Kristof and Collins

In “A Failed Experiment” Mr. Kristof says the presidential candidates may not have talked much about climate change or our declining infrastructure, but families sure are after countless power outages.  Ms. Collins brings us “The Turkey Chronicles.”  Good news, people! In the middle of all the planning for Thanksgiving dinner, she took some incredibly important questions from dear readers.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

In upper-middle-class suburbs on the East Coast, the newest must-have isn’t a $7,500 Sub-Zero refrigerator. It’s a standby generator that automatically flips on backup power to an entire house when the electrical grid goes out.

In part, that’s a legacy of Hurricane Sandy. Such a system can cost well over $10,000, but many families are fed up with losing power again and again.

(A month ago, I would have written more snarkily about residential generators. But then we lost power for 12 days after Sandy — and that was our third extended power outage in four years. Now I’m feeling less snarky than jealous!)

More broadly, the lust for generators is a reflection of our antiquated electrical grid and failure to address climate change. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave our grid, prone to bottlenecks and blackouts, a grade of D+ in 2009.

So Generac, a Wisconsin company that dominates the generator market, says it is running three shifts to meet surging demand. About 3 percent of stand-alone homes worth more than $100,000 in the country now have standby generators installed.

“Demand for generators has been overwhelming, and we are increasing our production levels,” Art Aiello, a spokesman for Generac, told me.

That’s how things often work in America. Half-a-century of tax cuts focused on the wealthiest Americans leave us with third-rate public services, leading the wealthy to develop inefficient private workarounds.

It’s manifestly silly (and highly polluting) for every fine home to have a generator. It would make more sense to invest those resources in the electrical grid so that it wouldn’t fail in the first place.

But our political system is dysfunctional: in addressing income inequality, in confronting climate change and in maintaining national infrastructure.

The National Climatic Data Center has just reported that October was the 332nd month in a row of above-average global temperatures. As the environmental Web site Grist reported, that means that nobody younger than 27 has lived for a single month with colder-than-average global temperatures, yet climate change wasn’t even much of an issue in the 2012 campaign. Likewise, the World Economic Forum ranks American infrastructure 25th in the world, down from 8th in 2003-4, yet infrastructure is barely mentioned by politicians.

So time and again, we see the decline of public services accompanied by the rise of private workarounds for the wealthy.

Is crime a problem? Well, rather than pay for better policing, move to a gated community with private security guards!

Are public schools failing? Well, superb private schools have spaces for a mere $40,000 per child per year.

Public libraries closing branches and cutting hours? Well, buy your own books and magazines!

Are public parks — even our awesome national parks, dubbed “America’s best idea” and the quintessential “public good” — suffering from budget cuts? Don’t whine. Just buy a weekend home in the country!

Public playgrounds and tennis courts decrepit? Never mind — just join a private tennis club!

I’m used to seeing this mind-set in developing countries like Chad or Pakistan, where the feudal rich make do behind high walls topped with shards of glass; increasingly, I see it in our country. The disregard for public goods was epitomized by Mitt Romney’s call to end financing of public broadcasting.

A wealthy friend of mine notes that we all pay for poverty in the end. The upfront way is to finance early childhood education for at-risk kids. The back-end way is to pay for prisons and private security guards. In cities with high economic inequality, such as New York and Los Angeles, more than 1 percent of all employees work as private security guards, according to census data.

This question of public goods hovers in the backdrop as we confront the “fiscal cliff” and seek to reach a deal based on a mix of higher revenues and reduced benefits. It’s true that we have a problem with rising entitlement spending, especially in health care. But I also wonder if we’ve reached the end of a failed half-century experiment in ever-lower tax rates for the wealthy.

Since the 1950s, the top federal income tax rate has fallen from 90 percent or more to 35 percent. Capital gains tax rates have been cut by more than half since the late 1970s. Financial tycoons now often pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries.

All this has coincided with the decline of some public services and the emergence of staggering levels of inequality (granted, other factors are also at work) such that the top 1 percent of Americans now have greater collective net worth than the entire bottom 90 percent.

