(N.Y.Times) David Brooks has a point – upper class kids have invisible cultural advantages

Washington Post   Monkey Cage

(N.Y.Times) David Brooks has a point – upper class kids have invisible cultural advantages

By Henry Farrell       July 11, 2017

David Brooks is getting a lot of ridicule for an op-ed today, where he uses the example of ordering sandwiches to argue that upper and upper middle class kids have a lot of hidden cultural advantages. Despite the skepticism, many social scientists agree with Brooks’ emphasis on the hidden ways in which culture reinforces inequality, even if they might not all agree with Brooks’ suggestion that these cultural factors outweigh economic and political ones. In 2015, I interviewed Lauren Rivera, an associate professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of management. Her book, “Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs,” examines how inequality is produced by subtle social patterns of education and informal skills as well as big political and economic forces.

When social scientists think about economic inequality and the ways in which elites are able to hand down advantages to their kids, they usually argue that it’s driven by obvious material differences, such as access to good schools. Your book argues that elite privilege can involve subtle benefits that help some students – and not others – get jobs at top ranked law firms, banks and management consultancies. What are these benefits?

LR – Whether intentionally or not, elite parents expose their children to different experiences and styles of interacting that are useful for getting ahead in society. Many of these are taken for granted in upper and upper-middle class circles, such as how to prepare a college application (and having cultivated the right types of accomplishments to impress admissions officers), how to network in a business setting in a way that seems natural, and how to develop rapport with teachers, interviewers, and other gatekeepers to get things you want from those in power. Basically, if we think of economic inequality as a sporting competition, elite parents give their kids a leg up, not only by being able to afford the equipment necessary to play but also by teaching them the rules of the game and giving them insider tips on how to win.

One of your most counter-intuitive arguments is that students from working class and lower-middle class backgrounds are less likely to get elite jobs, because they concentrate on studying rather than their social life at college. That’s the opposite of what the conventional wisdom would suggest. How does these students’ devotion to academic seriousness hurt their job prospects?

LR – Working and lower-middle-class children are less likely to participate in structured extracurricular activities than their more privileged peers while growing up (and when they do, they tend to participate in fewer of them). This hurts their job prospects in two ways. First, it affects the types of schools students attend. Elite universities weigh extracurricular activities heavily in admissions decisions. Given that these employers—which offer some of the highest-paying entry-level jobs in the country—recruit almost exclusively at top schools, many students who focus purely on their studies will be out of the game long before they ever apply to firms. Second, employers also use extracurricular activities, especially those that are driven by “passion” rather than academic or professional interest and require large investments of time and money over many years, to screen résumés. But participation in these activities while in college or graduate school is not a luxury that all can afford, especially if someone needs to work long hours to pay the bills or take care of family members. Essentially, extra-curriculars end up being a double filter on social class that disadvantages job applicants from more modest means both in entering the recruiting pipeline and succeeding within it.

Your book finds an enormous difference in how many recruiters at elite firms treat graduates from a tiny number of prestigious colleges, and how they treat everyone else. Candidates who “chose” to go to a lower ranked school are seen by some recruiters as having demonstrated moral failure. What drives this culture of selectivity and perpetuates it?

LR – Quite simply, we like people who are similar to ourselves. Ask anyone what constitutes a good driver, leader, or parent, and chances are they will describe someone like themselves. The same is true for how people think of merit in the working world. Most employees in these firms are graduates of highly elite undergraduate or graduate programs and believe that’s where talent really resides. In addition, given how segregated our society has become socioeconomically, people who grow up in upper-middle or upper-class communities where college attendance is the norm may not realize structural factors that influence educational pathways and erroneously view university prestige as a reflection of ability alone. Finally, national rankings matter. Rankings provide an easily quantifiable, presumably “scientific” way of making sense of the myriad of educational institutions out there. They both reinforce beliefs that school prestige equals student quality (even though things having nothing to do with students’ abilities factor into a university’s rank) and serve as a convenient justification for limiting recruitment to a small number of elite schools with strong alumni ties to firms.

One of the ways in which your book has been received is as a way for people to figure out how to improve their chances of getting a job at an elite firm. One prominent review treated your book as more or less a “how to” guide for joining the 1 percent. This, presumably, wasn’t your motivation for writing the book. What’s your reaction to readers who are reading the book in ways that may potentially reinforce the problematic system that it is describing?

LR – The purpose of the book was to reveal how taken-for-granted ideas about what merit is and how best to measure it contribute to class inequalities at the top of the U.S. economic ladder. I certainly did not intend for the book to be interpreted as a how-to manual. However, given rising levels of anxiety about class position among the relatively advantaged and the high stakes of getting jobs in these firms, I’m not entirely surprised that some people are using it as a tool to try to game the system. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it can help groups currently disadvantaged in the hiring process, such as working class students and racial minorities, break into these jobs. On the other hand, it can benefit the already advantaged and reinforce the types of inequalities documented in the book. My hope, however, is that the research will open employees’ eyes about inequities and inefficiencies in the way hiring is currently done in these firms and motivate change in a positive direction.

New York Times    Opinion Pages

How We Are Ruining America

David Brooks, Op-ed Columnist      July 11, 2017

Over the past generation, members of the college-educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status. They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.

How they’ve managed to do the first task — giving their own children a leg up — is pretty obvious. It’s the pediacracy, stupid. Over the past few decades, upper-middle-class Americans have embraced behavior codes that put cultivating successful children at the center of life. As soon as they get money, they turn it into investments in their kids.

Upper-middle-class moms have the means and the maternity leaves to breast-feed their babies at much higher rates than high school-educated moms, and for much longer periods.

Upper-middle-class parents have the means to spend two to three times more time with their preschool children than less affluent parents. Since 1996, education expenditures among the affluent have increased by almost 300 percent, while education spending among every other group is basically flat.

As life has gotten worse for the rest in the middle class, upper-middle-class parents have become fanatical about making sure their children never sink back to those levels, and of course there’s nothing wrong in devoting yourself to your own progeny.

It’s when we turn to the next task — excluding other people’s children from the same opportunities — that things become morally dicey. Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution recently published a book called “Dream Hoarders” detailing some of the structural ways the well educated rig the system.

The most important is residential zoning restrictions. Well-educated people tend to live in places like Portland, New York and San Francisco that have housing and construction rules that keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities.

These rules have a devastating effect on economic growth nationwide. Research by economists Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti suggests that zoning restrictions in the nation’s 220 top metro areas lowered aggregate U.S. growth by more than 50 percent from 1964 to 2009. The restrictions also have a crucial role in widening inequality. An analysis by Jonathan Rothwell finds that if the most restrictive cities became like the least restrictive, the inequality between different neighborhoods would be cut in half.

Reeves’s second structural barrier is the college admissions game. Educated parents live in neighborhoods with the best teachers, they top off their local public school budgets and they benefit from legacy admissions rules, from admissions criteria that reward kids who grow up with lots of enriching travel and from unpaid internships that lead to jobs.

It’s no wonder that 70 percent of the students in the nation’s 200 most competitive schools come from the top quarter of the income distribution. With their admissions criteria, America’s elite colleges sit atop gigantic mountains of privilege, and then with their scholarship policies they salve their consciences by offering teeny step ladders for everybody else.

I was braced by Reeves’s book, but after speaking with him a few times about it, I’ve come to think the structural barriers he emphasizes are less important than the informal social barriers that segregate the lower 80 percent.

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion. Their chief message is, “You are not welcome here.”

In her thorough book “The Sum of Small Things,” Elizabeth Currid-Halkett argues that the educated class establishes class barriers not through material consumption and wealth display but by establishing practices that can be accessed only by those who possess rarefied information.

To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality.

The educated class has built an ever more intricate net to cradle us in and ease everyone else out. It’s not really the prices that ensure 80 percent of your co-shoppers at Whole Foods are, comfortingly, also college grads; it’s the cultural codes.

Status rules are partly about collusion, about attracting educated people to your circle, tightening the bonds between you and erecting shields against everybody else. We in the educated class have created barriers to mobility that are more devastating for being invisible. The rest of America can’t name them, can’t understand them. They just know they’re there.

Single-payer healthcare gains traction with Democrats

The Hill

Single-payer healthcare gains traction with Democrats

By Lisa Hagen and Rachel Roubein      July 9, 2017

Democrats are increasingly committing to support single-payer healthcare, amid Republican attacks on ObamaCare and pressure from their party’s left-wing base.

What was once considered only a progressive talking point has gained traction as more Democratic candidates have been willing to embrace government-funded healthcare on the campaign trail and more House members have been signing onto the idea.

