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.

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Dean Baker: Financial Reform: It’s About Improving the Financial System, Not 2008

As the Democratic presidential race heats up, the debate on financial reform has taken a bizarre twist. Somehow the measure of a good reform is its ability to prevent another 2008-type financial crisis.

While it is reasonable to subject a reform agenda to the 2008 test, this should be at most a side issue. After all, it is virtually certain that our next crisis will not look our last crisis. Financial reform first and foremost is not about preventing the last crisis, but rather about designing a financial system that more effectively serves the rest of the economy.

Finance is an intermediate good like trucking. It does not directly provide value like food or health care, the value in the financial sector depends exclusively on its ability to make the rest of the economy function better. This means effectively getting money to businesses and households who need to borrow. And it means providing safe investment vehicles for people to save for retirement or other purposes.

An efficient financial sector provides these services using as few resources as possible. With that in mind, it is hard to make the case that our financial system is efficient. It has exploded in size relative to the rest of the economy over the last four decades, with the narrow commodities and securities trading sector increasing fourfold.

Tom Engelhardt: Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda

Here’s my twenty-first-century rule of thumb about this country: if you have to say it over and over, it probably ain’t so. Which is why I’d think twice every time we’re told how “exceptional” or “indispensable” the United States is. For someone like me who can still remember a moment when Americans assumed that was so, but no sitting president, presidential candidate, or politician felt you had to say the obvious, such lines reverberate with defensiveness. They seem to incorporate other voices you can almost hear whispering that we’re ever less exceptional, more dispensable, no longer (to quote the greatest of them all by his own estimate) “the greatest.” In this vein, consider a commonplace line running around Washington (as it has for years): the U.S. military is “the finest fighting force in the history of the world.” Uh, folks, if that’s so, then why the hell can’t it win a damn thing 14-plus years later?

If you don’t mind a little what-if history lesson, it’s just possible that events might have turned out differently and, instead of repeating that “finest fighting force” stuff endlessly, our leaders might actually believe it. After all, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, it took the Bush administration only a month to let the CIA, special forces advisers, and the U.S. Air Force loose against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden’s supporters in Afghanistan. The results were crushing. The first moments of what that administration would grandiloquently (and ominously) bill as a “global war on terror” were, destructively speaking, glorious.

Sean McElwee: Moneyed interests are blocking US action on climate change

Global warming is an increasingly pressing crisis. While the recent international climate accords in Paris are an important step forward, the power of wealthy interests in the United States still hampers progress. In her new book, “Dark Money,” journalist Jane Mayer traces how the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch and their right-wing allies have funded an elaborate climate change denial operation that has successfully derailed climate legislation.

Donors in the Koch network have good reason to oppose climate change, as their business model relies on the market failing to price carbon correctly, due to government subsidies and inaction. As Mayer notes, “Coal, oil, and gas magnates formed the nucleus of the Koch donor network.” Indeed, Koch Industries is one of the country’s largest producers of toxic waste and greenhouse gas emissions. As journalist Tim Dickinson reports, one of the first wins for the Koch brothers was torpedoing President Bill Clinton’s first-term proposal to create an energy tax, which, one high-profile Koch executive said “may have destroyed our business.”

Though the Koch brothers claim to love markets, their overriding political goal is to prevent the pricing of externalities. Koch Industries, Mayer reports, increased its lobbying more than 20-fold to $20 million between 2004 and 2008, more than any other energy and gas company.

Amy B. Dean: Teachers are striking to save public education

In December, an overwhelming majority of public school teachers in Chicago voted to authorize a strike to take place this spring should they fail to reach a bargaining agreement with the Chicago Board of Education. A strike this year would be the second work stoppage in three years in one of the nation’s largest school districts.

Chicago’s 2012 strike, the first in 25 years, occurred after dozens of schools were threatened with closure, a move that would have sent children walking miles through rival gang territory. As the Chicago Tribune reports, the more recent strike authorization vote in Chicago followed teachers’ opposition to further budget cuts at a moment when what they are asking for is smaller class sizes and “more than 1,000 new school nurses, psychologists and social workers as well as hundreds of counselors and case managers.”

Chicago is not alone. In all, there were 14 work stoppages in public school districts across the country last year, more than in any of the last six years. Already in 2016 there have been some notable job actions by teachers, most prominently the rolling “sick-outs” of Detroit public school teachers who do not have the legal right to strike.

Natasha Lennard: Why are cops taking Beyoncé’s black affirmation as an attack?

Beyoncé’s impeccable Super Bowl halftime show on Sunday drew an estimated 104 million viewers, but members of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) were not among them. Gathered in Washington, D.C., for their annual legislative meeting, the members of the NSA, an organization tasked with improving police professionalism, turned off the TV set midgame when the superstar performed part of her new single, “Formation.”

The Association’s president told the Washington Examiner about this petty boycott, stating that the cops were angered that the NFL permitted the performance of what is, in their view, an anti-police song. Meanwhile, on Fox News, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani agreed. “I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers,” he said of the show.

Had Beyoncé used an enormous televised spectacle to attack police, I would have welcomed it. There should be no limit to the censure leveled at an institution drenched in racist violence, which kills black teen males at a rate 10 times higher than their white peers. But she did not attack the police. She paid homage to black power and black life. Dancers clad in black berets raised their fists in fierce formation, recalling the salutes of sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics.