Wednesday, March 28, 2012

PolitiFact rolls out new feature, continues to ignore selection bias

I've belabored the point that PolitiFact pushes its candidate "report cards" without owning up to the selection bias that is overpoweringly likely to skew the grades.

PolitiFact editor Bill Adair has been asked about selection bias.

Bill Adair probably (based on IP address trails) reads commentary here and at PolitiFact Bias regarding PolitiFact's problem with selection bias.

Yet minutes ago we get this:
It's spring, which means it's report card time. So we're unveiling a new feature that allows you to compare the PolitiFact report cards for individuals and groups we check.

Our report cards have always been a popular feature and often generate interesting commentary. Now, you'll be able to compare the report cards more easily.
Adair still won't inform his readers that the process leading to the report card grades is rife with selection bias problems.  Yes, Adair at least linked to a New York Times blog ("interesting") that provided the minimum type of disclaimer that PolitiFact should offer.  The other link ("commentary") was the sort of pointless statistical exercise that simply elaborates on the results of PolitiFact's fundamentally flawed process (the former link I gave a positive review, the latter author I've given a less-than-positive review).

Bottom line, PolitiFact continues to publish candidate "report cards" that appear minus critical context.  PolitiFact (allegedly) rules statements missing critical context "Half True."

PolitiFact apparently knows about its selection bias problem and is deliberately downplaying it.  Selection bias is not merely "interesting."  It is critical to an accurate understanding of the meaning of PolitiFact's "report cards."

Friday, March 23, 2012

PolitiFlub: The unaccountable redefining of "unaccountable"

Few things succinctly illustrate PolitiFact's incompetence than its routine re-imagining of word definitions.

PolitiFact's March 22 item on Mitt Romney's claim that ObamaCare "ends Medicare as we know it" (the parody wasn't obvious to PolitiFact, apparently) included a repeat of PolitiFact's insistence that the Independent Payment Advisory Board is not an "unaccountable" body.

What does "unaccountable" mean?

I'll put the bulk of the evaluation at the end (see "Afters"), but the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary provides the operative definition:
2 unaccountable (to someone/something)  
not having to explain or give reasons for your actions to anyone 
  • Too many government departments are unaccountable to the general public.
PolitiFact confuses the limits on the IPAB's power with accountability:
Is IPAB unaccountable? The answer is: No.

Members are chosen by the president and confirmed by the Senate. The board would not issue edicts. It would make recommendations. If Congress does not act on its recommendations within a set time, the recommendations are automatically implemented.

But Congress has other opportunities to intervene. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, the full House and Senate may consider amendments that change or repeal the board's recommendations as long as those changes meet the same fiscal criteria as the board itself uses. Congress is even granted a one-time opportunity to introduce legislation to dismantle IPAB permanently. This would require approval between January 2017 and Aug. 15, 2017, with the support of three-fifths of the members of the House and Senate.

So Congress has multiple ways to intervene. This negates the argument that its actions are "unaccountable."
PolitiFact's supposed negation of Romney's argument relies on making up a new definition of "unaccountable," something along the lines of "able to do whatever you want no matter what anybody says or does."

By the operative definition, however, the IPAB is unaccountable by design, name and definition.  It is the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

The word "Independent" does not occur in the name by accident.

The board is specifically designed to work independently of executive branch authority just like the Supreme Court (appointed by, but not under the authority of).  And it is likewise independent in exercising authority within its statutory limits without owing any reason or explanation for its decisions to anyone, including Congress.

In short, the IPAB is unaccountable by name and definition but PolitiFact can't figure it out.


Webster's New World College Dictionary
is the standard for publications using AP style.  PolitiFact publishes based on a variant of AP style.  Here's "unaccountable" as defined by Webster's New World College Dictionary:
Not accountable; not responsible
Not much help, is it?  Perhaps we can fill in the blanks with the definition of "accountable":
Obliged to account for one's acts; responsible
And there it is, approximately as clear as in the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary version.  The IPAB never has to account for its actions.  It was made explicitly independent.  Congressional actions that forestall implementation of IPAB recommendations are irrelevant to the accountability of the IPAB.

What does it say about PolitiFact that it can flub this issue with no less than a writer/researcher, editor and a team of three editors overseeing the final product?

Correction/Update:  Changed "'Medicare are we know it'" to "'Medicare as we know it.'"  The team of three editors that reviews my work prior to publication has been sacked.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The idiocy of Joe Biden

Vice President Joe Biden is prone to gaffes--no question about it.  But his claim about the audacity of the raid that resulting in the killing of Osama bin Laden takes the cake.

The claim isn't record-setting stupid because other military operations arguably more audacious than the Bin Laden raid into Pakistan.   It's record-setting stupid because Biden's emphasis on the risk involved in the operation ("We never had more than a 48 percent probability that he was there") makes it easy to frame the raid in terms of Obama's political calculus despite Biden's attempt to apply the reverse spin:
Do any one of you have a doubt that if that raid failed that this guy would be a one-term president?
Considering the fact that Obama routinely struggled in the polling against a generic Republican opponent in early campaign polling we're entitled to wonder if a failed raid would make any difference in the final outcome of the presidential election when the decision was made.

