CULT OF DUMB: Occupy Kristof!

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2011

Part 4—We’re still not allowed to tell: Paul Krugman’s new column is an important rebuttal to some very bad spin that has been going around.

In one way, his column is also frustrating. Here’s how the column ends:
KRUGMAN (11/4/11): But why does this growing concentration of income and wealth in a few hands matter? Part of the answer is that rising inequality has meant a nation in which most families don’t share fully in economic growth...

The larger answer, however, is that extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy. Can anyone seriously deny that our political system is being warped by the influence of big money, and that the warping is getting worse as the wealth of a few grows ever larger?

Some pundits are still trying to dismiss concerns about rising inequality as somehow foolish. But the truth is that the whole nature of our society is at stake.
Krugman’s column is a very important discussion of the true shape of our inequality. Sad fact: Among those at the top of the upper-class press corps, this very important column could only have come from him.

But there’s a large point of frustration here too. At several points in this column, Krugman tells us that “some pundits”—“the obfuscators,” “the usual suspects”—are throwing gorilla dust around, trying to keep us from understanding the nature of this societal problem. In these, his opening paragraphs, he pushes this theme very hard:
KRUGMAN: Inequality is back in the news, largely thanks to Occupy Wall Street, but with an assist from the Congressional Budget Office. And you know what that means: It’s time to roll out the obfuscators!

Anyone who has tracked this issue over time knows what I mean. Whenever growing income disparities threaten to come into focus, a reliable set of defenders tries to bring back the blur. Think tanks put out reports claiming that inequality isn’t really rising, or that it doesn’t matter. Pundits try to put a more benign face on the phenomenon, claiming that it’s not really the wealthy few versus the rest, it’s the educated versus the less educated.

So what you need to know is that all of these claims are basically attempts to obscure the stark reality...
That is a very strong indictment, of motives and execution. But drat! Krugman never names the names of the think tanks and pundits (plural) who are “trying to bring back the blur” by “obscuring the stark reality.”

To all appearances, these people are doing a very bad thing. Their names are never mentioned.

Who is Krugman talking about? Rather plainly, one of the pundits is David Brooks, who wrote this sad, self-pitying column in Tuesday morning’s Times. It’s understandable that Krugman observes a convention which keeps him from naming a fellow Timesman—understandable, though frustrating and counterproductive in the larger scheme of things. But which other “pundits” does Krugman mean? Which other pundits are "trying to put a more benign face" on this very important phenomenon?

Let us advance a nominee: Does Krugman mean Nicholas Kristof? In this recent column, Kristof executed the same peculiar sleight of hand observed in Brooks’ column; as a general matter, it’s the same sleight of hand about which Krugman complains today. Rather weirdly, Kristof seemed to say that the real inequality doesn’t involve the tyranny of that top (one-tenth of the top) one percent. The real inequality, Kristof said, involves the way low-income kids are kept from the middle class.

At the time, we noted the oddness of this framework (click here). Is Kristof one of the pundits to whom Krugman refers? We have no idea. Krugman doesn't say.

In fairness, the convention which keeps Krugman from naming names does, in fact, make a type of good sense. But it’s one of the many courtesies which make life easier for the high pseudo-journalistic class at the expense of the comprehension of the 99 percent down below.

That said, Brooks and Kristof both performed the sleight-of-hand about which Krugman complains. Does that mean they’re trying to “obfuscate,” as Krugman plainly implies? Not necessarily, no. When Kristof returns from his self-glorying excursions into the third world, he tends to work from mimeographed hand-out sheets given to him by the High Expert Class—a class to which Krugman refers indirectly. In Krugman’s lingo, think tanks—and, by extension, their alleged experts—issue reports claiming “that inequality isn’t really rising, or that it doesn’t matter.” Globe-trotting pundits may use these sheets as an easy way to frame a column—and as a way to maintain one’s good faith with the high moneyed class.

Kristof routinely writes uninformed education columns in which he lives off the kindness of experts—“experts” who are often in the pay, and in the thrall, of society’s activist billionaires. As he does, he shows his contempt for the low-income children about whom he sheds self-glorying tears. Does Krugman have Kristof in mind today? No idea! Thanks to the rule about naming the names of malefactors, we the rubes—the 99 percent—are once again kept in the dark.

Did we mention the fact that Krugman’s column is very, very important? And by the way: Did you notice that no one else said Word the First about the peculiar sleight of hand in that Kristof column? That’s because the “intellectual leaders” in our “career liberal world” just aren’t very smart.

