Breaking: We’re reliably told that it’s New Year’s Eve!


With all that the evening entails: Has it really been twenty-nine years since we did the Richmond Comedy Club with Bill Maher on this, the most disappointing night in all of American show business?

Due to Bill’s surprising deportment, millions of people now claim they were there. Let’s just say that Bill, whom we’ve always admired except when he's wrong, went over the daiquiri cliff.

We plan to do a half-Howler tomorrow. What does this seasonal mess mean to us? All week long, we will have questions for the new year—and we'll even have some topics we didn't get to in the last.

Paul Krugman hits the nail on the head!


Dueling portraits of Maya MacGuineas: Paul Krugman keeps telling the same story well.

Today, he starts his column with Starbuck’s version of Steve Jobs. He discusses Howard Schultz, a man who is said to be spreading confusion about our budget mess:
KRUGMAN (12/31/12): Brewing Up Confusion

Howard Schultz, the C.E.O. of Starbucks, has a reputation as a good guy, a man who supports worthy causes. And he presumably thought he would add to that reputation when he posted an open letter urging his employees to promote fiscal bipartisanship by writing “Come together” on coffee cups.

In reality, however, all he did was make himself part of the problem. And his letter was actually a very good illustration of the forces that created the current mess.

In the letter, Mr. Schultz warned that elected officials “have been unable to come together and compromise to solve the tremendously important, time-sensitive issue to fix the national debt,” and suggested that readers further inform themselves at the Web site of the organization Fix the Debt. Let’s parse that, shall we?
Krugman parses the letter well. (We suggest you read the whole column.) Before long, Krugman is saying that Schultz is actually part of the problem. He says Schultz’s letter, which blames both sides, is “actively harmful:”
KRUGMAN: Look, it’s true that elected politicians have been unable to “come together and compromise.” But saying that in generic form, and implying a symmetry between Republicans and Democrats, isn’t just misleading, it’s actively harmful.
We can’t help noting one point: It isn’t just Schultz who is pushing the symmetry line. Yesterday, David Gregory’s Meet the Press panel took turns pushing the same doggone script! Even when they said it wasn’t Obama’s fault, they found ways to say it was!

For our money, Tom Brokaw was the most annoying of Gregory's pundits. But such names can’t be named in the Times, so Schultz’s will have to do.

One more name appears in Krugman’s column—the name of Maya MacGuineas. Basically, Krugman says that she is a tool. He says she’s trying to muddle the issue—and getting good press in the process:
KRUGMAN: How could someone as well connected as Mr. Schultz get such a basic point wrong? By talking to the wrong people—in particular, the people at Fix the Debt, who’ve been doing their best to muddle the issue. For example, in a new fund-raising letter Maya MacGuineas, the organization’s public face, writes of the need to “make hard decisions when it comes to averting the ‘fiscal cliff’ and stabilizing our national debt”—even though the problem with the fiscal cliff is precisely that it stabilizes the debt too soon. Clearly, Ms. MacGuineas was trying to confuse readers on that point, and she apparently confused Mr. Schultz too.


You might not know it reading some credulous reporting, but Fix the Debt isn’t some kind of new gathering of concerned citizens. On the contrary, it’s just the latest addition to a group of deficit-scold shops supported by billionaire Peter Peterson...
Be sure to read Krugman’s whole column, which is very clearly expressed. When you’re done, read this upbeat profile of MacGuineas from last Monday’s New York Times.

Just a guess: In part, Krugman is referring to that profile when he slams the “credulous reporting” about Fix the Debt. For the record, that profile was written by Annie Lowrey, a “new wonk on the block.”

Lowrey is married to Ezra Klein. (We regard that as a good thing.) She is one the bright young kids who are currently being shaped into a new liberal/mainstream elite.

Our questions:

Is Annie Lowrey a serious player—or is she just a Serious Person? As promised in our post below, we’ll be posing such questions all week.

An additional question: How do these kids get so far so fast? Now you're starting to ask good questions about this emerging elite!

NEW WONKS ON THE BLOCK: Who are these guys!


Part 1—Did Ezra Klein really mean that: We were struck by several year-end lists at the Washington Post.

For one example, we were struck by Glenn Kessler’s list of “the biggest Pinocchios [sic] of 2012.” (To peruse that list, click here.)

The biggest “Pinocchios” of the past year? In our view, this is part of the muddled logic of the modern fact-check. Kessler doesn’t seem to have a clear, pre-existing term for what it is he’s checking. We would assume he’s correcting “misstatements,” or something of that ilk. Why not use the term?)

At any rate, Kessler came up with a list of eight. Does he really mean to say that these were the year’s biggest misstatements? All eight?

We’ll offer more on Kessler’s list as the week unfolds.

We were struck by Kessler’s year-end list. But we were even more struck by a pair of lists from the Washington Post’s “Wonkblog” gang.

Kevin Drum directed our gaze to the gang’s second annual Wonky awards. In his post, Drum says he has “one big nit to pick” with this list. By the time the week is done, we’ll offer two or three more.

That said, we were more struck by “Wonkblog's books of the year.” Six wonks listed the books they enjoyed most in 2012. For us, one question jumped out right away:

When Ezra Klein picked Chrystia Freeland’s new book, was his “admission” sincere? In the synopsis which follows, did Klein mean what he said?
KLEIN (12/30/12): Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, by Chrystia Freeland

I’ll admit, the title on this initially left me skeptical. But Freeland’s book is much more than a jeremiad against rising inequality and stagnating median wages. It’s a deeply reported, and often fun, tour of the lives of the very, very rich. Freeland’s access is impressive, and she’s sympathetic to titans she covers without being captured by the self-aggrandizing narratives they spin. But her evidence that the super-rich “are becoming a transglobal community of peers who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home” makes the book important.
To his credit, Klein selected a very naughty book—a book which discusses the actual shape of the evolving actual world. But did he really mean what he said? Did the title of Freeland’s book “initially leave him skeptical?” Did it make him fear that he would be reading “a jeremiad against rising inequality and stagnating median wages?”

(In this context, “jeremiad” serves as a tut-tutting term of derision.)

Dis Ezra Klein mean what he said? Or was that statement just a dodge? As Klein becomes a certified liberal leader, was that a way of assuring the world of pre-existing elites that he is a Serious Person?

Our question: When Klein “admitted” to that initial reaction, was he just making it up?

We can’t read the mind of Klein, and he did select a serious book—“serious” with a small “s.” But as you will note, the nit Drum picked with Wonkblog’s other list also involves an apparent attempt to maintain one’s standing with the pre-existing world of elites—with the world of Serious People. So too with the other nits we’ll eventually pick with that list.

Was Ezra Klein telling the truth when he made that “admission?” We ask that question for a reason:

Wonkblog is one of the places where the liberal world’s new collection of certified intellectual leaders is being assembled. But are these people serious players? Or are they too often just Serious?

As Newman once asked, Who are these guys? Who are the young people being assembled as the liberal world’s new elite? Who are these new wonks on the block, this collection of high-flying young thinkers?

All week long, we’ll be asking that question. All year long?


Tomorrow—part 2: Did Suzy Khimm really mean that?

Breaking: We’re reliably told that it’s Christmas today!


With all the season entails: We’re reliably informed by the analysts that it’s Christmas morning.

For that reason, we’re off to clean the pasture spring! We don’t expect to post until the weekend.

Did you happen to watch It’s A Wonderful Life last night? We’ll guess that Zuzu broke a few extra hearts at the end of the movie this year, what with the problems folk have had with J. Crew’s gift-wrap policies.

We had forgotten: It’s “teacher” who told this adorable child that, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings. To check Zuzu’s sourcing, go ahead:

Treat yourselves! Just click here.

The year of arguing crazily!


And the tone-challenged land of the swells: Who was Nancy Lanza?

We’ll recommend this lengthy profile from yesterday’s Washington Post. Last week, we were stunned by the uninformed tripe which appeared at one liberal outpost concerning this question.

Because it’s Christmas Eve, we aren’t going to link or even name names! But the world isn’t served when we liberals give ourselves over to “imagining” about the dead, especially when we keep noting the fact that we don’t have any real idea what we’re talking about.

Yesterday, we thought the Post provided a fuller profile of Nancy Lanza. Though here too, we’ll advise caution.

We saw one very foolish profile of Lanza last week. But then, this has truly been The Year of Arguing Crazily.

In today’s column, Paul Krugman continues to discuss one part of this growing problem. We’ll have more thoughts at the end of the year about the craziness of our American discourse. But the crazy dumbness of our discourse is now perhaps its distinguishing characteristic. And the spreading foolishness isn’t restricted to just one side of the aisle.

(Although that side of the aisle has been making a joke of our public discourse for years.)

What explains the downward spiral of our American discourse? Opposite Krugman on today’s op-ed page, we may see part of the answer.

Yesterday, the Sunday pundits discussed the killing of children and the societal deadlocks highlighted by the so-called fiscal cliff muddle. This morning, atop the Times op-ed page, Delia Ephron discusses an additional problem.

