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Have Some Borscht with Your Apple Pie

In the presidential debate last Friday, Jim Lehrer asked the candidates about their position on Russia. Characteristic of the dreadfully dull debate, they managed to give precisely the same response. Senators Barack Obama and John McCain both called Russia’s aggression into Georgia “unacceptable,” recognized the need to reassure our European allies, and stressed the importance of working with Moscow, rather than against it

Peering into the recent past, Obama has been consistently firm on Russia, but has stuck to his broader theme of making diplomacy and negotiation a first-string response. McCain takes a harsher tone, and has been accused of trying to take the U.S. back into a Cold War with Russia. He has talked up the threat Russia poses, proposed ejecting Russia from the G-8, and advocated the creation of a League of Democracies—an organization from which Russia would be excluded.

It is true that Russia has been flexing its military muscles recently—most obviously with the incursion in Georgia. In the conflict, however, the Russian military did little to show it deserves to be feared. The army’s most senior commander in the field was wounded when poor intelligence led them into a Georgian ambush. The military’s limited technology was nearly useless—even their radios didn’t work, forcing officers to communicate via cell phone. And most of the bombs dropped were not modern smart bombs, but older, dumber bombs.

Still, by most measures, Russia’s performance in the field was better than in either of the Chechen wars in the ‘90s, and Moscow is getting serious about upgrading everything from equipment to tactics. The Kremlin will increase defense spending by 26% next year, much of which will go toward improving and updating the country’s nuclear program.

Beyond bombs and submarines, Russia has been looking for friends among America’s antagonizers. Moscow just offered a $1 billion military loan to Hugo Chavez’s government in Caracas. In November, Russian warships will enter the Caribbean for the first time since the Cold War, on their way to joint exercises with the Venezuelan Navy. Russia has 10 warships docked in Syria, and is helping to renovate Tartus port; in Iran, Russian technology and fissile material is helping to build a nuclear reactor, and Russian surface-to-air missiles may protect it.

Higher oil prices have gotten Russia back on her feet, and the Kremlin’s activities of late indicate that the government seeks to be taken seriously. Increasingly isolated on the world stage, Russia is responding by building its own coalition and trying to establish power within its historical sphere of influence. Moscow is asserting itself particularly in the Middle East, establishing its own version of the Monroe Doctrine: This is our backyard, so keep your meddling fingers out.

Though Russia’s military is a shadow of its former self, and from a security perspective, Moscow does not presently pose a credible threat, Russia is capable of making life difficult for the U.S., whether by turning off the gas, by giving cover (both literal and political) to Iran, or by bolstering Chavez in Venezuela.

But Russia and the U.S. share a number of interests, many of which were laid out last week by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: Fighting terrorism, stopping nuclear proliferation, denuclearizing North Korea and finding a secure, stable resolution between Israel and the Palestinians, among others. John McCain’s aggressive, antagonistic ideas about Russia have the potential to become self-fulfilling prophecy. What we need now is not to escalate tension with a powerful state that has the capability of causing us great trouble, but to work together where we have common ground. The U.S. would be best served by keeping Russia engaged, rather than forcing it out into the cold.

10/3 Roundup: VP Debate Responses, House About to Vote

- Everybody's chattering about last night's VP debate.  The general consensus? Sarah Palin exceeded expectations, but Joe Biden won anyway.  The upshot? It probably won't affect the race very much.  Responses from around the web:

- Mark Halperin of Time gives out report cards: They both get a B.

- Andrew Romano at Newsweek: Joe Biden beat John McCain, and Sarah Palin beat Tina Fey.

- Daniel Politi of Slate: Nobody blew it, nobody blew us away.

- The New York Times: She didn't flunk, but Sarah Palin was still a terrible pick.

- DemfromCT at Kos: Not a gamechanger.

- Joan Walsh of Salon: Palin blew it.

- Ezra Klein at TAP: Expectations shmexpectations, Biden won.

- The Washington Post: Nobody won, nobody lost.

- Joe Klein of Time: Palin held her own, but Biden won.

