the same opportunity that was available without America's longest war. In the meantime, thousands of Afghans have been killed and the population has suffered enormously.

The invasion of Iraq was disaster on an even larger scale, with more than a million estimated dead, including more than 4,400 U.S. troops.

Hundreds of thousands came home wounded or with brain or psychological trauma, and bleak job prospects.

Besides the fact that the war was launched on the basis of lies, it is hard to see how anyone could excuse this crime even in retrospect. As the revolution in Egypt showed, people can get rid of their own dictators; foreign intervention is much more likely to create or vastly expand a bloody civil war.

Meanwhile, U.S. drone strikes carried out "secretly" by the CIA are becoming institutionalized, widening the so-called "war on terror" to more countries, in addition to the hundreds of strikes already carried out in Pakistan. These attacks, which have killed hundreds of civilians and have even targeted rescue workers, are each day making more people want to kill Americans.

Our country and our media have too much reverence for the U.S. military and the CIA, which are not making us safer but rather helping to create new threats.

As The Washington Post reports, some of our generals have an "array of perquisites befitting a billionaire, including executive jets, palatial homes, drivers, security guards."

Even worse, many officers later join the boards and executive suites of military contractors, where they rake in millions making corporations such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman richer at taxpayer expense, and sometimes promoting war itself on the network news.

Our military-industrial complex is as corrupt and rotten as any institution of America's broken democracy, and more deadly than most in its consequences.

We need to end this war in Afghanistan and other operations in the Middle East and elsewhere that are making Americans less secure and recruiting new enemies daily. Then we can focus on fixing our broken economy at home.

Read more here:

DUI charge: Jan. 4 Court Date for Idaho Sen. Crapo

A conservative U.S. senator from Idaho who has said he doesn't drink because of his Mormon faith has been charged with drunken driving.

Sen. Michael Crapo, a three-term Republican with a reputation as a social and fiscal conservative, registered a blood alcohol content of .11 percent after police pulled his car over in this suburb south of Washington, D.C., authorities said.

The 61-year-old lawmaker, who faces a court date Jan. 4, apologized in a statement issued hours after his arrest early Sunday.

"I am deeply sorry for the actions that resulted in this circumstance," Crapo said in the statement Sunday night. "I made a mistake for which I apologize to my family, my Idaho constituents and any others who have put their trust in me. I accept total responsibility and will deal with whatever penalty comes my way in this matter."

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bob Schieffer: If Sandy Hook Shooter had Arab Name, 'People would be Going Nuts'

Ireland to Legalise Abortion

Ireland’s cabinet took the decision on Tuesday following a huge public outcry over the death of Savita Halappanavar, a pregnant woman in October who died after her repeated requests for an abortion were refused while she was suffering a miscarriage.

The Irish government has decided to repeal legislation that makes abortion a criminal act and to introduce regulations setting out when doctors can perform an abortion when a woman’s life is regarded as being at risk, including by suicide.

Dr James Reilly, the Irish health minister, said that the government was aware of the controversy surrounding abortion.

"I know that most people have personal views on this matter. However, the government is committed to ensuring that the safety of pregnant women in Ireland is maintained and strengthened. We must fulfil our duty of care towards them," he said.

"For that purpose, we will clarify in legislation and regulation what is available by way of treatment to a woman when a pregnancy gives rise to a threat to a woman's life. We will also clarify what is legal for the professionals who must provide that care while at all times taking full account of the equal right to life of the unborn child."

Ireland's abortion laws are the strictest in Europe and any proposed legislation to decriminalise abortion will stoke furious debate in Ireland, which remains a staunchly Roman Catholic country.

Ronan Mullen, an independent Irish senator, accused the government of "double think" for condemning the deaths of children in the Sandy Hook shooting while showing "no concern for unborn children".

"I find it entirely appropriate that we would join in solidarity with the people, with the children who died in Connecticut," he said. "Let's be sincere about that. And let's not slip into a double-think either, however, where we forget a whole category of children in our own country."

Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister, said that draft legislation would be published in the New Year with a timetable of having the legislation ready by Easter.

To ensure the controversial law is passed the government whip would be applied to MPs in the ruling Fine Gael party which is deeply divided over the proposals. “There will be no free vote on this,” said Mr Kenny.

Under current Irish law abortion is criminal unless it occurs as the result of a medical intervention performed to save the life of the mother.

The new legislation will drafted to comply with a landmark ruling in the European Court of Human Rights two years ago and a 1992 Irish Supreme Court decision in the “X case”.

The Irish ruling 20 years ago overturned an injunction preventing a 14-year girl, who had been raped and was suicidal because she could not get a legal abortion, from travelling to Britain to have her pregnancy terminated.

She later had a miscarriage but her case did not lead to legal reform adding to confusion over when abortion was allowed in Ireland.

The reforms are expected to allow the fear of suicide as a ground for abortion but may not provide for rape or sexual abuse, neither of which formed part of the 1992 ruling.

In 2010, Europe's human rights judges ruled on the "A, B and C case" in a judgment that criticised Ireland for failing to provide an accessible process by which a woman can have established whether she qualifies for a legal abortion under current Irish law.

The Iona Institute, a religious think-tank, said including the threat of suicide as grounds for abortion in the legislation "would not save a single life".