Her piece appears beneath this headline: “The Hell of Online Shopping.”

The funerals continue in Newtown. The plutocrats continue to push the nonsense at which Krugman marvels. But Ephron and hers have problems too!

Her column starts like this:
EPHRON (12/24/12): A few days ago, I got an e-mail from my sister Amy in Los Angeles saying she and her husband had received boxes from J. Crew. Christmas presents from me, she assumed, since I had ordered them online and told her to expect them.

But for whom, she asked? The cards were buried deep in the packaging, and one of them was missing. Nothing was gift-wrapped, either (although I had requested and paid for it). The boxes contained two pairs of shoes (although I had ordered only one pair), a man’s pullover and a sparkly pink woman’s sweater. The sweater was for a friend who also lives in Los Angeles, but somehow ended up being sent to Amy’s husband.

I called J. Crew to complain, and what followed was tedious and time-consuming...
According to the leading authority on her life, Ephron wrote You’ve Got Mail, the popular film which was directed by her sister, the late Nora Ephron. For that reason, you might think this column was tongue in cheek.

Sorry. The column seems wholly serious; this is especially clear by the time we reach its conclusion. Along the way, the problems keep piling up:
EPHRON: My sister offered to gift-wrap and deliver my friend’s present. This was especially kind because traffic in Los Angeles is awful, as bad as New York’s during the holidays, which is one reason I order on the Web. But rather than make life easier, Web shopping only complicates it in new, more frustrating ways.

My husband, in charge of buying for all the children in our life, announced one evening that he had bought all his presents. To be done with Christmas shopping was so exciting that you’d think he’d used up some calories to do it, when in fact he’d never left his desk. The next morning he got an e-mail from Hammacher Schlemmer saying the item was out of stock and would ship after Jan. 1. So he had to phone and cancel the order. He then had to Web-shop all over again.
At this point, Ephron returned to her own recent problems, which include the fact that the J. Crew web site doesn’t gift-wrap shoes.

We’re sure that Ephron is a nice person. The same is almost surely true of the editor who decided to publish this column in this very unusual Christmas season.

But especially in this Christmas season, this columns strikes us as light-years past tone-deaf. We’ve often told you: In part, our public discourse has fallen to ruins because our elites have much too much wealth and fame—and because people with too much wealth and fame often end up like the people we meet through this column.

We’re sure that Ephron is a nice person. But that column and its weird tone-deafness comes straight from the land of the swells.

We were struck by that column today. Who would write or publish a column like that in this particular season? More significantly:

Can you expect moral and intellectual guidance from top-notch elites like this?

FOOLED ABOUT SCHOOLS: How we would have reported those test scores!


Also, conclusions and cautions: We’ll admit it: We remain fascinated by the reporting of the latest international test scores.

For our money, American students did surprising well on last year’s international tests—especially given the decade of disparagement aimed at American schools in the mainstream press.

We think those new scores are surprisingly good. But in the Washington Post and the New York Times, gloom and doom still drove the reporting. So too in the Associated Press, where familiar old scripting prevailed.

(For part 1 of last week's five-part report, go ahead: Just click here.)

How would we have reported those scores? How would our news report have started? Like USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor, we would have been inclined to see less gloom in those new test scores.

Had we been writing the news report, we would have started like this:
REPORTING THE NEW TEST SCORES: Especially on the fourth-grade level, American students did surprisingly well on a new set of international tests whose results were released today.

Students in a half-dozen Asian nations continue to lead the world in math, generally by substantial margins. And American eighth-graders performed less well in math and science than their fourth-grade counterparts.

But in reading, American fourth-graders outperformed Germany, Canada, England, France and every other large nation which took part, with the exception of Russia. (Eighth-graders weren’t tested in reading.)

In math, American students lagged well behind the Asian tigers, but they matched or surpassed all other large nations at the fourth-grade level. In fourth and eighth grades, their scores were “not measurably different” from those of students in Finland, a smaller nation which has long been praised for its outstanding schools and its high scores on international tests.

The performance by American students may seem surprising, given the demographic complexity of the U.S. student population and the persistent criticism aimed at American public schools. Judging by these new test scores alone, that criticism may be overstated.
USA Today thought the real news in those new test scores involved the success of American students. Given past decades of denigration, we’d be inclined to agree.

Below, we’ll offer several points of caution. But first, we can’t resist giving one more example of the way our big newspapers worked to extend the Prevailing Group Story about our failing schools.

In our own imagined report, we quickly noted the strong performance of U.S. fourth graders in reading. We even named some of the big, famous nations American kids outperformed.

Especially given past denigration, that strong performance strikes us as news. But this is all the space that reading score got in the Scrooge-like Washington Post:
LAYTON (12/11/12): Students across the United States have made some gains but continue to lag behind many of their Asian counterparts in reading, math and science, according to the results of two international tests released Tuesday.

U.S. fourth-graders' math and reading scores improved since the last time students took the tests several years ago, while eighth-graders remained stable in math and science. Americans outperformed the international average in all three subjects but remained far behind students in such places as Singapore and Hong Kong, especially in math and science.
How well did U.S. fourth-graders perform in reading? That represents the Washington Post’s complete report on that very strong performance! After reading the Post’s report, readers would have no earthly idea how well the nation’s fourth-graders actually did on that international test.

In fact, American students did not “remain far behind students in such [atypical] places as Singapore and Hong Kong” on that international reading test. But literally, that’s what the Washington Post reported. The Post only said the mayhem was worse in the case of science and math.

To all intents and purposes, the strong performance by the nation’s fourth graders was disappeared—flushed down the memory hole. But uh-oh:

The state of Florida took the fourth grade reading test as a separate entity. When Florida achieved a high reading score, the Washington Post went to great lengths to debunk its apparent success.

The nation’s very strong performance was barely mentioned. But concerning Florida’s performance, the gloomy Post went on and on and on:
LAYTON: A handful of U.S. states volunteered to give the tests to their students and be graded as if they were countries, to see how their students perform compared with international benchmarks. Virginia, Maryland and the District were not among those states.

Florida, the only state that volunteered to take the reading exam, emerged as a leading scorer on that test among all countries and states that administered it. Only students in Hong Kong scored higher, but the difference was not significant.

Buckley said the results demonstrate that Florida is "capable of performing as well as or better than some of the countries and other education systems that are regarded as international leaders."

But skeptics say Florida's unusually strong performance is an illusion.

Boston College professor Walter Haney said Florida's scores are misleading because, since 2004, Florida has held back third-grade students who are not reading on grade level, preventing them from advancing to the fourth grade, when the test is administered. As a result, test-takers in Florida do not include students who are struggling with reading, Haney said.

In the 2010-2011 school year, the fourth grade in Florida had 4 percent fewer students than the third grade from the previous year, Haney said. That meant a significant number of weak readers were held back and weren't among the fourth-graders who took the test. Students who are held back are more likely to drop out of school, Haney said.

"It's really a tragedy in the making," he said. "When kids are flunked, if they're over-age by the time they hit high school, 65 to 90 percent will drop out. It's not a sound educational strategy. It doesn't increase achievement and dramatically increases the possibility they will drop out."
Too perfect! As it turns out, the state of Florida’s high test score is a tragedy in the making! The high score by the nation’s fourth graders didn’t so much as get mentioned.

As the Post continued, so did its amazingly selective presentation. We cited this passage on Friday:
LAYTON (continuing directly): Several states that took the test independently scored higher than the U.S. average in eighth-grade math, including North Carolina, Indiana, Massachusetts and Minnesota. North Carolina also outscored the U.S. average in fourth-grade math. Massachusetts, Minnesota and Colorado exceeded the U.S. average in eighth-grade science.

Even those high performers have much ground to gain on international leaders. In Singapore, for example, 40 percent of eighth-grade students scored high enough in science to be deemed "advanced." In Massachusetts, about one-quarter of students reached that mark.
Several states scored higher than the U.S. average in various subjects, readers were pointlessly told. Readers weren’t told that these states tended to outscore the bulk of the world!

In eighth-grade science, for example, Massachusetts outscored every major nation which took the test, including the Asian tigers Taiwan, Korea and Japan. But Post readers weren’t allowed to know that. Instead, the Post kept pouring on gloom. The Post mentioned only Singapore, the one entity—the one very small entity—which managed to outscore the Bay State.

In such ways, our major newspapers worked to Keep Gloom Alive. In the process, we’d have to say that these major newspapers distorted these new test scores.

We’ll side with colorful USA Today over our gloomy, well-scripted journalistic giants. On balance, we think the news in these new test scores included the surprisingly strong performance by American students.

That said, we offer some cautions:
Point of caution: These test scores came from the TIMSS and the PIRLS, two major international testing programs. On the third major international program, the PISA, the U.S. tends to score less well, and Finland tends to score better. (The PISA tests 15-year-olds only.)

