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From the September 13, 2003, Mahablog


Paul Krugman Rocks!
Or, how a tweedy economics professor may be America's last, best hope.
When did America start marching over a cliff? Was it during the Reagan Administration, when misguided people made Oliver North a hero for lying to Congress? Was it when Newt Gingrich announced the "Contract With America"? Was it the Clinton impeachment attempt? Florida 2000? September 11?
Because we sure as hell are marching over a cliff. I see it, now. If we continue on our present course, the United States will become a has-been nation in my lifetime. It will be ruled by an oligarchy of the rich, powerful, and corrupt, and the rest of us will feel fortunate if we have access to plumbing.
Someday my children will tell their grandchildren that, once upon a time, ordinary people working for wages could afford nice little houses and trips to Disney World, and there were pretty fair public schools children could attend for free, and most folks with jobs could get health care. And people could say and write whatever they wanted without the Truth Police knocking on the door.
It will seem like a fairy tale. As flawed as America is now, it's a paradise compared to the place the Bushies are taking us.
But while we still have houses and plumbing and free speech, let us appreciate these things. And let's appreciate Paul Krugman, Princeton professor, economist, and columnist for the New York Times. Professor Krugman may have been the first person to speak plainly about where our nation is heading. He saw the truth before I did, and he's still way ahead of most people.
"Paul Krugman had become the most devastatingly precise voice of liberal outrage in American journalism," Scott Rosenberg wrote in Salon.
His new book, The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century, is mostly a collection of New York Times and other columns. But even if you have read all of these columns, even if you have them saved in a scrapbook, even if you can recite them from memory, it would be worth your while to get the book and read the new material, especially the Introduction. In it, Professor Krugman makes the case that our nation is under attack from within by insurrectionists who wrap themselves in the flag and call themselves Republicans. Right-wing extremists (hereafter called RWEs) have seized power and are determined to keep it -- one way or another.
They must be stopped.
Revolutions don't always come by way of the gun. People who are accustomed to political stability don't always recognize revolutionary power when it takes hold of political institutions. They assume the political processes that have always worked are still working, and that their opponents are reasonable people working for the common good but with different points of view. It is incomprehensible that self-described patriots really mean to smash the existing system, and anyone who speaks out is considered an alarmist.
And that's where we are now.
There are still lots of reasonable people who don't want to believe America has been hijacked by insurrectionists (see this review of Joe Conason's excellent Big Lies for an example). There are also people who don't like the Bush Regime but don't fully realize how dangerous the Bushies are. These are people who must be reached before the November 2004 election. If you feel this way too, Unraveling provides plenty of ammunition for the fight ahead.
The Enron-Krugman "Scandal"
Some RWEs still repeat the lie that Professor Krugman took money from Enron to "puff" the company in the Times, or that he was an "Enron consultant." Here are the facts:
Before he was a columnist for the New York Times, Professor Krugman augmented his academic salary by speaking and consulting. In early 1999 he was invited to serve on a panel providing briefings to Enron executives on economic and political issues. He resigned from this panel later the same year when he became a columnist for the New York Times. He had been offered $50,000 to serve on the panel but received $37,500 because of his early resignation. Krugman never wrote a column for the Times "puffing" Enron. Nothing about this transaction was "undisclosed" to the Times or anyone else. And that's it. You can find a lot more information on The Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive.
A Few Words on the Opposition
National Review publishes a regular "Paul Krugman Truth Squad" column by Donald Luskin, Chief Investment Officer of Trend Macrolytics LLC (impressive, huh?). Luskin is a little man with a little mind, and his column is nothing but a pathetic attempt to discredit Krugman by "exposing" Krugman's supposed "errors."
For example, Paul Krugman recently told Tim Russert he wrote 100 columns a year. Ah-HAH! said Luskin; it was only ninety-three!
This was in Luskin's review of Unraveling, which was actually a review of a Tim Russert interview of Professor Krugman. (Luskin hadn't read the book; Krugman's publisher, W.W. Norton, had the sense not to waste a review copy on him.) Exactly what was "exposed" is unclear, although I dutifully groped through Luskin's gaseous rhetoric for something solid (no luck).
According to Luskin, Russert grilled Professor Krugman mercilessly and revealed one Krugman lie after another, although Luskin is a bit vague as to what these lies actually were. "I think we may have to make Russert an honorary member of the [Truth] Squad," Luskin crowed.
However, there's a transcript of the Russert interview on the Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive site, and no such revelations occurred. Tim Russert was respectful; the professor stammered a bit; that's about it.
Like most RWEs, Luskin can't make a case on substance so he falls back on reporting his own prejudices -- for example, he calls Professor Krugman a "nervous, stammering, shifty-eyed, twitching, ill-tailored, gray homunculus slumping across the table from Tim Russert." Three-fourths of the "review" is filled with such sludge.
Finally, toward the end of the "review"  Luskin lists some "lies" cooked by Luskin's own fevered mind out of  Krugman's past columns, including this one that stands out:
In mid-August Krugman wrote that American soldiers in Iraq were only getting two 1.5-liter bottles of water per day, and were suffering "heat casualties"? I exposed on my blog the fact that this was only the soldiers' bottled water — and that there was ample water from other sources which, in fact, was part of the Army's "forced hydration" program.
I don't know what Mr. Luskin is smokin', but Professor Krugman and I both reported on this from the same source -- a letter from a soldier in Stars and Stripes. And that's not the only source. Here's my article as it appeared in Democratic Underground, with all citations and links. And, in fact, there has been at least one heat-related death in Iraq -- Private First Class David M. Kirchhoff, 31, died August 14 of heatstroke.
I googled for "forced hydration program," and the only hit (other than Mr. Luskin's article) related to pro football training camps. I did a keyword search for "forced hydration" at the Department of Defense information web site and got no hits at all.
As for the mysterious "other sources" of water Mr. Luskin is so sure of -- This soldier wrote to David Hackworth in mid-June that troops were so desperate for water they had to purchase water of dubious quality from Iraqis. They also have been short of food. "Soldiers are trying, in vain, to keep mosquitoes from consuming them nightly, and using hoses from an Iraqi latrine stall to get water enough to maintain their hygienic needs," he writes. "There are soldiers, to this day, that live in squalor."
I can't tell you how much I want to send Mr. Luskin to Iraq.
Do errors of fact sometimes appear in Krugman's columns? Of course; we're talking about a human being here. Anyone who writes ninety-three columns a year is going to misstate something once in a while. Nicholas Confessore discussed this in the Washington Monthly, noting that
On balance, Krugman's record stands up pretty well. On the topics he writes about most often and most angrily--tax cuts, Social Security, and the budget--his record is nearly perfect. "The reason he's gotten under the White House's skin so much," says Robert Shapiro, a former undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration, "is that he's right. None of it is rocket science."
Professor Krugman has also drawn the wrath of the Ludwig Von Mises Institute, which as near as I can tell is some sort of libertarian think tank. Recent anti-Krugman articles include one by a nutjob named David Anderson, who is an adjunct scholar of the Mises Institute and who teaches economics at Frostburg State University. No, I don't know where Frostburg State University is, either. Another is by Tim Swanson, a college graduate who owns a web hosting company. I'm not going to waste time analyzing these articles; I bring them up just to show the quality of the opposition -- pretty damn pathetic.

Copyright 2003, 2004 by Barbara O'Brien

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