"Irish law already allows the ending of a pregnancy when there is no other choice and there is a clear threat to the life of the mother," said Maria Steen, the institute's spokesman.

"A decision to include a threat of suicide as a ground for abortion would also be wrong in principle because it would authorise for the first time ever the deliberate and direct destruction of unborn human life in Ireland."

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties welcomed the decision and called on the government to go further.

"There is no good reason why the government should limit itself to the minimum action required to implement this one judgment," said Mark Kelly, the ICCL's director.

"It should seize the opportunity to thoroughly overhaul Ireland's antediluvian laws on abortion, including by rendering lawful the termination of pregnancies involving fatal foetal abnormalities."

The Indian government intervened in October after the death of Mrs Halappanavar, 31, originally from India, who was 17 weeks pregnant when she developed back pain and tests revealed that she would lose her baby.

Despite her repeated pleas over three days, doctors refused to perform a termination as they could still hear the foetus’s heartbeat and, according to reports, told her: “This is a Catholic country”.

Mrs Halappanavar’s condition rapidly deteriorated and she died after developing septicaemia four days after the death of her baby.

The case prompted a huge public outcry with pro-choice campaigners branding her death “an outrage” and renewed calls for the Irish government to legislate for abortion.

Monday, December 17, 2012

 Pat Bagley Copyright 2012 Cagle Cartoons

The Decline of Evangelical America

It hasn’t been a good year for evangelicals. I should know. I’m one of them.

In 2012 we witnessed a collapse in American evangelicalism. The old religious right largely failed to affect the Republican primaries, much less the presidential election. Last month, Americans voted in favor of same-sex marriage in four states, while Florida voters rejected an amendment to restrict abortion.

Much has been said about conservative Christians and their need to retool politically. But that is a smaller story, riding on the back of a larger reality: Evangelicalism as we knew it in the 20th century is disintegrating.

In 2011 the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life polled church leaders from around the world. Evangelical ministers from the United States reported a greater loss of influence than church leaders from any other country — with some 82 percent indicating that their movement was losing ground.

I grew up hearing tales of my grandfather, a pastor, praying with President Ronald Reagan at the White House. My father, also a pastor, prayed with George W. Bush in 2000. I now minister to my own congregation, which has grown to about 500, a tenfold increase, in the last four years (by God’s favor and grace, I believe). But, like most young evangelical ministers, I am less concerned with politics than with the exodus of my generation from the church.

Studies from established evangelical polling organizations — LifeWay Research, an affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Barna Group — have found that a majority of young people raised as evangelicals are quitting church, and often the faith, entirely.

As a contemporary of this generation (I’m 30), I embarked three years ago on a project to document the health of evangelical Christianity in the United States. I did this research not only as an insider, but also as a former investigative journalist for an alt weekly.

I found that the structural supports of evangelicalism are quivering as a result of ground-shaking changes in American culture. Strategies that served evangelicals well just 15 years ago are now self- destructive. The more that evangelicals attempt to correct course, the more they splinter their movement. In coming years we will see the old evangelicalism whimper and wane.

First, evangelicals, while still perceived as a majority, have become a shrinking minority in the United States. In the 1980s heyday of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, some estimates accounted evangelicals as a third or even close to half of the population, but research by the Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith recently found that Christians who call themselves evangelicals account for just 7 percent of Americans. (Other research has reported that some 25 percent of Americans belong to evangelical denominations, though they may not, in fact, consider themselves evangelicals.) Dr. Smith’s findings are derived from a three-year national study of evangelical identity and influence, financed by the Pew Research Center. They suggest that American evangelicals now number around 20 million, about the population of New York State. The global outlook is more optimistic, as evangelical congregations flourish in places like China, Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa.

But while America’s population grows by roughly two million a year, attendance across evangelical churches — from the Southern Baptists to Assembles of God and nondenominational churches — has gradually declined, according to surveys of more than 200,000 congregations by the American Church Research Project.

The movement also faces a donation crisis as older evangelicals, who give a disproportionately large share, age. Unless younger evangelicals radically increase their giving, the movement will be further strained.

Evangelicals have not adapted well to rapid shifts in the culture — including, notably, the move toward support for same-sex marriage. The result is that evangelicals are increasingly typecast as angry and repressed bigots. In 2007, the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, in a survey of 1,300 college professors, found that 3 percent held “unfavorable feelings” toward Jews, 22 percent toward Muslims and 53 percent toward evangelical Christians.

To be sure, college professors are not representative of the population, and, despite national trends of decline, evangelicals have many exceptional ministries. Most metropolitan areas in the United States have at least one thriving megachurch. In New York City, Redeemer Presbyterian and the Brooklyn Tabernacle pack multiple services every weekend. A handful of other churches, like North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., see more than 20,000 worshipers each weekend. Savvy ministers like the Rev. Craig Groeschel, founder of, are using new technologies to deliver the “good news.”

The pulse of evangelicalism is also shifting, in many ways for the good, from American politics to aid for the global poor, as evidenced in books by the Rev. David Platt, the Rev. Max Lucado and the Rev. Timothy Keller. Evangelicals are still a sophisticated lot, with billions in assets, millions of adherents and a constellation of congregations, radio stations, universities and international aid groups. But all this machinery distracts from the historical vital signs of evangelicalism: to make converts and point to Jesus Christ. By those measures this former juggernaut is coasting, at best, if not stalled or in reverse.