But if the operation was a success?

Indeed, the Gallup poll data show a short-lived lead for Obama over the generic Republican for the month when bin Laden was killed.  So, if the Obama campaign can just remind people often enough about Obama's signature defense achievement then it should help the President's chances for re-election.

Biden's words practically beg us to take the cynical view of the raid, that Obama was willing to risk the lives of U.S. servicemen to improve his prospects for re-election.

Zip it, Biden.  As much as we conservatives want to see the end of Obama's term in office we'd prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.  Just zip it.

PolitiFact's push poll resurfaces

PolitiFact continues to push the idea that ObamaCare is not so different at all from RomneyCare.  RomneyCare, after all, established an Independent Payment Advisory Board in Massachusetts to help control the growth of Medicare spending ... oh, wait, never mind.
To help you get ready for next week's arguments on the health care law before the U.S. Supreme Court, we will be publishing some helpful guides and summaries. For our first installment, we're re-publishing our fiendishly difficult quiz to see if you know the difference between RomneyCare and ObamaCare.
What a laugh!  What is it about the RomenyCare/ObamaCare comparison that helps somebody "get ready" for the arguments before the Supreme Court?  Did RomneyCare proponents justify a power to enact the law according to either the "necessary and proper" clause or the Constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce?  How much "interstate commerce" goes on within the borders of Massachusetts?

Tuesday's item was just an excuse to dust off PolitiFact's RomneyCare comparison push-poll, complete with the helpful hints from two past PolitiFact items where the port-listing fact checkers find "Mostly True" claims that RomneyCare is identical to ObamaCare.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Grading PolitiFact: Obama, Bush and the auto bailout

Context matters -- We examine the claim in the full context, the comments made before and after it, the question that prompted it, and the point the person was trying to make.
--Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter

 Apparently context doesn't matter much, depending on the subject.

The issue:
(clipped from

The fact checkers:

Molly Moorhead:  writer, researcher
Martha M. Hamilton:  editor


This fact check serves as an outstanding example of narrowing the story focus to fish a grain of truth out of an overall falsehood.

The incompetence is overpowering.  Note that PolitiFact frames the issue by stipulating that the $13 billion "given" by the Bush administration was gone "By the time Obama took office."   That bit of timing isn't mentioned in the film, so far as I can tell, though I was able to note that it used a Dec. 2, 2008 television news clip to emphasize the immediacy of the crisis faced by President Obama.

The film and PolitiFact omit a number of important facts.  First, GM received another $4 billion loan in February under the agreement worked out with the Bush administration.   Part of the agreement required the two automakers to submit plans for achieving financial stability by February.  The report of the Congressional Oversight Panel details the response from the Obama administration:
On February 15, 2009, President Obama announced the formation of an interagency Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry (Task Force), that would assume responsibility for reviewing the Chrysler and GM viability plans.
The timing is far more complicated than either the film or PolitiFact lets on, and the loans from Bush were not necessarily "gone" when Obama took office, particularly in the case of the $4 billion received by GM in February, though that amount is not counted in the $13 billion through the magic of cherry picking the facts.

Let's pick up with PolitiFact's telling (bold emphasis added):
On the subject of Detroit, car company CEOs appear onscreen asking for money in Washington, followed by pictures of empty factories and dire news headlines. The movie talks about the financial pressures on the new president and the unpopularity with the public of more bailouts. But Obama, [narrator Tom] Hanks says, acted anyway to help American workers.

"He decided to intervene, but in exchange for help the president would demand action. The Bush administration had given the car companies $13 billion, and the money was now gone," Hanks says.

Then President Bill Clinton appears onscreen to lend his voice.

"He didn’t just give the car companies the money, and he didn’t give the UAW the money," Clinton says. "He said you guys gotta work together and come up, and everybody’s gotta have some skin in the game here. You gotta modernize the automobile industry."
This segment of the film is not about the history of $13 billion out of a total of $17 billion loaned to automakers by the Bush administration.  It is fully intended to build a contrast between the incoming president and his supposedly irresponsible predecessor.  That point is extremely misleading, as we shall continue to observe.

Bush authorized initial loans to Chrysler and GM (and their respective financing arms) before leaving office, using money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Chrysler initially received $4 billion, and GM got $13.4 billion in bridge loans meant to keep the companies afloat for a little longer.
Apparently the math amounts to $4 billion plus $13.4 billion equals $13 billion.  And that $13 billion was gone by Jan. 20 even though $884 million was loaned to GMAC on Jan. 16.  It lasted only four days by PolitiFact's account.

Of course the excess $4 billion was loaned in February as described above.  You just don't get to learn that from the PolitiFact version of events.

Early in 2009 [mid February], Obama convened a task force to study the companies’ viability. Both were required [through the agreement with the Bush administration] to submit plans for getting back to solvency, but both failed, the task force determined. In the meantime, they were running short of money again.
Pardon my editorial counterspin--which shouldn't be necessary for a fact check.  Unfortunately it is necessary.  GM, by the way, received its last Bush loan on Feb. 17, two days after Obama announced his task force.