News flash: Despite the praise we heap on ouselves, we liberals just aren’t very smart. Shakespeare knew little Latin and less Greek; we liberals note little and care about less. Just let us throw our R-bombs around and we are we able to retire happily of an evening. That’s how we’ve reached the point where Lori Montgomery could offer this political porn atop the front page of Sunday’s Washington Post. Thirty years into a war of disinformation, we’re still handed disinformative frameworks like these:
MONTGOMERY (10/30/11): Social Security adding billions to U.S. budget woes

Last year, as a debate over the runaway national debt gathered steam in Washington, Social Security passed a treacherous milestone. It went "cash negative."

For most of its 75-year history, the program had paid its own way through a dedicated stream of payroll taxes, even generating huge surpluses for the past two decades. But in 2010, under the strain of a recession that caused tax revenue to plummet, the cost of benefits outstripped tax collections for the first time since the early 1980s.

Now, Social Security is sucking money out of the Treasury. This year, it will add a projected $46 billion to the nation's budget problems, according to projections by system trustees. Replacing cash lost to a one-year payroll tax holiday will require an additional $105 billion. If the payroll tax break is expanded next year, as President Obama has proposed, Social Security will need an extra $267 billion to pay promised benefits.

[...]

Social Security is hardly the biggest drain on the budget. But unless Congress acts, its finances will continue to deteriorate as the rising tide of baby boomers begins claiming benefits. The $2.6 trillion Social Security trust fund will provide little relief. The government has borrowed every cent and now must raise taxes, cut spending or borrow more heavily from outside investors to keep benefit checks flowing.
Is Montgomery acting in bad faith? We’ve never gotten that impression as we've read her work. But this nation’s discussion of Social Security operates inside a hall of mirrors created by decades of disinformation.

Skillful players have, with great skill, created a giant ball of confusion. On our own pathetic side, established players have been too lazy—and too unintelligent—to straighten out this confusion. Have you ever seen E. J. Dionne discuss this relentless disinformation? Name the names of the high players who spread this disinformation around? List their familiar talking-points? Explain the way these familiar points mislead average citizens?

Darlings, please! It isn’t done! Think of the blow to comity inside the high walls of Versailles!

Krugman himself is very wonky when he addresses this topic. For that reason, the explanation he offered in response to Montgomery was essentially useless (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/3/11). And in the modern career liberal world, if Krugman hasn’t straightened it out, it remains a big ball of confusion. Up there at the top of the "press corps," he is our only actual player. If the liberal world were a baseball team, he would be forced to sell the tickets, take care of the field, then go out and pitch all nine innings.

No one would be in the infield or outfield. The bullpen would be empty.

What’s wrong with those highlighted claims in Montgomery’s report? Let’s not bother with that again. Instead, let us suggest three basic points that should be folded into the liberal world’s response to this ball of confusion, should our gang of hopeless Potemkins ever try to fashion a comprehensible account of the way this program works:

The Reagan rules are in place here: In our view, liberals should always say this first when discussing Social Security: The system is working exactly the way Reagan planned it! (Along with Greenspan and Tip O’Neill.) Conservatives have been massively conned about the alleged looting of Social Security. It helps if they are instantly told that Montgomery’s “treacherous milestone,” “deterioration,” and “sucking of money” are all occurring in precisely the way their patron saint planned for the system to work. This is closely related to a second key point:

Congress has worked no subsequent scam: “The government has borrowed every cent” of that $2.6 trillion, Montgomery shrieks—probably in complete good faith. This makes it sound like “the government”—i.e., Congress—has done something very bad wrong. This notion is extremely widespread, among liberals and conservatives alike; in comment threads, liberals routinely recite alarmist right-wing talking-points about what Congress has done with the trust fund. (Montgomery used the word “borrowed;” alarmists more often use the word “spent.” Just yesterday, we heard a very smart radio host with very left politics complain about the way the Congress has spent all that money.) Of course, Congress did borrow and spend all that money—but under existing law, that’s all they’re allowed to do with that money! That is exactly the way Reagan/Greenspan/O’Neill designed the system. Despite all the alarmist mouthings you’ve heard down through all these years, no one stepped in after Reagan and pulled some sort of scam.

By the way: If Congress had somehow saved all that money, it would have had to borrow $2.6 trillion more from somebody else. We'd owe the same amount of money. And we'd have to pay it all back.

