Who but the Times (and we the humans) would publish a column like this?

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2020

The funding of low-income schools:
Our current surprising situation is remarkably humbling.

We're being tutored by some of the most disconsolate future experts in all of human post-history. In effect, we're enrolled in one of their most depressing graduate-level courses:
Failed Mental Hygiene 401: The Ways Homo Sapiens "Reasoned"
This work is humbling, but can also be startling. These anthropologists' use of the future past tense is a highly unsettling practice.

In recent weeks, these scholars have devoted the bulk of class time to the hapless though instructive ways the new film, Little Women, has been discussed by pseudo-progressives of the current era.

Mordant humor saves the day as these highly credentialed experts discuss this embarrassing topic. Admittedly, the mordant humor is interspersed with the kinds of wails and groans which been unheard since the time of Dante's imagined Inferno.

Whatever! All next week, we'll continue to describe the results of their Little Women punditry findings. Today, though, we'll focus on the gnashing of teeth occasioned by Thursday's New York Times opinion column, The Hidden Inequality in Schools.

The column discussed, or seemed to discuss, a topic which seems important. We read the piece in our hard-copy Times. In print editions, the essay started like this:
AMERIKANER (1/30/20): The Hidden Inequality in Schools

Any debate about fairness in school funding has to start with clear data, but it turns out that data can be very hard to find.

Most people understand the inequity of school districts in wealthier areas having more money than those in less affluent communities. Addressing these disparities—across school districts—is important; but just as important, and less understood, is the unfair distribution of resources within school districts.

A rare study of this issue found that at least 4.5 million students from low-income backgrounds are in schools that receive roughly $1,200 less per child each year than wealthier schools in the very same district. In a single school, this shortfall could allow for the addition of 12 counselors, thousands of dollars in bonuses for dozens of teachers who transfer into hard-to-staff subjects and high quality art, music and extracurricular programming.
So the essay started. We've highlighted its key claim:

According to a rare study, "at least 4.5 million students from low-income backgrounds are in schools that receive roughly $1,200 less per child each year than wealthier schools in the very same district."

That's a surprising claim. Why would low-income schools receive less money than higher-income schools in the same school district?

We can't answer that question, but that $1200 per pupil would add up to a lot of money. At least in theory, that money could be put to a wide array of uses in those underfunded, low-income schools.

So the essay began. But how odd!

Though the essay continued for fourteen additional paragraphs, it never identified any school district in which this underfunding occurs or occurred. (Nor did it ever say who conducted the study to which it referred.)

Has any such district ever explained the reasons for this alleged underfunding? We were left without the slightest idea! Strangely, the essay never returned to a discussion of this alleged underfunding at all.

The essay started with a striking claim—millions of low-income kids attend schools which are significantly underfunded as compared with higher-income schools in the same school district.

But that was the end of any such discussion. When the essay finally mentioned a specific school district, we found ourselves pondering this:
AMERIKANER (pghs 10-11): Take, for example, School District U-46 in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. In this district, only 17 percent of the students from low-income families are proficient or above on state tests, compared with 45 percent of the students not from low-income families,

You might expect that additional dollars are directed toward the schools populated by those students from low-income families. Instead, the new government data shows schools in U-46 receive roughly the same range of funds regardless of how many students are living in poverty.
When the essay finally discussed a particular school district, a different sin was now alleged. Instead of sending extra funds to its low-income schools, District U-46 is funding all its schools roughly the same!

Why would a newspaper like the Times publish an essay like this? According to future experts, this is pretty much the best our species was wired to do!

"It may be hard to believe that editors at the New York Times couldn't see the problem here," one despondent scholar said, even as he struggled with a classic thousand-yard stare. "But as Professor Harari noted in real time, the species was wired for gossip and fiction—and above all else for repetition, and for moral pretense!"

We've shown you chunks of the maddening text as it appeared in the hard-copy Times. On line, the essay is somewhat longer, and its language is a bit more jumbled. But it does at least identify the source of the "rare study" it cites in its opening paragraphs.

The study was conducted by The Center for American Progress. On line, this link is provided.

The article to which the essay links is now almost five years old. The data on which the article was based came from the 2011-2012 school year.

