Monday, August 25, 2008

What if Obama loses?

Really interesting article by Jacob Weisburg of Newsweek (http://www.newsweek.com/id/155117/page/1) asking what it would mean about America if Obama loses. Basically, the article posits, it would prove that we're a bunch of racists.

I agree in part with the article - I do think Obama's race is a huge issue, and that the GOP campaign will be in large part an attempt to allow people to rationalize not voting for him otherwise. The whole "scary Muslim" thing is a big part of that. The article does come off a little preemptively whiny, and discounts the possibility that Obama's failure as a candidate may have to do with his campaign. His Kerry-like lack of response to McCain's negative onslaught could certainly explain the poll numbers, as well.

But it's an article that touches the racial third rail of this campaign, and does it pretty well. It's definitely worth reading and thinking about.

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What Will The Neighbors Think?
Obama's defeat would say that when handed a perfect opportunity to put the worst part of our history behind us, we chose not to.

By Jacob Weisberg | NEWSWEEK

What with the Bush legacy of reckless war and economic mismanagement, 2008 is a year that favors the generic Democratic candidate over the generic Republican one. Yet Barack Obama, with every natural and structural advantage, is running only neck and neck with John McCain, a subpar nominee with a list of liabilities longer than a Joe Biden monologue. Obama has built a crack political operation, raised record sums and inspired millions with his eloquence and vision. McCain has struggled with a fractious campaign team, deficits in clarity and discipline, and remains a stranger to charisma. Yet at the moment, the two appear to be tied. What gives?

If it makes you feel better, you can rationalize Obama's missing 10-point lead on the basis of Clintonite sulkiness, his slowness in responding to attacks or the concern that he may be too handsome, brilliant and cool to be elected. But let's be honest: the reason Obama isn't ahead right now is that he trails badly among one group, older white voters. He lags with them for a simple reason: the color of his skin.

Much evidence points to racial prejudice as a factor that could be large enough to cost Obama the election. That warning is written all over last month's CBS/New York Times poll, which is worth studying if you want to understand white America's curious sense of racial grievance. In the poll, 26 percent of whites say they have been victims of discrimination. Twenty-seven percent say too much has been made of the problems facing black people. Twenty-four percent say that the country isn't ready to elect a black president. Five percent acknowledge that they, personally, would not vote for a black candidate.

Five percent surely understates the extent of the problem. In the Pennsylvania primary, one in six white voters told exit pollsters that race was a factor in his or her decision. Seventy-five percent of those people voted for Clinton. You can do the math: 12 percent of the white Pennsylvania primary electorate acknowledged that they didn't vote for Barack Obama in part because he is African-American. And that's what Democrats in a Northeastern(ish) state admit openly.

Such prejudice usually comes coded in distortions about Obama and his background. To the willfully ignorant, he's a secret Muslim married to a black-power radical. Or—thanks, Geraldine Ferraro—he got where he is only because of the special treatment accorded those lucky enough to be born with African blood. Some Jews assume Obama is insufficiently supportive of Israel, the way they assume other black politicians to be. To some white voters (14 percent in the CBS/New York Times poll), Obama is someone who as president would favor blacks over whites. Or he's an "elitist," who cannot understand ordinary (read: white) people because he isn't one of them. We're just not comfortable with, you know, a Hawaiian.

Then there's the overt stuff. In May, Pat Buchanan, who frets about the European-Americans losing control of their country, ranted on MSNBC in defense of white West Virginians voting on the basis of racial solidarity. The No. 1 best seller in America, "Obama Nation," by Jerome R. Corsi, Ph.D., leeringly notes that Obama's white mother always preferred her "mate" be "a man of color." John McCain has yet to get around to denouncing this vile book.

Many have discoursed on what an Obama victory could mean for America. We would finally be able to see our legacy of slavery, segregation and racism in the rearview mirror. Our kids would grow up thinking of prejudice as a nonfactor in their lives. The rest of the world would embrace a less fearful and more open post-post-9/11 America. But does it not follow that an Obama defeat would signify the opposite? If Obama loses, our children will grow up thinking of equal opportunity as a myth. His defeat would say that when handed a perfect opportunity to put the worst part of our history behind us, we chose not to. In this event, the world's judgment will be severe and inescapable: the United States had its day, but in the end couldn't put its own self-interest ahead of its crazy irrationality over race.