Single-payer isn’t just being discussed in liberal enclaves of the country like California, where a single-payer measure recently fell short in the state Assembly. It’s a hot topic in Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) Republican-leaning district, where all the Democratic candidates running in the primary have supported it.

The idea hasn’t won universal appeal in the party, but the spotlight has been shone on the concept of a government-run healthcare system as concerns mount over the Senate GOP’s plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare, which would lead to 22 million more Americans without insurance.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) championed the idea of universal healthcare during his insurgent presidential campaign, and he’ll introduce his single-payer plan once the debate over ObamaCare ends.

Other senators — such as Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), two potential 2020 contenders — are getting on board with a Medicare for All proposal. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who faces a tough reelection in a state won by President Trump, said she’s a “maybe” on Sanders’s plan but “anticipates” supporting it, according to The Capital Times.

In the House, Rep. John Conyers Jr.’s (D-Mich.) Medicare for All bill has already netted 113 co-sponsors — nearly double the number of co-sponsors the legislation garnered last congressional session.

Key names are noticeably absent from the list, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). But other members of leadership, including Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.), are co-sponsors of the bill.

“It’s nice to see many senators … and a variety of people in the House publicly stating for the first time on record that a single-payer system is the way of the future that we need to be working toward,” Shannon Jackson, the executive director of the Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution, told The Hill.

Warren has publicly encouraged Democratic candidates to campaign on the idea in 2018 and 2020. But even though the Democrats in Ryan’s likely safe GOP district are supporting it, other Democratic candidates in red states and districts have been more cautious about endorsing single-payer. Rob Quist, the Montana Democrat endorsed by Sanders, was the only candidate in this year’s House special elections to run on that platform.

“I think that the politicians who choose to run on a campaign that states and embodies that pillar of our platform will be successful and they will be able to connect with the people,” Jackson said.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows a modest increase in Americans’ support for the concept, with 53 percent of the public supporting all Americans getting their coverage through a single government plan.

That’s up from 2008 and 2009, when about 46 percent of the public held this position. A majority of the uptick in support has come from independents, Kaiser noted.

But in practice, Democrats haven’t been able to muster enough votes to pass a single-payer plan. In California’s state Assembly, moderate and progressive Democrats couldn’t agree on the proposal. While it passed the state Senate, California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D) ultimately tabled the proposal in his chamber.

“It’ll tend to be an issue that more left-leaning Democrats are willing to embrace,” said Dan Mendelson, president of consulting firm Avalere Health.

“In order to embrace that concept, you’ll have to be willing to defend the efficiency and effectiveness of a fully run government system, and there are many Democrats who are not going to do that and there are some who are.”

For Democrats, the increased talk about single-payer offers an alternative message to oppose the Senate GOP’s bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare, he said.

Under a single-payer system, all Americans would have health coverage, whereas the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates 22 million people would become uninsured under the Senate GOP’s healthcare plan.

“I think what you see is the Democrats on the Hill are searching for a single unifying message to unite in opposition to what is happening presently in the Congress,” Mendelson said. “And that’s really what they’re looking for.”

Republicans have taken note, seizing on Warren’s request for Democrats to campaign on single-payer in an attempt to play offense in the healthcare debate as Republicans struggle with their unpopular plan.

But Republicans are seeing an advantage in Democrats’ embrace of single-payer, too. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is running auto-play Facebook ads that seek to tie the 10 Democratic senators up for reelection in states Trump won to Warren and government-run healthcare.

The Senate GOP’s campaign arm and the Republican National Committee have pointed to studies that say Medicare for All could cost as much as $32 trillion over a decade.

“I think that the idea that this is becoming our central focus is mistaken and one that our opponents are trying to put forward so they don’t have to talk about their age tax,” said a Democratic strategist with ties to Senate races. “What unites Senate Democrats is opposition to this disaster of a Republican bill.”

Some Republicans don’t see single-payer becoming a toxic issue for Democrats, arguing that those kinds of attacks are more of a “deflection tool” from the GOP’s own healthcare bill.

“It almost seems like it’s too wonky and not enough red meat to really make something catch fire,” a Republican operative in Washington told The Hill. “It’s hard to attack Democrats over single-payer healthcare when we can’t get our act together on repealing ObamaCare.”

Despite increasing talk of single-payer, Democrats haven’t agreed yet on a healthcare message for the 2018 midterms, in part because that will depend on whether Republicans manage to repeal ObamaCare.

“The [GOP] Senate bill is almost designed to make healthcare top-tier issue in the next elections,” said Larry Levitt, a Kaiser Family Foundation senior vice president.

“If the repeal and the replace bill is enacted and signed into law, Democrats will face a challenge as to what their healthcare message will be in 2018 and 2020,” Levitt said, adding that “it’s very likely that many Democrats would turn to single-payer as the next step.”

American farmers are facing a political paradox because of Republicans’ hard line on immigration

Business Insider

American farmers are facing a political paradox because of Republicans’ hard line on immigration

Dana Varinsky        July 8, 2017

  • US dairy farmers tend to be conservatives, but many depend on immigrant workers to keep their operations running.
  • Republicans’ tough stance on immigration has created a political rift between some farmers and their representatives.
  • This disconnect highlights the complicated place farmers hold in American politics.

MAURICE, Iowa — The congressman who has represented northwest Iowa for 15 years once suggested that Mexican immigrants had “calves the size of cantaloupes” from smuggling drugs across the border. He has been seen with a Confederate flag on his desk (though Iowa supported the Union Army), and he tweeted in March that the US “can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

He even built a model of a border wall on the floor of Congress in 2006 — nearly a decade before Donald Trump adopted the cause.

But on the farms that fill Steve King’s district, his constituents have more nuanced, complicated politics than the Republican congressman’s rhetoric might suggest.

Thousands of immigrants have moved to northwest Iowa in recent decades, attracted by farms and meat producers in need of workers willing to raise pigs, milk cows, or butcher animals. Between 2000 and 2015, the Latino population in Sioux Center, one of the larger cities in the district, more than tripled. According to the census, King’s district is now home to nearly 50,000 people who consider themselves Hispanic or Latino — about 6% of the area’s population.

That means that even some of King’s supporters — he took 61% of the vote in November — are being forced to reconcile their conservative politics with a business reality that has taken on a moral weight. They rely on immigrants, and some will go to extraordinary lengths to support them.

‘They’ve done everything as a citizen should’

Maassen Dairy sits on a rural, unpaved road in Maurice, Iowa, less than half an hour from the South Dakota border. The Maassen family started producing milk on the land with about 15 cows during the 1920s. Five generations later, that number has grown to more than 1,300, and the animals spend their days in a covered, open-air barn, a pile of food easily reachable through a metal gate.

Lee Maassen grew up on the farm and started working there full-time soon after he got married at age 20. He now runs the operation with his sons.

On nearly every issue, Maassen is a reliably conservative voter. He supported King and Trump in the latest election. He agrees with King’s positions on limiting environmental regulation, he said, and on what Maassen refers to as “morality issues” like abortion.

But on immigration, they diverge. For the past 30 years, the Maassen family has been hiring more and more immigrant workers — of the 26 employees currently at Maassen Dairy, 16 are immigrants, mostly from Mexico. The family has even sponsored many to apply for citizenship. Often, that involved accompanying the workers on the more than two-hour drive to the Mexican consulate in Omaha, Nebraska, since there isn’t one in Iowa.

Maassen estimates his family has successfully helped half a dozen immigrant workers become citizens since they hired their first Mexican employee in 1985.

“All of our workers, they’ve paid their full amount of federal income tax, full amount of state tax. They’ve done everything as a citizen should,” he told Business Insider. “So why shouldn’t they be granted that? That’s why we need some reform.”

Maassen knows, however, that his idea of reform doesn’t align with the one espoused by King and other Republican politicians — especially since Trump’s election.

“The stance is sometimes really negative: Anybody that’s not classified, an immigrant, we’re going to send them all back, we’re going to close down the border, whatever,” he said of those with hardline stances on immigration. “But I’m thinking, do you really understand what the full impact of that would be?”

Immigrants or robots

Farmers are fairly accustomed to occupying a unique, complicated place in American politics.

They make up less than 2% of the US population, but their work has a dramatically disproportionate effect on the country’s economy. Environmental regulations affect them heavily, yet a changing climate can threaten their livelihoods. They generally vote Republican, but plenty of crop farmers utilize government insurance subsidies, and many in the industry are wary of big business and increasing consolidation.

Plus, free trade has proved a boon for agriculture — the value of US dairy-product exports more than quadrupled from 2004 to 2014, and pork exports have increased nearly eleven-fold since 2000 — but farmers were left in a lurch after both Democrats and Republicans came out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the 2016 election.

However, nowhere is farmers’ complex political position clearer than on immigration.

