Autopsy of a Failed Health Insurance Experiment: Did It Die of Natural Causes, or Was It Murdered?

It was just another week for the Trump administration. A senior official resigned after admitting to major ethics violations, the President insulted millions of innocent brown-skinned Americans on Twitter, and quietly—so quietly that almost no one noticed—the Department of Health and Human Services pulled another Jenga block out of the teetering tower that is the Affordable Care Act. Fortunately, it did not fall.

But it did become more expensive. And in that understated tragedy, we find our mystery: Was that HHS’s intent all along?

Continue reading “Autopsy of a Failed Health Insurance Experiment: Did It Die of Natural Causes, or Was It Murdered?”

Letter to a Trump Supporter #9: Donald Trump’s Character

This is the ninth and last in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

Yesterday, I addressed Hillary Clinton’s character. Today, I will address Donald Trump’s.

It’s hard to know where to begin. I have received so many defenses of Mr. Trump’s character, and not one of them makes a bit of sense.

Below is a compilation of my responses.

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Dear Mr. ——,

There are so many negative stories about Donald Trump that it’s mind-boggling how such a person could be allowed to reach a position of importance in our society. Here are just a few of these stories:

Importantly, we knew all of these horrible things long before over a dozen women accused him of sexual assault and rape.

And, contrary to what Trump supporters have told me, this isn’t just about his private morality. It’s about his public morality. He doesn’t just say vulgar things behind the scenes. He says them on the national stage, and he doesn’t regret it. He insults millions of Americans everyday. He’s not fit to be the leader of our people, and we’ve known it from the very beginning. Hillary Clinton would never, ever have implied that most Mexican immigrants were rapists and murderers. Donald Trump did it on day one of his campaign. That’s the difference.

Consider the following public utterances:

  1. He called one woman “a disgusting person inside and out” and a “slob” with a “fat, ugly face,” and he called her “a big, fat pig” and a “disgusting pig.”
  2. He called another woman “a dog.”
  3. He said another woman had the “face of a dog.”
  4. On national television, he told a woman it would be a “pretty picture” to see her on her knees.
  5. He called another woman “grotesque.”
  6. He said it was “disgusting” that a mother had to breastfeed her child.
  7. He said, referring to one specific woman, that he likes “girls that are 5-foot-1” because they “come up to you know where.”
  8. He said one woman’s breasts looked “like two lightbulbs coming out of her body.”
  9. He said it doesn’t matter “if a girl can play a violin like the greatest violinist in the world. You want to know what does she look like.”
  10. And of course, there was the moment when he implied, with absolutely zero evidence, that Ted Cruz’s wife was cheating on him.

Now, the thing I have trouble understanding is why Trump supporters are more appalled by anything Hillary Clinton has said than they are by these comments. More specifically, should you and I allow Donald Trump to talk to women that way? Should we support him calling our mothers and daughters and wives and girlfriends slobs and pigs and dogs and fat and disgusting?

What would you do if a man said that to your mother? What if he said it to your wife?

You wouldn’t want that man to be your friend. That’s for damn sure. And you wouldn’t want him to be president either.

But that doesn’t seem to matter. Because you think the country is falling apart, and he’s the only one who can save us. “It’s Trump, or it’s the end of America.“ That’s what you’ve told me.

Well, I’m not sure what America you’re living in. Because it doesn’t sound anything like the America I know.

The America I know has the highest economic output of any country in the world, 70 percent more than the next largest economy.

The America I know has over 40 percent of the world’s wealth, four times the next richest country.

The America I know has outpaced the rest of the developed world in economic growth and job growth since Barack Obama took office in the depths of the Great Recession.

The America I know has historically low inflationlow unemployment, and stable growth.

The America I know has cut violent crime and murder rates in half since the early 1990s.

The America I know has the world’s largest military, equivalent to the next seven largest countries combined.

The America I know is widely viewed more positively overseas than it was eight years ago.

The America I know exists in a world where violence has been declining dramatically for centuries.

The America I know is doing so well that over half of its citizens approve of their current president’s job performance, higher than Ronald Reagan’s approval at the end of his presidency.