How can evangelicalism right itself? I don’t believe it can — at least, not back to the politically muscular force it was as recently as 2004, when white evangelicals gave President George W. Bush his narrow re-election. Evangelicals can, however, use the economic, social and spiritual crises facing America to refashion themselves into a more sensitive, spiritual and humble movement.

We evangelicals must accept that our beliefs are now in conflict with the mainstream culture. We cannot change ancient doctrines to adapt to the currents of the day. But we can, and must, adapt the way we hold our beliefs — with grace and humility instead of superior hostility. The core evangelical belief is that love and forgiveness are freely available to all who trust in Jesus Christ. This is the “good news” from which the evangelical name originates (“euangelion” is a Greek word meaning “glad tidings” or “good news”). Instead of offering hope, many evangelicals have claimed the role of moral gatekeeper, judge and jury. If we continue in that posture, we will continue to invite opposition and obscure the “good news” we are called to proclaim.

I believe the cultural backlash against evangelical Christianity has less to do with our views — many observant Muslims and Jews, for example, also view homosexual sex as wrong, while Catholics have been at the vanguard of the movement to protect the lives of the unborn — and more to do with our posture. The Scripture calls us “aliens and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11), but American evangelicals have not acted with the humility and homesickness of aliens. The proper response to our sexualized and hedonistic culture is not to chastise, but to “conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12).

This does not mean we whitewash unpopular doctrines like the belief that we are all sinners but that we re-emphasize the free forgiveness available to all who believe in Jesus Christ.

Some evangelical leaders are embarrassed by our movement’s present paralysis. I am not. Weakness is a potent purifier. As Paul wrote, “I am content with weaknesses ... for the sake of Christ” (2 Corinthians 12:10). For me, the deterioration and disarray of the movement is a source of hope: hope that churches will stop angling for human power and start proclaiming the power of Christ.

Simple faith in Christ’s sacrifice will march on, unchallenged by empires and eras. As the English writer G. K. Chesterton put it, “Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.”


John S. Dickerson is the senior pastor of Cornerstone Church and author of the forthcoming book “The Great Evangelical Recession: Six Factors That Will Crash the American Church ... and How to Prepare.”

One Way to Trim the Budget: Prison Reform.

In an age of austerity, everything will inevitably get recast as a budget issue. Case in point: The Urban Institute is out with a new report about how the federal prison system needs to be reformed — in part because it’s on an unsustainable fiscal course.

Some context: The federal prison population is about 218,000. That’s only a small fraction of the 2.2 million prisoners in the United States (most of whom are in state prisons or county jails). But the number of federal inmates is growing fast, having quadrupled since 1980.

And housing all those prisoners isn’t cheap: The average minimum-security inmate costs $21,000 per year, while the average high-security inmate costs $33,000 per year. All told, the Obama administration has requested $6.9 billion for the Bureau of Prisons in fiscal year 2013.

In the context of trillion-dollar deficits, that’s not a ton of money. But the Urban Institute points out that federal prisons will keep taking up a bigger and bigger chunk of the Department of Justice’s budget — rising to 30 percent by 2020. Since Congress is trying to rein in overall spending, that means prisons will end up crowding out other Justice Department priorities, such as federal investigators or support for state and local governments. Many of the latter programs arguably do much more for public safety than prisons do.

So is there anything to be done? The folks at the Urban Institute think so. A good deal of the rapid increase in the federal prison population has come from longer sentences — particularly for drug offenders:

There’s more detail here (pdf). About 32 percent of the growth has come from longer prison sentences for drug offenders. The report notes that Congress would likely need to change sentencing guidelines if it really wanted to curtail the growth of federal prisons. Congress did a bit of that in 2010, reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and cocaine crimes.

But there’s a lot more that could be done. For instance, states like Hawaii are starting to rein in their prison costs by experimenting with smarter parole and probation policies. This is an even more urgent fiscal issue for states — as the graph Sarah Kliff posted shows, corrections still take up a massive portion of state budgets. The Urban Institute argues that Congress could learn from many of these state-level initiatives.

Is that worth doing? In The New York Times recently, John Tierney had a long piece compiling all the various arguments that the United States locks up far too many people in prison for far too long. Here’s one key bit: “Some social scientists argue that the incarceration rate is now so high that the net effect is ‘crimogenic’: creating more crime over the long term by harming the social fabric in communities and permanently damaging the economic prospects of prisoners as well as their families.”

That’s hardly a new development — social scientists and criminologists have been railing against the high incarceration rate in the United States for many decades. But now that both Congress and the states are facing new budget constraints, the hope is that all these arguments will get yet another look.

Fox Cuts Away from Moment of Silence in Cleveland to Air Commercial

A decision by Fox to cut away from a moment of silence to air a commercial prior to Sunday's game between the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns was swiftly criticized on social media sites.

The network aired the public address announcement at Cleveland Browns Stadium that asked fans to honor the victims of Friday's elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn. For 17 seconds, as the stadium grew silent, the network aired its live feed, showing reaction from players, coaches and fans. Then, as a camera showing a wide view of the stadium raised toward the sky, the picture faded out quickly and a Geico commercial featuring the company's animated gecko came on screen.

