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Print view: Krugman warns about big cuts, then tackles a thirty-year scam
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KRUGMAN EXPLAINS! Krugman warns about big cuts, then tackles a thirty-year scam: // link // print // previous // next //

Olbermann’s classic Washington gaffe: John Ridley is a professional liberal, a pundit who’s often seen on TV explaining the news of the world. Last night, he spoke with CNN’s John Roberts, who was guest-hosting for Anderson Cooper.

Ridley was introduced as “a commentator for NPR.” It’s hard to be more clueless than Ridley was in these hapless remarks:

ROBERTS (8/18/10): But what do you think, John? Are they [the Obama administration] in trouble?

RIDLEY: Well, I don't know about trouble. There are going to be losses in the mid-term election. I do agree with David [Gergen], there's a lot going on.

But beyond the actual workload of the economy, Afghanistan, Iraq, things like that, we've got death panels. We've got beer summits. We have things that have so little to do with actual politics that I'm not sure that any president maybe since Nixon has really had to deal with these other kinds of issues that are out there.

That highlighted statement is simply astounding. We’ve often said that the career liberal world napped in the woods in the Clinton-Gore years. This is the proof of our statement. Struggling to think of some other president who had to put up with “things that have so little to do with actual politics,” Ridley wandered all the way back to Nixon, suggesting that he is the one.

We have no idea what sorts of silly distractions Nixon had to endure as president. But like the rest of his career liberal breed, Ridley has completely forgotten the lunacy of the Clinton years. He has forgotten the congressional investigation into the Clintons’ Christmas card list; the fiery claims in a major best-seller about the Clintons’ Christmas tree ornaments; the Christmas Eve column in the Washington Post attacking Candidate Gore’s Christmas card. (The photographic process used for the family photo showed that Gore was a phony.) He has forgotten the endless murder claims—the time Rep. Burton shot a pumpkin in his back yard, hoping to figure out how Vince Foster died. He has forgotten the time Chris Matthews brought Gennifer Flowers on the air for a half hour to run through the list of Clinton murders. He has forgotten the way Hannity and Colmes then awarded her a full hour to list the various murders—and to announce that Hillary Clinton is the world’s most giant lesbo.

You just can’t be more clueless than Ridley. But his incomprehension largely defines the intellectual horizons of the “career liberal” world.

When players like that are cast as the liberals, a profoundly unintelligent discourse will form. And then, there’s the role played by mainstream reporters, as exhibited by Sheryl Gay Stolberg in today’s New York Times.

In her “White House Memo,” Stolberg ponders the way certain misconceptions—certain “conspiracy theories,” she says—have congealed and hardened around Obama. She notes that 18 percent of respondents in a recent Pew survey said Obama is a Muslim—a rise from the 11 or 12 percent which had responded this way in earlier surveys. (For full Pew results, click here). She goes on to note another oddity found in Pew’s new survey:

STOLBERG (8/19/10): Mr. Kohut also said the numbers reflected that Mr. Obama had “not made religion a part of his public persona” as much as he did during his presidential campaign—so much so that even his own supporters are confused.

Among Democrats, for example, just 46 percent said Mr. Obama was Christian, down from 55 percent in March 2009, two months after he took office. As to the issue of his birthplace, a CNN poll released this month when the president turned 49 found that 27 percent of Americans doubted he was born in the United States. A New York Times/ CBS News poll in April put the figure at 20 percent.

“Even his own supporters are confused,” Stolberg says, playing it very safe. Yes, those Democratic numbers are odd. But she avoids the numbers which are much odder: Only 27 percent of Republicans said Obama was Christian in the Pew survey, down from 47 percent last year. Remarkably, more Republicans said Obama was Muslim—31 percent!

