Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Monday, September 10th, 2007.


Kicking the Can

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blogging, Bush Administration, Congress, Iraq War

Michael Abramowitz writes at WaPo:

The long-awaited testimony this afternoon of Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, once seen as a potential turning point in war policy, seemed more like an exercise of kicking the can down the road.

Wow. How … expected.

Appearing before two House committees, Petraeus confirmed that 30,000 U.S. troops could be withdrawn from Iraq by the middle of next summer, but that was hardly unexpected: Officials have been forecasting for months that the so-called surge would have to end no later than April 2008 or there would be unacceptable strains on the American military.

But Petraeus left the larger questions — what will be the future size and mission of the American “footprint” in Iraq — unanswered. He offered hints that the reductions might continue beyond next summer but said he would not be able to offer a definitive judgment until March.

“Our experience in Iraq has repeatedly shown that projecting too far into the future is not just difficult, it can be misleading and even hazardous,” Petraeus testified.

Well, so much for that. Sen. Harry Reid has released this statement:

“Today, we heard that the Bush Administration likely intends to keep at least 130,000 troops in Iraq through next summer. Our enemies around the globe gain great advantage by having the United States mired in an Iraqi civil war. Clearly, continuing to pursue the President’s flawed escalation policy until at least July 2008 is not in the national interest of the United States.

“U.S. national security requires that we truly and immediately change course in Iraq, so that America can more effectively dedicate our resources to other, more pressing challenges we face across the globe. The longer we keep over 130,000 troops in Iraq, the less incentive Iraqis have to engage in the needed political reconciliation and the longer we avoid dealing with several pressing threats to our national security: Bin Laden remains at large and his terrorist organization has rebuilt its strength to pre-9/11 levels, Afghanistan’s stability is being undermined as the Taliban and narco-traffickers grow in strength, and Iran and other countries and groups pursue the acquisition of nuclear weapons technology.”

The Senate Dems also released a fact check that’s worth a look. See also Think Progress, “FACT CHECK: Petraeus To Withdraw Troops Next Summer Because Of Broken Military, Not ‘Progress.’”

Meanwhile, the Right Blogosphere is still hyperventilating over the Moveon.org ad. Howard Fineman is on Countdown right now saying that the GOP is whipping up outrage over the ad as a way to go on offense against Democrats. They can’t go on offense against the Dems on the war, you see, so they have to grab whatever phony issue they can. All day long rightie bloggers have dutifully jacked up the pitiful victimized whining act, sometimes to genuinely hallucinatory degrees.

And, of course, not one has actually addressed the facts Moveon presents in the ad.

Macranger predicts “this is most likely the day that puplic opinion for Democrats begins a nose dive from which they will not recover before 2008.”

Every Democrat candidate for President who has taken money from Moveon.org which now have to answer to the American people. They’re not going to denounce Moveon.org or any affliliation [sic] with any other leftwing nut group. They’re bought and paid for and they know it.

Of course, this is the same guy who wrote in April 2006 that “the pure and simple fact is as I told you this is going to be a vindicating summer for supporters of the Bush Administration.”

If anything, I’d think association — they aren’t affiliated — with Moveon helps the Dems, because it might remind people that some Dems really are against the war and the Bush Administration. If Dem popularity sinks after today it won’t be because of Moveon. It’ll be because the Dems didn’t push back against the Bushies and the war hard enough.

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Pooh-poohing Petraeus

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Bush Administration

The White House report on Iraq “progress” being fronted by General Petraeus likely will be the top news story over the next couple of days. The general’s testimony to Congress will begin this afternoon.

This morning the Right Blogosphere had the vapors over a Moveon.org ad that, the righties said, called General Petraeus a traitor. They harrumphed that Moveon had crossed a line and that the ad is “despicable.”

Righties, of course, never cross lines. When they called former President Jimmy Carter a traitor, or when they called Senator John Kerry a traitor, or when they called Rep. Jack Murtha a traitor, that was entirely different. I don’t know why, but it was.

For the record, here’s the text of the Moveon ad:

GENERAL PETRAEUS OR GENERAL BETRAY US?

General Petraeus is a military man constantly at war with the facts. In 2004, just before the election, he said there was “tangible progress” in Iraq and that “Iraqi leaders are stepping forward.” And last week Petraeus, the architect of the escalation of troops in Iraq, said, “We say we have achieved progress, and we are obviously going to do everything we can to build on that progress.”

Every independent report on the ground situation in Iraq shows that the surge strategy has failed. Yet the General claims a reduction in violence. That’s because, according to the New York Times, the Pentagon has adopted a bizarre formula for keeping tabs on violence. For example, deaths by car bombs don’t count. The Washington Post reported that assassinations only count if you’re shot in the back of the head — not the front. According to the Associated Press, there have been more civilian deaths and more American soldier deaths in the past three months than in any other summer we’ve been there. We’ll hear of neighborhoods where violence has decreased. But we won’t hear that those neighborhoods have been ethnically cleansed.

Most importantly, General Petraeus will not admit what everyone knows: Iraq is mired in an unwinnable religious civil war. We may hear of a plan to withdraw a few thousand American troops. But we won’t hear what Americans are desperate to hear: a timetable for withdrawing all our troops. General Petraeus has actually said American troops will need to stay in Iraq for as long as ten years.

