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Sunday, den 1. January 2012

Amid slowdowns in emerging markets, a debt crisis in Europe, a slow recovery here in the United States, and various other turbulent events, the Financial Times reports that global stock markets lost $6.3 trillion in value this year — a 12 percent slide. After some wild swings reminiscent of the 2008 financial crisis, U.S. markets were mixed with the Dow ending the year up 5.53 percent . Remarkably, the S&P 500 ended the year at 1257.60, just .04 points changed from its 2010 close of 1257.64.

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Sunday, den 1. January 2012

A recall of controversial Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker now appear inevitable. In just 28 days, activists collected 507,533 signatures . Organizers have until January 17 to collect 540,208 signatures, which is equal to 25% of the state’s 2010 general election turnout. To be safe, recall advocates have set a new goal of 720,277 signatures by the deadline. The recall efforts success has propted the Scott Walker’s campaign to take aggressive action to invalidate signatures. Walker sued his own Government Accountability Board , arguing the proceedures adopted by the board to review signatures aren’t agressive enough. Without citing any concrete evidence, Walker alleged to Fox News that there was massive fraud in the signature gathering effort. The case is still pending. Nevertheless, Walker has changed his tone in recent days and acknowleged making mistakes in pursuing his an anti-union effort in his first few days in office. Walker told the LaCross Tribune that “that he’s made mistakes in how he’s gone about achieving his agenda ” and “he regretted not having done a better job of selling his changes to state government.” Walker also said he regretted his statements on a phone call with a man pretending to be billionaire David Koch. He said his comments on the call, where he referred to his plan to undermine collective bargaining as “dropping a bomb” and admitted he considered planting troublemakers among the protesters, were “stupid.” Assuming the final signatures are collected and verified, a recall election is expected in the late-Spring or Summer .

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Saturday, den 31. December 2011

by Greg Hanscom, cross-posted from Grist It’s that time of year again: When public schools everywhere cast about desperately for a holiday celebration that doesn’t involve Jesus or a dude in a red suit; when families gather from thither and yon to spend a few days remembering why they’ve scattered thither and yon in the first place; and yes, it’s time to take stock of the year past, and look ahead to the one coming up. As the guy charged with keeping an eye on all things urban around here, I curled up with my laptop on a winter’s night that was definitely not as cold as they used to be, dug through the archives, and now offer this, my most humble (and totally non-denominational) retrospective of 2011. The promise of 2010: “bright flight” Photo: Matthew Rutledge The view from Seattle’s Capitol Hill. With Millennials and Baby Boomers both expressing interest in more urban living, it looked like 2011 would usher in the “triumph of the city,” to borrow the title from a book released this year by Harvard economist Edward Glaeser. Between-year Census numbers released last year suggested that, for the first time in a generation in many metropolitan areas, white people were shunning the suburbs in favor of city living. “A new image of urban America is in the making,” William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, told the Associated Press . “What used to be white flight to the suburbs is turning into ‘bright flight’ to cities that have become magnets for aspiring young adults who see access to knowledge-based jobs, public transportation, and a new city ambience as an attraction.” It was music to many city leaders’ ears, and great news for the planet, too, as tightly packed, car-free living is what a green future looks like for many of us. But wait, there’s more … The urban renaissance that isn’t (yet) Photo: Scorpions and Centaurs Chicago’s in it for the long sprawl. When the final 2010 Census came in, it made clear that the renaissance had not arrived yet — at least not in any statistically meaningful way. An analysis of eight metro areas, including Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Austin, revealed that in the past decade, 96 percent of the population growth occurred in the suburbs. Some took great exception to this number crunching, arguing that it lumped a number of full-fledged cities in with the ‘burbs. But while the Census, stripped of much of the nuance that it had contained in previous years, painted a rather fuzzy picture, there was little to suggest any inmigraiton into urban centers. The will was there, it seemed, but with suburban home prices in the toilet and the job market in the tank, Americans just weren’t finding a way to extract themselves from the ‘burbs and make the leap back to the city. Back in the car, kids. Looks like this is going to be a longer haul than we’d hoped … The exurban collapse that is (maybe) Photo: Barrie Sutcliffe Americans (and their personal fortunes) may still be tied up the suburbs, but the farthest exurban fringes do seem to have taken a serious, possibly fatal, hit — at least if real estate prices are any indication. An analysis of Zillow’s real estate database by the Brookings Institution (yes, they’re the same folks who brought us “bright flight,” so take this with a grain of salt) shows that the most expensive neighborhoods in the nation are dense, urban areas such as Seattle’s Capitol Hill and Logan Circle in Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, the price of many houses in fringe neighborhoods are now below replacement value. Christopher Leinberger, who did the study for Brookings, argued in a recent New York Times op-ed that this devaluation means that the exurbs will quickly turn into slums. Of course, you could also argue that this is just one more reason people will stay where they are: Why would you sell your place in the ‘burbs for a pittance when it’s not going to buy you half of a house in the city? Time will tell. Meantime, if you’re looking for a screaming deal on a McMansion well out of biking range of town, have I got a deal for you … The reason city living is super — and supergreen Photo: Go Oak Cliff Tactical urbanism: With a few trees, some sidewalk tables, and lots of community input, a Dallas street was transformed. Lest you start getting cold feet about cities, there really is a tremendous amount of energy and creative thought pouring forth from our urban centers these days, the Census be damned. This year, we brought you a veritable blizzard of stories on green building , urban farming , growing bike networks (more on those coming in a bike-tastic retrospective soon!), public transportation , tactical urbanism , street art , and, most recently, neighborhood-level experiments in sustainability. In the absence of real progress on climate change at the state and national levels, cities have led the charge, cutting back their greenhouse gas emissions Kyoto-Protocol-style, to hell with the fat cats in Washington. But the cutting edge is more hyper-local still. Across the country, communities are finding ways to trim down their impact on a local level. And I’m not just talking about recycling and turning off the lights. In Seattle, a high-performance downtown building district aims to cut energy consumption, water use, and transportation-related CO2 emissions to 50 percent of national averages by 2030. In Denver and Brooklyn, efforts are underway to create city blocks that operate as single, interconnected systems , saving gobs of energy and resources in the process. And OK, props to the small towns — and even the suburbs — that are doing strong work too. Viva la Occupation! Photo: Lauren DeCicca via weeklydig I would be remiss to talk about cities in 2011 without mentioning Occupy Wall Street and its many offshoots in cities around the country. While there were a handful of occupations in the boonies , the Occupy movement itself was a powerfully urban phenomenon , a youth-driven movement that had its seeds in the cultural hothouses of American cities. And the clearing out of the protesters by urban police departments will help propel the movement forward even as the original encampments fade. What the 99% will do next is only just beginning to take form, but these kids showed that they have something to say — and know how to make themselves heard. Let’s just hope the good people running for public office this year are paying attention. The promise of 2011: Cities will lead, and the people will push Photo: Thomas Hawk Cities: The final frontier? As the international climate talks in Durban sputtered and fizzled, and the Republican presidential field competed to out-deny the competition , it became ever more clear that if cities don’t lead, no one will. “As mayors — the great pragmatists of the world’s stage and directly responsible for the well-being of the majority of the world’s people — we don’t have the luxury of simply talking about change but not delivering it,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a gathering at the United Nations last week. If things continue as they have been, mayors like Bloomberg will have growing clout on the national and international stage. That’s thanks in part to the protesters whom Bloomberg chased out of Zuccotti Park last month, who have changed the national dialog to focus on issues of inequality and justice. It’s also because of a very real generational shift toward cities as the national ideal. Fifty years ago, America was a nation obsessed with the suburbs. Now, we are beginning to turn back to cities, investing in more sustainable ways of living and finding here-and-now solutions to the problems ahead. These are promising signs, and if the stars align, maybe, just maybe, we’ll see that urban renaissance we’ve all been rooting for. The country and the planet will be all the better for it. Here’s to 2012. Grist special projects editor Greg Hanscom has been editor of the award-winning environmental magazine High Country News and the Baltimore-based city mag, Urbanite. He tweets about cities and the environment at @ghanscom. This piece was originally published at Grist.

