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SEND BACK THE CLOWNS! Rachel and KO and solons oh my! Can someone please send back the clowns: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2010

Coming tomorrow or Monday: Part 4 of our current series, “The fruits of a forty-year script.” We’ve bumped this series back due to the budget proposal.

Do you believe in Shanghai: Do you believe in magic? On the front page of yesterday’s New York Times, Sam Dillon reported a major educational success for China.

Maybe.

Dillon reported results from an international test of 15-year-old students—the first such test in which China has taken part. But the whole Chinese nation wasn’t tested or sampled—only some students in Shanghai. That said, this is Dillon’s overview of Shanghai’s apparent success:

DILLON (12/8/10): With China’s debut in international standardized testing, students in Shanghai have surprised experts by outscoring their counterparts in dozens of other countries, in reading as well as in math and science, according to the results of a respected exam.

American officials and Europeans involved in administering the test in about 65 countries acknowledged that the scores from Shanghai—an industrial powerhouse with some 20 million residents and scores of modern universities that is a magnet for the best students in the country—are by no means representative of all China.

About 5,100 15-year-olds in Shanghai were chosen as a representative cross-section of students in that city. In the United States, a similar number of students from across the country were selected as a representative sample for the test.

[…]

In math, the Shanghai students performed in a class by themselves, outperforming second-place Singapore, which has been seen as an educational superstar in recent years.

Shanghai is just one city in China. That said, the Shanghai students vastly outscored students from all other countries in math—and Shanghai also topped the list in both reading and science.

The question: Was this legit?

According to Dillon, Shanghai is “an industrial powerhouse…that is a magnet for the best students in the country.” But uh-oh! If Shanghai draws the best students from all over China, it’s hard to know how to compare its scores with those from other cities or nations. Later, Dillon described the efforts that were made to keep China’s testing legit:

DILLON: The testing in Shanghai was carried out by an international contractor, working with Chinese authorities, and overseen by the Australian Council for Educational Research, a nonprofit testing group, said Andreas Schleicher, who directs the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s international educational testing program.

Mark Schneider, a commissioner of the Department of Education’s research arm in the George W. Bush administration, who returned from an educational research visit to China on Friday, said he had been skeptical about some PISA results in the past. But Mr. Schneider said he considered the accuracy of these results to be unassailable.

“The technical side of this was well regulated, the sampling was O.K., and there was no evidence of cheating,” he said.

Mr. Schneider, however, noted some factors that may have influenced the outcome.

For one thing, Shanghai is a huge migration hub within China. Students are supposed to return to their home provinces to attend high school, but the Shanghai authorities could increase scores by allowing stellar students to stay in the city, he said.

A mutual friend speaks highly of Schneider, who was until recently in charge of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (among other federal programs). That said, we were struck by Schneider’s comments. Schneider says that he has been skeptical about some international testing in the past. Despite his view of the current situation, he notes that Chinese authorities could have tipped the sample of students from Shanghai even more than already occurs because it’s an educational “migration hub.”

He says there’s no evidence that China “cheated.” For the record, that means they could have.

Let’s summarize: Because of that migration factor, students in Shanghai “are by no means representative of all China.” And uh-oh! If Chinese authorities decided to cheat a bit in their sampling, students in this particular sample may not even be representative of all students in Shanghai!

Would the Chinese do such a thing? People! Of course they would! Are you sure the Australians could sniff a thing like this out? Crackers, please! In this country, we couldn’t even get the Taiwanese to stop cheating on the rosters they sent to play in the Little League World Series! In matters like this, countries like China almost surely will cheat if they can. It may not be easy to detect, though no cheating may have occurred.

The real story in China remains to be written. Beyond that, we’re intrigued by Schneider’s comments about all the results he has doubted before. For years, we’ve wondered how good the sampling is when organizations like PISA test students in countries all over the world. This was the first time we’ve ever seen a comment of this type.

Of course, you can’t trust a bumbling rag like the Times to help you decipher a matter like this. Yesterday morning, the Times performed one of its usual hapless tricks as it reported the U.S. performance on these tests.

