Supplemental: It’s time for the Post’s Lyndsey Layton to go!

SATURDAY, JANUARY 17, 2015

Along with her inhuman editors:
An astonishing headline adorns the front page of this morning’s Washington Post.

The claim it makes is clownishly wrong. But so what? On this morning’s front page, it stretches across four columns.

What kind of creatures are we humans? Plainly, we aren’t the “rational animal” Aristotle described long ago.

Aristotle was clownishly wrong. In this morning’s hard-copy Washington Post, the headline in question says this:

“Most public school students now living in poverty”

The claim in that headline is clownishly wrong. But the headline stretches across four columns on the front page of today’s Post.

People, can it really be true. Are most students in public schools currently living “in poverty?”

Actually no, that isn’t true, if we’re using anything like the standard measure of poverty. By standard measures, the number of students living in poverty doesn’t even come close to reaching fifty percent.

But so what? Layton never explains this fact in a 1333-word, front-page report which stretches through 29 paragraphs.

Layton, who is utterly hapless, never explains squat or squadoodle in her hapless report. That said, please note the slippery, incompetent way she takes us to the term “poverty rate” in these, her opening paragraphs (hard-copy headline included):
LAYTON (1/17/15): Most public school students now living in poverty

For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families, according to a new analysis of 2013 federal data, a statistic that has profound implications for the nation.

The Southern Education Foundation reports that 51 percent of students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2012-2013 school year were eligible for the federal program that provides free and reduced-price lunches. The lunch program is a rough proxy for poverty, but the explosion in the number of needy children in the nation's public classrooms is a recent phenomenon that has been gaining attention from educators, public officials and researchers.

"We've all known this was the trend, that we would get to a majority, but it's here sooner rather than later," said Michael A. Rebell of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College at Columbia University, noting that the poverty rate has been increasing even as the economy has improved...
We’ll assume that Layton is working in good faith. We’ll assume we’re looking at gross incompetence rather than deception.

That said, Layton performs world-class sleight of hand in those opening paragraphs. This is what occurs:

In paragraph 1, she makes a reasonably accurate but unexplained statement. She says “a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families”—but in the process, she fails to explain what the term “low-income” means.

In paragraph 2, she explains that she is talking about the percentage of students who qualify for the federal lunch program. She then makes an extremely shaky statement; she calls eligibility for this program “a rough proxy for poverty.”

Good God! Eligibility for the federal lunch program constitutes an extremely rough proxy for poverty! Almost surely, many kids in the federal lunch program come from families whose incomes are double the federal poverty line.

As you can see in these federal guidelines, children from a family of four qualify for the federal lunch program if their family’s income is $44,123 or less—and there are probably plenty of kids whose family incomes get fudged a bit in the application process.

Such families of four aren’t getting rich—but they are also aren’t living “in poverty” in any conventional sense of the term. In fact, they aren’t anywhere close to the poverty line, based on standard measures.

Is eligibility for the federal lunch program “a rough proxy for poverty?” Only to the feckless, incompetent creatures who work for the Washington Post!

To them, it's all pretty much the same! But just like that, Layton transitions from an unexplained term (“low-income families”) to a more potent term—“in poverty.” And sure enough:

In paragraph 3, she is talking about “the poverty rate;” she seems to say that “a majority” of students satisfy the terms of that measure. This leads directly to that headline, whose claim is clownishly wrong.

No, Virginia, and Maryland, and the other states of the union! Unless we’re inventing new standards (which will go unexplained), it isn’t true that “most public school students” are now “living in poverty.”

The claim isn’t even close to true. But the claim drives a headline which adorns the front page of today’s Post.

For the record, Layton isn’t one of the inexperienced, scrub-faced kids the Washington Post keeps hiring in an attempt to dumb its work product down. She’s been at the Post since 1998. She’s been an education reporter for the past four years.

Her editor, if any such person exists, is presumably experienced too. The absurd incompetence on display infests this newspaper’s adults.

Can a modern democracy actually function with people like this at the head of its discourse? In comments to this ridiculous piece, the standard ridiculous arguments start.

“Conservatives” say that this report just shows how bad things have gotten under Obama. “Liberals” flounder and thrash about, bereft of access to facts.

Lyndsey Layton, and her editors, are grossly incompetent. How incompetent is Layton? Please consider this:

In her 29 paragraphs, Lyndsey Layton never explains the standard according to which she makes the claims in the piece.

She never describes the income required for eligibility for the federal lunch program. She never explains how those income levels compare to the income levels which constitute our normal definition of “poverty”—the income levels which are normally used to compute “the poverty rate.”

In a modestly rational world, Layton and her editor would quickly get fired. But you don’t live in that rational world. You live in a world where this type of incompetence is normal at major news orgs.

In the fall of 2013, we did three posts about major reporters, and one professor, who were pushing this same type of claim. (Click here, then click on the internal links.)

But then, we did a similar post just this Tuesday. It is now assumed that our major journalists and our professors will reason and argue this way!

Can a modern democracy actually work with people like this directing the discourse? Just look around! We think the answer has become more obvious with each passing year.

The Laytons notice few distinctions. You can tell them any damn thing and they will gulp it whole.

They will accept the ludicrous claims which have driven our discourse in the past three or four decades. They will accept ludicrous claims about major pols and policy topics alike.

It will all sound right to them! From this, we get our discourse!

Nous sommes Charlie—and tout est permis! If you doubt that, just check the headline on the front page of this morning’s Washington Post.

