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Nice Try, Not Citizen Kane

Saturday, August 26, 2006 by Michael Reynolds

It's the Orson Wells conundrum: create a work of genius and it's hell trying to live up to it in your subsequent work.

When I drink Scotch it's the Macallan 12 year. Many people consider it the finest single malt ever poured into a crystal tumbler. I can't speak to whether it's the best Scotch in the world -- I haven't tried all the others. But it's my Scotch.

Recently I've noted a new member of the Macallan family, an upstart 10 year old labeled "Fine Oak." After some initial resistance I decided to give it a try in a head-to-head taste-off with it's older brother.

The first thing you notice is the color. The 12 is the color of unbleached almonds. The 10 could be two fingers of Chardonnay.

On the nose the 12 is richer, a defining butterscotch note, echoes of the sherry casks in which it's aged. The 10 carries faint vanilla, and definite toffee, but you don't feel the world opening up for you the way you do when first encountering the 12.

Neat the 10 displays hints of dried apple, and an astringency that frankly bothered me. With an eye dropper of water it opened into buttery notes and more of the apple. The official write-up talks about citrus, but I don't get that. The finish is one-note, and doesn't lie well on the tongue.

The 12 of course needs no water to reveal its complexity, although a drop or two from the spring calls up a suggestion of Triple Sec within the usual luscious caramel.

It's not that the 10 is a bad Scotch. It's a good Scotch, but it's not its older brother. The 12 is all about dark oak paneling, worn leather, the sound of billiard balls tapped gently, cigar smoke and the rustle of gabardine wool. The 10 is brighter, an open space devoid of subtrefuge or intrigue.

I'll stick with the 12. I'll pour the 10 for guests.

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Slow Dawn

Friday, August 25, 2006 by Michael Reynolds

"You know what? I just realized: I'm a fucking idiot."

Right Wing NutHouse is now saying what I've been saying for about two and a half years. But of course it has extra authority coming from someone who describes himself as "right wing" as opposed to "moderate." And it's far more convincing somehow if it comes two years too fucking late.

. . . it may come as no surprise that I have reached a point where I believe we must make a decision as a nation about whether we want to continue our involvement – which would mean an increase in resources and a direct confrontation with Iran and Syria over their massive support for the terrorists and insurgents – or whether we should pack up and go home. In other words, escalate or leave.

Gee, really? Let me check my watch: yep, August 25, 2006. That's, um, let's see . . . carry the one . . . yep, that's about two years later than the same thought occurred to me and everyone else with any sense.

And the reason to write about it is equally simple; to join a growing chorus of conservatives who are becoming very critical of our involvement and try and break through the spin and myopia of the Administration which is making the situation worse by pretending that things are getting better or are not as bad as we think they are.
Making the situation worse by pretending? Why, I never! Who would ever accuse this administration of ignoring the perilous situation they've placed us in, or lying about the facts on the ground? Who, I ask you, who?

The ultimate question to be asked is do we make one, final, massive attempt to alter the deteriorating situation by committing more resources to the war while at the same time giving ultimatums to both Syria and Iran to halt their clandestine and outrageously illegal assistance to the terrorists who are murdering thousands of civilians every month.
Oooh, ultimatums to Syria and Iran. And what the fuck do we threaten them with? Does Rightwing really imagine that the Iranian mullahs are afraid we'll invade? With what?

So close to getting it, Mr. Rightwing Nuthouse, so close. Two years late, but still, very close to getting it. And yet, not quite. Because here's what you'll figure out in, well, about two years: Mr. Bush has lost the capacity to make any new committment of troops. He has no credibility with the country. He's kept a discredited SecDef in place. He's attacked every critic. He's done nothing to increase the size of the military. There are no allies to turn to for help. Bridges? All burned.

For two fucking years, here and at my previous blog, (for that matter, the one before that) I've had to put up with idiot right-wing denialists calling me out because I've said: 1) Rumsfeld doesn't know what he's doing, and he fucked this up with his grandiose theories, and 2) The politicization of the war by Mr. Bush and Mr. Rove leaves us with no real way to reboot policy, and 3) Letting ourselves be tied down and bled in Iraq weakened our hand everywhere else in the world.

And now Rightwing Nuthouse has reluctantly agreed that the earth moves around the sun, but hasn't quite figured out just how hopelessly weak and without realistic alternatives Mr. Bush has left us.

What this adds up to is an Administration unwilling or unable to face up to its past blunders and apply the necessary lessons in order to try and win through to victory.

Really? You think?

Yes we need more troops – a lot more at least temporarily. Order must be brought to Baghdad and its environs and to do that we would need, according to General Trainor, is perhaps as many as 50,000 more Americans to both police the area and ferret out insurgents and the death squads.

