February 4, 2011
February 4, 2011
February 4, 2011
With the end of the Mubarak era looming on the horizon, speculation has turned to whether the Muslim Brotherhood will dominate the new Egyptian political landscape. As the largest, most popular, and most effective opposition group in Egypt, it will undoubtedly seek a role in creating a new government, but the consequences of this are uncertain. Those who emphasize the risk of “Islamic tyranny” aptly note that the Muslim Brotherhood originated as an anti-system group dedicated to the establishment of sharia rule; committed acts of violence against its opponents in the pre-1952 era; and continues to use anti-Western, anti-Zionist, and anti-Semitic rhetoric. But portraying the Brotherhood as eager and able to seize power and impose its version of sharia on an unwilling citizenry is a caricature that exaggerates certain features of the Brotherhood while ignoring others, and underestimates the extent to which the group has changed over time.
Founded by Hasan al-Banna in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood has had the longest continuous existence of any contemporary Islamist group. It was initially established not as a political party but as a da’wa (religious outreach) association that aimed to cultivate pious and committed Muslims through preaching, social services, and spreading religious commitment and integrity by example. The group saw its understanding of Islam as the only “true” one and condemned partisanship as a source of national weakness. It called on Egyptians to unite to confront the forces of Zionism and imperialism and pursue economic development and social justice.
The Free Officers’ Movement, which seized power in Egypt in 1952, was influenced by the Brotherhood and shared many of its concerns. But the new regime headed by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser did not support the Brotherhood’s call for sharia rule and viewed the group as a potential rival. After a member of the Brotherhood attempted to assassinate Nasser in 1954, Nasser had the pretext he needed to try to crush the organization — interning thousands of its members in desert concentration camps and forcing others into exile or underground.
The leaders of the Brotherhood learned very different lessons from their experience during the Nasser years. Some, like the Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb, became radicalized and concluded that the only way to confront the vast coercive powers of the modern state was through jihad. Hasan al-Hudaybi, who succeeded Banna as the Brotherhood’s General Guide, or leader, advocated moving toward greater judiciousness and caution. Umar Tilmisani, who succeeded Hudaybi in 1972, renounced violence as a domestic strategy altogether when then President Anwar el-Sadat allowed the group to join the political fold.
Beginning in 1984, the Brotherhood started running candidates in elections for the boards of Egypt’s professional syndicates and for seats in parliament — first as junior partners to legal parties and later, when electoral laws changed, as independents. Some of the group’s leaders opposed participation, fearing that the Brotherhood would be forced to compromise its principles. But Tilmisani and others justified political participation as an extension of the Brotherhood’s historic mission and assured critics that it would not detract from the Brotherhood’s preaching and social services.
Although the Brotherhood entered the political system in order to change it, it ended up being changed by the system. Leaders who were elected to professional syndicates engaged in sustained dialogue and cooperation with members of other political movements, including secular Arab nationalists. Through such interactions, Islamists and Arabists found common ground in the call for an expansion of public freedoms, democracy, and respect for human rights and the rule of law, all of which, they admitted, their movements had neglected in the past.
By the early 1990s, many within the Brotherhood were demanding internal reform. Some pushed for revising the Brotherhood’s ideology, including its positions on party pluralism and women’s rights. Others criticized the old guard’s monopoly of power within the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, demanding greater transparency, accountability, and stricter conformity with the internal by-laws governing the selection of leaders and the formation of policy.
In 1996, increasingly frustrated with the old guard’s inflexible leadership, some prominent members of the “reformist” wing broke from the Brotherhood and sought a government license to form a new political party, Hizb al-Wasat (Center Party). Wasat leaders who used to be in the Brotherhood, along with a few reformers who remained in its fold, helped launch the cross-partisan Movement for Change, known by its slogan, Kefaya (Enough) between 2004 and 2005. They worked with secular democracy activists on such projects as creating a civic charter and a constitution, preparing for the time when a new democratic government came to power. During the past week of protests, members of these cross-partisan groups were able to quickly reactivate their networks to help form a united opposition front. These members will likely play a key role in drafting Egypt’s new constitution…
What would you call a health-insurance program that has worse health outcomes for cancer and heart disease than Medicare or private insurance, that pays doctors and specialists so little that they often refuse to see patients, and that’s driving state budgets into bankruptcy? If you’re the Obama administration, apparently, you call it a success and make it the cornerstone of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health-care-reform legislation passed in March 2010 that is better known as Obamacare.
The program in question is Medicaid, the joint federal-state program for low-income, uninsured Americans. Despite Medicaid’s terrible track record, President Obama built his reform around it, largely for budgetary reasons. Obama had promised that health-care reform would cost less than $1 trillion, so the Affordable Care Act relies heavily on expanding Medicaid, which pays much less for physicians’ services than Medicare and insurance, to cover the uninsured. The new law would bring 16 million Americans—one-half of the estimated 32 million who will receive new insurance coverage—into Medicaid, covering Americans making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
But without substantial Medicaid reform, Obamacare will result in a human and fiscal disaster. Medicaid coverage looks much better on paper than it does in reality. The program often pays only 70 percent of what Medicare pays physicians—which itself is about 20 percent below private rates—and reimbursement is slow. Small wonder, then, that more than half of primary-care physicians and 35 percent of specialists have either limited the number of Medicaid patients they see or refused to accept new ones. With so many doctors unwilling to treat them, Medicaid patients often have to wait longer before receiving a diagnosis or treatment. This can have lethal consequences: in 2007, a Maryland boy, Deamonte Driver, died from an abscessed tooth because his mother had trouble finding a dentist who accepted Medicaid.