A report from the Congressional Oversight Panel details the chronology of the spending, including an additional $6.36 billion that GM received between March and May 2009.
The $6.36 billion does not include the $4 billion loaned in February under the agreement with the Bush administration.  Nor does it include $8.5 billion sunk into Chrysler by the Obama administration as part of its restructuring.  Neither does it include the $30.1 billion subsequently sunk into GM as part of its eventual restructuring.  Both the latter figures come from the Congressional Oversight Panel's report PolitiFact cited.

PolitiFact interviewed former Obama team member Steve Rattner about the bailout numbers.  PolitiFact presents Rattner as agreeing that the funds from the Bush administration were exhausted "before we really were in the saddle."  Rattner states that the loans from the Bush administration weren't intended to rescue GM and Chrysler but rather to tide them over until the Obama administration could deal with the situation.

PolitiFact does not totally ignore the film's point about Bush:
We also think it’s worth mentioning the implication in the video that the Bush administration did not put enough restrictions on the money. "He decided to intervene, but in exchange for help the president would demand action," narrator Hanks says just before mentioning the Bush loans.
In case PolitiFact isn't the only party who missed it, note that the filmmaker uses the quotation of Bill Clinton to hammer the point all the more.  It was the main point of the segment, and it was untrue.

What's the verdict?

The Obama campaign movie says, "the Bush administration had given the car companies $13 billion and the money was now gone."

It's important to note that the $13 billion was provided as loans, not as grants, as the wording might suggest.

Referring to the time Obama took office, January 2009, GM and Chrysler by then had received almost $14 billion in bailout money. News reports also reflect that the money was basically used up. So, that much is correct. But the movie ignores the fact that this was not unexpected. The Bush administration’s loans were always just a temporary lifeline, meant to keep the companies operating so the new president would have time to decide what to do long term.

This is important information left out of the movie’s extensive discussion of the auto bailouts. That the $13 billion was gone when Obama arrived was no surprise. We rate the statement Mostly True.
The film glosses over quite a few facts that PolitiFact fails to note.  The point of the film is the contrast between the president who demands accountability and Bush who simply gives money away to big corporations.  The movie's account of the auto bailout is thorough spin.  Fact checking isolated statements in the fabric of this filmmaker's fiction will never fully reveal the misleading nature of the narrative.

If Obama went against popular sentiment on the bailout then so did Bush.  If Obama demanded accountability then so did Bush, albeit the latter's attempt was hamstrung by the end of his tenure as president.

PolitiFact disgraces itself again by connecting the film's distortion with a "Mostly True" label.

The grades:

Molly Moorhead:  F
Martha M. Hamilton:  F

PolitiFact let the main misleading message of the auto bailout segment slide.  PolitiFact's reporting corrected a fraction of the film's omissions and shades on the truth.  PolitiFact's version is scarcely an improvement on the original.

But President Obama and his campaign might like it.  That's got to count for something.

Clarification:  Changed to "the film's distortion" instead of "this distortion" in the final paragraph of the analysis portion.
Update 3/24/2012:  Fixed a couple of bad links.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A risky strategy for the ObamaCare defense?

Reports have the ObamaCare defense team shifting its strategy as the case nears consideration before the Supreme Court:
A ruling that the mandate is unconstitutional could make it nearly impossible to implement other parts of the healthcare law — which is exactly the point the Department of Justice is highlighting in its most recent briefs.
Uh, wait.  Wasn't that exactly the point made by the Florida judge who found the entire health care law unconstitutional?

I'm surprised I haven't seen this point emphasized so far in analyzing the report about the DoJ's new strategy.  It seems to represent a risky approach using an all-or-nothing legal strategy.

Perhaps the DoJ is hoping the Supreme Court will adopt its traditional deference to the federal government.

If the Court would ever draw a line checking the federal claim to power, this may be the case.

Grading PolitiFact (Florida): The IPAB, rationing, and Pat Boone

PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.
--Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter

The issue:

(clipped from

The fact checkers:

Angie Drobnic Holan:  writer, researcher
Aaron Sharockman: editor


The Independent Payment Advisory Board is a "death panel" as Sarah Palin originally used the term.

PolitiFact is dead set against admitting it.

It's fun to watch the contortions as PolitiFact does its usual denial in the context of the Pat Boone television ad.

Here’s part of Boone’s criticism; it focuses on the law’s Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB:

"This IPAB board can ration care and deny certain Medicare treatments so Washington can fund more wasteful spending. Your choices could be limited and you may not be able to keep your own doctor. ... Washington politicians, like Bill Nelson, are ignoring the problem, putting their own re-elections first. Call Sen. Nelson. Urge him to support real Medicare reform and protect our seniors."

The ad makes several claims, but here, we’re going to specifically fact-check Boone’s claim that the IPAB "can ration care and deny certain Medicare treatments so Washington can fund more wasteful spending."
The statement PolitiFact chooses is obviously a compound claim, including the assertions that the IPAB can ration care, that it can deny certain Medicare treatments, and that some combination of the former two enable Washington to fund "more wasteful spending."  The obvious warrants mention because PolitiFact makes little effort to keep its treatment of the constituent statements distinct from one another.

