Five Best Thursday Columns

Optimism in Afghanistan, Lance Armstrong's legacy, and Medicare financing

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Jimmy Carter on the Israel-Palestine Borders  In The New York Times, the former U.S. President clarifies that Obama's statement about Israeli and Palestinian borders reflecting 1967 lines "was not a new U.S. policy." It was, Carter notes, a resolution made by the U.N. Security Council in 1967 that, since then, "has been widely acknowledged by all parties to be the basis for a peace agreement." He points out that former Israeli and Egyptian leaders Menachem Begin and Anwar Sedat agreed, in 1978, that this U.N. resolution would be the "basis for a peaceful settlement of the conflict between Israel and its neighbors" and that "the Israeli and military government and its civilian administration will be withdrawn [from the West Bank and Gaza] as soon as a self-governing authority has been freely elected by the inhabitants of those areas." Carter believes Palestine has a good chance of successfully convincing the U.N. to recognize it as a state, creating an urgency for Israel to "give up the occupied land in exchange for peace."

David Ignatius on Optimism in Afghanistan The Washington Post columnist is optimistic about recent developments in Afghanistan. The U.S. government, with the help of German mediators, have recently begun talks with, possibly, the "most credible Taliban official to surface so far in outreach efforts over the past two years by U.S., European and regional governments." At the same time, "India and Pakistan are speaking similar language about their support for an Afghan-led negotiated settlement," which is a good sign of progress as "friction between India and Pakistan has been a major obstacle to an Afghan settlement in the past." Finally, Ignatius notes, "the U.S.-led coalition entered this fighting season having cleared several major Taliban strongholds in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, providing more leverage. There's some independent evidence that the Taliban is feeling the pressure." Ignatius does acknowledge that "it's hard to judge where the balance lies in this fight, but it's a grinding war that may make both sides more ready for a diplomatic outcome." He suggests that "the death of bin Laden created an opening to resolve a conflict whose triggering personality is now gone."

The Boston Globe Editors on Lance Armstrong's Fall from Grace  The Editors at the Boston Globe think that if rumors of Lance Armstrong's supposed steroid use are revealed to be true, "it would be tragic. Because, more than any of the baseball players caught up in the steroid scandal, Armstrong is a symbol of hope and perseverance in the face of bad odds." The accusations leveled against Armstrong, by two of his teammates, that he used and sold illegal performance-enhancing drugs, have landed him under investigation for "crimes including fraud, conspiracy, drug trafficking, and money laundering." The Editors insist that, if he is found guilty, "his overall character would be tarnished. He would still be strong in some ways, but not where it really counts." Armstrong's brave defeat of cancer and seven consecutive Tour de France wins made him "larger than his sport, and [he] stood for so much more," they argue. "A conspiracy of silence doesn't suit a world-class hero. It doesn't even suit an ordinary bike racer."

Rita Redberg on Medicare's Unnecessary Expenses  The cardiologist points out in The New York Times that while the politics and finances of Medicare have been topics of focus in the news recently, hardly any attention has been paid to the fact that "Medicare spends a fortune each year on procedures that have no proven benefit and should not be covered." Examples include colonoscopies, prostate cancer screenings and cervical cancer screenings for patients over the age of 75, even though the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises against all three; as well as other procedures and modes of treatment that have largely proven riskier than they are effective. "The chief actuary for Medicare estimates that 15 percent to 30 percent of health care expenditures are wasteful." Redberg explains that "our medical culture is such that if the choice is between doing a test and not doing one, it is considered better care to do the test," making it difficult for Medicare to "deny coverage for services for which the task force has found no benefit." Changing this system would be easy if Medicare itself had not become too politicized, but now, "this solution remains hidden in plain view."

Karl Rove on Selling the GOP Budget  The Bush architect takes to The Wall Street Journal to explain why Democrats are foolish to think that Kathy Hochul's victory in New York's 26th district means they will have the upper hand in the budget debate going forward. Rove notes that the percentage by which Hochul won was only one point "more than Barack Obama as he was losing the district in 2008. Not exactly a compelling performance." Rove agrees that the GOP's new Medicare reforms--supported by Hochul's Republican opponent--did, in fact, play a role in the election, but insists that few independent minds were changed. Still, he argues that "next year, Republicans must describe their medicare reforms plainly, set the record straight vigorously when Democrats demagogue, and go on the attack." As the 2012 election draws nearer, "there needs to be preparation and self-education, followed by extensive town halls, outreach meetings, visits to senior citizen centers, and the use of every available communications tool to get the reform message across."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.