Anthropology 101: Parker examines the public!


At the Times, there are no words for the sheer size of The Dumb: Yesterday, we were too kind concerning The Dumb which rules at our greatest newspaper.

Glancing back through yesterday’s New York Times, we realized that we should have cited the following part of one report. In a new advance for the newspaper’s galloping Dowdism, Kate Zernike wrote about the candidates’ houses. And omigod!

The highlighted passage is actually part of what the Timesperson said:
ZERNIKE (12/29/11): Even in an era of the two-year presidential campaign, with debates that seem to come as regularly as dinner, there remains that nagging question: never mind the packagers, handlers and strategists; what are these candidates really like? The hunt goes on for insights and stories to provide an unfiltered view of their true character.

Where better to look than their homes, to get a sense of their style, and what it might tell us about what they value and how they live?

Of course, the Republican candidates would like to call the movers and relocate in the next year or so to a new house—the big white one on Pennsylvania Avenue now occupied by President Obama.

But for now, let’s consider their current or recent homes. The New York Times enlisted interior designers and a design psychologist to scrutinize photos and share their thoughts, political leanings aside, on what the homes reveal about the candidates.
The Times “enlisted a design psychologist” to scrutinize photos of the candidates’ homes! No, really. That is what it said.

Quick question:

Citizens can still tour FDR’s home at Hyde Park, New York. What insights into his likely performance as president might a voter have gained from such a tour in 1932, even if the voter had a design psychologist in tow? What would a voter have learned from touring the Kennedy compound in 1960?

That JFK liked sailboats?

In recent years, our “press corps” has pretended to evaluate candidates by checking out their homes. Do you recall the results of their search in Campaign 2004?

Bush’s ranch showed he was down to earth. Kerry’s house was way too big—plus, he sometimes went wind-surfing there! Everything there was just wrong!

But then, this is one of the dumbest elites ever let loose on the earth. We liberals agree not to state this point. But if you actually doubt that fact, please review Ashley Parker’s latest front-page “report.” (Parker’s beard, Michael Barbaro, helped her write this report.)

As usual, the sheer inanity of the piece makes it hard to summarize, but some poor editor had to try. This is the headline he or she conjured, live and direct from the front page of today’s hard-copy Times:

“Voters Examining Candidates, Often to a Fault”

As this editor read this piece, he thought Parker and Barbaro were rolling their eyes at those dumb-ass voters.

Presumably, quite a few citizens do base their vote on fairly dumb lines of reasoning. The humor in this latest report concerns the way Parker rolls her eyes at precisely the types of nonsense she herself writes about.

Small correction: Based on that headline, some editor thought she was rolling her eyes at the dumbkopf voters. But it occurred to us that she might see today’s report in a different way—as a justification for her own stupidification project. After all, if this is the way the voters think, her “news reports” really make sense:
BARBARO AND PARKER (12/30/11): But in three dozen interviews across Iowa and New Hampshire over the past few days, voters readily acknowledged that their decisions would be driven as much by personal chemistry and biography as by political positions and policy.

Voters were hard-pressed to recall details of the candidates’ plans to reduce taxes, create jobs and shrink the government.

Yet voters knew about the marriages and mannerisms, the faith and careers of the candidates, and they brimmed with unvarnished opinions about any trait that strikes them as admirable—or just as likely, annoying.
Presumably, they also know about candidates’ hair. Parker did a front-page “report” about Romney’s hair on the day after Thanksgiving.

And yes, it was on the front page.

Based on that headline, some editor seemed to think that Parker was criticizing the voters. But if you read this latest piece, you might imagine another agenda. In today’s piece, Parker writes like an anthropologist on her first tour of Borneo. Vapidly, she chronicles the voters’ concerns—their concerns about the very topics she herself writes about.

This is Dowdism in a can. It appears above the fold on page one, dwarfing this report concerning a matter of substance.

Funny, ain’t it? Kerry’s house was way too big. The brains in Versailles are too small.

YEAR IN REVIEW: A memorable text about a group we simply don’t care about!


PART 3—ROTHSTEIN MENTIONS A FACT: To an astounding degree, our public discourse is driven by plutocrat scripts.

These scripts don’t have to be built upon facts. In a recent column, David Brooks sampled one of our most ubiquitous narratives—a narrative which helps advance all sorts of plutocrat preferences:
BROOKS (12/26/11): The United States spends far more on education than any other nation, with paltry results. It spends far more on health care, again, with paltry results. It spends so much on poverty programs that if we just took that money and handed poor people checks, we would virtually eliminate poverty overnight. In the progressive era, the task was to build programs; today the task is to reform existing ones.
Forget the part about education spending. Has the U.S. gotten “paltry results” from its public schools in recent years? As written, the claim was vague—but its general thrust is hugely familiar. Indeed, this is one of the most familiar scripts in the plutocracy’s playbook.

Everyone makes this type of claim, from Barack Obama on down.

This brings us to one of the year’s most memorable texts—a text which passed with little notice. The text was written by Richard Rothstein, in a book review for Slate.

Incredibly, Rothstein included a fact. This sort of thing just isn’t done:
ROTHSTEIN (8/29/11): The only consistent data on student achievement come from a federal sample, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Though you would never know it from the state of public alarm about education, the numbers show that regular public school performance has skyrocketed in the last two decades to the point that, for example, black elementary school students now have better math skills than whites had only 20 years ago.
Say what? Here at THE HOWLER, we've written about those NAEP scores for years, urging liberals and mainstream journalists to write about them. We might as well have asked the gods to send ginger ale through our faucets. But even we had never offered the fascinating construct Rothstein presented. Wow! The National Assessment of Educational Progress tests students in the fourth and eighth grades—has done so for forty years. And as of 2009, black fourth-graders were scoring higher in math than their white counterparts from the early 1990s!

If those test scores do reflect real achievement, this is plainly not a “paltry result.” Very substantial score gains also appear in reading. But your public discourse—your political world—is routinely controlled by plutocrat scripts. David Brooks rattled one off this week, as easily as other folk breathe.

(In fairness, we’ll guess that Brooks has never heard about those NAEP scores. How many people have?)

For us, Rothstein’s piece was one of the year’s most memorable texts. But very few folk will remember his text because very few folk ever cited it.

Everyone from Obama on down repeats the claim that David Brooks sampled. Almost no one repeated the fact that Richard Rothstein offered.

We've long proposed an obvious reason for this remarkable silence—no one in the whole U.S. gives a rat’s asp about black kids. (What conclusion could be more obvious?) But to us, Rothstein’s text is memorable for an obvious reason. Plutocrat scripts control our discourse in one major area after another. But where else is a plutocrat script so dramatically contradicted by such simple facts?

Everyone vouches for the NAEP—but no one ever describes its results! But then, you live at the end of a very long hall of mirrors. All along that very long hall, white liberals boast about their vast racial greatness—even as we refuse to cite Rothstein’s memorable text.

Tomorrow: Memorable texts regarding the world's elites

New York Times presents: Houses of the hopefuls!


The information never ends: Increasingly, we’ve been struck by our tribe’s tolerance for The Dumb.

We got that feeling as we read Kevin Drum’s post concerning Ashley Parker’s latest. Kevin read the whole darn piece and came away with this:
DRUM (12/28/11): The New York Times reviews Mitt Romney 2.0 today in much the same way you'd review a new version of an iPad or an update of Microsoft Word. Verdict: He's layered a slightly retooled UI onto the same old chassis, and it's an awkward fit. The man can't make small talk, tosses weird wonkery around whether it's appropriate or not, and doesn't seem to quite understand the concept of humor. Occasionally, though, I think this serves him well...
Kevin goes on to offer a chunk from Parker's “review”—an episode where Romney’s failure to understand the concept of humor supposedly served him well. This was the chunk he posted from Parker’s deathless report:
PARKER (12/28/11): A few moments later, a voter named David Rivers asked Mr. Romney whether there would be place for Mr. Paul, a Texas congressman, in a Romney White House. Mr. Romney treated the question as a joke, letting out a laugh and walking on by.

“I was actually kind of serious,” Mr. Rivers said in an interview afterward.
According to Drum, “a nervous chuckle and a quick getaway was the only decent response” in this circumstance.

Whatever. Drum’s piece was a bit of a tongue-in-cheek throwaway—and that’s what we really don’t get. The sheer stupidity of this type of “reporting” never seems to bother us libs, even though its fruits have been used to destroy our candidates in the past. But no matter how stupid the Dowdism gets, we liberals and progressives never seem to complain about its existence—its growing dominance in our daft political culture. Reading the comments to Drum’s piece, you will see readers getting into conversations about what Romney should have said.

This is very, very dumb. What makes us so blind, so tolerant?

For the record, Romney—who doesn't seem to quite understand the concept of humor—has smoked Br'er Gingrich in the past week with a punishing, highly effective joke drawn from I Love Lucy. (The gods often respond in such ways to “news reports” like Parker’s.) At any rate, there’s much, much more to learn in the Times about the various GOP candidates. This morning, to cite just one example, the Times offers this giant, sprawling report about the houses they live in.

