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Dec 24 2018

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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Paul Waldman: This is what we were afraid of

When the new year begins next week, President Trump will have an acting chief of staff, an acting secretary of defense, an acting attorney general, an acting EPA administrator, no interior secretary, and no ambassador to the United Nations. The officials originally in all those positions have either been fired or have quit in various measures of disgust or scandal. His former campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, national security adviser and personal lawyer have all pleaded guilty to crimes. His campaign, his transition, his foundation and his business are all under investigation. The United States’ allies are horrified at the chaos Trump has brought to our foreign policy. The stock market is experiencing wild swings as investors are gripped with fear over what might be coming and what Trump might do to make it worse — a situation alarming enough that the treasury secretary felt the need to call up the CEOs of major banks to assure them that everything is under control.

And, oh yeah, the government is shut down.

This, my friends, is exactly what we were afraid of when Trump somehow managed to get elected president two years ago. This is what we warned you about.

Robert Reich: The US is on the edge of the economic precipice – Trump may push it over

On Friday, Donald Trump said: “We are totally prepared for a very long shutdown.” It was one of his rare uses of the pronoun “we” instead of his preferred – and in this case far more appropriate – “I”.

The shutdown is indubitably his. Congress offered him a way to continue funding the government without the money to build his nonsensical wall along the Mexican border, but Trump caved in to the rabid rightwing media and refused.

I was in Bill Clinton’s cabinet when Newt Gingrich pulled the plug on the federal government in 1996. It wasn’t a pretty picture. A long shutdown hurts millions of people who rely on government for services and paychecks.

Trump’s shutdown also adds to growing worries about the economy. The stock market is on track for the worst December since the Great Depression. World markets have lost nearly $7tn in 2018, making it the worst year since the 2008 financial crisis.

The shutdown is stoking fears that Trump could do something even more alarming. He might fail to authorize an increase in government borrowing before the federal debt reaches the current limit, which Congress extended to 2 March. A default by the US on its obligations would be more calamitous than a government shutdown.

All this brings us closer to the economic precipice. It worsens America’s most fundamental economic problem.

Paul Krugman: The Case for a Mixed Economy

A mind is a terrible thing to lose, especially if the mind in question is president of the United States. But I feel like taking a break from that subject. So let’s talk about something completely different, and probably irrelevant.

I’ve had several interviews lately in which I was asked whether capitalism had reached a dead end, and needed to be replaced with something else. I’m never sure what the interviewers have in mind; neither, I suspect, do they. I don’t think they’re talking about central planning, which everyone considers discredited. And I haven’t seen even an implausible proposal for a decentralized system that doesn’t rely on price incentives and self-interest – i.e., a market economy with private property, which most people would consider capitalism.

So maybe I’m being dense or lacking in imagination, but it seems to be that the choice is still between markets and some kind of public ownership, maybe with some decentralization of control, but still more or less what we used to mean by socialism. And everyone either thinks of socialism as discredited, or pins the label on stuff – like social insurance programs – that isn’t what we used to mean by the word.

Michael Tomasky: The Steady Bedlam of the Trump White House

What are we to make of all this turnover in the Trump White House?

Clearly, James Mattis’ departure is gravely concerning — he was the last grown-up, and while not much is known about acting secretary designee Patrick Shanahan, his experience in military technology isn’t likely to calm jitters in world capitals about whether Mr. Mattis’ successor can check the president’s impetuous behavior.

Other departures are less obviously chilling. In a normal administration, a president hiring his third chief of staff in under two years would launch a flotilla of news stories speculating about that president’s stability and willingness to submit to a certain degree of order. But we have a president who gleefully flaunts his instability and thirst for disorder every day, so these stories are very old news.

Before we start drawing conclusions, let’s first survey the facts. It is indeed the case that turnover in Donald Trump’s administration is greater than in recent past ones — in some cases, far greater. On Dec. 17, Brookings Institution scholars Elaine Kamarck, Kathryn Dunn Tenpas and Nicholas W. Zeppos released a report called “Tracking Turnover in the Trump Administration.” The study analyzes turnover among what the authors call the president’s “A Team” — the few dozen most influential positions within the executive office of the president — and among Cabinet members.

David Caroll: Facebook has built a Frankenstein’s monster. When will it admit that?

“We need to do more.” This is the now standard refrain from big tech’s executives caught in yet another civil rights scandal or breathtaking data breach. Sometimes I wonder if they need to do less. Less invasive surveillance into our lives. Less PR-managed spin. Less dissembling before lawmakers. Less lobbying against regulation. Fewer reasons to quit, or wish you could quit.

This week marks the release of two reports commissioned by the Senate select committee on intelligence studying the special counsel-indicted Internet Research Agency’s digital influence campaign. Two groups of independent researchers analyzed data provided to Congress by Facebook, Google and Twitter and came to parallel conclusions. The report by New Knowledge with support from the intrepid researcher Jonathan Albright, who singlehandedly caught Facebook downplaying the scope and scale of the operation, offers clear evidence that the tech companies provided the absolute bare minimum of datasets necessary to study the attack. In particular, Facebook still refuses to disclose the conversion pathways of American users through its targeting and measurement systems, the very analytics it sells to advertisers to prove campaign effectiveness.