There was no music, no graphics and no warning from the booth. This made for an uncomfortable transition when a sobering moment of reflection was replaced by a gecko talking about customer satisfaction rates.

The negative reaction on Twitter came immediately.

Joseph White of the Associated Press expressed his surprise with a simple "wow." Cindy Boren, who was running a live chat on the website for The Washington Post called the move tacky. Other reactions on Twitter ranged from disgust to disbelief.

They were warranted. Fox had stayed with the moment of silence for nearly 17 seconds. Couldn't the network have waited until the end before cutting to commercial? Without a warning that commercials were coming, the juxtaposition of the images of a respectful crowd and a loud advertisement -- whether accidental or intentional -- was tone-deaf.

But Fox was in a no-win situation no matter when it went to commercial. There is no good way to transition from a remembrance of 27 murder victims to something as frivolous as a football game.

Friday, December 14, 2012

After O'Reilly's "War On Christmas" Rant, Fox Wishes Viewers "Happy Holidays"

Former BP Engineer Releases Emails From Wake of Gulf Oil Disaster

Attorneys for Kurt Mix, a former engineer for BP, claim that a spate of previously unreleased emails will “exonerate” their client in the current criminal case being pursued against Mix. Mix is the first person in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and leak to be brought up on criminal charges for his role in the cover-up of the extent of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice formally charged Mix with obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying evidence, specifically text messages, relating to how much oil was flowing from the broken wellhead in the Gulf.  The amount of oil flowing into the Gulf waters determined the size of the fines that BP would face from the federal government, so the company could have benefited substantially from under-reporting the true volume of the flow rate.

The new emails that will be released during Mix’s criminal trial allegedly show that Mix repeatedly warned his superiors at BP that they were under-reporting the true scope of the spill to the government and the media, undermining the federal government’s case against Mix. While these emails could show that Mix did the right thing in one arena, it is unlikely that it will “exonerate” him, as his attorneys claim.  After all, the charges against Mix are for deleting text messages related to the disaster, which were evidence.

The one thing that is almost guaranteed from these emails, assuming they exist in the form that Mix's attorneys are claiming, is that they could expose the cover-up by BP executives, and tell the story of how they intentionally misled everyone about the nature of their oil geyser. And given what we already know, it seems incredibly likely that the oil giant's leadership knew from the start how much oil was flowing from the broken wellhead.

As reported earlier this year, during the initial days of the oil leak BP was constantly updating their estimates of how much oil was flowing out of the broken pipeline. In spite of their advanced camera, computer, and other data technologies, they were somehow never able to give an accurate, or even close to accurate, account of what was happening beneath the water’s surface.

But it is hard to believe that BP couldn’t get an accurate count of what was coming out of that broken pipe, or even a reasonable rough estimate. After all, the company boasted in 2008 that they had developed technology that was capable of determining the flow rate of oil through a broken pipe – the very situation that was happening in the Gulf. They invented the technology, bragged about it, but when it would have actually been useful to deploy, BP claimed they couldn’t accurately measure the flow rate, and thus the scope of the disaster.

In November of this year, BP pleaded guilty to numerous criminal charges, one of which involved obstruction of justice for misleading Congress about the flow rate of the wellhead.  The new emails could help shed light on who knew what, and how high up the corporate ladder the cover-up actually went.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Lee Atwater's Infamous 1981 Interview on the Southern Strategy

Warning: N-word

Hubble Telescope Spies Seven Galaxies from Baby Years of Universe

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have found seven galaxies that formed relatively shortly after the universe’s birth some 13.7 billion years ago, scientists said on Wednesday, describing them “as baby pictures of the universe.”

One of the objects may be the oldest galaxy yet found, dating back to a time when the universe was just 380 million years old, a fraction of its current age.

“These early galaxies represent the building blocks of present-day galaxies,” John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science, told reporters in a conference call.

The discovery of galaxies dating back to the universe’s early years should help scientists figure out what happened after the “dark ages,” a period of time about 200 million years after the Big Bang explosion when cooling clouds of hydrogen, clumped together by gravity, began to ignite, triggering the first generation of stars.

“It was a very important moment in cosmic history,” said astronomer Richard Ellis, with the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Scientists do not know exactly when this “cosmic dawn“ occurred and whether it was a single, dramatic event that caused all the galaxies to form their first stars, or whether it happened more gradually over millions of years.

The discovery of seven galaxies spanning a period between 350 million and 600 million years after the Big Bang supports theories that the cosmic dawn was a drawn-out affair, with galaxies slowly building up their stars and chemical elements over time, said Brant Robertson of the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Astronomers plan follow-up studies after Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, launches in 2018.

The research appears in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Petition - No bonuses for Hostess executives!

