2007 - %3, September

Polar Bears Mostly Extinct by 2050

| Tue Sep. 11, 2007 11:56 AM EDT

Sad news. A recent U.S. Geological Survey claims that 2/3 of the world's polar bears will be extinct by 2050 due to Arctic warming. Ice up North is melting so fast that the large predators likely won't have enough ice on which to hunt and breed during the summers. The Secretary of the Interior has suggested making polar bears a "threatened" species under the Endangered Species Act, entitling the animals to federal protections. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is giving a final recommendation on the bear's addition to the list to the Interior in January 2008. The Interior's suggested protection of the polar bear, though not finalized, is an encouraging move, given the Bush administration's history of active opposition to wildlife conservation.

Though the polar bears are disappearing, there is hopeful news on the other side of the globe. In a steamy Indian rainforest, tigers have been spotted 30 years after they were assumed extinct in the area. A local official estimates there are now about 20 of the big cats living in the wet, mountainous region of Maharashta. India is home to about 1,500 tigers, half of the world's tiger population.

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Scientific Proof That Liberals Are Not Smarter

| Tue Sep. 11, 2007 3:46 AM EDT

MoveOn.org seems to remove its contact details after running one of the most idiotic ads in recent political history.

Scientific Proof That Liberals Are Smarter

| Tue Sep. 11, 2007 2:33 AM EDT

Ok, so not proof exactly, but man we are really smart. And I'm not talking about knowing geography or spelling or history. I'm talking about the alphabet. We know it, while conservatives are apparently blinded by ideology. In certain situations their rigid brains cannot distinguish among different letters of the alphabet, a major study has found, and this explains why they can't tolerate ambiguity and conflict as well as liberals.

"Political orientation is related to how the brain processes information," reports the UCLA and NYU study, as detailed in the LA Times:

Participants were college students whose politics ranged from "very liberal" to "very conservative. They were instructed to tap a keyboard when an M appeared on a computer monitor and to refrain from tapping when they saw a W.

M appeared four times more frequently than W, conditioning participants to press a key in knee-jerk fashion whenever they saw a letter.

And conservatives were by far the worst knee-jerkers, routinely mistaking a W for an M, or vice versa when the weightings were changed. This has happened before. Mole hill or WMD? Morass or winnable? Melting ice or wacko science? In all seriousness, Frank J. Sulloway, a researcher at UC Berkeley's Institute of Personality and Social Research, told the Times that the results could explain why Bush demonstrated a single-minded commitment to the Iraq War and why "liberals could be expected to more readily accept new social, scientific or religious ideas."

This study is by no means the first to suggest that one political persuasion or another is more fit for duty in the battle of ideas. A few years ago I wrote about a University of Texas study that found residents of Houston suffer from a quasi-clinical condition known as "war fever." But this newest study at least takes the political debate back to the ABCs. Now if only conservatives could go back to kindergarten. . .

Top Ten Stuff 'n' Things - 9/10/07

| Tue Sep. 11, 2007 1:00 AM EDT

In this week's edition: very low bass noises, very high singing, very old school samples, and very weird music from the desert. I'm also very late putting it together, so I'm too tired to try and elucidate a theme from my random picks as usual; if anybody can see one (other than, er, 'pretension"), let me know.

Gram Rabbit10. Gram Rabbit - "Something Fuzzy" (from RadioAngel and the RoboBeat, out 11/13 on Royal Order)
(Listen at their MySpace)
This Joshua Tree-based combo, led by the charismatic Jesika von Rabbit, are known for their quirkiness, but this track finds them a little calmer and more focused. The electro backing buzzes along under Ms. Rabbit's whispered vocals, and then new guitarist Ethan Allen comes in with a straightforward melody, and the song opens up, like driving over a hill into a desert valley.

Kanye West9. Kanye West feat. Chris Martin - "Homecoming" (from Graduation, out tomorrow on Island Def Jam)
(Grab an mp3 at Goodnight and Go)
Okay, okay. Yes, we're all tired of Coldplay, but on this track, Chris Martin just seems to give up and become Phil Collins, and actually it kind of works. In fact, this is basically Genesis' "That's All" with a beat. Anyway, Kanye delivers some heartfelt lines in an ode to his hometown of Chicago, feeling guilty for leaving, and the track's strange mix of emotions proves why Kanye's such a compelling figure in contemporary music, tantrums and all.

