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Good Stuff.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006 by Michael Reynolds

Sen. George Allen. Funny, he doesn't look Jewish.


Some good stuff:

1) First up a passionate cri de coeur from Alan Stewart Carl the last head of the National Centrist Network, (nee Centrist Coalition.) I love moments when someone simply states the impolitic truth:

There Is No Vital Center

You read it right. I deny the existence of the vital center, the radical middle. It doesn’t exist.

Oh, there are centrists, believers in the fighting middle who espouse centrist ideas. But there is no political reality behind these people and their thoughts. There is no coherent philosophy or charismatic leader. Centrism is an amorphous idea – a fervent wish.

Which is why I think us self-described centrists are so often labeled frauds. I mean, after all, we still exist and debate and live in the world of left and right. Sure, we can say “there is another way,” we can even offer up new ideas but, at the end of the day, we have no foundation. We centrists are all air and no earth.
I was a board member of the Centrist Coaltion and attended its one face-to-face meeting in New York. There was about fifteen minutes of hope . . . and then, as Alan says, air.

2) A beautifully-written post from Sippican Cottage. Here's a snippet, but I hate to edit this piece, so go and read it all.

My father asks me for nothing, really. Every three months or so, I take him to his doctor, who pokes about him wondering what keeps him animated, and that's about it. He's grown frail, and has discovered the joys of "Not Going." It takes a lot to get him to leave the comfort and safety of his house. I was really surprised when he called me on Saturday, because he asked me to take him somewhere.

My father was a ball gunner on a B-24J Liberator bomber in the Pacific during WW2. He rarely spoke about that. My father and his confreres considered themselves part of a thing greater than the sum of their parts in it --or so it seems to me -- and more or less did what was expected of them as a sort of unpleasant chore, kept themselves safe as much as was practicable, amused themselves when possible, and got back to being regular people as soon as they could.
(Thanks to Done With Mirrors which adds some additional context to the above.)


3) One of the most thoughtful college-age bloggers around, Chris Hallquist has a long post about his deconversion, his move from believer to atheist. Here's the concluding graph:

My response to defenses of Biblical attrocities and eternal damnation was different though. The more apologists tried to defend them, the more horrible they became. I really must thank the apologists for helping me grasp the full horror of orthodox Christianity. They are a major reason I do what I do today.
That's less than a sample, go read the original.

My own deconversion came at age 16 when I was sitting in a Youngstown, Ohio Greyhound station. I was hitchiking cross-country and had stalled out in that cursed town, unable to get a ride in any direction from the Sunday morning church folk.

But that resentment wasn't the cause of my deconversion. Having nothing else to do in the bus station I started thinking about religion. (May have been that creep eyeballing me that got me into a critical state of mind.) I started with the paradoxes of omnipotence, slid over to the absurdity of an omniscient God who tranfers blame to his own creations, went from there to the utter idiocy of the Gospel story -- You people have pissed Me off, I'm gonna let you kill my Son, then we'll be fine -- and in a two hour wait for a bus to who knows where, I had crossed the line from Lutheran to atheist.

4) Apropos of religion, the ever-dry Jon Swift, tongue so deep in his cheek he must get a cramp, takes on the George Allen as Jew issue:

During a debate this week with his opponent, Jim Webb, George Allen was asked by reporter Peggy Fox if his mother's family was Jewish, which would make him, according to Jewish law, a Jew, even though he was raised a Christian. Allen reacted with outrage to this question. "To be getting into what religion my mother is, I don't think it's relevant," he fumed. "So I'd like to ask you, why is that relevant? My religion? Jim's religion ..."

Of course, religion should have nothing whatsoever to do with a political campaign. As long as someone running for office has made it clear that they are a deeply religious God-fearing Christian (or Jew) and made at least one speech discussing how their religious faith has impacted on their values and demonstrated their opposition to taking religion out of the schools and government, then their religion should not even be raised as an issue.

[...]

Apparently, Allen has tried to keep people from knowing about his Jewish roots until he could come to terms with it himself. For years his mother hid this fact from him no doubt to protect him. She never told him the reason that his grandfather was arrested by the Nazis, a fact that he has mentioned in interviews to explain why he supports the War in Iraq. He probably believed it was because his grandfather was a gypsy or a communist or gay so imagine his shock upon learning that his grandfather was arrested for being Jewish.
That's enough for now.

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Hot Or Not?

by Michael Reynolds

Lexus GS 450h. Kinda cool?

I dont know that I'm quite ready to trade in my car, but I'm looking around. I love my current beast, but it's a 2002, and it gets a theoretical 19 mpg combined. (Real life 16 mpg.) I'm actually experiencing guilt shipping buckets of money to Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela every time I fill it up with 22 gallons of premium.

