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OUR LATEST FIX! Maybe we’ll “fix” the New Orleans schools? What makes us think we can do that? // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2005

EXPANDING ON DRUM: We haven’t used the term “refugees,” and we pretty much doubt that we would have. (We also wouldn’t compare scenes from New Orleans to “Mogadishu,” “Haiti,” or “The Third World,” as people have reflexively done—most recently, Doug Brinkley, on C-SPAN this morning.) But we applaud Kevin Drum for his sensible statement about the term “refugee.” “I'm happy to stop using the word if it bothers people,” he sensibly says. But we’d expand upon that a bit; in our view, we should all be a little bit tougher on people like Rep. Dianne Watson (D-CA). Kevin quotes her recent, ridiculous statement—but fails to note how completely phony the statement actually is:
WATSON: These are American citizens, plus they are the sons and daughters of slaves. Calling them refugees coming from a foreign country does not apply to their status. This shows disdain for them. I'm almost calling this a hate crime.
Kevin notes how stupid it is to refer to this as a “hate crime.” But let’s go farther: Who exactly has called the New Orleans storm victims “refugees coming from a foreign country?” Answer: No one has made such a statement. Watson is pleasuring herself.

All liberals have a choice in this world; we can be liberals—or we can be pseudo-liberals. When people like Watson push nonsense like this, they distract attention from real problems onto nonsense designed to pimp their popularity. People are suffering—and liberals are peddling this crap? At THE HOWLER, we’re sick of “liberals” like this. We’re glad that Kevin jumped ugly.

OUR LATEST FIX: Let’s expand on yesterday’s post—about the pleasing stories we tell ourselves concerning the lives of low-income children. In his column in today’s Post, Gene Robinson quotes a credentialed expert about the future of New Orleans:

ROBINSON (9/9/05): New Orleans looks ruined and uninhabitable...But you can bet the city will be rebuilt. In their book "The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover From Disaster," scholars Lawrence J. Vale and Thomas J. Campanella point out that destroyed cities almost always rise again.

"The question is, what do we mean by recovery?" said Vale, head of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT. "Is it getting the hotel occupancy numbers back up in the French Quarter? Or is it fixing low-income schools or working on the worst housing problems? Who is going to set those priorities?”

Vale, a credentialed expert, discusses future priorities for New Orleans. Casually, he suggests that “fixing low-income schools” may be one of our choices.

We’re sick of reading statements like that. A casual reader might draw a false inference; he might conclude that we currently know how to “fix” low-income schools. As far as we know, we do not. Where exactly have you ever seen the nation’s “low-income schools” get “fixed?” Let us quote, one more time, the remarkable passage from that latest new study (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/29/05):

THE LATEST NEW STUDY: Young low-income and minority children are more likely to start school without having gained important school readiness skills, such as recognizing letters and counting. By the fourth grade, low-income students read about three grade levels behind non-poor students.
After three years, they’re three years behind! So why would a credentialed expert suggest that we “fix” the New Orleans schools? Where exactly have we ever accomplished something like that in the past?

As a nation, do we know how to “fix” these schools? As far as we know, we do not. And part of the reason lies in the ease with which statements like Vale’s are tossed off. For forty years, the mainstream conversation about urban schools has been driven by lazy statements like this—lazy statements which make it sound like success is pretty much there for the taking. Typically, these statements are made by lazy people who have never set foot in urban schools—people who have no intention of going into such schools to study what’s happening in them.

Have Lawrence Vale or Gene Robinson ever spent time in our low-income schools? Most typically, credentialed experts (and journalists) avoid such hard time, then toss off statements about “fixing” such schools. At THE HOWLER, we have spent time in urban elementary schools, and we have some ideas about what is correctable in them. (We plan to spend time discussing these matters in a new, urban ed web-site.) But experts and journalists won’t help anyone “fix” these schools under they go see what happens inside them. Jonathan Kozol makes a similar point in his current, must-read essay in Harper’s:

KOZOL (9/05): You have to go back to the schools themselves to find an answer to these questions. You have to sit down in the little chairs in first and second grade, or on the reading rugs with kindergarten kids, and listen to the things they actually say to one another and the dialogue between them and their teachers. You have to go down to the basement with the children when it’s time for lunch and to the playground with them, if they have a playground, when it’s time for recess, if they still have recess...You have to do what children do and breathe the air the children breathe. I don’t think there’s any other way to find out what the lives that children lead in school are really like.
Nor is there some other way to “fix” these schools—to see what produces the “failure to thrive” which leads us to that remarkable passage from that latest report.

We happen to know Kozol slightly—and we’d guess that we might disagree with him (slightly) about what causes that “failure to thrive.” But no one is going to “fix” those schools until they sit down in those little chairs, just as Kozol prescribes. We think Kozol may well be the greatest persuasive writer of the age. So who knows? Maybe his new book will persuade credentialed experts (and mainstream journalists) to sit their keisters down in those chairs and see what actually goes on in those schools. No one is will “fix” those schools until that occurs, however pleasing it may feel to say otherwise.
Maybe we’ll fix the New Orleans schools! Silly, airy thoughts like that have driven the discussion for the past forty years. It makes us feel good when we read such things—and it lets us go back to ignoring.

ALL HAIL E. J. DIONNE: Superlative—and important. Just click here. It’s essential—essential—to let people know what scripts are driving their discourse.