“The hunt goes on for insights and stories to provide an unfiltered view of their true character,” Kate Zernike thoughtfully writes, referring to the GOP hopefuls. “Where better to look than their homes, to get a sense of their style, and what it might tell us about what they value and how they live?”

Good lord! And yes, she actually wrote that. Does Dowdism get more plain?

We know, we know! That grinding stupidity was in the “Home” section; in fact, it ate up the vast bulk of the section’s front page. But galloping Dowdism rules at the Times, even as its intellectual author flounces about in JFK’s former home. (Yesterday, she let her brother write her column, as she does once a year, for no known earthly reason.) Also today, Helene Cooper offers this fairly dumb piece about the way Obama spends his spare time. The piece features a giant photo of Obama boarding Air Force 1, and a second substantial photo of Obama at play in Hawaii. People! We get to see what it’s like when the president recreates! Meanwhile, for a bit of the know-nothingism which rules at the post-Dowd Times, just enjoy this bit of analysis. For whatever reason, Rep. Dennis Cardozo is enlisted to serve as Cooper’s resident “expert:”
COOPER (12/29/11): On Capitol Hill, Republicans say they rarely hear from the president, and members of his own party complain that Mr. Obama and his top aides are handicapping themselves by not reaching out enough.

“When you have relationships with individual members, you can call them up and ask a favor, and a lot of times, if it’s not objectionable, you can get things done,” said Representative Dennis A. Cardoza, Democrat of California.

The president hosts plenty of large gatherings...but they lack the intimacy of smaller events, where there is real give and take, Mr. Cardoza and others lawmakers said.
There’s no doubt about it! In the current partisan environment, Obama would get a lot more down if he’d just schmooze members more!

How deep in The Dumb at the New York Times? Today, on page one of “Thursday Styles,” we get this sprawling report: “The 75 Things New Yorkers Talked About in 2011.” According to the New York Times, these were the top five topics:
1. The G.O.P. debates. The best reality TV show not on Bravo.

2. The best moment of the debates: “Oops.”

3. The second-best moment of the debates: Ron Paul’s errant eyebrow.

4. Regis Philbin calls it quits after 28 years.

5. Kim Kardashian calls it quits after 72 days.
When Times readers discuss the debates, they talk about the time Perry said “Oops.” And about Ron Paul’s eyebrows!

We know, we know—that was just the “Thursday Styles” section. But let’s be candid—The Dumb is found all over the Times. The Dumb is truly dominant.

Question: Can you think of any major political or policy issue on which the Times has seriously informed us this year? No, Paul Krugman doesn’t count. We’re talking about this paper’s reporting.

Surely, there must be many such topics! But can you name even one?

The Dumb is everywhere in this paper. When it comes to The Dumb, why don’t we liberals complain?

YEAR IN REVIEW: A second memorable text!


PART 2—A TENDENCY OF THE TRIBE: Yesterday, we said that Julie Mack’s column was one of the year’s most memorable texts (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/28/11). Mack’s column appeared last April, in the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Mack is a fan of Rachel Maddow, but she thought Maddow’s treatment of a Michigan issue involved a massaged account of the facts. She thought Maddow was putting her thumb on the scale, creating a story designed to please the preconceptions of our own emerging tribe.

Pseudo-conservatives and mainstream journalists have toyed with facts in that manner for decades. We think it’s a very bad idea when progressives follow suit. We think Mack’s column captured this idea well. For that reason, we think it was memorable.

For our money, a second memorable text appeared in August, in the New York Times. The piece was written by Campbell and Putnam, a pair of ranking professors. For our money, the text remains memorable for several reasons—most strikingly, for the way it captured our liberal tribe’s increasingly reliance on race cards.

The professors were eager to tell us about the souls of Tea Party folk. In our view, parents who pay tuition to support this type ought to demand instant refunds:
CAMPBELL AND PUTNAM (8/17/11): Beginning in 2006 we interviewed a representative sample of 3,000 Americans as part of our continuing research into national political attitudes, and we returned to interview many of the same people again this summer. As a result, we can look at what people told us, long before there was a Tea Party, to predict who would become a Tea Party supporter five years later. We can also account for multiple influences simultaneously—isolating the impact of one factor while holding others constant.

Our analysis casts doubt on the Tea Party's ''origin story.'' Early on, Tea Partiers were often described as nonpartisan political neophytes. Actually, the Tea Party's supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today.

What's more, contrary to some accounts, the Tea Party is not a creature of the Great Recession. Many Americans have suffered in the last four years, but they are no more likely than anyone else to support the Tea Party. And while the public image of the Tea Party focuses on a desire to shrink government, concern over big government is hardly the only or even the most important predictor of Tea Party support among voters.

So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.
Did you notice the slippery use of the phrase, “supporters today?” We thought you did—and as you noticed, the professors used this helpful construct at two different points in their column! All in all, we were struck by a rather wide range of slippery plays in the course of this column. But that highlighted passage has stuck in our minds as a defining example of an unfortunate tendency of many folk within our own emerging tribe.

Race has been used to create a massive amount of suffering in our nation's brutal, benighted history. People who respect this fact might not be as quick to play race cards as these lofty professors were. Do Tea Party supporters really “ha[ve] a low regard for immigrants and blacks?” In this passage, the professors offered a very dismissive account of the minds and motives of millions of people, based on two pathetic questions they asked in their sad little survey. To review their one lone question about immigration, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/2/11.

Increasingly, our tribe seems to enjoy making this play. It often seems that we know no other moves. We think the play is dumb and built on bad faith. Putnam and Campbell strike us as a pair of cosseted hacks.

For that reason, we think their (very slippery) column was one of the year’s most memorable texts. For our money, it defines a very unfortunate tendency within our emerging tribe.

Tomorrow: A highly memorable text presents a memorable fact!

Ashley Parker rides again: How Mitt holds his hands!


The use of a useless old template: The New York Times is defiant in its dumbness. This morning, Ashley Parker is back on page one, following Romney all around and typing from an old script.

Parker describes her report as “a guide to Mr. Romney’s habits and quirks on the campaign trail.” She goes on and on—and on and on—about the type of idle chatter Romney offers to the voters he meets. Early on, we get her basic hook:
PARKER (12/28/11): Mr. Romney’s bid for president this year is a carefully crafted do-over, a chance to revise and retool a campaign that quickly fizzled out four years ago. He has lost the tie, overhauled his stump speech and hired far fewer campaign consultants.

But perhaps the trickiest part of this reinvention is changing who Mr. Romney is when he steps out from behind the lectern and wades into a roomful of voters: a cautious chief executive who is uneasy with off-the-cuff remarks, unnatural at chitchat and spare with his emotions.

At coffee shops and veterans’ halls, on sidewalks and factory tours, the reworked version, it turns out, is not all that different from the original.
As compared to four years ago, Romney has “lost the tie” and “overhauled his stump speech.” Question: Did Parker think Romney was going to give the same stump speech from 2007? Considering this newspaper’s massive dumbness, it may just be that she did!

In the past month, Parker has done front-page reports about Romney’s hair, about Romney’s patter, and about friendship patterns among GOP candidates. (Michael Barbaro did the front-page report about Romney’s marriage.) Today’s drivel helps us see a basic point: As they churn this low-IQ nonsense, reporters tend to follow templates the Times has used in the past. In this case, Parker is working from stupid old scripts applied to the last candidate defined as “stiff,” Candidate Gore in Campaign 2000.

In that campaign, Gore was endlessly said to have “lost the tie,” although he had campaigned in casual dress in the three previous White House campaigns (1988, 1992 and 1996). He was endlessly accused of “reinvention,” as Romney stands accused today. Indeed, to see the way a person like Parker works from the wisdom of the ancients, compare several parts of today’s report with Melinda Henneberger’s profile of Gore on the stump in July 1999.

At one point, Parker’s eagle eye lets her see that Romney’s posture is “ever so slightly” unusual. Henneberger noticed the same minor flaws the last time we had a stiff candidate. Like Parker, she constructed a slightly dehumanized portrait of the stiff contender:
PARKER (12/28/11): Mr. Romney, never much of a hugger or backslapper, stands with his hands straight down at his waist, tilting forward ever so slightly and turning from side to side as he searches for the next hand to shake or poster to sign.

HENNEBERGER (7/24/99): [Gore’s] perfectly erect posture held good...even fielding questions from folks sitting cross-legged on the floor of a barn on Thursday night. He seemed shy shaking hands, and noticeably low on patter, quietly saying to most prospective voters simply, "How do you do?"

...Making a little bow—from the waist, like a man wearing an invisible neck brace—Mr. Gore said: "Shucks. I sometimes benefit from low expectations."
Henneberger took note when Gore said things like, “How do you do?” This morning, Parker reports that Romney often says things like, “Good to see you.” Meanwhile, Parker follows her predecessor in another scripted observation. Some voters say they don’t care if the hopeful is stiff!
PARKER (12/28/11): "I don't mind stiff and formal," said Holly Sirois, who spoke to Mr. Romney a few days ago at a pizza shop in Newport, N.H. "I don't want the guy sitting in the backyard drinking beers with his buddies. I want my president to act presidential."