Choosing McCain, in particular, would herald the construction of a bridge to the 20th century—and not necessarily the last part of it, either. McCain represents a cold-war style of nationalism that doesn't get the shift from geopolitics to geoeconomics, the centrality of soft power in a multipolar world or the transformative nature of digital technology. This is a matter of attitude as much as age. A lot of 71-year-olds are still learning and evolving. But in 2008, being flummoxed by that newfangled doodad, the personal computer, seems like a deal breaker. At this hinge moment in human history, McCain's approach to our gravest problems is hawkish denial. I like and respect the man, but the maverick has become an ostrich: he wants to deal with the global energy crisis by drilling, our debt crisis by cutting taxes, and he responds to threats from Georgia to Iran with Bush-like belligerence and pique.

You may or may not agree with Obama's policy prescriptions, but they are, by and large, serious attempts to deal with the biggest issues we face: a failing health-care system, oil dependency, income stagnation and climate change. To the rest of the world, a rejection of the promise he represents wouldn't just be an odd choice by the United States. It would be taken for what it would be: sign and symptom of a nation's historical decline.

URL: http://www.newsweek.com/id/155117

Friday, August 15, 2008

What's good for the goose

Let me make one thing perfectly clear. John Edwards stepping out on Elizabeth was a despicable, selfish act that should rightly stain his political career forever. But if cheating on a sick and defenseless woman is a disqualification for President, why (again) is John McCain getting a free pass? Excellent article by Richard A. Serrano and Ralph Vartabedian of the Los Angeles Times (http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-divorce11-2008jul11,0,5924926,full.story) recapping the story and the effect of McCain's behavior on his first wife.

So, please, someone tell me why John Edwards gets rightly crucified for his horrible behavior, while John McCain doesn't even get asked the question. Hell, McCain even got to play the victim when the New York Times ran a piece IMPLYING he was having an affair. When that all played out, I don't recall word one of this being discussed.

I've said this before, and I will say it again. I think Obama will win this Presidential race, but if McCain was facing the same scrutiny Obama is now, the race would be over before it started.

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Outside her Bel-Air home, Nancy Reagan stood arm in arm with John McCain and offered a significant -- but less than exuberant -- endorsement.

"Ronnie and I always waited until everything was decided, and then we endorsed," the Republican matriarch said in March. "Well, obviously this is the nominee of the party." They were the only words she would speak during the five-minute photo op.

In his 2002 memoir, "Worth the Fighting For," McCain wrote that he had separated from Carol before he began dating Hensley.

"I spent as much time with Cindy in Washington and Arizona as our jobs would allow," McCain wrote. "I was separated from Carol, but our divorce would not become final until February of 1980."

An examination of court documents tells a different story. McCain did not sue his wife for divorce until Feb. 19, 1980, and he wrote in his court petition that he and his wife had "cohabited" until Jan. 7 of that year -- or for the first nine months of his relationship with Hensley.

Although McCain suggested in his autobiography that months passed between his divorce and remarriage, the divorce was granted April 2, 1980, and he wed Hensley in a private ceremony five weeks later. McCain obtained an Arizona marriage license on March 6, 1980, while still legally married to his first wife.

Until McCain filed for divorce, the Reagans and their inner circle assumed he was happily married, and they were stunned to learn otherwise, according to several close aides.

"Everybody was upset with him," recalled Nancy Reynolds, a top aide to the former president who introduced him to McCain.

By contrast, some of McCain's friends, including the Senate aide who was at the reception where McCain first met Hensley, believed he was separated at that time.

Albert "Pete" Lakeland, the aide who was with McCain at the reception in Hawaii in April 1979, said of the introduction to Hensley: "It was like he was struck by Cupid's arrow. He was just enormously smitten."

As the pair began dating, Lakeland allowed them to spend a weekend together at his summer home in Maryland, he said.

The senator has acknowledged that he behaved badly, and that his swift divorce and remarriage brought a cold shoulder from the Reagans that lasted years.

In a recent interview, McCain said he did not want to revisit the breakup of his marriage. "I have a very good relationship with my first wife," he said. In his autobiography, he wrote: "My marriage's collapse was attributable to my own selfishness and immaturity. The blame was entirely mine."

Tucker Bounds, a McCain campaign spokesman, said: "Of course we will not comment on the breakup of the senator's first marriage, other than to note that the senator has always taken responsibility for it."

Carol McCain did not respond to a request for an interview.

