Opinion | The Coronavirus and America’s Humiliation – By David Brooks – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

“We Americans enter the July 4 weekend of 2020 humiliated as almost never before. We had one collective project this year and that was to crush Covid-19, and we failed.

On Wednesday, we had about 50,000 new positive tests, a record. Other nations are beating the disease while our infection lines shoot upward as sharply as they did in March.

This failure will lead to other failures. A third of Americans show signs of clinical anxiety or depression, according to the Census Bureau. Suspected drug overdose deaths surged by 42 percent in May. Small businesses, colleges and community hubs will close.

At least Americans are not in denial about the nation’s turmoil of the last three months. According to a Pew survey, 71 percent of Americans are angry about the state of the country right now and 66 percent are fearful. Only 17 percent are proud.

Americans are reacting in two positive ways. We’re seeing incredible shifts in attitudes toward race. Roughly 60 percent of Americans now believe that African-Americans face a great deal or a lot of discrimination. People have been waiting for a white backlash since the riots, or since the statues started toppling. There isn’t much if any evidence of a backlash. There’s evidence of a fore-lash.

Second, Americans have decided to get rid of Donald Trump. His mishandling of Covid-19 hurt him among seniors. His racist catcalls in a time of racial reckoning have damaged him among all groups.

I’ll be delighted when Trump goes, but it’s worth pointing out that it wasn’t only because of Donald Trump that Americans never really locked down, and then started moving around again in late April.

It wasn’t Trump who went out to bars in Tempe, Austin and Los Angeles in June. It wasn’t Trump who put on hospital gowns and told the American people you could suspend the lockdown if your cause was just. Once you told people they could suspend the lockdown for one thing, they were going to suspend it for others.

Our fixation on the awfulness of Donald Trump has distracted us from the larger problems and rendered us strangely passive in the face of them. Sure, this was a Republican failure, but it was also a collective failure, and it follows a few decades of collective failures.”

Opinion | American Companies Are Sick. Here’s How to Cure Them. – By Tim Wu – The New York Times

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Mr. Wu is the author of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.”

Credit…Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

“Many companies in the United States are currently in a particular kind of distress. They have solid business models for normal times, yet as the pandemic lingers they are slowly dying, victims of weak demand or supply problems. These businesses are not broken or fundamentally flawed; their health is jeopardized only by exceptional circumstances. They are not doomed; they’re just sick.

Many of these companies are on the lookout for survival strategies that would avoid a ruinous liquidation of their assets. This means they may be more open than they ordinarily would be to private buyouts and mergers. But a wave of buyouts and mergers, though seemingly better than letting struggling companies die, would only intensify the economic inequality that has become this country’s curse.

That is why we need to rethink what rescuing companies looks like in this moment.

The danger is that the cure will be as bad as the disease. A rescue of struggling businesses fueled by cheap debt will lead to a restructuring of the American economy into fewer and fewer centers of corporate control. That consolidation, in turn, will increase the already excessive power of corporations and widen the already yawning gap between rich and poor.

This is a lesson taught by the previous economic crisis, 12 years ago, which also left many fundamentally sound companies weak or in a state of distress. Part of the government’s implicit and sometimes explicit solution was to encourage buyouts and mergers, by making debt cheap and keeping merger enforcement tepid. Those conditions catalyzed a major concentration of industries during the 2010s, leaving many sectors of the American economy with just three or four “majors,” or with regional monopolies. This was the story for the airlines, cable service, big agriculture, mobile phone carriers, pharmaceuticals, meat processing and many more industries.

That same approach also ushered in what the financial journalist Joe Nocera, a former columnist for The Times, has called the decade of private equity. Taking advantage of cheap debt, the industry spent trillions of dollars (nearly $6 trillion, by one estimate) buying and reorganizing thousands of companies.

The problem was that, by the mid-2010s, many economists (including many at the White House, where I worked at the National Economic Council) started to be concerned that the restructuring of the economy was contributing to inequality of both wealth and income. Ideally, a private buyout makes a company more efficient and poised for growth and hiring. But in practice buying a company in semi-distress with the goal of cutting costs can mean large-scale firings, weakening or destroying unions, and seizing pension funds.”

It’s Friday, and the world is looking better. Frank Bruni just wrote a column titled, Is Donald Trump Toast? “A New York Times/Siena College poll finds that Biden is ahead of the president by 14 points” nationally and by double digits in the six crucial swing states. I want to have a party and cook out in my backyard tomorrow, but it is not part of social distancing. Since I read this piece by Tim Wu last Tuesday, I’ve been thinking about it, and how it dovetails with another I recently posted, called, “The Neoliberal Looting of America,” by Mehrsa Baradaran. These are important thinkers, and income inequality is a many headed hydra, that has survived since cities were created, and elites took power. I don’t care who Biden picks as his VP, as long as he crushes Trump, and then tries to clean up the Augean Stables, mitigate climate change, and elevate the ideas of regulating over-powerful corporations and billionaires, using the ideas of such thinkers as Baradaran, Wu, and Elizabeth Warren.

