PEDDLING RHEE: The way it works!


Part 4—The reign of “conventional rhetoric:” Paul Krugman’s new column is highly informative. And not only that! The column concerns a highly important federal budget topic.

That said, there is little chance that Krugman’s column will affect the ongoing public debate about the federal budget. For one thing, other journalists won’t discuss the info his column contains.

At one point, Krugman explains why this is. Note the two highlighted phrases:
KRUGMAN (1/18/13): The point is that the case for urgent action now to reduce spending decades in the future is far weaker than conventional rhetoric might lead you to suspect. And, no, it’s nothing like the case for urgent action on climate change.


The deficit scolds dominating policy debate will, of course, fiercely resist any attempt to downgrade their favorite issue.
Key words: “Conventional rhetoric...dominating policy debate.”


In one area after another, our public discourse is a pile of conventional rhetoric—rhetoric spewed by powerful groups who dominate the debate. These groups keep repeating the same old piffle no matter what the facts are.

Our “journalists” bow to their dominance. The modern “journalist” will very rarely challenge the rhetoric of these powerful groups.

This gives us a discourse straight outta Pravda. This observation brings us back to the way the Washington Post keeps peddling Michelle Rhee.

(For part 3 in this award-winning series, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/16/13.)

As became clear again last weekend, Rhee is the Washington Post’s favorite “education celebrity.” Meanwhile, our public debate about public schools is truly straight outta Pravda.

There is no other policy area where the information flow is so remarkably restricted. Where so much bad information is repeated by so many. Where so much actual information is so ruthlessly withheld from view.

So it was when the Washington Post misled the public, for the ten millionth time, about Rhee’s tenure as head of the DC schools. Is it true? Did DC students “make significant progress” during Rhee’s tenure, as the Post declared in an upbeat Saturday editorial? Is this echoing claim from a Sunday opinion piece actually accurate?
WHITMIRE (1/13/13): [Consider] the federal exam used to compare achievement by D.C. students to similar urban students around the country. That test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), is the so-called "gold standard" of testing, and it showed that D.C. students made unique progress during the Rhee years.
Judging from results on the NAEP, did D.C. students “make unique progress during the Rhee years?” Did they make “significant progress” on the NAEP, as the editors said?

Needless to say, it all depends on what the meaning of “progress” is! But since reading scores stayed where they were under Rhee or declined, we’d have to say no. On balance, no—they did not.

On balance, students didn’t make significant progress during the tenure of Rhee. Except in the land of “conventional rhetoric,” where our Pravda-like public discourse goes to wither and die.

In one area after another, this is the way our discourse works! In this case, the Washington Post keeps telling you that Rhee’s tenure produced “significant progress” on the NAEP, even though the Post knows the claim isn’t true, or is at best grossly misleading.

(DC students did show impressive progress on the NAEP, but only in eighth-grade math. Just how hard would it be to say that? Why does the Post keep pretending that strong progress was shown overall?)

Over the weekend, the Post conned its readers again. In those fleeting remarks today, Krugman describes the same overall process. Returning to the question of public schools, how in the world can this type of scam just keep occurring?

We’ll start with the mainstream press corps. By now, the process is clear: In a wide range of policy areas, frightened rabbits described as “journalists” will keep repeating the conventional rhetoric of the nation’s dominant groups. They will keep disappearing essential facts which undermine those groups’ preferred narratives.

In the case of public schools, this means that they will keep hiding the facts about the remarkable progress which has been recorded, nationwide, on the NAEP in the past twenty years. We've presented these data again and again. Have you seen them anywhere else?

Borrowing from Krugman’s language, the nation’s dominant “public school scolds” don’t want you to know about that progress—about the larger overall progress which makes a joke of the NAEP scores achieved in DC during Rhee’s glorious reign.

The public school scolds don’t want you to know about that progress—and your nation’s “journalists” reliably bend to their will. Within the nation’s upper-end press corps, it’s impossible to learn about the rise in those NAEP scores over the past twenty years. Powerful interests don’t want you to know—and your journalists hand you their bullshit.

