Numbers, please! In search of the Antichrist!


As published, a good entertainment: Riding along on Amtrak this Monday, we received a good solid scare from a New York Times op-ed piece.

We thought Michele Bachmann was on the way out! But out in Pullman, Professor Sutton was having a different vision:
SUTTON (9/26/11): The left is in disarray while libertarianism is on the ascent. A new generation of evangelicals—well-versed in organizing but lacking moderating influences—is lining up behind hard-right anti-statists. While few of the faithful truly think that the president is the Antichrist, millions of voters, like their Depression-era predecessors, fear that the time is short. The sentiment that Mr. Obama is preparing the United States, as Roosevelt did, for the Antichrist’s global coalition is likely to grow.

Barring the rapture, Mrs. Bachmann or Mr. Perry could well ride the apocalyptic anti-statism of conservative Christians into the Oval Office. Indeed, the tribulation may be upon us.
Candidate Bachmann has sunk quite low in the polls. But pshaw! According to Sutton, she “could well ride…into the Oval Office!” Apparently, this could well occur because “the sentiment that Mr. Obama is preparing the United States…for the Antichrist’s global coalition is likely to grow.”

How fast is that sentiment likely to grow? Sutton didn't say.

Sutton’s column appeared beneath this headline: “Why the Antichrist Matters in Politics.” In principle, this is an important topic—and it did give us rubes a good fright!

That said, we were most struck by the way Sutton played the numbers in his frightening piece.

How many conservative Christians think Obama is the Antichrist? In the passage we have posted, Sutton presents his answer: “Few.” For ourselves, we have no idea what the number might be, and we certainly didn’t learn from this piece. On the other hand, Sutton quickly used a rather large number—but he changed the field of play.

“Millions of voters…fear that the time is short,” Sutton says. Within the context of the column, this means that these voters fear that the end times are near.

How near? He didn’t say.

In theory, this is a serious topic. In practice, this piece was an entertainment—and a bit of a culture war offering.

The New York Times loves such entertainments. But go ahead—read it with care. How many Christian conservatives tend to vote on a basis like this? In theory, the question is important. But through a great deal of gorilla dust, we see no sign or indication that Sutton has any idea.

Bachmann could well ride into the Oval? We see no sign or indication that this professor knows.

Test score watch: Bungling the SATs further!


Who needs summer school now: Now they’ve even started to cheat on the SATs!

So says the New York Times, which reports that some students have hired brighter folk to take the SATs for them. One kid even got arrested!

In its report, the Times describes the lazy security protocols which have governed such affairs until now. This recalled a recent Times editorial, at which we mordantly chuckled.

“Ways to Prevent Cheating,” the headline said. As they began, the editors described the way New York State is toughening up its own testing procedures:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (9/21/11): Ways to Prevent Cheating

The Board of Regents took an important step this month when it directed the New York State Education Department to develop a plan for eliminating glaring weaknesses in the state testing system. As a first move, the Regents voted to require that state tests for third through eighth grades be given on the same day all over the state. And, from now on, teachers and administrators will have to certify that they have received and will follow the same administrative protocols.

The state is relying ever more heavily on standardized exams to make schools accountable for student performance. The Regents exams now determine whether high school students can graduate, and the yearly tests in elementary and middle schools are used in decisions on how schools are run. In coming years, teachers will also be judged, in part, on how much their students improve on state tests. Given their growing importance, the tests have to have better security measures than exist now.
Sad. Cheating on standardized tests has been an issue for decades. (We wrote columns on this topic in the Baltimore Sun—in the late 1970s!) In New York itself, questions were raised about various testing practices all through the last decade. But the editors of the New York Times kissed the ass of their billionaire mayor, applauding his brilliance, singing his praise and enjoying free booze at his parties. When Gail Collins ruled this roost, she mocked the rubes who were raising those questions—the rubes who turned out to be right.

The paragraphs we have posted speak to a sad dysfunction. Had it really never occurred to anyone that teachers and principals have to follow standardized “administrative protocols” in administering standardized tests? This represents a failure of the state board—but also of the Times itself. The Times likes to talk a good game on these topics. But its own board has slumbered and snored in the face of those “glaring weaknesses.”

Then too, we thought of the letters the New York Times published about this year’s SAT scores.

Average scores dropped a bit this year, even as student participation grew to record levels. Anyone would understand that average scores may tend to drop if more students take part—anyone but the Times and its far-flung correspondents. The paper basically missed this bone-simple point in its news report on the scores. It then published this unfortunate column by E. D. Hirsch, which bungled the point even further. (For our previous posts, click this.)

The Washington Post explained in detail about the way growth in participation might tend to affect average SAT scores. But this bone-simple factor escaped the Times. And then, they published these letters.

The letters appeared beneath this headline: "How to Stop the Drop in Verbal Scores." That headline extends the sense that the drop in scores means that something is going wrong. In fact, the drop in scores may reflect nothing beyond the fact that many more students were tested.

There’s nothing “wrong” with those four letters, but we were struck by the sample the Times selected. Surely, someone must have written the Times to alert them to life as it’s lived on the planet—to let them know how tricky it is to use average SAT scores as a measure of the student population’s progress.

Everyone has always known that the SAT isn’t made for that use. Everyone has always known that, except the New York Times.

Our public school students are very dumb, our biggest newspapers like to cry. When we read complaints of that type, we try to consider the source.

MISSING MOVEMENT WATCH: If we could talk to the animals!


PART 4—IMPROVING OUR GAME: How good is Michael Kazin’s new history of the left, “American Dreamers?”

We don’t know—we haven’t read it. In her review of the book in the New York Times, Beverly Gage offered the following overview. Professor Gage is another of them Yale historian types:
GAGE (9/16/11): The historian Michael Kazin acknowledges that Americans have reached what may be "a nadir of the historical left." But he urges sympathizers not to despair. According to Kazin, the American left has never been much good at building institutions, or getting people elected or seeing its economic programs realized. But it has been enormously effective at shifting the nation's moral compass and expanding its sense of political possibility. The real problem for today's left, Kazin writes, is that its members have forgotten how to think big—how to look beyond the uninspiring present to a more dazzling and egalitarian future. Defending Medicare and Social Security may be all well and good, but what ever happened to utopia?

"American Dreamers" is Kazin's bid to reclaim the left's utopian spirit for an age of diminished expectations.
What might the “even newer left" dream of doing in the diminished future? As she closes her review, Gage can’t seem to imagine (text below). Before we offer our own suggestions, let’s consider a few of the ways the left tends to fail, according to Kazin himself.

The left tends to fail? We know—that sounds crazy! But just for a moment, let’s humor the addled fellow:

In what ways could we on the left perhaps improve our game?

As we noted yesterday, Kazin didn’t spend much time on this question in last Sunday’s New York Times essay. That said, Salon published an interview with Kazin last month in which he discussed this question a bit more. To peruse the whole session, click here.

Mandy van Deven popped the questions. In this, his response to her first Q-and-A, Kazin cited a bit of reality the emergent left tends to ignore:
In the book, you argue that the left has been very successful at changing American culture—but not at making real economic or political change. Why?

It's easier to get people to think about things differently than it is to construct institutions that alter the basic building blocks of society. When leftists talk about having a vision of how things might be different, they attract an audience and create a new way of perceiving things. It's a different issue altogether to go up against entrenched structures of wealth and political power. There are few obstacles to talking differently, singing different kinds of songs, or making a different kind of art, but it takes a sustained movement of millions of people to really change the structures, and that is much harder to organize. Also, most Americans accept the basic ground rules of capitalist society. The ideas are that if you work hard you can get ahead and that it's better to be self-employed than employed by the people. They believe that the basics of a capitalist society are just or can be made just with small alterations. Americans want capitalism to work well for everybody, which is somewhat of a contradiction in terms since capitalism is about people competing with each other to get ahead, and everyone's not going to be able to do well at the same time. That's simply not possible.
Oof! Kazin mentioned some of the pre-existing views of us, the American people. “The left in Europe arises out of a more traditional class structure,” he says a bit later. “When those societies became capitalist, they retained many of the old divisions both in terms of people's consciousness and in terms of the new social structure.” In this country, traditions were different. Here in America, unlike over there, “socialism and communism were never more than marginal beliefs.”

Oof! As the newer left has emerged from its decades of sleep, practitioners have tended to react with rage to the public's pre-existing views. We rarely consider a basic fact—our own long slumber helped create the playing field on which the game must be played. As Kazin continues, he mentions the way long-standing American views may tend to resist ideas from the left. (“The support Americans have for what could be called ‘moral capitalism’ goes very deep.”) But he also mentions the decades of silence in which we lefties engaged:
You would think that the left would become more popular during a bad economy, but that doesn't seem to be happening right now. Why?

