Commentary & Opinion

Have you ever heard of an economist named Arthur Laffer? Back in the 1970s he created a story about the effect of income tax rates on high income people. Because the rates were allegedly too high, incentives had been damaged and the wealthy were refraining from saving and investing. This caused the economy to grow slower. Laffer convinced Congressman Jack Kemp that permanent dramatic income tax cuts would create such a big improvement in incentives that the resulting increase in economic activity would raise the tax base so much that even with lower rates, revenues would actually rise. (The principle is the same as with a sale – the discounted price is more than made up with an increased volume of purchase. In the case of a tax cut stimulating activity, say a 10% cut in tax rates produces income increases of 20% (raising the amount subject to the tax) --- revenues actually go up.)

Farewell, Rosemary

Apr 28, 2017

Professor Rosemary Armao recently dropped a bomb on all of us at WAMC when she announced that she was retiring from the University at Albany where she had a full-time, tenured position as Associate Professor (harder to find than a gold mine.) She will soon be working with investigative journalists all over the world, teaching them the tools of their trade. To put it mildly, doing this puts her in real physical danger. It also means, of course, that she will no longer be a nearly daily presence on The Roundtable and a participant on The Media Project. 

At the moment New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has one eye trained on Washington and a potential presidential run. Much of what Cuomo does these days is actually about developing his national brand. The brand he wants is to be called a progressive. Cuomo is obsessed with the word. It is, after all, a rising tide for Democrats nationally.

Herbert London: Division

Apr 26, 2017

Abraham Lincoln noted poignantly that a “House divided cannot stand.”  Recent events indicate the Republican party has much to learn from the past. A party divided cannot govern. And a president with his majority party split cannot exercise his Constitutional authority.

Stephen Gottlieb: Brotherhood

Apr 25, 2017

In the height of the Civil Rights Movement we used “brotherhood” to express our quest for more than tolerance, but for closeness as one human family. I’ve never found a gender-neutral term for that feeling, so I continue to use it but in a gender-neutral way – we are all family, cousins, a part of one community. As John Donne famously wrote in 1624, “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

Blair Horner: Earth Day, 2017

Apr 24, 2017

Earth Day was last week.  Earth Day is an annual event that started in 1970 and is an important opportunity for our society to examine how well we are protecting the environment.  And this year’s Earth Day occurred at a critical juncture: the planet is heating up as the result of human activities, most notably the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas and coal). 

David Nightingale: Sojourner Truth (1797?? -1883)

Apr 24, 2017
Sojourner Truth, c. 1870
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution / Wikimedia Commons

Why write an essay on the well-known Sojourner Truth, especially well-known in New York? Well, my motivation is none other than a long-felt comment about mankind's inhumanity towards mankind, and I use her to illustrate the rare power of honesty and truth.

Ralph Gardner Jr: Birding With An Expert

Apr 22, 2017
Elizabeth Grace examining a warbler nest
Ralph Gardner, JR

When I started spending weekends upstate in the late 1970’s I didn’t know a blue jay from a bluebird. Having grown up a city kid, I owed my early birding education to two sources: my wife, who was raised in the suburbs; and a weekly birding column in the Chatham Courier, a Columbia County newspaper, written by Kate Dunham and her partner Elizabeth Grace.

Bill Owens: Looney Tunes

Apr 21, 2017

The recent explanations given for the failure of the Republican health care bill left me incredulous and searching for some comparative experience from my past.  I found it in Looney Tunes.

Fred Kowal: NIH Budget Cut

Apr 20, 2017

In the flurry of attention being paid to questions surrounding the role of Russia in our last presidential election, the rising tensions on the Korean peninsula and in Syria, and endless attention being paid to President Trump’s Twitter adventures, what has been lost is a necessary focus on the President’s proposed budget for the coming fiscal year. 

Herbert London: Facing The Budget

Apr 19, 2017

Each year legislators sharpen their knives, consider key constituent needs and meet to pass a budget. This year isn’t very different except that when the Republicans could not unify to replace the Affordable Care Act, unexpected questions about the party emerged.

Stephen Gottlieb: The Future Of Jobs

Apr 19, 2017

Automation is changing the workforce. It creates some highly skilled jobs but eliminates many others, from service jobs like taxis to previously professional tasks like document review. Factory jobs are decimated by automation.

Judith Enck: Adirondacks

Apr 18, 2017

Environmental conditions in the Adirondacks and Catskills have improved because of strong national environmental protection policies.  Those improvements are now at risk if President Trump’s proposed budget, coupled with his anti- science policies, are put in place.

Every year since his first as governor, Governor Cuomo uses the time after passage of the budget to take a statewide “victory lap” to stress what he sees as the most significant achievements.  This year has been no different:  The governor has used the week or so after passage of the budget to focus public attention on his plan to offer tuition-free public college. 

Hilary Dunne Ferrone: Lessons From A Capital Campaign

Apr 16, 2017

Recently I was part of a successful capital campaign. To say I learned a few things along the way would be an understatement. Without giving away details on the organization or betraying anyone’s confidences, I’d like to share a few of the many things I learned through the process.

Ralph Gardner JR: A Visit To Lover's Leap Farm

Apr 15, 2017
Curt Gobrecht at Lover's Leap Farm
Ralph Gardner, JR

Spring marks kidding season for goats.

Artwork from a radio-related World War II propaganda poster for the United States
Public Domain / WikiMedia Commons

WAMC listeners had quite a lot to say this week. Here are highlights from the WAMC Listener Comment Line. 

