Five letters: This morning, the New York Times prints five letters about Mondays high-minded piece by the lofty Professor Engel (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/21/10). One of the letters is highly instructive. (Code words: Little Rock.)
Well look at all five letters next week. One is very instructive.
Does Andrew OHehir hate black kids: This morning, we did something weve been doing once or twice a week this month. On the way back from the bagel joint, we drove a block out of our way, passing our local elementary/middle school to watch a group of great-looking kids on their way to school.
Granted, Mt. Royal Elementary/Middle School is no longer a plain old school. Its part of the Ingenuity Project, a set of Baltimore middle schools which require extra performance. That said, most of the kids seem to walk to school, often with parents or grandparents; these kids do not come from upper-end neighborhoods. At all ages, they look very serious and very sharp, in their yellow and purple-plaid uniforms, soberly carrying their book bags and briefcases.
Last week, we saw an 11-year-old boy and his younger sister in our local grocery store, each in uniform, after school had let out. These two very much had it all together, even after a long day of school.
We like to drive past this school because those kids look so good and so serious. We assume they may be part of the trend in which black kids scores in reading and math have soared in the past dozen years. Sometimes, the crossing guard makes us stop to let the kids cross the street. Once or twice, weve wanted to cheer, thinking about those rising scores as those kids have seemed so on-target.
Andrew OHehir seems to have a vastly different experience.
Here he is, at the end of the Salon piece in which he reviews a subject he seems to know nothing about. Does Andrew OHehir hate black kids? No, he doesnt, but he might just as well, based on the propaganda which suffuses his review of the new documentary film, Waiting for Superman:
OHEHIR (9/23/10): At various points in the film, Guggenheim embraces Harlem charter-school entrepreneur Geoffrey Canada (who tells a story from his childhood that lends the movie its title), American Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten and embattled Washington, D.C., school chancellor Michelle Rhee among his principal heroes
Ultimately "Waiting for 'Superman'" seems to propose that if intelligent people like themand you and me toocan put our territorial and/or partisan bickering aside, we'll solve our educational problems tomorrow. And, hell, maybe that's true. There's nothing wrong with wishful thinking, and we could use a bit more of it in this dismal political season. But this feels sadly like a dose of early Obama-era hope delivered in a darker time, when entirely too many of us are driving past those public schools every day like [director] Davis Guggenheim does, as fast as possible and with our eyes averted.
When OHehir passes public (urban) schools, he drives too fast and averts his eyes. But then, OHehir doesnt seem to know jack sh*t about his subject matter.
Needless to say, we still have a lot of urban schools which are functioning very poorly. But test scores are massively higher among black kids and Hispanic kids in the past dozen years; like the rest of the liberal world, OHehir doesnt seem to have heard.
In his review, he recites every bit of propaganda about our failing schools. In paragraph 3, he laments the long and puzzling history of failure in American education. (Puzzling? Good Godsee below.) But then, his headline asks a gloomy, propagandistic question: Can public education be saved? And before too long, hes reciting this cantcant which suggests that he knows nothing about the subject on which he declaims:
OHEHIR: Pick your villains or your heroes: Teachers' unions, self-perpetuating bureaucracies, meddlesome state legislatures, corporate-style reformers, charter-school visionaries, testing and "accountability" mavens, the grand schemes and big promises of every president from Lyndon B. Johnson to Bush and Obama. Whoever you'd like to praise and castigate on that list, let's assume for the moment that they all mean what they say, and genuinely want to improve American schooling. They have also all manifestly failed to do it. As Guggenheim observes, educational spending per student has doubled since the 1970s (yes, that's adjusted for inflation), while our educational system has steadily lost ground to those of other countries.
Internationally, our students (not our educational system) have gained ground on some tests, lost ground on some others. For unexplained reasons, OHehir seems to be one of those American exceptionalists who finds it embarrassing to score behind other developed nations where the ratty people arent totally wondrous, like we Americans are supposed to be. But have all those presidents manifestly failed, from Johnson up to Bush and Obama? OHehir shows no sign of knowing this, but the National Assessment of Educational Progress began to measure American students a few short years after Johnson left office. From 1971 through 2008, the NAEP has recorded tremendous score gains by black kids in reading and math. (Click here; scroll down to Figure 4, pages 14-15, and Figure 10, pages 34-35.)