That idea is based more on what happened in the Great Depression era than anything that has happened since. The left's success in the 1930s was based on a lot of preparation that went back to the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era when corporations were seen as malefactors of great wealth. When the Great Depression hit there was immediate support for ideas that people on the left had been talking about, like that corporations are selfish and exploit their workers or that the wealth should be more evenly spread out. For the past 35 years, conservative notions about Big Government rather than liberal ones about Big Business have been dominant. When the economic crisis hit in the 2008, Americans were already primed to believe the government couldn't do anything right because it hasn't been doing anything right for years.
Doggone it! All those years of snoring and slumber let those “conservative notions” take hold. One side worked hard while the other side slept. Thanks in part to our own tribe’s slumber, disinformation holds sway. And much of that disinformation is built upon pre-existing American notions.

On well! That was then, and this is now. Now that the liberal world has awakened, what should liberals and lefties do to start building a better future? As he continues, Kazin mentions two impulses which might tend to hold our side back. In this exchange, he cites an obvious instinctive failing—the silly instinct, widely found on the left, to ridicule religion:
Historically, a lot of leftist activism has been based in religion, but these days, few people would make that connection. Why does that get lost in the retelling?

The wide political divide we have now between people who go to church regularly and people who don't tends to break down along liberal and conservative lines. As a result, we tend to forget that evangelical Protestants in the 19th and 20th centuries were attracted to a social gospel that taught them to be their brother's keeper and that Christ called on them to change the world. That belief system was true for the abolitionists, the Populists, the labor movement, for many early socialists, and for black radicals like Frederick Douglass and David Walker. We've lost that history since the 1950s or so because this growing division frames the understanding of religious politics for a lot of people. I think it's a real shame that we allow the arguments about whether there is a God or not to obscure the potential consequences of what people do with their beliefs.
Commenters quibbled with Kazin’s construction. But please! We liberals love to mock religion, thereby putting ourselves at odds with a large majority of the American public.

Of course, we liberals are very good at explaining this obvious instinct away. When Steve Benen does his weekly report, “This Week in God,” he isn’t mocking religion itself, we will say. He’s just mocking “The God Machine” (as he calls it). This is convincing to us liberals, if to no one else. But then we see a post like this, in which a deeper animus becomes so clear that even we might have a hard time explaining it away. Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have religious or cosmological ways—but we seem to recall that Dr. King did, and that Al Gore has always tied his interest in climate change to the precepts of his own “faith tradition.” (And that Bob Dylan did three religious albums!) Whatever one thinks of his constructions, we think Kazin makes a good point in that Q-and-A.

Kazin makes another point that is worth considering. “The people who organized the labor movement in the 1930s were often skilled workers,” he says in response to one question, “but there were also professionals like lawyers and journalists.” Then, he cites “the problem” which has emerged:
KAZIN: The problem, of course, is when the movement is perceived as a movement of the better-educated, wealthy, privileged elite who are simply self-interested. That image is a problem the left, including liberals, continues to have because it has been cut off from a lot of ordinary working people.
Say what? The left “has been cut off from a lot of ordinary working people?” Professor Kazin refuses to stop making these delusional claims—delusional claims in which he suggests there are shortcomings with the way we on the left conduct business. In the following Q-and-A, he continues this obvious nonsense:
What lessons do you think contemporary leftists should learn from their own history?

In order for the left to be successful, it needs to build institutions that involve people who are not intellectuals and professionals, and ones that aren't full of people who only talk to each other. The left should welcome debate because it is healthiest when it argues with itself as well as with other Americans who think differently. When people on the left talk, they have to figure out ways of connecting their ideas to American ideals. Liberty and equality for all are wonderful and utopian standards that most Americans identify with, and this is a good thing for the left because it's what we have been fighting for all along.
We liberals can’t “only talk to each other?” Could that mean that we will have to talk to “Those People” too?

We liberals have emerged from the woods after decades of healing slumber. In many cases, we have emerged with the same elitist ideas which undermined the new left in the 1960s. For our money, Rachel Maddow’s “Week of Dick Jokes” in April 2009 provided the all-time example of this repellent, self-defeating instinct. But let’s just say it: This is never going to change. We liberals love to look down on the rubes—on the people whose minds we must change if we hope to build a real movement.

As Professor Gage closed her review, she seemed to despair about the future. What could liberals dream about now? She couldn’t seem to imagine:
GAGE (9/16/11): This is a hopeful message. All the same, one can't help wondering if it is truly possible at this late date to recapture the utopian visions of radicals past. The left has lost its fire not simply because “nothing so big or important” as slavery or Vietnam has come along to stoke the embers. The left is in crisis because its animating vision—of a world transformed through socialism—has all but collapsed. Kazin is right to note that not all leftists identified as Socialists or Communists, and not all have considered economics the central site of contest. But socialism was always the big idea that explained how issues like racial inequality, gender oppression and factory wages all fit together.

What will replace it—if it does, in fact, need replacing? Kazin isn't sure. But he argues that nobody will answer that question effectively until leftists dream big once again.
What can the left dream big about now? For ourselves, we would offer this answer:

The left can dream of a world where the left doesn’t sneer at everyone else. Where the left tries to focus on shared attitudes rather than on differences. Where the left is willing to admit that the values of regular people aren’t always noxious and deserve a respectful hearing, even if we disagree with those values and views.

Where the left helps people imagine a world in which “we don’t have a singte person to waste.” A world in which we talk about "we." Where we honor and try to help those who “work hard and play by the rules”—even if they disagree with us about various issues.

Can you imagine a world where elites don't look down on everyone else? In our view, you have to "dream big" to picture that world. Up in New Haven, Professor Gage can’t seem to imagine such a big dream, in which liberal elites construct a world where even the rubes get respect.

In search of an active future majority: Michael Moore gets it right!


Michael Moore knows how to talk: All in all, white comedians are better off not making jokes involving race. Last week, on The View, Michael Moore quoted a Bill Maher joke about Obama, then explained what Maher meant by the joke.

His explanation didn’t make any sense. Some people got upset. For the most part, white comedians would be better off dropping racial references in jokes.

On the other hand, we thought Moore was extremely good last night on Last Word. He was speaking from the Wall Street demonstrations. We thought he expressed a lot of good frameworks, but we’ll highlight the part we liked best:
MOORE (9/28/11): What you have to understand about this protest is this is unlike any other protest that you’ve seen in your lifetime, because there’s no dues- paying organization that we all belong to. You know, there’s no membership form. There’s no one person that comes in here and says, now, this is our agenda and this is the way it’s going to be.

There are a variety of demands and concerns within this group. I can, I can say what some of mine are, but don’t mistake that for what the broad, for the breadth of this group here. Because there are—I saw Ron Paul people here. I mean, there’s all kinds of them. There’s all, there’s all kinds of Americans here. There’s all kinds of Americans here.

And nobody here is calling themselves a Democrat or a Republican or a liberal or a conservative. We’re beyond that. That’s right.

This is the people and everyone here represents thousands of Americans who can’t be here tonight who feel the same exact way.

So, I mean, I’ve said what I’ve said for a long time. Tax the rich, jail the bankers, end corporate welfare, end these wars which are costing us $2 billion a week.

You know, it goes on and on. And if we pass the microphone around, you’d hear 15 other things that need to get done.

And you know what? They’re going to get done because this is our country. We’re the majority—the majority. We’re the majority. Never forget that.

The people who work for a living in this country, we are the people. Not the people up here who are taking people’s pensions and their bank accounts and ruining it and destroying their lives.

This is—they are not running this country anymore. They think they are, but that’s going to come to an end right now.
We think the highlighted parts are very strong. Everyone is getting ripped by the Masters of the Universe. As long as the tribes stay at each others’ throats, the Masters will continue to win.

We thought Moore was very smart to start tearing down those presumptive walls. Everyone is getting ripped. It doesn’t hurt to say so.

Imploding culture watch: Hardball’s school for stupid!


A very bad, very dumb man: Joan Walsh played some Hardball last night. More on that below.

But first, let’s consider something Chris Matthews said during Tuesday night’s opening segment. Let’s understand why he said the very strange thing he said.

Matthews devoted that opening segment to the problem he called “Obama derangement syndrome.” First, he discussed the man who heckled Obama on Monday night—though he didn’t seem to know what the man had said, and he didn’t have the right part of the videotape ready to show.

Matthews is seldom prepared on the facts—but he’s always prepared on the narrative. That explains the weird thing he said about Wayne Lapierre’s latest statement.

Lapierre is head of the NRA. Last week, he made an absurdly stupid claim about Obama. After vouching for Lapierre, Matthews played tape of his statement, then made a peculiar comparison.

Matthews spoke with Ron Christie, a Republican spokesman. To watch the full segment, click this:
MATTHEWS (9/27/11): Well, here’s something—another strain of the crazy far right. Here’s the National Rifle Association’s Wayne Lapierre—and I’ve known this guy a long time. I’m astounded by this new accusation that the president is leading some conspiracy. Anyway, here he is, Wayne Lapierre, head of the NPR [sic]—not National Public Radio, National Rifle Association, at the conservative conference in Florida last week. Let’s listen to Wayne Lapierre of the National Rifle Association.