Those are truly remarkable numbers. Apparently, Stolberg knew she mustn’t present them—though her refusal to do her job is most apparent here, in her fifth paragraph:

STOLBERG: The findings suggest that, nearly two years into Mr. Obama’s presidency, the White House is struggling with the perception of “otherness” that Candidate Obama sought so hard to overcome—in part because of an aggressive misinformation campaign by critics and in part, some Democratic allies say, because Mr. Obama is doing a poor job of communicating who he is and what he believes.

Really? In her own voice, Stolberg says these misconceptions exist “in part because of an aggressive misinformation campaign by critics.” By traditional standards, it counts as major news if critics are successfully waging “an aggressive misinformation campaign” against a sitting American president. (Presumably, this would actually be a dis-information campaign.) Not to Stolberg! She mentions this “aggressive campaign” in passing, then never mentions it again. Who is waging this aggressive campaign? How is this campaign being waged? There’s nothing to look at, to judge from this piece. Stolberg makes no attempt to explain the remarkable thing she has said.

Let’s review:

An utterly worthless “career liberal” world seems to have no earthly idea how war is waged on major Democrats. (Poor Nixon, one of them says.) At the same time, a cowardly “mainstream press corps” refuses to say what it knows on this subject, doing a good imitation of news reporting from the old Pravda. And it isn’t just Stolberg who clams and plays dumb. This is standard practice among overpaid players all over the corporate press corps.

Consider Tuesday night’s conversation between Keith Olbermann and his trusted companion, the Washington Post’s Gene Robinson.

Like Ridley, KO and Gene were lamenting the alleged foolishness of the Park51 story. At one point, Olbermann made an excellent point. To the extent that this story has been “fabricated,” major news orgs, including NBC News, don’t report the fabrications. Olbermann’s highlighted rant strikes us as correct in every way:

OLBERMANN (8/17/10): Last August, you and I were talking about town hall meetings and hysteria and death panels and hysteria and killing grandma and hysteria. Is it just August, or August—or is something else going on?

ROBINSON: Well, August is August. I mean, it’s traditionally thought of as a slow news month. And, in fact, there’s always news in August. The problem is the news is about an inch deep. There’s not that second or third story to fill those inside pages. And so, something, you know, a live day story—a running story is something that news organizations jump at. Nonetheless, that does not take away the responsibility to sit and think, “Well, is this actually a story and are we actually telling the truth when we report it in the way we report it?” And I don’t think enough of us have, have stopped to think that basic thought.

OLBERMANN: Or is the story how it has been fabricated? Why are the mainstream news organizations not, when they send, when they sent out the nightly news reporters—not particular to NBC—the nightly news reporters, why they’re not sending them out to do a story about how a story has been fabricated? That would be actual journalism. We don’t practice it very much in this company, in this country, and in this nation, and this world.

MSNBC contributor Gene Robinson. Great thanks, Gene.

ROBINSON: Great to be here, Keith.

Saying it was great to have been there, Robinson stuck his 500 bucks in his pocket and slid away.

That said, can we talk?

Olbermann’s rant was right on target—and he even mentioned NBC News, his own employer. News orgs refuse to report fabrications? One example: Millions of voters are told, every night, that Imam Rauf favors sharia law for this country. But so what? NBC News will never go out and report the truth or the falsehood of that widely-voiced claim; NBC News won’t even report that the claim is being made. Of course, the Washington Post won’t do so either, but you could sit through a year of Countdowns waiting for Robinson to say such a thing. You see, Robinson is owned by the team. He will never tell viewers the truth about this part of this process. Instead, he will mouth a few vague complaints (“I don’t think enough of us have stopped to think that basic thought”), then slither away with his cash.

Olbermann told the truth Tuesday night—until he took it back! About ten minutes after his accurate rant, a chastened multimillionaire crawled back on the set to voice a “re-clarification”—to state his heartfelt “apologies:”

OLBERMANN: A quick re-clarification. I asked earlier why nightly news reporters didn’t spend more time doing stories about the fabrication of political controversies. NBC’s newscast is called "NBC Nightly News," but I was not directing my rhetorical question to its reporters, but rather, all those who report the news on a nightly basis on TV, radio, and the Internet.