Opinion | The U.S. Is Lagging Behind Many Rich Countries. These Charts Show Why. – By David Leonhardt and Yaryna Serkez – The New York Times

“The United States is different. In nearly every other high-income country, people have both become richer over the last three decades and been able to enjoy substantially longer lifespans.

But not in the United States. Even as average incomes have risen, much of the economic gains have gone to the affluent — and life expectancy has risen only three years since 1990. There is no other developed country that has suffered such a stark slowdown in lifespans.

Life expectancy and G.D.P. per capita 1990-2018″

Opinion | Refusing to Wear a Mask Is Like Driving Drunk – By Nicholas Kristof – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

“As the coronavirus rages out of control across much of the United States, Americans are acting curiously helpless.

If we had been this passive in 1776, we would still be part of Britain. Yet even as we prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, we don’t seem willing to assert independence from a virus that in four months has killed more Americans than the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars did over 70 years.

Here’s the simplest of steps we could take: Wear a face mask.

In the United States, mask-wearing lags, particularly among men, compared with some other countries. A poll finds that many American men regard the wearing of face masks as “a sign of weakness,” and President Trump’s refusal to wear them has suggested that he perceives that masks are for wimps.

Trump may now be switching gears, for he told Fox Business on Wednesday that he’s “all for masks” and would wear one if he were “in a tight situation with people.” He shouldn’t waste time: He should tweet a photo of himself in a mask and call on supporters to wear masks as well. Refusing to cover one’s face is reckless, selfish behavior that imperils the economy and can kill or endanger innocent people.”

Opinion | The Neoliberal Looting of America – By Mehrsa Baradaran – The New York Times

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Ms. Baradaran is the author of “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap.”

Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

““It’s hard to separate what’s good for the United States and what’s good for Bank of America,” said its former chief executive, Ken Lewis, in 2009. That was hardly true at the time, but the current crisis has revealed that the health of the finance industry and stock market are completely disconnected from the actual financial health of the American people. As inequality, unemployment and evictions climb, the Dow Jones surges right alongside them — one line compounding suffering, the other compounding returns for investors.

One reason is that an ideological coup quietly transformed our society over the last 50 years, raising the fortunes of the financial economy — and its agents like private equity firms — at the expense of the real economy experienced by most Americans.

The roots of this intellectual takeover can be traced to a backlash against socialism in Cold War Europe. Austrian School economist Friedrich A. Hayek was perhaps the most influential leader of that movement, decrying governments who chased “the mirage of social justice.” Only free markets can allocate resources fairly and reward individuals based on what they deserve, reasoned Hayek. The ideology — known as neoliberalism — was especially potent because it disguised itself as a neutral statement of economics rather than just another theory. Only unfettered markets, the theory argued, could ensure justice and freedom because only the profit motive could dispassionately pick winners and losers based on their contribution to the economy.

Neoliberalism leapt from economics departments into American politics in the 1960s, where it fused with conservative anti-communist ideas and then quickly spread throughout universities, law schools, legislatures and courts. By the 1980s, neoliberalism was triumphant in policy, leading to tax cuts, deregulation and privatization of public functions including schools, pensions and infrastructure. The governing logic held that corporations could do just about everything better than the government could. The result, as President Ronald Reagan said, was to unleash “the magic of the marketplace.” “

Opinion | “Respect science, respect nature, respect each other,” Should Be Biden’s Bumper Sticker – By Thomas L. Friedman – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Hannah Yoon for The New York Times

“I almost — but not quite — feel sorry for Donald Trump. He’s at war with two “invisible enemies” at once — the coronavirus and Joe Biden — and both remain highly elusive, the pathogen by nature and the politician by design.

Biden, who made a rare public appearance on Tuesday, has been wise to stay out of sight. Trump is now in a full-on race to the bottom with himself, pushing uglier and uglier positions that appeal to smaller and smaller segments of the American public. Why get in his way?

Of course, eventually Biden will debate the incumbent and will need a simple, clear message to counter Trump’s tired “Make America Great Again” trope.

I have an idea for Biden’s bumper sticker.

As I think about what kind of president Biden wants to be and what kind of president America needs him to be, the slogan that comes to mind was suggested to me by the environmental innovator Hal Harvey. Harvey didn’t know he was suggesting it; he just happened to sign off a recent email to me by writing: “Respect science, respect nature, respect each other.”