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Saturday, den 31. December 2011

Welcome to The Morning Pride, ThinkProgress LGBT’s 8:45 AM round-up of the latest in LGBT policy, politics, and some culture too! Here’s what we’re reading this morning, but let us know what you’re checking out as well. Follow us all day on Twitter at @ TPEquality . – Bob Vander Plaats is taking credit for Rick Santorum’s surge in Iowa, but so far that surge has only gotten him to third place in the polls . – Truth Wins Out is taking out a full page ad in this Sunday’s Chicago Tribune calling on Cardinal Francis George to resign over his comments comparing the gay community to the Ku Klux Klan. – The top ten lies the black church tells about being gay. – A select group of same-sex couples in Delaware will be able to obtain their civil unions New Year’s Day . – LGBT elders continue to face severe challenges finding welcoming housing . – Barnes & Noble has pulled the offensive “sissy” calendar from its stores, but Amazon.com continues to sell it. – Marriage equality is coming to Cancun . – Mara Keisling offers 14 reasons 2011 was a great year for transgender people . – Right Wing Watch and Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters look back at the conservative anti-gay videos of 2011. – Salon highlights the coming out stories of LGBT youth of color . – Out Magazine showcases 23 same-sex love stories in a photo slideshow. – WATCH: Teenagers react to Rick Perry’s “Strong” ad:

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Category: Afghanistan, author, Economy, Feeds, Health, Justice, LGBT, Marriage Equality, Media, politico, Politics, ThinkProgress, Tweets, War | Comments Off
Saturday, den 31. December 2011

King at a Paul campaign event in August (courtesy Gage Skidmore) Just days before the Iowa GOP caucuses, one of the state’s most high profile conservative politicians is strongly warning Republicans against voting for Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). In an interview with Politico, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) suggested a Ron Paul presidency would be “ dangerous ” because of the candidate’s libertarian foreign policy positons: “Iowa Rep. Steve King’s assessment on Ron Paul, one of the two co-frontrunners going into his state’s caucuses next week: “ He’s not dangerous unless he’s president .” “I don’t think that the Paul supporters have really stepped back and thought about what would happen if Ron Paul were operating out of the Oval Office and the commander-in-chief of our armed forces,” King said. Paul’s campaign has soared in recent days, leading the field in Iowa in some polls. Finally taking his candidacy seriously, a number of high profile Republicans and conservative leaders have publicly condemned the unorthodox Texas congressman. King has previously been somewhat bullish on Paul, telling MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that people shouldn’t underestimate Paul . “ He has a group of solid core , very dedicated supporters that will be there,” King told CNN in July of the Ames Straw Poll. King even appeared at a campaign event in Ames with Paul in August.

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Saturday, den 31. December 2011

by Brendan O’Donnell and Mathias Bell, cross-posted from the Rocky Mountain Institute This is part three in a three-part series published at RMI on Turbocharging energy efficiency programs. When you see the blue ENERGY STAR logo plastered on the side of your TV, you probably think of two things: This is an energy-efficient television. The federal government is providing me some assurance that the energy savings are real, the latter being more vague—I know the government is behind this somehow… What you may not know is that some electric utilities are working hard to increase the number of ENERGY STAR appliances being bought. Traditional utility energy-efficiency programs, especially those targeting mass-market residential customers, have enticed participation mostly through rebates. If a customer saves the receipt for an appliance and mails it in, the utility will cut a check. The ENERGY STAR product is made cheaper for the customer and the utility gets credit for the energy savings. But for many customers, rebates are a hassle that require a lot of time and effort. As a result, participation rates fall short, even though buying the ENERGY STAR appliance is the smart choice. To make things easier for customers, some utilities have wisely begun to work upstream with manufacturers, vendors and retailers. Instead of offering the customer rebates, the utilities are providing incentives to product suppliers to ensure that store shelves are stocked only with ENERGY STAR appliances. One upstream program that we think is particularly effective is the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership’s (NEEP) Retail Products Initiative. NEEP is among the programs examined in Turbocharging Energy Efficiency Programs , a new report from Rocky Mountain Institute that examines the best ways for electrical utilities to boost efficiency. NEEP is a nonprofit organization that promotes energy efficiency throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. The Retail Products Initiative leverages the cumulative buying power of the region’s homes and businesses. Rather than relying on individual campaigns, NEEP’s utility partners negotiate cooperative promotions of efficient lighting, appliances and services with retailers in seven states. The utilities and retailers agree on “buy-downs,” which decrease the final price seen by the consumer. Cooperation among organizations has made promotions consistent across utility territories and has facilitated effective statewide campaigns in Vermont, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The results have been impressive. In 2010, more than 4,000 retailers stocked their shelves with ENERGY STAR products as part of the initiative. These retailers sold almost 175,000 efficient appliances, with 60-90 percent of the refrigerators, clothes washers and dishwashers on their shelves carrying ENERGY STAR ratings. Utilities paid $23.3 million to achieve these numbers, and customers will save 5 million MWH throughout the products’ lifetimes, which is the equivalent of energy needed for 450,000 homes for a year. With aggressive energy-efficiency targets , progressive utilities are finding more creative ways to sell and fund their energy efficiency programs. RMI’s Turbocharging Energy Efficiency Programs highlights innovative utility programs and strategies. These utilities are looking to break the mold and achieve dramatically higher savings from their programs. In this report, we include more information about what makes NEEP’s program so effective and also include information on programs administered by: New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) Energy Trust of Oregon Pacific Gas and Electric Xcel Energy Palm Desert’s Set to Save This is the last of three articles to be featured on RMI’s Outlet blog on Turbocharging Energy Efficiency Programs. The first article in the series was written by RMI consultant Mathias Bell and National Resources Defense Council staff scientist Dylan Sullivan. The second article written by analyst Brendan O’Donnell discussed how utilities can achieve higher levels of savings by going broader and deeper.

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Category: Articles, author, Climate Progress, Economy, Environment, Feeds, Global Warming, Health, Justice, LGBT, Media, ThinkProgress, Tweets, War | Comments Off
Saturday, den 31. December 2011

George R.R. Martin, continuing his campaign to torture us with good things that are still far off, has a selection from The Winds of Winter online. There’s nothing exceptionally surprising about the information that’s revealed in it, but I appreciate the fact that we’re still going to be spending time in Theon’s point of view, however painful it is to be there: My sister, Theon thought, my sweet sister. Though he had lost all feeling in his arms, he felt the twisting in his gut, the same as when that bloodless Braavosi banker presented him to Asha as a ‘gift.’ The memory still rankled. The burly, balding knight who’d been with her had wasted no time shouting for help, so they’d had no more than a few moments before Theon was dragged away to face the king. That was long enough. He had hated the look on Asha’s face when she realized who he was; the shock in her eyes, the pity in her voice, the way her mouth twisted in disgust. Instead of rushing forward to embrace him, she had taken half a step backwards. “Did the Bastard do this to you?” she had asked. “Don’t you call him that.” Then the words came spilling out of Theon in a rush. He tried to tell her all of it, about Reek and the Dreadfort and Kyra and the keys, how Lord Ramsay never took anything but skin unless you begged for it. He told her how he’d saved the girl, leaping from the castle wall into the snow. “We flew. Let Abel make a song of that, we flew.” Then he had to say who Abel was, and talk about the washerwomen who weren’t truly washerwomen. By then Theon knew how strange and incoherent all this sounded, yet somehow the words would not stop. He was cold and sick and tired… and weak, so weak, so very weak. She has to understand. She is my sister. He never wanted to do any harm to Bran or Rickon. Reek made him kill those boys, not him Reek but the other one. “I am no kinslayer,” he insisted. He told her how he bedded down with Ramsay’s bitches, warned her that Winterfell was full of ghosts. “The swords were gone. Four, I think, or five. I don’t recall. The stone kings are angry.” He was shaking by then, trembling like an autumn leaf. “The heart tree knew my name. The old gods. Theon, I heard them whisper. There was no wind but the leaves were moving. Theon, they said. My name is Theon.” It was good to say the name. The more he said it, the less like he was to forget. “You have to know your name,” he’d told his sister. “You… you told me you were Esgred, but that was a lie. Your name is Asha.” I initially hated Theon—and it was hard not to. He was the character who was perhaps most invested in both the lies of the path and in the idea that the path to glory lies through conquest. But he’s become a moving testament to the lasting impact of brutality. And in this passage, he’s an illustration of how history gets mangled. It’s hard for people to believe the things that Theon is telling them about Ramsay Bolton because they’re too terrible, they’re the kinds of events and behavior that we all want to believe can’t be true. And living through the worst events of history can turn our most direct eyewitnesses into wrecks other people consider unreliable narrators.

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Saturday, den 31. December 2011

In a new book, Boston journalist Roland Scott reports that Mitt Romney ran on a pro-choice platform in 1994 after “polling from Richard Wirthlin, Ronald Reagan’s former pollster whom Romney had hired for the ’94 campaign, showed it would be impossible for a pro-life candidate to win statewide office in Massachusetts.” Romney is now trying to assure conservative voters he is pro-life, and has previously said his switch before running for the presidency was a moral revelation .