LAPIERRE (videotape): The president will offer the Second Amendment lip service and hit the campaign trail saying he’s actually been good for the Second Amendment. But it’s a big, fat, stinking lie! It’s all part—it’s all part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment in our country! Before the president was even sworn into office, they met and they hatched a conspiracy of public deception to try to guarantee his reelection in 2012.

MATTHEWS: You know, I got to tell you, again, Ron. This—the language, “lie," "conspiracy.” It’s almost like, I don’t know, Lincoln talking about what was going on in the Civil War below the Mason-Dixon line! I mean, this is Civil War talk about a president of the United States!

RON CHRISTIE: Oh, come on, Chris. Look—

MATTHEWS: Well, yes! Look at what he just said.
Lapierre’s statement was patently crazy. In this post, Steve Benen described it as a “self-parody,” then explained the obvious motive for such an absurd set of claims. But Matthews never got around to explaining how stupid Lapierre’s statement was. Instead, he made a peculiar comparison: Lapierre’s statement was “almost like…Lincoln talking about what was going on in the Civil War below the Mason-Dixon line!”


Why did Matthews make this peculiar comparison? It has to do with the comfort food he’s currently serving the troops. To please his gullible liberal viewers, Matthews is trying to turn every such statement into race war against Obama. He especially likes playing his Civil War cards, no matter how strained they may be.

In this case, his weirdly strained comparison didn’t seem to make any sense; it led to a pointless exchange of culture-war insults with Christie. But it’s obvious why Matthews said what he did—it’s obvious, and it’s stupid and ugly. But then, Matthews has always been like this, even when he was making up ugly shit to please his past owner, Republican honcho Jack Welch, the man who made him wealthy.

This brings us back to what Joan Walsh said about Matthews’ past approach to Bill Clinton. When we saw her on Hardball last night, we finally realized what she must have meant in her recent statement about white liberals and Obama. For our previous post on this topic, click here:
WALSH (9/25/11): In terms of media, today's progressive media infrastructure didn't exist during the Clinton presidency…Salon came to national prominence to defend the president from the GOP witch hunt, but our writers and editors divided over Clinton's various achievements and disappointments. On MSNBC, liberals Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews helmed a lineup that was hugely critical of Clinton (today Matthews is one of Obama's leading defenders, while Olbermann, once a passionate supporter, has left both MSNBC and the Obama camp). The New York Times editorial pages, helmed by white liberal Clinton critic Howell Raines and featuring (once-liberal) Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich, savaged Clinton and Al Gore. White progressives at the Nation attacked Clinton harshly on NAFTA, welfare reform and his Wall Street-friendly economic policies, while defending him from impeachment, much like Salon.
Good lord! Walsh’s probable meaning is so absurd that it didn’t occur to us at first. But she probably meant that Matthews was “hugely critical of [President] Clinton” because he, Matthews, was such a big liberal! Within the context of her overall column, this put Matthews on the side of gods. It showed that he, as a major white liberal, was willing to criticize the white Democratic president!

In this case, the story is ever better. In Walsh’s construction, Matthews criticized the white Democratic president—but he’s supporting Obama, who’s black!

One part of Walsh’s statement is true, of course. Matthews was in fact “hugely critical” of President Clinton. After that, he spent two years savaging Candidate Gore in the ugliest, most dishonest ways possible. This had nothing to do with being a liberal. There’s no way on the face of the earth Joan Walsh doesn’t know that.

(Matthews spent the next seven years trashing Hillary Clinton.)

Last night, Walsh played Hardball again. Her lying has kept her alive. Her country stays uninformed.

Imploding culture watch: Kristof passes it on!


Narrative never sleeps: Do you believe in magic?

We were especially struck by the following part of Nicholas Kristof’s new column. Kristof is writing about a school for deeply impoverished children in Kenya:
KRISTOF (9/29/11): The school looks like a good American school, and classes are taught in English. Even though English is a second or third language for these children, 82 percent perform at American grade level—and these kids are ravenous to learn.

“Some of the first and second graders are reading at seventh-grade level,” Jessica said proudly.
Do you believe the highlighted statements? For example, do you believe that some of the first graders are reading at seventh-grade level?

Everything is possible. But we were struck by the ease with which Kristof passed this claim on. Nothing stops the modern post-journalist from presenting such pleasing claims. Familiar narrative is all within a post-factual culture.

In the past year, our society has been soaked with reminders about the possible problems surrounding such claims. But nothing slows post-journalist man as he hands you your favorite stories.

Imploding culture watch: Gail Collins has a new friend!


Did someone eat lead paint: To Seamus the dog, add Willow the cat!

Today, Willow makes her second appearance in a Gail Collins column. Things were moving along quite nicely. Then, someone’s attention-span failed:
COLLINS (9/29/11): The latest stalemate in Washington has been over the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which had been running out of cash what with all the recent fires, floods, earthquakes, plagues of frogs and what have you. Republicans wanted to balance any new FEMA money with cuts elsewhere. Democrats said that when disaster strikes, the tradition is to pony up and deal with the financing issues later.

Republicans said yeah, and that’s how we wound up $14.7 trillion in the hole. And then the Democrats said no way, we got the hole from the Bush tax cuts, and then the Republicans kicked them in the groin and everybody had to go to the emergency room.

O.K., I can hear you all asking: Whatever happened to Willow the cat?

Willow, you may remember, disappeared from her home in Colorado five years ago and turned up recently in a shelter in New York City. Now that was a feel-good story. Her whole family was flown to New York to appear on the “Today” show for a reunion. Why can’t Congress ever do things like that?
To her credit, Collins has begun to admit that she’s hearing voices. Getting back to Willow the cat: If you can remember the fact that she disappeared from her home in Colorado, it may be because Collins devoted much of her column to that topic last Thursday. Here’s how she started that piece:
COLLINS (9/22/11): Right now you're probably asking yourself: What has Congress been up to since it raised the debt ceiling?

A lot! The House, for instance, recently passed an important resolution repudiating the raising of the debt ceiling.

These are the moments when it becomes clear why nobody wants to talk about politics anymore. In fact, as a public service, I would like to change the subject and point out that Willow, a cat who disappeared from its home in Colorado five years ago, has been found in New York City. How do you think she got here? By car? By foot? Let's all talk about that for the next hour or two.
Collins wasn’t hearing voices that day. That day, Collins was bored. “Let's all talk about that for the next hour or two,” she implored.

In today’s column, Collins follows the template from last week’s effort. Every so often, she simply abandons her putative topic and returns to the tale about Willow. She has no apparent point to make; by her own account, she is pretty much doing this because she’s bored out of her noggin. In this manner, Collins burns 143 words off today’s column. (We’re adding in her Ashton-and-Demi detour.)

Is Lady Collins depressed? That would be an unfortunate thing, of course. We mention this possibility because we remember a time when our own work proceeded like this. During our sophomore year in college, we hated our academic work so much that we had to go out and walk around after typing just a few sentences in one of our outstanding term papers. We didn’t stick in shit about missing cats. But our attention span functioned like Collins’.

We’ll admit that we thought of something else when we first read today’s column. We thought of the posts Kevin Drum did a few months back about the effects of lead paint. According to Drum, serious studies have tied the large drops in violent crime to the removal of lead paint from the environment. We have no way of assessing those studies, but Drum took them seriously. For that reason, we did too.

Has Lady Collins been eating lead paint? We’ll admit it: That’s the question which came to mind the first time we read today’s column. But then, it’s amazing how much work at the very top of the elite press can seem to raise genuine questions about mental health. This is the way a culture might look when it is imploding.

Collins is hearing voices today. The voices ask about Willow the cat. If Seamus the dog wasn’t strapped to that roof, we think he’d be barking.


Concerning lead paint: For a post on this topic by Drum in May, click here. For a post from 2007, just click this.

MISSING MOVEMENT WATCH: Could the left be getting it wrong?


PART 3—KAZIN’S STRANGE SUGGESTION: “How do we account for the relative silence of the left?”

In Sunday's New York Times, Michael Kazin weirdly asked that plainly ridiculous question. Despite the nation’s economic woes, despite the vast rise in inequality, we on the left “have failed to organize a serious movement against the people and policies that bungled the United States into recession,” Kazin improbably said.

Why would Kazin say such things about us, the good pure brilliant smart decent folk of the American left? We’re not sure, but he kept it up all through his lengthy essay. As he continued, he even seemed to say that folk on the right have been kicking our perfect pure butts in the nation’s messaging wars:

“Instead, the Tea Party rebellion…has compelled politicians from both parties to slash federal spending and defeat proposals to tax the rich and hold financiers accountable for their misdeeds,” the professor continued—weirdly suggesting that we on the left might need to improve our game!

According to Kazin, most of the juice has been on the right as the nation tries to deal with its economic miseries. Hence his plainly ridiculous question: “How do we account for the relative silence of the left?”

