Reviews and Comment
As a liberal response to the wealth of pop conservative writing—such as last year's 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America by Bernard Goldberg and Peter Schweitzer's Do as I Say (Not as I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy—this collection of 100 pithy salvos against current U.S. culture, and domestic and foreign policy hits its mark. Tirman, an unabashed liberal and the executive director of MIT's Center for International Studies, has a sly style and makes his often predictable points with unexpected panache. Whether he 's skewering the American obsession with consumerism, the rise of the pro-war progressive ("when I see a liberal hawk, I smell a rat") or the recent globalization of Christian evangelism, Tirman stays just this side of cranky and avoids preaching only to the converted. About a third of the time, he makes arresting points, such as that the media obsesses over white "damsels in distress," like Laci Peterson or Natalee Holloway, while refusing to discuss truly important issues such as "rapes of girls as a weapon of war." As quick-sketch political commentary goes, these laconic essays are terrific. But the bottom line is that while Tirman is arguably fairer and more nuanced than Goldberg or Schweitzer, none of these books contributes to substantive political understanding or debate. (Aug. 1)
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A witty and thought-provoking response to right-wing critics explains how the United States is damaging its own reputation and setting a poor precedent thanks to the policy decisions of political and business leaders, calling for a firm adherence to the nation's founding principles in order to return America to its moral and inspirational position.
-- W.H. Smith
Blogcritics: Tirman is a keen observer of how the rest of the world views us and the events that have created those views. What distinguishes 100 Ways from myriad titles that attack movement individuals in both political camps is in Tirman’s ability to see these events essentially as non-partisan.
Throughout the book, Tirman shows the faulty logic of democratic and republican leaders who’ve placed America’s economic interests above concern for global human rights regardless of partisan persuasion. Tirman offers a thorough account of American economic policy from the beginnings of the country to present day. From here, Tirman makes connections to a number of foreign misadventures carried out by various intelligence agencies that served American interests including the 1953 overthrow of socialist Mohammad Moussadek in Iran to CIA-led assassination of Chilean President Salvador Allende in 1970.
Tirman doesn’t stop at American economic policy though. 100 Ways also explores the disintegration of American culture, from how some Americans have cultivated the image of the “ugly American” overseas by a slovenly style of dress to the violent images found on television and in the lyrics of Gangsta rap. However, with the critique on culture and policy comes a wise chapter of what America does right. Here, Tirman points out to many positive developments America has been a lead player in. Tirman finds great hope in the technological and humanitarian achievements our country has fostered....
100 Ways does not damn America with faint praise nor uphold her penchant for economic advancement. It treats both with a balance all too rare in the media today.
Surely Americans have given the world some things we can be unambiguously proud of (the Bill of Rights? Ray Charles? iced tea?). John Tirman admits there are a few. His purpose here, though, is to expose the top 100 plagues that our government, industry, and culture have loosed upon the world.
First on his hit list is climate change, a double-whammy sin of both commission and omission whose worldwide death-dealing effects may already be largely beyond remedy. Following fast on its heels comes everything from television to T-shirts, most US foreign policy since Hiroshima, fast food, Paris Hilton, and the God squad whose selective puritanism trumps pragmatism and principle alike. Lest anyone think that Tirman's critique sounds partisan, note, for example, at No. 40 the two-headed ambition monster he calls ``Billary."
Tirman is no freelance curmudgeon blogging his way to catharsis. As director of MIT's Center for International Studies, he can be assumed to know what he's talking about when he says that for a supposedly good country, we do some powerfully bad things. His criticism may strike flag-waving patriots as downright un-American. But as Howard Zinn notes in his foreword to the book, patriotism requires allegiance to the values for which our nation claims to stand.-- Amanda Heller, August 26, 2006
It’s hard to picture genocide, gangsta rap and Las Vegas sharing the pages of the same foreign-policy book. What could they possibly have in common? But add a chapter on SUVs, Halliburton and George W. Bush and you’ve got six of 100 ways that one foreign-policy expert says the globe's most powerful country is “screwing up” the world around it. From the present-day consequences of the cold war to more recent American trends—like “Seinfeld” or Wal-Mart—John Tirman lists what he calls American blunders in the context of its founding ideals, and hopes his commentary will serve as a call to arms....