The bottom line is that we live in the safest, richest, most powerful country in the history of the world. It would be unfathomably irresponsible to overthrow a system that has worked so well for so many for so long.

What should concern you is the fact that Trump supporters are now saying that they’re going to intimidate voters the way white Americans used to intimidate black voters in the South during the Jim Crow era. They’re saying they’re going to start a violent revolution.

They’re calling for Hillary Clinton to be murdered.

This is literally what they’ve been saying at Trump rallies.

And that’s because they’ve been told, by Donald Trump, that minority voters are “rigging the election” (which is basically impossible, by the way).

This is dangerous.

This is anti-democratic.

This is un-American.

And it should scare us all that Mr. Trump is threatening our lives with this rhetoric.

Donald Trump is playing a word association game designed to make you scared and angry, and he’s hoping you won’t notice that he’s completely full of crap. He regularly changes his policy positions, even on the issues that seem to be most important to him. Here’s a list to give you a sense of how often he goes back on his word.

Even by the typical standards of American politics, this is extreme. I don’t know of any politician who changes their policy positions this often. It’s literally impossible to know what, if anything, Donald Trump actually believes.

But when you read all those stories about his character and his behavior, it makes complete sense that he doesn’t have any policy positions that he really believes in. After all, he doesn’t actually know much about public policy, and he doesn’t seem to care about anything but his own ego. He just says whatever gets him attention.

As someone who’s dedicated his career to public policy, I am continually astonished that voters are willing to elect people with little, if any, understanding of public policy. We wouldn’t want a brain surgeon operating on us if they don’t know anything about medicine, and we shouldn’t elect a policymaker who doesn’t know anything about public policy.

Our government is full of smart, kind, brave men and women who have dedicated their lives to making this country a better place, and I am tired of ignorant malcontents like Donald Trump treating them with such petty, unsubstantiated, arrogant disrespect.

We have real problems in this country, and Donald Trump hasn’t proposed a workable solution to any of them. Hillary Clinton has offered long, detailed, well-researched, carefully-considered plans to address the challenges we face, and Donald Trump has replied with mocking, belittling, rambling, and zero concrete, politically feasible ideas.

If you were an investor and you were considering their “business plans” side-by-side, there wouldn’t even be a contest. As a businessman, you know that you would never bet on someone with no experience and no plan. As a voter, I beg you to apply the same standard.

Best regards,
Anthony

Letter to a Trump Supporter #8: Hillary Clinton’s Character

This is the eighth in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

With two days left in this election season, I will dedicate my last two letters to the issue that has attracted the most attention in the race: the character of the candidates. Today, I will begin with Hillary Clinton.

My interlocutor sent me a series of “debate questions“ that Rush Limbaugh wanted to ask Secretary Clinton, along with a couple other conspiracy theories that are floating around the Internet.

