Monday, June 16, 2014

The Best of All Possible Evils

So Paul Krugman was talking to some of his liberal friends recently, and was somewhat aghast when they expressed disappointment in President Obama. And thus, after delving deep into the Conscience of a Liberal, Krugman emerged in full Pangloss mode. He has written a column addressed to all those cynics, rubes and ingrates out there being unduly influenced by "the prevailing media narrative." (Warning -- before you read any further, make sure you have swallowed any food or drink still in your mouth:)
The truth is that these days much of the commentary you see on the Obama administration — and a lot of the reporting too — emphasizes the negative: the contrast between the extravagant hopes of 2008 and the prosaic realities of political trench warfare, the troubles at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the mess in Iraq, and so on. The accepted thing, it seems, is to portray Mr. Obama as floundering, his presidency as troubled if not failed.
But this is all wrong. You should judge leaders by their achievements, not their press, and in terms of policy substance Mr. Obama is having a seriously good year. In fact, there’s a very good chance that 2014 will go down in the record books as one of those years when America took a major turn in the right direction.
Let's start with those "extravagant hopes," which Krugman forgets were foisted upon the electorate by the candidate himself. For a full tally of the president's early broken promises and outright lies, please refer to the "Obama Scandals List".  It's old, but I keep it on my Blog Roll because it's unrevised history, and therefore extremely valuable for those of us who are picky about such things. There is that little extravagant matter of the promise of a public option for health care, for instance.

And then Krugman brushes aside the "troubles" at the V.A. as though they were pesky Republican mosquitoes and not a humanitarian crisis, and the "mess" in Iraq as if thousands of innocent people haven't been killed..... and so on and so forth. Because, America, this promises to be not only a Sinatra-like very good year for America, but a seriously good year for Obama. Well, at least the good professor is honest when he says 2014 will be the year the country took a major turn in the right (as opposed to left) direction.

As I began in my uncharacteristicly bilious published NYT comment: "So, seriously, Candide, as long as Obama is having a seriously good year, who are you to complain? It's all for the best in the best of all possible worlds."

The Krugglossianism continues,
First, health reform is now a reality — and despite a shambolic start, it’s looking like a big success story. Remember how nobody was going to sign up? First-year enrollments came in above projections. Remember how people who signed up weren’t actually going to pay their premiums? The vast majority have.
Not half an hour before Krugman's column appeared, his newspaper's website published an article by Robert Pear, describing how hundreds of thousands of Obamacare subscribers have received notices informing them that their documented proof to qualify for government subsidies is lacking or faulty. And that they might owe the government money as a result. The clawbacks and the bait and switch surprises are coming even earlier than expected. Fully one quarter of the eight million newly-insured might be on the hook for an average of $4,000 come tax time next year if they can't prove their worthiness to the Market God. They may be joining the estimated 30 million Americans who will remain uninsured despite the Affordable Care Act. Krugman forgets about them, too. But his column forges on:
Then there’s climate policy. The Obama administration’s new rules on power plants won’t be enough in themselves to save the planet, but they’re a real start — and are by far the most important environmental initiative since the Clean Air Act. I’d add that this is an issue on which Mr. Obama is showing some real passion.
As long as there's vocal passion, then the coughing, the wheezing, the chest pains, the pollution will fade in comparison to Obama's soaring oratory. As I mentioned in my Times comment, while the carbon emissions rules are a good start, they're largely aspirational and rely over-much on the ephemeral good intentions of individual states. And, of course, it ultimately hinges on the Market God, whose dire rumblings cannot be ignored by politicians sensitive to them. And then there are the other major pollutants getting a free pass from the passionate Mr. Obama. You may remember the ozone rules he scrapped a few years ago to shore up his re-election chances in the heartland. so as not to rattle the "confidence" of polluters. Unhealthy, man-made  levels of ozone are still causing thousands of pragmatic asthma attacks in children while environmental groups are suing Obama in federal court.

