Opinion | Learn to Stop Worrying and Love Debt – By Paul Krugman – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Columbia Pictures Corporation, via Alamy

“Amid all the wild swings in U.S. politics over the past decade, one thing has remained constant: the G.O.P. position on government debt. The party considers high levels of debt an existential threat — if a Democrat is sitting in the White House. If a Republican president presides over big deficits, well, as Donald Trump’s budget director reportedly told supporters last year, “nobody cares.”

So it’s a completely safe prediction that once Joe Biden is sworn in, we will once again hear lots of righteous Republican ranting about the evils of borrowing. What’s less clear is whether we’ll see a repeat of what happened during the Obama years, when many centrists — and much of the news media — both took obvious fiscal phonies seriously and joined in the chorus of fearmongering.

Let’s hope not. For the fact is that we’ve learned a lot about the economics of government debt over the past few years — enough so that Olivier Blanchard, the eminent former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is talking about a “shift in fiscal paradigm.” And the new paradigm suggests both that public debt isn’t a major problem and that government borrowing for the right purposes is actually the responsible thing to do.

Why are economists thinking differently about debt? Part of the answer is that we’ve discovered some things about how the world works; the rest of the answer is that the world has changed.

It made some sense, nine or 10 years ago, to worry that the financial crisis in Greece was a harbinger of potential debt crises in other countries (although I never bought it). As it turned out, however, the full list of countries that ended up looking like Greece is … Greece. What briefly seemed like a spread of Greek-style problems across southern Europe turned out to be a temporary investor panic, quickly ended by a promise from the European Central Bank that it would lend money to cash-short governments if necessary.

In other words, those dire warnings we used to hear (and will soon be hearing again) that America faces imminent disaster once government debt crosses some red line were always misguided. We weren’t and aren’t anywhere close to that kind of crisis, and probably never will be.” . . . . .

Opinion | Will We Get the Coronavirus Relief We Need From Congress? – By David Brooks – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

“If we can’t get a Covid-19 relief package through Congress in the next week or two, we’re sunk. It means we have a legislative branch so ideologically divided it can’t address even our most glaring problems. It means we have representatives so lacking in the willingness and ability to compromise that minimally competent government will be impossible, even under a President Joe Biden.

The problems a basic relief measure would address couldn’t be more obvious. Under current law, up to 12 million Americans could lose their jobless benefits by year’s end — a wretched Christmastime for millions of families, which could spawn a wave of depression, morbidity, family breakdown and suicide.

Millions of people could be evicted from their homes. Thousands more businesses may close during the long winter months before a vaccine is widely available. These are not failing, unproductive businesses. These are good, strong businesses that would have provided jobs and opportunity for millions of Americans for decades if they hadn’t been hit by the pandemic.

Wendy Edelberg of the Hamilton Project calculates that if nothing passes, the U.S. economy will be $1 trillion smaller in 2021 and $500 billion smaller in 2022.

The means to prevent this suffering are also glaringly obvious. We did it less than a year ago with the CARES Act. All we have to do is pass a version of what we did before. How hard can this possibly be?

The $2 trillion CARES Act was one of the most successful pieces of legislation of modern times. Because of the lockdowns, U.S. economic output contracted by a horrific 9 percent in the second quarter of 2020, compared with the first quarter. But because of the CARES Act, disposable household incomes increased by 10 percent. The personal savings rate increased by 34 percent in April.

I don’t love big government, but government is supposed to step up in a crisis, and with the CARES Act, it did.

Since summer, as the economy has deteriorated, Congress has been gridlocked on how to pass a supplemental relief package. At times Nancy Pelosi has been rigidly uncompromising, as if not wanting to hand Donald Trump a victory. But the core problem is that Republicans have applied a dogmatically ideological approach to a situation in which it is not germane and is in fact ruthlessly destructive.

Some Republicans act as if this is a normal recession and the legislation in front of them is a conventional Keynesian stimulus bill. But this is not a normal recession. It’s a natural disaster. The proposals on offer are not conventional stimulus. They are measures to defend our national economic infrastructure from that disaster over the next five brutal months.”

Opinion | Obama’s Curious Cautiousness – By Charles M. Blow – The New York Times

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Opinion Columnist

Credit…Matt Slocum/Associated Press

“Barack Obama continues his rather strange mission to confront and correct young liberal activists. It is an odd post-presidential note: A man who is beloved and admired on the left is using his cultural currency as a corrective against those who are on a quest for change.