Below is my response.

~~~~~~~~~~

Dear Mr. ——,

Thanks for sending this list of questions. Obviously, I don’t know how Hillary Clinton would answer them, but I can tell you what I would say if I were her:

(1.) When you were Secretary of State, why did you let a Russian company purchase half of the United States uranium reserves?

The Secretary of State cannot veto foreign purchases of American companies. Only the President has that power.

The deal you’re referring to, I assume, is when the Russian company JSC Atomoredzoloto purchased Uranium One, a Canadian firm. Their U.S. reserves account for 20 percent of America’s uranium production capacity, not “half.”

If you’re worried that Russia will somehow use that uranium to build bombs, they can’t. They’re not allowed to export it. It stays here, and we continue to regulate it as before. That’s why nine government agencies and two independent regulatory agencies approved the deal.

(2.) How much money was donated by Russian companies to your Foundation?

How much money has Donald Trump made in Russia? I’ll answer yours when he answers mine. All he has to do is release his tax records like I’ve done

If you’re implying that Russian donations were bribes, you’ll be relieved to learn that my Foundation has been thoroughly investigated by the press, and there has been no evidence of corruption.

The Trump Foundation, in contrast, actually has engaged in corrupt behavior. Donald Trump used $250,000 from his Foundation for personal business disputes. They conveniently forgot to register with the State of New York, leading to an investigation by the Attorney General. And the Trump Organization is actively expanding into the Middle East, Ukraine, and…surprise, surprise: Russia.

Somehow no one ever asks Donald Trump about all the profits he’s planning to reap in Russia. All they care about is the money I raised to help sick kids in Africa.

Maybe that explains why Mr. Trump has professed his admiration for Vladimir Putin, why he hired a campaign manager who advised the top Putin ally in Ukraine, why his foreign policy advisor on Russia has spent a career working with their oil and gas companies, and why Mr. Putin’s media outlets are actively supporting Mr. Trump.

Given all those facts, maybe you can identify the author of this quote: “Russians make up a disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

You think it was me? Or maybe my husband? Or my daughter?

Nope. It was Donald Trump Jr.

(3.) When you worked for the State Department, how did you conduct Secret Classified business without using a secure email server?

Because I was careless. Out of tens of thousands of emails that the FBI investigated, they only found three with classification markers. They concluded that there’s no evidence that I intentionally mishandled the information.

In hindsight, it was a mistake to follow Colin Powell’s advice to use a private email account. I assume Donald Trump plans to thoroughly investigate Secretary Powell’s private emails if he is elected president.

(4.) What kind of assault weapons were you funneling through Benghazi to ISIS in Syria before Ambassador Stevens was murdered?

We didn’t funnel arms through Benghazi to ISIS. We funneled them through our ally Qatar to Libyan rebels to overthrow the murderous dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi, the exact same strategy that Republican administrations have been using for decades. Perhaps you recall the Iran-Contra scandal orchestrated by Ronald Reagan?

But I digress. We eventually learned that Qatar was giving some of the arms to Islamic militants, and we urged them not to do so.

It’s basically impossible to prevent this from happening, though, since there are Islamic militants on both sides of most fights.

Either you work with them to defeat your enemies, or you retreat from the Middle East entirely. Donald Trump would face the exact same problem if he wanted to, in his words, “utterly destroy ISIS.”

(5.) When you left the White House after your husband’s last term as president, why did you steal $200,000 worth of furniture, China, and artwork that you were forced to return?

We didn’t steal anything. We returned some gifts when the National Park Service decided that they were gifts to the government, not to us, although they were donated during my husband’s administration.

(6.) When you were Secretary of State, why did you solicit contributions from foreign governments for the Clinton Foundation after you promised President Obama you would not?

I never made such a promise, and there’s no evidence that I solicited contributions from foreign governments while I was Secretary of State. The Foundation did receive foreign contributions at the time, but I was not involved.

(8.) Why do you and your husband claim to contribute millions of dollars to charity for a tax write-off when it goes to your family foundation that gives out less than 15% of the funds you collect, and you use the balance to support yourself tax-free?

Unlike Donald Trump, I don’t use my charity to “support myself.” So, you just made that up.

And my family foundation does not give “out less than 15% of the funds“ it collects. That’s a lie too.

You really want to talk about who runs their foundation better? Alright, you asked for it…

Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities based on financial health and accountability/transparency, gives the Clinton Foundation their highest rating. Charity Watch, a similar organization that uses an A-F scale, gives the Clinton Foundation an “A.” Guidestar, yet another nonprofit watchdog, awarded the Clinton Foundation with its “transparency seal.”

The Trump Foundation, on the other hand, doesn’t even qualify for such ratings. Why? Because, as Guidestar says, “the Trump Foundation’s approach would certainly not meet the standard of focused, proactive grant making.”

Oh, and for what it’s worth, Guidestar also says, “the Clinton family has — at least over the last several years — donated more money (and at a far higher proportion of their wealth) than the Trump family.”

(9.) Why are you unable to account for $6 billion of State Department funds that seem to have disappeared while you were Secretary of State?