- Greg Sargent of TPM: Obama is on the right side of the issues and Biden made that point well.

- David Brooks of the Times: Where was last night's Palin during Couric's interviews?

- John Dickerson of Slate: Winners: Palin and Biden.  Loser: John McCain.

- Howard Fineman at Newsweek: Palin scored points, but didn't win.

-  James Fallows at the Atlantic: Biden made no mistakes, Palin beat expectations.

- Ben Smith at Politico: Palin passed a pass/fail.

- Undecided voters: Biden won!

- In other, more consequential news, everyone is holding their breath as the House votes on the bailout proposal today. It's likely to pass, but Time says the Blue Dogs could be the key to the bill's fate. Paul Krugman says we're standing on the edge of the abyss, here.

- McCain pulled out of Michigan, and now his campaign is saying that it's all hanging on three states.  Three state's he's losing.

- Homer Simpson wants to vote for Barack Obama, but is eaten by a biased voting machine.

- Obama's got his priorities straight: If it's a double-Chicago, Cubs-White Sox World Series, he's suspending his campaign. 

If you come across an article, blog post, video or anything else you think should be in the Daily Roundup, send it to me, and I'll try to get it in.  Thanks! 

10/2 Roundup: The Senate Says Yes, DebateMaina, Angry McCain

- The Senate passed the bailout bill, by a vote of 74-25, and a whole lot of people breathed the first half of a sigh of relief.  It will likely go up for a vote in the House tomorrow morning.

- The NY Times editorial board has pushed for the bill as a first step, but today they point out a crucial point it misses: It fails to keep people in their homes.

- Daniel Gross at Slate has an interesting (if scary) piece comparing the bailout to a hedge fund.

- Paul Krugman describes two narratives of the bailout saga, both of which turn out to be wrong.

- Enough about all that.  The fun news today is all the anticipation of tonight's VP debate.  NDN has you covered with a guide to the coverage.

- Other good backgrounders and forecasts have been published by: Salon, which says the shootout will be fun, but reminds us that a matchup between the political second bananas isn't likely to decide anything; The Caucus, where they tell you what to look for; Politico is wondering if this debate will matter, even if it's a "barrel of gaffes"; TNR's Michelle Cottle warns us not to underestimate Palin; and Jack Shafer at Slate thinks the format is stupid.

- The NY Times talked to people who know about Vice Presidencies, and collected a batch of questions that should be asked tonight.

- Time has collected video from the 10 most heated moments in VP debate history.

- Obama has surged ahead in polls across the country in the past day or so.  Nate Silver at 538 analyzes some of yesterday's returns. Marc Ambinder calls it an ObamaPollSplosion.

- Maybe that's what McCain has been so angry about lately.  He was short with the editors of the Des Moines Register yesterday (video here), and Chris Cillizza at the Fix has picked up on McCain's rage as a theme, and Time's Joe Klein writes about his "mercurial temperament."

- The latest installment of the Palin-Couric interview is loaded with laugh/cringe lines. Most notably, she takes an curious stance on Roe vs. Wade, and then can't think of any other Supreme Court decisions she opposes. People are becoming increasingly skeptical of Sarah Palin, the Washington Post reports.

- Her accent has confused many, but Slate has done the research, and it turns out to be genuine: Sarah Palin's accent is a Wasillan accent.

- Leonardo DiCaprio, Halle Berry, Jennifer Aniston and others implore America's youth: Please don't vote!

- And Slate publishes The Collected Poetic Works of Sarah Palin.

Your Guide to the VP Debate

As the hour of the Vice Presidential debate approaches, the web has been flooded by all manner of analysis, punditry and bloggery (plus the occasional piece of news). We're here to offer you a guide  to the madness so you know what to expect and can impress your date during pre-debate cocktails.

The big question is: How will Sarah Palin fare?  Her previous public appearances have been mixed. At the Republican National Convention, she killed. As Sam Harris wrote in Newsweek, her speech was extraordinarily effective political communication.

