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Feb 03 2016

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: Don’t let market crashes obscure our economic malaise

The business press has been obsessed in recent weeks over the volatility in financial markets around the world. Most major stock markets have dropped by more than 10 percent from their 2015 peaks. China’s market is down by more than 40 percent from its peak last spring. Interest rates on high-risk bonds have soared and the price of oil has fallen by more than 70 percent from its levels two years ago.

While these movements are dramatic, it is important to remember the financial markets are not the economy. Markets often take sharp turns in ways that have no obvious connection to the real economy. The best example of this is the 1987 stock market crash in which the U.S. markets lost more than 20 percent of their value in a single day. There was no obvious cause for this plunge nor did it have a noticeable effect on the economy. In fact, the U.S. economy continued to grow at a healthy pace for the next two and a half years.

This doesn’t mean that the U.S. and the world economy don’t face real problems. It’s just that these problems are not best captured by a deflating Chinese stock bubble and the response of worried investors elsewhere.

Trevor Timm: Rand Paul was a sane voice in the Republican field. Well, almost

Senator Rand Paul dropped out of the Republican race on Wednesday, months after selling out his once-original candidacy to the whims and irrational fears of mainstream Republicans. Before presidential aspirations forced him to pander to the right, he was a promising candidate for those who care about privacy, constitutional rights and a foreign policy that does not cause destruction. Now his campaign will just be remembered as a disappointing lost opportunity.

Rand Paul deserves credit for once having been a unique leader when it came to criminal justice reform. Long before it became a mainstream bipartisan cause – before even many Democrats were vocal about the issue – Paul regularly drew attention to the disparate impact harsh mandatory sentencing has on African Americans. He attacked the ridiculous, harmful nature of our marijuana laws when it was a virtually nonexistent subject on cable news.

He was a champion of privacy rights, lambasting the NSA after the Snowden revelations and repeatedly giving powerful speeches defending Americans’ right to keep their communications private unless the government has a warrant – and he was quick to spar with the rest of his Republican comrades who didn’t agree with him.

Gary Younge: The fractures in America’s political landscape have been exposed

As a parent of small children I sometimes surprise myself with the things I find myself saying. “Don’t play in the tumble dryer.” “Stop putting food in your nose.” “Try not to poo on the carpet.” The individual words are all familiar. But prior to the actual moment they are spoken, the notion that I would ever gather them together into a single sentence seemed implausible. The shock resides in realising I am in a scenario in which they both make sense and are necessary.

Analysing the results of last night’s Iowa caucuses forces a similar double-take. For to explain why Donald Trump came second to Ted Cruz among Republicans or why Democrats handed Hillary Clinton the slimmest of victories against “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders first raises the question of how we got to a place that this time last year no one would have deemed possible.

Trump’s defeat is a shock because it was assumed he had been leading the race for several months; but it’s far more stunning that he was ever in the running. The dead heat between Clinton and Sanders was expected because we assumed they have been in a close-fought race in Iowa for three weeks now; that doesn’t make the fact that they actually were so close any less amazing.

Joshua Kopstein: Digital rights are human rights

In a speech at last year’s Re:Publica conference in Berlin, software designer and privacy advocate Aral Balkan asked a provocative question: If slavery is the business of buying and selling physical human bodies, “what do you call the business of selling everything else about a person that makes them who they are apart from their physical body?”

Balkan was referring to what Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism,” the business logic pioneered by companies such as Google and Facebook that has made our personal data the defining natural resource of the 21st century. Consumers have caught on to this trend: A new Pew poll found that 91 percent of American adults agree that consumers have lost control over how companies collect and use their information.

There’s also a deeper, more disturbing dimension to Balkan’s question that’s best illustrated by a sequence from the British sci-fi series “Black Mirror.”

The vignette begins with a woman preparing to undergo a mysterious medical procedure. Moments later, she awakens in an empty white room. A man — communicating with her through a small egg-like device that sits on a kitchen table — tells her the operation was successful. But like in every episode of the series, the horrible truth quickly comes into view.

Jonathan Taplin: Iowa Caucus Deals Death Blow To The Establishment

The results of the Iowa caucus seem to me to be the death rattle for the establishment. I outlined what I meant by “the establishment” back in August of 2014.

What were the establishment priorities that moved inexorably forward in both Republican and Democratic administrations? The first was a robust and aggressive foreign policy. As Stephen Kinzer wrote about those in power during the 1950s, “Exceptionalism  —  the view that the United States has a right to impose its will because it knows more, sees farther, and lives on a higher moral plane than other nations  –  was to them not a platitude, but the organizing principle of daily life and global politics.”

The second principle of the establishment was that “what is good for Wall Street is good for America.” Despite Democrats’ efforts to paint the GOP as the party of Wall Street, one would only have to look at the track record of Clinton’s treasury secretaries Rubin and Summers (specifically, their zealous efforts to kill the Glass-Steagal Act and deregulate the big banks and the commodities markets) to see that both major parties are guilty of sucking up to money; apparently, the establishment rules no matter who is in power.

It has been my contention for the last few years that we are living in an Interregnum. The Italian philosopher, Gramsci defined the concept well: “The old is dying and the new cannot be born;in this interregnum many morbid symptoms arise.” This sense of being trapped between a dying establishment and a new order that is not quite formed, plays itself out in four areas.