Folks- We’re Home Alone – by Thomas Friedman – NYT

“Former Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote a famous memoir, “Present at the Creation,” about the birth of the post-World War II order — an order whose institutions produced six decades of security and growth for a lot of people. We’re now at a similar moment of rapid change — abroad and at home. Many institutions have to be rethought. But any book about Washington today would have to be called “Absent at the Creation.”

Surely one of the most cynical, reckless acts of governing in my lifetime has been President Trump and the G.O.P.’s attempt to ram through a transformation of America’s health care system — without holding hearings with experts, conducting an independent cost-benefit analysis or preparing the public — all to erase Barack Obama’s legacy to satisfy a few billionaire ideologue donors and a “base” so drunk on Fox News that its members don’t understand they’ll be the ones most hurt by it all.”

Great column Thomas Friedman, thank you.

I had to read through many weird comments before I got to one I could endorse, which is:

Phil Korb

Philadelphia, PA 1 day ago

What an excellent, insightful, important and hugely depressing column. Trump’s very slogan, Make America Great Again, meaning Let’s pretend it can be 1950 again, is precisely the opposite of what we need. I became a grandfather two months ago, and I want, and have a duty to try to make, her world a better place, or at least not a worse place, than it is for me. The current president and the GOP leadership seem committed to ruining her future.

Advertisements

A Boondoggle Masquerading as Tax Reform – The New York Times

 

“After months of secret negotiations, the Trump administration and congressional leaders have come up with a tax plan — sort of. What they have really come up with is a wish list of tax cuts for the wealthy, with lots of “we’ll get back to you on that” promises where the details are supposed to be.

This much is clear: The tax “framework” published by Republican leaders on Wednesday would greatly increase the federal deficit, would not turbocharge economic growth and could leave many middle-class families worse off by ending deductions they rely on. It would do little or nothing to improve the lot of the working class, a group President Trump says he is fighting for. It would instead provide a windfall to hedge fund managers, corporate executives, real estate developers and other members of the 1 percent. And can it be just a happy coincidence that Mr. Trump and his family would benefit “bigly” from this plan?

On income taxes, the framework calls for reducing the top tax bracket to 35 percent, from 39.6 percent, which would benefit people earning $418,400 a year or more. It would also raise the rate for people in the lowest bracket to 12 percent, from 10 percent. Republicans say they will offset that particular burden by roughly doubling the standard deduction to $24,000 for a couple ($12,000 for a single person). In addition, the proposal would eliminate most itemized deductions except mortgage interest and charitable donations. This could greatly hurt middle-class families in New York, California and other states with high local and state taxes that the families will no longer be allowed to deduct from federal taxes.”

Tyranny of the Minority – by Michelle Goldberg – debut at NYT

“A combination of gerrymandering and the tight clustering of Democrats in urban areas means that even if Democrats get significantly more overall votes than Republicans in the midterms — which polls show is probable — they may not take back the House of Representatives. (According to a Brookings Institution analysis, in 2016, Republicans won 55.2 percent of seats with just under 50 percent of votes cast for Congress.)

And because of the quirks of the 2018 Senate map, Democrats are extremely unlikely to reclaim that chamber, even if most voters would prefer Democratic control. Some analysts have even suggested that Republicans could emerge from 2018 with a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority.

Our Constitution has always had a small-state bias, but the effects have become more pronounced as the population discrepancy between the smallest states and the largest states has grown. “Given contemporary demography, a little bit less than 50 percent of the country lives in 40 of the 50 states,” Sanford Levinson, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Texas, told me. “Roughly half the country gets 80 percent of the votes in the Senate, and the other half of the country gets 20 percent.” ”

Lovely first op-ed. Here are some comments I approved.

hen3ry

is a trusted commenter Westchester County, NY 18 hours ago

Trump’s election has revealed the extent to which the GOP has taken over the country even as a majority of voters disagree with their politics. It also revealed how incompetent and unresponsive the GOP is when it comes to the lives of ordinary Americans. The only people that the GOP is interested in are their donors whether they are rich or big corporations. The rest of us are nowhere to be found in their consciousness. As long as we have the Electoral College it’s not one person one vote. The same goes for the amount of gerrymandering.