About all she has ever said is this to McCain biographer Robert Timberg: "John was turning 40 and wanting to be 25 again."

After leaving the White House, Carol McCain worked in press relations in the Washington area, retiring about five years ago after working for the National Soft Drink Assn. She now lives in Virginia Beach, Va., and has not remarried. She has two sons from an earlier marriage: Andy, a vice president at Cindy McCain's beer distributorship, and Doug, a commercial airline pilot.

Carol and John McCain had a daughter, Sidney, who works in the music industry in Canada.

John McCain, who calls himself "a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution," said in his memoir: "My divorce from Carol, whom the Reagans loved, caused a change in our relationship. Nancy . . . was particularly upset with me and treated me on the few occasions we encountered each other after I came to Congress with a cool correctness that made her displeasure clear.

"I had, of course, deserved the change in our relationship."

Joanne Drake, spokeswoman for Nancy Reagan, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The first Mrs. McCain

McCain met Carol Shepp through a mutual friend and fellow midshipman at the Naval Academy, from which McCain graduated in 1958. That friend, Alasdair E. Swanson, married her in 1958. In the early 1960s, the Swansons lived in Pensacola, Fla., where Alasdair Swanson and McCain served as Navy pilots.

But that marriage ended in June 1964 after Carol sued for divorce, alleging that her husband had been unfaithful.

According to McCain, he started seeing Carol shortly afterward. They were married in Philadelphia, her hometown, in July 1965. McCain adopted her two sons, and they had a daughter together. Then in October 1967, McCain's plane was shot down and he was captured by the North Vietnamese.

She became active in the POW-MIA movement. A former model, she dedicated herself to her children and kept the family together, friends said, while awaiting his return.

"She had the perseverance to carry on," said Melinda Fitzwater, a cousin of McCain's who later worked with Carol McCain at the White House. "She had a little baby and small kids. She was a great, unique person."

On Christmas Eve 1969, while she was driving alone in Philadelphia, Carol McCain's car skidded and struck a utility pole. Thrown into the snow, she broke both legs, an arm and her pelvis. She was operated on a dozen times, and in the treatment she lost about 5 inches in height.

After John McCain was released in March 1973 and returned to the U.S., he told friends that Carol was not the woman he had married.

Reynolds, working for then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan, said she first met the couple in San Francisco at a reception for ex-prisoners. She later introduced them to the Reagans at their home in Pacific Palisades.

"They were just an attractive couple," Reynolds said. "The Reagans had great admiration and respect for John."

In 1974, Reagan invited McCain to speak at a governor's prayer breakfast in Sacramento. The former prisoner of war told the story of a fellow captive who had scratched a prayer on a cell wall. Ronald and Nancy Reagan were reduced to tears. It was "the most moving speech I had ever heard," Reynolds said.

In the next few years, family and friends said, there was no sign that McCain was unhappy in his marriage. Fitzwater recalled visiting the family on Thanksgivings, and McCain seemed content barbecuing a turkey on his outdoor grill near Jacksonville, Fla.

Navy officers in the squadron McCain commanded in 1977 said they did not know anything was wrong. "When I went to parties at their home, everything seemed fine," said Mike Akin, a naval flying instructor. "They seemed to be a happily married couple."

But two years later, while on a trip as a Navy liaison with the Senate, McCain spied Hensley at the Honolulu reception. In a recent television interview with Jay Leno on the "Tonight Show," Cindy McCain joked about how the Navy captain had pursued her. "He kind of chased me around . . . the hors d'oeuvre table," she said. "I was trying to get something to eat and I thought, 'This guy's kind of weird.' I was kind of trying to get away from him."

John McCain was 42; she was 24. During the next nine months, he would fly to Arizona or she would come to the Washington area, where McCain and Carol had a home.

Carol McCain later told friends, including Reynolds and Fitzwater, that she did not know he was seeing anyone else.

John McCain sued for divorce in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., where his friend and fellow former POW, George E. "Bud" Day, practiced law and could represent him.

In the petition, he stated that the couple had "cohabited as husband and wife" until Jan. 7, 1980.

His wife did not contest the divorce, and Day said that the couple had reached an agreement in advance on support and division of property. By then she was living in La Mesa, in San Diego County, with the family of Meese, a close Reagan aide and future attorney general.

"We knew John and Carol both since he came back from Hanoi in 1973," Meese said recently. "They have been friends of ours ever since.