Mock & Toof8. Mock & Toof - "K Choppers" (from the Death From Abroad 12" on DFA)
Songs on DFA records, whether they're hits from LCD Soundsystem or random 12" singles, share a common thread: an understanding that the depths of disco contain a limitless sonic pallette, and that even a simple track, crafted with care, can be revelatory. Case in point: "K Choppers;" it doesn't do much, except build a kind of spooky, spacey mood over 6 minutes, kind of like a more mellow "Night on Disco Mountain." And that's enough.

Grit Boys7. Grit Boys feat. Trae & Tum Tum - "I'm Fresh" (single on Mo Betta Grooves) (Listen on their MySpace or iTunes)
I don't care what they're saying, I don't care what they stand for, I don't care about anything. Alls I know is this song's got a single bass note that slides down a whole octave until resolving itself at a throbbing, speaker-killing frequency, somewhere between whale stomach rumble and earthquake. You don't really get the full effect from the poor-quality MySpace version, and you probably can't hear it on computer speakers, but the next time you're on iTunes and connected to a system with some bass, just give it a try. Boooooowwaaaaammmm.

Thurston6. Thurston Moore - "Wonderful Witches" (from Trees Outside the Academy, out 9/18 on Ecstatic Peace)
(grab an mp3 here)
What separates a Thurston Moore song from a Sonic Youth song? Kim stays home? Is that it? Well, judging from this track, he's a little looser, which makes sense. "Witches" has a shambolic, and oddly quiet feel to it, although it manages to squeeze some great riffs, a feedback freakout, and a big guitar solo into its 2 minutes and 26 seconds.

MoveOn, Anbar, and Lantos: Final Thoughts on the Petraeus and Crocker Hearing

| Mon Sep. 10, 2007 9:53 PM EDT

There's not much I can add to Bruce's excellent piece on the Petraeus/Crocker hearing, but I'll throw some things out.

• It looks like MoveOn.org's full-page ad in the New York Times calling Petraeus "General Betray Us" backfired. The Republicans repeatedly used it to make Democrats look like awful people who hate those in uniform, even though the Democrats joined the Republicans in slathering praise all over Petraeus all day long.

• General Petraeus started his testimony by saying, "This is my testimony… I wrote this testimony myself." He was aware that people suspect him of carrying water for the administration.

• As the point man for political activity (as opposed to military activity) in Iraq, Ambassador Crocker had a much harder time pointing to successes than did Petraeus. He compared the debates and fights ongoing in the Iraqi government with earlier U.S. debates over civil rights and states' rights. We shouldn't ask if the Iraqis have resolved these debates, he said, but instead ask if the way they go about debating shows "seriousness." Talk about a tough sell.

• After explaining how local leaders and citizens had turned against al Qaeda in Anbar, Crocker said "Shia extremists are also facing rejection." He is trying to argue, while still remaining cautious, that Anbar's success is going to be recreated elsewhere.

• Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) criticized Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki for his close ties to Iran. Isn't this counterproductive to Lantos' goals of building support for withdrawal? Lantos is more or less admitting that if we leave now, Iran will sweep in, a strong argument for staying the course. Lantos didn't favor pushing Maliki out immediately, nor did he support waiting around until Maliki is pushed out Democratically. So what did he think would happen with Iran if we withdraw?

I was pondering the subject until I heard Lantos say this: "We need to send Maliki's government a strong message, loud and clear. Removing a brigade is nothing more than a political whisper." So that's the solution – force Maliki to reform his ways by withdrawing troops (more than a brigade, as Petraeus suggests) and showing him America's commitment to Iraq isn't open-ended. But withdrawal won't pressure Maliki to reform his ways; it'll leave him happier than before, because it will allow him to strengthen the Shiites hold on power and allow his benefactors in Iran to increase their influence in the region.

Perhaps the Dems should drop this talking point? I'm probably too deep in the weeds here. Just thinking out loud.

• Finally, Crocker should win an award for coining the euphemism of the year: "post-kinetic environments." That is, neighborhoods that have been destroyed by firefights and bombings. As in, "I lost my fruit stand. It was unluckily located in a post-kinetic environment."

50 Cent vs. Kanye: The Oasis vs. Blur of Our Time?

| Mon Sep. 10, 2007 7:27 PM EDT

50 Cent & Kanye West
It's being called the "hip-hop story of the year": both Kanye West and 50 Cent have albums coming out tomorrow, and which one of them ends up on the top spot will determine, I dunno, the future of mankind or something. The whole thing is starting to seem like a little bit of a setup, especially since the two rappers were willing to put aside their differences to pose for the cover of Rolling Stone. That photo kind of makes me want to see them make out, just a little, like the sweatier Hall & Oates cover Idolator pointed out as an apparent inspiration. Anyway, Fiddy is annoying as a personality but great as a rapper, of course, and as Sarah Silverman said in one of the few barely-funny lines in her opening monologue last night, it's "so cute he's still alive." But obviously, you've got to root for Kanye, the underdog: Daft Punk! Takashi Murakami! Three weeks ago, I would have said there was no chance Kanye would take the #1 spot, but with "Stronger" staying strong at iTunes, and the publicity from his MTV performances and antics, perhaps there's been a shift in the zeitgeist.