- Jessica Bennett, Newsweek.com (July 27)
John Tirman's 100 ways is a very easy but important read. His analysis will undoubtedly be amusing, interesting, and distressing at times for any concerned reader in times like these. It doesn't attack conservative people (like other conservative books with similar titles) but takes on real important issues like nuclear weapons, genocide, war, globalization, etc.
In one section called Forgetting History, Tirman writes about the many instances of forgetfulness plaguing Americans. He writes the following statements and usual responses:
"American-led genocide in the Philippines in the early 1900's? Never heard of it. Ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples in what is now America? We call that Manifest Destiny. Multiple military occupations of Nicaragua, Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic...? Didn't get that in my schoolbooks. A nation of immigrants? We're shutting down the borders."
If you're unfamiliar with American foreign policy and the influence of domestic issues abroad, this book provides an entertaining, concise and comprehensive list of 100 ways America is screwing us all over.
-- Joe's Book Reviews, Sept. 1
Bad economic policies are the primary reason millions of people from poor countries are pouring over the borders of the United States and the European Union. Those policies are largely written in Washington, D.C. John Tirman, director of MIT’s Center for International Studies, has written a 100-level handbook on this and other things America has done wrong. The blabbering idiots of talk radio will call it treason, and the NSA will probably begin to track his phone calls, but Tirman’s slender paperback is a welcome corrective to a self-congratulatory arrogance, prevalent in American society, that refuses to see what’s wrong with our politics, our business, ourselves.
100 Ways America is Screwing Up the World (Harper Perennial) isn’t always nuanced in presenting historical context, but proclaims the present dangers in clear, ringing tones. American agribusiness has made farming in the Third World unsustainable. American-controlled financial institutions have forced foreign governments to clip away at social safety nets and sell their natural resources on the cheap. Coupled with U.S. policies that have spurred climate failure through ecological degradation, it’s no wonder that the huddled masses have swelled in number and are pushing at the doors of developed nations, hoping for any crumbs that may fall their way.
Don’t even get Tirman going on the subject of Iraq or Bush’s belligerence over Iran. War, he points out, commands an “almost irresistible allure, especially for those who are faltering as a result of other political shortcomings.” Despite a few problematic points, 101 Ways provides a cache of ammunition for any verbal firefight with the radical right.
—David Luhrssen, The Shepherd-Express.com
Why do they hate us?
That's a question many Americans have asked, particularly since Sept. 11, 2001. There is no simple answer. And while John Tirman's 100 Ways America is Screwing Up the World may not be specifically intended to address that question, it certainly is a step toward some comprehension of America's current stature in the court of world opinion.
The book is meant to be a liberal response to similarly titled books attacking the left. Tirman's intent, however, was to address issues and events, not personalities, be they celebrities or critics. Tirman covers everything from politics to health issues to religion to economics to pop culture. It may, however, serve best as an introduction to America's path to its problems on the global stage.
With a foreword by Howard Zinn (whose People's History of the United States is almost indispensable in understanding that path), Tirman easily blends history with current events in assessing America's impact on the world. The problem with the book is one that is perhaps inherent. There is a great deal of overlap and repetition among the 100 Ways. For example, the military-industrial complex predicted by President Eisenhower, America's prior interventions in foreign countries, support of foreign dictators and the desire that economic policy in developing nations follow our model are just a few of the elements appearing in many of the 100 Ways.
