Maddow watch: Four days in May with a corporate clown!

TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2016

Cable star really bad at her job:
On Tuesday evening, May 24, Rachel Maddow decided to end her cable news show with a typical bit of snark.

Tribal snark is now a standard part of Maddow's cable program. In such segments, we liberal viewers get our time wasted in remarkably low-IQ ways. But the purity of our tribal identity gets reinforced and stoked.

Maddow's target in Tuesday's segment was New Mexico governor Susana Martinez. Donald J. Trump would be doing a campaign event in Albuquerque that night. But uh-oh! Martinez, who isn't a fan of Trump, had said she wouldn't attend.

For this offense, Martinez became a target of Maddow's snark in her short closing segment. Liberal brain cells were dying all over the country as Maddow closed with this fact-challenged dose of embarrassing tribal porridge:
MADDOW (5/24/16): Donald Trump's first campaign fund-raiser was tonight in Albuquerque. He's following that up with a rally in Albuquerque right now.

The Republican governor of New Mexico, Susana Martinez, is also the chair of the Republican Governors Association. But when Donald Trump said he'd be coming to town tonight, Governor Martinez said she would not attend—for one very simple reason.


REPORTER: Everybody, of course, wants to know if you will be attending Donald Trump's rally tomorrow.

MARTINEZ: No, I will not.

REPORTER: What's your reason? Tell us why.

MARTINEZ: You know, I'm really busy—



The chair of the Republican Governors Association [PAUSE TO ADOPT SNARKY TONE] is really busy. She'd previously said she would also be too busy to attend the Republican convention this summer, until someone reminded her that she has to go because [CHUCKLING] she's chair of the Republican Governors Association.

So she will have to go to Cleveland. But she does not have to come out of hiding while Donald Trump is in her town. Not yet at least.

That does it for us tonight. Now, it's time for The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.
As Maddow's program came to an end, viewers saw her snarking about Martinez's dumbness and cowardice. Martinez had been too dumb to understand that she had to attend the Republican convention! And not only that! She was afraid to "come out of hiding while Donald Trump is in her town."

To watch this segment, click here.

This type of snark is now quite common on the Maddow program. Aside from the oddness of aiming all this snark at a politician who has often criticized Trump, what was wrong with this short segment?

Let us count the ways:

1) You'll note that Martinez's statement to that reporter was edited quite abruptly, cuing Maddow's snark. (In professional circles, this is now known as "the Maddow edit.") To see Martinez's fuller response, you can just click here.

2) According to Maddow, Martinez had previously said that she wouldn't be attending the Republican convention in Cleveland. Maddow treated this as a sign of Martinez's dumbness.

We find no clear evidence that Martinez ever made such a statement, although it's possible she did. The AP had reported, back on May 10, that Martinez would be attending the convention. (For the National Journal's May 11 report, click here.)

We find no convincing evidence that this reversed a previous stance. For tape of Martinez's statement on May 9, you can just click this.

3) There is no sign that Martinez decided to attend the convention because "someone reminded her that she has to go because she's chair of the Republican Governors Association." Maddow treated this as a marker of Martinez's amusing dumbness. The notion that someone had to remind Martinez of her position seems to have been invented by Maddow for entertainment purposes.

4) Martinez didn't seem to be "in hiding while Donald Trump is in her town." She made a direct, open statement that she wouldn't attend his event. Her previous complaints about Trump's behavior and statements would have been known to many New Mexico residents.

Maddow was snarking hard in this short segment, as she routinely does. As a special treat at the end of her low-IQ program, we got to chuckle at the dumbness and the cowardice of this Republican governor.

For viewers of the Maddow Show, this is a familiar type of low-IQ tribal fun. But uh-oh! That very same evening, Trump ridiculed Governor Martinez in much the same way Maddow had done!

According to our tribal verities, this meant that Martinez had become the victim of a racist and sexist attack! Embarrassingly, it also meant that Maddow had positioned herself in alignment with Candidate Trump!

Result? The very next night, Maddow opened her program with a segment about how wonderfully bright Martinez is! We'll review that pitiful clown show tomorrow, with last week's real problem to come.

Ever since MSNBC became "the place for politics," Maddow has become a consummate corporate clown. For the most part, we liberals don't seem to be able to see this.

Maddow's clowning about Martinez was simply dishonest and stupid. Her clowning became politically dangerous last week when it was aimed, in a menacing way, at a second governor.

That person was Governor Terry McAuliffe. Is anyone but Maddow dumb enough to trash him in the way she did on two separate programs last week?

Rachel Maddow is bad at her job. Over the next three days, we'll review "four days in May" as she snarked and clowned last week.

Tomorrow: The greatest flip of all

DILBERT KNOWS BEST: Says Donald J. Trump is going to win!

TUESDAY, MAY 31, 2016

Part 1—It's not necessarily wrong:
First, a bit of disclosure.

We've never read the Dilbert cartoon. Until yesterday, we didn't know the name of its creator.

Today, we do know that name—Scott Adams. We know it because of an on-line report in the Washington Post, which explains why Adams thinks that Donald J. Trump will win November's election.

Apparently, Adams thinks Trump is going to win by a large margin. In the passage shown below, the Post's Michael Cavna provides a basic outline of Adams' view.

Cavna's report appeared in March. It offers this overview:
CAVNA (5/30/16): ...Adams believes Donald Trump will win the presidency. In a landslide.

Adams, in other words, believes that Trump himself has turned the campaign game around.
On the stump, the real-estate mogul is not running on the knowledge of his numbers or the dissection of the data. He is running on our emotions, Adams says, and sly appeals to our own human irrationality. Since last August, in fact, when many were calling Trump’s entry a clown candidacy, the “Dilbert” cartoonist was already declaring The Donald a master in the powers of persuasion who would undoubtedly rise in the polls. And last week, Adams began blogging about how Trump can rhetorically dismantle Clinton’s candidacy next.

Adams, mind you, is not endorsing Trump or supporting his politics...And he is not saying that Trump would be the best president. What the Bay Area-based cartoonist recognizes, he says, is the careful art behind Trump’s rhetorical techniques. And The Donald, he says, is playing his competitors like a fiddle—before beating them like a drum.

Most simply put: Adams believes Trump will win because he’s “a master persuader.”
Has Donald J. Trump "turned the game around" in the manner of "a master persuader?"

In many ways, he has. That doesn't mean that he will "win in a landslide" this fall. We'll be surprised if he does. He may not win at all.

Still, Trump has "turned the game around" in certain dangerous ways. In our view, it's important to note a related fact:

In doing this, Trump has been playing on some of the ways the mainstream press corps had already "turned the game around" over the past thirty years.

Has the mainstream press "turned the game around" over the past thirty years? For the most part, liberals haven't been allowed to read, hear or think about this important question.

As part of an obvious code of silence, the tribal leaders we liberals trust have refused to discuss this topic. They've disappeared the basic facts which show how this game has been played.

Their names are Drum and Chait—and also Maddow, Hayes and Blow. They have refused to discuss the behavior of their upper-end press corps colleagues over the past thirty years.

Drum, Chait, Maddow, Hayes and Blow are viewed as trustworthy liberals, but they're also engaged in a long-running code of silence. For these reasons, the typical liberal knows very little about the way the mainstream press had already "turned the game around" before the arrival of Trump.

We recommend Cavna's report. He lists six things "Candidate Trump is doing to win campaign hearts and minds, according to Scott Adams."

All six points are worth considering. The press was involved in all these behaviors before Candidate Trump came along.

Who will win November's election? We have no idea. That said:

In the next few days, we'll review the points Cavna makes in his Adams Report. We'll visit the logic of Superman comic books and "reality TV" shows. We'll ponder the 1962 film, The Manchurian Candidate.

In that famous and fascinating film, "poor, poor Raymond" Shaw has been successfully brainwashed. That film was fiction, of course.

In the real world where we actually live, distant cousins to "brainwashing" actually do affect hearts and minds and voters' basic perceptions. Over the past thirty years, distant cousins to such techniques have in fact taken wide hold in the silly, gong-show-based world of the "mainstream press corps."

Increasingly, our political discourse has become "narrative all the way down." In his efforts since last June, Candidate Trump has been surfing behind that undiscussed, brain-damaged culture.

Will "Crooked Hillary" go down to defeat this fall? Yes, that really could happen. The silence of the career liberal lambs has helped create the comic book world in which Donald J. Trump's comic book pitch actually could take hold.

Tomorrow: "Willing to do and say anything"

Model and actress watch: The old sex scandals of Columnist Blow!

MONDAY, MAY 30, 2016

For whom the gong show tolls:
We weren't planning to post today. Then, we read Charles Blow.

Headline included, his column starts as shown below. On display is a twenty-year breakdown on the part of the people we still regard as our journalists:
BLOW (5/30/16): The Ghosts of Old Sex Scandals

We are now being forced to relive the decades-old sex scandals of Bill Clinton,
as Donald Trump tries desperately to shield and inoculate himself from well-earned charges of misogyny.

I say, if we must go there, let’s go all the way. Let’s do this dirty laundry, as Kelly Rowland, former Destiny’s Child, once crooned.

First, multiple women have accused Clinton of things ranging from sexual misconduct to rape. Paula Jones famously brought a sexual harassment case against Clinton. The case was dismissed, but on appeal, faced with the prospect of having to testify under oath, Clinton settled the case out of court.