Since that day she has been in constant decline. First came her interview with Charlie Gibson and the "Bush Doctrine" gaffe, then over the past week she's taken major blows as her damning serialized interview with Katie Couric has aired. After double lampoonings on SNL, Palin is on the verge of becoming nothing more than a laughing stock to many. See Simon's link to TPM for video of Sarah's greatest hits.

But debates are a different game, and Palin has had success in the past. The LA Times reports that she ought not be underestimated: She keeps it simple and is irresistably charming. The NY Times, likewise, says that though she's often unclear in her answers, she appears confident and wins viewers. This debate could be her chance to recover some of the ground she's lost.

The Obama camp will not be underestimating her. Campaign manager David Plouffe called Palin a "terrific debater," and said he expects she'll perform well against Joe Biden. Nobody knows her skills better than Andrew Halcro, who faced her when they both ran for governor of Alaska. He describes her as a "master of the nonanswer," but says that if she can "fill the room with her presence," she may do well. Even Joe Biden has said that she looks "pretty doggone confident."

Biden comes into the debate with some concerns of his own. As the Washington Post wrote yesterday, "letting Biden be Biden" has occasional downsides: He has a freewheeling style, and when he runs with it, he can make mistakes. The NY Times also discusses his "legendary loquatiousness," making the point that, debating a woman, Biden runs the danger of looking like a bully. According to the Financial Times, the Obama campaign is training Biden to avoid verbal missteps.

There has been controversy surrounding debate host Gwen Ifill. Because she is currently writing a book about Barack Obama, among other new black politicians, some Republican pundits have cried bias.  Marc Ambinder thinks this is nonsense, and Ifill herself has dismissed the concerns.

George Bush and Geraldine Ferraro, who faced off in the first male vs. female VP debate in 1984, reminisce about their experience and offer their thoguhts the Palin-Biden matchup.

Michael Tomasky of the Guardian gives his forecast for tomorrow night in a fun video.

Roger Simon at Politico provides 10 ready-made answers to Sarah Palin. Respond to any question with ease!

And if it's all getting too serious for you, Newsweek invites you to play VP bingo.

Hey Buddy, Spare a Trillion?

A trillion here, a trillion there... A new ad from Barack Obama  critiques John McCain for his profligate spending plan. Obama wonders: Can we afford John McCain?

10/1 Roundup: More Bailout Fallout, Early Voting, Sarah Palin Isn't Reading This.

- The bailout bill is still ruling the news cycle. The Senate will vote on a slightly-altered version of the bill today, and it will likely pass. The new version includes tax breaks-- particularly for businesses-- that will probably cost a few Democratic votes, but should bring enough Republicans on board for it to pass the House on Thursday or Friday.

- Politico makes a list of twelve members of the House who just might switch their votes.

- David Leonhardt has a great essay in the Times today taking the broad view on the financial trouble.

- Tom Friedman fears for his country if the bailout bill doesn't pass.

- FT Columnist Martin Wolf says we're watching the disintegration of our financial system.

- Newsweek does an interesting investigation of how Obama and McCain developed their views of the world.

- Voting begins in Ohio today! Republicans fought to make it harder to vote, but lost the battle. Greg Giroux at CQ Politics says early voting makes voter-turnout strategies a whole lot more complicated. Brian Montopoli at Horserace looks at how early voting could help Obama in decisive states.

- New polls suggest that Sarah Palin is a leading cause behind John McCain's drop over the past week. As someone who reads a lot of news, her latest gaffe-- in which she can't name a single newspaper or magazine that she reads regularly-- horrifies me to no end.

- CNN did the research, and it turns out you can, in fact, see Russia from one tiny island in Alaska.  And no, Sarah Palin has never been there.

- Operating mostly below the radar, Barack Obama has been waging a ferocious campaign of attack ads on the radio

- Everyone in a Scranton, PA diner (except for one man whose arm gets slapped down by his wife) is voting for Barack Obama.  Fox News calls it a split decision.

If you come across articles, blog posts, videos or anything else you think should be in the Daily Roundup, send it to me, or post it as a comment to the previous day's roundup, and I'll try to get it in.  Thanks! 