David Lindsay: Thomas Friedman keeps getting great ideas from the environmentalist Hal Harvey, whose short plan for saving the planet is called the four zero’s, and has been incomporated into the show Kathleen and I present on nature and climate change.

Opinion | Why Do the Rich Have So Much Power? – By Paul Krugman – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Woody Harrington

“America is, in principle, a democracy, in which every vote counts the same. It’s also a nation in which income inequality has soared, a development that hurts many more people than it helps. So if you didn’t know better, you might have expected to see a political backlash: demands for higher taxes on the rich, more spending on the working class and higher wages.

In reality, however, policy has mostly gone the other way. Tax rates on corporations and high incomes have gone down, unions have been crushed, the minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was in the 1960s. How is that possible?

The answer is that huge disparities in income and wealth translate into comparable disparities in political influence. To see how this works, let’s look at a fairly recent example: the budgetary Grand Bargain that almost happened in 2011.

At the time, Washington was firmly in the grip of deficit fever. Even though the federal government was able to borrow at historically low interest rates, everyone who mattered seemed to be saying that the budget deficit was the most important issue facing America and that it was essential to rein in spending on Social Security and Medicare.”

Opinion | Why Does Trump Put Russia First? – By Susan E. Rice – The New York Times

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Ms. Rice is a former national security adviser.

Credit…Rahmat Gul/Associated Press

“Since at least February, and possibly as early as March 2019, the United States has had compelling intelligence that a committed adversary, Russia, paid bounties to Taliban-linked fighters to kill American troops in Afghanistan. American service members were reportedly killed as a result.

To this day, the president of the United States has done nothing about it.

Instead, President Trump dismissed the intelligence as not “credible” and “possibly another fabricated Russia hoax, maybe by the Fake News” that is “wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!”

Mr. Trump also claimed that neither he nor Vice President Mike Pence was ever told about this critical intelligence before it was first reported in The New York Times. Setting aside for a moment the credulity of that claim, whenever the president learned of this deeply troubling intelligence, why did he not publicly condemn any Russian efforts to kill American soldiers and explore options for a swift and significant U.S. response?

None of this adds up.

As a former national security adviser, I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that no one told Mr. Trump about this intelligence.”

Meet the Supporters Trump Has Lost – The New York Times

“For some, the disenchantment started almost as soon as Donald J. Trump took office. For others, his handling of the coronavirus and social unrest turned them away. For all of them, it’s highly unlikely they will vote for him again.

These voters, who backed Mr. Trump in 2016 but say there’s “not really any chance” they will this year, represent just 2 percent of all registered voters in the six states most likely to decide the presidency, according to New York Times/Siena College polls. But they help explain why the president faces a significant deficit nationwide and in the battleground states.

“I think if he weren’t such an appalling human being, he would make a great president, because I think what this country needs is somebody who isn’t a politician,” said Judith Goines, 53, a finance executive at a home building company in Fayetteville, N.C. “But obviously with the coronavirus and the social unrest we’re dealing with, that’s where you need a politician, somebody with a little bit more couth.”

“. . . .  How ‘Not Again’ Trump Voters Are Different From Other 2016 Trump Voters

About 6 percent of voters in battleground states who said they backed President Trump in 2016 said there was “not really any chance” they would do so in 2020. Here’s how these voters compare: . . . . “

Opinion | Has Trump Already Lost the 2020 Election? – By Frank Bruni – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Christopher Lee for The New York Times

“Only two of the past six presidents before Donald Trump lost their bids for re-election. That’s good news for him.

But their stories are bad news for him, too.

In their final years in office, both of those presidents, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, experienced a noticeable slide in popularity right around the time — early May through late June — that Trump hit his current ugly patch.

According to Gallup’s ongoing tracking of the percentage of Americans who approve of a president’s job performance, Carter’s and Bush’s numbers sank below 40 percent during this period and pretty much stayed there through Election Day. It’s as if they both met their fates on the cusp of summer.

And the cusp of summer has been a mean season for Trump, who has never flailed more pathetically or lashed out more desperately and who just experienced the Carter-Bush dip. According to Gallup, his approval rating fell to 39 percent in early June from 49 a month earlier. So if Carter and Bush are harbingers, Trump is toast.”

David Lindsay Jr.
Hamden, CT | NYT Comment:
Thank you Frank Bruni. I hope for the United States, the world, and the planet, that you are completely right. I also hope, that one day, I write something as well you do. You truly have a way with words, and a roledex so impressive, as to be make most comparisons to small fry unfair.