First it raised CEO compensation by 300% and upper management salaries by up to 200%. Then it laid off 18,000 workers who refused to take another deep pay cut.[1]

Now Hostess Brands Inc. has asked a federal bankruptcy judge to allow it to pay $1.8 million in bonuses to top executives - the same people whose poor decisions put the company out of business to begin with.[2]

This is a slap in the face to the thousands of families who will go without a paycheck this holiday season because a handful of people mismanaged the company into oblivion. Tell Hostess CEO Gregory Rayburn not to pay executives any bonuses until he puts the company's laid-off employees back to work.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Grand Rapids) Speaks Out Against "Right-to-Work" Legislation

8th Tibetan Child Self-Immolates

A teenage girl set herself on fire on the grasslands of an ethnic Tibetan region in western China, becoming the eighth child to self-immolate to protest Chinese rule over the region, rights groups said.

Wangchen Kyi, 17, self-immolated and died in China's western Qinghai province Sunday evening after calling for the long life of the Tibetan people and their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, according to the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet. The group cited reports from exiled Tibetans in contact with people in the area.

Activists say more than 90 people have set themselves on fire in Tibetan areas since February 2009, with an upsurge in recent weeks. The vast majority have been in their late teens and 20s. Activists say the self-immolations show growing desperation over what the protesters see as the marginalization of Tibetan culture and religion under heavy-handed Chinese rule.

China maintains it protects Tibetans' rights and that the region has enjoyed "leap-frog" economic development in recent decades. Beijing has increasingly sought to crack down on the protests, which it says are inhumane acts instigated from abroad by the Dalai Lama and his supporters to put pressure on the Chinese government.

The Tibetan government-in-exile on Monday reiterated denials of involvement and publicly invited Chinese authorities to send a team to their headquarters in Dharamsala, India, to investigate the allegations.

China accuses the Dalai Lama of wanting to split Tibet off from the rest of China, but he says he seeks real autonomy for Tibetans, not independence.

The Communist Party newspaper People's Daily said in a commentary Tuesday that the Dalai Lama could have prevented self-immolations simply by calling for them to stop, but that he won't do it.

In an interview in October posted on the Dalai Lama's website, he said it was difficult to judge whether the method of self-immolation was right or wrong.

"I am quite certain those cases who sacrificed their own life for sincere motivation, for Buddha dharma for wellbeing of the people, from the Buddhist view point, from the religious view point, it is positive," he told NBC. "But if these activities are carried out with full anger, hatred, then wrong. So it is difficult to judge. But anyway it is really very sad, very very sad."

Tibet and surrounding ethnically Tibetan regions have been closed off to most outsiders, and firsthand information from the areas is extremely difficult to obtain.

London-based Free Tibet also reported Sunday's immolation, which took place in Dokar Mo township in Zeku county, but said the student was 16 and gave a slightly different spelling for her name. Free Tibet said an estimated 3,000 locals attended her cremation service and that she leaves behind her parents and two sisters.

The Zeku county propaganda department on Tuesday confirmed the self-immolation, but gave no details. Calls to Dokar Mo township's government and to the county police department rang unanswered.

The International Campaign for Tibet said Wangchen Kyi was a conscientious student and chose to set herself on fire on nomadic grasslands because she feared her body would not be returned to her family if she self-immolated outside a government building in the town.

According to tallies by both rights groups, she is the eighth person under 18 to self-immolate. Four are known to have died, including the youngest, a 15-year-old monk called Dorjee. He set himself on fire last month along with two 16-year-old monks in Aba prefecture in southwestern Sichuan province.

Police in that province announced the arrest over the weekend of a monk and his nephew on accusations of inciting at least eight Tibetans to conduct self-immolation protests, allegedly recruiting them with assurances they would be "heroes" and that they and their families would be "honored" afterward.

Recent Chinese media reports have said that such instigators could be charged with murder, but it was not immediately clear if the monk and his nephew would face those charges. Police in Sichuan declined to comment on the case.

A U.S. statement last week accused Beijing of responding to Tibetan immolations with tightened controls over their freedom of religion, expression and assembly. China's Foreign Ministry said it had complained to Washington about the comments and said China protects the rights of Tibetan people to maintain their traditional culture and religious freedom.

Lie of the Year: The Romney Campaign's Ad on Jeeps Made in China

It was a lie told in the critical state of Ohio in the final days of a close campaign -- that Jeep was moving its U.S. production to China. It originated with a conservative blogger, who twisted an accurate news story into a falsehood. Then it picked up steam when the Drudge Report ran with it. Even though Jeep's parent company gave a quick and clear denial, Mitt Romney repeated it and his campaign turned it into a TV ad.

And they stood by the claim, even as the media and the public expressed collective outrage against something so obviously false.

People often say that politicians don’t pay a price for deception, but this time was different: A flood of negative press coverage rained down on the Romney campaign, and he failed to turn the tide in Ohio, the most important state in the presidential election.

PolitiFact has selected Romney's claim that Barack Obama "sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China" at the cost of American jobs as the 2012 Lie of the Year.

It is the fourth year PolitiFact has looked back over a year’s worth of political mendacity and selected the most significant falsehood. Last year, it was the claim that Republicans voted to end Medicare. In 2010, it was the claim that the federal health care law was a government takeover of health care. In 2009, it was the claim that the same health law included "death panels."

This marks the first year that the Lie of the Year is not about health care -- a reflection of the importance of the economy in the 2012 election.

It’s not that President Obama and his campaign team were above falsehoods, either. Their TV ads distorted Romney’s positions on abortion and immigration to make them seem more extreme than they actually were. A pro-Obama super PAC even created an ad suggesting Romney was responsible for a woman’s death when her husband lost his job at a Bain-controlled company.

