There were two pieces in the New York Times today on Gaza and the aftermath of the Israeli action there last month.  One is a story, In Shattered Gaza Town, Roots of Seething Split, that leaves the reader wondering if the wounds that Israel inflicted in this recent battle can ever be healed.  It is impossible not to wonder if Israel is in fact sewing the seeds of its own eventual destruction.  How can it not be? 

The second piece is a column by Thomas L. Friedman who’s obviously just visited the Middle East and gathered some first hand intelligence.  He paints a pretty hopeless picture of a path forward to Middle East peace.  He wonders if one man, designated special envoy George Mitchell, has a chance of tackling an assignment as daunting as the one he’s been handed by Secretary of State Clinton.  Here’s the closing paragraph of Friedman’s piece, entitled Don’t Try This At Home:  

Who in the world would want to try to repair this? I’d rather herd cats, or become John Thain’s image adviser, or have a colonoscopy, or become chairman of the “bad bank” that President Obama might create to hold all the toxic mortgages. Surely, any of those would be more fun. If Mitchell is still up for it, well, then God bless him.

It’s wonderful having opinions, especially if they’re not constrained by facts or reality.  It’s why I think it’s so important to have quality newspapers available to keep us informed through both stories, in theory just presenting us with factual information, and opinion pieces, which provide us with not only factual information but perspective.  While stories are important, it’s the opinion pieces where I really learn about the world.  It’s where I can begin to see the gray the exists between the black and the white.  The Washington Post’s Outlook section this Sunday was a wonderful case in point.  It provided with information that helped refine my picture of the world in a number or areas.  There was nary a piece that didn’t in some way change my opinion of the issue addressed.  I think I read Outlook cover to cover on Sunday.  I won’t link to all of the pieces today, but to a good number of them.  What did I learn?

I learned more about Israel’s dilemma in dealing with its neighbors where its decisions are often in the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” category.  The piece, Israel Must Stop Fanning the Flames That Will Consume Us, by David Grossman explained why the author thinks the recent, and perhaps just postponed, war in Gaza has been a mistake and is likely to have done more harm than good.  It is valuable information on the road to meaningful “opinion.”  I really can’t imagine forming an relevant opinion without having this kind of perspective. 

On the financial crisis, in Sebastian Mallaby’s What OPEC Teaches China, I received a perspective on the relationship between the crisis and Chinease economic policy.  It was important new information.  Likewise in David Ignatius’ Scary Financial Movie I learned additional things about the damage being done to the banking system, and the role of that in our financial crisis, by the toxic assets that are corroding the system.  I received a perspective that supported my evolving view of what the developing economic “stimulus” plan should look like in a Washington Post editorial entitled Priming the Pump.  I agreed with the Post editorial staff that there is much that is good and some that is not in the House stimulus bill.  Unfortunately there is much that simply isn’t “stimulus”.  And, that is not or at least should not be a partisan issue.  Republicans are right to object.

In Teacher on a World Stage by Jim Hoagland I was given the opportunity to think about how President Obama is going to be received by the world and, particularly, other world leaders.  Most of these leaders are enthusiastic now, but will he ask too much of them?  As Hoagland puts it in his concluding sentence: “There is no reason to think that the political earthquake Obama launched in the United States three years ago will stop at the water’s edge or has already run its course.” 

Concerning Guantanamo, Karen J. Greenberg in a piece entitled When Gitmo Was (Relatively) Good, informs us that at its infancy, the Guantanamo facility as run by the original military task force under Marine Brig. Gen. Michael Lehnert had the makings of utilitarian facility to house enemy combatants.  This was because Gen. Lehnert felt he had little choice but to meticulously follow “the Uniform Code of Military Justice, other U.S. laws and, above all, the Geneva Conventions.”  He also invited in and worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross to improve conditions.  All that changed under directives from Donald Rumsfeld and the rest is history.  President Obama has announced that the facility will soon close.  The column leaves us with the impression, however, that the Guantanamo story could have been different had the original rules been followed.  In such an event President Obama might not have had to announce its closure in the first week of his presidency.  It could have remained an viable option for America to house “the worst of the worst”, which now must still be dealt with in some other workable and acceptable way.