Today, before Congress and before the American people, General Petraeus is likely to become General Betray Us.

Cooking the Books for the White House

There are no end of outraged rightie blog posts about this ad, but not one that I’ve seen refutes the facts presented in the ad. They get hung up on the headline — GENERAL PETRAEUS OR GENERAL BETRAY US? — and that’s as far as their “analysis” gets. (See previous post on scientific evidence that righties are stupid.) Instead of, you know, thinking, they commence their usual hysterical wailing and play the victim.

Pete Hegseth of National Review Online
is calling for Democrats to “denounce” Moveon. Yes, just as the GOP denounced the Swift Boat Liars. Oh, wait …

Also for the record, had Moveon asked me I would have advised them not to focus so much on Gen. Petraeus. He’s just a pawn, really, although as near as I can tell he’s playing the pawn role of his own free will. I think Robert Stein makes a valid point

In his farewell address, Eisenhower famously warned against “the disastrous rise of misplaced power” by the military-industrial complex, “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of…defense with our peaceful methods and goals.”

Now Bush is breaking down the barriers between military and civilian by attempting to use Petraeus and “the generals” who agree with him, after replacing those who don’t, as a battering ram against Congress to keep them from challenging and changing his disastrous policies.

The invective of the ad against Petraeus is misplaced. He is doing his job in the way that the Commander-in-Chief has defined it. It’s that definition that is now not only causing ruin in Iraq but subverting the Constitution.

Of course, unless the Bushies are holding Gen. Petraeus’s mother hostage in the White House basement, he’s complicit in allowing his uniform to be used as political butt cover.

See also: “Bush in Space.”

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Cognitively Challenged

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conservatism, liberalism and progressivism

Y’all will enjoy this one — some researchers have found differences in brain activity between liberals and conservatives. Simply put, we think differently because we think differently.

Exploring the neurobiology of politics, scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work.

In a simple experiment reported today in the journal Nature Neuroscience, scientists at New York University and UCLA show that political orientation is related to differences in how the brain processes information.

Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to political situations but also influence everyday decisions.

The results show “there are two cognitive styles — a liberal style and a conservative style,” said UCLA neurologist Dr. Marco Iacoboni, who was not connected to the latest research. …

… Frank J. Sulloway, a researcher at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Personality and Social Research who was not connected to the study, said the results “provided an elegant demonstration that individual differences on a conservative-liberal dimension are strongly related to brain activity.”

Analyzing the data, Sulloway said liberals were 4.9 times as likely as conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts, and 2.2 times as likely to score in the top half of the distribution for accuracy.

Attempting to be diplomatic, the lead author cautioned that it would be a mistake to assume one style of thinking is better than the other. The tendency of conservatives to block distracting information (e.g., “facts”) could be useful in some circumstances, he said. And I’m sure that’s true. If your survival depends on, say, catching flies with your tongue, single-minded focus on where the flies are must be a big plus.

On the other hand, if your survival depends on making intelligent decisions about, say, Middle East policy — not so much.

Update: Some more blog reaction to this story has come in. Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek (I postulate this is a “free market” blogger) points out that the definitions of “liberal” and “conservative” are hard to pin down, which puts the results in question. But I think this experiment sheds light on the phenomenon of left-right division on the blogosphere and elsewhere. In spite of the fact that it’s damn near impossible to come up with definitions of “liberal” or “conservative” that everyone agrees to, the political blogosphere has very neatly sorted itself into a Right and a Left, with relatively few blogs occupying a consistently ambiguous middle. We somehow know what side we belong to, even if we can’t articulate why. This suggests there is something other than pure linear logic going on here.

This rightie blogger is confused.

What the results showed was more emotional activity in the brains of Leftists when presented with a difficult task so I would see the results as yet another example of Leftists being more emotional — as being emotionally-driven rather than reason-driven. I suspect that most readers of this blog would see Leftists that way.

I went back and re-read the original article, and the word emotion doesn’t appear in it anywhere. The study did not show there was more “emotional activity” in the brains of Leftists when presented with a difficult task. Here’s how the article described the experiment:

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.

Each participant was wired to an electroencephalograph that recorded activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that detects conflicts between a habitual tendency (pressing a key) and a more appropriate response (not pressing the key). Liberals had more brain activity and made fewer mistakes than conservatives when they saw a W, researchers said. Liberals and conservatives were equally accurate in recognizing M.

According to Wikipedia,

The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is the frontal part of the cingulate cortex, which resembles a “collar” form around the corpus callosum, the fibrous bundle that relays neural signals between the right and left cerebral hemispheres of the brain.

It includes both the ventral and dorsal areas of the cingulate cortex, and appears to play a role in a wide variety of autonomic functions, such as regulating blood pressure and heart rate, as well as rational cognitive functions, such as reward anticipation, decision-making, empathy and emotion.

Neuroscientists indicate the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex is primarily related to rational cognition while the ventral is more related to emotional cognition.

The anterior cingulate cortex is active in both cognitive and emotional tasks, it says here, and also plays a role in motor tasks. Scientists think the anterior cingulate cortex may play a role in integrating mental processes with bodily systems. It has also been observed that people with lesions on their anterior cingulate cortex tend to be apathetic and unconcerned when significant events occur.

See also tristero.

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