HENNEBERGER (7/24/99): At least among the Democrats who turned out to hear the Vice President, many said that they did not particularly care if the man looks like he cannot dance.
Like Henneberger before her, Parker reports that voters say they don’t care if their candidate is stiff. The templates are there to be used—and use them these empty heads will.

Parker is 28. Having served five years under Maureen Dowd, she is skillfully mindless. But rather plainly, this is the way the New York Times wants our elections reported.

Perhaps they think their readers are dumb. It may just be that they themselves are. But just so you’ll know:

Mitt Romney has lost the tie. As part of his reinvention, he has changed the speech he gave in 2007. He often says, “Good to see you”—or even, “Thanks for being here!”

And, alas, his body language is “ever so slightly” wrong.

YEAR IN REVIEW: The year’s most memorable texts!


PART 1—THE YEAR OF GOING TRIBAL: In 1961, Gidget went Hawaiian.

Following suit, the liberal world went a bit tribal this year, following the conservative world down a long, dumb rabbit-hole.

As an example of what we mean, consider the fortunes of Benton Harbor, a small lakefront city in Michigan which was recently profiled, at length, in the New York Times Sunday magazine.

Benton Harbor is in a world of hurt. It’s a worst-case example of crumbling urban America in a stagnating, plutocrat-driven age. In his long profile of the city, Jonathan Mahler described the state of play in Benton Harbor; what follows is just one brief excerpt. “Harris” is Joseph Harris, the city's '”emergency manager:”
MAHLER (12/18/11): Benton Harbor's problems begin and end with the city's chronic joblessness, which has not only crushed the spirit of generations of residents but also destroyed the town's tax base. Delinquency is also a major issue in Benton Harbor: at least 20 percent of its residents can't, or don't, pay their city bills. Harris recently combined the town's trash and water bills in the hope that residents will pay their garbage bills to avoid having their water shut off.

Making matters worse, two of the town's key income sources are drying up. A state revenue-sharing program dating back to the 1930s is being decimated by ongoing state budget cuts, while a neighboring town that has long purchased its water from Benton Harbor—accounting for half of its water revenues—just finished building its own water-treatment facility. To offset the loss of at least some of these revenues, Harris is planning to raise water rates as much as 40 percent for Benton Harbor residents.

But the erosion of Benton Harbor's underlying finances has been accompanied by a history of almost farcical mismanagement. Between 2000 and 2010, no fewer than five city administrators filed whistleblower lawsuits against the city, claiming that they had lost their jobs after raising questions about how the elected officials were running the government. Most were settled out of court, costing the city—or its insurers, anyway—a total of more than $2 million.

The latest plaintiff was Richard Marsh, Benton Harbor's city manager from March 2008 to September 2009, who claimed that the city commission had declined to renew his contract after he went public with the findings of an independent internal audit and requested an F.B.I. investigation of the government's management of the city. Marsh settled with Benton Harbor for $192,000, but the state subsequently sent its own financial review team to the town, which in turn led to Harris's appointment in April 2010.
Oof. With Benton Harbor in disarray, Harris was put in charge of the city in April 2010. Here is Mahler’s account of the law under which Harris became the city’s emergency manager, a law which was toughened this year:
MAHLER: Harris is Benton Harbor's "emergency manager." He was first sent to the town in April 2010 under a law that provided the state with limited authority to intervene in the financial affairs of failing cities. His power grew exponentially last spring when Governor Snyder and the state's Republican Legislature passed Public Act 4, which allows emergency managers to renegotiate or terminate contracts, change collective-bargaining agreements, even dissolve local governments (subject to the governor's approval). They have almost unfettered control over their respective cities. This approach to governing is still in its infancy, but if it proves successful in Benton Harbor and elsewhere, emergency managers could be dispatched to troubled municipalities across the state. Snyder has even made it clear that Detroit is a strong candidate for takeover.
This is not the normal way of doing things in this country, though it’s true that state take-overs of this general type are not unique to Michigan. But Mahler provided a gruesome portrait of the problems in Benton Harbor which underlay this approach. If you want to ponder the lives of people caught in America’s poverty zones, we suggest you read Mahler’s report, which you may find depressing.

Benton Harbor sounds like a depressing place—unless you watch the Rachel Maddow Show, which has sometimes served as ground zero in the tribalization of us on the pseudo-left.

Back in April, Maddow cast Benton Harbor as the star of a stirring morality play. If you want to relive the bathos, we suggest that you read the transcripts of Maddow’s programs from April 18 (click here) and April 19 (click this), programs in which Maddow told the tale in a way designed to please our tribe.

Maddow mentioned Benton Harbor’s dysfunction, but she focused on its “one cherished jewel.” The violins began to play as she started crafting her tale:
MADDOW (4/18/11): Benton Harbor has not got much besides heartache. But it has always had this one wonderful communal asset, one cherished jewel of the community. It’s called Jean Klock Park, with a beach right on Lake Michigan for the people of Benton Harbor. The park was a gift to the town in 1917 from John Nellis Klock, who founded the local newspaper and who served as Benton Harbor mayor.

The Klocks named the park after a daughter they had lost as a baby, Baby Jean. They told the town when they gave the beach, quote, "The beach is yours. The drive is yours. The dunes are yours, all yours. It is not so much a gift from my wife and myself, it is a gift from a little child. See to it that the park is the children’s."

And for nearly 100 years after that, Jean Klock Park remains a place people went for baptisms and picnics, to pass a summer's night, to teach their kids to swim, to fish, to build sand castles on the Lake Michigan shore. This beautiful, beautiful park was their place.
For what it’s worth, that beautiful, beautiful story-telling just isn’t “journalism.” At any rate, Maddow went on for two nights in this lachrymose manner, discussing the little jewel on the big windswept lake and the efforts by mustachio-twirling villains to take it away. Warning: The full story is rather complex; it involves conduct by corporate America as well as by Michigan’s Republican governor. Read those transcripts if you dare—or read Mahler’s lengthy report about this complex mess.

At any rate, Benton Harbor made for an excellent story on the Maddow Show. And sure enough—various factual errors by Maddow had made the tale that much sweeter! A few days later, Julie Mack offered a bit of a rebuttal. We think her column was one of the most interesting texts of the past year.

Mack is a columnist for the Kalamazoo Gazette. She’s also an unabashed Maddow fan, or so she said in the column which pointed out the factual errors Maddow had made. If you want to review the mistakes, we’ll suggest that you read the whole column. But here’s how Mack ended her piece:
MACK (4/21/11): I like Rachel Maddow. In fact, she's so well-known in my household that she's simply known as "Rachel." I understand her concerns with the new emergency financial manager law, the commercialization of parkland, the ways corporate America can run roughshod over community interests.

But as the story of Benton Harbor shows, these issues are much, much more complicated than good versus evil. What's worse for Benton Harbor: A financial manager with dictatorial powers or an utterly dysfunctional city government? Are Benton Harbor residents better served by 90 acres of parkland, or 68 acres and a new source of revenue for cash-strapped city coffers? Is it insensitive to build an upscale development in a downtrodden community, as Maddow suggests? Or does it show that the business community hasn't turned its back on Benton Harbor?

Are there reasons to be upset about what's happening in Benton Harbor? Absolutely. But are Maddow's villains really the villains here? Or are they serving as useful props to score political points? It's interesting that in accusing Republicans and Whirlpool of exploiting a vulnerable community to serve their own agenda, Maddow does the very same thing.
Ouch. Mack’s column carried this headline: “The facts in Benton Harbor get in the way of a good story for Rachel Maddow.”

As Mack explained, Maddow had mistaken some basic facts as she told the pleasing tale of the cherished jewel on the big blue lake. In typical fashion, Maddow saluted Mack’s column as “thoughtful and smart,” while failing to mention the errors Mack had corrected (click here). But it was Mack’s larger view that stuck in our heads, not her correction of a set of mistaken or massaged facts.

Benton Harbor shouldn’t be used as a tool for telling a pleasing tale, even if the pleasing tale is designed to please us liberals. That was the point Mack made in her piece, which we revisited after reading the New York Times story.

How bad is Michigan’s emergency manager law? That’s a very good question; it deserves a careful review. In the Times, Mahler reviewed various perspectives on the Benton Harbor mess, which is complex and daunting. But here’s our question:

Do we liberals still want a world in which complex problems get careful review? Or do we prefer the silly shit too—the silly, feel-good stories? Whatever the answer, we recommend Mack’s column, which doesn’t attempt to solve the ongoing riddle of Benton Harbor.

We thought Mack showed good solid sense. As this past year unfolded, we increasingly wondered: Does our tribe still want that?

Tomorrow’s memorable text: A column by two professors

Until next Wednesday: A Secret Gift!


A whole lot of things Ted Gup said: Last weekend, in the middle of the night, we caught a pretty good chunk of a book event on C-Span 3. It struck us as right for the season.

We won’t do much posting until December 28. Here’s the C-Span synopsis of the year-old event, which featured author Ted Gup and his book, "A Secret Gift:"
A Secret Gift
December 5, 2010

Ted Gup talked about his grandfather, Sam Stone, and the anonymous $5 checks he gave to 150 residents of Canton, Ohio, just before Christmas 1933, during the height of the Great Depression. Mr. Stone, writing under the pseudonym B. Virdot, placed an ad in a Canton newspaper on December 18, 1933, asking people affected by the Depression to write to him and describe the difficulties they were experiencing.