Point of caution: The Post’s critique of Florida’s fourth-grade score may well have merit. (We’d like to see a similar analysis of statewide test scores in Texas.) On balance, the selective fury with which the Post sought to debunk the Florida score represents a disservice to readers. But the analysis may have some merit—with regard to this one state.

Point of caution: In comment threads, some liberals tend to cite a statistic published by the NCES—a statistic which shows the scores of American students in schools where fewer than ten percent of students receive free or reduced price meals. Such students tend to score very well as compared to national averages from other countries. But a very small number of American schools fit into this category. For that reason, this is a classic misleading comparison.
For ourselves, we remain fascinated by these new scores—and by the way the scores were reported. In our view, our biggest newspapers worked quite hard to Keep Script Alive through their selective reporting.

According to this treasured plutocrat script, our public schools pretty much stink, as do their ratty teachers with their infernal unions. In our view, these new test scores tend to challenge that famous old script.

For the most part, people weren’t told.

For ourselves, we were struck by how well our schools did on these tests. Our schools face tremendous demographic challenges due to our brutal racial history and due to our immigration practices, which tend to present our schools with lots of delightful, deserving kids from challenging educational backgrounds.

But good lord! As the percentage of low-income and minority kids keeps growing, American test scores keep getting better. We think that’s a striking good-news story—but the plutocrats and their tribunes don’t want you to hear or enjoy it.

And by the way, one final point:

We liberals don’t care about this. The career liberal world quit on low-income kids long ago. The career liberal world rarely speaks up on behalf of American teachers.

When you “disaggregate” these new test scores, white students do surprisingly well; black and Hispanic students keep doing better. But how can we help our low-income students of whatever race?

Your liberal journals almost never discuss that. Rather plainly, these journals don’t care about topics like that; they quit on these topics a long time ago. You saw these new test scores discussed here last week. And, unless you read Kevin Drum, you probably saw them discussed nowhere else.

Did you see a single word at the liberal journal, Salon? Did you see a single word anywhere else?

As we told you when Trayvon Martin was killed:

We liberals complain when children get shot. Beyond that, we don’t seem to care.

Epilog: We laugh at Texas' high-scoring minority kids. Darlings! They're from a red state!

Parker and Douthat and Robinson oh my!


The sad state of pundit culture: We were struck this morning by the sad state of pundit culture.

In the Washington Post, Kathleen Parker’s column takes us back to an earlier, more innocent era. Parker falls back on two favorite old tales, one concerning Michael Dukakis, the other concerning Richard Nixon.

Did Dukakis really lose the election because of his ride in that tank? As a candidate, was Nixon really “sweat-soaked?” Actually no. But for decades, treasured old stories like these have driven the work of our pundits.

These treasured old stories are very dumb—but they help pundits get through the night.

In the New York Times, Ross Douthat pulls us forward into a more tribal era. This was a deeply unfortunate way to start a column:
DOUTHAT (12/23/12): Bloomberg, LaPierre and the Void

For a week after the Newtown shooting, the conversation was dominated by the self-righteous certainties of the American center-left. In print and on the airwaves, the chorus was nearly universal: the only possible response to Adam Lanza’s rampage was an immediate crusade for gun control, the necessary firearm restrictions were all self-evident, and anyone who doubted their efficacy had the blood of children on his hands.

The leading gun control chorister was Michael Bloomberg, and this was fitting, because on a range of issues New York’s mayor has become the de facto spokesman for the self-consciously centrist liberalism of the Acela Corridor elite.
But did Bloomberg ever say or imply that everyone who doubts his proposals “has the blood of children on his hands?” If so, Douthat didn’t bother supplying the relevant statement.

In fact, someone did employ that ugly image this week—but it was a man of the pro-gun hard right. Larry Pratt, head of Gun Owners of America, literally said this in response to Newtown: “Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands.”

Larry Pratt actually made that statement! Somehow, Douthat transported those unfortunate words to the mouths of the whole “American center-left.”

Tribalized culture will do that to folk. The too, it will produce work like that in this post by Gene Robinson. Robinson’s post appears today on the op-ed page of the hard-copy Washington Post.

In tribalized culture, pundits will overstate their degree of shock at the depredations of the other tribe. They will look for ways to call the other side obscene, insane.

The complaints don’t have to make sense. They don’t necessarily have to be made in good faith:
ROBINSON (12/23/12): The NRA’s insane idea about more guns in schools

Absurd, unbelievable, tragic, obscene—I grope for words to describe the National Rifle Association’s proposal for how the nation should respond to last week’s slaughter in Newtown: More guns in the schools.

The idea is so insane that as far as I’m concerned—and, I hope, as far as a still-grieving nation is concerned—the NRA has forfeited the right to be taken seriously on matters of public policy. Newtown is still burying six-year-olds and Wayne LaPierre, the organization’s chief, wants more freaking guns in the schools. Wow.

LaPierre’s rationale, that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” led to his suggestion that there be “armed police officers in every school in this nation.”

Where to begin?
Like almost everyone else in his tribe, Robinson says he is shocked, shocked by LaPierre’s proposal. We’re not entirely sure why that is—whatever one thinks of this proposal, the NRA made similar proposals after two previous mass shootings.

The NRA has always made this type of proposal. But Robinson voices his utter shock, then pretends to expose the lunacy found in the other tribe.

Having called this proposal insane, Robinson proceeds to display some disordered reasoning of his own:
ROBINSON (continuing directly): Where to begin? Let’s assume, for the moment, that we decide to pay the multi-billion-dollar cost of placing one gun-toting officer in every school. What would the officer’s orders be? Shoot anyone who looks suspicious? If not, the officer would wait until an assailant—someone like Adam Lanza—displayed a gun or started firing. What sort of arsenal, and itchy trigger finger, would the officer need to be certain of shooting the assailant before the assailant shot the officer? How many twitchy, furtive, suspicious-looking UPS deliverymen would be tragically cut down in error?
Under the circumstances, we almost find that passage “obscene”—and the next paragraph only gets worse, as you can see below.

What’s wrong with what Robinson says in that passage? Basically, Robinson borrows a familiar approach from the crackpot right. He starts imagining things which could go wrong if LaPierre’s proposal is followed.

This can always be done, in the case of any proposal. It’s a mindless way to proceed, unless you’re totally tribal.

Might a school security guard—sorry, a “gun-toting officer”—end up shooting a UPS deliveryman? Of course he might! But policemen sometimes shoot people in error, and we don’t disband the police.

In fact, many schools already have armed security guards; Columbine High was one such school. Obviously, this practice can’t stop all armed slaughters. For all we know, it has never stopped one.

But it isn’t an “insane” thing to do, as Robinson keeps saying and suggesting. And by the way: Unless you’re bowing to tribal passion, would you describe the hiring of a security guard as an example of “putting more guns in the schools,” as Robinson repeatedly does?

That feels good, but it's very dumb. What follows is utterly mindless:
ROBINSON (continuing directly): So I guess there could be multiple officers in each school. For a glimpse of that dystopian future, recall the shooting a few months ago outside the Empire State Building. A gunman began firing, uniformed NYPD officers responded, they tried to take the gunman down—and nine innocent bystanders were wounded, all by police gunfire. Now imagine that sort of thing happening in a school, and think how many children would be killed by errant shots from police officers’ weapons.
“Now imagine that sort of thing happening in a school,” Robinson says—and of course, we can always imagine! We can also imagine a security guard stopping Adam Lanza last week.

In its wild tribal overstatement, Robinson’s column is almost obscene, given the stakes and given his influence on emerging liberal intellectual culture. But we live in highly tribal times, and the tribal mind won’t see that.

Reading Robinson’s very loud column, the tribal mind will see theatrics and hear name-calling—and the tribal mind will be pleased. In our view, it’s very bad for progressive interests when we liberals head down this path.

Fox and Rush have been like this for years. Is our tribe catching up?

Tomorrow: More sad punditry: Who was the late Nancy Lanza?

Is Jesus Christ here on the waterfront?


The New York Times reports Newtown: In our view, the New York Times has done some very good work reporting from Newtown this week.

Granted, the paper has had dramatic material to work with. Yesterday, Joseph Berger reported the funeral of Anne Marie Murphy, a 52-year-old mother of four who worked as a teacher's aide at Sandy Hook Elementary School:
BERGER (12/21/12): The funeral was one of at least six for victims on Thursday. Other services were for Catherine Hubbard, Jesse Lewis, Benjamin Wheeler and Allison Wyatt, all 6 years old, and Lauren Gabrielle Rousseau, a 30-year-old teacher.

Mrs. Murphy’s husband, Michael, also spoke, and, according to several mourners, remembered her as a mother for whom her children—Colleen, Kelly, Paige and Thomas—were “the four pillars of her life.” The Rev. William T. Holt, a Dominican priest at Holy Innocents Parish in nearby Pleasantville, said Mr. Murphy revealed that his wife had prepared gifts for every child in her classroom but was never able to give them.