But the Jeep ad was brazenly false.

It started as a line in a speech about where an American brand of car would be made. It blew up into a lie heard by voters well beyond Ohio.

A campaign rally in Defiance

Like many political distortions, Romney’s claim contained a grain of truth.

Chrysler was one of the companies that received billions in loans from the federal government. The government ended up forcing Chrysler into bankruptcy in 2009 when its debtholders couldn’t reach an agreement. Since Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy, the Italian car company Fiat has held a controlling interest.

By 2012, Chrysler and other automakers were doing much better -- a fact that confounded Romney. In Ohio, a major expansion of its Toledo plant was in the works for the Jeep Liberty. In Detroit, the company was hiring workers to build the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

But Chrysler was thinking of reviving the Jeep brand in key foreign markets, and like other American automakers, Chrysler preferred to build cars in the countries where it intended to sell them -- a common strategy to reduce tariffs and transport costs.

Bloomberg reported on Oct. 22 that the company was planning to restart production of Jeeps in China. The entirety of the Bloomberg report made it clear that Chrysler was considering expansion in China, not shuttering American production.

But one conservative news outlet seized on the report’s opening lines. The Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard blogged on Oct. 25 about the Bloomberg story and incorrectly wrote that Jeep was "considering giving up on the United States and shifting production to China," a move that would "crash the economy in towns like Toledo, Ohio … ." The conservative Drudge Report then linked to Bedard’s post under the headline, "Jeep eyes shifting production to China."

Within hours, Chrysler spokesman Gualberto Ranieri responded on Chrysler’s company blog.

"Let’s set the record straight: Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China," Ranieri wrote, adding, "A careful and unbiased reading of the Bloomberg take would have saved unnecessary fantasies and extravagant comments."     

But later that night at a campaign stop in Defiance, Ohio, Romney added a new line to his stump speech:

"I saw a story today, that one of the great manufacturers in this state, Jeep, now owned by the Italians, is thinking of moving all production to China," he said, to boos from the audience. "I will fight for every good job in America. I’m going to fight to make sure trade is fair, and if it’s fair, America will win."

Reporters mentioned the mistake in their stories the next day, it lit up the Internet, and the liberal cable channel MSNBC attacked Romney for not knowing the facts.

"His lie is embarrassing, frankly, and it should be unsettling for the rest of the world," said MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. "Imagine Romney waking up in the Lincoln bedroom or whatever, checking his conservative Twitter feed and running with whatever he finds there."

Romney’s campaign didn’t retreat, though. It doubled down with a TV ad for Ohio voters that weekend:

"Who will do more for the auto industry? Not Barack Obama," the ad began, adding, "Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China. Mitt Romney will fight for every American job." A similar radio ad soon followed.

That in turn prompted another unqualified denial, this time from Chrysler Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne, who said Jeep assembly lines "will remain in operation in the United States and will constitute the backbone of the brand. It is inaccurate to suggest anything different."

PolitiFact and other fact-checkers weighed in and said the ad was inaccurate. PolitiFact rated it Pants on Fire because it "strings together facts in a way that presents an wholly inaccurate picture." said Romney’s speech was "flat wrong" and the ad was misleading. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker gave the ad four Pinocchios, saying, "This ad shows that we have entered the final, desperate week of the campaign."

When pinned down with questions on the ad, the Romney team either dodged or defended the ad as literally accurate. Stuart Stevens, a senior adviser to Romney, told the New York Times, "It would be better if they expanded production in the U.S. instead of expanding in China." The automakers said that ignored common global trade practices.

There was no give from Romney. Maybe that wasn't surprising.

At the Republican National Convention in Tampa, journalists had challenged the Romney campaign team about an ad that falsely claimed Obama was ending work requirements for welfare. Romney pollster Neil Newhouse responded by saying, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."

Obama campaign responds

If the Jeep ad was intended to confound the Obama campaign, the reaction was the opposite: gleeful outrage.

Obama’s campaign fired back with its own ad, which crowed that "Chrysler itself has refuted Romney's lie. The truth? Jeep is adding jobs in Ohio." Surrogates on the campaign trail, notably former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, mocked the ad as audiences roared with laughter.

For the Obama camp, it was a twofer: They got to remind voters in Ohio and all over the country that Romney had opposed the auto bailouts and also portray him as desperate.

Obama himself brought it up in a campaign appearance in Cincinnati the Sunday before the election, casting it as a character issue.

"And so when you’re thinking about this choice, or you’re talking to your friends and neighbors about this choice, you’ve got to remind them it’s not just about policy, it’s also about trust. Who do you trust?"

On the weekend before the election, Chris Wallace of Fox News interviewed Romney political director Richard Beeson and asked him if the ad was a mistake.

"Well, I found it interesting that President Obama would attack Mitt Romney on that when they put up an ad saying that Gov. Romney says ‘Let Detroit Go Bankrupt’ when that’s a headline from the New York Times op-ed," Beeson said. "And the second thing is President Obama talking about scaring people when yesterday he’s out there saying ‘voting is the best revenge.’"

