Oct 09 2017

Pondering the Pundits

“Pondering 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 “Pondering the Pundits”.

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Charles M. Blow: Attacking Media as Distraction

President Trump keeps hammering away at the media, in part because of his own watch-too-much, read-too-little inclinations, but also because he needs a foil, now that he’s not actively locked in an election battle.

In July, The New York Times analyzed all the insults Trump had published on Twitter and concluded that “Mr. Trump usually picks out a couple of chief enemies and attacks them until they are no longer noteworthy to him. This can last weeks or even months.” [..]

Strategy for Trump is all street fight, on the widest street, under the brightest light. And the media is an easy target, because it targets him. The press is in search of truths and Trump is a fount of lies, which makes them natural adversaries.

But these two institutional forces — the press and the presidency — operate under different codes, have different objectives and are held to different standards. While the press is, for the most part, properly exercising its power to shine light into places that the powerful would prefer remained dark, Trump is abusing his power by trying to squash dissent through defamation of individual journalists, individual shows and individual networks or newspapers.

Roy Greenslade: How blurring of fact and comment kicked open the door to fake news

Who wants the truth? After the shooting massacre in Las Vegas, millions of people clicked to YouTube videos suggesting that the killing of 58 people and the wounding of another 500 was a hoax.

I am sure – please let it be so – that the overwhelming majority of those viewers realised they were false postings and dismissed them as yet another ridiculous conspiracy theory. But why bother to go there in the first place?

Whether concocted by propagandists or mischief-makers, the fact that their insensitive nonsense attracted large audiences should be a matter of deep concern.

What is it about “fake news” that draws such widespread attention? Is it, as I increasingly suspect after the EU referendum campaign and the build-up to the Trump presidency, a wilful desire to reject “boring” reality and choose its “exciting” opposite?

However much we might want to believe that the fakery did not affect the voting outcomes, it is hard to conclude that it made no difference whatsoever. After all, many voters have continued to regurgitate some of the lies.

Paul Krugman: The Schlock Of The New

I’m still thinking about Kevin Hassett’s appearance at the Tax Policy Center, where he repaid his hosts’ graciousness by gratuitously impugning their integrity. But insults aside, he offered a new analysis of corporate tax incidence – an approach that is novel, innovative, and completely boneheaded. Oh, and it just happens to say what his political masters want to hear.

As I see it, this is part of a broader pattern.

When the financial crisis struck, there were many calls for new economic ideas – even an Institute for New Economic Thinking. The implicit story, pretty much taken for granted as true, was that the crisis proved the inadequacy of economic orthodoxy and the need for fundamental new concepts. Pretty obviously, too, supporters of calls for new thinking had a sort of Hollywood script version of how it would play out: daring innovators would propose radical ideas, would face resistance from old fuddy-duddies, but would eventually win out through their superior ability to predict events.

What actually happened was very different. True, nobody saw the crisis coming. But that wasn’t because orthodoxy had no room for such a thing – on the contrary, panics and bank runs are an old topic, discussed in every principles book. The reason nobody saw this coming was an empirical failure – few realized that the rise of shadow banking had done an end run around Depression-era bank safeguards.

Lawrence H. Summers: The Trump administration’s tax plan is an atrocity

The Trump administration’s tax plan is not a plan. It is a melange of ideas put forth without precision or arithmetic. It is not clear enough to permit the kind of careful quantitative analysis of its expected budget costs, economic effects and distributional implications that precedes such legislation in a serious country.

It is clear enough, however, to demonstrate that the claims of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and Council of Economic Advisers Chair Kevin Hassett are some combination of ignorant, disingenuous and dishonest. Hassett, whose job is to stand up for rigorous apolitical economic analysis, had the temerity last week to accuse the Tax Policy Center — staffed by many of the most distinguished tax analysts in the country — of issuing “scientifically indefensible” “fictions.” He and his colleagues should look in the mirror.

I have strong disagreements on tax policy with Republican economists such as Greg Mankiw, Glenn Hubbard and Martin Feldstein and with Treasury alumni such as Nick Brady, John Snow and Hank Paulson. Nothing I have ever heard or read from them seems absurd or dishonest in the way that almost everything coming out of this administration does.

Geoffrey Stone and Michael Morell: The one change we need to surveillance law

Congress is about to make a major decision about privacy protection, civil liberties and national security. The 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act, including its most controversial provision, Section 702, is set to expire on Dec. 31. The two of us — both members of the panel that President Barack Obama appointed in 2013 to review the government’s foreign intelligence programs in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures — agree that FISA Section 702 should be reauthorized but with a significant reform. The government should no longer be permitted to search the data collected under Section 702 without a warrant when seeking information about U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. [..]

When we reviewed the program in 2013, we found it to be one of our nation’s most effective programs to protect our national security. Operations under Section 702 generate important intelligence on international terrorists, individuals and entities involved in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, those engaged in espionage, and people and groups conducting illicit cyber-activities. We also found that the government works conscientiously to implement this program in a manner that protects the privacy of American citizens and legal U.S. residents. It is for these reasons that we urge Congress to reauthorize Section 702.

There is, however, one aspect of the way the 702 program has evolved that we believe needs to change: the FBI’s practice of searching the data for information on Americans without first obtaining a warrant. Section 702, like any surveillance program, incidentally and inadvertently collects communications of or about individuals who are themselves not the target of intelligence collection. That is, the program will inevitably sometimes pick up communications between the target and an American, and it sometimes will pick up targets talking about Americans. The government argues that because such information was legally acquired, it should be able to search the information without first obtaining a warrant.