That four-column headline is clownishly wrong. Aristotle wouldn’t have known what to make of these types.

We have a dream today: We’d love to be the salesman who gets to sell Layton a car.

If the sticker price was $26,000, we could charge her 44 grand, perhaps a few thousand more. She wouldn’t notice the difference! We’d speak to her editor next!

It’s close enough for front-page work at this morning’s Washington Post. We’ll leave you with a haunting question:

Do you think these life-forms purchase their cars in this same feckless manner?

108 comments:

  1. Interesting. Somerby once shed big tears for Gov. Ultrasound and spoke about what a big meanie Rachel Maddow was for suggesting that prison was a good place to send a public official who took bribes.

    Now he wants a reporter (yet another young, female) and her editor fired for the crime of using the word "poverty" against the strict Somerby rules.

    But of course, the five remaining members of the "Bob Somerby Is the Smartest Guy in the Room Club" will eat it up.

    Well, continue to have fun preaching to your rapidly shrinking choir, fella.

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    1. It has been many months since Somerby wrote about Gov. Ultrasound and yet you are still here, reading the blog of someone you obviously do not respect. Maybe you get your kicks from being part of the "Bob Somerby Is the Dumbest Guy on the Internet Club" because it makes you feel wonderful to kick someone not smart enough to moderate his comment section. To each his own.

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    2. Yes, it has been months since his faceplant in defense of the good governor. Perhaps it is one of the few times in his life when he realizes he made an idiot out of himself, but whose ego still prevents him for admitting he was laughably wrong. So in true Somerby fashion, he just dropped the whole thing?

      As for the Great "Then Why Are You Here" whine from the crowd who still insists their buck-naked emperor is nattily attired, you are correct. I am not very bright.

      This is one of the few places I can go where I am smarter than the guy who writes it, and can provoke such hilarious responses from people like you when your hero is called out upon it.

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    3. This is the kind of criticism that can very easily damage a fragile young eggshell mind. She's young and numbers are hard. In the larger scheme of things does it really matter if the details are accurate? Those details really don't matter as long as we care.

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    4. Would that someone of your superior intellect, Anonymous @ 12:13, be able to discern and remember that Bob did not "shed big tears for Gov. Ultrasound," nor did he defend his actions or behavior. If I recall correctly Bob wrote that Maddow, in a hysterical tribal manner, was making more out of what he perceived to be the insignificant extent of the governor's crimes, when Maddow could devote more of her program to issues of greater significance.
      Mayhaps your head was in the clouds at the time, as it continues today.

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    5. Yes, Horace, we all remember what we want to.

      Fortunately, nobody has to rely on the memories either one of us have. Bob keeps a wonderful "Incomparable Archives" which allows people to go back and read what he actually wrote.

      It even allows the more industrious among us to go back and review that before we write about it, just to make sure that what we remember is accurate.

      Apparently, you can't be bothered.

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    6. "For ourselves, we almost never root for people to get charged with crimes, and this case doesn’t seem all that heinous, despite the cheerleading Maddow has done in the past year.

      "Maddow’s a different breed of cat. She frequently roots for people to get thrown in prison, preferably with their naked, shivering children along for the ride."

      http://dailyhowler.blogspot.com/2014/01/governor-ultrasound-still-hasnt-been.html

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    7. Yes, this is why he only got 2 years in prison instead of having the maximum sentence imposed. The judge too thought his crimes were crimes but not heinous ones. Maddow was crowing about him being given the maximum number of years in jail. A person who steals a loaf of bread should get the same sentence as someone who robs a bank, after all, because theft is theft, according to Maddow's thinking.

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    8. He won't stop. Even in light of what you say the guy won't quit writing every day, You realize this right?

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    9. Is he still sufferring from "teacher unfriendly reaction syndrome"

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  2. Even those officially living in what the federal government defines as "poverty" are often not living in what the dictionary defines as "poverty." "Poverty" is defined as "the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions." However, many of the poor have substantial material possessions.
    ◾80 percent of poor households have air conditioning. In 1970, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.
    ◾92 percent of poor households have a microwave.
    ◾Nearly three-fourths have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more cars or trucks.
    ◾Nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV.
    ◾Two-thirds have at least one DVD player, and 70 percent have a VCR.
    ◾Half have a personal computer, and one in seven have two or more computers.
    ◾More than half of poor families with children have a video game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation.
    ◾43 percent have Internet access.
    ◾One-third have a wide-screen plasma or LCD TV.
    ◾One-fourth have a digital video recorder system, such as a TiVo.

    I'm not complaining that the poor have these possessions;. I'm just pointing it out.

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    1. How are YOU defining poor in determining the statistics above? Somerby's point is that you need to explain that first, before you start talking about what "poor" people own or do not own. If your poverty cutoff were $44,000, like that in the Post, it wouldn't be surprising to find that they own TVs and microwaves, which can now be purchased for $100-200 because the cost of appliances and electronics has decreased dramatically over the comparison period you cite. Just as there is inflation that comparisons must adjust for, there is also deflation in costs of certain consumer goods that must be adjusted for. A home today that didn't have indoor plumbing would not comply with housing laws. Does that mean the poor have become richer because they now have indoor toilets? Obviously not.

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    2. Maybe the definition of poverty needs to be revised. In a materialistic culture everyone must buy things or no one makes money. It isn't surprising that poor people own gadgets that can be bought cheaply or second-hand. Maybe our definition of poverty should include lack of access to more important assets necessary to a normal life, such as ability to pay for higher education, buy a home, live near one's work, travel, have health care and adequate nutrition, have a reasonable number of hours per day for sleep, recreation and family life. These are the things poor people have less access to than rich people, by today's standards.