The problem for Romney was that his opposition to the bailout was out of step with most Ohio voters, said William Binning, a professor of political science at Youngstown State University.

"I think the Romney people just couldn’t figure out how to handle this, or mitigate its effect," Binning said. "So they came up with this ad. And this ad didn’t get them anywhere."

PolitiFact tried many times to reach Romney's top staff but received no response. In a post-election panel discussion conducted with both campaigns at Harvard University, Romney’s team insisted the ad had worked, that it had reassured voters in key Ohio markets.

"If you look in those markets, we did better in those markets for having run that," Stevens said.

But Democrats didn’t see it that way.

In Ohio, Democrats used Romney’s Jeep ad to attack Republicans for not being supportive enough of the American auto industry. Chris Redfern, chairman of the state party, said he intends to use it again against Republicans who "remained silent" while Chrysler’s top brass were refuting the ad.

"If you come from northwest Ohio, and you’re not defending Jeep, you’re part of the problem," Redfern said.

In an interview with PolitiFact, Obama strategist David Axelrod said the so-called "earned media" -- news coverage -- can easily outweigh the points made by paid political ads, especially when a campaign is in the final stretch.

"The controversy surrounding the ad became a focus of news coverage," he said. "At the end of the campaign, when everybody is watching everything closely. … They just weren’t going to get away with it. It was a very high-risk strategy, and it backfired."

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Why Does a Southern Drawl Sound Uneducated to Some?

Studies have shown that whether you are from the North or South, a Southern twang pegs the speaker as comparatively dimwitted, but also likely to be a nicer person than folks who speak like a Yankee. Stereotypes based on accent are deep rooted and they have profound consequences. Accents influence who we select as friends, who we respect with authority and leadership, where we prefer to live, employment, and to the very real extent our personal aspirations in life as a consequence of self-perception directing ambition in education and other endeavors. Strange, isn’t it? From a biological point of view there is no “correct” or “incorrect” accent.

Adele - Live in 2009

Adele - live in 2009

This is not just a smoldering relic from the Civil War; accent-based bias is universal. Even on a tiny island country like the United Kingdom, accents abound and they pigeonhole individuals into strict social strata that have persisted for centuries. I wondered about this when I was swept away by Adele’s supreme singing voice but had the bliss shattered rudely when she addressed the audience in her “lowly” Cockney accent. She articulates lyrics beautifully with a perfect American accent, but it was if a different person had sprung out when she started to talk the way everyone does in Tottenham England. I wonder; would Adele have attracted notice outside the walls of a Tottenham pub if that same sterling singing voice resonated with a Cockney accent?

Numerous studies show that we instantly attach cultural stereotypes and subjective judgments about people’s knowledge and abilities from hearing their accent in speech. A 2011 study by Rakic and others found that in categorizing people, a person’s accent carried more weight than even visual cues to ethnicity. Americans can be taken back when hearing a black person speak with a proper British accent, for example, or be just as perplexed when they discover that a rapper singing with a “black” accent is Caucasian.

Interestingly, attributes of character that are attached to different accents are widely shared among the population. In surveys ranking where in the country people speak “correctly” or “incorrectly,” the Southern states always get the lowest marks. Italian is judged as sounding beautiful while German sounds ugly. You might presume, viewing human speech like naturalists studying songbird dialects, that people would simply prefer the accent of speech spoken where they grew up, but it’s not that simple. Adults from Mississippi rate their own region as relatively low in linguistic “correctness.” How can that be?

Katherine Kinzler and Jasmine DeJesus in the Psychology Department at the University of Chicago have just published a study of children’s attitudes toward accents that provides some surprising answers. Children 5-6 years of age from Chicago and a small town in Tennessee were shown pictures of people accompanied by a brief 3 second audio clip of speech in either a Northern or Southern accent. When asked if they would want to be friends with the person, the Northerners overwhelmingly selected the Northern-accented speakers as friends. Interestingly, the kids from Tennessee had no preference based on accent.

What do you think happened when the young children were asked who was “nicer,” “smarter,” or “in charge?” The children from Chicago attached these positive attributes to the Northern speakers, but the children from Tennessee were indifferent to how these attributes were associated with people speaking with either accent.

This last result, as I mentioned above, deviates from how Southern adults associate positive attributes to people speaking with a Northern rather than a Southern accent. So the researchers then gave the same test to 10-year-old children. The results after children had aged 4-5 years were quite different. Ten-year-old children from both Chicago and Tennessee thought the Northern-accented individuals were “smarter” and “in charge,” and that the Southern-accented individuals were “nicer.”

Clearly, children must learn these attitudes from us; that is parents and other adults. This develops in part by the attitudes we subtly convey to our children and by how we adults organize our society and culture. This is where human nature takes a nasty departure from the way songbirds use dialect. Our attitudes toward accents are strongly influenced by what we hear in infancy and childhood, but learning and acculturation are imposed on us by subtle indoctrination and experience.

Here’s the telling experimental result: When children of either age were asked whether the speaker was “American” or “lives around here,” children from Chicago selected Northern rather than Southern speakers as being locals or Americans. The kids from Tennessee did not show any such preference at either age. The authors suggest that Southerners do not categorize speakers of either accent as being alien, because they hear Northern accents at a young age from National news anchors, film and television characters. The kids in Chicago don’t have the same opportunity to hear a Southern accent. As they grow up, attend school, and develop social awareness, Southern children begin to associate the Northern accent with people being “in charge and smarter,” because these prestigious “celebrities” of high social status and respect speak with a Northern accent. This nurtures a self-perpetuating stereotype which takes root by at least the age of nine.