Soon after, he sent out 150 checks with the promise that the recipients would not be identified. After coming into possession of the letters decades later, Mr. Gup went back to Canton to find out who these unknown recipients were and what ended up happening to them. He responded to questions from members of the audience at the Henry A. Wallace Visitor and Education Center of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York.
Even in the early hours, Tep Gup kept us watching as he discussed the people who received those $5 gifts.

Here’s part of Robert McElvaine’s review of “A Secret Gift.” The review appeared last Christmas Eve in the Washington Post:
MCELVAINE (12/24/10): While there are significant parallels between the 1930s and today, the differences are striking. The Great Depression tended to unite the United States; the so-called Great Recession has tended to divide us. Americans during the Depression were much more familiar with hardship, more reticent about their personal problems, less greedy and more compassionate than we are today. And, terrible as conditions are now for many of our citizens, they were far worse in 1933. This book reminds us that the main reason people are not as bad off in the wake of the 2008 collapse as they were after that of 1929 is precisely because of government intervention in the economy that Republicans have just won an election by deriding.

...Sam Stone had a checkered past, which he frequently altered to suit his current needs. In 1933, he owned a chain of clothing stores and thought he was in a position to assist others who had fallen on hard times, as he had in the past.

"Enough," Gup rightly notes, "was a byword of the Depression." It is a word that nearly vanished from the American lexicon in recent decades, as the national anthem could appropriately have been changed to "I Can't Get No Satisfaction." "A Secret Gift" speaks to us eloquently of how similar are the consequences of economic folly in both times and how sobering are the differences between us as people today from what we were eight decades ago.
Or not! We were struck by Gup’s calm, knowing tone—by his recollections of the struggling people who received those $5 gifts, recollections he sometimes assembled by speaking to the recipients' children. If you’re looking for something to watch this season, you could do much worse than this.

Coming next week: Highlights! The year in review!

Romney: What is truth in the age of Dowd!


Parker spots the prompters: Jonathan Chait cites the following language from Mitt Romney’s speech in New Hampshire last night:
ROMNEY (12/20/11): Just a couple of weeks ago in Kansas, President Obama lectured us about Teddy Roosevelt’s philosophy of government. But he failed to mention the important difference between Teddy Roosevelt and Barack Obama. Roosevelt believed that government should level the playing field to create equal opportunities. President Obama believes that government should create equal outcomes.

In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to the others. And the only people who truly enjoy any real rewards are those who do the redistributing—the government.

The truth is that everyone may get the same rewards, but virtually everyone will be worse off.
As Chait notes, those highlighted claims are basically crazy. Unless you read today’s New York Times, where Ashley Parker ignores what was said and takes us toward the essentials:
PARKER (12/21/11): On Tuesday night, in what was billed as a major speech here, complete with teleprompters, Mr. Romney appealed directly to the states’ voters, railing against what he called the big-spending government and “entitlement society” envisioned by President Obama.

“President Barack Obama has reversed John Kennedy’s call for sacrifice,” he said. “He would have Americans ask, ‘What can the country do for you?’ ”
That was Parker’s full account of the speech. She skipped past the problems with what was said. Instead, she turned to an age-of-Obama snark point: When Romney said the things he said, he was using two teleprompters!

That is Dowdism in a nut-shell, delivered by a fatuous child the famous Times has been grooming. That said, Chait got his text from Alexander Burns at Politico. Burns breezed right past the content too.

The children are very dumb, basically empty. For reasons no one has ever explained, the Times has been happy to breed these life-forms as the spawn of Dowd.

Just a guess: Within the house of the Times, this will help build Parler's rep for being cool and knowing. Reason: She took a dumb-as-rocks Foxified point and turned the point against them.

In a world of very dumb folk, this counts as being smart.

Gong-show of the year: Politifact fails but so do we all!


Who will fact-check the fact-checkers: As you may have heard, Politifact recently chose its annual “Lie of the Year.”

In the process, the fact-checking site made progressives mad. We agree that Politifact made a very dumb choice for "Lie of the Year." But might we start with the basics?

Why would a serious fact-checking site be choosing a “Lie of the Year” in the first place? In our view, PolitiFact ceased to be serious when it ventured down this low-IQ road.

Just consider one of the site’s ten nominations for this year’s prize. To peruse all ten, click this:
The vaccine to prevent HPV can cause mental retardation.—Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann
Bachmann’s statement was a real groaner. But what made Politifact call it a “lie?” If we’re still speaking English, a lie is a knowing misstatement of fact. Did anyone think that Bachmann knew that this statement was way off-base?

Until fairly recently, journalists widely avoided use of the tricky word “lie.” Quite correctly, journalistic culture had long understood a basic fact: As a general matter, it's hard to tell if a misstatement is knowing. But with the rise of tribal culture has come the desire for frequent loud thunder, the dumber the thunder the better.

Tribal groups love to name-call the other. One apparent result: Even this major “fact-checking" site abandoned a very old, useful distinction. Can we talk? Politifact has no idea if Bachmann was “lying” when she blurted that groaner. But so what? In the modern context, the thunder feels very good.

Politifact thus dumbs us all down. But so did some of our leading liberals as we roared about the selection. In this passage, the liberal world’s most valuable player dumbed this topic down too:
KRUGMAN (12/20/11): Politifact, R.I.P.

This is really awful. Politifact, which is supposed to police false claims in politics, has announced its Lie of the Year—and it’s a statement that happens to be true, the claim that Republicans have voted to end Medicare.

Steve Benen in the link above explains it, but let me just repeat the basics. Republicans voted to replace Medicare with a voucher system to buy private insurance—and not just that, a voucher system in which the value of the vouchers would systematically lag the cost of health care, so that there was no guarantee that seniors would even be able to afford private insurance.

The new scheme would still be called “Medicare”, but it would bear little resemblance to the current system, which guarantees essential care to all seniors.

How is this not an end to Medicare?
And given all the actual, indisputable lies out there, how on earth could saying that it is be the “Lie of the year”?
Is “the claim that Republicans have voted to end Medicare...a statement that happens to be true?” We’re sorry, but it isn’t that simple. Politifact was very silly to pick that claim as “Lie (or Misstatement) of the Year.” But there were some problems with that claim, even though tribals won’t notice such things as they spill over with ardor.

“How is this not an end to Medicare?” Thinking about the world of real people who do get misled, let us count two possible ways:

“This is not an end to Medicare” if some senior citizen hears that claim and thinks it means that the GOP is ending all health care assistance to seniors. Almost surely, some senior citizens were misled by that claim in that fashion.

“This is not an end to Medicare” if some senior citizen hears that claim and thinks that the GOP proposal would take effect immediately—would affect their ongoing assistance under Medicare. Again, we will assume that some seniors were misled that way by that claim.

In theory, it’s easy to straighten out such misunderstandings. But it’s also easy to avoid those misunderstandings, perhaps by putting your thunder aside and making a more nuanced, more accurate statement.

Many folk have noted the fact that it’s very easy to say this: "The GOP proposal would end Medicare as we know it."

It’s easy to make that more accurate statement. But in an increasingly tribal culture, the thunder pleases us more. And in all honesty, we progresisves rarely think about regular people who may get misled, unless they're getting misled by very bad folk in the other tribe. Simply put, we don't really care if folk get misled by us.

Krugman is our most valuable player, by far. In our view, he’s a genuine hero of journalistic labor. But he’s a bit of a late-blooming rube when it comes to partisan matters. The post he wrote just wasn’t real smart. He was working outside his element.

By the way, did we mention that this was a very dumb choice by Politifact? Your lizard brain will yell in your ear, saying we didn’t say that.

Our choice for misstatement of the year: Among Politifact’s ten nominees, our choice for groaner of the year would be this:
The economic stimulus created "zero jobs."—The National Republican Senatorial Committee and other Republicans
That was a genuine, widely-mouthed groaner. You can argue that statement is “technically accurate.” You just can’t argue it well.

NAEP VERSUS NEWT: Winerip in the Bloomberg years!


EPILOGUE—WHERE WAS THE SO-CALLED PRESS CORPS: As with Paul Krugman, so too with Michael Winerip:

On balance, we don’t like it when these valuable players get snarky. And uh-oh! This Monday, there was a bit of snark in Winerip’s “On Education” column, and in the headline which topped his report in our hard-copy Times:

Headline: “10 Years of State Exams Whose Results Never Need Be Questioned.” A bit of snark could be spotted there, and in Winerip’s report.

In his brutal report, Winerip reviews the horrible history of New York’s statewide public school testing program during the glorious Bloomberg years. We will suggest that you read every word, but here are two of his bookends:
JUNE 2003 Scores on the state algebra test are so poorly calibrated that 70 percent of seniors fail. After a statewide outcry, officials agree to throw out the results. The Princeton Review says that ranking New York first was a mistake. “We’re going to have to come up with a fiasco index for a state like New York that messes up a lot of people’s lives,” a spokesman says.

OCTOBER 2003 A special panel appointed to investigate the state math fiasco concludes that the test “can’t accurately predict performance,” was created “on the cheap” and was full of exam questions that were “poorly worded” and “confusing.”


