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MR. POTTER’S MINIONS! Two of our billionaire lords’ biggest tools played some Hardball last week: // link // print // previous // next //

Our elites just aren’t very smart: It never ceases to amaze. On a simple intellectual basis, it’s stunning to see how poorly equipped our highest elites really are.

Example: Kathleen Parker’s column in Sunday’s Washington Post. In this column, Parker accuses both major parties of “intentional manipulations of language to obscure truth.”

In fairness, politicians of both major parties do engage in such conduct at various times. But good lord! After giving a very solid example of such conduct by current Republicans, Parker offered a second example of “obfuscation through language distortion.” This time, the lady says, it’s Democrats who are at fault:

PARKER (12/19/10): Democrats are equally guilty of obfuscation through language distortion. How many times throughout the tax bill debate have you heard some variation of the following? Giving tax breaks to the rich will add to the deficit.

Pardon? How does money in someone's own pocket add to another's debt? This sort of logic is possible, of course, only under confiscatory rules of wealth redistribution.

Yet we have become quite accustomed through the repetition of this idea that the rich are somehow hurting the poor and disrupting the proper functioning of an engorged and profligate government.

Say what? Parker is offended by the claim that “giving tax breaks to the rich will add to the deficit.” But in a blatantly obvious sense, giving lower tax rates to the rich does in fact “add to the deficit.” (So does giving lower tax rates to the middle class!) Duh! If we adopt lower tax rates for some group, deficits in coming years will be larger than they otherwise would have been. This is a stunningly simple idea. But it has Parker bollixed.

Parker goes on to offer a muddy “example,” attempting to make her point even more clear. But her basic point is inane; her understanding is hopelessly muddled. One thing she says a bit later is true: Sometimes, statements by liberals do tend to “demonize ‘the wealthy’” in certain ways; this is often bad politics for liberals. But her basic claim is astoundingly bungled. Duh! Giving “tax breaks” to the rich (or to anyone else) will in fact add to future deficits. It’s stunning to think that the winner of last year’s Pulitzer Prize is bollixed by such a point.

We often call them a “D-plus elite;” in this case, that grade would be too generous. It’s stunning to see the way they reason, right at the top of a major nation’s journalistic pseudo-elite.

Special report: Mr. Potter’s minions!

PART 1—FLOCK OF MINIONS (permalink): It didn’t take Chris Matthews long to bungle his information.

Matthews was pretending to care about the country’s minority, low-income kids. He knew the way that pretense is expressed in the current plutocrat idiom. After playing some videotape of an especially loathsome guest, he got busy lauding her greatness, while scrubbing a few basic facts:

MATTHEWS (12/15/10): Wow! Welcome back to Hardball. That’s a clip from the great movie "Waiting for Superman," by Davis Guggenheim, which made a national figure out of then-D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee. We just saw her! She stepped down as chancellor in October in D.C. when the mayor who’d given her unwavering support was defeated for re-election. She’s now launched an organization, Students First, to continue to her missions of education reform.

Michelle, thank you so much for joining us. It’s great to have you on! I’m a big supporter of what you tried to do.

Chris Matthews is a big supporter of what Michelle Rhee tried to do! At least, that’s what a group of minions know they must say—much as Charlie McCarthy once knew what his boss, Edgar Bergen, expected.

Skillfully, Matthews scrubbed some basic facts as he welcomed his guest. Most strikingly, he forgot to say that Adrian Fenty, the D.C. mayor in question, “was defeated for re-election” this year largely because of the rancid conduct displayed by this much-lauded guest. In the bit of videotape Matthews had played—the videotape which made him say “Wow!”—Rhee had been shown, sarcastic and snarling, sneering about the D. C. schools. This is the clip Matthews played:

RHEE (videotape): You wake up every morning and you know that kids are getting a really crappy education right now.

INTERVIEWER: So, you think that most of the kids here are getting a crappy education right now?

RHEE: Oh, I don’t think they are. I know they are!

It isn’t that Rhee’s statement is necessarily “wrong.” But you have to watch the clip (just click here) to capture her snarling attitude. This attitude made a minion say “Wow!”—but it helped get Mayor Fenty defeated. Matthews knew that fact must be discarded as he lauded his guest.

Matthews was “wowed” by what Rhee said—by what she said in a know-nothing film made by a Hollywood know-nothing. He then did what he so typically does. He began bungling a set of basic facts, in precisely the way “education reform” elites expect their minions to do:

MATTHEWS: Michelle, thank you so much for joining us. It’s great to have you on! I’m a big supporter of what you tried to do.

