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Email of the Week

George Jong emails:

I have to admit, I get a little freaked out by the fact that you keep appearing in the comments of all the blogs I read – Kevin Drum, Jeff Jarvis, Roger Simon, etc. It’s like pulling over to three different rest stops and finding the same biker standing at the urinal next to you each time.

Then I read Welch’s post about DSL, and I find not only you, but also Boomshock and Lileks. What the heck is going on here?

A biker? Me?

You make me laugh, George. But I hit Welch’s comments first. Maybe I should ask you what’s up…

Which Country Are You?

Randy Paul took the Country Quiz and it told him he is India. Apparently, I’m Canada.

You’re Canada!

People make fun of you a lot, but they’re stupid because you’ve got a much better life than they do. In fact, they’re probably just jealous. You believe in crazy things like human rights and health care and not dying in the streets, and you end up securing these rights for yourself and others. If it weren’t for your weird affection for ice hockey, you’d be the perfect person.

Take the Country Quiz at the Blue Pyramid

What’s Up with Arnold

Gerard Van der Leun calls me the “Swiss Army Knife of commentators.” Hey. I think I like that. And it seems I inadvertantly helped Gerard figure out what’s up with Arnold.

Arnold, Gerard says, is a bi-liberal.

(Notice how we all know who I’m talking about. I didn’t write his last name. Like Monica and Hillary, there can only be one.)

Socialism Without the Socialism

James Becker emails and points me to an article by Ronald Bailey in Reason about a universal health insurance plan from the New America Foundation.

It looks good to me. In fact, I think it’s the best one I’ve seen.

Every American would be required to buy their own insurance. Those who can’t afford it would get assistance from state-funded vouchers.

According to their theory, premiums would be less expensive if everyone had insurance. The risk pool would be larger, and no one would have to make up the costs of treating the uninsured. Since every single American would choose their own company, increased competition would drive down the price. It’s hard to say if they’re right about this, but the price wouldn’t likely go up.

Those with health insurance benefits from their employer could select their own company and policy. Employers would still make the payment, but they would no longer dictate the terms.

New regulation would protect people with pre-existing conditions.

New America Foundation CEO Ted Halstead says the idea is politically independent and centrist.

A policy of mandatory health insurance defies the usual political spectrum. Its universalist dimension should appeal to the left, while its market-based orientation should appeal to the right. The interesting question is who will be first to lay claim to this idea: President Bush or one of the Democratic presidential candidates.

It seems to me that Democrats should like this more than Republicans. Ronald Bailey in Reason calls the foundation a liberal policy shop. And universal health insurance is clearly a job for the left, especially if government assistance is part of the bargain.

But if Reason likes it there must be some centrist appeal. Maybe some in the GOP might go for it, too. It isn’t “welfare,” and it certainly isn’t socialist.

UPDATE: Adam Sullivan has more.

Democracy Should Be Fun

George Will:

Truly conservative Californians — you few know who you are — will vote against the recall to protest its plebiscitary cynicism.

Oh, lighten up, Will.

Look. I changed my mind about the goofball celebrity thing. If I lived in California right now I would have no choice but to vote for either Arnold or Gary Coleman. Why? Because it’s California. Because it would be fun. And because complaining about it is boring.

Come on, California. Throw the bums out. Throw out the whole bum class while you’re at it.

Final Poll Results

John Hawkins at Right-Wing News polled a list of left-wing bloggers, including myself, and asked us who we thought were the 20 worst figures in American history.

I posted my list over the weekend.

Now John has posted the tallied results on his page.

13 from my list of 19 are there. I guess I’m not as out of step with the rest of the left as I thought. (Though I don’t want to think we’re only united by who and what we don’t like.)

I’m sorry to see that Reagan and Bush made the list. I didn’t include them, though of course I knew others would. Even so, less than half of us picked either one of them.

Taylor is Out

Sometimes the threat of force works wonders all by itself, so long as the threat is credible.

Charles Taylor has feld Liberia into exile in Nigeria. He wasn’t driven out by years of civil war but by a cocked American gun.

Taylor arrived in Nigeria hours after surrendering power to his vice president in the capital, Monrovia. Relatives, friends and some government soldiers at the airport cried and wailed as Taylor and his relatives left.

Rebel leader Sekou Conneh, speaking in nearby Ghana, welcomed Taylor’s departure from Liberia and declared: “The war is over.”