"She was with us for maybe four or five months. Their daughter and our daughter were friends, and they went to school together."

Carol McCain was distraught at being blindsided by her husband's intention to end their marriage, said her friends in the Reagan circle.

"They [the Reagans] weren't happy with him," Fitzwater said. Carol McCain "was this little, frail person. . . . She was brokenhearted."

By that time, Nancy Reagan had come to Carol McCain's aid, hiring her as a press assistant in the 1980 presidential campaign.

When the Reagans moved to Washington, she was named director of the White House Visitors Office.

"Nancy Reagan was crazy about her," Reynolds said. "But everybody was crazy about Carol McCain. . . . And the Meeses were very generous and helpful and comforting to her."

Fitzwater said that living in Southern California and working on the Reagan campaign helped Carol McCain move past the loss of her marriage.

"It was perfect for her. She was traveling, and it took her mind off a very, very sad time for her."

They said it ...

Interesting exerpt from a post by Steven D of Booman Tribune (http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/95112/), quoting some of the most incindiery and outlandish things said by the right-wing punditry. Not shockingly, Ann Coulter and Michael Savage appear prominently.The poster was trying to link the shooting of the Arkansas Democratic party chair to these types of statements in some way.

I'm not sure I'd go that far, but I do think it's fair to point out that people are allowed to say horrifying garbage and remain considered "respectable" pundits within the community. I do not understand why they are not ostracized for uttering such despicable nonsense. Perhaps it's time we start reminding folks of things like this.

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"I tell people don't kill all the liberals. Leave enough so we can have two on every campus -- living fossils -- so we will never forget what these people stood for." -- Rush Limbaugh

"I would have no problem with [New York Times editor Bill Keller] being sent to the gas chamber." -- Melanie Morgan

""[T]he day will come when unpleasant things are going to happen to a bunch of stupid liberals and it's going to be very amusing to watch." -- Lee Rogers

"And if Al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead." -- Bill O'Reilly

"Howard Dean should be arrested and hung for treason or put in a hole until the end of the Iraq war!"-- Michael Reagan

"Some liberals have become even too crazy for Texas to execute, which is a damn shame. They're always saying -- we're oppressed, we're oppressed so let's do it. Let's oppress them." -- Ann Coulter

"We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee. ... That's just a joke, for you in the media." -- Ann Coulter

My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building." -- Ann Coulter

"We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too." -- Ann Coulter

And Joe Wilson has no right to complain. And I think people like Tim Russert and the others, who gave this guy such a free ride and all the media, they're the ones to be shot, not Karl Rove. -- Rep. Peter King (R)

Where does George Soros have all his money? Do you know? Do you know where George Soros, the big left-wing loon who's financing all these smear [web]sites, do you know where his money is? Curaçao. Curaçao. They ought to hang this Soros guy. -- Bill O'Reilly

"Has there ever been a more revealing moment this year?" Mr. Rove asked. "Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals." -- Karl Rove

Miller is not alone, though some are more sanguine when it comes to evaluating the roster of contenders. Here's a note I got recently from a friend and former Delta Force member, who has been observing American politics from the trenches: "These bastards like Clark and Kerry and that incipient ass, Dean, and Gephardt and Kucinich and that absolute mental midget Sharpton, race baiter, should all be lined up and shot." -- Kathleeen Parker

Right now, even people sitting on the fence would like George Bush to drop a nuclear weapon on an Arab country. They don't even care which one it would be. I can guarantee you -- I don't need to go to Mr. Schmuck [pollster John] Zogby and ask him his opinion. I don't need anyone's opinion. I'll give you my opinion, because I got a better stethoscope than those fools. It's one man's opinion based upon my own analysis. The most -- I tell you right now -- the largest percentage of Americans would like to see a nuclear weapon dropped on a major Arab capital. They don't even care which one. They'd like an indiscriminate use of a nuclear weapon.

In fact, Christianity has been one of the great salvations on planet Earth. It's what's necessary in the Middle East. Others have written about it, I think these people need to be forcibly converted to Christianity but I'll get here a little later, I'll move up to that. It's the only thing that can probably turn them into human beings. ... Because these primitives can only be treated in one way, and I don't think smallpox and a blanket is good enough incidentally. Just before -- I'm going to give you a little precursor to where I'm going. Smallpox in a blanket, which the U.S. Army gave to the Cherokee Indians on their long march to the West, was nothing compared to what I'd like to see done to these people, just so you understand that I'm not going to be too intellectual about my analysis here in terms of what I would recommend, what Doc Savage recommends as an antidote to this kind of poison coming out of the Middle East from these non-humans. -- Michael Savage

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Details on the Russia-Georgia conflict

Great article by Gary Brecher, the War Nerd (http://www.alternet.org/audits/94706/?page=entire), detailing the politics, history, and military strategy of the Russian-Georgian conflict. On any kind of military issue, this guy is required reading for me to feel informed.