For that to happen, the President would have to admit he and Donald Rumsfeld have been wrong all along and that in order to achieve stability, the additional troops must be sent. It is of the utmost distress to me that this President has failed to take responsibility for past mistakes and admitted to error in prosecuting the war. The grudging admissions of mistakes just isn’t getting it done. If he is serious about winning in Iraq (and he has called Iraq the “frontline” in the war on terror”) then he is going to have to go before the American people and explain why additional troops are necessary.
Go to the American people? I mean, I have to laugh. Go to the American people and tell them he needs 50,000 more men? Are you -- and I say this with all due respect, Rightwing -- out of your mind? The American people don't listen to George W. Bush anymore. George W. Bush is dead to 60% of the American people now.

And just where would he get these 50,000 or so extra soldiers? We're backdoor drafting the ready reserve and some of the guys over there are on their fourth tour. We're lowering standards and filling the ranks with people who should not be wearing the uniform and now, now, we need 50,000 more combat soldiers?

It is evidently just beginning slowly . . . slowly . . . to sink into the thick heads of the pro-war bloggers that this war is a fisaco. But they still don't see the dimensions of it. They still haven't stepped back far enough to get the full picture. They don't realize that it's not just a question of Mr. Bush being wrong, but a question of Mr. Bush having been so wrong, for so long, and with such violence toward his political opposition, that now there is probably not a goddamned thing we can do to fix this situation.

Had people like Rightwing Nuthouse and others in the pro-war blogosphere dropped their tired, chest-thumping super-patriot acts long enough to look at reality they might have joined with the many, many voices out there who warned that this was coming. And then this impending disaster might have been averted. But it was much more to their liking to attack patriotic critics of Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld, and pooh-pooh every warning, and describe as traitors and weaklings those with whom Rightwing Nuthouse now, reluctantly, finds himself in agreement.

You want to know what's left, Rightwing? Mr. Bush has to appoint a heavy hitter as SecDef, and I don't mean some neo-con twit, I mean someone who will snap the country's head around. I mean a McCain, a Zinni, or a reach across the aisle to a Wes Clark. Give that person plenipotentiary powers to speak to the American people on the war, and prosecute the war. Mr. Bush is done as a leader. He's over. If we're to reboot this war we need another leader to make the case.

Will Mr. Bush do that? Of course not. Which is why, after better than two and a half years of warning things were going this direction, and calling for more troops, and calling for more force, and demanding that Mr. Bush stop attacking people who were trying patriotically to help, and wondering why people who called themselves patriots were singing lullabys while things went to hell, I'm a little cranky.

(Props a second time to Done With Mirrors.)

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Moron Located.

by Michael Reynolds

Russell Shaw.

He's right here.

(Props to Done With Mirrors.)

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Santorum Peak?

by Michael Reynolds

LinkThe non-repitilian candidate for Senator from Pennsylvania.

Over the last few weeks Senator Rick (he who makes creep the flesh of decent folk) Santorum has been catching up to his Democratic opponent, Bob Casey in the polls. A double digit lead for Casey has shrunk to mid single digits. But don't despair: Santorum is a very well-known incumbent who has yet to get much past 40%. That's not good when the voters already know you.

And Santorum's inability to hit break-even numbers is particularly telling given that Santorum has had the airwaves all to himself. Now Casey is firing back with an ad that won't be winning any Pollie Awards (unlike, ahem, yours truly) but gets the job done.

If the Casey team makes a decent ad buy look for the gap to widen out over the next few weeks.

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Fly In Election Ointment

by Michael Reynolds

For once I sold a house at the right time:

New-home sales fell more steeply in July than economists forecast, and the number of unsold houses climbed to a record, deepening a slump in an industry that fueled economic growth for five years.

Purchases of new homes, which account for 15 percent of the market, dropped 4.3 percent to an annual pace of 1.072 million, the Commerce Department reported yesterday.

That followed a report the previous day showing that sales of previously owned dwellings had dropped to the lowest point in more than two years.


"Housing is coming off in a big way," said Martin Feldstein, a Harvard University economist and chief executive of the National Bureau of Economic Research. "That will be a drag on the economy."

Some people are talking about the possibility of a so-called "hard landing" from the housing bubble. In other words, a recession. I know next to nothing about economics, so I have no opinion on landings, hard or otherwise, but I know a little bit about politics.

If we go into a recession the conventional wisdom about 2008 being a foreign policy election may end up being wrong. Candidates need to make sure they have some economic policy positions worked out, and some strong pocketbook talk worked into their stump speeches well before the Iowa caucuses. You can't come late to the money issues and have any credibility.

