Tag Archives: MSNBC

“Pwning” Krugman? Not so much.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOvBkg89a8c]

Andrew Sullivan posted some thoughts — titled “Pwning Krugman” — on the above video:

Still, Scarborough came prepared and clearly prevailed over a Nobel laureate in economics. Not bad for a hack. And he’s dead right about Krugman’s contempt for those with whom he disagrees. It actually weakens his case unnecessarily. And I have to say that over the past five years, I think Krugman has been more right than wrong.

Is Sullivan watching the same video I am? Scarborough not only misrepresented the substance of Krugman’s critique (multiple times, via multiple intentional misreadings of Krugman’s older books), but he seems to have done this deliberately. If he “pwned” Krugman, it’s only in the sense that a Nobel Prize-winning economist doesn’t spend most of his time learning to look good while being consistently wrong on TV. (I should know this: I just saw Krugman speak at a TEDx event a few weeks ago, and he wasn’t any more impressive as a speaker from fifteen feet away as he is on TV.)

What Krugman (oddly enough) didn’t emphasize sufficiently in his exchange with Scarborough is that both of the excerpts from his books came from well before the financial crisis era: 1997 and 2005. Instead, he rather admirably admitted that he had “learned a few things” since that time. This is certainly the case — and, it might be said, contrasts with Sullivan’s depiction of “Krugman’s contempt for those with whom he disagrees.”

(Side note: The New Yorker ran a fascinating profile of Krugman and his wife, the economist Robin Wells, in March 2010. One of the great nuggets from that piece was the revelation that it is Wells, and not Krugman, who tends to write with more vitriol: “On the rare occasion when they disagree about something, she will be the one urging him to be more outraged or recalcitrant.”)

But back to the Krugman/Scarborough debate. In both of the Krugman quotes that Scarborough cites, the crisis was years away. (In the case of the first quote, it was an entire decade away.) As Krugman tried to explain, he wrote about the dangers of the deficit back then precisely because the economy was stronger during those periods. But Scarborough consistently ignored the fact that Krugman has, time and time again, emphasized the foolishness of tackling the deficit during a recovery from a recession. To simply ignore this central qualification of Krugman’s deficit critique is to ignore the entire argument. “Pwning” Krugman? Not in the least.

(UPDATE — 10:51 AM EST 3/6/2013): I’m watching the full debate now. Krugman actually did a substantively much better job of making his point clear — that deficit reduction should be contingent upon a healthier economy — than he did in the brief clip shown above. (He continued to stumble when Scarborough brought up his previous quotes, despite the fact that these words were written during healthier economic times.) Indeed, he seems to have performed much better in the full debate than he even did in that short clip.

One person who agrees with Andrew Sullivan’s depiction of the “pwnage?” Well, Paul Krugman (kinda):

Well, we’ll see how it comes out after editing, but I feel that I just had my Denver debate moment: I was tired, cranky, and unready for the blizzard of misleading factoids and diversionary stuff (In 1997 you said that the aging population was a big problem! When Social Security was founded life expectancy was only 62!) Oh, and I wasn’t prepared for Joe Scarborough’s slipperiness about what he actually advocates (he’s for more spending in the near term? Who knew?)

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Death by execution? The questions just keep on coming

Early on, it seemed as if the daring raid to “capture or kill” Osama bin Laden took place amidst a veritable explosion of gunfire, blood pouring everywhere. But the story keeps on a-changin’. Now The New York Times tells us this:

The new details suggested that the raid, though chaotic and bloody, was extremely one-sided, with a force of more than 20 Navy Seal members quickly dispatching the handful of men protecting Bin Laden.

Administration officials said that the only shots fired by those in the compound came at the beginning of the operation, when Bin Laden’s trusted courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, opened fire from behind the door of the guesthouse adjacent to the house where Bin Laden was hiding.

After the Seal members shot and killed Mr. Kuwaiti and a woman in the guesthouse, the Americans were never fired upon again.

(Bolded words mine.) MSNBC, likewise, casts doubt on the early official story:

As the U.S. commandos moved through the house, they found several stashes of weapons and barricades, as if the residents were prepared for a violent and lengthy standoff — which never materialized.

