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Print view: Parents howled about New York's schools--but high, lofty liberals don't care
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WHERE’S THE OUTRAGE! Parents howled about New York’s schools—but high, lofty liberals don’t care: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, AUGUST 23, 2010

Helpmates of Hannity/Limbaugh: Maureen Dowd is so dumb she squeaks. She also sits at the very top of your nation’s Potemkin “press corps.”

In yesterday’s column, Dowd was puzzling over “a strange spike” in the number of people who think Obama is Muslim. We were struck by Dowd’s peculiar logic. Given the prelude to her pronouncement, why would she find this spike “strange?”

DOWD (8/22/10): Many people still have a confused view of Muslims, and the president seems unable to help navigate the country through its Islamophobia.

It is a prejudice stoked by Rush Limbaugh, who mocks “Imam Obama” as “America’s first Muslim president,” and by the evangelist Franklin Graham, who bizarrely told CNN’s John King: “I think the president’s problem is that he was born a Muslim. His father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father, like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother.”

Graham added: “The teaching of Islam is to hate the Jew, to hate the Christian, to kill them. Their goal is world domination.”

A poll last week by the Pew Research Center tracked a strange spike in the number of Americans who believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Obama is a Muslim.

As she continued, Dowd defined the size of this “strange spike.” In previous Pew surveys (in 2008 and 2009), 11 or 12 percent thought Obama was Muslim. In the new Pew survey, the number is 18 percent.

Only Dowd could write such a passage. First, she quotes the country’s leading radio demagogue referring to “Imam Obama” as “Muslim.” Then, she seems to say that she finds it “strange” when there is a spike in the number of people who think Obama is Muslim! But this has been par for the course for Dowd. Earlier last week, she told us that everyone knows that Imam Rauf is a moderate. She failed to mention the gruesome deceptions being broadcast nightly on Fox, in which millions of people are being told precisely the opposite.

Let’s give Dowd a bit of credit. In this column, she at least noted what Limbaugh has been saying; most of her fellow Potemkins have avoided any such conduct. Consider the classic gutless performance by a range of famous, big-name pundits on yesterday morning’s This Week.

Midway through her first round-table segment (click here), Christiane Amanpour raised a related issue, which she called “the Ground Zero, Islamic center debate.” First question: What do so many Americans seem to have an unfavorable view of Muslims, as recorded in a recent Time poll?

Robert Reich, a high-minded liberal, spoke right after George Will. Reich managed to name one of the famous people who has been whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment. But Reich would turn out to be the only panelist who named any such names in this whole discussion. And look at his point of emphasis:

REICH (8/22/10): But the upsurge in kind of “Islamaphobia,” George, cannot be explained by anything, it seems to me, other than a kind of intolerance that is fed by, I don’t want to say this, don’t want to believe it, but it seems to me the same kind of intolerance that is feeding the anti-immigrant fever in the United States. It comes from a deep-seated fear and anxiety among Americans right now that is rooted in turn in the economy. I mean, people are ready to believe Newt Gingrich when he says that Muslims are like Nazis. It’s outrageous.

So bold! Reich’s reference to Gingrich would end up representing the only time this panel of pundits named any of the famous people who are whipping up current sentiments. (Limbaugh went unmentioned.) But please note Reich’s point of emphasis. For him, the problem begins with the “intolerance” which seems to be widespread “among Americans.” Why, because of this widespread intolerance, someone like Gingrich will be believed when he says that Muslims are like Nazis!

In this manner, Reich displays a standard pseudo-liberal instinct. He blames the average American first, without making any attempt to note the fact that most Americans are not displaying this intolerance (a fact Reich may not even believe). He makes a sweeping, indiscriminate indictment—while saying he hates to do so! But Reich was the bravest pundit this day! Following Reich, the ever-gutless Judy Woodruff took a turn, saying as little as possible. Then her gutless husband, Al Hunt, cleared his throat and spoke.