Under the health care reform law, if Medicare spending growth is projected to exceed pre-set targets, the IPAB must come up with plans to slow that increase. If Congress does not act on the recommendations within a set time, IPAB’s recommendations automatically go into effect. (For a more detailed explanation of how this would work, we recommend this April 2011 report from the independent Kaiser Family Foundation.)
PolitiFact summarizes the function of the IPAB reasonably well.  The challenge comes from trying to identify IPAB recommendations that do not result in economic forces that result in the rationing of Medicare services, though there's always the option of ignoring the economic implications.
We should emphasize here that IPAB recommendations would not apply to any particular individual, but would be across-the-board policy recommendations applied to the entire program. Given Boone’s rhetoric, some people could get the wrong impression that the board would review individual patient treatments and deny care. That’s not the case.
There's nothing about Boone's statement that particularly suggests he's talking about a policy managed at the level of individual patients.  No statement is idiot proof, so PolitiFact's observation is effectively irrelevant without something straight from Boone that contributes to a misleading impression for a reasonable person.

PolitiFact (bold emphasis added):
Boone calls the members of the IPAB "15 unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats." Rather than career government workers, the law says IPAB members shall include people with national recognition for health care expertise, including "different  professionals, broad geographic representation, and a balance between urban and rural representatives." (Board members are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.) On the point of accountability, we’ll just repeat that Congress retains the power to overrule any IPAB recommendations, though there are special rules in place so that the recommendations cannot be filibustered or otherwise delayed. 
Though it's a bit of a digression, it is useful to point out PolitiFact's failure to address Boone's point about a lack of accountability for the IPAB.  The IPAB is parallel to the Supreme Court in some ways.  The board members have no constituency or higher body to which they are accountable.  It is an independent board.  It says so right on the label.  It is irrelevant to the accountability of the board members that Congress has a shot to overrule its recommendations.  That is a check on its power, not a form of accountability.
The IPAB has restrictions on what it can recommend in the name of cost savings. It can’t raise rates, drop beneficiaries or ration care. Here’s the exact language from the law itself:

"The proposal shall not include any recommendation to ration health care, raise revenues or Medicare beneficiary premiums under section 1818, 1818A, or 1839, increase Medicare beneficiary cost-sharing (including deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments), or otherwise restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria."

Boone says the IPAB seeks to reduce Medicare spending so the government can spend money on other "wasteful" things. But the IPAB is intended to slow Medicare spending if its growth exceeds pre-defined targets. It’s also capped on how much it can reduce spending: It can recommend measures to bring Medicare within specific cost-savings targets and no more.
1)  Given the second paragraph above along with the stipulation that the IPAB cannot recommend rationing, we again find ourselves confronted with the question of what IPAB can do to control costs--and whether those measures result in rationing after all.

2)  The third paragraph repeats the pattern noted above regarding Boone's point about accountability.  PolitiFact does not address the congressional option of wasting money saved through the implementation of IPAB recommendations.

3)  One continues to wonder what the IPAB can do to cut Medicare spending without encouraging rationing as a result.  The "pre-defined targets" are a soft cap on Medicare spending.  Capping spending directly encourages rationing of services.  If a family goes out to dinner with a cap on spending then it is price-rationing the meal.  If a dining-out IPAB finds a way to reduce the tab to bring the family's meal down within the bounds of a soft cap that is likewise a rationing force.  It's inevitable.  One can plan to stiff the server, but that route by analogy leads to yet more rationing in the health care context.

Our ruling

Boone said, "This IPAB board can ration care and deny certain Medicare treatments so Washington can fund more wasteful spending." Actually, the law specifically states that the board cannot ration care. The board doesn’t look at individual patients or deny individual treatments. Instead, it makes system-wide recommendations to rein in the future growth of Medicare spending, and it makes those recommendations within limited parameters. It also was created to stop runaway spending growth within the Medicare program itself, not to divert money to other budget items. We rate Boone’s statement Pants on Fire.
It's just crazy to render a ruling without giving a single example of a cost-cutting strategy the IPAB can recommend without some type of rationing occurring as a result.  If the IPAB can only recommend measures that lead to rationing then the ruling "Pants on Fire" cannot reasonably apply to Boone's claim.

Maybe the IPAB has tools at its disposal that will limit costs but PolitiFact simply failed to take note?

Let's look at the Kaiser Family Foundation summary of the IPAB to see if it helps answer that question.
The statute sets target growth rates for Medicare spending. The target is not a "hard cap" on Medicare spending growth, but if spending exceeds these targets, IPAB is required to submit recommendations to reduce Medicare spending by a specified percentage (discussed below).
There's the soft cap.  It's important to note that a soft cap is nothing like no cap at all.  The IPAB is charged to act any time Medicare spending exceeds the targeted goal.  The recommendations must reduce the amount of excess spending:
If projected growth for the implementation year exceeds the target, and the medical care component of the CPI-U exceeds the CPI-U, then IPAB is required to develop and submit a proposal to bring Medicare per capita growth within the target in the implementation year, subject to the applicable limits (maximum savings) on reductions described below.
Congress cannot overrule the Board's recommendations without substituting its own recommendations to meet the cost reduction goal:

Finally we get to see some examples of recommendations the IPAB might make (bold emphasis added):
IPAB is prohibited from including any recommendation that would: (1) ration health care; (2) raise revenues or increase Medicare beneficiary premiums or cost sharing; or (3) otherwise restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria. In addition, for implementation years through 2019, mandatory proposals cannot include recommendations that would reduce payment rates for providers and suppliers of services scheduled to receive reductions under the ACA below the level of the automatic annual productivity adjustment called for under the Act.16 As a result, payments for inpatient and outpatient hospital services, inpatient rehabilitation and psychiatric facilities, long-term care hospitals, and hospices are exempt from IPAB-proposed reductions in payment rates until 2020; clinical laboratories are exempt until 2016. These exclusions leave Medicare Advantage, the Part D prescription drug program, skilled nursing facility, home health, dialysis, ambulance and ambulatory surgical center services, and durable medical equipment (DME) as the focus of attention.
The above implies that price controls on some services and medical supplies will end up the IPAB's method of choice for controlling costs.  It is widely recognized in economics that price controls--price ceilings--reduce supply.  Reducing the supply results in a rationed market for those services or goods.

Put simply, text of the health care law is incorrect when it says the IPAB cannot cut costs via rationing.

Journalistic curiosity ought to prompt hard questions on these points--especially in a fact check.  One could hazard a guess that journalistic curiosity was anesthetized by ideology.

The grades:

Angie Drobnic Holan:  F
Aaron Sharockman:  F

The first PolitiFact Bias research project will suggest that all "Pants on Fire" ratings are unfair and the result of a subjective determination by the responsible PolitiFact teams.  Pat Boone's statement was neither false nor ridiculously false in any non-subjective sense.  It was at least somewhat accurate when considered objectively.

These journalists are probably either biased in favor of health care reform roughly along the lines of the ACA or else painted into a corner on this ruling by other PolitiFact rulings that were influenced by ideology.  It's hard to explain the collected set of rulings on health care reform any other way.


After publishing, I ran across "The Coming Medical Ethics Crisis" over at
In 2010 the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act established an Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). Beginning in 2014, the 15 presidential appointees on this board will determine what therapies, procedures, tests, and medications will be covered by Medicare, using advice provided by the FCCCER. Such determinations will then be used to design the coverage packages for the non-Medicare insurance offered through the government–run exchanges. The decisions of the IPAB are not subject to Congressional oversight or judicial review.
I have not corroborated some of the information from the article.  Read it all, and consider that the source is a doctor.  Then stay on the lookout for information that confirms (or contradicts) the details and don't say nobody warned us.

Update:  Altered the title and tags to reflect the fact that the fact check was done by PolitiFact's Florida franchise.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Reason TV on why the stimulus failed

Hat tip to Hot Air.

The video notes one reason for the failure of the stimulus bill that I haven't mentioned in my past criticisms:  Local governments used stimulus money to replace local government funds earmarked for infrastructure projects.  The example from the video had the maneuvering of the local government resulting in a net decrease in infrastructure spending.

I'll repeat an argument that isn't mentioned in the video:  Not all infrastructure projects stimulate the economy equally.  The interstate highway system created new infrastructure that private business exploited for profit.  Repaving a road allows for somewhat more efficient use of the same road--after the community pays a price in inconvenience while the work is taking place.  The first project created an unexpectedly strong stimulus for the economy of the 1950s and the 1960s.  The second project does no such thing.  Granted, I'm talking about long-term economic stimulus rather than Keynesian management of the economy.  The video, of course, provides a good number of reasons why the ARRA was a failure as a short-term economic stimulus.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Reminder: Death panels are coming

Via The Weekly Standard and Daniel Halper:
At a hearing today on Capitol Hill, Illinois congressman Peter Roskam had this question for Scott Gottlieb, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute: “Under IPAB, will healthcare providers ability to provide care to patients be affected by reimbursements being cut for particular services?” IPAB (the Independent Payment Advisory Board) is the fifteen-member board created by Obamacare to determine Medicare payments.

“I think it absolutely will,” Gottlieb said in response to Roskam's question.
 The liberal mind reacts and liberal eyes roll.  "That's not a death panel!"

It's a death panel in the sense Sarah Palin originally meant.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sandra Fluke's flawed arguments

The political Left's poster-child for the Republican "war on women" recently took up her mighty pen and vomited forth an op-ed in support of a woman's right to force others to pay for her contraceptives.

Fluke's argument ends up a case study in how to argue like a lawyer.  Shade the truth, appeal to emotion, distract from key issues, etc.  Examples follow.
I was proud to share the stories of my friends at Georgetown Law who have suffered dire medical consequences because our student insurance does not cover contraception for the purpose of preventing pregnancy.
An example would have been nice.  Probably the reader is expected to assume the existence of many legitimate examples.

When she spoke in front of Congressional Democrats, Fluke used as her example a friend with polycystic ovarian syndrome.  That friend couldn't afford "over $100" per month for her medication.  Here's how Fluke ended that story:
“Without her taking the birth control, a massive cyst the size of a tennis ball had grown on her ovary. She had to have surgery to remove her entire ovary as a result.

“On the morning I was originally scheduled to give this testimony, she was sitting in a doctor’s office, trying to cope with the consequences of this medical catastrophe."
Fluke's example appears medically incoherent.