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    3. How are YOU defining poor in determining the statistics above?

      I was defining poor by the official federal poverty level.

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    4. But did the people who gathered the statistics you quoted about appliance ownership define poverty that way?

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    5. "I was defining poor by the official federal poverty level."

      The rigidity of which brings both you and Somerby into nonsensical trouble.

      Circumstances of life being what they are, you can be quite poor yet still earn more than the federal poverty level. And you can also fall in and out of being poor quite easily.

      But then again, that would require some compassion. Much easier to rely on federal statistics to define who is really poor.

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    6. Let's talk about David's numbers:

      -- 80 percent air-conditioned. How many live in public housing or Section 8 where that is required?

      -- 92 percent with microwaves. Can be purchased new for $40 or at thrift stores for $10. Hardly a luxury item.

      -- Three-fourths with cars or trucks. How do you expect them to get to work, especially in areas without good public transportation or without public transportation at all? And what kind of cars and trucks are we talking about? Brand new, top of the line? Or some used beater that they got for $1,000 or so because they needed it to get to work?

      -- Two-thirds with cable or satellite TV. Cheapest form of entertainment you can buy. So what kind of system do they have? A basic system, or the whole shooting match with all the premium channels?

      -- Two thirds with DVDs, 70 percent with VCRs. New DVD players cost $30 or so. Used ones, $10. And used VCRs can be had for $5.

      -- Half have a personal computer. Try sending your kids to school without a computer at home. Some school districts have programs to provide them to kids without. And there is quite the market for used, refurbished desktops these days. The one I am using right now cost me $80.

      -- More than half with video game systems such as Xbox or Playstation. Again, could be old technology that is cheap. Our family has a refurbished Wii for $75 that we use to strem Netflix. Older Xboxes and Playstation hardware can be had for a lot less, and they are practically giving away the game software.

      -- 43 percent have Internet access. So 7 percent have a PC but no Internet? And again, Internet access isn't that expensive, especially bundled with a cable or satellite package. About $15 a month.

      -- One third have "wide-screen" LCD or Plasma TV. Define "wide screen" for me. And of course, two-thirds do not.

      -- One fourth have a digital video recording system. And again, three-fourths do not.

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    7. Somerby is not saying that everything is OK because kids are above the poverty level or that people above that nominal level are not struggling. You are reading that into the post yourself. He is talking about measuring things and using precise definitions to talk about poverty.

      If you define everyone below $1 million as "poor" then poverty becomes a meaningless concept because it includes nearly everyone in a single category. Similarly, if you define half of all children as "poor" by setting a high income level as the cutoff for poverty, you lose the ability to compare with past analyses of poverty and you lose the distinction between those struggling but surviving and those in severe distress. That is an important distinction that is being fudged in this article Somerby discusses.

      When half of all children are described as poor, then it becomes easier to ignore the people you apparently care about, those who need our compassion. They can be ignored because they are combined into a single classification with a great many people who are surviving and whose needs are not as dire, people who look like folks who do not need any intervention or change, people whose lives are a lot like everyone else's. I don't think you want that to happen, assuming you actually care about poor people and are not just complaining about Somerby.

      There was a great deal of thought given to establishing the official federal poverty level. There are reasons why it was not set at $44,600 (for a family of four). That disappears when you treat 2 times the poverty level as the actual standard for being "poor." For one thing, it decreases the urgency of helping the poor -- as illustrated by David in CA's comment above. If those 51% of children look like they are doing fine, despite being poor, why do anything to help poor people? So, complain about Somerby all you like, but you aren't helping anyone who is actually poor when you do so.

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    8. And once again, it is always nice for one of Bob's disciples to explain what he really, really meant.

      Especially one who thinks that a family of four making $44,600 is doing swimmingly well and nothing at all can come along to cause a family with that kind of swag to need some help.

      After all, we should only be concerned with the "actually poor."

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    9. And who gets to decide who is "actually poor"? Why you do! With the help of Somerby and David in Cal!

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    10. No, that is why we have a federal poverty level. So that everyone can use the same standard for who is in what level of poverty. That way I don't decide and David doesn't decide. We all know what we mean by poverty when we use that federal cutoff.

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    11. Plenty of people earning $44,600 are doing fine, especially if they live in areas where the cost of living is lower. Anyone, including someone earning $250,000, can be thrown into poverty by an unexpected emergency. We saw that repeatedly during the foreclosures and job losses in 2009 and after. It doesn't make sense to establish a poverty line for people who are meeting expenses but could be disrupted if something bad comes along. Nor has anyone here suggested that people don't deserve compassion unless they are below some poverty line. That is your invention. The purpose of the school lunch program is not simply to aid those below the poverty line. That's why the subsidies go to families 2x that level. That's also why the cutoff used by the school lunch program should not be used as a proxy for estimating poverty.

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    12. Go back and read Layton's story and count the number of times "poverty" was used.

      Now if you agree that a family can make an income above the federal poverty line and still be poor, then you are agreeing with Layton, and disagreeing with Somerby.

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    13. Go back and read the headline. If you agree that someone can get a subsidized lunch without living in poverty then you are disagreeing with Layton and agreeing with Somerby.

      What matters here is common sense. We are not a 3rd world country in which 51% of families are in abject poverty, which is what that scare headline suggests.

