Sep 10 2019

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.

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Paul Krugman: How Democracy Dies, American-Style

Sharpies, auto emissions and the weaponization of policy.

Democracies used to collapse suddenly, with tanks rolling noisily toward the presidential palace. In the 21st century, however, the process is usually subtler.

Authoritarianism is on the march across much of the world, but its advance tends to be relatively quiet and gradual, so that it’s hard to point to a single moment and say, this is the day democracy ended. You just wake up one morning and realize that it’s gone.

In their 2018 book “How Democracies Die,” the political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt documented how this process has played out in many countries, from Vladimir Putin’s Russia, to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, to Viktor Orban’s Hungary. Bit by bit the guardrails of democracy were torn down, as institutions meant to serve the public became tools of the ruling party, then were weaponized to punish and intimidate that party’s opponents. On paper these countries are still democracies; in practice they have become one-party regimes.

And the events of the past week have demonstrated how this can happen right here in America.

Michelle Goldberg: Psst! Don’t Tell Trump

A president who can’t be trusted is degrading American intelligence gathering.

It’s sometimes lost amid Donald Trump’s endless affronts to the Republic, but the undermining of American intelligence capabilities is one of the overarching stories of his administration.

So CNN’s scoop on Monday about the exfiltration of a top American intelligence asset in Russia is, like so much in the Trump era, both staggering and not at all surprising. According to CNN, in a secret mission in 2017, America “extracted from Russia one of its highest-level covert sources inside the Russian government,” partly because of worries that Trump’s cavalier handling of intelligence information could expose the person. On Monday evening, The New York Times added to the story, reporting that the source was a Russian official whose job provided “access to the highest level of the Kremlin.” [..]

Even the possibility that Trump jeopardized America’s most important intelligence asset in Russia should be a very big deal, though I’m not sure it will be. The pundit class has mostly grown bored of the story behind Trump’s corrupt relationship with Russia. And too many in power, including almost all of the Republican Party, have grown used to the president deploying national security secrets in the same way he once traded tabloid gossip. He discloses American intelligence to deflect attention from unflattering stories, suck up to people he wants to impress, or simply on a whim. He treats it, as he treats everything else in American government, as a private tool of self-gratification.

Donna F. Edwards: Time is running out. Impeach Trump.

With the announcement that the House Judiciary Committee will vote this week on a process and procedures for their impeachment inquiry, some Democrats might indeed finally be inching forward on the most important question they face. That’s good, but not enough, because with every passing day, the message from this president is that if Democrats don’t hold him accountable, he’ll continue to move the bar.

Sometimes he moves it in meaningless ways and other times in dangerous ones. But it can come as no surprise that President Trump used a Sharpie to alter an official weather map or that he took $3.6 billion from the military to spend on his wall. He can, so he does.

Congress returns to Washington on Monday to the same challenges it left behind — a renegade president who has no respect for the rule of law or for Congress. While work remains on a range of important issues before the 2020 election season kicks in fully, time is running out on Item No. 1: Will House Democrats impeach the president?

Catherine Rampell: The more ominous part of the Trump Sharpie incident

First, they came for the unemployment rate, and we brushed it off as tinfoil-hat nonsense.

Then they came for crowd sizes, and we laughed at the absurdity.

The next victim was the deficit, which they said was shrinking even as we saw it rising; also climate data, which they denigrated, doctored or disappeared without a trace. But we said, eh, they always do that, no big deal.

They purged the data-crunchers who tabulate crop prices and other agricultural statistics, and we ignored it because we weren’t farmers. They even came for the yield curve, which they said hadn’t inverted when it had, but also that even  if  it did invert, the inversion would mean the opposite of what everyone knows it means.

Now, they’ve come for the weather forecast. And if earlier episodes in President Trump’s war on statistics threatened livelihoods, this one threatens lives.

Robert Kuttner: There’s a Reason Populists Like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders Are Gaining on Joe Biden

The problem with a centrist politics of returning America to “normal,” as Biden commends, is that normal meant a four-decades slide in the living standards for most Americans. That brand of normal brought us Donald Trump.

Looking beyond personalities, Thursday’s Democratic debate will be about three fundamentally different paths to 2020: embrace moderation; mobilize a “majority-minority” electorate; or come out strongly as economic populists.

Populists Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are gaining on Joe Biden, not because they perform better on their feet but because they have the more compelling story of what ails America. The problem with a centrist politics of returning America to “normal,” as Biden commends, is that normal meant a four-decades slide in the living standards for most Americans. That brand of normal brought us Donald Trump.

Centrism in practice has meant a Democratic Party in the pocket of Wall Street. When 15 Democratic senators voted with Republicans in March 2018 to weaken the Dodd-Frank Act, it was not because the constituents of senators such as Michael Bennet of Colorado, Tom Carper of Delaware or Tim Kaine of Virginia were urging more license for investment bankers. The vote was pure inside baseball on behalf of financial elites.