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Saturday, den 31. December 2011

The Debunking Handbook is a guide to debunking myths, by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky. This is part five of a five-part series originally published at Skeptical Science. Assuming you successfully negotiate the various backfire effects, what is the most effective way to debunk a myth? The challenge is that once misinformation gets into a person’s mind, it’s very difficult to remove. This is the case even when people remember and accept a correction. This was demonstrated in an experiment in which people read a fictitious account of a warehouse fire. 1,2,3 Mention was made of paint and gas cans along with explosions. Later in the story, it was clarified that paint and cans were not present at the fire. Even when people remembered and accepted this correction, they still cited the paint or cans when asked questions about the fire. When asked, “Why do you think there was so much smoke?”, people routinely invoked the oil paint despite having just acknowledged it as not being present. When people hear misinformation, they build a mental model, with the myth providing an explanation. When the myth is debunked, a gap is left in their mental model. To deal with this dilemma, people prefer an incorrect model over an incomplete model. In the absence of a better explanation, they opt for the wrong explanation. 4 In the warehouse fire experiment, when an alternative explanation involving lighter fluid and accelerant was provided, people were less likely to cite the paint and gas cans when queried about the fire. The most effective way to reduce the effect of misinformation is to provide an alternative explanation for the events covered by the misinformation. This strategy is illustrated particularly clearly in fictional murder trials. Accusing an alternative suspect greatly reduced the number of guilty verdicts from participants who acted as jurors, compared to defences that merely explained why the defendant wasn’t guilty. 5 For the alternative to be accepted, it must be plausible and explain all observed features of the event. 6,1 When you debunk a myth, you create a gap in the person’s mind. To be effective, your debunking must fill that gap. One gap that may require filling is explaining why the myth is wrong. This can be achieved by exposing the rhetorical techniques used to misinform. A handy reference of techniques common to many movements that deny a scientific consensus is found in Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond? 7 The techniques include cherry picking, conspiracy theories and fake experts. Another alternative narrative might be to explain why the misinformer promoted the myth. Arousing suspicion of the source of misinformation has been shown to further reduce the influence of misinformation. 8,9 Another key element to effective rebuttal is using an explicit warning (“watch out, you might be misled”) before mentioning the myth. Experimentation with different rebuttal structures found the most effective combination included an alternative explanation and an explicit warning. 4 Graphics are also an important part of the debunker’s toolbox and are significantly more effective than text in reducing misconceptions. When people read a refutation that conflicts with their beliefs, they seize on ambiguities to construct an alternative interpretation. Graphics provide more clarity and less opportunity for misinterpretation. When self-identified Republicans were surveyed about their global warming beliefs, a significantly greater number accepted global warming when shown a graph of temperature trends compared to those who were given a written description. 10 Another survey found that when shown data points representing surface temperature, people correctly judged a warming trend irrespective of their views towards global warming. 11 If your content can be expressed visually, always opt for a graphic in your debunking. The Debunking Handbook , a guide to debunking misinformation, is now  freely available to download . Although there is a great deal of psychological research on misinformation, there’s no summary of the literature that offers practical guidelines on the most effective ways of reducing the influence of myths. The Debunking Handbook boils the research down into a short, simple summary, intended as a guide for communicators in all areas (not just climate) who encounter misinformation. References Seifert, C. M. (2002). The continued influence of misinformation in memory: What makes a correction effective? The Psychology of Learning and Motivation , 41, 265-292. Wilkes, A. L.; Leatherbarrow, M. (1988). Editing episodic memory following the identification of error, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology A: Human Experimental Psychology , 40A, 361-387. Johnson, H. M., & Seifert, C. M. (1994). Sources of the continued influence effect: When discredited information in memory affects later inferences. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition , 20 (6), 1420-1436. Ecker, U. K., Lewandowsky, S., & Tang, D. T. (2011). Explicit warnings reduce but do not eliminate the continued influence of misinformation. Memory & Cognition , 38, 1087-1100. Tenney, E. R., Cleary, H. M., & Spellman, B. A. (2009). Unpacking the doubt in “Beyond a reasonable doubt:” Plausible alternative stories increase not guilty verdicts. Basic and Applied Social Psychology , 31, 1-8. Rapp, D. N., & Kendeou, P. (2007). Revising what readers know: Updating text representations during narrative comprehension. Memory & Cognition , 35, 2019-2032. Diethelm, P., & McKee, M. (2009). Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond? European Journal of Public Health , 19, 2-4. Lewandowsky, S., Stritzke, W. G., Oberauer, K., & Morales, M. (2005). Memory for fact, fiction and misinformation: The Iraq War 2003. Psychological Science , 16, 190-195. Lewandowsky, S., & Stritzke, W. G. K., Oberauer, K., & Morales, M. (2009). Misinformation and the ‘War on Terror’: When memory turns fiction into fact. In W. G. K. Stritzke, S. Lewandowsky, D. Denemark, J. Clare, & F. Morgan (Eds.), Terrorism and torture: An interdisciplinary perspective (pp. 179-203). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Nyhan, B., & Reifler, J. (2011). Opening the Political Mind? The effects of self-affirmation and graphical information on factual misperceptions. In press. Lewandowsky, S. (2011). Popular consensus: Climate change set to continue. Psychological Science , 22, 460-463.

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Saturday, den 31. December 2011

The Atlantic Wire suggests that moviegoers are sick of Hollywood’s efforts to soak them by revisiting the same old concepts: The numbers are in, and they show what studio execs likely feared and movie-goers likely suspected all along: Not a lot of people went to the movies this year. Box-office tracker Hollywood.com says that “an estimated 1.275 billion tickets sold” in 2011, a 4.8 percent decrease from 2010 making for “the smallest movie audience since 1995,” reports the AP. A hodgepodge of reasons for the sour showing were cited in the AP and ABC News reports. Among them: Too many sequels, too many kids movies, too many distracting gadgets, the bad economy, high ticket prices, and, something being called an “‘Avatar’ hangover” from 2010. I’m not entirely convinced. Seven of the top-grossing movies in 2011 are sequels, and one, Rise of the Planet of the Apes , is simultaneously a reboot of and a prequel to a popular franchise. The two that fall into neither category, Thor and Captain America , are part of Marvel’s grand Avengers product, and so while they were both handsome movies, are not exactly proof of Americans seeking out fresh concepts. You have to go all the way down to the 12th movie on the list, Bridesmaids , to find a feature that is wholly new, not based on a book, or unlinked to an existing project or franchise. Rio, Super 8 , Rango , and Horrible Bosses are the only other movies in the top 20. Clearly, Hollywood’s having some real trouble selling original stories to American audiences, or for whatever, reason, finding original stories that it feels comfortable trying to sell. The presence of Rio and Rango on that list also suggests that family movies aren’t completely the kiss of death—it’s that other movies weren’t catching hold with the teen and adult audiences in a way that would have pushed those family films further down the list. It makes sense that terrible kids’ movies like Mars Needs Moms would flop, and it’s always nice to see the market recognize stupidity when it sees it as happened there. But it’s really too bad to see a terrific family film like Hugo struggling to make back its production costs: the movie took $155 million to make, and thus far has hauled in just north of $45 million, and I wonder if a lot of that is because people are so sick of paying extra for 3D movies that aren’t particularly worth it that they’re turning away from a movie where 3D is used to brilliant, lovely effect. It would be nice to believe that the two-year box office slump we’re seeing has an easily diagnosable cause, that studios could just sit up and say “Huh, audiences aren’t loving 3D. Let’s ditch the glasses and everyone will come back.” But there seems like a failure to connect on a more fundamental level. I don’t know that the formula for something like Fast Five is easy to distill and make use of in original features, though I will always take more movies with multiracial casts in which Dwanye Johnson acts somewhat hyperreal. And I don’t know what the best way to get audiences in theaters for some great movies that just went so wholly overlooked, like A Better Life . What Hollywood—and those of us in the seats need isn’t necessarily more blockbusters. It’s more deeply compelling mid-budget, mid-gross flicks.

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Saturday, den 31. December 2011

Earmarks has become despised by many voters, but at a campaign stop in Iowa yesterday, Rick Santorum defended his use of them during his 12 years in Congress. The former Pennsylvania senator said he was “proud” of his earmarks, explaining, “Go and look at the Constitution. Who has the responsibility to spend money? Clearly, in the Constitution it is the Congress.” While agreeing that the practice has been “abused,” Santorum even defended his vote for the so-called “ bridge to nowhere ” — a proposed bridge from Ketchikan, Alaska, to an island with 50 residents and the town’s airport. “You had a city that was separated from its airport,” Santorum explained.

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Thursday, den 29. December 2011

Ron Paul has developed a “ live and let live ” approach to same-sex marriage and gay rights on the campaign trail, but his efforts to attract Evangelical voters ahead of the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses have revealed, a darker social conservative side to the libertarian Republican from Texas. For instance, earlier this week, the Paul campaign touted the endorsement of Reverend Phillip Kayser, pastor of Dominion Covenant Church in Omaha, Nebraska, for the “enlightening statements he makes on how Ron Paul’s approach to government is consistent with Christian beliefs.” Kayser has previously argued that the Bible justifies capital punishment against gay people — and still stands by this belief: “Difficulty in implementing Biblical law does not make non-Biblical penology just,” he argued. “But as we have seen, while many homosexuals would be executed, the threat of capital punishment can be restorative. Biblical law would recognize as a matter of justice that even if this law could be enforced today, homosexuals could not be prosecuted for something that was done before.” Reached by phone, Kayser confirmed to TPM that he believed in reinstating Biblical punishments for homosexuals — including the death penalty — even if he didn’t see much hope for it happening anytime soon . While he said he and Paul disagree on gay rights, noting that Paul recently voted for repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, he supported the campaign because he believed Paul’s federalist take on the Constitution would allow states more latitude to implement fundamentalist law. Especially since under Kayser’s own interpretation of the Constitution there is no separation of Church and State. Paul has since stripped the press release announcing Kaiser’s endorsement from its site, but Kaiser is not the only anti-gay supporter to join the campaign. Mike Heath, formerly of the Maine Family Policy Council and American Family Association, came on board earlier this month to run church outreach. Heath has suggested that gay marriage was to blame for Maine’s “endless rain and gloom,” writing, “Our leaders allowed a cloud of error to hide the light of reason, and then the rain began.” In 2004, he embarked on a witch hunt against gay members of the Maine legislature, asking supporters, to “e-mail us tips, rumors, speculation and facts” regarding the sexual orientation of the state’s political leaders.” Paul’s old newsletters from the late 1980s and 1990s have described HIV/AIDS as a gay disease and Paul himself refused to use the bathroom in the the house of a gay supporter. As longtime Paul aide Eric Dondero has revealed , Paul is “personally uncomfortable around homosexuals, no different from a lot of older folks of his era.”

