Monday, October 19, 2015

Skål, Amerika!

Just as Woodrow Wilson made the world safe for democracy, Larry David has made Bernie Sanders safe for America.

Once you've been impersonated by an A-list comic who regularly plays golf with Obama, you have finally arrived as a respected mainstream politician. Paul Krugman will even break down and write a whole column about you. OK, so I exaggerate. He actually wrote a column about Denmark, and somehow concluded that Hillary and Bernie are the same person. Or, to be more specific, he glibly turned Hillary's snarky debate remark about Denmark into a "demure" Bernie mind-meld in order to spread the message that Hillbern is better than Republicans. She is not only a progressive, she's a damned born-again socialist to boot!

Krugman boldly goes where no pundit has gone heretofore. He goes to Denmark, and proves that it is not the scary Commie place that the Beltway Thought Collective makes it out to be. It turns out that not only are those dour Danes outrageously fortunate, they rank at the very top of the global life satisfaction heap:
Denmark maintains a welfare state — a set of government programs designed to provide economic security — that is beyond the wildest dreams of American liberals. Denmark provides universal health care; college education is free, and students receive a stipend; day care is heavily subsidized. Overall, working-age families receive more than three times as much aid, as a share of G.D.P., as their U.S. counterparts.
To pay for these programs, Denmark collects a lot of taxes. The top income tax rate is 60.3 percent; there’s also a 25 percent national sales tax. Overall, Denmark’s tax take is almost half of national income, compared with 25 percent in the United States.
My published comment:
 The Nordic countries in general rank among the happiest places on earth. Our own version of the happiest place on earth is the Disney theme park. The wages are low, and the high price of admission is way out of the reach of what is still quaintly called the middle class. In that sense, Disney is a true American symbol.

Despite this being a rich country with the highest health care costs on earth, we still lack universal coverage, still rank near the bottom in morbidity and mortality. Inequality is extreme.

Scandinavian happiness is predicated not upon money and consumerism, but upon societal solidarity. Their politicians don’t wage wars, have SuperPACs, or campaign for years on end. That fascism is now gaining a toehold even in Northern Europe speaks to the contamination by Eurozone austerity and the migrant crisis spawned by American wars of aggression.
 It's no wonder that deficit hawks don’t want to hear about Scandinavia. But how ironic, their crabbily calling Bernie Sanders a grumpy Quixote as he talks about happy countries. He merely speaks the truth that we, too, could get a good thing going if we’d only tax the richest families and corporations at about the same rates that they were taxed during the Eisenhower years. You might even remember those wonder years, when Walt Disney built his empire, and the middle class reached its zenith, and all you needed to be happy was a steady job and a living wage and a secure retirement.

Skål, Bernie!
In response to another Times commenter who took umbrage at my unpatriotic dissing of Disney, I wrote:
 The price of a one-day Disney pass has been jacked up to $108 per person, while the workers employed there as characters are paid low wages and no-to-low benefits. Rich families can go to the head of the line by paying extra, or by paying down-and-out people to wait in line for them. It is truly all-American, right down to the classism and the jingoism and the buy-buy-buy mentality.

At Tivoli Gardens, Denmark's iconic amusement park, children under 8 are admitted free and adults are charged the equivalent of $15.
My point was that American and European values, and their measurements of happiness and well-being, are worlds apart.

And I personally don't know any struggling families who can afford a day at Disney World.
But I digress. Upon further reflection, I fear that my toast to Bernie may have been somewhat premature, if not downright misplaced. My Bernie-emblazoned mug of Carlsberg is not only losing its froth, it's going flatter by the minute. It seems I'd missed Bernie's TV appearance yesterday in which he declared himself A-OK with Obama's wars. How can you be a democratic socialist and a war-monger at the same time?

As always, the good folks over at the World Socialist Website have the bummer of a lowdown. From the transcript of Bernie's  interview with ABC-Disney's George Stephanopoulos, in which he dodged and weaved on how, why, when and where he would use unilateral military force:
BS: Well, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.... I think sensible foreign policy and military policies suggest that it cannot be the United States of America alone which solves all of the world’s military…

GS: In all circumstances?