As Taylor left, U.S. warships appeared on the horizon off the coast — a thrilling sight for Monrovians desperate for an end to 14 years of war. Yet no forces disembarked and the ships soon withdrew from view.

He will not be missed.

20 Worst Americans

John Hawkins at Right-Wing News emailed me and several other left-of-center bloggers and asked for a list of who we think are the 20 worst figures in American history.

Last week he posted a list compiled by conservative bloggers. Franklin Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, and the Clintons were on that list. And since Franklin Roosevelt is (ahem) my favorite president, you can imagine I’m not too impressed.

Rather than put Ronald Reagan on my list just to get back at them, I made a list I take seriously. I’m sure I’m forgetting a critical scoundrel, so I only submitted 19 names. I left the 20th slot open for the one I’m forgetting.

So who did I forget? Use the comments section and help me out.

Here are the 19, in no particular order.

1. Jefferson Davis, because he was the president of the Confederacy

2. Joseph McCarthy, because he was a McCarthyist

3. John Walker Lindh, because he joined the Taliban

4. Timothy McVeigh, because he was our worst home-grown terrorist

5. Charles Coughlin, because he was the grandfather of hate radio and a supporter of Adolf Hitler

6. George Rockwell, because he founded the American Nazi Party

7. Pat Robertson, because he infected the Republican Party with theocracy

8. Henry Kissinger, because, among other things, he greenlighted the Indonesian invasion of and subsequent genocide in East Timor

9. Lee Harvey Oswald, because he assassinated John F. Kennedy

10. John Wilkes Booth, because he assassinated Abraham Lincoln

11. James Earl Ray, because he assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr.

12. Sirhan Sirhan, because he assassinated Robert Kennedy

13. Richard Nixon, because, as Hunter S. Thompson put it, he broke the heart of the American Dream

14. Nathan Forrest, because he founded the Ku Klux Klan

15. William Walker, because he tried to set up his own private slave state in Nicaragua

16. J Edgar Hoover, because he was a championship asshole

17. Benedict Arnold, because he was a traitor

18. Ramsey Clark, because, among other things, he was the co-chairman of the International Committee for the Defense of Slobodan Milosevic

19. Noam Chomsky, because he defended the Viet Cong, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot, and because he calls America the world’s greatest terrorist state after September 11

Coulter, McCarthy, and Hitchens

Geoff Pynn found this charming photo on Ann Coulter’s Web site.

coulter.jpg

Christopher Hitchens, in a debate with her on Hardball, sums up in a single sentence what’s wrong with her.

I’m appalled to see what kind of model citizen you’d make in a banana republic, Ms. Coulter.

Annoying Arnold

James Lileks and Roger L. Simon are kinda sorta in the Arnold Schwarzenegger for Governor of California camp. Of which I have been suspicious.

Do we really need more goofball celebrities in charge? I love the Terminator movies. They’re great action flicks which at certain moments transcend themselves. But I thought Ronald Reagan, Sonny Bono, and Jesse Ventura were enough.

Arnold is apparently a liberal Republican, one of those guys who could go either way but chose the GOP for whatever reason. Fine then, he’s probably like my dad with bigger muscles.

I’ve been in the sorta anti-Arnold camp for a while, even though I don’t live in California and mostly couldn’t care less. But then I find out that Rush Limbaugh is bloviating hysterically that Arnold isn’t conservative. God forbid he’s a moderate. Maybe even a closet liberal!

So it turns out he’s the type of guy who’ll annoy Rush Limbaugh and the Europeans?

Well, shit then. Go Arnold!

History of the Ba’ath Party

Hovig John Heghinian in the Comments section pointed to this article about Michel Aflaq, founder of the Ba’ath Party. It’s not a new article, but it is worth reading anyway since it explains the ideological foundations of Syria, the old Iraq, and the Iraqi “resistance.”

MICHEL AFLAQ was born in Damascus in 1910, a Greek Orthodox Christian. He won a scholarship to study philosophy at the Sorbonne sometime between 1928 and 1930 (biographies differ), and there he studied Marx, Nietzsche, Lenin, Mazzini, and a range of German nationalists and proto-Nazis. Aflaq became active in Arab student politics with his countryman Salah Bitar, a Sunni Muslim. Together, they were thrilled by the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party, but they also came to admire the organizational structure Lenin had created within the Russian Communist party.