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Thursday, den 29. December 2011

Surging presidential hopeful Rick Santorum took a shot at frontrunner Mitt Romney during a stop in Coralville, Iowa this morning, arguing that a president should not repeal the Affordable Care Act by issuing waivers to the states, as the former Massachusetts governor has suggested . Instead, Santorum promised to use the reconciliation process to eliminate the law if Republicans fail to gain a 60-seat majority in the Senate: SANTORUM: It won’t be a waiver. I know some — Governor Romney has said, “oh we can just waive it.” Well, that’s again, experience does help and the experience of waivers is that some states will waive it and some states won’t …I suspect California won’t, and New York won’t and Connecticut won’t, and a lot of the other deep blue states won’t wave Obamacare. That means all of the taxes will still be in place for you and I to pay and all the money will go to California… The difference between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, is that I come at this cleanly. I’ve been a private sector health care guy from day one…I’ve never dabbled on the dark side when it comes to government health care . Watch it: To be fair, Romney has also pledged to use reconciliation to repeal reform, despite the fact that the budget reconciliation bill would only apply to the budget-related elements and leave many provisions intact. The method would also create “ a chaotic environment driven by enormous uncertainty over just which parts of the new health care law would be implemented–for consumers, health care providers, and insurers.” Still, Romney would have an even harder time undoing Obamacare with waivers. For a state to be granted a waiver, “it must show that it will provide coverage that is at least as comprehensive and affordable as under the federal law,” and would not be able to apply for the exemption before 2017. A recent report from the Congressional Research Service confirms that issuing broader waivers through executive authority would “likely conflict with an explicit congressional mandate and be viewed ‘incompatible with the express … will of Congress.’”

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Thursday, den 29. December 2011

During his presidential campaign, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has had difficulty recalling how many justices sit on the Supreme Court and remembering their names , so perhaps it’s not surprising that today, he forgot a landmark case involving his administration. At a town hall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Perry appeared to draw a blank when asked about Lawrence v. Texas , a landmark 2003 Supreme Court case that threw out Texas’ anti-sodomy laws. Perry was elected governor of Texas in 2000. “I wish I could tell you I knew every Supreme Court case. I don’t, I’m not even going to try,” he responded, calling it a “gotcha question.” “I’m not a lawyer,” he added. Watch it, via TPM: Texas’s “Homosexual Conduct” law, which Lawrence overturned, “ made it a crime for two people of the same sex to have oral or anal sex, even though those sex acts were legal in Texas for people to engage in with persons of a different sex.” As TPM’s Pema Levy notes, Perry defended the law in 2002 when the high court took up the case, saying, “I think our law is appropriate that we have on the books.” When his state lost, he called the justices “ nine oligarchs in robes .” Perry attacked the decision in his 2010 book and even ran on a platform of opposing “the legalization of sodomy” during his 2010 reelection bid.

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Wednesday, den 28. December 2011

There’s a lot of talk about the quality of Julianne Moore’s Sarah Palin impersonation in the trailer for Game Change , the adaptation of the juicy-if-thinly-sourced 2008 campaign chronicle (my take: she’s fine, if no Tina Fey). But I think the real question is whether HBO’S is telling the right story in focusing on Palin: Ultimately, McCain’s selection of Palin only changed the game in that it made McCain look like a gambler. The selection didn’t actually chane the dynamic of the race, and Palin has essentially retreated into the small-town Alaska from whence she came in the years since. The selection of her didn’t even stem from particularly novel thinking, unless playing women and people of color off against each other counts. Not to go all Slim Charles on it, but the game was the same–it just got more fierce. The story I’d really like to see out of that book, actually, is the one about John and Elizabeth Edwards, Rielle Hunter, and the fact that he went ahead with the 2008 campaign despite the mess in his personal life. Hubris and denial aren’t emotions that can be fit into rationality, which makes them particularly interesting. What happened behind the scenes in Palin’s brief, dizzying ascent has been done to death. The Edwards’ follies and tragedies are still somewhat inexplicable. And in a country where we’ve only ever had one divorced President, the idea that you could totally escape the expectations Americans have for the private lives of presidential candidates (Clinton, at least, only ever had Chelsea with Hillary) is a kind of magical thinking.

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Wednesday, den 28. December 2011

A new CNNMoney study found that married same-sex couples pay as much as $6,000 extra every year in taxes because the Defense of Marriage Act prevents the federal government from legally recognizing their unions. Because they cannot file jointly, they cannot combine their incomes and deductions or qualify for various tax breaks that are not available for single-filers. Same-sex couples also don’t qualify for marital exemptions for gift and inheritance taxes.

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Category: author, CNN, Defense of Marriage Act, Economy, Feeds, Health, Justice, LGBT, Marriage Equality, Media, Taxes, ThinkProgress, Tweets | Comments Off
Wednesday, den 28. December 2011

by David Roberts, cross-posted from Grist Wednesday, at long last, the EPA unveiled its new rule covering mercury and other toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants. Anyone who pays attention to green news will have spent the last two years hearing a torrent of stories about EPA rules and the political fights over them. It can get tedious. After a certain point even my eyes glaze over, and I’m paid to follow this stuff. But this one is a Big Deal. It’s worth lifting our heads out of the news cycle and taking a moment to appreciate that history is being made. Finally controlling mercury and toxics will be an advance on par with getting lead out of gasoline. It will save save tens of thousands of lives every year and prevent birth defects, learning disabilities, and respiratory diseases. It will make America a more decent, just, and humane place to live. A couple of background facts to contextualize what the new rule means: First, remember that the original Clean Air Act “grandfathered” in dozens of existing coal plants back in 1977, on the assumption that they were nearing the end of their lives and would be shut soon anyway. Well, funny story … they never shut down! There are still dozens of coal plants in the U.S. that don’t meet the pollution standards in the original 1970 Clean Air Act , much less the 1990 amendments. These old, filthy jalopies from the early 20th century, mostly along the eastern seaboard and scattered around the Midwest, are responsible for a vastly disproportionate amount of the air pollution generated by the electricity sector in America, including most of the mercury. They have been environmentalists’ bête noire for over 30 years now. Second, mercury rules get directly at these plants in a way no other rules have. There’s no trading system for mercury like there is for SO2 (the Bush administration tried to set one up, but the court struck it down). There are no short-cuts either. Every plant that’s out of compliance has to install the “maximum available control technology.” There is some flexibility — more than industry admits — but there’s no getting around the fact that this is going to be an expensive rule. It’s going to kick off a huge wave of coal-plant retirements and investments in pollution-control technology. That is, despite what conservatives say, a good thing, since the public-health benefits will be far greater than the costs. Every country on earth is modernizing its electric fleet. Even China’s ahead of us. These crappy old plants are an embarrassment and good riddance to them. Third, this has been a long time coming. (Nicholas Bianco has some good history here .) An assessment of mercury was part of the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990. EPA stalled and stalled, got sued, and finally did the assessment. Sure enough, as had been known for years, they found mercury is harmful to public health. Then more stalling and more stalling until the Bush administration’s malformed 2004 proposal, which instantly got caught up in (and struck down by) the courts. So when the mercury rule finally goes into effect in 2014, 24 years will have passed since Congress said mercury needs regulating. It’s been a fight for enviros every step of the way. So anyway, this is an historic day and a real step forward for the forces of civilization. It’s the beginning of the end of one of the last of the old-school, 20th-century air pollution problems. (Polluters and their rented conservatives will try to kick up dust about this, but check out this letter to Congress [PDF] from a group of health scientists, which says “exposure to mercury in any form places a heavy burden on the biochemical machinery within cells of all living organisms.”) Long after everyone has forgotten who “won the morning” in the fight over these rules, or what effect they had on Obama’s electoral chances, the rule’s legacy will live on in a healthier, happier American people. David Roberts is a staff writer for Grist. You can follow his Twitter feed at twitter.com/drgrist . This piece was originally published at Grist.

