Oct 08 2010

Punting the Pundits

Punting the Punditsis an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Robert Reich: The Secret Big-Money Takeover of America

Not only is income and wealth in America more concentrated in fewer hands than it’s been in 80 years, but those hands are buying our democracy as never before — and they’re doing it behind closed doors.

Hundreds of millions of secret dollars are pouring into congressional and state races in this election cycle. The Koch brothers (whose personal fortunes grew by $5 billion last year) appear to be behind some of it, Karl Rove has rounded up other multimillionaires to fund right-wing candidates, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is funneling corporate dollars from around the world into congressional races, and Rupert Murdoch is evidently spending heavily.

No one knows for sure where this flood of money is coming from because it’s all secret.

But you can safely assume its purpose is not to help America’s stranded middle class, working class, and poor. It’s to pad the nests of the rich, stop all reform, and deregulate big corporations and Wall Street — already more powerful than since the late 19th century when the lackeys of robber barons literally deposited sacks of cash on the desks of friendly legislators.

Paul Krugman: The End of the Tunnel

The Erie Canal. Hoover Dam. The Interstate Highway System. Visionary public projects are part of the American tradition, and have been a major driver of our economic development.

And right now, by any rational calculation, would be an especially good time to improve the nation’s infrastructure. We have the need: our roads, our rail lines, our water and sewer systems are antiquated and increasingly inadequate. We have the resources: a million-and-a-half construction workers are sitting idle, and putting them to work would help the economy as a whole recover from its slump. And the price is right: with interest rates on federal debt at near-record lows, there has never been a better time to borrow for long-term investment.

But American politics these days is anything but rational. Republicans bitterly opposed even the modest infrastructure spending contained in the Obama stimulus plan. And, on Thursday, Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, canceled America’s most important current public works project, the long-planned and much-needed second rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

Mike Lux: Obama Comes Through on Foreclosure Issue: What’s Next?

When the notarization on foreclosures issue suddenly flared up over the last 24 hours, my heart sank. Just as regular homeowners were starting to get some legal traction to fight back against fraud and predatory lending by big banks, it seemed, some bank lobbyist had managed to sneak something through in the dead of night that would screw people over again. It was Washington at its worst: the bank lobbyists in control, and Congress asleep at the wheel.

But then, that most delightful and rare of Washington moments happened: the system worked. Consumer advocates started raising hell on the blogs and in traditional media, the White House started looking more closely at the issue, and literally within a matter of hours, Obama announced that he was not going to sign the bill. No long, painful, drawn out internal debate at 1600 Pennsylvania. No twisting round trying to split the middle on the issue. As soon as the issue was raised, the White House team focused on it, and made the right decision quickly. Elizabeth Warren, the new Assistant to the President and Treasury Secretary, weighed in. Pete Rouse, the new Chief of Staff, got engaged immediately. And the President made the right decision.

So what did we learn? First, that exposing sleazy dead-of-night deals cut by the special interests does sometimes work. And second, that having good people in key government roles really does matter. Obama might well have done the right thing without Warren and Rouse there, but it sure did happen quickly and easily with them around.

Dean Baker: Currency Wars and Accounting Identities

There are few areas of economics more boring than accounting identities. This is really unfortunate, since it is virtually impossible to have a clear understanding of economic policy without a solid knowledge of the underlying identities.

Most of the people in Washington policy debates were apparently overcome by boredom before they could get this knowledge. As a result, we see some really silly policy debates.

The debate over the value of the dollar against the Chinese yuan is the latest episode in this silliness. The Washington tribal elite has been on the warpath against budget deficits in recent months. They have worked themselves into such a frenzy that nothing will stand in their way: not concerns about unemployment, not concerns about the well-being of our elderly, and not even concerns about basic economic logic.

The basic logical problem stems from the simple accounting identity that national savings is equal to the broadly measured trade surplus. A country with a large trade surplus will also have large national savings. Conversely, a country with a large trade deficit will have negative national savings. These relationships are accounting identities — there is no way around them.

Richard Trumka: Big Insurance, Pharma, Wall Street and John Boehner

By now there should be no question that if Boehner becomes speaker, corporations will call the shots — and the insurance companies, drug manufacturers and Wall Street firms have been busy paying big time for the privilege. Boehner’s campaign to date has collected nearly $7.1 million. Putting that sum in perspective, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has received $2.9 million. Meanwhile, the “Boehner for Speaker” fundraising committee has racked up another $2 million.

Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, the American Bankers Association and Big Pharma are some of his biggest Wall Street backers, with the political action committees and employees of insurance firms alone giving nearly $426,000 to Boehner’s campaign committees through June 30, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Boehner is so soaked in lobbyist dollars that his clique of friends and current and former staff members on Capitol Hill have even been given a name: Boehner Land.

Joe Conason: The Ideologies Behind the Ideologues

Let nobody accuse the tea party enthusiasts of lacking intellectual sophistication, no matter what their favorite candidates might say about evolution, civil rights, masturbation or alcohol prohibition.

According to The New York Times, the movement’s reading list includes works of political economy by such right-wing thinkers as Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich von Hayek and Frederic Bastiat. (And never mind that some of them are reading Glenn Beck’s favorite crank, the late Cleon Skousen, who doesn’t quite belong in the same category.)

What makes this news so bemusing is not that the far right is rediscovering anarcho-capitalism or ultra-libertarianism-an ideology whose potential consequences were observed the other day in Tennessee, where firefighters watched a family’s house burn down because they hadn’t paid a fee. Mises, Hayek and their successors have long influenced the American right, from William F. Buckley Jr. to Alan Greenspan.

What’s funny is the sudden reverence among the tea party’s self-styled super-patriots for a bunch of foreign philosophers whose outlook is known as “Austrian economics,” except for Bastiat-whose Frenchness might be expected to arouse even greater suspicion among our nativists. Among the most bitter complaints against President Obama is his supposed penchant for European notions concerning health care reform, climate change and global security. His angriest critics at tea party demonstrations maliciously suggest that the president is himself a foreigner who doesn’t respect the American way.

Paul Rieckhoff: As Washington Stands Idle, the Private Sector Steps Up for Vets

Veterans don’t need lip service. They need jobs. And so far, we haven’t seen any meaningful action coming from Washington. But a powerful ally is stepping up to fill the void: The Private Sector.

None of us need reminding that we’re in one of the worst economies in decades.  More than 15 million Americans are jobless, and veterans are being hit even harder. Young veterans are facing 20% unemployment, a rate that has nearly doubled from just 6.1% in 2007. . . . .

While Washington stands idle, the private sector has been revving up. From Microsoft to Walmart to Outback Steakhouse, enlightened companies are stepping up to hire veterans and connect them with the tools needed to succeed in the workforce.

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