Happy families are all alike—so is all our borrowing: Congress has borrowed a lot of money from the Social Security trustees. But Congress has borrowed a lot of money from a lot of sources in the past forty years. Congress borrows from the trustees—and also from those big Chinese banks, and from an array of other investors, big small and medium-sized. You may not like the extent of the borrowing, but all that money gets paid back. There’s nothing about the borrowing from the trustees which somehow makes it unique or different from all the rest. And yet, by the rules of the disinformation campaign, the talking-point which Montgomery pimps is only applied to the money which has been borrowed from the trustees. Let’s read her carefully-scipted ball of confusion once again:
MONTGOMERY: Social Security is hardly the biggest drain on the budget. But unless Congress acts, its finances will continue to deteriorate as the rising tide of baby boomers begins claiming benefits. The $2.6 trillion Social Security trust fund will provide little relief. The government has borrowed every cent and now must raise taxes, cut spending or borrow more heavily from outside investors to keep benefit checks flowing.
To its very minor credit, that alarmist highlighted statement is factually accurate. Congress has “borrowed every cent” of that $2.6 trillion—exactly as Reagan directed. And now that Congress has started to pay back that swag, Congress “must raise taxes, cut spending or borrow [anew]” to do so. But that is true of all the money Congress borrows, from whatever source. In order to pay back those Chinese banks, Congress has to “raise taxes, cut spending or borrow [anew].” This is the process which obtains with all the money Congress borrows. But in line with a disinformation campaign which has changed the American landscape, this point of concern is only raised in the case of the money borrowed from the trustees. People like Montgomery raise this point with regard to this borrowing, as if there’s something unique involved here. But there isn’t. That is what Congress does every day of the week as it pays back all sorts of cash.

It’s very unlikely that the liberal world will ever devise an easy-to-follow rebuttal to the disinformation campaign which rules our discussion of Social Security. Simply put, we aren’t that smart or that energetic—and our "intellectual leaders" simply aren’t that honest. By light years, Krugman is our smartest, most forthright player in the upper-end press corps. But even he labors within a convention which keeps him from naming the names of the pundits he says are scamming the game.

Do you mind if we name one pundit? Let’s name Matt Ygelsias! A few months ago, we noted his confusing attempt to explain the way Social Security works—an explanation which was praised for its clarity by Steve Benen. (To read our post, just click here.)

Yglesias has had all the advantages—grew up in Tinseltown, moved on to Harvard. But alas! After thirty years of disinformation, he couldn’t pen a clear explanation of the way Social Security works. In turn, Benen was so confused that he praised Yglesias' big ball of murk for its incredible clarity!

Our children just aren’t very smart. (Who knows? Maybe we gave them too many advantages!) At any rate, go back and review what we wrote about Yglesias' big pile of murk. In particular, note this point of conceptual misery: For unknown reasons, Yglesias used the same disinformative talking-point Montgomery employed in Sunday’s report—the one in which Congress will have to raise taxes, cut spending or borrow anew to keep this big turkey afloat.

It isn’t that this claim is false. The problem here is different—the claim is vastly deceptive in the selective way it gets applied. Yglesias was too confused to see that he had marbled a Grover Norquist talking-point into his murky explanation. Benen was so confused that he believed the resultant explanation was just stunningly clear!

This is the way your side keeps losing. This is the way your side gets beat by smarter, savvier players, even as we praise ourselves for being amazingly smart. For the record, we know Grover a tiny tad. We'll guess he just laughs at this sh*t!

For thirty years, we have been under assault. The “think tanks” in question know how to craft spin; they’re operated by skillful players. Their spin-points are very easy-to-process—and they’re grossly deceptive. Major pundits take the cheat sheets their think tanks hand out and use them to craft easy columns.

This morning, Krugman describes this process—but who the heck is he talking about? Is he talking about Kristof?

Amazing, isn’t it? Thirty years into a war we’re losing, our most important progressive journalists still aren’t allowed to tell!

Darlings! It isn't polite to name names!

It's all part of the culture of dumb.

34 comments:

  1. Krugman is right to criticize those who foolishly claim it's a scandal that government borrows the SS surplus. However, AFAIK this practice didn't start with Reagan. It was always an aspect of SS. I mean, what else could SS do with surplus cash? Play the horses?

    Paul Krugman displays remarkable chutzpah in complaining that "our political system is being warped" by unequal wealth. Krugman has a regular column in the influential New York Times. Paul Krugman has far more political influence than most people, even most rich people.

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  2. Obsfucator in Cal said...

    "Paul Krugman has far more political influence than most people, even most rich people."

    Let the obsfucation begin!!

    Political influence in 2011=money.

    Period.

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  3. David is obviously confusing theory with practice. In a theoretical democratic society, an individual with a twice weekly column in one of the most widely read and respected newspapers would, ostensibly, wield some measure of political influence.

