Five Best Tuesday Columns

Ezra Klein on the CLASS Act, Joe Nocera on Starbucks, and Jeffrey Goldberg on Iran.

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Ezra Klein on CLASS and the strengthened health care reform The fact that the CLASS Act made it into the health care reform bill surprised nearly everyone, writes Ezra Klein in The Washington Post. The program, which would provide home health care for disabled adults who voluntarily buy in, was Ted Kennedy's idea, but even the White House long realized "it frontloaded its savings and backloaded its costs." It made it into law because of a legislative mishap of sorts, and once there, Democrats didn't want to offend Kennedy by voting to remove it. On Friday, HHS announced they could not find a way to sustain the program, and so they cut it. Administration supporters say "it shows their commitment to fiscal responsibility," but others suggest it "just goes to show how much of the bill is likely to prove flawed in practice." Klein says the administration did the right thing, though it was "politically costly." The bill tries to do many things and was formed by many people, so "the future of our health-care system -- not to mention our budget -- depends on our ability to ruthlessly reform our reforms as we learn what works and what doesn't." Klein disagrees with those who think this belies greater problems with the law. The Congressional Budget Office had been right about CLASS's faults all along, and so we should be even more confident in the CBO's calculation that the health care law overall "saves some money in the first 10 years, and much more in the decades after that."

Joe Nocera on Starbucks' 'big idea' to create jobs Howard Schultz, the chairman and chief executive of Starbucks, last made news by proposing a boycott of political contributions until Democrats and Republicans began compromising with one another. It was appealing but "quixotic," writes Joe Nocera in The New York Times. Now he has another "big idea" just as "idealistic" but more "practical." By Nov. 1, "Starbucks is going to create a mechanism that will allow us citizens to do what the government and the banks won't: lend money to small businesses." Schultz wants Washington to focus on the "jobs emergency" with big ideas like an infrastructure bank and a tax credit for companies that hire. But doubting the government's likelihood to implement this, he started wondering whether microlending programs Starbucks has in countries where it buys its coffee could be replicated here. "He thought about the nearly 7,000 Starbucks stores in the United States, and its tens of millions of customers." The program works by finding financial institutions that will fund small businesses, then encouraging Starbucks customers (and customers at other companies that want to participate) to donate, appealing to their patriotism. Starbucks will funnel the money to Community Development Financial Institutions. "These are lenders, mostly under the radar, that specialize in underserved communities. Most, but not all, CDFIs are nonprofit, and their loan default rates are extremely low." Starbucks will kick things off by donating $5 million, and Nocera hopes Starbucks customers will join because the time has come for Americans to "help themselves."

Douglas Schoen on the folly of allying with Occupy Wall Street "President Obama and the Democratic leadership are making a critical error in embracing the Occupy Wall Street movement -- and it may cost them the 2012 election," writes Douglas Schoen, a former pollster for Bill Clinton, in The Wall Street Journal. Democrats have spoken in support of the protesters as vocalizing the frustrations of millions of Americans. "Yet the Occupy Wall Street movement reflects values that are dangerously out of touch with the broad mass of the American people." A senior researcher at Schoen's firm interviewed a random sample of protesters at Zuccotti Park. Her research found that the protesters are an "unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence." Only about 15 percent of the protesters are actually unemployed. Most of them supported Barack Obama in 2008, but now only 48 percent say they will vote for him in 2012. "Sixty-five percent say that government has a moral responsibility to guarantee all citizens access to affordable health care, a college education, and a secure retirement -- no matter the cost." Schoen thus defines them as "engaged progressives who are disillusioned with the capitalist system and have a distinct activist orientation." He remembers when Democrats allied themselves with anti-war protesters in 1970 and it hurt them in elections. "Put simply, Democrats need to say they are with voters in the middle who want cooperation, conciliation and lower taxes."

Jeffrey Goldberg on Iran's naval threat In February, a U.S. Navy surveillance plane had a near collision with an Iranian aircraft. In April, a British warship was challenged by an Iranian speedboat, and had to fire warning shots. Encounters like these are on the rise because of the Revolutionary Guard's Navy. "Yes, the Revolutionary Guards have their own navy -- a bigger one, in fact, than Iran's traditional navy," writes Atlantic correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg in Bloomberg, and they are getting "aggressive in the Gulf," he writes. Goldberg says he's more ambivalent about the allegation of an Iranian terror attack on U.S. soil, except that it reveals the possibility that it was "entirely self-initiated by a small band of radicals eager to bring about a confrontation with the U.S." That should remind us that the navy fleet "could very well spark a war with the West without an express order from Tehran." The Navy has so many small speedboats precisely because of their "speed and challenges inherent in tracking such vessels via radar as the key elements that allow his vessels to reach their intended target and employ either missiles or torpedoes in large numbers." Thus, Goldberg says, could an Iranian-U.S. war begin, not with an escalation of the nuclear threat, but with a bomb-laden speedboat and an over-eager Navy.

Michael Gerson on Obama's African intervention Republican presidential candidates quickly denounced Obama's decision to deploy 100 U.S. military advisers to pursue Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army in central Africa last week. Both Michele Bachmann and Rush Limbaugh at once criticized it and admitted they needed to know more about the LRA. Had they done their research, they would have found that "the LRA is a brutal rebel group headed by a messianic madman. Its victims -- captured boys turned into soldiers, captured girls forced into sexual slavery, villagers put to the machete -- have been the focus of activism by Christian organizations and human rights groups for decades," writes Michael Gerson in The Washington Post. The leader, Kony, operates in an "ungoverned border region" so we hear of the atrocities through rumors, not emotion-stirring photos. "When I was there in 2006, I talked to a boy forced by LRA rebels to execute his neighbors in order to break his ties with the past and to deaden his sympathy." Obama is sending advisers only to "help coordinate the efforts of regional governments... this is not an American humanitarian intervention. It is American aid for an African humanitarian intervention." There are challenges, but because the LRA is led by one, single charismatic leader, they are vulnerable to dissolution upon that leader's death. "If a humanitarian military operation is ever justified, it is justified in this case. The risk to American troops is small, the goal is realistic and the moral stakes are high," Gerson says.

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