Obama Sits Down to Talk to You About the Economy

The Obama campaign released yesterday the third in a series of long-form ads in which he sits down and talks to the camera about the economy.  This one is the most effective yet.  Barack is more natural than in the first, and provides more, clearer detail than in the second. He's very clear about the strengths of his tax plan-- particularly the benefits it offers to the middle class. It's a shame these longer spots so rarely make it to TV...

9/30 Roundup: Bailout Fallout, Double Dates with Joe

- As you might have heard, the House rejected the bailout bill yesterday by a vote of 228 to 205, and the Dow Jones plunged 777 points-- the biggest single-day drop in two decades.

- Why did it happen? The Times sees a failure of leadership in Congress, and David Brooks calls the no-voters "nihilists."

- The best answer, however, comes from Chris Cillizza at The Fix: The bill was so massively unpopular among voters that those congresspeople facing tough elections couldn't afford to vote yes.

- The Post backs up Cillizza's idea, illustrating just how much most Americans distrusted the bill, and distrusted their leaders who wrote it. The Journal also documents how voter fury killed the bill.

- Courtney Martin at the American Prospect writes that voters have good reason to rebel. The middle class has been ignored for too long.

- In Mother Jones, former Wall Streeter Nomi Prins says "good riddance." The bill was a bad deal for average people, and voters were right to oppose it.

- The early word from the Republican camp in congress was that they couldn't vote for the bill because Nancy Pelosi hurt their feelings with a partisan speech.  Barney Frank let 'em have it.

- John McCain, by contrast, blamed the bill's failure on... Barack Obama.  McCain accused him, once again of "phoning it in."  This was shortly after McCain, literally, phoned it in.

- The Fed and the Treasury are weighing their options. The Times editorial board writes that work can be done to fix the failed bill.  A flawed bill, they say, is better than none at all.

- Remember last week when Simon joked that perhaps McCain was evading the debate because he had a dinner date on Friday night with Joe Lieberman? Well, guess where McCain was on Saturday night, rather than in negotiations at Congress.  On a double date with Joe Lieberman.

The Daily Roundup is a new feature that I will publish each morning to our blog. Welcome! If you come across articles, blog posts, videos or anything else you think deserves mention here, send it to me by 8 am, or post it as a comment to the previous day's roundup.  Thanks!

New Obama Ad Attacks Golden Parachutes

The Obama campaign put out a new ad this morning riffing on the main Democratic triumph in the bailout bill: caps on executive severance pay. The primary target is McCain campaign advisor Carly Fiorina, who walked away from HP with a $42 million goodbye gift. Barack Obama says that's got to change.

9/29 Roundup: Bailout Plan, The Obama Era, Worrying about VPs

- After a long weekend of negotiations, Congress has a bailout plan, ready for vote.

- The details are at The Gavel, Nancy Pelosi's blog.

- Paul Krugman holds his nose and votes yes on the plan.

- Larry Summers warns us: this is only the first step.

- John McCain, in case you didn't know, is largely responsible for the plan.

- Barack Obama, meanwhile, doesn't love it.  But he'll take it.

- Whether he likes it or not, the bailout marks the beginning of the Obama era, says Howard Fineman.

- The latest bank to go is Wachovia-- Citgroup outbit Wells Fargo to buy it.

- After keeping us waiting with bated breath, McCain agreed to debate after all.  Obama won.

- Obama has since been hitting McCain for ignoring the middle class.

- In Ohio, Obama is targeting traditionally underrepresented voters: the young and the homeless.  

- Bill Clinton will be shocked if Barack Obama doesn't win.  But will he be disappointed?

- Fareed Zakaria would like Sarah Palin to step down, please.

- Looking forward to the VP debate, Democrats are worried about Joe Biden.

- Joe Biden, if you believe him, is worried about Sarah Palin.

- Come to think of it, John McCain is worried about Sarah Palin, too.

- Already this week, McCain has had to walk back a remark of Palin's about Pakistan.

- Michael Tomasky speculates on John McCain's next stunt.  Will Bristol and Levi take their vows?

- John McCain likes gambling in the literal sense, as well.

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