So, my apologies to my friend Brian Williams and his staff who do such a good job that I think of all reporting as “nightly news.”

Olbermann’s lips were now locked hard on Williams’ expensive keister.

Olbermann was right the first time, of course; he could have gone into much more detail. But Williams earns even more money than KO! Such great men simply can’t be offended. So KO crawled onto the set.

NBC News and the Washington Post aren’t about to do real reporting about a wide range of “aggressive campaigns.” Neither is the New York Times. People like Robinson won’t tell you that. KO told you Tuesday night, in a classic Washington gaffe.

Special report: The thirty-year itch!

PART 3—KRUGMAN EXPLAINS (permalink): Yesterday, in Columbus, Ohio, Barack Obama said sane things about Social Security. His statements were sane—and then too, a little bit vague.

The program “will not be privatized as long as I'm president,” the president said, to applause. And he seemed to say that the venerable program won’t need any massive changes.

“There are some fairly modest changes that can be made without any newfangled schemes that can keep it running for 75 years so everybody gets what they deserve,” Obama said. People may have applauded that statement too—without knowing just what it meant.

Will everyone “get what they deserve” by the time Obama, and his deficit commission, are done? We certainly hope so. Obama’s remarks followed Paul Krugman’s latest column, in which the liberal world’s most valuable player was also just a bit vague in his prescriptions. “Big cuts in Social Security should not be on the table,” Krugman said as he finished his piece. Did this mean that medium-sized cuts might be in order? At one point, Krugman summarized the state of play as Social Security chugs into the future. Covering fairly familiar ground, he even suggested that benefit cuts may never be needed at all:

KRUGMAN (8/16/10): Social Security has been running surpluses for the last quarter-century, banking those surpluses in a special account, the so-called trust fund. The program won’t have to turn to Congress for help or cut benefits until or unless the trust fund is exhausted, which the program’s actuaries don’t expect to happen until 2037—and there’s a significant chance, according to their estimates, that that day will never come.

There’s a significant chance the trust fund will never be exhausted? That benefit cuts will never be needed? We assume we know what Krugman means, though the status of the program may have changed a bit in the recent financial meltdown. According to current projections, the program’s trust fund will permit the payment of full scheduled benefits through the year 2037. But the actuaries’ projections have always been based on conservative assumptions about the economy’s future growth. If future growth outpaces these gloomy assumptions, the life of the trust fund stretches out farther—perhaps to infinity. In 1999, Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot explained the situation on the very first page of Social Security: The Phony Crisis. At the time, the trust fund was projected to expire in 2034:

BAKER AND WEISBROT (1999): The program will take in enough revenue to keep all its promises for over 30 years, without any changes at all…Furthermore, the forecast of a shortfall in 2034 in based on the economy limping along at less than a 1.7 percent annual rate of growth—about half the rate of the previous three decades. If the economy were to grow at 1998’s rate, for example, the system would never run short of money.

Mapping Krugman’s column onto this template, a person might wonder why any cuts are needed at this juncture—although there may be reasons. But the debate about Social Security has always taken place in an air of massive public confusion, generated by disinformation from the program’s opponents. Please understand: In 1999, Baker and Weisbrot explained that Social Security would pay full promised benefits until 2034—and quite likely for years after that. But so what? Just five years earlier, a large majority of younger voters (ages 18-34) told a survey that they didn’t expect they would ever see any benefits! The program was poised to churn forward for decades. Voters thought it was going to fold.

