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Print view: Glenn Beck called his shot last week as he drew a reaction from Walsh
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PLANET OF THE R-BOMBS! Glenn Beck called his shot last week as he drew a reaction from Walsh: // link // print // previous // next //

Krugman extends his claim: Paul Ryan actually is a deliberate flimflammer, Krugman says (click here). The point is made in several other posts on Krugman’s blog. His points deserve a full, robust airing—an airing the liberal world won’t provide.

Bob Herbert takes shots at himself: At first, we thought Bob Herbert was taking pot-shots at his neighbor, the high lady Collins!

“Putting Our Brains on Hold,” the headline on his new column said. “We’re allowing ourselves to become a nation of nitwits,” he wrote, “obsessed with the comings and goings of Lindsay Lohan and increasingly oblivious to crucially important societal issues that are all but screaming for attention.”

That certainly sounded like Collins to us! But this, our first instinct, was wrong.

Alas! Herbert wasn’t aiming his thunder at Collins; instead, he was taking rough shots at America’s youth! “America’s young people are moving in exactly the wrong direction,” he roared. The United States was “once the world’s leader in the percentage of young people with college degrees.” But now, “it has fallen to 12th among 36 developed nations,” Herbert complained.

We once were first—but now we’re twelfth! In the following passage, Herbert poured the hot sauce all over the kids. “Everybody is to blame,” the fiery columnist said:

HERBERT (8/7/10): According to a new report from the College Board, the U.S. is 12th among developed nations in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees. The report said, “As America’s aging and highly educated work force moves into retirement, the nation will rely on young Americans to increase our standing in the world.”

The problem is that today’s young Americans are not coming close to acquiring the education and training needed to carry out that mission. They’re not even in the ballpark. In that key group, 25- to 34-year-olds with a college degree, the U.S. ranks behind Canada, South Korea, Russia, Japan, New Zealand, Ireland, Norway, Israel, France, Belgium and Australia. That is beyond pathetic.

“While the nation struggles to strengthen the economy,” the report said, “the educational capacity of our country continues to decline.”

Everybody is to blame—parents, students, the educational establishment, government leaders, the news media and on and on. A society that closes its eyes to the most important issues of the day, that often holds intellectual achievement in contempt, that is more interested in hip-hop and Lady Gaga than educating its young, is all but guaranteed to spiral into a decline.

We’re behind Norway and France, Herbert said, calling this fact “beyond pathetic.” Young Americans “aren’t even in the ballpark,” the irate columnist roared; they aren’t even “coming close.” But who was putting his brains on hold? We’d have to nominate Herbert himself! The columnist authored so many errors and non sequiturs in this piece, it was more like that column’s headline was aimed at Herbert himself!

For starters, the study Herbert quotes isn’t exactly a study of college degrees; the study discusses the number of people who hold “an associate degree or higher.” That’s what it says in this new report from the College Board, from which Herbert was attempting to take his data. (Scroll down to Chart B, page 8.)

This is a relatively minor point. The other problems with Herbert’s column are more fundamental.

In this column, Herbert takes a type of liberty columnists frequently take with clumps of data. He says we’re worse than eleven other nations, without trying to say how much worse we are. In fact, we aren’t much worse at all, except when compared to a handful of countries which are currently leading the pack. (Canada leads the world in this measure.) It’s true—the US ranks twelfth out of 36 nations when it comes to the measure in question; according to the official data, 40.4 percent of Americans aged 25-34 held at least an associate degree in the year 2007, the most recent year for which the OECD offers data. But a whole bunch of nations were clumped around 40 percent, and the US ranked ahead of quite a few Euro powers. According to the OECD data, the US ranked ahead of the UK, Denmark, Sweden and Finland—and we were way ahead of Germany. (And Austria. And Italy.) We trailed these countries by two points or less: Norway, Israel, France, Belgium, Australia.

On the whole, the world’s developed nations were rather tightly bunched around that 40 percent mark. Compare this to Herbert’s fiery claim: “The problem is that today’s young Americans are not coming close to acquiring the education and training needed to carry out that mission. They’re not even in the ballpark.”

This brings us to a basic question: Is there some obvious reason why the United States should have a higher score on this measure than small, middle-class, unicultural nations like some of those we’ve mentioned? Unless we retain some sense of manifest destiny, we can’t imagine what it would be. Nor does Herbert attempt to explain this basic point, in a very unintelligent column. Why is it “beyond pathetic” when Norway exceeds us by two points? We can’t begin to guess. Meanwhile, Herbert has clearly made readers think that the United States has been losing ground when compared to its own past rates; in voluminous comments to his column, one reader after another “explains” our gruesome decline. But uh-oh! This country’s percentage isn’t declining; it has risen steadily in the past decade. In the year 2000, it stood at 38.1 percent. By 2008, the last year with data, it had risen to 41.6 percent. Or at least, so the College Board says.