Meanwhile, DeSmogBlog reports that Obama is "quietly coddling Big Oil on bomb train regulations." You know.... that highly flammable Bakken crude hurtling down a railroad track near you.

Oil Train Explosion, Lynchburg, VA (DeSmogBlog)

And then there's his embrace of the fracking industry and deepwater drilling. (Just days before he made his carbon emissions announcement, his administration awarded ExxonMobil a brand new Gulf of Mexico drilling lease.) No need, either, to disclose all those chemicals being injected into the earth, poisoning our drinking water. The passionate president is confident that Halliburton has the public health as its highest priority.

Sorry, Doctor Pangloss. That glass is not only not half-full -- it's toxic.

And last but not least, Krugman turns to financial deform:
 Oh, and financial reform, although it’s much weaker than it should have been, is real — just ask all those Wall Street types who, enraged by the new limits on their wheeling and dealing, have turned their backs on the Democrats.
Krugman is being far from candid here. Wall Street types may howl in public about criticism thrown their way by Democrats pretending to be for the little guy, but they continue throwing money at Democratic politicians only too happy to do their bidding and take their bribes. Even the toothless bill that is Dodd-Frank is being delayed and defanged (or should I say de-gummed?) For a more honest overview than Krugman is willing to give, there's the recent Bill Moyers interview with Stanford economist Anat Admati, author of "The Banker's New Clothes." I also recommend Ryan Grim's article on how even a good chunk of the "progressive" Congressional Black Caucus is now in the pocket of Wall Street.

Krugman concludes with some criticism of Bowles-Simpson centrists without even acknowledging that Obama himself is a centrist (aka "New Democrat") who appointed their pro-plutocracy cat food commission. 

So what the hell is in Krugman's pocket? I wouldn't be surprised if it was a souvenir from the "polish it yourself"  bowl of apples that Obama keeps in the Oval Office.


Pearl said...

I found Krugman's latest column disgraceful reflecting his ignorance of the true facts. Your comment was excellent Karen and saved me from having to write a nasty response which would have been relegated to the bottom group with one or two recommendations.
As well, I don't even trust his columns of economic opinion as a result. Thanks for your column and NYTimes comment.
I hope the other readers said meaningful things which I haven't had a chance to look at yet.

annenigma said...

Shades of calling us a bunch of sanctimonious purists!

Krugman lost me in his first paragraph: "I suspect that they’re being influenced, often without realizing it, by the prevailing media narrative." Oh sure. We form all our political opinions from the corporate media echo chamber.

To add insult to injury, he suggests that we've fallen under the spell of the media "without realizing it". What a bunch of puppets we are! Actually, judging by HIS readers, that might be true. But it's not true for the many who aren't in the Obama/Krugman Choir singing praises to their Messiah. Reading the comments was even harder to stomach than reading Krugman.

I thought underestimating the intelligence of the public was Washington's job. Actually, this piece did sound like it was based on political talking points conveniently shared with him by someone at the White House. Don't Josh us, Dr. Krugman. Be Earnest and tell us who gave them to you.

I suspect he's being influenced, without realizing it, by the prevailing corporate government narrative. (OMG, is that plagiarism?) After all, he doesn't have half as much free time as the rest of us unemployed/retired citizens to learn about what is REALLY going on in this country and world.

Will said...

I believe I've used this Upton Sinclair quote to describe Krugman before. (I think I said "job" instead of "salary," but it's all the same.) It's perfect:

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon not understanding it."

Fuck that poser.

Zee said...


Plagiarism? Naaah! Just like Chris Hedges, you changed a word and that makes everything all right!

(Just joking, of course. Your infraction seems slight, at best.)

Much as I hate punsters and plays on words, I regretfully have to give you high marks for your pun-ishment of Josh Earnest in your last comment.

If puns and plays on words are your cup of tea, you may appreciate this video segment.

They are indeed a sick bunch!

Pearl said...

I just received an e-mail from the Democratic National Committee asking me to choose which cities they listed I would vote for having the 2016 Democratic National Convention in. Had they left an open choice I would have recommended Baghdad.