We were not “unable to account for $6 billion.” The Inspector General found that the contract files were incomplete. He specifically wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Post to clarify the misconception. None of the money is missing. Some of the paperwork was just inadequate, a problem that happens in every large organization in the world.

(10.) Why did you say you were broke when you left the White House, but you purchased a $2 million home, built an addition for the Secret Service, and charge the taxpayers of the United States rent in an amount equal to the entire mortgage?

I should not have said “dead broke.” That was a regrettable phrase, though not as offensive as when Donald Trump bragged about profiting from American families losing their homes in the last recession.

What I meant was that our liabilities exceeded our assets, meaning we were technically insolvent because we were deeply in debt. The only reason we got a mortgage was because the bank knew we would earn more income after we left the White House.

We have never charged the taxpayers any rent. That’s a ridiculous lie. On the contrary, the Secret Service offered to pay rent, as is customary in these situations, and we refused to take it.

(11.) How is it that your daughter, Chelsea, can afford to buy a $10.5 million apartment in New York City shortly after you left the White House?

Chelsea and her husband bought the apartment thirteen years after we left the White House, not “shortly after.” She has earned a six-figure salary at NBC News, as have George W. Bush’s daughter Jenna (at NBC News) and John McCain’s daughter Megan (at MSNBC and Fox News). But most of their $15 million net worth comes from her husband, who is a successful investment banker.

In other words, they didn’t get any of that money from us…unlike Donald Trump’s children, who are each worth about $150 million thanks to their father’s company.

(12.) Speaking of Chelsea, how is it that her first paying job, in her late 20s, was for more than the salary of the President of the United States? Was there a quid pro quo of any sort involved?

I’m glad you mentioned the salary of the President of the United States. The President earns $400,000. The average Fortune 500 CEO earns $16 million. Since Republicans are always complaining that public workers are overpaid, they should be very proud of the fact that our Presidents have been paid so little compared to their peers, despite managing an organization that is far larger than any Fortune 500 company.

But, to your point, if there was a quid pro quo, it wasn’t a very good one. Harvard’s media experts scoured all the major news reports and found that I received far more negative coverage than any of the other candidates, and Donald Trump’s coverage was unusually positive.

(13.) Why did you lose your law license? Why did your husband lose his?

I didn’t lose my law license. That’s a complete lie. I stopped practicing because I was busy being a U.S. Senator.

My husband’s law license was suspended for lying under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Of course, Donald Trump has also committed infidelity, and he has lied more than any other presidential candidate in modern history, according to expert fact-checkers.

(14.) Why did you lie to the American people about the terrorist attack in Benghazi but managed to tell the truth to your daughter the same night it happened?

I never lied to the American people about the terrorist attack in Benghazi. You can read the transcripts. I announced the attack that night. I did not confirm who perpetrated the attack. I speculated in an email to my daughter that it might be “an al Qaeda-like group,” but I didn’t have enough information to confirm that speculation to the public until later. This is standard protocol, as well as just being good sense and good morals not to accuse people without solid evidence.

(15.) Why were multiple commando teams given the order to “stand down” when the diplomatic compound was attacked in Benghazi?

There was no “stand down” order. The CIA annex, which was a mile away from the compound, told the security team to wait a half hour until they figured out who was attacking the compound. They didn’t want to accidentally get into a fight with friendly militia, which is a real possibility in these situations. They were not told to “stand down.” That’s a completely different kind of order, where they’re not on alert anymore. They were on alert, they just waited for confirmation that it was an enemy attack. It’s standard protocol.

And to be very clear: It was the CIA annex that made this call, not the White House or the State Department. Neither Barack Obama nor I had been alerted yet. When they did finally call us, we ordered them to do everything in their power to save the Ambassador and his team.

(16.) Why did you ignore pleas from Benghazi for more security? Why did you send Ambassador Chris Stevens into harm’s way?

Why did Ronald Reagan send 800 Marines into harm’s way in Lebanon in 1982? Why did he leave them there after militants bombed the embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people? Why did a Congressional investigation find that “very serious errors in judgment” led to the death of 241 Americans six months later?

Why did George W. Bush ignore multiple warnings that Osama bin Laden was going to attack the United States before 9/11?

And why didn’t Republicans investigate those mistakes as relentlessly as they have investigated Benghazi?

Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House majority leader, gave one answer: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”

If you actually want to know the facts, here they are:

First, we actually did make security improvements in the year before the attack.

Second, I didn’t send Ambassador Stevens to Benghazi. According to two former ambassadors, “In-country travel is solely at the discretion of the ambassador, and he did not need to seek Department of State approval.”

And third, the chief counsel of the Republican-led investigation committee said “nothing could have affected what occurred in Benghazi.” He told my counterpart Leon Panetta, the Defense Secretary at the time, “I think you ordered the right forces… I don’t disagree with the actions you took, the recommendations you made, and the decisions you directed.”