It would hurt Joe Biden (assuming he has any support to hurt) and Bill Richardson and Russ Feingold. Could help John Edwards or Mark Warner, but could also help Hillary who can allude to the economic good old days of the Clinton years. It would make it tough on McCain or Giuliani who are almost exclusively about foreign policy and "good government," and would cast a pall over Republicans generally.

Two years from now if we're still in Iraq and things there still don't look good, and if gas prices are still high and the value of home equity is falling, a Republican ticket of Jesus and Moses won't be electable.

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Nuclear Cialis For The Kimster?

Thursday, August 24, 2006 by Michael Reynolds

"I'll trade my nukes for a night of partying with Lindsay Lohan."

I feel like making a crazy prediction.

Remember how North Korea's L'il Kim launched some dud missiles on the Fourth of July? I have a feeling he wasn't entirely satisfied with that fizzle. The world is still paying attention to Iran's Mullahs and not to the Pompadoured Potentate, and L'il Kim, like Glenn Close, will not be ignored.

So here's my prediction: Kim Jong Il will detonate a nuclear weapon in an above-ground test on . . . September 11th.

If I'm right, it was simple brilliance. If I'm wrong, I was drunk when I wrote this.

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1914 and 1975

Wednesday, August 23, 2006 by Michael Reynolds

My blog friend Callimachus has written a long, and on the whole fair reply to a number of my posts on the Iraq War.

Callimachus and I are both disappointed with how things are going. I seem to be a bit more pissed off, a point he makes and explains, thus:
I sometimes wonder why I don't feel that level of fury. I have as much claim to it as he does. Neither do I have any special commitment to the legacies of the current White House crew (having voted for Gore in 2000). When the time comes I would like to see a calm and full accounting. I hope the military brass is already absorbing lessons.

But maybe in part I don't pour so much energy into that feeling because, as I see it, the real train wreck hasn't happened yet. And there's still time to avoid it. And at this point there's far more worth in trying to avoid it than there is in pointing the fingers and hashing the past.
Partly the difference here is due to a difference in writing style. He's a journalist, I mostly write fiction. I get paid to make things lurid.

But more importantly we agree that this war must not be lost, and is not quite lost yet. I scream at the top of my lungs precisely because it might still be won. Somehow. Some way. If it was all over or unimportant I'd shrug and move on. I'm furious precisely because I think we're losing a war we cannot afford to lose and I don't think the people who can affect the conduct of this war have the will to win. I don't think they have a plan. I think they're marching like zombies toward a scene involving helicopters and an embassy roof. I'm trying with my tiny voice from my tiny blog to reach up and slap these people and say, "Goddammit, do something."

Let me make this clear, not for Callimachus who gets it, but for other readers: I'm not a pacifist. I'm not a peacenik. I'm not attacking from the Left, I'm attacking from the Right. My complaint is that we've fought this war on the cheap -- both in terms of military resources and in terms of what we ask from the American people.

I never bought the "Rumsfeld War." I don't believe in brilliant intelligence that supplies flawless targeting for brilliantly conceived hi-tech weapons that brilliantly kill only bad guys and no one else. I believe in bludgeons, not scalpels. I believe in columns of tanks. I believe in riflemen. I believe Sherman had it exactly right when he pointed out that war was hell, and necessarily hell. I don't buy easy war because when I read history, while I see the occasional Winfield Scott to Mexcico City, what I mostly see are Antietam and Iwo Jima and Hiroshima -- American victories that came out of relentless brutality and the application of our staggering economic resources.

I thought, in the aftermath of 9/11, that the US was prepared for real war. I thought if we were going into Iraq we'd fight that real war. Everyone agreed that if we went in we'd better not fuck it up. I worried because I thought then, as I think now, that Iraq had all of Vietnam's potential for quagmire, but none of its strategic irrelevance. If we lose in Iraq I don't believe the Iraqis will be making our Nikes in ten years. I believe we will have pushed Al Qaeda from poor, distant Afghanistan to rich, centrally-located Iraq and elevated Iran to major world player, and that would be a disaster. Not some figurative, rhetorical-device disaster, but a real disaster.

Callimachus agrees that a heavier hand at the start might have helped, but he raises the "would the American people stand for it" objection:

. . . we agree that what would have worked better would have been a heavy application of depleted uranium bullets at the first sign of unreast in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. To do it right you might have had to let your American boys gun down 600 Muslim looters and terrorists, and thrown their bodies in a pit along with rashers of bacon, for effect, like Black Jack Pershing did in the Philippines. You would have saved thousands of innocent Iraqi lives in the long run. Some of the bad guys flooding into the country now would have stayed home to wait for the next chance.