Routinely, your “journalists” do as they’re told. They have very good jobs at very good pay. In the world we live in today, you don’t put such jobs at risk!

When it comes to public schools—when it comes to the tenure of Rhee—you can be sure that mainstream “journalists” will keep pounding out the conventional rhetoric. But another large entity is a key part of this massive ongoing scam:

That’s the career liberal world.

If you held a hundred grandmothers hostage, you couldn’t get the career liberal world to address this ongoing scam. Last weekend, the Washington Post went there again with ridiculous claims about Rhee’s tenure.

Result from the liberal world: Crickets! Similarly, with the exception of Kevin Drum, we know of no liberal writer at any establishment site which ever discusses the nation’s NAEP scores—and for our money, Drum tends to understate the amount of progress found in those scores. (Drum tends not to “disaggregate” the NAEP scores. That said, he receives a solid A-plus, with a star, if we grade on the curve.)

Your alleged liberal world is a big fucking scam. One example:

At MSNBC, they now insult your intelligence by running ads in which they posture about their concern for our public schools. But they would jump off the Golden Gate Bridge before they would devote a segment of air time to any such topic.

For whatever reason, NBC News has long been at the heart of the scam-heavy movement known as “education reform.” For whatever reason, you will never hear the truth about the nation’s test scores from the multimillionaires who are hired to keep us liberals excited on the cable affiliate.

Your alleged liberal world is a big fucking scam. A whole other range of examples:

Can you name a single writer at a single liberal journal who has ever discussed the actual facts about the nation’s actual NAEP scores? The NAEP is routinely described, by one and all, as the “gold standard” of educational testing.

But with the exception of Kevin Drum, have you ever seen a liberal writer discuss the actual test scores from that program? Discuss the actual progress being displayed by the nation’s minority children? Discuss the progress being achieved under the direction of the nation’s much-maligned public school teachers, with their infernal and fiendish unions, which are destroying the nation?

For whatever reason, the conventional rhetoric about public schools involves endless assaults on those public employees. Have you ever seen a liberal writer describe the actual progress displayed on the NAEP under their direction? Have you ever seen a liberal writer say bullshit in this obvious way to the rhetoric of Bloomberg and Rhee?

Putting it another way: Have you ever seen a liberal writer push back against the dominant conventional rhetoric in this area? Against the disappeared data? Against the Post’s bullshit concerning Rhee? Tell us where you saw this!

Krugman employed good lingo when he spoke of “conventional rhetoric...dominating the policy debate.” In fact, almost every part of your national discourse is a thoroughly stage-managed scam.

Again and again, the career liberal world plays along with this arrangement.

Under Rhee, there was significant progress! In fact, the progress was unique! We’d call that bit of dominant conventional rhetoric the latest unanswered scam.

In fairness to Lawrence O'Donnell: In fairness, one of the millionaires on The Channel often talks about public school issues.

With the violins playing, Lawrence often talks about public schools—public schools in Malawi:
O’DONNELL (1/3/13): We are still receiving contributions for the KIND fund, the Kids in Need of Desks, including one recently from a loyal viewer of this program, Liz Smith, the legendary columnist who is now a repeat donor to the KIND fund.

Thank you once again, Liz.

And I am actually still thinking of people I should have sent Christmas presents to and then donating desks in their name. And also contributing to the new Girls Tuition Program that we started this year in the KIND fund.

And UNICEF continue to send gift notifications to the people I name in my contributions. And, you know, when you—when you donate in someone’s name, you actually write, you type the gift card yourself. And so now I’m titling them all, you know, “Happy holidays or Happy New Year,” because it's like way too late for any “Merry Christmas” stuff.

[Violins continue to play the theme song from About Schmidt]

And you can, of course, contribute to the KIND fund throughout the year. We are actually very close to raising $1 million for the KIND fund just in this holiday season alone. That’s tuition scholarships for hundreds of girls in Malawi. That will pay for thousands and thousands of desks that will be built by workers in Malawi who will be able to provide for their families through their jobs building those desks. And desks will be used over the course of their life by another 100,000 kids in Malawi.