Herbert London: Fraying Alliances In The Middle East

Apr 12, 2017

Alliances in the byzantine Middle East have a life span roughly equivalent to how long it takes for the ink to dry. In 2013, when the Obama administration invited the Russians into Syria to monitor and control Bassar Assad’s use of poison gas, Putin used this occasion to cement an alliance with Iran, the Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah. From the standpoint of the parties involved, this alliance made eminent sense.

Stephen Gottlieb: Peace Corps And Legal Services

Apr 11, 2017

The Trump Administration hasn’t included the Peace Corps in its proposal for fiscal year 2018. It proposed cutting the international affairs budget by nearly a third.[i] It struck funding for the Legal Services Corporation which provides funds for poor people to defend what little they have. And, as we are all aware, it has advanced its war on truth by trying to cut the budget of National Public Radio. None of that will save much in the budget but it will damage the country and make life coarser and less secure for the people in it.

Ben Downing: We're Number One, Now What?

Apr 11, 2017

According to US News & World Report, Massachusetts is number one. That is a good thing. Having looked a variety of metrics, McKinsey & US News said, among the 50 states, that our “vibrant academic environment, innovative and supportive health care policies and modernizing economy, measure for measure, make this the strongest state of all.” We should reflect on that and be proud.

More than a week after the deadline, Governor Cuomo and lawmakers finalized a deal to wrap up the state budget.  The roughly $160 billion budget was from a procedural point of view a mess.  But there was good news as well.

Bill Owens: Freedom From Healthcare

Apr 9, 2017

The House Freedom caucus demanded reduced premiums and reduced coverage. The result of these demands if accepted by the Republican caucus would be to deliver to Americans freedom from healthcare.

Ralph Gardner Jr: Curating My Utility Drawer

Apr 8, 2017
Ralph Gardner's utility drawer
Ralph Gardner, JR

There isn’t much you can control in this world. But when you run across something you can, no matter how inconsequential, you need to jump at the opportunity.

Michael Meeropol: A Proposal To Retrain Coal Miners

Apr 7, 2017

There are approximately 65,000 coal miners working today in the United States.  (Adding employment in coal fired electrical plants brings the number connected to coal to about 150,000.)   In 1985, the number of coal miners was 173,700.   By 2003 it had fallen to 70,000.   Donald Trump and Republicans have made a big deal about President Obama’s so-called “war on coal” and that propaganda had been very effective.   Republicans carried West Virginia and Kentucky against President Obama, and Donald Trump won Pennsylvania as well.  He parlayed his cynically false promise to bring back coal jobs into big electoral majorities in coal country --- carrying West Virginia for example with 69% of the vote.   And yes, coal mining jobs were at 65,400 in 2015 indicating that the downward trend in coal employment had continued under President Obama, though the major declines were much more precipitous before 2008.  (These numbers are available from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis).   Coal production on the other hand rose steeply from the late 1960s to 2008 reflecting increased productivity as strip-mining began to replace deep-shaft mining and equipment made the old pick and shovel image of a coal miner completely obsolete.   Total production was 1.172 million short tons in 2008 falling to less than 900,000 in 2015.  (The numbers are available from the U.S. Department of Labor, Mine Safety and Health Administration, Form 7000-2, “Quarterly Mine Employment and Coal Production Report”).    Though the fall has been blamed on the “war on coal” in fact it is the result of cheap natural gas as a result of fracking.   The only way to bring back coal jobs is to impose onerous taxation on natural gas so that utilities will cease switching over.   Imagine how well that would play with natural gas companies.

It's time to put our listeners in the spotlight! Here are this week's highlights from the WAMC Listener Comment Line. 

Sean Philpott-Jones: Penny-Foolish

Apr 6, 2017

The 2018 federal budget battle has barely begun and already critics – including myself – are questioning the wisdom of Trump’s proposal to drastically cut key agencies like the US Department of State, Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency in order to build a wall that no one wants, to buy fighter jets that no one needs, and to give tax breaks that no one earned.

Bill Owens: Mr. Trump Drive Your Truck

Apr 5, 2017

Almost everyone saw a picture of Mr. Trump in a big rig outside the White House grabbing the wheel in a tight grip, scowling and desperately trying to look like The Tough Guy. This of course was just before the Republican repeal of Obamacare was pulled with a whimper.

Herbert London: Unity In The Trump Government?

Apr 5, 2017

During a meeting with several high level foreign diplomats, the question of the Trump administration’s unity kept coming up. How is it, said these diplomats, that the replacement and removal of Obamacare could not be achieved? Moreover, how does one explain the leaks that have repeatedly embarrassed the Trump organization?

People often ask me whether something is constitutional. I often respond by asking what they mean. Our Constitution is only as good as the people handling it. Beyond that it’s a piece of paper, that bends, folds and tears. The Founding Fathers often referred to constitutional language as parchment barriers.

Brad Hays: Missing The Water

Apr 4, 2017

Judicial confirmation hearings tend to be highly boring affairs.  Ever since Judge Bork chose to mix it up with the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing for a seat on the United States Supreme Court and, got “borked” for his effort, nominees have been loath to say anything that might give the opposition the necessary leverage to stop their confirmation.  Now, nominees come loaded with platitudes about calling the legal equivalent of “balls and strikes” or refusing to “prejudge cases” by having substantive discussion about different areas of the law.  In other words, you get hours of senators asking either important questions that go unanswered or asking inane questions that are followed with equally inane answers.  For this reason, I, someone who teaches and writes about courts and constitutional politics for a living, tend to avoid watching confirmation hearings. 

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