OHehir doesnt seem to have heard about this. He has heard his societys standard propaganda, allowing him to write things like this:
OHEHIR: All too often, attacking the teachers' unions is a lazy rhetorical tactic of the anti-government right, but Guggenheim does not shy away from the fact that union contractswhich can make it impossible to fire the worst teachers, or pay the best ones more moneyhave become a serious impediment to school reform. A former Milwaukee chancellor discusses his district's annual "Dance of the Lemons" (known elsewhere as the "Turkey Trot"), in which underperforming teachers are shuffled from school to school. Infamously, Guggenheim obtained footage clandestinely shot inside New York's "rubber room," where dozens of teachers awaiting disciplinary hearings sat every day for months, collecting their full salaries while reading or playing cards. (Since the film's Sundance premiere, the New York rubber room has been closed downbut presumably the un-fired teachers are still stashed somewhere.)
Guggenheim has already been attacked for what some perceive as an anti-union bias, and for being too credulous about the results achieved at small, intensive, college-prep-type charter schools like New York's famous Harlem Success Academy or the nationwide network of KIPP schools founded by former Houston schoolteachers David Levin and Mike Feinberg. In fact he never argues that charter schools are the one-size-fits-all solution, or that all have been successful. (Quite a few haven't.) He's making a broader and more important point: It's no good blaming bad schools on poverty and economic segregation (as traditional social scientists have done) when ambitious educators have proven that even kids from the worst possible neighborhoods can thrive in school.
Even kids from the worst possible neighborhoods can thrive in school? Who ever doubted that? The question has always been how many such kids can thrive, and how much? OHehir is quite casual with the insults he aims at (black) kidsand at their ratty teachers, of course, especially the ones who belong to unions. But by the way: If teachers were sitting in that rubber room, didnt that mean that they had been removed from the classroom? Its an age-old story: When we fall in love with societys propaganda, well be eager to repeat its scripts, even when the script may seem to display some fact which contradicts our (union-trashing) point.
In part, Joan Walsh put OHehir in a tough spot. He was asked to review a documentary about an important subjecta subject he seems to know nothing about. Film reviewers often fail when they accept such assignments. But OHehir is remarkably eager to recite some ugly scripts. That in mind, lets disabuse him of his puzzling puzzlement.
Poor OHehir! The kids do so much better in Finland! He averts his eyes as he looks at black children, wondering what could explain our the long and puzzling history of failure in American education?
Heres what, you big horses ass:
For centuries, the society went to extraordinary lengths to deny literacy to the black community. For centuries, it was against the law to teach black kids to read! The legacy of that gruesome conduct is with us today. Embarrassed by international tests, OHehir doesnt seem to have heard.
Beyond that, we have a high immigration rate; this presents our schools with lots of delightful, deserving kids who may come from very modest backgrounds and who may not speak English. Their parents are brought here so OHehirs neighbors can hire cheap labor to water their lawns. But the in-flow of all these deserving kids does create large challenges for American schools. OHehir would rather be in Finland, where ratty kids of this type arent driving the average scores down, thus embarrassing the better class of people.
Guess what? Finland didnt spend three centuries conducting a war against a major part of its population! It doesnt have a huge immigration factor. Its a uni-cultural, middle-class nation. Its easier for educational systems to do well in those circumstances. Even those ratty unionized teachers couldnt f*ck everything up!
Andrew OHehir averts his gaze when he sees black kids walk by. We cheer the kids at our nearby schoolbut then, we know that test scores have been going up.
Why did Walsh assign this review? Does she hate black kids? No, she doesntbut as she helps spread this propaganda around, she might as well just go ahead.
Black kids test scores are way up. Will anyoneeven some liberal journaldrop the propaganda long enough to share this news with the public? If other people knew this fact, they might learn to admire those black kids too. Their social attitudes might even change!
The public might start to admire black kids. But guess what? At Salon, they dont care!
About those tests scores: Black kids test scores are way up since the time of Lyndon Johnson. See the link above.
Test scores by black kids and Hispanic kids have gone way up in the past dozen years. We just spent three weeks exploring this topic. For the final installment of that report, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/10/10.
Black kids tests scores are way up. At Salon, they dont seem to care.