But would Mr. and Mrs. America have had the stomach for it, when it ran 24-7 on CNN? If not, then why are we bothering to fight this war? Why not turn away from the burning towers of 9/11 and say, "oh well, we still have the Empire State Building."
My answer is that either the American people would or they wouldn't. If they wouldn't, and we knew they wouldn't, we needed to stay home. There's no point arguing that the people won't tolerate the means necessary to ensure victory but what the hell, we're going in anyway. The fact that we have television is not a surprise to the people in authority in this country. If they didn't believe they could carry out a war without being cut off at the knees by the American people then they shouldn't have started the war. A plan for victory includes convincing the American people that you are doing what must be done. Either win or stay home.

My own guess is that the American people are not as soft as people believe. A hundred and forty odd years ago we were sending wave after wave of American boys against cannon and reading the stunning lists of the dead in town squares all over the country. Does the media bring the war home? Yes. More than learning that literally half the men you know died in a single afternoon in some Virginia county you've never heard of? No.

Sixty years ago we dropped atomic bombs on two cities filled with defenseless civilians. Almost immediately thereafter we developed a military doctrine (so aptly tagged with the acronym MAD) that called for us to exterminate with megaton-range nuclear weapons, every living thing in the Soviet Union. Some Americans objected, but most shrugged and thought, "Okay."

We're not that soft. We're not that sentimental . . . or moral.

Callimachus takes me to task for the pass I give the media. He works in the media, I don't, and that may explain some of the difference in emphasis. To me complaining about lazy, indifferent, thoughtless, superficial, and yes, biased media is a little like complaining about gravity. That may be glib. Okay, it is glib. Callimachus may still have some residual idealism about the media that fuels his anger there, and to the extent that he wants to tilt at that windmill, good for him. He's right.

But I think taken in its entirety the media did as much to start this war as to undercut it once it was begun. Leading up we had Judy Chalabi, er, Miller, and a thousand hours of uncritical coverage of WMD's and cakewalks. Later the media switched sides. Predictably. The beast needs a story and the beast feeds on blood.

Finally, this in response to my mea culpa for supporting this war:
The rightness or wrongness of your goal doesn't change because of the outcome. If it was right to, say, go to war for American independence, it was right whether you succeed or fail. If it was wrong to go to war to grab land from Mexico, it was wrong whether you succeed or fail. Otherwise success -- might -- stands as the only standard of right.
This is just a philosophical difference, or maybe a disagreement about definition. He's defining the question as one of morality and reason. If it was moral to try then the right or wrong of it is not altered by failure. If it made sense to try then the logic is not undermined by failure.

I look at it differently. I see a problem and a possible solution. If my solution does not solve my problem then that particular approach was a mistake. If I think I can squeeze my car into that parking spot, and I crush someone's bumper, then that was a mistake and I was wrong to try it. I don't agree that this makes for a might makes right world, I think it makes for a tedious pragmatism. If I've set a moral goal (finding a parking space) and used moral means (pulling into that space) I can still fall into error if I screw it up, and can still regret it, and still think, "Well, Michael, that was stupid."

But in the particular case of the Iraq war I have moral as well as pragmatic doubts about my behavior because it was always a 51/49 decision for me. I feared that Mr. Bush was not up to the job. And yet I supported sending American men off to kill and die. I was too quick to see the upside and not the downside: I am an optimist. I was too ready to agree. I was too ready to swallow my doubts. I had nothing personally on the line and I was making careless decisions that affected (albeit in a very small way) people who were risking their lives.

I shouldn't have supported this war believing as I did that the people running it were in over their heads. I object to my behavior on that ground. And I object to the war on the grounds that we just crushed someone's bumper and now we're not even going to get the parking space.

And finally, I'm screaming about the conduct of this war and flailing madly at everyone in a position of authority because I gave my small assent to what is shaping up to be a fiasco and no one seems to be serious about salvaging this. The archduke is dead, the Austrians are threatening the Serbs and the French are thinking of 1870. I don't think my obligation now is to soothe or be patient, I think it's to yell.

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Who Will Speak For Denialists?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006 by Michael Reynolds

"Not only is McCain wrong, so is President Bush!"

Says John McCain, the leading contender for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination:

"I think one of the biggest mistakes we made was underestimating the size of the task and the sacrifices that would be required," McCain said. "Stuff happens, mission accomplished, last throes, a few dead-enders. I'm just more familiar with those statements than anyone else because it grieves me so much that we had not told the American people how tough and difficult this task would be."

