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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: February 2013

In the current issue of Time, Steven Brill — founder of Court TV and The American Lawyer — has a report that is over thirty pages long, running 24,000 words, on the state of our nation’s health care. It is the kind of investigative report that good journalists used to do, and has been absent far too long from American journalism. If it wins the Pulitzer Prize, Brill and the magazine’s editors will have rightfully earned it. It proves that in some regard, the mainstream media is not dead yet.

The report is not an ideological screed in which the author writes to either support or oppose Obamacare. Rather, Brill travels throughout the nation simply to explore why health care costs so much. He goes to hospitals and doctors’ offices, and he visits individuals whose lives have been ruined by the cost of the care they had to have. He argues that America does not have a health care system based on the free market, in which individuals have a choice about which product to purchase and what vendor to go to. Instead, he argues that health care is a seller’s market — often a monopoly — in which the prices of products they sell have no relationship to the actual cost.

Here are some examples from Brill’s article: Acetaminophen — Tylenol being the most well-known brand — is marked up 10,000% when a hospital patient gets a pill. Niacin costs five cents per pill at a drugstore; hospitals charge $24.00. And with Medicare, the taxpayer picks up the entire tab, medication being just one part of a giant bill.

I am not a policy wonk, and I hope that Yuval Levin or James Capretta, the two best conservative analysts who write for National Affairs and other publications, will address some of the issues Brill raises. Conservative critics will undoubtedly differ with some of Brill’s suggested remedies and agree with others, but his solid report and the facts he presents are inarguable. Our health care costs exceed that of all the other advanced nations, and they are far out of line with the actual costs of the product that is dispensed.

The main find that Brill presents is something few of us have previously been aware of: a list referred to by those in the know as “the chargemaster.” This is the private internal price list for products and services that every hospital administrator has in his or her office.

If you have private insurance or Medicare, what you pay will come far from the price listed on this secret internal list. If you do not have insurance, or have a bad policy, the hospital will try its best to make you pay close to the price on their list, regardless of whether or not it is based on reality.

I urge everyone to read Brill’s entire piece. There is no way an article of this depth or length can be summarized. As he goes through his research, there are moments in the article in which he shockingly — for liberals — praises the approach taken by  Republicans and conservatives. On the issue of malpractice suits and the need for reform, he asks: why are so many CT scans given to patients when evidence indicates they are not needed? Why did one patient receive a nuclear-imaging test rather than a less-expensive stress test? The answer is the “defense” strategy — the need to avoid malpractice suits. The hospital can say they administered every possible test and are not responsible if a patient dies. Brill writes:

The most practical malpractice-reform proposals would not limit awards for victims but would allow doctors to use what’s called a safe-harbor defense. Under safe harbor, a defendant doctor or hospital could argue that the care provided was within the bounds of what peers have established as reasonable under the circumstances. The typical plaintiff argument that doing something more, like a nuclear-imaging test, might have saved the patient would then be less likely to prevail.

When Obamacare was being debated, Republicans pushed this kind of commonsense malpractice-tort reform. But the stranglehold that plaintiffs’ lawyers have traditionally had on Democrats prevailed, and neither a safe-harbor provision nor any other malpractice reform was included.

Later, Brill writes:

Finally, we should embarrass Democrats into stopping their fight against medical-malpractice reform and instead provide safe-harbor defenses for doctors so they don’t have to order a CT scan whenever, as one hospital administrator put it, someone in the emergency room says the word head. Trial lawyers who make their bread and butter from civil suits have been the Democrats’ biggest financial backer for decades. Republicans are right when they argue that tort reform is overdue. Eliminating the rationale or excuse for all the extra doctor exams, lab tests and use of CT scans and MRIs could cut tens of billions of dollars a year while drastically cutting what hospitals and doctors spend on malpractice insurance and pass along to patients.