It's all reminiscent of The Battle of Britpop, although nowhere near as culturally relevant: back in 1995, arch-rivals Oasis and Blur released singles on the same day, with Blur lead singer Damon Albarn moving the release date of "Country House" up a week to coincide with the release of Oasis' "Roll With It." Back then, Oasis were the Northern working class heroes to Blur's Southern art-school experimenters, and it seemed like the entirety of England (and Anglophiles everywhere) lined up on either side. Blur won the battle easily (outselling Oasis 274,000 to 216,000), but in retrospect, it sure seems like Oasis won the war: the next month, their album (What's the Story) Morning Glory went on to become the 3rd best selling UK album of all time, and the following year, the band played two history-making shows at Knebworth for over 250,000 people, while Blur petered out. Of course Damon Albarn is more succesful than ever with Gorillaz these days, so it all kind of works out.

If Kanye is Blur (artsy, pretentious) and 50 is Oasis (street-level, boastful), it's possible the outcome might be similar: Kanye wins this battle, via a random alignment of his stars, but looking back, 50 Cent will still be seen as defining his generation of hip-hop. Alternately, a Kanye win might signal the downfall of violent, controversial, cash-obsessed party rap, and the return of the progressive hip-hop sound of the 80s and early 90s. Or maybe they'll both get beaten by Animal Collective, who will ride the success of today's 9.3-rated Pitchfork review to a nation-conquering #1 debut. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to ride my unicorn to Narnia where Dennis Kucinich is president.

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House Armed Services Committee Kept in Dark on War Planning

| Mon Sep. 10, 2007 6:22 PM EDT

During today's Petraeus-and-Crocker congressional showcase, Representative Solomon P. Ortiz (D-Texas) asked the esteemed witnesses what they felt about increasing our diplomatic engagement with the Middle East's regional powers. Ortiz supports our initial efforts at diplomacy, but would like to see vastly more of it used in the region.

General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker signaled their approval, but Ortiz stopped them short to follow up: are we engaging players in the region diplomatically, he asked. I know you support it, he said, but are we actually doing it?

I called Ortiz up to ask why a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee doesn't know if the United States is using diplomacy as part of our war effort. He told me it has to do with the administration and the secrecy it has repeatedly used, often with no good reason, over the last six years. Perhaps they are supplying the House Foreign Affairs Committee with more information on the subject, he said, but they certainly aren't giving us any.

Ortiz has been in Congress a long time. Elected in 1982, he's served with four presidents. He said he has a hard time remembering one who was less inclined than George W. Bush to treat Congress as a separate but equal branch of government.

So if any Republicans give you the old line about Republicans running government more efficiently, tell them that the House Armed Services Committee doesn't know the extent to which we are using diplomacy in the Middle East. That should fix their misconception.

The Petraeus/Crocker Report: Only Four More Hours! (Part Four)

| Mon Sep. 10, 2007 4:12 PM EDT

This is Part Four of our LIVE coverage of the Petraeus/Crocker report. See also Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.

3:18: C-SPAN reports that this room is rarely used for hearings, but was used for House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in the 1940s.

3:27: And.... we're back! John Spratt (D-SC) says that the war has cost over $600 billion so far and offers a CBO report that says it could cost almost another $1 trillion over the next five years.

3:28: Spratt asks (paraphrase): "If the purpose of the surge was to produce space so we can achieve political reconciliation, why haven't we seen progress on this front?" Crocker says we're seeing "signs" of political reconciliation. "We can see it because I think we are seeing it, ... [but] I can't give you a time line."

3:33: Howard Berman (D-Another Old White Guy) asks Petraeus whether Petraeus believes this is not the time for a mission change away from counterinsurgency. Petraeus says that's right. Than Berman lobs a softball about the refugee situation, which Petraeus clobbers.

3:39: It's hilarious how every congressman likes to talk about the first time they met Petraeus. Who is he, Lindsay Lohan? "I know General Petraeus! I'm so cool!" Or are we watching some weird version of "When David Met Jimmy"?

3:41: Yet another disturbance... "How can you thank him for his service?!?" Skelton: "Take them into custody."