Finally, there was a piece by George McGovern entitled Don’t Lose Your Way in Afghanistan, Mr. President.  While I’ve rarely ever agreed with George McGovern and credit him, more than anyone else, for my decision to become a Republican in 1972, he offers a perspective on Afghanistan that is important.  A similar perspective is also communicated in the movie Charlie Wilson’s War or the book Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.  It is essentially a message that military might alone cannot win a war such as the war being waged in Afghanistan and the remote regions of Pakistan.  There must also be significant amounts of humanitarian assistance in the form of food and the building of educational facilities to come out on top.  While McGovern would argue for a complete end to military involvement, I would argue for both but with a much increased emphasis on the humanitarian side.  

Americans have a number of problems in staying adequately informed.  First, we don’t really care about much other than America-focused news and all too often that is of a superficial nature, overly-focused as it is on sports and entertainment.  Second, we don’t read newspapers, and the internet, while amazing, can’t substitute for a newspaper as a one-stop source of comprehensive and reliable information.  Third, the newspapers we do read in our small towns and even most of our large cities in America are pretty terrible when it comes to presenting important national news and opinion.  There are really only a handful of really good newspaper in the U.S. today and far too few Americans read any of them.  It is why I put such little stock in public opinion polls.  It is because the “opinion” that is reflected in these polls is so substantively deficient that it will rarely tell the country’s leadership what it should do or what the right thing to do is.  It will tell them what is “popular”.  It’s why at times I feel like throwing up my hands and screaming.  Yet I don’t and for now I persist in my Quixotic quest by writing this column.  What I am convinced of is that there is almost always a “right thing to do”.  Getting there is the challenge.  It takes abundant information and a good faith effort.  Our hope is that we seem to now have a president who seems genuinely inclined toward trying to achieve the right thing.  His challenge is in “leading” an America and indeed a Congress that doesn’t have enough information nor the desire to amass enough information to contribute to, let alone not sabotage, that effort.  We can only hope that Obama keeps aiming high and resists the temptations himself to do the politically expedient.            

Regrettably for all who must endure it, the war in Gaza continues.  When the war eventually ends, the debate will continue to rage, however, as to whether the action by Israel against Hamas actually advanced Israeli interests or push them back.  This is far from an easy answer and may indeed be a little of both.  There are several pieces in the Washington Post and New York Times today that help inform us on this issue.  In my continuing effort to stay personally informed and to recommend the best of the stories I’m reading to readers of this weblog, I am going to recommend three pieces.  The first is a story from today’s Washington Post entitled At Cairo Hospital, Injured Palestinians Increasingly Voice Support for Hamas

Tempering the first story somewhat are two Op-ed pieces in today’s New York Times.  The first piece is by Jeffrey Goldberg, a correspondent for The Atlantic, and is entitled Why Israel Can’t Make Peace With Hamas.  While I consider the piece to be unnecessarily long and at times confusing, it makes a basic point by describing the type of people that comprise Hamas and the essence of their battle against Israel.  While I wouldn’t blame you for skipping parts of the article, be sure to read the closing paragraphs.  In sum, Mr. Goldberg offers a most valuable perspective.

Another valuable perspective is presented by Thomas L. Friedman in his column today entitled Israel’s Goals In Gaza.  He compares Israel’s war in Lebanon in 2006 against Hezbollah to the current war in Gaza against Hamas.  While Israel did not “win” the war in Lebanon, there were great positives in having engaged in the battle.  Friedman suggests that similar positive results could emerge from this battle against Hamas though this is far from certain.  For us in America all we can really do is to continue to try to sift through the information with which we continue to be presented so as to make as much sense of this as we can with an eye to the role our country can hopefully play in fostering an eventual peace.    


