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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Joseph E. Stiglitz: A ‘democratic socialist’ agenda is appealing. No wonder Trump attacks it.

Through much of this spring, President Trump has made a big deal out of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) calling themselves democratic socialists. He likens them to Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro. But no one in the United States is advocating a government takeover of coal mines or oil fields — not Ocasio-Cortez, not Sanders, not anybody. Trump is merely engaging in an old-fashioned smear campaign, hoping to turn voters against democratic socialism by conflating ideas.

I prefer another name, “progressive capitalism,” to describe the agenda of curbing the excesses of markets; restoring a balance among markets, government and civil society; and ensuring that all Americans can attain a middle-class life. The term emphasizes that markets with private enterprise are at the core of any successful economy, but it also recognizes that unfettered markets are not efficient, stable or fair.

It is no surprise that the extremes of capitalism and its dysfunction have given rise to questions such as: Can capitalism be saved from itself? Is it inevitable that the materialistic greed that it breeds will lead to ever-increasing pay packages for chief executives? Or that those with money will use their political influence to shape our tax system so that the richest pay proportionately less than everyone else? Progressive capitalism can, I believe, save capitalism from itself — if only we can get the political will behind it.

Harry Litman: Trump’s legal case for executive privilege is strained at best

As part of the most comprehensive stonewalling of Congress since at least Watergate, the White House is blocking the House Judiciary Committee from obtaining documents it had subpoenaed from former White House counsel Donald McGahn.

At this point, the White House hasn’t expressly asserted executive privilege over the McGahn documents. But once McGahn made it clear he would not comply with this subpoena to “maintain the status quo” in a dispute between equal branches of government, the bottom-line result was the same: If Congress wants the documents, it will have to negotiate terms with the White House or go to court. [..]

But the legal case for executive privilege is strained at best.

The animating idea for executive privilege is that the president needs confidential, candid advice to discharge his responsibilities. As a consequence, the president enjoys a constitutionally anchored privilege to bar the disclosure of communications related to the need for that kind of advice.

To date, the Trump administration has tried to play it cute in its dealings with Congress. Witnesses such as Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon have declined to answer Congress’s questions by stating that they were protecting the president’s prerogative to assert executive privilege — but without Trump’s having actually done so.

That won’t work for McGahn. In his case, Congress will insist that Trump actually invoke executive privilege, serving up the issue for judicial resolution.

Max Boot: It’s time for us to have an unapologetic atheist in the Oval Office

Among the 21 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, virtually every ethnic, religious and sexual identity is represented. There’s a gay man, six women, three African Americans, a Chinese American, multiple Catholics and Protestants, even a Hindu. (Hindus are 0.7 percent of the population.) But there is one conspicuous absence: Not a single candidate publicly identifies as an atheist. That’s not to say they are all religious believers. But if they aren’t, they are keeping it to themselves. [..]

Trump shows how immorally a supposed Christian can behave. Winston Churchill is the flip side of the coin, showing how righteously a nonbeliever can act. Churchill was a nominal Anglican but he had no belief in God. “In the absence of Christian faith, therefore,” writes biographer Andrew Roberts, “the British Empire became in a sense Churchill’s creed.”

If atheism was good enough for Britain’s greatest prime minister, it should be good enough for a U.S. president. We’ve had closeted freethinkers as president but never one who was out and proud. Thomas Jefferson, a deist who rejected the divinity of Christ, bridled when he was called an atheist by his opponents. Given how many taboos we have already shattered — making it easy to imagine a female president who is of Jamaican and Indian descent — I look forward to the day when we will finally have an unapologetic atheist in the Oval Office. But probably not in 2021.

Nicholas Kristof: We Have 2 Dead Young Heroes. It’s Time to Stand Up to Guns.

Politicians fearful of the National Rifle Association have allowed the gun lobby to run amok so that America now has more guns than people, but there is still true heroism out there in the face of gun violence: students who rush shooters at the risk of their own lives.

Let’s celebrate, and mourn, a student named Kendrick Castillo, 18, just days away from graduating in Highlands Ranch, Colo., who on Tuesday helped save his classmates in English literature class from a gunman. [..]

The courage of those students in Colorado echoes last week’s bravery of Riley Howell, a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Riley, 21, charged a gunman there and continued even as he was shot twice. As he tackled the gunman he was shot a third time, in the head, and killed, but he ended the shooting. [..]

Every day in 2017, the last year for which we have figures, an average of 107 people died in America from guns. We’re not able to avert every shooting, but we can save some lives. We need not have the courage of the students who charged gunmen; we just need to demand action from our members of Congress and state legislators.

That’s the best way to honor heroes like Kendrick Castillo and Riley Howell, by making such heroics less necessary in classrooms around America.

Gail Collins: Donald Trump, King of the Losers

Hard to believe, but it seems Donald Trump was an even worse businessman than we thought.

Thanks to Times reporters Russ Buettner and Susanne Craig, we’ve learned that Trump’s old tax records show that during his “Art of the Deal” era, he was pretty much the national champion for financial underachievers. In 1990 and 1991 he had losses of over $250 million a year — “more than double those of the nearest taxpayers in the I.R.S. information for those years.”

Well, you can’t deny he was a record-breaker. [..]

On behalf of the millions of Americans who filed their I.R.S. returns last month, I want to say that it is always a treat to hear our president explain how only suckers pay taxes.

However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that even the cynical version of Donald Trump as a businessman — undisciplined self-promoter who bought and sold things just to convince himself he wasn’t a useless nothingburger living off his rich dad’s money — was maybe an overestimation.

Which can be sort of unnerving, given his current job. For instance, just before we got this new batch of information on his failure as an empire-builder, Trump met with Democratic leaders of Congress to discuss — a big, huge building plan.