Clinton has maintained that he had inappropriate sexual relationships with only two women: Gennifer Flowers, a model and actress, and Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern.

Clinton was impeached on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with his affair with Lewinsky.

Let’s just say this: Clinton was as wrong as the day is long for his affairs. There is no way around that.

But the problem was that many of the men condemning the beam in Clinton’s eye were then shown to have one in their own.
Other problems occur later on in this piece, as we'll note below. But good lord. Where to begin?

For starters, Blow says that Bill Clinton has been accused of rape, "but the problem was that many of the men condemning the beam in Clinton’s eye were then shown to have one in their own."

That is just a very, very dumb approach and construction. Once you say that someone has been accused of rape, you probably need to say something more about the strength and status of the charge, which extends beyond the claim of having "a beam in his eye."

We offer that as a basic point. Let's move ahead to Blow's account of Bill Clinton's alleged confessions.

Sex addicts, please! Eighteen years later, Bill Clinton has not said that he had a sexual "relationship" or "affair" with Gennifer Flowers, at least not in any normal sense of those terms.

In the testimony to which Blow is referring, Bill Clinton wasn't asked if he had a sexual relationship or affair with Flowers. Eighteen years later, Blow still doesn't seem to know this.

Meanwhile, was Flowers a "model and actress?"

It certainly makes the story that much more exciting! But in 1992, when Flowers published her error-laden claims about Clinton in the tabloid paper The Star, she was a $17,000 per year Arkansas state employee. Before that, she had been a local Little Rock TV reporter during some of the time covered in her error-laden string of charges, for which she testified to having been paid $500,000.

Blow's description is suitably thrilling. We'd also say it's misleading, in the way these journalistic claims have been all along.

That said, let's give Blow some credit. Though he refers to Monica Lewinsky as "a White House intern," he doesn't call her a "21-year-old intern," the erroneous description which dominated press corps accounts during the thrilling year of impeachment.

Addicts, can we talk? Bill Clinton did acknowledge having a relationship/affair with Lewinsky. The relationship lasted several years. During the bulk of that time, Lewinsky she was a 23-24 year old federal employee.

(Lewinsky was already 22—almost 22-and-a-half!—when she first encountered Clinton. Technically, she was still in her last few weeks as an intern, but she had already accepted a full-time job as a White House employee. People like Blow kept calling her a "21-year-old intern" because the erroneous claim about her age made the story more exciting. So does Blow's exciting claim today about that "model and actress." Also, Kelly Rowland! This is exciting stuff!)

Do any of these points actually matter? It's pretty much as you like it. People like Blow will continue to tell these stories in the ways they remember or like to imagine them. Blow's more consequential blundering comes near the end of his piece.

Blow spends the bulk of his piece telling readers that many of Bill Clinton's Republican accusers had "relationships" and "affairs" too. That's interesting, but it doesn't speak to the aggressive claims Candidate Trump and his willing mouthpieces now making about Hillary Clinton, the person who's actually running for president in this particular year.

Blow seems to know what Trump is saying, but he seems to have trouble staying on point. Here's how his sexy-time column ends:
BLOW: Last week, when the Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was confronted on CNN with Trump’s defenses of Clinton during the sex scandals, Cohen responded that at the time Trump was simply trying to “protect a friend.” And yet, this is the same camp lambasting Hillary Clinton as an “enabler” for trying to protect a husband?

It’s all incredibly distasteful, yes, but it also doesn’t jibe. And, aside from the unshakable feeling that there is something tragically off about using a husband’s philandering as a weapon against a betrayed wife, I also doubt the public will have much stomach for these stories, just as it didn’t in the 1990s.

Dirty laundry, done.
Blow seems to know that Candidate Trump and his willing mouthpieces are making a set of rather nasty charges against Hillary Clinton (see his use of the term "enabler"). He also quickly wanders off point. See his instant fuzzy claim that Trump is "using a husband’s philandering as a weapon against a betrayed wife."

As you may know, Trump and them are aggressively claiming that Hillary Clinton behaved in nasty and threatening ways toward Bill Clinton's accusers. Not long ago, we noted the sheer absurdity of one of these claims—the claim that Hillary Clinton savaged Lewinsky. The claim that she threatened Juanita Broaddrick is several times stupider still.

That said, players like Blow will never be bright enough to explain such facts to the public, or to help the pubic see what these facts tells us about the way our discourse has worked for the past several decades. They've run gong-shows throughout the era. Their gong-shows aren't likely to stop.

At present, there are two key parts to this story. Don't expect people like Blow to notice:

First: the specific charges against Hillary Clinton are well beyond moronic. People like Blow will never be able to tell the public this.

Second, and very important: several of the Clinton sex accusers lack almost all credibility. Flowers is one such person.

Good God! By 1999, she was running a money-making web site devoted to pimping the Clinton's many murders. That August, she went on Hardball, then on Hannity & Colmes, to pimp these ridiculous tales at 30-minute length, then for the full hour.

People like Blow never reported that remarkable fact! It wasn't mentioned in real time, not once. It hasn't been mentioned since.

Why did Blow's colleagues avert their gaze from Flowers' appalling, crackpot behavior? Duh. By 1999, Flowers was one of their treasured accusers. People like Blow just kept propping her up.

Today, Blow calls her a model and actress and says she did have an affair with Bill Clinton. As this hapless fellow sells us these claims, you are possibly able to see for whom the gong still tolls.

It's a simple but counterintuitive fact. On the simplest levels of intellect and character, the people we still regard as journalists are remarkably wanting.

Kevin Drum and Jonathan Chait will never be willing to tell you that. Within the guild which feeds and clothes them, it simply isn't done.

Tomorrow, we'll be starting a multi-week series in which we explore an array of such facts. We're still in the midst of a decades-old gong show. Come November, we may be surprised to learn for whom the gong has tolled.

Starting tomorrow: Don't ask, don't tell, don't inform, don't inquire

Chait speech: Education reform, plus the rise of Trump!

SATURDAY, MAY 28, 2016

Our own liberal kindergarten:
We liberals are skilled at noting the intellectual povery which exists Over There, in the other tribe.

We're less skilled at noting our own tribe's intellectual poverty. Consider two recent examples from the work of Jonathan Chait, who votes the way liberals do.

One example concerns "education reform;" in this post, Chait adopts a contrarian view. The other example concerns the way "Republican politics and conservative thought" evolved during the Clinton/Gore years. It constitutes a perfect pander to the liberal world's tribal outlook.

Each piece by Chait is written on the kindergarten level. It's stunning to think that we liberals accept such work. But quite routinely, we do.

Let's start with education reform. In this recent New York Magazine post, Chait hails Michelle Rhee' for her successful tenure as chancellor of the DC Public Schools.

He works from a silly, underfed study from the conservative-leaning Urban Institute. The study examines the growth in average NAEP scores in the DC Public Schools from 2005 to 2013, as compared to the amount of growth predicted by a demographic analysis—a demographic analysis which goes unexplained by the Urban Institute and unexplored by Chait.

We'll focus on Grade 8 math. According to the study which Chait affirms, DC's changing demographics would have predicted a four-point gain in Grade 8 math scores during that eight-year period. But good lord!

Under Rhee, the DCPS actually recorded a 17-point gain in average scores! Chait uncritically accepts the idea that this much larger gain shows that Rhee's reforms were effective.

Truly, this is sad. Chait accepts the Urban Institute's unexplained demographic projection without even batting an eye. Incomparably, we decided to do something which made a bit more sense:

We decided to compare DC's score gains during that period to those recorded in other big cities. Our decision to run this simple check required almost no IQ points.

Duh. As everyone knows except New York Times readers, NAEP scores were rising all over the country during the years in question. To simplify the demographic confusion, we looked at how DC's black kids did during that period, as compared to their peers in other cities.

In what you see below, we're including every city school system which took part in the NAEP in 2005 and 2013. As you can probably see, the score gain in DCPS was remarkably average:
Growth in average scores, Grade 8 math
2005-2013, NAEP, black students only

Atlanta 19.78
Los Angeles 16.72
Boston 15.17
Chicago 14.29
Houston 13.23
DCPS 11.48
Charlotte: 7.83
San Diego: 7.39
New York City 5.82
Cleveland: 5.34
Austin 4.85
For all NAEP data, start here.

Duh. The score gains achieved under Rhee suddenly seem less amazing. That said, we decided to examine this question from a second perspective. We decided to ask a different question:

How well did DC's eighth-graders score in math in 2013, at the end of Rhee's reign?

In theory, it's easier to produce large score gains if you're starting from a very low point. DCPS was low-scoring, even compared to other big cities, when Rhee's tenure began.

Below, you see how matters stood by the time she left.

We include a wide range of the city systems taking part in the NAEP as of 2013. By a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often compared to one academic year:
Average scores, Grade 8 math
2013 NAEP, black students only

Charlotte 271.41
Boston 270.97
Houston 270.70
Austin 267.51
Dallas 262.67
New York City 262.59
Atlanta 260.58
San Diego 260.34
Miami 259.41
Chicago 259.12
Philadelphia 257.59
Baltimore 257.22
Los Angeles 255.84
DCPS 252.65
Cleveland 249.39
Milwaukee 247.23
Detroit 239.01
If we might borrow from our cummings: How do you like your bright-eyed chancellor now, Mister Professional Journalist?