Say what? The percentage of young people with “college degrees” is rising in the US? What about that quote from the College Board? (“While the nation struggles to strengthen the economy, the educational capacity of our country continues to decline.”) That quote does appear in the report (click here). But as presented there (then as copied by Herbert), we’d have to say that it’s grossly misleading.

Just who is “putting their brains on hold?” In comments, a parade of credulous readers explain a non-existent decline, having failed to fact-check Herbert, who is constantly wrong in his representations. And they offer the standard hackneyed reasons for this non-decline. “The Democrats and the teacher's unions have ruined public education,” the first commenter thoughtfully muses, plainly implying that things are now worse. Commenter 13 has a rougher idea: “An educated population is a dangerous population to the ruling class.”

(Ironically, Herbert’s ninth commenter pipes up with this: “I think you nailed it when you said we read less and less and write like barbarians. This New York Times comment board is one of the few places on the web where people display intelligence.” Too funny! The tribal instinct always wins, even at this last bastion of genius.)

By the way: Was the United States “once the world’s leader in the percentage of young people with college degrees,” as Herbert says? Quite possibly, though we don’t see any such data in the report. (There may be something in there somewhere.) But if we did lead the world at one point, it may have been a long time ago. As of 2007, the US stood only fourth in this measure among people aged 55-64. Scroll down to Chart C, page 8.

Who has been putting his brains on hold? In this episode, Herbert wrote his latest puzzling piece; credulous readers swallowed it whole. And everyone spotted the obvious problem: The kids aren’t as smart as we are!

(For the column Herbert attempted to wrote, we’ll recommend today’s column by Krugman.)

Speaking of putting our brains on hold: On Sunday, Maureen Dowd diddled, flounced and flailed, thrilled by the chance to stick her long nose inside another Dem president’s marriage (click here). And she got to call Barry a “boy” once again! This time, he was a boy of the “birthday” variety.

Is there’s a dumber neighborhood than the Times op-ed page? You’ll have to speak to the College Board. We have no idea where to find it.

Special report: Bombs away!

PART ONE—PLANET OF THE R-BOMBS (permalink): Remarkable claims are made most days on the Fox News Channel’s Glenn Beck Program. Most days, it’s stunning to think that the two million people watching the show can’t perceive the remarkable strangeness of Beck’s chains of historical “evidence.”

That said, few liberals seem to watch this show; its various claims, however odd, are rarely discussed or refuted. And in fairness, something different happens on some Beck programs; on some occasions, Beck makes claims and arguments which aren’t entirely odd. This happened last Thursday, when he started his program with a complaint about Nancy Pelosi.

The background: Pelosi had announced that the House would return from summer recess to act on a $26 billion plan—a plan aimed at saving the jobs of teachers and other government workers. According to Nielsen, 1.97 million people were watching as Beck lambasted Pelosi’s announcement in standard, resentment-drenched fashion:

BECK (8/5/10): Hello, America.

Oh, teachers—teachers! You worried about your job? Worry no more because Nancy Pelosi is galloping back on her white steed into Washington to save the day. She announced today on Twitter, because she is so hip, she is reconvening Congress to vote on a $26 billion jobs bill. Oh, it’s going to work this time. Yes! Just like, you know, the stimulus bill saved all those jobs. Wait a minute—unemployment is actually higher now than it was!

Why do we need 26 billion extra dollars? You know, why do we need 26 billion dollars when there is still $421 billion left, or $421 billion left in the stimulus slush fund that we had to get out? [Imitating Democrats in 2009] “Don't even read the bill! We've got to have this money now!” And we still have $421 billion just sitting there in some Chinese bank account waiting to be spent.

Didn't the president say that we needed, what was it, 787 billion? I think it was. $787 billion—we needed that right away so we could save the jobs of police and fire and teachers? Remember?


OBAMA (2/5/09): Our states and local communities—it will help Governor Ritter and Governor Strickland not have to lay off firefighters and teachers and police.

OBAMA (2/9/09): In this recovery and reinvestment package, we put billions of dollars not only to make sure that the school districts who are getting hammered are able to keep their teachers, but also we have money in the package to make sure we are retraining our teachers around math and science.

