The way Standard Misinformation spreads!

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 23, 2014

At the Times, everyone pitches in: It’s fascinating to watch the way Standard Misinformation spreads.

At our big newspapers, Standard Misinformation may spread through the letters column. Consider the letters in today’s New York Times about the so-called Common Core.

Five letters appear on this subject. Each of the first three letters spreads a atandard piece of apparent misinformation.

The second letter comes from a doctoral student studying educational policy. At one point, the future professor says this:
SECOND LETTER (4/23/14): The era of accountability and choice is fading as curriculum and instruction come into greater focus. Through a strengthening of curriculum, standards and teacher practice, we may finally improve student performance. While hardly a panacea, the Common Core may help us examine more closely what we teach and how we teach it.
Say what? We may finally improve student performance?

Our most reliable testing data have been strongly improving for decades. That said, it’s plainly against the law to report this fact in the Times.

Letters to the New York Times will often convey the opposite impression, which is Standard Lore among our press corps “elite.”

Our basic test scores are massively better—but readers of the Times can’t be told! Indeed, today’s third letter conveys the same sad-sack impression:
THIRD LETTER: Speaking of a “circus,” how about addressing the elephant in the room, which is that the Common Core standards have never been tested. No one disputes the fact that our educational system is broken. But what I find disturbing is that the same people who are trying to raise the rigor of our nation’s academics based on metrics have developed a program without that same standard.
Say what? “No one disputes the fact that our educational system is broken?”

In reality, many people dispute that fact, starting with Diane Ravitch, to cite one well-known example.

That said, the notion that the system is broken is Standard Elite Press Corps Cant. For that reason, this notion is widely asserted in letters, despite the large score gains Ravitch describes in her current book.

Thanks to our ratty teachers and their unions, our public schools are an unholy mess! This is Standard Elite Press Corps Cant. It was most directly stated in today’s first letter, which came from an associate professor and two of her graduate students:
FIRST LETTER: The emphasis is on the politics of the Common Core standards in “As G.O.P. Wedge, the Common Core Cuts Both Ways” (front page, April 20) and David Brooks’s column “When the Circus Descends” (April 18). Let’s focus instead on the policy’s substantive problems.

First, decades of standards-based reforms have not improved high school achievement, according to trend data from the National Assessment of Education Progress. Therefore, the Common Core’s pledge to graduate all students “college and career ready” rests on wordplay, not reality.
Say what? High school achievement hasn’t improved, according to data from the National Assessment of Education Progress?

The professor is perhaps being a bit selective. She refers to scores by 17-year-olds on the NAEP’s Long Term Trend Assessment.

Even there, scores are up in the past few decades, once you disaggregate to adjust for changing student demographics. But due to changing drop-out rates, those NAEP scores are the hardest to assess.

Among 9-year-olds and 13-year-olds, the score gains have been very large in recent decades. Example: Among the nation’s 9-year-old black kids, average scores rose by 34 points in math from 1982 through 2012.

(Click here, scroll to page 38.)

By normal rules of thumb on the NAEP, those are gigantic score gains. Note the minor statistical adjustment in 2004.

“Through a strengthening of curriculum, standards and teacher practice, we may finally improve student performance!”

That’s what you read in today’s New York Times, where Standard Misinformation is spread through all available forums.

Important procedural point: Career liberals don’t give a rat’s asp about our public schools or their ratty teachers or students. That’s why you see so little pushback or clarification concerning these endless claims.


WAYS TO DIVIDE: On the basis of region!

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 23, 2014

Part 3—The infernal South: We humans!

We love to divide ourselves up into tribes. Quite often, we imagine our own imagined tribe as the one which is morally good.

The other tribes? Not so much!

There are a million ways to divide ourselves. At present, we live in a time of high tribal impulse—and alas:

As we divide ourselves up in these ways, the one percent continues to conquer! For evidence of this ongoing process, see the report in today’s New York Times about the decline of American middle-income groups.

(Headline: The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World’s Richest)

People in those declining income groups come from red states as well as blue. Those people vote for both parties. As we picture ourselves in warring tribes, we’re all getting heavily screwed.