As would be expected, many of the issues arise from the political and foreign policy. As for the former, Tirman is highly critical of Republicans, particularly the Reagan Administration and what he terms "the failed presidency of George W. Bush." Religion is also the subject of criticism, both politically and from its proselytism. Too often, Tirman believes, it produces too narrow a focus and gives rise to levels of hypocrisy. As such, our "Puritanical Ethic" leads Tirman to note "how much more energy is put into blocking the sight of a breast on television than drawing attention to poverty, environmental destruction, war, or racism."
Still, Tirman says he is attempting to be "rigorously nonpartisan." Granted, he does also take on Democrats, as well as the New Age and self-help movements. Yet there is no doubt his views find their source in traditional liberal thought. This may be seen best in his evaluation of Bill Clinton. Tirman refers to "the 'wise men' of the Roosevelt and Truman presidencies," who helped produce the UN, the World Bank and the Marshall Plan. He then condemns Clinton and the Democrats for moving toward the center or even right of center and squandering eight years in the White House. "It is difficult to recall a single phrase, a single initiative, a moment of inspiration in global affairs that was of Clinton's making," he writes.
As the executive director of the MIT Center for International Studies,Tirman is particularly qualified to evaluate the impact of America's policies and actions in foreign relations. As noted, he often touches on America's past foreign interventions and support for dictatorial regimes. In this area, 100 Ways tend to explore the animosity toward America. Among other things, he notes that the problem isn't that other countries and people don't understand us. Instead, Tirman believes we are the ones who tend to lack understanding.
We know so little of the developing world in particular that we could not possibly grasp that hatred could mount to such a point that a 9/11 attack could not only happen, but that it would be treated with outright glee or a nod of "they finally got theirs" in many quarters of the global south. And that hatred, or disgust or disappointment, is based on misunderstandings, necessarily, but on the sometimes accurate perception of an America that cares only about itself, enriches the wealthy at the expense of the world's poor, and belittles their aspirations, their cultural preferences and religions, and their politics.This is one of the myriad ways in which Tirman's 100 Ways encompasses far more than formal policy decisions. Another underlying theme is that many of the ways actually stem from America's stature itself. Both the good and bad of our culture spreads throughout the world, leading to efforts to imitate America. Tirman also tries to help the reader understand the impact of our own actions both locally and globally. He labels "Consumerism" as one of the ways, saying:
It can be argued that consumption is normal desire and that a successful economy has made it possible. Why the bitching? We don't need all this stuff, not even close. Consumer desires are fabricated, not natural. The only reason to relentlessly stimulate these consumption habits is to make a buck, not to make people better or happier or safer. Ordinary folks are going into debt and leaving little for their communities or children. . . . . The mountains of waste increase. The imports of cheap stuff are hurting our long-term economic stability as a country and not doing enough for third world development. It's circular bad behavior, seemingly innocuous, but in the end enormously harmful.Many will reject 100 Ways out of hand as a liberal diatribe that shows Tirman is among those who hate America. Yet Tirman continually suggests methods of potentially reducing or eliminating the problems he sees. Similarly, the book concludes with a list of 10 broad virtues that imbue America, such as fairness, belief in the rule of law and being a secular state while still being strongly religious.
Progressive on the Prairie August 7, 2006
George W. Bush, Wal-Mart, Halliburton, gangsta rap, and SUVs have in common that they're all among the hundred ways in which America is screwing up the world, according to executive director of MIT's Center for International Studies John Tirman. The USA responsible for many, if not most, of the twentieth century's most important scientific and technological advancements now demonizes its scientists and thinkers in the twenty-first, while moronizing its youth with anti-Darwin/pro-"Intelligent Design" propaganda. The beacon of personal freedoms for over 200 years now supports torture and illegal wiretapping—spreading its principles and policies at gunpoint while ruthlessly bombing the world with Big Macs and Mickey Mouse ears. 100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World is a quick and amusing look-see into where we've gone wrong—from the destruction of the environment to the promotion of abhorrent personal health and eating habits to the "wussification" of the free press—an alternately admonishing and amusing call to arms for patriotic Blue America...
-Robert Birnbaum, identitytheory.com