Hunt was had been asked about the idea that the proposed Muslim community center might perhaps move to “a different site.” Complaining about “sophomoric arguments,” Hunt delivered several arguments which didn’t quite rise to that level. And very typically, he took a total dive on naming the big-name malefactors who have been driving the hate. “This whole thing has been demagogued,” he grandly proclaimed—without ever saying by whom:

HUNT: Well, where? Is it three blocks instead of two blocks? Is it eight blocks? Is it another state, another country? I mean, that strikes me as a very sophomoric argument. I mean, you— This whole thing has been demagogued. And, as you pointed out this morning, maybe they didn’t lay the groundwork for this as well as they should have. But this is not on Ground Zero, this is not a mosque—it’s a cultural center that has a prayer area. And I must say that— I was on a show the other day with Bill Cohen, the former Defense Secretary and senator from Maine, who said we ought to call out and sanction anyone in this country who uses Nazi analogies. I mean that—I’m sorry, whatever you think— I think there are some very sincere people who object to this center being there and we can argue that point. But they’re not Nazis. This is just outrageous.

If Hunt were more gutless, he might disappear. “This whole thing has been demagogued,” he said—after which, he forgot to name the people he meant! Instead of naming the powerful people who have been driving this episode, he named a lofty, high-profile friend, who had offered the most hackneyed thought found anywhere in this whole debate. (We should stop using Nazi analogies!) Presumably, this too was a reference to Gingrich, but Hunt never mentioned the gentleman’s name, and it had been a while since Reich did so, in passing. Meanwhile, Hunt finally got around to making a grand pronouncement: Generously, he said he thinks that some opponents of the project are “very sincere people.” But he never explained how these people have been disinformed by the nasty, big-name demagogues who have been driving this debacle.

Predictably, Hunt never named Limbaugh. He never named Hannity either.

Well-heeled people like Reich/Woodruff/Hunt have behaved this way forever. Reich took two more bites of the apple before this segment was done; Woodruff took a second turn too. But none of the demagogues ever got named, except for that one fleeting reference to Gingrich. In this way, Reich/Woodruff/Hunt took the same approach adopted by Howard Dean in the Shirley Sherrod matter. At that time, Dean insinuated that the public is full of racists, even as he specifically said that Newt Gingrich isn’t a racist; that Chris Wallace certainly isn’t a racist; and that neither President Bush was a racist—the first one certainly not. Simple story: When you see this kind of conduct, you’re looking at gut-bucket upper-class cowards. They refuse to challenge the major players with whom they share their powerful world. But they’re always happy to aim indiscriminate statements and insinuations at the mass of the general public.

Regular people get slimed. The demagagues get handed a pass, especially if they’re powerful.

Who did these gut-bucket cowards fail to name? As noted, Limbaugh was never mentioned in this discussion. Neither was Franklin Graham—and neither was Sean Hannity! Question: Why night some “very sincere people” be disturbed by the thought of this “Ground Zero mosque?” In part, because of the inexcusable things Hannity has been saying each night. On three separate nights in just the past week, he has aired a long “focus group” discussion he conducted with the help of Frank Luntz. Repeat: The tape of this lengthy focus group was aired on three nights—Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Early on, Hannity takes over from the less-demagogic Luntz and starts to slander Imam Rauf:

HANNITY (8/18/10, 8/20/10, 8/22/10): I want to move a little bit into the area of the imam who's spearheading this, guys. He wants America, he said in his book, to be more sharia compliant.

Are most of you aware of sharia law? OK, so we understand what sharia is. He would not condemn the terror group Hamas. Nineteen days after 9/11 he said on 60 Minutes that America was an accessory to what happened. That Osama Bin Laden was made in the U.S.A. Do any of these statements— Yes ma’am?

Hannity was cherry-picking wildly, as he does every night on his program. But his bowl of cherries gave an instant result. A woman who likely believed what he said offered this instant reaction:

WOMAN IN FOCUS GROUP (continuing directly): This imam should not be allowed to put a mosque in this country, period, with those views.

Moments later, Hannity expanded his filth, responding to a dissenter in the focus group—a young Muslim man from New York who had fallen for the crap about Rauf. What follows is a disgrace:

YOUNG MAN IN FOCUS GROUP: I might not agree with him exactly, that strict level of Islam. But we have a right to religious freedom and we have the right to say what we want. That’s a freedom that we cherish in this country.

HANNITY: But what is sharia law, you know, where women are stoned to death, where women don't have rights, where we see gays are persecuted and lesbians are persecuted, where you see that if a woman claims rape they need four male eyewitnesses to prove rape. Women can't drive, women can't go to school, women in Saudi Arabia can't be seen in public with a male that they’re not related to. He says America should be sharia compliant. Don't you think we need to know what he means by that?