There is another not so savory thing that Trump’s election has revealed about America: we do not believe in equality, compassion, or charity. We are racist, anti-intellectual, and selfish to the point of destruction. If we continue to elect representatives who refuse to allocate money to run the country, improve our infrastructure, or do what’s necessary we will become a backwater which is not what our Founding Fathers wanted or expected.

Joe P.

Maryland 18 hours ago

This was one of the best articles I’ve read on our current state of affairs. A point by point analysis, and some offered solutions. let’s get to work.

 

Do Republicans Really Care About the Deficit? – by Jared Bernstein – NYT

“Though America really doesn’t need a tax cut — demographic pressures alone suggest the need for more, not less, future revenues — President Trump and the Republican majority want one. But they don’t want to pay for it, which means the budget deficit is going to rise. Based on what we’ve seen so far, the increase in the deficit could be at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

Perhaps this surprises you, as you’ve long heard Republicans cry about deficits and debt. But any such tears are of the crocodile variety. When it comes to increasing the budget deficit, the impact of this tax plan is no different from any of their others.Back in 2015, I testified at a hearing on these issues before the House Budget Committee. One after another, Republican members on the committee denounced rising debt levels. Why then, I asked, do you want to cut taxes? Their answer: It’s spending, not tax cuts, that increases the deficit.

That, of course, is crazy. I don’t mean it’s bad economics, or lousy fiscal policy. I mean it’s disconnected from reality, or more precisely, from arithmetic. You can, and they do, make arguments about how growth effects will make up the difference, despite the complete lack of empirical evidence to support such claims. Indeed, rumor is that Mr. Trump has his economics team ginning up a “dynamic growth model” that will spit out phony growth effects offsetting much of the cost of their tax cut.”

The Health Care Cul-de-Sac – by Ross Douthat – NYT

“This goes for both parties: not only the stepping-on-rakes Republicans, but the suddenly single-payer-dreaming Democrats. If Obamacare repeal is really dead for the year 2017, both left and right have a chance to shake their minds free of the health care debate and ask themselves: What are the biggest threats to the American Dream right now, to our unity and prosperity, our happiness and civic health?

I would suggest that there are two big answers, both of which played crucial roles in getting a carnival showman who promised to Make America Great Again elected president. First, an economic stagnation that we are only just now, eight years into an economic recovery, beginning to escape — a stagnation that has left median incomes roughly flat for almost a generation, encouraged populism on the left and right, and made every kind of polarization that much worse.

Second, a social crisis that the opioid epidemic has thrown into horrifying relief, but that was apparent in other indicators for a while — in the decline of marriage, rising suicide rates, an upward lurch in mortality for poorer whites, a historically low birthrate, a large-scale male abandonment of the work force, a dissolving trend in religious and civic life, a crisis of patriotism, belonging, trust.”

Ross is mostly right. There are bigger issues to address. It is time to moveon.org.

Will Mark Zuckerberg ‘Like’ This Column? – by Maureen Dowd – NYT

“Finally on Thursday, speaking on Facebook Live, Zuckerberg said he would give Congress more than 3,000 ads linked to Russia. As one Facebooker posted: “Why did it take EIGHT MONTHS to get here?”

Hillary is right that this $500 billion company has a lot to answer for in allowing the baby-photo-sharing site to be turned into what, with Twitter, The Times’s Scott Shane called “engines of deception and propaganda.” ”

“As Vanity Fair pointed out, Mueller’s focus on social media during the campaign could spell trouble for Jared Kushner, who once bragged that he had called his Silicon Valley friends to get a tutorial in Facebook microtargeting and brought in Cambridge Analytica — Robert Mercer is a big investor — to help build a $400 million operation for his father-in-law’s campaign.

Some lawmakers suspect that the Russians had help in figuring out which women and blacks to target in precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan.”

“The Sandberg admission was also game, set and match for Elon Musk, who has been sounding the alarm for years about the danger of Silicon Valley’s creations and A.I. mind children getting out of control and hurting humanity. His pleas for safeguards and regulations have been mocked as “hysterical” and “pretty irresponsible” by Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg, whose project last year was building a Jarvis-style A.I. butler for his home, likes to paint himself as an optimist and Musk as a doomsday prophet. But Sandberg’s comment shows that Musk is right: The digerati at Facebook and Google are either being naïve or cynical and greedy in thinking that it’s enough just to have a vague code of conduct that says “Don’t be evil,” as Google does.”

Nice work Maureen Dowd. Here is a comment I support.