Not even the hum of the most powerful private generator can disguise the failure of that long experiment.

When you combine climate change with the slow collapse of the nation’s infrastructure the results are NOT pretty.  Here’s Ms. Collins:

Thanksgiving used to be the signal for the start of holiday shopping, but that was long ago and, of course, now the signal is Arbor Day. But Thanksgiving still retains an important role as the real end to the election season. This is it. No more talking about what happened in Ohio. Time to move forward. And, as a public service, I am willing to take questions.

What about the fiscal cliff? How can anybody be happy when we’re falling off the fiscal cliff? We’re all going to die!!!!

Just stop that. Do you know where the members of Congress are now? Home having dinner with their families. Do you think they’re refusing to eat anything because they’re worried about the Bush tax cuts? No. Do you think they’re sitting in the basement muttering about sequestration? No. Get with the program. No talking about the fiscal cliff during Thanksgiving.

Did President Obama pardon the turkey?

Yes, he did. It was named Cobbler. The previous Obama pardon winners were Courage, Apple and Liberty. Personally, I find it creepy to name a large, silly-looking bird after a cherished national virtue, or one of Gwyneth Paltrow’s children.

Is it true that PETA is opposed to turkey pardoning?

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says the pardon “makes light of the mass slaughter of some 46 million gentle, intelligent birds.” Which certainly does take some of the fun out of it. You have to admit. Cobbler didn’t do anything to actually win a reprieve, except have a Facebook bio that alleged he was a fan of Carly Simon. Maybe we should see the whole ceremony as a commentary on the cruel randomness of fate.

Whoa! O.K. Never mind about the turkeys. What about the country? We just spent the last couple weeks listening to people like Bill O’Reilly say “it’s not a traditional America anymore.” Is Thanksgiving an endangered tradition?

Are you kidding? Thanksgiving is our best holiday. Everybody likes it, and, except for eating, it has no rules. You never hear talking heads complain about the commercialization of Thanksgiving.

I’m not sure I want to quit talking about the election. I really liked watching the Republicans denouncing Mitt Romney, and going hehehe under my breath.

Time to let go. If you are a Republican, be thankful it’s the end. If you were rooting for President Obama, give thanks that your particular demographic group was responsible for his win. We have excellent statistical evidence that it was Hispanics who made all the difference. And also blacks, gays, young people, unmarried people and women. If any of you had bolted, next year Mitt Romney would be pardoning the turkey.

If you are a Democratic older white married male, you can be thankful that your young, gay, female and minority friends like you so much that they are not holding your demography against you.

Is there anything about the election that’s still unresolved?

Well, we never did find out who Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted for. “The election is behind us, and we need to put politics behind us, too,” the nation’s most prominent undecided voter said in a statement as Congress left town. For Thanksgiving.

Is it too soon to start talking about 2016?

Not if you have no life whatsoever.

I have a lot of Republican relatives coming for Thanksgiving, and I think it would make them feel better.

Every Republican you ever heard of is thinking about a run in 2016. Rick Perry is thinking about it. If it weren’t for his having died 82 years ago, William Howard Taft would be thinking about it.

The busiest bee seems to be Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. He just went to Iowa. And there’s an interview in GQ in which he discusses leadership, says that Eminem is a better rapper than Pitbull, and that the question of whether the earth was created in seven days is “one of the great mysteries.” He also produced the first memorable quote of the 2016 campaign season. (“I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow.”)

But then later he clarified his remarks.

I would be happy to give thanks if he explained that he does believe in evolution.

You know that I’m going to tell you the clarification was that he really likes Pitbull’s music.

By the way, what ever happened to Mitt Romney?

He has been sighted going to the gym, going to Disneyland and emerging from a screening of the latest “Twilight” movie, in which the heroine becomes a vampire and lives happily ever after. I can’t tell you what that means, but he’s probably not feeling all that thankful.

He’s also pumping his own gas.  See?  He was just a regular guy all along…


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