Kazin attempts to answer that question in his essay. Yesterday, we reviewed one major part of his answer (click here). But sure enough! Due to the fact that Kazin is white, his insidious electoral racism was sure to emerge in the course of his effort! And sure enough! As he neared the end of Sunday’s piece, he began to pretend that those on the left may have done some things imperfectly. As he started this part of his piece, his obvious electoral racism plainly began to emerge:
KAZIN (9/25/11): If activists on the left want to alter this reality, they will have to figure out how to redefine the old ideal of economic justice for the age of the Internet and relentless geographic mobility. During the last election, many hoped that the organizing around Barack Obama's presidential campaign would do just that. Yet, since taking office, Mr. Obama has only rarely made an effort to move the public conversation in that direction.
The left has to “figure out how to redefine the old ideal of economic justice,” but Obama “has only rarely made an effort to move the public conversation in that direction!” Plainly, Kazin would never say such a thing about a sitting white president!

OK, we’ve had some fun. For now, let’s put the snark to the side. For those who care to consider the possibility that we on the left might step up our game, Kazin makes some fleeting suggestions at the end of his essay. We think those suggestions are well worth discussing, although his remarks are brief.

How have progressives won in the past? In the past, progressives have “seldom bet their future on politicians,” Kazin says. Instead, progressives have “fashioned their own institutions,” which have driven the discourse along.

In this, Kazin makes an excellent point. Liberals and progressives can’t expect a politician, even a sitting president, to create miraculous new understandings among the American people. Whether it’s President Clinton or President Obama, a president marches to political war with the economic understandings the public already has. In Kazin’s view, the left has tended to drop the ball in this area over the past forty years. During that period, liberals have “focused on rights for minority groups and women more than addressing continuing inequalities of wealth,” he says. There have been large successes in these areas. (Just look how well Herman Cain is doing!) But the right has tended to fill the vacuum concerning the way the economy works.

What explains our relative silence in that area? What have we on the left perhaps been doing in a slightly imperfect fashion?

We know, we know! In a highly tribalized culture, it’s against the rules to ask such questions—to suggest that one’s own tribe may have failed in some manner. Within our burgeoning pseudo-liberal political world, our multimillionaire cable leaders encourage us to mock The Other. Every night, we’re trained to laugh at how stupid Those People are. (You know? The ones who are kicking our asses?) We must never note the sheer stupidity on vivid display within our own tribe. Criticizing one's own tribe is a break with every known rule!

But as he finished Sunday’s essay, Kazin made a strange suggestion. He suggested that we on the left should take a good look at ourselves!

For our money, this part of his essay could have been expanded—and Kazin did expand on these ideas in a recent interview. But here are the brief suggestions with which he ended Sunday’s piece. We’ll highlight two of his statements:
KAZIN: [T]he left must realize that when progressives achieved success in the past, whether at organizing unions or fighting for equal rights, they seldom bet their future on politicians. They fashioned their own institutions—unions, women's groups, community and immigrant centers and a witty, anti-authoritarian press—in which they spoke up for themselves and for the interests of wage-earning Americans.

Today, such institutions are either absent or reeling. With unions embattled and on the decline, working people of all races lack a sturdy vehicle to articulate and fight for the vision of a more egalitarian society. Liberal universities, Web sites and non-governmental organizations cater mostly to a professional middle class and are more skillful at promoting social causes like legalizing same-sex marriage and protecting the environment than demanding millions of new jobs that pay a living wage.

A reconnection with ordinary Americans is vital not just to defeating conservatives in 2012 and in elections to come. Without it, the left will remain unable to state clearly and passionately what a better country would look like and what it will take to get there. To paraphrase the labor martyr Joe Hill, the left should stop mourning its recent past and start organizing to change the future.
Say what? Current liberal institutions “cater mostly to a professional middle class?” And we on the left need to fashion “a reconnection with ordinary Americans?”

Impossible! Aren’t they the very people we very much like to mock?

What is Kazin talking about? And why is he saying these things about Us? For our money, Kazin has more to say on these topics. Luckily, he said some of those things right here, in a recent interview conducted for Salon.

Tomorrow, we’ll examine some of the ways we on the left—brace yourselves!—may be failing to move the ball. Warning! In his interview, Kazin discusses possible errors being made by us on the left!

We know—the notion is strange on its face! Where do they find the very strange folk who are willing to make such claims?

Tomorrow: Possible errors

Krugman: More on the Great Retrogression!


The sorry state of the expert class: Krugman offers another post about what he calls "the retrogression of economics." In this case, Mark Thoma shoots down a Wall Street Journal piece which misrepresents the views of Krugman and Jamie Galbraith.

"You keep getting economists dismissing Keynesian economics based on what they think they heard somebody say Keynesian economics is all about," Krugman writes. "Something very bad has happened to this discipline." On the other hand, is anyone surprised when WSJ opinion pieces are full of baldly ridiculous crap? We're not sure why this example counts as anything more than the latest partisan bullroar.

Elsewhere, the state of the nation's expertise seems to be non-existent, often in ways which aren't especially partisan. We're thinking of our so-called "educational experts," who never seem to foresee or understand any events, who praise the data from the NAEP but never seem to notice what those data seem to show. Beyond that, the work of the professoriate is often amazingty weak when the professors show up on newspaper op-ed pages (see Melissa Harris-Perry this week). And the journalistic elite is stunningly inept, has been for a long time.

Our expert elites seem to function extremely poorly. Can modern nations function this way? We hope Krugman will continue to discuss this problem as it exists within the dismal field.

How we got here: She still won't tell you the truth!


Still stunned after all these hours: Once again, we’ll recommend Melissa Harris-Perry’s recent piece about “electoral racism” as a genuine must-read column. Though we don’t mean that as a compliment—and no, the piece isn’t salvific.

Harris-Perry writes about race, our nation’s most important topic. But good lord, her work is truly awful, in a wide range of ways! We’ll offer much more about her piece next week. In the meantime, we’ll note one part of Joan Walsh’s reply at Salon.

Why are white liberals upset with Obama? Is it because of their "insidious" electoral racism? It’s sad to see the ease—and the manifest dumbness—with which the professor tosses this claim. But for today, let’s review Walsh’s account of the way the white liberal world reacted to President Clinton—and even to Candidate Gore!

White liberals battered Clinton too, Walsh says. In many ways, that statement is accurate—although for the most part, the liberal world was asleep in the woods during the Clinton-Gore era. That said, we were very much struck by a few of Walsh’s constructions in this passage:
WALSH (9/25/11): In terms of media, today's progressive media infrastructure didn't exist during the Clinton presidency…Salon came to national prominence to defend the president from the GOP witch hunt, but our writers and editors divided over Clinton's various achievements and disappointments. On MSNBC, liberals Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews helmed a lineup that was hugely critical of Clinton (today Matthews is one of Obama's leading defenders, while Olbermann, once a passionate supporter, has left both MSNBC and the Obama camp). The New York Times editorial pages, helmed by white liberal Clinton critic Howell Raines and featuring (once-liberal) Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich, savaged Clinton and Al Gore. White progressives at the Nation attacked Clinton harshly on NAFTA, welfare reform and his Wall Street-friendly economic policies, while defending him from impeachment, much like Salon.
What a strange set of recollections! We have no idea why Walsh would call Matthews a liberal even today; it’s absurd to describe him as a liberal during his very ugly 1990s incarnation. And when was Maureen Dowd ever a liberal? It’s very strange to see the way these labels get handed out.

Beyond that, note the way Walsh recalls the treatment of Clinton and Gore. Did the New York Times editorial pages “savage Gore?” You might say that, but the trashing of Gore by Rich and Dowd doesn’t even begin to compare to the pathological attacks delivered by Matthews for two solid years. Joan Walsh still won’t tell you that about the great man for whom she vouches, although she surely must know it. But then, she still plays a great deal of Hardball.

Again, let’s try to get clear on the history. Was Matthews “hugely critical of Clinton” during the Clinton-Gore era? That’s a significant understatement, although it represents a step in the right direction from Walsh. But again: Matthews was massively worse toward Gore. For two solid years, he behaved in a disgraceful, pathological manner toward Candidate Gore. Absolutely no one did more to send George Bush to the White House.

Walsh still won’t tell you that! Just read her dream-like account, in which Frank Rich went after Gore, but somehow Matthews didn’t.

We’ll soon be posting chapter 6 of How He Got There; this chapter extends the story of Matthews’ repellent conduct during Campaign 2000. Twelve years later, career liberals still refuse to tell you the truth about these history-changing matters. They still refuse to tell you the truth about the way we all got here.

What the heck: This weekend, we’ll post a chunk of that chapter—a chunk which details Matthews’ behavior. Will Joan Walsh ever be truthful about her pal and benefactor? The evidence says that she will not. People like Walsh have kept you clueless for these many long years.