On Monday, we mentioned the new Salon’s fascination with dividing us by generations. Yesterday, we briefly considered the tendency to divide ourselves by our zealotry—by the way we welcome the hate of those Others.

Today, let’s consider division on the basis of region. In particular, we’ll recommend the fascinating piece in the current Atlantic about the “resegregation” of the Tuscaloosa public schools.

The piece was written by ProPublica’s Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Warning! When we say the piece is “fascinating,” we don’t necessarily mean that as a compliment. Since we plan to discuss that piece all next week, we won’t discuss it much now.

That said, Hannah-Jones is discussing a process of white and black flight which has happened all over the nation. At one point in her very long piece, Hannah-Jones basically states this obvious fact, though in a fleeting fashion:
HANNAH-JONES (4/6/14): Schools in the South, once the most segregated in the country, had by the 1970s become the most integrated, typically as a result of federal court orders. But since 2000, judges have released hundreds of school districts, from Mississippi to Virginia, from court-enforced integration, and many of these districts have followed the same path as Tuscaloosa’s—back toward segregation. Black children across the South now attend majority-black schools at levels not seen in four decades. Nationally, the achievement gap between black and white students, which greatly narrowed during the era in which schools grew more integrated, widened as they became less so.

In recent years, a new term, apartheid schools— meaning schools whose white population is 1 percent or less, schools like Central [High in Tuscaloosa]— has entered the scholarly lexicon. While most of these schools are in the Northeast and Midwest, some 12 percent of black students in the South now attend such schools—a figure likely to rise as court oversight continues to wane. In 1972, due to strong federal enforcement, only about 25 percent of black students in the South attended schools in which at least nine out of 10 students were racial minorities. In districts released from desegregation orders between 1990 and 2011, 53 percent of black students now attend such schools, according to an analysis by ProPublica.
The term “apartheid school” is of course designed to excite. That said, Hannah-Jones notes, in a fleeting aside, that most of the nation’s “apartheid schools” are in the Northeast and Midwest.

We’ll guess that many readers of her piece didn’t completely ingest that fact. Various aspects of her piece may give us the feeling that we are considering an artifact of the South.

The portion of the piece we’ve quoted was also quoted by Ta-Nehisi Coates, in this blog post about the piece. Coates’ post appears beneath the headline, “Segregation Forever.”

That headline’s meaning is fleshed out by a photo of George Wallace, who famously stands in the schoolhouse door.

“[F]or right now, the struggle for integration is largely over,” Coates says at the end of his post, which we’ll discuss next week. The first commenter said this:
COMMENTER: It might be over, for now, in the south. It MUST continue in other places. I live in Pittsburgh PA. It's pretty awfully segregated now. I can only hope—and apply work toward—the idea that it is crucial for all colors of people (which mostly means convincing fellow whites) that integration, voluntary integration, is critical for our success.
Is the struggle for “integration” largely over? Is it largely over in the South?

Is the struggle more over in the South than in our own more enlightened regions? Is it possible that there is more of a struggle going on in the South?

Every time we divide ourselves into tribes, we help the plutocrats conquer. Sometimes, such division or opposition is necessary, of course.

When it isn’t, we the superior beings are committing a type of “own goal.” Our conduct makes us feel good about ourselves—and it helps the plutocrats conquer.

In the current political environment, we liberals and progressives are strongly inclined to divide. Our multimillionaire TV stars strongly recommend this process. In part, it may be their way of puffing us up, thus keeping ratings alive.

When we divide without good cause, we help the plutocrats win. And we’re strongly inclined to tribal division on the basis of region. Just consider that news report in the New York Times.

At the University of Mississippi, a couple of undergraduates had done a pitifully stupid thing. They defaced a statue of James Meredith, who bravely integrated the school when a different governor stood in a schoolhouse door.

The New York Times doesn’t care for the South. The great newspaper swung into action, helping us learn to divide.

The report was written by Alan Blinder (headline included). Sometimes, God perhaps may send us messages through real people’s real names:
BLINDER (2/21/14): Racist Incidents Continue to Stir Ole Miss Campus

[...]