The Department of Agriculture estimated that only about 22% of the country’s crop farm workers in 2013 and 2014 were born in the US. Immigrants also permeate many other agricultural sectors that get less attention. Dairy workers aren’t employed seasonally. They don’t toil in fields picking delicate fruit like grapes or strawberries. And many don’t work anywhere near the Mexico-US border.

No nationally gathered statistics are available about laborers in livestock industries. But in a report put together for the National Milk Producers Federation in 2015 based on a survey of 1,000 dairy farms around the country, responses indicated that immigrants accounted for 51% of all dairy labor in the US, and that dairies employing immigrants produced 79% of the country’s total milk supply.

It’s the physical nature of dairy farming, Maassen said, that has made it almost impossible to fill positions with Iowa natives.

“We can’t find enough employees to fulfill the job role,” he said. “We need immigrant labor in order to do that.”

A crackdown on immigration would dramatically affect Maassen’s business — and the dairy industry overall. The NMPF report estimated that eliminating immigrant labor would cause the total number of dairy farms in the US to drop by over 7,000 and retail milk prices to increase by 90%.

“We’ve thought about that and considered what’s our disaster program if that would happen,” Maassen said of that worst-case scenario. “It would affect us greatly. We’d have to make some adjustments to how we’d hire the labor in order to do it. We’d have to switch over to all robots.”

Some dairy farms around the US have installed robotic milking machines to eliminate the problems that come from labor shortages and employee management. But for now, Maassen is sticking with his workers.

‘What more could one want, right?’

The cows at Maassen Dairy get milked three times a day, seven days a week. There are shifts around the clock.

Pilar Garrido spends her eight-hour shift in the farm’s milking parlor with two other employees, Mexican radio playing as groups of well-trained cows file onto elevated platforms. Garrido and her colleagues walk by each cow and coat her udders with a disinfecting cleaner, which stimulates the cow to let her milk down, the same way a nuzzling calf might.

After the cows have been cleaned and wiped, the workers attach milking tubes to each teat. The tubes pop off when the supply of milk is exhausted, and then the workers clean the udders once more before the cows leave and a new group is herded in.

“It’s hard because you’re working the whole eight hours, moving your feet, arms, the whole body,” Garrido, who emigrated to the US from Pachuca, Mexico, 15 years ago, told Business Insider in Spanish while the cows were being milked. “You arrive [home] wanting to bathe and go to sleep and not think about anything.”

Garrido and the others who do this work must power-wash the parlor several times per day. Other workers must also replenish the cows’ food and push it back into accessible piles. A few are in charge of herding the groups into the milking parlor. And then there are the cows ready for artificial insemination, since dairy cows are kept in a nearly permanent postpartum state. And there are the inevitable calves that need tending to.

Garrido said she grew up in a humble, country family and enjoys being with animals. But the work was all new to Mirza Salazar, who shares a shift with Garrido.

“I had an office career,” Salazar said in Spanish as Garrido tended to the cows behind her. She moved from Mexico City to Iowa in 2005, she said, because she had family in the area.

“Here, I learned to milk, about the outdoors, about maternity, I learned all of this,” Salazar said. “It’s very different. It’s tough. It’s simple, but it’s also humble, and it’s a job.”

Salazar and Garrido both fled abusive husbands — Salazar left hers in Mexico, and Garrido separated from hers in Chicago. Each is now raising kids solo. Garrido earns $11.25 an hour and manages to send money back to her parents in Mexico every month or two on top of providing for her kids.

“What more could one want, right? To improve and continue moving forward,” she said. “This is a lovely job, very honorable, and I like it.”

Fear, dialogue, and compromise

Step off Maassen’s farm, and there’s more fear. Garrido said she respected Trump and his decisions but had heard of many in the immigrant community losing hope.

“It causes a lot of remorse to go out into the street, and you don’t know if you’re going to return,” she said. “It’s almost as if you’re like, ‘Oh God, help me to get to work, and God help me to return home.'”

Maassen knows his employees have a heightened awareness of immigration politics since the presidential election. He, too, worries about Trump’s and King’s positions on the issue.

“I had some fear,” he said of King’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. “That’s why we met with Steve King a number of times, just to say, ‘Do you realize?'”

Maassen Dairy is part of an industry group called the Western Iowa Dairy Alliance, which has organized discussions between the state’s dairy farmers and their political representatives. Through those efforts, Maassen attempted to explain his situation to King a couple of years ago. He has also met with Republican Sen. Charles Grassley.

King did not return Business Insider’s request for comment on those meetings, and WIDA representatives said they didn’t believe the conversations led to any noticeable changes in King’s position. But Maassen believes the group did have some success in conveying to King what the consequences of an immigration crackdown would be for his voters. He thinks Trump, too, has been tempered since the campaign.

“Even from a conservative approach, there’s compromise being done already on that as we’re working through it, working for an alternative,” Maassen said.

He might be right — Trump told farmers at a roundtable in May that he would make sure his tough immigration-enforcement policies wouldn’t harm the agriculture industry. And despite King’s years of inflammatory comments, the congressman hasn’t succeeded in enacting many laws that have changed how Maassen goes about his business or his hiring.

That leaves Maassen free to base his vote on the other issues that matter to him — abortion, regulation, taxes. And it leaves King free to keep stepping into the bright spotlight of controversy, all the while hanging onto a decade-old model of a wall that’s unlikely to be built.

SEE ALSO: These robots are milking cows without any humans involved

NOW WATCH: Why organic milk lasts longer than regular milk

More: Dairy Agriculture BI Innovation Iowa

The President’s IKEA Cabinet Is Falling Apart Right on Schedule

Esquire

The President’s IKEA Cabinet Is Falling Apart Right on Schedule

You get what you pay for.

Charles P. Pierce     July 6, 2017  

While the president* is overseas checking in with the home office, the ill-suited elves of his spectacularly unqualified cabinet are very busy at the job of dismantling their jobs, which is their only apparent function in this administration. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, for example, dropped by to visit some coal miners and laid a little ee-co-nomix on them.

There are not many people in this world who don’t understand the concept of a “glut,” but Perry apparently is one of them. Hell, with that kind of thinking, I’m surprised Perry isn’t the Treasury Secretary.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is busy getting sued by 19 state attorneys general because she’s delaying a rule enacted by the previous administration that made it easier for students to get their loans forgiven if their colleges were found to have been fraudulent. DeVos is dragging her feet here because she sees education as a profit center, and because phony for-profit educational “reform” is the only reason anyone ever heard of her. From NPR:

The filing by 18 states and Washington, D.C., asks a U.S. District Court to declare the Education Department’s delay of the rule unlawful and to order the agency to implement it. The states say they have pursued “numerous costly and time-intensive investigations and enforcement actions against proprietary and for-profit schools” that violated consumer protection laws.

(Point of Personal Privilege: once again, Maura Healey, the attorney general of the Commonwealth—God save it!—is out front on this issue. Her statement reads, in part, “Since day one, Secretary DeVos has sided with for-profit school executives against students and families drowning in unaffordable student loans.” And fighting off grizzly attacks, one assumes.)

But, as you might’ve guessed, the real lasting damage is being done by Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III. His Department of Justice has decided that Texas is doing just fine at this whole voter suppressi…er…voter ID thing, as The Texas Tribune notes:

“Texas’s voter ID law both guarantees to Texas voters the opportunity to cast an in-person ballot and protects the integrity of Texas’s elections,” the filing stated. Federal lawyers were referring to Senate Bill 5, which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law last month. It would soften a 2011 voter ID law — known as the nation’s most stringent — that courts have ruled purposefully burdened Latino and black voters. If allowed to take effect, the law would allow people without photo ID to vote if they present alternate forms of ID and sign affidavits swearing a “reasonable impediment” kept them from obtaining what was otherwise required. “S.B. 5 addresses the impact that the Court found in [the previous law] by dramatically reducing the number of voters who lack acceptable photographic identification,” the Justice Department argued, adding that U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos should “decline any further remedies.”

Of course, this is a complete reversal of the Obama DOJ’s efforts at curtailing the voter-suppression that was the true purpose not only of the original law, but of the inadequate fig-leaf of the state’s proposed changes. The Department of Justice is now on the other side and, somewhere in Jeff Sessions’ deepest heart, he knows what this is all about.

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The huge gap between America’s rich and super-rich exposes a fundamental misunderstanding about inequality

Business Insider

The huge gap between America’s rich and super-rich exposes a fundamental misunderstanding about inequality

Pedro Nicolaci da Costa    July 7, 2017

Destabilizing levels of income inequality, once a problem reserved for developing nations, is now a defining social and political issue in the United States.

Donald Trump seized on the issue during the presidential campaign, vowing to become a voice for forgotten Americans left behind by decades of widening wealth disparities.