Wednesday morning on Peter Hamby’s Snapchat show, “Good Luck America,” Obama said this:

“If you believe, as I do, that we should be able to reform the criminal justice system so that it’s not biased and treats everybody fairly, I guess you can use a snappy slogan like ‘Defund the police,’ but, you know, you lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done.”

It was not the first time Obama had taken aim at these young activists. Last year he also took a swipe at wokeness and “call-out culture,” saying, among other things: “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”

That speech got him an amen from Ann Coulter, who tweeted: “Good for Obama. (Not sarcastic!)”

These chastisements by Obama delineate the difference between the politician and the activist.”

I’m afraid this is one Charles Blow’s worst columns ever. I quit it early, and went to the comments, and found my response in the top comment, which I endorse:

Socrates
Verona, N.J.Dec. 3

If you want progressive change, and the majority does, you have to be message smartly….not recklessly. America has a self-destructive conservative, regressive streak that requires surgical precision to combat. America also has the best right-wing industrial propaganda complex in the world. Because of these two factors, political messaging and words are critical. The words ‘defund the police’ were a catastrophic choice that helped sink the progressive cause. If people had just stuck to the words ‘police reform’, which is what most Americans want, Democrats would have had a much stronger election result nationwide. The word ‘socialism’ and the use of it by some Democrats was also catastrophic to the Democratic cause. It’s a word that few Americans understand, that is frequently misused, that most Americans are triggered and frightened by and that America’s political right has successfully scared Americans with since the McCarthy era. Republicans built a large part of their 2020 campaign strategy successfully pillorying ‘socialism’ and ‘defund the police’. Democrats need to choose their words better and outmaneuver the right’s industrial propaganda campaign. And incremental success is a world better than progressive perfectionism that tends to result in things like Donald Trump’s 2016 election thanks to the catastrophic progressive votes cast for Jill Stein. Obama’s right. Stay a little to the left, and avoid right-wing catastrophe, and make slow, steady progress.

55 Replies1335 Recommended

Scotland Is 1st Nation to Make Period Products Free – The New York Times

“LONDON — Scotland has become the first country in the world to make period products freely available to all who need them, after final approval was given to a landmark piece of legislation in Parliament on Tuesday.

The measures are intended to end “period poverty” — or the circumstances, and in some cases, prohibitive expense that have left many without access to sanitary products when they need them.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, posted on Twitter shortly after the vote on Tuesday evening that she was “proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation” which she called an “important policy for women and girls.”

A draft bill received initial approval in Parliament in February, and the measure was officially passed on Tuesday, with lawmakers voting unanimously in its favor.”

Opinion | A Return to Decency – by Roger Cohen – The New York Times

“. . . .  This Biden makeover is all well and good, but the world has moved on, and the quest for the status quo ante cannot be the new president’s compass. Mr. Trump’s belligerence and Brexit have galvanized Europe in the direction of what Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has called “strategic autonomy.” For the first time, Germany has allowed the federalization of European debt, allowing the union to borrow like a government, an important step toward a stronger, more integrated Europe. It’s time for a “New Deal” between Europe and the United States that acknowledges European emancipation and shifting American priorities, while cementing an alliance of values and often overlapping interests.

Europe’s evolution has been evident in relations with China, which used to be purely commercial. Now, the expansionist China of President Xi Jinping is seen as a systemic rival.

The European Union has been critical of China’s human rights record, imposing sanctions in response to its repression in Hong Kong, and is rightly skeptical of Chinese boasts about its superior response to the pandemic. Still, European nations want to work with China. One of the major challenges for the West as the Biden administration takes office will be finding the sweet spot that confronts Mr. Xi’s China with firmness while avoiding outright confrontation.”

Opinion | Why Prosecuting Trump Is a Very Bad Idea – By Eric Posner – The New York Times

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Mr. Posner, a law professor, is the author of “The Demagogue’s Playbook: The Battle for American Democracy From the Founders to Trump.”

Credit…Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty Images

“As the Biden administration slowly coalesces, there have been many calls for its Justice Department to prosecute Donald Trump for any crimes he may have committed while in office. The hope, proponents of this view argue, is to establish that the president is subject to the rule of law and to deter future presidents from breaking the law.

The problem with this agenda is that there is little evidence that Mr. Trump did commit crimes as president. A conviction, given what we know now, is all but impossible. The calls to investigate him echo the president’s own calls to investigate Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden based on mere speculation — calls that most people, especially liberals, rightly condemned.

The most plausible charge is that Mr. Trump obstructed justice by interfering with, and possibly lying to, Robert Mueller and his investigators. Critics also argue that Mr. Trump may have broken the law by threatening to withhold military aid to Ukraine unless the Ukrainian government announced the opening of an investigation into the Bidens. A third possible charge is that Mr. Trump corruptly mixed his financial affairs with government business.