The SEALs then made their way up a staircase, where they ran into one of bin Laden’s  sons on the way down. The Americans immediately shot and killed the son, who was also unarmed.

Once on the third floor, the commandos threw open the door to bin Laden’s bedroom. One of bin Laden’s wives rushed toward the NAVY SEAL in the door, who shot her in the leg.

Then, without hesitation, the same commando turned his gun on bin Laden, standing in what appeared to be pajamas, and fire two quick shots, one to the chest and one to the head. Although there were weapons in that bedroom, Bin Laden was also unarmed at the time he was shot.

Instead of a chaotic firefight, the U.S. officials said, the American commando assault was a precision operation, with SEALs moving carefully through the compound, room to room, floor to floor.

In fact, most of the operation was spent in what the military calls “exploiting the site,” gathering up the computers, hard drives, cellphones and files that could provide valuable intelligence on al Qaeda operatives and potential operations worldwide.

(Bolded words mine again.) Two days ago, by the way, Ben Smith of Politico pointed out the nuance in President Obama’s speech announcing bin Laden’s death:

Obama said Sunday night:

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.

The key word there is “after,” not “during,” and it matches the revised White House account. You had to be listening extremely carefully the first night to catch that nuance.

In less formal remarks last night, Obama offered a similar sequence, describing “an operation that resulted in the capture and death of Osama bin Laden.”

“Capture and death.”

Dave Weigel at Slate is similarly skeptical as to the government’s consistently inconsistent narrative (and provides a useful timeline of the administration’s shifting statements as well):

What changed in three days? It depends how you define the “firefight.” There was a firefight at the start, but the confrontation between the commandos and OBL was one-sided — they were shooting, OBL and the woman weren’t. The “weapon” part of the story has changed slightly, and if you graphed it it would be a sine wave. We went from no details about OBL, to a detail about OBL at least trying to get a gun, to a detail about OBL not having a gun, to a detail about OBL being within reach of a gun.

Alright, then. Everybody clear?

Finally, Michael Crowley at Time asks:

A major question lingers unanswered at the center of this story: Why was bin Laden killed? Michael Scherer has reported that the Navy Seals who landed at Osama bin Laden’s safehouse were not given orders specifically to kill, but were on a “kill or capture” mission. That implies they were prepared to accept bin Laden’s surrender. It didn’t work out that way. But despite earlier reports to the contrary, including from White House counter-terror adviser John Brennan, Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Tuesday that bin Laden was in fact unarmed. (“Resistance does not require a firearm,” he said.) So, what happened?

Indeed, what exactly did take place here? It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the Obama administration took pains to cast the operation in a favorable light, and that this interpretation has steadily unraveled in the face of newly available evidence. What just days ago resulted in near-universal celebration (Osama bin Laden’s death) is now causing serious head-scratching. Did the United States execute bin Laden in cold blood? And if so, do we care?

I would argue that yes, we do. To execute someone (as opposed to shooting him in a firefight), regardless of the heinous nature of his crimes, is to run directly counter to well-established rules of engagement. In World War II, in the Persian Gulf War, and in countless other examples, when someone surrendered, he was taken prisoner and accorded humane treatment. Of course, we have no evidence that Osama bin Laden actually surrendered (even if he was unarmed, there are other ways his behavior could have been justifiably deemed threatening), but the initial stories as to his “resistance” have been almost entirely discredited now, leading one to wonder exactly what the Obama administration is trying to conceal.

Let’s have the real story, shall we?

P.S. As usual, MacLeod Cartoons gets it just right.

#47: The Mendacity of Hope

Roger D. Hodge is angry. The Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism, a colorful expression of the author’s outrage at failed objectives and broken promises, begins with a lament that bespeaks profound disappointment in our current president. “Barack Obama came to us with such great promise,” Hodge writes. “He pledged to end the war in Iraq, end torture, close Guantánamo, restore the Constitution, heal our wounds, wash our feet. None of these things has come to pass.”

The Mendacity of Hope has been largely skewered by critics. In a Washington Post review, Alan Wolfe deemed Hodge’s polemic “a sloppily organized, badly argued and deeply reactionary book unlikely to have any influence at all on the way Americans think about their president.” In The New York Times, Jonathan Alter took issue with Hodge’s uncompromising position vis-à-vis the liberal purity of Obama’s policies: “Really?” Alter challenges. “Since when did the tenets of liberalism demand that politics no longer be viewed as the art of the ­possible?”