By many measures, the university, which hosted a presidential debate in 2008, is an entirely different place from the one Mr. Meredith entered, one that combines contemporary ambition with seductive charm. Nearly 41 percent of its undergraduates are from outside Mississippi, up from 33 percent a decade ago. Minorities make up nearly a quarter of the student body, and the university's average ACT score is at its highest level ever.

But reminders of the university's Jim Crow past continue to permeate its idyllic campus, set among oaks and magnolias and fabled for the Grove, perhaps the most hallowed football tailgating spot in a region full of imitators.

An epithet-saturated demonstration in the aftermath of President Obama's 2012 re-election resulted in the arrests of two students.

More recently, a September production of ''The Laramie Project,'' a play about the 1998 murder of a gay college student in Wyoming, gained notoriety after an outbreak of homophobic heckling by audience members.

University officials readily acknowledge the residual intolerance that has so often called attention back to a place where the federal authorities had to force Mr. Meredith's enrollment. And even as administrators note their successes, they concede that they are confronting a challenge with deep and difficult roots.

''There are some people who see this institution through the eyes of the '60s and forever will,'' said Donald R. Cole, the university's assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs.
Was Cole talking about those pitiful teens? Or was he thinking of Blinder?

We’re just asking! Let’s return to the heart of this news report:

Is Blinder’s basic premise true? Do reminders of this school’s Jim Crow past continue to permeate its campus?

To appearances, Blinder had so few “racist incidents” to cite that he had to turn to a homophobic incident as the second example of this campus’ fallen nature.

(In its original reporting on that incident, the Times said the heckling had come from varsity football players who had been told to attend the play. This at least suggests the possibility that the unfortunate heckling—which could have happened on many campuses—may at least have been a case of “black and white together.”)

In its rather obvious hatred of the South, we think the Times often acts as a regressive force. By the way: Did you ever imagine that the weird Clinton/Gore hatred which emerged from the Times was, in part, perhaps inspired by this regional bias?

It almost surely was, of course—and it had demonic effects. Did it cross your mind that the regional bias of our favorite journalists could end up producing deaths all over the world?

Can we talk? In our view, Blinder didn’t seem to have many “racist incidents” to trumpet. But, as is the norm at the Times, the thrilling phrase found its way into a pleasing headline.

We saw a lot of unwise regionalism in that fascinating piece at the Atlantic. We’ll discuss that piece next week, along with Coates’ (admittedly brief) assessment.

But lord, how we humans love to think that our tribe is morally better than theirs! Very often, that isn’t the case—and the mistaken belief just helps the plutocrats win!

Tomorrow: Attempting some tenderness

Classic Times reporting: Note the classic New York Times reporting:
BLINDER: By many measures, the university, which hosted a presidential debate in 2008, is an entirely different place from the one Mr. Meredith entered, one that combines contemporary ambition with seductive charm. Nearly 41 percent of its undergraduates are from outside Mississippi, up from 33 percent a decade ago. Minorities make up nearly a quarter of the student body, and the university's average ACT score is at its highest level ever.
By many measures? Blinder’s first (apparent) example is not a measure of the way the university differs from the one Meredith entered.

The second example is a measure of the difference. Today, the student body is 25 percent “minorities.” Back then, the corresponding percentage was of course zero percent.

Has someone been trying to do the right things even here, in the state we most love to hate? Is it possible that a little tenderness would let us find allies in Mississippi, even perhaps in locations we didn’t perhaps suspect?


The Post reports on Meet the Press!

TUESDAY, APRIL 22, 2014

Statistics can be hard: David Gregory’s Meet the Press has become unwatchably dull and cosmically pointless.

Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi supplied the ratings numbers for the current year. Incredibly, Meet the Press is now running dead last among the three major Sunday programs:
FARHI (4/21/14): [F]airly or not, Gregory's "Meet the Press" still gets measured against the lofty peaks scaled by Tim Russert, his predecessor. Russert, the folksy inquisitor, ruled the ratings for more than a decade until his death in June 2008. He often attracted an audience 40 percent larger than his rivals, an unheard-of margin in television.