Please understand. We don't offer these data to assess Rhee's work in DC. We do so to assess Chait's work as a major journalist.

Judged by normal intellectual standards, Chait's post about Rhee's tenure was a piece of silly true belief straight outta kindergarten. And yet, he has been a leading liberal journalist for a good many years!

Can we talk? Like the evil conservative tribe, our own glorious liberal tribe just isn't especially sharp. Consider Chait's recent post about the rise of Trump, which fits more comfortably within our typical liberal narratives.

Below, you see the start of Chait's post, headline included. It's hard to believe that Chait wrote the highlighted passage in good faith:
CHAIT (5/16/16) How Trump Has Revived the Republican Cult of Manliness

About a week ago, Donald Trump managed to say something noteworthy even by Trumpian standards, and unusually revealing. “All of the men, we’re petrified to speak to women anymore, we may raise our voice — you know what, the women get it better than we do, folks, they get it better than we do.” This was remarkable not only in its ignorance of well-established inequalities between male and female pay and household burdens, among other things, but also in Trump’s bizarre political thought process. Trump had casually reverted to discussing men and women as “we” and “they,” as though he were addressing a men’s-rights rally rather than competing for an electorate in which women will compose some 53 percent. “Us versus them” is a standard trope for demagogues, but demagogues usually grasp that the “them” is supposed to be an unpopular subgroup, not a constituency that will cast a majority of the ballots.

It is easy to forget now how crucial a role traditional gender norms have played in Republican politics and conservative thought. Bill Clinton’s infidelity made him slick, weak, unmanful. (A famous 2000 Peggy Noonan column contrasted Clinton’s decision to send young Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba with the heroism of Ronald Reagan, who, she resoundingly concluded, “was a man.”) For Bush-era Republicans, manliness was an essential trait in public life. Republicans mocked Al Gore as a girlie-man who loved earth tones, and John Edwards who “looked like the Breck Girl.” National Review editor Rich Lowry decried what he called a liberal “war on masculinity,” prompting Al Franken to challenge him to a fistfight. (Lowry declined.)
We liberals have been trained to love presentations like the one in the highlighted passage.

That said, that highlighted passage is straight outta kindergarten too. It's very, very hard to believe that Jonathan Chait didn't know that when he was typing it up.

Careerist music man, please! Did Republicans "mock Al Gore as a girlie-man who loved earth tones?" We suppose they did, to some extent. But that isn't where the punishing script began, and that was a decidedly minor part of this punishing story.

Music man, please! The idea that Candidate Gore was "a girlie-man who loved earth tones" came from the mainstream press corps! It came from Time magazine and the Washington Post, and then from the New York Times.

Starting on October 31, 1999, these punishing insults were invented and pimped by the mainstream press corps! Republicans merely followed along, in a decidedly second-hand effort.

We find it very hard to believe that Jonathan Chait doesn't know that. It's impossible to believe that he wrote this in good faith:

"Republicans mocked...John Edwards who 'looked like the Breck Girl.' "

Republicans did that? Actually no—that was straight-up Maureen Dowd! At the time, it was one of Dowd's favorite insults. It takes a village idiot to think that Jonathan Chait doesn't know that.

(Dowd also played a leading role in the invention of the several scripts according to which Candidate Gore was "a girlie-man who loved earth tones." By the way, why would this alleged love of earth tones make Gore a girlie-man? Because, according to the mainstream press corps' script, Naomi Wolf had instructed Gore to wear earth tones, and to behave like an alpha male. There was no evidence that any of these claims were true, but all good mainstream pundits stood in line to recite them. Al Gore hired a woman to teach him to be a man! These nasty, misogynist scripts came from the Washington Post and the New York Times, not from the Republican Party. We find it very hard to believe that Chait doesn't understand this.)

Al Gore hired a woman to teach him to be a man? John Edwards was the Breck Girl? These were mainstream press corps jibes; they didn't come from the Republican Party. It's hard to believe that Chait doesn't know this. Why then did he write what he did?

We'll take a good solid guess:

As with Kevin Drum, so too with Chait. They give us the story we liberals enjoy. More significantly, they give us the story which can't harm their precious careers.

As we've told you for many years, mainstream career liberal writers do not discuss the behavior and conduct of the Washington Post and the New York Times. They certainly don't discuss the gong-show behavior of vintage music men and women like Matthews, Maddow and Dowd.

Despite their endless dissembling, we liberals seem to love the false and misleading stories these career journalists tell. We gulp them down the same way conservatives swallow the tales which come from Sean and Rush.

Unfortunately, these stories keep us liberals barefoot and clueless. But even as we gulp them down, we love to say how dumb and gullible they are in the other tribe.

Years ago, we discussed Chait's account of the role of the New York Times in the coverage of Campaign 2000. His account appeared in his 2007 book, The Big Con. It may have been the most ridiculous account of any topic we have ever seen.

Presumably, Chait was being less than obsessively truthful when he wrote that ridiculous part of his book (chapters 5 and 6). In the process, he was making us liberals much dumber—much less aware of the way the world has actually worked over the past thirty years.

These music men will never stop handing us the bowdlerized tales which erase the work of the upper-end press. As our part of the tribal bargain, we liberals keep truly believing the bogus tales we're told.

Still coming: Maddow goes after McAuliffe two times. Has anyone ever been dumber than this nutty music man?

Public school watch: How do children learn to read?

FRIDAY, MAY 27, 2016

Nicholas Kristof schools Rich:
How do children learn to read? More broadly, how do kids become literate?

In yesterday morning's New York Times, Nicholas Kristof gave a good answer. Along the way, he explained a point we discussed not long ago. He explained how a child's "socioeconomic status" is about more than mere economics.

In a lovely and instructive column, Kristof described his relationship with his 18-year-old daughter. They do a lot of backpacking together. Literacy can start like this:
KRISTOF (5/26/16): My parents took me backpacking beginning when I was about 7, and my wife and I took our three children on overnight hikes as soon as they could toddle.

Don’t tell Child Protective Services, but when my daughter was 4, I took her on an overnight trip on Oregon’s Eagle Creek Trail,
carrying her most of the first day on my shoulders, on top of my backpack. The next morning, I bribed her: If she would walk by herself all 13 miles back to the car, I would buy her a spectacular ice cream in the nearest town.

So we set off for the car. At every rest stop, we conjured that ice cream and how cold it would be, and, fortified, we trundled on down the trail beside glorious waterfalls. When we reached the car, we were both proud of her heroism, and she beamed tiredly as I buckled her into her car seat.

When we arrived at an ice cream shop 20 minutes later, she was fast asleep. I couldn’t wake her.
What does that have to do with literacy? Kristof and his daughter were conjuring, talking! He was listening to the things she said. Such talking can lead on to this:
KRISTOF (continuing directly): Thus began our hiking partnership, sometimes undertaken with the whole family, sometimes just the two of us. At home we’re all busy, but on the trail we’re beyond cellphone coverage or email reach and we’re stuck with each other.

So we talk. Even as we’re disconnected, we reconnect. And on rest breaks and at night, camping under the stars, we read aloud to each other: On this trip, my daughter and I have been reading Adam Johnson’s brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Orphan Master’s Son,” and talking about what it means.

No self-respecting teenage girl would normally allow her dad to read to her, but out in the wilderness, it’s a bond we share.
Kristof and his daughter are reading a novel together this year. We'll guess there was reading on the trail when his daughter was younger.

This is one of the ways parents from higher-literacy backgrounds pass the culture of literacy along to their lucky-duck children. For many years, sensible people have been looking for ways to help parents from lower-literacy backgrounds understand how much help they can give their kids by engaging them in the ways described in Kristof's column.

Many parents may not know that they should talk to, listen to, and read with their kids. When William Raspberry retired from the Washington Post, he returned to his Mississippi home town to start a program called Baby Steps, a program designed to teach local parents how to convey the culture of literacy to their kids.

(For our first post about Baby Steps, click here.)

Many times, kids from lower-literacy families don't get the same advantages other children do. We aren't talking about material goods; we're talking about the advantages that are conveyed when children are listened, spoken and read to.

Raspberry was looking for ways to convey those advantages to lower-SES kids. When we read Motoko Rich's recent report in the New York Times, we were surprised by the tone she adopted, in which it almost seemed she was urging resentment against those kinds of advantages.

Without any question, higher-SES parents have always conveyed these advantages to their children. That said, consider the dark, crabbed way Rich described this ancient process:
RICH (5/3/16): Why racial achievement gaps were so pronounced in affluent school districts is a puzzling question raised by the data. Part of the answer might be that in such communities, students and parents from wealthier families are constantly competing for ever more academic success. As parents hire tutors, enroll their children in robotics classes and push them to solve obscure math problems, those children keep pulling away from those who can’t afford the enrichment.

“Our high-end students who are coming in are scoring off the charts,” said Jeff Nash, executive director of community relations for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

The school system is near the flagship campus of the University of North Carolina, and 30 percent of students in the schools qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, below the national average.

The wealthier students tend to come from families where, “let’s face it, both the parents are Ph.D.s, and that kid, no matter what happens in the school, is pressured from kindergarten to succeed,” Mr. Nash said. “So even though our minority students are outscoring minority students in other districts near us, there is still a bigger gap here because of that.”
That was a weirdly dark and resentful picture of the way the culture of literacy gets conveyed to kids.