Paul Wortman

East Setauket, NY 1 day ago

Yes Maureen, Facebook was used by the Russians. Unfortunately, they exploited a major gap in our campaign laws that do not regulate social media. That, and not just Mark Zuckerberg, is what needs to change. We desperately need to end the money in politics that has bought most of both political parties leaving many angry at the “establishment.” That is why we have Donald Trump in the White House. And don’t forget, The Donald continues to take advantage of Twitter to run a 24/7 political campaign. So, what we’ve learned is that social media can be “weaponized” not just by the Russians, but also by the man now occupying the Oval Office. We need to have “regulation,” but with an anti-regulatory Republican Congress and Supreme Court that is unlikely. Prepare yourself for the battle of the bots in 2020! You can even tweet that if you like.

Everyone Wants to Reduce Drug Prices. So Why Can’t We Do It? – by Jay Hancock – NYT

It

“Those comments matched Mr. Trump’s characterization in January of drug companies as “getting away with murder.” That same day, a dozen Republican senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas, John McCain of Arizona and Mike Lee of Utah, voted for the old liberal idea of letting Americans buy cheaper drugs from Canada.”

“The pharmaceutical and health products industries spent $145 million on lobbying for the first half of 2017, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Drug makers gave $4.5 million to congressional campaigns in that period, including six-figure donations to House Speaker Paul Ryan; Representative Greg Walden, a Republican of Oregon who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee; and Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, a Kaiser Health News analysis found.

The drug lobby has spent $28 million so far this year to air six ads depicting heroic researchers about 4,600 times on national TV, according to iSpot.tv, an ad tracker.”

“Drug makers say that high prices reflect heavy investment in innovation and drug development. They reject the notion that the industry wields too much influence in Washington. The top 10 publicly traded United States drug companies made $67.8 billion after taxes last year, regulatory filings show.”

Reform is a disaster, since big money seems to rule. Here are the top comments, which I endorsed.

Mickey D

NYC 1 day ago

I have been working in this area, drug pricing and patenting, for almost my entire professional life. All that time the Bayh Dole act has contained a price limiting section. The majority of big drugs are developed with some federal funding for all or part of their inventions. No administration, Republican or Democratic, has ever had the nerve to assert these rights against expensive drugs and their manufacturers. Instead, government agencies, especially the NIH which usually grants these funds, throws up its hands and says they have no expertise in setting fair prices. Well the statute says they have that responsibility and all they have to set up is what all agencies have similarly done, whether they deal in transportation, agriculture, safety, or even emergencies. They hire some economists and get to work.

But the pharmaceutical companies have clearly bought them all off with lobbying and promises of funding for new prestige enhancing articles.

My prediction, after forty years at this, is that nothing is going to happen. My personal failure, including congressional testimony, media interviews, op ed pieces, published letters to the Times, and the like, is nothing compared to our social failure which condemns us to decades and more of suffering because big money has stolen our democracy and our access to reasonably priced pharmaceuticals.

NYT Pick

ChristineMcM

is a trusted commenter Massachusetts 1 day ago

I spent the better part of my career producing communications materials for agencies whose clients were drug companies. I used to buy into the “‘research and innovation argument” but soon realized how much waste went into marketing, and even into clinical decisionmaking that favored quick-hit profits from developing “me too” drugs over finding novel compounds.

I just finished Ross Douthat’s piece on the problems facing America other than healthcare, and let me just repeat what said there, which is: MONEY is our biggest problem. Money in politics, bought and paid for politicians, Citizens United, lobbyists who write legislation to free up politicos for–what else?–fundraising.

Drugs cost a bundle because they pay an army of industry flacks to preserve the status quo, fight price regulations, ensure politicians get rewarded for votes, and make America subsidize the lower prices the rest of the industrialized world demands to add a product to their government-run formularies.

“If there ever was a time to strike while it’s hot, it’s now,” said “Dr. Sarpatwari.

No, I have a better time: when we as a nation decide to roll back Citizens United and enact term limits.

Tax Cuts for the Rich by Another Name – The New York Times

“Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee violated their supposedly sacrosanct principles of fiscal hawkishness this week, by saying that it would be just fine with them to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years in order to cut taxes. They justify this hypocrisy by asserting what has been disproved time and again — that tax cuts spur the economy and compensate for any lost revenue.

