Painfull as it is to try and deal with the internet over a dial-up connection, it seems that people should know that the URL of my TPM Cafe blog will, in fact, be:
To The Beach!
Well, no more blog for me. Check out TPM Cafe when it opens. And if you want to do me a favor, don't send any email over the weekend . . . I'll be checking for any urgent TPMC missives, but otherwise you're out of luck.
Commenter Joe Smith wanted to know what this 80s movie bleg was all about. Well, it happened while I was working on a review of Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented The 1980s for The New York Times Book Review and was considering disputing some generalization the author made about 80s movies. At any rate, I decided not to go in that direction in the review, which was submitted without any mention of movies whatsoever. Then there were some revisions to get done, and the editor said he was happy with it. Then I got my check. But the actual review doesn't seem to have run. I haven't heard that it's not going to run, but it's been a long time now, so I'm not holding my breath.
It's The End Of The Blog As We Know It
(And I Feel Fine)
At about 40 months, this site is one of the oldest political blogs on the internet. And in a rather important announcement, it now falls to me to inform you all that it's coming to an end. The site will still physically (or, perhaps, virtually) exist as a useful way for me to store certain things and because there's a chance that it will start up again in the future. But I'm going away for a little Memorial Day Weekend vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina and when I return I won't be posting here anymore for the foreseeable future. Instead, I'm going to be joining the team at TPM Cafe which Josh Marshall has been talking about for a while.
A word on how this will work. As Josh was explaining yesterday, the new site will feature a big group blog with a lot of very exciting contributors. I'm not going to be one of them. In addition to the group blog, TPM Cafe will be hosting several additional blogs. One will be a group effort devoted to foreign policy called America Abroad, whose contributors list you can find here. One will be brought to you by the team that did the TPM Bankruptcy Blog, though with its focus expanded somewhat. Another will be my blog, with its same boring eponymous title, its same solo author, and essentially the same content you find here (hence the shutdown of this site).
Roughly speaking, we're talking about the same site with a new URL -- http://www.tpmcafe.com/sections/yglesias -- just don't try and visit it right now or you'll only get the "Coming Soon" page. Nevertheless, some content is already posted and as soon as TPM Cafe opens for business, you'll have posts to read. In addition, as soon as the technical details get worked out, copies of this site's archives are going to be moved over to TPM Cafe which will be convenient for me in a variety of ways and also serves as a token of the sort of continuity between this site and the new one that we're looking for.
On one level, then, very little will change. So why do this? There are several reasons. Most obviously, like guest-blogging on TPM a little while back, it's a chance to get exposure to the broader audience of people who I assume will get sucked into this thing. Most trivially, it's a chance for me to get out from under the burden of running some of the technical and commercial aspects of this enterprise -- I'm a writer, not a web designer or a businessman -- and joining up with the Cafe should lead to better technical implementation with less work. Most profoundly, it's an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something that could prove to be big; an exciting new sort of media enterprise that involves a lot of excellent people who are, quite frankly, significantly more experienced and more important by conventional standards than I am. Perhaps it will fail, but I think the chances of success are good and if so I'll be very happy to have been a part of it.
What's most important -- and most promising -- for readers in the short term is that TPM Cafe won't just be a bunch of blogs all hosted at the same domain. The technical back-end is driven by Scoop, the program used to build Daily Kos and a few other sites. That means there people who are interested in participating in the enterprise in a more robust way than simply reading it are going to have some much more powerful tools at their disposal. Posts will have comments, like this site, but there will be mechanisms in place that are beyond my capacity to handle alone to police the boards against trolls and generally try to maintain a high level of discussion. There are going to be separate discussion fora apart from the posts. As on Daily Kos, readers will have the opportunity to establish user accounts and start up diaries (i.e., blogs) of their own and contribute to the site. This stuff should all be valuable on its own, but perhaps most importantly can serve to knit the whole enterprise together in terms of the various different kinds of content we'll be hosting.
If you're not in to any of that. If you don't want to read any of the other blogs Josh is putting together, don't want to deal with diaries, etc. you don't have to. If you're a fan of this site and want things to stay the same, you'll just be able to click the URL, read posts, and the only thing different about it will be the design of the page. But I would encourage everyone to look around at the other stuff, and especially encourage the people who've been commenting here to take part in the expanded opportunities TPM Cafe will provide.
Beyond that, I'm still working at The American Prospect, still co-writing Tapped, and generally speaking still doing whatever else it is I do. And spending the weekend at the beach.