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There are two basic facts to keep in mind about the smokin' little war in Ossetia:

1. The Georgians started it.

2. They lost.

If you want to get all serious and actually study up on Ossetia, North and South, and Georgia and the whole eternal gang war that they call the Caucasus, you can check out a column I did on that school-hostage splatter in Beslan, North Ossetia, a few years back.

South Ossetia is a little apple-shaped blob dangling from Russian territory down into Georgia, and most of it has been under control of South Ossetian irregulars backed by Russian "peacekeepers" for the last few years.

The Georgians didn't like that. You don't give up territory in that part of the world, ever. The Georgians have always been fierce people, good fighters, not the forgiving type. In fact, I can't resist a little bit of history here: remember when the Mongols wiped out Baghdad in 1258, the biggest slaughter in any of their conquests? Well, the most enthusiastic choppers and burners in the whole massacre were the Georgian Christian troops in Hulagu Khan's army. They wore out their hacking arms on those Baghdadi civilians. Nobody knows how many people were killed, but it was at least 200,000 -- a pretty big number in the days before antibiotics made life cheap.

So: hard people on every side in that part of the world. No quarter asked or given. No good guys. Especially not the Georgians. They have a rep as good people, one on one, but you don't want to mess with them, and you especially don't want to try to take land from them.

The Georgians bided their time, then went on the offensive, Caucasian style, by pretending to make peace and all the time planning a sneak attack on South Ossetia. They just signed a treaty granting autonomy to South Ossetia this week, and then they attacked. Georgian MLRS units barraged Tskhinvali, the capital city of South Ossetia; Georgian troops swarmed over Ossetian roadblocks; and all in all, it was a great, whiz-bang start, but like Petraeus asked about Iraq way back in 2003, what's the ending to this story? As in: How do you invade territory that the Russians have staked out for protection without thinking about how they'll react?

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili just didn't think it through. One reason he overplayed his hand is that he got lucky the last time he had to deal with a breakaway region: Ajara, a tiny little strip of Black Sea coast in southern Georgia. It declared itself an "autonomous" republic, preserving its sacred basket-weaving traditions or whatever. You just have to accept that people in the Caucasus are insane that way; they'd die to keep from saying hello to the people over the next hill, and they're never going to change. The Ajarans aren't even ethnically different from Georgians; they're Georgian too. But they claim difference by being Muslims. And being different means they have to have their own Lego parliament and Tonka-Toy army and all the rest of that crap, and their leader, a wack job named Abashidze, volunteered them to fight to the death for their independence. Except he was such a nut, and so corrupt, and the Ajarans were so similar to the Georgians, and their little "country" was so tiny and ridiculous, that for once sanity prevailed and the Ajarans refused to fight, let themselves get reabsorbed by that Colossus to the North, mighty Georgia.

Well, like I've said before, there's nothing as dangerous as victory. Makes people crazy. Saakashvili started thinking he could gobble up any secessionist region -- like, say, South Ossetia. But there are big differences he was forgetting -- like the fact that South Ossetia isn't Georgian, has a border with Russia, and is linked up with North Ossetia just across that border. The road from Russia to South Ossetia is pretty fragile as a line of supply; it goes through the Roki Tunnel, a mountain tunnel at an altitude of 10,000 feet. I have to wonder why the Georgian air force -- and it's a good one by all accounts -- didn't have as its first mission in the war the total zapping of the South Ossetian exit of that tunnel. Or if you don't trust the flyboys, send in your special forces with a few backpacks full of explosives. There are a lot of ways to cripple a tunnel. Hell, do it low-tech: Drive a fuel truck in there, with a car following, jackknife the truck halfway through with a remote control or timing fuse -- truck driver gets out and strolls to the car, one fast U-turn and you're out and back in Georgia, just in time to see a ball of flame erupt from the tunnel exit. And rebuilding a tunnel way up in the mountains is not an easy or a fast job. Sure, the Russians could resupply by air, but that's a much, much tougher job and would at least slow down the inevitable. Weird, then, that as far as I know the Georgians didn't even try to blast that tunnel. I don't go in for this kind of long-distance micromanaging of warfare, because there's usually a good reason on the ground for tactical decisions; it's the strategic decisions that are really crazy most of the time. But this one I just don't get.

