Posts Tagged ‘Michael Lind’

The Un-American Pledge, Nietzsche (Republican), Islamists, Anti-Statism, Health Care Reform (again), and Abortion Politics

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Today, I present to you an early addition of the best reads for the long Thanksgiving weekend…

1. The Un-American Pledge. Michael Lind explains why the Pledge of Allegiance is un-American.

2. Nietzsche was a Republican. The Economist’s Democracy in America discusses Medicare and Nihilism. As it is undeniable that America’s population is aging, and that this accounts for the massive projected deficits in the future, and as everyone also acknowledges that such deficits are unsustainable, something must be done. The health care plans proposed by the Democrats include – along with various experimental measures to restrain health care spending – a Medicare commission “empowered to make decisions that automatically become law unless Congress comes up with equivalent savings” that will reduce spending as much. Republicans and the blandly smiling wise men and women of the pundit class have made it a point of conventional wisdom that Congress won’t be able to push through the cuts, and will find a way to circumvent this mandate. DiA, echoing a point Ezra Klein has been making repeatedly for the past few weeks, challenges those criticizing the plan to come up with something better:

If you don’t think an independent Medicare commission empowered to make decisions that automatically become law unless Congress comes up with equivalent savings will do the trick, then you have a responsibility to suggest something that will. Otherwise you’re just placing a bet that America’s government is going to self-destruct—a tenable argument, certainly, but not very helpful.

3. Learning from former islamists. Everyone else seemed to recommend this article a few weeks ago when it came out, but I just got to it recently myself. Johann Hari interviewed a number of former islamists who have recently renounced islamism and have begun to fight for their version of a “secular Islam” in Great Britain. He portrays this group as a vanguard. One of the islamists, Maajid Nawaz was a recruiter for an islamist group in Egypt for a time. Nawaz’s description of factors affecting recruitment seems to coincide with both intelligence agencies’ and liberals’ judgments, and to contradict the right-wing understanding:

“Everyone hated the [unelected] government [of Hosni Mubarak], and the US for backing it,” he says. But there was an inhibiting sympathy for the victims of 9/11 – until the Bush administration began to respond with Guantanamo Bay and bombs. “That made it much easier. After that, I could persuade people a lot faster.”

Eventually, Nawaz was imprisoned in Egypt. He was abandoned by the islamist group that he was working for. The only forces protecting him, as a British citizen, were forces he considered “colonial” and corrupt:

“I was just amazed,” Maajid says. “We’d always seen Amnesty as the soft power tools of colonialism. So, when Amnesty, despite knowing that we hated them, adopted us, I felt – maybe these democratic values aren’t always hypocritical. Maybe some people take them seriously … it was the beginning of my serious doubts.”

4. Anti-Statism: As American as Apple Pie. John P. Judis of The New Republic delves into the undercurrent of anti-statism in the American psyche.

5. Getting depressed about the public option. Timothy Noah depressed me more than anyone else with his ruminations on the public option.

6. Feeling better about health care reform. These pieces by Ron Brownstein and Andrew Sullivan though have made me feel much better about health care reform in general. Brownstein’s piece is especially helpful in looking at the various cost-cutting measures in the bill, and has a rather optimistic take. President Obama has apparently made that post “required reading” among White House staff. I’ll be following these posts up at a later date.

7. Abortion politics. The New Yorker had an extraordinary interview about abortion politics with Jon Shields. Shields seems to be, himself, pro-choice, but he seems to have reached an understanding of abortion as an issue which contradicts the propagandistic rhetoric that passes for most liberal commentary on abortion, which presents its opponents as being mainly concerned with keeping women in their place.

[Photo by road fun licensed under Creative Commons.]

Must-Reads: Uighurs, Gay in Middle School, Vidal, Larison, the Public Option, and the End of Pax Americana

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

The Worst of the Worst? Del Quinton Wilber tells the story of two of the “worst of the worst,” the Uighur brothers Bahtiyar Mahnut and Arkin Mahmud. Neither brother was affiliated with the Taliban or Al Qaeda or had any reason to bear ill will towards the United States before their long detention. Bahtiyar, the younger brother, recently turned down an offer from the nation of Palau to leave Guantanamo to stay and look after his older brother, who was captured and turned over to the United States only because he went searching for his brother at their parents’ request. Arkin is the only one of the Uighurs not to be invited to Palau because he has developed serious mental health issues while in American custody.

