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Commentary & Opinion

Fred Kowal: A Test For Us All

21 hours ago

We are now in the Coronavirus Era. Our social interactions, our institutions, our economy are being restructured moment by moment. Few of us have experienced anything like this.

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: A Sheppard And His Shadows

Apr 2, 2020

Many years ago, a young shepherd dreamed that he was a sheep being carried off in the mouth of a predator. When he woke up in the morning, he realized for the first time in his life that he was going to die.

The Coronavirus pandemic has once again shown the world the failures of big government. I hope people take notice.

Stephen Gottlieb: Paying For The Virus

Mar 31, 2020

In his discussion of the financial consequences of the pandemic to New York, Gov. Cuomo has not mentioned that New York isn’t permitted to borrow the money it needs. The reason is a New York State constitutional prohibition. Many states prohibit borrowing except for capital expenses. When states were permitted to borrow for current expenses, they ran up large debts and the practice needed to be stopped. So, many state constitutions barred the practice. With some exceptions, New York requires a law to be submitted to the voters for specific purposes. The Governor does not have the time to satisfy New York’s constitutional rules. For the moment, he’s stuck.

For those confronting it, a crisis hits first with the shock and then unfolds – hopefully – as a growing recognition of what has to be done to respond to that crisis.  Earlier this month, Governor Cuomo and the state Legislature (like the rest of us) was presented with the shock of a growing pandemic.

The Corona Virus continues to wreak havoc throughout the United States and the world.  Cases are growing rapidly and deaths are increasing.  The reaction of government, at least at the state level, has been to take steps in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus and it seems the majority of people are taking these actions seriously, although there appears to be a significant number of people who still resist and are likely facilitating the spread.  The federal government is getting better at the process, but we still have a President who provides erroneous information which is contradictory to scientists on the stage with him at the daily briefings.  One of the drugs POTUS was pushing was discovered early last week to have poisoned some of the patients receiving it.  Dr. Fauci has been clear that more research and testing needs to go on before these purported cures are appropriate for use as a treatment regimen, yet POTUS keeps giving false hope.

A Nintendo Switch Lite and copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Sarah LaDuke / WAMC

If you’ve been glued to social media for the last couple weeks like me, you have may noticed something between updates on coronavirus and videos from stir-crazy quarantinees.

Michael Meeropol: Lives Versus Economics

Mar 29, 2020

So I was watching TV the other night when they showed a clip from the appearance of Dan Patrick the Lieutenant Governor of Texas on the Tucker Carlson show.

Ralph Gardner Jr: Cocktails In The Age Of Coronavirus

Mar 28, 2020
Cocktail hour at the Gardner house
Ralph Gardner Jr

We’ve held four cocktail parties this week and counting. Don’t panic. These aren’t in-person events. They’ve been conducted from the safety of our living room over the Zoom video-conferencing app.

Ben Downing: Learning Lessons

Mar 25, 2020

I hope this finds you well. Typing those words in an email or speaking them here seems surreal. Instead, let me say this: I hope this finds you healthy, safe and coping with life during COVID19. I say during, because there will be an after. And when we get there, we must have learned the lessons this crisis is teaching us in real time. Chief among those lessons is how our current priorities set us up to prevent, respond to, and recover from this crisis. Each day that goes by, sadly, the evidence mounts that dominant priorities of the last 40 years have set us up to fail on all fronts. If we want that to change, we must change our priorities. Change them away from the prioritizing tax cuts, corporate profits and efficiency and refocus on public investments, strong social safety nets and resilience. 

Stephen Gottlieb: Worth Fussing About In This Pandemic

Mar 24, 2020

I don’t want to talk about topic no. 1. I thought talking about politics might provide comic relief. But what’s funny about that? Politics is deadly serious, precisely because people’s lives depend on how elected officials take care of the rest of us, or whether they’re focused only on optics.

The fast-moving novel coronavirus has upended life as we know it in a blink of an eye.

COVID-19 continues its rampage through our population, our healthcare system and our economy.  It is clear that some significant steps, not unlike 2008, need to be taken by the federal government to provide income for full and partially laid-off workers, so that they have the funds with which to buy things and continue the economic flow at least at some level.  There are many workers who will not be able to work remotely, and many others who will not be able to work efficiently remotely, not for any fault of their own, but based upon the nature of the work that they do.

David Nightingale: Harriet Tubman (~1821-1913)

Mar 22, 2020
Harriet Tubman
Horatio Seymour Squyer, 1848 - 18 Dec 1905 / National Portrait Gallery - Public Domain

It may seem superfluous to write about Harriet Tubman, for she has not only been played by the Caribbean-born Cicely Tyson in the 1978 TV miniseries “A woman called Moses”, but also in the 2019 movie “Harriet.”

Ralph Gardner Jr: One Quick Visit

Mar 21, 2020
A potted plant
Ralph Gardner Jr.

I paid a quick visit to New York City this week to pick up the mail, clothes and some prescriptions. And when I say quick I mean quick. Fifteen minutes from the time we rolled up to our apartment, collected the things we needed, and headed back upstate.

