Five Best Tuesday Columns
Qaddafi's Son, French women and DSK, and Scott Brown's record
Bret Stephens on Saif al-Islam Qaddafi's free pass Several years ago, Bret Stephens sat next to Qaddafi's son Saif al-Islam at Davos. The younger Qaddafi extolled, of all things, the strengths of the Israeli military, and Stephens wondered, "Did the scarcely veiled critique of his father's regime--indeed, of the very way he came to power--hint at a broader change in political direction for Libya, or was it just fodder for credulous Westerners?" he writes in The Wall Street Journal. "Shortly after my encounter with Seif, the case of Libya's imprisoned Bulgarian nurses--preposterously accused of infecting hundreds of Libyan children with HIV... burst freshly into view." It was one of many outrages, including Qaddafi's declaration of jihad against Switzerland and the warm welcome given the Lockerbie bomber, who had been released on a technicality from Scotland. Stephens recalls that the Libyan secret police arrested Rafram Chadad, an Israeli artist, and tortured him as a spy, though they knew he was not. Saif al-Islam Qaddafi knew and happily admitted to all of these actions. "Seif, in other words, knew that his was a kingdom of cruelty." Westerners continued to describe him hopefully as a potential reformer. But when the revolution broke out, he remained loyal to his father, and is now under arrest and potentially facing trial for war crimes. He is a "fresh reminder that tyrants are not just tortured souls or over-zealous ideologues or misunderstood dreamers, and that evil is never banal and often self-conscious." Most concerning is the history in the West of looking past Saif's offenses. "Nearly everybody, out of some combination of moral indifference, economic self-interest, political calculation or a willingness to suspend disbelief, wanted to give Seif and his father's regime a pass," Stephens writes.
Charles Fried on questioning Senator Scott Brown Scott Brown's campaign is already asking Charles Fried for donations now that Elizabeth Warren shows signs of opposing him in the Massachusetts Senate race, he writes in The Boston Globe. "Since the '70s I have only once voted for a Democrat for any national office, and that was only after John McCain (on one of whose committees I had served) picked Sarah Palin as his running mate," he writes. "Yet the last three years have been a difficult time to be a Republican." Republicans have made it clear that their goal is not governance, but ruining Obama's presidency, with moves like opposing the debt ceiling, he says. "Those of my party who participated in the disgraceful maneuvers of the last two years should be turned out of office," Fried writes, and so he wonders whether Scott Brown fits into this category. "At least Brown didn't choose default over the budget deal forced on us by McConnell and Boehner. But will Brown accept the principle that there must be revenue increase--maybe some rate increases but certainly the elimination of loopholes and trimming of some deductions? Yes or no? Does he agree with Warren Buffett that it is outrageous that a billionaire financier pays taxes at a lower rate than his receptionist? ... On the other hand, is he willing to stand up to Nancy Pelosi--who keeps me in the Republican Party--and forthrightly admit that it makes sense to raise the age for Social Security eligibility and to adjust the unrealistic annual cost-of-living increase?" Fried believes Brown will answer these questions honestly, but he also must answer them correctly and confidently if he wants the loyalty of a Republican voter like Fried.
Ezekiel Emanuel and Jeffrey Liebman on cutting Medicare the smart way "Medicare is going to be cut. That is inevitable. There is no way to solve the nation's long-term debt problem without reducing the growth rate of federal health care spending," write Ezekiel Emanuel and Jeffrey Liebman in The New York Times. "The only question is whether the cuts will be smart ones." First, they point to a long list of procedures and drugs Medicare pays for that have no proven effect. For example, the FDA recently declared Avastin to be ineffective at treating breast cancer, yet Medicare still pays for it. "Cutting payment for these is not rationing. It saves money, but it also protects patients from the pain, stress and risks associated with unnecessary care," the authors write. "Smart cuts can also be achieved through better coordination of patient care," they write. In one case, a program sent nurses home with patients immediately after discharge, reducing readmissions, health outcomes, and thus, future Medicare costs. "Unfortunately, Washington is preoccupied with ill-conceived cuts," they write. These include "meat cleaver cuts" which just slice the budget across the board, redistribution which would transfer costs from the government to providers and patients, and short term cuts that would actually raise long term costs. By raising co-payments for instance, you disincentive doctor's visits which make treating long-term health problems more costly. The authors do not trust Washington to make the right kinds of cuts, and so they put the responsibility in the hands of doctors and health care providers. "To control Medicare spending and reduce the deficit, we need to stop paying for wasteful procedures, accelerate adoption of the Affordable Care Act reforms and empower doctors, nurses and hospitals to provide higher-quality and more efficient care," they write.
Anne Daguerre on DSK and French women Though the district attorney dropped charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the civil suit in America and charges of attempted rape in France will keep the scandal alive. Still, people talk of a revived political career for DSK. In France, "the affair has already changed the terms of the debate about what is acceptable conduct between men and women, especially where there is a structural inequality of power," writes Anne Daguerre in The Guardian. Unlike in America, France has gone a long time without the media covering a major public figure in a sexual harassment case. Women there are often encouraged to stay quiet when harassed. But now, French politicians are already granted less media leeway for their extramarital affairs. "But if the DSK affair exposed in a new, harsh light the embarrassingly antediluvian attitudes of self-entitled French men, it also revealed fundamental faultlines between French women themselves," Daguerre writes. 1970s feminists stayed silent on DSK while the new wave feminists immediately declared solidarity with his accuser. Some worry that Dallio's unreliability will actually hurt women, convincing some that one must be totally pure to accuse a man of harassment. We may never know what actually occurred, but the U.S. media was quick to presume DSK's guilt and trash his reputation. He now carries the image of recklessness. "The idea that he has a future as a presidential challenger is fantasy," she writes. "Only one person stands to gain from such a civil war of the bien-pensant French intelligentsia: Nicolas Sarkozy."
Michael Gerson on Dominionism's false threat Americans have always suspected politicians, from Jimmy Carter to George W. Bush, of subversive belief in theocracy, writes Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. Profiles of Michele Bachmann in The Daily Beat and The New Yorker make her the next in line of such suspicions. "If you want to understand Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry," argues Michelle Goldberg in Newsweek/Daily Beast, "understanding Dominionism isn't optional." Dominionism, while a frightening fringe belief system that would impose a Sharia-like Christian law in America, doesn't actually have many followers, Gerson points out. So fear-mongers must stretch the case for presidential Dominionism by pointing out that politicians can be linked to people who might have subversive ideas. "Critics of a public figure take a marginal association and turn it into a gnostic insight--an interpretive key that opens all doors. Barack Obama was once trained in a community organization that was associated with Saul Alinsky , whose organization was reportedly subject to communist influence," Gerson writes. Dominionism is the extreme version of what most liberals actually oppose, which is the imposition of any moral reasoning begotten of religion on American politics. "Such secularism shows a remarkable lack of self-consciousness... Pluralism is defined as the silencing of religious people. Thin charges of Dominionism are just another attempt to discredit opponents rather than answer them--in the same tradition as thin charges of Kenyan anti-colonialism. It is easier, after all, to allege a conspiracy than to engage an argument," he writes.