But now—to paraphrase Russert's famous sign-off—if it's Sunday, it's not necessarily "Meet the Press" that Americans are watching.

These days, the leader is "Face the Nation," hosted by Bob Schieffer, the grandfatherly 77-year-old newsman. Schieffer not only attracts the largest overall audience (a weekly average of 3.35 million during the first three months of 2014, 5 percent more than "This Week," 8 percent more than "MTP" and 61 percent more than "Fox News Sunday") but the largest audience among the coveted 25-to-54 set, too.
As Farhi continues, Schieffer is quoted saying that Sunday morning is “the smartest morning on TV.”

Good grief!

Granted, the competition from the other six mornings is light to non-existent. But if you’ve watched the Sunday shows in recent years, you’ll know that Schieffer’s self-flattering statement is straight outta Fantasyland.

Meet the Press has fallen fast. Eventually, as if by fiat, the Post threw in the required statistical groaner:
FARHI: The good news for all three shows is that they remain among the most durable on TV, if perhaps less influential than they once were. Even as everything else on TV has lost viewers over time, the Big Three have held steady and even gained viewers. Collectively, about 9.6 million people watched them each week during the first three months of this year, about the same number that watched Russert in 2005. This doesn't count the audience for innumerable Sunday-morning competitors, from Fox News Sunday (hosted by former "Meet the Press" moderator Chris Wallace) to "Al Punto" on Univision.
We don’t understand that highlighted passage. It seems to say that roughly 9.6 million people watched Meet the Press—Meet the Press alone—on a weekly basis in 2005.

Presumably, that isn’t what Farhi meant, given his other claim about the Big Three gaining viewers over time. But that’s what the passage says.

Meet the Press is hard to watch. The Post is no picnic either.


At the Washington Post, they do it again!

TUESDAY, APRIL 22, 2014

Can’t get the simplest facts right: How broken is our intellectual culture?

This morning, the Washington Post has done it again!

In a bungled news report, Ovetta Wiggins discusses a very large DC-area school system. In the process, she and her unnamed editor make a ham-handed factual error concerning a basic statistic:
WIGGINS (4/22/14): The Prince George’s County school system has experienced a slight bump in enrollment for the first time in a decade, with nearly 2,000 more students attending the county’s schools this year than last.

County leaders have trumpeted the increase as a sign that the long-struggling school system, which has lost an average of 1,000 students a year during the past 10 years, is moving in the right direction. Increased enrollment means increased funding, and, they said, the additional resources will help as the district continues to turn itself around.

But along with the increased enrollment comes a sobering statistic: About 1,300—or 65 percent—of the new students in Prince George’s are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, a federal measure of poverty. The percentage of new students who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals is slightly higher than the overall average percentage of county students coming from poor families.
As we’ve noted many times, eligibility for free and reduced-price meals is not “a federal measure of poverty.”

Wiggins misstates this point all through her piece, creating an erroneous and unfortunate picture of Prince George’s County, a large, majority-black jurisdiction in DC’s Maryland suburbs.

(Prince George’s County is the nation’s 21st largest school district. For a full list, click here.)

How many times does it have to be said? Eligibility for free and reduced-price meals is not a measure of “poverty.”

Eligibility for the program extends to families whose incomes are roughly twice the federal poverty level. When education writers don’t know that, it’s like a sports writer who doesn’t know the number of outs in an inning.

(Answer: Three for each team.)

Eligibility for free and reduced-price meals is not a measure of “poverty.” But the Washington Post, which proselytizes about public school policy, routinely misstates this basic, bone-simple fact.

All through her piece, Wiggins misstates the number of kids in PG County who are “poor” or “in poverty.” Here is one such passage:
WIGGINS: Enrollment last year was down 14,000 students from a decade earlier, when in the 2003-2004 school year there were 137,000 students. As enrollment dropped over the years, the percentage of students from poor families increased. In 2008, 44 percent of the students qualified for free or reduced-price meals. That will be closer to 63 percent by the end of this year, estimates Joan Shorter, the system’s director of food and nutrition services.