Most likely the Georgians just thought the Russians wouldn't react. They were doing something they learned from Bush and Cheney: sticking to best-case scenarios, positive thinking. The Georgian plan was classic shock and awe with no hard, grown-up thinking about the long term. Their shiny new army would go in, zap the South Ossetians while they were on a peace hangover (the worst kind), and then, uh, they'd be welcomed as liberators? Sure, just like we were in Iraq. Man, you pay a price for believing in Bush. The Georgians did. They thought he'd help. And I just saw the little creep on TV, sitting in the stands watching the U.S.-China basketball game. I didn't even recognize Bush at first; I just wondered why they kept doing close-ups of this guy who looked like Hank Hill's legless dad up in the stands. Then they said it was the prez. They talk about people "growing in office"; well, he shrunk.

And the more he shrinks, the more you pay for believing in him. The Georgians were naive because they were so happy to get out from the Soviets, the Russians' old enemy, the United States, must be paradise. So they did their apple-polishing best to be the perfect, obedient little ally. Then we'd let them into NATO and carpet-bomb them with SUVs and iPods.

Their part of the deal was simple: They sent troops to Iraq. First a contingent of 850, then, surprisingly, 2,000 men. When you consider the population of Georgia is less than 5 million, that's a lot of troops. In fact, Georgia is the third-biggest contributor to the "Coalition of the Willing," after the United States and Britain.

You might be thinking, Wow, not a good time to have so many of your best troops in Iraq, huh? Well, that's true, and it goes for a lot of countries -- like us, for instance -- but at least we're not facing a Russian invasion. The Georgians are so panicked they just announced they're sending half their Iraqi force home, and could the USAF please give them a lift?

We'll probably give them a ride, but that's about all we can do. We've already done plenty, not because we love Georgians but to counterbalance the Russian influence down where the new oil pipeline is staked out. The biggest American aid project was the GTEP, "Georgia Train and Equip" project ($64 million). It featured 200 Special Forces instructors teaching fine Georgia boys all the lessons the U.S. Army has learned recently. Now here's the joke. We were stressing counterinsurgency skills: small-unit cohesion, marksmanship, intelligence. The idea was to keep Georgia safe from Chechens or other Muslim loonies infiltrating through the Pankisi Gorge in northeast Georgia. And we did a good job. The Georgian Army pacified the Pankisi in classic Green Beret style. The punch line is, the Georgians got so cocky from that success, and from their lovefest with the Bushies in D.C., that they thought they could take on anybody. What they're in the process of finding out is that a light-infantry counterinsurgency force like the one we gave them isn't much use when a gigantic Russian armored force has just rolled across your border.

The American military's response so far has been all talk, and pretty damn stupid talk at that. A Pentagon spokesperson called Russia's response "disproportionate." What the hell are they talking about? They've been watching too many cop shows. Cops have this doctrine of "minimum necessary force," not that they actually operate that way unless there are video cameras around. Armies never, ever had that policy, because it's a good way to get your troops killed needlessly. The whole idea in war is to fight as unfairly and disproportionately as possible. If you've got it, you use it.

If you want a translation, luckily I speak fluent Pentagon. So what "disproportionate" means is -- well, imagine that you're watching some little hanger-on who tags along with you get his ass whipped by a bully, and you say, "That's inappropriate!" I mean, instead of actually helping him. That's what "disproportionate" means from the Pentagon: "We're not going to lift a finger to help you, but hey, we're with you in spirit, little buddy!"

The quickest way to see who's winning in any war is to see who asks first for a ceasefire. And this time it was the Georgians. Once it was clear the Russians were going to back the South Ossetians, the war was over. Even Georgians were saying, "To fight Russia by ourselves is insane." Which means they thought Russia wouldn't back its allies. Not a bad bet; Russia has a long, unpredictable history of screwing its allies -- but not all the time. The Georgians should know better than anybody that once in a while, the Russians actually come through, because it was Russian troops who saved Georgia from a Persian invasion in 1805, at the battle of Zagam. Of course the Russians had let the Persians sack Tbilisi, Georgia's capital, just 10 years earlier without helping. That's the thing: The bastards are unpredictable. You can't even count on them to betray their friends (though it's the safer bet, most of the time, sort of like 6:5 odds).