While America’s enormous gap between rich and poor and the sorry state of its middle class are well-documented, a less prominent trend tells an equally important story about the American economy: the divide between the well-off and the stratospherically rich.

This particular pattern is especially important since some economists and conservative commentators have tried to blame inequality on educational levels, arguing that those with college degrees have fared well in the so-called knowledge economy while those with a high school diploma or less lack the skills to do the jobs available.

Others, however, point to runaway salaries for top executives in industries like energy and finance as the key underlying drivers of inflation, which has been characterized by huge gains at the very top of the income distribution. Executive compensation is driven in large part by corporate boards that have cozy relationships with firms’ CEOs, rather than market forces.

From Aspen, Colorado, the New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote:

“There is a structural flaw in modern capitalism. Tremendous income gains are going to those in the top 20 percent, but prospects are diminishing for those in the middle and working classes. This gigantic trend widens inequality, exacerbates social segmentation, fuels distrust and led to Donald Trump.”

Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley and a preeminent researcher of inequality, wasted little time in countering the argument.

“Tremendous gains are not going to the top 20%. They are going to top 1%,” he tweeted at Brooks, adding that this is key to understanding the Republican Party’s agenda.

Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, makes a similar case as Brooks.

“The strong whiff of entitlement coming from the top 20 percent has not been lost on everyone else,” he wrote in a recent opinion piece. His book is titled “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It.”

Nicholas Buffie, an economic-policy researcher in Washington, eloquently took issue with the 20% argument in a blog he wrote when he was at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“The problem with this type of analysis is that it misleads readers into thinking that a large group of well-educated Americans have benefited from the rise in inequality,” Buffie said. “In reality, the ‘winners’ from increased inequality are really a much smaller group of incredibly rich Americans, not a large group of well-educated, upper-middle-class workers.”

In other words, blaming America’s wealth divide merely on educational differences may be easy, but not particularly useful.

The richest US families own a startling proportion of America’s wealth

Pedro Nicolaci da Costa    June 28, 2017

Distribution matters.

The United States has long taken pride in being the richest nation in the world. It remains so despite China’s quick game of catch-up and much larger population, at least when it comes to the broadest measure of a country’s economic output, gross domestic product (GDP).

Yet deep inequalities, which became a hot-button political issue in the wake of a deep recession and financial crisis that highlighted those disparities, paint a different picture of how well off most Americans really are.

Research from Berkeley economists has found incomes at the top 0.001% of the income strata surged a whopping 636% between 1980 and 2014, while wages for the bottom half of the population were basically stuck in place.

Critics of that body of work say its use of pre-tax data masks some of the equalizing effects of the tax code, and thus overstates inequality. If that were indeed the case, a look at the distribution of wealth as opposed to just income, while harder to measure, could be a better barometer as to the true state of America’s social divide.

This chart courtesy of Deutsch Bank economist Torsten Slok shows the picture with regards to wealth is even bleaker. The richest 10% of families are worth a combined $51 trillion, equal to 75% of total household wealth. To put that figure in perspective, US GDP totaled $18.5 trillion in 2016.

This eye-popping chart on inequality is a slap in the face of America’s middle class

Pedro Nicolaci da Costa     June 13, 2017

Why does the US economy still feel iffy to most Americans despite an eight-year economic expansion and historically low unemployment?

Look no further than this eye-popping chart of income growth between 1980 and 2014 courtesy of Berkeley’s elite-squad of inequality research, including Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman.

Featured in a recent blog from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, the graphic highlights just how stratospheric income growth has been for the very wealthiest Americans — and how stagnant, in contrast, wages have been for the rest.

That’s not a typo on the right. Incomes for the top 0.001% richest Americans surged 636% during the 34-year period. Wow.

There’s more. “The average pretax income of the bottom 50% of US adults has stagnated since 1980, while the share of income of US adults in the bottom half of the distribution collapsed from 20% in 1980 to 12% in 2014,” writes Howard Gold, founder and editor of GoldenEgg Investing, in the Chicago Booth blog.

“In a mirror-image move, the top 1% commanded 12% of income in 1980 but 20% in 2014. The top 1% of US adults now earns on average 81 times more than the bottom 50% of adults; in 1981, they earned 27 times what the lower half earned.”

Here’s a link to the full paper for the academically inclined.

Protesters opposing GOP health care bill descend upon lawmakers, some arrested

ABC Good Morning America

Protesters opposing GOP health care bill descend upon lawmakers, some arrested

Ali Rogin and David Caplan,  Good Morning America    July 7, 2017

https://www.yahoo.com/gma/protesters-opposing-gop-health-care-bill-descend-upon-051305078–abc-news-topstories.html

Protesters around the country on Thursday responded to lawmakers who declined to hold town halls by bringing their complaints straight to the doors of their elected officials’ offices.

From Arkansas to Arizona, supporters of Obamacare chanted, sang songs and in some cases, got arrested as they made their case against the Senate Republican health care bill.

ARIZONA

The Arizona chapter of the Progressive Democrats of America, a grassroots PAC operating inside the Democratic Party, said five of its members were arrested at a gathering outside the Phoenix office of Sen. Jeff Flake after a building manager called the police, claiming they were standing on private property. ABC affiliate KGUN reported that the four women and one man were taken into custody for trespassing after they repeatedly refused to leave the private property.

Protesters chanted “Where is Jeff Flake!” and “Now’s the time to stand and fight! Health care is a human right!”

In Tucson, Pima County Sheriff’s deputies arrested two men at a health care-related protest at Sen. Jeff Flake’s office Thursday morning, according to KGUN. Deputies say the men were arrested just before 9 a.m. for reported threats. One of the protesters allegedly referenced the shooting of U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, according to KGUN.

ARKANSAS

In Arkansas, protesters waited in Sen. Tom Boozman’s Little Rock office, but were told by a staffer to limit themselves to ten people inside the small waiting room.

“Let’s please be respectful of each other,” the staffer told the group.

“Well, we would like for our senator to be respectful,” a protester responded. “If you’re going to have constituents, and if he’s going to be the U.S. Senator, he should have an office where constituents can come sit and speak their minds!”

At Sen. Tom Cotton’s office, in the same building as Boozman’s office, other protesters sang pro-Medicaid songs, to the tune of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah.”

And another protester told a Cotton staffer, “The legislation is supposed to make cuts to VA services … as a veteran Sen. Cotton should have other veterans in mind.” The staffer responded, “We appreciate your service. Thank you.”

TEXAS

Sen. Cruz was one of the few Senate Republicans to hold a town hall. Most of the questions at the event in Austin were on veterans’ health care, but he did have a few spirited exchanges with supporters of the ACA.

“I’m happy to have a conversation, but if we’re just yelling back and forth at each other, we can’t have that,” he told one heckler.

At the end of the event he thanked the largely friendly audience for a “respectful and spirited debate,” adding, “we may not have convinced each other but that’s part of the democratic process.”

Protesters, who chanted songs, also rallied outside of Sen. John Cornyn’s office in Austin.

Police were spotted escorting protesters away, and one of the officers was spotted frisking a male protester.

COLORADO

Obamacare supporters held a “Save Medicaid Rally” in Denver, where several hundred people showed up.

One female protester urged rally-goers to call Sen. Corey Gardner. “Call him at least once a day and tell him to vote no and to commit to us, before he leaves Colorado, to vote no on this ridiculous tax cut for the wealthy!” she said.

Activists at Sen. Corey Gardner’s Denver office didn’t get a face-to-face meeting, but they did get a 15-minute phone chat with their senator, who was not in the Denver area.

They told him they “demanded” that he vote “no” on the Senate bill — but Gardner said he couldn’t say how he would vote because the bill as presented is just a “discussion draft,” not the final version.

“I can’t commit yes or no,” he told the activists, from the Denver chapter of Democratic Socialists of America.

KENTUCKY

A few dozen protesters chanted and held signs outside Sen. Mitch McConnell’s office in Lexington.

“Don’t get sick! Please die quick!” chanted protesters, mocking the GOP’s healthcare plan.

KANSAS

Sen. Jerry Moran was treated warmly by a crowd at a town hall in Palco that seemed largely supportive of Obamacare, because he opposes the current Senate GOP bill.

He had a few exchanges with the liberal members of the audience, but all of them were respectful. This was a crowd that clearly appreciated being among the few that actually had an opportunity to talk to their senator over this recess.

“If public hearings are not held in the Senate on the next Senate bill, will you withhold your vote?” one attendee asked Moran of the health care bill.

“I will not necessarily. That’s not the criteria. I know that’s not the answer you were looking for,” Moran responded.

“No!” she said back, though she listened attentively as he explained why that wasn’t the case.