What we have seen to date, in the nearly two years since Obama’s inauguration, is a veritable influx of books, articles, essays, and magazine profiles critiquing his policies from the right. But while MSNBC, The Daily Show, and a smattering of other outlets have tweaked the president from the left, a substantive book-length rendering, by a liberal, of the inadequacies of the Obama administration’s policies has been largely nonexistent. This is owing at least as much to institutional inertia (Obama is already the president, and dissent is usually most effective when originating in the opposition) as it is to the fear that airing liberals’ disillusion could actually exacerbate the problem by causing miffed lefties to sit out the midterm elections.

Thus, after devoting much of his showtime, over the past year and a half, to unfavorable comparisons of the Barack Obama of today to the one who campaigned on such “high rhetoric” two years ago, The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart was downright hospitable when the president appeared on his show on October 27, a mere six days before Election Day. Whether the abrupt change in the host’s demeanor was due to timidity or shrewd political strategy is unclear, but the consequence followed a general trend: outside of some niche circles, President Obama has not been held to accountability — in a protracted, thorough manner — by his liberal base.

But there is, I think, another reason that the left has kept largely silent. And that is the admission that, notwithstanding the collectively disaffected state of American liberals, Obama has indeed pushed through some truly formidable legislation. Health care reform, however trimmed-down and neutered its final edition, is still reform, as is financial regulation and other measures. Yes, Obama’s embrace of gay rights has been tepid at best, and his African-American constituency is less than pleased with his reluctance to embrace its plight. There are other grievances as well. But the progressive successes, largely lost amidst a torrent of obstructionism and party-line politics, remain, even as their legacy is overshadowed by perpetual congressional impasse and decreasing approval ratings.

It is this understanding — captured by the axiom “do not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good” — that has eluded Rodger D. Hodge. In railing against “the mundane corruption of our capitalist democracy,” Hodge hammers away at “the obscene intimacy of big corporations and big government.” But his disillusionment is encased within a quixotic fantasy of liberal American governance. To Hodge, the conservative position is, for all intents and purposes, a politically impotent entity in the face of progressive ideology that is properly divorced from moneyed interests.

This is a somewhat absurd conclusion, given the populist (or demagogic, depending on perspective) stirrings that gave birth to the Tea Party and are expected to sweep the Republicans back into power in the House on Tuesday. Fortunately, Hodge’s animus is far more persuasive in his wholesale denunciation of corporate interests’ influence on American politics. Although at times a bit wonky, Hodge nevertheless portrays, with astounding clarity, fund-raising contributions whose origins and scale were strikingly at odds with the Obama brand’s stated philosophy. “The results were impressive,” the author writes. “Against a token candidate who raised a mere $2.8 million, Obama in his Senate race raised $14.9 million — in his first attempt at national office, in a relatively short time, with significant contributions from out-of-state donors such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and George Soros. Indeed, 32 percent of his contributions came from out of state.”

Contrast this with a 2006 speech Obama made, in which he expressed empathy with Americans for their disgust with “a political process where the vote you cast isn’t as important as the favors you can do” and proclaimed that Americans were “tired of trusting us with their tax dollars when they see them spent on frivolous pet projects and corporate giveaways.” Indeed, Hodge would argue that the president stole from the playbook of former New York governor Mario Cuomo, who famously noted that political candidates “campaign in poetry but have to govern in prose.”

Interestingly, it is Roger D. Hodge’s prose that remains the highlight of The Mendacity of Hope. At times his phraseology perfectly straddles the line between comedy and outrage, as when he deems the doctrine of the “unitary executive” to be “a partial-birth abortion of the Constitution.” Later, decrying the lack of retributive justice for Ronald Reagan’s perceived crimes in relation to the Nicaraguan Sandinista government, Hodge sulkily concludes, “Impeachment would have to await Oval Office fellatio.” Yet however sincere his repulsion for Obama’s gradual backslide from his campaign’s lofty poetry, Roger D. Hodge is doomed to eternal disappointment if his vision for American leadership, as espoused in his book, remains so far removed from the reality of the possible.