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    14. Barry Ritholtz

      (I'd make it only from 60,000 or so years ago at the earliest when things got rolling, and then with plenty of fits and starts along the way, but yeah, economic progress for modern humans has been the "default setting" and since 1648 there have been steady returns for those populations ensconced within Western Civilization.)

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  3. Aristotle was clownishly wrong.

    Hahaha. Sorry but there's nothing like TDH.

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    1. Aristotle got many things wrong. He classified animals by their number of legs. He thought bees gathered honey (not made it). He thought birds beaks grew long as a punishment for being inhospitable to a guest in a previous lifetime. Being right about some things doesn't make one right about everything.

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    2. Yes, but the arrogance and ego to call Aristotle a clown just boggles the mind.

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    3. Too bad for you that Somerby didn't do that.

      "Aristotle was clownishly wrong" does not convey the same meaning as "Aristotle was a clown." It don't think it takes arrogance or ego to call someone on an obvious mistake, even a smart, famous historic figure such as Aristotle. If we still believed everything Aristotle said, we wouldn't have modern physics. Newton's genius was daring to question Aristotle.

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    4. Oh, the pretzels Bob fans twist themselves into in order to defend even the most obviously stupid things he says.

      Carry on. It's always worth a good mordant chuckle.

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    5. All good points I guess but as the 12:44 commenter, I was not being sarcastic or snide in my comment. I thought the sentence was very funny for its application of common TDH phraseology to Aristotle.

      It's true that it would be perfectly reasonable to call out an important historical figure for an egregious mistake but in this case it is obvious Bob isn't really doing that. It's doubtful he thinks Aristotle was even genuinely clownish in identifying man as the rational animal.

      It's just one of those remarks that make TDH worth reading every day as a source of humor, aside from its status as the most acute media criticism around.

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    6. Thanks for the clarification @ 4:40 but around here, without those clarifications, some assumed you were a troll who needed to go away. Some people who follow the former comic have no sense of humor.

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    7. Some assumed that @4:40 was also @2:24.

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  4. And let us note, as he calls for the firing of Layton and her editor, this bit of legerdemain

    "Almost surely, many kids in the federal lunch program come from families whose incomes are double the federal poverty line."

    Yes, Bob! Let's focus on $44,000 only and say that "many kids" live in families that make that much.

    But please, don't bother defining "many". Instead, just pull it out your ass and throw it out there for your rubes. They'll eat it up.

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    1. Statistically, there are more families closer to the mean than at the extremes. Somerby is correct to speculate that there may be many kids whose families are double the federal poverty line. We know what % are below the federal poverty line. If you subtract that from 51% you get the number between poverty and 2x the poverty line. It is larger than the number below the poverty line. I don't think Somerby needs to quote exact percentages when they are peripheral to his larger issue, which is the competence of the reporters involved.

      I don't think Layton wrote the headline. I do think the editor saw it and should have questioned it. It is a scare headline attached to a more mundane report about increasing numbers of children qualifying for subsidized lunches. It would have been better to say that the number of such kids has been increasing -- but that won't sell as many papers or attract as many eyeballs, so they lie.

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    2. And my point is that if it is "incompetent" not to define "low-income" clearly enough for Bob, then it is utterly dishonest for him to throw out "many" without defining that.

      Again, it should be a national scandal that over half the nation's school children qualify under income guidelines for free or reduced price lunches? That's the big story, isn't it?

      Not to Bob, who completely turns it into another way to feed his obsession about young, female journalists.

      Face it. Bob doesn't give a damn about low-income children.

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    3. No, that isn't the story. If you changed the criteria so that 100% qualified then all kids would get lunch and it still wouldn't be a scandal. It would be a lunch program.

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    4. By all means, let's not talk about half the school kids in the nation living in low-income households.

      Let's instead how many of them are actually "poor" as we would define it.

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    5. "....it should be a national scandal that over half the nation's school children qualify under income guidelines for free or reduced price lunches? That's the big story, isn't it?"

      Precisely. And the fact that the percentage is going up year by year, as income inequality increases year by year. That's the point of this article.

      I have to just shake my head in disbelieve. When I read the article it just made me sad to see the direction this country is headed in. By contrast it made Bob mad because he didn't like the headline, which most certainly wasn't even written by the reporter.

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    6. If you calculate the median salary, half of families will be above the median and half below it. It is accurate to refer to those below the median as lower income, but not poor. The word poor implies you cannot meet your daily needs (not wants, needs). 51% of families are not poor. I am all for increasing income and reducing disparity. I am not in favor of distorting how we talk about numbers. The further you get from reality, the harder it is to live in the world.

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    7. This isn't that difficult to understand, no matter how hard you try to cloud this issue.

      "Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals."

      51% of students now qualify for some sort of assistance under those guidelines, whatever the fuck you want to call them...\

      Of course people like DinC are not happy calling them poor unless they're homeless and begging in the street.

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    8. Many people begging in the street are neither homeless nor poor. They did a survey on that in Berkeley CA, to support their alternative program of giving out vouchers for food and housing instead of cash, as an effort to reduce panhandling.

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    9. And the one who were enrolled in school while begging were doing above average on standardized tests.

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    10. @mm, that students or anyone else would qualify for government assistance does not necessarily in and of itself constitute hardship, it is a policy/political decision and all that entails. If tomorrow Congress passed a law stating the new guidelines to be 200%-450% it would not demonstrate an overnight worsening of economic conditions or a sudden increase in personal hardship.