This time, the Russians came through. For lots of reasons, starting with the fact that Bush is weak and they know it; that the United States is all tied up in that crap Iraq War; and most of all, because Kosovo just declared independence from Serbia, an old Russian ally. It's tit-for-tat time, with Kosovo as the tit and South Ossetia as the tat. The way Putin sees it, if we can mess with his allies and let little ethnic enclaves like Kosovo declare independence, then the Russians can do the same with our allies, especially naive, idiotic allies like Georgia. It's a pawn exchange, if that. If it signals anything bigger, it's the fact that the United States is weaker than it was 10 years ago and Russia is much, much stronger than it was in Yeltsin's time. But anybody with sense knew all that already.

Luckily, South Ossetia doesn't matter that much. I'm just being honest here. In a year, nobody will care much who runs that little glob of territory. What's more serious is that another, bigger and more strategic chunk of Georgia called Abkhazia, on the Black Sea, is taking the opportunity to boot out the last Georgian troops on its territory. Georgia may lose almost all its coastline, but then the Georgians were always an inland people anyway, living along river valleys, not great sailors.

Even so, the great Russian-Ossetian land grab will make great material for another few centuries of gloating, ballads, blood oaths, revenge and counter-grabs. In this part of the world, there's always something to avenge.

This is an adapted version of an essay by Brecher that appeared on eXiled online.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Obama's opportunity?

Interesting post from www.fivethirtyeight.com (which, as I've mentioned before, is incredibly well done) discussing a bi-partisan energy bill coming down the pipe in Congress, and why it would be really smart for Obama to support it.

The whole offshore drilling thing really is a study in what's still wrong with American politics (although, in fairness, I think it's probably the same issue everywhere). There's little question that offshore drilling would do nothing to help gas prices in the short term, and almost nothing to help in the long term. Yet the "low-information voters" out there support it by a 2-1 majority, never getting past the visceral "more oil = more gas = lower prices" 5-second analysis.

Obama has proved himself to be one of the smarter candidates I've seen recently. I hope he's able to pick up on something like this to de-fang what has worked out to be an effective GOP whipsaw.

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I try and avoid using grandiose rhetoric of this kind. But there is a potential checkmate scenario sitting on the board for Barack Obama, and it involves the 'Gang of 10' energy compromise bill currently being floated by a bipartisan group of ten senators.

The compromise proposal -- formally the New Energy Reform Act of 2008 -- is a complicated piece of legislation, but involves three or four basic components:

-- Opens additional drilling areas in the Gulf of Mexico, and allows Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia to elect to permit drilling off their coasts. Existing bans on drilling off the West Coast, including in the ANWR, would be preserved.
-- Dedicates $20 billion to R&D on alternative fuels for motor vehicles.
-- Extends a series of tax credits and incentives, such as for the purchase of hybrid vehicles.
-- Funds the above -- at total cost of about $84 billion -- by closing tax loopholes for petroleum companies, in conjunction with licensing fees.

Barack Obama has come out with lukewarm support for the bill. McCain has come out with what amounts to lukewarm opposition to it, objecting to the removal of the oil company tax loopholes.

There would be tremendous electoral upside to Obama in making his support for the legislation full-throated, by signing on as a co-sponsor to the legislation and making the Gang of 10 a Gang of 11. Consider the benefits of such action:

- Would take the drilling issue off the table. Offshore drilling polls well, favored by roughly 2:1 margins. But more than that, it gives the Republicans a rhetorically effective detour by which they can bypass most of the debate on energy policy, and much of the debate on the economy in general. The passage of a bill -- particularly one that had Obama's support -- would mitigate the issue and force the Republicans to argue the economy from much weaker ground, such as the Democrat-friendly territory of social security, health care, and middle class tax cuts.

- Would make Obama look bipartisan. The Republicans supporting the bill aren't your usual cast of Gordon Smiths and Susan Collinses. Instead, they are center-right types: Saxby Chambliss, John Thune, Lindsey Graham, Bob Corker, and Johnny Isakson. Obama's claims to bipartisanship would be very credible.

- Would make McCain look obstructionist. The converse of this is also true, substantially undermining Obama's claims to be a moderate/maverick.