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Category: author, Clean Air Act, Climate Progress, Congress, Economy, Environment, Feeds, Global Warming, Health, Iraq, Justice, LGBT, Media, Technology, ThinkProgress, Tweets, War | Comments Off
Wednesday, den 28. December 2011

The Debunking Handbook is a guide to debunking myths, by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky. Although there is a great deal of psychological research on misinformation, unfortunately there is no summary of the literature that offers practical guidelines on the most effective ways of reducing the influence of misinformation. This Handbook boils down the research into a short, simple summary, intended as a guide for communicators in all areas (not just climate) who encounter misinformation. This is part three in a five-part series cross-posted from Skeptical Science. One principle that science communicators often fail to follow is making their content easy to process. That means easy to read, easy to understand and succinct. Information that is easy to process is more likely to be accepted as true. 1 Merely enhancing the colour contrast of a printed font so it is easier to read, for example, can increase people’s acceptance of the truth of a statement. 2 Common wisdom is that the more counter-arguments you provide, the more successful you’ll be in debunking a myth. It turns out that the opposite can be true. When it comes to refuting misinformation, less can be more. Debunks that offered three arguments, for example, are more successful in reducing the influence of misinformation, compared to debunks that offered twelve arguments which ended up reinforcing the myth. 1 The Overkill Backfire Effect occurs because processing many arguments takes more effort than just considering a few. A simple myth is more cognitively attractive than an over-complicated correction. The solution is to keep your content lean, mean and easy to read. Making your content easy to process means using every tool available. Use simple language, short sentences, subheadings and paragraphs. Avoid dramatic language and derogatory comments that alienate people. Stick to the facts. End on a strong and simple message that people will remember and tweet to their friends, such as “97 out of 100 climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warning”; or “Study shows that MMR vaccines are safe.” Use graphics wherever possible to illustrate your points. Scientists have long followed the principles of the Information Deficit Model, which suggests that people hold erroneous views because they don’t have all the information. But too much information can backfire. Adhere instead to the KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Stupid! The Debunking Handbook , a guide to debunking misinformation, is now  freely available to download . Although there is a great deal of psychological research on misinformation, there’s no summary of the literature that offers practical guidelines on the most effective ways of reducing the influence of myths. The Debunking Handbook boils the research down into a short, simple summary, intended as a guide for communicators in all areas (not just climate) who encounter misinformation. References Schwarz, N., Sanna, L., Skurnik, I., & Yoon, C. (2007). Metacognitive experiences and the intricacies of setting people straight:Implications for debiasing and public information campaigns. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology , 39, 127-161. Reber, R., Schwarz, N. (1999). Effects of Perceptual Fluency on Judgments of Truth, Consciousness and Cognition , 8, 338-3426.

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Category: author, Climate Progress, Deficit, Economy, Feeds, Global Warming, Health, Justice, LGBT, Media, Science, ThinkProgress, Tweets, War | Comments Off
Wednesday, den 28. December 2011

It turns out that poor, pokey NBC, home of much beloved, wildly creative sitcoms like Community and Parks and Recreation, is the network most willing to trade product placement for financial support for its shows. And while I suppose I should be up in arms about the marching corporatization of our entertainment, I can’t say that the supposed evils of product placement are at the top of my list. First, there’s a difference between using product placement to make already-cheap shows cheaper, as is the case with reality television as NBC does with The Biggest Loser and The Celebrity Apprentice , and using product placement to subsidize quality but low-rated programming as NBC has done with Friday Night Lights and Chuck . Using donated products to carry out the same repetitive rituals doesn’t actually make the formula of a predictable competition show any more predictable, or the emotional arc of the show any less manufactured. And the small but dedicated audiences for those other kinds of shows are aware enough to recognize artifice when they see it, and to appreciate that they’re enjoying something that’s been kept alive by something other than pure audience size. Better Chuck with the Subway references than no Chuck at all, I guess. More to the point, the assumption that characters wouldn’t use brands and talk about products actually runs counter to reality. We all have irrational brand loyalties, and talk about products, and recommend stuff to each other. It’s not some dramatic distortion of the universe of the show, as long as the characters aren’t Amish or live in a socialist future, for characters to talk about the things they buy and why they like them. And finally, for the most part, we’re not dumb. People know what product integration is, and that it’s being done to them. Not every show is going to be 30 Rock and laugh at the concept even as it uses it: But even if people end up buying a Snapple because Liz Lemon likes it, or shampoo because it makes Robin’s hair look fantastic on How I Met Your Mother (I just started watching, and her hair ), or test-driving a car because the main character on Castle does it, this is hardly the worst thing to happen. And for the most part, I suspect people know why they’re doing what they’re doing. It may be foolish to think that I can ever look like Jennifer Morrison without a set full of dresses, extensive plastic surgery, and a magical application of extra tallness. But if I spend a few dollars occasionally because I dig her eye shadow, no harm, no foul, in the indulgence of the fantasy and its immediate debunking.

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Wednesday, den 28. December 2011

Less than two weeks after the Department of Justice found widespread lawlessness and abuse of Latinos by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his deputies, an Arizona federal judge ordered Arpaio to end one of his most abusive practices — detaining and arresting people who have committed no crime merely because his office suspects them of being undocumented. The court also certified this lawsuit against Arpaio as a class action, thereby empowering any Latino stopped or detained by Arpaio’s office since 2007 or at any point in the future to enforce the court order.

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Tuesday, den 27. December 2011

Welcome to The Morning Pride, ThinkProgress LGBT’s 8:45 AM round-up of the latest in LGBT policy, politics, and some culture too! Here’s what we’re reading this morning, but let us know what you’re checking out as well. Follow us all day on Twitter at @ TPEquality . – The White House reflects on the one-year anniversary of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal. – The “ Red Kettle Menace ” plays damage control on LGBT issues. – Illinois has issued  3,729 civil unions since June in all but one county. – Hawaii hotels anticipate a tourism boost when civil unions become legal January 1. -  Do blacks sympathize with the gay-rights movement? – Another metropolitan newspaper highlights the lives and struggles of transgender people. – Lance Bass explains why not to use the word “tranny” after learning the hard way. – A same-sex couple married in Spain is looking to have their marriage recognized in France . – Frank Mugisha explains that Uganda isn’t struggling with the Western import of homosexuality, but with the Western  import of homophobia . – The Australian intersex community reaches out to Sec. Hillary Clinton. – Pinkwashing fail: An Israeli textbook calls homosexuality a disorder . – Three-year-old Riley: “Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses! Some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses! So why do all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different color stuff?”: – Happy holidays from the  San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus Ambassadors :

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Tuesday, den 27. December 2011

Change.org has released a petition calling for the resignation of Catholic Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, following comments the Cardinal made to FOX Chicago Sunday comparing the gay rights movement to the Klu Klux Klan’s anti-Catholicism. Equally Blessed, an umbrella group of pro-LGBT rights Catholic organizations, has reinforced the pushback by releasing a statement declaring in part that George, “has demeaned and demonized LGBT people in a manner unworthy of his office. In suggesting that the Catholic hierarchy has reason to fear LGBT people in the same way that blacks, Jews, Catholics and other minorities had reason to fear the murderous nightriders of the Ku Klux Klan, he has insulted the memory of the victims of the Klan’s violence and brutality.” The petition has already garnered well over half the 2,500 signatures the organization was aiming for. Chicago’s upcoming gay pride parade had been rerouted past Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, raising concerns it would logistically interfere with that Sunday’s services — sparking Cardinal George’s incendiary comments: CARDINAL GEORGE: Well, I go with the pastor. I mean, he’s telling us that they won’t be able to have Church services on Sunday, if that’s the case. You don’t want the gay liberation movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism. So, I think if that’s what’s happening, and I don’t know that it is, but I would respect the local pastor’s, you know, position on that. Then I think that’s a matter of concern for all of us. Watch it: Meanwhile, Chicago’s LGBT community could give Cardinal George a lesson in graciousness: They met with representatives from Our Lady of Mount Carmel last week, and have agreed to a noon start time for the parade to accommodate parishioners moving to and from Sunday services. Update Cardinal George has attempted to walk back his comments , claiming he was comparing the impact of the KKK and gay pride  parades , not the people in the two different groups: Obviously, it’s absurd to say the gay and lesbian community are the Ku Klux Klan, but if you organize a parade that looks like parades that we’ve had in our past because it stops us from worshipping God, well then that’s the comparison, but it’s not with people and people — it’s parade-parade.