Voice-in-Wilderness said...

I had just read Krugman's column before checking in on your blog. I had essentially the same reactions, but you are much more complete and articulate.

I'd only add my view that whatever Obama does or doesn't do domestically, will be overshadowed by his amazing record as a war monger. Do we know where he keeps that Peace Prize stored?

Zee said...


You ask, "Do we know where he keeps that Peace Prize stored?"

I'm sure that very same question keeps the Norwegian Nobel Committee awake at night, too.

My guess?

Maybe Fort Knox, where no one is going to lay a hand on it, no matter how undeserved it was. Or is.

I don't have the benefit of a liberal-arts education, but was the trigger-happy awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to BHO sans a single accomplishment, an example of Panglossian ├╝ber-optimism?

William Neil said...

I just knew that Karen was going to weigh in on this strange column by Krugman, I knew that after reading it in my print edition with breakfast. Then my internet was gone for the rest of the day - no real explanation from Comcast - was it my comments recently about Saudi Arabia funding the ISIS militants - who knows? Was it because I plugged Robert Fisk a couple of times, and asked why he was still in exile from the US press?

This really seemed like Krugman trying to hold up a sagging Obama from the pounding he's taken on all sides.

Still had time for that sunny side trip though, didn't he?

Karen, where did you get that edition of Candide, with the Rockwell Kent artwork? I was stunned by it; it had to be from the 1920's or 1930's no, if not a little earlier? Kent is an interesting guy and I have to catch up with his formal biography someday.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

Just in case Denis is reading this - I have missed you and was delighted to see your name on the last comment thread.

Karen - One of your best essays!

Sadly, Paul Krugman has gone the way of other journalists at the Times. I knew it for sure when he minimalized the destructive potential of the TPP. Krugman plays it too safe. Easy to criticise policies that are already in place and obviously not working. How about heading off a train-wreck before it happens, Paul?

I think the only really good soul at the Times was Bob Herbert - and he left.

Jay - Ottawa said...

@ Denis


Jay - Ottawa said...

On Obama’s environmental (in-)action, these two gems of exasperation from within a long article in July’s “Harper’s Magazine” entitled “Promises, Promises: Can Obama Redeem His Environmental Failures?”

(1) “He’s been like a weak radio signal,” Said James Gustave Sperth, who chaired the presidential Council on Environmental Quality in the 1970’s…. “You hear it for brief intervals and think maybe it’ll be an interesting show … and then it fades away.”

(2) "Senator Sheldon Whitehouse expressed similar frustration. As the most outspoken member of Congress on the topic, the Rhode Island Democrat has delivered a climate-change-related speech on the floor of the Senate almost every single week the chamber has been in session since April 2012. I asked Whitehouse whether there had been any presidential reaction to his speeches, which numbered fifty-two by the time of our interview. 'Yeah,' he said. ‘We got a tweet out of the administration when I did the fiftieth one.’”

Cirze said...

Perfect, Karen.

As usual.

I'm almost an ex-NYT'er now.

Krugman was my last hope there and I really didn't think he'd wimp out so easily. Must have been a lot of pressure applied is my guess, but we won't know for a long time as the after-Obama world looks quite dangerous, witness the actions of those who had earlier thought they might cause "some" change.

The future does not look bright now.

Unless we're counting the bomb blasts.

The scenario ongoing in Iraq and Syria seems to have been in the making since Cheney/Bush lied us into Iraq. Right on schedule.

What happened to our representatives to the left of Obama?

Are they in hiding?

Or disappeared.

Seems we are left with Greenwald and Snowden as our protectors.


Keep up the great work!

Denis Neville said...

Paul Krugman as Dr. Pangloss…

In The Great Unravelling, Krugman wrote, “I’m not part of the gang. I work from central New Jersey, and continue to live the life of a college professor - so I never bought into the shared assumptions. I don’t need to be in the good graces of top officials, so I also have no need to display the deference that characterizes many journalists.”