JULY 2010 Finally someone—Dr. Tisch, the chancellor of the Board of Regents—has the sense to stand up at a news conference and say that the state test scores are so ridiculously inflated that only a fool would take them seriously, thereby unmasking the mayor, the chancellor and the former state commissioner. State scores are to be scaled down immediately, so that the 68.8 percent English proficiency rate at the start of the news conference becomes a 42.4 proficiency rate by the end of the news conference.
Oof! There’s more, a whole lot more. We’ll suggest you read every word.

Remember, Winerip is reviewing the history of the statewide testing program in the state of New York alone. The horrible bungles he describes do not invalidate all such testing; in particular, the horrible bungles of New York State do not invalidate the work done by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal testing program which is commonly called the gold standard of educational testing. That said, it should be noted that the types of bungles Winerip details have occurred in other statewide programs. In the middle part of the last decade, North Carolina “recalibrated” its statewide testing program too; as in New York, passing rates fell precipitously. Meanwhile, Virginia ran a statewide scam which was uncovered right here at THE HOWLER. When we uncovered this scam, the Washington Post and other Virginia papers politely refused to report this unpleasant story.

Darlings! It just isn’t done!

Almost surely, the NAEP isn’t run in the bungle-laden way described in Winerip’s report. In our view, citizens should be very skeptical about current statewide testing programs; we know of no reason to have similar concerns about the NAEP, although we’d like to see the press corps report about the workings of that vital program. That said, as you read Winerip’s horrible history of the New York State testing program, we will suggest you ask one question:

Where the heck was the New York Times? While these endless bungles occurred, where was our greatest newspaper?

In most of the instances Winerip lists, we can’t answer that question. We can, however, talk about two of the episodes he describes. Here’s the way Winerip recalls events from 2005:
SPRING 2005 New York City fourth graders make record gains on the state English test, with 59 percent scoring as proficient, compared with 49 percent the year before. “Amazing results” that “should put a smile on the face of everybody in the city,” says Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who happily recites the numbers on his way to re-election.

FALL 2005 The federal tests (the National Assessment of Educational Progress), which are considered more rigorous than the state tests, show a drop in New York City reading scores. On the eighth-grade test, 19 percent are proficient in 2005, compared with 22 percent in 2003. Asked if city and state officials had hyped the state test results, Merryl H. Tisch, a Regent, says, “They have never, ever, ever exaggerated.”
Where was the New York Times? Editorially, the Times was kissing the keister of its city’s billionaire mayor, and rolling its eyes at city teachers who said the statewide tests were simply getting easier. Gail Collins was in charge at the time, in her pre-Romney’s dog incarnation. To see her fawn to power and sneer at the proles while failing to grasp the shape of the story, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/6/05.

Second instance: Where was the New York Times in 2010, when Tisch finally “had the sense to stand up at a news conference and say that the state test scores are so ridiculously inflated that only a fool would take them seriously?” (By the way, good for Tisch!) In our view, the Times was trying very hard to pretend that nothing much had happened. In our view, the New York Post did a much better job reporting this major disaster. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/17/11.

Winerip snarked a bit this week; because his work is so valuable, we wish he wouldn’t. For our money, he put this thumb on the scale at times, making it seem that things have gone haywire in the schools of the Empire State. At one point, he used SAT scores as a measure of progress; that’s almost always a bad idea. In our view, he sometimes cherry-picked NAEP scores a tad. Were New York State’s eighth-grade reading scores really “dismal” in 2007? In fact, the state outscored the nation by three points in eighth-grade reading that year; the state's black kids, white kids and low-income kids all outscored their national peers. The state’s NAEP scores have slid a bit in recent years. But that fact deserves a careful look from this uber-valuable journalist, one of the few we have.

Quick review: Our series began a few weeks back, when a pair of events coincided. First, Newt Gingrich made a somewhat bombastic remark about “really poor children in really poor neighborhoods.” At the same time, the NAEP released its new TUDA scores, scores which reflect the academic performance of many of those same deserving children.

The liberal world ranted and stormed about Newt, sometimes failing to grasp what he had actually said. As we stormed, we completely ignored those new NAEP scores, the scores which help reflect the life chances of those deserving kids. (Except for Kevin Drum.)

The liberal world, and the mainstream press, have clowned about those children for years. There’s little sign that anyone cares about these kids; they exist so we can kiss major billionaire keister and/or denounce our rivals as racist. But does anyone give a flying fig about these kids, except to the extent that their lives can be put to to these uses?

The track record is quite poor, for the mainstream press and the liberal world. If you doubt that assessment, read Winerip’s report and ask yourself this:

Where the heck was the New York Times? At one of the mayor’s parties?

Various presentations: For those who care about race!


Reviewing the New York police—and The Help: Two Sundays ago, we were amazed by the very poor work in the New York Times’ Sunday Review.

This piece about religious belief struck us as a large muddle. The section included an editorial about Tim Tebow, an NFL player—and an opinion column on the same rather limited topic. Beyond that, we thought this front-page piece was very poorly reasoned.

The author complains about “a persistent historical and present-day attack on black people in America, with black men made into deviants and black women into problems.” On its face, this topic is well worth examining. But go ahead—read the whole piece. Concerning the author’s specific complaint, she cites no source for the current attack other than her family and friends, who, in context, seem to be black. Them, and maybe one book by a Stanford professor.

The Times seems to love weakly-reasoned work, especially concerning race. In part for that reason, we were very impressed by this piece in this past weekend’s Sunday Review. The piece was written by Nicholas Peart, a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College. The piece is extremely well written—and it cuts to the bone about a matter of race involving the New York police.

Because the piece was so well written—and so aggressively constructive—it didn’t rate the Sunday Review’s front page. But what a superb piece of work! It made us think of Dr. King’s refusal, long ago, to be anything but forward-looking and constructive.

In our view, constructive counts, unless you don’t care about outcomes.

Over the weekend, we also watched C-Span’s book event with Melissa Harris-Perry. (To watch the full hour, click here.) At the 33-minute mark, Harris-Perry spends about ten minutes discussing the movie (and/or book), The Help. When The Help appeared in theaters last summer, Harris-Perry was featured on The Last Word offering an aggressively negative but brief review. In this book event, she fleshes out her complaints.

For ourselves, we didn’t think her complaints made real good sense, although there’s surely plenty of room to move beyond the film’s contents. (One example: When people saw the film, did they think they were watching a history? Harris-Perry seems to think so.) But the topic starts 33 minutes in. Your reactions may differ.

One note: Harris-Perry says she saw the film in New Orleans. She says the audience applauded at the end, just as a largely-black audience applauded here in Baltimore on the day we saw the film. She seems to suggest that they maybe shouldn’t have done that, given the film's allegedly gloomy ending. Our guess: For all its shortcomings, which are several, those people may have seen things in the film which Harris-Perry missed.

Check out her discussion on-line. Your reactions may differ from ours. But as we all know, race still matters.

Relevance watch: Bruni tries—and fails!


For one brief shining moment, he almost gets it right: The analysts stood and cheered, admittedly in amazement.

At the start of this morning’s column, Frank Bruni seemed to be getting it right!

Bruni was writing about the fatuous way White House candidates often get covered. Or at least, as his column began, that seemed to be his point. He wrote about Candidate Edwards, four short years ago:
BRUNI (12/20/11): Before we travel any further down the 2012 campaign trail and hear any more about what a rosy and essential mirror of the candidate his (or her) spouse provides, let’s brush up on history. We need go back only four years, to John and Elizabeth Edwards.

He had really great hair, right up there with Mitt Romney’s. She carried some extra pounds. And his Ken-doll perfection next to her real-world flaws was supposed to tell us something about what a decent fellow he was, or so the superficial, insulting, credulous narrative went.

I remember no small number of conversations in which I heard someone speak highly of him because he was with her. And I remember that the main question asked about their relationship, for a while, was not if he loved her enough, but if he loved her so much that her cancer and possible death would distract him from governing.
Bruni goes on to note that this particular marriage wasn’t the way it seemed. It almost seemed that he was knocking the way his colleagues tend to cover elections—the silly ways they try to judge a candidate’s “character.”

You’re right—Bruni avoiding saying that this “insulting, credulous narrative” about Candidate Edwards was churned by America’s journalists. He didn’t say that he held those foolish “conversations” with members of his own group. But as he continued, he seemed to say how dumb it is to judge a candidate by the way his or her marriage appears.

At one point, he almost seemed to say we should judge a candidate by his or her public record!

We began to imagine the pleasure we’d get from singing Bruni’s praises. But people, nothing gold can stay! Before he was done, he showed his true colors.

Good lord! This is just sad:
BRUNI: A candidate’s record is definite. A candidate’s romantic life yields to less reliable interpretation, and is put forward with even more sugarcoating.

From Al Gore’s supposedly happy marriage to Tipper, the spirited drummer girl, we were supposed to conclude that he had a wild, playful streak.

They didn’t work out.
In this passage, Bruni seems to say that we should judge a candidate by his public record. But then, we get his real complaint: In Bruni’s judgment, Candidate Gore didn’t have “a wild, playful streak.”

