The Mystery of the Crime Decline – David Leonhardt – NYT – Stop and Frisk Failed.

Stop and Frisk failed.

“As you probably know by now, I’m a fan of journalistic self-criticism, and Smith has engaged in some of it this week. His piece for National Review is called simply, “We Were Wrong About Stop-and-Frisk.” He notes that crime has continued to decline under de Blasio. “To compare today’s crime rate to even that of ten years ago is to observe a breathtaking decline,” Smith adds.”


7 Wishes for 2018 – by David Leonhardt – NYT

“Well, at least it’s not 2017 anymore.

I expect that future historians will look back on it as one of the darker non-war years in the country’s history — a year when the president lied constantly, America’s global influence suffered and Congress used its mighty powers to enrich the rich. Yet the long view of American history still offers reason for optimism. We usually figure out how to emerge from our darker periods.In the hope that 2018 represents at least the start of a turning point, I offer seven New Year’s wishes:Republicans stand up for the rule of law. The country’s most urgent problem is the possibility that the president will impede an investigation into illegal behavior by his aides and possibly himself.

President Trump clearly wants to do so. His allies are defaming Robert Mueller even though Mueller is a longtime Republican, a successful F.B.I. director and a decorated Marine who’s now pursuing matters of national interest, such as: Does a hostile foreign power have influence over American officials? And did the president use illegal tactics in his campaign?Republicans in Congress can make sure that the country gets answers. They can refuse to tolerate any disruption of Mueller’s investigation, including the firing of him or his boss, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. If Trump tries to go there, his fellow Republicans can tell him that his presidency would effectively be over. Privately and publicly, they should be saying so now.”

Yes, and here is a top commeent I endorsed:
ChristineMcM is a trusted commenter Massachusetts 13 hours ago
It’s still 2017 by my clock, here in MA at 10:25. I hope the next 1.5 hours pass as slowly as 2017 seemed to.

David Leonhardt, I like your list of wishes for 2018, particularly your first priority: that the Mueller investigation proceed unimpeded. Never before has democracy seemed under such a dark cloud, not even during Watergate when the nation wasn’t as polarized, and most recognized right from wrong.

In your next to last wish, towards the tail end of “creeping” authoritarianism, you cast a personal call for higher voter turnout.

The figures you cite are appalling–“It was only 42 percent in the last midterm, in 2014, compared with more than 60 percent in recent presidential elections…..groups with the potential to increase their political say are 18- to 24-year olds (17 percent citizen turnout in 2014); Asian-Americans (27 percent); and Latinos (also 27 percent).”

To preserve the world’s oldest continuous democracy, we must do better, if only to provide a good example to the next generation.

But hand in hand with higher voter rates is education–informed voters not only make more informed choices, but also better citizens.

Because without a shared understanding of our past, as well as a consensus regarding our obligations and rights as citizens, how can we preserve our freedoms from hostile forces right here at home?

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Related to the 7th point, hoping we all manage to escape and stay centered, last night for New Year’s Eve I went to White Plains NY to an English Country dance which was marvelous. Like the Morris and Sword Team I started and still dance with in New Haven, The Country Dancers of Westchester seem like a group in danger of extinction, if they do not figure out how to attract new and younger participants.

A Tax Plan to Turbocharge Inequality- in 3 Charts – by David Leonhardt – NYT

“The Republican tax bill is an audacious attempt to accelerate the economic trends of the last half-century.If you’re a fan of these trends — rapidly rising inequality and stagnant middle-class incomes — you should love the bill. If you’re not a fan, you can at least take comfort in knowing that you’re in the majority of Americans, as polls consistently show.

Over the last few decades, the rich have not only enjoyed the largest pre-tax raises, by far. They have also received big tax cuts. The middle class and poor, meanwhile, have suffered from slow-growing incomes — and from overall tax rates that are higher today than in the mid-1960s.The first part of that story is widely known. The rich have gotten richer, for a whole variety of reasons.”

