Five Best Monday Columns
Jonathan Cohn on rising Obamacare enrollment numbers, Heather Linebaugh on America's drones, E.J. Dionne on Obama's year, Leonid Bershidsky on Putin's silence, and Paul Krugman on fiscal fever.
Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic on rising Obamacare enrollment numbers. While 1.1 million people have signed up through the federal exchange, "it’s premature to say Obamacare is meeting expectations," Cohn writes. That number doesn't tell us a lot of things: "It doesn’t tell us whether these people getting private (or public) coverage had insurance previously — or, if they had insurance, how much they were paying for it. It doesn't tell us how many of these people have actually paid premiums, which is essential for coverage to take effect," Cohn argues. But "the goal has always been to make insurance more widely available ... while beginning the difficult work of reengineering medical care to make it more efficient. The new enrollment numbers should give us new reason to think it will," he concludes. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne tweets, "A typically fair & thoughtful take from @CitizenCohn on what those rising #Obamacare enrollment numbers mean."
Heather Linebaugh at The Guardian on America's drone program. "Few of these politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have a real clue of what actually goes on. I, on the other hand, have seen these awful sights first hand," Linebaugh, a former U.S. drone operator, writes. "What the public needs to understand is that the video provided by a drone is not usually clear enough to detect someone carrying a weapon, even on a crystal-clear day with limited cloud and perfect light. This makes it incredibly difficult for the best analysts to identify if someone has weapons for sure. ... I felt this confusion constantly, as did my fellow UAV analysts. We always wonder if we killed the right people, if we endangered the wrong people, if we destroyed an innocent civilian's life all because of a bad image or angle," she remembers. Al Jazeera America producer Azmat Khan asks, "If video from a drone 'is not usually clear enough to detect someone carrying a weapon,' how does it confirm targets?" Glenn Greenwald recommends the piece.
E.J. Dionne at The Washington Post on President Obama's year. One AP reporter asked Obama at a press conference last week if 2013 was his worst year. "I’d suggest that 2013 was not his worst year," Dionne writes. "That distinction should be reserved for 2011, when the president emerged from the summer looking weak after protracted negotiations with House Republicans over a debt-ceiling increase." In 2013, "the healthcare website fiasco threatened to engulf Obama’s signature achievement. And Obamacare will undergo new tests in the coming year. ... But the website’s troubles were fixable, and it’s remarkable that the repair has gone as quickly as it has. Next year, millions who were not insured will have purchased plans on the exchanges or received coverage through Medicaid expansion," Dionne argues. Daily Kos contributing editor Greg Dworkin tweets, "One doesn’t need to be a partisan to see the death of the Obama administration has been as exaggerated as the death of ACA."
Leonid Bershidsky at Bloomberg View on Putin's silence. "Hours after a bomb struck a bus in the city of Volgograd [Monday] morning, adding at least 14 deaths to the toll of 17 people killed in an attack the previous night, Russia's official alert level remained yellow, not red. President Vladimir Putin had yet to address the nation," Bershidsky explains. "The official response to the bombings was slow, ... appearing to treat them as mundane — which in a way they are. Volgograd has seen a number of terrorist attacks since the 1990's," he writes. And so "Putin may be hesitating to speak out because any alarmist statements from him might indeed cast doubt on the security of the Olympics at Sochi, which is much closer than Volgograd to the terrorist hotbeds of the North Caucasus."
Paul Krugman at The New York Times on fiscal fever. "The intransigence of the right wasn’t the only disease troubling America’s body politic in 2012. We were also suffering from fiscal fever: the insistence by virtually the entire political and media establishment that budget deficits were our most important and urgent economic problem, even though the federal government could borrow at incredibly low interest rates," Krugman argues. But the good news is that fiscal fever has broken. "Over the course of 2013 the intellectual case for debt panic collapsed," he writes. "While policy remains terrible, we’re finally starting to talk about real issues like inequality, not a fake fiscal crisis."