- Would highlight McCain's loyalty to Big Oil. Even worse for McCain is his reason for opposing the bill -- his refusal to remove oil company tax loopholes. In this populist climate, and particularly in the wake of Exxon's record-setting profits, that is a potentially lethal position to hold.

- Would recast 'flip-flops' as 'compromises'. One of the potential drawbacks to Obama voicing more aggressive support for the legislation is that the McCain campaign would try and highlight is reversal on the offshore drilling issue. However, Obama has a couple of relatively persuasive defenses. Firstly, McCain flip-flopped himself on this very issue. And secondly, Obama can begin to build a narrative that explains his flip-flops by some means other than electoral opportunism. Namely, flexibility is required in order to engineer bipartisan compromise: he is willing to support drilling, but only if oil company tax loopholes are closed, and only if there are provisions to invest those tax revenues in alternative fuels. Since essentially all of Obama's shifts have been toward the center rather than the left, this might pay dividends not only on the drilling issue itself, but also in other instances in which he has changed his position.

- Would help Obama in electorally significant states. The bill is rather cleverly engineered in terms of electoral politics. It permits drilling in the swing states of Virgnia, North Carolina and Florida, but does not permit it on the West Coast, where the measure is significantly less popular. There might also be some secondary benefit to Obama in supporting the moderate Democratic senators who have championed the legislation. If Kent Conrad shoots a commercial in North Dakota, and says "This man had my back when the chips were down and it was time to lower your gas prices and secure America's energy future", that is very persuasive stuff.

- Would distance Obama from Pelosi and Reid. Increasingly, the right is trying to lump Obama together with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and the extremely unpopular institution of the Congress. Supporting the compromise would allow Obama to keep Pelosi, who has been attempting to prevent a drilling bill from coming to a floor vote in the House, at arm's-length, and create the perception that he is in charge of his own destiny.

- Preempts a non-compromise drilling bill from passing. And frankly, it might also be doing Pelosi a favor. Intrade now forecasts that there is about a 50:50 chance of a drilling bill of some kind passing by the end of the year. What Pelosi is essentially doing is gambling that gas prices will decline over the summer while the Congress is on recess. If gas prices continue to go up, however, Pelosi could face an insurrection from swing-district Democrats, putting her at a Morton's Fork between allowing a vote on a drilling bill that wouldn't include compromise provisions (but which nevertheless would almost certainly pass), or attempting to plug the dam at the potential cost of a material number of House seats.

- Preempts McCain from doing the same. I believe that McCain made a significant and potentially even fatal mistake by opposing the tax loophole closure provision of the bill. But Obama may only have a limited amount of time to exploit it. There are too many electoral benefits to this bill for one or the other candidates not to come out vociferously in favor of it, and if Obama does not do so first, McCain may do so instead. Ninety percent of electoral politics is possession, and whomever grabs the apple first will make the other candidate look like a follower.

Frankly, it would not surprise me if the Obama campaign is already keyed into this maneuver. Last Friday, they sent up a trial balloon in the form of Obama's softly-voiced support for the compromise. The trial balloon did not burst; Obama took very little flak for his apparent flip-flop on the drilling issue, whereas the Republicans were reduced to a frivolous taking point about tire gauges. Then this week, Obama began to hammer McCain on his support for oil company tax breaks, highlighting McCain's reason for opposing the compromise measure. Everything is all set up for Obama to move on the issue literally overnight. If he gets the optics right, he will leave McCain in an unenviable position.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Evidence of McCain's free pass

This is from Ben Smith's blog on Politico.com (http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/). Does anyone doubt, in addition to McCain's rape joke and dropping a c-bomb on his wife, that he's getting a free pass? If Obama said this, don't you think we'd be hearing about it 24/7?

That's not at all frustrating ...

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Topless in Sturgis

Meanwhile at a biker rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, John McCain appears to have volunteered his wife for a topless beauty pageant:

McCain felt so comfortable at the event that he even volunteered his wife for the rally’s traditional beauty pageant, an infamously debauched event that’s been known to feature topless women.

“I encouraged Cindy to compete,” McCain said to cheers. “I told her with a little luck she could be the only woman ever to serve as first lady and Miss Buffalo Chip.”

As a reader emails, "Miss Buffalo Chip has 'been known to feature topless women' in the same way that Guns and Ammo magazine has been known to feature firearms." Indeed, an ESPN.com columnist describes it as "occasionally bottomless."