DL: Great piece. It looks like this tax plan will help progressive environmentalist and their friends on the left, to take over congress in the next, or next couple of elections.

And exellent comments, such as:

Ron Cohen

is a trusted commenter Waltham, MA 17 hours ago

Contempt for the poor and middle class starts with Republican donors, the very rich. Why do the rich care so much? After all the tax cuts are modest relative to their immense wealth. Is it really about money? Or is it something deeper, more visceral, a need to dominate and impoverish everyone else?

The great English historian, R.H. Tawney, in his magisterial work, “Religion and the Rise of Capitalism” (1926), tells us that by the mid 1600’s, most English Puritans saw in poverty “not a misfortune to be pitied and relieved, but a moral failing to be condemned, and in riches, not an object of suspicion … but the blessing which rewards the triumph of energy and will.”

This ideal of individual morality, derived from Calvin, has been with us ever since. But it has surfaced with renewed zeal in our time, with men like the Koch bothers, Robert Mercer, Art Pope and Sheldon Adelson determined to spend whatever it takes to replace democracy as we know it—a leveling force—with a fascistic, plutocratic model of government.

For these billionaires, however, religion is not the motivator. Rather, it’s how they see themselves, their self image, that drives their lust for power, their need to dominate. They are the “makers,” deserving, while the rest of us are “takers,” undeserving and cadging off their efforts. Identity politics isn’t just for Democrats anymore.

For a penetrating interpretation, see George Monbiot’s short but defining piece in The Guardian:

Ed Schwab

Alexandria, VA 13 hours ago

One way to deal with the problems of Social Security and the high payroll taxes is by recycling taxes that many Social Security recipients pay on their benefits. AS you may know, many social security beneficiaries pay no taxes on their benefits. However, there are many like me who pay quite a bit. My wife and I pay about $7,000 a year.

SS benefits are taxed only when recipients receive more in retirement income from other sources than they receive in SS benefits. Taxes are paid under a complex formula from 0% to 80% depending on how SS income compares to other retirement income. My pension income is about 20 times my SS benefit. That means I and my wife pay income taxes on 80% (the max percentage) on our SS benefits.

I don’t mind paying that amount, but I object to where it goes. It goes into the general fund just like other taxes. It seems to me that the better way would be to recycle it into social security. There are millions of us who pay taxes on our social security. The problems of the fund would be relieved a lot if our taxes went back to social security rather than into the general fund. When my wife and I pay back almost 20% of what we get to the government, it seems like that money should go to replenish the SS fund.

NYT Pick


Upstate New York 5 hours ago

This tax bill for the rich is so appalling. Not only have payroll taxes not been addressed, but also every person will lose the personal exemption of $4,100 for themselves and for every member in their household.

It doesn’t matter that the standard deduction has doubled to $24,000 because if you are a family of three, you lose $12,300 in person exemptions. Therefore, doubling the standard deduction is a wash. But, if you’re a family of four or more, chances are very good you will pay more in taxes.

Why hasn’t the media explained to the public this MAJOR lose of the personal exemption of $4,100 per person? This vital fact has been ignored. Most middle class people will gain nothing. In fact, most of us will pay more. And every additional dollar we pay will go in the pockets of the 1%.

This tax bill is so shameful and such a sham.


Time to Talk Impeachment – by David Leonhardt – NYT

“A few weeks ago, I read a short new book by the legal scholar Cass Sunstein titled, simply, “Impeachment.” The book doesn’t mention President Trump once. Sunstein started writing it, he told me, partly because he was alarmed by what he considered reckless talk of impeachment during Trump’s first weeks on the job, before he had started doing much.

Sunstein’s goal was to lay out a legal and historical framework for thinking about impeachment, independent of any specific president. I’ve been thinking about the topic a lot since finishing the book, and I want to recommend both Sunstein’s book and a Vox piece published this morning by Ezra Klein.

