Pondering the Pundits

Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from> around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

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Paul Krugman: Trump Versus the Socialist Menace


In 1961, America faced what conservatives considered a mortal threat: calls for a national health insurance program covering senior citizens. In an attempt to avert this awful fate, the American Medical Association launched what it called Operation Coffee Cup, a pioneering attempt at viral marketing.

Here’s how it worked: Doctors’ wives (hey, it was 1961) were asked to invite their friends over and play them a recording in which Ronald Reagan explained that socialized medicine would destroy American freedom. The housewives, in turn, were supposed to write letters to Congress denouncing the menace of Medicare.

Obviously the strategy didn’t work; Medicare not only came into existence, but it became so popular that these days Republicans routinely (and falsely) accuse Democrats of planning to cut the program’s funding. But the strategy — claiming that any attempt to strengthen the social safety net or limit inequality will put us on a slippery slope to totalitarianism — endures.

And so it was that Donald Trump, in his State of the Union address, briefly turned from his usual warnings about scary brown people to warnings about the threat from socialism.

What do Trump’s people, or conservatives in general, mean by “socialism”? The answer is, it depends.

Eugene Robinson: A ‘Green New Deal’ sounds like pie in the sky. But we need it.

Let’s consider some real news, for a change: Last year was officially proclaimed the fourth-warmest on record; scientists predict that melting ice in Antarctica and Greenland could not only raise sea levels but also further destabilize weather patterns; and progressive members of Congress are proposing a “Green New Deal,” the first policy framework ambitious enough to meet the challenge of global warming.

Please don’t stop reading. I know that climate change isn’t the sexiest of topics. I could be writing about President Trump’s latest tweetstorm, or the shade he was thrown by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at the State of the Union speech, or the blackface and sexual assault scandals that could force Virginia’s top three officials to resign, or Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) ongoing racial-identity crisis, or the House Intelligence Committee’s new investigation of some anomalous Trump Organization deals that involved huge and unexplained amounts of cash.

Those are all big and important stories, but climate change is the biggest, most important story of our time. Our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will judge us by how well we meet the challenge, and so far we are failing. Miserably.

Catherine Rampell: Americans have healthier hearts. We have a healthier budget, too.

Thanks to preventive medicine, older Americans have healthier hearts. Which also means, incidentally, that federal budgets are healthier, too.

At the turn of the millennium, health spending growth was spiraling out of control. Economists projected that the already ginormous health-care sector would soon gobble up monster portions of the federal budget and the entire economy. But something strange happened over the past decade and a half.

Rather than rocketing upward at ludicrous speed, health spending growth slowed — dramatically so.

That’s true whether we’re talking about public- or private-sector health spending; for Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and out-of-pocket spending, annual outlays have been way lower than the doomsday forecasters anticipated. Curiously, too, the sharpest slowdown has occurred with Medicare. [..]

Some have credited structural changes to the health-care system, including some of Obamacare’s cost-control measures. Maybe bundled payments and accountable care organizations are responsible — though studies so far suggest their effects have been modest compared with the magnitude of the overall changes in health spending trends. What’s more, the slowdown pre-dates Obamacare.

That new study suggests a different cause: Americans taking better care of their hearts.

James Comey; Take down the Confederate statues now

White people designed blackface to keep black people down, to intimidate, mock and stereotype. It began during the 19th century and wasn’t about white people honoring the talent of black people by dressing up to look like them. It was about mocking them and depicting them as lazy, stupid and less than fully human. It was a tool of oppression. As a college kid in Virginia during the 1980s, I knew that and so did my classmates. But a whole lot of white people seem to not know that history or understand why blackface is so offensive, whether it’s practiced by a college student or a new doctor. The turmoil in Virginia — where I have lived most of my adult life, including nine years in Richmond — may do some good if it reminds white people that a river of oppression runs through U.S. history, deep and wide, down to today.

But the reporters hurrying to the state capital to cover this important story about a poorly understood tool of white oppression are literally rushing past much larger and more powerful symbols of that oppression — symbols born of a similar desire to keep black people down. There is no doubt that Virginia’s leaders need to be held accountable for their personal history, but every Virginia leader is responsible for the racist symbols that still loom over our lives.

William J. Barber: How Ralph Northam and others can repent of America’s original sin

Following news that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s social life in the mid-1980s included parties where white people dressed in blackface, a stream of offensive photos from fraternity parties in the late 1970s and early 19 80s has emerged, implicating not only a few bad apples but also white elites across social and ideological lines. To African Americans who have survived the status quo of American racism, this is hardly a surprise. But it does raise again in our common life the question of what it means to repent of America’s racist past and pursue a more perfect union.

Like for any African American, this is personal for me. When my father challenged Jim Crow’s inequality in Georgia in the 1950s, a white man put a gun in his mouth and told him what he planned to do to him if he didn’t stop talking. When I was a young man in the 1970s, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in my uncle’s yard because he had married a white woman. My uncle sent me to the back door with a shotgun and told me to shoot anything that moved. When you know in your body the violent backlash that is inevitable whenever white supremacy is challenged, you cannot take its cultural symbols lightly.