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: The Bachelor

Mar 20, 2020

Dear listener, the truly important news these last several weeks has not been about the Corona virus or the democratic primaries.  It has been about that stickiest, trickiest of love triangles between Peter, Madison and Hannah Ann, who recently wrapped up their time on The Bachelor.  Leaving behind an unresolved story about the future of Peter and Madison’s relationship, as well as Peter’s angry family who can’t stand Madison, the Bachelor has thrilled and frustrated an estimated 8.1 million viewers, roughly the population of New Jersey.

Today, I am focusing on the ‘‘Families First Coronavirus Response Act,’’ passed by the House early Saturday morning, March 14 and by the Senate Wednesday afternoon, March 18.  [For the full text see]   With this focus, I am moving away from the theme of my March 6 commentary in which I lamented the failure of the federal government to engage in sufficient preparedness spending.   That failure is based on a simple cliché that has been attributed to former President Ronald Reagan – “Government is not the solution.  Government is the problem.”   This is actually an incorrect version of Reagan’s economic philosophy because in fact he supported significant increases in federal government spending on the military.   But saying that “government spending to help people is the problem” doesn’t have the same political cache that the more universal statement has.   (There are a few sincere libertarians --- I have met a few --- who are more consistent than Reagan --- wanting to cut the defense budget as well as the rest of the budget.)   Ever since the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s, there has been a consistent effort to cut back on the civilian side of the federal government.   My focus back on March 6 was on how easy it is to cut spending on aspects of the federal government that satisfy what public finance economists call “option demands.”  

Bryan Griffin: Having A Choice

Mar 18, 2020

Democrats vying to unseat Trump are promising a lot of “universal” things.

Stephen Gottlieb: The Pandemic

Mar 17, 2020

We’ve all been affected by this pandemic. People are telecomputing, taking bicycles to work instead of busses, and avoiding meetings to see and greet each other and work together. Things have been canceled that I was very much looking forward to. Virtually every step we take invites a calculation of how to do it safely. I found myself in Boston recently at a funeral for a nephew with people I really care about, everybody calculating whom to hug and whom to elbow bump. Many of us have been making frantic trips to the grocery and the drug store for needed supplies we think may go out of stock or just trying to buy things before the virus spreads any more widely.

There is no doubt in my mind that few living Americans have ever experienced anything like the Coronavirus.

The Italian political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli once wrote, “Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.”  As we all grapple with the pandemic known as coronavirus, it is important to know that many will heed Machiavelli’s advice and see an opportunity.

COVID-19 is creating significant issues in supply chain activity throughout the world.  Most large industrial economies have created supply chains based upon China’s cheap manufacturing and although there has been some movement in recent years to step away from that supply chain, it has not occurred in any material way.  We in the United States, face it in almost every aspect of our economy even if the basic manufacturing plant has relocated to another country or even back to the United States.  The need for parts which are sourced in China is overwhelming.  Will this event cause a refocus on the issue or just a short-term reflection and increased prices?  My guess, the latter.

Ralph Gardner Jr: Stockpiling In Style

Mar 14, 2020

I’m not sure what it says about my priorities – but I hope something pleasant – that two of my first purchases, addressing the current crisis, were birdseed and alcohol; while I suppose the alcohol could double as a disinfectant that’s not its intended purpose.

Presidents are obligated to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” They are supposed to manage, administer and appoint people to carry out the tasks of government. Trump interprets that as his right to fire experts and replace them with yes-men devoted only to him. He’s reinstated the long disgraced spoils system in an era when everything is much more difficult and complex.

Engraved on the front of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. are the words: “Equal Justice Under Law.”

Blair Horner: The Census Count Begins

Mar 9, 2020

It’s hard to keep track of the important news when living through what increasingly appears to be a pandemic.  Justifiably, public officials are focusing attention on the emerging coronavirus public threat.  That threat is certainly real, but the focus obscures public attention on other important issues.

The Fed reduced interest rates on March the 4th by half of a percentage point, in the hopes of avoiding any adverse economic impact from the Corona virus outbreak, putting rates between 1% and 1.25%.  Reports are coming in from literally all over the country about the negative economic impact of the Corona virus, and with CDC predicting a peak sometime in mid to late March, it is likely we have only begun to see the negative economic outcome.  By the way, the market ignored the rate cut. 

Stephen Gottlieb: A House Divided Cannot Stand

Mar 9, 2020

President Trump’s base thinks they can make America great by kicking out people they don’t like, people with different heritage, faith or color. Yet the evidence is that there are more and better jobs available in communities with more recent immigrants. A larger economy creates jobs and opportunities. It needs more goods and services. By contrast the effort to get rid of people is what economists call a deadweight loss. Deadweight because it is costly but produces nothing. We accomplish more working together than working against each other.

Ralph Gardner Jr: Missing Maria Sharapova

Mar 9, 2020
Maria Sharapova, during the semi final game with Alisa Klaybanova, Toronto, Canada, 2009
WIkimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

My sadness, though modest, came as a surprise when I learned last week that Maria Sharapova was retiring from tennis. My reaction surprised me because I never much liked Sharapova as a player or a personality.

I am old enough to remember that shortly after the 1968 election of Richard Nixon to the presidency, his campaign manager (and future US Attorney General) John Mitchell said, “Watch what we do not what we say.”  He was asking the public to in effect disregard some campaign rhetoric as a guide to actual government policy.  I think this advice is particularly useful for the general public in the era of Trump.    He is at the same time a thoroughly ignorant individual and a pathological liar.   Thus, it is impossible to learn anything of value by just listening to him.