Krugman’s concern and the Etch a Sketch clowns!

FRIDAY, MARCH 23, 2012

Chris Matthews has fun in Havana: Paul Krugman tackles a wide range of topics in this morning’s column.

We’ll guess he tackled too many. In this brief passage, he attempts to refute that claim about Obama and energy prices:
KRUGMAN (3/23/12): Before we get to the larger implications of this endorsement, let’s get the facts on gas prices straight.

First, the lie: No, President Obama did not say, as many Republicans now claim, that he wanted higher gasoline prices. He did once say that a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions would cause electricity prices to “skyrocket”—an unfortunate word choice. But saying that such a system would raise energy prices was just a factual statement, not a declaration of intent to punish American consumers. The claim that Mr. Obama wanted higher prices is a lie, pure and simple.
That just isn’t good work—unless you belong to the tribe.

As a courtesy, we’ll agree to forget that unfortunate word. But if Obama proposed a plan which he said would make energy prices rise, we can’t imagine why it would be a “lie” to say that he “wanted higher energy prices.”

You might say the claim is misleading somehow. You might say there’s more to the question—that Obama’s proposal was on balance a good idea, despite the rise in energy prices which would be involved.

But why would it be a “lie” to say he wanted (or proposed) higher energy prices? Only the tribe will understand. But increasingly, that’s who various players address, as Krugman goes on to explain, quite correctly:
KRUGMAN: In fact, the conspiracy theories are proliferating so fast it’s hard to keep up. Thus, large numbers of Republicans—and we’re talking about important political figures, not random supporters—firmly believe that global warming is a gigantic hoax perpetrated by a global conspiracy involving thousands of scientists, not one of whom has broken the code of omertà. Meanwhile, others are attributing the recent improvement in economic news to a dastardly plot to withhold stimulus funds, releasing them just before the 2012 election. And let’s not even get into health reform.

Why is this happening? At least part of the answer must lie in the way right-wing media create an alternate reality. For example, did you hear about how the cost of Obamacare just doubled? It didn’t, but millions of Fox-viewers and Rush-listeners believe that it did.
It’s true. Conservatives hear all manner of bullroar from Fox and from Rush. We don’t know if “important political figures” really believe that global warming is a gigantic hoax. But regular people do believe that—and major political figures are willing to say they do.

This is what happens when media figures pimp pleasing bullroar to the rubes. Speaking of which:

Last night, we watched Chris Matthews waste half an hour clowning around about Etch a Sketch and other piffle. (Romney said his wife has two Cadillacs! He said the trees are just the right height!) It was an easy way to kill time—and Matthews is stunningly lazy.

It made liberal viewers feel good.

We liberals were getting the comfort food we’re served each night on Hardball. But uh-oh! At one point, Republican strategist Todd Harris made some non-tribal remarks—remarks which ought to be troubling:
MATTHEWS (3/22/12): All this stuff is him. The couple of Cadillacs, the trees are the right height, thinking that $340,000 a year is not, is really pocket change. That’s who he is. You can deny that?

HARRIS: Well, I think there are two issues. The first is, have they stepped on their own story repeatedly? And I think it's indisputable that that has happened.

I think the larger issue—and it’s not fun to talk about, doesn’t make for great television. But the larger issue is whether it matters. And I would argue that, despite all of this, it hasn’t really mattered. It hasn’t slowed his very methodical process towards getting the nomination.

MATTHEWS: So the methodical speeches he has prepared for him by his staff is what we should listen to, not what he says—

HARRIS: No. But what I’m saying is, has any of this disqualified him? Is President Obama running away in a head-to-head?


If he’s as terrible as everyone is saying that he is, then why is the president barely beating him?
Oof. Harris asked a painfully relevant question, while noting that it makes better TV to clown around and have good fun talking about those Caddies.

Matthews simply continued to clown. So did his favorite monkey, McMahon. You’ll never be troubled with questions like those on The One True Liberal Channel.

Here’s the thought which crossed our mind when we watched Harris say that (and a few other things) last night:

In Godfather II, Michael Corleone finally wonders—is it possible Castro could actually win?

He asks the question at a meeting. Hyman Roth tells him to hush.

Everyone knew it couldn't happen. The parties continued in Havana. And then, omigod!

Despite all the clowning, it did!


  1. It's brave of Bob to support the other tribe by observing that it's not a “lie” to say that Obama “wanted higher energy prices”, since Obama proposed a plan which would make energy prices rise.

    Forcing up the price of energy is an essential part of Cap and Trade. It's true that the purpose of Cap and Trade is to reduce CO2 emissions. However, the way it's supposed to work is that we'd burn less gasoline and other fossil fuels, because these fuels would be considerably more expensive due to C&T fees.

    BTW I'd be curious to know how many of those who support Cap and Trade understand that an essential part of that program is big price hikes for gasoline, electricity and heating oil. Have our media made that clear? Have they ever told us how big a price increase Cap and Trade would cause? I don't think so.

    1. There has probably not been enough public discourse on Cap and Trade.

      The alternatives are strict environmental regulations, along with the cost and bureaucracy to enforce them, or letting big oil voluntarily clean up their emissions and develop alternative energy sources.