Krugman writes, “Oh, and financial reform, although it’s much weaker than it should have been, is real,” ignoring the fact that the banksters have never gone to jail after fleecing America and cratering the economy.

In 1999, "The Ascent of E-Man R.I.P.: The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit,” Krugman wrote:

“The retreat of business bureaucracy in the face of the market was brought home to me recently when I joined the advisory board at Enron … the company's pride and joy is a room filled with hundreds of casually dressed men and women staring at computer screens and barking into telephones, where cubic feet and megawatts are traded and packaged as if they were financial derivatives…

What we have in a growing number of markets - phones, gas, electricity today - is a combination of deregulation that lets new companies enter and ‘common carrier’ regulation that prevents middlemen playing favorites, making freewheeling markets possible.”

Hello, Dr. Pangloss!!!

Yes, that Enron, the “energy company that morphed into a trading company involved in hedge funds and derivatives and took on substantial risk, created secret off-the-books partnerships and, in effect, cooked the books under the nose of accountants and investors.” - U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Senate hearing where PGE workers testified about their 401(k) losses

Robin Blackburn wrote, “Enron’s demise was significant not just because of its size … but because it had represented the cutting-edge of neoliberal corporate strategy, living proof that financialization and deregulation were the wave of the future. It was this that made a tireless booster of neoliberalism such as Paul Krugman so proud to be on the company’s payroll.”

[“Me and Enron,” Paul Krugman defends himself @ ]

Denis Neville said...

Another Dr. Pangloss alert !!!

H/T Naked Capitalism: “Krugman claims that there are no policy disagreements within the party, and that Obama did as well as he possibly could have. Oh, and of course the United Democrats are fully behind Hillary.”

“If he had had an easy time, the party might be divided between those wanting more radical action and those not in a hurry; if he had failed utterly, the party might be divided (as it was for much of the past three decades) between a liberal faction and a Republican-lite faction. As it is, however, Obama has managed to achieve a lot of what Democrats have sought for generations, but only with great difficulty against scorched-earth opposition. This means that the conflict between “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party” — exemplified these days by Elizabeth Warren — and the more pro-big-business wing is relatively muted: the liberal wing knows that Obama has gotten most of what could be gotten, and the actual policies haven’t been the kind that would scare off the less liberal wing…

“Obama implemented Clinton’s health plan (remember how he was against mandates?), and Clinton, if elected, will continue Obama’s legacy. The party is willing to rally around an individual because it’s unified on policy, not the other way around.”

Obama has managed to achieve a lot of what Democrats have sought for generations???!!!!

Hillary Clinton, if elected, will continue Obama’s legacy!!!

Krugman yearns to return to Clintonomics of the Clinton-era:

"At the beginning of the new millennium, then, it seemed that the United States was blessed with mature, skillful economic leaders … What happened to the good years? How did we get here? How did the American political system, which produced such reasonable economic leadership during the 1990s, lead us into our current morass of dishonesty and irresponsibility?" - Paul Krugman, The Great Unravelling

“A fossil sentiment in artificial rock.” - Ambrose Bierce, The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary

Paul Krugman, the tireless booster of neoliberalism.

Surely all will be well in the world!

When things go wrong, don't go wrong with them. The worst of all deceptions is self-deception.

James F Traynor said...

Back in the late '70s and dragooned by my wife into 'Doing something about our retirement' I was forced to look toward investing our relatively meager savings. It was from this vantage point that I viewed the coming of Obama with relief.

But what did he do? He appointed the very people who aided and abetted in what had turned out to be a global financial disaster.

Now Krugman. It must be something in the Princeton and U. Chi' air that is infectious, a sort of airborne prion that turns the brain to mush.

Will said...

Update: Chris Hedges' response to plagiarism accusations

Zee said...


Not much of a "defense," IMHO.

Still, as something of a spectator rather than a Hedges "partisan" or "critic,"

(OK, OK, I admit that I'm not much of a Chris Hedges "fan," as I find him pompous, arrogant, and, well, often wrong...)

I guess I'll have to await something resembling an independent journalistic judgement.

