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Print view: Why are tax issues hard for Dems? Consider what Meyerson did
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MEYERSON’S FOLLY! Why are tax issues hard for Dems? Consider what Meyerson did: // link // print // previous // next //

Five letters: This morning, the New York Times prints five letters about Monday’s 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.)

We’ll look at all five letters next week. One is very instructive.

Does Andrew O’Hehir hate black kids: This morning, we did something we’ve 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. It’s 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, we’ve wanted to cheer, thinking about those rising scores as those kids have seemed so on-target.

Andrew O’Hehir 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 O’Hehir hate black kids? No, he doesn’t, but he might just as well, based on the propaganda which suffuses his review of the new documentary film, Waiting for Superman:

O’HEHIR (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 them—and you and me too—can 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 O’Hehir passes public (urban) schools, he drives too fast and averts his eyes. But then, O’Hehir doesn’t 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, O’Hehir doesn’t 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 God—see below.) But then, his headline asks a gloomy, propagandistic question: “Can public education be saved?” And before too long, he’s reciting this cant—cant which suggests that he knows nothing about the subject on which he declaims:

O’HEHIR: 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, O’Hehir seems to be one of those “American exceptionalists” who finds it embarrassing to score behind other developed nations where the ratty people aren’t totally wondrous, like we Americans are supposed to be. But have all those presidents “manifestly failed,” from Johnson up to Bush and Obama? O’Hehir 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.)

O’Hehir doesn’t seem to have heard about this. He has heard his society’s standard propaganda, allowing him to write things like this:

O’HEHIR: 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 contracts—which can make it impossible to fire the worst teachers, or pay the best ones more money—have 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 down—but 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? O’Hehir is quite casual with the insults he aims at (black) kids—and 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, didn’t that mean that they had been removed from the classroom? It’s an age-old story: When we fall in love with society’s propaganda, we’ll 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 O’Hehir in a tough spot. He was asked to review a documentary about an important subject—a subject he seems to know nothing about. Film reviewers often fail when they accept such assignments. But O’Hehir is remarkably eager to recite some ugly scripts. That in mind, let’s disabuse him of his puzzling puzzlement.

Poor O’Hehir! 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?”

Here’s what, you big horse’s 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, O’Hehir doesn’t 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 O’Hehir’s 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. O’Hehir would rather be in Finland, where ratty kids of this type aren’t driving the average scores down, thus embarrassing the better class of people.

Guess what? Finland didn’t spend three centuries conducting a war against a major part of its population! It doesn’t have a huge immigration factor. It’s a uni-cultural, middle-class nation. It’s easier for “educational systems” to do well in those circumstances. Even those ratty unionized teachers couldn’t f*ck everything up!

Andrew O’Hehir averts his gaze when he sees black kids walk by. We cheer the kids at our nearby school—but then, we know that test scores have been going up.

Why did Walsh assign this review? Does she hate black kids? No, she doesn’t—but as she helps spread this propaganda around, she might as well just go ahead.

Black kids’ test scores are way up. Will anyone—even some liberal journal—drop 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 don’t 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 don’t seem to care.

Special report: In lieu of liberal politics!

PART 4: MEYERSON’S 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 don’t seem to have the slightest idea how our politics works.

Why did Democrats skip that vote? We can’t tell you either, of course; we don’t 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. Democrats—and liberal “intellectual leaders”—have 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, doesn’t seem to know this.

Why is taxation so difficult for Dems? Consider the very first piece we read after posting yesterday’s HOWLER.

It’s almost always a sorrowful thing to watch our liberal intellectual leaders attempt to argue taxation. Consider Harold Meyerson’s effort in yesterday’s Washington Post.

(We swear. Meyerson’s column was the first thing we read after posting yesterday’s 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 world’s biggest fool—Dinesh D’Souza, 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 D’Souza!

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 D’Souza! Meyerson thought he had scored a coup, noting that the marginal rate under Ike stood at [91] percent. (For marginal tax rates by year, just click this.) But what a fool! In the process of counting his coup, Meyerson left D’Souza’s claim uncorrected—the claim that Obama “wants people who are already paying close to 50% of their income to pay even more.”

Presumably, tens of thousands of people have now read Meyerson’s column. They were all exposed to D’Souza’s claim—and they noted that Meyerson didn’t challenge it. D’Souza’s claim is screamingly bogus. But this liberal “intellectual leader” let the bogus claim stand.

That was a victory for D’Souza—another victory in the long, twilight war to disinform the public.

What was wrong with D’Souza’s claim? Apparently, Meyerson didn’t realize, but it’s hard to know who D’Souza could mean when he talks about “people who are already paying close to 50 percent of their income.” When Ryan Chittum reviewed D’Souza’s 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 D’Souza’s 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 less—30.9 percent.

Again, those are overall tax rates. Those rates include all taxation—federal, state and local. Let’s talk about what Chittum said, because it is a perfect example of the way a disinformation war has deceived the American public—in 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 percent—just 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, it’s hard to know who D’Souza means when he talks about people who are “already paying close to 50 percent of their income in taxes.”

Bill O’Reilly 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:

Total Taxes as Percent of Income.

How thoroughly disinformed is your nation? D’Souza 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 Obama—by saying Ike was worse!

When our “intellectual leaders” function this way, how is the average American voter supposed to know what’s what?

Meyerson’s flounder was so perfect that we’ll let it stand on its own today. But let’s mention one part of the disinformation war we neglected to cite in yesterday’s 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 claim—the 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. Let’s 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 mantra—if they say that all the time, don’t we have to define what the terms are? Let me put up on the screen and hopefully you can see it there. If not, I’ll 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 slick—and 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 didn’t 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 type—claims 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 don’t 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” haven’t tried. Neither have “liberal” columnists. Joan Walsh is too busy counting bigots to get into twaddle like this.

One side has worked—and one side has played. Last night, three of your “leaders” scratched their fine heads. Why don’t Democrats want to vote on taxation? They just couldn’t 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 system’s 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:

Shares of Income and Taxes Paid.

Here’s 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. They’re overpaid; they live in nice homes; they eat and drink at nice restaurants. Simply put, they don’t 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 column—the 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 CTJ—but 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. Here’s 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 says—but high-minded phonies like Nicholas Kristof won’t even mention his name.

This is the way your discourse has worked for the past forty years.