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Tuesday, den 27. December 2011

I was unexpectedly sad two days before Christmas to learn that John Lawrence, the plaintiff Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned sodomy laws in the United States, had died in late November virtually unnoticed by the country he helped change , and to learn from that obituary that Tyron Garner, with whom he was arrested for having sex (though both men said they were never intimate) had died in 2006 . The news touched me not just because I was volunteering for Freedom to Marry Massachusetts the summer the Lawrence decision came down, and so felt it as a victory in a battle I was engaged in, but because it made me think about what happens to people after they do their part to make history and memory and its failures. Biopics of very famous people have become an extremely reliable way for acclaimed actors to finally claim the hardware that has eluded them for other parts, or to claim more hardware and a confirmation of their greatness. But we don’t really need a biopic about Margaret Thatcher, whose life and legacy seem sufficiently understood. Even a figure like Ronald Reagan, whose life and legacy are distorted almost continually, doesn’t seem particularly needy: the myths and corrections are issued quickly and forcefully. There will be no authoritative version of his life in film or otherwise—partisans on both sides are sure they have the truth already. Sometimes, a biopic does the interesting thing of illuminating a very great and famous person through someone who played a pivotal role in their life. The King’s Speech may have seemed to some people an unworthy trifle to bring in such a haul earlier this year, but it has the virtues of being a fine film about class and medicine in addition to an illumination of a king. But how about the people who were the real sparks to history themselves—after all, if there hadn’t been Lionel Logue, there would have been someone else, and more importantly, there still would have been the speech—but are forgotten. We’ve done a better job of remembering the Little Rock Nine than we have James Lawrence and Tyron Garner, even though they’re further in the distance, but even then, we see them as elements in a collective image. We don’t know very much about what makes them decide to integrate a school. And we don’t know very much about what made a Texas medical technician decide he could carry forth as the representative of a difficult cause, and how it came to be that one of his lawyers didn’t even know he’d died after their great victory. Good biopics should do more than affirm the greatness of the great. They should tell us something about history, particularly when it fails us and fails us quickly.

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Tuesday, den 27. December 2011

NOTE:  NY Times readers who want to see an extended excerpt of my Nature article can go here: “ Nature Publishes My Piece on Dust-Bowlification and the Grave Threat It Poses to Food Security .” The NY Times reviews two new books on Dust-Bowlification — A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest , and Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City : Both authors cite the work of Jonathan Overpeck , a geologist and a director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona, whose tracking of simultaneously increasing temperatures and decreasing rainfall leads him to conclude that a new era of drought is dawning in many regions. He is not alone. The NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies had already predicted that extreme droughts would be an every-other-year phenomenon in the United States by the middle of this century. And of course, the American Southwest is not the only region experiencing drought apparently tied to climate change . According to the journal Science, of the 12 driest winters the Mediterranean has experienced since 1902, 10 have occurred in the last 20 years. Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say climate change can explain half of the added dryness. See NOAA Bombshell: Human-Caused Climate Change Already a Major Factor in More Frequent Mediterranean Droughts “The coming droughts ought to be a major driver — if not the major driver — of climate policies,” Joseph Romm wrote in a recent issue of the journal Nature. Dr. Romm, a physicist who edits the blog Climate Progress , added, “Raising public awareness of, and scientific focus on, the likelihood of severe effects of drought is the first step to prompting action.” People who read these books will understand that message. CP will run a full review of deBuys’ A Great Aridness shortly . Dr. deBuys explains what we need to do and what we are likely to do: Dr. deBuys puts it somewhat differently. History teaches that people have difficulty adapting to prolonged, extreme drought, he writes. Faced with it, they typically abandon efforts to cope and simply abandon their homes. That is why we call dry places deserts — they are deserted. Is that tactic likely for today’s Southwest? No. But, he writes, any answers to the water challenge will require “strong social will and collective commitment.” At the moment, though, the region’s politics tend to embrace the idea that collective action of any kind is inherently suspicious or even evil; government is the problem, never the solution; and regulation is the bane of economic growth. These ideas are not in accord with Dr. deBuys’s prescription, which is to “get on with what we should have been doing all along, including limiting greenhouse gases.” There is no silver bullet, he writes. “There is only the age-old duty to extend kindness to other beings, to work together and with discipline on common challenges.” Precisely.

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Category: Arizona, author, Climate Progress, Congress, director, Economy, Environment, Feeds, Global Warming, Health, Justice, LGBT, Media, Politics, Science, The Nation, ThinkProgress, Tweets, War | Comments Off
Tuesday, den 27. December 2011

The Debunking Handbook is a guide to debunking myths, by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky. It boils down the research on the psychological research on misinformation into a short, simple summary. This is part two of a five-part series cross-posted from Skeptical Science. To debunk a myth, you often have to mention it — otherwise, how will people know what you’re talking about? However, this makes people more familiar with the myth and hence more likely to accept it as true. Does this mean debunking a myth might actually reinforce it in people’s minds? To test for this backfire effect, people were shown a flyer that debunked common myths about flu vaccines. 1 Afterwards, they were asked to separate the myths from the facts. When asked immediately after reading the flyer, people successfully identified the myths. However, when queried 30 minutes after reading the flyer, some people actually scored worse after reading the flyer. The debunking reinforced the myths. Hence the backfire effect is real. The driving force is the fact that familiarity increases the chances of accepting information as true. Immediately after reading the flyer, people remembered the details that debunked the myth and successfully identified the myths. As time passed, however,  the memory of the details faded and all people remembered was the myth without the “tag” that identified it as false. This effect is particularly strong in older adults because their memories are more vulnerable to forgetting of details. How does one avoid causing the Familiarity Backfire Effect? Ideally, avoid mentioning the myth altogether while correcting it. When seeking to counter misinformation, the best approach is to focus on the facts you wish to communicate. Not mentioning the myth is sometimes not a practical option. In this case, the emphasis of the debunking should be on the facts. The often-seen technique of headlining your debunking with the myth in big, bold letters is the last thing you want to do. Instead, communicate your core fact in the headline. Your debunking should begin with emphasis on the facts, not the myth. Your goal is to increase people’s familiarity with the facts. The Debunking Handbook , a guide to debunking misinformation, is now  freely available to download . References Skurnik, I., Yoon, C., Park, D., & Schwarz, N. (2005). How warnings about false claims become recommendations. Journal of Consumer Research , 31, 713-724.

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Tuesday, den 27. December 2011

About 60 Arab League-sponsored monitors arrived in Syria last night and began inspecting the situation on the ground in cities that have served as focal points of the pro-democracy demonstrations. The AP reports that Syria suspended military operations and began withdrawing tanks as the Arab League monitors moved in and met with local leaders. The monitors are charged with making sure that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is complying with an Arab League brokered deal to end the violence and begin negotiations with the opposition. But activists fear Assad’s latest move is mainly just for show : The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said some army vehicles pulled out of Homs while others relocated to government compounds “ where [they] can deploy again within five minutes .” … Given the intensified crackdown, the opposition sees Syria’s agreement to the Arab League plan as a farce, and some even accuse the League of complicity in the killings. Since Syria signed on to the deal Dec. 19, activists said nearly 300 civilians have been killed. About 150 more died in clashes between army defectors and troops—most of them defectors. Reuters reports that around 20,000 Syrians gathered in Homs today, as the Arab League monitors arrived, to protest against Assad’s government and violent crackdown. Sudanese General Mustafa Dabi is leading the monitoring team and said 100 more monitors are to arrive in the coming days. Dabi said his teams will use transportation provided by the Syrian government but insisted that his monitors will be able to maintain an “element of surprise” and be able to go wherever they choose without notice.

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Tuesday, den 27. December 2011

Shortly before leaving her chambers for the holidays, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a former prosecutor who was appointed to her state’s highest court by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), became the latest high-ranking official to question whether her state should continue to impose a death penalty : “I don’t think it is working,” said Cantil-Sakauye, elevated from the Court of Appeal in Sacramento to the California Supreme Court by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “ It’s not effective. We know that .” California’s death penalty requires “structural change, and we don’t have the money to create the kind of change that is needed,” she said. “Everyone is laboring under a staggering load.” . . . “I don’t know if the question is whether you believe in it anymore. I think the greater question is its effectiveness and given the choices we face in California, should we have a merit-based discussion on its effectiveness and costs?” Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye’s comments are just the latest sign that our national consensus is moving away from state-sponsored executions. Although most Americans continue to support the practice, a recent poll found support for the death penalty at a 39 year low and the number of death sentences declined below 100 this year for the first time in over three decades . Illinois recently abolished its death penalty and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) declared a moratorium on executions while he is in office. Californians will soon have the opportunity to follow Illinois’ lead. Petition signatures are currently being collected for a ballot initiative which will abolish the death penalty in that state as well .

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Monday, den 26. December 2011

Yesterday, the Republican Party of Virginia announced on Twitter that “Newt Gingrich did not submit required 10k signatures and has not qualified for the VA primary.” Reeling from their own ineptness, the Gingrich campaign quickly announced that it would “pursue an aggressive write-in campaign .” But as we noted yesterday, Virginia laws prohibit such a write-in campaign. The New York Times assessed that Gingrich’s failure could “ shake the confidence of voters .” The National Review called both Gingrich and Rick Perry “ idiotic .” On Fox, Karl Rove said flatly, “This is a problem — if you’re the front runner and you can’t organize your campaign so you can meet those filing deadlines. It’s elemental. It’s the fundamental thing you do.” By late last night, the Gingrich campaign was trying desperately reassure the public that it could recover. Campaign director Michael Krull went on Facebook to convey that Newt told him “ this is not catastrophic — we will continue to learn and grow.” Then, in the very next paragraph, Krull employed a “catastrophic” metaphor to suggest the campaign is now recovering from a calamity : Newt and I agreed that the analogy is December 1941: We have experienced an unexpected set-back , but we will re-group and re-focus with increased determination, commitment and positive action. Throughout the next months there will be ups and downs; there will be successes and failures; there will be easy victories and difficult days – but in the end we will stand victorious. Gingrich, who fashions himself as an historian, frequently employs Peal Harbor analogies and anecdotes . In fact, he has co-authored an historical fiction book about Pearl Harbor, which literary critics blasted for its shoddy quality .

