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Aug 24 2012

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is 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.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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Paul Krugman: Galt, Gold and God

So far, most of the discussion of Paul Ryan, the presumptive Republican nominee for vice president, has focused on his budget proposals. But Mr. Ryan is a man of many ideas, which would ordinarily be a good thing.

In his case, however, most of those ideas appear to come from works of fiction, specifically Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

For those who somehow missed it when growing up, “Atlas Shrugged” is a fantasy in which the world’s productive people – the “job creators,” if you like – withdraw their services from an ungrateful society. The novel’s centerpiece is a 64-page speech by John Galt, the angry elite’s ringleader; even Friedrich Hayek admitted that he never made it through that part. Yet the book is a perennial favorite among adolescent boys. Most boys eventually outgrow it. Some, however, remain devotees for life.

Dean Baker: Land of the fee: The $1.2 trillion health care tax

An inefficient health care system is costing $1.2 trillion, but many economists want to fix the budget by slashing it.

Economists tend not to be very good at economics, which is one of the main reasons that the world is facing such a prolonged downturn. Few economists were able to recognise the enormous imbalances created by housing bubbles in the United States and elsewhere, or to understand that the collapse of these bubbles would lead to a prolonged period of stagnation in the absence of a vigorous response by governments. [..]

You would think that economists would be upset over a $1.2 trillion annual tax due to the inefficiency of our health care system. This is at least an order of magnitude larger than most issues that economists spend their time worrying over. Yet there are few economists who make this obvious point when debates over the budget come up. Instead, they typically chime in with the choir saying that we need to cut the budget, not fix health care.

The cynical among us might point out that fixing the budget mostly means beating up on older people getting Social Security and Medicare benefits. Fixing health care means going after powerful lobbies like the insurers, the drug industry, and doctors. But whatever their motive, the facts are clear. The vast majority of economists in the United States are not especially concerned about a $1.2 trillion annual health care tax; they have much less important matters to take up their time.

New York Times Editorial: A Slim Recovery for Housing

The economy will not recover until the housing market recovers, and the housing market will not recover until the broader economy recovers – a chicken-and-egg problem reflected, once again, in national housing figures. [..]

In the absence of aggressive debt relief efforts, it will be up to the Federal Reserve to keep mortgage rates low and expand its support for the flow of credit. It is also urgent for regulators at the Fed and at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to complete new regulations, required under the Dodd-Frank financial reform, to define and ensure affordable, safe mortgages, an important step in reviving private mortgage markets.

Still, without far-reaching federal help, it will be years, possibly decades, before the housing market and the broader economy are restored to health.

Owen Jones: Getting Rid of Dubya Wasn’t Enough. The US Remains a Bully

The issue isn’t Obama, any more than it was Bush before him. The issue is US power

How easy it was to scrutinize US power when George W. Bush was in office. After all, it was difficult to defend an administration packed with such repulsive characters, like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, whose attitude towards the rest of the world amounted to thuggish contempt. [..]

It was a bad dream that went on for eight years, and no wonder much of the world is still breathing a sigh of relief. But US foreign policy these days escapes scrutiny. In part, that is down a well-grounded terror of the only viable alternative to Barack Obama: the increasingly deranged US right. A deliberate shift to a softer, more diplomatic tone has helped, too. But it is also the consequence of a strategic failure on the part of many critics of US foreign policy in the Bush era. As protesters marched in European cities with placards of Bush underneath “World’s No 1 Terrorist”, the anti-war crusade became personalized. Bush seemed to be the problem, and an understanding of US power – the nature of which remains remarkably consistent from president to president – was lost.

Katrina vanden Heuvel: Why Subsidize CEOs?

By now, most Americans recognize-and resent-that top corporations compensate their executives in ways that are simply indecent. Eye-popping salaries. Outlandish bonuses. Lavish stock options. Golden-nay, platinum-parachutes. What fewer realize about this obscene compensation is that we’re all paying for it. Literally.

Last week the Institute for Policy Studies released a blockbuster report exposing how US taxpayers subsidize executive compensation, and revealing some of the worst offenders.

Those tax subsidies for executive excess add up to over $14 billion a year. That equals 12 percent of the planned savings from the deficit deal sequesters, 211,732 times the annual cost of hiring an elementary school teacher, or $46 for each American. In other words, says co-author Scott Klinger, “Every man, woman and child in America is buying a CEO lunch.”

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: Elizabeth Warren vs. Mr. Personality

Elizabeth Warren is the kind of person Massachusetts has always liked to send to the U.S. Senate.

She would instantly become a national leader, which appeals in a state that has sent to Washington Democrats such as John and Edward Kennedy and Republicans such as Henry Cabot Lodge and Edward Brooke. The Harvard Law School professor who warned of abuses in the financial system long before the economic crisis should draw suburban liberals who admire her seriousness as well as lunch-bucket Democrats who appreciate her populism. [..]

So why hasn’t one of this year’s most exciting Senate candidates put the election away? The obstacle is a Republican incumbent who is making voters forget that he’s a Republican. If former House Speaker Tip O’Neill preached that all politics is local, Sen. Scott Brown makes all politics personal. He’s running even or, in one recent poll, slightly ahead of Warren simply because so many voters like him.

Gregg Muttet: Mission Accomplished for Big Oil?

In 2011, after nearly nine years of war and occupation, U.S. troops finally left Iraq. In their place, Big Oil is now present in force and the country’s oil output, crippled for decades, is growing again. Iraq recently reclaimed the number two position in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), overtaking oil-sanctioned Iran. Now, there’s talk of a new world petroleum glut. So is this finally mission accomplished?

Well, not exactly. In fact, any oil company victory in Iraq is likely to prove as temporary as George W. Bush’s triumph in 2003. The main reason is yet another of those stories the mainstream media didn’t quite find room for: the role of Iraqi civil society. But before telling that story, let’s look at what’s happening to Iraqi oil today, and how we got from the “no blood for oil” global protests of 2003 to the present moment.