When Bigger Is Better
Since just the other day I was offering up some libertarian-style skepticism about the efficacy of state intervention correcting certain sorts of apparent market failures, I think it's worth looking at that same issue from another angle. To my way of thinking, the biggest problems with "government failure" tend to occur when you have a situation that involves a lot of discretion and changing things around. Zoning laws, at times, have various sorts of bad effects. But if instead of zoning laws, you had an eleven person elected board that just got to decide who gets to build what where on an ad hoc basis, things would get much worse. A really rigid set of rules, naturally enough, will produce bad results in some cases. Concentrating a huge amount of totally discretionary power in the hands of a small group of people who will become the subject of massive campaigns of lobbying, bribery, etc. would be worse.
This is one of the things that's nice about the sort of big government involved in Social Security. It's a large program indeed. But basically it's large just because the aggregate quantity of the checks getting shuffled around is large. It's not a mammoth bureacracy full of people sitting around in offices in every city in America trying to micromanage individual financial decisions. It's all worked out by a rigid formula. And, thanks to its fabled "third rail" status, the congress is not in the habit of popping the hood every year to tweak things. Indeed, one of the main motives for adopting wage indexing was precisely to avoid a situation where it was standard for the congress to start revising the benefit formula every couple of years.
One fear that one ought to have about replacing the program with a set of highly-regulated savings vehicles is that their creation will likely spawn a cottage industry of lobbyists trying to get the rules changes this way or that so as to make more money for their clients. Instead of taking a big chunk of money out of the government's hands and delivering it to the people, you're basically taking a big chunk of money out of a government program that more-or-less runs on autopilot and putting it under a different and potentially more unstable form of government control.
They're Worried Now?
Are we seriously supposed to believe that people are just now getting the sense that there's a sectarian edge to the violence in Iraq? No shit it's sectarian.
Continuing a trend of writing blog posts criticizing people who I'm soon going to be collaborating with (more on that later, as the kids say). By way of introducing my criticism, let me say that I really like the conclusion of Kenny Baer's latest New Republic column:
Bush and the GOP provide that vision: the terrorists are evil; democracies are good; America will defeat evil and support and spread good. It's simple, but extraordinarily compelling, especially to pro-Israel voters. Strategically, the Democratic answer to Bush's idealism can't be realpolitik (after all, these voters know that interests can change more easily than beliefs). Ideologically, it's not the answer either. Democrats have fought for generations to bring values into the practice of foreign policy, from Wilson trying to make the world safe for democracy to Truman's stand against Soviet expansion and Clinton's launching an air war to stop a genocide in the Balkans--and shouldn't allow Republicans to take that mantle. Democrats need to remember that for decades they have been able to speak to Americans' deep sense that we are a unique "city on a hill" and a "light unto the nations." Democrats must reclaim that heritage and make the case that Republicans have undermined America's moral standing (and, by extension, our security) both in the world and at home. If they do that, Democrats not only will win over security voters of all faiths and win elections, but they also could once again become the automatic choice of the chosen people.That is what Democrats should do. But in the broader context of the column, Baer offers a very strange reason for doing it -- that this step is necessary to halt the erosion of Jewish support for the Democratic Party. All else being equal, of course, halting said erosion is a good thing. But it'd be mighty odd to orient one's entire approach to national security for that reason. Among other things, erosion of Jewish support for Democrats isn't really a huge problem. The areas where Baer sees it happening -- New York City, Northern New Jersey, some inner NYC suburbs -- just aren't vulnerable terrain. It's almost impossible to imagine a scenario where Democrats lose an election because they lost New York (which is to say that if they lose New York, they'll have lost enough other stuff that winning New York wouldn't have won the election). The reason to do what Baer suggests is that it's right on the merits.
Politics and policy aside, I think those of us who'd classify ourselves as being among the more "hawkish" brand of liberals have a media strategy problem. Roughly speaking, a lot of Democratic voters don't like us very much. What we need to do is convince more liberals that they should like us. That means spending more time trying to convince liberals of the merits of our views, and less time re-enforcing the impression that we're just opportunists searching for votes out there in some ill-defined center. Give the people a convincing argument for a plausible hawkish policy (Kosovo, for example) and plenty of liberals will come along for the party.