Of the 125,000 students attending county schools as of Oct. 31, a little more than 61 percent come from poor families, Shorter said. A year earlier, the number was a little more than 59 percent.
It’s true that Prince Georges County is less affluent than other nearby subdivisions. But eligibility for free or reduced price is not a measure of poverty. Here are some basic facts:

According to NAEP testing data, 52 percent of U.S. fourth graders were eligible for free or reduced price lunch in 2011. (Click here, scroll to page 75.)

That doesn’t mean that 52 percent of U.S. fourth-graders were living in poverty.

The Prince George’s percentage is somewhat higher than that. That isn’t a measure of poverty either!

It’s amazing that the Washington Post keeps making this bone-simple error. But other publications make it too. In one area after another, that’s how our discourse works.

This report is wrong on its basic facts. It spreads a stereotypical, unhelpful picture of Prince George’s County.

In one area after another, that’s the way our discourse works. In the year 2014, we’re a very low-IQ people.

Our “press corps” is barely alive.


WAYS TO DIVIDE: Through zealotry!

TUESDAY, APRIL 22, 2014

Part 2—Baiting the Romans: When Salon interviewed Reza Aslan, we thought we saw some good news and we thought we saw some bad.

Aslan is the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which was published last year. Lauren Green, who normally isn’t crazy, conducted a ridiculous interview with him for a Fox News webcast, repeatedly asking why a Muslim would want to write about Jesus.

Needless to say, the ridiculous session went viral. In an interview this week for Salon, Michael Schulson asked Aslan about the mess.

We would say some good news was lurking here:
SCHULSON (4/20/14): Your interview on Fox News was painful to watch, but it also pushed you to the top of the bestseller lists. How do you come to terms with that kind of bittersweet PR boost? Do you ask for an apology? Do you write a thank you note?

ASLAN: [Laughs] Well, just to set the record straight, the book was already a massive bestseller. But you’re absolutely right: the Fox News interview shoved it to No. 1. Obviously, I’m grateful for that, but mostly what I’m grateful for is the way that the interview launched a much-needed public conversation about who gets to speak for Jesus. I think Fox News watchers, conservative Christians, were outraged by that interview, as many of them have emailed me to say. This idea that there are only these gatekeepers who get to speak for Jesus—that’s something that’s obviously absurd, and a lot of people reject that.
For the record, the book was not “a massive bestseller” at that point. But you can’t exactly blame an author for overstating a tad.

Aslan said that many Fox watchers, conservative Christians, have emailed him to say they didn’t agree with the tone of the interview.

To the extent that’s true, we’d call that very good news. Schulson followed up on the comment:
SCHULSON (continuing directly): So you’ve gotten a lot of support from regular Fox News viewers?

ASLAN: Of the thousands of emails I’ve gotten about that interview, I think 99 percent of them were positive, and many of them were from regular Fox News watchers who said they would never watch Fox News again. Many of them were from conservative Christians who said that, while they disagree with my interpretation of Jesus, they were horrified by the blatant bigotry that was shown in the interview.
Aslan may still be overstating, of course. But to the extent that he isn’t, we would call his report good news.

We think it’s good when people from the other tribe find ways to agree with our own tribe’s approaches. Getting people to agree with your point of view is what politics and other forms of persuasion are all about.

To the extent that Aslan was telling the truth, we would call his comments good news. On the other hand, we thought there was something like bad news lurking in these later comments, where Aslan tilts toward division and ultimate conquest:
SCHULSON: On your Twitter feed, the background picture is of Glenn Beck looking distressed. I have to ask: Do you enjoy being the bane of these right-wing media personalities?

ASLAN: Am I allowed to say yes? I mean, look, when someone like Glenn Beck puts you on his chalkboard of crazy, I think it’s a moment to be proud of. When designated hate-group leaders like Robert Spencer or Pamela Geller spend all of their days Googling you and writing articles about things you’ve said or written, I think you should be proud of that, because these guys are clowns. They are racist, bigoted individuals, and you want people like that to hate you.