In Rich's portrait, no one is walking and talking with their children, then reading novels with them. In Rich's portrait, students and parents from wealthier families are constantly competing for ever more academic success.

Kids are being pushed to solve obscure math problems. No matter what happens in the school, the kids are pressured from kindergarten to succeed!

Rich painted a very dark portrait of the way kids are helped to become more literate. Raspberry wanted to pull less advantaged kids up. Increasingly, the mindset found in that portrait by Rich suggests pulling everyone down. In the process, the New York Times suggests its street-fighting class solidarity, indeed its moral greatness!

At any rate, SES isn't all about economics. SES is also about the McGarrigles' "Walking Song."

One of the greatest lyrics ever: "I'll show you houses of architectural renown..."

Email watch: The New York Times does it again!

FRIDAY, MAY 27, 2016

Takes sad song, makes it worse:
The email matter has done massive harm to Candidate Clinton. Presumably, it will continue to do so.

Adding to the candidate's problem is the work of the New York Times. In yesterday morning's front-page report, Myers and Lichtblau offered this, right in their third paragraph:
MYERS AND LICHTBLAU (5/26/16): The inspector general found that Mrs. Clinton ''had an obligation to discuss using her personal email account to conduct official business'' with department officials but that, contrary to her claims that the department ''allowed'' the arrangement, there was ''no evidence'' she had requested or received approval for it.
Damn that Hillary Clinton! The highlighted claim was a bit imprecise, but it conveyed a certain impression.

The editorial board received that impression. At the start of this morning's editorial, the board was a bit more precise:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (5/27/16): Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency just got harder with the release of the State Department inspector general’s finding that “significant security risks” were posed by her decision to use a private email server for personal and official business while she was secretary of state. Contrary to Mrs. Clinton’s claims that the department had “allowed” the arrangement, the inspector general also found that she had not sought or received approval to use the server.
The board stated the point quite clearly. It was made in their first paragraph. It was their second point.

Damn that Hillary Clinton! She had said that the State Department "allowed" the arrangement. But the inspector general said she never sought or received approval!

As always, let's be fair. It's true that Secretary Clinton didn't seek approval for her unusual setup. But the question of whether she sought approval was clarified long ago.

In the Washington Post, Helderman and Hamburger were a bit sharper than the sleuths at the Times. This passage appeared in their own front-page news report:
HELDERMAN AND HAMBURGER (5/26/16): Clinton had acknowledged during a March debate that she had not sought approval for the private setup. She pointed to the practices of her predecessors and said: "There was no permission to be asked. . . . It was permitted."
This point had been clarified long ago, in multiple settings. Below, we'll offer the transcript from that March 9 debate.

Clinton's email arrangement is doing a lot of damage. It would help if papers like the Times could be a bit more precise.

That said, we heard Chris Matthews say something scary this past Wednesday night. This is serious business:
MATTHEWS (5/25/16): OK, let's talk about this e-mail thing. We're going to get to more in the next segment, but you know, I don't know what the IG— I've been hearing about rumors, like we all have. (INAUDIBLE DUE TO INORDINATE SPEED) What's Comey going to do? Is he going to quit if this doesn't go his way, and all this. Rumor, rumor, rumor.
Two weeks ago, we noted the damage FBI Director Comey could imaginably cause through his reaction even if Clinton ends up facing no charges. Now, Matthews says that everyone has been hearing rumors about this possibility.

This is very serious stuff. It would help if papers like the Times got their basic facts right, at least in their opening paragraphs.

As stated in March 9 debate: Helderman and Hamburger were referring to the March 9 Democratic debate staged by CNN. Here's the fuller exchange to which they referred:
RAMOS (3/9/16): Your Republican opponents say that those emails have endangered our national security. When you were secretary of state, you wrote 104 emails in your private server that the government now says contain classified information according to The Washington Post analysis.

That goes against a memo that you personally sent to your employees in 2011 directing all of them to use official email, precisely because of security concerns. So it seems that you issued one set of rules for yourself and a different set of rules for the rest of the State Department.

So who specifically gave you permission to operate your email system as you did? Was it President Barack Obama? And would you drop out of the race if you get indicted?

CLINTON: Well, Jorge, there's a lot of questions in there. And I'm going to give the same answer I've been giving for many months. It wasn't the best choice. I made a mistake. It was not prohibited. It was not in any way disallowed. And as I have said and as now has come out, my predecessors did the same thing and many other people in the government.

But here's the cut to the chase facts. I did not send or receive any emails marked classified at the time. What you are talking about is retroactive classification. And the reason that happens is when somebody asks or when you are asked to make information public, I asked all my emails to be made public. Then all the rest of the government gets to weigh in.

And some other parts of the government, we're not exactly sure who, has concluded that some of the emails should be now retroactively classified. They've just said the same thing to former Secretary Colin Powell. They have said, we're going to retroactively classify emails you sent personally.
Now I think he was right when he said this is an absurdity. And I think that what we have got here is a case of over-classification. I am not concerned about it. I am not worried about it and no Democrat or American should be either.


RAMOS: Secretary Clinton, the questions were, who gave you permission to cooperate? Was it President Obama?

CLINTON: There was no permission to be asked. It had been done by my predecessors. It was permitted.

RAMOS: If you get indicted would you going to drop out?

CLINTON: Oh, for goodness sake, that's not going to happen. I'm not even answering that question.

This was clear at least as of March 9. Except for the New York Times!

RESURGENCE OF THE MUSIC MEN: You can't make a bunch of music men speak!

FRIDAY, MAY 27, 2016

Part 4—Where the music men are:
Is Donald J. Trump a modern "music man?"

We'd be inclined to say he is. Tens of millions of other people have a different reaction.

Inevitably, our judgment about Candidate Trump is a subjective judgment. Here are two things which can't really be viewed as subjective:

Various groups of music men have been driving our discourse for many years. Also:

Many major career liberal voices aren't willing to tell you about that.

How have these groups of music men been shaping our national discourse? In his new column, Paul Krugman sketches an example of the way this destructive game works.

As he starts, Krugman says he's been "struck by several recent polls showing Mr. Trump favored over Hillary Clinton on the question of who can best manage the economy."

In this passage, Krugman explains why he finds that poll result so striking. He also describes the decades-long reign of two groups of music men:
KRUGMAN (5/27/16): This is pretty remarkable given the incoherence and wild irresponsibility of Mr. Trump’s policy pronouncements. Granted, most voters probably don’t know anything about that, in part thanks to substance-free news coverage. But if voters don’t know anything about Mr. Trump’s policies, why their favorable impression of his economic management skills?

The answer, I suspect, is that voters see Mr. Trump as a hugely successful businessman, and they believe that business success translates into economic expertise. They are, however, probably wrong about the first, and definitely wrong about the second: Even genuinely brilliant businesspeople are often clueless about economic policy.

An aside: In part this is surely a partisan thing. Over the years, polls have generally, although not universally, shown Republicans trusted over Democrats to manage the economy, even though the economy has consistently performed better under Democratic presidents. But Republicans are much better at promoting legends—for example, by constantly hyping economic and jobs growth under Ronald Reagan, even though the Reagan record was easily surpassed under Bill Clinton.
In that brief passage, Krugman describes the work of at least two groups of music men. Let's identify these different groups.

Why are Republicans trusted over Democrats to manage the economy, despite their unimpressive track record? Why is Reagan seen as more successful than Clinton, despite the objective statistics?

According to Krugman's overview, the misperception was built in two major ways:

First, a group of Republican music men skillfully created a legend about the work of President Reagan. Then, a second group of music men played along with this deception, offering the type of "substance-free news coverage" within which such legends can thrive.

In that brief passage, Krugman describes two groups of music men. Partisan Republicans form one group. Mainstream journalists form the other.

Krugman doesn't try to explain why partisan Republicans are better at creating legends than partisan Democrats are. This part of his theory cries for further examination.

But in that short passage, Krugman has described two groups of music men. Each groups has helped create the world in which Trump and Trumpism thrive.

How have these groups helped create that world? Let's separate two distinct strands in the dysfunctional world these music men have created.

Starting perhaps in the 1960s, conservative groups began creating myths and legends about major matters of substance. Over and over, voters were subjected to claims like these:
Claims about matters of substance:
The Social Security trust fund is a worthless pile of IOUs.
If we lower our tax rates, we receive higher revenues.
The top one percent are paying a wildly disproportionate share of federal taxes.
All these claims were supported by slickly manufactured, grossly misleading presentations. The first group of music men pushed these claims extremely hard. The second group of music men persistently refused to debunk them.

These claims had been in circulation for decades when the first group of music men expanded their line of attack. Now, they began to peddle claims in which they attacked their opponents' character.

On the presidential level, the emergence of this second front is fairly clear. In 1984, there were very few character attacks directed at Candidate Mondale. In 1988, there were some fairly vicious attacks directed at Candidate Dukakis.

Candidate Dukakis lost that election; we never saw what would have happened had he entered the White House.

But in 1992, Candidate Clinton won the election. As a result, we saw the full emergence of the new culture in which we all live today.