    But in the neo-feudal, oligarchic reality that is the United States, Krugman has no influence on politics whatsoever, as evidence by our continued rejection of the sensible economic policies he espouses in favor of working-class to obscenely rich wealth transfer schemes that have been widely proven to be economically detrimental to society.

    Political influence is fairly easy to measure-- simply look at the results produced by said "influence."

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  4. Oh, dear, disingenuous DinC seems to forget his history a little tiny bit. D's question revolves around It was always an aspect of SS. if so, DinC, why would Reagan/Greenspan need to fix the system in '82?
    For the simple reason that there was no excess cash flow because R/G hadn't yet put in place the most regressive tax increase they could devise (one of about 7 or 8 the great tax cutter had to put inplace to cover his massive deficit spending program). Prior to the '82 fix, SS was running and was projected to run in the red due to all the baby, baby, babies.
    Nice try but as usual, fail.

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  5. But jeez, David in Cal DID get one thing right here:

    "I mean, what else could SS do with surplus cash? Play the horses?"

    Think about it: what *else* could the "government" do with the SS surplus? Take those hundreds of billions a year out of the economy and lock the cash up in Fort Knox? This would be the equivalent of losing a major war, every single year.

    So the government did what it had to do: it put the money back into the economy. Now, it must also be said that the accounting rules devised by Greenspan/Reagan/O'Neill allowed the Repubs to obscure the size of the deficits created by the Reagan tax cuts, since the borrowing against the SS trust fund wasn't counted as part of the deficit. But that's got nothing to do with the solvency of SS.

    And, as Bob correctly notes, if we're going to selectively default on $2.6 trillion in Treasury securities, why not start with the holdings of Pete Peterson, Goldman Sachs and Steve Forbes, rather than taking it from the taxpayer? (We can't selectively default on the Chinese, because under international law, foreign creditors could begin seizing American assets abroad, and corporate America wouldn't like that one bit.)

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  6. Bob . . . Bob . . . Bob.

    I'm with you most of the way. Good explanation about how team liberal pulls its punches when dealing with the Republicans and media--they have indeed failed to rebut the propaganda the last 30 years and all appears hopeless.

    But I have to take issue with your claim that Krugman is the all star on Team Liberal.

    I don't want any part of a team where Krugman is the best player. Krugman is fundamentally compromised because he's a Democratic partisan and therefore is in direct conflict with his putative ideology. I guess that's why I don't watch the Big Leagues and only watch Triple A (the blogs, alternative media, etc.). The Big Leagues is hopelessly corrupted and the game is only really being played with sincerity at lower levels.

    Krugman may push back against the Republicans or the media or write a cogent argument in defense of liberalism (when it doesn't bother the Democrats). . . but he engages in the very same obfuscation when it comes to the actions of the Democratic party and Obama.

    Obama is pursuing almost the EXACT SAME AGENDA AS THE REPUBLICANS when it comes to Social Security. I'm sorry, but if one can't recognize that Obama and the Democrats are attacking Social Security then one is hopelessly naive. I am pretty confident that Krugman knows that Obama will eventually push for a Republican-style plan for Social Security (and has already done this, in fact), but Krugman is intentionally ignoring his party's complicity.

    I imagine his defense would be that he's trying to change the Democrats from the inside and can't be too critical and at least he's pushing back against the Republicans. But he's actually doing more harm than he is good. He's placating people and giving them the impression that there is hope for the Big Leagues and the Democratic party. That if Krugman and Somerby convince the Democrats to listen to them everything will improve. Bullocks. Foolishness.

    The entire political system is corrupted. And that includes ALL the fools at the NY Times, even the fools that occasionally pen good "liberal" columns, Krugman and Kristoff.

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  7. TheOnePercentFlyswatterNovember 4, 2011 at 12:55 PM

    "Mr. X displays remarkable chutzpah in complaining that "our political system is being warped" by unequal wealth. Mr. X has an influence."

    Really, DavidinCA, really? You consider him a turncoat against his class, I understand. But really, now, for chutzpah one would have to make the stronger claim:

    "Mr. X displays remarkable chutzpah in complaining that "our political system is being warped" by unequal wealth. It was the influence of Mr X. that brought this inequality on us." That's chutzpah.

    Go on, you might as well claim today that Krugman caused the financial world to collapse; you'll get to it eventually anyway.

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  8. TheOnePercentFlyswatterNovember 4, 2011 at 1:05 PM

    Or maybe Walter Wit Man just claimed essentially that, I dunno...