~~~~~~~~~~

I don’t think there’s any doubt that Hillary Clinton has made mistakes in her career. (Who hasn’t?) But the evidence points in a completely different direction than these lies and character attacks suggest.

That, of course, is how conspiracies get started. They begin with one little grain of truth, especially if it’s a grain of truth that upsets a lot of people, and then they draw ridiculous, false conclusions that people will believe because they want to believe it.

The trick is not to let our beliefs about a person get in the way of judging them fairly based on the facts.

Best regards,
Anthony

Letter to a Trump Supporter #4: Barack Obama’s Christian Faith

This is the fourth in my series of “Letters to a Trump Supporter,” from correspondence with a family friend who supports Mr. Trump.

Continuing our conversation about Christianity, he sent me a chain email accusing President Obama of silencing Christians and promoting Islam.

Below is my response.

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Dear Mr. ——,

Thanks for passing along this email on America’s relationship with prayer. Some of it is true, but not all of it.

President Obama did not encourage schools to teach the Quran for extra credit, for example, and the so-called “Muslim Prayer Day” was not an official event hosted by either Congress or the President, but rather an unaffiliated group of Muslims exercising their right to peaceful assembly.

Actually, I would expect most Americans to be thrilled at the news of Muslims gathering peacefully, since that’s exactly what we’ve been wanting them to do, rather than turning toward violent extremism. “We need to change the face of Islam,” said one of the event organizers, “because we love America.” That sounds to me like something a Republican politician would say.

Similarly, there’s only a grain of truth in the claim that President Obama dismissed the National Day of Prayer ceremony. He never said anything about “not wanting to offend anyone.” George W. Bush is the only president who consistently held a ceremony at the White House. George H. W. Bush only did it once in four years, and Ronald Reagan only did it once in eight years. So they “dismissed” it too.

I have to say, I’m continually shocked at how Christian Americans can accuse President Obama of being anti-Christian, when he has spoken more eloquently about his Christian faith than any president since Lincoln.

I don’t know if you’ve ever read either of his memoirs, but he writes about his conversion to Christianity in great depth and vulnerability. “I felt God’s spirit beckoning me,” he says. “I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth.”

Contrary to accusations that he’s against public prayer, he talks about his desire for it when he first joined a church, “I thought being part of a community and affirming my faith in a public fashion was important.”

He openly admits that his Christian beliefs shape his political decisions, “It’s hard for me to imagine being true to my faith — and not thinking beyond myself, and not thinking about what’s good for other people, and not acting in a moral and ethical way.”

He quotes Saint Augustine and the great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, showing a rich understanding of the religion that few politicians can equal.

In fact, arguably the most memorable speech of the Obama presidency was his eulogy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, where he wove together the American experience and the Christian experience, tracing our Christian values from the Declaration of Independence through Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. to today.

If you haven’t seen it, you really owe it to yourself. Not only is his oratory masterful, but he sings “Amazing Grace,” a testament to his Christian beliefs more powerful than anything I’ve ever seen from an American politician.

But the thing that Republicans should love about this speech, especially in this heated time of racial debate and protests, is how he argues that Christianity teaches us to forgive the white murderer who killed the innocent black Americans whom he’s eulogizing. “The essence of what is right about Christianity is embedded here,” he told his staff before the funeral. “They welcomed the stranger. They forgave the worst violence.”

Those words came from the heart. His speechwriter drafted different words for much of that speech, but the president scratched them out and wrote his own. He explained to the young speechwriter that he knew what he wanted to say because he’d been “thinking about this stuff for 30 years.” This is a man who has dedicated himself to a lifetime of faith with impressive study and contemplation.

It’s not difficult to understand why so many myths have been promulgated about Barack Obama’s faith. He doesn’t look like what many Americans think a Christian looks like, and he takes the freedom of religion enshrined in our Constitution seriously.