If there really is such a thing in this day and internet age.

James F Traynor said...

Often wrong about what? Facts or interpretation?

Kat said...

Your Enron story was quite on point in light of this in a blog post yesterday:
And in trade, as in business competition, it’s far from clear that the big rewards go to those who trash the past and invent new stuff. What’s the most remarkable export success story out there? Surely it’s Germany, which manages to be an export powerhouse despite very high labor costs. How do the Germans do it? Not by constantly coming out with revolutionary new products, but by producing very high quality goods for which people are willing to pay premium prices.

So here’s a revolutionary thought: maybe we need to do less disruption and put more effort into doing whatever we do well.

Krugman is good at editing his past. That's how you keep your conscience of a liberal clear.

annenigma said...

Zee says "I find him pompous, arrogant, and, well, often wrong..."

"Aye, there's the rub"!

Zee said...


(Places that Chris Hedges is factually wrong, Part I)

I believe that Hedges is factually wrong in a number of instances. For the sake of discussion, I'm going to talk about Hedges' utterly incorrect, indeed, vicious, portrayal of the personality of American gun owners. I'm doing this because it is a topic that I have studied—as a matter of intellectual self-defense—and not because I want to precipitate another long discussion on the Second Amendment, gun ownership in general or for self-defense, &etc.

One does not have to read much Hedges to know that he views American gun owners as racist, violent vigilantes, who “revel in a demented hypermasculinity.” According to Hedges, we gun owners are a bunch of very sick indidivuals, indeed.

“America’s vigilante violence, rather than a protection from tyranny, is an expression of the fear by white people, especially white men, of the black underclass. This underclass has been enslaved, lynched, imprisoned and impoverished for centuries. The white vigilantes do not acknowledge the reality of this oppression, but at the same time they are deeply worried about retribution directed against whites. Guns, for this reason, are easily available to white people while gun ownership is largely criminalized for blacks. The hatred expressed by vigilante groups for people of color, along with Jews and Muslims, is matched by their hatred for the college-educated elite, who did not decry the steady impoverishment of the working class. People of color, along with those who espouse the liberal social values of the college-educated elites, including gun control, are seen by the vigilantes as contaminants to society that must be removed to restore the nation to health.” --Chris Hedges

The trouble is, as nearly as I can tell there is not a single scholarly psychological, psychiatric or sociological study to support this crap. Hedges merely feeds into an accepted part of the Progressive myth about gun owners that is never questioned because, well...guns are evil, so gun owners must be crazy to want to own them in the first place, mustn't they? So why bother to disturb the myth with mere facts?

Now, if anyone in this forum can produce a few scholarly studies from respectable sources that show us gun owners to be the rabid, demented bunch that Hedges says we are, well, I'll rethink my assertion that he's at least occasionally wrong. But here's what some other scholars seem to think of the character and personality of American gun owners, which seems to make a liar of Hedges:

“Although there is a rather extensive speculative literature on the personality characteristics of private weapons owners...virtually nothing of empirical substance is known about this topic. The themes of the speculative literature are well known and, with few exceptions, condemnatory and derogatory. In one view (the psychoanalytic), weapns are phallic symbols representing male dominance and masculine power. A related theme concerns the presumed need for power and virility. Fear, psychological insecurity, authoritarianism, a tendency to violence, gernealized pessimism, and so on, are also commonly advanced as personality abnormalities to explain weapons ownership.

Contrasting these themes, such evidence that exists suggests no sharp or distinctive personality differerences between gun owners and nonowners.
(My bold emphasis.)

Wright, J.D., Rossi, P.H., and Daly, K. (1983) Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime and Violence in America. Aldine de Gruyter, New York, 342pp.

(To be continued...)

Zee said...


(Places that Chris Hedges is factually wrong, Part II)

The book is 30 years old, of course, so perhaps the state of knowledge regarding the psychology of the typical American gun owner has changed since then, but I haven't seen anyone citing such new work: only recycling myths, just as Hedges appears to me to do in the articles that I've listed above.