The article did identify specific school districts which were allegedly underfunding their low-income schools. Here are the article's first two bullet points, exactly as they appeared:
Due to the loophole in federal law, more than 4.5 million low-income students attend inequitably funded Title I schools. In most states, there are tens of thousands of students from low-income households who attend Title I schools that are not funded equitably relative to other schools in their district. See the appendix for state-by-state results.

These inequitably funded schools receive around $1,200 less per student than comparison schools in their districts. Overall,these schools receive around $668,900 less per year than comparison schools. In Fort Worth, Texas, for example, inequitably funded Title I schools receive around $2,600 less per student.In some districts, the disparities are even wider. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, inequitably funded Title I schools receive around $4,900 less than other schools. These disparities can add up to millions of dollars at the state level. If these gaps were closed, inequitably funded schools in Texas would receive another $1.6 billion annually, and in New Mexico, they would have an additional $65 million. See the appendix for state-by-state results.
The essay in the Times accurately summarized these claims. But alas! These claims were all built around an alleged "loophole in federal law"—the so-called "compatibility loophole"—which is so poorly described at the start of the article that, truth to tell, we have no idea what the authors are talking about.

(Full disclosure: Down through the years, we've often found that liberal and progressive studies are built on conceptual sleight of hand, intentional or otherwise. We have no idea if that was the case here.)

Are millions of kids attending low-income schools which are seriously underfunded as compared with higher-income schools in their own school district?

In Thursday's Times, an essay started with that claim, but then it abandoned the topic. When we linked to the five-year-old report on which these claims were based, our tutors gnashed their teeth, then told us this:

"Our dearest Rappaccini! Perhaps now you see what we mean!"

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    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  3. Somerby complains that the study on which the claim of unequal funding is based was never identified. Then 9 paragraphs later, he tells us that a link to it was provided, but omitted in hardcopy (because links don't work in print). This may just be an editing error made by a low level staff member who forgot to add back the reference when transferring the work from online to print version.

    When you work as a writer, you acquire sympathy for things like typos because (1) they are extremely difficult to eliminate, (2) they rarely interfere with meaning conveyed, (3) it is often not the author but some production staff that makes the error, (4) anyone can wind up with such an error. So you don't go to town on an article because of a simple clerical mistake. The same goes for spelling errors and similar mechanical errors. They don't mean anything except that humanity is fallible.

    But Somerby seems not to have ever learned that empathy.

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  4. Somerby carps that this study was done in 2011. Does he think that non-profits have infinite resources to repeat the same studies each year, so that they are always fresh? Of course they don't. The question is whether the situation is likely to have changed in the intervening 8-9 years, making the results invalid. He presents no arguments to support that conclusion -- he just makes a snide remark.

    That is how you recognize bias and lack of good faith. Somerby is attacking this article because it is based on a Center for American Progress study and will appeal to liberals, who favor increased funding for schools serving poor children.

    How do we know he isn't actually concerned about accuracy? He says: "(Full disclosure: Down through the years, we've often found that liberal and progressive studies are built on conceptual sleight of hand, intentional or otherwise. We have no idea if that was the case here.)"

    He is telling us outright that he distrusts first, which motivates the kind of nitpicking he routinely engages in, often based on misunderstandings of how research works.

    If he cared about inequities in school funding, he might supply a discussion of the reasons why poor schools arise in poor neighborhoods, beginning with the use of property taxes to fund schools. He might then go on to talk about redlining and why poor kids, who are also more likely to be minority kids, can't just go live in neighborhoods with better schools. He could fill the gap in an article he considers faulty because it decided to talk about other things, assuming the reader may not have been born yesterday.

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    1. It is funny that Somerby believes liberals can't do good research, when most people who do social science research tend to be liberal.

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  5. This is an opinion piece written by Ary Amerikaner. Why doesn't Somerby engage the actual topic of the article, instead of creating a subterfuge about whether there exist disparities in funding?

    Is Somerby suggesting that it is a liberal myth that poor kids tend to go to underfunded schools? If so, he should make that argument and support it with some data of his own (e.g., do some research). Failing that, he is just making his usual snide remarks without backing any of them up.

    Of the type: "It could be that this is a bad study. But I don't actually know whether it is or not." After which, he continues as if it were given that the study is bad.