Adding financial insult to medical injury, Medicaid spending currently consumes about 20 percent of state budgets, crowding out spending on everything from education to infrastructure. It is also part of the trifecta of federal programs—Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security—driving the federal budget over a deficit cliff. In 2011, the federal and state governments are projected to spend $466 billion on Medicaid, with costs rising about 8 percent a year. Under the new law, Medicaid will spend an additional $443 billion by 2019—hardly evidence of the cost control that Obama promised for health-care reform.
Defenders of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion point out that the federal government will pick up 100 percent of those new costs for the first several years after 2014, when the law goes into effect, paring back to 90 percent in 2020. This will leave the states on the hook for just $21 billion in new costs by 2020, they say.
But the Medicaid expansion remains fiscally intolerable nonetheless. For one thing, $21 billion isn’t an insignificant sum, especially at the state level; for another, it doesn’t include up to $12 billion more in administrative costs. Many state budgets are in such perilous condition that they can’t afford any new outlays; they need, in fact, to cut spending. Also, those who claim that Obamacare won’t impose new costs on the states don’t take into account the 11 million uninsured Americans who are currently eligible for Medicaid but have never bothered to enroll. In 2014, once Obamacare’s mandates require everyone to carry insurance or pay a penalty, many of these eligible but nonenrolled people will presumably sign up. And unfortunately for the states, these enrollees would be covered not under the generous federal matching rate that the Affordable Care Act establishes but under the pre-Obamacare rate, which varies by state but is much more onerous. Finally, even federal spending doesn’t come free of charge to the states. That $443 billion will come either from higher federal taxes, which will drain funds from an already anemic private economy, or from cuts elsewhere in the federal budget, which will leave less money available to support state budgets…
February 4, 2011
Writing at outside magazine, Hampton Sides tells the story of one of Aspen’s most famous search-and-rescue workers. Michael Ferrara was a venerated alpine rescuer — until, in his fifties, he began suffering from PTSD.
It’s not just soldiers who suffer from the combination of flashbacks, depression, and anxiety that psychiatrists call post-traumatic stress disorder: Civilian workers who encounter danger (police officers, firefighters, and rescuers) suffer from it, too. Of Ferrara, Sides writes: “He was overtaken by what he called ‘the slide show,’ a cruel flickering of mental images he couldn’t control: an eviscerated body, a father in the ambulance with his critically injured skateboarder son…charred figures on the runway. He could hear the sound of Michael Kennedy’s children saying the Lord’s Prayer while gathered around their dying father in a mountain glade.”
Ferrara has given up his rescue work — and he’s launched an organization, the First Responder Recovery Project, that aims to spread awareness about civilian PTSD.
Jesus by committeeWikipedia was launched on Jan. 15, 2001. Not long after, on March 3, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales created a page for Jesus, writing that “Jesus Christ is a central figure in Christianity.” “I fear great controversy if this encyclopedia entry isn’t written well,” he continued, “and so I think we should all plunge in and duke it out quickly.”
Alas, it was not to be. Writing at Slate, Chris Wilson offers “a brief history of Wikipedia Jesus — his tests, trials, and the chaotic world into which he was born.” The story, as Wilson tells it, begins with Jesus’ “quiet adolescence,” overseen by “well-behaved editors” who made mostly fiddly changes, adding a paragraph here and there. Two years on, however, Jesus “had a seven-chapter entry covering his teachings, roles in various denominations and other religions, and historical footprint.”
Then in 2004, a Wikipedia user erased the entry and replaced it with a link to an obscene photo. The entry was immediately restored, but, for whatever reason, the new editors had a more jaded view of Jesus: In April 2004, the entry’s first sentence called Jesus a “controversial figure about whom there are many points of view.” In the end, editors had to lock out the hoi polloi, so that a relatively small group of dedicated experts could write the entry together. (A quick look at the comments for Slate’s piece shows why: They’ve exploded into a huge debate about the “historicity” of Jesus.) Mass participation has helped Wikipedia grow; stability, though, requires expertise.
The problem with the elitesWhether well-groomed or unwashed, almost everyone can agree that elitism is bad. There’s little agreement, though, on what elitism is, or who the elite actually are. In a Globe op-ed earlier this month, Neal Gabler, a Hollywood historian, railed against the cultural tyranny of ”media executives, academics, elite tastemakers, and of course critics”; in The New York Times, film critic A. O. Scott struck back, arguing that the real elite are ”the corporations who sell nearly everything with the possible exception of classical music and conceptual arts…”