3:45: The Republicans are proceeding with a transparent line of questioning, repeatedly asking what the consequences will be if we prematurely withdraw. Quite effective.

3:50: Crocker: "There is nothing inherently wrong with the benchmarks," [How generous!] but "conditions are not yet in place for achieving them."

3:53: Petraeus: "The ambassador and I are joined at the hip" (in saying you can't win in Iraq JUST in Iraq...).

3:56: Gary Ackerman (D-NY) asks why no one has mentioned the 'International War on Terrorism....' There's the sizzle and the steak.... It seems to me that we're trying to be in the middle of a dysfunctional violent family. Can we afford to put a cop in every bad marriage, even when the parties aren't going to counseling? How long do we stay? I don't know when that will happen. While we wait for this to happen, how much more blood should we invest? If it takes another four years, I'd like to know from each of you your best realistic view of Iraq will be in those four years.... will this be worth it?"

4:00: Petraeus says AQI is part of the Al Qaeda movement, but Ackerman angrily points out that AQI was founded in 2005, after we got to Iraq.

4:03: John McHugh (R-NY) asks if Iraq is an important part of the Global War on Terror. Petraeus says defeating AQI is. Then he asks if "abandoning Iraq" to focus on Afghanistan would be a net plus or minus for the Global War on Terror. Petraeus doesn't answer the question.

4:09: Crocker loves talking about how "difficult" and "complicated" the situation is. Hard-hitting! Serious!

4:10: Competing headlines on Petraeus' testimony in the New York Times and Washington Post. The New York Times: Slow Progress Being Made in Iraq, Petraeus Tells Congress. The Washington Post: Petraeus Claims Major Progress Following 'Surge'

4:20: The Democratic delegate from American Samoa, Eni Faleomavaega, asks if the military currently has the capacity to fight in Aghanistan, Iraq, and a third potential conflict. Petraeus says he shares the concern, and said it was one of the factors that informed his decision to draw down between now and next summer.

4:24: Petraeus: There has never been a military commander in history who didn't want more forces, more allies, etc... [Then why does he want us to draw down? Why not send more?]

4:29: Awww.... Mr Jeff Davis (R-KY), the Republicans' most junior member, is going to get a chance to speak. How nice.

4:41: Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Beards) continues the trend of non-question questions. You've got to love how much these people like to talk.

4:50: And now for something completely different: Donald Payne is (we think) the first African-American person to get a say in the hearing, and it's only been almost 5 hours!

5:00: They're taking a break, and we're done for the day. It's been swell. I'll leave you with the fact that someone just said "You've done a heck of a job" in the background. Seriously. More "Live Team Coverage" tomorrow. Be here.

—Nick Baumann

Americans Fight Terrorism From the Jury Box

| Mon Sep. 10, 2007 3:20 PM EDT

After September 11, many Americans were compelled to give blood, write checks to the Red Cross, or even to join the military as a way of serving the country. Apparently, though, an awful lot of us were also moved to show up for jury duty. This revelation comes courtesy of U.S. District Court Judge William G. Young, who recently addressed the Florida Bar Association on the death of the jury trial. Young noted that nationwide data (which he unfortunately didn't cite) show that Americans turned up for jury service in record numbers in the year after the towers fell.

Young is most famous recently for sentencing shoebomber Richard Reid by telling him "You're no big deal," but his speech (recently posted here) is an amazing--and rare--love song to the American jury that's worth a read. Along with some harsh words for Congress for suspending habeas corpus, there are some interesting observations about the state of the federal judiciary, including this one:

In 1988, the average time a federal judge spent actually sitting on the bench each year was 790 hours. In FY 2005, that number had fallen to 437, of which only 225 hours were spent overseeing trials. So what are the judges doing all day if not on the bench?

"Litigation management," said Young. "Hardly a shining vision, is it?"

(H/T Consumer Law and Policy Blog)

The Petraeus/Crocker Report: It's Crocker Time! (Part Three)

| Mon Sep. 10, 2007 2:00 PM EDT

This is Part Three of our liveblogging. Part One is here. Part two is here.

2:04: Crocker starts his portion of the report.

2:05: Crocker: There will be no moment at which we can claim victory, [because] any turning point will only be recognized in retrospect.

2:06: Saddam Hussein was a very very very bad man. Check.

2:08: "It's not an exaggeration to say that Iraq is, and will for some time to come, remain a traumatized society."

2:10: Crocker seems to be advocating a federal system.