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At the David Horowitz Freedom Center West Coast Retreat, I conducted a three-part interview with Scott. We discussed Oliver Stone’s miniseries, my updates to my 1983 The Rosenberg File, and my latest book on Truman. Powerline is featuring the videos here and here with some commentary by Scott — the videos alone are below:

 

In the ever growing literature about Soviet spies who infiltrated the White House during the lofty Popular Front years of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, the most fascinating — and perhaps unexpected — was Harry Dexter White.

He was an official of the Treasury Department who later became the architect of the post-war Bretton Woods system, a new global monetary system that would become the basis of the international capitalist marketplace in a new era. Now, in a new book, Benn Steil — a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations — deals with White’s activities as a Soviet spy.

Steil has also published an excerpt as a major article in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, available for purchase on the magazine’s website, titled “Why a Founding Father of Postwar Capitalism Spied for the Soviets.” Steil’s article is of importance for two reasons.

First: it brings to the mainstream what many of us have known for years — that the New Deal administration was heavily penetrated by Soviet spies, many of them American citizens who were working for Stalin’s intelligence agencies. Indeed, this is the focus of another new book, M. Stanton Evans and Hebert Romerstein’s Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government, which fills in the broader picture. The most well-known, of course, is Alger Hiss. But he was merely the tip of the iceberg.

Second: since others found evidence in the Venona papers and Alexander Vassiliev’s KGB papers of White’s espionage, the former Treasury undersecretary’s reputation was defended by many writers who saw that charge as mere anti-Communist slander. Stephen Schlesinger, for example, writes: “Among historians, the verdict about White is still unresolved, but many incline toward the view that he wanted to help the Russians but did not regard the actions he took as constituting espionage.” In a letter to the New York Times, White’s daughter argues: “The content and provenance of all these documents have been studied in depth by serious scholars and have been found to raise as many questions as they answer. However they are interpreted, it can by no means be said that they establish my father’s guilt.” She adds: “It should also be remembered that White himself vigorously and eloquently denied the accusations against him.”

Also, James J. Broughton authored an entire article devoted to exonerating White.

With the publication of Steil’s book and article, we know that White, whom Steil points out had “by 1944 achieved implausibly broad influence over U.S. foreign and economic policy,” sought to implement what Steil calls “a far more radical reordering of U.S. foreign policy, centered on the establishment of a close permanent alliance with … the Soviet Union.” In this regard, he was on the same wavelength as his friend Henry A. Wallace, who had said he would appoint White to the Cabinet if he was to become president.

To accomplish this aim, White did more than Wallace. He took the next step, and from the 1930s on “acted as a Soviet mole, giving the Soviets secret information and advice on how to negotiate with the Roosevelt administration and advocating for them during internal policy debates.” Steil goes so far as to argue that White “was arguably more important to Soviet intelligence than Alger Hiss.”

What is most fascinating, and why commentators and historians could never accept that White was working for the Soviets, is he was known as a mainstream Keynesian, and most hardly suspected that he was the type who would be working clandestinely for Joe Stalin. Steil has found what he sees as a smoking gun: “An unpublished handwritten essay on yellow-lined notepaper” among White’s scribblings in the White archives, one that other scholars missed. As Steil describes the essay, it foresaw “a postwar world in which the Soviet socialist model … would be ascendant.”

White wrote: “In every case the change will be in the direction of increased [government] control over industry, and increased restrictions on the operations of competition and free enterprise.” White also was not too concerned about the Soviet Union’s repressive system, believing that “the trend in Russia seems to be toward greater freedom of religion,” which he said was guaranteed by the Soviet Constitution. He also thought that its foreign policy was “not actively supporting [revolutionary] movements in other countries.”

Actually, this belief system was not much different from that of other advocates of the Popular Front with the Communists, including many who never would have gone to work for Soviet intelligence. It was, in fact, the attitude taken by scores of fellow travelers and apologists for the Soviets, as well as realists like Walter Lippmann, the major columnist of his time.

