Archive

  • Of Ayatollahs and Imams

    Somewhere in Mother Jones's impossible to navigate archives, Brad Plumer writes : it might not be the end of the world if democracy in the Middle East gave rise to Islamic governments, as many have feared. Eventually, these leaders have to keep the country running smoothly, and they need to answer to voters. An overly-zealous and incompetent government could well turn people away from religion altogether, or promote the development of a secular society, as we're seeing in Basra. That's a pretty undercovered point. So long as religion is kept out of the public sphere, it gets to play in rhetorical fantasy lands and promise all sorts of utopias for the glorious day when it takes hold of the government. That, for instance, is exactly what what Ayatollah Khomeini used to fuel the Iranian revolution. Religion, which by nature is conceptually unmoored from the terrestrial realities that constrain (if only slightly) the promises of most political parties, can promise nothing short of...
  • The Politics of Branding

    Tucker Foehl points out this interview with Naomi Klein. Her thoughts on the anti-war movement, the state of Iraq, the failure of the left, and basically everything else are worth reading in full, but this caught my eye: So what the Republican Party has done is that it has co-branded with other powerful brands — like country music, and NASCAR, and church going, and this larger proud-to-be-a-redneck identity. Policy is pretty low on the agenda, in terms of why people identify as Republicans. They identify with these packets of attributes. This means a couple of things. One, it means people are not swayed by policy debates. But more importantly, when George Bush's policies are attacked, rather than being dissuaded from being Republicans, Republicans feel attacked personally — because it's your politics. Republicanism has merged with their identity. That has happened because of the successful application of the principles of identity branding. Klein, of course, is an expert on branding,...
  • Things You Should Be Reading

    • The world has an oil problem , but the best solution may be the doomsday scenario of a sharp and irrevocable rise in oil prices. At least, so long as it happens before India and China accelerate into huge dependency on cheap oil. • The president has a problem with his speeches, mainly, that they contradict his actions. While I've already pointed to a few articles offering a general overview of our despotic allies, Steve's rundown of the Uzbeki leader's tyranny is much more viscerally illustrative. • And so long as we're wonking out, head over to Slate for this critique of Hernando de Soto. I've always found his theories appealing, but it seems the evidence isn't stacking up that way. • The Nation has a fawning profile of Dick Durbin , which I link to because Durbin might indeed deserve some fawning. • The NY Review of Books has a longish, wide-ranging profile of Abu Mazen and the likely crosscurrents of his Administration. Well worth the read. The moral of the first two links, by...
  • And Don't Do It Again

    In an otherwise impressive synthesis/review of the current glut of books promising a European Revolution, Tony Judt hobbles his piece with a near-fatal opening: Consider a mug of American coffee. It is found everywhere. It can be made by anyone. It is cheap—and refills are free. Being largely without flavor it can be diluted to taste. What it lacks in allure it makes up in size. It is the most democratic method ever devised for introducing caffeine into human beings. Now take a cup of Italian espresso. It requires expensive equipment. Price-to-volume ratio is outrageous, suggesting indifference to the consumer and ignorance of the market. The aesthetic satisfaction accessory to the beverage far outweighs its metabolic impact. It is not a drink; it is an artifact. Consider the following lazy writer trick: Rather than reporting to find the perfect example that sums up your piece, or simply eschewing a gift-wrapped synecdoche, you spend a paragraph inventing an analogy that'll do the...
  • Good Show!

    Bayh really nailed the framing on Social Security privatization on This Week (the Stephanopoulos show). [L]ook, the president is probably going to talk a lot about ownership and individual choice. I think those are great concepts, and I can support those -- but in addition to the current Social Security system, not as a replacement for it. Look, you may own your home; a lot of Americans do. I bet you have insurance. Ownership and insurance have to go hand in hand. Social Security is the insurance. Senior citizens in our country can always rely on it to make sure they're not desperately poor in their old age. Should we have ownership and choice in addition to that? Yes, we should. But we should never do anything to undermine that insurance. That is one of the bedrock principles of our country. Word. Don't fight ownership and insurance, just force George to make it a topping. If he wants to lay the groundwork for expanding the safety net after we shrink his deficit, I'm all for it. But...
  • A Miracle?

    I had no idea that one man fixing his faucet could so perfectly parallel the evolution/creationism debate!
  • No, I Mean Really Hit Me

    Congratulations to the LA Times' on their new and ballsy op-ed feature, "Outside the Tent", wherein an unaffilated writer trains his guns on the LA Times and blasts them for their deficiencies. While the feature sounds like the ombudsman/public editor dispatches that other papers carry, Kinsley's page isn't pretending at dissent by allowing a neutered "reader's advocate" (who receives checks signed by the paper and has a desk adjacent to those he's criticizing) to write a column. Instead, the LA Times is inviting flamethrowing writers from opposed publications to scorch their printed earth. This week, Marc Cooper, of The Nation and The LA Weekly, steps up to the plate and swings at "objectivity", particularly in the paper's Iraq reporting. Why, Cooper asks, should the few correspondents brave enough to be on the ground be forced to contaminate their reporting with government press releases while the editorial page, safely ensconced in Los Angeles, can write what they want? Cooper's...
  • They All Have Kids and They All Get Checks

    We're not gonna get those goddamn polygamy queens off welfare until we get a good, God-fearin' Christian heading the HHS. Too bad Bush's nominee ain't the guy.
  • How We Got Here

    Democrats really need to assign someone to troll the archives of Cato, The Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute, as it's becoming all-too-clear that the future, and for that matter, the present, trajectory and tactics of the conservative movement are all laid out in the Nostradamic papers published within the walls of think tanks. But if Democrats have ignored the Rosetta Stone, the LA Times hasn't, and their staff archaeologists have emerged with an article tracing the genesis of Social Security Privatization. Moving from a CATO journal tract on "Achieving a Leninist Strategy" for Social Security privatization all the way to Bush's crucial meeting with Chile's top privatizer, the piece tracks the guerrilla effort that spent the last three decades convincing the conservative movement that Social Security needed privatization and has now turned it's sights on the whole country. It's today's must-read .
  • Iraqi Elections

    I'm with Matt on the Iraqi elections, a day that will go down in history but be forgotten the morning after. Like the June 30th handover, this is a largely symbolic event whose success -- given the constraints of Sunni non-participation -- will be forgotten by nightfall. At the moment, the streets seems blissfully clear of shrapnel and gore, and I think they'll probably remain so. The insurgents realize that, with or without attacks, tomorrow's elections will produce a government. So why expose themselves to the elevated risk promised by the day's enhanced security? They can lay low for a day, or even a few, waiting for the heads of government to shift (or, if Allawi wins, emerge codified) and the new leaders will find themselves no more protected than the old. After all, an Iraqi-led government has been "ruling" for months now, what do the insurgents care which Shi'ite is at its helm? Americans, for our part, will spend the morning watching CNN say the same thing a thousand ways. We'...

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