Concerning the brilliant work at the Nation: According to Walsh, “White progressives at the Nation attacked Clinton harshly on NAFTA, welfare reform and his Wall Street-friendly economic policies, while defending him from impeachment.” Perhaps. But right through October 2000, “white progressives at the Nation” were still promoting the RNC’s crackpot trashing of Candidate Gore. With three weeks left to go in the race, a silly sad crackpot “white progressive” was allowed to rant like this:
COCKBURN (10/16/00): What suppressed psychic tumult drives [Gore] to those stretchers that litter his career, the lies large and small about his life and achievements? You'd think that a man exposed to as much public derision as was Gore after claiming he and Tipper were the model for the couple in Love Story, or after saying he'd invented the Internet, would by now be more prudent in his vauntings. But no. Just as a klepto's fingers inevitably stray toward the cash register, so too does Gore persist in his fabrications.
For the record, Matthews was worse. But that was your Nation way back then. Harris-Perry headlines this week.

Costs of health care: Don't ask, they won't tell!


You’ll never find out why: The cost of health insurance is soaring, the New York Times reports today. Reed Abelson’s news report appears right at the top of page one.

Will you ever find out why the cost of insurance is soaring? With history as our guide, we very much doubt it.

Abelson lays out some basic facts about the rise in prices. Prepare for some of that déjà vu all over again:
ABELSON (9/28/11): A study released on Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a research group, showed that the average annual premium for family coverage through an employer reached $15,073 in 2011—9 percent higher than in the previous year. And even higher premiums could be on the way, particularly in New York, where some companies are asking for double-digit increases for about 1.3 million New Yorkers in individual or small-group plans, setting up a battle with state regulators.

The higher premiums are particularly unwelcome at a time when the economy is sputtering and unemployment is hovering at about 9 percent. Many businesses cite the cost of coverage as a factor in their decision not to hire, and health insurance has become increasingly unaffordable for more Americans. The cost of family coverage has about doubled since 2001, compared with a 34 percent gain in wages.
Let’s assume this study is right—that premium costs are soaring again. Will we ever learn why this is happening? Don’t bet the house on that prospect, unless it’s under water. To his credit, Abelson includes a few minor suggestions—and presumably, this topic isn’t the focus of the Kaiser report. Along the way, he also records these shrill suggestions by others:
ABELSON: In New York, consumer advocates contend that the latest requests exceed any documented rise in costs, with some companies enjoying three years of record profits and paying millions of dollars in dividends and executive compensation.

“We’re at a watershed moment,” said Elisabeth Benjamin, who represents Health Care for All New York, a group of 100 organizations advocating affordable care. “The Cuomo administration has to decide, will the Department of Insurance stand up for the little guy, John Q. Public, or let the insurance companies get away with this nonsense?”
Oof! Beyond that, Abelson includes this tragicomical passage. This is part of a longer discussion about rate hikes in the state of New York:
ABELSON: But to Leslie Moran, senior vice president of the New York Health Plan Association, an industry group, the result confirms that under the new law, the process bows to political pressure, not actuarial reality.

“There was an effort to somewhat artificially suppress premiums to prove that the prior approval system was working,” she said, noting that New York requires at least 82 percent of premium revenue be spent on paying medical claims. (Nationwide, under the new health care law, the minimum is 80 percent.)
The cost of insurance is soaring again. But don’t worry! Eighty cents of every dollar you spend will actually go toward your health care!

Why are insurance costs soaring again? Where is all that money going? We doubt that the Times will ever answer such questions, based on past performance. To wit:

In 2009, our country pretended to conduct a year-long discussion of health care. How can we contain the soaring costs of health care? This was one of the central topics our country pretended to discuss.

But the New York Times and other such orgs never made the slightest attempt to report and explain the ludicrous cost of health care in this country. Why does our country spend two to three times as much on health care, per person, as other developed nations? Given the alleged focus on health spending, this was the most obvious question in the world. Relentlessly, it was ignored. Most people have never heard that we spend that much more than everyone else—and they’ve certainly never seen any attempt at giving a real explanation.

The NewsHour didn’t tackle that topic; neither did the Post or the Times. Our biggest news orgs have agreed not to go there. And by the way:

As the sounds of silence evolved, the liberal world sat there and stared.

Tiresome chestnut watch: These kids today are so dumb!


Students don’t know history, journalists can’t write: We were struck by the headline on Sam Dillon’s report in today’s New York Times. This is what the headline says in our hard-copy paper:

“Students’ Knowledge of Civil Rights History Has Deteriorated, Study Finds”

As we’ve long noted, newspapers love to write stories about those kids today—about how little today’s students know. That said, we were somewhat surprised by that headline.

Has someone done studies down through the years—studies which measured student knowledge of the civil rights movement? That seemed a bit unlikely to us—such a study would be highly specialized. But so what! We started reading, eager to learn how much dumber these kids are today.

Alas! We read Dillon’s whole report without receiving an answer! Early on, he made his basic claim. But he never presented any evidence in support of the highlighted statement:
DILLON (9/28/11): That ignorance by American students of the basic history of the civil rights movement has not changed—in fact, it has worsened, according to a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, on whose board Mr. [Julian] Bond sits. The report says that states’ academic standards for public schools are one major cause of the problem.

“Across the country, state educational standards virtually ignore our civil rights history,” concludes the report, which is to be released on Wednesday.
In fact, Dillon never quotes any part of this new report which says that the ignorance has worsened. Nor does Dillon explain how the Southern Poverty Law Center could know such a thing.

Dillon says the SPLC report is being released today. Presumably, readers can read the report on-line and fill in these gaps on their own. But Dillon never made any attempt to justify his basic premise and the attendant headline.

Are today's students really more ignorant of civil rights history? We don’t have the slightest idea—and we read Dillon’s whole report, which is rather lengthy. It didn’t seem to occur to Dillon that he should include such basic information. Or who knows? Maybe Dillon put it in and his editor took it out!

Students are clueless about history—or so we’re told. We know that the Times can’t write!

At long last, rubber met road: Much of Dillon’s report concerns the published history standards of the various states. Glorying in the pride of our strength, we issued low, mordant chuckles about this approach.

Finally! In paragraph 18 (out of 19), reality finally bit:
DILLON: Even in schools that try to teach history rigorously, the civil rights movement may get short shrift because in the traditional chronological presentation of United States history, teachers often run out of time to cover post-World War II America, said Maureen Costello, a director at the poverty law center who oversaw and edited the report, titled “Teaching the Movement: the State of Civil Rights Education in the United States 2011.”
In our view, Dillon gets major props for mentioning this point at all. But he did make readers wait till the end for this bit of basic reality.

MISSING MOVEMENT WATCH! As the left slept!


PART 2—HISTORY TAKES A LONG TIME: “Whatever happened to the American left?”

Michael Kazin may be a history professor, but he asked this very good question in Sunday’s New York Times. For the record, Kazin is a man of the left. But in his essay, he painted an unflattering portrait of the left’s role in the current American debate.

Despite the ongoing economic meltdown, the left has “failed to organize a serious movement against the people and policies that bungled the United States into recession,” Kazin wrote. The tea party right is much more dominant in the current debate, he judged. Then, he asked his question again:

“How do we account for the relative silence of the left?”

We think that’s a very good question. Today, let’s check the professor’s overview of the way we got into this mess.

(For part 1 of this report, just click here.)

What accounts for the “relative silence” of the left? In effect, Kazin says this: History takes a very long time—and so does building a movement! The left built a movement a long time ago. But in the past four decades, the work of movement-building has mainly been done on the right.

At one time, the balance was different. In this passage, Kazin states his basic premise—and he recalls the time when the left invested decades in movement-building:
KAZIN (9/25/11): How do we account for the relative silence of the left? Perhaps what really matters about a movement's strength is the years of building that came before it. In the 1930s, the growth of unions and the popularity of demands to share the wealth and establish ''industrial democracy'' were not simply responses to the economic debacle. In fact, unions bloomed only in the middle of the decade, when a modest recovery was under way. The liberal triumph of the 1930s was in fact rooted in decades of eloquent oratory and patient organizing by a variety of reformers and radicals against the evils of “monopoly” and “big money.”
The groundwork for that liberal triumph had been laid over the course of decades, extending back into the nineteenth century. In this passage, Kazin takes us through the basic history. We’ll let you scan the whole chunk:
KAZIN: The seeds of the 1930s left were planted back in the Gilded Age by figures like the journalist Henry George. In 1886, George, the author of a best-selling book that condemned land speculation, ran for mayor of New York City as the nominee of the new Union Labor Party. He attracted a huge following with speeches indicting the officeholders of the Tammany Hall machine for engorging themselves on bribes and special privileges while ''we have hordes of citizens living in want and in vice born of want, existing under conditions that would appall a heathen.''

George also brought his audiences a message of hope: ''We are building a movement for the abolition of industrial slavery, and what we do on this side of the water will send its impulse across the land and over the sea, and give courage to all men to think and act.'' Running against candidates from both major parties and the opposition of nearly every local employer and church, George would probably have been elected, if the 28-year-old Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican who finished third, had not split the anti-Tammany vote.