    "It's all the fault of all of them; there are no distinctions to be made." Seems a useless strategy to me.

    If we can just stop all that "placating" Krugman's doing, then... what, The Revolution will come?

    Unless we just don't care that "less worse" outcomes for, say, taxes, unemployment compensation, et cetera, might make a big difference for a lot of people in dire straits, I don't think we can support a hang 'em all approach to politics.

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  9. To Wit Man, "a pox on both their houses" is easier than thinking. And it doesn't give him such a headache. Nope.

    Gore = Bush
    Obama = Reagan
    Krugman = Limbaugh

    Just so much easier that way. And narcissistic as well. Only Wit Man knows the real score.

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  10. In his NYT blog, Krugman does name names, does criticize think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and has even criticized his colleague, David Brooks. Krugman is not some partisan Democratic hack and he's a million times better than Kristof who does act like a corporate lackey at times. There is no comparison between Krugman and Kristof, please, not even close. Brooks is hopeless, beyond redemption. Krugman has certainly criticized Obama and the Democrats. It may appear that he's partisan because the GOP has become a rabid radical crazy right wing know nothing party with wall to wall clowns like Bachmann, Perry, Palin, Cain, the Pauls, Steve King, the tea partiers, the climate change deniers, the evolution deniers and the SS haters. It's not that Krugman is a political hack, he's not, it's that the one party (GOP) has fallen off the cliff into total crazy world. How can he not aim most of his criticism at the party which is a road block to any progress in this country, the GOP. Essentially, the GOP wants to return us to 1929, maybe 1829.

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  11. Well sail Anonymous, but "Wit Man" probably has deeper problems than he lets on. If you scratch his type a bit, you will find his "pox" usually turns to "hey, I'll might as well vote Republican, at least they are "authentic"", blah blah blah. It's a small, often noisy tribe the Wit Man has signed on for. But they are as tribal as they come.

    Didn't this same confused view of SS show up on the recent PBS Show that Forest Sawyer hosted?

    And, somewhat off topic, isn't one of the main problems with the economic discussion the fear of almost ANYONE to discuss the Defense Budget? And isn't said the true third rail of American Politics?

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  12. I wish I had the faith in the democratic process and the Democratic party like TheOnePercentFlyswatter does. I once was similarly deluded and indignant that people wanted to opt out of what they claimed was a hopelessly corrupted system. I too once thought Gore got screwed by the media and Republicans and that he and the Democrats failed to fight back and that he and the Democrats were the last best hope and I though Nader supporters and third party people and others that opted out were unduly pessimistic.

    Now that I'm older and wiser I see that
    "It's all the fault of all of them; there are no [significant] distinctions be made" is an essential observation before one settles on a strategy to do something about it. You know, acceptance of reality.

    And as far as the reality . . . the Democratic party is fully on board with attacks on Social Security. Its sycophants (including Krugman) have tried to hide this, claiming the Democrats have good intentions but are scared and/or incompetent. But they have ignored the facts. They Democrats are complicit and are at least as equally guilty as the Republicans. I think the Democrats are MORE culpable than the Republicans, in fact, because they claim to be defending the Social Compact as they are conspiring with the Republicans to attack it.

    I can go through all the sordid details of this political betrayal if you want. Most Democrats are in denial and in the dark because both the media and the liberal blogosphere failed to cover the Democratic betrayal (the media is pushing the same right-wing agenda so they are not challenging the Democrats and the "liberal" blogosphere obfuscate on behalf of Democrats and the Republicans were in on the scam so they didn't want to highlight it too much either, contra what they did by grandstanding on the bipartisan Medicare cuts). I don't have much time but it's an important story that hasn't been widely told. Obama made noises about raising the retirement age early. Democrats pretended like it was still a 3rd rail issue so they let him get away with this talk as savvy misdirection to the independents. Then he tried to get a congressional commission type thingy but congress wouldn't do it so he nominated his own Catfood Commission and appointed it with ideological neanderthals. If you think this was simply a mistake you or that obama "miscalculated", etc., I've got a bridge to sell you. He wanted cuts. In fact, a good political observer would have noted that it was a huge departure for a Democratic president to be going around Congress to try to push attacks on Social Security! In fact, Obama EXPLICITLY TALKED ABOUT A CONSPIRACY WITH THE REPUBLICANS TO ATTACK SOCIAL SECURITY AT A REPUBLICAN RETREAT:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBT5wnDK7L0

    [I use the word "conspiracy" provokingly, but it's an entirely accurate word here] This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the story that shows the Democrats in cahoots with the Republicans to attack Social Security. But I'm amazed more Democrats didn't push back against Obama and name him by name, as Somerby might put it. Obama is PRAISING THE RYAN PLAN and basically promising to try to enact it but wants political cover.