      These too will raise the price of energy.

      It is obvious why Cap and Trade is the winning policy, it is the compromise position.

      The power to tax is the power to destroy, we are told.
      It is also the power to modify behavior.

      Americans voted for clean air and clean water.
      As I have noted for the past forty years, they want clean air now, but they don't want to pay for it until after they are dead.

    2. Taxing carbon would be a much more efficient mechanism than cap and trade, but it is essential a political non-starter.

    3. IMHO none of those alternatives makes sense. If the mainstream position on global warming is wrong, then those programs are an enormous waste.

      OTOH if the mainstream position is right, these programs won't save us. Worldwide CO2 emissions would continue to sharply rise, leading to disaster. So, these programs would still be an enormous waste.

    4. I see David is finally embracing Keynesianism: "In the long run, we're all dead. -John Maynard Keynes"

      The point of Cap and Trade is, as gravymeister observed above, to modify the behavior of major carbon emitters, like heavy industry.

      Even if 98% of the world's climatologists are wrong (or conspiring in a hoax), what is the harm in structuring the market to encourage better energy development and use, especially among those most aggressively consuming fossil fuels? On the counterpoint, if human-caused global climate change IS occurring, in what way is it wasteful to promote greater energy efficiency and push energy-intensive industries to pursue renewable or at least, non-carbon-based energy solutions, even if developing countries continue to produce carbon emissions until cleaner technology reaches them?

      It isn't "an enormous waste," no matter how David may try to parse it. His proposition pits willfully obtuse denialism against an embrace of doomsday fatalism-- essentially, "we can't do anything about it, so we might as well live large until we die."

    5. D in C,
      Regardless of your views on global warming (or anyone else's), the Clean Air Act is still the law of the land.

      Unlike the government of Arizona, the federal government still enforces laws even if businesses and taxpayers complain it costs them money.

      It appears the people who insist we cannot pass public debt onto our children and grandchildren are the same ones that demand we use up all the cheap energy now, repeal anti-pollution laws, and thus leave our descendants an impoverished wasteland.

      David, you have made it clear that you choose the fourth alternative, which is to do nothing and let the chips fall where they may.

      There is an African saying: "We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children."

      Will future generations honor us or curse us?

      Do you care?

    6. Thanks to people who think like David, it is already too late to prevent disaster. All we can do now is try to control the scale of the disaster. We can continue doing nothing while we argue over the futility of trying to do anything, and the disaster will be absolute. (A self-fulfilling prophecy for David.) Or we can finally begin doing something to reduce the impact of the disaster as much as we can. The longer we screw around the worse it will be.

    7. "Thanks to people who think like David, it is already too late to prevent disaster."

      I plead not guilty. You might equally well blame the supporters of the Kyoto Agreement. Neither Kyoto nor any other proposed approach was remotely adequate, if the pessimists are right.

      "All we can do now is try to control the scale of the disaster. We can continue doing nothing while we argue over the futility of trying to do anything..."

      IMHO we should be spending lots of money on research to find effective geo-engineering approaches to reducing the earth's temperature. Geo-engineering has several huge benefits as compared to CO2 schemes:

      1. It would hopefully be effective.
      2. It would be more affordable.
      3. We could wait and see whether the warming trend actually continues and whether the adverse effects are as bad as the pessimists think.
      4. Geo-engineering could work, and CO2 schemes could be useless, if the reality turns out to be that there's a dangerous long-term warming trend, but man's activity is not the primary cause. IMHO this possibility is not unlikely. Note that there was considerable warming of the earth from 1800 to 1960 -- a period when man's CO2 addition was too small to be the cause.

      "what is the harm in structuring the market to encourage better energy development and use, especially among those most aggressively consuming fossil fuels?"

      IMHO there are two main types of harm:

      1. The cost of any of these programs is gigantic. Chances are the brunt of of the pain will be felt by poorer Americans. E.g., suppose the price of gasoline is forced up to $20/gallon. That's a level that would discourage driving. But, it's the poor and middle class who would be most affected. Richer Americans can more easily afford $20/gallon gas.

      2. Money spent on CO2 reduction means money not spent on geo-engineering approaches that could actually work.

    8. Who will fund research?


      No they will not. If they have their way, they will drill and pump, and build pipelines helper skelter until gas DOES cost $20.00 a gallon to produce.

      Democrats? No, because Republican legislators will not authorize spending for that kind of research because Big Oil pays their campaign expenses.

      Wall Street? No, because Wall Street would much rather skim quick profits from gambling with other people's money than risk it on chancy long-term enterprises.

      Only a large, strong government can fund something like this, and Republicans are working 24/7 to make sure we don't have one.

      David, when I hear Republicans cry about how the poor suffer when gasoline goes up or when municipal bus company unions strike, I just want to scream "You are all lying hypocrites!"

      But I won't

    9. "Note that there was considerable warming of the earth from 1800 to 1960 -- a period when man's CO2 addition was too small to be the cause."