BS: Well, of course, you know, I’m not saying, you know, I don’t want to get into hypotheticals. I didn’t say in all circumstances.
The WSW's Patrick Martin is scathing in his assessment:
While Sanders is happy to denounce George W. Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq as one of the worst decisions ever made in US foreign policy, he made no reference to the devastation created by Barack Obama’s interventions in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan.
Sanders is in no sense an “antiwar” candidate. He uses demagogic condemnations of “millionaires and billionaires” and the growth of social inequality to appeal to working people and young people who are deeply opposed to American militarism, but only to divert their attention from the growing danger of the imperialist war. His support for the policy of the ruling class abroad exposes his pretense of opposing the policy of this same ruling class within the United States.
Even on the infrequent occasions when he has discussed the disastrous consequences of US policy in the Middle East, it is only from the standpoint of American nationalism, not genuine opposition to imperialist war. Once in a while, Sanders bemoans the casualties suffered by American troops or the waste of resources better used at home, but he has never indicated any sympathy for the people of the countries targeted for destruction by US military interventions.
Krugman was wrong about the Bernary mind-meld, but only insofar as it pertains to their economic policies, which are as different as FDR and Clinton. Bernie and Hillary are, unfortunately, of the same mindset as regards US militarism. Why else would he not confront her about her pathological plot to bomb Libya and the subsequent refugee crisis that it engendered?  Why else would he ignore the corruption of her family foundation, and her record billions of dollars in arms sales to despotic regimes?

So, to be a Bernie supporter or not to be?  All I can say to you is "to thine own self be true."

Meanwhile, Bernie proclaims himself so pleased with Larry David's impersonation of him that he thinks the comic can substitute for him on the stump.

But if you think Bernie tells it like it is, how about Lewis Black trying to explain Amerikan kapitalisme to a bunch of socialists from Amsterdam? This rant makes Bernie look like a centrist Democrat on Valium:

 "Pull out your gold fillings and put them on E-bay. I'm getting the &*$% out of here!"-- Lewis Black. 


Meredith NYC said...

Karen....I just read your excellent pk comment. At last another social democracy is cited in our campaign, forcing krugman to use it and say something positive for once.

Our dominant party thinks it’s a price worth paying to maintain h/c profits, that we rank near the bottom in health care and inequality. The Dems may disagree, but not strongly enough, and there's no political way to change it, since big money tethers both parties.

Keeping h/c excess profits subsidized by taxpayers is the only way. Krugman could well have mentioned how abroad, their govts negotiate insurance and drug prices, and their rw parties don't try to destroy this. Here it can't even be discussed. Why does Krugman avoid this elephant?

Now Krugman has said a few nice truths about Denmark, making sure he gets the negatives in there as well. When will he write about Citizens United’s effect on policy and start a new trend. Don’t hold my breath?

From your reply figures, I see that now Disney, the great American amusement park, is so out of range of average earning families, that it reminds me of the royal parks of old Europe with entrenched explicit class systems, so only the nobility has access. Our 21st C trend, going back to before 1789 or so.

After their revolutions, their great royal parks were opened up to the masses for the 1st time, to enjoy some refreshment from their long hours of work. The Louvre palace became a public museum. There’s a lovely once-royal, now public park in Greenwich, down the Thames from London. And many others.

Now, the US is on a rollback in many ways to the restricted class stratification of old EU, that was just what the colonies rebelled against. No king or nobles for us.

But now the 1 pct elites replace the nobles, to call the shots for govt. We vote, but from their choices. Financial Rule of Law seems to have been suspended.

In nations with largely publicly funded elections, their corruption is not legal and normal. That’s progress. We are maintaining a class system through our election financing that our country was created to overthrow.
We need more comparisons with Denmark, etc,on many levels. But in the age of the internet, we are cut off by that huge ocean! We need more voyages of discovery.

Meredith NYC said...

I have to say PK blatantly manipulates on a topic I think is the most important-- US vs abroad. The differences are vast, and could have been supporting his liberal positions.

Krugman starts with what—a lie, or an exaggeration? Says “Sanders cited Denmark as a role model for how to help working people. Clinton demurred slightly, declaring that “we are not Denmark,” but agreed that Denmark is an inspiring example."

No, PK, she hardly demurred, slightly....she contradicted him strongly, while trying not to publicly insult another country on TV.

Krugman says it was “both a pleasure and a relief to hear people who might be president talk seriously about how we can learn from the experience of other countries.” I'm laughing. He NEVER talks about what we could learn from abroad, despite dozens of working models of truly universal low cost h/c, that should interest any economist.

Now, both a pleasure and relief? Then why all his past focus on the negative, like austerity, and interest rates? Never h/c, education, retirement,unions, min wage, paid leave, public funding of elections....contrasted with US poverty rates the highest in the 1st world.

So the 1st time he mentions Bernie Sanders at last, pk uses him to raise up Hillary unrealistically. Will he be in her cabinet with the Wall Streeters she's sure to appoint? He's trying hard.

Karen Garcia said...


I seem to have dim memories of Paul Krugman speaking positively about social democracy, or democratic socialism. It might have been from his book "Conscience of a Liberal" or maybe columns from many years ago, but he certainly hasn't delved into the topic during the Obama years. Too much liberalism might make the current WH occupant too uncomfortable.