2:11: Without the proclamation of a general amnesty, we see provisional immunity being granted. "The seeds of reconciliation are being planted." What about the ethnic cleansing? Are sectarian killings "seeds of reconciliation?"

2:12: Is Iraq's government ready to support reconciliation? "The commitment of its leaders to work together on big issues is encouraging."

2:15: Crocker is impressed that the government of Iraq wants the U.S. forces to stay. Because, you know, they don't need U.S. protection to stay in power.

2:16: "The landscape in Anbar is dramatically different." (Because of a stroke of good luck.)

2:17: The world should note that when Al Qaeda began implementing its twisted version of a Caliphate, the Iraqis rejected it.

2:18: TPM has Petraeus' charts.

2:20: Again with the (pay)rolls. Just because someone's getting a check doesn't mean they're doing what we want.

2:22: Iraqi businessmen have their conferences in Dubai. Duly noted.

2:23: "Insecurity in many parts of the country" and "woefully inadequate" electricity hurts the Iraqi economy.

2:25: For the first time in years, Iraq is exporting its oil through Turkey. Progress! And Saudi Arabia is opening an embassy in Baghdad! Because the Saudis, you know, are good. (Even though Osama bin Laden is Saudi, as were most of the 9/11 hijackers).

2:26: But while the Saudis are good, the Syrians are bad, and the Iranians are REALLY bad. (Because the Iranians attacked us. Oh wait.) They "undermine-a-ded" progress in Iraq. Did the President write that part?

2:28: "We must acknowledge that 2006 was a bad year in Iraq. The country came close to unraveling economically, politically, and in security terms..." Thank god it didn't.

2:30: "I cannot guarantee success in Iraq. It is attainable. I am certain that abandoning our efforts will bring failure." Iraq might fall into civil war! Iran would be a winner in this scenario. (You know, because taking out Iran's biggest rival didn't help it at all).

2:32: "Our current course is hard, the alternatives are far worse."

2:34: Crocker wants an "enterprise fund" to make equity investments in Iraqi businesses. Along the lines of one that is in effect in Poland, apparently. He also wants to instill "the habits of preventative maintenance," because apparently Arabs need to be taught such things. Guess it's never too late for a little imperial/racist rhetoric. Thank god the government of the glorious United States already knows all about preventative maintenance. You should see how well our bridges hold up!

2:36: Skelton: "Why should we expect the next six months to be any different than it has been in the past?" Crocker: "You are frustrated, I'm frustrated, we're all frustrated, but this stuff is incredibly complicated!"

2:38: Crocker: "I do not expect that we'll see rapid progress to these benchmarks.... I would certainly share disappointment that progress has been slow on legislative benchmarks, but that does not mean progress has not been made on national reconciliation."

2:40: Lantos calls Petraeus' proposal a "token" withdrawal. Petraeus disagrees, and warns against "rushing to failure."

2:43: Who wants to hear the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee say the word "lubricated"? Not me, but I guess that's too bad.

2:45: Lantos criticizes the Bush administration for being unwilling to conduct diplomacy with countries we don't like (Read: Syria and Iran), and asks Crocker for his opinion of expanding relations with those countries.

2:47: Crocker says that Iran "wants to be seen to be at the table"... and says that if Iran is willing to take substantive measures to improve Iraqi security, then the U.S. is prepared to talk more. But right now, he says he hasn't seen any sign of earnestness or seriousness on the part of Iran.

2:49: GREAT question from Lantos about the connections between the current Iraqi leadership and Iran. "Is it possible that Maliki or others might at sometime in the future as a 'more dependable' friend?" The essence of Crocker's response is that sometime politicians say things they don't mean.

2:55: Duncan Hunter asks about the Iraqi army, and Petraeus says things are going well, all things considered.

3:00: Petraeus: It appears that the flow of Iranian weapons into Iraq has increased, although the Quds force and Lebanon Hezbollah trainers have left.

3:02: The "young lady" from Florida, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen, calls again for Dems to "distance themselves" from the MoveOn ad. But someone calls for a point of order: Dems don't have "to distance themselves from something they weren't associated with."

3:06: Ros-Lehtinen asks whether Iraq could become an Al-Qaeda sanctuary after a "premature withdrawal," and asks how the U.S. could get more countries to support Iraq positively. Petraeus restates American goals, and points to some progress interdicting Iranian weapons as well as suicide bombers entering through Syria. Crocker points to visits from Swedish and French ministers.

3:11: Crocker looks forward to upcoming conferences in New York and Istanbul as opportunities for diplomatic progress.

3:14: First scheduled break - should be at least five minutes.

Go to Part Four.

—Nick Baumann