Special report: In lieu of liberal politics!
PART 4: MEYERSONS FOLLY (permalink): Democrats have postponed a vote on the pending lapse of the Bush tax rates. Last night, on Our One True Liberal Channel, hosts and guests seemed to take great pride in their shared incomprehension.
Why would the Democrats do such a thing? Olbermann, Robinson and Hayes tore their hair, proudly displaying an unfortunate fact: They dont seem to have the slightest idea how our politics works.
Why did Democrats skip that vote? We cant tell you either, of course; we dont attend their leadership meetings. But votes on taxation are a bitch, for reasons we ran through yesterday:
The other side has spent forty years pushing a war of disinformation on the subject of taxes. Democratsand liberal intellectual leadershave made no attempt to build an opposing set of frameworks and understandings. In the electorate, taxation is viewed through a plutocrat lens.
Keith Olbermann, a big dumb stooge, doesnt seem to know this.
Why is taxation so difficult for Dems? Consider the very first piece we read after posting yesterdays HOWLER.
Its almost always a sorrowful thing to watch our liberal intellectual leaders attempt to argue taxation. Consider Harold Meyersons effort in yesterdays Washington Post.
(We swear. Meyersons column was the first thing we read after posting yesterdays HOWLER.)
Meyerson has been around a long time. As such, his failures help us see the sad state of ongoing liberal politics. Yesterday, in his weekly column, he tried to dispute the worlds biggest foolDinesh DSouza, who says he thinks that Crazy Obama is channeling his anti-colonial dad.
Poor Harold! He gave it the old college try! But, by paragraphs 4-5, the hapless fellow was typing this. Victory DSouza!
MEYERSON (9/23/10): As the right-wingers see it, even President Obama's more conventional ideas have no place or precedent in the American experience. Ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, Dinesh D'Souza reasons in his summa idiotica currently on the cover of Forbes magazine, cannot be explained within the confines of American political thought. However, he writes, "if Obama shares his father's anticolonial crusade, that would explain why he wants people who are already paying close to 50% of their income to pay even more."
I'd like to see D'Souza explain why the highest tax brackets during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower took 90 [sic] percent of people's incomes.
Victory DSouza! Meyerson thought he had scored a coup, noting that the marginal rate under Ike stood at  percent. (For marginal tax rates by year, just click this.) But what a fool! In the process of counting his coup, Meyerson left DSouzas claim uncorrectedthe claim that Obama wants people who are already paying close to 50% of their income to pay even more. http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=213
Presumably, tens of thousands of people have now read Meyersons column. They were all exposed to DSouzas claimand they noted that Meyerson didnt challenge it. DSouzas claim is screamingly bogus. But this liberal intellectual leader let the bogus claim stand.
That was a victory for DSouzaanother victory in the long, twilight war to disinform the public.
What was wrong with DSouzas claim? Apparently, Meyerson didnt realize, but its hard to know who DSouza could mean when he talks about people who are already paying close to 50 percent of their income. When Ryan Chittum reviewed DSouzas piece for the Columbia Journalism Review, he cited that same statement. But in his small corner of the world, Chittum actually knew enough to challenge DSouzas claim:
CHITTUM (9/16/10): Just who are these American taxpayers already paying close to 50 percent of their income in taxes? The liberal Citizens for Tax Justice says the highest overall tax rate (this includes federal, state, and local taxes) is 32.2 percent. The top 1 percent pay even less30.9 percent.
Again, those are overall tax rates. Those rates include all taxationfederal, state and local. Lets talk about what Chittum said, because it is a perfect example of the way a disinformation war has deceived the American publicin part, through the hapless work of intellectual leaders like Meyerson.
In his review, Chittum linked to this blog post by Catherine Rampell. She had posted the chart shown below, a chart from Citizens for Tax Justice. This chart helps display a little-known fact; overall, the American tax system is only barely progressive. As of 2008, the top one percent of earners were paying 30.9 percent of their income in overall taxes, according to CTJ. The middle fifth of earners were paying 27.0 percent. The next fifth up were paying 30.0 percentjust a hair less than the top one percent.
Others who make this type of calculation may come up with slightly different figures. But in reality, its hard to know who DSouza means when he talks about people who are already paying close to 50 percent of their income in taxes.