All of these charges would face formidable difficulties in court. No former president has ever been prosecuted for crimes committed during his tenure. Courts tread cautiously when new legal ground is broken, worried about upsetting reasonable expectations about what the law is. And judges interpret criminal laws strictly because the defendant’s freedom is at stake.”

David Lindsay: Useful warnings– This was not a fun read. Here is my favorite comment so far:

Concerned citizen
Lake Frederick VA1h ago
Times Pick

Totally agree that a FEDERAL prosecution of Trump would only keep him in the spotlight. The healthiest thing for our country is for him to fade into obscurity. The media can help by not amplifying his every crazy tweet. However, if the state and local authorities in New York can prove a crime, and he is found guilty of a felony on that level, then he is prohibited from mounting another reelection campaign in 2024. I hope they will go for it.

18 Replies631 Recommended

2,596 Trades in One Term: Inside Senator Perdue’s Stock Portfolio – The New York Times

As a member of the Senate’s cybersecurity subcommittee, David Perdue has raised alarms that hackers from overseas pose a threat to U.S. computer networks. Citing a frightening report by a California-based company called FireEye, Mr. Perdue was among the senators who asked this spring that the National Guard prepare to protect against such data breaches.

Not only was the issue important to Mr. Perdue, so was FireEye, a federal contractor that provides malware detection and threat-intelligence services. Beginning in 2016, the senator bought and sold FireEye stock 61 times, at one point owning as much as $250,000 worth of shares in the company.

Along with Senator Kelly Loeffler, a fellow Georgia Republican, Mr. Perdue faces an unusual runoff election in January. With control of the Senate at stake, and amid renewed concern about the potential for conflicts of interest in stock trading by members of Congress, Mr. Perdue’s investment activity — and especially his numerous well-timed trades — has increasingly come into the public glare.

Last week, The New York Times reported that the Justice Department had investigated the senator for possible insider trading in his sale of more than $1 million worth of stock in a financial-analysis firm, Cardlytics. Ultimately, prosecutors declined to bring charges. Other media outlets have revealed several trades in companies whose business dealings fall under the jurisdiction of Mr. Perdue’s committees.

An examination of Mr. Perdue’s stock trading during his six years in office reveals that he has been the Senate’s most prolific stock trader by far, sometimes reporting 20 or more transactions in a single day.

The Times analyzed data compiled by Senate Stock Watcher, a nonpartisan website that aggregates publicly available information on lawmakers’ trading, and found that Mr. Perdue’s transactions accounted for nearly a third of all senators’ trades reported in the past six years. His 2,596 trades, mostly in stocks but also in bonds and funds, roughly equal the combined trading volume of the next five most active traders in the Senate.”

Opinion | The Deep State Is on a Roll – By Frank Bruni – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Graeme Jennings-Pool/Getty Images

“President Trump was right about the “deep state” — sort of. There exist, in government, people and forces rigged to foil disruption.

But the deep state isn’t, as he suggested, a reflexive defense of a corrupt status quo. It’s a righteous defense against the corruption of democracy, which he continues to attempt.

And that defense is holding. Three cheers for the deep state, which has been on a roll these past three weeks.

I’m thinking of Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, who supervises its elections. He refused to cry foul and fraud just because others in his party couldn’t abide Joe Biden’s victory in a state that hadn’t gone to a Democrat in a presidential election for nearly three decades.

“People are just going to have to accept the results,” he told The Washington Post. “I’m a Republican. I believe in fair and secure elections.” He ordered a recount, but as President Trump, the two U.S. senators from Georgia and plenty of others on the right pilloried him, he stuck to his assurance that a fair and secure election was precisely what Georgians had participated in and what had delivered the state’s electoral votes to Biden.

He was bolstered on Tuesday by another top-ranking Georgia official, another Republican not about to let the republic go to hell. Gabriel Sterling, Georgia’s voting system implementation manager, scolded and shamed Trump at a news conference at the state Capitol, warning the president that his unwarranted smearing of the balloting in Georgia was “inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence” and that “someone is going to get killed.”

“It has to stop,” he said. That was the deep state speaking, and its words were gold.

Raffensperger and Sterling are hardly the only Republican election officials who have refused to buy into Trump’s conspiracy theories. They have restored some of the faith and hope in me that the past four years eroded.

So have Lee Chatfield, the Republican speaker of Michigan’s House of Representatives, and Mike Shirkey, the Republican majority leader of Michigan’s Senate, who took that scary trip to the White House almost two weeks ago and then took a pass on propping up Trump.

