Dec 12 2015

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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Dean Baker: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Cracking Down on Wall Street

The New Yorker ran a rather confused piece on Gary Sernovitz, a managing director at the investment firm Lime Rock Partners, on whether Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton would be more effective in reining in Wall Street. The piece assures us that Secretary Clinton has a better understanding of Wall Street and that her plan would be more effective in cracking down on the industry. The piece is bizarre both because it essentially dismisses the concern with too big to fail banks and completely ignores Sanders’ proposal for a financial transactions tax which is by far the most important mechanism for reining in the financial industry.

The piece assures us that too big to fail banks are no longer a problem, noting their drop in profitability from bubble peaks and telling readers:

“not only are Sanders’s bogeybanks just one part of Wall Street but they are getting less powerful and less problematic by the year.”

This argument is strange for a couple of reasons. First, the peak of the subprime bubble frenzy is hardly a good base of comparison. The real question is should we anticipate declining profits going forward. That hardly seems clear. For example, Citigroup recently reported surging profits, while Wells Fargo’s third quarter profits were up 8 percent from 2014 levels.

Olivia Alperstein: Minimum Wage Is Not a Livable Wage

Donald Trump is no stranger to inflammatory remarks, but one statement really struck home for me. During the presidential debate on November 10, Donald Trump claimed that current wages are “too high.” He repeated that claim the following day during the New England Council “Politics and Eggs” breakfast in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Donald Trump has never struggled for money – he even talked recently about getting a “small loan” from his father to the tune of $1 million.  Mr. Trump, take it from someone who has lived most of her life below the poverty line: minimum wage is a starvation wage for many low-income individuals and families.

The average minimum wage in this country is $7.25. Let’s do a quick thought experiment. If we assume that rent is $1,000-$1,200 a month (if we’re lucky), at minimum wage I would need to work approximately 138-166 hours to earn enough to pay rent. Then consider that many full-time workers are limited to working only 40 hours a week, that’s almost an entire month’s earnings right there, going straight to rent. But then, there’s also utilities, food, transportation costs, and other basic expenses. As an individual, I will have to choose between eating meals and paying bills. But if I had a family, how could I force my children to go hungry?

Peter van Buren: Washington to Whomever: Please Fight the Islamic State for Us

In the many strategies proposed to defeat the Islamic State (IS) by presidential candidates, policymakers, and media pundits alike across the American political spectrum, one common element stands out: someone else should really do it. The United States will send in planes, advisers, and special ops guys, but it would be best — and this varies depending on which pseudo-strategist you cite — if the Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Sunnis, and/or Shias would please step in soon and get America off the hook.

The idea of seeing other-than-American boots on the ground, like Washington’s recently deep-sixed scheme to create some “moderate” Syrian rebels out of whole cloth, is attractive on paper. Let someone else fight America’s wars for American goals. Put an Arab face on the conflict, or if not that at least a Kurdish one (since, though they may not be Arabs, they’re close enough in an American calculus). Let the U.S. focus on its “bloodless” use of air power and covert ops. Somebody else, Washington’s top brains repeatedly suggest, should put their feet on the embattled, contested ground of Syria and Iraq. Why, the U.S. might even gift them with nice, new boots as a thank-you.

Is this, however, a realistic strategy for winning America’s war(s) in the Middle East?

Michael Winship: In Congress, Christmas Is a Time of Giving – and Receiving

I was planning to write a festive poem to Congress as they approach their merry holiday recess but couldn’t come up with a rhyme for “dysfunctional.”

Writing in Monday’s Washington Post, Greg Sargent noted that all that inertia on Capitol Hill has been caused “less by a roughly equivalent failure by both major parties to make the incremental concessions needed to reach common ground, and more by a searing intra-GOP argument over whether the Republican Party should make such concessions to reach the common ground that has always been sitting right there in plain sight…”

Citing Ryan Lizza’s superb analysis of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus in The New Yorker this week, Sargent writes that the radical caucus members believe, “Republicans lose ground when they govern along with Democrats, because achieving bipartisan governing compromise inherently represents capitulation to Dems, in the sense that when government functions, it affirms the Dem vision.”

It’s really a profound pity — tragic, in fact, and deadly dangerous to democracy. In an alternative universe, I could see senators and House members racing home to spend holiday time with friends and family, drinking hot cocoa with peppermint sticks, making snow angels and redistributing their campaign contributions to the poor. Instead, they will spend much of the off time plotting on behalf of or against the lunacy of the right (refueled each day by Fox, talk radio and a hyperventilating Trump, Cruz, Carson and Rubio) while hitting up donors and listening to their requests for all the favors expected in return. Even Santa couldn’t keep track of their list.

Glenn Greenwald: Donald Trump’s “Ban Muslims” Proposal is Wildly Dangerous But Not Far Outside the U.S. Mainstream

Hours after a new poll revealed that he’s trailing Ted Cruz in Iowa, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump issued a statement advocating “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what’s going on.” His spokesperson later clarified that this exclusion even includes Muslim-American citizens who are currently outside the U.S. On first glance, it seems accurate to view this, in the words of The Guardian, as “arguably the most extreme proposal to come from any U.S. presidential candidate in decades.”

Some comfortable journalists, however, quickly insisted that people were overreacting. “Before everyone gives up on the republic, remember that not even a single American has yet cast a vote for Trump,” said New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. The New York Daily News Opinion Page Editor Josh Greenman was similarly blithe: “It’s a proposal to keep Muslims out of the U.S., made in a primary, being roundly condemned. We are a long way from internment camps.”

Given that an ISIS attack in Paris just helped fuel the sweeping election victory of an actually fascist party in France, it’s a bit mystifying how someone can be so sanguine about the likelihood of a Trump victory in the U.S. In fact, with a couple of even low-level ISIS attacks successfully carried out on American soil, it’s not at all hard to imagine. But Trump does not need to win, or even get close to winning, for his rhetoric and the movement that he’s stoking to be dangerous in the extreme.