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Sunday, den 25. December 2011

At an event in South Carolina yesterday, Newt Gingrich was asked by a town hall participant to offer his views regarding the state’s decision to fly the Confederate flag at the statehouse in Columbia. The woman’s question was met with a smattering of boos from the audience. “I have a very strong opinion,” Gingrich said, prefacing his weak response. “It’s up to the people of South Carolina.” (He then qualified his answer by assuring that he is opposed to segregation and slavery.) Gingrich elicited a rousing standing ovation and yells of approval from the audience. Watch it: On the one hand, while Gingrich was giving cover to our nation’s racist history with his answer on the Confederate flag, he was also employing racism as a political tool. Politico reports Gingrich told reporters later that “the left” often uses “ racism as an excuse for thought .” During his 2008 run, Mitt Romney took a far bolder stance than Gingrich, saying “ that flag shouldn’t be flown ” and “that’s not a flag I recognize.” Romney was attacked by right-wing activists for his stand. It’s unclear how he will deal with the issue this coming year. NAACP President Ben Jealous has been challenging South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) to take the flag down. “Perhaps one of the most perplexing examples of the contradictions of this moment in history is that Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s first governor of color, continues to fly the Confederate flag in front of her state’s capitol,” Jealous said last July. “Given the similarities between our struggles to end slavery and segregation, and her ancestors’ struggle to end British colonialism and oppression in India, my question to Governor Haley is one that Dr. King often asked himself: ‘What would Gandhi do?’ ”

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Sunday, den 25. December 2011

In an editorial today, the New York Times bemoans the havoc that David Caton’s “one-man hate group” (the Florida Family Association) has wrought by tapping into “anti-Muslim sentiment.” Lowe’s and Kayak, two companies who have proudly pulled their advertising from TLC’s “All-American Muslim,” have “ sent a distasteful message to their customers , their employees, and to the larger public,” the editorial writes.

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Category: author, Economic Policy, Economy, Feeds, Health, Iraq, Islamophobia, Justice, LGBT, Media, Politics, Taxes, ThinkProgress, War | Comments Off
Sunday, den 25. December 2011

A week ago, the last U.S. troops rolled out of Iraq into Kuwait. Today, all but a small handful of the last combat brigade from Iraq, where the U.S.-led coalition fought a war for nearly 9 years, arrived home to Fort Hood , Texas, in time to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with their families. 200 of the troops from the brigade arrived home, leaving only about a dozen deployed overseas. Here’s a photo of one soldier arriving home last week:

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Saturday, den 24. December 2011

Welcome to The Morning Pride, ThinkProgress LGBT’s 8:45 AM round-up of the latest in LGBT policy, politics, and some culture too! Here’s what we’re reading this morning, but let us know what you’re checking out as well. Follow us all day on Twitter at @ TPEquality . -  John Geddes Lawrence , the defendant from Lawrence v. Texas , has died at age 68. – Watch: Michele Bachmann challenged on LGBT issues by a “gay robot.” – Poll: A plurality of New Mexicans support marriage equality. – The Tennessee hospital that denied visitation to a patient’s same-sex partner has rescinded that decision. – A Tennessee private Christian school has banned any mention of homosexuality . - Union-Scioto School District in Ohio is revisiting its bullying policy after pressure from internet petitioners outraged by the brutal beating of a gay student that went viral on YouTube. – The National Organization for Marriage’s Maggie Gallagher offers some marital hypocrisy and the group has a new pointless website . – Timewarp: A community in Idaho is outraged that a local theatre is producing Rent because there are LGBT characters and characters with AIDS. – The Minnesota gay community “ apologizes to Amy Koch for ruining her marriage.” – DePaul University, the largest Catholic University in the U.S., has its first openly gay student body president . – Is Ireland becoming a better place for LGBT people? – MoveOn and Zach Wahls offer a holiday message: “Love Makes a Family”:

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Saturday, den 24. December 2011

The House is expected to pass the two-month payroll tax cut extension today, preventing taxes from increasing for millions of Americans on Jan. 1. The Senate approved the deal Friday morning. House Speaker John Boehner caved under the enormous pressure and dropped his opposition to the extension, telling reporters late Thursday that the House had reached a deal to pass the Senate’s two-month extension deal after minor modifications , according to the Washington Post: The agreement resolved the last stalemate in a year of bitter congressional fighting that earned lawmakers their lowest approval ratings in recent memory . In exchange for supporting the 60-day patch, Republicans secured minor face-saving concessions from Senate leaders, who had already passed a two-month deal on an overwhelming vote of 89 to 10. Senate leaders had balked at the House’s demand to restart talks over the holidays on a full-year extension of the tax cut. The Senate agreed to make a technical change to the payroll tax reporting requirements , designed to lessen the burden on small businesses of implementing the two-month deal. And Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) promised he would appoint a conference committee to take up negotiations after New Year’s Day on ways to pay for a full-year tax cut . Both chambers will pass the plan by unanimous consent so long as no member shows up to voice opposition in person, which lets the deal pass even though most members have gone home. There was no opposition to the deal in the Senate Friday morning. The two-month extension gives House and Senate leaders time to negotiate for a yearlong extension after the holiday recess. “I am grateful that the voices of reason have prevailed,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said in a statement. But so far, a few House freshmen have threatened to stop the deal. Freshman Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) said he was “not yet sure” if he would protest the deal, and Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) told CNN’s John King Thursday night, “I’m not so sure I’m not going to do that,” when asked if he’d drive to Washington, D.C. to stop the deal . Boehner acknowledged the pressure he has felt, telling reporters Thursday that “I talked to enough members over the last 24 hours who say we don’t like the two-month extension and if you can get this fixed, why not do the right thing for the American people even if it’s not exactly what we want.” Boehner received pressure from his own party — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called on the House to pass the two month extension yesterday — as well as the public. After the White House asked people to say what $40 — the average amount an American worker would lose per paycheck without the extension — would mean to them, thousands of people responded on Twitter using the #40dollars hashtag. Update The House passed the extension deal by unanimous consent. Update After the House passed the deal, Reid named his conferees : Democratic Sens. Max Baucus (MT), Ben Cardin (MD), Jack Reed (RI) and Bob Casey (PA). House Democrats named their conferees before the House adjourned: Reps. Sandy Levin (MI), Xavier Becerra (CA), Chris Van Hollen (MD), Allyson Schwartz (PA), and Henry Waxman (CA).

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Category: author, CNN, Congress, Economic Policy, Economy, Feeds, Harry Reid, Health, House Speaker, Justice, LGBT, Media, politico, Politics, Taxes, ThinkProgress, Tweets, War, Washington, White House | Comments Off
Saturday, den 24. December 2011

Emily Nussbaum points to an interview with Homeland showrunner Alex Gansa that contains this interesting tidbit about a network that banned any suggestion that police could ever disagree: Well, I recently did a police procedural for a major broadcast network. And the note came down from the network time and time again that there could be no conflict among the police officers and detectives who were trying to solve the crime. In other words, they didn’t want any dissention in the ranks among the good guys. Because if you showed dissention among the ranks, then people would begin to question if they were actually doing their jobs properly. And, of course, that robbed every single scene in the precinct of any drama whatsoever. They had to get along. They became just mouthpieces of exposition instead of real people. And it was infuriating on a weekly basis to get that note. They couldn’t disagree. They couldn’t be wrong. They had to always be on the straight and narrow. And it was impossible to construct stories under those kinds of conditions. There’s no conflict? I mean, that’s the first thing I ever learned as a writer in television. You know, you have to have conflict for any kind of drama. And this particular network just believed that there was enough drama in the good guys catching the bad guys, so that you didn’t have to muddy the good guys in any way, shape, or form. They just had to be right all of the time, and they had to be in sync all of the time. I mean, it was absurd. And Kate Arthur from The Daily Beast notes that “There’s at least one another network that has the rule that doctors can never be wrong.” This doesn’t just make for bad storytelling: it’s an actively dangerous endorsement of the idea that we should never question people in positions of power. It would be ridiculous to present a vision of a police department where no one ever commits an act of wrongdoing or negligence during an investigation. And it would be worse to present a department where, say, mistreatment of suspects, lying about what you’d witnessed , or God forbid, using pepper spray or live ammunition on the public went unquestioned. Similarly, having television deliver the collective message “trust me, I’m a doctor” carries considerable risk with it. We live in a country where medical professionals have sterilized black women , lied about providing treatment to people with sexually transmitted diseases, and massively overdosed infants on blood-thinning drugs . Not to mention the fact that perhaps the most prominent doctor on television routinely abuses and harasses his patients. We need stories that encourage patients to be informed about their health, and to be their own advocates in the doctor’s office. Obviously, living in a society is grand, and I appreciate the police keeping my neighborhood safe. I find the rise of vaccine deniers who refuse to accept the consensus of the medical establishment and are making the rest of us less safe really disturbing. But there has to be space between giving doctors and the police absolute authority and no authority, for narrative, and for our own safety.