Example: From this graphic in yesterday’s Times, you would naturally think that that the U.S. tied Ireland for last place on the current PISA math test. Sorry—that just isn’t true! Incredibly, the Times omitted a fairly good number of countries from the bottom of all three lists—reading, science and math. This creates a large misconception about where the U.S. placed.

Would anyone but the New York Times bungle such basic data this way? Truly, the D-plus elite at this hapless newspaper will always find new ways to amaze. By the way: On an international math test, how would a 15-year-old student score if he or she bungled data that way? Wouldn’t we all be wringing our hands about that student’s low math score?

For a look at all three complete data sets, click here, then keep on clicking. Questions: Do you believe in Shanghai’s test scores? In Gotham’s great New York Times?

SEND BACK THE CLOWNS (permalink): The performance by liberal elites has been little short of astounding in the past few days. Consider what happened when Lawrence O’Donnell interviewed Peter Welch.

Welch is Vermont’s sole congressman. After this week’s budget proposal was announced, he organized a letter of opposition within the Democratic House caucus. On Tuesday night, he appeared on Last Word to discuss his opposition. Rather weirdly, this was his first Q-and-A:

O’DONNELL (12/7/10): Joining me now, Congressman Peter Welch. Congressman Welch, thirty signatures on something this urgent is not exactly an overwhelming count. You’re at less than ten percent of the House of Representatives. What do you expect to happen from your effort?

WELCH: Well, the big issue here is the wisdom of this decision that the president’s made. Essentially, he is dealing with a very intractable Senate. There were 53 votes for his position, but you need 60. What he’s done, essentially, is reached an agreement where he’s given the Republicans the tax cuts they want—the estate tax, and then the tax cuts for the very wealthy. And they’ve given him the tax cuts that he wants, that would help some of the folks that the president is fighting for.

But at the end of the day, it’s $900 billion added to the deficit. That’s a real problem. People are not supporting adding onto the deficit.

Really? The “real problem” is the fact that this proposal would add to the deficit? Obama’s original ten-year proposal would also have added to the deficit, big-time. But very few House Democrats opposed it. And sure enough! Moments later, Welch’s position became even less clear:

O’DONNELL: Let me get something straight. This is a question I’ve been asking since this controversy started. Would you allow the Clinton tax rates to take effect on January 1 and have taxes go up for every taxpayer in Vermont in order to continue the jousting with Republicans over this issue? Or do you believe that December 31 really is the drop-dead date? New Year’s Eve, it has to be done by that time?

WELCH: That’s the drop-dead date. I strongly support continuing those lower rates for the middle-class, up to $250,000.

These Republicans are quite happy with crashing through deficit records. The same Republicans who are promoting this will vote against raising the debt ceiling to allow us to pay for this. They’ll oppose any spending programs that the president might have to extend broadband to rural communities, to maintain health care programs, to keep kids going to college. They’ll oppose that saying we can`t afford it.

The second thing is it`s a political trap, in my view. The trap is the same trap the Republicans have been laying so effectively for the past ten years throughout the Bush administration. Two tax cuts under President Bush on the credit card, the Iraq War, the Afghanistan War on the credit card, the prescription price program on the credit card.

Now this new stimulus program, $900 billion, on the credit card—the American people are really coming to the conclusion that, at the end of the day, they know the bondholders will win and the middle class and working Americans will lose. This is going to be paid for by our kids and grandkids. And there’s not a new bridge in this program. There’s not a new road. There’s not a new mile of broadband. That’s where the skepticism is.

Tonight, I had a telephone town hall meeting; 11,500 Vermonters called in. And I had folks who were farmers for 35 years, and they have incredibly tough times, a woman on Social Security. They said, “Look, if we can give something up and we know that it is going to help us meet our obligation, shared sacrifice, we’re willing to do it. They do not want to have everything be on the debt, on the credit card.”

Did Welch’s comments make any sense? As everyone knows: Under the original Obama proposal, “continuing those lower rates for the middle-class up to $250,000” would have been “added onto the deficit”—would have been “on the credit card, to be paid for by our kids and grandkids” And the cost of those tax cuts is several times larger than the cost of the cuts for the rich. But Welch didn’t seem to see the apparent contradiction, even as he said that his middle-class constituents want to “give something up…to help meet our obligation.”