A wide array of crazy attacks were launched by one group of music men. The other group of music men either ignored the craziness of these attacks, or actively pimped them along.

Starting in March 1999, the next wave of bogus character attacks were launched against Candidate Gore. By now, the music men of the mainstream press were playing a very active role in this highly destructive game. This includes many "music men" who are widely viewed by us liberals are being part of our team.

To this day, you're kept from thinking about the way this destructive con game unfolded. A code of silence has long been in effect. It constitutes a gigantic con, and it's being widely played.

Below, we'll cite one recent example of that code of silence. First, though, let's think about the craziness which emerged from these earlier cons. We'll even name the names of some people who perpetrated these earlier cons—the earlier cons which paved the way for today's lunatic Trumpism.

For simplicity's sake, let's name one name. Let's quickly discuss Chris Matthews.

Matthews' conduct from 1999 through 2008 is hard to separate from that now displayed by Trump:

Overt misogyny, though only aimed at liberal women? Check.

Ludicrous and appalling insults directed at preferred targets? Check.

Utterly crazy subject matter? Check. Overt misstatement of basic facts? Check. Check. Check.

Especially in the earlier years, Matthews' trusty Sancho Panza was Newsweek's Howard Fineman, for whom no claim was too absurd if it was made on Hardball.

Earlier this week, Fineman warned Matthews, on the air, that Candidate Trump is "dangerously crazy." According to Fineman, Trump's crazy claims "are not tied to any provable reality. They have an element of hothouse nuttiness about them."

Matthews seemed to semi-agree. But how strange it was to see these men complaining about the lunatic world they worked so hard to create.

How crazy was Matthews' nightly work during the anti-Clinton/Gore years. which stretched out for roughly a decade? Among a million possible examples, we thought back to his discussion in November 1999 of the psychosexual meaning of Candidate Gore's troubling three-button suits.

Matthews spoke this night with Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, his trusty expert on body language. After playing tape of Candidate Gore at a campaign event, he launched the kinds of insulting attacks from which Trump has assembled his current campaign style:
MATTHEWS (11/14/99): You got to go pretty far into the Third World to find tribal rituals like that one. All those ringers jumping up and down and clapping their hands, him doing those incredible Clutch Cargo gestures. What kind of—

Let me ask you a question. If you had Al Gore in the defense box in a trial, and he was the defendant in a serious case, a criminal case, would you want women jurors with this guy, based upon that latest new, latest new Al?
Instantly, Matthews pictured Gore on trial for a crime, after ridiculing him for his "Clutch Cargo gestures."

Dimitrius played along, as she always did on Hardball during this ludicrous era. Presumably, it was good for business. Matthews was soon saying this:
MATTHEWS: Al Gore, I know him. He's a guy who can really stare you down, he can intimidate you. He—he sat across from me and if he wants to express anger at something you just said, he gives you that cold stare, which you don't know whether it means, "Who the hell are you, nobody, to be talking to me like that? I'm vice president."

Or does it mean, "I'm really mad at you." But now he's gone to totally new— Is this yelling and jumping up and down going to work for this guy?
Gore hadn't been yelling, or jumping up and down. But so what? Dimitrius played along.

After comparing Gore to "the gangster, Mickey Cohen" and complaining about his "road rage," Matthews reached his most important complaint:

Candidate Gore had been wearing three-button suits on the trail. Matthews wanted to know what this "new costuming" could possibly mean. He was especially concerned with the possible psychosexual content of those three-button suits.

Does Candidate Trump seem crazy today? Chris Matthews, who was owned by Jack Welch at the time, was crazy in all the same ways many years earlier.

Jo-Ellan Dimitrius played right along. So did the whole liberal world:
MATTHEWS: Quickly, you know, there's been a lot of talk about the new costuming of Al Gore. You know, he used to wear blue suits like I do—or gray suits. Now he's wearing these new olive suits.

He's taking up something rather unconventional, the three-button male suit jacket. I always—my joke is, "I'm Albert, I'll be your waiter tonight."

I mean, I don't know anybody who buttons all three buttons, even if they have them. What could that possibly be saying to women voters, three buttons?

DIMITRIUS: Well, I think that—

MATTHEWS: Is there some hidden Freudian deal here or what? I don't know, I mean, Navy guys used to have buttons on their pants. I don't know what it means. Go ahead.

DIMITRIUS: No, I, I— I think actually that Al's probably read the, our second book that's about to come out that talks about the different colors, that particularly males can wear in their suits. We talk about how olive green, dark green is much more approachable, whereas, your dark blue and your black—

MATTHEWS: Right. Is that why Peter Pan wore green?

DIMITRIUS: Could be. Could be.

MATTHEWS: How does my mind work that way?
"How does my mind work that way?" At long last, the lunatic Matthews had asked a sensible question.

The lunatic Matthews was Trump-before-Trump all through Campaign 2000. He relentlessly savaged Candidate Gore; he relentlessly savaged senate Candidate Hillary Clinton, AKA Evita, in relentlessly misogynistic ways.

The overt sexism and overt misogyny continued in Campaign 2008, until a few feminist groups finally managed, by some miracle, to notice that Matthews had been acting this way for the prior ten years. They offered a small, weak complaint.

Today, of course, Matthews has been thoroughly reinvented, in line with changed corporate policy. That said, there is nothing that Trump is doing today that Matthews didn't do when he was pimping the interests of his corporate owner, Jack Welch.

Matthews is one of the music men who created our current lunatic world, in which facts and logic play little role and our discourse runs on crazy claims and lunatic insults. But as liberals, you still aren't allowed to know that, or to know anything like it.

We say that because of what we saw Kevin Drum write this week.

At some point, a sensible person has to surrender his ghosts. We decided to surrender ours as we read this post by Drum, in which he explained "the rise of Donald Trump."

As always, Drum described the role which has been played by one group of music men—the music men who work within the other tribe. As always, he chose to end his story there. At this very late date, we're going to call his bowdlerized account the equivalent a lie.

A wide array of music men have reshaped American culture over the past fifty years. Some of them have come from the right. But many others have come from the mainstream, even from the list of mainstream stars who we describe as "liberals."

Their names are endless, unless you read the claims of our good corporate players. Drum is paid by Mother Jones, an entity which promotes itself by getting its stars on Hardball.

The lunatic culture in which we all live was not created by the right. It was created by the right and the mainstream—by teams of horrible music men politely working together.

No one did more than Matthews has done to create the world in which Trump thrives. Kevin Drum will never, ever be willing to share such facts.

Tomorrow: Rachel Maddow. It's truly hard to find the words

Very hard to capture: Matthews' role in creating Trumpism is vast, gigantic, extensive.

All the basic parts were there by early 1999—the misogyny, the ranting insults, the complete disregard for mere facts.

Our archives are full of this material. Even at book length, it would be hard to capture the sweep of Matthews' role in the invention of the culture within which Trumpism thrives.

For one small attempt to capture the arc of Matthews' decade of cons, see this four-part report from November 2007. That said, it barely scratches the surface.

(To see him kissing the ascot of Ann Coulter, you can just click here. It was now 2006.)

The Drums of this world will keep disappearing this essential part of the story. They're one of the groups of music men who have established this terrible con.

This decades-long con has now given us Candidate Trump and his astounding Trumpism. Regarding silent partners like Drum, we'll take a general guess. Their silence keeps their salaries rolling, even as the con they've enabled threatens the health of the world.

We detailed this from real time on. You can't make music men speak.

Public school watch: Texas creates grade-level math standards!

THURSDAY, MAY 26, 2016

How can such standards work:
Over at Slate, Sarah Garland reports about the new grade-level math standards adopted for the public schools in the state of Texas.

The new math standards aren't quite brand-new. But according to Garland, this is the first year that statewide tests on these new standards will count:
GARLAND (5/26/16): [T]his year, New Frontiers Charter School in San Antonio needed its best teachers to help younger students get ready for a new set of math standards Texas adopted in 2012, so Demore switched to elementary school. It’s the second year the standards are being tested but the first the scores will count for schools.

The Texas standards aren’t the same as the Common Core State Standards Initiative, adopted by more than 40 states.
It’s actually illegal to teach Common Core in Texas.

But even in a state that said an emphatic “No!” to Common Core, the new math standards here are pretty similar to the standards the state rejected, experts say. Across the Lone Star State, as in the rest of the nation, number lines are replacing pizzas in lessons about fractions and lectures are losing out to rambunctious lessons in which kids seem to run the show.
Texas refused to adopt the Common Core standards, then adopted new math standards which are quite similar. You may know what our question will be:

How can such standards work?

We returned to the first interactive graphic in that recent New York Times report. How can one set of fifth-grade math standards work for the wide range of kids in these Texas school districts?
Average achievement, two Texas school districts, grades 3-8:

Highland Park/Dallas: 3.0 grade levels above average
Laredo: 1.5 grade levels below average

Achievement gap: 4.5 grade levels
That's a vast achievement gap. We'll assume it obtains by the fifth or sixth grade. And remember:

Roughly half the kids in the Highland Park district will be more than 3.0 grade levels above average. Roughly half the kids in Laredo will be more than 1.5 grade levels below average.

Now we're discussing a gigantic gap. We'll ask our basic question again:

How can any set of grade-level "math standards" work for that wide range of good decent kids?

Fellow citizen watch: Don't ask, don't try to find out!

