Mar 23 2020

Pondering the Pundits

Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news media 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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Catherine Rampell: Wanna spend $2 trillion? Here’s the agonizing choice you face.

Money needs to get spent fast. Money needs to get spent well.

To some extent, those objectives are in tension.

Balancing those goals is the immediate challenge facing Congress, as the parties haggle over how a $2 trillion stimulus package should be disbursed and accounted for. Republicans want as few strings attached to stimulus funds as possible; Democrats want a tangle of yarn tied to the legislation. Perhaps there’s a way to split the difference.

Right now, stimulus design faces a fundamental trade-off between flexibility and accountability. [..]

Separate from provisions extended help to households and small businesses, the GOP Senate bill that failed a procedural vote Sunday evening had provisions aimed at big businesses. It would offer $75 billion earmarked for airlines, cargo air carriers and undefined “businesses critical to maintaining national security,” with few preconditions. It would also give Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin enormous discretion to decide what other unspecified companies, states and municipalities can get another $425 billion in loans and loan guarantees.

And it said Treasury could delay disclosing for six months who gets these funds.

There are two main reasons to worry about this astounding amount of discretion and secrecy. One has to do with whether we can trust firms (specifically, to do right by their workers). The other has to do with whether we can trust the administration (specifically, to do right by taxpayers).

Robert Kuttner: This Stimulus Bill Will Not Save the Economy From Collapse

Let’s not repeat the slow and timid response to the financial crash of 1929.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, the Dow plummeted from its September peak of 381.17 to a low of 41.22 in July 1932. Because so few Americans owned stocks, it took three years for the financial collapse to cycle though the rest of the economy. Unemployment only gradually increased, to a peak of about 25 percent in early 1933. Gross domestic product fell steadily, ultimately declining by about 30 percent.

The economic crash caused by the coronavirus, if anything, will be sharper and steeper. If we set out to deliberately destroy an economy, requesting most people to stay home is a very effective way. The virus itself is disrupting production, but the necessary public health response to the virus is economically catastrophic — and if government doesn’t act massively to offset the damage, the collapse will worsen.

As airlines, hotels, restaurants, theaters, auto production lines and much of retail shut down while people self-quarantine, there will be enormous layoffs. Households reduce their purchases to bare necessities, causing more shutdowns and more job losses. A ravaged stock market adds to the downdraft.

The financial crash of 1929 turned into a decade-long depression because government was too slow and too timid to counteract the broader impact. Will we repeat that epic mistake?

David Leomhardt: How Trump Is Worsening the Virus Now

Medical shortages are his responsibility.

At a private New York meeting in October of 1940, William Knudsen made a desperate plea to the automobile industry’s top executives. Knudsen himself had been the president of General Motors until a few months earlier. But he had stepped down to help oversee military production at President Franklin Roosevelt’s request. The position paid $1 a year.

Knudsen told the executives that American military officials surveying the Nazis’ bombing of England had concluded that the country with the strongest airpower was going to win the war. And the United States was badly behind. So Roosevelt and his military advisers wanted the car companies to forget about making cars, Knudsen said. They needed to begin making warplanes. [..]

The coronavirus is not an actual war, but it does threaten modern society and human life in ways that nothing has in decades. More than two million Americans could die. Many will do so alone, separated from their family and friends. Funerals will often be impossible. Stores, schools and entire neighborhoods are shutting down. In the second quarter of this year, which starts next week, forecasters predict that the economy could shrink at the most rapid rate since the Great Depression.

This is a moment that calls for the urgency that Roosevelt and Knudsen summoned in the fall of 1940 — when, it’s worth remembering, the attack on Pearl Harbor was still more than a year away.

President Trump, however, has chosen a different response.

Jennifer Senior: Call Trump’s News Conferences What They Are: Propaganda

Then contrast them with the leadership shown by Andrew Cuomo, Justin Trudeau and Angela Merkel.

In a time of global emergency, we need calm, directness and, above all, hard facts. Only the opposite is on offer from the Trump White House. It is therefore time to call the president’s news conferences for what they are: propaganda.

We may as well be watching newsreels approved by the Soviet Politburo. We’re witnessing the falsification of history in real time. When Donald Trump, under the guise of social distancing, told the White House press corps on Thursday that he ought to get rid of 75 to 80 percent of them — reserving the privilege only for those he liked — it may have been chilling, but it wasn’t surprising. He wants to thin out their ranks until there’s only Pravda in the room. [..]

If the public wants factual news briefings, they need to tune in to those who are giving them: Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, whose addresses appear with English subtitles on Deutsche Welle. They should start following the many civic-minded epidemiologists and virologists and contagion experts on Twitter, like Harvard’s Marc Lipsitch and Yale’s Nicholas Christakis, whose threads have been invaluable primers in a time of awful confusion.

Jamelle Bouie: Don’t Let Trump Off the Hook

It may be time to pull together, but Republicans are still doing plenty to pull us apart.

Donald Trump and the Republican Party are trying to distract you from their catastrophic failure. [..]

In other words, now absolutely is the time for recriminations, because it’s the only way we might avoid another such administration in a country where control of government moves like a pendulum.

The public needs to know that the Republican Party is culpable for the present crisis, just as it was culpable for the Great Recession, even if it did not originate either. It needs to know that in the face of a deadly pandemic, some Republican lawmakers appear to have looked to profit rather than to prepare. It needs to understand that the deadly incompetence of Republican governance is a feature, not a bug.

This won’t happen of its own accord. It is the political task of the Democratic Party to make the public understand the nature of the Republican Party and its leading role in this disaster so that when November comes, Americans hold no illusions about what it would mean for their futures — and their lives — to give Republicans another four years of power in Washington.