In the now two full years that we have been raising money for the KIND fund, you have contributed a grand total of $5,433,468. The workers making those desks thank you. Their families thank you. The kids who are using those desks today and will use them for many, many years to come thank you.

And of course I thank you.
Public school students have a great champion—public school kids in Malawi!

Our guess? If those kids in Malawi knew about Lawrence, they’d refuse to sit down at those desks.


  1. Krugman is so smart and knowledgable. If he wrote balanced economic columns, they'd be extremely valuable. Unfortunately, he's a partisan who always seems to present just one side of the situation. And, in some cases, he gets away with trickery because he's much more expert than his readers. Here are two examples regarding Social Security.

    Krugman says, "It’s probable (although not certain) that, within two or three decades, the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted." This is sort of true, but misleading.

    The 2012 SS Trustess' Report says the Trust Fund will be exhausted in 2033, which is 20 years from now. I don't know where Krugman's 30 year figure comes from.

    Also, it's true that there's uncertainty about the date when the Trust Fund runs out of money. But, the uncertainty goes both ways. And, the Trust Fund is more likely to run out of money sooner than 20 years, rather than later. Just a couple of weeks ago, the New York Times had a big article explaining that the mortality assumptions used by the SS actuaries don't predict a long enough life span. It's great news that people are living longer, but longer life spans mean great costs for SS (and greater costs for Medicare and Mediaid.)

    2. Krugman writes,"So the plan is to avoid cuts in future benefits by committing right now to ... cuts in future benefits. Huh?"

    If we wait until the Trust Fund is used up, we'll have to cut benefits to retired people -- people already receiving benefits. To cut benefits these people a realistic idea of the benefits they'll actually receive.

    OTOH suppose we wait until the Trust Fund is exhausted. Then everone will get cuts, including retired people. By then, it will be too late for retired peopleto go back save more for retirement.

    1. So, we should just tweak the very successful Reagan/Greenspan plan of the 1980s, which built the trust fund in the first place.

      That will mean getting a very small amount of additional revenue now and going forward so that no one's benefits have to be cut at all.

      Since the public loves Social Security, this would be an easy sell, if it weren't for the demagoguery and big megaphone of those who would rather simply cut the benefits now and/or otherwise weaken the program.

    2. Also, the Social Security actuaries replied to that "article" David cites (it was really an op-ed). What did they say?

      They *eviscerated* it:

      "highly misleading and inaccurate"

      It's a bunch of crap.

      But what else do we expect from David?

  2. Excellent post. There's just one last dog that hasn't barked, and it's this: the same dominant groups that pay the mainstream press corps to peddle their piffle also pays the career liberal world not to push back. Mr. Somerby has read Chomsky and knows that the job of career liberals is to define the utmost leftward leaning that the dominant groups will accept; go any further to the left of Krugman, and you've gone beyond the pale. They're there to present our side as weakly and as incompetently as possible; while they're at it, they're also to make it as distasteful to average people, especially those outside the Northeast, as possible. It's what they're paid to do, and as Mr. Somerby has shown, they do it very well. They're neither stupid nor incompetent; they're doing the job they're paid to do. The solution would at least start with breaking up the big media conglomerates, but don't hold your breath for that.

  3. The Social Security Trust Fund was set up as a long term but temporary surplus to cover benefits for baby boomers as they moved through their retirement years. It was DESIGNED to eventually be exhausted and go away after most of the baby boomers have gone.

  4. Have you ever seen a liberal writer say bullshit in this obvious way to the rhetoric of Bloomberg and Rhee?

    I did in fact read a post by Dean Baker in regard to Rhee and it was linked to a blog post by Diana Ravich which was even more negative toward Rhee. This post by Baker was entitled "Michelle Rhee's Failing Report Card" and while it didn't address the NAEP scores, it did discuss the recent Rhee publicity over school grades and what the criteria was for those grades.

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