Showing posts with label New York Times. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York Times. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A Gathering Storm

We seem to be watching the slow motion creation of a dystopian plutocracy. Obfuscated by the administration’s contrived crisis of dealing with undocumented immigrants and horrific scenes of families being separated, is an alt-right agenda of dismantling the so called social net.  Stories such as a recent one in the New York Times are hidden by other events of Trump’s creation. 

Highlighted here are some salient points from the New York Times article of a few days ago, “Behind Trump’s Plan to Overhaul the Government: Scaling Back the Safety Net”.

I have depended on the Times for the Truth all my life and I see no reason to disbelieve any of this about “a small army of conservatives [who] have produced dozens of initiatives like the cabinet reshuffle proposal, with the goal of dismantling the social welfare system.”

·       *Among the most consequential ideas is a proposal to shift the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a subsistence benefit that provides aid to 42 million poor and working Americans, from the Agriculture Department to a new mega-agency that would have “welfare” in its title — a term Mr. Trump uses as a pejorative catchall for most government benefit programs
          *Mr. Trump, for his part, joked on Thursday that the plan was “extraordinarily boring” before TV cameras in the Cabinet Room.  But being boring in an all-too-exciting White House has provided cover for a small army of conservatives and think tank veterans who have been quietly churning out dozens of initiatives like the proposal to reshuffle the cabinet, with the ultimate goal of dismantling the American social welfare system from the inside out.
          *Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s former adviser,…believes the attack on social programs will be one of Mr. Trump’s most enduring policy achievements.
          *Philip G. Alston, a New York University professor and the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, agreed with Mr. Bannon’s assessment. “My sense is they are making very considerable progress, even though no one is paying much attention,” he said.
      *As president, Mr. Trump would become so bored with the details of domestic policy that aides long ago stopped sharing all but the most top-line specifics of their plans — including the reorganization, according to several people who have worked closely with Mr. Trump.  If Mr. Trump is fuzzy on policy, he is acutely attuned to the perils of offending his base, especially older voters.
      *The core of Mr. Trump’s safety net policy is an expansion of work requirements to foster self-sufficiency among recipients of food assistance, Medicaid and housing subsidies to reduce dependence on the government. “Our goal is to get people on the path to self-sufficiency,” Mr. Bremberg said. Its real purpose, advocates for poor people claim, is to kick hundreds of thousands of the needy off the federal rolls, to cut taxes for the rich
      *By early 2017, Heritage produced a government reorganization plan that served as the initial template for Thursday’s announcement. They also drafted a list of 334 policy recommendations, about half of them aimed at domestic programs for poor people or Obama-era regulations protecting low-income consumers.

The first part of the plan, cutting taxes for the upper 1%, has already been implemented.  What remains to be seen is the long term impact of those cuts on the deficit; most economists agree that GPD growth will not offset those cuts. This leaves an ever growing national debt, something the Republicans staunchly opposed before and now seem to be content with.  When cries of deficit spending reach a crescendo in the future, their “Trump card” may be to throw the neediest 42 million Americans under the bus in the name of fiscal responsibility. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014


I have my morning routine. It hasn’t varied much through the years.  As soon as I rise, I get dressed for a brisk walk around my neighborhood.  Out the door, I decide on the route, except on Sundays (when my walk takes me to the local 7-Eleven where they carry the Sunday New York Times) and Wednesdays (when I go to the gym to keep tabs on my walking speed and endurance).

The Sunday walk is my favorite though, crossing a golf course, over to Route 1, and then north to the 7-Eleven.  It is a good match: the store opens early and I am normally underway as the sun is rising.  The town golf course had been redesigned by Jack Nicklaus (a local resident) since I’ve been doing this hike.  Naturally it was dramatically changed by him, but in this case an improvement over what there was before.  The greens, small lakes, and undulations make it a special municipal course. Just a few weeks ago, however, the multilevel diving board adjacent to an Olympic size pool was suddenly removed.  Insurance costs forced the town to do away with the iconic high diving platform.  
Here Today
Gone Tomorrow

I’m observant during my walks and notice things out of place.  As I cross the parking lot in front of the golf driving range an older Lexus RX 350 is usually parked there, someone out practicing early.  It wasn’t there this past Sunday as I went on to get the newspaper.  I didn’t think much of it, other than maybe he’s gone for the summer.  I had never met him, only having noticed the car.