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    11. "If tomorrow Congress passed a law stating the new guidelines to be 200%-450% it would not demonstrate an overnight worsening of economic conditions or a sudden increase in personal hardship."

      This congress? Surely you're joking.

      The point is, that is not the reality that the article was describing. There are no "new" guidelines. With the current existing guidelines, the percentage is increasing. Period.

      That is NEWS. And it's not good.

      What the fuck is wrong with you people? We're talking about nickels and dimes for kids. 130% poverty level and below they get free lunch. Between 130% and 185% they get some level of reduced price, the closer they get to 185% the less they get.

      Take a look at the map to see what States have the highest percentages. Notice a pattern?

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    12. I'm not making the argument that the school lunch program shouldn't exist, or even that it shouldn't perhaps be more generous. But to exclaim that because people making almost twice the poverty level qualify for government assistance that that in itself must represent a growing dire hardship situation just doesn't necessarily ring true. Read some of David Cay Johnston's stuff and you'll see how money and perks get spread around, assistance doesn't always go to the most needy, not by a longshot.

      Just how arbitrary is the 130%-185% threshold? I don't altogether know. It's been said making law is like making sausage. It likely involved hearings, "expert" testimony, including that of lobbyists with vested financial interests, money changing hands and "horses traded". Theoretically under the current criteria the rate of poverty could actually decline while the rate of subsidized school lunch participation increases. It's important not to confuse the two.

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    13. Got it. Thank you, Captain Obvious.

      However, we're not looking at this one piece of isolated data in a vacuum. There is a mountain of evidence documenting the rise in income and wealth inequality in the US. The percentage of wealth owned by the top 0.1% is now at levels not seen since the 1920's.

      They drew a line, a totally arbitrary one if you prefer. The line hasn't changed. The data is showing more and more students are falling below that line. Period. Now, I think you've got to be pretty twisted to argue that this trend doesn't tell us anything about the rise in income and wealth inequality in this country and the consequences thereof.

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    14. BTW, I call bullshit on your claim that "Theoretically under the current criteria the rate of poverty could actually decline while the rate of subsidized school lunch participation increases." and I challenge you to support that with a plausible scenario showing how a decrease in the number of students below 100% while in increase in the number of students below 185% would be good news.

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  5. The mathematical formula that defines the threshold for living in poverty, and qualifying for free or reduced school lunches are two distinct measurements. They can't be interchanged for the sake of argument. A competent reporter should understand that.

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    1. A competent reporter does.

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    2. A competent reporter did.

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    3. And then lied?

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    4. A competent human being does not call the humanity of others into question based on allowing an erroneous headline to be printed. A tribal one might.

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    5. Excessive literalism is a symptom of mental illness or brain injury.

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    6. Incessant repetition of that phrase does not advance progressive interests.

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    7. It is the only coherent response to someone like @1:48.

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    8. Why is it so hard for some to agree that a reporter said something inaccurate? Instead, we get a litany of excuses, off topic comments and/or attacks on Bob. This is a blog about the media getting things wrong, not about Bob. If the media gets it wrong, it is reasonable to point it out, right?

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    9. The problem @ 1:27 is that Somerby has yet to point out anything the reporter said which was inaccurate. If that is your impression, then Somerby did a better job misleading you than he accuses Layton of doing in her article.

      In fact, commenters have pretty well demonstrated that the one who is inaccurate is Somerby. Why is that so hard for some of his fans to accept?

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  6. Fundamental: It's Time for the Daily Howler's Bob Somerby to Go!

    Bob Somerby just called a reporter for the Washington Post a "life-form" and her editors "inhuman." Their sin? They used, as a definition of students living in poverty, the same definition used by the National Center for Education Statistics to determine the "poverty" level of schools: eligibility for the FRLP.

    Many of the students in "High Poverty Schools" aren't themselves in "poverty." Many of the students who are eligibile for the FRLP aren't themselves in poverty. Yet this is how the "poverty" level of their schools is officially defined by the Department of Education. Shame on the Post and its reporters and editors for making this terrible mistake.


    "Concentration of Public School Students Eligible for Free or Reduced-Price Lunch
    (Last Updated: April 2014)

    In school year 2011–12, some 19 percent of public school students attended a high-poverty school, compared with 12 percent in 1999–2000. In 2011–12, some 28 percent of public school students attended a low-poverty school, compared with 45 percent in 1999–2000.

    The percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL) under the National School Lunch Program provides a proxy measure for the concentration of low-income students within a school. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those from families with incomes that are above 130 and up to 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals. In this indicator, public schools (including both traditional and charter) are divided into categories by FRPL eligibility. A low-poverty school is defined as a public school where 25 percent or less of the students are eligible for FRPL, and a high-poverty school is defined as a school where more than 75 percent of the students are eligible."

    http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_clb.asp

    Howler readers may be familiar with the National Center for Education Statistics. It operates the NAEP Data Explorer often linked to by this blog for statistics showing the progress of students on the National Asessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). It has been called by many, including Bob Somerby way too many times to count, the Gold Standard of Educational Tests. The Commissioner of Education Statistics, who heads the National Center for Education Statistics in the U.S. Department of Education, is responsible by law for carrying out the NAEP project.

    It is NAEP tests to which MR. Somerby often applies "a rough rule of thumb" to approximate how much annual progress differences in test scores demonstrate between groups of students based on things like race and income. Income, of course, is measured only by FRLP eligibility in NAEP and NCES statistics.

