How I Love Slate

Of the multitude of thing I’m doing this summer (traveling to Europe starting tomorrow, finally learning to drive, rowing), the coolest by far will be writing the “Today’s Blogs” column for Slate every so often. So, I feel obliged to alert you all to the grand celebration of the publication’s 10th anniversary that’s happening this week. There are the usual reminisces; Mike Kinsley has one great anecdote about Chris Buckley, but Jacob Weisberg’s piece really captures the essence of the publication, at least as I see it. But in even more typical Slate fashion, not only is in-house media critic Jack Shafer’s take-down of magazine anniversaries linked to ironically, but Slate critics like Michael Wolff and Jonah Goldberg are allowed to diss Slate at length – in the publication itself. Considering how great Slate is, it’s not surprising that these take-downs are some of the precious few Slate pieces I’ve found to be of subpar quality – especially David Talbot’s pithy, not-even-an-article critique. In any case, hop on over to what has to be the most unorthodox, witty, and, well, Slatey magazine anniversaries ever.
P.S. By the way, the anniversary isn’t all that’s happening this week – there’s the same great content. Like this Bushism, for instance:

I think—tide turning—see, as I remember—I was raised in the desert, but tides kind of—it’s easy to see a tide turn—did I say those words?


A Free Press and Gossip News

I love Foreign Policy‘s Passport blog, but this is just kind of, er, dumb:

[Freedom House] says that “no serious abuses against journalists have been reported for several years” in Namibia. That was, however, before Mr. and Mrs. Smith arrived and set up a no-press zone…let’s hope Namibia doesn’t decide to trade its “free” rating in order to be the next celebrity birthing It-locale.

While I don’t get the appeal of giving birth in a poor former South African colony, and certainly don’t get why Britney Spears now wants to repeat Pitt and Jolie’s stunt, how the hell is privacy preservation eroding the freedom of the press? Sure, one photographer has been arrested. But that was for trespassing, which is kind of illegal, everywhere. Also, let’s focus on the spirit of the law. We have the concept of freedom of the press because without information about the state of the nation, and without muckraking about government abuses, democracy can’t function. I’m pretty sure democracy can function if not every photographer is shooting pictures of Brangelina’s offspring.

Diplomacy Gets Results

Chuck Peña, listen up: Iran provides an excellent illustration of the difference between liberal internationalism and neoconservatism. Traditional neoconservatives would reject negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, engage in brinkmanship, and put unilateral airstrikes and/or regime change at the top of their agenda for Iran. Liberal internationalists would desire more economic integration between the US and Iran, would want to negotiate an end of the nuclear program, and would want to work on the issue through institutions and alliances. At first, Bush took the first tack, as evidenced by his tough talk and by the attack plans Sy Hersh reported on. But now he’s trying liberal internationalism. And what results he’s getting:

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Friday that his country was seriously considering an international proposal to resolve the dispute over its uranium enrichment program.
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s vague but conciliatory remarks, made here at the end of an Asian summit meeting, came with veiled taunts of the United States and statements of solidarity with China and Russia, the leading powers in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the regional group that convened the gathering.
“My colleagues are carefully considering the package of proposals of the six countries, and in due time they will give them a response,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said. At another point in a news conference, he said, “Generally we regard the offering of this package as a step forward,” adding that his country “supports constructive talks on the basis of equality.”

This is a guy who just a few months ago was striking a fierce and defiant pose to the West, denying the Holocaust, and calling for Israel to be pushed into the sea. Now he appears willing to accept the incentives offered by the U.S., Europe, China, and Russia. Of course, the mullahs hold the true power. But this is startlingly good progress. And note what got us here: a multilateral coalition of all the world’s major powers, and a desire to compromise and negotiate. This is liberal internationalism in action, and it’s a hell of a lot different from neoconservatism.

The Future of the Service Sector

I don’t know that Nathan Newman is right about this:

[T]he hard reality is that a large portion of new job creation in the future will not be high-tech jobs but traditional service jobs. Warner had essentially NOTHING in his speech about how to raise wages for those in traditional service or remaining manufacturing jobs, no mention of the minimum wage or other policies to help the workers who will make up the vast bulk of new jobs.

Certainly, repealing Taft-Hartley, increasing the minimum wage, and tying it to either the CPI or congressional salaries are all good ideas that can do large amounts of good to unskilled workers. But the fact of the matter is that the service sector, at least in developed nations, is going to shrink. This isn’t due to foreign competition. It’s due to robot competition. It’s stupid, from a corporate standpoint, to hire someone to check luggage when you can have computer kiosks do it instead. It’s stupid to hire a janitor to vacuum a room when you can have a Roomba do it. Sure, not every service task is easily done by a robot. But many are, and as technology gets better, more and more jobs are going to be taken over by machines. This isn’t a bad thing. It results in lower prices, and higher job growth in white-collar sectors. But it does mean that we should be focusing on creating a more educated workforce, not on preserving our uneducated work force.
All of which leads me to the Congressional Democrats’ new platform. I like the idea of having one in general. The Red Book was the main reason the Liberal Party won the 1993 federal elections in Canada, and manifestos are considered so useful in Britain that they are now a permanent fixture of parliamentary elections there. And my Anglophilic streak likes anything that makes American politics more parliamentary and policy-based.
But the document’s far too meek. The strongest plank is a call for an over 40% boost in the minimum wage, from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour. A good start, sure. But the rest of the platform is little more than political platitudes and extremely mild policy recommendations. It calls for a 25% drop in oil use by 2020, which is far too small a drop over far too long a period. But what gets me most is that it points out, correctly, that paying for every student to go to a public college is far less expensive than repealing the estate tax, as Republicans desire. So do Reid and Pelosi call for eliminating tuition? Of course not. They want the small percentage of rich taxpayers who itemize deductions to be able to write off their children’s college spending. They could have called for a program that would single-handedly, inexpensively create massive economic growth, greatly increase disposable incomes, make the public much more educated, and make America ready for globalization. They instead offered what is basically a tax cut for the wealthy. That’s not just sad. That’s pathetic.

