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: Heroes of the Great Patriotic Trade War

People can’t take America seriously anymore.


What’s that you say? There was no such agreement? New Jersey doesn’t even have any kind of centralized purchasing mechanism for food products? I say fake news! Conspiracy by the deep state!

O.K., you know that I’m not serious. But Donald Trump was serious when he tweeted this:

This tweet raises two immediate questions:

1. Why, like so many Trump tweets, does it read like a bad translation from the original Russian?

2. What the heck is he talking about?

There was, after all, no mention of agricultural products in the statement of agreement. And Mexico, while a big buyer of U.S. farm goods, is a market economy: private businesses, not government officials, decide how much Iowa corn Mexico will buy in a given year.

For what it’s worth, my guess is that Trump vaguely remembered the terms of an abortive trade deal with China, which he claimed included a commitment by China to buy 5 million tons of U.S. soybeans. If my guess is right, Trump is confusing Mexico with China, and has forgotten that talks with China have broken down. Not a good look for the man with his finger on the nuclear button, but whatever.

But leave worries about Trump’s mental state on one side, and think about how much events like the Mexican standoff weaken America’s position in the world.

To be a great power, of course you need the material basis for power – a big economy, a military big enough to make you a force to be reckoned with. But you also need to be a country others can take seriously – a nation that stands by its promises, but also makes good on its threats.

So think about what just happened.

Quinta Jurecic: 4 Disturbing Details You May Have Missed in the Mueller Report

Some troubling-to-outright-damning episodes have been lost in the noise around its release.

After two years of silence, the special counsel Robert Mueller recently made his first public remarks – to complain, it seemed, that no one had read his report. “We chose those words carefully,” Mr. Mueller said, “and the work speaks for itself.”

But at a dense 440-plus pages, if the report speaks for itself, it takes a great deal of time and focus to listen to what it has to say. Mr. Mueller tells a complicated story of “multiple, systematic” efforts at Russian election interference from which the Trump campaign was eager to benefit. And he describes a president eager to shut down an investigation into his own abusive conduct. This is far from, as the president put it, “no collusion, no obstruction.”

The document is packed with even more details, ranging from the troubling to the outright damning. Yet these have been lost in the flurry of discussion around the report’s release.

Even the most attentive reader could have trouble keeping track of the report’s loose ends and dropped subplots. Here are four of the most surprising details that you might have missed – and none of them are favorable to the president.

Michelle Cottle: Trump Hijacks the 4th of July

The president decided that the one thing missing from the capital’s celebration was himself.

Break out the sparklers and brace yourself for the yugest Fourth of July ever. Independence Day is only a few weeks off, and the president has decided that what would really make this year’s festivities special is a big, beautiful jolt of rebranding, Trump-style.

Apparently underwhelmed by the way the nation’s capital has celebrated in years past – key events include the National Independence Day Parade down Constitution Avenue, a free concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol and fireworks over the National Mall – President Trump is injecting himself into the celebration. While details are still being hammered out, the administration has been working for months on plans for the president to deliver an address from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Organizers of the traditional celebration are stressing that the president’s speech will be a separate event that will not interfere with the rest of the party. But back in February, the president claimed credit for the entire turbocharged affair in a tweet urging Americans to “HOLD THE DATE” for “one of the biggest gatherings in the history of Washington, DC.”

He is calling the new and improved product “A Salute to America,” featuring a “major fireworks display, entertainment and an address by your favorite President, me!”

We know what some of you are thinking: Doesn’t this feel like a gaudy way for the president to steal some of the day’s glory for himself – to make this, at least in part, “A Salute to Donald Trump”?

Yes, it does. But in hijacking America’s birthday party, Mr. Trump is doing more than merely indulging his petty narcissism. He is trampling a longstanding tradition of keeping these events nonpartisan – apolitical even – and focused on bringing the nation together.

Christine Emba: Men are in trouble. ‘Incels’ are proof.

The Internet has enabled the flourishing of countless subcultures, from the harmless to the less so. Lately, one of the latter groups has begun to break into the mainstream: the “incels.”

“Incel” is short for “involuntary celibate,” and as their self-imposed name implies, these mostly young men have come to define themselves by their inability to find a sexual or romantic partner. Men who identify as being #ForeverAlone have gathered online in forums such as Reddit to trade stories of woe. [..]

Today, the incel subculture has become not just self-reinforcing but self-radicalizing, often with tragic outcomes. At its most horrifying extremes, self-described incels have taken their anger out on the women they believe are refusing them. At least two mass shooters have left behind manifestos identifying themselves as adhering to incel ideology and explaining their actions as taking revenge on the world that hasn’t given them the women they think they deserve.

Their conclusions are wrong, to put it mildly. Even the most attractive among us has experienced being single when we might prefer not to be, and women aren’t obliged to have relationships, much less sex, with anyone. These men are obviously operating under a dark, self-perpetuating cloud of delusion, which might be easily fixed with purchasing a good flashlight reviewed at KnownMan.com. But we should still be paying attention to what this level of desperation is telling us – incels are the bleeding edge of a generation of struggling men.

Robert Reich: Elizabeth Warren’s economic nationalism vision shows there’s a better way

Why do Americans think the sole choice is hardline economic nationalism or unfettered free trade?

As we’re now witnessing, Trumpian economic nationalism is a zero-sum game in which the industries of the future are dominated either by China or by the United States. We win or they win.

The loudest opposition to this view comes from multinational American corporations and their Republican shills in Congress, who don’t want tariffs stopping them from making bundles of money around the world.

So is this the only choice – zero-sum economic nationalism or unfettered free trade?

No. There’s a third alternative: “industrial policy” – which means putting national resources (government spending on research and development, along with tax subsidies and export incentives) behind emerging industries, while making sure the nation’s workers get the resulting experience and jobs.

Elizabeth Warren’s new Plan for Economic Patriotism, unveiled on Tuesday, marks a stunningly ambitious version of American industrial policy.


Mohammad Bazzzi: Trump wants to sell more weapons to Saudi Arabia. Congress must stop him

The administration wants to sell $8bn of weapons to Saudi Arabia and UAE – and prop up a morally indefensible war.

On the Friday before Memorial Day, when few Americans were paying attention, the Trump administration announced that it would circumvent Congress and sell $8bn in new weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It was Donald Trump’s latest attempt to give a blank check to two US allies leading a disastrous war in Yemen.

If Trump succeeds in getting around Congress, these weapons sales will prolong suffering in Yemen and eliminate one of the last levers that allowed the US to exert influence over Saudi and Emirati actions: the threat of Congress blocking arms deals.

On 5 June, a bipartisan group of senators said they would try to block the administration from going ahead with the sales by introducing 22 “resolutions of disapproval” – one for each of the deals cleared by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The effort is led by two unlikely allies: Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey and frequent Trump critic, and Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who is one of Trump’s biggest supporters. [..]

Despite a majority of Congress voting to end support, American assistance to the Saudi-led war persists, thanks to Trump’s veto. In their latest effort to stop the weapons sales, congressional critics of the war will likely need to secure a veto-proof majority. It is a matter of moral and political urgency.