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  6. Somerby wants us to think that Betsy DeVos is hard at work curing inequality in school funding, so there are no longer any such gap, since that study of 2011-2012 school years.

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    1. Betsy DeVos is encouraging alternative education so that poor kids can escape from lousy schools and have other choices. Democrats, who are beholden to teachers' unions, are fighting alternative education. That means keeping poor kids stuck in lousy schools.

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    2. The problem is that those alternatives are not necessarily any better than their current schools.

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    3. Somerby wants us to think that Betsy DeVos is hard at work curing inequality in school funding, so there are no longer any such gap, since that study of 2011-2012 school years.”

      https://dilbert.com/strip/2015-06-07

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    4. I'm guessing you don't know that Scott Adams is a huge MRA asshole and defender of all things Trump (according to Michael Schein in Forbes.

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    5. He got you absolutely right.

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    6. 1) I am rarely angry, (2) I'm not CMike with the endless excerpts and links, (3) I care about the things I write and am not doing it as an exercise in attacking others or any kind of game, (4) I usually quote Somerby directly because I am objecting to what he says, not some exaggeration that I have invented, (5) I usually engage with others, as I am doing now with you.

      That makes it not an apt caricature of me, whoever else it might fit. Dilbert is often funny but that doesn't make him right or accurate, especially about other people.

      If you read him regularly, you might have noticed that his characterizations of women are always pretty negative and they never are presented like Dilberts male coworkers. In an actual workplace, most of the women are just like most of the men. But not to Scott Adams. It may be that because he is writing about tech workplaces, he has picked up the sexism inherent in that industry, but there is nothing funny about the way he portrays the women who work in tech. It is why I stopped reading him decades ago.

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  7. "Failed Mental Hygiene 401: The Ways Homo Sapiens "Reasoned""

    Mental hygiene is defined as "the science of maintaining mental health and preventing the development of psychosis, neurosis, or other mental disorders."

    Reasoning doesn't cause or prevent psychosis, neurosis or other mental disorders. It can be a symptom, but not necessarily. And anthropologists don't study reasoning or mental hygiene, so why would they ever teach a grad class in it?

    My current theory is that Somerby behaves like an ignorant jackass because he wants to elicit comments correcting him, so that liberals will look like elitists (e.g., people with a college education) and make The Others feel bad, thus driving them to the polls to vote for Trump. Why else would someone with a Harvard education act like such a goof?

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  8. "we've often found that liberal and progressive studies are built on conceptual sleight of hand, intentional or otherwise"

    Intentional, dear Bob. Always intentional.

    The unfortunate members of the liberal cult need to be constantly brainwashed, or their zeal will weaken. It becomes especially important near election time.

    "Why would a newspaper like the Times publish an essay like this?"

    See above, dear Bob.

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  9. The essence of the opinion piece is concern about the lack of adequate data on school funding.

    The author states that the study from the Center for American Progress was rare, but Somerby still complains “The article to which the essay links is now almost five years old. The data on which the article was based came from the 2011-2012 school year.” Is he aware of the definition of “rare?”

    Amerikaner also states that “Good news is coming this year, as a new federal reporting requirement, signed into law late in the Obama administration, comes into effect, mandating all states to publicly report how much each school spends per pupil.”

    She believes that will help gain a true understanding of funding issues.

    Somerby spends 1/3 of his post complaining that the print version didn’t contain the name of the study, only to note that the online version did.

    And, as to his “full disclosure”
    “Full disclosure: Down through the years, we've often found that liberal and progressive studies are built on conceptual sleight of hand, intentional or otherwise. We have no idea if that was the case here.)”

    Somerby’s bias is quite clear, and has been for years. What has he found regarding conservative studies?

    The study referenced here was clear. No one can help Somerby out of his own ignorance, however.

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  10. Here is an example of innumeracy. Bill Maher was talking about why Elizabeth Warren seems to be fading while Bernie is picking up votes, when Warren was climbing in the polls just a little while back. Then he went on to attribute it to some aspect of Bernie's personality or campaign.