      When was the Industrial Revolution, again? Wasn't that sometime in the late 1800's, not 1960? And wasn't that about the time human activity began contributing ever-increasing amounts of CO2 and other pollutants to the atmosphere?

      You put a lot of faith in "geo-engineering." Do you know what that consists of? Do you think that the science of geoengineering has advanced significantly in the past 4 years, since the IPCC declared that "geoengineering options, such as ocean fertilization to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, remained largely unproven?" Do you dispute the opinion of two scientists who studied the results of other human interventions into environmental systems and concluded that "given our current level of understanding of the climate system, it is likely that the result of at least some geoengineering efforts would follow previous ecological examples where increased human intervention has led to an overall increase in negative environmental consequences?"

    10. Rob, those who support the warmists beliefs about global warming should believe in the warmists' climate models. Those models show that man-made CO2 wasn't a significant factor until the last 40 - 50 years.

      As you point out, the geo-engineering fix I'm hoping for doesn't exist today. I don't know for certain that extensive research can come up with practical methods for cooling the planet.

      And, like you, I'm quite worried that geoengineering efforts might lead to an overall increase in negative environmental consequences. However, there's essentially no alternative. The various carbon sequestration schemes that are being discussed aren't nearly enough to do the job, according to the warmists' models.

    11. Such an utter, utter "misstatement" of the position of the climate SCIENCE ("warmists" --- not even clever, David) as to strongly indicate that you are too intellectually lazy to inform yourself about what you are talking about.

      But go ahead, David. Name one, peer review study by any "warmist" (geez, how dishonest can you get?) that says that "man-made CO2 wasn't a significant factor until the last 40-50 years."

  2. Michael Corleone tells Hyman Roth that he saw a Cuban rebel pull the pin on a grenade and throw himself on a Cuban Army officer, killing them both.

    Roth asks, "What does that tell you?"
    Michael answers, "It tells me they can win."

    I may knock on doors and call people up, but I am not going to pull the pin on a grenade and hug a Republican.

    Yes, Republicans could win in November.
    It hinges on the name recognition of Barack Obama.

    Most Democrats don't come out in numbers for local elections, or midterm Congressional elections.

    They vote in greater numbers when the big names are on the ballot.
    That's why Democratic Party officials need to register as many voters as possible.
    Democrats must also work to invalidate voter ID laws before the election.

    Assuming minorities and college students will carry the day is wishful thinking.

    listening to liberal talking heads chortle about, "If the election were held today, Obama would win" won't work either.

    The election is not happening today.

    1. listening to liberal talking heads chortle about, "If the election were held today, Obama would win" won't work either.

      But it feels good to say it, so liberals will!!!

    2. Just like conservative talking heads crow over a few polls showing Republican senate candidates leading 8 months before the election.

      It's not a liberal-vs.-conservative habit. It's a human habit.

  3. I am finding to my dismay that Paul Krugman is becoming increasingly tribal. I thought this mornings column was stereotypical name calling about all else.

    1. Yes, indeed, if only Krugman sounded more like (say) E.J. Dione, Donna Brazile, Clarence Page or Michael Kinsley, and never said anything unkind, and never called out George Will on national TV, and instead of referring to "lies", just noted that we have differing interpretations of reality, each to his own.

      That would be one *very* effective liberal....

  4. Advocating a policy that would cause energy prices to skyrocket is not the same as wanting energy prices to skyrocket. Going to the doctor to get a flu shot is not the same as enjoying getting flu shots.

    This subtle distinction seems to elude many people.

    I would also point out that a policy that causes energy prices to skyrocket doesn't necessarily imply gasoline prices skyrocketing. Gasoline is only one form of energy.

  5. It's a great point to make. All the clowning about Seamus and Etch a Sketch and "magic underwear" might contribute on the margins to defeating Romney. But it's not enough. A semi-competent politican (we'll find out if that's Obama) needs to hang the Great Recession around the necks of Romney and his party and to explain that giving power to them means that the looters will win again, at the expense of the rest of us. Given how compromised both Obama himself and his picks like Geithner are on economic issues, I'm not entirely sure he will do that. Then we'll find out whether he can beat Romney just by saying that he's weird or a phony. Newsflash: everybody already thinks that most politicians are phonies and a bit off. I hope they have more than that come November.

    1. He should remind voters of the mess he inherited. He should also run on his record of fixing that mess with Republicans in Congress fighting him every step of the way.

      And Newsflash: "Everybody" doesn't already think exactly the same way you do.

  6. I am a doctor. You have cancer.I advocate chemotherapy. Mitt romney says that I want yourmhair to fall out and for you to get deathly ill. Paul Krugman says Romney is lying. Bob says Mitt is correct. Discuss.

  7. I am a doctor. You have cancer.I advocate chemotherapy. Mitt romney says that I want yourmhair to fall out and for you to get deathly ill. Paul Krugman says Romney is lying. Bob says Mitt is correct. Discuss.

  8. Mr Potato Head is right of course, and Bob is wrong....strangely and irrationally wrong. PH's example is better than the one I scrolled down to write, though there are hundreds I'm sure.

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