THURSDAY, MAY 26, 2016

Bruni's avoiding Trump voters:
Should the term "redskins" be regarded as an insult, a slur?

We wouldn't use the term ourselves. That said, the Washington Post recently conducted a survey of 504 Native Americans, seeking their views concerning the use of the term.

Many people found the survey's results surprising. This is the way the Post began its lengthy front-page report:
COX (5/20/16): Nine in 10 Native Americans say they are not offended by the Washington Redskins name, according to a new Washington Post poll that shows how few ordinary Indians have been persuaded by a national movement to change the football team's moniker.

The survey of 504 people across every state and the District reveals that the minds of Native Americans have remained unchanged since a 2004 poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found the exact same result...

Among the Native Americans reached over a five-month period ending in April, more than 7 in 10 said they did not feel the word "Redskin" was disrespectful to Indians. An even higher number—8 in 10—said they would not be offended if a non-native called them that name.
Many people found those results surprising. The Washington Post and the New York Times have each responded in a sensible way.

They've gone out to speak to more Native Americans. They're inquiring further about the way these questions are viewed.

In theory, it makes sense to talk to people if you want to know what they think about something. It seems obvious that this is the way a major news org should work.

That's why we were surprised by yesterday's column by the New York Times' Frank Bruni.

Might you have family or friends who are planning to vote for Donald J. Trump? "Don't ask them why and try not to know," the high-ranking Timesman advised:
BRUNI (5/25/16): I have many relatives who loyally vote Republican, regardless of their excitement about the particular nominee. There’s a definite chance that some of them back Trump. So I steer clear of talk about this election, though we’ve spoken plenty—and placidly—about every other election.

One of these relatives routinely pushes back at any Trump-negative columns I write, and I’ve convinced myself that he’s just baiting me and playing devil’s advocate. I’ve never said to him, point blank, “Are you actually voting for Trump?” And I won’t. It’s my goal to get to and through Election Day without learning the truth.
Just this once, let's be fair. Bruni is discussing his relatives here. Presumably, many people avoid discussions of politics and elections for the sake of family comity.

That said, it's odd to see a major journalist praising the goal of "getting through Election Day without learning the truth." Bruni's paper is trying to learn what Native Americans think about some significant topics. Meanwhile, he praises the goal of avoiding knowledge about the outlooks and views of Trump voters.

As he continues, Bruni stresses the fact that this is not his normal approach. We see the outlines of a societal problem here:
BRUNI (continuing directly): There are various measures of the chilling singularity of Trump’s candidacy, including the last two Republican presidents’ announcement that they won’t be attending their party’s convention, all the prominent G.O.P. donors who have publicly rejected Trump and the stubborn drumbeat among some Republicans for a third-party challenger, if only as a means to assure Hillary Clinton’s victory. These are extraordinary developments. We mustn’t forget that.

But another gauge of this freaky interlude is the number of us who are steadfastly avoiding conversations we’d normally have. We pride ourselves on not letting political arguments disrupt personal relationships. We have friends across the ideological spectrum. We esteem leaders from both parties. We value a healthy give-and-take.

But we can’t fit Trump into that. He’s a disagreement too far,
an enthusiasm too bizarre. So we’re treading lightly and maneuvering around him. We’re Trumping on eggshells.
Now he's avoiding discussions with friends! Bruni has every right to adopt this approach, of course. But it's a strange approach for a journalist—or for a spirited citizen.

More and more, the liberal world is adopting simple-minded, insulting approaches to those who dare to be Other. We don't ask them what they think. Instead, we tell them they're bigots.

This is deeply unimaginative. We'll guess that it makes lousy politics.

Why do (some) Native Americans hold the views which emerged from that survey? We don't know. We'd like to hear what people have to say.

Why are people supporting Trump? "Don't ask, don't try to find out," one major scribe seems to say.

It's a strange approach from a journalist, perhaps worse from a mere human.

RESURGENCE OF THE MUSIC MEN: A music woman named Gennifer Flowers!

THURSDAY, MAY 26, 2016

Part 3—The role of the mainstream press:
History teaches that Professor Harold Hill was the original "music man."

In fairness, Professor Hill wasn't a "snake-oil salesman" in the literal sense. He wasn't selling elixir remedies or other ersatz health cures which could actually kill you.

He was working a gentler scam when he went to River City in July 1912. He was going to sell trombones to the people of that town—real trombones which the people of the town were actually going to get.

As the leading authority has explained, he was just going to skip out of town without teaching the children how to play their new trombones. This scam broke down when he fell in love with the local librarian—who had learned, in another plot twist, that the so-called Professor Hill wasn't a real professor.

Uh-oh! Marian the librarian had researched Hill's claim to professorial status. Professor Hill had claimed to hold a degree from the Gary Conservatory, Class of 1905. But uh-oh! When she checked this claim, she learned that the Gary school hadn't opened its doors until 1906!

So it went when Meredith Willson told the story of the nation's original "music man." Already, you'll note a similarity to the first national-level Clinton accuser—to Gennifer Flowers, who arrived on the scene with thrilling claims in January 1992.

As it turned out, Gennifer Flowers was a music woman. As it turned out, she had made all sorts of fantastical claims which turned out to be—what's the term?—untrue!

The list of her fantastical tales was actually quite impressive. But just consider one of the claims which Jonathan Alter, writing in Newsweek, immediately shot down.

In January 1992, Flowers told the tale of her torrid 12-year affair with Arkansas' governor, a fellow named Bill Clinton. She told her thrilling tale in the pages of the tabloid Star.

She was paid $150,000 by the Star, with a lot more money yet to come. At the time, her salary as an Arkansas state worker was $17,000 per year.

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, Flowers' tale was thrilling. But uh-oh! One week after her story appeared, Newsweek’s Alter noted some problems with her thrilling claims. Among Alter's various fact-checks, you must consider this:

“Flowers claims she met Clinton at the Excelsior Hotel in 1979 or 1980. The hotel didn’t open until late 1982.”

Newsweek had been a bit genteel in its description of that alleged "meeting." In the Los Angeles Times, Lauter and Shogan described the problem a bit more directly in a news report which appeared that very same week:
LAUTER AND SHOGAN (1/24/92): Flowers' story includes several questionable points in addition to her previous denials. She alleges, for example, that beginning in 1980, while she was living in Tulsa, Okla., she and Clinton frequently would meet and have sexual relations at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock. The hotel was not built until two years later.
Oops! According to Flowers, she had been rutting with her lover in a hotel which hadn't yet been built. Seventy years earlier, the original "music man" said he'd received a degree from a conservatory which hadn't yet opened its doors.

So it goes when the music men—and the music women—spread out across the land.

It's important to understand several points about the way these matters work. These points will involve the role of the mainstream press corps in creating a discourse within which our contemporary music men have thrived.

First point:

By the time Flowers arrived on the scene, the music men were already back in force. Hill may have settled down with Marian, but his successors had swarmed on the land.

By the time Flowers arrived on the scene, our political culture was awash in bogus claims about major topics—substantive claims which had come to us straight from the mouths of our music men.

To what claims do we refer? For today, consider one set of substantive claims—the set of claims which led millions of people to think that the Social Security trust fund was a fraud, and that the venerable program "wouldn't be there for them" by the time they retired.

How widespread was this belief—a belief which had been manufactured by waves of bogus claims by waves of music men? In 1994, the Associated Press reported a now-iconic survey of voters aged 18 to 34.

“Young Americans find it easier to believe in UFOs than the likelihood Social Security will be around when they retire,” the AP reported. Among respondents, 46 percent said they believed in UFOs. Only 34 percent said they believed that Social Security would still exist by the time they retired.

In the past, we've endlessly discussed the carefully constructed claims which led so many people to this manufactured misperception. Today, we note an essential fact:

Those slippery claims came from a generation of music men. But those claims gained widespread purchase because the "mainstream press corps" averted its gaze from the relentless scamming in which the bogus, misleading claims were spread across the land.

In this way, the mainstream press corps enabled that scam. Before long, they were performing the same favor for the luscious Flowers.

They decided they loved her thrilling claims; they agreed to forget about her many clownish misstatements. By the year of Bill Clinton's impeachment, they were offering her as an heroic truth-teller—and of course, as a thrilling, ginormous babe (see below).

This brings us to the music men with the names Matthews and Fineman. Also, to the enabler who wrote this post, just this past week, about the source of all the false beliefs which now constitute Trumpism.

In fairness, Kevin Drum told part of the truth; he just wasn't willing to tell the whole truth.

You've been scammed this way for many years. Is Drum, who has the right name for the job, perhaps a "music man" too?

Tomorrow: Drum's post, plus the horrible Maddow

Just how luscious was Flowers: By the year of impeachment, a wide range of mainstream players were treating the music man Flowers as history's most reliable source.

We're speaking here about mainstream and liberal "journalists." We aren't discussing Republicans. We aren't talking about the Koch brothers.

Flowers was now assumed to be wonderfully truthful; she was also wonderfully luscious. Here's a tiny taste of Chris Matthews, AKA Trump-before-Trump, in August 1999:
MATTHEWS (8/2/99): I gotta pay a little tribute here. You're a very beautiful woman, and I— And I have to tell you, he knows that, you know that, and everybody watching knows that; Hillary Clinton knows that. How can a woman put up with a relationship between her husband and somebody, anybody, but especially somebody like you that's a knockout? I don't quite get this relationship...It's an objective statement, Gennifer. I'm not flirting.
Flowers proceeded to tell Chris all about the Clintons' many murders. In fairness, she was a knockout. It was an objective statement! Everybody knew that!