Moran touched on the scarcity of Republican town halls.

“I’ve been told that it’s silly to hold town hall meetings,” he said. “You may not be my voters, but you are my constituents. And you deserve to have a conversation with me,” he added, to applause.

TwinCities Pioneer Press

Health care bill would have devastating effects on Minnesotans, Dayton says

S.M. Chavey, Pioneer Press         July 5, 2017

At a Minneapolis news conference Wednesday, Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, both Democrats, railed against the proposed health care bill in the U.S. Senate.

The Republican-written health care measure would unwind parts of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, and replace them with a less generous and, to backers, a less onerous health insurance program.

The bill threatens health insurance for an estimated 22 million Americans, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO, a nonpartisan office, said the planned Senate health care measure would deliver a 35 percent spending cut to Medicaid, a program for people with low incomes, by 2036.

About 1 million Minnesotans are on Medicaid, with a further 100,000 on the state-run MinnesotaCare. That’s about 20 percent of the state’s population, Dayton said. The national health care bill under consideration would cost Minnesota $2.8 billion a year by 2026 and a total of $31 billion by 2030 — and that’s too big of a cut for the state to back fill, the governor said.

He and Ellison, who represents Minneapolis, urged Minnesotans to speak out against the bill.

“Quality health care is a right, and it should be treated as such,” Dayton said.

The U.S. House replacement for the federal Affordable Care Act passed by just two votes in May. The three Republican House members from Minnesota voted in favor of the measure. The five Democrats voted against it.

Republican U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis said the measures being debated in Congress would create a more robust, affordable and nimble health insurance market.

“We undo the price controls, we undo the mandates, so young and healthy people can get back in the insurance pool with lower premiums,” said Lewis, in his first term representing Minnesota’s south-suburban 2nd District.

Lewis defended slowing the growth of Medicaid, saying that the able-bodied poor adults it expanded to cover under the Affordable Care Act shouldn’t be the program’s focus.

In the face of opposition from Senate Republicans, the Senate delayed a vote, originally planned for the end of June, on its replacement until after the July 4 recess.

“It’s not too late to raise your voice to stop this terrible Senate bill,” Ellison said Wednesday. “If we want to preserve ACA and even extend it and make it better, it’s time to raise your voice and to understand that we are right.”

Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said the bill would affect Minnesotans in particular by removing federal funding from MinnesotaCare and by not giving Minnesota credit for the reforms it has made to Medicaid.

“If Congress and the president are serious about reducing health care costs, they should really look to states like Minnesota that have innovated and reformed the way we deliver health care for the people of Minnesota, and not punish us for the reforms,” Piper said.

Piper said Medicaid pays for almost half of substance-abuse treatment in Minnesota. Medicaid enrollee James Robinson, of Minneapolis, said Medicaid helped him work through his addictions.

“If it weren’t for the funding of some of these programs … there would have been no support system that saw the good in me and said, ‘You deserve to live,’ ” Robinson said at the news conference.

David Montgomery contributed to this report.

Is Trump mentally fit to be president? Let’s consult the U.S. Army’s field manual on leadership

LA Times  Op-ed

Is Trump mentally fit to be president? Let’s consult the U.S. Army’s field manual on leadership

By Prudence L. Gourguechon   June 16, 2017

Since President Trump’s inauguration, an unusual amount of attention has been paid to the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. That’s the measure, ratified in 1967, that allows for removal of the president in the event that he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties” of the office. What does that mean, exactly? Lawyers surely have some ideas. But as a psychiatrist, I believe we need a rational, thorough and coherent definition of the mental capacities required to carry out “the powers and duties” of the presidency.

Although there are volumes devoted to outlining criteria for psychiatric disorders, there is surprisingly little psychiatric literature defining mental capacity, even less on the particular abilities required for serving in positions of great responsibility. Despite the thousands of articles and books written on leadership, primarily in the business arena, I have found only one source where the capacities necessary for strategic leadership are clearly and comprehensively laid out: the U.S. Army’s “Field Manual 6-22 Leader Development.”

The New York Times published a letter signed by 35 psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers. The letter suggests Trump’s “grave emotional instability… makes him incapable of serving safely as president.” (Feb. 21, 2017)

The Army’s field manual on leadership is an extraordinarily sophisticated document, founded in sound psychological research and psychiatric theory, as well as military practice. It articulates the core faculties that officers, including commanders, need in order to fulfill their jobs. From the manual’s 135 dense pages, I have distilled five crucial qualities:

Trust

According to the Army, trust is fundamental to the functioning of a team or alliance in any setting: “Leaders shape the ethical climate of their organization while developing the trust and relationships that enable proper leadership.” A leader who is deficient in the capacity for trust makes little effort to support others, may be isolated and aloof, may be apathetic about discrimination, allows distrustful behaviors to persist among team members, makes unrealistic promises and focuses on self-promotion.

A good leader ‘demonstrates an understanding of another person’s point of view’ and ‘identifies with others’ feelings and emotions.’

Discipline and self-control

The manual requires that a leader demonstrate control over his behavior and align his behavior with core Army values: “Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.” The disciplined leader does not have emotional outbursts or act impulsively, and he maintains composure in stressful or adverse situations. Without discipline and self-control, a leader may not be able to resist temptation, to stay focused despite distractions, to avoid impulsive action or to think before jumping to a conclusion. The leader who fails to demonstrate discipline reacts “viscerally or angrily when receiving bad news or conflicting information,” and he “allows personal emotions to drive decisions or guide responses to emotionally charged situations.”

In psychiatry, we talk about “filters” — neurologic braking systems that enable us to appropriately inhibit our speech and actions even when disturbing thoughts or powerful emotions are present. Discipline and self-control require that an individual has a robust working filter, so that he doesn’t say or do everything that comes to mind.

Judgment and critical thinking

These are complex, high-level mental functions that include the abilities to discriminate, assess, plan, decide, anticipate, prioritize and compare. A leader with the capacity for critical thinking “seeks to obtain the most thorough and accurate understanding possible,” the manual says, and he anticipates “first, second and third consequences of multiple courses of action.” A leader deficient in judgment and strategic thinking demonstrates rigid and inflexible thinking.

Self-awareness

Self-awareness requires the capacity to reflect and an interest in doing so. “Self-aware leaders know themselves, including their traits, feelings, and behaviors,” the manual says. “They employ self-understanding and recognize their effect on others.” When a leader lacks self-awareness, the manual notes, he “unfairly blames subordinates when failures are experienced” and “rejects or lacks interest in feedback.”

Empathy

Perhaps surprisingly, the field manual repeatedly stresses the importance of empathy as an essential attribute for Army leadership. A good leader “demonstrates an understanding of another person’s point of view” and “identifies with others’ feelings and emotions.” The manual’s description of inadequacy in this area: “Shows a lack of concern for others’ emotional distress” and “displays an inability to take another’s perspective.”

The Army field manual amounts to a guide for the 25th Amendment. Whether a president’s Cabinet would ever actually invoke that amendment is another matter. There is, however, at least one historical precedent. The journalists Jane Mayer and Doyle McManus tell the dramatic story in their 1988 book, “Landslide: The Unmaking of the President 1984-1988.”

Before he started his job as President Reagan’s third chief of staff, in early 1987, Howard Baker asked an aide, James Cannon, to put together a report on the state of the White House. Cannon then interviewed White House staff, including top aides working for the outgoing chief of staff, Donald Regan. On March 1, the day before Baker took over, Cannon presented him with a memo expressing grave concern that Reagan might not be sufficiently competent to perform his duties. Reagan was inattentive and disinterested, the outgoing staff had said, staying home to watch movies and television instead of going to work. “Consider the possibility that section four of the 25th Amendment might be applied,” Cannon wrote.

After reading the memo, Baker arranged a group observation of Reagan for the following day. On March 2, Baker, Cannon and two others — Reagan’s chief counsel, Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr., and his communications director, Tom Griscom — scrutinized the president, first at a Cabinet meeting, then at a luncheon. They found nothing amiss. The president seemed to be his usual genial, engaged self. Baker decided, presumably with relief, that Reagan was not incapacitated or disabled and they could all go on with their business.

Much has changed since the Reagan era, of course. Because of Trump’s Twitter habits and other features of the contemporary media landscape, far more data about his behavior are available to everyone — to citizens, journalists and members of Congress. And we are all free to compare that observable behavior to the list of traits deemed critical for leadership by the U.S. Army.

Prudence L. Gourguechon, M.D., is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst in Chicago.

What Republicans in Dallas can teach us about saving the planet…Just don’t call it ‘climate change’

Business Insider-Undividing America

Just don’t call it ‘climate change’

What Republicans in Dallas can teach us about saving the planet

By Rebecca Harrington   June 29, 2017

DALLAS — It was the afternoon before Earth Day in April when an imposing Republican stood up and declared war.