In fact, these cuts could hurt the very people they purport to help — small-business owners, middle-class professionals and working-class Americans.While even initial details of the tax plan are not expected before next week, deep corporate tax cuts have been a Republican priority for some time. Much of the discussion of that has revolved around the top rate, now 35 percent. President Trump has called for lowering it to 15 percent, while his economic aides and House Republicans favor a top rate around 25 percent.”

Excellent editorial, and comments.

‘Enough Already’ Said God – by  Nicholas Kristof – NYT

“The famous televangelist Jim Bakker, who is preaching again on television after a rape accusation and a prison term for financial fraud, recently warned that Christians would start an armed insurrection if President Trump were impeached. “If it happens, there will be civil war in the United States of America,” Bakker told his television audience. “The Christians will finally come out of the shadows, because we are going to be shut up permanently if we’re not careful.”

Afterward, I received the following transcript of a conversation between Bakker and, er, God. It comes from a divine source.

Bakker: “Dear God, thank you for blessing me with wisdom, courage, virtue and rugged good looks. Plus humility. Please help me raise up an army to smite the infidels trying to impeach President Trump. …”God: “Oh, enough already!”

Bakker, trying to dive under the bed: “Who’s there? And oh, no! Fire! Fire! There’s a fire on my bed!”

God: “It’s a burning bush.”Bakker: “Who said that? Fire! Fire! Help!”

God: “Don’t be such a wimp: This is a smokeless burning bush. It won’t even singe your linens. So listen up. This is God. . . . ”

Here are the top two comments, I completely endorse.
Aryae Coopersmith Half Moon Bay, California 1 day ago

Thank you Nick Kristof for giving us a few laughs while pointing out the elephant in the room!

To keep it very simple — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share three key values: love God, love your neighbor, love the stranger. The rest, as they say, is commentary.

623Recommended

ChristineMcM is a trusted commenter Massachusetts 1 day ago

“God: “I’m nonpartisan. I just don’t like being used. I was mortified when four out of five white evangelical Christians voted for a thrice-married liar who bragged about sexual assault — and then cited me as the reason for their votes.”

Great column, Nicholas! If anyone can call out hypocrisy, it’s God, er, and, His son.

That Trump got the support of evangelicals was definitely some sort of miracle. One that tells us more about the real morality of preachers who make their livings not so much selling God as themselves.

In a certain way, I see the connection now–at least on the hypocrisy and selling of self. It takes one to know one–Bakker and company might be selling paradise but he and his peers want a down payment first in the form of credit card donations to the show.

So what else do Trump and televangelists have in common, when not pushing the Bible or violating the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount? Or failing to offer strangers a proper welcome?

Perhaps it’s the love of large fancy mansions here on earth, over living the kind of values that might ensure them a room in God’s mansion up above.

617Recommended

Complacency Could Kill Health Care – by Paul Krugman – NYT

“I haven’t yet read Hillary Clinton’s “What Happened,” but it seems pretty clear to me what did, in fact, happen in 2016.

These days, America starts from a baseline of extreme tribalism: 47 or 48 percent of the electorate will vote for any Republican, no matter how terrible, and against any Democrat, no matter how good. This means, in turn, that small things — journalists acting like mean kids in high school, ganging up on candidates they consider uncool, events that suggest fresh scandal even when there’s nothing there — can tip the balance in favor of even the worst candidate imaginable.

And, crucially, last year far too many people were complacent; they assumed that Trump couldn’t possibly become president, so they felt free to engage in trivial pursuits. Then they woke up to find that the inconceivable had happened.Is something similar about to go down with health care?Republican attempts to destroy Obamacare have repeatedly failed, and for very good reason. Their attacks on the Affordable Care Act were always based on lies, and they have never come up with a decent alternative.

The simple fact is that all the major elements of the A.C.A. — prohibiting discrimination by insurers based on medical history, requiring that people buy insurance even if they’re currently healthy, premium subsidies and Medicaid expansion that make insurance affordable even for those with lower incomes — are there because they’re necessary. Yet every plan Republicans have offered would do away with or undermine those key elements, causing tens of millions of Americans to lose health insurance, with the heaviest burden falling on the most vulnerable.”

Please note that Lindsay Grahm is one of the four Senators behind this horrible bill.

I am ambivalent about its passage. Its passage would hurt millions of people, but would also give the Democrats the big item they need to take both houses of congress. As an environmentalist, I have to support a democratic party sweep of both houses.