First, the result experienced by her friend is not even listed as a symptom or prognosis of polycystic ovary syndrome.   Second, treatment does not prevent ovarian cysts, though it may reduce the risk of endometrial cancer. 

The Mayo Clinic website describes three reasons for treating polycystic ovary syndrome with medication:
  • Regulate menstrual cycle
  • Assist with ovulation (for those trying to become pregnant)
  • Reduce excessive hair growth or acne
What does the research say?
A few studies have addressed the possibility of an association between PCOS and epithelial ovarian cancer risk, and the results are conflicting but generally reassuring, and similarly the few available data appear to exclude a strong association between PCOS and breast cancer.
Fluke's key story takes an extremely questionable case of cause and effect and uses it as an emotional appeal.

Next example:
Because we spoke so loudly, opponents of reproductive health access demonized and smeared me and others on the public airwaves. These smears are obvious attempts to distract from meaningful policy discussions and to silence women's voices regarding their own health care.
Um, the volume of her message was the reason for the response from the other side?

There's some ironic truth, here.  The Left has used Fluke to change the subject from religious rights of conscience to the right to free contraception.  Fluke's op-ed hints that she's a willing tool.

Fluke's opposers want a meaningful policy discussion.  One that focuses on the issue of freedom of religion and rights of conscience.  Fluke's loud voice distracts from that.  Conservatives want Fluke "silenced" to the extent that her argument is a red herring.  It has nothing to do with her gender.
(D)espite the misinformation being spread, the regulation under discussion has absolutely nothing to do with government funding: It is all about the insurance policies provided by private employers and universities that are financed by individual workers, students and their families -- not taxpayers.
Here, Fluke misleads with a half truth.

The effect of the legislation is the levying of a private tax imposed by the government.  The government omits its role as a middleman handling the financial transactions.  Instead, it commands others to do its economic bidding.

Still no fact checks of Fluke by PolitiFact?  Just an uncritical posting of her remarks?

What a surprise.

I want that

Sometimes "album art" (term sliding into anachronism?) is absolutely spectacular.  This EP by "3weeksplay" qualifies in my book.

I wonder how many of those devices were manufactured? Or is it perhaps a relic of Area 51? I think I detect the technological inspiration behind the plastic badminton birdie in there.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Piquing PolitiFact: Ranting at PolitiFact New Jersey

Ever notice that PolitiFact finds it impossible to detect and expose various iterations of the Buffett Fallacy?

PolitiFact New Jersey stuck with the pattern while checking a claim by Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) that people making over $1 million/"these richest people in America" pay their taxes at the lowest rate in 80 years.

Take it away, me:
This fact check perpetuates PolitiFact's failure to fully report the story on income taxes.

Marginal tax rates certainly don't tell the whole story, as they kick in and apply only to income exceeding that taxed at the next lowest rate. Yet the story focuses primarily on the top marginal rate.

Then the story achieves a cockeyed sort of balance by talking about the effective tax rate--but only the effective tax rate for personal income taxes. The CBO estimated effective income tax rates a few years ago. For some reason PolitiFact is allergic to accurately reporting the results of that study.

Admittedly, it's very hard to find. One has to know how to use Google and how to type in "CBO" and "effective tax rates." Don't bother trying it unless your I.Q. is at least 160. You're bound to fail.

As anyone who can read a table can see, the CBO numbers for effective federal tax rates (which includes estimates for corporate taxation) do not support Rothman's claim. He's cherry-picking his data, in effect.

Explain to me why no PolitiFact franchise appears to have the ability to share this information with readers? PolitiFact is a disgrace.

It's truly mind-boggling that not one (so far as I can tell) of PolitiFact's franchises from National to Rhode Island has reported on the CBO's study of effective tax rates to put the progressive nature of the tax system in context.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

PolitiFlub: Fact checkers use grading criteria selectively on Gerry Connolly rating

Let's see ... how long ago was it that Louis Jacobson proclaimed in a PolitiFact National story that PolitiFact "consistently ruled in the past that the economy is too complex to assign full blame (or credit) for job gains or losses to a president or a governor"?

Not long ago, as it turns out.

Fortunately the ups and downs of the Dow Jones industrial average pose no such problems of complexity.  Consideration of cause and effect was apparently pitched out the window when PolitiFact Virginia rated a claim by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.):
"We’ve doubled the stock market from where we started when he was sworn into office -- Bush had gotten it down to 6,500. It’s double that today," Connolly said.
Connolly's wording certainly seems to push the cause-and-effect angle, but the fact check contains no hint at all that PolitiFact Virginia docked Connolly for taking credit on behalf of the Democratic Party and the Obama administration.  At least Connolly was generous enough to share with President Bush the credit for dropping the Dow to 6,500 while modestly withholding credit to a Congress controlled by the Democratic Party during the precipitous decline.

In the end PolitiFact rated Connolly "Mostly False" based on cherry picking a time frame inconsistent with the one he specified.  One sentence in PolitiFact's summary takes note of the claimed cause and effect relationship, but without the assumption that Connolly's "exaggeration" refers to the credit offered to Democrats rather than his fudging of the numbers it looks like Connolly isn't docked for offering dubious credit:
The Dow rose 55.5 percent from Inauguration Day to the day of Connolly’s statement. Two broad indexes tell a similar story: the S&P 500 went up 59.1 percent and the Wilshire 5000 increased by 66.1 percent. It’s debatable how much of the improvement can be pinpointed to the president’s policies.