Even if you think that’s true, why should we care about that?

Bless their hearts! Sometimes, they try!

They try, and then quickly they fail.

NAEP VERSUS NEWT: Us against the world!


EPILOGUE—ARE THEY SMARTER THAN OUR (RICHEST) THIRD GRADERS: Do American students stink to high heaven? How about their lazy, incompetent teachers?

The claim that American teachers stink has become Standard Plutocrat Dogma. The plutocrats and their scripted tribunes love to recite this familiar tale. As this script has taken hold, the liberal and progressive worlds have been too dumb and too uncaring to put up much of a fight.

When NAEP scores show our low-income kids improving, we liberals yawn and go back to sleep. Ditto with any attempt to explore plutocrat claims about the way our crummy students stink on international tests.

That said, how do American kids perform on such tests if you adjust for poverty factors? How do our schools compare with glorious Finland when such adjustments are made? Last week, we cited a claim by David Sirota at Salon. Let's review what he said:
SIROTA (12/9/11): As 2011 draws to a close, we can confidently declare that one of the biggest debates over education is—mercifully—resolved. We may not have addressed all the huge challenges facing our schools, but we finally have empirical data ruling out apocryphal theories and exposing the fundamental problems.

We’ve learned, for instance, that our entire education system is not “in crisis,” as so many executives in the for-profit education industry insist when pushing to privatize public schools. On the contrary, results from Program for International Student Assessment exams show that American students in low-poverty schools are among the highest achieving students in the world.
As we noted, Sirota set a low bar with his assertion that “our entire education system is not in crisis.” But how about his broader claim—the claim that American students “in low-poverty schools” are among the highest achieving in the world on the Program for International Student Assessment?

The PISA is the international test on which Finland made its bones. Let’s look at the basic data which lie behind Sirota’s claim.

(All the data which follow come from the report on the 2009 PISA by the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency. Just click here.)

The PISA tests 15-year-old students in various countries and sub-units. The most recent PISA, in 2009, emphasized reading literacy. These are the scores of the nine top-scoring countries and sub-units, along with the OECD average and the score of the United States:
PISA, Reading Literacy, 2009
Shanghai/China 556
Korea 539
Finland 536
Hong Kong/China 533
Singapore 526
Canada 524
New Zealand 521
Japan 520
Australia 515
United States 500
OECD average 493
American students scored well below those of the highest-scoring countries and sub-units, including wondrous Finland. Such PISA scores have produced a million plane rides to Finland, followed by inane attempts to explain how the Finns do so well.

Looking at those overall scores, American students don’t measure up to the students in Finland. But Sirota said that American kids “in low-poverty schools” are among the highest achieving students in the world on the PISA. He refers to the kinds of data summarized on page 15 of that NCES report. This is how those test scores look if you separate out American kids who attend a certain type of school:
PISA, Reading Literacy, 2009
Shanghai/China 556
U.S. students in schools with less than ten percent free or reduced-price lunch 551
Korea 539
Finland 536
Hong Kong/China 533
Singapore 526
Canada 524
New Zealand 521
Japan 520
Australia 515
OECD average 493
In this country, socioeconomic status of students is typically measured in terms of eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch. On that chart, we have included the average score of students who attend schools where fewer than ten percent of the students qualify for such subsidies. Rather plainly, American teachers, with their infernal unions, haven’t managed to ruin those kids. Students in Finland don’t score as high as this sub-set of American kids.

Similar data obtain on the TIMSS, another major international test. For results from the 2007 testing in fourth- and eighth-grade math, just click here.

What sorts of conclusions should we draw from these data, which are rarely discussed? That depends. Let’s note a few major points:

First, a small percentage of American children attend schools of this type. It’s important to understand a key fact: Reduced-price lunch is not a measure of “poverty;” neither is free lunch. According to the USDA, children are eligible for free lunch if they come from families with incomes below 130 percent of the poverty level. The cut-off for reduced-price lunch extends up to 185 percent of poverty.

Across the country, roughly 45 percent of all students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. A very small percentage of students attend schools where less than ten percent quality for these subsidies; generally, these are schools in our most advantaged neighborhoods. (Example: In many Maryland counties, no children attend such schools. No such schools exist in these counties.) These would be very low-poverty schools. In many of these schools, none of the students would come from families with incomes below the poverty level. (Good!)

For that reason, people should be careful when citing data like these. We should be clear—for the most part, we’re talking about groups of kids in our most selective neighborhoods. On the other hand, American students still do rather well at the next level of social advantage. Here’s how those PISA reading scores look at the next level down:
PISA, Reading Literacy, 2009
Shanghai/China 556
U.S. students in schools with less than ten percent free or reduced-price lunch 551
Korea 539
Finland 536
Hong Kong/China 533
U.S. students in schools with 10-25 percent free or reduced-price lunch 527
Singapore 526
Canada 524
New Zealand 521
Japan 520
Australia 515
OECD average 493
As noted, schools with this level of free or reduced price lunch are still serving student populations which are substantially more advantaged than the American average. But those foreign test scores start seeming less magical when we factor income in.

This brings us back to those foolish articles which are constantly written about the magic of Finland.

Remember: In the American context, free or reduced-price lunch is not a measure of poverty. Many of the American schools singled out in the data above have no poverty at all. (Good!) But there seems to be almost no student poverty in Finland whatsoever. (Good!) According to this report by UNICEF, these were the child poverty figures for two well-known developed nations in 2005:
Child poverty/UNICEF 2005
United States: 21.9 percent
Finland: 2.8 percent
And yet, people keep flying off to Finland, wondering how they do it! The reason for this behavior is clear. Whatever we think of American students, American “journalists” plainly can’t read, write, reason or work with data. American journalists are plainly among the dumbest folk in the world. (They’re also among the most scripted, generally with plutocrat scripts.)

We’ve never cited those PISA or TIMSS data because they’re hard to interpret and may tend to be misleading. On the other hand, those data help us see how foolish it is when our journalists, in thrall to plutocrat scripts, keep writing those foolish reports about miraculous Finland. In the international context, “poverty” can be hard to measure. But if UNICEF knows what it’s talking about, Finland has very little student poverty. It isn’t clear that Finland does better with non-poverty students than we do in this country, although it may be that they do.

Finland has very few immigrant kids—and Finland has very little child poverty. Beyond that, Finland didn’t spend three or four centuries working to eliminate literacy among one major part of its population. Despite these blindingly obvious cultural differences, American journalists keep flying to Finland and puzzling about the way the Finns do it. Let’s say it one last time:

These silly reports say little about American students or teachers. They mainly suggest that American “journalists” ought to go take a good long rest. This includes liberals and progressives who pimp the Finland bandwagon, cherry-picking the fact that Finland pays high salaries to its teachers and the fact that its teachers are unionized. Right from the jump, the comparison between the U.S. and Finland doesn’t make a lot of sense. Liberals should simply say so—and we ought to know how to explain why.

Is that claim by Sirota correct? Are American students in low-poverty schools among the highest achieving students in the world? Those NCES data may tend to be misleading. But we’d love to see that claim fleshed out—examined, sifted, poked and prodded. This raises a rather obvious question:

In a world where plutocrat scripts are ruling the discourse, why haven’t liberals and progressives already done so? For example, why haven’t Rachel and Lawrence been on the case?

Answer: Rachel and Lawrence don’t seem to care about low-income kids or about their ratty prole teachers. Rachel and Lawrence and other progressives just flat-out don’t seem to care.

We liberals don’t seem to care about kids of this type. What fact could be more clear?

Tomorrow: What Winerip said

Major shocker: A front-page report on a policy matter!


The Times does better with hair: We often complain about the way the New York Times fills its front page with silly-bill stories—with a front-page report about Mitt Romney’s hair; with a front-page report about GOP candidate friendship patterns.

Last Friday, the Times ran a major front-page report about a policy area. In part, this report made us long for more work on the candidates’ hair.

“Finally!” the analysts said, when they glanced at Friday’s Times. Right at the top of the paper’s front page, the Times was doing a serious, policy-based news report! Jim Rutenberg had written the piece. These were the headlines which sat atop our hard-copy Times:
Gingrich Push on Health Care Appears at Odds With G.O.P.
Support for Stimulus Plan, Now Disavowed
Wow! Gingrich supported the stimulus plan? It sounded like quite a story! Granted, we were a bit confused, since the stimulus plan didn’t concern health care all that much.

Eagerly, though, we started to read—and we found ourselves chumped again! Believe it or not, this is the way Jim Rutenberg’s news report started:
RUTENBERG (12/16/11): Shortly before the passage of President Obama’s stimulus bill in 2009, Newt Gingrich’s political committee put out a video of Mr. Gingrich denouncing it as a “big politician, big bureaucracy, pork-laden bill.”

"It should be stopped,” he said.

But at the same time, Mr. Gingrich was cheering a $19 billion part of the package that promoted the use of electronic health records, something that benefited clients of his consulting business. “I am delighted that President Obama has picked this as a key part of the stimulus package,” he told health care executives in a January 2009 conference call.

