Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Threat of Iran?

In his post today
William Pfaff reflects on the urge for war with Iran.

A Gallup poll issued February 21 says that 99% of the American public now has become convinced that Iran’s civilian nuclear program will threaten “the vital interests of the United States in the next ten years.” Eighty-three percent say this will be “a critical threat.” Why?

As usual, Pfaff attempts to out the supposed Iran problem into perspective. As he grows older – he’s a month older than me – his columns appear a little less frequently and I plan to note their appearances here in my blog. I first encountered him in his first book in 1961 and have followed other books and his column since 1978. I think he’s been the best commentator on international affairs during that time. His trademark is to always bring the historical background of any issue into the discussion.

Quote of the day: Age is a very high price to pay for maturity. – Tom Stoppard

What’s good about “online”

Among the advantages of reading newspapers online, in addition to not having to go out in the rain to get the paper from your driveway, is the fact that many articles and most op-ed pieces allow the public to place near instant comments. It’s a good idea to at least skim these to get a better approximation to the full story.

When I read David Brooks in the Times this morning I was tempted to add a comment until I looked at the comments already there. The public comments were right on the ball and covered the issues quite well. Enough said.

Incidentally, the $20 per month the NY Times charges for access is about half the cost of the newsstand edition and 40% of home delivery. I once found a calculation that said this was about the cost of producing the Times less the costs relating only to the print edition. So online users are paying their fair share of the paper’s cost.

A Cut in Medicare?

I got an email from The National Retirees Legislative Network (NRLN) noting that Forbes has claimed the reduction in subsidies for Medicare Advantage Plans is a cut in Medicare. These plans were started as a right wing alternative to the single payer concept of Medicare. In these a private insurer takes over the responsibilities of the Medicare program and is paid by that program to do so. You would think that Advantage sponsors would claim that private insurance is more efficient than the government program, but these plans have always been subsidized and cost the taxpayer more than Medicare would. The plans are required to pay the same benefits as Medicare.

My coverage comes from such a plan provided by United Health Care. It may need the subsidy. In 2011 the CEO of UnitedHealth Group took compensation of $101 million, almost all in stock options.

The reduction of these subsidies is a part of changes due to Obamacare that is ongoing. If you have trouble keeping all these provisions in mind, here is a summary based on a document prepared by the Kaiser foundation in 2010.

Mark Russell is back!

Comedian and public affairs commentator Mark Russell has come back from retirement at age 80.

Fifty years ago I promised myself that I would retire on the day that I would be required to write a song about trans-vaginal ultrasounds. I decided to unretire when I heard that member of Congress had been cavorting in the Sea of Galilee. How can you make that up?

You can find him on his web site.

On David Brooks and other stuff

David Brooks is much beloved by centrists and it’s easy to see why. In a world where the supposedly conservative party, the Republican, has careened to the right and seems to be populated entirely by those disconnected from reality, Brooks as a conservative spokesman is a breath of fresh air.

Nevertheless, his column on Friday illustrates one of the unfortunate characteristics of much centrist thinking, the need to take a center position on every controversy, no matter how skewed to unreality one side of the controversy may be. I won’t go into detail on Brooks’ column as that was very well done by Jonathan Chait and even Brooks had to publish a reluctant retraction.

I think the reactionary right is well aware of this attitude in “reasonable” people and deliberately express extreme positions as a method of “moving the center.” It’s been described as the “controversy about earth’s shape” syndrome.

One of the examples of this is the unwillingness of many centrists to recognize just how centrist in practice the Obama administration and the Democratic Party have become. I don’t say that with pride, because I think it’s been a bad thing for the country and the party. The reason for this shift, became clear to me while reading “Winner Take All Politics” by political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson.

This book probes the history of the last 30 years to answer the question of “How Washington Made the Rich Richer and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.” Their answer is that the monied interests bought the soul of the Republican Party and the votes of the Democrats. Money was used to provide direct support to candidates of both parties in order to buy their votes. But it was also used to build up the Republican party infrastructure, to support conservative “think tanks”, to develop Republican strength in the state houses, and see to the re-engineering of electoral districts.

The result is the mess we see in Washington to;:day. We aren’t going to see a Grand Bargain. However one that would satisfy the majority of Americans could be found.

Matthew Igesias summed it all up in Slate with:

I wrote yesterday about how the Principle of Seriousness helps maintain the true path of Bipartisan Think by ensuring that no matter how unreasonable the GOP becomes on fiscal issues, neither party is proposing serious solutions because the GOP is being intransigent and the Democrats are failing to come up with proposals that stand a chance of overcoming GOP intransigence.

Who are the smart ones?

I found an article by Andrew Bacevich in Harper’s Magazine but was only able to read a little of it without getting a subscription. However it had an interesting note that I have copied here. The article was in the form of an open letter to Paul Wolfowitz.

Twenty years ago, you became dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and hired me as a minor staff functionary. I never thanked you properly. I needed that job. Included in the benefits package was the chance to hobnob with luminaries who gathered at SAIS every few weeks to join Zbigniew Brzezinski for an off-the-record discussion of foreign policy. From five years of listening to these insiders pontificate, I drew one conclusion: people said to be smart — the ones with fancy résumés who get their op-eds published in the New York Times and appear on TV — really aren’t. They excel mostly in recycling bromides. When it came to sustenance, the sandwiches were superior to the chitchat.