I also dimly remember Bernie mentioning Krugman as a possible treasury secretary or chief economic adviser. Take from that what you will. I have to admit that I cringed when I heard it.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Krugman as secretary of the treasury? Naghhhh! I have a better idea. Give him a spot worthy of his contributions as a thought leader holding forth from the front steps of the indispensable, more or less, NY Times. Sure, the Times has a big following, for a newspaper. But old-fashioned newspapers are fading fast. Krugman deserves a wider audience in a booming category of the MSM. Give him Wolf Blitzer's job. Then Times readers who can't get him out of their minds––can it be love?––will be able to watch him talk and talk and talk all day long on CNN, then report back to us.

Kat said...

Who are these "Netherlands socialists"? It is my understanding that they are pretty damn capitalist.
Why does Bernie always focus on single payer and free college education as the height of socialist achievement? Does he ever talk about the high rate of union density in these countries. He's a NYT socialist. That is not. And, as I have said before he is no internationalist.

Kat said...

This is about Sanders' emphasis on taxes: (from Mike Davis, one of my favorite chroniclers of southern California):

But the limitations of Sanderism are also clear. Economic inequality is not mollified by publicly subsidized economic opportunity, a more level playing field for family-owned business, or higher taxes. For socialists the central question is always the private ownership of the large-scale means of production and the democratization of economic power.

Although Sanders would break up the biggest banks, he apparently would not publicly own them or operate them as public utilities. Likewise with pharmaceutical corporations. The failure to raise the property question was also the Achilles’ heel of the Occupy movement, of which Sanders has become the national candidate.

If one wants to map the genealogy of the “1 percent versus the 99 percent,” it descends not only from William Jennings Bryan and the People’s Party but especially from the Progressive Republicans who supported the New Deal’s brief offensive against corporate power, like the great George Norris of Nebraska.

Eugene Debs — see any of his speeches — talked about inequality always in the context of ownership and decision-making, of expropriating the power of plutocrats, not just taxing them. Sanders, like the Progressives, wants to break up the trusts and support small business, not democratize and take possession of them. (Unions, incidentally, did not get a soundbite the entire evening.)

socialism to me is more than taxing the wealthy and creating a stronger safety net. And it is always anti imperialist.

Stev-o said...


Please, please provide a link to the Mike Davis article about Bernie Sanders. I know I saw it, I know I saw it, but cannot seem to find it on-line. Thank you. Mike Davis is a fantastic thinker.

Kat said...

Kat said...

have you read City of Quartz?

sometimes the captcha makes me hungry.

Meredith NYC said...

Karen....I too recall a few Krugman statements, very brief, re social democracies as a positive example. They stand out as exceptions. I think 1 was on Bill Moyers ... that Germany is an example of good labor/business relations, and it has quality mfg and exports. Imagine if he had expanded and explained how and why this works in a column or 3----to contrast with the US—and shown the US difference re unions and sending our mfg off shore.

Also he once said, I think, that France had a more secure middle class than US. Imagine that! But these were quick throwaways----then back to his main theme—EU budget cuts, and interest rates etc.

I never once recall the eminent Nobel admitting how dozens of nations finance their long standing h/c for all. This is very strange for an economist focused on inequality. It would detract from ACA, thus from the Dems.

Btw... re single payer h/ seems not all EU nations have single payer, some use insurance companies and some have 2 tier systems. But they’re still superior to ACA b/c they cover every person, AND, crucially they negotiate prices with insurance and drug companies. So h/c is a much smaller % of their budgets.

I guess this is an example of capitalism and socialism working together....exactly what should be in the debates to enlighten US public opinion. We have to be content with ACA as it subsidizes excessive profits with our taxes. The Times just had an editorial that h/c insurance premiums are rising and people are dropping their coverage.

And the rw parties abroad do not seem to run on platforms to change to US style high profit h/c, even if they cut budgets.

It is really only from reader comments that we get some testimony about it. Even our liberals don’t go there, not only Krugman. Our famous freedom of the press is not exactly enlightening us.

Jay–Ottawa said...

So, it's decided: Hillary's no good, Bernie's no good, and Joe-bye's no good. Looking forward, as we all must do eventually, what's a good citizen to do on Tuesday, Nov 8, 2016?

Meredith NYC said...

See Room For Debate...can the US be more like Denmark? essays and comments

Stev-o said...


Thanks, yes Jacobin. Through Facebook.

I have read City of Quartz as well as others. My two favorites are:
"Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb" and "In Praise of Barbarians: Essays against Empire." and thinking about those two I would say the best is In Praise of Barbarians. I heard him speak in graduate school, he is amazing.