    Looking at the polling figures across time, the dips and increases for each of these major candidates reflect the changes due to those candidates who drop out. The votes of their former supporters go somewhere else, to whatever candidate is their second choice. So the increase may not be due to anything Bernie has said, but due to the appeal his has to those who were following the latest person to leave the race.

    The caucus in Iowa is going to use a process where there is initial voting, then the votes of all candidates with less than 15% of votes are reapportioned to the 2nd choice candidate of each voter. So if someone were for Yang but he didn't get 15%, his votes would go to whoever each voter marked as 2nd, perhaps Warren, perhaps Bernie or someone else. That means the polling is not going to be a good indicator of who may come out ahead in Iowa.

    But Bill Maher is too stupid to understand this, so he attributes it to the appeal of Bernie's tough guy bros, obviously implying that Warren isn't tough enough to win.
    What a moron Bill Maher is.

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    Replies
    1. Suppose your hypothesis is, to a degree, correct, and "Bernie" is indeed the most likely second choice of those candidates who drop out.

      In that case, shouldn't his being a more likely second choice than Fake Indian be attributed to some aspect of "Bernie"'s personality or campaign?

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    2. Who the people switch to depends on what they liked about the original candidate they were following. Some of the candidates who have dropped out were more centrist. I agree that they would be attracted to Bernie because of his personality or campaign, but the spike for Bernie would be because the candidate who dropped out most recently resembled Bernie, not because Bernie is out-drawing the other candidates in general. If a centrist candidate dropped out, Buttigieg or Klobuchar would get the spike and not Bernie, no matter how good Bernie was at campaigning (or how tough his bros are, in Maher's terms). If Gabbard were to drop out, Trump might trend up a little (since she doesn't have many followers).

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    3. "I agree that they would be attracted to Bernie because of his personality or campaign..."

      But this is exactly what Mr Maher suggested (according to you). And this quite trivial suggestion compelled you to type hundreds or letters in protest, with an insult in the end.

      And now you say you agree with it. What gives?

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    4. You aren't getting my point. If Pete Buttigieg were hypothetically to drop out, those of his followers who like Bernie would switch to him, but because he is a centrist, more of his followers would go to one of the other centrists. Yes, they are switching because of their affinity to the personality and campaigns of others, but there would be a spike for a centrist, and it wouldn't be because that centrist had a better personality or campaign but because a similar candidate had dropped out and bequeathed him or her their followers.

      Bill Maher didn't suggest what I just said. He suggested that Bernie was seeing a spike because he is a tough guy with tough-guy bros and voters are seeking a strong candidate, not because the people who recently dropped out are more similar to him than to other candidates.

      The spike isn't because of anything Bernie did -- it is because of how the field of candidates changed. That is a big difference in causality and it makes Maher's suggestion that being a tough guy appeals to voters unsubstantiated.

      Maher has a big audience. He has been calling for Democrats to toughen up and behave more like Republicans over several presidential elections now. He thinks we need more dirty tricks of our own and he thinks talking trash like Trump will get Democrats more votes. I disagree with that strongly. That's why I wrote those words.

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  11. Kevin Drum says:

    "it’s the fact that poor schools attract lots of new teachers who are paid less than more experienced teachers."

    So, he makes it sound like the new teachers are deliberately seeking out poor schools. They are the cause of the disparity, not a symptom of it (given his wording).

    When a school has less money, it offers less pay. The more experienced teachers are more qualified and can get the better paying jobs. That leaves the less desirable lower pay jobs for the beginners, who have fewer options because they are less qualified.

    And when the teachers are new, less experienced, less qualified, they are less able to provide a high quality education for poor students, who may have more problems and greater needs than those in wealthier neighborhoods, which means their problems are less likely to be addressed. This means that those students will carry those problems from grade to grade, instead of having them addressed early on, which perpetuates the disparities and those intransigent gaps Somerby loves to talk about.

    But Drum thinks that low pay is "attracting" new teachers. What an odd phrase for a situation where new teachers must settle for the low paying, more difficult classrooms of under-funded schools with many poor students.

    I'm glad neither of these guys has any role in public education. Drum may be good at creating graphs but he isn't very good at thinking about what the data means.

    It is almost as if he wants to say that poor kids in under-funded schools are pretty well off, because on average the US spends more per pupil than Greece.