So, listen, I’m guilty of baiting these guys sometimes; it’s not a professional thing to do, I’m not proud of it, to be honest with you. At the same time, there is something to be proud of when Glenn Beck and Pamela Gellar and Robert Spencer and magazines like First Things hate you.
Really? On his Twitter feed, Aslan features a picture of Glenn Beck? Aslan says he sometimes “baits” such figures, though “it’s not a professional thing to do” and he isn’t “proud of it.”

(Aslan wants people like Beck to hate him? Really? Why? What’s the point?)

In our view, Aslan should possibly listen to the inner voice which is saying his instincts may be wrong here.

In our highly tribalized culture, we’re constantly rewarded for name-calling the other tribe+for heightening the contradiction. Unfortunately, there are three million ways to define and locate The Other—three million ways to divide the public against itself.

Sometimes, Salon seems devoted to helping us pursue each one.

Yesterday, we noted the way Salon enjoys urging generational division. As the week proceeds, we’ll look at one or two more.

In our view, every time we divide the 99 percent without need, we’re just helping the one percent win. Divide and conquer! It’s the oldest play in the plutocrat play book!

The liberal world was asleep for decades. Today, it’s alive and snarling, not necessarily in completely constructive ways.

This revived liberal world loaded for bear. On a political basis, is that the best route to success?

If Aslan can be believed, many conservatives took his side after Green’s unfortunate, uncharacteristic interview. Helping others learn to see things your way—mightn’t that be the route to success?

Tomorrow: Good morning, Tuscaloosa!

Thursday: Name-calling Mr. O

Progressives should learn to question authority!

MONDAY, APRIL 21, 2014

Even that of the professors: On Saturday, it was off to the National Aquarium with our traveling companion, who was seven years old.

Her father was coaching one of the teams at the Morgan State Legacy track meet. She caught a ride from Durham on the team bus for two days of quality time.

Throughout the weekend, we skillfully lectured her on the need to question authority. Let’s try to put that into some context:

We always listen to tips from her father about our own high jumping. He was fifth in the worlds in 1991, eighth at Barcelona the following year.

He definitely knows about high-jumping. But even he can be wrong!

Progressives should keep such thoughts in mind when the professors (and the journalists) start to proclaim on some subject. We liberals tend to respect academic authority. That’s sometimes a bad idea.

For our text today, consider the final act in the Jonathan Chait show trial—this essay by Melissa Harris-Perry for The Nation.

As we’ve noted, we aren’t giant fans of Chait’s recent cover piece for New York magazine. Neither is Harris-Perry!

Still and all, we’d have to say we don’t understand this part of her essay. Tell the truth: Do you?
HARRIS-PERRY (4/16/14): Written by Jonathan Chait, the piece asserts that if you “set out to write a social history of the Obama years, one that captured the day-to-day experience of political life, you would find that race has saturated everything as perhaps never before.” Chait defines this racial saturation of political life as the effect of the Obama presidency on debates between white liberals and white conservatives. He points to dueling paranoias about racism and racial innocence that infuse every policy conversation and media moment. Chait’s argument is not wholly inaccurate: he offers evidence that white elites indeed talk more about race in the Obama era. However, any claim that race as a framework for political and policy debates emerged in 2008 must necessarily rest on ignoring black political life. This is nothing new. Gone are black people from the “day-to-day experience of political life.”

Writing in Slate, Jamelle Bouie argues that Chait’s piece renders black politics invisible and racial politics “a story of mutual grievance between Americans on the left and right, with little interest in the lived experiences of racism from black Americans and other people of color. It’s a story, in other words, that treats race as an intellectual exercise—a low-stakes cocktail party argument between white liberals and white conservatives over their respective racial innocence.”

In an interview with Chait on my MSNBC show, I later argued that a story of white racial attitudes is valid, but that it hardly counts as a robust description of American political life. To tell the story of race in America, black people must be included as agents, not just as subjects. Chait indicated that both Bouie and I were missing the point, and that we were asking him to write about an entirely different topic.

It is difficult to watch a smart, prominent political writer nonchalantly erase black people from the story of American political life.
Please note: In his piece for New York, Chait doesn’t “claim that race as a framework for political and policy debates emerged in 2008." That’s just a bad paraphrase of what he said.