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Saturday, den 24. December 2011

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton (D) suggested that Republicans should abandon a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage in the aftermath of the controversy surrounding former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch (R). Earlier this month, following rumors of an an alleged affair with a male Senate staffer who reported to Koch, “the Republican from Buffalo r esigned her leadership post and announced she would not seek re-election.” “I think it underscores that sanctity of marriage is important to most Minnesotans and people who are in same-sex relationships believe in that sanctity also and want a chance to participate in the sanctity in the same way as heterosexual couples,” Dayton told MPR’s All Things Considered, before suggesting that Republicans would be hypocritical in pursuing the measure: DAYTON: I will say, before you take out the speck in your neighbor’s eye, take the log out of your own eye. Somebody whose conduct doesn’t measure up to what they’re professing to believe in or prescribing for others, then they should be called on that . Listen: Yesterday, the gay community in Minnesota sent Koch a mock letter apologizing “for ruining the institution of marriage and causing her to stray from her husband and engage in an ‘inappropriate relationship.’” “On behalf of all gays and lesbians living in Minnesota, I would like to wholeheartedly apologize for our community’s successful efforts to threaten your traditional marriage,” reads the letter from John Medeiros. “We apologize that our selfish requests to marry those we love has cheapened and degraded traditional marriage so much that we caused you to stray from your own holy union for something more cheap and tawdry.”

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Saturday, den 24. December 2011

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has jumped on Mitt Romney’s lucrative career in the private sector as head of Bain Capital, a private equity group that paid Romney generously while closing companies and cuting thousands of jobs. But Romney’s high net worth — estimated to be in excess of $200 million — and his ongoing retirement from package from Bain — understood to pay Romney millions of dollars per year — has put new scrutiny on the former Massachusetts governor’s unwillingness to disclose his tax returns. Last night, Newt Gingrich’s campaign sought to capitalize on Romney’s unwillingness to release tax returns and sent reporters the following email : Just in case you were curious, Newt Gingrich plans to release his income tax returns if he is the GOP nominee. The move by the Gingrich camp comes after multiple news organizations reported on the Romney campaigns unwillingness to release the returns. Yesterday, Romney told reporters, “We don’t have any current plans to release tax returns but never say never.” In an interview with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, Romney went further : Mr. Romney made the statement in an interview with MSNBC on Wednesday, but the network did not show that part of the interview. Mr. Romney, a multimillionaire who made his fortune running a private equity firm, was asked whether he planned to release his tax return. “I doubt it,” Mr. Romney said, according to a transcript of the interview provided by NBC News. “I will provide all the financial info, which is an extraordinary pile of documents which show investments and so forth.” “But you won’t do the tax returns?” asked Chuck Todd , host of “The Daily Rundown.” “I don’t intend to release the tax returns. I don’t,” Mr. Romney responded. Watch it: In 1994, Romney challenged Sen. Ted Kennedy to disclose his state and federal taxes to prove he has “ nothing to hide .” Indeed, scrutiny on Romney’s tax returns lies in the fact that Romney is likely not paying normal income tax rates on the ongoing payments from Bain. He is likely paying a capital gains tax rate of 15 percent instead of an income tax rate which, in his bracket, would be 35 percent. Romney’s unwillingness to release his tax returns, and the Gingrich camp’s efforts to capitalize on Romney’s secrecy, could pose a challenge as Romney continues his assault on Gingrich’s lobbying and business dealings.

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Saturday, den 24. December 2011

San Francisco Archbishop George Hugh Niederauer The Archbishop of San Francisco has asked the pastor of a gay-friendly church in the Castro district to disinvite “a trio of gay-friendly clergy scheduled to speak at a series of pre-Christmas evening services,” arguing that the speakers were “ inappropriate for the season of Advent ,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Retired Rev. Roland Stringfellow, one of the cancelled speakers, was taken aback by the implication of the Archbishop’s decision: “It’s ironic and hypocritical that the Catholic Church has a ‘Come home’ ad campaign going on right now,” he said. “Clearly, not everyone is welcome within the Catholic Church.”… What also bothered Stringfellow was the assumption that because he works with Berkeley’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, he would give a rousing gay rights sermon that ignored the religious themes of the season of Advent . “Most congregations invite speakers who can speak well to their community’s concerns,” he said. “We are all clergy within our own rites and denominations, and we were very disrespected by the idea that we can only give a talk that’s about gay rights.” The issue of homosexuality is “a thorny one for the Catholic Church, which holds that while same-sex orientation is acceptable, gay or lesbian sexual activity is not.” Most practicing Catholics disagree with this interpretation. According to one recent survey , only 35 percent of Catholics oppose same-sex marriage and 16 percent of Catholics believe church leaders have “the final say” on homosexuality, down from 32 percent over the past 25 years.

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Saturday, den 24. December 2011

West Virginia Delegate John Doyle plans to “ introduce a bill that would recognize gay and lesbian couples with civil unions,” OnTopMagazine notes. “I’m not going to introduce a gay marriage bill simply because it has no chance of passing the West Virginia Legislature. We just might be able to get a civil union bill through, so I’m going to give it a shot ,” Doye — who will not seek re-election — said. A Public Policy Polling survey from September found that only 19 percent of the state voters support same-sex marriage, but 43 percent “want some form of legal recognition for gay couple.”

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Monday, den 19. December 2011

Appearing on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney dodged a question about whether or not the U.S. should have invaded Iraq in 2003. Instead of answering the question about knowing what we know now, Romney, who’s flip-flopped between calling the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq “ appropriate” and an “astonishing failure ,” stood by his support for the war when he knew only what he knew then: WALLACE: [L]ooking back, and hindsight is always 20/20, should we have invaded? ROMNEY: At that time, we didn’t have the knowledge that we have now . At that time, Saddam Hussein was hiding. He was not letting the inspectors from the United Nations into the various places that they wanted to go. The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] was blocked from going into the palaces and so forth. And the intelligence in our nation and other nations was that this tyrant had weapons of mass destruction. And in the light of that — that belief, we took action which was appropriate at the time . Watch the video : While running for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 at the height of the run-up to the Iraq war, Romney campaigned alongside President George W. Bush. Then-Romney aide and now-adviser Eric Fehrnstrom told reporters : “Al Gore has been a critic to the president’s policies in regard to the war on terrorism, specifically on the plans with regard to Iraq. Mitt’s position is that he supports the president.” In his 2007 presidential campaign, Romney answered the same question Wallace posed the same way. “I supported the president’s decision based on what we knew at that time,” he said , noting that Hussein had not allowed inspectors in. But, as Media Matters pointed out at the time, by the fall of 2002, U.N. inspectors had entered Iraq and were making progress taking stock of weapons of mass destruction programs. Today, Romney repeated the false claim that Hussein never allowed inspectors in, adding that “the IAEA was blocked from going into the palaces.” However, in a March 2003 Wall Street Journal op-ed, the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog wrote : “In the past three months they have conducted over 200 inspections at more than 140 locations, entering without prior notice into Iraqi… presidential palaces.” Ignoring altogether what the Iraqi government wanted , Romney said the U.S. “should have left 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 personnel there.” Many Romney advisers pushed for invading Iraq in the early 2000s, and now they’re doing the same with Iran . Asked by Wallace if, as president, Romney would send troops back to Iraq, the candidate replied, “I think the decision to send U.S. troops into a combat setting is a — is a very high threshold decision. This is not something you do easily.” Perhaps he should apply that principle to his reflections about the initial invasion.

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Monday, den 19. December 2011

GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been touting his tax plan as focused on “ the people in the middle , the hard-working Americans,” but on Fox News Sunday today, he acknowledged that “it’s not a huge tax cut” for the middle class: HOST: But the argument is, middle class people can’t afford, they don’t have enough money to have a lot of capital gains and dividends. ROMNEY: Look, I recognize that it’s not a huge tax cut . It is a tax reduction. Watch it: As ThinkProgress has noted, Romney’s claim that his tax plan cuts taxes for the middle class has little basis in reality. Our analysis found that the vast majority of middle-class households would get no benefit from Romney’s tax plan, since it is based on a capital gains tax cut when most middle-class families have no capital gains. Nearly three-fourths of households that make $200,000 or less annually would get literally nothing from Romney’s tax cut, due to the simple fact that most of those households have zero capital gains income. For families making between $40,000 and $50,000 annually, Romney’s tax cut comes out to a whopping $216 per year . Instead, Romney’s tax cuts would disproportionately benefit the wealthy and corporations.

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