So Connolly’s claim has a foundation that is cracked by the weight of exaggeration and cherry-picked data. We rate it Mostly False.
With Connolly's cherry-picking justification set aside, his claim was off by almost 45 percent--typically the stuff of a "False" rating using PolitiMath.

If one claims to consistently rule with cause-and-effect relationships taken into account then one ought to do so consistently.  It seems likely that PolitiFact Virginia did not penalize Connolly for his claim of causation; if Connolly was penalized then the story failed to clearly communicate it.

Don Surber: "The one chart liberals hate"

It’s the chart that makes liberals cry.

They say it is unfair.

They say it proves nothing.
 (read it all at the Daily Mail and get a fresh look at the chart)
Don Surber makes a very important point.  The chart, of course, is the infamous Christina Romer what our stimulus plan will do for you chart.  Yes, the one that conservatives often point to as the Obama administration's "promise" that unemployment would not exceed 8 percent.

While Surber emphasizes the failure of the stimulus to achieve its goals, I would draw attention to another related aspect. 
The predictive lines converge and intersect in 2014.

The architect of the stimulus told us from the beginning that we would end up with essentially the same employment picture in 2014 regardless of the stimulus.  Surber emphasizes the poor value we're getting for the money.  Perhaps more important, I'd argue, is the fact that the chart implicitly undermines claims that improvements in unemployment at this late date are attributable to the stimulus plan.

In other words, Romer's chart sticks it liberals and progressives who argue that so many weeks of private sector job gains show that Obama saved the economy. 

The chart predicts such gains regardless of the stimulus package.

Piquing PolitiFact: Who knew? Preventive care doesn't save money! (Updated)

The blogger with whom I share the PolitiFact Bias blog, Jeff Dyberg, discovered an apparent contradiction in PolitiFact's reporting on health care reform.

In 2009 and recently in 2012, PolitiFact ruled it "False" that preventive health care saves money.

Jeff discovered a 2008 story in which PolitiFact reported that preventive care saves money.

PolitiFact, 2008 (bold emphasis added):
Obama's plan essentially takes today's system and seeks to expand it to the uninsured. It creates national pools for individuals to buy their own cheaper insurance. It increases eligibility for the poor and children to enroll in initiatives like Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. And it has several strategies to rein in costs for everyone, such as streamlining medical record-keeping and emphasizing preventive care. 
 In 2008, PolitiFact went along with the accepted wisdom that preventive care saves money.

Perhaps the 2008 story needs a correction?  The responsible thing would be to let PolitiFact know about the problem.  How can they fix the problem if they don't know about it?

March 8, 2012:
Dear Angie Drobnic Holan,
cc Amy Hollyfield

My friend Jeff Dyberg just found something interesting, and it has us wondering. 

Here's what he found in a 2008 PolitiFact article (yours):

"And it has several strategies to rein in costs for everyone, such as streamlining medical record-keeping and emphasizing preventive care."

As you're probably aware, PolitiFact has since ruled it "False" that preventive care saves money. 

The question, then, is how PolitiFact's process led it from reporting as a matter of fact that preventive care saves money to fact checking the same claim.  Did the news cycle generate the question or did somebody at PolitiFact suddenly question the prevailing assumption without external prompting?

The secondary question is whether the 2008 item will warrant a correction.  I think we both know the answer to that one.  ;-)
 It's still early.  We'll see what happens.

Update 1: 

Jeff Dyberg notes in the commentary section that The New York Times weighed in earlier this month with a story suggesting that PolitiFact's first example of a cost-saving measure, moving to electronic record-keeping, may not cut costs any more than does preventive care:
Computerized patient records are unlikely to cut health care costs and may actually encourage doctors to order expensive tests more often, a study published on Monday concludes.
It's a good thing for the health care overhaul that there are still other cost-saving measures like the CLASS Act and the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

Piquing PolitiFact: No correction on lottery claim?

Does PolitiFact care if it misreports the truth?  It's hard to tell.  No, really.  It's hard to tell.

Last year PolitiFact published one of its "Pants on Fire" hit pieces on Newt Gingrich, focusing on two of his claims about the lack of restrictions on food stamp benefits.

Gingrich stated, in part, that millionaires may qualify for food stamps.  Here's how PolitiFact ruled:
Each of Gingrich’s claims about food stamps is so ridiculous -- especially for a self-styled policy wonk -- that we wondered whether he was really intending to be serious. (By publication time, we did not receive answers to several queries made to his press staff.) But the transcript makes it sound like he wasn’t joking, so we’ll assume he wasn’t. For being so ridiculously wrong in so many ways, we rate his statement Pants on Fire.

Update: After we published this item we heard back from USDA spokesman Aaron Lavallee. Lavallee said there was one case in which an unemployed Michigan man who won $2 million in the lottery was deemed eligible for food stamps by the state. He was later removed from the program. Given the isolated nature of the incident and the fact that he was removed from the program, our ruling remains Pants on Fire.
In the comments on PolitiFact's Facebook page I questioned whether the writer, Louis Jacobson, had confirmed any change in Michigan's policy.  Point being, if the policy isn't different then millionaires can qualify for food stamps and the rating is a sham.

