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: Trump’s Kakistocracy Is Also a Hackistocracy

The invasion of hucksters has reached the Federal Reserve.

It’s no secret that Donald Trump has appointed a lot of partisan, unqualified hacks to key policy positions. A few months ago my colleague Gail Collins asked readers to help her select Trump’s worst cabinet member. It was a hard choice, because there were so many qualified applicants.

The winner, by the way, was Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary. That looks like an even better call now: Ross’s department has reportedly prepared a report declaring that imports of European cars threaten U.S. national security. This is both ludicrous and dangerous. It gives Trump the right to start a new phase in his trade war that would inflict severe economic damage while alienating our allies — and, as a result, undermine national security.

Until recently, however, one agency had seemed immune to the continuing hack invasion: the Federal Reserve, the single institution most crucial to economic policymaking. Trump’s Fed nominees, have, by and large, been sensible, respected economists. But that all changed last week, when Trump said he planned to nominate Stephen Moore for the Fed’s Board of Governors.

Moore is manifestly, flamboyantly unqualified for the position. But there’s a story here that goes deeper than Moore, or even Trump; it’s about the whole G.O.P.’s preference for hucksters over experts, even partisan experts.

Michelle Goldberg: No Criminal Collusion. Lots of Corruption.

Don’t let Trump pretend he has been vindicated.

The Mueller investigation is over, and the only people close to Donald Trump who have been criminally charged are his former campaign chairman, former deputy campaign chairman, former personal lawyer, former national security adviser, former campaign foreign policy adviser and Roger Stone, the president’s longtime friend and strategist. The report written by the special counsel Robert Mueller, according to a quotation in a brief summary issued by Attorney General William Barr, says that “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Naturally, the president and his allies are claiming, as one of Trump’s tweets said, “Complete and Total EXONERATION.” [..]

Until the Mueller report is publicly released, however, it’s impossible to tell how much of Trump’s victory is substantive and how much is spin. The report, evidently, leaves open the question of whether Trump obstructed justice. In his letter to Congress about the report, Barr said that he and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, made the determination that no obstruction of justice occurred. Of course, last year Barr wrote a memo calling Mueller’s obstruction investigation “grossly irresponsible” and “fatally misconceived,” which is surely why Trump appointed him in the first place. There is no reason for anyone to take his finding seriously.

Tim Wu: Investigate the Swamp!

The many serious crimes that Mueller uncovered, almost by accident, show us that we have to prioritize official corruption.

We are at risk of missing the most important lesson taught by the Mueller investigation. The rampant criminality it revealed suggests the desperate need to thoroughly investigate financial, political and electoral criminality in the United States. With the so-called war on drugs in remission, Mr. Mueller’s work should inspire federal and state officials to make the crimes of swampland and related white-collar and cyber criminality the next priority for the nation’s most talented prosecutors. For what Mr. Mueller really found, above all, was abundant evidence of crimes against democracy itself.

Consider that in just 22 months, Mr. Mueller’s small team of lawyers and investigators indicted 34 people (and that’s not counting the referrals) — many of them serious criminals who were largely off the radar otherwise. Without the Mueller investigation, Paul Manafort might well still be buying carpets instead of sitting in solitary confinement; Michael Cohen might still be shaking down corporations for cash; Richard Pinedo still selling stolen identities to online buyers; and Rick Gates and Sam Patten still selling access to hostile foreign powers.

This group of criminals were caught by happenstance. They had the misfortune of having some association with Donald Trump and the further coincidence of a special counsel appointment. That prompts a question: Just how many other Manaforts, Cohens and Gateses are still operating out there?

Catherine Rampell: Stephen Moore could inflict more long-term damage than any of Trump’s other nominations

President Trump has made a lot of ill-advised nominations. But perhaps no single choice could inflict more long-term damage than the one he announced Friday: Stephen Moore, Trump’s pick to join the Federal Reserve Board.

Moore’s many economic claims over the years have revealed him to be, shall we say, easily confused.

A decade ago, as the Fed was battling deflation (that is, price declines ) during the financial crisis, Moore preposterously fearmongered that hyperinflation (that is, out-of-control price increases ) was nigh: Americans could soon be carting “wheelbarrows full” of cash a la Weimar Germany. Moore has also repeatedly predicted that tax cuts would pay for themselves — both at the federal level, and in Kansas — despite all evidence to the contrary.

It’s not only his forecasts for the future that have proved chronically incorrect; it’s his characterizations of past and present, too.

A newspaper banned him from its pages because of his struggles in getting basic statistics right. During the dozens of times I’ve debated him on TV, he has persistently misstated easily Google-able facts. These include whether the country is experiencing deflation, whether Canada’s tariffs are “twice as high as” ours, and whether the Fed predicted that Trump would crash the stock market. (Nope, nope, and huh ? )

Now, somehow, Moore has been nominated to the Fed. To understand why this is concerning, consider a brief primer of what the Fed does.

Gabriel Gatehouse: The confusion around Russian ‘meddling’ means they’re already winning

It is the fashion these days, in certain circles, to see the hand of Moscow behind all of the political turbulence of the present moment: Brexit, Trump, the rise of the European right. John McCain once even suggested that Russia’s real aim in Syria was “to exacerbate the refugee crisis and use it as a weapon to divide the transatlantic alliance and undermine the European project”.

Vladimir Putin must be delighted. Setting aside the question of the extent to which Russia is actually pulling the strings (Robert Mueller will soon tell us what he thinks about the Trump presidential campaign; the arguments around Russia’s role in Brexit rage on), the very fact that people believe in his power to drive massive population movements, bewitch electorates and divide allies is a win for the Kremlin. It is a form of hypnosis in its own right, and Russia tried it out on its own population first before exporting it abroad.