    Who defends the idea of under-funding schools? Conservatives, especially libertarians. They have made some convoluted, complicated statistical arguments that there is no connection between $ spent per pupil and quality of education. Over time, their sleight of hand has been debunked. This look like more of the same.

    And again, we see that Somerby is no liberal. Liberals support teachers (even unionized ones) and want to see all schools receive enough money to properly educate all kids, even poor ones, and even those with special needs. It astonishes me that Somerby can write these articles criticizing an advocate for more school funding and then claim that he loves all those deserving beautiful black children. Liberals are willing to pay for education. Somerby is no liberal.

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  12. Digby has word clouds up for Warren, Sanders, and other Democratic candidates. see: https://digbysblog.net/2020/02/a-word-cloud-to-ponder/

    Note that the word cloud for Warren shows liar and fake as tiny words, and Pocahontas doesn't appear at all, nor does Indian. The words liar and fake are the same size as the words crazy and health for Bernie. The word unrealistic is larger for Warren, while stubborn and angry are larger for Sanders. Age is big for Sanders, as is Socialist. Radical is big for Warren.

    But it appears that Somerby's belief that Warren's past claims about her heritage will be a liability are not supported by data.

    Why would Somerby claim that Warren has bigger liabilities than other candidates because of Trump's mockery over Pocahontas? Voters are ignoring it.

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    Replies
    1. Make her the candidate then!

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    2. Thanks for the sentiment, but I have only one vote.

      Somerby needs to stop lying about this. He is clearly trying to build support for Bernie by attacking Warren, or maybe he is just trying to rid the field of all the female candidates (especially the ones with any chance).

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  13. The essay in the Times accurately summarized these claims. But alas! These claims were all built around an alleged "loophole in federal law"—the so-called "compatibility loophole"—which is so poorly described at the start of the article that, truth to tell, we have no idea what the authors are talking about.

    I’d be much more sympathetic to TDH’s claim that the loophole was ill-described if he could have been bothered to follow the link he provides to find out the right description of the loophole. It’s not a “compatibility” loophole; it’s a comparability loophole.

    It works like this: The feds provide funds for schools with high percentages of poor students through Title I, Part A, of ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (A bit of stumbling around in the intertubes finds that this amounts to $500-$600 per student.) Providing universal education on an equal basis is part of the mandate of Brown v Board, and the feds quite reasonably insist that their funds are contingent on school districts providing levels of support that are comparable across all schools in a district.

    This seems to me easy to understand. The feds will help equalize things, but the main work falls on the local school districts.

    When it comes to faculty, the feds compare the number of teachers or the number of students per teacher. If two schools of equal size have roughly the same number of teachers, or if two schools of different size have roughly the same class sizes, then the two schools are comparable.

    TDH’s source (Center for American Progress) calls these ways of measurement a loophole, saying that the proper measurement of comparability is faculty budget. Richer schools attract the more experienced teachers, leaving poorer schools with the novices. The feds will insist that the number of teachers or the teaching load be comparable between rich and poor schools, but since novices earn significantly less than the experienced, poorer schools have a significantly lower budget for faculty salaries.

    The assumption here is that a school full of teachers with little experience provides a lesser education than one staffed with teachers with long careers in teaching. That’s as may be, as is the claim that the disparity (on a budgetary basis) is large and widespread.

    Now, where I live, schools are funded on a district basis, not per individual school. So it’s merely a post-hoc calculation that gives the cost of faculty per school. Which is to say that poorer schools in the district are not constrained by an assigned funding for their faculty.

    What’s clear, however, is the definition of the loophole.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Somerby gives up on complexity. That may be a fair reaction to casual reading of a newspaper article, but you do have to think harder to understand some things, as you demonstrate here.

      I think this may have been his problem with philosophy, Godel, and Einstein (even made easy). He periodically writes a post complaining because things that should be easy to grasp are not.

      Teachers call it "task persistence" and it is the willingness to continue grappling with a problem even though an answer (or progress) doesn't come easily or quickly. Schools are supposed to encourage kids to acquire it, but I think it may be related to personality.

      Somerby's overall point is that an article should be easy to read, with no gray areas or complexities or undefined terms or big words. When something frustrates him, he tends to write here about it, blaming others, not his own willingness to dive in.

