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Opinion: Finally feeling the Bern -- what took so long?

Opinion: Finally feeling the Bern -- what took so long?
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders debate in Charleston, S.C., on Jan. 17. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP/Getty Images)

Good morning. I'm Paul Thornton, The Times' letters editor, and it is Saturday, Jan. 23. Here's a look back at the week in Opinion.

We've had Donald Trump atop the polls for months now — and now Bernie Sanders is getting some serious attention too.

The Vermont senator is now polling just a few percentage points behind Hillary Clinton in Iowa, and he holds a sizable lead in New Hampshire. What had only a month ago seemed like an impossibility — a competitive Democratic primary campaign, with Clinton's inevitable nomination seeming less assured (déjà vu, anyone?) — is reality.

Times columnist Doyle McManus frames the choice for Democrats as one between pragmatism (Clinton) and revolutionary (Sanders):

Take the issue on which the two candidates diverge most sharply: healthcare reform.

Sanders has an ambitious proposal for a European-style, government-run health insurance system (known to policy wonks as "single payer"). Clinton, meanwhile, merely aims to make the Affordable Care Act, based on private insurance plans, work a little better.

Abstractly, that's an easy choice for most liberals and progressives (not to mention socialists): Most of them prefer single payer. A well-designed government-run system works better and far more cheaply than our crazy patchwork of public and private plans, as Sweden and other countries with single-payer systems have shown.

But as Clinton reminded voters during the Democratic debate on Sunday, President Obama's not-very-revolutionary healthcare law barely squeaked through to passage in 2010.

"There was an opportunity to vote for what was called the public option," she noted — a government-run plan that wasn't even as ambitious as single payer. "And even when the Democrats were in charge of the Congress, we couldn't get the votes for that."

In other words: You can't get there from here.

Clinton is probably right. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll last year found that only 26% of Americans want to expand Obamacare — mostly Democrats. A far larger number, 42%, want to scale the plan back or scrap it entirely. (Most of those are non-Democrats, but once the question is before Congress, their preference matters too.)

» Click here to read more.

On the issue of healthcare, Jon Healey examines Sanders' support for a single-payer plan. His review is mixed:

Sanders is also proposing to make healthcare seem less expensive by doing away with insurance premiums, deductibles and copays. Instead, he'd pay for claims by raising income-tax rates by 2.2% for most Americans, although those with high incomes would see progressively larger hikes. The top tax bracket would rise from just under 40% to 43% for incomes under $2 million, or to 52% for incomes above $10 million. All employers, meanwhile, would pay an additional 6.2% tax on incomes — on top of the world's highest tax on business incomes.

Anyone earning a modest amount of money would probably feel significantly better off under Sanders' arrangement, especially if they already had health benefits at work. If they didn't, their employer might respond to the new tax by cutting payroll — either through layoffs or pay cuts.

As for those earning fatter paychecks, the tax hit would be significant — an additional $12,000 a year for someone earning $300,000, for example. Those with $1-million incomes would pay $30,000 more. For a $2-million income, the hit would be $80,000...

Here's a bigger issue. Removing private insurers in favor of government ones won't do anything to slow the growth of healthcare spending or the high cost (relative to the rest of the world) of each procedure performed, which are the real problems in the system.

» Click here to read more.

Here's a very un-Sanders idea: Don't expand Social Security. Those who say Social Security is stingy with benefits get it exactly wrong — in fact, Social Security is poorly funded. "The case for across-the-board Social Security increases rests on misunderstood data and a willingness to ignore Social Security's rising unfunded liabilities," writes Andrew G. Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute. "Neither is a foundation for good public policy." L.A. Times

Germany is becoming more nationalist and right-wing. Sound familiar? Populism is taking hold Stateside, but when it happens in Germany, it feels a lot more ominous, writes Jacob Heilbrunn. No, this isn't the 1930s all over again, but a more anti-immigrant, isolationist Germany could have grave consequences for Europe: "Ever since reunification, their nation has asserted itself in Europe, looking outward, ruling confidently. If it substitutes truculent nationalism for that brand of leadership, [the] dream of a united Europe will end." L.A. Times

Buyer beware: Your rooftop solar panels might be letting a dirty-energy company put on a green face. In California, if your system is leased or installed under a purchase-power agreement, the third-party owner of that electricity might be turning around and selling the credit for the energy produced to a company that burns only fossil fuels, warns Severin Borenstein. In other words: A dirty, heavily polluting business may be wearing your solar halo. L.A. Times

Yes, millennials, Hillary Clinton is a feminist. Meghan Daum defends Clinton's feminist cred to young women who view the presidential candidate with suspicion: "The world Clinton has been navigating these many decades was, and remains, fraught with political and social realities that required compromise and, most of all, patience. And while some of that compromise might strike young people as a marker of a lack of integrity, the truth is that in politics — and life in general — compromise is often what moves you forward." L.A Times

Don't think the Rams coming back to L.A. is a cure-all, Angelenos. Economist Roger G. Noll throws cold water on the idea that the NFL returning to Southern California will have any other benefits besides satisfying sports fans: "The NFL's bonanza will not be an economic windfall to the L.A. metropolitan area. When cities battle to attract or retain a pro sports franchise, proponents frequently claim that a team will provide massive economic benefits — more jobs, new corporate headquarters, higher incomes, greater tax revenues. But it's just not so." L.A. Times

Tell me what you think about this newsletter. Email paul.thornton@latimes.com.

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