Mrs. Murphy’s father, Dr. Hugh McGowan, a retired dentist whose office was up the road from the church, told The Hartford Courant that the authorities had informed him that his daughter’s body was found covering a group of children’s bodies, as if she were trying to shield them. Mrs. Murphy’s actions were corroborated by the family of Dylan Hockley, which released a statement saying, “Dylan had died in the loving arms of his favorite teacher.”

“We take great comfort in knowing that Dylan was not alone when he died but was wrapped in the arms of his amazing aide, Anne Marie Murphy,” the statement said.
“Dylan loved Mrs. Murphy so much and pointed at her picture on our refrigerator every day.”
As we’ve read these descriptions this week, we’ve thought of the endless disparagements rained on American teachers in the past decade or so. If we could only get rid of these people with their infernal teachers unions! If we could only replace them with more of those great Princeton kids!

We don't mean that as a disparagement of Princeton students, including those who go into teaching. Earlier, Berger’s reporting made us think of a great fictional speech:
BERGER: It was an indication of the Newtown massacre’s impact that the officiant at the Mass of Christian Burial was Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York. Cardinal Dolan did not know the Murphy family, but Mrs. Murphy was the only one among the 26 people killed whose family church was in the archdiocese; the cardinal, an aide said, “wanted to express his solidarity.”

“I never had the honor of meeting Annie, so I’m at a disadvantage,” Cardinal Dolan told mourners. “Then again, I never had the honor of physically meeting Jesus, yet my union with him is the most important thing in my life. And because I know Jesus, I feel as if I know Anne Marie McGowan Murphy quite well.

“Like Jesus, Annie was an excellent teacher. Like him, she had a favored place in her big, tender heart for children, especially those with struggles. Like Jesus, Annie laid down her life for her friends.”
Cardinal Dolan won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But as we read this part of Berger’s report, we thought of the great speech delivered by Father Barry, the Karl Malden character in On the Waterfront.

The Malden character is also reacting to killings. As he is pelted with fruit by thugs, he raises a type of religious question: Is Jesus Christ here on the waterfront?
Father Barry, On the Waterfront: Some people think the Crucifixion only took place on Calvary. They better wise up.

Taking Joey Doyle's life to stop him from testifying is a crucifixion. And dropping a sling on Kayo Dugan because he was ready to spill his guts tomorrow—that's a crucifixion. And every time the mob puts the crusher on a good man—tries to stop him from doing his duty as a citizen—it's a crucifixion. And anybody who sits around and lets it happen, keeps silent about something he knows has happened, shares the guilt of it just as much as the Roman soldier who pierced the flesh of Our Lord to see if He was dead.

Boys, this is my church! And if you don't think Christ is down here on the waterfront, you've got another guess coming!

Every morning when the hiring boss blows his whistle, Jesus stands alongside you in the shape-up. He sees why some of you get picked and some of you get passed over. He sees the family men worrying about getting the rent and getting food in the house for the wife and the kids. He sees you selling your souls to the mob for a day's pay.

And what does Christ think of the easy-money boys who do none of the work and take all of the gravy? And how does he feel about the fellows who wear $150 suits and diamond rings, on your union dues and your kickback money? And how does He, who spoke up without fear against every evil, feel about your silence?
Is Christ down here on the waterfront? We don’t have religious beliefs ourselves. But we thought of Father Barry’s fictional speech when we read the words of Cardinal Dolan. (To read the full speech from the film, just click here.)

According to the Hockley family, they have taken great comfort in knowing that their son was not alone when he died—in knowing that he “died in the loving arms of his favorite teacher.” All week long, reports like these have made us think of the giant silence which has met the endless disparagement of American teachers—disparagement which has often come from high-ranking establishment sources.

In his fictional speech from On the Waterfront, Father Barry challenged such silence.

In the past several decades, our team has been good at displaying such silence—most recently, to cite one example, through the giant silence with which we met the attacks on Susan Rice. We’re also quite good at going on TV to pretend that we stood and fought like tigers.

Is Jesus Christ down here on the waterfront? Truthfully, not so much.

Shorter Rachel Maddow: Hey, rubes!


Her ridiculous segment on Rice: On Wednesday night, we decided to give Rachel Maddow another try.

Over at Salon, Kid Pareene had called her a national treasure. But she lost us that night with some of her typical bad faith and bullroar.

This time, her typical bullroar concerned Ambassador Rice.

The independent report about the Benghazi attacks had been filed that day. Treating her viewers like absolute fools, Maddow pretended to discuss the way Rice was mistreated with respect to the Benghazi matter.

What follows is complete total crap. Presumably, Maddow knows this.

Right from the start of her presentation, Maddow refers to the new report about Benghazi. To watch this full segment, click here:
MADDOW (12/19/12): Does this mean we get Susan Rice back? I know, I know, it’s a done deal. We are told that the president is picking John Kerry to be secretary of state after Hillary Clinton.

But if this was supposedly the reason that Susan Rice could not be considered for that job as well, this [report] is out now, and it says that, in a fair world, we would get Susan Rice back in contention.

This is the report of the Independent Accountability Review Board that was authorized by law as part of the response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the attack that killed a serving U.S. ambassador for the first time since the 1970s. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an armed assault by a militant group on a U.S. facility that was in an area known for its armed militant groups.


The report, which was chaired by long-time diplomat Thomas Pickering and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, placed blame on the U.S. for being unable to foresee that attack and unable to protect against that attack squarely on the U.S. State Department.

And so somebody totally unrelated to that can’t be secretary of state now? I don’t understand.
“I don’t understand,” Maddow said. Although of course she did.

As Maddow noted, the independent report placed blame for the security failure on the State Department. Rice isn't part of the State Department. That means the security failure couldn’t have been her fault!

Of course, Republicans never blamed Rice for the security failure. And Maddow of course understands that.

As Maddow of course understands, that wasn’t the basis for the GOP’s relentless attacks on Rice. The fact that the new report blames the State Department has nothing to do with the actual accusations the GOP advanced against Rice—attacks which Maddow failed to address until mid-November, when Obama finally spoke up.

That’s right, liberals! For two solid months, Maddow sat on her big self-dealing ass and said nothing as these attacks against Rice gathered steam.

Now, safely after the fact, Maddow pretends to stand in outraged defense of Rice! As she continued her presentation, she kept pretending that the new report somehow debunked the accusations against Rice:
MADDOW (continuing directly): Republican senators after the election decided that the person they wanted to attack for Benghazi was somebody who had nothing to do with that attack, nothing to do with embassy security, with diplomatic security, not even somebody who works at the State Department. But she was somebody who the president was considering nominating for secretary of state. She was the U.N. ambassador.

Well, Susan Rice last week withdrew her name from consideration for the secretary of state job because of Republican senators unrelenting criticism of her on the basis of Benghazi. Then today, the long-awaited accountability report on that attack reiterates that she had no role, no responsibility for what went wrong there whatsoever.

Because of who the report did find responsible, three State Department officials did resign today, including the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security and two deputy assistant secretaries responsible for that region of the world and for embassy security specifically.

The top dog at the department, Secretary Clinton, says she is accepting all of the review board’s recommendations, even the classified ones that we don’t get to know about. She said the State Department is requesting that Congress transfer more than $1.3 billion out of a contingency fund for Iraq into bolstering security at embassies and U.S. facilities worldwide.

That will include funding for a thousand more U.S. Marines to be distributed to U.S. embassies around the globe. A thousand, that’s a lot. And it is likely to be all but permanent.

Joining us now is Andrea Mitchell, NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent. Andrea, thank you very much for being with us. I appreciate your time.
As Maddow continued, she continued to marvel at the absurdity of it all. Why can’t Rice be considered again? She had absolutely nothing to do with the security failure!

Maddow just kept playing it dumb, treating her viewers like fools in the process.

Maddow is certainly right on one point. “The long-awaited accountability report” did (indirectly) reiterate that Rice “had no role, no responsibility for what went wrong there whatsoever.”

But no one had ever accused her of that! That isn’t what the accusations against Rice were about.

Rice was accused of lying about what happened at Benghazi. She was never accused of being responsible for the event itself.

Obviously, Maddow knows that, despite what she said Wednesday night.

Why did Maddow stage this gong-show, a common occurrence on her program? Below, we’ll offer a guess. But first, please understand:

Maddow said nothing for two solid months as the Fox News Channel and John McCain launched their attacks on Rice. For two solid months, the darling climber said and did nothing as these attacks mounted.

Quite literally, Rice’s name wasn’t even mentioned on Maddow’s show for the first two months of this GOP war. Rachel Maddow, Our Own Rhodes Scholar, was thoroughly silent—AWOL.

That said, why did she stage this presentation, pretending that Rice came under fire for permitting the lax security? We’ll take a guess:

Now that this whole affair is settled, Maddow wants to kiss Rice’s ass, ostentatiously if possible. This is how big-time networking is done among the millionaire elite.

Maddow is a master of this practice. See below for one more example.

Presumably, Maddow assumed her viewers are too damn stupid to spot the inanity of her presentation. Or she figured they wouldn’t care as long as she fed them some simple-minded comfort food straight from the tribal pantry.

