Blogs

Russia's Military

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 2:03 PM EDT

RUSSIA'S MILITARY....Eric Alterman's buddy, LTC Bob Bateman, suggests that Russia's upcoming "training mission" with Venezuela's navy shouldn't worry us too much:

Today the Russian Navy is a shell of its previous self. Someday that may change, but for now it seems they have only one small aircraft carrier (which would not even have that title in the US Navy, because it is too small), two "Battlecruisers," three Cruisers, 26 Destroyers, and 16 Frigates. It is unknown how many of these can do more than float while securely tied up at a pier....Of their once-vaunted (and frankly, feared) undersea capability there is also little left but a skeleton. At the end of the Cold War the Soviet Union could field some 170 submarines, many, if not most of them, nuclear powered. Today there are but fifty still in the inventory, and of that only 26 were operational as of 2006 according to open source reporting in Russia.

On the other hand, Russian airpower, which also fell on very hard times after 1991, has started to revive. But it's still a shell of its Cold War self too, which is yet another reason not to panic too strongly over recent events in Georgia. Putin's bluster aside, Russia's military capabilities these days are distinctly limited.

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The War Within

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 1:19 PM EDT

THE WAR WITHIN....Yesterday I linked to Derek Chollet's suggestion that Bob Woodward's The War Within was, counterintuitively, actually fairly sympathetic toward George Bush. Today, Tim Rutten reviews the book in the LA Times and says exactly the opposite:

Bush, in Woodward's view, is the worst kind of wartime president: controlling and disengaged, all at once. Worse, he frequently is not only detached from unpleasant or inconvenient facts but is also positively hostile to those who recite them. As Woodward reconstructs the last two years — in a stunning series of on-the-record interviews with participants — this willful blindness has spilled out of the White House and into the departments of Defense and State in a perfect maelstrom of dysfunction.

That certainly sounds more like the George Bush we've all come to know and love, but I suppose I really better read the book myself and see what Woodward has to say. I'm extremely unfond of Woodward's technique of reconstructing events and conversations based on reams and reams of anonymous and obviously self-serving interviews, but if The War Within is based mostly on on-the-record interviews it might go down a little easier. I'll start in on it tomorrow.

Palin Says McCain Doesn't "Run with the Washington Herd." Is It Jogging?

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 1:05 PM EDT

At a campaign rally this morning in Fairfax, Virginia, Sarah Palin declared of John McCain, "He doesn't run with the Washington herd."

That's sure not true, given that his campaign is managed (or stage-managed) by the old bulls of the Washington lobbying herd. And within what seemed seconds of Palin making this false statement, the Obama campaign sent me (and other reporters) a list of McCain's top aides who are former DC lobbyists:

The Nature of Existence

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 12:59 PM EDT

THE NATURE OF EXISTENCE...The Large Hadron Collider has been turned on and I'm still here. At least, I think I am. How about you?

This Is How They Win

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 12:13 PM EDT

I just want to add a note to the blog post below, which points out that Republicans demonstrate a phony respect for the middle class during election season while, at all other times, supporting legislation works that works against the middle class's interest.

This is how they win elections. The Republican Party has, for years, pushed policies that support the very few. That's why they try to frame elections as questions of patriotism, of who respects and identifies with heartland Americans, of who called who a "pig." Because if elections were about whether voters got the most benefit from Democrats or Republican being in power, Democrats would win every time.

Dep't of Debunking: Democrats and Disrespect for the Working Class

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 11:37 AM EDT

Clive Crook over at the Atlantic is making a familiar point: Democrats don't win heartland votes because, despite advocating policies that would help middle-class voters in the middle of the country, they fundamentally do not respect the people in this demographic.

Every time a conservative makes this argument, there are two mandatory responses. First, Republicans kowtow to this demographic every four years only to win elections. When in office, they push policies that beat the daylights out of the middle class: tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations, anti-labor measures, free trade agreements, etc. And they oppose ideas that would benefit the middle class: expanded health care, more affordable higher education, green jobs programs, etc.

Using the middle class to gain power and then governing at the behest of the rich and powerful. Does that sound like respect to you?

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Somebody Explain Feminism to Rick Santorum

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 11:16 AM EDT

It's about advancing the rights of all women, not the career of a single one. Especially not the career of one who would set all the others back.

Clearly, Ricky has never heard of the vagina litmus test.

The Hack Gap Revisited: "Lipstick on a Pig" Edition

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 10:14 AM EDT

When I saw the video clip of Meghan McCain saying, "No one knows what war is like other than my family" I knew that she meant to say "No one knows what war is like BETTER than my family." So I didn't write about it on our blog.

Then I saw that conservatives are actually acting outraged over this "lipstick on a pig" nonsense. And it smacked me in the face: the hack gap had struck again.

The hack gap is the difference between political observers and writers on the left and on the right. Those on the left (most, anyway) give the benefit of the doubt. They have a sense of shame. They are willing to consider the validity of something before running with it. And they don't try to disguise obviously phony outrage as genuine outrage.

As this "lipstick" thing illustrates (as well as any example you can find with five seconds of searching), the right doesn't operate the same way. And that's one of the reasons why it wins.

And let me add that I'm aware I occasionally complain in this space that the left doesn't play tough enough. And I'm aware that by not writing about the Meghan McCain clip, I would appear to be committing the sin for which I criticize others. But I'd like to believe you can get tough without being disingenuous. And besides, our readers would revolt if I treated an obvious verbal slip by a candidate's child as indicative of something more serious. The fact that Limbaugh's audience eats that sort of thing up doesn't necessarily mean ours does.

The takeaway? The left has two problems: a lack of hacks and a lack of a market for hacks.

Update: Mike Huckabee refuses to be a hack.

Passion Play

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 2:33 AM EDT

PASSION PLAY....I'm not generally a big fan of Tom Friedman, but his advice today to Barack Obama seems right on target:

Whoever slipped that Valium into Barack Obama's coffee needs to be found and arrested by the Democrats because Obama has gone from cool to cold.

....Forget trashing McCain's ideas. If Obama wants to rally his base, he has to be more passionate about his own ideas. I have long felt that what propelled Obama early was the fact that many Americans understand in their guts that we need a change, but the change we need is to focus on nation-building at home. We're in decline. We need to get back to work on our country. And that is going to require strong, smart government.

Who is bailing out Fannie Mae? Who is going to build a new energy system? Health care? More tax cuts are not going to do it. But I am just not sure that Obama is making the sale that he has the plan and passion to unite and mobilize the country for this task.

All politicians are sales people first and foremost, and the first thing they sell is themselves. But Obama, I think, has done a pretty good job of that already. His next step, then, is to sell the country not just on change, but on specifically liberal change. As Friedman says, "When you say Obama's name today and ask people for their first impression — a quick, flash, gut, first impression — no single word or phrase or policy comes to mind."

Obama needs to correct this, and quickly. He needs to sell the country on a few core liberal ideas the same way Ronald Reagan sold the country on a few core conservative ideas three decades ago. So far, though, he's been too cautious to really try this, and it's showing. He better start showing a little more liberal conviction, and soon, if he wants to sit in the Oval Office come next January.

Quote of the Day - 9.9.08

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 1:25 AM EDT

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Republican strategist John Feehery, commenting on the McCain campaign's habit of lying about Sarah Palin's positions:

"The more the New York Times and The Washington Post go after Sarah Palin, the better off she is, because there's a bigger truth out there and the bigger truths are she's new, she's popular in Alaska and she is an insurgent. As long as those are out there, these little facts don't really matter."

Indeed. Pesky little facts should never be allowed to get in the way of bigger truths.