So the document, while interesting for shedding light on White’s views, is not as significant as Neil seems to think it is. Like Henry Wallace, White too favored a U.S.-Soviet common front and worried it would be opposed by warmongers, or by any groups “fearful that any alliance with a socialist country cannot but strengthen socialism and thereby weaken capitalism.”

But as Steil points out, White’s notes for an article that was never published does make it quite clear that he saw himself as an advocate of the Soviet system. He quotes him as writing: “Russia is the first instance of a socialist economy in action. And it works!”

As Steil himself notes, however, that view was “not out of keeping with the tenor of the times.” Adherents  firmly believed that radical upheaval was inevitable, and that the future was something closer to Soviet socialism than American capitalism. It was, to put it another way, the progressive mindset of most left-liberal intellectuals of that era. But few of that point of view took the step that White did, what Steil calls “the sort of dangerous double life” of a secret agent.

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Kudos to Marty Peretz, who in 1974 bought The New Republic and became its editor-in-chief, where he stayed until he sold the magazine in 2012. He has taken a brave step: he has gone public in the Wall Street Journal to write, having read the cover story in the current issue by Sam Tanenhaus, that: “I still don’t recognize the magazine that I sold in 2012 to the Facebook zillionaire Chris Hughes.”

Peretz continues:

“Original Sin,” by Sam Tanenhaus, purported to explain “Why the GOP is and will continue to be the party of white people.” The provocative theme would not have been unthinkable in the magazine’s 99-year history, but the essay’s reliance on insinuations of GOP racism (“the inimical ‘they’ were being targeted by a spurious campaign to pass voter-identification laws, a throwback to Jim Crow”) and gross oversimplifications hardly reflected the intellectual traditions of a journal of ideas. What made the “Original Sin” issue unrecognizable to this former owner is that it established as fact what had only been suggested by the magazine in the early days of its new administration: The New Republic has abandoned its liberal but heterodox tradition and embraced a leftist outlook as predictable as that of Mother Jones or the Nation.

Peretz is more than correct; the magazine has further become an adjunct of the Obama administration, shilling for it and the most leftist Democrats. Its current stance brings to the fore the blatant lie by its new Editor-in-Chief Hughes, who has publicly said that the magazine will be non-partisan and balanced.

This was not what made the journal a must-read in the ’70s and ’80s. Indeed, as I argued a few months ago:

Before long, TNR took positions that furiously antagonized its liberal base. In the ’80s, during the Central American wars in which the Reagan administration took on the fight against the Communist revolutionaries in El Salvador and Nicaragua, TNR stood with those opposed to the Sandinistas and the FSLN. Indeed, at a critical moment, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Marty Peretz, openly sided with Nicaragua’s contras, the very armed resistance to the Sandinistas that the liberal community had painted as a bunch of fascist goons. That editorial position enraged many of its editors, who signed a letter to the editor protesting the magazine’s editorial. Before long, whenever TNR took a position opposite to that taken by most self-proclaimed liberals, a new saying emerged in Washington D.C. circles, “even the liberal New Republic says … ”.

I predicted that since Hughes said it would be a magazine of “progressive values,” the journal of opinion would quickly veer to the left and would abandon the stance that once made it essential reading, abandon what gave it a cutting edge. I asked:

Does anyone really think that Hughes will let his new magazine be anything but a vehicle for a second Obama administration?

Some were skeptical of my prediction, arguing that I had not given the new TNR a chance. Sadly, I have been proven correct, and finally Marty Peretz himself now feels the need to make this clear.

I went on to argue that we did not need a magazine slightly to the right of The Nation, and for the intellectual group, as we already had the left-wing slant of The New Yorker. At the time, I hoped I was wrong, but noting that I was essentially a pessimist, “I only expect the worst.”