ALL HAIL JOE SCARBOROUGH: Joe Scarborough’s work has been simply superb in the wake of Katrina. But then, there have always been two Joe Scarboroughs. On the one hand, he has been the incisive, fair-and-balanced pundit who occasionally appears on Hardball. Then too, he has been the host of cable’s most vacuous show—until Rita Cosby’s new program came along. But all this week, he has been the Good Joe; he’s been smart, involved, focused, frank—and willing to tackle his own party’s interests and scripts. Last night, on the ground in Biloxi, he continued to criticize President Bush. In this segment, he spoke with Ralph Peters:

SCARBOROUGH (9/8/05): Rate leadership, Colonel. That`s what you have done in the past. Rate leadership in this crisis on all levels. How have they done?

PETERS: On every single level, Joe, leadership gets an F, for failure. And, with your background, you know that, when there`s an emergency and things go wrong, it`s usually a failure at one, maybe two levels. This is the first time I have ever seen failure from top to bottom and bottom to top, from the mayor of New Orleans and the local officials, right up to the president of the United States.

I mean, it`s stunning to me. And, you know, without being an alarmist, in all sobriety, we should all be very, very concerned that, four years after 9/11, with the formation of the Department of Homeland Security and that gobbling up FEMA, that this was the best they could do? I mean, what were they doing for four years?

So—so, I am really concerned. And while I am very disappointed that politicians are casting blame on both sides—let`s fix this first—but there is a military maxim that applies. And that`s that a leader is responsible for everything his subordinates do or fail to do. And the leader, of course, is George W. Bush.

SCARBOROUGH: Well, Colonel, that is surprising to a lot of people, hearing you say it, because you have been—like me, you have been a big supporter of George Bush. But I have been on the ground down here, and I can`t cut it any other way. He has failed. FEMA has failed. The government of Mississippi has failed. The governor of Louisiana has failed. The governor—or the mayor of New Orleans has failed...

PETERS: ...When you know a crisis is coming, there are three key components, resources, a plan, and leadership. God knows, this country has resources. We had fragmentary plans all over, but FEMA and Homeland Security never put them together. It was clearly inadequate for a disaster of this magnitude, admittedly a huge disaster.

But, Joe, you know, as you observed, I have been a supporter of President Bush, but I just got to come back with the fact that this is a failure of leadership. And I will tell you, I am personally angry.

SCARBOROUGH: Yes.

PETERS: And I don`t want a president who is taking six-week vacations anywhere when Americans are dying, whether they are dying in Iraq or Louisiana.

SCARBOROUGH: All right. Colonel, thank you so much. Greatly appreciate it. The buck stops at the White House. You are exactly right.

We will be right back with a lot of tough questions. Stay with us.

“I don`t want a president who is taking six-week vacations when Americans are dying” That is exceptionally tough stuff—and it was coming from two Bush supporters. But Scarborough has told it this way throughout. He deserves the highest praise.

And after that, a question remains—will Democrats be equally tough on their leaders? For example, Ray Nagin isn’t even a Dem—but many libs have rallied around him, pretending he’s a man without flaw because he cussed at Bush a few times.

Final point: In best press corps fashion, Peters decided to embellish his facts. Having decided he was angry with Bush, he jumped Bush’s vacation to six weeks!

HOWARD FINEMAN JUST KEEPS KEEPIN’ ON: Apparently, Scarborough will drop White House scripts faster than Howard Fineman will. The Newsweek sleuth offered this thought on last evening’s Countdown:

OLBERMANN (9/8/05): The media criticism [of Bush] from the right, some of which I read at the beginning of this segment—Novak as an example, the stuff in The [Manchester] Union Leader—it sounds like it would be a huge surprise, especially in the White House. Is it?

FINEMAN: Well, I think they were surprised, obviously, initially by the intensity of the politics of this, because they were late getting going on it to begin with.

The Republicans I have been talking to—and I have been focusing on Republicans—have said that it wasn`t only the late start of the president. It wasn’t only those critical 24 to 36 hours of his showing concern. It was that one photo. And it`s not the guitar photo. It is the photo of him looking out the window of Air Force One from 30,000 feet above as he is heading back east—a day late, arguably—to take control of the situation.

Strange as it seems, the notion that Bush went back to the White House “a day late” is likely a White House talking-point, designed to minimize Bush’s “late start.” Bill O’Reilly, who has shilled outrageously for Bush in this matter, has been reciting this point all week.

“A day late?” A day late—arguably? The first levee broke on Monday morning, August 29. Bush’s reaction? He flew west, to San Diego, for a speech the next day, and he didn’t head east from Texas until Wednesday. On Scarborough Country, Peters said he was “personally angry” about this conduct. But Fineman is still out there pushing the O’Reilly “day late” routine.

When should Bush have returned to his desk? Should he not have returned before this storm hit? Yes, it’s easy to demagogue this. But the notion that Bush reacted “a day late” is likely the best script the White House can hope for. Result? Last night, there was Fineman, expressing this view—while Peters and Scarborough voiced their anger.

OTHERS WHO SERVED: Other cable pundits have done superlative work in the aftermath of Katrina. Two were on Fox—but they got trashed by pseudo-libs all the same. We’ll plan to lay it out Monday morning.