John Walsh III had spent the past half-hour sitting in the front row listening to former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark, who happens to be a retired four-star general, try to convince the crowd that climate change is a national-security issue.

Then Walsh took the microphone.

“This is a war, and we need to treat it like one,” he said. “I’m on the other side of the aisle from you politically, but I’m right in the trench with you on this issue.”

It was already a day of contrasts. A conservative had organized this Earth Day celebration. It attracted 100,000 people to Texas’ state fairgrounds, including climate researchers from elite universities as far away as New York City, oil-company executives, and families.

In this polarized political environment, and at a time when many of the people running the government won’t acknowledge the reality of climate change, this sounds like a remarkable moment of common ground. But 1,300 miles from Washington, DC, this kind of agreement is commonplace.

Sixty-eight percent of Americans accept the overwhelming scientific consensus that our climate is changing, and most say they worry about it. But Texas shows it’s when we talk about it that things seem to fall apart.

Take away the charged language and start talking about clean water, clean air, and clean soil, and there’s a lot of agreement. And a lot of opportunity.

You can find consensus in the war against climate change — as long as you don’t call it “climate change.”

Tree huggers

Walsh never had one specific moment when he accepted that the climate was changing.

His father taught him to respect the land growing up. And as a Christian, he learned to be a good steward of God’s Earth.

He’s the CEO and founder of a real-estate firm headquartered in Frisco, Texas. And he’s been a tree hugger for decades.

In 1984, Walsh’s company, TIG, was starting to put up some high-end office buildings in Carrollton, Texas. The site had many old-growth trees, but instead of bulldozing them wholesale, as most developers would, he decided they were worth saving.

On signs in front of each tree, he wrote a message: “It took God 50 years to put this tree here. Don’t even think about moving it.”

Walsh personally signed each message so the workers would know who they’d have to answer to if they cut a tree down. By keeping all the trees, TIG actually ended up saving money on energy and new plantings. Walsh says it’s logical arguments like that people need to hear if everyone is going to get on-board to fight climate change. Wear your jeans three days instead of one, he recommended, and you’d be surprised how much energy, resources, and money you can save.

It’s a modern day echo of Teddy Roosevelt-style Republicanism.

To Walsh and others in the movement, environmentalism has always been a conservative idea. They say Democrats stole the mantle.

“To conserve is conservative,” Earth Day Texas founder and Republican Trammell S. Crow said in March, when he visited Business Insider’s offices to try to persuade New York journalists to come to Earth Day Texas.

Ryan Sitton, the Texas Railroad Commissioner, agrees. An engineer by training, he was elected to the post overseeing the state’s agency regulating the oil and gas industry (much to Sitton’s chagrin, the job has nothing to do with railroads).

What Sitton finds most challenging is that because everything is so polarized these days, there’s no dialogue.

“Yes, I’m a Republican. I’m also a huge environmentalist,” he says.

“Parties are black and white. ‘Oh, Republicans are the party of the economy and jobs, and Democrats are the party of the environment.’ Yet all of us in this nation want a good economy, we all want good jobs, and we all want to protect our environment for future generations,” he told a crowd of two-dozen constituents at a town-hall-style talk. “None of those are partisan issues.”

A new message

If you want to understand how so many conservatives these days can be pro-environment and still deny climate change, meet Paul Braswell. He’s a chemist turned computer consultant who raises Texas longhorns. And he’s on the executive committee for the Republican Party of Texas.

He says there’s a common misconception that farmers and Republican landowners are all for using resources at the expense of the environment. They’re “good stewards,” he said.

He wants to protect the land. But ask him about climate change and his tone changes.

“They’re fudging their data,” he said of climate scientists. “There are flaws in their global-warming theory. And instead of adjusting their hypothesis, they’re adjusting their data.”

Braswell says that he’s more conservative than most Republicans in Texas. But his line of thinking echoes that of EPA Chief Scott Pruitt and President Trump. And it sounds a lot like what the president used as his justification for pulling the US out of the global Paris climate agreement.

Braswell is a scientist himself, of course, and when you talk with him, he’s just as likely to start talking about Einstein’s theory of relativity, or how farmers can use better chemicals for the earth.

“To conserve is conservative.”

Trammell S. Crow

That’s partly why, for all he does personally to protect the environment on a small scale — buying a fuel-efficient truck and limiting the use of insecticides on his land — he doesn’t believe climate change is happening. He says humans couldn’t possibly cause that much warming, and if it is getting hotter, the earth will fix itself.

Scientists leading the fight against climate change see people like Braswell as a missed opportunity.

“Climate scientists failed to relate what we know to the public,” Peter de Menocal, a renowned climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, told Business Insider.

“There’s a big, angry mob out there. Those are very real feelings. I respect that. All I can do is tell people what I know about how the climate is changing.”

Food, water, shelter, energy

Until recently, when experts tried to convince Americans to care about climate change, they’d often show them a chart of the Keeling Curve, which visualizes carbon levels in the atmosphere, in parts per million, measured from ice cores before 1958, and from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii thereafter.

Over hundreds of thousands of years, the climate has gone up and down in a fairly consistent cycle, and then at the very end, it’s like a hockey stick: the amount of carbon in the atmosphere skyrockets.

It’s compelling to look at, but for many, it’s too abstract.

Former President Barack Obama can call climate change the greatest threat facing humanity, but if you can’t see it in your own life, it’s hard to really care.

That’s why at a Columbia University event at Earth Day Texas, de Menocal said when he’s trying to convince people to take climate action, he’s started referencing tangible things everyone can get behind. These are humanity’s basic needs: food, water, shelter, and energy.

In a sign of burgeoning common ground, at the town hall the next morning, Sitton was making the case that Texas could help developing nations climb out of poverty by showing them how to regulate their natural resources.

“When you look around the world and you say, what is the No. 1 thing when you talk about the basic elements of society — shelter, food, and water are the first three. When you look at society’s needs, energy is a huge component of that.”

This line is breaking through the partisanship in a way that talk of warming has not.

“The best way to communicate with those minds-made-up climate deniers is not to talk about climate change but air quality,” Crow said. Improving food, water, shelter and energy also help reduce the amount of carbon emitted, and global warming.

“Temperature can take care of itself if you deal with air quality. That’s a public-health issue; that’s not an argument. Everybody believes in that.”

A 2016 Pew survey found that 48% of Americans believed that the Earth was warming because of human activity, a belief that 69% of Democrats and 23% of Republicans share.

But concern is growing. A March 2017 Gallup poll found that 45% of Americans worried “a great deal” about global warming and 68% believed humans were causing it.

And three-quarters of Americans said in an Earth Day Pew survey that they were particularly concerned about protecting the environment, and 83% said they try to live in ways to help protect it all or some of the time in their daily lives.

So there is common ground. Now what can be done about it?

Smokestacks to carbon tax

Braswell remembers growing up on the Texas panhandle, when his dad worked at a factory that made carbon black, which went into black paint and tires. The smoke stacks spit out so much pollution that the white-faced cattle turned black.

As he got older the plant installed scrubbers and filters to clean up the air. The cows returned to their normal color.

We have made progress since Rachel Carson sparked the environmental movement with “Silent Spring ” in 1962, and we can keep capitalizing on that momentum.

If you listen closely, the next logical step in this climate war we’re waging is clear to liberal environmentalists — and to a growing number of Republicans.

Several conservatives, including former Secretaries of State James A. Baker III and George P. Shultz, have put forth a plan for a carbon tax.

And as a local organizer for the nonpartisan Citizen’s Climate Lobby told Business Insider at the group’s booth at Earth Day Texas, it looks a lot like plans that it’s proposing along with Democrats. A carbon tax, or carbon fee as liberals prefer to call it, would put a price on carbon dioxide.

A similar cap-and-trade system limiting the amount of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide the US could emit per year is what stopped the acid-rain crisis and closed up the holes in the ozone layer surrounding Earth. And that was passed with Democratic majorities in Congress in 1990 and signed into law by Republican President George H.W. Bush, who ran for office as the “environmental president.”

Made in America

While Braswell doesn’t think humans burning fossil fuels that emit carbon dioxide is changing the global climate, he is willing to plan for the chance that scientists are right.

The answer, to conservative Republicans like Braswell, Pruitt, and Sitton, is never more government regulation like Obama enacted — it’s innovation. You want to shut down a dirty power plant? Fine, they say, do it in a way that doesn’t kill American businesses.

Trammell S. Crow, founder of Earth Day Texas, discusses how he thinks we can undivide America.