Peretz accurately summed up what TNR represented when he ran it:

We were for the Contras in Nicaragua; wary of affirmative action; for military intervention in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur; alarmed about the decline of the family. The New Republic was also an early proponent of gay rights. We were neoliberals. We were also Zionists, and it was our defense of the Jewish state that put us outside the comfort zone of modern progressive politics.

The only position Peretz mentions that the journal still adheres to is gay rights, since that too has become a main cause of the left, one that is not surprising to those who make identity politics their major and sometimes only concern.

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It is the particular premise of the new FX cable TV series The Americans that the Soviets had ready to go when called lots of sleeper cells of KGB agents living in the United States. Taking place in the years of the Reagan administration, the show depicts the exploits of a husband and wife who seem, at first introduction, a typical young, middle-class suburban couple living in the Washington, D.C., area, with a 13-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son, to whom they are loving parents.

The couple, Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings, are played by Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys. Viewers quickly learn that their coupling was a KGB-arranged marriage. Brought together in the Soviet Union by KGB bosses, they are trained in the ways of America, taught perfect English, and then smuggled into the U.S., where the KGB buys them a nice home and establishes a travel agency for them to run as a perfect front. As part of the deal, they are expected, as most Americans are, to have children and raise a family.

Their days are spent running their business and taking their kids to school, while their evenings (and sometimes their days) are spent in such endeavors as kidnapping a KGB defector who has become too prominent on the lecture circuit, and preparing upon orders to spy upon the home of Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, where a top level meeting is to take place at which they hope major American secrets will be revealed. To do this job, the couple has to force Weinberger’s African-American maid to place a bug on a clock in Weinberger’s study, which they accomplish by poisoning her son with a toxic agent for which only they have an antidote.

Ironically, viewers learn that their next-door neighbor is an FBI agent named Stan, played by Noah Emmerich, who is suspicious of everyone, and naturally wonders whether everything is as it seems with his neighborly friends. The Jennings do not know whether he moved there because the Bureau suspects them. To boot, Stan’s area is counter-intelligence and searching for secret Soviet agents operating in the United States.

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NBC investigative reporter Michael Isikoff got another major scoop last night. He posted online a secret Justice Department memo summarizing legal opinion given the White House for carrying out drone strikes against U.S. citizens abroad, leading to their immediate death without arrest, interrogation, or concerns for their constitutional rights. The 16-page memo, which you can read yourself in its entirety, says that a drone attack can take place if any “informed, high-level official” determines that a targeted individual “poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States,” if capture is not feasible, and when the operation can take place “in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.”

I have no objection to the use of drones if necessary, but one must consider the following problems concerning their use. There is always going to be major “collateral” damage, as when the al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki was killed — the drone also caused the death of another American who was a propagandist for al-Qaeda. In another strike, Awlaki’s 16-year-old son was killed. When asked about that at a press conference, then-White House press secretary Robert Gibbs answered: “He should have had a more responsible father.” Both were U.S. citizens abroad. Even the old Russian anarchists, ready to kill members of the czar’s entourage with a roadside bomb, stopped in their tracks when they saw that the monarch’s carriage carried not only the ruler, but his young nephews.

As viewers of Homeland know, drone strikes kill many innocent civilians as well as the guilty targets, even when the subjects are not U.S. citizens. The three major terms of use, however, are rather vague and leave many other issues raised, but not answered. As Isikoff writes, the attacks can be ordered “even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.” Isikoff writes:

The secrecy surrounding such strikes is fast emerging as a central issue in this week’s hearing of White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, a key architect of the drone campaign, to be CIA director. Brennan was the first administration official to publicly acknowledge drone strikes in a speech last year, calling them “consistent with the inherent right of self-defense.” In a separate talk at the Northwestern University Law School in March, Attorney General Eric Holder specifically endorsed the constitutionality of targeted killings of Americans, saying they could be justified if government officials determine the target poses “an imminent threat of violent attack.”