Paul Berman describes the Terror War as a continuation of the awful thing that got started in Europe more than 80 years ago and has never come to an end. This is one of the reasons why.

What Dreams May Come

Sean LaFreniere had a compelling and oddly relevant dream last night.

I tried to argue with the villain but he only laughed. I turned the other cheek and he hit it too. Nothing that I did made things better. And throughout the ordeal I kept reminding myself that I was doing The Right Thing, that I was following The Rules, and that I should be prevailing. But I just kept getting beat to the floor.

Finally the dream bully reached towards me with a burning cigar… and I caught it in my hand. However, my dream self had no special powers. I was not wearing gloves, nor was I pumped full of painkillers. Oddly, terribly, I actually felt the stab of pain and smelled the roasting flesh, but I did not let go. Holding the bully’s hand I climbed to my feet and stood up. His implement of torture burned away and his look of evil joy grew more ghoulish, but I did not care.

Then I saw the image of a school’s front doors, decorated in crayon pictures of the Stars and Stripes, as they burst open and children rushed out. I saw people going about their daily lives, shopping and cutting each other off in traffic. I even saw a scene from this evening’s news, where a village elder in the Sunni area of Iraq argued with a young man over their response to the killing of a relative by American solders. The young man wanted revenge; it was what his father had taught him. But the old man wanted an investigation and justice “like in America”. This was a desire for something new, something better; it was what his son’s fate had taught him. And my dream self understood.

What does this mean? Why is it relevant?

Read the rest.

Additions to the Blogroll

Norman Geras, Oliver Kamm, and Randy Paul’s Beautiful Horizons have been added to the blog roll.

The View from the Center-Left

Joe Katzman writes about what he calls Mogadishu Democrats, Democrats who are trying to look serious about foreign policy but end up posturing instead.

Memo to Democrats: kindly get a grip. America was attacked. The public remembers that…As Bill Clinton might have put it: “it’s the war, stupid!”

Blaster is quoted in Joe’s comments section.

Note to Democrats

You are going to lose. Why? Because you think you need to have an effective message on national defense.

No. No “message.” You need to defend our nation. You need to want to defend our nation. You have to feel like our nation deserves to be defended. That isn’t a message. Its a belief. And if you don’t believe those things, your message can’t be credible, no matter how good you are at faking sincerity.

This election and its aftermath very well may end my relationship with the Democratic Party.

I’ve been unhappy with the Democrats for various reasons for almost ten years now. As time passes I have fewer and fewer reasons to stick with them.

I still have some reasons. I’m an environmentalist and a big fan of New Urbanism. I want some sort of universal health insurance, the less statist the better. I think taxes should favor the poor and the middle class before the wealthy. I hate abortion, but I don’t want it banned. I’m a social liberal/libertarian, which clearly puts me with the Democrats and not the Republicans.

At the same time, the peaceniks and the politically correct are pushing me out. The radical/anarchist “Bush=Hitler” crowd has little to do with the Democratic Party, but their attitude is having a corrosive effect on mainstream left-wing opinion.

Every day I find myself thinking less like a left-liberal and more like a centrist. It’s not because I suddenly have conservative opinions. I’ve been a foreign policy hawk for ten years, throughout the Clinton era when Republicans wallowed in right-wing isolationism on the Balkan question and the liberals pushed vigorously for intervention. My role models here are Roosevelt and Truman, not Kissinger and Reagan. And I was repulsed by political correctness the first time I encountered it, along with most people of my generation. (PC is primarily a Baby Boomer thing.) My views on nearly everything are the same as they were throughout the 90s.

It’s the left that changed. Or, perhaps, the issues changed and caused the left to shift its priorities. Maybe it’s been a little bit of both.

From where I sit it looks like the entire country shifted to the left while I sat still. Noam Chomsky has more influence than ever, while the two sinister Pats (Robertson and Buchanan) have been marginalized. The neoconservatives use the language of Amnesty International, and the Republican Party has discovered the virtues of nation-building. Andrew Sullivan calls Bush a closet liberal, and any non-partisan person can see that he has a point.

The Democrats seem to think it’s 1968 (or 1972) all over again. And it isn’t. They are decades out of date, and they’re almost certain to lose the election.

It is the war, stupid, and the problem isn’t “the message.”

The primary election, the general election, and the recriminating aftermath will surely shake up the party. I won’t know until it’s over if I’ll stick with the party or walk.