“If it’s not a good idea, let’s not build it again,” Braswell said. “If there’s something better, then we can do things smarter using technology.”

His belief that American innovation can lead the way sounds just like what de Menocal of Columbia says convinces him there’s momentum to vanquish climate change.

“As long as we make enough progress in the right direction, it’s all good,” de Menocal said. “Let’s repower the planet. Let’s get miners back to work installing solar panels. If I can wave the American flag for a minute, this is the kind of challenge we respond best to. They can be the heroes of this story. From a purely conservative standpoint, fighting climate change allows us to create jobs, protect national security, and ensure American resilience. What good American doesn’t want those things?”

“They can be the heroes of this story.”

Peter de Menocal

One example is “carbon capture,” which sucks up carbon emissions from power plants and sticks them in the ground so they don’t enter the atmosphere.

At Earth Day Texas, Business Insider asked the new US Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor of Texas, whether Americans could expect more carbon-capture projects under the Trump administration.

“The short answer is yes,” he said, and he’s particularly excited that American companies can sell such technologies to our allies so they can reduce their carbon footprints.

“We make it in America. You know, made in America, sold to our friends around the world. It makes a lot of sense. I think that’s the president’s, that’s his mindset, as well, so you’re going to see a lot of technologies. Not just on the carbon-capture side, but in a host of different ways,” Perry said. “If we’re going to really affect the world, it’s going to be innovation that does that.”

Coming to grips

Minutes before Trump announced his decision to exit the Paris accord on June 1, de Menocal called. His voice was soft. He sounded beat.

Rolling back Obama-era regulations that it deems stifling to the economy at a breakneck pace, the Trump administration is slowing the federal government’s climate progress at a time when scientists say it’s crucial to speed up more than ever.

But on the phone that day, de Menocal was feeling hopeful.

“I’m not that pessimistic. I’m devastated, of course, but I’m not that pessimistic,” he said. “If you think about it, if the nation’s largest cities maintain their commitments, then we can do it without the government.”

Market forces, an appealing motivator to conservatives, can also help lead the way.

The world added more energy from renewable sources than from fossil fuels in 2015 and 2016, and the plummeting price of clean energy has allowed the US to decrease its carbon emissions over the last three years while the country’s GDP has increased.

But eventually, agreeing on clean air, water, and land won’t be enough, says Lynn Scarlett, who served as the deputy secretary and acting secretary in President George W. Bush’s Department of the Interior. Now she’s the managing director for public policy at the Nature Conservancy.

“You can drive forward a lot of solutions under the banners of clean energy, energy reliability, energy efficiency, and not have to grapple with ‘climate change’ as a word. You can do a whole lot,” Scarlett told Business Insider.

“At some point, one has to really actually embrace the problem.”

Lynn Scarlett

“But at some point, to really come to grips, we really need to address greenhouse-gas emissions, carbon-dioxide emissions. That requires understanding that those emissions are a pollutant. That requires understanding that those emissions are in fact responsible for a changing climate. That requires understanding that there is that linkage between human action and greenhouse-gas emissions and all these bad things we’re seeing — melting permafrost, unpredictable storms, rising sea levels. At some point, one has to really actually embrace the problem.”

Until then, there are Americans across the political spectrum clamoring for climate action. There are states making their own emissions reductions pledges, and cities making their own plans for sea level rise, and companies making their own clean-energy investments, and farmers installing wind turbines on their own land, and homeowners installing solar panels on their own rooftops.

And somewhere in Texas, there’s a Republican real-estate developer doing his part to save one tree at a time. And he’s telling us to join the war — before it’s too late.

Credits
Reporting: Rebecca Harrington
Editing: Dan Bobkoff
Graphics: Skye Gould
Video: Devan Joseph and Corey Protin
Special Thanks: David Marshall, Mo Hadi, and Mike Nudelman

GOP health-care debate turns to stark question: help vulnerable Americans, or help the rich?

Washington Post    PowerPost

GOP health-care debate turns to stark question: help vulnerable Americans, or help the rich?

By Sean Sullivan, Juliet Eilperin and Kelsey Snell        June 29, 2017

The Republican debate over how to overhaul the Affordable Care Act turned sharply Thursday to a divisive and ideological question: How much money should the Senate health-care bill spend on protecting vulnerable Americans, and how much on providing tax relief to the wealthy?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in an effort to strike a balance between centrists and conservatives, is now making concessions to both factions of his caucus, according to lawmakers and aides.

But this effort was complicated by a new Congressional Budget Office estimate Thursday finding that the Republican plan to change how Medicaid payments are calculated starting in 2025 would lead to significantly deeper reductions in its second decade than at the end of the first decade.

By 2036, the new analysis says, the government would spend 35 percent less on Medicaid than under the current law, compared with a 26 percent decrease in the first decade.

McConnell is rewriting his proposal to provide tens of billions more for opioid treatment and assistance to low- and moderate-income Americans, in part by potentially preserving a 3.8 percent tax on investment income provided under the Affordable Care Act that the current draft of the Senate bill would repeal. At the same time, the new draft aims to placate the right by further easing the existing law’s insurance mandates and providing higher tax deductions for the health-savings accounts that conservatives favor, Republicans said.

By Thursday afternoon, Senate leaders agreed to dedicate $45 billion to opioid funding, according to GOP aides, a concession that Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) had been seeking for weeks. The draft released last week includes only $2 billion.

It remains unclear whether these changes, if adopted, would garner enough support for the bill to pass. But they may represent the most viable path forward if Republicans want to rewrite the 2010 health law known as Obamacare without any help from Democrats.

“We will, it appears to me, address the issue of ensuring that lower-income citizens are in a position to be able to buy plans that actually provide them appropriate health-care,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). “And with that, my sense is that the 3.8 percent repeal [in the current draft] will go away.”

The 3.8 percent tax applies only to individuals making over $200,000 a year, and married couples earning more than $250,000. Repealing it as of Dec. 31, 2016, as the bill does now, would cost the federal government $172 billion in revenue over the next 10 years, according to a recent CBO analysis.

The updated Medicaid estimate from the CBO, which shows how spending would shrink over the next 20 years, underscored the extent to which McConnell’s plan would squeeze the longstanding public insurance program.

The current draft already cuts $772 billion over 10 years from Medicaid, which covers poor Americans as well as the elderly, children and pregnant women.

The updated analysis, requested by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and other Senate Democrats, calculated the impact of pegging the program’s inflation rate to the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers, as opposed to the medical inflation rate.

According to analysts at the health consulting firm Avalere and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, this would translate into a cut of at least $330 billion in 2036.

The report suggested that as the spigot of federal funding constricted over time, “states would continue to need to arrive at more efficient methods for delivering services (to the extent feasible) and to decide whether to commit more of their own resources, cut payments to health care providers and health plans, eliminate optional services, restrict eligibility for enrollment, or adopt some combination of those approaches.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) used the report as an opportunity to push GOP leaders to abandon plans to repeal the ACA and begin negotiations with Democrats over how to fix the health-care system.

“Rather than pushing a partisan bill that cuts taxes for the rich and slashes Medicaid, Senate Republicans should start over on health care and work with Democrats on a bipartisan plan to improve our health care system,” Schumer said in a statement.

With senators leaving town Thursday for a 10-day break over the July 4th holiday, Republicans are not likely to announce any new deal or unveil full legislation until after their return next month. That would give time for the CBO to analyze the new proposals and for senators to hear from constituents, setting up a few more days of haggling when they return July 10 and a vote possible the week after that.

Corker, who met with GOP leaders Wednesday, said he believes “the route being pursued” is to preserve the tax and use that money to provide subsidies for lower-income people.

He added that he voiced directly to President Trump his unease with the idea of slashing taxes for the wealthy while “increasing the burden” on lower-income Americans.

Minutes later, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) acknowledged that keeping the tax was being discussed, but he underscored that no final decision had been made.

In a sign of the sharp disagreements that continue to plague Senate Republicans, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) disputed Corker’s notion that the tax cut would be jettisoned, calling the proposal a “very bad idea.”

“I’m not at all convinced that that’s where it’s going,” Toomey said.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said that while he thought it was a bad idea to use the investment tax to help fund the ACA’s existing programs, lawmakers may need to keep the tax. Scott said there is clear pressure from at least three senators to preserve it, and their votes are critical to passing the bill.

“Keeping it now is a whole new conversation,” Scott said. “particularly when you have three senators already heading in that direction.”

The dispute underscores the challenge Senate leaders face as they reexamine the tax portion of their Better Care Reconciliation Act. One bit of wiggle room in their negotiations is the CBO’s analysis of the bill’s impact on the federal deficit, which allows them to spend as much as $198 billion without violating Senate budget rules.