I’ve been reading the Sunday New York Times since college.  I can’t imagine getting through a Sunday without it, and I like the walk to get it.  When we first moved here, I had it delivered. But there were frequent delivery and temporary hold problems.  But as I prefer to read the physical paper, not the online edition, I was relieved to find a store in walking distance from our home that carried it. 

I entered 7-Eleven last Sunday and immediately saw some things askance.  Sale bins were where the newspapers normally resided.   They never had sales.  The lady who has so graciously handled my “Sunday business” (we’ve had a pleasant, chitchat relationship) behind the counter was joined by two other employees, ones who normally are not there at that time in the morning.  The newspaper rack – now in the back -- was depleted but thankfully there was one copy of the Sunday NYT left.

She detected my consternation and said “you got the last newspaper we will ever have delivered here – the store is closing in a couple of days.”  I was stunned.  “I’ve been coming here for about ten years, every Sunday, there’s no other store in walking distance, are you relocating?”  No, but fortunately she was being transferred to another store, some ten miles away.  So at least she was not losing her job.  For me though I have lost my Sunday routine, one I valued. I wished her the best, knowing I will never see her again.

I began my walk home, searching my iPhone for the next closest 7-Eleven, one I knew I’d have to drive to, but as I would be in the car anyway, I could consider going to the beach for my walk.  Perhaps make some lemonade from lemons?  I found one a few miles away. They answered the phone after a few rings. “Do you carry the Sunday New York Times?”  “No,” click.  I’d have to search more when home.

Crossing the parking lot in front of the golf driving range on the return, I saw that RX 350 pull in and an elderly gent got out.  “Good morning,” I said to the man whose car I had noticed for so many years.  He returned the good morning so I said “you’re late today, I usually see your car and you are already on the range.”  “Got a late start today,” unexpectedly adding, “Where are you from originally?”  (He sized me up as not being a native Floridian; perhaps the Times under my arm was a clue.)  I looked at him more carefully, a little taller than I, thin, in fairly good shape, and I thought maybe ten years older.  “New York City, you?”  “Yeah, I lived there for several years after WW II working for WR Grace.”  “Funny,” I said, “I used to deal with one of their divisions, Baker and Taylor, a book distributor, during their conglomerate days.” 

He said he was in shipping logistics after the War.  He didn’t look old enough to be in WW II, so I asked.  “I’m 92,” which shocked me.  I told him my father was a Signal Corps photographer in Europe during the War and he replied “I was first in the European theater and then shipped to the Pacific” (which my father had feared would be his fate after Germany surrendered).  He then said “I’m eligible to be buried in Arlington Cemetery.”  “Such an honor,” I replied “but I think you have at least another ten good years before having to think of that.  You’re in great shape, still teeing off every Sunday!” He chuckled.  Briefly we looked at one another in silence.  The sun had finally risen above the trees.

I said, “Memorial Day is next week and my father will be very much on my mind, and I, for one, am grateful for your service.  Just want you to know that.” “Thanks,” he said, “it’s a sad day for me, remembering my buddies, some who died during the war and then the others who I’ve simply outlived.”  As he gathered his clubs from the back of the car he cheerfully said, “well, hope to see you around another Sunday.”

No sense telling him that this was probably my last Sunday walk by the golf course, but it put my inconsequential change issue in perspective.  “Yes, see you around,” I said as I walked across the golf course, with the last paper delivered to a store that is vanishing and Memorial Day on my mind.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mentoring and Remembering

I didn't think I'd get around to writing anything for a while, but I can't let this go by.  There is a remarkably beautifully written piece by Philip Roth -- In Memory of a Friend, Teacher and Mentor -- in yesterday's New York Times, which one can read on several levels.  It is a eulogy, a profound testament to the power of mentoring, insight into the fine line between literature and non-fiction, and a condemnation of "the scum in power" -- what one could call government at certain stages of American history.  Roth is referring to the McCarthy era when his former high school teacher, mentor and friend, Dr. Bob Lowenstein was "mauled in Congress’s anti-Communist crusade of the 1940s and 1950s."

The main character in Roth's I Married a Communist was shaped by his friend and Roth says "the book is, at bottom, education, tutelage, mentorship, in particular the education of an eager, earnest and impressionable adolescent in how to become — as well as how not to become — a bold and honorable and effective man."  But it is also about that era when his friend and mentor was branded as "political deviant" and lost his job as a teacher for six years: "I refer now not to a boy’s but to an adult’s education: in loss, grief and, that inescapable component of living, betrayal. Bob had iron in him and he resisted the outrage of the injustice with extraordinary courage and bravery, but he was a man, and he felt it as a man, and so he suffered too."