After the bill was passed a month later, Mr. Gingrich's consultancy, the Center for Health Transformation, joined two of its clients, Allscripts and Microsoft, in an ''Electronic Health Records Stimulus Tour'' that traveled the country, encouraging doctors and hospitals to buy their products with the billions in new federal subsidies. ''Get Engaged, Get Incentives,'' one promotion read.
Really? That’s the conflict? Gingrich opposed the overall stimulus plan, but he supported one provision—a provision which accounted for roughly two percent of the program’s overall cost? That was the biggest hook they had, for a major front-page report?

If you read all the way to the end of this lengthy report, you may get the impression that Gingrich has now disavowed his support for those electronic records. At least, we’ll guess that that is what the headline-writer thought he had read. For ourselves, we can’t really tell if that's what Rutenberg is claiming—although he clearly says that Gingrich has flipped on comparative effectiveness research. At any rate, those headlines, at best, should have said the following:
Gingrich Push on Health Care Appears at Odds With Some Unstated Number of People in the G.O.P.
Support for Very Small Part of Stimulus Plan, Now Perhaps Disavowed Although We Can't Quite Tell
The headline writer seems to have jacked up the tale—a tale which is told rather poorly.

Go ahead—read the report. In our view, Rutenberg jumbles a lot of topics together, creating a confusing stew. What exactly are his claims? In this early passage, we will insert the numbers:
RUTENBERG: As Mr. Gingrich runs for president, he is working to appeal to Republican primary voters suspicious of big-government activism, especially in the realm of health care. But interviews and a review of records show how active Mr. Gingrich has been in promoting a series of recent programs that have given the government a bigger hand in the delivery of health care, and at the same time benefited his clients.

During the Bush administration, [1] he was a leading Republican advocate for the costly expansion of Medicare, which many in his party now regret. And [2] he and his center pushed some policies that are reflected in Mr. Obama's health care record—a record Mr. Gingrich regularly criticizes on the campaign trail. All the while, his center functioned as a sort of high-priced club where companies joined him in working the corridors of power in Washington and in state capitals.


Mr. Gingrich's chief Republican rival, Mitt Romney, has found himself on the defensive among conservatives for signing a universal health care law when he was governor of Massachusetts. But [3] Mr. Gingrich has his own history with health care policy, part of which puts him at odds with many Republican voters.
Rutenberg makes the folllowing claims. We think they’re all rather murky:

First claim: Gingrich was an advocate for Bush’s prescription drug plan—a plan “many” Republicans now regret! But "many" is a slippery term. Rutenberg makes no attempt to explain how many Republicans this entails, or how much they regret this.

Second claim: Gingrich and his Center for Health Transformation pushed some policies “that are reflected in Mr. Obama's health care record.” (We think that claim was written in English.) Again, it should hardly be surprising if Gingrich supports some of Obama’s policies. But hold on, it only gets worse:

Third claim: Part of Gingrich’s history with health care policy puts him at odds with many Republican voters. “Many” is still a slippery term. And once again, should we be surprised if some Republican voters disagree with "part" of Gingrich's history?

Rutenberg covers several topics which may be quite significant. But good grief! He covers Gingrich’s past support for an individual mandate to buy health insurance in exactly one paragraph. He says that Gingrich has reversed his support for comparative effective research—but this comes at the end of a rather long article, and it’s rather poorly explored. In the middle of his report, he devotes a great deal of time to the way Gingrich’s health center “worked to shape government policies toward” diabetes in the middle part of the past decade. It’s hard to see what the point of this is, except it gives Rutenberg a chance to suggest that Gingrich was simply following the money in his pursuit of these policies.

This report would have been much better if Rutenberg stuck to a few major topics. But on the rare occasions when the Times decides to talk about policy matters, the great newspaper tends to throw all its ingredients into one large stew.

Sometimes the New York Times tries to do policy. In our view, the paper works better with hair.

This just in from the Beast: How pundits evaluate character!


The chimps take their cues from the dogs: Finally, somebody got the full story!

Over the past six months, Gail Collins has been enjoying a slow nervous breakdown concerning Mitt Romney’s roof-strapped dog. Ironically, it fell to the beast—the Daily Beast—to learn why Collins has done this.

Behind this story, there lies a key question: How do major American pundits evaluate candidates’ character?

Leslie Bennetts examined this matter for the Beast, in the slow painful death of this endless report. Why won’t Collins drop this mess? The incident in question is said to have occurred in the summer of 1983; Collins has now mentioned the incident in more than thirty columns. Typically, she describes this ancient alleged incident in a way which may mislead her readers. (She forgets to mention the crate in which poor Seamus rode, and the home-made windshield.) That said, why does this extremely daft pundit mention this bullroar at all?

Bennetts asked—and a high lady answered. In the feeble mind of this high-ranking pundit, the perhaps apocryphal ancient event offers a window into Romney's soul.

“I just love that story,” Collins is said to have said. Pitifully, here’s why:
BENNETTS (12/17/11): [T]his incomparable gem might have been lost to history were it not for the heroic efforts of New York Times Op-Ed columnist Gail Collins, who has made a point of mentioning Romney’s unusual strategy every single time she writes about him (which is, not surprisingly, often).

“How could anyone not want to mention it?” says Collins. “I just love that story, because it came from one of his sons, who thought of it as a story about Romney’s leadership qualities. It’s very Mitt Romney in every way, and it’s very much about control. The guy is rich, but he chose to get them all to Canada for the summer by packing five boys in the car with his wife and putting the dog on the roof. A rich person could have found an easier way to do this.”

Although Collins has performed a vital public service in keeping this story alive for the American electorate to ponder, the news was originally reported by The Boston Globe, in which the anecdote about Seamus was evidently intended to demonstrate his owner’s “emotion-free crisis management.” (It also demonstrated the limits of an Irish setter’s gastro-intestinal fortitude, since Seamus responded to the stress of hurtling along at high speed, trapped in a box, by succumbing to explosive diarrhea that streamed from the car roof down onto its windows, eliciting howls of “Gross!” from the Romney boys).

But during a campaign in which even the Mitt-Bot’s hair seems uptight, this event also illuminates other important issues. “The point, for the son, was that they designated a certain number of rest stops, and Mitt had those stops identified,” Collins explains. “When the dog got diarrhea, Mitt got out and hosed down the dog, but nobody else was allowed to get out of the car, because it wasn’t one of the designated rest stops.”
“How could anyone not want to mention it?” It’s almost impossible to be that dumb unless you’re a major pundit.

This alleged incident happened in 1983, almost thirty years in the past. Collins has cited it thirty times because, inside her feeble mind, it shows us things about Candidate Romney’s need for control.

Or something. Did we mention that no one on earth is ever this dumb except our major pundits?

Collins may be treating herself to a slow nervous breakdown, but the thinking behind this matter has driven pundit culture for decades. The slow stupid souls who get hired as pundits hate reviewing things that matter, like Romney’s policy recommendations or his past behavior as a major public official. Darlings, that stuff is boring! Instead, they seize upon fatuous stories—stories they themselves have often invented. Then, they tell us that these fatuous stories tell us the things we need to know about some candidate’s character:

We hear about Candidate Gore’s earth tones, and about Candidate Kerry’s wind-surfing. We hear about President Bush checking his watch—and we hear about the way this man requested a “splash” of coffee! (We hear that he was amazed by a scanner. Then we hear that the story was bogus.) We hear about the way Dukakis didn’t punch Bernie Shaw in the nose. We hear about the heroic way Candidate McCain hated to talk about Nam—even as every profile shows him doing just that!

Long ago, we heard about Candidate Muskie’s weeping. Fifteen years later, King Broder acknowledged that the candidate may not have wept at all! As it turned out, the pundits had made a private judgment concerning Candidate Muskie’s temperament. (Good God. This judgment was based upon the gentleman's conduct during a poker game!) Hence the story about his weeping! It helped us rubes reach the pundit corps' preferred judgment.

Go ahead—punish yourself! Read Bennetts’ entire report. In her endless piece, the slug from the Beast discusses the dogs of several candidates. If Bennetts and Collins truly are human, they are among the dumbest humans found anywhere on the earth.

That said, these life-forms have run things this way for a very long time. As Springsteen advised, take a good look around.

How is this crap working out?

NAEP VERSUS NEWT: Kevin Drum gets it right!


EPILOGUE—A TALE OF THREE ELITES: Remember when we told you that Michael Winerip is something like Paul Krugman?

This morning, Winerip’s “On Education” column shows what we were talking about. (Although someone has taken the bite out of his column’s hard-hitting hard-copy headline.)

Let’s postpone that discussion till Wednesday. For today, let’s note the way Kevin Drum just keeps getting it right.

Last Thursday, Drum block-quoted our summary of test score gains on the NAEP (click here). He then asked a very good question:
DRUM (12/15/11): Not every big city participates in TUDA, but most of the biggest have participated since 2003, including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, DC, Houston, Los Angeles, and New York. And these results are consistent with plenty of other NAEP results: poor and minority kids are still doing a lot worse than middle-class and non-minority kids, but they are making progress. Likewise, although there's no data for 11th or 12th graders, which means we don't really know if these gains are permanent, they are gains. Given the usual NAEP rule of thumb that ten points is equal to one grade level, these urban kids have improved their math and reading performance by anywhere from half a grade level to a full grade level in just eight years.