How Things Change. Benoit Denizet-Lewis in the New York Times wrote on Sunday about a new reality that would have been unimaginable even a decade ago – of gay and lesbian middle schoolers coming out. It’s hard to describe how moving the piece was in how it so clearly suggested progress (reporting on the happy side of the news without focusing on the bad.) Slate’s Culture Gabfest followed up with an excellent discussion of the issues suggested by the piece – and even managed to link it to Fox’s new hit Glee. (Relating to the link to Slate’s Culture Gabfest, I must apologize for the lack of a direct one. The podcast doesn’t seem to be posted anywhere that accessible, but if you search for or subscribe to Slate’s iTunes podcast feed, it will be readily accessible.) Relating to Glee and gay youth, I would also recommend this interview of the creator of Glee by Terry Gross.

Gore Vidal. I’m not sure I agree with anything Gore Vidal said in his interview with Tim Teeman for the Times of London, but he proved interesting time and again, speaking of his long series of supportive letters to Timothy McVeigh, his disappointment with Obama, and his conviction that America is “rotting away at a funereal pace” and that a military dictatorship is coming. His opinions carry a unique weight given his proximity to so many centers of power in his time – from presidents to Hollywood to the media, and his series of perspectives on the matter, as historian, intellectual, novelist, activist.

A Hawk versus a Sane Person. Daniel Larison demonstrates once again thatThe American Conservative is one of the few magazines out there providing a coherent conservative worldview instead of mere anti-Obama bile with his post comparing Obama’s and Bush’s foreign policies:

What conservative critics ignore and what Andrew only touches on towards the end is that the Bush administration oversaw setback after failure after defeat for American influence and power. Iran has become a far more influential regional power thanks to the folly of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, democracy fetishists helped to strengthen the hold of Hamas in Gaza to the detriment of Palestinians and Israelis, and Russophobes helped to encourage Saakashvili’s recklessness with talk of NATO membershop and provoked Russian ire with the recognition of Kosovo that led to thede facto permanent partition of an American ally. Hawks have routinely unleashed forces they do not understand, cannot control and are unwilling to contain, and they still have the gall to shout “Appeasement!” when someone else tries to repair some small measure of the damage they have done. Compared to this partial list of Bush’s major failures, Obama has done reasonably well simply by not persisting in some of his predecessor’s errors, but it is far too early to speak of success or payoff and it is a mistake to measure Obama’s success in the way that his supporters wish to do. [my emphasis]

The secret to understanding where so many conservative and right wing publications have failed is their failure to acknowledge – as Jesse Walker of the libertarian Reason magazine does that “Obama is no radical.”

The Dearth of Support for the Very Popular Public Option. Ezra Klein continues his excellent health care blogging with a post describing the problem of the distribution of support for the public option. Klein explains:

It’s not a coincidence that the chamber representing the American people will pass a bill including the public option while the chamber representing American acreage is likely to delete it. The public option has majority support. But a lot of that popularity comes because a lot of people live in liberal centers like California and New York. It actually doesn’t have a majority in Nebraska, where not very many people live, or, I’d guess, in North Dakota, where even fewer people live. In the American political system, it’s not enough to be popular among the voters. You also have to be popular among wide swaths of land. Didn’t you watch “Schoolhouse Rock”?

The political answer this suggests is to allow individual states (or states banding together) to create a public option within their borders – which not coincidentally is exactly where the debate is now headed.

Pax Americana. Michael Lind at Salon describes the end of Pax Americana. Lind gives short shrift however to defenders of American empire – never clearly articulating their point of view as he attempts to debunk it. For a rather effective defense of the alternate point of view, I would look to Niall Ferguson’s excellent Colossus: The Price of America’s Empire. (Ferguson is rather influential among conservative circles, and was one of McCain’s advisors in the 2008 election.)

[Image not subject to copyright.]