Or she simply didn’t care if we the rubes did notice.

At some point, Maddow could have explained what was wrong with the GOP’s actual accusations against Rice. We did so here, again and again.

Maddow didn’t do that in real time, and she didn’t bother on Wednesday night. She simply pimped some silly shit, assuming her viewers would swallow.

Maddow is a horrible climber. When Rice needed help, she was totally AWOL. On Wednesday night, she kissed the ambassador’s high-ranking keister and insulted her viewers' intelligence. And uh-oh:

Speaking of the kissing of asses, Maddow's a master of the practice. This is the way this segment ended:
MADDOW: Andrea Mitchell, NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent. It’s an honor to have you here, Andrea. Thank you.

MITCHELL: My honor. Thank you. Good night, Rachel.
Rachel is constantly telling the stars that it's an honor just to be near them. At any rate, if that doesn’t make you gag, congrats! Nothing ever will.

By the way: If you watch the entire segment, you will note a key point. At no time does Maddow ever ask Mitchell about the report's alleged exoneration of Rice.

The reason for that is obvious. If Maddow had raised such a stupid point, Mitchell would have been forced to explain that Rice was never accused of creating the security problem.

Maddow pushed the Rice card during her intro. Then, she let it drop.

In our view, Maddow is strikingly less than honest. Regarding Rice, Maddow was AWOL when it mattered. She played us for fools Wednesday night.

Final point: Kid Pareene called Maddow a national treasure! Until he recants, will someone please get The Kid off our lawn?

Department of pseudo-corrections: In fairness, Maddow did self-correct about Ke$ha’s name! To watch her do that, just click here.

Everybody has a story: Bobby Casey’s wife!


Also, his courage and conscience: On last night’s Hardball, we got the latest story.

Why has Senator Casey now flipped on guns? Earlier, Senator Warner said he was pretty much turned by his daughters. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/19/12.)

In the case of Senator Casey, it seems the wisdom came from his wife! Again, Chris Matthews seemed to believe the latest story—a story of conscience and courage:
MATTHEWS (12/20/12): I was absolutely stunned today to that see Bobby Casey, the senator from Pennsylvania, who’s a classic Pennsylvania—in the past, he’s received a B-plus or an A rating from the NRA—

He told the Philadelphia Inquirer he’ll now come back for both a—he’s coming out for both a new assault weapons ban and legislation banning high-round magazines.

The Inquirer reported Casey said his decision amounted to being, quote, "summoned by your conscience.” Casey told the Inquirer his wife had pressed him to rethink his position on gun safety in the wake of Newtown.

Casey said, quote, "The power of the weapon, the number of bullets that hit each child, that was so to me, just so chilling. It haunts me. It should haunt every public official. If those two bills come before the Senate, I’ll will vote for both."

That is a risky, strong, courageous act by Bob Casey in a state that is very pro-gun. Erin.

MCPIKE: It is, but remember, he is not the only one. Joe Manchin, the senator from West Virginia, on Monday was saying that this has changed his thinking. Of course, these are two Democrats, but—

MATTHEWS: No, but Manchin hasn’t said he will vote for these two bills. Bobby Casey just said he would. It’s different to have conversations. It’s another thing to make a commitment.
As with Warner, so with Casey—Chris seemed to be buying the story. Let’s make sure we understand what Bobby Casey has said:

When the Columbine High School kids got shot, that didn’t chill or haunt him. His conscience didn’t kick in.

It didn’t chill or haunt him when all those students at Virginia Tech got killed. Still no word from his conscience!

It didn’t chill or haunt him when his colleague, Gabby Giffords, got shot—when others around her were shot and killed. Nor when all those young adults got killed in that movie theater.

Bobby Casey wasn't shocked until it happened to first graders! Only then was he summoned by conscience. And even then, he only rethought his position on the advice of his wife!

Motives don’t matter as much as positions; Casey and Warner have now changed theirs. But do you think their stories make sense, as Chris seems willing to do?

What kind of person doesn’t get shocked until they start shooting groups of first graders—and even then, only rethinks his stance on the advice of his daughters or wife? What kindoif person isn't summoned by “conscience” if it’s just high school or college students who are getting killed?

Do you believe what Bobby said? Chris now plays on the liberal team. Perhaps for that reason, he seems inspired by the senator’s courage.

FOOLED ABOUT SCHOOLS: Fools for Finland!


Part 5—Good news outscored by script: How well did American students do on last year’s international tests?

That can’t be easily answered. In reading, American students scored very near the top of the world. Among the large nations which took part, only Russia outscored the U.S.

In reading, American students outscored the vast bulk of the world! Unless you read major American papers, where this success was largely obscured.

In math, American students did somewhat less well—and without any question, a fairly small group of Asian nations tend to outscore the world by significant margins in math. That said, here’s a surprise:

In fourth-grade and eighth-grade math, American scores were “not measurably different” from the scores of students in Finland.

We mention Finland for an obvious reason. In the past decade, this small, middle-class, unicultural nation has been all the rage in America’s low-scoring press corps. Its strong performance on international tests has been a constant source of commentary from journalists who don’t have the slightest idea what they're talking about.

That’s why you might think it would count as news when the U.S. came close to matching Finland on last year’s international tests. Indeed, Finland was walloped by some U.S. states—states which took part in last year’s testing as independent “education systems.”

In eighth grade math, nine states participated in the testing as independent entities. Some of these states simply cleaned Finland’s clock. Here’s how the average scores looked:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, TIMSS 2011
Massachusetts 561
Minnesota 545
North Carolina 537
Indiana 522
Colorado 518
Connecticut 518
Finland 514
Florida 513
California 493
Alabama 466
Massachusetts is one of our wealthier, whiter states—but it’s a glorious demographic stew as compared to middle-class Finland. But despite its larger demographic challenges, Massachusetts cleaned Finland’s clock in eighth-grade math, as did several other states among the nine which took part. And good lord:

The Bay State’s black kids outscored Finland, averaging 516 on this test! Given the perpetual gloom about our schools; given the brutal history of race in this country; given Finland’s well-deserved status as a high international scorer—you’d almost think it might count as news when scores like these occur.

If you thought that, you don’t understand the way your press corps works. In the Associated Press and the New York Times, the standard script about Finland prevailed. Here's the way the flying Finns were framed in the AP’s report:
LEDERMAN (12/11/12); American students still perform better than the global average in all subject areas, the study found, although students from the poorest U.S. schools fall short.

But the U.S. is far from leading the pack, a distinction now enjoyed by kids in countries like Finland and Singapore who outperformed American fourth-graders in science and reading. By eighth grade, American students have fallen behind their Russian, Japanese and Taiwanese counterparts in math, and trail students from Hong Kong, Slovenia and South Korea in science.
Just for the record, Finland and Singapore are very small nations (five million people apiece). And despite what that highlighted passage says, Finland didn’t outscore the U.S. by much in last year’s reading test.

In math, Finland barely outscored the U.S. at all; the two nations’ scores were “not measurably different,” according to the official reports. As a result, math was dropped from this part of the AP report. The AP only mentioned science and reading as it extended the mandated script about how worthless our students are as compared to the greatness of Finland.

The New York Times also extended the script about Finland. Finding ways to stick to script is what our big newspapers do:
RICH (12/11/12): Students in Finland, which is often held up as a model education system for its teacher preparation and its relative absence of high-stakes testing, outperformed American students on all the exams. But students in countries with intense testing cultures also exceeded American students. ''Some of the high-performing math and science countries have extremely rigorous testing regimes,'' Mr. Buckley said.
That’s true—students in Finland did “outperform American students on all the exams.” But in math, the two nations’ test scores were “not measurably different,” despite the much larger demographic challenges faced by American schools.

The New York Times didn’t tell readers that. The glories of Finland lived on!

Our view? Given the gloom which surrounds our schools in the press, it probably ought to count as news when American students score this well on international tests. Below, we’ll show you how hard the Washington Post worked at one point to keep you from hearing the good news.

But in two less glorious American papers, reporters took a different approach to the American scores—even to the greatness of Finland! In USA Today, Greg Toppo correctly saw that the American scores just weren't all that bad.

Toppo even chided the Finns, right in his second paragraph:
TOPPO (12/11/12): USA's schools move up in international rankings

Results from a pair of new international assessments released today show that American kids are holding their own in math, reading and other subjects. In a few cases, they're actually bypassing the rest of the world.

Who knew, for instance, that Florida fourth-graders now read as well as their peers in Singapore and Finland?
Say what? Florida’s fourth-graders read as well as their peers in Finland? Toppo chided Finland a bit—and he seemed to think that an outcome like that actually counts as news.

In the Christian Science Monitor, Amanda Paulson went a bit farther. Like Toppo, she saw the American glass half full—and she tweaked Finland right out of the gate.

But a bit later on, she directly whacked the ballyhooed middle-class giant:
PAULSON (12/11/12): What's also notable is who isn't among the very top scorers—most notably, Finland.