The legal brief, he explains, introduces a more expansive definition of self-defense or imminent attack than described by Brennan or Holder in their public speeches. It refers, for example, to what it calls a “broader concept of imminence” than actual intelligence about any ongoing plot against the U.S. homeland. The memo states:

The condition that an operational leader present an “imminent” threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.

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If you came of age in the rock and roll years of the 1960s and were into music you knew of Danny Kalb and the band he created The Blues Project. Often referred to as New York City’s “Jewish Beatles,” the group was at first managed by Sid Bernstein, the same man who ran the Fab Four’s New York City tours. You might have heard them at the Paramount Theater in Times Square, where a new group, Eric Clapton and Cream, opened for them. Or you might have heard them play at Palisades Park Amusement Park, at one of Murray the K’s (the most well-known NYC DJ) weekend programs at the park. Most likely, however, you went to hear them at the Café Au Go Go in Greenwich Village, the place for folk, rock and blues.

Now, after years of living in the shadows, Kalb has come out with a masterful two-disc of his most recent work, and is starting to receive major reviews. The latest for his new album Moving in Blue appears in The Morton Report, a major pop-culture review, and is written by its music critic, Bill Bentley. Calling Kalb “one of that decade’s musical linchpins,” Bentley writes that,

“his playing crossed blues with folk, rock, country and even jazz over the course of their albums, and before that he was one of the young white bluesmen who found nirvana in the music of Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin’ Hopkins and other originators, and honored their creation with dedication and deep spirit.”

“The Blues Project,” he says, “spread waves far and wide.” In the new album, Kalb sets out to let you hear all the various musical directions he has absorbed into one unique style. You will hear songs by Muddy Waters, Tim Hardin, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, a few of his own compositions, and some glorious blues licks and the kind of incredible, finger-picking magic on the guitar of which only he is capable. Kalb finds, as Bentley writes, an “inner beauty in everything he touches.” His home, he concludes, “is a musical rainbow inside us all.”

Another additional treat is the insightful and beautifully written liner notes by historian and musicologist Sean Wilentz — yes, that same Wilentz who is a historian at Princeton University, most well-known for his books on American history, as well as his meditation on our greatest singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan in America. Kalb, whom he says “looks like a Jewish lumberjack Buddha,” is “more like Mandrake” once he starts playing. He says that Kalb stomps with “soulful joy through one genre after another.” He plays such tunes as Son House’s “Death Letter Blues,” the Muddy Waters classic “I Got My Mojo Working,” Leadbelly’s “Leaving Blues,” John Lee Hooker’s “Louise,” and Big Joe Williams “Baby Please Don’t Go.” Many will agree with Wilentz that his version of the traditional “Death Comes Creeping,” sung by many from Dylan to Mance Lipscomb, is done alone on acoustic guitar “more movingly” than interpretations by other past singers.

Accompanying Kalb on the album: his brother Jonathan (himself a fine blues musician) on slide guitar and harmonica, his drummer from The Blues Project Roy Blumenfeld, bass player Jesse Williams and Lenny Nelson, and Sojourn Records co-founder, the label of Kalb’s CD, drummer Mark Ambrosino. There is, as listeners will find, some incredible keyboard and organ work by someone whose name does not appear, but who aficionados will think sounds suspiciously like the famous Blues Project keyboard man, founder of “Blood, Sweat and Tears,” and sideman for most of Dylan’s earlier hits, Al Kooper. The absence of any credit for whomever is playing those awesome keyboards on the CD is rather, I must say, inexplicable. The man deserves credit!

So, go take a break from the TV, stop fretting over the world situation, and enjoy some heartfelt powerful music. Bring some joy into your life. You deserve it, and Danny Kalb deserves to be heard and listened to.