    The Democrats are worse than the Republicans on Social Security. The Republicans could never do this on their own. Only a Democrat can cut Social Security. And Krugman putting up a weak fight by attacking the Republicans while giving the Democrats a pass makes it worse too.

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  13. Here's part of Obama's speech where he is praising the Ryan plan and asking the Republicans to work with him to pass it, basically:

    Here's Obama:

    "As I said before, this is an entirely legitimate proposal. There is a political vulnerability to doing anything that tinkers with Medicare. And that's probably the biggest savings that are obtained through Paul's plan. And I raise that, not because we shouldnt have a serious discussion about it; I raise that because we're not going to be able to do anything about any of these entitlements if what we do is characterize whatever proposals are put out there as 'Well, you know, that's the other party being irresponsible...the other party is trying to hurt our senior citizens.' That's why I say: if we're going to frame these in the way that allow us to solve them, then we can't start off by figuring out a) who is to blame; b) how can we make the American people afraid of the other side. And unfortunately that's how our politics works right now. Every time somebody speaks in Congress, the first thing they do, they have all the talking points, I see Frank Luntz up here, he's already polled it. I've done a focus group, they way we're going to box Obama in on this one, or make Pelosi look bad on that one. That's how we operate. It's all tactics. It's not solving problems. And so the question is: at what point can we have a serious conversation about Medicare and its long-term liability, or a serious conversation about Social Security or serious conversation about budget and debt where aren't simply trying to position ourselves politically. That's what I'm committed to doing."

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  14. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid also promised Obama that they would allow a vote on Obama's Catfood Commission (filled with neanderthals, er founts of wisdom, like Grandpa Simpson).

    I'm trying to google this critical bit of information but I can't seem to find it easily. Like I said, Democratic partisans conveniently forgot that defending Social Security used to be the third rail and all the power appears to be turned off.

    I know my memory is correct. The Democratic party could have stood up to Obama and the Republicans and tried to use all the legislative maneuvers in their power. Instead, Pelosi and Reid agreed to pull their punches! They proved right there that the Democratic party is not defending Social Security.

    Why isn't that betrayal more commonly cited?

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  15. I still think Brooks has a point, although he missed the mark with college vs. non-college. The 1% vs. the rest of us is not the only inequality in the world, nor is it the only inequality that is growing. There is also inequality between, for example, the manager of Wal-mart and his/her employees, and I would wager that that inequality has grown as well.

    IRS stats back that up, as well. In 1986, the 90th to 95th percentile had an average income of $54,471 by 2008 their average income was $124,468. In 1986 the average income of the bottom 50% was $8,239 and in 2008 it was $15,287.

    Many people in the top 9% (as I call the top 10% sans the top 1%) are more than happy to support policies that benefit THEM (like the Bush tax cuts) at the expense of those at the bottom (like cuts to Liheap, Head Start, TANF, and SNAP).

    Many in the top 4%, the top 9%, and the top 19% are living pretty high on the hog and they want to point up at those "greedy pigs" who make a few thousand dollars more than they do, when they, themselves, are part of the problem.

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  16. It's common for someone in the 90th percentile of income to say, "I'm not rich, look at the guy in the 95th..." and so on. A Univ of Chicago law professor who blogged along those lines was widely pilloried for doing that not so long ago. Yet he was not entirely wrong -- witness how large a share of income gains has been captured by the top 1%, according to the CBO report. Inequality grows there, too.

    The thing is, most of us will find it hard to weep for someone who whines about how hard it is to get by on just $300K per year, yet who shows no sympathy for families trying to get by on $30K per year -- those low-income lucky duckies who, heaven forfend, may actually pay no income tax (you know, sort of like GE, except without the profits).

    The other thing is, Brooks is no more than a partisan hack, trying ever so hard to dress up his tribe's talking points in mock social-science garb. Just as David in Cal is a troll, endlessly putting Dems and liberals in the pillory for doing the same kinds of things as GOPers and conservatives. We should ignore them both.

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  17. I haven't read all the comments yet, but I'm sure it's been pointed out: the un-named "obfuscators" are-or rather is--David Brooks. Krugman's column is a direct to reply to his fellow NYT commentator's last column. And likely the reason he doesn't name names is that the NYT frowns upon their columnists getting into pissing matches. I think Krugman deserves a pass on this one. I suspect he knew he'd be stepping on toes if he called out the idiot Brooks. It was still a great piece. I look for response from Brooks next week.