The Anti-Imperialist Left Strikes

While I don’t like Peter Beinart, that’s mostly because I resent that myopic liberal hawks like him, who see a threat where none exists, have hijacked the liberal internationalist movement. See Andrew O’Hehir for more on that. I don’t like Chuck Peña for totally different reasons. It’s because he despises liberal internationalism in general:

In a recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Peter Beinart — former editor of The New Republic, who has declared that only liberals can win the war on terror (the self-proclaimed subtitle of his new book) — offers up a weak mea culpa for “mistakenly” backing the Iraq war but lauds President Clinton’s “multilateral war to prevent the neo-fascist Slobodan Milosevic from cleansing ethnic Albanians from their homes.” What he conveniently ignores is that Clinton’s war in the Balkans was no different than the Bush administration’s so-called unilateral invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein. Both were military actions against sovereign states conducted without the formal approval of the UN Security Council and neither represented an imminent threat to U.S. security — and both were rationalized on humanitarian grounds. As long as liberals like Beinart cannot fathom that liberal internationalism (or what he calls anti-totalitarian liberalism) is fundamentally the same thing as neoconservatism as implemented by the Bush administration, liberals cannot hope to fashion together a policy and strategy to win the war on terror.

Neoconservatives and liberal internationalists agree on exactly two things: (a) democracy and human rights are probably good and (b) America should probably do something to advance them. That’s where the similarities end. Neoconservatives disdain alliances, don’t care for diplomacy or treaties, and are fine with overthrowing states and building nothing in their place. Liberal internationalists always work multilaterally, use diplomacy and negotiations before forces, and think that limited wars, like those in Bosnia and Kosovo, are more successful humanitarian enterprises that regime changes.
This shows what’s different between Iraq and Kosovo. Kosovo was conducted under NATO, which, while not the UN, was a legitimate international authority. There was a true alliance running the operation. Also, the goal, ending the genocide in Kosovo, was very limited and achievable. And, indeed, it was achieved quickly, and with no lost American troops. Iraq was conducted by a coalition in name only, without any international body endorsing it, and had a goal (disarming Saddam) that was both attainable through diplomacy and far too expensive to do through military operation.
Peña may be right. This may just be a difference of tactics. But tactics matter. The key difference between neoconservatives and liberal internationalists is that while both want American power to be used for liberal ideals, liberal internationalists do it right, while neoconservatives just don’t.

Andy’s Capitulation

Andy Sullivan is defending some bigot fired from a minor board in Maryland for being a bigot. Good grief. Yeah, I guess I wish the guy could stay in office even though he’s an anti-gay idiot. First Amendment and all. But that doesn’t mean I sympathize with him, or think his opinions deserve the sort of acceptance/respect that Andy treats them with. It’s just like I’m sort of grudgingly glad it’s legal to be a racist in America. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s at all respectable to be a racist, or that I have any sympathy with a racist is fired for hating black people. And it doesn’t mean that I’m not eternally grateful that the Southern Poverty Law Center is around to sue hate groups out of existence.
But while Andy’s pseudo-self-hatred (I guess he’s anti-anti-anti himself: he’s against those who are against those who are against him) is confusing and sad, Eugene Volokh’s defense of the guy is just plain mind-boggling, like many of the things Volokh writes. Volokh thinks that homophobia is better than racism because he likes the Boy Scouts. I’m not even kidding. That’s the entirety of his argument. He’s a smart guy, but it just doesn’t show at times.

Dog Bites Man

If you get basic cable, you should be watching Dog Bites Man. Now that The Office is in reruns, it’s easily the best fictional comedy around. In fact, it’s so consistently uproarious that it could be better than Office, The Daily Show, or The Colbert Report, though this is stiff competition. Any show that has these one-liners is too good to be true (and these are all just from the most recent episode):

  • “We used to have a wheelchair-bound gay man on staff…we called him ‘roll-AIDS'”.
  • “Marty, go find out what gay people eat.”
  • “Hello, I am a homosexual, and I would like a sandwich.”
    It’s so horrible that it’s amazing.

  • I’m Back

    Sorry for my little unannounced vacation there. I was busy being a member of team New Hampshire at the 2006 PAC. We made a valiant effort but…failed. Due to my valiant efforting, I couldn’t comment on (a) Rove getting away with various crimes and (b) Obama beginning to raise funds for his 2010 reelection, which is unusual for a Senator in his first two years in office in a safe seat. I was by far more interested in Obama, due to the fact that this seems to signal the start of his 2008 fundraising (yes!), but if it turns out that Rove struck a deal to testify against Libby or Cheney, then I’ll be positively fascinated by this development.

    In For the Long Haul

    You know something’s wrong when I agree more with the prime minister of Iraq than the American president:

    President Bush sought today to dampen any expectation that the new Iraqi government will soon be able to provide security for itself and the Iraqi people and thus allow American troops to come home.
    While saying that he is “thrilled” that the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, “a man with a lot of blood on his hands,” has been eliminated, the president pointedly did not endorse a recent statement by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that Iraqi forces will be able to control their country within 18 months.

    Between this and Zarqawi, Bush keeps getting thrown countless opportunities to announce a withdrawal. But despite all political logic, he doesn’t. It makes one wonder if the hack-run presidency has lost its hackish touch.