Preference for the sound of local language is established at birth according to what the fetus hears as its auditory nervous system is developing, but stereotypes based on accents, whether a regional English accent or a foreign accent, are learned in childhood. The subtle attitudes we attach to accents have a profound impact on others, and on ourselves.

Thanks Adele for the music and the insight!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

David Fitzsimmons Copyright 2012 Cagle Cartoons

The Irony of Right-Wing Secessionist Fantasies

In the wake of Obama’s victory, citizens in several states submitted petitions to secede from the United States. It is something of an irony that the very states seeking secession from “big government”—like Louisiana and Alabama—have been among the top beneficiaries of that selfsame government. Put bluntly, the government would be far smaller without them, and they would seriously struggle far more without it. Indeed, were they to become independent, most would be failed states in need of a bailout. Only this time their benefactor would be not the federal government but the International Monetary Fund, of which the United States is the principal donor. Louisiana and Alabama would go the way of Greece and Spain.

Far from rejecting the “European model,” these would-be campaigners for “independence” are actually embracing it, in their secessionist impulses and in their economic fate. Across the European continent, regions aspiring to be nations are attempting to break away from their mother countries. In November, Catalonian separatists won a huge victory in regional parliamentary elections, handing almost two-thirds of the local parliament to four different parties that all want a referendum on secession. In October, British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed with the Scottish National Party—the single largest party in the Scottish Assembly—to hold a referendum on independence in 2014. Following elections in October, the separatist New Flemish Alliance, which wants to pry Dutch-speaking Flanders from French-speaking Wallonia, won the Belgian election. 

It is the apparent paradox of neoliberal globalization that even as capital flows freely, people travel more and consumption becomes standardized—particularly within the West, at least—regional, national and ethnic identities have hardened and taken on an increasingly militant electoral expression. In terms of consumption (Nike, McDonald’s, iTunes) and communication (Facebook, Twitter, Skype), we have more in common and feel more connected. But politically, we seem to be becoming more insular and remote.

Nowhere is this clearer than within the European Union, where borders between full member states have become almost meaningless and currency among most of them is shared, but nationalism of various hues is on the rise. “It seems clear that, despite the over-rationalized expectations favored by the internationalist perspectives of the left, nationalism is not only not a spent force,” argues acclaimed British academic Stuart Hall. “It isn’t necessarily either a reactionary or a progressive force, politically.”

In Italy, France, Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark, sizable far-right parties with anti-immigrant and Islamophobic agendas have taken root. Elsewhere, in Catalonia, the Basque region, Scotland and—to a far lesser extent—Belgium, the parties are at least mainstream or even progressive. The former willfully miscast neoliberal globalization as cosmopolitanism and then try to reassert the primacy of the nation-state against its onslaught, scapegoating minorities to foment and exploit moral panic over the loss of “culture.” The latter seek to embrace the opportunities provided by globalization and the supranational structures that have emerged to govern it. Both are inadequate responses to the lack of autonomy and democracy that is the hallmark of this current period. The former represents little more than old white whine in a new bottle. The latter is more complex.

In Europe, it is partly history’s revenge on rhetoric. The emergence of the nation-state as the single most effective economic and political unit over the past two centuries necessitated a confected patriotism that sought either to iron out or ignore regional differences. This meant reimagining countries not as the product of regional alliances, wars or necessity but as an incarnation of innate genius born from essential characteristics. “We have made Italy,” said Massimo d’Azeglio at the first meeting of the newly united Italy’s infant parliament. “Now we must make Italians.” But while those differences were eclipsed, they were rarely eliminated.

This is best illustrated through language. In Spain, for example, the official language is Castilian, but around a quarter of Spaniards also speak Catalan, Basque or Galician. But it is most potently expressed through economics. Flanders is wealthier than Wallonia. Catalonia believes it contributes too much tax to the federal government. Scotland, while less wealthy than the UK as a whole, has oil. Whether they would be better off as independent nations—given the economic burdens that come with self-government—is a moot point. Independence is primarily a question of liberty, not wealth.

Ultimately, all but the most reactionary nationalist movements wish to stay within the European Union, seeking a far more protected and diluted version of independence than we would reasonably describe as sovereignty. An independent Flanders or Catalonia, as currently envisioned by those pushing secession, would retain the euro, have no meaningful borders, and pool its resources with a far less democratic European superstate.

In its most recent tantrum, the American right displayed the worst of both worlds: the bigotry of the reactionaries and the opportunism of the secessionists. It’s a predicament with which Derek Belcher, who started Alabama’s secessionist petition, sympathizes. Belcher became incensed at the government for shutting down his topless car wash business on grounds of obscenity. “I don’t want to live in Russia. I don’t believe in socialism,” he said. “America is supposed to be free…. I don’t think any one state can stand alone. But if we’ve got twenty of them, then that starts to be something.” And if you’ve got fifty of them, who knows? Maybe you could really get something started!