    "Good God! Eligibility for the federal lunch program constitutes an extremely rough proxy for poverty!" Somerby wrote, demanding Layton be fired in addition to labeling her a "life-form."

    Somerby did not note in his post that the Washington Post article in question was based on a report just issued which was itself based on NCES statistics.

    Somerby proudly notes and links to several previous examples of similar work on his part previously in this blog. He shouldn't be proud.
    He should just go away.

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    1. One thing he will not do, which is clear, is go away. That's for sure.

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    2. You are clearly not Charlie.

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    3. No - I was there when it happened though.

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    4. +185% of the poverty level for reduced priced lunches is an income nearly twice the level of poverty. While we're at it why not just start bandying about the notion that 51% of public school children's parents are unemployed, or better yet 51% of public school child are now homeless?. That will really show everyone that we care more than the next guy!

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    5. It's weird you would say that 12:08 because I was there. Seriously.

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    6. Well, the building across the street.

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  7. Bob is in way over his head here. By the definition used by the EU, $44,000 for a family of four may be considered below the poverty level because it is less than 60% of the median income for a family of four in the U.S. ($75,000). The OECD considers the appropriate level for the poverty threshold to be 50%, but it is widely accepted within the OECD as well that anything below 60% of the median is "near poverty" -- which, of course, means that saying the free or reduced lunch program is "a rough proxy for poverty" dead-on accurate. The National Center for Educational Statistics expressly considers it to be just that: a rough proxy for poverty. Nobody doubts that 50% or 60% of median income is low income, and that, while not coinciding with official definitions of poverty, they correlate very closely. Virtually always, a school with a high percentage of low income students will also have a high percentage of students who by the definition used officially in the United States, live "in poverty." Whether you or anyone else thinks poverty should be defined differently is utterly irrelevant.

    The fact is, as Bob seems unable to grasp in his zeal to go on the attack, this stuff is very complicated and you can quarrel forever about which things need to be incorporated and which should not. There is poverty before and after taxes and transfers; there are different thresholds for designating an income as in poverty; there is "community" qualification that qualifies all students in a school for free or reduced lunches if a school with over 40% of the students meeting the requirement requests it. While I would certainly question the way the Southern Educational Foundation is describing the data, the reporter's actual reporting in the quoted material is fine. All the "good God's" and "gacks" and "gross incompetences" and the insults with character innuendo -- and not even with a pro forma disclaimer saying that the reporter may not have written the misleading headline -- are simply way out of line here. Somerby should save the heavy breathing for when it really applies.

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    1. You make excellent points Urban Legend. I would quibble with one, however.

      "While I would certainly question the way the Southern Educational Foundation is describing the data, the reporter's actual reporting in the quoted material is fine."

      It is your right to "cetainly question" the Southern Educational Foundation, but reading their report, titled "Low Income Students Now a Majority In the Nation’s Public Schools", it is clear they never misled.

      In fact, they distinguish the percentages of children who receive Free Lunch from Reduced Price Lunch on a state by state basis and it is clear that the number who receive reduced price lunch is small compared to those eligible for free lunch, 44% compared to 7%.

      http://www.southerneducation.org/getattachment/4ac62e27-5260-47a5-9d02-14896ec3a531/A-New-Majority-2015-Update-Low-Income-Students-Now.aspx

      The Washington Post headline is inaccurate. Headlines have never been noted for their complete accuracy in any publication. Including this blog.

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    2. "inhuman"

      "clownishly"

      "clownishly"

      "clownishly"

      "hapless"

      "hapless"

      "slippery"

      "incompetent"

      "gross incompetence"

      "absurd incompetence"

      "ridiculous"

      "ridiculous"

      "grossly incompetent"

      "incompetent"

      "ludicrous"

      "ludicrous"

      "clownishly"

      And allow me to close with a quote from Somerby himself:

      "From this, we get our discourse."



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    3. Please provide some evidence @ 11:59 that you are not some scrub faced troll.

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    4. Go read what Kevin Drum wrote about this. Some districts are giving free lunches to 100% of students. That makes eligibility not even a rough proxy for poverty. It is not related to income at all when schools do that.

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    5. No entire school district is. Some individual schools are when they reach a point where the numbers of students qualifying for free lunch is so high that it isn't worth the paperwork NOT to give all kids free lunch.

      And I am sure that in those schools there are "many" kids -- vast numbers in fact -- living high on the hog who get free lunches without having to meet income qualifications because so many of their classmates do.

      We all know how happy rich parents are to send their kids to schools like that.

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    6. An excellent suggeston @ 12:11. Go read Kevin Drum at Mother Jones.

      Some comparisons:

      1.

      Drum:" The headline is wrong, even though Layton gets the facts pretty much right:."

      Somerby: "Layton, who is utterly hapless, never explains squat or squadoodle in her hapless report."
      2.

      Drum: "participation in the federal lunch program is, as she notes, only a rough proxy for poverty."

      Somerby: "Good God! Eligibility for the federal lunch program constitutes an extremely rough proxy for poverty!"

      Commenter @ 12:11: "That makes eligibility not even a rough proxy for poverty."

      3.

      Drum: "lots of poor kids, especially in the upper grades, don't participate in school lunch programs even though they qualify."

      Somerby and Commenter @ 12: 11: (Silence)

      By all means, read Drum!

      http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2015/01/half-all-public-school-kids-poverty-be-careful

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    7. Yes, Drum and Somerby wrote about this practically simultaneously.