Despite George's defeat, the pro-labor, anti-corporate movement that coalesced around him and others kept growing. As the turn of the century neared, wage earners mounted huge strikes for union recognition on the nation's railroads and inside its coal mines and textile mills. In the 1890s, a mostly rural insurgency spawned the People's Party, also known as the Populists, which quickly won control of several states and elected 22 congressmen. The party soon expired, but not before the Democrats, under William Jennings Bryan, had adopted important parts of its platform—the progressive income tax, a flexible currency and support for labor organizing.

During the early 20th century, a broader progressive coalition, including immigrant workers, middle-class urban reformers, muckraking journalists and Social Gospelers established a new common sense about the need for a government that would rein in corporate power and establish a limited welfare state. The unbridled free market and the ethic of individualism, they argued, had left too many Americans at the mercy of what Theodore Roosevelt called ''malefactors of great wealth.'' As Jane Addams put it, ''the good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain, is floating in mid-air, until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.''

Amid the boom years of the 1920s, conservatives rebutted this wisdom and won control of the federal government. ''The chief business of the American people is business,'' intoned President Calvin Coolidge. But their triumph was brief, both ideologically and electorally. When Franklin D. Roosevelt swept into the White House in 1932, most Americans were already primed to accept the economic and moral argument progressives had been making since the heyday of Henry George.
Roosevelt didn’t take office waving a wand which magically changed his nation’s thinking. The understandings which helped him proceed were decades in the making. “After years of preparation, welfare-state liberalism had finally become a mainstream faith,” Kazin writes. In this passage, he again describes the building-blocks which help a president prosper:
KAZIN: After years of preparation, welfare-state liberalism had finally become a mainstream faith. In 1939, John L. Lewis, the pugnacious labor leader, declared, "The millions of organized workers banded together in the C.I.O. are the main driving force of the progressive movement of workers, farmers, professional and small business people and of all other liberal elements in the community." With such forces on his side, the politically adept F.D.R. became a great president.
We’d dump the term “welfare state” ourselves. But decades of effort had created the understandings which helped FDR prosper.

Things changed after that, Kazin says. In this passage, he describes a basic change in political energy—a transfer of energy on certain issues from the left to the right:
KAZIN (continuing directly): But the meaning of liberalism gradually changed. The quarter century of growth and low unemployment that followed World War II understandably muted appeals for class justice on the left. Liberals focused on rights for minority groups and women more than addressing continuing inequalities of wealth. Meanwhile, conservatives began to build their own movement based on a loathing of “creeping socialism” and a growing perception that the federal government was oblivious or hostile to the interests and values of middle-class whites.
As liberals turned toward issues of racial and gender justice, conservatives began to develop a movement whose messaging dealt with economic issues. At this point, Kazin describes the rise of the current conservative world, starting with Howard Jarvis and Proposition 13 in 1979. In Kazin’s account, the right has spent the past thirty-plus years building the type of movement the left long ago:
KAZIN: Like the left in the early 20th century, conservatives built an impressive set of institutions to develop and disseminate their ideas. Their think tanks, legal societies, lobbyists, talk radio and best-selling manifestos have trained, educated and financed two generations of writers and organizers. Conservative Christian colleges, both Protestant and Catholic, provide students with a more coherent worldview than do the more prestigious schools led by liberals. More recently, conservatives marshaled media outlets like Fox News and the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal to their cause.
As we noted yesterday, Kazin’s description of that “impressive set of institutions” is extremely polite. But in his view, the right has laid the groundwork for current economic fights over the course of four decades.

There is nothing especially new about this basic analysis. You can read a similar account of the past four decades in Paul Krugman’s book, The Conscience of a Liberal. But Kazin stresses a very important point—like history itself, movement-building take a long time. When it comes to current issues, the “relative silence” of the left has been a long time in the making.

As Kazin notes, the left was doing some very good things during the period under review. Parts of the left were deeply involved in issues of racial and gender justice; major victories were achieved in those areas. But what should the left be doing today to get itself back in the current game, in which voters are asked to consider basic issues of economic justice?

Kazin has some thoughts about that—thoughts he expressed in Sunday’s essay and in this recent interview. Tomorrow, we’ll look at what he has said—though once again, we will suggest that he has been a bit too polite.

Forty years of intellectual struggle preceded President Roosevelt. Decades of slumber and self-indulgence preceded his current successor. That self-indulgence continues apace. In truth, we liberals just aren’t very smart—and lord, how we love to lose!

Paul Krugman's largest theme

What is the state of the culture: Krugman has made these points before, but they represent his largest theme. In this new blog post, he again discusses the decline in intellectual culture in his own field, economics.

First, he discusses a basic question: Is the field of economics actually making progress? At present, his judgment is no:
KRUGMAN (9/27/11): I’ve never liked the notion of talking about economic “science”... Still, when I was younger I firmly believed that economics was a field that progressed over time, that every generation knew more than the generation before.

The question now is whether that’s still true. In 1971 it was clear that economists knew a lot that they hadn’t known in 1931. Is that clear when we compare 2011 with 1971? I think you can actually make the case that in important ways the profession knew more in 1971 than it does now.

I’ve written a lot about the Dark Age of macroeconomics, of the way economists are recapitulating 80-year-old fallacies in the belief that they’re profound insights, because they’re ignorant of the hard-won insights of the past.
That's a remarkable judgment. But as he continues, he asks a second question. In effect, he asks if economists are even trying to get things right. Again, the answer is no:
KRUGMAN: What I’d add to that is that at this point it seems to me that many economists aren’t even trying to get at the truth. When I look at a lot of what prominent economists have been writing in response to the ongoing economic crisis, I see no sign of intellectual discomfort, no sense that a disaster their models made no allowance for is troubling them; I see only blithe invention of stories to rationalize the disaster in a way that supports their side of the partisan divide. And no, it’s not symmetric: liberal economists by and large do seem to be genuinely wrestling with what has happened, but conservative economists don’t.

And all this makes me wonder what kind of an enterprise I’ve devoted my life to.
In our view, this pattern can be observed in all sorts of areas and disciplines. In many areas, it escapes the simple division of conservative versus liberal. Whatever explains our past as a nation, we simply aren't a very bright or honest people at this point in time.

Our experts aren't smart, and our experts aren't trying. It seems to us that these observations describe the culture's decline.

Alas! In many areas, the lazy, lousy work is coming from the culture's "liberals." It's very easy to get paid for being stupid these days, as long as you keep telling tales that send thrills up targeted legs.

The growing dumbness isn't all political. On the other hand, most of it is mercantile in some way. It connects to the desire to sell pleasing, predictable stories to some target audience which waits to be pleased. At any rate, it seems to us that the dumbness and phoniness Krugman describes are actually all around.

Permissive editor watch: Letting David Brooks vent!


A tale of two ludicrous passages: When Kevin Drum read David Brooks' new column, he was struck by the following passage, in which Brooks rattles off an astonishing economic wish list. To read Drum's post, click this:
BROOKS (9/27/11): When you are confronted by a complex, emergent problem, don’t try to pick out the one lever that is the key to the whole thing. There is no one lever. You wouldn’t be smart enough to find it even if there was.

Instead, try to reform whole institutions and hope that by getting the long-term fundamentals right you’ll set off a positive cascade to reverse the negative ones.

Simplify the tax code. End corporate taxes and create a consumption tax. Reshape the European Union to make it either more unified or less, but not halfway as it is now. Reduce the barriers to business formation. Reform Medicare so it is fiscally sustainable. Break up the banks and increase capital requirements. Lighten debt burdens even if it means hitting the institutional creditors.
Really? Is that all? What would we do on Tuesday?

Drum was struck by that astounding wish list, the longest list we have seen since Homer listed the various scenes Hephaestus, the famous crippled smith, forged onto Achilles' shield. We too were struck by that passage when we read our Brooks this morning. But for ourselves, we were even more struck by this ridiculous passage:
BROOKS: Many Democrats are predisposed to want more government spending. So they pick up on the one current they think can be cured with more government spending: low consumer demand. Increase government spending and that will pump up consumer spending.

When President Obama’s stimulus package produced insufficient results, they didn’t concede that maybe there are other factors at play, which mitigated the effects. They just called for more government spending. To a man in love with his hammer, every problem requires a nail.
That's a completely absurd account of what the stimulus advocates said in real time. Paul Krugman says so again today, naming the pitiful Brooks by name and linking to Dean Baker.

What goes through the mind of an editor who is asked to put such nonsense in print? By now, Krugman has explained these bone-simple points about a thousand times. Krugman has now explained this point more often than Homer compared the sea to dark wine, the type Brooks seemsto be drinking. Can anyone seriously believe that Brooks was typing in good faith when he pimped this bogus material to his newspaper's readers?

