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: Why Can’t Trump Build Anything?

Donald Trump isn’t the first president, or even the first Republican president, who has sought to define his legacy in part with a big construction project. Abraham Lincoln signed legislation providing the land grants and financing that created the transcontinental railroad. Theodore Roosevelt built the Panama Canal. Dwight Eisenhower built the interstate highway system.

But Trump’s wall is different, and not just because it probably won’t actually get built. Previous big construction projects were about bringing people together and making them more productive. The wall is about division — not just a barrier against outsiders, but an attempt to drive a wedge between Americans, too. It’s about fear, not the future.

Why isn’t Trump building anything? Surely he’s exactly the kind of politician likely to suffer from an edifice complex, a desire to see his name on big projects. Furthermore, during the 2016 campaign he didn’t just promise a wall, he also promised a major rebuilding of America’s infrastructure.

But month after month of inaction followed his inauguration. A year ago he again promised “the biggest and boldest infrastructure investment in American history.” Again, nothing happened.

Eugene Robinson: Yes, the Green New Deal is audacious. But we have no choice but to think big.

Who’s afraid of the Green New Deal? I’m not. It’s ambitious, aspirational, improbable, impractical — almost as audacious as putting a man on the moon. We used to be able to think big. Let’s do it again.

Since the 14-page resolution was introduced in Congress this month by Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), critics have been falling over themselves to denounce the Green New Deal’s policies as prohibitively expensive, totally unworkable or somehow Venezuelan. If those opponents would stop shouting long enough to actually read the document, they’d see that it’s not a compendium of concrete policies at all, but rather a set of goals.

And they are the right goals. The Green New Deal seeks to outline a national project for our time — not just a response to a grave environmental threat, but a framework for enhanced growth, opportunity and fairness.

The laudable aim is to play offense, not defense, in the fight to limit climate change. We are going to have to wage that battle one way or another. Why not do it on our terms, before Miami slips underwater and the yet-unburned parts of California go up in flames?

Roger Cohen: Europe to Mike Pence: No, Thank You

A French ambassador observed to me that, “The Trump Administration has achieved the extraordinary feat of turning the Germans into Gaullists.”

Once the most devoted member of the Atlantic alliance, an insulted Germany has stiffened, discovering its inner Russian flirt and a touch of De Gaulle’s strategic independence.

Donald Trump has made Angela Merkel mad. I got to know her during my assignment in Berlin two decades ago and have never seen her as animated as during her speech here at the Munich Security Conference. The shackles were off. She was not above wagging a Gaullist finger at Washington.

Eyes glittering with impish mockery, she asked whether withdrawing American troops from Syria was really the best way to confront Iran; whether containing Iran was really served by trashing “the only existing agreement” — the European-supported nuclear deal abandoned by Trump; and how German cars are really a threat to American national security, as Trump’s Commerce Department has suggested, when the BMW plant in South Carolina is the company’s biggest.

David Leonhardt: Thank You, New York

The initial reactions to Amazon’s abandonment of New York tended to involve fairly narrow questions, like how it would affect New York or affect Amazon. And I understand why. Those are important issues.

But they’re not the only issues that matter here. They’re not even the biggest issues.

In my column this morning, I argue that the rest of the country owes New York a big thank you. The handouts that cities and states have been strong-armed into giving to corporations over the past few decades are a terrible bit of economic policy. They do nothing to raise the nation’s economic growth rate. They mostly redistribute income upward, from taxpayers to big shareholders.

I agree with the critics (including my colleagues on The Times Editorial Board) who say that New York would probably have benefited from Amazon’s presence in Queens. But I keep thinking about the larger principle here. If every city agrees to give billion-dollar handouts to companies, in the name of that city’s short-term interests, those handouts will never end.

Paul Buccheit: How a failing capitalist system is allowing Amazon to cripple America

Capitalism is failing in America, and Amazon is both the cause and beneficiary of much of the breakdown. Jeff Bezos said, “We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.” He might have added three capitalist practices familiar to his company: (1) Pay no taxes; (2) Drive competitors out of business; and (3) Exploit workers.

In 2018, according to its own SEC filings, Amazon claimed a refund on its $11 billion in U.S. profits. It did the same on nearly $6 billion in profits in 2017. The company has reportedly positioned itself to avoid even more future taxes with unspecified tax credits.

In the most extreme form of capitalism taxes do not exist. This is called “anarcho-capitalism.” Among all corporations, Amazon may be the leading advocate of this philosophy. They haven’t paid federal income tax for the past two years. They set up headquarters in Luxembourg for tax breaks that are now being challenged. They claim minimal profits on hundreds of billions in revenue, resulting in one of the lowest profit margins among major corporations, and thus much less tax. Of course, Amazon claims to be using tax credits from past losses that stemmed from investment in research and development (R&D). But the company appears to overstate and obfuscate the R&D numbers. Its only ‘explanation’ of R&D in its annual report comes in an ambiguously all-encompassing section called “Technology and Content.” Plus, that’s no excuse to dodge taxes. Walmart and Google each spent nearly $12 billion on technology in 2018, almost as much as Amazon, but Walmart paid 28 percent in federal taxes, and Google 14 percent.