Pondering the Pundits

Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news media 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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Leon Panetta: Trump has no excuse for his failure to take action to defend America’s troops

When the report came out that the United States had intelligence that the Russians were paying bounties to the Taliban for killing U.S. troops and that the White House had not decided what to do about it, President Trump tweeted: “Nobody briefed or told me, [Vice President] Pence, or Chief of Staff [Mark Meadows] about the so-called attacks on our troops.”

Wrong answer, Mr. President. The fact that you or your staff were not “briefed” on this critical intelligence does not excuse the White House for its failure to take action to defend our troops. The answer is not “nobody briefed or told me.” The answer is: What is the United States going to do about it?

If Russians are, in fact, paying money to those killing our men and women in uniform, they are just as guilty of murder as those pulling the trigger. What they are doing is as close to an act of war as you can get, and it demands that we do everything necessary to defend our troops.

No matter what excuses the president puts forward, there is nothing that can justify the failure to act. The president’s duty as commander in chief is not just to defend the nation but also to defend the men and women in uniform who are willing to put their lives on the line for our country.

Mara Gay: Can the N.Y.P.D. Handle a $1 Billion Cut? Yes

Protests and a fiscal crisis shine a new light on the biggest Police Department budget in America.

In a city staring down $9 billion in lost revenue, it is hardly revolutionary to ask the Police Department to share the pain.

But this is New York, home to the largest and probably most powerful Police Department in the country. For the city’s police officials, an agreement to cut nearly $1 billion from the department is considered a radical act. [..]

In the past decade, the biggest challenge facing the city was housing, rather than crime, which remained at historic lows. But the Police Department’s operating budget continued to grow. The nonpartisan Citizens Budget Commission estimates that total city spending on the police, including pensions and health care benefits, is about $11 billion a year. The department’s aggressive, often violent, response to peaceful protests in recent months made it impossible to ignore what too many New Yorkers already knew firsthand: that the same Police Department that helped sustain years of record-low crime was also too big and too unaccountable to the people it served.

In the end, it took sustained nationwide protests over police brutality, along with the worst fiscal crisis in a generation, before New York was willing to even consider a different approach.

Paul Krugman: Why Do the Rich Have So Much Power?

Americans may be equal, but some are more equal than others.

America is, in principle, a democracy, in which every vote counts the same. It’s also a nation in which income inequality has soared, a development that hurts many more people than it helps. So if you didn’t know better, you might have expected to see a political backlash: demands for higher taxes on the rich, more spending on the working class and higher wages.

In reality, however, policy has mostly gone the other way. Tax rates on corporations and high incomes have gone down, unions have been crushed, the minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, is lower than it was in the 1960s. How is that possible?

The answer is that huge disparities in income and wealth translate into comparable disparities in political influence. To see how this works, let’s look at a fairly recent example: the budgetary Grand Bargain that almost happened in 2011. [..]

A groundbreaking study of rich Americans’ policy preferences in 2011 found that the wealthy, unlike voters in general, did prioritize deficit reduction over everything else. They also, in stark contrast with the general public, favored cuts in Social Security and health spending.

And while a few high-profile billionaires like Warren Buffett have called for higher taxes on people like themselves, the reality is that most billionaires are obsessed with cutting taxes, like the estate tax, that only the rich pay.

In other words, in 2011 a Democratic administration went all-in on behalf of a policy concern that only the rich gave priority and failed to reach a deal only because Republicans didn’t want the rich to bear any burden at all.

Nicholas Kristof: Refusing to Wear a Mask Is Like Driving Drunk

Republicans talk a good game about “personal responsibility.” It’s time for President Trump’s supporters to actually display some.

As the coronavirus rages out of control across much of the United States, Americans are acting curiously helpless.

If we had been this passive in 1776, we would still be part of Britain. Yet even as we prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July, we don’t seem willing to assert independence from a virus that in four months has killed more Americans than the Korean, Vietnam, Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars did over 70 years.

Here’s the simplest of steps we could take: Wear a face mask.

In the United States, mask-wearing lags, particularly among men, compared with some other countries. A poll finds that many American men regard the wearing of face masks as “a sign of weakness,” and President Trump’s refusal to wear them has suggested that he perceives that masks are for wimps.

Trump may now be switching gears, for he told Fox Business on Wednesday that he’s “all for masks” and would wear one if he were “in a tight situation with people.” He shouldn’t waste time: He should tweet a photo of himself in a mask and call on supporters to wear masks as well. Refusing to cover one’s face is reckless, selfish behavior that imperils the economy and can kill or endanger innocent people.

Laurence H. Tribe: Roberts’s approach could end up being more protective of abortion rights — not less

There is a silver lining, or perhaps just bronze, in the way Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the Supreme Court’s four liberal justices to strike down an absurdly burdensome and largely gratuitous abortion regulation. Although some advocates of abortion rights fear the chief justice’s approach will open the door to other restrictions on abortion, I believe that Roberts’s analysis, correctly applied, could end up being more protective of abortion rights, not less.

At issue in June Medical Services v. Russo was a Louisiana law that required any doctor performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, a requirement that a lower court found would have resulted in only a single doctor at a single clinic being allowed to perform abortions in the state.

Roberts did not approach the case, as his liberal colleagues did, by “balancing” the obstacle that regulation placed in women’s paths against the purported health benefits of the regulation. Such balancing was the approach taken by the court in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016, which struck down a Texas law virtually identical to the Louisiana statute — a ruling from which Roberts dissented.

In voting to strike down the Louisiana law, notwithstanding his dissent in the Texas case, Roberts emphasized the importance of precedent. And he said that the correct way to analyze abortion restrictions was the precedent established in 1992 by Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a bright-line test in which the court focused solely on whether the regulation at issue imposed an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose. [..]

In that challenging legal landscape, ultimately the most secure way to enshrine protection for reproductive autonomy would be through congressional action. In the meantime, though, the Roberts approach might not be the looming disaster that some advocates fear.