That said, did Chait “define [the alleged] racial saturation of political life as the effect of the Obama presidency on debates between white liberals and white conservatives?” Did he treat race “as an intellectual exercise—a low-stakes cocktail party argument between white liberals and white conservatives?”

Did he tell “a story of white racial attitudes?” Worst of all, did he “erase black people from the story of American political life?”

We don’t know why Harris-Perry made these statements. Nor do we think she has ever explained those statements—not on her TV show, not in her Nation piece.

Did Chait “erase black people from the story of American political life?” To hear him tell it, he built his claims about the primacy of race in the Obama years around a bunch of social research which includes the views of all Americans—black, white, Hispanic, Asian-American and whatever else we’ve got.

We don’t think he explained the data real well. We regard some of the data as suspect on the conceptual front.

But Chait seemed to say that the data in question included the views of all Americans. In this part of his New York magazine piece, Chait seems to be discussing data which measure the views of “all Americans, across the political spectrum:”
CHAIT (4/6/14): We now know that the fact of Obama’s presidency...has affected not just the few Americans willing to share their racism with reporters but all Americans, across the political spectrum. Social scientists have long used a basic survey to measure what they call “racial resentment.” It doesn’t measure hatred of minorities or support for segregation, but rather a person’s level of broad sympathy for African-Americans (asking, for instance, if you believe that “blacks have gotten less than they deserve” or whether “it’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough”). Obviously, the racially conservative view—that blacks are owed no extra support from the government—has for decades corresponded more closely with conservatism writ large and thus with the Republican Party. The same is true with the racially liberal view and the Democratic Party: Many of the Americans who support government programs that disproportionately offer blacks a leg up are Democrats. But when the political scientists Michael Tesler and David Sears peered into the data in 2009, they noticed that the election of Obama has made views on race matter far more than ever.

By the outset of Obama’s presidency, they found, the gap in approval of the president between those with strongly liberal views on race and those with strongly conservative views on race was at least twice as large as it had been under any of the previous four administrations. As Tesler delved further into the numbers, he saw that race was bleeding into everything. People’s views on race predicted their views on health-care reform far more closely in 2009 than they did in 1993, when the president trying to reform health care was Bill Clinton. Tesler called what he saw unfurling before him a “hyperracialized era.”

In recent history, racial liberals have sometimes had conservative views on other matters, and racial conservatives have sometimes had liberal views. Consider another measure, called “anti-black affect,” a kind of thermometer that registers coldness toward African-Americans. Prior to 2009, anti-black affect did not predict an individual’s political identification (when factoring out that person’s economic, moral, and foreign-policy conservatism). Since Obama has taken office, the correlation between anti-black affect and Republican partisanship has shot up. Even people’s beliefs about whether the unemployment rate was rising or falling in 2012—which, in previous years, had stood independent of racial baggage—were now closely linked with their racial beliefs.

Racial conservatism and conservatism used to be similar things; now they are the same thing. This is also true with racial liberalism and liberalism. The mental chasm lying between red and blue America is, at bottom, an irreconcilable difference over the definition of racial justice. You can find this dispute erupting everywhere. A recent poll found a nearly 40-point partisan gap on the question of whether 12 Years a Slave deserved Best Picture.
When Chait discusses “the mental chasm lying between red and blue America,” he doesn’t seem to be talking about white America only. As he told Harris-Perry during the part of his TV show trial where he was briefly allowed to speak, “blue America” is a coalition of many racial and ethnic groups.

(So is red America, though to a lesser extent.)

Were black views “erased” from the data which drove Chait’s premise? Not to hear him tell it!

That was the debate as we understood it (1) from reading Chait’s piece in New York, (2) from watching his interview with Harris-Perry and (3) from reading Harris-Perry’s piece in The Nation. We don’t think Harris-Perry ever explained the objections she made in her piece. Nor did we think the guest professors on her TV show explained their complaints about Chait.