To be clear, I think it would be a mistake for Democrats to put much energy into impeachment right now, because it’s not going to happen: Republicans control Congress and show no interest.But I also think it would be a mistake for Americans — regardless of party — to be in denial about the governing crisis our country is facing. Let’s admit it: Trump is behaving in ways that call for serious talk of impeachment. If you read Sunstein’s careful history of impeachment — of when the founders believed it was appropriate and necessary — I expect you will come to the same conclusion.”

When the Rich Said No to Getting Richer – by David Leonhardt – NYT

“A half-century ago, a top automobile executive named George Romney — yes, Mitt’s father — turned down several big annual bonuses. He did so, he told his company’s board, because he believed that no executive should make more than $225,000 a year (which translates into almost $2 million today).

He worried that “the temptations of success” could distract people from more important matters, as he said to a biographer, T. George Harris. This belief seems to have stemmed from both Romney’s Mormon faith and a culture of financial restraint that was once commonplace in this country.Romney didn’t try to make every dollar he could, or anywhere close to it. The same was true among many of his corporate peers. In the early 1960s, the typical chief executive at a large American company made only 20 times as much as the average worker, rather than the current 271-to-1 ratio. Today, some C.E.O.s make $2 million in a single month.”

Excellent op-ed. Thank you David Leonhardt. Here is a popular comment I endorse.


Portland Oregon 5 hours ago

When a nation refuses to invest in itself it rots. The American society of engineers gives our overall infrastructure a D rating. The corps of engineers says our infrastructure is close to failing. We’ve been at war for nearly two decades and our national deficit for 2018 is estimated at $440 billion dollars. Income inequality is the at the highest level since the 70’s and our students owe an average of $1.4 in student loans. We’re not the land of opportunity any longer.

At some point we’re going to need to raise taxes to invest in our country. Otherwise our best and brightest are going to start looking abroad for opportunities.

If you look at the happiest countries they have strong social safety policies and have invested in infrastructure and education. Denmark’s top individual tax rate is 60.4%, Sweden’s is 56.4% and Norway’s is 39%. These countries have government sponsored college education, paid parental leave, universal daycare, and universal healthcare. They only tax businesses at 25%.

Cutting taxes, especially for the wealthy considering how nicely they did after the recession is irresponsible. Hopefully our politicians will choose responsiblity and fairness but I doubt it.

Houston- Warned – by David Leonhardt – NYT

” “Houston’s perfect storm is coming — and it’s not a matter of if but when,” journalists wrote, a year and a half ago. “Why isn’t Texas ready?”The story was a joint project of The Texas Tribune, an excellent local publication, and ProPublica, the deservedly well-regarded national group. Headlined “Hell and High Water,” it exposed the lack of preparedness, and downright denial, in Houston about flood damage. The project mixes maps and text, and you can dip into it briefly or dig into the details.

“We’re sitting ducks. We’ve done nothing,” Phil Bedient, a Rice University professor and storm-surge expert, says in the story. “We’ve done nothing to shore up the coastline, to add resiliency … to do anything.”

The article isn’t perfectly clairvoyant — no story is. It falls into the common trap of exaggerating the economic effects of a news development that’s bad for other reasons. But the story offered an important — and, sadly, unheeded — message: Even though it’s possible to mitigate the effects of extreme weather, we’re instead making choices that aggravate them.”

Harvey- the Storm That Humans Helped Cause – by David Leonhardt – NYT

Even before the devastation from Harvey, southeastern Texas was enduring a year unlike any before.The daily surface temperature of the Gulf of Mexico last winter never dropped below 73 degrees. You can probably guess how many previous times that had happened: Zero.

This sort of heat has a specific effect on storms: Warmer weather causes heavier rainfall. Why? When the seas warm, more moisture evaporates into the air, and when the air warms — which has also been happening in Texas — it can carry more moisture.The severity of Harvey, in other words, is almost certainly related to climate change.Yes, I know the sober warning that’s issued whenever an extreme weather disaster occurs: No individual storm can be definitively blamed on climate change. It’s true, too. Some version of Harvey probably would have happened without climate change, and we’ll never know the hypothetical truth.