Based largely on its strong showing in the PISA (for Programme for International Student Achievement) scores, Finland has become a focal point for a number of education experts, who believe the US should use its system as a model.

But in the TIMSS data—especially on math—Finland wasn't all that different from the US.

"Finland's scores in math are statistically a dead heat" with the US, "which shows you how fragile that reputation, which is exaggerated, is," says Mr. Loveless—who notes that Finland's eighth-grade math scores have actually declined since Finland last took TIMSS, in 1999.
Is Paulson allowed to say that about Finland? Within the scripted American press corps, the answer has long been no—and the AP and the New York Times largely stuck to the established script last week.

To their credit, silly stupid USA Today and the floundering Monitor didn’t.

Please understand: There is no formula which can extract the real news from these test scores. No formula can tell us whether the American glass was half empty or pretty darn full.

No formula can tell us what a paper should say about Finland, or if that one small middle-class nation should be mentioned at all.

But to our taste, our biggest news orgs worked rather hard to keep a gloomy old script alive as they reported these test scores. According to this gloomy old script, our pitiful schools are perpetually failing. They just don’t measure up.

How hard did the Washington Post seem to work to maintain this narrative? At one point, we chuckled as the Post withheld the good news, struggling to Keep Gloom Alive:
LAYTON (12/11/12): Several states that took the test independently scored higher than the U.S. average in eighth-grade math, including North Carolina, Indiana, Massachusetts and Minnesota. North Carolina also outscored the U.S. average in fourth-grade math. Massachusetts, Minnesota and Colorado exceeded the U.S. average in eighth-grade science.

Even those high performers have much ground to gain on international leaders. In Singapore, for example, 40 percent of eighth-grade students scored high enough in science to be deemed "advanced." In Massachusetts, about one-quarter of students reached that mark.
Good lord! In that first paragraph, Post readers were offered a fatuous point—several states scored higher than the U.S. average.

Duh. In any testing, about half the states will exceed the national average; the other half will score below it. Unless you live in Lake Wobegon, this will always be true.

Pointlessly, readers were told that several states exceeded the national average. And then, it was back to the gloom and the doom! Immediately, the Post offered an invidious comparison, noting that our high performing states "have much ground to gain on international leaders." As an example, we were told that Massachusetts has a long ways to go to equal (tiny) Singapore.

Here is the larger fact the newspaper’s readers weren’t told:

Except for tiny Singapore, Massachusetts students outscored every nation in the world on that eighth-grade science test! They outscored their peers in Taiwan, in Korea, in Japan and Hong Kong—the other Asian giants. They outscored their counterparts in Russia.

They even outscored Finland, which is smaller and more homogeneous than Massachusetts.

On the very test singled out by the Post, Massachusetts outscored the entire world—except for tiny Singapore. But readers of the Post weren’t offered that larger, perhaps surprising fact. Gloomily, they were told that Massachusetts didn’t come close, in one respect, to one small city-state.

Rarely has a paper worked so hard to provide the smaller, less representative fact. Rarely has a paper worked so hard to pimp a gloomy script.

Did American students do well on these tests? That is a matter of judgment. But at the AP, the Post and the Times, we’d be inclined to say that script—and gloom—prevailed.

In our view, these papers displayed rather shaky news judgment—and an enduring love for the script. On Monday, conclusions and cautions: What lessons should we take away from these and previous test scores?

It always happens with Maddow, part 1 and then part 2!


Demise of a national treasure: We tend to think that Rachel Maddow is a bit on the dishonest side.

Which is strange. Because yesterday, Alex “Kid” Pareene called her a national treasure! He did this at Salon.

There’s nothing new about that, of course. On December 4, David Atkins also called Maddow a national treasure. Three weeks earlier, dude called Chris Hayes the same thing!

For ourselves, we can’t think of anyone we would call a national treasure. To our ear, the phrase is so monumentally hackneyed that it’s hard to imagine using it.

That said, Pareene’s encomium stuck in our head as the day wore on. Last night, we decided to watch the whole Maddow Show, a task we’ve been skipping of late.

Doggone it! As we watched, the same thing happened that always happens when we take in an evening of Maddow!

For about the first half hour, we thought it might be time to rethink our disgust with Maddow. She is obviously IQ-bright. For that reason, we sometimes get the feeling that we must have been wrong in our past judgments.

But then it happened, pretty much the way it always happens. First, Maddow did a ridiculous report about Susan Rice—a report which simply reeked of bad faith.

There is no way on earth that Maddow believes what she said in that segment. Or so we would have to assume. We assume she can’t be that clueless.

From there, the program moved on to a surprisingly unpleasant takedown of Robert Bork, on the very day he died. Maddow has extremely good manners within the tribe. She’s extremely cold-blooded outside it, and sometimes a bit dishonest.

That said, last evening’s real part 2 came at the end of the program, when Maddow did one of her patented self-correction segments.

The star was perched beneath her familiar DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS sign. In our view, the segment served two basic Maddow purposes:

Rather plainly, it was designed to help us learn to love Maddow even more. And it reinforced a central claim which we liberals tend to repeat in comments: Rachel Maddow always corrects her mistakes!

As usual, the mistake on which she corrected herself was totally trivial—the mispronunciation of the name of the fatuous music act, Ke$ha. Rachel went on and on about how she’s getting so old, unlike her staff.

In our view, this probably helped us learn to love her more.

This foolishness burned a whole segment. But how odd! Rachel didn’t correct herself for mispronouncing Senator Daniel Inouye’s name all through a segment on Monday night. By Tuesday night, she was pronouncing his name correctly—but she didn’t note her repeated mistake from the night before.

Just a guess: Admitting she didn’t know Inouye’s name would have made her look politically clueless. Correcting herself on Ke$ha’s name—well, it didn’t matter much. Plus, she got to play a tape of Ke$ha vapidly explaining how her name actually sounds.

To watch Maddow mispronounce “Inouye” seven times in less than two minutes, just click here. As she does, she will tell you that Inouye was “a genuine American hero.”

You can tell that she really means it.

To watch Maddow’s report on Susan Rice, click here. Tomorrow, we'll discuss what she said.

Yes, she was defending Rice. But every word was bogus.

In our view, Maddow is almost pathologically faux. For that reason, she simply isn’t a national treasure, unless you treasure a world in which clever folk get themselves on TV, then treat average people like rubes.

Extra credit: To get clear about pronouncing Ke$ha, just click this. Based on her look and her on-line back-story, Ke$ha strikes us as a moderately burned-out version of Jewel.

Victoria Soto and Wendy Kopp!


As enabled by Charlie Rose: Victoria Soto, 27, was a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary.

This morning, Joseph Berger describes her funeral in the New York Times. The whole piece is well worth reading:
BERGER (12/20/12): Remembering the Passion of a Teacher Who Died Protecting Students


Ms. Soto’s aunt, Debbie Cronk, a teacher who was her professional inspiration, remembered how exuberant Ms. Soto was when she called five years ago to say she had secured a job at Sandy Hook Elementary. But Ms. Cronk also remembered her mischievous side, how as a little girl Ms. Soto loved feeding the ducks near her grandmother’s house, though not as much as eating the bread herself.

Ms. Schiavone, her best friend, recalled Ms. Soto’s devotion to the profession—spending every evening working on lesson plans and designing poster boards—and the extra mile she went for her students.

“It does not surprise me at all that Vicki died protecting her kids,” Ms. Schiavone said.

Gary MacNamara, the chief of the Fairfield Police Department, who rushed to the Sandy Hook school shortly after the shooting, said Ms. Soto had “pushed children into a closet and allowed other kids to escape” before she herself was killed by Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old armed with a semiautomatic rifle and other guns.

“All of law enforcers are asked what will we do if given that moment when a life-threatening decision has to be made,” Chief MacNamara said in an interview. “She answered that question: through her strength, she took action to save the life of the students. I know, because I’ve spoken to children in that class who are alive because of what she did.”
With apologies, we thought of the interview Charlie Rose did with Wendy Kopp in 2008.

At the time, we said it might be the worst interview ever conducted. During the interview, Rose let Kopp go on and on with her patently ridiculous stories about the astonishing exploits of teachers in Teach for America. Rose never challenged the highly improbable things Kopp was saying, although studies had long since shown that her claims tend to be grossly misleading.

Or wrong.

In these ways, regular teachers have been slimed and disparaged in recent years. But Manhattan’s powers that be were on Kopp’s side, so Rose let her stories run on.

(For links to all parts of our five-part report, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/16/08.)

Needless to say, we respect and admire the many teachers who have entered classrooms through Teach for America. But regular teachers got slimed and disparaged as Kopp’s tales went on and on.

Question: Is any sector driven by bigger dissemblers than the “education reform” sector? You have Michelle Rhee and Kopp—and as it turns out, you also have the fairy-tale autobiography pushed by Joel Klein.

In October, Richard Rothstein reported this remarkable story in the American Prospect. We’ve planned to review the tale before the end of the year. Today, we will at least link to Rothstein’s report.