Bill OReilly makes similar claims all the time; millions of people hear him do it. At their heart, such claims are part of a decades-long war of disinformation. Yesterday, in the Washington Post, Meyerson repeated this claim, then simply let it stand:
How thoroughly disinformed is your nation? DSouza tossed out a typical claim from the decades-long war of disinformation. To Meyerson, one of our intellectual leaders, this bogus claim seemed to make perfect sense. Meyerson defended Obamaby saying Ike was worse!
When our intellectual leaders function this way, how is the average American voter supposed to know whats what?
Meyersons flounder was so perfect that well let it stand on its own today. But lets mention one part of the disinformation war we neglected to cite in yesterdays post.
As noted yesterday, plutocrats have assembled a long list of bogus claims about taxation. These bogus claims have driven their long war of disinformation. Part of this war involves a relentless claimthe claim that Democrats, as part of their relentless class warfare, are making the top one percent pay a ridiculous share of our taxes. As we have noted many times, Sean Hannity loves to recite one of the talking-points designed to advance this belief. Lets go back to 2003 for one iteration of this evergreen claim:
HANNITY (1/8/03): If Democrats say tax cuts for the rich, which is the mantraif they say that all the time, dont we have to define what the terms are? Let me put up on the screen and hopefully you can see it there. If not, Ill read it to you. According to it, the top one percent pays 37 percent of the taxes; top five, 56; top ten percent, 67.3 percent of the taxes; bottom 50 only paid 3.9.
As usual, Sean was being slickand he was being deceptive (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/27/03). By taxes, he actually meant federal income taxes, one of our few progressive taxes. And, of course, he didnt say what percentage of total income goes to that top one percent. (By now, the top one percent seems to be receiving roughly 23 percent of all income.)
Persistently, Hannity makes claims of this typeclaims in which he boo-hoos about the percentage of income tax paid by the top one percent, without noting the percentage of income which those people receive. The effects of state and local taxes are ignored; ditto for other federal taxes. This creates a vast misimpression about the way the top one percent are allegedly getting ripped off.
Voters constantly hear such claims. Yesterday, they heard such a claim from Meyerson.
Last night, liberals scratched their heads on the air, wondering why Democrats dont like to vote on taxation.
Can we talk? One side has fought hard in this ongoing war; one side has napped in the woods. Once in a great while, you will see a chart like the one Chittum cited; typically, it will appear in some obscure blog post. For decades, plutocrats and their agents have worked very hard to disinform the public about taxation. Essentially, liberal intellectual leaders have made no attempt to counter this stream of bullroar.
Your liberal journals havent tried. Neither have liberal columnists. Joan Walsh is too busy counting bigots to get into twaddle like this.
One side has workedand one side has played. Last night, three of your leaders scratched their fine heads. Why dont Democrats want to vote on taxation? They just couldnt figure it out.
Starting Monday: When we lack a liberal politics, we race-bait, we lie and we flounder
How progressive is it: Voters are constantly disinformed, by agents like Hannity, about our systems vastly unfair progressivity. The top one percent has to do it all! So they end up thinking.
But how progressive is our system, when all types of taxes are taken into account? In the blog post to which Chittum linked, Rampell included this second chart from CTJ:
Heres the answer to that question: When all taxes are taken into account, our system is barely progressive.
Liberals never discuss such matters. Your intellectual leaders tend to come from the same high classes which are gaining economic power with each passing year. Theyre overpaid; they live in nice homes; they eat and drink at nice restaurants. Simply put, they dont give a flying fig. Endlessly, they nap in the woods, after which they gambol and play.
They are Potemkin progressives.
Meyerson is a Potemkin. If you doubt that, just reread his most recent columnthe kind of column which helps explain why taxation is so hard.
Final note: In that HOWLER from 2003, we discussed a calculation about levels of taxation offered by the New York Times Daniel Altman. His calculation differed from that of the CTJbut it made the same basic point.
Every couple of years or so, some liberal or some journalist, for some unknown reason, accidentally makes such a point. Heres what happens next:
No one else discusses what has been said. That night, Sean Hannity goes on the air and disinforms the public again. Millions of people get fooled by what he saysbut high-minded phonies like Nicholas Kristof wont even mention his name.
This is the way your discourse has worked for the past forty years.