Edward I. Koch 1924-2013: Some Remembrances

February 1st, 2013 - 12:52 pm

I was proud to consider myself a friend of Ed Koch. Despite obvious disagreements, Koch remained supportive of my work, and very often I would get a brief email indicating how he appreciated what I had written about the need to support Israel and to criticize its opponents. I heard from him regularly, the last time on January 2 when he wrote to compliment me for a recent PJ Media column criticizing the nomination of Chuck Hagel and another on the anti-Israel positions of Tom Friedman: “Your commentaries on Hagel and Friedman were superb.” I have no doubt that were he still with us he would have been a lone Democrat who would have commented negatively on Hagel’s testimony yesterday.

Last year when I was openly critical of him for supporting Obama’s re-election, he responded simply that he saw things differently than I did, and he particularly disagreed with my assessment that Democrats were not defending Israel as boldly as Republicans were. Koch argued that he was sure I would not like it if he had insinuated I was against Israel’s interest because I wasn’t a Democrat, and that he thought it important that support of Israel come from both sides of the aisle.

I never felt comfortably calling him Ed, and would address him as “Mr. Mayor” or “Mayor Koch.” I last talked with him personally during the presidency of George W. Bush, when he attended a speech by the president at a fundraising dinner for a Jewish organization in Washington, D.C. Koch walked up to me, addressing me, as he often did when I saw him, as “the bravest man in America.” His judgment, which he often repeated, was not sarcastic, although hardly deserved. I think he admired me because when I spent time with him in 1987 — which I will soon turn to –  he appreciated my outspoken willingness to say what I thought about leftist demagogues when others were either silent or deferential in their presence. Koch, as we all know, always said what he thought, and more than often caught hell for doing so.

The last time I heard him speak publicly was during the counter-session (which Roger L. Simon also attended) at the United Nations to oppose growing anti-Israeli sentiment at the international body. It was there that Koch announced he had rescinded his critical editorial written a few days earlier in the New York Daily News on Barack Obama’s views towards the Jewish state. He had met with the president one day before, he told us, and Obama had assured him that he was a firm supporter of Israel. Koch believed, as he himself acknowledged a short while ago, that he always thought Obama would betray Israel, although as he put it, he didn’t think it would happen so quickly.

Back then, however, he seemed to really think his op-ed had convinced the president to change course, and he desperately wanted to believe that Obama was most sincere at his private meeting.

For those interested in a critical overview of Koch’s role as mayor of New York, so far the best assessments are by Benjamin Smith writing today on the website of the New York Sun and one by John Podhoretz today in Contentions. Also worthwhile is Matthew Cooper’s assessment of Koch’s new liberalism in the National Journal. You can, of course, all read the overview in the lengthy obituary in today’s New York Times.

What I want to mention, however, is an event that Koch sponsored while mayor that everyone seems to have forgotten about, although at the time the mayor was vigorously attacked for it. In 1987, at the time of escalating warfare in Central America, a growing revolutionary threat in El Salvador, and a civil war in Nicaragua between the Sandinistas and the contras (the armed opposition to the Sandinistas by peasants and business opponents of the country’s revolutionary junta), Ed Koch decided to see if he could contribute to the peace process introduced by Costa Rica’s President Oscar Arias by putting together a New York City mission to Central America.

So far, I have not seen it mentioned in any of the discussions of Koch’s mayoralty, and to a certain extent, it certainly was a footnote. But the very idea grated the New York liberals.

I recall editorials chastising the mayor for even implying that the city had its own foreign policy, and calling for him to disband the mission and to cancel his scheduled trip. Koch replied that he only was trying to work with President Arias and trying to see if he could in any way contribute to his effort. What really galled Koch, however, was his memory that years earlier he had welcomed Sandinista commandante Daniel Ortega (now president of Nicaragua) to New York City and, in a public ceremony at City Hall, given him the keys to the city. As a congressman, he had been a fierce opponent of the Somoza dictatorship and hence had welcomed its overthrow by the young revolutionaries, a decision he had come to deeply regret.

He, like other well-meaning liberals, had been conned by Ortega’s sweet talk, only to find he was a low-rent version of Fidel Castro.

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