Just out of curiosity, though, we looked for more information about the data Chait used. And uh-oh! In this paper by Tesler and Sears, we found this passage:
TESLER AND SEARS: We showed elsewhere that racial attitudes had a greater impact on presidential voting in 2008 than they had in any other general election contest on record (Tesler and Sears 2010). We also found that this larger role of racial resentment on McCain-Obama vote intention was brought about by the two sides of racialization: Racial conservatives were more opposed to Obama than they probably would have been to a white Democratic candidate who was ideologically similar to him, such as Hillary Clinton; and Racial liberals were more supportive of Obama than they were of previous Democratic candidates for president

Our cross-sectional time-series data also allows us to assess whether racial attitudes had a similarly larger impact on President Obama’s approval than previous presidents. Since 1987, the Pew Research Center and its predecessor Times Mirror, in their series of surveys on American values, have regularly asked a battery of four race-related questions that approximates the content of Kinder and Sanders’s (1996) racial resentment battery. These questions gauge the extent of discrimination against African Americans, the group’s societal advancement, whether we should do everything we can to help blacks and other minorities even if it means giving them special preferences, and whether the country has gone too far in pushing for equal rights (see appendix for question wordings). The items do not form quite as reliable a scale as the racial resentment battery (α = .54 across survey years compared to about .75 for the racial resentment scale). They are also especially unreliable for African Americans (α = .29 across survey years), who as a result are excluded from our Pew analyses. Nevertheless, Pew’s April 2009 update of their values time series provides substantial insights into how racial attitudes affected job performance evaluations of President Obama compared to those of his immediate White House predecessors.
Like everyone else on the planet, we don’t really understand what that final highlighted passage means. It seems to say that the Pew data did not include reactions from African Americans.

Can we talk? We’ve looked at the work of the professors, the journalist and the researchers. Our conclusions:

We have no idea why Harris-Perry (the professor) said the things she said in her piece, nor did she really try to explain them.

We don’t think Chait (the journalist) explained his analysis very well. We don’t understand what Tesler and Sears (the researchers) were saying in that paper.

In our view, the onus lies on Harris-Perry, then on Chait. But all in all, we have no real idea what their dispute is about.

Alas! We find that our professors and our journalists are often quite expert at creating confusion. “Always question authority,” we thoughtfully told our young charge on our weekend rambles.


WAYS TO DIVIDE: And get conquered!

MONDAY, APRIL 21, 2014

Part 1—Getting divided by age: Gack!

Last Friday, we took the bait on these click-bait headlines at the new Salon:
Boomers are humiliating themselves: Why their pandering to millennials is so sad
From Instagram video walls in hotel rooms to the RNC's lame ad campaign, we're just laughing (and screaming) at you
Those stupid, insincere boomers! According to those click-bait headlines, they have been at it again!

Sadly, we clicked. When we did, we found a largely intelligent piece about (1) the economic challenges facing many younger people as the plutocracy grows and (2) the silly attempts by corporate groups to market their worthless products to those younger people.

The author, Tim Donovan, never used the word “boomers.” He never said that the silly marketing tricks he described could be laid at the feet of some generational cohort.

Donovan wrote a sensible piece. The editorial staff baited the headlines, presumably just for clicks.

To all appearances, the new Salon loves the task of dividing the 99 percent into warring factions. The journal’s love for generational war may be its dumbest such instinct.

In this case, Donovan wasn’t pimping generational anger and war. The headline writers were.

We live at an odd political time—a time when the 99 percent keeps finding ways to get defeated in the face of vast provocation and systematic injustice.

The one percent keeps finding ways to syphon off more of the cash. Our intellectual leaders keep finding ways to split us, the 99 percent, into warring camps.

In those silly click-bait headlines, Salon was trying to split us up by generation again. The new Salon plays this low-IQ card pretty much all the time.

Presumably, the suits have found that this particular bait helps Salon’s bottom line. In comment threads, angry readers often show how easy it is to sell this catnip to some among the young.

We’re still recovering from a weekend with a superlative seven-year-old. We’re reminded of Dylan’s most famous saying: Never trust anyone with children under 30!

As the week proceeds, we’ll catalogue some of the ways the 99 percent keep getting divided. It’s the oldest, most famous way to get conquered.

Alas! When it comes to conquest through division, there are quite a few ways for the one percent to succeed. Some of us the people seem inclined to take the bait each time.