The above car gets 26 mpg. Plus it does 0-60 in under 6. That's 7 mpg better and about the same acceleration I get now.

Lexus has just this year reached the point where it has any sex appeal. It's no longer grandma's car. And I love the local dealership -- if Four Seasons sold cars they'd be Johnson Lexus of Durham. (Is that plug worth a set of floormats for my wife's car?) But my question is this: is 26 mpg enough to get right with the eco nuts? Will I have done enough? Will I no longer be guilty of subsidizing terrorists? Or to put it in terms my school-brainwashed kids would understand: have I stopped killing the penguins if I get 26 mpg?

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My Very Own Democratic Plan.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006 by Michael Reynolds

So the guy sets his house on fire and as his wife and kids are running around in circles, panicked, screaming, "what should we do, what should we do?" the man looks at his wife and says, "You figure it out. Do I have to do everything around this place?"

There are loud demands for Democrats to figure out how to escape the Alcatraz in which Mr. Bush has landed us. By the bizarre political logic of the day if the Democrats can't figure out how to rescue us from Mr. Bush's incompetence they don't deserve to take over . . . which will only prove that we should leave things in the hands of the guy who set the house on fire to begin with. Ta da!

Two things come to mind. One: we need another party. Any time you're in serious trouble and your only choice is between Republicans and Democrats . . . you're in serious trouble.

Second: no sweat, I have a plan.

First question: what do we want? That's fairly easy. (Easy to list, anyway.) We want a face-saving exit from Iraq that leaves us not looking entirely beaten. We don't want Al Qaeda permanently setting up shop in Iraq. We want to stop Iran from extending its reach -- diplomatically, militarily, through terrorism or with nuclear weapons. We want the oil to keep flowing. We want Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait to remain stable. We want Kurdistan to remain at least semi-autonomous but not in such a way that they'll irritate the Turks too much. Did I mention we want the oil to keep flowing? We want Israel to survive. We want Musharraf to keep his shaky hands on Pakistan's nukes. We want Afghanistan restored to the "Win" column.

In other words, if you cut right to the chase: we want things to go back to where they were before we decided to transform the Middle East. We want it to be as if the last three plus years of George W. Bush and his feverish band of neo-cons never happened.

Now, you may say that's a tendentious interpretation. But you know what's funny? George W. Bush's own policies are now about extricating us from the mess he made. Even the GOP wishes Bush had retired after Afghanistan. Although I don't suppose they'd put it quite that way.

This is not to pretend 9/11 never happened. The entirely appropriate -- and I think inevitable regardless of who was president -- invasion of Afghanistan with attendant beat-down of the Taliban was the just and proper response to 9/11.

Nor is it to argue that it was a bad idea to democratize Iraq. Bad idea to do it the way we did it, not necessarily a bad idea in the abstract.

But all that is water under the bridge. The house is on fire, the arsonist is still running around with a gas can and a Zippo, so it's our job to figure out how not to get burned.

So, we have this laundry list of things we need done. Now we look first at what tools we have.

We know we're about out of combat soldiers. The ones we have are kind of busy. We have a 1.5 million man army at a point in our history when we're at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, could soon be at war in Iran and even Syria, and could be fighting L'il Kim's zombie army in Korea at any moment. And Castro could drop dead and precipitate a succession crisis for which we might want to have a spare few brigades handy. And Hugo Chavez could decide he has to round up Americans. And, and, and.

Our allies are tapped out, so there will be no help from that quarter. The allies have forces in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Lebanon and a few in Iraq. They're not doing all they could, maybe, but they're doing all they're going to do.

We know that we don't have the stomach at this point in history for throwing the switch on total war. We're probably not going to draft five million guys and sweep through the Middle East bombing and overthrowing and whatnot in a sort of modern-day march to Berlin.

All of which -- no allies, no men, no will -- leaves us, as improbable as it sounds, in a position of weakness. We are the world's only hyperpower. (Eeperr-powairr as the French like to say.) But we are in a position of weakness because we've let ourselves write more checks than we have funds to cover.

Not my favorite posture to be in. If I was proclaimed Dictator tomorrow I'd want to change the ratio between "grand ambitions" and "modest means." I'd want fewer committments and a bigger army. Call me crazy but I don't like to have just barely enough. I like to have extra to spare. (And of course if I were named Dictator I'd book an early flight out of the country.)

But here we are. We're overextended. There's no political will for a replay of 1942. We have a seemingly impossible array of irreconcilable issues. So.