OBAMA (2/9/09): It will be the job of firefighters and teachers and police officers that would otherwise be eliminated if we do not provide states with some relief.

(end of videotape)

BECK (affecting clownish southern drawl): Now, remember, I'm not a progressive elitist so I'm not good with math or anything like that, but I think if I put a two here and a six here and a line like that and then one of them straight lines like that, I— I think there's money left over! But I need a calculator, or somebody from Harvard, to figure it out.

To watch this program’s first eighteen minutes, click here. In truth, the southern drawl segment is pretty funny. (Cable contrasts: Rachel Maddow sometimes affects a southern drawl as a way of mocking southern whites. Beck affects a southern drawl as a way of mocking “progressive elitists.”)

Back to the planet of the Becks, and its unfolding argument:

As he continued, Beck explained how those numbers work. “You know how much is left?” he asked, referring to the unspent stimulus funds. “Enough to hire ten million teachers—ten million teachers if we pay them the average salary in America! There are only 6.2 million teachers in America right now!” And as he marveled at the numbers, he continued to drive the resentment. He burlesqued the way progressive elitists deride his views—and by extension, those of his viewers:

BECK: Why is Nancy Pelosi on her steed riding back in? Why? Why do we need more money? We still have $421 billion left. Oh, that's because she loves teachers. Have you seen that guy on television, he's insane! He hates teachers and hates children, too.

Oh, yes, I do. I want them all to be destroyed. But how?

See, you're a conservative. So you hate children. You hate anybody that's different than you. You hate teachers and cops and firemen. Oh, this isn't working out. Hmmm.

Progressives, they love them. They love the flowers and the trees, and the birds and the bees, and the children and the teachers and the pigs—I mean, the cops. They love them all. They love the baby killer—the troops. They love them all.

Those are your friends in the progressive party. You, on the other hand, you hate them all.

Beck was driving the resentment train hard, as he does most days on this program. On the other hand, he was also driving a rather plausible argument. We have no idea if his various numbers were perfectly accurate, but the overall shape of his question did seem to make perfect sense. Why does Pelosi want more money, he asked, if we have all those unspent stimulus funds? If that question goes unanswered, Beck’s argument does make perfect sense.

By the way: Why does Pelosi need more money? Would you know how to answer that question if a Beck-watcher asked? With apologies for the length of all this, we’ll show you the answer Professor Beck gave as he kept exploring this question. Suddenly switching his field, Beck told his viewers that the problem goes well beyond the salaries of teachers. The problem is really with all those pensions—the pensions the unions arranged:

BECK: Let's just think for a second—$421 billion. Nancy needs another $26 billion. How about the Department of Education, do they have any money? Arne Duncan loves teachers. Not more than his slush fund, but he loves teachers. He's hardly spent any of the $4.3 billion in stimulus money that he now has.

What do you say, Arne, you let that go to the teachers?

No! No, he'd rather lay those teachers off before his funds are raided. Oh, yes.

You see, because the problem is much, much bigger than just teachers and their salaries. It's the pensions. Yeah, the pensions are wildly out of control.

You see, those in charge knew, knew that we're screwed with the pensions. They saw it coming. They designed it. Why?

Well, let's look what has been promised and what it takes to pay for it. And we, like dummies—no, no, no. We, like sheep, were led.

See if this makes any sense to you. California fireman, big fat guy like (points to himself)—he retires at the age of 50. He's making $125,000 a year. He'll retire with a pension approximately $94,000 a year. 50!

Now, how many people does it take underneath him to pay for that pension? Nineteen! Nineteen. Nineteen firemen underneath him, paying for his retirement, making $50,000 a year and putting ten percent of their salaries into his pension. All of them have to take ten percent and pay it here.

Well, that's not happening in a lot of cities. Highest we found was eight percent, some are six percent, some are four percent, most are zero. You pay it all!

So, the unions have convinced the firefighters that this was sustainable. And the politicians helped them. Now, when these nineteen firefighters retire, to pay their pensions, how many? Only 352 firefighters, making $50,000 a year and putting ten percent of their salaries into pension to pay for one year of each of those firefighter pensions.

Man! I think your small town will never [garbled] there with water and a match. How many firefighters do you need, America?

You see, we all wanted to buy into the bull crap. We all said it’ll never get worse than this! We all said it’ll never end!

We all bought into the lie that you can have it all. It's a lie! It works for one generation! One! And then what?

These people who have risked their lives get screwed and they blame it on you and me. It is the union. It is the criminal union bosses along with politicians that—they don't care anything about you or the Constitution or the republic or your city. They don't care.

Do you think this math works?