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  18. BKT said: Political influence is fairly easy to measure-- simply look at the results produced by said "influence."

    I agree. The results show that the rich are losing. Here's why:

    Liberals generally want government to do more and more. Rich conservatives generally favor smaller government. Since 2000, federal government spending has doubled in size, from $2 trillion per year to $4 trillion per year. It's a rout!

    I think BKT and I might agree on deploring crony capitalism. Some specific rich people and rich firms have an in with the government and use their political influence to enrich themselves even more. Some examples would be AIG, General Motors, Morgan Stanley, Solyndra, Fannie Mae, Freddy Mac, and wealthy farmers.

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  19. Here we go again, David in Cal? Are you *never* capable of telling the truth?

    For starters, what's the source of the increase in government spending over the last 11 years (correcting, of course, for inflation, population growth and increases in GDP?--unclear what your figures actually refer to). Is it an expansion of "liberal" programs? Or is thanks to entirely other causes -- for example, the economic downturn which increased government payments? Or 2 wars, innumerable other military activities, increased military spending, and the huge "Homeland Security" apparatus? Or a one-time stimulus, which indisputably prevented worse job losses and did provide effective stimulus, poorly designed though it was?

    If this constitutes a "win" for liberals, what does a loss look like?
    There has been no "liberal" expansion of government over the last 11 years.

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  20. Krugman names names in his Blog. If you read his hourly blog entries, you will know exactly who he is directing his commentary to in the twice-weekly column.

    I think that as of a few months ago, he has decided to counter David Brooks at every deception and dissemblance. He's just not letting his fellow pundits get away unrebutted.

    It may, however, be Times policy that one Op-Ed contributor may not directly challenge the assertions of another in a column. I'm guessing that's why the naming of names stays in the blog.

    Please cover this, DH.

    ReplyDelete
  21. OK, Anonymous. Compare these two lists representing the last 11 years and lets see which side is winning:'

    COMPLETE LIST OF WAYS GOV'T SHRANK
    --

    PARTIAL LIST OF WAYS GOV'T GREW
    -- Prescription drug coverage added to Medicare
    -- Expanded the SCHIP program to cover health care for 4 million more children
    -- Raised minimum wage
    -- FDA now regulates tobacco
    -- EPA now regulates carbon dioxide emissions
    -- Health Reform, including government regs affecting all healthcare delivery
    -- Dozens of new bureaus as part of Health Reform
    -- Bailout and takeover of General Motors
    -- Bailout of Chrysler
    -- Bailout and takeover of AIG
    -- Bailout and takeover of FNMA and FHLMC
    -- Changes in Dept of Labor administration so as to prevent Boeing from building a plant in a non-union state
    -- Removed restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research
    -- New federal funding for science and research labs
    -- Funding for high speed trains
    -- Etc.

    IMHO Anonymous, the reason people like you and BKT don't feel that liberals are winning is that all this strengthening of government has made things worse instead of better.

    ReplyDelete
  22. You are overlooking one key aspect of Kristof's project: he is constantly dunning the new Robber Barons for philanthropic contributions. He sees himself as some kind of remedial conduit of assistance to various victims of poverty. He long ago shrugged his shoulders at the collapse of the Democratic ideal of assisting the poor, and I'm sure he feels he is as good a stop-gap measure as can be had.

    The sad thing about this is that Kristof is therefore utterly beholden to guilty rich (mostly) liberals, and simply does not question the underlying presumption of his entire framework: namely, that government as a conduit for the victims of poverty is an unachievable goal, or at least, far less achievable than the aristocracy as such a conduit. In effect, he conceded policy victory to the Republicans long ago.

    ReplyDelete
  23. David in Cal: it's remarkable that you regard as conservative defeats expanded health care for poor children, infrastructure improvements, funding of science and research, regulatory action based on sound science, and a host of other programs which formerly were considered the legitimate roll -- indeed obligation of -- a modern government by Republicans. If *you* had been in charge in the 20th century, there would be (for example) no interstate highway system, no internet, no semi-conductor or aerospace industries, no public universities, etc., and our environmental situation would resembles China's today, with no clean water or air in sight, and which the Chinese themselves concede may some day precipitate an economic collapse.

    Of course, by now we've lost our edge in the sciences and technology, and Europe is way ahead of us is preserving clean air, water and food. But, under your program for America, we'd still be growing cotton.