Let’s take a look at these scores so the public watching right now knows the horror story that’s facing us. [Feigning anger] This is America we’re talking about!

A new survey of standardized test scores compares the knowledge and skills of a 15-year-old in the principal industrialized countries of the world.

In reading—that’s pretty fundamental—the U.S. ranks 14th, tied with Poland and Iceland. We lag behind Shanghai, Korea, Finland, Hong Kong.

Matthews was speaking about the Program for International Student Assessment (the PISA), an international testing program conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (the OECD). (At present, there are 34 OECD nations. Results of the 2009 testing were released two weeks ago.) In fact, the United States ranked 12th in reading on the test, “tied with Iceland and Poland;” for the record, the U.S. was tied for 12th out of 34 countries, a basic point of reference Matthews never cited. Meanwhile, Shanghai and Hong Kong aren’t “industrialized countries,” as real journalists probably know. In fact, neither jurisdiction is a “country” at all, although each took part in the 2009 PISA on a “partner” basis.

(Altogether, sixty countries and five “education districts” took part in the 2009 PISA. If you include all participating countries, the U.S. finished tied for 13th in reading, out of 60 countries.)

It’s not that American kids did super-well on last year’s PISA tests. (The PISA tests 15-year-old students.) In fact, “reading literacy” was the subject on which they scored best; Americans kids scored 17th in “science literacy” (among the 34 OECD nations), 25th in math That said, we were struck, as we often are, by the scripted thunder which poured from Matthews, especially compared to his obvious failure to prepare himself on this subject. Just a bit earlier, teasing the interview, he had made the following statement, once again feigning Outrage and Anger. Here too, his basic statement was false—but can we talk? To all appearances, Matthews doesn’t give a rip about this topic, except to the extent that he can repeat the scripts which come from his billionaire lords in Seattle and New York:

MATTHEWS: Up next: American students are falling behind—talk about a crying shame! And that’s having a big impact on our competitiveness in the world. This is the future work force, by the way.

School reformer Michelle Rhee is going to join us in just a moment and talk about—there she is!—what can be done about this creeping disaster of our kids falling further and further behind in the world in math, in language, in everything.

Matthews would soon be pimping other lines his billionaire bosses and owners prefer. But here too, he was wrong on his facts. In fact, American kids don’t seem to be “falling further and further behind in the world in math, in language, in everything,” at least if one judges from results on the PISA.

Are American kids “falling further and further behind?” The PISA tests are given every three years; the point of emphasis rotates among the three basic subjects tested. No, American kids don’t score at the top among OECD nations—but are they “falling further and further behind?” Below, we offer some basic bullet points from the Department of Education’s official report on last year’s tests. If Matthews had even glanced at this clearly-written report, he would have encountered these points rather quickly:

Science literacy: The U.S. average score in science literacy in 2009 was higher than the U.S. average in 2006, the only time point to which PISA 2009 performance can be compared in science literacy.

Mathematics literacy: The U.S. average score in mathematics literacy in 2009 was higher than the U.S. average in 2006 but not measurably different from the U.S. average in 2003, the earliest time point to which PISA 2009 performance can be compared in mathematics literacy.

Reading literacy: There was no measurable difference between the average score of U.S. students in reading literacy in 2000, the last time in which reading literacy was the major domain assessed in PISA, and 2009.

(Note: Because of a printing error in test booklets, no reading scores were reported for the U.S. in 2006.)

Is the U.S. “falling further and further behind in the world in math, in language, in everything?” In 2006, the U.S. finished 21st in science on the PISA—21st out of 30 OECD countries. Three years later, in these new tests, the U.S. finished 17th out of 34. In math, the relative standing of the U.S. was slightly better in 2009 than it had been in 2006.

You may not like those latest results. But we aren’t “falling further and further behind.”

American kids aren’t leading the world on these tests. Hacks like Matthews pretend to be outraged by this; as we’ll see, they then move, with lightning speed, to cast the blame on the nation’s teachers and their infernal unions. But it’s hard to make PISA data say that U.S. kids “are falling further and further behind in the world in math, in language, in everything.” Unless you’re a multimillionaire minion, that is, serving your billionaire lords.

This has been an ugly year in American discourse—a year which has bordered on evil. A film which is often shown at this time of year inevitably comes to mind.

In Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Mr. Potter is the richest man in Bedford Falls. He’s also the meanest man, and the most evil—and he wants to rule the whole town.

Today’s Mr. Potters are billionaires; they own a flock of millionaire minions. Two of their most reliable tools were seen playing Hardball last week.

Tomorrow—part 2: Minions on unions!