Few words can describe such conduct. As he does every night on his program, Hannity directly implied that Imam Rauf wants to bring the stoning of women to this country, along with other repulsive practices. “He says America should be sharia compliant,” Hannity said. “Don't you think we need to know what he means by that?” But in fact, we do know what Imam Rauf means by that—he described his views in great detail in his 2004 book, in which he says the United States already is sharia compliant because of its devotion to justice, the essence of true sharia. But once again, Hannity’s spewing brought instant results. In response to this statement, the young Muslim man quickly offered a Ku Klux Klan analogy, suggesting that Imam Rauf has basic rights the same way a Klan member does.

Simple story, as old as the human race: We human beings are easily misled by skillful, determined demagogues. Most likely, that young Muslim man had no idea that he had just been disinformed about his fellow New Yorker. Meanwhile, Hannity has been playing these hate cards every night on his program, speaking to roughly three million people each night. (These people then speak to three million friends.) As noted, this long focus group aired on Wednesday night, then re-aired on Friday and Sunday. And sure enough: As people like Hannity have spread their hate, liberal and mainstream pundits have worked very hard not to notice or say so. Cowardly hustlers like Hunt/Woodruff/Reich refuse to mention his name.

They also forgot to name Limbaugh’s name as they puzzled about the “intolerance” found among the American people. Don’t be fooled—these pundits are horrible people. They enable Rush Limbaugh’s career.

For the record, Reich, Hunt and Woodruff have played the game this way for a very long time, dating back to the history-changing wars against Clinton and Gore. (All three played grisly, inexcusable roles in the war against Gore. On Hardball, Reich enabled Alan Simpson, then his business partner. Simpson made endless disgraceful claims about Gore as Reich sat by, gruesomely silent. Chris Matthews bellowed and railed.) These are very, very bad people—but they’re rich and they live sweet lives, and they plan to keep it that way.

More on this topic tomorrow, but this story is as old as time. People like Hannity win the day when Potemkins like these rule the air.

Special report: Who cares about black kids?

PART 1—WHERE’S THE OUTRAGE (permalink): Uh-oh! Last Monday evening, August 16, angry citizens in New York City attended a public meeting with high-ranking city officials.

On August 17, in the New York Times, Karen Zraick reported what transpired.

“Forty-five minutes into the hearing, as a crowd of about 100 people jeered and chanted slogans, the [city officials] left the stage,” Zraick reported. “They did not return, choosing to reschedule the meeting, as [citizens] marched the aisles of the auditorium…and took turns expressing their outrage over a bullhorn.”

Citizens were expressing outrage, causing officials to walk off the stage! Was this a public protest about the “Ground Zero mosque?” Actually, no—this was a fight about the interests of New York City’s school children, most of whom are black or Hispanic. The highest-ranking official at this meeting was Joel Klein, the very high-ranking chancellor of New York City’s public schools. Those jeering, chanting citizens were described by Zraick as “parents.”

This contentious meeting involved the interests of New York City’s school kids. For that reason, you haven’t read a word about the issues at stake in your loftier “liberal journals.” Those issues haven’t been discussed at Salon, or by that journal’s bigot-naming editor, who often boasts about her own up-by-the-bootstraps life as a New York City (white) kid.

(See how easy it is to race-bait, heroic pseudo-lib style?)

The issues involved in that meeting haven’t been discussed by KeithO, by Big Eddie or by Rachel, last week or at any point in the past. Ask yourself this: On our One True Liberal Channel, have you ever seen a discussion about low-income schools? About the children within them?

The issues which drove in that contentious meeting had been discussed by the New York Times, in a voluminous front-page report which appeared on August 16—the morning of the meeting. As usual, the Times largely bungled its discussion—but then, what else is new? For the record, the Times’ voluminous news report was accompanied by a large, and detailed, and bungled graphic, which ate up much of page A15. In a typical bit of technical fecklessness, the Times hasn’t placed this large graphic on-line.

Why were New York City parents outraged at that meeting? On August 16, reporters Sharon Otterman and Robert Gebeloff discussed the issues which had them upset in this lengthy, front-page report. As they started, they described a deeply disappointing situation. A treasured tale had “evaporated” with the release of test results from a new set of New York State tests:

OTTERMAN/GEBELOFF (8/16/10): Two years ago, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, testified before Congress about the city's impressive progress in closing the gulf in performance between minority and white children. The gains were historic, all but unheard of in recent decades.