Thing one is to prioritize. We don't want Iran to become a regional superpower. We really can't live with that. But we can't invade. And while we can certainly blow up their nuclear facilities they can turn off the oil spigot. To anyone who thinks the US Navy can stop Iran from firing missiles at passing tankers may I say two words: SCUDS and Lebanon.

IRAN:

What we need in Iran is graduated pressure. A greater and a lesser threat. The greater threat is bombs on Tehran and damn the consequences. The lesser threat is a guerilla movement inside Iran operating from Iraqi Kurdistan. They've meddled in Iraq and in Lebanon so our doing likewise in Iran is merely balancing the scales. We deter them from going the next step in escalation by threatening overt to-hell-with-it retaliation.

A guerilla force inside Iran with sanctuary in US-protected Kurdistan is our leverage. And a guerilla force need not be limited to small arms. There's no particular reason Iranian insurgents shouldn't be trained to operate Predators or anti-aircraft missiles, to have the latest night vision capability and body armor, or to fly jets out of their own bases. "Guerilla" does not necessarily mean "guy with an AK." All that will depend on the degree to which Iran irritates us.

IRAQ:

Right now Iraq is on welfare and not very interested in job hunting.

Why should Iraqi leaders get their act together and make all sorts of painful decisions when they can sit back, let us defend the Green Zone, cash our checks and jet off at will to New York, Paris or Dubai for R and R?

If Iraqis are determined to have a civil war, let's find that out sooner rather than later. Give them three months to work out a political compromise. At the end of three months, if they don't have a deal that works for Sunnis and Kurds as well as Shiites, then good-bye.

There's no avoiding the Band-aid moment. Pulling it off a millimeter at a time is no better than yanking it. It's not a question of the Iraqi Army standing up, that's nonsense: there's no army without something to fight for. It's a question of a political deal that leaves Sunni leaders content to remain part of a unified Iraq. If we don't get that deal it's not going to matter how big the Iraqi army is. And no one is going to make a deal that involves compromise until they have no other choice.

Three months to make a deal. If they have a deal we stay and build their army. If they can't reach a deal then they can't be saved and we might as well bail out sooner rather than later.

If we have to bail out we back the one reliable player: the Kurds. We have a very serious conversation with the Turks, one that involves a full-frontal US effort to integrate Turkey into the western economy (read E.U.) and includes ironclad guarantees that Iraqi Kurdistan will tolerate no actions against Turks. Get the Kurds to agree to ship their oil through a new pipleine through Turkey, it would give the Turks some leverage short of military action, and a piece of the action.

Also, if Iraq is going the path of civil war we use our over-the-horizon forces in a serious, concerted effort to stop all arms shipments coming from Iran, Syria, or Saudi Arabia to the combattants. We pressure Israel to give Jordan a little extra love, and to sit down and negotiate the bogus Syrian claims on the Shebaa farms. We make the point to the Saudis that we'll keep Iranian arms out of Iraq only so long as Sunni arms aren't being shipped.

It will still be a bloodbath, but our goal will be to keep it confined to Iraq and not draw everyone else in.

AFGHANISTAN:

The allies are calling for reinforcements and none are coming. The Taliban (and Al Qaeda) has a secure base in Waziristan where we can't touch them for fear of toppling Musharraf. There's no easy answer. But we need to get our eye off Iraq and back onto Afghansitan. If more soldiers are going in they'll probably have to be ours. With enough men and dollars we at least can hold onto Afghanistan for the next ten years and hope to beat Al Qaeda from another direction. Hope the politics of terror changes. Hope that Musharraf gains enough footing from the very good work the President is doing with India and Pakistan that Musharraf will be able to reassert control. Or, okay, assert it for the first time. At least put a squeeze on those people.

THE REST:

During World War Two the United States, with half the population we have now, and a fraction of the GDP, fielded a nine million man army. Overnight we went from a relatively small arms industry to disgorging so many weapons of so many kinds that we could probably have won simply by dropping tanks on top of enemy soldiers. We need a bigger army. The Rumsfeld easy war, scalpel war, bloodless war, just-enough war is a dangerous fantasy. War is unpredictable. When things are unpredictable more is better than less.

I don't know if we need some form of draft, but we certainly don't until we've tried other alternatives. Better pay, better benefits, the usual things one does when there's a tight labor market in a particular field.

Then we need to ask ourselves why we are defending South Korea when South Korea is more than capable of defending itself. And a few other questions of that nature.

SUMMARY:

1) Use asymmetric warfare to our advantage against Iran. Two can play the guerilla game.
2) Deadline Iraq. Either they can manage the politics or they can't, but if they can't we're wasting our time there.
3) Refocus on Afghanistan, play out the clock hoping for a break.
4) Reduce comitments, raise troop levels.

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