It too is well worth reading, especially if you want to ponder the difference between the very best of our real people and our grasping plutocrat swells.

The disparagement of American teachers has been endless in recent years. Soto’s life, recalled in Berger’s report, suggests a different tale.

FOOLED ABOUT SCHOOLS: Black kids beat Finland!


Part 4—Disaggregation and more: American students did surprisingly well on last year’s international tests.

That is especially true in reading, where American fourth-graders, the only grade tested, pretty much kicked the ass of the world. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/19/12.

Why was this performance “surprising?” Let us count two ways:

In part, the performance may seem surprising because so much effort has been made, in recent years, to denigrate American teachers, students and schools. Everybody knows this script—and this script was extended in last week’s reporting about the new test scores.

To its credit, USA Today broke the mold, focusing on some of our students' surprising success. But in the New York Times, the AP and the Washington Post, gloom and doom prevailed again, just as it has been scripted.

American students did surprisingly well. The American people weren’t told.

That said, there’s a second reason why some of these scores may be a bit surprising. For our money, the news report in the Washington Post tilted toward the requisite gloom. But early in the Post’s report, an American educational expert made an apt observation.

Jack Buckley is the keeper of our education statistics. Down beneath the Post's gloomy headline, this is what Buckley said:
LAYTON (12/11/12): U.S. still trails Asia in student test scores


Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, said the results leave him "optimistic" about the United States' performance, particularly given that many higher-performing nations do not deal with the same wide range of student and family income, backgrounds and language ability.

"We have a large and diverse population of kids to educate, and I think these results show that we're doing pretty well," Buckley told reporters Monday.
Are American schools “doing pretty well?” That is a matter of judgment. But as Buckley delicately said, U.S. schools confront some demographic challenges which may not exist in other nations—including some of the nations the press corps lauds for their educational greatness.

The press loves to praise certain nations! In the New York Times, Motoko Rich leavened her frequently hapless report with a tip of the cap to one educational god:
RICH (12/11/12): Students in Finland, which is often held up as a model education system for its teacher preparation and its relative absence of high-stakes testing, outperformed American students on all the exams. But students in countries with intense testing cultures also exceeded American students. ''Some of the high-performing math and science countries have extremely rigorous testing regimes,'' Mr. Buckley said.
Rich was certainly right on one point. In the past decade, Finland has relentlessly been “held up as a model education system”—but not just because of its teacher prep and its lack of high-stakes testing.

Duh. Relentlessly, Finland has been held up as an educational model because of its high test scores. Instantly, Rich extended that very theme in this passage. Sticking to the mandated script, she noted that students in Finland “outperformed American students on all the exams,” while failing to note how narrow the differences were between the two warring nations.

Relentlessly and remarkably dumbly, Finland has been praised for its high test scores for at least a decade now. Relentlessly, American “journalists” and “educational experts” have responded in an embarrassing fashion:

Relentlessly, they have taken the junket to Finland! While living it up in Helsinki, they have dumbly pondered the reasons behind the nation’s high scores.

Why have Finland’s students scored so well on international tests? In part, we will assume that Finland has some very good schools and a lot of very good teachers. But duh:

In line with Buckley's cautious remarks, Finland is a small, middle-class, unicultural nation. For better or worse, it has very few immigrants, especially those from low-income, low-literacy backgrounds.

Beyond that, Finland didn’t spend four hundred years as the United States once did—working to eliminate literacy in one large swath of its population.

In this country, our benighted ancestors worked for centuries to eliminate literacy among Americans of African descent. For another hundred years after that, blacks were saddled with defiantly lesser educational services.

We hate to be the ones to break the news, but a nation can’t spend four hundred years behaving that way without creating an educational challenge—a literacy deficit within the brutalized sub-population. Match that with our high rates of immigration—throw in our poverty rates for good measure—and you have a taste of the demographic challenges to which Buckley referred.

Finland doesn’t have that! Finland’s schools don’t serve a large number of delightful, deserving kids from low-literacy, low-income, second-language immigrant backgrounds. To Finland’s credit, its schools don’t contain large numbers of children whose forebears were denied the right to literacy for hundreds of years. Because of these demographic differences, it has always been amazingly silly when American journalists jet off to Helsinki, eager to learn how Finland’s schools achieve such terrific test scores.

As we’ve long told you, there’s nothing so dumb that our press corps won’t do it. Journalists have made this clear as they've fawned about Finland's test scores.

(Please note: None of this is meant as a criticism of Finland. That said, Finland does deserve criticism for the way its education ministers have played along with this rank international nonsense.)

For the past decade, our journalists have expressed amazement at Finland’s high test scores. And how sad:

Last year, Finland outscored the U.S. on these international tests—but it managed to do so just barely. In reaction, the Post, the Times and the AP worked to keep readers from knowing that fact.

How close did American students come to matching Finland on these tests? Start with this:

Several American states took these tests as independent entities. In quite a few cases, students in various states outscored the students of Finland.

Demographically, some of these states are a bit like Finland; their students proceeded to kick Finland’s keister. But so what? The Post and the Times avoided telling you that, sometimes in comical fashion, as we will show you tomorrow.

After “disaggregation,” things get even more interesting. In Massachusetts, black students outscored Finland in eighth-grade math—and yes, you read that correctly:

In Massachusetts, black eighth-graders, on their own, outscored the eighth-graders of Finland! That is just astounding good news, and it went unreported.

Black eighth-graders outscored Finland! As we’ll show you below, “disaggregation” was even more striking when performed on the national scale. But first, let’s return to the basics:

Finland’s students did “outperform American students on all the exams,” just as the New York Times said. Or did they? In fourth-grade math and eighth-grade math, the two nations’ average scores were so close that they are listed as “not measurably different” in the official NCES reports overseen by Buckley.

In eighth-grade math, Finland’s students averaged 514 on the TIMSS scale; American students averaged 509. (NCES: “Not measurably different.”) In Massachusetts, black kids averaged 516! (The state’s white students averaged 572, a score which blew Finland away.)

In fourth-grade math, the two nation’s scores were also quite close. Finland averaged 545 on the TIMSS scale, the U.S. averaged 541. (NCES: “Not measurably different.”)

The performances here were very close; our demographically-challenged student population played to a virtual tie with middle-class, ballyhooed Finland. In other areas, Finland outperformed the U.S. by somewhat wider margins, though in fourth-grade reading (the only grade that was tested in reading), the scores were again rather close. (Students in Florida, the only state tested on its own in this subject, outscored the Finns by one point.)

In our view, U.S. students did surprisingly well as compared to the heralded Finns. Puckishly, USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor noted this surprising good news early in their news reports. In so doing, we thought these papers displayed good news judgment, given the endless fawning in the American press about the rattiness of our own schools and the vast greatness of schools in Finland.

That said, silence prevailed in the Post and the Times and in the Associated Press. And no one told readers what occurs when you “disaggregate” the American test scores. More specifically, no one reported another bit of surprising news:

No one reported that white students in the U.S. matched or outperformed Finland on all five of last year’s tests.

Should we “disaggregate” scores in this way? Should we review the scores of America’s white students on their own?

Well actually, yes, we pretty much should, for certain limited purposes:

You see, Finland doesn’t have a large subset of its student population which features a lot of delightful immigrant kids from low-literacy, low-income backgrounds. And Finland doesn’t have a student population whose forebears were systematically denied literacy for three or four hundred years.

As Buckley politely noted, a country like Finland doesn’t have population subsets like ours. If you compare U.S. white students to students in Finland, you are starting to look at the way these nations’ schools perform with kids from the majority population—in the American context, with kids whose ancestors weren’t brutalized and denied literacy for centuries, with kids who aren’t recent arrivals.

For those who want to understand the actual way our schools seem to work, it’s worth noting what happens on these tests if we compare our majority population to Finland's population. This is what you find:

On four of last year’s five tests, white students in the U.S. outscored students in Finland. Our schools still struggle with beautiful kids who have no counterpart in Finland. But if we compare likes to likes, you get results like these:
Finland and the U.S., the TIMSS and the PIRLS
Grade 4 reading, PIRLS 2011:
United States, white students 575
Finland 568
United States, all students 556

Grade 4 math, TIMSS 2011:
United States, white students 559
Finland 545
United States, all students 541

Grade 8 math, TIMSS 2011:
United States, white students 530
Finland 514
United States, all students 509
The next time you hear “educational experts” describe the greatness of Finland’s schools, remember: White kids in the United States largely outscored Finland on these international tests.

Our schools still do less well with deserving students who have no counterparts in Finland, although those kids’ test scores have been improving on both the TIMSS and the PIRLS. But you can’t learn how to help such kids by taking the junket to Finland.

There are no similar kids in Finland. You can’t find their equivalents there.

Finland deserves a lot of credit for not having been historically crazy in the way our country has been. But you can’t learn how to address our challenges by flying off to Finland. Our challenges don’t exist there.