The draft bill that stalled this week would phase out the program’s expansion under the ACA over three years and rein in spending on the overall program, especially starting in 2025. It would also repeal or delay $541 billion in taxes, primarily on wealthy Americans and insurers.

The measure eliminates every tax imposed under the ACA except the “Cadillac” tax on employers offering generous health plans. That tax is suspended until 2026 to comply with congressional budget rules.

The move to cut Medicaid, which covers nearly 70 million Americans, helps offset the bill’s generous tax cuts. But it has generated significant opposition among more than a half-dozen centrists who fear the reductions will impede the nation’s effort to address the opioid crisis and could leave many vulnerable Americans without any health coverage at all.

With Vice President Pence prepared to cast the tiebreaking vote, Republicans need the support of all but two of their 52 senators.

Pence was in the Capitol Thursday as the health-care talks continued in small and large group settings. Asked if he was changing any minds, the vice president replied: “We’re working hard.”

McConnell hopes to send a revised version of the bill to the CBO as soon as Friday to get a vote on the bill before Congress’s August recess.

Meanwhile, according to lobbyists briefed on the matter, negotiators are looking at how to provide states with more ways to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandates — a key demand of conservatives. These rules include an essential benefits package that any ACA-compliant plan must offer, such as maternity and newborn care as well as preventive care and mental-health and substance-use treatment.

Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah have indicated they could potentially support the bill if leadership tacked on an amendment offered by Cruz, allowing insurers to opt out of all the Obamacare insurance regulations as long as they provided one fully compliant plan.

House conservatives also asserted themselves in the upper chamber’s debate Thursday, as House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) came over to the Senate side of the Capitol. Meadows said Cruz’s amendment, or something similar, would be essential to win his support.

A growing number of senators have said they back the Cruz proposal but leaders worry that it may run afoul of Senate rules. McConnell is using the budget process to pass the health bill with a slim majority of 51 votes, rather than the 60 votes needed for most other legislation. But that also restricts the legislation to policies that have an impact on taxes, spending and the deficit.

Cornyn told reporters that leaders held a special meeting on Thursday to figure out if the Cruz amendment fits within those rules.

“We’re trying to figure it out,” Cornyn said. “Because there is a lot of support for the idea.”

Lee spokesman Conn Carroll said he also wants a provision to ensure the executive branch can’t single-handedly block states from revamping their ACA marketplaces. The current measure makes it much easier for states to use an existing federal waiver system, under Section 1332 of the law, to make changes as long as they are approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

While the Senate bill gives states wide latitude to alter the marketplaces through this system, it would preserve a requirement that CMS has to determine that these changes would not increase the federal deficit. Lee wants an independent agency, such as the Government Accountability Office, to make that determination rather than a division of the Health and Human Services Department.

But if leadership added on the Cruz amendment, that might be enough to win over Lee’s vote. “I think that would be enough for us,” Carroll said in an interview.

The main tax change conservatives are now seeking — allowing people to put more money into health-savings accounts — would also benefit wealthier Americans. Families earning over $60,000 made up nearly 65 percent of the total that contributed to HSAs in 2014, according to recent data from the Treasury Department. Nearly two-thirds of those people earned between $75,000 and $200,000.

Paige Winfield Cunningham, Mike DeBonis and Amy Goldstein contributed to this report.

Whatever happens, the GOP is bringing us a whole lot closer to single payer

Washington Post  Plum Line

Whatever happens, the GOP is bringing us a whole lot closer to single payer

By Paul Waldman     June 27, 2017

The Republican health-care bill is not dead yet, but it’s in rough shape. Whether it passes or not, it has been an utter debacle for the GOP, making the Affordable Care Act they’re trying to undo more popular than ever, energizing the Democratic base, complicating the relationship between President Trump and Congress and sowing justified distrust of Republican motives among the broader public.

It has also done something else: moved the debate on health care in America to the left and made single payer much more likely.

Even if the Senate bill fails, Republicans give up and move on to tax reform, and the status quo remains in place, this debate will have had profound effects on our politics. While the Democratic Party may have been moving to the left on health care anyway, its momentum in that direction may now be unstoppable. And the entire country will be more receptive than ever to the arguments Democrats will make. This, by the way, will also be the case if the GOP repeal effort succeeds, because it will make so much that people hate about our health-care system a lot worse.

Let me point to one politician as an illustration. For years, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s position on single payer has essentially been “Maybe someday” — not opposed to it, but focused in the short term on the more urgent priority of defending and enhancing the ACA. But in an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, we learn that she is now ready to take that plunge:

“President Obama tried to move us forward with health-care coverage by using a conservative model that came from one of the conservative think tanks that had been advanced by a Republican governor in Massachusetts,” she said during an interview in her Senate office last week. “Now it’s time for the next step. And the next step is single payer.”

Warren is not going to be the last Democrat to take this step. In fact, any Democrat who runs for president in 2020 — and there will be a lot of them — will have a hard time explaining to the primary electorate why they don’t want single payer, and most or all of them will probably say they do.

We can make an analogy with what happened in the GOP after the failure of comprehensive immigration reform. In 2013, the Senate passed a comprehensive bill with the support of many Republicans. But after it died in the House, Republican politicians went in exactly the opposite direction, telling their base that the only question was how much they hated “amnesty” and how tough they would be on undocumented immigrants. Then their party nominated someone who said he would build a wall on our southern border, create a “deportation force” and ban Muslims from entering the country.

The situations aren’t exactly the same, but the point is that a dramatic political failure — whether it’s yours or the other party’s — can have profound effects on the choices politicians make about how to approach the electorate. And it’s important to understand that while there are some Democratic politicians who emphatically favor single payer and would be unsatisfied with anything less, most of them would be willing to advocate for a range of policy options, depending on what looks politically achievable and what their base demands at a particular moment.

All the ups and downs of the past eight years, from the beginning of the debate on the ACA to the end of the debate on Republican repeal plans, hold many lessons for Democrats who are still eager to address the problems in the American health-care system. Among other things, we know that voters are risk-averse, that they’re extremely sensitive to out-of-pocket costs, that they want security and that arguments about the glories of the free market aren’t going to be persuasive to them. After seeing how desperately unpopular this Republican plan is, Democrats are going to be much less afraid to defend government health care and advocate its expansion.

And they know that whatever they propose next has to be simple and understandable. We can debate whether the ACA had to be as complex as it was, but next time around, no Democrat is going to believe that you can take on President Trump with a technocratic approach to health care. Saying “Here are the 10 tweaks I’d make to the ACA” isn’t going to cut it.

That isn’t to say that whatever plans they propose won’t be fully fleshed out under the hood, but they’ll have to be presented in a way that is easy for voters to understand. And, yes, Republicans will cry about “Washington bureaucrats making decisions for you,” but Democrats are less likely to be intimidated. Ask your parents or grandparents on Medicare how they feel about their coverage — Medicare is the most popular health insurance program we have, and it’s run by Washington bureaucrats.

It’s important to keep in mind that “single payer” isn’t one thing — if you look around the world at highly developed countries, there is a spectrum of health systems with various levels of public and private involvement. But what they have in common is that they achieve universal coverage while working better and costing less than ours. We could well have 15 Democratic presidential candidates proposing 15 different kinds of single payer. Some may be highly socialized systems — what Bernie Sanders would likely advocate if he runs again — but the ones that are most appealing could be hybrid systems of the kind that have been successful in countries such as France. The way it works is that there’s a government plan that covers everyone’s basic needs, but you can also buy supplemental private insurance to get as many more benefits as you want.

Among the advantages of a hybrid system is that one can actually see a path from where we are now to there. That path runs through Medicaid, which now covers nearly 75 million Americans. What if we auto-enrolled everyone under 65 in Medicaid — it’s there if you need it, but if you have different insurance you’d prefer, go ahead and use that instead. No one would be without coverage. Private insurance would evolve into something you buy to fill in the gaps and get perks that Medicaid wouldn’t provide. Instead of covering all your health care, employers could provide the supplemental private insurance.

As a political matter, you could sell this as something that we could transition to over an extended period, and as a system that satisfies the goals of both liberals and conservatives. Liberals get the universal coverage and security they want, and conservatives get the freedom they want — if you’re rich enough to buy a supplemental plan that includes deliveries of Dom Perignon during any hospitalization, go right ahead.

That isn’t to say that Republicans wouldn’t resist and there won’t be more intense arguments about health care, because they would and there will be. But by handling this debate so terribly and proposing something so monstrous, Republicans have opened up the space for Democrats to go much further than they’ve been willing to before. It’s not impossible to foresee Democrats winning the House in 2018, then taking the presidency and the Senate in 2020 — and then taking the first steps toward making single-payer health care in America a reality.