Did any of this make a lick of sense? Was Welch proposing that we continue the middle-class tax cuts, but that they should be paid for? The analysts had no idea as they watched this puzzling session unfold. Nor did O’Donnell help us decipher this lofty congressman’s muddled meaning. “Congressman Welch, you bring that clear Vermont common sense to this,” he weirdly said, directly replying to that last quoted statement. “Everything you’ve said is absolutely unimpeachable.”

Moments later, O’Donnell did it again. “Congressman Peter Welch, thank you for your clear-eyed Vermont view of this. Thanks for joining us.”

Good grief! If that represented a “clear-eyed view,” what happens when things get cloudy? To us, the fiery Welch was utterly muddled; his statements seemed to make little sense. Mainly, he said he was upset because $900 billion would be added to the deficit—but he said he supported the middle-class tax cuts, which comprise a large part of that price tag. At the same time, he quoted his struggling, middle-class constituents; they seemed to be saying that they wanted to relinquish their tax cuts! They wanted to pay the price themselves, rather than dump it off on their kids.

The next day, in this interview with Ezra Klein, Welch managed to clarify things a tad—and as it turns out, he does support putting those middle-class tax cuts “on the credit card.” (Never mind what his yeoman constituents said!) By now, though, some of the analysts were in tears; others stared stonily into the distance. By now, the sheer incoherence of liberal conduct had truly been a thing to behold—a marker of the broken morals and intellectual sloth of the modern “progressive” “movement.”

O’Donnell has actually asked good questions this week, when he isn’t dramatically losing his temper about pet aspects of this proposed plan. But how bad did things get in the liberal world as reaction to this plan unfolded? On Tuesday night, no one was more incoherent—and more disingenuous—than Our Own Rhodes Scholar, Rachel Maddow.

But then, what else is new?

Tuesday night, Maddow devoted most of her program to the new proposal. His incoherence and incomprehension were astounding, matched only by her sense of absolute certainty concerning each word which fell from her mouth. She did catch one misstatement from Obama’s press conference—his apparently inaccurate claim that Republicans had been opposing extension of the child tax credit. But elsewhere, her own incomprehension was general. To wit:

Maddow seems to have no idea what the Alternative Minimum Tax is. Repeatedly, she offered variants of this absurd statement: “Republicans also got President Obama to agree to a fix in the alternative minimum tax.” (The AMT is subject to an annual “fix” which is completely non-controversial.)

Maddow seems to think Republicans tricked Obama into extending the Earned Income Tax Credit—a program which benefits low-income earners.

Maddow engaged in one of her classic truncated quotes followed by sarcastic sneering, doctoring Obama’s perfectly intelligible explanation as to why this particular matter was “a unique circumstance.” Having omitted Obama’s explanation, Maddow looked at the camera and snarked and sneered about his lack of same. (This practice is quite common on this miserable program.)

And then, there was Maddow’s weird interview with economist Simon Johnson—an interview which started like this:

MADDOW (12/7/10): Professor Johnson, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

JOHNSON: Nice to be with you.

MADDOW: Am I right that from what we know about this deal that none of it is offset, this is just $900 billion added to the debt?

JOHNSON: Absolutely. As far as we know, it goes straight into the debt. It expands the deficit. It’s completely irresponsible.

MADDOW: Give us a perspective on how big adding $900 billion to the debt is. Nine billion dollar is obviously a big number. All the debt and deficit number seem sort of equally big from a human distance. How big a deal is this in terms of adding to our debt problem?

JOHNSON: It’s a very big deal.