The Lies, The Lies
As we know, and as this letter writer to his site reminds us, Andrew Sullivan has been a pretty consistent proponent of the view that Paul Krugman is some sort of liar. At issue, are Krugman's repeated insistences that George W. Bush's economic policy is founded on a tissue of lies. Krugman is, of course, entirely correct about this. The unnoted irony here is that in his May 14, 2001 column "Downsize," Sullivan conceded Krugman's point:
Ah, but the details. The Krugmans and the Chaits will shortly have a cow, if not a whole herd of them. The Times will weigh in again with yet another barrage of articles, editorials, and op-eds opposing any tax relief that would actually benefit those who pay most of the taxes. And, to be fair to these liberal critics, they're right about one thing. One of the tax cut's effects will surely be that the United States won't be able to afford a vastly expanded Medicare drug benefit. And the archaic sinkhole known as Social Security won't be shored up either. And Medicare, may the gods preserve us, may even have to grow at a slightly slower rate. In fact, many of the spending programs that some still believe solve most human problems will encounter the only political resistance that matters in budgetary matters: insolvency.Now needless to say, Sullivan differs from Krugman in thinking that this is a good thing, while Krugman thinks it's a bad thing. But that's really all there is to it. Bush was lying. As Sullivan correctly points out, the lies were integral to securing public tolerance for Bush's agenda. Krugman has tried to expose the lies in hopes of denying Bush's agenda public support. It's very hard to see how Krugman can be held culpable in this scenario.
To which my response is: Hoorah. We don't need these expansions of the welfare state. We need to privatize Social Security if we want to provide for our retirement in ways slightly more up-to-date than those based on economics and life-expectancy figures devised in the 1930s. We don't need to add yet another entitlement for the most pampered generation--our current seniors.
And if there is one thing we have learned in the past 20 years, it's that controlling government spending is simply impossible without deficits. Look back at the last decade. A huge part of Bill Clinton's economic success was his remarkable grip on public finances. He deserves credit for this, although the Republican Congresses from 1994 to 1998 were mainly responsible, and Ross Perot made deficit-cutting hot. But from 1998 on, all hell broke loose. Last year, discretionary spending increased by a whopping 8 percent--under the Republicans. The minute deficits became surpluses, in other words, the politicians started bribing the voters with their own money. The only relevant question is: Why do Dennis Hastert, Trent Lott, Dick Gephardt, and Tom Daschle know better than taxpayers how to allocate their own resources? . . .
Some commentators--at this magazine and elsewhere--get steamed because Bush has obscured this figure or claimed his tax cut will cost less than it actually will, or because he is using Medicare surplus money today that will be needed tomorrow and beyond. Many of these arguments have merit--but they miss the deeper point. The fact that Bush has to obfuscate his real goals of reducing spending with the smoke screen of "compassionate conservatism" shows how uphill the struggle is.
Yes, some of the time he is full of it on his economic policies. But a certain amount of B.S. is necessary for any vaguely successful retrenchment of government power in an insatiable entitlement state. Conservatives learned that lesson twice. They learned it when Ronald Reagan's deficits proved to be an effective drag on federal spending (Stockman was right!)--in fact the only effective drag human beings have ever found. And they learned it when they tried to be honest about taking on the federal leviathan in 1994 and got creamed by Democrats striking the fear of God into every senior, child, and parent in America. Bush and Karl Rove are no dummies. They have rightly judged that, in a culture of ineluctable government expansion, where every new plateau of public spending is simply the baseline for the next expansion, a rhetorical smoke screen is sometimes necessary. I just hope the smoke doesn't clear before the spenders get their hands on our wallets again.
I have no idea why Peggy Noonan's so upset with the nuclear option deal, but her skewering of the self-importance and grandiosity of the dealmakers is pretty sweet.
Wanted: A Strategy
What kind of sense does this make? After quoting Neil Ferguson's observation that to staff the Iraq War at levels similar to what the British used in the 1920 we would need 1,000,000 soldiers, Marshall Whittman observes:
Needless to say, we are completely incapable of matching these levels. The Administration failed to prepare for the occupation and then irresponsibly rejected requests for additional troops. With the military stretched to the limit and recruitment lagging, the Bushies and the Republican Congress have abdicated their responsibilities in addressing this situation as a crisis. Business as usual is the order of the day - the religious right and business interests come before the national security interests of the nation.So what's his plan? The political logic of saying "pulling out . . . is unfathomable" is clear to me. It's centrist, hawkish, tough, etc. But where's the substance to the criticism? If you ask me, this is a big part of the Democrats' national security problem -- the adoption of rhetorical stances that are very clearly driven more by political calculation than by genuinely belief in the merits of the view.
Public support for the war is falling - but what is worse is public apathy. A Paris Hilton ad for the Spicy BBQ Six-Dollar Burger gets more attention than the plight of our brave soldiers facing death, disability and danger in the hellish heat of Iraq.
While pulling out and conceding defeat is unfathomable - a slow defeat would be even more disastrous to the region and to the credibility of the United States. It is a good thing that Saddam's brutal reign is over. And it was a great achievement to hold a democratic election in a region that has only known tyranny. But it is unconscionable that our leadership class refuses to level with the American people about the status of this war and offer a strategy to prevail. If we continue on this current course, it is only a matter of time before support for this war collapses.