In short, liberals have been beaten blue in the disinformation wars which have surrounded this program. This liberal failure of the past thirty years is a giant, screaming embarrassment—so giant that it might even make a person wonder if a generation of “liberal” pundits haven’t really been Potemkin pundits, pleasant fellows paid to pretend that debate was in fact taking place. (One thinks of loveable losers like E. J. Dionne when one makes such a statement.) The ineptitude has been astounding. Just think of the “liberal” performance over this past thirty years:

As Krugman noted a few weeks ago, “liberal” “intellectual leaders” haven’t been able to kill the world’s dumbest idea—the claim that lower tax rates produce higher revenues.

Even as Social Security stretches out into the future, “liberals” haven’t been able to kill the idea that the program is about to go “bankrupt.”

During the Clinton-Gore years, “liberal” pundits twiddled their thumbs as Clinton was hounded to the ends of the earth in a series of ludicrous pseudo-investigations. They then kept their pretty traps shut during the twenty-month war against Gore (Dionne)—or played active roles in its conduct (Rich). They refuse to discuss this decade’s history right to the present day. (The firebrands among them announce that Gore never said he invented the Internet—eleven years too late!)

That is part of the astonishing legacy of the Potemkins—of the current generation of “career liberal” writers and “thinkers.” But so what? Modern liberals, no matter how fiery, rarely show the slightest sign of being troubled by this. They exist to call other people bigots; they are too dumb, too slow, too tribally hapless to see the problem that has been caused by the ineptitude of their own kind. For one example, see this blinkered post by Digby, in which she complains about Pete Peterson, but fails to say that the career liberal world has allowed Pete Peterson’s nonsense to drive the public discourse.

People like Digby exist to name-call The Other. Their devotion to tribal logic renders them terminally hapless. As an example, Digby links to this remarkable report by Gallup; the report discusses a recent poll in which sixty percent of respondents say they don’t expect to draw Social Security benefits. Nothing to look at, Digby says. “Young people always say this.”

Unfortunately, 66 percent of respondents aged 35 to 54 said they don’t expect to get benefits. But so it goes as the R-bomb crowd agrees to be swept to defeat. They forgive total incompetence on the part of their own tribe, just as long as the tribe keeps dropping its bombs. In this highly constructed world, Pete Peterson is a very bad man. The Potemkins—the Dionnes—go unnamed.

Back to Krugman, the liberal world’s most valuable player—the liberal world’s only player at the top of the mainstream press corps:

Krugman prefigured Monday’s column with this blog post about Social Security. “Sadly, it looks as if we’re going to have to fight the Social Security fight all over again,” he said, “with the same old disingenuous arguments making the rounds.” He then stated his own starting point in this re-emerging debate: “So let me return to an oldie but baddie: the there-is-no-trust-fund nonsense.”

The trust fund is just an accounting fiction—a pile of worthless IOUs! Generations of voters have been misled by such skillfully-wrought presentations—presentations which have been pimped by the Petersons and permitted to flourish by the Dionnes. (Digby is only upset with the one. The other puts up with her R-bombs.) As the debate about cuts to Social Security unfolds, the debate will take place in the ludicrous context defined by that Gallup poll.

Duh. People who think they won’t see any benefits are happy to sign up for cuts.

The trust fund is just an accounting fiction—a pile of worthless IOUs! Unfortunately, these professionally-prepared presentations can be extremely convincing; they are among the most successful political scams of the past forty years. But Krugman’s blog post is rather complex as he addresses this familiar old “nonsense.” And in his column, he simply assumes that the trust fund is “real,” that the fund really exists.

Krugman is our most valuable player by far—our only player at the top of the press corps. Can he disentangle the trust fund scam in a way average people will understand? We don’t know, and it isn’t his job; no player should be expected to carry the ball on every play from scrimmage. Tomorrow, we’ll offer our own ideas at how the “there-is-no-trust-fund nonsense” might best be approached, in a way average people can follow.

The Potemkin “liberal world” has slept right through this thirty-year scam. The result can be seen in that Gallup poll—and in Krugman’s fear that “big cuts” could lie in the offing.

Tomorrow: Starting with Reagan