Votes & Smokes, Folks

Glendale, Calif.

When I opened my Nation and saw the “Steal Back Your Vote” comic [Oct. 27], I blurted out, “Fucking excellent!” And for me, unlike Sarah “God Bless Exxon” Palin, that includes a “g.” I also found it amusing that there was an advertising insert for an addictive drug (tobacco). As a downhill skate racer I’m used to marketing of all kinds everywhere, including on our boards and clothes. My new leathers are unusual in that they say


Obama on Healthcare

Hollandale, Minn.

The wonderfully informative Trudy Lieberman left out one piece of information in “Can Obama Reform Healthcare?” [Oct. 27]. Will Obama keep his promise to cut off the Medicare overpayments used to finance the Medicare Advantage plans, or does he consider them “a whole system of institutions” that can’t be disturbed?


Lieberman Replies

New York City

Milliron is right. In the interest of brevity, I did not address the issue of extra payments to Medicare Advantage plans, which allow seniors to get their hospital, doctor and drug benefits in one plan. Nor did I address a particular type of Medicare Advantage plan called the private-fee-for-service plan, which lures seniors in with goodies such as eye exams and gym memberships. When seniors get sick, they find that the fine print often says they have to pay 20 percent for chemotherapy drugs or 30 percent for oxygen. Congress authorized these plans when it passed the prescription drug benefit legislation in 2003 as a way to hasten the privatization of Medicare, arguing that they would be more efficient and save the government money.

Instead they have cost the government money. The Commonwealth Fund, a New York City research and philanthropic organization, recently released two reports. One shows that, on average, the government is paying Medicare Advantage plans 12.4 percent more than it costs to provide the same coverage to people under the traditional Medicare program. The total of overpayments this year comes to $8.5 billion. The government is overpaying private-fee-for-service plans, which are used by some 2 million beneficiaries, 16.6 percent. These extra payments come to almost $2.5 billion for the year.

That’s a lot to be paying for gym memberships and eye exams, a point Barack Obama made in the third debate when he said, “It doesn’t help seniors get any better. It’s not improving our healthcare system. It’s just a giveaway.” Congress cut some of the fat out of the extra payments this summer. They will be about 15 percent less at the beginning of 2010.

Milliron’s question is the right one to ask. Will President Obama take a hard stand against the insurers who sell Medicare Advantage plans and who understandably want to continue getting the extra government handouts, or will he be a strong leader on this issue, working with Congress to make sure that insurance companies are paid no more than it costs the government to provide the same coverage directly to seniors? Expect a big fight on this one.


Atheist-Based Initiative?

Woodcliff Lake, N.J.

Thank you so much for Ronald Aronson’s “All Ye Unfaithful” [Oct. 27]. I’ve often felt uncomfortable about candidates having to “sell” themselves by proclaiming that they are churchgoing Christians. I am a spiritual person who is active with social- and political-justice issues, but I don’t consider myself religious, and I have no desire to be part of a congregation.

In February 2007 I went with a faith-based group (which included people I knew from the nonprofit arena) to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and spent a week helping to build a house for a family displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Every morning before we started work, a minister in the group said a short prayer about our being there to do God’s work. Since I couldn’t relate to this, I asked him during lunch one day how he explained a person like me, who was there to build a house because I thought it was the right thing to do. He said that God was working through me, I just didn’t know it. I was amazed at the complete certainty of this lovely man and the total dismissal of any other possible explanation.


Hamden, Conn.

Sympathetic as I am to the views of Ronald Aronson, it needs to be pointed out that there is probably no one “with no faith at all.” This is a non sequitur based on the peculiar Judeo-Christian notion that faith and belief mean having a concept of God. I am a 95-year-old naturalist who has traveled the world and learned to appreciate its landscapes, along with their wonderful tapestry of living species. This involved visiting all the continents and both polar regions. Consequently, I have a strong sense of cosmic piety, which philosophers consider the basis of all world religions. By accident of birth I was a devout Catholic. But I outgrew those parochial views. The church failed to impart the sense of stewardship we need to share and enjoy this beautiful blue planet. We overpopulated it, made excessive demands on its productivity and generated the negative feedback we call global warming. Canadian religious writer Charles Taylor accuses people like me of “the presumption of unbelief,” but I think it more humble to believe that we humans are so new to the planet, so immature, that we are simply not ready to ask the question of God. Let’s tend the garden first.