Why did “those in charge” design this out-of-control system, Beck asked. Presumably, many viewers knew the implied answer, which Beck would directly state a bit later. (The answer involves Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, who wrote an article in The Nation—in 1966! Just click here.)

For ourselves, we have no idea if “this math works”—or if Beck’s numbers and logic are actually accurate. But by this time, Beck’s chain of arguments had been unspooling for more than eight minutes. Nine additional minutes would pass before he would take his first commercial break, after which the lecture would resume, running up to the half-hour break. But now, eight minutes into his program, about one-third of the way through his opening lecture, Beck did something that made Joan Walsh take a break from her important progressive work at Salon (click all three links). In fleeting fashion, Professor Beck did the one thing that will make our “intellectual leaders” howl:

BECK (continuing directly): Do you think this math works? Here's our fearless leader during a press conference yesterday with the AFL/CIO.

OBAMA (videotape): I want to thank the AFL/CIO for all you've done to fight for jobs, to fight for tax cuts for the middle-class, to fight for reforms that will rein in the special interests and to fight for policies that aren't just going to rebuild this economy but are actually going to put us on a long-term path of sustainable growth that is good for all Americans.

BECK: [pointing to AFL-CIO logo] Special! Interest! What planet have I landed on? Did I slip through a wormhole in the middle of the night and this looks like America? It's like the damn planet of the apes! Nothing makes sense!

The guy who's helped destroy all these pensions, Andy Stern, he is now on the financial oversight committee. Is this who we want to take advice from?

The unions who have collapsed all of the businesses, who have collapsed all of their pensions, they are bankrupting everything they touch and we go to them and we say, “Yes, tell me, what should we do?”

Beck went on to imagine a long list of reversals, in which comically inappropriate people are put in charge of basic functions, with the SEIU’s Stern shown on-screen as the featured player. And Joan Walsh hurried to her computer, inspired by the one thing on earth to which we “liberals” respond.

What had Beck done at this point in his lecture? What called the slumbering Walsh to action? By now, you may know—Walsh posted this fiery complaint at Salon about Beck’s racist conduct. Each person will decide for him- or herself if Walsh’s post makes sense; for ourselves, we think substantial chunks of what she posted are utterly daft, though that has been par for the course from Walsh since the start of the Shirley Sherrod incident. Since that time, Walsh has gone on TV under-prepared; has made various factual errors; has snidely complained when these factual errors are corrected by TV hosts; and she has endlessly self-contradicted. She has at times engaged in patronizing conduct, of the type we hadn’t seen since the 1960s, when we liberals stopped taking people to lunch. But through her blizzard of errors, reversals and contradictions—through all her bad-faith complaints about the conduct of her hosts—Walsh has prospered through the use of one tool.

Walsh has prospered through use of the R-bomb, the one tool we liberals have.

Did Glenn Beck make a racist comment when he referred to The Planet of the Apes? For ourselves, we’d have to say that we don’t really know. Did his two million viewers hear his remark as a racial reference? We’d have to give the same answer. But we can give you a judgment on this: Much of Walsh’s post is simply bizarre—and this incident shows you what we mean when we say that we hapless liberals only know one political play. This is all we know how to do; in truth, we have no other politics. In part, this explains why we liberals have been the loveable losers of American politics for at least the past thirty years.

We can’t even kill the world’s dumbest idea. But we have our R-bombs, and our X-bombs and N-bombs—and on the planet of the Walshes, we hold ourselves to no known earthly standard when we explain their use. Go ahead! Just try to explain the foolishness Walsh wrote about Rick Perlstein’s book, which mentions the film in one sentence (page 238). Was Beck supposed to have read that one sentence? Can you figure out what she said?

We hate to be the ones to tell you. But Beck’s lecture was a model of clarity when compared to this throw-away post.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue to ponder Walsh’s post, and a recent appearance by Howard Dean, in which he continued to fumble his way through the world’s basic facts while happily calling the roll of the racists. Quick note: On the planet of the Deans, no one with a name turns out to be racist. Everyone else likely is.

Jesus, the crap we liberals accept! By now, progressives who expected high quality leadership would be appalled by Dean and Walsh.

That said, Glenn Beck certainly called his shot as he drove that resentment train last week. “See, you're a conservative,” he told his viewers. “So you hate anybody that's different than you.” And sure enough! The only thing he said all day that made Walsh look up from her smutty new mag was a fleeting remark (with Andy Stern on the screen) which let her unloose her next bomb.

Tomorrow: What is racism? How can you spot it? Some good (implied) questions from Digby.