      I think his attitude will prevent him from learning, but he is pretty old now and there is unlikely to be much hope of changing him. Since the persistence is a frontal lobe characteristic and the frontal lobes tend to shrink with age, and it also seems to depend on testosterone, which also declines with age, we shouldn't blame him for something he probably cannot help.

      Fortunate children are taught persistence as a habit of mind. When a kid asks a question and the parents says "go look it up", they are teaching that kind of persistence. I find myself wondering how Siri and the internet are going to change the balance between a demand for instant gratification vs the delayed gratification that comes with working consistently to accomplish a difficult task.

      Delete
  14. I think it is interesting to note, from Drum's graphs, that the US spends more money than most other countries (per pupil, adjusted for inflation), just as it does for health care. Yet it seems unlikely that the factors driving up health care costs are the same as those driving up education spending. Somerby likes to blame grifters who are looting medical patients, but perhaps there is some other reason why everything seems to cost more in the USA?

    Is it right to disparage so-called oil rich Norwegian nations because they not only spend more per pupil but also consistently do better on international tests? Shouldn't we be glad that they are able to do that for their kids? Why wouldn't that be something we should strive for too? We are rich in natural resources too but don't choose to spend our money in the same ways. Is it fair to blame those countries who have different priorities? I'd rather ask why we don't have the same priorities when it comes to educating our kids.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A better graph might show the per pupil spending as a % of each nation's GDP (or some such). Are we spending proportionately the same as Norway, for example, or Greece or are we spending less when you adjust for our overall wealth as a nation?

      Delete
  15. Ezra Klein has a new book out called "Why We're Polarized."

    As described at Lawyers, Guns & Money blog, it isn't because of economic anxiety but because of racial and cultural anxiety brought on by demographic shifts and the election of a black president.

    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2020/02/the-zombie-lie-of-economic-anxiety

    Klein says that the economic anxiety depends on the attitudes about race, not vice versa. Trump voters are happy with the economy as long as Trump is president, even though their specific condition has not improved. Well off Republicans felt worse about their economic condition while Obama was President, even though they were not materially worse off then. So this IS about race and what he calls "the difficulties of a browning, secularizing nation."

    Somerby's idea that liberals are pissing off The Other (e.g., Trump voters) by being liberal is probably true, but nothing liberals say or do is going to make America a white supremacist nation, as Trump voters wish.

    Behaving more consistently with racist views might attract more votes to centrist candidates, but I don't believe that shows any integrity. Pandering to those unrealistic and unreasonably and fundamentally undemocratic attitudes is not what the Democratic party is about, nor should it be.

    It is possible to learn to respect and live comfortably alongside people who are diverse. Catering to separatists isn't the way to achieve such a goal.

    I haven't read Klein's book yet, but I do wonder what his conclusions are about how to reduce polarization. I doubt he is taking Somerby's approach of eschewing "identity politics" aka civil rights.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Somerby would be talking about some of these issues, if he really cared about education and especially black kids:

    https://www.politicususa.com/2020/02/01/opinion-betsy-devos-corrupt-assault-on-public-education-continues.html

    ReplyDelete
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  18. Today we see reports that the Trump campaign is trying to use Bernie to divide Democrats. Meanwhile, Hillary is appearing in a documentary where she tells some unpleasant truths about Bernie's behavior in 2016, stoking animosity among the Bros who are trying to tell her to shut up and go away.

    I think the best thing for defeating Trump and winning the next election would be for Bernie to pull out of the race entirely. He could then devote his energies to supporting one of the remaining nominees, and aim his Bros towards the correct target -- Trump. That will reengage the disappointed Hillary supporters, defuse the attacks on Warren and other female candidates, stop the attacks on the Democratic party coming from the left, and allow everyone to pull together to defeat Trump. It will also show Trump (and Russia) that Democratic candidates are not for sale and that they cannot manipulate the 2020 election.

    Will Bernie put his country ahead of his personal ambitions? Don't hold your breath.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting.

      Today I saw reports that the Democratic National Congress (DNC) has set up an extensive online communications team of trolls.

      To post exactly the kind of shit you've posted.

      Here.

      Delete
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