[…]

When results from the 2010 tests, which state officials said presented a more accurate portrayal of students' abilities, were released last month, they came as a blow to the legacy of the mayor and the chancellor, as passing rates dropped by more than 25 percentage points on most tests. But the most painful part might well have been the evaporation of one of their signature accomplishments: the closing of the racial achievement gap.

Ouch. For years, Bloomberg and Klein praised the way their policies were narrowing “the shameful achievement gap.” But in 2010, the state of New York threw its testing program under the bus—the testing program which had produced that apparent narrowing of the gap. Acknowledging problems with those previous tests, the state introduced a new set of statewide tests. And when results from those tests were released, the achievement gap was back, with a vengeance. As they continued, Otterman and Gebeloff described the painful results—which, just by way of foreshadowing, aren’t really as bad as they might seem:

OTTERMAN/GEBELOFF (continuing directly): Among the students in the city's third through eighth grades, 40 percent of black students and 46 percent of Hispanic students met state standards in math, compared with 75 percent of white students and 82 percent of Asian students. In English, 33 percent of black students and 34 percent of Hispanic students are now proficient, compared with 64 percent among whites and Asians.

[…]

New York City's progress in closing its achievement gap on those [earlier] tests drew national attention as a possible model for other urban school districts. It won praise from President George W. Bush as evidence that No Child Left Behind was working. In 2007, the city won a prestigious urban education prize from the Broad Foundation, which cited the city's progress in narrowing the racial achievement gap.

But the latest state math and English tests show that the proficiency gap between minority and white students has returned to about the same level as when the mayor arrived. In 2002, 31 percent of black students were considered proficient in math, for example, while 65 percent of white students met that standard.

All through the Bloomberg years, New York City bragged that it was closing the achievement gap. In 2010, using more reliable tests, the gap in passing rates was back. It closely tracked the gap which existed when Bloomberg took over the schools.

To state the obvious, that gap in passing rates is highly undesirable. That said, just as a bit of foreshadowing, the Bloomberg legacy isn’t as bad as one might think from what we’ve presented so far. But in their lengthy front-page report, Otterman and Gebeloff presented a rather limited account of the new test scores. That night, in that contentious meeting, parents were outraged with Klein.

''This is a call to all those in charge at the Department of Education,'' shouted one parent, Esperanza Vazquez. “Do your work for our children.” Zraick reported the rest of the turmoil:

ZRAICK (8/17/10): The upheaval began after Mr. Klein, among others on the stage, said that despite the drop in this year's scores after the state recalibrated its standardized exams, students citywide were still making substantial progress, based on graduation rates and other data.

In response, a panelist, Patrick Sullivan, moved to open the floor to public comments about test scores. Though a second panelist, Anna Santos, seconded the motion, it was denied by the chairman, David C. Chang, who pointed out that time for comments had been allotted after scheduled business.

With that, the crowd erupted into boos and chants of ''Let the parents speak.''

''Where is the accountability?'' asked Evelyn Feliciano of West Tremont, in the Bronx, who said her son's scores had dropped drastically.

“The testing changes, which were designed to make them more rigorous, caused fewer students to pass and made gaps in achievement among racial and ethnic groups more pronounced,” Zraick wrote. “While similar results were seen statewide, it was a particular disappointment to city officials, who had cited the success in raising test scores since 2002.”

Parents with names like Vazquez and Feliciano were quite upset by the news. But out in the world of more glorious swells, people with finer names—Walsh and Dean and Kinsley and such—couldn’t give the first flying frack about these proles or their kids. The outrage was found at that Gotham meeting—not in the land of the swells.

In fact, the New York Times did a limited job explaining those new test scores; people who care about low-income kids might want to know what’s actually up. But you’ll never gain any such knowledge in the journals which name-call the nation’s bigots, as long as they aren’t in our tribe. You will have to come back to this site on the morrow, as we start to puzzle out where the facts stand at this point.

What kind of progress has occurred in New York City under Bloomberg and Klein? Where do New York City’s test scores actually stand at this point? How about the country’s minority kids as a whole? How about kids in other big cities? As the nation’s determined school children start to get ready to think about preparing themselves to go back to school, we’ll try to define the lay of the land as we plow through these topics all week.

Tomorrow—Part 2: Why are some of these people still “experts?” And the gap is not the full story.