There are plenty of nits to pick with data like this, and I've picked some of them in the past. Still, why is it that progress like this so rarely gets reported? It's fairly impressive, no?
At this point, we’ll pick one nit ourselves. From what Drum writes, you might get the impression that students from non-TUDA cities are not involved in the overall NAEP data we cited. As far as we know, that’s not accurate. Dallas doesn’t take part in the TUDA; as far as we know, that doesn’t mean that it boycotts the NAEP altogether. As far as we know, it just means that the NAEP doesn't test a large enough sample of Dallas students to produce reliable scores for the city as a whole.

In our post, we cited the latest NAEP data for black kids/Hispanic kids/low-income kids on a nationwide basis. As far as we know, that includes kids from jurisdictions which don’t take part in the TUDA. As Drum notes, the score gains involved here are “fairly impressive.”

For ourselves, we’d call that an understatement. Hence Drum’s very good question:

“Why is it that progress like this so rarely gets reported?”

For ourselves, we’ll offer three obvious answers, built around the capability and interests of three major modern elites:

Corporatist elements: Let’s start with the most obvious answer. Apparent progress doesn’t get reported because it flies in the face of highly prized corporatist/right-wing scripts. In recent years, corporatist elements have been pounding the nation with punishing scripts like these:

Nothing has worked in the public schools! The teachers are lazy and incompetent, thanks to their infernal unions! The schools need to be privatized! Let’s ask that wonderful Wendy Kopp to bring in more Princeton kids!

Corporatist elements want to tell you those stories. It’s hard to do if people are told that our most reliable test scores just keep going up.

The American “press corps:” In a rational world, it would fall to the press corps to challenge those corporatist scripts. But you don’t live in a rational world; you live in a world where Gail Collins was recently the head of the New York Times editorial board!

Expecting our “press corps” to challenge those scripts is like asking a gang of chimps to type all of Shakespeare’s works—in the next hour, without mistakes. It just isn’t going to happen.

The liberal/progressive world: In a rational world, it would fall to liberals and progressives to challenge those corporatist scripts. But you don’t live in a rational world; you live in a world where the people who get hired to pose as liberals and progressives simply don’t care about black kids. Rather plainly, they also don’t care about public school teachers; about their teachers unions; or about anything much in particular, except the chance to stuff millions of bucks into their bulging pockets. If you doubt that, just watch Lawrence and/or Rachel some night.

You may see Rachel do a real report. With Lawrence, there's really no chance. And nothing they say will ever concern the topics being discussed here. It just isn’t done, especially on NBC, which has aggressively purchased the scripts we have listed above.

In a rational world, Drum’s question makes very good sense. Michael Winerip to the side, you don’t live in that world.

Tomorrow: U.S. students in low-poverty schools

Wednesday: Concerning what Winerip said

Jeff, Gail and Ashley: Distractions in zany!


The New York Times does it again: This is why you should loathe the New York Times, the dumbest of our major “news” orgs.

And it’s why we love Dan Kennedy! For Dan’s report, just click here.

As you may recall, the Times broke a big news story last week—Mitt Romney called Newt Gingrich “zany!” On Thursday morning, this was the featured report at the top of the Times front page.

Jeff Zeleny wrote the hard-hitting report, with help from the uber-fatuous Ashley Parker. (The pair had interviewed Candidate Romney just one day before.) Their hard-hitting news report started like this. We include the headlines which sat atop the front page in our hard-copy Times:


Bracing for Rough Fight, He Questions if Rival Is Credible Choice

Mitt Romney, his presidential aspirations suddenly endangered by Newt Gingrich's rapid resurgence, is employing aggressive new arguments in an effort to disqualify Mr. Gingrich as a credible choice to Republicans, calling him "zany" in an interview on Wednesday and questioning his commitment to free enterprise.
Wow! Romney had called Gingrich “zany!” There it was, right in the headlines and in the first paragraph, right at the top of page one!

On-line, the Times had broken this hard-hitting story on Wednesday afternoon. That evening, on cable, the chimps were screeching and flinging their poo, analyzing Romney’s reasons for using such a word. For especially stupid excerpts from Hardball, see below.

Here at THE HOWLER, we noted the inanity of this focus (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/15/11). Now, thanks to Kennedy’s report, we know that this focus was even dumber than we knew. In fact, Romney didn’t call Gingrich “zany,” unless you want to stretch the facts in the way pseudo-journalists skillfully do. In that interview with Romney, this was the actual Q-and-A from which this hot story emerged:
ZELENY (12/14/11): [Gingrich] has big ideas sometimes, and it seems that he is sort of rapid fire with his thought. Do you think that the American voters are getting enough of a sense of what he might do? Or is there some worry that as president, should he win, that there might be some zany things coming from the Oval Office?

ROMNEY: Well, zany is not what we need in a president. Zany is great in a campaign. It's great on talk radio, it's great in the print. It makes for fun reading. But in terms of a president, we need a leader. And a leader needs to be someone who can bring Americans together. A leader needs to be someone of sobriety and stability.
In fact, it was Zeleny who applied the word “zany” to Gingrich. When Romney didn’t scold him for doing this terrible thing, the New York Times had its hook.

Did Romney call Gingrich “zany?” In his report, Kennedy says this claim “is barely half true.” We would say he’s being generous to the clowns at the Times.

Can we talk? Only at the New York Times would a pointless exchange of that type form the basis for the next day’s featured, front-page report. And Kennedy reminds us that Thursday’s clowning was even worse. That same morning, the utterly fatuous Lady Collins built her column around Romney’s troubling choice of words.

Collins burned roughly half her column with this stupenagel nonsense. Kennedy asks a good question here:
KENNEDY (12/16/11): And it gets worse, as columnist Gail Collins says of Romney, "Zany really is a pretty unusual word. Why do you think he chose it?" Well, gee, Gail—he didn't. You only write two columns a week. Would it be too much to ask that you at least watch the edited version of your own paper's interview?
With all due respect to Kennedy, asking Collins to exhibit that level of care is like asking a roof-strapped hound to jump over the moon.

One criticism: At several points, Kennedy criticizes Romney for this consummate piffle, suggesting that a savvier candidate would have avoided this mess. We think Dan is way off base on this point. The empty heads at the New York Times have been doing this sort of thing to candidates for several decades—interpreting obvious jokes as serious statements; accidentally misquoting the things people say; finding endless creative ways to stuff preferred words in a candidate’s mouth.

This is not the fault of the candidates. This is the fault and the doing of the Times alone. We have to stop shifting the blame.

The Times is our dumbest news organ. It’s run by a small, unintelligent mafia, intermarried stumblebums who take comfort in each other’s dumbness. They wouldn’t know a real news story if it hit them over the head; in the face of their manifest boredom, they just keep creating silly hooks—imitations of life—which keep the tired blood coursing. We strongly suggest you read Collins’ Thursday column to see how much space she wasted on this. Or just read to this morning’s piece, in which she reminds us of this:
COLLINS (12/17/11): People, you may remember that when Romney ran for the Senate against Ted Kennedy, he grew practically teary when discussing the relative who had died from an illegal abortion. “He used to come to Planned Parenthood events,” recalled Richards. “He asked for our endorsement.”

Is this the same person? Romney 2012 makes it sound as if he came into office and found abortion rights sitting in a dusty cardboard box in the closet and was chagrined when he remembered he had promised not to throw anything out.

It would be as if he explained that trip to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the station wagon by saying: “I had the experience of going to get into the car and there was already a dog on the roof. So I turned on the ignition and I was effectively driving.”
We’re well past thirty columns now! She can’t get past that roof-strapped dog. Maybe she likes the number of words poor Seamus lets her burn up.

The chimps were screeching and flinging their poo: On Hardball, the chimps were flinging their poo Wednesday night. Mitt Romney had said that Newt Gingrich was zany! A very, very silly boy made it his opening hook:
MATTHEWS (12/14/11): Good evening. I’m Chris Matthews in Washington.

Leading off tonight: Mitt hits the panic button! When a candidate refers to his opponent as zany, you know he’s in trouble.
It was the stupid man’s opening topic! Needless to say, Joan was there to help her darling think his way through this key point:
WALSH: First of all, I’m less shocked than you guys by the word. I had a different reaction. I thought it was a silly word. It just shows Mitt is sort of stuck in the 50s. "Zany"—what does that mean? It’s so inadequate for what he’s saying.

Now, when he spells it out and we know what he's saying, it's a debilitating, it's a devastating insult. But the way he phrases it, it's just so, "Golly, gee whiz, he's kind of a zany guy." Mitt–he’s tone deaf in a certain way. So there's that.
Joan should go tell it to Zeleny. As for herself, she seems to be stuck in the 90s, the decade when this selective, manufactured nonsense seized control of our world.

Of course, Chris was attacking our side back then, thus sending George W. Bush to the White House. Dearest Joan has never seemed to care a great deal about this.

Darlings! Joan’s career has been at stake! What’s a cheap hustler to do?

Final point: Your lizard brain will tell you the Times was basically right. After all, it’s Mitt Romney!

When that occurs, remember this: It's your lizard talking.