Being a teacher, Bob was in the position of being a mentor to many.  I had had thoughts of going into teaching instead of publishing (actually, I had no thoughts about the latter, I just needed to work when I got out of college -- I think of myself as an "accidental publisher").
Good teachers are mentors by design and I have been lucky enough to have two during my impressionable high school and college years, and remarkably we are still in touch and continue to be part of my life, my high school economics and political science teacher, Roger Brickner, and my college English teacher Martin Tucker.

But I've been a mentor too in my career (and have been mentored by others in the publishing world) and although I rarely see them, I am lucky enough to have an email relationship with several former colleagues, some of whom I've known almost from the beginning.  The last entry made an oblique reference to one who contacted me after 44 years, Mary.  Well, hat tip to her for passing on this brilliant piece of satire by Andy Borowitz of The New Yorker, which sort of ties everything up regarding this entry -- a new shameful era in our political history, the Senate having the "the courage and grit to stand up to the overwhelming wishes of the American people."

When President Obama delivered his State of the Union address, he said that the people of Newtown, Connecticut "deserve a vote" on gun control, little did he imagine that a watered down version that focuses mainly on background checks would fail -- a shameful example of NRA's control of our politicians  We got our vote.  Hopefully, all will remember when those Senators are up for reelection.

And to the city of Boston, great sighs of relief to the refrains of Sweet Caroline.....

And when I hurt,
Hurtin' runs off my shoulders

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Inaugural Day Thoughts

Our friends, John and Lois, hosted a second Inaugural party, some thirty guests to witness the ceremonial swearing in of the President and his speech.  What a difference four years make.  Last time it was a euphoric party, imagine, a young black president, imbued with liberal ideals, but with an economy that had already shown signs of complete collapse the joy was somewhat restrained by worry.

Four years later, the intransigence of government compromise has given way to more temperate expectations.  However, none of this detracted from the day, a remarkable, very moving, and humbling exercise of the democratic process with the pageantry instilling a quiet pride and hopefulness in us and the sea of faces that swept across the National Mall.

Everything about it was just about perfect, even the weather cooperating.  President Obama's speech was aspirational and progressive, touching upon many of the themes of his presidency and introducing the sorely needed goal of combating climate change.  Perhaps he will make that the hallmark of his second term as universal healthcare was in his first.  In spite of the overwhelming need to face this issue realistically, action has been lacking.  Here is an interesting pro/con alignment of opinions on this subject (hat tip Barry Ritholtz's The Big Picture).

This will become yet another clash in Congress.  To fully understand the severity of political polarization, one only has to read comments about Obama's reelection such as Texas Representative John Culberson's: I grieve for the country....We’re going to throw the emergency brake on as best we can and fight him every step of the way.  Welcome to your second term, Mr. President!

A key phrase from the Inaugural speech, we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it, was also Obama's central point when he was campaigning and will probably be the fulcrum of budgeting and tax reform.  But this is going to be a more complex problem as there are systemic reasons behind this widening gap that go far beyond the reach of mere tax reform legislation.  The New York Times magazine section this Sunday carried a relatively brief but pointed article on "skill-biased technical change:" The rise of networked laptops and smartphones and their countless iterations and spawn have helped highly educated professionals create more and more value just as they have created barriers to entry and rendered irrelevant millions of less-educated workers, in places like factory production lines and typing pools.

Thus, workers having technology skills, mostly those in information industry professions, law, finance, engineering, and medicine, have disproportionately benefited from those skills at the expense of blue collar workers who have been forced into the service economy at lower wages.  Having technology skills is tantamount to buying on margin, being able to leverage those skills for much greater compensation.

So when President Obama tries to put through legislation to reverse this course, it has to take into account not only tax reform, but massive educational reform and the effects of that will not be immediate, but rather long term, maybe measured in generations, like the progress made in civil rights.  Do we have the fortitude and patience?