“We have not yet been made aware of any information that would change the outcome of the election in Michigan and, as legislative leaders, we will follow the law and follow the normal process regarding Michigan’s electors,” they said in a joint statement immediately following their meeting with the president. Follow the normal process. Such milquetoast verbiage, and such a titanic reassurance.”

Opinion | What’s Between 30 Million Americans and an Eviction Tsunami? – By Francesca Mari – The New York Times

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Ms. Mari is a writer.

Credit…Woody Harrington

“We’ve all been so concerned about the transition on Jan. 20 that many of us have forgotten another critical date for American democracy: Dec. 31. That’s when the federal eviction moratorium — which has held the pandemic-related eviction tsunami at bay — expires. After that date, more than 30 million Americans are at risk of losing their homes. Congress must act to stabilize the country’s rental market, prevent widespread displacement and curtail the growing domination of housing by big corporations.

More than half of renters pay 30 percent or more of their income on rent, according to the 2019 American Housing Survey, and more than half of lowest-income renter households reported some loss of employment income between mid-March and mid-September. Although CARES money has been flowing to states, which have established various rental assistance programs, all of them are oversubscribed.

“I can’t point to a city that says we’ve got this figured out,” Mary Cunningham, vice president for metropolitan housing and communities policy at the Urban Institute, told me. “It’s really the role of the federal government to provide. They’re the ones with the ability to match the need.”

“Cancel rent,” the movement calling for rent strikes, is a useful tactic against the most notorious, fee-gouging corporate landlords. But close to half of the country’s 47.5 million rental units aren’t corporate-owned, as of 2015. These units, typically single-family homes or apartments in smaller multifamily buildings, are owned by individuals with their own mortgages and bills. And the units they rent in their smaller complexes generally cost less. Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, introduced a Rent and Mortgage Cancellation bill. But that bill, which proposed government reimbursement for landlords and lenders who agree to adhere to fair practices, has been all but ignored. Congress isn’t going to pick up the bag and pay the difference, so widespread canceling of rent is a sure path to displacement: either the landlord will evict, or the landlord will be forced to sell.

Cue the vulture investors who have been circling from the start. Private equity entered the pandemic with more “dry powder” than ever before. That’s the industry term for money earmarked for a certain type of investment, like real estate, but not yet invested. It’s money waiting for a great opportunity, one that the Trump administration’s catastrophic management of the pandemic will surely provide. During the last financial crisis, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made millions buying a failed bank that proceeded to foreclose on homeowners using methods that regulators accused of being “unsafe or unsound.” Other private equity funds amassed foreclosed homes and created single-family rental home empires. As the home values recovered, private equity cashed out of the companies, reaping maximum profits. Now those rental companies, like Invitation Homes, which has 80,000 houses concentrated in 17 markets, told investors that it hopes to ramp up acquisitions.

Opinion | Joe Biden Interview: ‘We’re Going to Fight Like Hell’ – By Thomas L. Friedman – The New York Times

By 

Opinion Columnist

Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

“President-elect Joe Biden was in a good mood as we talked on the phone Tuesday evening for an hour — he in Delaware and me in Bethesda, Md. He apologized, though, for being late. He had been following the breaking news that Attorney General William Barr had just announced that the Justice Department had not uncovered any significant fraud that could have affected the results of the presidential election. It’s all over.

Biden joked that Barr had just called him, “asking if I can get him in the witness protection program for endorsing me.”

Considering the Trump team’s hurricane of dishonest claims about the election results, the president-elect was entitled to a little laugh at their expense. Otherwise, he was all business.

Biden had a lot to say about how he intends to approach the current Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and his Republican colleagues in order to get his cabinet nominees — and as much of his agenda as possible — through the Senate; how he intends to reshape U.S.-China strategy; and why he is ready to return to the Iran nuclear deal, if Iran does, and end President Trump’s sanctions on Iran.

Biden also spoke in depth about his strategy to connect with rural Americans, who have become estranged from the Democratic Party.

I did ask one personal question: What has it been like to win the presidency under such weird circumstances — with a deadly pandemic and an infodemic of Trump propaganda falsely claiming that the election was rigged?

“I feel like I’ve done something good for the country by making sure that Donald Trump is not going to be president for four more years,” Biden said. “But there’s been no moment of elation. It kind of reminds me of what’s going on with all my grandkids. You know, here I got a granddaughter who graduates with honors from Columbia. There’s no commencement. I’m the commencement speaker. It’s virtual. These kids are graduating with no parties. It’s just one of those moments. There’s a lot of work to do. I’m just focused on getting some things done as quickly as I can.” “