I’m not a conservative and I’m not about to become one. I won’t exchange left-wing baggage for a suitcase-full from the right.

But the Democrats might lose me, as they’ve already lost so many others.

I have no fear of declaring myself an independent centrist. Most of the people I read and admire are independent themselves. The center is chock-full of utterly reasonable people, while the left and right wing-nuts shriek like moonbats.

So the Democrats better watch out. There is more than one way to declare oneself “Not a Republican.” There are more than two binary views of the world and this country.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias accuses me of having a schtick. He reminds me that my views are pretty consistently liberal, and that several of the Democratic candidates are mostly in agreement with me.

All true.

And so I understand why Matt is confused at my discontent and is groping for some off-the-wall explanation. He even makes me reconsider to some extent.

The bottom line, though, is that I care more about national security and human rights than any of the other stuff. And, as Joe Katzman put it in his Mogadishu Democrats post, which inspired my post in the first place, much of the Democratic hawk stuff is more message than substance. That is what really bothers me.

Lieberman is the only one I trust with this on a gut level, but I also think he’s a boring and uninspiring conservative. I worry about the others, even when they make the right noises and even though I agree with them more often.

My reaction to the party is as visceral as it is intellectual right now.

I worry, too, that I don’t share the same values as Democratic activists. Partisan politics is venal and corrupting, and it turns otherwise smart people into idiots. This isn’t a left-wing thing or a right-wing thing, it’s just a political thing. I’m tired of it, and so are a lot of other people.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, Kombiz has some criticism here. I don’t think I agree with him, but at least he makes me say hmmm.

UPDATE: Wow, please read the comments section. Find the 47th comment by a guy named Joe Schmoe. (Maybe you could use a real name, Joe…) It is brilliant and perfect. He gets right to the heart of this matter, and says it better than I did.

Polyamory and the State

Anti-gay marriage activist Stanley Kurtz says of Andrew Sullivan:

In my recent piece, I also noted Sullivan’s failure to take up the real challenge of the slippery slope argument as it relates to polyamory. In fact, I don’t think the word polyamory has ever been formed on Sullivan’s keyboard.

The word “polyamory” has never been formed on my keyboard either, until now.

I’d like to ask Dr. Kurtz, and anyone else, why I’m supposed to worry about this in the first place.

I understand the slippery-slope argument. Gay marriage may lead to legalized polyamory. This argument is intended to freak me out, but it doesn’t.

Let me be clear here. I think people who get involved in polyamorous relationships are making a terrible mistake. I went to college in Eugene, Oregon, and I saw quite a bit of that there. It always ended in disaster; otherwise strong relationships disintegrated with the addition of a third person. Kathe Koja wrote a truly harrowing novel about this called Kink, which reads almost like a horror story. That book all by itself would have been enough to scare me away from polyamory if I hadn’t known better already.

But why is this the state’s business?

The best argument is that a three-parent household is a poor environment for raising children. But what about childless three-way relationships? For whose benefit are they banned?

Besides, I can think of plenty of destructive behavior the state doesn’t regulate, even when it severely affects children. Drinking and smoking, for example, or letting the television babysit the kids all day. You can raise your kids in a wacko cult, or teach them that Jews are Satanic demons that control the Congress. You can deny your children vaccinations and medical treatment for religious or other kooky reasons. It’s best that divorced parents live near each other for the sake of their children, but no one thinks to enforce it.

I think children should be kept far away from television and given books to read instead. I think American children should learn a foreign language when they are pre-school age. And I think they should be kept out of churches until they are old enough to understand what’s going on in there. I don’t think anyone under the age of 20 should have a baby. But I would not dream of legislating any of this stuff, even though I think it would make children better off.

To me it’s obvious that a healthy two-parent household is the best place for a child. But I wouldn’t ban divorce in order to enforce it. Nor would I require single parents to get married. Most people agree with that.

So why is polyamory the state’s business?

I’m not convinced that it isn’t the state’s business. I honestly don’t know. I’m open to persuasion either way. But I really think the burden is on the state to tell us why it should be allowed to micromanage our personal lives in this (and any other) way.

It’s a free country, folks, and not every bad thing is or should be an illegal thing. Even when kids are involved.

Stanley Kurtz wants Andrew Sullivan to address the slippery slope to polyamory. And I want conservatives to tell me why I’m supposed to be afraid of it. And don’t tell me polyamory is not a good idea. I know that well-enough already.

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