But it’s time to shed some of the fussy over-precision about the relationship between climate change and weather. James Hansen, the eminent climate researcher, has used the term “scientific reticence” to describe this problem. Out of an abundance of academic caution — a caution that is in many ways admirable — scientists (and journalists) have obscured climate change’s true effects.”

Comments are great. such as,

Robin Rutherford

Hunterville New Zealand 9 hours ago

Every gallon of gasoline emits 20lb of CO2 which stays in the atmosphere and absorbs heat. So, in one year, one car uses 250 gallons gasoline and produces 2 tons of CO2. We need to begin to think of car trips not in terms of dollars but in terms of lb’s of CO2 emitted. There is no leadership in this area, we must do it ourselves and start limiting our vehicle use to save the world for our children and grandchildren.

Weak Trump- Strong Paul Ryan – by David Leonhardt – NYT

“Paul Starr, the sociologist who wrote a Pulitzer-winning history of health care, has written a piece in The American Prospect making this point. “Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony may have seemed like a boon to Democrats, but it has another effect that has been little commented on,” Starr writes. “Donald Trump is now totally dependent on congressional Republicans to avoid impeachment and therefore has no choice but to be a cheerleader for their policies and to sign whatever legislation they send him.” “

The Lawless Presidency – By David Leonhardt – NYT

“Democracy isn’t possible without the rule of law — the idea that consistent principles, rather than a ruler’s whims, govern society.

You can read Aristotle, Montesquieu, John Locke or the Declaration of Independence on this point. You can also look at decades of American history. Even amid bitter fights over what the law should say, both Democrats and Republicans have generally accepted the rule of law.

President Trump does not. His rejection of it distinguishes him from any other modern American leader. He has instead flirted with Louis XIV’s notion of “L’état, c’est moi”: The state is me — and I’ll decide which laws to follow.”

How Democrats Can Get Their Mojo Back – by David Leonhardt – NYT

“The great new dividing line in American life is the four-year college degree. The line runs through virtually every part of society.The pay gap between college graduates and everyone else has soared in recent years. The unemployment gap has, too. So have gaps in physical and social health. College graduates are living longer than they used to, getting divorced less and eating better. All of these trends are darker for non-graduates.

Then there is politics. Americans without a college degree are today’s swing voters. White non-graduates shifted sharply to Donald Trump last year, relative to 2012, and black non-graduates affected the result by staying home in larger numbers. Both decisions — voting for Trump or not voting at all — stemmed in part from alienation.”

Here is a comment I endorse:
John Brews ✅__[•¥•]__✅ Reno, NV 33 minutes ago

David’s piece is on target. While pointing out that education is advantageous, he makes the point that it is not the entire solution. The expanding adoption of automation by the private sector is dumping jobs for humans at a rapidly expanding rate. Autonomous vehicles will soon displace taxi drivers, truck drivers, bus drivers. Computer run manufacture is greatly reducing human participation. Expert systems like IBM’s Watson will impact medicine, law, brokerage services. On-line shopping is dumping brick-and-mortar stores.

There is no way all these jobs will be replaced by alternative jobs in the private sector, regardless of the skills and adaptability of the work force. And the profits from this automation are not being taxed to finance correcting the chaos, but is all going into off-shore tax havens.

As David suggests, the answer is not in the profit-before-all-else private sector, but in people-centered work presently found in the government sector, but woefully undermanned, underpaid and undervalued. Jobs like child & elder care, rehabilitation, education, and broad undertakings for the common good like infrastructure development, affordable housing, environmental protection, all things the private sector has no use for because they are too dependent upon expensive human involvement and too focused upon service instead of profit.

Yes, the Dems could engage. But so far they are too muddle-minded and too dependent upon the private sector for funding.

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