Now, Wright et al. devote an entire chapter to the “characteristics of private weapons owners,"
which I am obviously not going to transcribe here. (Though I could scan it into a pdf file and e-mail it to Karen.) The chapter is thick with citations, and closes with these remarks:

“In sum, 'there was no evidence...that the average gun owner exhibits atypical personality characteristics'...

Most private weaponry is possesses for reasons of sport and recreaction' sport guns apparently outnumber defensive guns by roughly three to one. The uses of weaponry for sport are correlated with city size, but not perfectly; large numbers of sport uses can be found in even the largest central cities. Relative to nonowners, gun owners are disproportionately rural, Southern, male, Protestant, affluent and middle class. Most adult weapons owners were socialized into the ownership and use of weaponry spanning virtually the whole of their lives. There is no evidence suggesting them to be an especially unstable or violent or maladapted lot; their 'personality profiles' are largely indistinct from the rest of the population.
—Wright et al. (1983) (My bold emphasis.)

So until I see more current evidence to the contrary, the results of Wright and Rossi (then Professors of Sociology, U. Mass, Amherst), and Daly (Dept. of Sociology, Yale University) I think that Hedges is not only wrong in his characterization of American gun owners, but malevolently so.

Contained in the second article by Hedges for which I provided a link above, Vigilante Nation, is another gem of an incorrect fact:

“We are not a people with a revolutionary tradition. The War of Independence, while it borrowed the rhetoric of revolution, merely replaced a foreign oligarchy with a native, slave-holding oligarchy.” --Chris Hedges

Huh? No revolutionary tradition? Does Hedges think that the British merely submitted to our “rhetoric of revolution,” peacefully stepped aside and allowed the Founders to install themselves as the new oligarchy under a slightly different form of oppressive government?

Even Howard Zinn acknowledges that the United States was founded by force of arms, with the help of armed private citizens. In the interest of brevity, I will oversimplify Zinn's interpretation here, but according to Zinn:

“The American victory over the British army was made possible by existence of an already-armed people. Just about every white male had a gun and could shoot...-- A People's History of the United States

According to Wikipedia,

“More than 25,000 American Revolutionaries died during active military service. About 8,000 of these deaths were in battle; the other 17,000 recorded deaths were from disease, including about 8,000–12,000 who died of starvation or disease brought on by deplorable conditions while prisoners of war... most in rotting British prison ships in New York. This tally of deaths from disease is undoubtedly too low, however; 2,500 Americans died while encamped at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777–78 alone. The number of Revolutionaries seriously wounded or disabled by the war has been estimated from 8,500 to 25,000. The total American military casualty figure was therefore as high as 50,000.”

No “revolutionary tradition” in America? Hedges is not only wrong here, he's a blithering idiot.

So, yes, James, I think that Hedges has not only been factually wrong in at least a couple of places, but malevolently and hysterically wrong, to boot.

traynorjf said...

Jeremiad vs jeremiad. Hardly illuminating. I will, at present, accede to 'pompous' and possibly 'arrogant'. But neither are terribly unusual among the members of the fourth estate.

Zee said...


With all due respect, Under the Gun: Weapons, Crime and Violence in America hardly represents a pro-gun, or pro-gun- owner "jeremiad."

It is a scholarly, carefully researched and highly referenced and annotated volume written by sociologists, not a hysterical journalist cum plagiarist, and it pretty much represented the state-of-the-art in the understanding of, well, Weapons, Crime and Violence in America at the time, 1983.

The book is still available, much to my surprise, and you can obtain further information about both its contents and the qualifications of the authors at this site:

Hell, if you think that the book represents some kind of jeremiad rather than a scholarly tract, you could even buy the book and do some homework of your own in order to put me in my place.

James F Traynor said...

That wasn't the jeremiad part.

Zee said...


OK, ya got me. I'm totally confused.

James F Traynor said...

Good. And as to your 'place', it is as respected member of this motley crew.

Zee said...


Good night, James, and thank you.