In many case, entire states took these tests last year; in many cases (though not all), these states outperformed Finland. Tomorrow, we’ll examine the scores from those states. And we’ll look at the way the Washington Post kept you from knowing what those states did—kept you from knowing that quite a few states ran up better test scores than Finland.

Within an obedient mainstream press, you’re not encouraged to know such things. A gloomy script has been set in stone—and our nation's biggest newspapers work to Keep Script Alive.

Tomorrow: States outscore Finland! Some comical work in the Post

High praise for the teachers of Sandy Hook!


The Sun displays good solid sense: Congratulations to the Baltimore Sun for its editorial today about Newtown—about the public servants who have been so relentlessly slandered in the past dozen years.

As we start, we’ll include the Sun’s brace of headline:
BALTIMORE SUN EDITORIAL (12/19/12): The heroes of Newtown:

Our view: The strength and courage of teachers and school staff—the kind of public employees so often scorned of late—are the revelation of Sandy Hook

As the nation continues this week to deal with the grief and heartache left behind by the murder of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, let there also be a moment set aside for exultation. Let a banner be raised for the heroes of Newtown, Conn.: the educators who sprang into action to protect the young students in their charge.

We don't know how many lives were saved by the alert and brave actions of the faculty and staff at Sandy Hook, but we suspect they were many. Yet how many among us should stand ashamed today for showing so little respect for such public employees—mocking teachers, in particular, for their cost to taxpayers in salary and benefits—and failing to appreciate how willingly many educators stand prepared to lay down their lives for our children?
In a slightly saner world, educators would not be required to lay down their lives for their students. But the sliming of teachers has been a disgrace, whether practiced by the billionaires and their handmaidens or by the likes of Gail Collins.

The Sun continues:
BALTIMORE SUN EDITORIAL (continuing directly): Rarely are teachers given the kind of respect afforded soldiers, firefighters or police officers, but how else to describe Principal Dawn Hochsprung but as a first responder? We now know that it was she, school psychologist Mary Sherlach and Vice Principal Natalie Hammond who first confronted the heavily armed Adam Lanza in the hallway. Only Ms. Hammond survived that initial effort to subdue the intruder.

Four other employees, all teachers, died in the shooting. Anne Marie Murphy, a special education teacher, was killed attempting to literally shield her students with her body.

Meanwhile, stories continue to emerge from Sandy Hook of teachers who helped lead their students to safety, who hid them away and remained level-headed despite the threat, who calmly instructed them to be brave, who stood ready to defend them until they were certain the knocking on their locked doors came from police and not the perpetrator.


How many among us are certain we would behave so bravely in a similar situation? The military train for that kind of sacrifice, but the faculty and staff of Sandy Hook had no such preparation. What code of conduct informed their choices?
Just last year, American fourth graders kicked the keisters of most of the world on a major international reading test. Those test scores were released last week, but we find no sign that the Baltimore Sun reported this news to its readers.

This omission is ironic, given the striking degree of good sense displayed in the rest of the Sun's editorial:
BALTIMORE SUN EDITORIAL: It is common these days to bemoan the state of public education and question whether the next generation will be able to compete in the global economy. Among the concerns are wide disparities in educational outcomes based on wealth, race and class; high dropout rates; and low science and math achievement compared to other industrial countries. Meanwhile, the economic downturn and the strain it has put on the financing of government, including public education, have made educators easy targets for scorn.


Next time we discuss the state of education, let us also recall those images of teachers leading children out of harm's way in Newtown or those half-dozen adults who died in the line of duty. Public educators deserve our respect, not just for what happened in Sandy Hook but for their extraordinary, daily devotion to the education, health and welfare of the next generation.
The sliming of our public school teachers has been an ongoing disgrace. We’ve seen it enabled by Charlie Rose. We’ve seen it advanced by Collins. As this propaganda campaign has rolled on, the liberal world has shown remarkably little interest in public school teachers or children.

How ratty do those Sandy Hook teachers look in the wake of their actions last week? Tomorrow, we’ll show you how Connecticut students performed on last year’s TIMSS math tests.

It’s rare to see an editorial which evinces so much sound human sense. Someone at the Sun is still in touch with the world. Within the modern mainstream press corps, that’s a rare occurrence.

Matthews and Ifill, rolling for Warner!


The lunacy of our press culture: Do you live in a lunatic culture—in a press corps banana republic? Consider:

Senator Warner was explaining why he has now flipped on guns. On Hardball, Chris Matthews played tape of the great man’s moving words.

Then he began to emote:
MATTHEWS (12/18/12): Here’s a smart senator talking now. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, a moderate Democrat most people would count him as, joined the chorus of pro-gun Democrats—he’s one—who are willing to look at changes in gun safety.

Let’s listen to the senator from Virginia.

WARNER (videotape): I believe every American has 2nd Amendment rights and that the ability to hunt is part of our culture. I had an NRA rating of an A, but you know, enough is enough. I’ve got— I’m father of three daughters, and this weekend, they all said, “Dad, you know, how can this go on?”

And I, like I think most of us, realize that there are ways to get to rational gun control. There are ways to grapple with the obvious challenges of mental illness.

MATTHEWS: Those wonderful words in the Bible about you must become like a child. The interesting—to approach the Lord. And I was thinking that, in so many cases in recent history, you’ve seen the young in this country, the people under 30, for example, who have led the way on issues like same-sex marriage, on issues like even Obama’s election to the presidency, in so many cases.

Do you think this is an area where young kids are going to say to their parents, “Get over this NRA fixation, be loyal to us kids, not to them?”

MILBANK: I think that’s exactly what we’re hearing now...
Playing for The One True Liberal Team, Chris emitted a big pile of feel-good.

Let’s understand what Warner said, hiding behind his daughters as he did:

For him, it wasn’t enough when someone shot up a college campus right there in his own state. That didn’t make him "realize that there are ways to get to rational gun control."

It wasn’t enough when someone shot up a political meeting featuring one of his congressional colleagues. That didn’t make him realize either.

It wasn’t enough when someone shot up a movie theater in Colorado. It wasn’t enough when people got killed in all these previous events.

But now that someone has shot up a first grade classroom, Warner has finally had enough! Hiding behind his daughters (it’s humanizing), he says he has changed his stance on guns.

He says he now realize that there are ways to get to rational gun control. And Matthews, playing for the liberal team, emotes about what Warner said.

What Warner said is pretty transparently garbage. If Warner is sincere, it means that he’s a lunatic or a simpleton. What kind of person has to wait for a bunch of six-year-olds to get killed before he can see that there are ways to get to rational gun control?

Please. Warner didn’t change his stance because his daughters spoke to him Friday. Presumably, Warner changed his stance because the politics has changed—because the public has gotten very angry, has finally said enough.

We don’t fault the public for that; the public is otherwise occupied as these events unfold. We do fault Senator Warner for this. And most ofall, we fault the compliant Matthews, who pretends that this makes perfect sense.

Then too, we fault Gwen Ifill. Last night, she sat on her overpaid keister as Warner directly sold her the con:
IFILL (12/1/8/12): What would you like to hear the NRA—you’re a member of the NRA. You’re supported by the NRA. What would you like to hear them say as, TO contribute as a meaningful contribution?

WARNER: What are the instruments here that are being used? Are there guns that were developed by the military as technology has advanced and has allowed our soldiers to become better, more effective in Iraq and Afghanistan? Should all of those weapons be able to be slightly modified and then sold on a commercial market?

What kind of—how much restraint does it put on a lawful target shooter if they want to have to change out a clip after every 10 shells or—10 or 15 shells? I’m not sure what the right number should be here.

But I think the NRA ought to have a voice in this conversation as well. I think they can go ahead again, reassure that nobody is going to be out trying to say we need to take away your shotgun or take away the kind of components that are part of American culture in terms of the right to hunt, the right to enjoy the outdoors with firearms.

But I do think that simply saying that the status quo is acceptable and bemoaning another tragedy six or nine months from now, without any real close examination of seeing what laws and rules and regulations need to be changed, would be a real mistake and wouldn’t do—wouldn’t be the appropriate honoring the legacy of those poor kids whose lives were taken.

And quite honestly, I have to give my three daughters a better answer than I gave them on Friday night. I have got to be able to say, you know, “I was part of trying to at least get some level of solution, so this kind of tragedy doesn't happen again.”

IFILL: Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, thank you so much for joining us.
Was Warner speaking “quite honestly?” Sorry, we don’t believe that!

Senator Warner is very bright. He didn’t change his view on guns because his daughters spoke to him Friday.

That said, Ifill is smart too. She knows you don’t rock the boat by asking the obvious questions—the obvious questions which don’t involve you in swallowing obvious bullroar:

Why was it OK to shoot up that campus? Why was it OK to shoot Gabby Giffords? Why did it take an attack on six-year-olds before you decided to flip?

Why didn’t those earlier events helps you to see the obvious fact that there are ways to get to rational gun control?

Did Warner flip because the politics changed? Because you live in a press corps banana republic, Ifill knows she mustn’t ask.

Matthews knew he should emote about what the great man had said.