March 02, 2005

Six Stories In Search Of A Blogger

So little time to blog today—heck, so little time to read the news—but scanning my trusty New York Times on the way home (yes, I'm *that* sort of lefty—even better, I was riding one of those newfangled zero-emissions buses!), a few short and mostly random things occurred to me:
  1. Gridlock is my new big fear about Iraq right now. Yeah, I know, I've had so many, and only like 42 percent have come true. But looking over the interim constitution (esp. article 60), it seems that if the elected National Assembly can't agree on a Constitution by next February at the latest—or, heck, if they can't even agree on a cabinet by then—then the assembly is dissolved, and a new one is elected. Who governs Iraq then? Hard to say. Maybe the old interim government. Maybe power devolves onto provincial governments—which would suit the Kurds and the conservative Shia in Basra, etc., who don't much like centralized government.

  2. What's going on with Iyad Allawi? I rounded up evidence over at MoJo yesterday that the U.S. and its surrogates were seriously pushing Allawi for the new PM spot. He won't win it, of course, and most likely Allawi's just angling for a plum new government job, and wants as much leverage as possible. But might the U.S. be trying actively to gum up the works and using Allawi to prevent any new government from forming? Probably not—the fact that Iraq does not, in fact, have an actual government yet will eventually be more embarrassing for the United States than anything else.

  3. As freedom marches on throughout the Middle East, the Bush administration has shown itself very good (or at least "much better than before") at following through with its rhetoric about freedom from tyranny/oppression/despotism. That's an important step. But ideally, I'd also like to see the White House—Rice especially—pay more attention to the actual mechanisms of democracy. Insisting that Egyptian President Husni Mubarak ought to embrace freedom is one thing. And he's doing just that. But why not get more specific? The Egyptian state still needs very particular reforms—an independent judiciary, an end to the 24-year-old state of emergency, etc.—so why not draw up a laundry list and start hammering on the items? Implementation really is everything here, and obviously each country has its own needs, but still, democracy ought to start meaning a lot more than freedom and abstract "revolution". On the other hand, too-specific demands from the United States could make it seem like we're trying to dictate what form of government we want. So I don't know.

  4. Also, here's an interesting article inside the Times about South America's leftward drift—first Argentina, now Brazil, and now Uruguay. One person quoted in the piece notes that these governments have instituted a "massive rejection" of the IMF's "Washington Consensus" over economic policies of the mid-to-late '90s. Fair enough, but if you read what these countries are all doing, it seems like Washington Consensus stuff to me—macroeconomic discipline, market economies, open trade. I think there's a confusion of terms. Most of the stuff the leftist movements truly hate—i.e. the shredding of the welfare state, low taxes, lifting of capital controls—were never part of any sort of consensus, I think.

  5. Oh, and finally, after reading Michael Ledeen's rousing and heartfelt comparison of the current Middle Eastern "revolutions" to what happened the last time a "visionary" president (he means Reagan) clamored for freedom in Eastern Europe, it reminded me that it would be really, really useful to go back and study what actually happened in Eastern Europe in 1989. I mean, it's one thing to be facile about it and say Reagan caused the whole thing if all we're trying to do is celebrate the man's life and make ourselves a mythic hero. Botch history all you want at Reagan's funeral. But if we're trying to recreate (or even understand) an actual real-life revolution, it's a bit more important to understand the process and causal factors involved. Here's one good lecture on the fall of Communism in 1989, I'll try to dig around for something else.

  6. Okay, a few more things. The ongoing Medicaid discussions are very confusing. But here's something to point out: The Bush administration is complaining that states are using tricks 'n' stuff to bilk more Medicaid money from Washington than they really need. I'm sure the states are doing that, since it's been going on for as long as the sun, moon, and rain have existed (or... since the 1960s), but in the past, Congress simply passed laws to eliminate some of the shadier state accounting tactics. (Remember "voluntary provider taxes"?) That fixed the problem without going overboard and slashing funds that were actually necessary for, you know, pregnant women and children. But needless to say, this administration has no interest in doing the sensible thing. Hmph. Well I'll try to write more about Medicaid when I get a spare moment.

  7. And finally: now that Josh Marshall is on vacation, Paul Krugman had to come up with his own column material... and today he did! Mostly it's the "no compromise" stuff Matt Yglesias and Josh have already hammered on, but then see the fourth and third paragraphs from the end—Krugman makes very good points about why Democrats shouldn't even compromise on add-on private accounts, because anything that undermines the Trust Fund will hurt Social Security in the long term. Um— Hey! Wait! Didn't I make that very argument a few days ago? Well, yeah, but Krugman obviously doesn't read this blog, and even if he did, I think I've pilfered a few ideas from Krugman in my day (okay, many ideas), so, you know, it's all fun and games...
Hm, so after rattling all that off, I s'pose I could've split this up into six short blog items and then looked very prolific indeed. But I'm structurally incapable, it seems, of doing short posts. So it goes...

UPDATE: Also, I can't count. But the title was so irresistable!
-- Brad Plumer 3:01 AM || ||