      Interesting isn't it how both are able to make the same points, yet only one of them resorts to the childish insults and name-calling, while demanding the heads of Layton and her editor.

      I particularly call attention to Drum's closing grafs:

      "This is, perhaps, a bit too much nitpicking. Unfortunately, we're forced to use school lunch data as a proxy for poverty among school kids because we don't really have anything better. What's more, child poverty increased during the Great Recession and God knows that I'm all in favor of calling attention to it. In a country of our wealth it's a national scandal by any measure, and a massive problem that infects practically every aspect of education policy.

      "Still, it's a subject that can't easily be reduced to a single school lunch number. Both headlines and copy should do their best to treat the subject accurately."

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    8. No one doubts that Somerby too is in favor of reducing child poverty. If he is less temperate in his language, perhaps it is because he is blogging as an individual, not for pay as a representative of a magazine. Or perhaps the years Somerby has spent both teaching and championing education causes makes him less sanguine. Drum is a wonk, not an activist, and he blogs from an isolated middle class cocoon, so no wonder his language reflects his emotional distance. I don't find that much of a virtue.

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    9. 3:24, the motivation is less important than the actual result. Who cares whether he has it tough? This really takes the cake for contrived justifications.

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    10. 11:39 -- I would still quarrel with the SEF report's title. Because of the community qualification provision, some students who are not low income (by definition under the lunch program) do receive free or reduced lunches. I doubt that "majority" will stand up even with the "low income" refinement. I haven't found the data yet, however.

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    11. I see. The new excuse is Bob is an individual, and nobody is around to tell him to act like a grown-up.

      How old is he anyway?

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    12. Drum is a wonk working from a middle class cocoon? Hell, put him on an imaginary sprawling campus surrounded by elvish analysts. That will make an activist out of him and put a little punch in his prose.

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    13. He lives in Irvine, otherwise known as the "city by the beige." Safest city in the nation, surrounded by upper middle class enclaves in Orange County, CA, bastion of the John Birch Society. He works from his home. He has no kids. His life is about cats. What screams activist about that to you?

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    14. You are absolutely right. Childless men who live alone should not be allowed to write about education.

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    15. And I didn't say that. I said Drum was a wonk not an activist. His concern with education is peripheral. His focus is on economics and politics, all those things people here complain that Somerby neglects. He doesn't care about education personally except as it affects jobs. Because he doesn't have kids, he doesn't get involved personally in education issues as an activist might. Somerby does because he was a teacher in inner city schools. He has continued to advocate on education issues since leaving the teaching profession, after 10 years not the usual 3.

      When a man is childless and lives in an upper middle class enclave in a very conservative but high tech community, that does reflect both his values and his choices in life. Many people move to a place like Irvine because it has good schools. Why do you suppose Drum moved there?

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    16. Somerby moved to Baltimore for what reason?

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    17. The John Birch Society may have had a political presence in Orange County back in the early-mid 60's, but to suggest it remains any kind of "bastion" today is wildly inaccurate. There are still plenty of "country club-type Republicans" in the well-to-do enclaves, even still the reality is much different than the now laughable old stereotypes.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/30/us/politics/30orange.html?_r=0

      All in all a fairly accurate characterization.

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    18. "Dwight Eisenhower is a conscious dedicated agent of the Communist cospiracy."

      RH Winborne Welch, Jr. American gymnast and Orange County Icon

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    19. Most cat owners have little or no idea how much their animals detest them.

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    20. BTW "city by the beige" does not refer to Caucasian segregation or anything of the sort. Irvine is a relatively new, hyper planned city that is obsessed with creating the image of ideal suburban living. Visually the city's structures were built as a rule to be of modern southwest tan desert decor. Very bland, very uniform. The reputation was enhanced by cases of over zealous neighborhood associations making a habit of enforcing strict, ridiculous rules on the aesthetics of persons' private homes.

      Not to defend the practice, some of the abuses are indefensible, but I wouldn't want any Slate readers to be confused.

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  8. " By the definition used by the EU, $44,000 for a family of four may be considered below the poverty level because it is less than 60% of the median income for a family of four in the U.S. ($75,000). The OECD considers the appropriate level for the poverty threshold to be 50%, but it is widely accepted within the OECD as well that anything below 60% of the median is "near poverty" -- which, of course, means that saying the free or reduced lunch program is "a rough proxy for poverty" dead-on accurate. The National Center for Educational Statistics expressly considers it to be just that: a rough proxy for poverty. Nobody doubts that 50% or 60% of median income is low income"

    The idea of defining "poverty" as as per cent of average income is radically different from the traditional concept. Traditionally, "poverty" was associated with starvation, hunger, homelessness, inadequate housing, lack of clothing, lack of medical care, etc. In the US very few people are "poor" today, according to the traditional definition. OTOH defining "poverty" as a per cent, guarantees that there will always be a lot of. "poor" people, no matter how rich we all become.

    In particular, that definition hides the fact that most of today's "poor" are wealthier than the middle class was a couple of generations ago, where wealth is measured by possessions, rather than a percentage of average income.

    Another unfortunate consequence of this artificial definition is to hide just how extremely rich today's Americans and Europeans are compared to most of the rest of the world. Even those in so-called "poverty" are pretty prosperous, compared to much of the rest of the world.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. "Traditionally, "poverty" was associated with starvation, hunger, homelessness, inadequate housing, lack of clothing, lack of medical care, etc."

      Ah, how you must miss the good ol' days.