Those phrases are closely associated with top members of the Bush administration, including the president.

[. . .]

The Arizona senator said that talk "has contributed enormously to the frustration that Americans feel today because they were led to believe this could be some kind of day at the beach, which many of us fully understood from the beginning would be a very, very difficult undertaking."
McCain has made it clear that in addition to glossing over the difficulties and refusing for a long time to admit that we faced an insurgency, the administration failed the American people and the American military by sending too small a force into Iraq.

Who agrees with McCain? People like me. Who disagrees with McCain? The blogosphere's Denialists.

So, I have to ask: who will be the Denialist candidate in 2008? Where will they find the hero to stand tall for denial and scapegoating? Here is he now . . . Santorum to the rescue!

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President Accidentally Tells Truth

Monday, August 21, 2006 by Michael Reynolds

"Wait, I said nothing? Nothing? D'Oh!"

From today's presidential press conference:

MR. BUSH: . . . The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East. They were ...

QUESTION: What did Iraqi have to do with that?

BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what?

QUESTION: The attacks upon the World Trade Center.

BUSH: Nothing.

Except for it's part of -- and nobody's ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- Iraq -- the lesson of September the 11th is: Take threats before they fully materialize, Ken.

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Changing Perspective

by Michael Reynolds

Today, the older one goes for just an hour.

Wednesday the younger one goes for just a half day.

But next Monday both go full day. For the first time. Both. All day.

It's been so long. So, very long. What does one do with all that time?

The quiet . . . the quiet . . .

First day of school. So much more fun now than it was when I was a kid.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006 by Michael Reynolds

"I'll be back."

You know what's gone missing from the blogosphere lately? The "good news" from Iraq.

For a while there you could hardly click on a pro-war blog without coming upon loud denunciations of everyone's favorite whipping boy, the Mainstream Media, for failing to report the "good news" from Iraq. There would follow a link to a blog post about a school opening in Donkeydung, Iraq.

Lately, far less chiding. Far fewer posts linking to happy news from Iraq. Not even the most enthusiastic of the pro-war bloggers can keep up that particular line anymore.

Now the pro-war bloggers spend their time straining to avoid recognizing the obvious connection between the Rumsfeldisms of southern Lebanon and Iraq. Now the pro-war bloggers strain to ignore that devastating book, Fiasco. Now the pro-war bloggers carefully avoid taking note of the right-wing pundits and decorated generals and rock-solid conservatives who have abandoned them.

Now, above all, the pro-war bloggers mull ways in which they can somehow . . . somehow . . . blame the liberals for the looming disaster in Iraq.

Yes, the culprits, inevitably, are the liberals who wielded precisely zero influence over the conduct of this war, and the New York Times, which famously became Scooter Libby's own personal Pravda for a while. They, the liberals, are to blame . . . must somehow be to blame . . . for the failure of a war conceived in the minds of neo-cons, carried out under the precepts of the neo-cons, and financed without stint by the American people.

The blame must never fall on the people -- like me -- who wanted this war. No, we cannot possibly be to blame.

And never must blame fall on the people in power who ignored dissenting voices, distorted intelligence, botched the conduct of this war, relentlessly politicized this war, lied about this war, sought to profit politically from this war.

People who were simply wrong then -- and I was among them -- too often went from honest error to stubbornness in defense of error. Now stubborness is metastisizing into fantasy, denial and scapegoating.

All humans make mistakes. Honest mistakes must be forgiven. (At least I, who have made my share, hope so.) But those who make mistakes and then, rather than admit error, rather than suffer correction, turn to denial, and worse to a dishonest search for scapegoats, lose their chance at redemption.

I was wrong to support this war. Not the first time I was wrong about something, and it won't be the last, I'm afraid. But I try to follow the First Law of Holes: when you're in a hole, stop digging. Unfortunately too many in the political world, and in our little blogosphere, their hands tight-clenched around the shovel's handle, just keep digging.

We are moving already into the "Who Lost Iraq?" game. It seems early, but the Right is standing astride the railroad tracks and sees that train a comin'. So they are working feverishly to sidestep blame. The search for a scapegoat is on in earnest. The neo-cons will morph into neo-McCarthyites. They will try to find a witch to burn to expiate their own sins.

So I want to repeat something I will remind readers of from time to time: the number of Mr. Bush's budget requests for the war that have been refused: zero. The number of military decisions made by Mr. Bush's critics: zero.

Remember that. The denialists will work night and day to lay the blame for this fiasco on someone else. Never forget that Mr. Bush has been given every dollar, every man he as asked for, and has set every policy. Every dollar, every decision.

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