    As for the prescription drug plan: it was, if you'll recall, a huge giveaway, at the behest of a Republican president, to the drug companies, and it actively outlaws the operation of market forces. Most liberals opposed this plan.

    Your opposition to the removal of restrictions on stem cell research is hilarious -- you apparently love government restrictions when they enforce your ideology, but hate them when they don't. It appears you want to run a huge industrial democracy according to your personal whims, superstitions and prejudices. Sounds promising!

    The notion that the government "took-over" a host of American industries during the financial crisis is too ludicrous to rebut for the nth time. And of course Fannie and Freddie were quasi-governmental agencies to begin with. This isn't the place to go into what the alternatives might have been to a bailout of the housing agencies, but the fact that you perceive these emergency actions (most undertaken by Bush, not Obama, and which had the support of most "conservatives") as "liberal", suggests you're living in the wrong century or the wrong country. You may need to relocate to the worst reaches of the Third World, or take a time-machine to the 18th century, where your conditions for an ideal world can be satisfied and you can live in the misery you crave. Imposing your program on a trillion dollar economy is, however, a suicide pact.

    True, the AIG bailout is shameful, but you won't find many liberals defending it, or many conservatives denouncing it. Where are the Republican Congressional investigations on the giveaways to Goldman Sachs, via AIG? They'd much rather do Solyndra.

    I'll concede that Obamacare, preposterous and expensive as it is in accommodating the insurance industry and the drug companies, is still a conservative defeat -- it's a foot in the door of the kind of socialized medicine adopted by every our industrial democracy, for obvious reasons (to prevent bankruptcy of their national economies). You, by contrast, and notwithstanding your claimed horror of deficit spending, would rather see the U.S. collapse under the weight of escalating medical costs. Not to mention, of course, the shame of a country as rich as ours, letting people go without basic health care, or routinely bankrupting them.

    We could go on, but your list says it all. Government restrictions are bad, except when those restrictions enforce David in Cal's ideology. Then they're good! That you want to run a huge modern economy this way says a great deal. The best thing may be to get on a boat, and start your own country somewhere. Then your can perform your experiments at leisure.

    ReplyDelete
  24. David: Why do you say the corporate right wants to "shrink" government? They've never made any indication that they do.

    Sure, they'll spout the "small government is good" line, which they'll then follow by several ideas to expand government, like bailing out banks and starting wars and giving themselves subsidies, etc. It'd be like if I said I was serious (SERIOUS!) about eating only healthy food and then ate a fries-n-mayo sandwich - maybe my sincerity should be questioned?

    Rich conservatives don't want smaller government. Period. It's impossible to understand our political system if we gullibly take everyone's stated positions at face value.

    On the original question of whether liberals have so much influence that poor, poor rich people can't have their voices heard, liberals, et al, aren't even advocating an expansion of government with no purpose or direction - they generally want specific programs to be implemented and expanded. Most of the programs you put on your "gov't grew" list benefit the rich at the expense of the poor.

    I also think that your list of "gov't grew" is off. You have "removed restrictions" on there, which is objectively "gov't shrank." A minimum wage increase doesn't expand government, it just changes a regulation. The ACA cut spending, so that should be in the "gov't shrank" column. The shrank column doesn't include any of the recent spending cuts, for some reason.

    I mean, if I were just stumbling on this thread and didn't know you, I'd assume you were arguing in bad faith.

    ReplyDelete
  25. DavidinCA says:

    "Don't look at the changes in the way wealth is distributed in our society. Don't think that just because the last thirty years have seen a huge transfer of the USA's total wealth away from the bottom 99% of people into the hands of the 1%. No, no, look over here: this list of government actions proves that "the liberals" are winning."

    News flash: Nobody cares if you think "the liberals" are winning. What you "think" is irrelevant. Your bull**** is on the way out now.

    Everybody can see what's happened -- We've taken our society and we've made it benefit the rich more and more.

    It was even on the news, but nobody really had to be told.

    We let the rich boys run the show, tell us how they'd trickle down on the rest of us. We ran our economy and wrote our laws to benefit the wealthy.

    But now the smell of the bull**** is on everything!!! Something ugly died and is rotting.

    The religion of The Market is dead now. No one has time for "Libertarians" who think if we only worship their god a little better, bend our knees a little more before Capital, we'll reach the true salvation of The Free Market.

    We learned that lesson already -- The high priests of capital and markets are liars and fools.

    We can count.

    99 of us; 1 of you, thief.

    ReplyDelete
  26. "99 of us; 1 of you, Jew."

    It's really remarkable how transparently evil you all are when the masks come off!

    ReplyDelete
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