New York Times editors rarely seem to know an excessive amount. "Everything in moderation" seems to be their classic ideal. But surely, the editor who reviewed Brooks' column knew that this passage was typed in bad faith. What goes through the mind of the fellow who waves such obvious crap into print? Who is willing to see his newspaper's readers deceived and disinformed in such an obvious manner?

How many times will Krugman explain this before the slow learners start to catch on? Before the editors at the Times tell Brooks he has to stop this?

A must-read piece: Luckily, it never ends!


Egregious gives way to insidious, subtle: We won’t have time today to give this piece the care it deserves. But Melissa Harris-Perry’s piece at The Nation is a true must-read. To read it, just click here.

According to Harris-Perry, “electoral racism in its most naked, egregious and aggressive form” seems to be “no longer operative.” (We don’t quite know why she says that.) Luckily, though, it has been replaced by new forms of electoral racism—by forms of electoral racism which are more insidious, more baffling, more subtle!

Harris-Perry can see these new forms of electoral racism in the way President Obama’s approval ratings have fallen among white liberals—indeed, among white voters in general. This follows Charles Blow’s recent piece, in which he managed to spot the same problem among Hispanics.

At some point, we’ll discuss Harris-Perry’s piece in more detail. At Salon, Joan Walsh has offered this lengthy response. David Sirota has offered this.

Harris-Perry is a professor at Tulane. For that reason, she believes that much of Obama’s decline among whites can be attributed to disappointment that he hasn’t been more “salvific.” In an earlier piece, she noted this: “Those of us who attempt to talk about racial bias encounter a few common discursive strategies that are meant to discredit our perspectives.”

We liberals just can’t help ourselves. It’s one of the ways we practice to lose. But we strongly recommend Harris-Perry’s piece. It’s that rarest of birds—a genuine must-read column.

Scam watch: Duke in the schools!


Duke professor [HEART] narrative: Bureaucrats love to produce phony numbers!

In recent months, many reports have emerged about the way schools and school systems have produced phony standardized test scores. (Other reports have been suppressed.) In this morning’s New York Times, we read a similar story about the way Mayor Bloomberg’s minions have apparently produced phony job-placement numbers—phony data about the numbers of people for whom city agencies found jobs.

Here we go again! Under pressure, some agencies found ways to fake their job placement numbers! If you’ve followed the test score debacles, parts of Michael Powell’s report will sound extremely familiar:
POWELL (9/27/11): “My manager would stand right over me and say: ‘Marlene, get me the damn numbers!’ ” Ms. Steele recalled. “I know what I was doing was not right, and so did he. My livelihood was on the line.”

A “Gong Show” atmosphere attended as deadlines approached. Managers applauded high producers, and handed out movie tickets, fruit baskets and Starbucks vouchers. They berated those who fell short.

“They told us to get placements by any means necessary,” said Ms. Defillo, whose account was supported by another front-line employee who requested anonymity because she works at a city-financed nonprofit organization. “That meant what? Lying. Falsifying records.”
“Caveats are in order,” Powell says. He notes that as many as 70 percent of one center’s claims may have been real!

Back to our standardized testing programs: In recent years, there have been many abuses and misjudgments in the way such programs are administered. Then too, there have been many hapless critiques of the overall utility of such testing programs. In Sunday’s Outlook section, the Washington Post offered the latest such effort from a cosmically hapless professor.

The professor in question hails from Duke. We’re not sure she made a coherent claim in her entire piece.

For ourselves, we can’t imagine running schools for low-income kids without an annual testing program. Might we make the world’s most obvious point? In the absence of annual testing, parents of these deserving kids would be get lied to all the time! Every kind of fanciful claim would be made about the amazing progress the children were making in their amazing school.

Does anyone not understand this?

At present, our testing programs are often conducted quite poorly. That doesn’t mean that we should throw annual testing away.

That said, Sunday’s piece is a masterwork of bafflegab and professorial incompetence. Does its author make a coherent claim at any point in the piece? According to Professor Cathy Davidson, Frederick J. Kelly invented multiple-choice testing in 1914—and he wouldn’t like the way his invention is being used today.

For unknown reasons, Davidson seems to think this constitutes some sort of argument. For the record, Davidson’s claims about Kelly’s views are extremely hazy, like everything else in this piece.

Davidson’s column is a primer in a key topic. It helps us appreciate the sheer incompetence displayed by professors at many major universities. That said, we were especially struck by this paragraph, which we think is truly disgusting:
DAVIDSON (9/25/11): We know that bubble tests address only a quarter of the kinds of knowledge students master in schools. For low-income kids, who have limited resources for college costs and thus little reason to think that their test scores matter to their future, the exams can seem irrelevant. For them, low scores can denote not just a possible lack of knowledge but also a possible lack of motivation to concentrate on the exam. Affluent kids, if they pay enough and take enough test-prep courses, can get higher scores.
People like Davidson never stop pimping this narrative. They pretend that low-income kids may be doing just as well as their more advantaged peers; the low-income kids just don’t try as hard on their standardized tests. Or something! As with everything else in this piece, Davidson’s claim isn’t especially clear in this passage. But the narrative on which she draws is extremely familiar.

Garbage like that has pleased beautiful minds for as long as we’ve followed these issues. But it’s ugly, stupid and utterly wrong in its suggestion. On average, low-income kids are in fact way behind; they haven’t “mastered” a whole lot of “knowledge” which the tests are somehow failing to measure. The tests aren’t wrong when they indicate that these kids are far behind. And no, it isn’t because these deserving kids don’t try hard enough when they’re tested.

It’s amazing how dumb professors can be at the most famous universities. But for people who care about low-income kids, that hoary old suggestion—The kids are alright! The tests have it wrong!—is just unbelievably ugly. That crap has been washing around forever. Will our lofty professors ever let this song die?

(We know, we know. You can parse that passage carefully, making it technically accurate.)

On the whole, Duke should be embarrassed by this highly incoherent column. So should the Washington Post. But don’t worry—in many precincts, it’s all about those pleasing narratives. Has been for a long time.

MISSING MOVEMENT WATCH! Whatever became of the left?


PART 1—KAZIN’S QUESTION: Michael Kazin is a professor at Georgetown—but today, we won’t hold that against him. In Sunday’s New York Times, Kazin wrote an essay which asked a very good question:

“Whatever Happened to the American Left?”

This, the headline on Kazin’s piece, represents the basic question he posed all through his piece. For the record, his question is a bit of a lover’s question. Kazin defines himself as a man of the left.

Kazin has just published “American Dreamers: How the Left Changed a Nation,” a history of the American left. But as he started Sunday’s essay, he wondered about “the relative silence” of the left today. At the end of this, his opening passage, the professor asked his basic question in a second way:
KAZIN (9/25/11): Sometimes, attention should be paid to the absence of news. America's economic miseries continue, with unemployment still high and home sales stagnant or dropping. The gap between the wealthiest Americans and their fellow citizens is wider than it has been since the 1920s.

And yet, except for the demonstrations and energetic recall campaigns that roiled Wisconsin this year, unionists and other stern critics of corporate power and government cutbacks have failed to organize a serious movement against the people and policies that bungled the United States into recession.

Instead, the Tea Party rebellion—led by veteran conservative activists and bankrolled by billionaires—has compelled politicians from both parties to slash federal spending and defeat proposals to tax the rich and hold financiers accountable for their misdeeds. Partly as a consequence, Barack Obama's tenure is starting to look less like the second coming of F.D.R. and more like a re-run of Jimmy Carter—although last week the president did sound a bit Rooseveltian when he proposed that millionaires should ''pay their fair share in taxes, or we're going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare.''

How do we account for the relative silence of the left?
According to Kazin, the left has “failed to organize a serious movement against the people and policies that bungled the United States into recession.” How do we explain that relative silence, he asked.

Has the left really been silent—even relatively silent—about the nation’s ongoing economic miseries? Some folk may reject this basic claim as a scurrilous slander. For ourselves, we think Kazin is asking an important question—a question liberals and progressives should be asking themselves much more often, in a much more disciplined way. Beyond that, we think he paints an accurate picture of the modern political discourse—a discourse in which most of the energy, and most of the skillful messaging, can be found on the right.

In truth, Kazin can be a bit annoying when he describes this sad state of affairs. Have the forces of the right taken control of the discourse? We would say that this claim is accurate. But here’s the way Kazin describes their efforts over the past thirty-plus years, a period in which the right has taken the energy away from the left:
KAZIN: In the late 1970s, the grass-roots right was personified by a feisty, cigar-chomping businessman-activist named Howard Jarvis. Having toiled for conservative causes since Herbert Hoover's campaign in 1932, Jarvis had run for office on several occasions in the past, but, like Henry George, he had never been elected. Blocked at the ballot box, he became an anti-tax organizer, working on the belief that the best way to fight big government was ''not to give them the money in the first place.''

In 1978 he spearheaded the Proposition 13 campaign in California to roll back property taxes and make it exceedingly hard to raise them again. That fall, Proposition 13 won almost two-thirds of the vote, and conservatives have been vigorously echoing its anti-tax argument ever since. Just as the left was once able to pin the nation's troubles on heartless big businessmen, the right honed a straightforward critique of a big government that took Americans' money and gave them little or nothing useful in return.


