PLANET OF THE R-BOMBS! Glenn Beck called his shot last week as he drew a reaction from Walsh: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, AUGUST 9, 2010
Krugman extends his claim: Paul Ryan actually is a deliberate flimflammer, Krugman says (click here). The point is made in several other posts on Krugmans blog. His points deserve a full, robust airingan airing the liberal world wont 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. Were 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 wasnt aiming his thunder at Collins; instead, he was taking rough shots at Americas youth! Americas young people are moving in exactly the wrong direction, he roared. The United States was once the worlds 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 firstbut now were twelfth! In the following passage, Herbert poured the hot sauce all over the kids. Everybody is to blame, the fiery columnist said:
Were behind Norway and France, Herbert said, calling this fact beyond pathetic. Young Americans arent even in the ballpark, the irate columnist roared; they arent even coming close. But who was putting his brains on hold? Wed have to nominate Herbert himself! The columnist authored so many errors and non sequiturs in this piece, it was more like that columns headline was aimed at Herbert himself!
For starters, the study Herbert quotes isnt exactly a study of college degrees; the study discusses the number of people who hold an associate degree or higher. Thats 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 Herberts column are more fundamental.
In this column, Herbert takes a type of liberty columnists frequently take with clumps of data. He says were worse than eleven other nations, without trying to say how much worse we are. In fact, we arent 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.) Its truethe 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 Finlandand 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 worlds developed nations were rather tightly bunched around that 40 percent mark. Compare this to Herberts fiery claim: The problem is that todays young Americans are not coming close to acquiring the education and training needed to carry out that mission. Theyre 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 weve mentioned? Unless we retain some sense of manifest destiny, we cant 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 cant 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 countrys percentage isnt 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), wed have to say that its 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, Herberts 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 worlds leader in the percentage of young people with college degrees, as Herbert says? Quite possibly, though we dont 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 arent as smart as we are!
(For the column Herbert attempted to wrote, well recommend todays 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 presidents marriage (click here). And she got to call Barry a boy once again! This time, he was a boy of the birthday variety.
Is theres a dumber neighborhood than the Times op-ed page? Youll have to speak to the College Board. We have no idea where to find it.
PART ONEPLANET OF THE R-BOMBS (permalink): Remarkable claims are made most days on the Fox News Channels Glenn Beck Program. Most days, its stunning to think that the two million people watching the show cant perceive the remarkable strangeness of Becks 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 arent 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 plana plan aimed at saving the jobs of teachers and other government workers. According to Nielsen, 1.97 million people were watching as Beck lambasted Pelosis announcement in standard, resentment-drenched fashion:
To watch this programs 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 teachersten 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 viewsand by extension, those of his viewers:
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, Becks 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, well 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 pensionsthe pensions the unions arranged:
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 Nationin 1966! Just click here.)
For ourselves, we have no idea if this math worksor if Becks numbers and logic are actually accurate. But by this time, Becks 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 went on to imagine a long list of reversals, in which comically inappropriate people are put in charge of basic functions, with the SEIUs 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 knowWalsh posted this fiery complaint at Salon about Becks racist conduct. Each person will decide for him- or herself if Walshs 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 hadnt seen since the 1960s, when we liberals stopped taking people to lunch. But through her blizzard of errors, reversals and contradictionsthrough all her bad-faith complaints about the conduct of her hostsWalsh 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, wed have to say that we dont really know. Did his two million viewers hear his remark as a racial reference? Wed have to give the same answer. But we can give you a judgment on this: Much of Walshs post is simply bizarreand 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 cant even kill the worlds dumbest idea. But we have our R-bombs, and our X-bombs and N-bombsand 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 Perlsteins 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 Becks lecture was a model of clarity when compared to this throw-away post.
Tomorrow, well continue to ponder Walshs post, and a recent appearance by Howard Dean, in which he continued to fumble his way through the worlds 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.