Very, very odd. All of a sudden, Maddow seemed to be upset by the very idea of any deficit spending. Did the lady understand that this new-found concern seems to represent a change in her long-held position? All year long, Maddow has targeted those tax cuts for the rich ($700 billion over ten years!), pleasing tribal libs in the process—without saying a single word about the much larger tax cuts for the middle-class, which would have added $3.2 trillion to those very same deficits. Suddenly, Johnson was saying that all such spending is “completely irresponsible”—and Maddow showed no earthly sign of seeing that this would represent a change in her own position. To all appearances, the lady was shocked, shocked to think that Obama would borrow money like that. In fact, Obama had proposed such borrowing all year long—and Maddow, playing tribal cards, had thoroughly seemed to support it.

Does this biggest of all cable frauds ever know what she’s talking about? Last night, she interviewed Frank Rich about the budget proposal—and Rich was rather plainly suggesting that this week’s loud Democratic solons had been full of old shoes. Maddow had been screeching right along with them, of course—in Tuesday’s interview with Sen. Sherrod Brown, for example. But Maddow did what she always does in these circumstances. Having seemed to agree with Brown on Tuesday, she now played along with Rich:

MADDOW (12/8/10): Joining us now is New York Times columnist Frank Rich.

Mr. Rich, it is nice to see you again. Thanks for coming in.

RICH: Nice to see you.

MADDOW: Do you agree with me that this is, at least, a potential political crisis here, that the president has had a break-up with his own party?

RICH: Yes, potentially. But I think there’s hypocrisy, too, on at least the part of the, some of the congressional Democrats because where were they pushing the White House when something might have really happened? During the campaign for the mid-terms, everyone was sort of—very wanted to see the tax cuts for the richest Americans and the super-rich expire, but it was really played down by many Democrats as well as the president during the campaign. Now, we`re in a lame-duck session with sort of the gun to everyone`s head, and so, the sort of rebellion of the congressional base seems to me a little—a little tardy and a little bit theatrical.

The Democratic rebellion was hypocritical, Rich said—a little tardy, a little theatrical. One night before, Maddow herself had promoted that same rebellion. But now, she pulled in her head and offered inane remarks about how Nancy Pelosi has gotten things done—inane because, as everyone knows, the problem for Obama’s original plan has always been found in the Senate.

Maddow is one of the biggest frauds ever dumped on the public. In this case, she has been dumped on us—the suffering souls of the liberal world. That said, Keith Olbermann has been equally clownish and clueless in his own screeching and yelling this week—and in his own interviews, where he too seemed to pretend that he didn’t hear when guests seemed to disagree with him. (We think of his Tuesday night interviews with both Ezra Klein and Rep. Bobby Scott.) But what do you expect when big corporations select our “progressives” for us?

How upside-down have things gotten this week? Last night, Chris Matthews batted Sherrod Brown all over the lot, calling out the sheer absurdity of his Tuesday performance with Maddow. Double absurdly, Brown is saying that Obama should give a few speeches in Maine, forcing that state’s Republican senator to flip on tax cuts for the rich. This is one of the most ridiculous presentations we’ve ever seen from a major pol. That much said, in a dozen years of watching Hardball, we don’t think we’ve ever seen Matthews clarify an actual issue. Last night, incredibly, he did.

Matthews actually clarified something! But then, things have been so absurd this week, even Gail Collins was spotted making sense in today’s New York Times:

COLLINS (12/9/10): “The American people are outraged!” said Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. He wanted the president to draw that line in the sand, let the unemployment benefits lapse, the tax code fall into limbo, and hold out until public opinion forced 60 votes to come around.

If you really wanted the American people to rally around no-tax-cuts-for-richies, shouldn’t we have had this conversation before the election? It’s a lot easier to send Washington a message at the polls than on a protest march in a sub-zero wind-chill factor.

No, we waited until now because the Senate leaders left the timing up to their members who were running for re-election, and the Democrats in question said they’d rather not have to go on the record.

Duh. Major Dem solons ducked a vote. Now, they’re pretending that things can somehow be salvaged if Obama would make a few speeches in Maine! How vast has the absurdity gotten? Even Collins and Matthews are suddenly getting things right!

Maddow’s a consummate cable fraud; Olbermann is no better. The corporate boys purchased these presents for us. After Christmas, can we possibly send these clowns back?

More on our side’s intellectual breakdown tomorrow. Truly, the liberal world has been behaving like children in this pre-Christmas week.