Like the left in the early 20th century, conservatives built an impressive set of institutions to develop and disseminate their ideas. Their think tanks, legal societies, lobbyists, talk radio and best-selling manifestos have trained, educated and financed two generations of writers and organizers. Conservative Christian colleges, both Protestant and Catholic, provide students with a more coherent worldview than do the more prestigious schools led by liberals. More recently, conservatives marshaled media outlets like Fox News and the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal to their cause.

The Tea Party is thus just the latest version of a movement that has been evolving for over half a century, longer than any comparable effort on the liberal or radical left. Conservatives have rarely celebrated a landslide win on the scale of Proposition 13, but their argument about the evils of big government has, by and large, carried the day.
Our questions: Is Rush Limbaugh’s talk radio program really part of “an impressive set of institutions?” Has Limbaugh’s talk radio program mainly served to “disseminate ideas?” How about the conservative think tanks which have churned endless sets of talking-points designed to disinform the voters? One example out of millions: When these think-tanks convinced the public that the Social Security trust find was just “an accounting fiction,” were they really constructing “arguments” and “ideas”—a “straightforward critique?” Or would it be more accurate to say that they were engaged in disinformation?

Kazin is quite polite in his description of this conservative world—the conservative world which has emerged since the days of Howard Jarvis. He doesn’t mention the mountains of garbage which have emerged from those “think tanks, legal societies, lobbyists, talk radio and best-selling manifestos”—mountains of garbage which have often disinformed the public. On the other hand, not everything from the right has been garbage during this period—and we think Kazin’s basic picture is basically accurate. Starting at some point in the 1960s or 1970s, the conservative world began to build a very successful message machine which has in fact largely “carried the day.” These institutions have been “impressive” in their raw political power. And in the face of this message machine, the left has been rather inept.

Whatever happened to the left? In the fact of this “impressive” onslaught, the left has largely failed.

This basic portrait isn’t new, but progressives need to discuss it more often. Whatever happened to the left? Why has the left been so inept in the political wars of the past forty years? Why does so much of the energy and messaging success lie with the heirs to Howard Jarvis?

What accounts for our relative silence?

In his essay and in this recent interview, we think Kazin is asking good questions. Sadly, major figures of the left are constantly giving us partial answers. Just this week, some of Kazin’s fellow professors are giving us our latest look at some of the ways the left keeps failing. Alas! There is rarely a dearth of damn-fool conduct emerging from folk who represent the left in the eyes of the larger world. The modern left loves to fail, in the dumbest ways possible.

Why has the left been so inept? We think that’s a very good question. Sadly, there are many good answers. We’ll be frisking Kazin’s question in this series all week.

Tomorrow: History takes a long time

Additional Amtrak travel tip!


Where to sit south of New York: Later today, we'll be returning to our sprawling DAILY HOWLER campus. Full services will resume tomorrow.

For today, another tip on where to sit on the train. South of New York, always sit on the left side of the car.

Reason? The fullness of life! Crossing the Susquehanna, you can check in on the trees which have grown out of the old concrete pilings of a former bridge of some kind. The bridge is gone, but the pilings remain. We always look in on the trees which somehow took root and grew up out of that concrete.

We rank them among our favorite trees, first cousins to cummings' "little tree" (just click here). And no, they can't been seen from the right side of the train!

Needless to say, this recalls the transplendent Poundstone bit about the people on the two sides of the plane. We don't think she meant it as political commentary, but as our politics has become more and more tribal, the bit takes on more and more life. ("Pssst! People on the left! We hate the people on the right! You are the best people on this plane right now.")

"They are ruining everything." The bit gains more salience every year. Click here, move ahead to 3:15.

Pundit watch: Why must they fight?


Maureen Dowd snarls at Collins: Tomorrow, we'll be returning to full HOWLER services. Today, before we head for the train, we chronicle a nasty feud which has broken out at the very top of the of the pundit corps.

As Grandmother always used to say, "Why must they fight?"

The fued involves two New York Times columnists, Gail Collins and Maureen Dowd. Many saw Collins as a Dowd wannabe when she began her work as a sillybill columnist.

This weekend, the resentment spilled out.

Overall, the similarity of viewpoint was on clear display. On Saturday, Collins helped us see what a dope Perry was at last week's GOP debate. On Sunday, Dowd helped us see that too:
COLLINS (9/25/11): But it was impossible to watch that debate without realizing that Perry is not presidential timber, or even presidential polyurethane.

Here was Perry's answer to the inevitable question about what he'd do if the White House phone rang at 3 a.m. In this case, the hypothetical call informed the hypothetical President Perry that the Taliban had gotten control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

"Well, obviously, before you ever get to that point, you have to build a relationship in that region. And that's one of the things that this administration has not done. Just yesterday we found out through Admiral Mullen that Haqqani has been involved with--and that's the terrorist group directly associated with the Pakistani country--so to have a relationship with India, to make sure that India knows that they are an ally of the United States."

DOWD (9/26/11): The only reason Perry got in the race in the first place was that Republicans yearned for an alternative to Romney. (This weekend, they were drunk-texting Chris Christie.) But for now, Perry is proving to be Romney's best asset.

Asked the 3 a.m. question by a moderator, Bret Baier of Fox News, what would a President Perry do if he got a call saying Pakistan had lost control of its nuclear weapons to the Taliban, the Texas governor offered a Palinesque meditation on "the Pakistani country."

"Well, obviously, before you ever get to that point, you have to build a relationship in that region," he said. "And that's one of the things that this administration has not done. Just yesterday we found out through Admiral Mullen that Haqqani has been involved with--and that's the terrorist group directly associated with the Pakistani country--so to have a relationship with India, to make sure that India knows that they are an ally of the United States." But can he see the Taj Mahal from his house?
Dowd threw in that Taj Mahal crack as a way of topping Collins. She would play the Palin card because her rival hadn't! (She also mentioned drunk-texting. Youngsters, always write about the things you know!) But Dowd's ultimate power move involved a topic Collins has made her own: The strapping of Mitt Romney's dog.

On Saturday, Collins raised the topic for at least the twentieth time. Indeed, she played her favorite card early on. This was the start of her column:
COLLINS: Gloom pervades the land. Some people believe it's the economy. Others blame the weather. I think it's because the country is gradually coming to grips with the fact that Mitt Romney is going to be the Republican nominee for president.

It is a scientific fact. Every minute, somewhere in America, another citizen realizes that Mitt is going to be in our face for the next 14 months. Conceivably for the next nine years. Children now in third grade might graduate from high school without ever experiencing a totally Romney-free day.

This is not something I'm happy pointing out. For one thing, I don't want to believe I live in a country that would seriously consider bestowing the nation's highest office on a man who once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. Plus, we have barely gotten started on Rick Perry, the last great Mitt alternative. Have you noticed how huge his chest and shoulders are? Looming over his lectern at Thursday's debate, he looked like a float.
Perry's chest and shoulders are too large, but Romney strapped his dog to the roof of his car! It was good solid hard-hitting stuff. At any rate, Collins dropped the Seamus reference at our feet, much as Seamus would have done with his master's slippers. If he hadn't been strapped to the roof of that infernal car!

The next day, Dowd fought back. The upstart had made this play once too often. Dowd now said it was hers:
DOWD: In "Pretty Woman," Richard Gere played a financial shark who downsized companies; he wore expensive suits, went to polo matches and drove an expensive sports car. (No dog or hooker tied to the roof.) Romney, by contrast, is trying to downplay his downsizing fortune and his upgrading of his snazzy La Jolla beach house.
There! She even worked in the beach house. And of course, she mentioned hookers, topping Collins again! East Coast owns St. Louis!

Dowd went on to do the Carl Jr.'s stuff, using last week's tough-as-nails reporting by Ashley Parker. But when Dowd muscles in on the Seamus account, it's pretty clear that the New York Times has a real fight on its hands.

Krugman and Brooks have squabbled at times. This makes the pair look like playful puppies next door to a Michael Vick house party!

Collins has worked the Seamus account since August 4, 2007, when she told us this, quite correctly as things have turned out: "Every time Mitt Romney walks on stage, a sodden Irish setter is going to flash before my eyes." Her headline said this: "Haunted by Seamus." We should have seen it coming then. At the Times, Dowd had always owned the "haunted" beat; haunted belonged to her. More specifically, she owned the "haunted Irish" beat, and Seamus wasn't just any dog.

As Grandmother always said, "Why must they fight?" At one time, Dowd would have settled for the Carl Jr.'s stuff, letting Collins handle the pets. Now, it seems the agreement have changed. As we close, let's state the obvious:

The American people will be the big losers if this thing turns into a teeth-baring brawl. Readers will be hungry for Romney trivia for months, perhaps years, to come. We think the Times should step in now to settle this dispute.