      Yes, David, the danger here is if everyone was a millionaire than 60% of that would still qualify as living in poverty, which you rightly point out would be an absurdity. Of course, if my grandmother had wheels she'd be a car.

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    2. David, what you think the proper measure of poverty should be is completely irrelevant. If you think "poverty" should mean abject destitution, take it up with the people who work with this stuff their whole lives and have decided otherwise. Maybe you'll find out they aren't stupid and have very good reasons for adopting a standard definition that can be used across many countries. Are you expecting Layton to add a section to the report that says, "But David in Cal and Bob Somerby think we should be using a tighter definition of poverty"?

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    3. Somerby has no quarrel with the definition of poverty. He is objecting to the use of school lunch subsidy as a rough proxy for poverty, then claiming 51% of kids are living in poverty, when they are not. Facts matter and we cannot play fast and loose with them without undermining our causes.

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    4. mm -- perhaps you've been misled by the artificial definition of poverty. What you call the "good old days" is today's reality for billions of people. The US lavishes lots of goodies on Americans living in artificially-defined poverty, because these people vote. Politicians are happy to use public money to buy votes. But, the US is a lot less generous to non-Americans living in true poverty.

      Not to mention Secy. of State Kerry who wants people living in real poverty to stay in poverty, in order to have less CO2 emissions.

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    5. David, this is just not true. First, poor people are less likely to vote so they are the wrong group to buy off. Second, there id nothing "artificial" about the living circumstances of people qualifying for various forms of assistance. Third, how are Americans responsible for people outside the US? When we express opinions about policies affecting those in other countries many competing interests are balanced.

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    6. Should we enroll these billions of impoverished children around the world in our National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs? Jackass.

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  9. Poverty, as far as educaton is concerned, is a matter of vocabulary,not money. As Somerby has so eloquently noted in his seminal series on the Gaps, vast research on six whole welfare families has proven a thirty million word gap exists.

    I suggest we give all incoming students and their mothers a vocabulary test to determine educational needs. Then we won't have to worry about rough rules of thumb like how kiddos pay for lunch.

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    1. Vocabulary is the foundation upon which further learning is based. Kids have difficulty learning when they are hungry. School lunches are provided so that kids can concentrate in school, not because kids are poor or their vocabularies are smaller. The districts that give all kids lunch know that there are other reasons besides poverty which kids might come to school without a proper breakfast and/or without lunch. They aren't trying to measure poverty -- they are trying to encourage all kids to learn. We should be worrying about learning, not about labeling kids. When you give all kids lunch, regardless of means, you avoid stigmatizing some kids by labeling them as poor and you avoid depriving some kids of a lunch they need because their parents fail to provide income information.

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  10. mm -- If we truly care about the most needy, we should end the wasteful and counter-productive school lunch program and use the money saved to help needy people around the world. That help should be tailored to specific needs and what will help most. E.g., George Bush's aids program for Africa.

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    1. This isn't an either/or proposition. We can afford to give our own kids lunch and also help kids around the world, if we want to. Similarly, there is no need to tailor help to specific needs (again choosing between one need and another). Your mindset seems to be "You can only ask Santa for one gift at Christmas so you must choose what it will be." Poor families do have to choose between paying the rent and buying medicine, but we are wealthy as a nation so we can do both.

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    2. I'm all in favor of increasing our foreign aid and against wasting trillions of national treasure on stupid wars of aggression.

      The question is why do you vote for people who constantly advocate cutting the pitiful amount of foreign aid we do give?

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    3. I'll tell you why, mm. I find the Republican politicians not particularly bright, not particularly knowledgeable, mostly tools of special interests, ignorant of the Constitution (which they pledge to uphold), ignorant of economics, ignorant of science, and sometimes out and out dishonest. Ditto the Democratic politicians. So, given a choice, I want these pols to have less power over our lives, rather than more power.

      A good example is the ObamaCare SNAFU. Suppose Sarah Palin been elected President, and suppose President Palin had tried to reform medical care. She would have done a worse job than Obama and the Dems did. But, a President Palin wouldn't have tried to have the government restructure our medical care system. So, she would have spared us the current mess.

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  11. Off topic, but nonetheless. Astonishingly, it appears Bob has been right about Salon all along.

    "the liberal website Salon.com is actually a fraudulent entity run by an extremist right wing hate group in Iowa with links to the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch.

    After an extensive investigation and an in-depth look into their inner workings, financial history, and roster of reporters, it has become clear ....the supposedly liberal site has an ulterior motive. Rather than promoting liberalism, it appears that Salon is in fact a Trojan horse funded with the explicit objective of ruining liberalism in America to pave the way for the radical right."

    http://thedailybanter.com/2015/01/exclusive-salon-com-real-website-operated-far-right-hate-group/#bzvVjfVQxTyxv35m.99

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    1. You know that this is a parody, right?

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  12. To tell the truth the current education system should be improved. Students should be interested is study, gaining knowledge and shouldn't be afraid of various assignments. Often they need essays help online as they have a faint idea how to write this paper, but don't know what should be written and what mistakes should be avoided. In most cases the government makes a feint of taking care of students, politicians use students' needs as the instrument, nothing more. Today families invest in education a lot of money but they can't be sure that it'll be generously repaid.

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  13. Your Howler ReadersJanuary 20, 2015 at 6:34 AM

    TL;DR

    Oh please, "low income," "poverty" -- Quit pretending words have meaning!

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  14. The best part of this post was Bob reminding readers again of how he uncovered the key to the missing strawberries in the lunch program.

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