News is emerging that suggests that a phone call from Prime Minister Olmert of Israel to President Bush was enough to scuttle Secretary of Rice’s plans to have the U.S. support a recent United Nations Security Council Resolution calling for a cessation of fighting in Gaza.  The United States ended up abstaining in that 14- 0 vote – the only vote other than yes.   While I’d read something elsewhere suggesting that President Bush had intervened, a story in today’s New York Times states that Prime Minister Olmert of Israel is taking credit for pulling Bush out of a speech in Philadelphia to take his call and hear the Israeli case against a “yes” vote.  It apparently worked.  While Secretary of State Rice is denying that the U.S. changed it’s vote, I suspect the story is true.  The story is entitled Olmert Says He Made Rice Change Vote.  It raises a question as to the extent of of Israeli control over U.S. foreign policy.  How can the U.S. be an honest broker in the Middle East when it apparently lets Israel all too often call the shots?  It’s an abhorrent situation that’s apparently developed.  May Obama be an agent of change here too.  I suggest he practice this line: No, Israel, no.  

I’ll try keep this relatively short as I didn’t find much of note in my reading of today’s Washington Post (WP) and New York Times (NYT).  I’ll reference five columns, two from the WP today, two from the WP yesterday and one from today’s NYT.  Two keep us informed on the two topics I’ve been following most closely of late, Gaza and the American economic stimulus package.  The other three begin my effort here to offer insights and perspectives into the American health care crisis and what we are all going to need to know to develop an informed opinion on the subject.  As we know, this will be a hot topic in the coming months.

On Gaza, take a look at Security First: The Path to Peace Starts with a Professional Palestinian Force by J.D. Crouch II, Montgomery Meigs and Walter B. Slocombe (WP).  They are co-authors of a study entitled “Security First: Priorities for U.S. Engagement in Israeli-Palestinian Peacemaking.”  It provides an additional useful perspective on the problem in Gaza and a potential path forward.

On the stimulus, Paul Krugman weighs in again with a piece entitled Ideas for Obama (NYT).  It’s useful but doesn’t resonate with me as have some of his previous columns on the subject.

As for health care, I offer three opinion pieces, all from the WP.  In yesterday’s WP there were two stories I found to be very interesting reading.  The first, by David Brown, a doctor and a health and science reporter for the WP, is entitled We All Want Longer, Healthier Lives.  But It’s Going to Cost Us.  The Second is by Craig Bowron, a practicing hospital-based internist, entitled The Drawn-Out Indignities of The American Way of Death.  The first gives us a useful overview, a primer in a sense, of the health care problem that faces America and most of the developing world.  How are we going to be able to afford it.  He closes the very informative piece with analogy to Thomas Malthus writings of two centuries ago suggesting then that the world was unlikely going to be able to continue to feed itself.  The commonality here, the author suggests, is that perhaps science or a “demographic transition” will change the equation that now seems as inevitable to us as concerns health care costs as the lack of food appeared to Malthus in 1798.

The second piece is a useful think-piece on death and dying.  I have thought a lot about this myself since experiencing my mother’s death 8 years ago.  Like families discussed in the piece, my family had to decide how aggressively to medically treat a loved one.  We decided that we would not aggressively treat a lung infection and to let my mother die sooner rather than later.  It was the most difficult decision I was ever a part of but I regard it as the only possible decision we could have made given that Parkinson’s disease had already robbed my mother of everything that had made her life worth living.  I also carried away from that experience a personal commitment that I will not die in an institutional setting with the sound of televisions sets from other rooms echoing into my room from a sterile linoleum hallway.  If I die conscious, I want to die looking out a big window at a lake with trees and birds.  I want to hear the sounds of nature and know that my death is but part of the eternal cycle of life in our universe.  I do not want to hear a successor to Oprah Winfrey (she is my same age and God willing we’ll both live to a ripe old age) talking about nothing important at all from a room next door.  The bottom line is that Mr. Bowron’s piece is a good one to get us thinking about how much we want to spend as a culture to extend our lives and to what end.

The third and final piece is by Robert J. Samuelson and is entitled Obama’s Health Care Headache.  He speculates that any solution to our present health care crisis will need somehow to make people share in the cost of medical care.  In other words, he suggests that we need mechanisms where the patient somehow shares in the cost of the health care so as to communicate in a personal way that health care is not free.   It brings to mind the statement I’ve seen quoted several times now.  I’m not sure of where it originated.  It’s to the effect that “if you think health care is expensive now, wait until it’s free.”  It’s true.