During these years, Matthews was building the world of Trump, with the trusty Fineman by his side. Drum would walk straight into the sea before he'd be willing to tell you.

In these ways, we liberals remain barefoot, silly, disarmed, clueless. On the bright side, careers remain safe. The music men rampage on.

Public school watch: Professor spills beans on Common Core test!


Why we can't have nice things:
How bad were those fourth-grade questions on that newly controversial Common Core test?

In this morning's New York Times, Tamar Lewin tries, and doesn't try, to answer that basic question.

Lewin is discussing a flap which has arisen about an ongoing national standardized test. Repeat—this particular national test is still being administered to students across the country. Despite this fact, a professor at Columbia got herself a snootful and posted some of the questions on line, making it very hard to evaluate students' performance on the test.

The professor had been sent the test questions by a public school teacher. Was something actually wrong with the questions? This is Lewin's full attempt to evaluate that claim:
LEWIN (5/25/16): The teacher who leaked the questions said in the original post that she was providing the material anonymously over concerns about “intense legal ramifications,” but felt compelled to tell others how “the high-stakes accountability system has deformed teaching and warped learning in many public schools across the United States.”

The teacher said the questions were inappropriate for fourth graders, exceeding any reasonable grade-level standards.

For example, the teacher wrote, one question prompted children to write an essay using passages from a book on sharks that is considered at sixth- or seventh-grade reading level, and of interest to students in the ninth to 12th grade.

[A spokesperson for the test publisher] said that, although the book in question was for older children, the passage was grade appropriate.
That represents Lewin's full attempt to evaluate the matter at hand. As she continued, Lewin reported the thoughtful, sagacious approach taken by the professor:
LEWIN (continuing directly): Professor Oyler said in an interview that she had not thought much about the fact that the test was still in use when she posted the questions.

“I was so angry when I saw the items that I wasn’t thinking about protecting the company. I was thinking about the importance of the public knowing what is going on in the name of accountability,” she said.

“These tests can determine which middle school you get into, whether you graduate, whether you’re retained for a year, so people need to know that the criteria we’re using for these huge life decisions are valid,” she said.
Professor Oyler was so mad that she went ahead and posted the questions. She didn't stop to think that the questions were still in active use around the country.

If she's been quoted fairly, Professor Oyler can only see her fiery conduct as causing possible harm to the test publisher. She doesn't consider the various school systems which may be trying to administer this test for perfectly valid reasons.

Professor Oyler got a snootful and posted the questions on line. Lewin made little attempt to investigate the basic question at issue. According to Lewin's report, furious partisans are now engaged in this latest culture war skirmish.

We live in an age of partisan fury. We don't speak for Paula Poundstone, but some say this helps explain why we can't have nice things.

A note on difficulty: Were the test questions really "inappropriate for fourth-graders?" We have no idea, and Lewin made little attempt to find out.

She quotes Michael Petrilli, an educational expert, saying the exams at issue are of "exceptionally high quality." As with all things, that may or may not be true.

At any rate, publication of the items will tend to invalidate results of the test. Inevitably, some students will be able to review the questions before they take the test.

This isn't supposed to happen with exams of this type. This is what teachers and principals have sometimes done down through the years when they've decided to cheat on standardized tests. (But only for the good of the children!)

A note on the difficulty of test items:

On some types of standardized tests, some test items are deliberately made very hard. This was true on the old "norm-referenced" tests like the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, which were designed to show how well a student performed as compared to a national norm group of students in his grade.

On tests like those, some questions would be designed to be very easy. These were included to draw distinctions among the kids at the lower end of the achievement range—among the kids in (let's say) the lowest twenty percentiles.

Meanwhile, some questions were designed to be so hard that very few students would get them right. Those questions were designed that way to draw distinctions among the highest-achieving students.

Presumably, these Common Core tests weren't designed that way. But if they were, the New York Times would surely never find out.

At any rate, Professor Oyler says she got mad and screwed the pooch on this occasion. Our "educational experts" tend to play it that way.

Demonization watch: Presidents Clinton and Obama!


Were they treated alike or different:
This past Sunday, Isaac Chotiner moderated a discussion featuring Slate's Jamelle Bouie and the New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb. In a new post at Slate, Chotiner describes the session thusly:
CHOTINER (5/25/16): The panel, “Race, Politics, and the Obama Presidency,” was initially intended as a look back at how the current president has discussed race during his two terms in office. But given the political earthquake that is Donald Trump...we ended up talking primarily about the ways in which race has shaped this year’s contest for the White House.
In what ways has race "shaped this year’s contest for the White House?" Below, you see an excerpt from the first Q-and-A with Bouie.

We think Bouie's comments tee up an intriguing question. Has President Obama been treated differently than President Clinton? Or were these two Democratic presidents treated in much the same manner?
CHOTINER: How has the presence of a black president for the past eight years played a role in Trump’s rise?

BOUIE: My theory of the case here is I think that Obama, as a person, represents for a nontrivial number of white Americans a sense of diversion from the political order, as they commonly understood it. And I almost have a bit of empathy for that perspective. One day the president of the United States is George W. Bush, most of the country’s political leadership looks like you, has similar cultural experiences as you, and then, all of a sudden, it’s completely different, and it’s completely different in what feels like a radical way. And it feels like a radical way, in part, because of all the rhetoric around Obama, both from the right—that he is a socialist, that he is someone who is undermining our [right to our] guns—but also from the left—from this idea that this now demonstrates that we don’t need a traditional voting base to win national elections; that we can win on the strength of minorities, and young women, and just a smattering of white voters. And if you look at the social science, what you find—in concrete terms—is an increase in the amount of what political scientists call “racial resentment” towards Obama.

So: Donald Trump, in some way, is almost spontaneously generated out of all this anxiety and fear and sense of dislocation among some number of white voters. He kind of captures their feelings; he captures their sense of loss that they’re no longer at the top of a status hierarchy that they just assumed had always existed. And I’m not sure if people are understanding this in conscious ways—I think it’s a very visceral and very emotional thing...
We'll try to paraphrase in a reasonable way. To our ear, Bouie seems to think that Obama received a unique type of treatment, at least from some "nontrivial number of white Americans," based upon his race.

He seems to be saying that the presence of a black president destroyed these people's sense of the political order. Here's his sense of this nontrivial number of people's experience:

"One day...most of the country’s political leadership looks like you, has similar cultural experiences as you, and then, all of a sudden, it’s completely different, and it’s completely different in what feels like a radical way."

It may be that some number of people did have that reaction to Obama. When Cobb follows Bouie's answer with his own, he quickly cites the birther movement which was dumped on Obama's head.

All through the Obama years, we've seen people express this sense—the sense that Obama was treated in something like a unique way because of his race. We tend to find this view frustrating, because we're so old that we can remember the way the last white Democratic president was treated when he ascended to office.

Thanks to Candidate Donald J. Trump, we're starting to get a reminder of the lunatic conduct directed at President Clinton during those years. Over at The Daily Beast, John Avlon recalls those lunatic days in a new post, which features an excerpt from his book, Wingnuts.

Has the treatment of Obama been crazier than the treatment of Clinton? Headlines included, Avlon starts like this:
AVLON (5/25/16): Donald Trump Revives the Crazy Clinton Conspiracies/
Hillary is about to face the same scorched-earth attacks that Clinton haters first fired a generation ago.

Hating Bill and Hillary Clinton has been a conservative cottage industry for a quarter-century. But ever since Bill’s self-inflicted sex scandals overtook dark talk about shadowy schemes in his second term, the most unhinged ideas about the Clintons faded into the fringe. Until now.

Donald Trump has grabbed hold of Clinton conspiracy theories with both of his tiny hands, shaking loose names like Vince Foster and introducing them to a new generation. There’s more where this garbage came from—festering heaps of paperbacks and VHS tapes that had been rotting in partisan landfills.

So let’s air the old accusations out and expose them to sunlight to show how ugly and absurd the work of the Clinton conspiracy entrepreneurs has been. In the second edition of my book Wingnuts, I added a new section on the unhinged Clinton haters and how they foreshadowed the era we’re living in now. Many of the names echo on in our politics today, from Roger Ailes to Citizens United to WorldNetDaily to an unexpected cameo by then-conservative Ariana Huffington. An edited excerpt is below.
That edited excerpt is worth reading, although it just scratches the surface of the craziness of the Clinton/Gore years.

There's no truck scale which can be used to answer our question, but we'll ask it again:

Has the treatment of President Obama been crazier than—different from—the treatment of President Clinton? Or was the crazy treatment of Clinton similar to that which occurred with Obama?

We've always seen more similarity than difference. Having said that, please note:

When Bill Clinton came to office, the new president of the United States wasn't "all of a sudden...completely different" from the white folk in question. Still, that new president was met with massive craziness. It's hard to argue that the reaction to Obama was really crazier than the reaction to Clinton.

For ourselves, we've always seen more similarity than difference. That said, many liberals don't seem to have been awake or alive during the Clinton/Gore years.