But it is difficult to watch him be persecuted for his heritage and his tolerance. At least we can say that, in these experiences, he is following in the steps of many great Christians who have come before him, paving the way toward a kinder, more peaceful future against all the odds.

Best regards,
Anthony

Why President Obama Is Right to Focus on Inequality

Real Household Income, 1967 to 2012

In his recent speech at Knox College, President Obama renewed the nation’s focus on income inequality, drawing criticism from the right for pandering to the usual Democratic interest groups instead of addressing real economic issues like jobs and growth. This reaction stems from a misunderstanding of recent history that is sadly prevalent among the American public. To set the record straight, let’s take a trip back in time…

Three decades ago, we awoke to Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America.”

It was 1983, and our economy had been through the deepest recession since the Great Depression. Reagan had slashed tax rates and broken the unions. In return, we were promised a bright future with faster economic growth for all.

At first glance, it looks like the Gipper delivered on his promise.

From 1983 to 2013, our economy’s output more than doubled, even after adjusting for inflation. The average worker today is 85 percent more productive than their predecessors were when Reagan took office. Taxes take a much smaller bite out of our income than they did in Reagan’s day, and American businesses are more profitable than ever before.

If the story ends there, it’s not hard to see why Republicans still believe in the power of Reaganomics.

But, as in every good story, there’s a twist. In this case, the twist is inequality, a politically charged word that Republicans rarely speak of. And for good reason: It invalidates their entire belief system.

The aggregate data leads you to believe that everyone’s income doubled, but that’s so far from the truth that it’s nearly criminal to foist that story on the public.

In fact, since 1983, the only incomes that have doubled after inflation are the incomes of the richest 0.1 percent of Americans. That’s one-tenth of the infamous “One Percent.” For the other 99.9 percent of Americans, inflation-adjusted incomes have grown by less than 20 percent.

But that’s a high threshold. In order to be a member of the top 0.1 percent, you have to earn over $1.5 million. What if we set the bar at a more reasonable level? Let’s exclude everyone making over $110,000. That’s a pretty good cutoff for what we consider to be “rich,” and it still leaves us with 90 percent of Americans earning less than that. These are the people who were supposed to enjoy the benefits of Reagan’s “trickle-down economics.” How much didthey gain since 1983?

Nothing.

For the 90 percent of Americans earning less than six figures, there has been absolutely zero income growth after inflation in the last three decades.

Sit back and contemplate that fact for a moment. During a period when the economy doubled in size, the total income earned by 90 percent of Americans didn’t increase by a single penny. All the gains went to the richest 10 percent.

Of course, the size of the economy is not directly comparable to the incomes of individual households. The economy grows when the population grows, even if individual incomes don’t grow. Also, the individual statistics don’t include taxes and transfers like Social Security and unemployment insurance. However, none of these facts change the big picture: After three decades of strong economic growth, the average American’s paycheck has barely budged.

You have to ask yourself: What’s the point? Why do we work so hard to make the economy grow if none of it is going into our pockets?

It hardly seems fair, but that’s not the only problem. Inequality isn’t just the by-product of a broken system; it’s a cause of the brokenness as well.

A growing economy is like a growing child. It needs to be fed often and well. The more an economy produces, the more its citizens must consume. If most Americans aren’t earning more money, they can’t afford all that extra consumption. So they borrow more than they should, but all that borrowing requires growing paychecks to repay the loans. When debt outstrips income, they default, and the economy comes crashing down.

That’s what President Obama meant when he said this crisis has been three decades in the making. That’s why it has become his highest priority. All our economic problems — high unemployment, weak economic growth, excessive debt and financial instability — have the same root cause: Most people aren’t earning enough money — and it’s not because the economy isn’t producing it. It’s because a tiny portion of the population is siphoning too much of it for themselves.

It’s not just a matter of politics, as the President’s critics would have you believe. It’s a matter of basic economics. “Morning in America” has only been bright for a select few. For most Americans, it’s been as dark as night.

The Reaganomics experiment has failed. It’s time for all of us to see the light.

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This op-ed was originally published in today’s Huffington Post.