And, then there is the deficit and reducing the National Debt.  We could embrace the best parts of the Simpson-Bowles plan (so eagerly commissioned by both parties as the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and then the results so immediately distanced by both)  No one wants to face up to their recommendations.  Our massive National Debt in part was incurred to save our financial system from ruin, but it did not occur overnight.  Quick and easy fixes are impossible. But, if we get the direction right, and gradually phase in some of the Commission's recommendations, perhaps we can then move forward on that front.

But do our politicians have the right stuff?  This is where presidential leadership is so sorely needed. President Obama threw down the gauntlet in his speech about the need for action -- even "imperfect" action -- a veiled suggestion of compromise.  There were two beautifully crafted paragraphs about the dangers of taking intransigent positions based on ideology in his speech:

That is our generation’s task -- to make these words, these rights, these values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American.  Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life. It does not mean we all define liberty in exactly the same way or follow the same precise path to happiness.  Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time, but it does require us to act in our time.  

For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay.  We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.   We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.  We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.

Finally, a bit of serendipity.  Does life imitate art? I had noted that Aaron Sorkin's 1995 classic The American President, directed by Rob Reiner, was on TV the same night as the inaugural.  We've seen it before but Ann and I, in a "presidential inauguration mood," said, what the heck, we'll watch it again (thanks Encore, no commercial interruptions).  Talk about a feel good movie and how incredibly relevant although made almost twenty years ago.   The focus of fictional President Andrew Shepherd's administration is to pass a crime bill (with assault weapon gun control) and an environmental bill that mandates the reduction of hydrocarbon emissions. Meanwhile, a right wing political demagogue, Senator Bob Rumson, is running against Shepherd's reelection, appealing to "family values" of Americans, by attacking Shepherd's relationship with Sydney Ellen Wade (Shepherd is a widower in the film).  Have things changed so little in the almost twenty years since the film's making?  Unresolved issues of gun control, environmental protection, and campaign character assault go on and on.

The film's President Andrew Shepherd initially takes the high road, concentrating on the issues rather than the personal attacks until he appears at an unscheduled and impromptu news conference and gives an impassioned, unrehearsed speech.  Perhaps all our politicians should see this movie once every four years (I realize that Sorkin writes with his own political agenda -- even I think that eliminating handguns cannot be on the lumped in with assault weapons --  but taking that into account, still there is much to be gleaned from this wonderful and eerily relevant script).  Here is what "President Shepherd" says:

For the last couple of months, Senator Rumson has suggested that being president of this country was, to a certain extent, about character, and although I have not been willing to engage in his attacks on me, I've been here three years and three days, and I can tell you without hesitation: Being President of this country is entirely about character. For the record: yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU. But the more important question is why aren't you, Bob? Now, this is an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights, so it naturally begs the question: Why would a senator, his party's most powerful spokesman and a candidate for President, choose to reject upholding the Constitution? If you can answer that question, folks, then you're smarter than I am, because I didn't understand it until a few hours ago. America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free". I've known Bob Rumson for years, and I've been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn't get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob's problem isn't that he doesn't get it. Bob's problem is that he can't sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character. And wave an old photo of the President's girlfriend and you scream about patriotism and you tell them, she's to blame for their lot in life, and you go on television and you call her a whore. Sydney Ellen Wade has done nothing to you, Bob. She has done nothing but put herself through school, represent the interests of public school teachers, and lobby for the safety of our natural resources. You want a character debate, Bob? You better stick with me, 'cause Sydney Ellen Wade is way out of your league.

I've loved two women in my life. I lost one to cancer, and I lost the other 'cause I was so busy keeping my job I forgot to do my job. Well, that ends right now. Tomorrow morning, the White House is sending a bill to Congress for its consideration. It's White House Resolution 455, an energy bill requiring a 20 percent reduction of the emission of fossil fuels over the next ten years. It is by far the most aggressive stride ever taken in the fight to reverse the effects of global warming. The other piece of legislation is the crime bill. As of today, it no longer exists. I'm throwing it out. I'm throwing it out writing a law that makes sense. You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and handguns. I consider them a threat to national security, and I will go door to door if I have to, but I'm gonna convince Americans that I'm right, and I'm gonna get the guns. We've got serious problems, and we need serious people, and if you want to talk about character, Bob, you'd better come at me with more than a burning flag and a membership card. If you want to talk about character and American values, fine. Just tell me where and when, and I'll show up. This is a time for serious people, Bob, and your fifteen minutes are up. My name is Andrew Shepherd, and I am the President.

What a way to cap off Inauguration Day.