After driving the birther movement, Donald J. Trump is now reviving the craziness of those earlier years. We're also seeing how poorly equipped the liberal world is to respond to such matters.

As Candidate Trump rampages on, our basic question remains unanswered:

How about it—more alike, or more different? Unless we love narrative all the way down, the answer may actually matter.

RESURGENCE OF THE MUSIC MEN: One, two, many music men!


Part 2—It started with Matthews and Fineman:
Is Donald J. Trump a "music man?"

That's a matter of judgment. Below, we'll describe the conduct of the original "music man," a professor named Harold Hill.

Donald J. Trump may or may not be in Professor Hill's class. But last night, Howard Fineman seemed to offer an even tougher description of Trump on the Hardball "cable news" program.

The gang had been discussing some of Trump's array of crazy semi-claims: the claim that the Clintons helped murder Vince Foster; the claim that Obama was born in Kenya; the claim that Ted Cruz's father shot JFK and JR.

To Fineman, this goes beyond being a mere "music man." He offered a tougher assessment:
FINEMAN (5/24/16): Michelle [Bernard] put her finger on the way to go after Trump, at least according to the Democrats, the smart Democrats, I talk to, which is that he's dangerously crazy.


FINEMAN: I'm serious, Chris. The conspiracy things [peddled by Trump] are not tied to any provable reality. They have an element of hothouse nuttiness about them.

MATTHEWS: Call-in radio feeds on that stuff.

FINEMAN: Right. I know it does. But that's only one part of the country.

MATTHEWS: I know, but they're all listening and talking. Anyway, the roundtable is sticking with us. And up next, these three will tell me something I don't know.
Fineman offered the possibility that Candidate Trump is just "crazy." When he did, Matthews offered his trademark laugh. For many of these terrible people, this whole thing is still a big joke.

(On yesterday's Morning Joe, Katty Kay authored the official approved trademark chuckling when Trump was quoted crazily discussing the death of Foster. To people like Kay, the advance of the ludicrous Candidate Trump remains an entertainment event, a source of amusement and laughter, and of course a few ratings points.)

"I'm serious," Fineman said in the face of Matthews' trademark laugh. He cited the "nuttiness" of Trump's behavior, seeming to endorse the claim that the candidate may be crazy.

We've been suggesting a variant of that idea for some time now. If true, it means that Trump is more than a mere "music man."

We'll explain that term below. First, let's talk:

As a general matter, it's a very good idea to keep psychiatry and pseudo-psychiatry away from discussions of politics. But Trump's behavior is so strange, this possibility keeps forcing itself on the world.

Is Candidate Trump "dangerously crazy?" After Fineman spoke, Matthews noted the fact that talk radio feeds on the types of claims whose "nuttiness" Fineman derided.

Matthews then went to commercial break and the discussion ended.

Is Candidate Trump "dangerously crazy?" Is he "crazy" at all? It's hard to answer a question like that, although we'd say it's an obvious question.

That said, Candidate Trump is clearly a type of "music man." Let's discuss the meaning of that colorful term.

History's original "music man" was Professor Harold Hill. The good professor wasn't crazy. Instead, he was a con man and swindler, though also a lovable rogue.

According to Meredith Willson, Professor Hill showed up in an Iowa town called River City in July 1912. He had a minor con in mind.

Professor Hill was going to sell the townfolk a bunch of trombones, along with some band uniforms. The trombones were real, but the scam was this:

Professor Hill planned to skip town without teaching the local children how to play their new trombones. Instruction had been part of the original deal.

(Professor Hill had told the rubes that he would teach the kids how to play the trombones through use of his "think system." This claim was so manifestly absurd that Candidate Trump may adopt it, perhaps to explain how he'll get Mexico to pay for the wall.)

Professor Hill was planning to run a standard small-scale scam. He would have been able to pull it off because of the force of his personality, which made him an excellent con man.

Along the way, though, he fell in love with the local librarian, who looked just like Shirley Jones. For this reason, he decided to stay in River City and take his just desserts. When he did, it turned out that his think system actually worked!

When Meredith Willson revealed this history, a memorable term was born. That memorable term is "music man." It's just another name for a type of likable con man who's good at selling his cons.

Professor Hill wasn't crazy; it may be that Donald Trump is. But Trump is plainly a "music man." As it turns out, he's highly skilled at peddling ridiculous tales.

Could that skill get Trump elected? Yes, it actually could! But Trump is hardly the first "music man" to invade our political/journalistic culture in recent decades and years.

Over just the past thirty years, a wide of array of "music men" have helped create the nutty, crazy crackpot culture Candidate Trump is now exploiting. Many of these "music men" are well-known. Some of them are music women, with names like Maddow and Dowd.

Around the time that Professor Hill went straight, American culture was organizing itself against the depredations of the music men. To cite just one example, the FDA came into existence in 1906. This protected average citizens against all types of cons.

In theory, sets of political and journalistic gatekeepers were put in place to keep these nutty music men away from our highest political realm. Eventually, though, the music men found ways to start fighting back.

Candidate Trump didn't start this powerful resurgence, which now has him dangerously close to the White House.

Candidate Trump didn't start this disastrous resurgence. Along with quite a few others, though, Matthews and Fineman did.

Call-in radio feeds on that stuff? At one time, so did the cable show Hardball! That went on for quite a few years!

Fineman is singing the blues today. What was he doing back then?

Tomorrow: The stories you still can't be told

One pundit who doesn't do it: Joy Reid doesn't chuckle and shake her head about the amusements of Candidate Trump.

Reid seems to know that this is real. We respect her for it.

Public school watch: Concerning the role of Advanced Placement classes!

TUESDAY, MAY 24, 2016

Lexington versus Detroit:
On May 3, Motoko Rich wrote a puzzling report in the New York Times about the state of the public schools.

She focused on a new Stanford study; the study compares academic achievement by public school students with a measure of their socioeconomic status. At one point, Rich tickled the keys of one of our top pet peeves.

In what follows, Rich makes an important point about a type of relative disadvantage faced by some middle-class black and Hispanic kids. In our view, she's also working from script in the highlighted passage:
RICH (5/3/16): What emerges clearly in the data is the extent to which race and class are inextricably linked, and how that connection is exacerbated in school settings.

Not only are black and Hispanic children more likely to grow up in poor families, but middle-class black and Hispanic children are also much more likely than poor white children to live in neighborhoods and attend schools with high concentrations of poor students.

These schools can face a myriad of challenges. They tend to have more difficulty recruiting and keeping the most skilled teachers, and classes are more likely to be disrupted by violent incidents or the emotional fallout from violence in the neighborhood. These schools often offer fewer high-level classes such as Advanced Placement courses, and the parents have fewer resources to raise extra money that can provide enhanced arts programs and facilities.
According to that passage, middle-class white kids are likely to attend schools with other middle-class students. Middle-class black and Hispanic kids are likely to attend schools with a larger proportion of low-income kids.

For middle-class or low-income kids, this represents a possible form of disadvantage. "Schools with high concentrations of poor kids" may well confer serious disadvantages on a wide range of good decent kids.

That said, we're always annoyed by the scripted passage in which the writer notes that low-income schools "often offer fewer high-level classes such as Advanced Placement courses."

That's almost surely true, of course. But it tends to be offered as a snarky criticism of those schools. This type of criticism makes little sense.

Should anyone be surprised when low-income schools offer fewer Advanced Placement courses (or "gifted and talented" classes)? Consider the profile of two systems from the first interactive graphic within Rich's report:
Average achievement levels, two school systems, grades 3-8:

Lexington, Mass.: 3.8 grade levels above average
Detroit: 2.3 grade levels below average

Achievement gap: 6.1 grade levels
Lexington is a high-SES suburb of Boston. Detroit is a large, low-income city which is struggling just to hang on.

The achievement gap between the two student populations is both huge and disastrous. In grades 3-8, the average kid in Lexington is 6.1 grade levels ahead of the average kid in Detroit, according to the metrics of the new study by Stanford.

That's a gigantic, disastrous gap. And remember, that's just a comparison of the average students in those two school systems:

Roughly half the kids in Lexington (grades 3-8) are more than 3.8 grade levels above average! Meanwhile, roughly half the kids in Detroit are more than 2.3 grade levels below average.

For those kids, the achievement gap is even wider than 6.1 grade levels. That represents a tragic societal disaster.

That said, should anyone be surprised if Lexington offers more "gifted and talented" courses in grades 3-8 than Detroit? If those districts offered the same number of such courses, wouldn't someone be committing educational malpractice somewhere?

The relative absence of Advanced Placement classes may well disadvantage the higher-achieving students in a low-achieving school district. But it's obvious why such districts offer fewer such courses and classes.

That said, you'll often see showboating journalists snark about this state of affairs. It's an easy way to play the game. It makes us liberals feel good.

Markers of socioeconomic status: According to the first New York Times graphic, Lexington's students come from families whose median family income is $163,000. The corresponding figure in Detroit is $27,000.

Remember, income is only one measure of SES used in the Stanford study. Family structure and parental educational attainment were also used by Stanford in assessing students' SES.

And no—Lexington isn't at or even near the top in median family income around the country. You can see this by clicking around in the Times' first graphic.

Nor is Detroit at the bottom in median family income. Click around; check out our struggling world.