No More Spinach! (Those Days Are Over)

Bethesda, Md.

Re Cockburn’s “The Election Is Over” [“Beat the Devil,” Oct. 27]: I sit down and read you the moment I take you from the postbox–I love The Nation. But please–we’ve eaten our broccoli and peas (eight years of the Bush administration). Let us enjoy our dessert (Obama’s win) without telling us it’s time to go to bed!


The Buck Stopped Here

Las Vegas

If Gore Vidal enjoys tilting (at) history, that doesn’t mean George Scialabba should do the same in reviewing his essays [“Civic Virtues,” Oct. 27]. To question Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s attitudes is all well and good, but to write that “Vidal’s bête noire (and not surprisingly, Schlesinger’s hero) was Harry Truman” surely will surprise all who have called Schlesinger the court historian to the Kennedys. It will especially surprise historians who have read The Age of Jackson and his three-volume The Age of Roosevelt, books in which he views Jackson and Franklin Roosevelt as iconic figures. To suggest under those circumstances that Truman was Schlesinger’s hero is the sort of argument Vidal no doubt would have fun demolishing.


Scialabba Replies

Cambridge, Mass.

Michael Green has a point. Schlesinger adulated the Kennedys, revered Jackson and FDR, and merely admired Truman. By all means, let us discriminate.


Crown Prince of Jordan

Placitas, N.M.

As someone who first visited Jordan in 1958, spent more than four years there in the 1980s as a USAID foreign service officer, returned for nearly two more years in 1999–about the time King Hussein passed away–and knew the King and his Hashemite family well, I’d like to point out to letter writer Jennifer Copelin and reviewer Bernard Avishai that Crown Prince Hassan, whom both refer to as King Hussein’s “son,” was, in fact, his younger brother [“Letters,” Oct. 20]. Hussein appointed Hassan as Crown Prince when the King’s children were quite young; it was thought strategic to have an adult succeed to the throne in the case of the King’s death by assassination (a real possibility in those times). When Abdullah succeeded in 1999, by virtue of his father’s change of the order of succession to his children, he was a grown man.


Scholarly Letters Only, Please

Idaho Falls, Idaho

Sometime back in the ’80s, I wrote my first letter to The Nation, protesting the magazine’s new policy of opening its Letters column to anyone who wrote in. Up to that time, only letters from people directly involved in the event or issue covered in an article or who had special knowledge or experience of the matters covered were published. Then the author of the article was given space to reply. I can’t count the number of times I have been outraged or impressed by an article, changed my mind after reading the Letters column and, often, changed my mind again on reading the author’s reply. This made The Nation different from all the other newsmagazines, I said, because it “took the pulse of its readership in the Letters column.” I urged the editors to return to the old policy. The Nation published my letter and shortly afterward did return to the old policy.

I see it’s time for me to write the same letter again. I have no objection to reading an occasional letter from a subscriber who is especially witty or informative, but on the whole I prefer the more scholarly approach. A debate in writing between people intimately involved and the author of an article is far more informative and useful than a column full of letters that vent or wisecrack or accuse. Please return to the old Letters policy!


Clarification, Emendation, Correction

Because of a misunderstanding with Doubleday, photographer Jane Bown was not credited for the portrait of Gore Vidal accompanying the review of his Selected Essays (Oct. 27).

The first epigraph above Jonathan Schell’s “When the Gloves Come Off” (Nov. 3) is credited to Peter Viereck (“Reality is that which, when you don’t believe in it, doesn’t go away”). Viereck was, consciously or unconsciously, paraphrasing Philip K. Dick (“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away”).

In last week’s lead editorial, “Why We Vote,” Hamilton County should have been located in Ohio, not Florida.