As usual there was no perceptible attempt by PolitiFact to address the hole in the story.

Then last week a news report appeared about another Michigan lottery winner--albeit a winner of less than $1 million--who was receiving benefits through the food stamp program.  In other words, it appears that Michigan (not to mention other states) has not changed its policy and a millionaire with no income or a lottery winner may qualify for food stamp benefits.

As I love writing useless messages to PolitiFact writers and editors, I sent the following via email:
Dear Louis Jacobson,
cc Martha Hamilton,

I thought I had sent a message asking for confirmation that Michigan had altered its policy by the time the "Pants on Fire" rating was published for Mr. Gingrich late last year.  I apologize for apparently neglecting that duty, for it might have resulted in an earlier correction/completion of the record.

Of course you have the option of completely ignoring this story's impact on the Gingrich rating.  I doubt the vast majority of your readers will notice.
As is typical of the PolitiFact staff, I have received no response.  And the Gingrich story?  No change or update as I write.

How many millionaires will have to receive food stamp benefits before PolitiFact revises its rating of Gingrich and admits that millionaires can qualify?

One should have been enough to avoid the "Pants on Fire" rating, in truth.

Note:  An earlier version of this post included a paragraph that did not belong in this story.  I'll shortly publish the story that now (properly) includes that paragraph.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The importance of Breitbart's Barack Obama/Derrick Bell video

Fox News' "Hannity" program brought out the importance of the Breitbart video that features Harvard Law Review president Barack Obama embracing racialist professor Derrick Bell.

Hannity's guest Ben Shapiro pegged it:
"I think what is so important, honestly, what is amazing about this video in particular is this was seriously open to anyone. This was not hidden. We were actually able to find -- it was hidden by them, but it wasn't hidden from the media. If the media had really wanted to do the leg work, they could have found this stuff. They could have tracked down, you know, just what was this association with Derrick Bell. Meanwhile, they are checking, you know, Sarah Palin's random e-mails."

Shapiro's exactly right. The press prides itself, supposedly, on providing information to the people and fulfilling a critical role in the democratic process.  Yet during the 2008 election campaign the Rev. Jeremiah Wright story carried quite a bit of buzz. It was journalists at the television station who suppressed a part of that story, though we should note allegations that at least part of the video appeared on the PBS "Frontline" program.

A curious press would have started digging for more. The incurious press found things of greater interest--like Sarah Palin.

March 9, 2012: Corrected misspelling of Derrick Bell's first name in the post title.

Piquing PolitiFact: Journalistic ethics

On the heels of a related post, what do we make of the ethics of journalists who know they have published stories that contain errors and end up suppressing or ignoring the errors?

PolitiFact published a story purporting to fact check whether shark attacks in Florida outnumbered cases of voter fraud.  I posted an evaluation of that fact check, showing that cases where a felon voted illegally should warrant consideration for any reasonable tally of voter fraud numbers.  That and other avenues for fraud made PolitiFact's estimate of voter fraud in Florida into nonsense and the "Truth-O-Meter" rating a joke.

On March 4 I sent the following email to the team responsible for the story:
Dear Katie Sanders,
cc Angie Drobnic Holan

It's mind-boggling that the number of cases pursued for potential prosecution by the Florida Department of State was selected as an appropriate metric for the degree of voter fraud in Florida.  One might as wisely use the number of parking tickets issued to accurately reflect the amount of illegal parking.

The PolitiFact story might have been used to help inform people of the difficulty of enforcing voter fraud.  Our system makes fraud dead easy, and referencing a 1998 report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement might have helped a journalist explain the issue in some detail.  The problem is catching people once a fraud is committed.  Only the most inept attempts result in apprehension of a suspect.

Sure, taking the ACLU spokesperson in the sense relevant to this claim makes it harder to measure the number of times fraud has occurred in Florida elections.  But of one thing you can be pretty certain:  Election fraud in Florida has taken place more often in Florida than documented attacks on human beings by sharks in Florida waters.  Indeed, it's likely we've had more fraud in Florida elections since the year 2000 than we've had shark attacks in the last 500 years.

No pressure.  I expect the usual non-response and failure to take action from PolitiFact. 

My apologies for the low expectations, Ms. Sanders.  This is, after all, the first time I've written to you.

Is the story changed?  No. Have I received any reply from either Sanders or Drobnic Holan?  No.

Were the low expectations justified?  I'd call that a big "yes," at least thus far.

The story is unambiguously flawed in a very significant way and apparently PolitiFact intends to do nothing about it.

I'll update as needed, if needed.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Lawyer ethics

Is "lawyer ethics" an oxymoron?

One has to wonder at times.

After examining PolitiFact's finding that it is "Mostly True" that shark attacks outnumber cases of voter fraud in Florida, I ran across a voting rights site out of California that had posted without comment a link to the PolitiFact item.

I don't like seeing bad information on the Internet.  I messaged the host of the site via email.
Dear Mr. Hasen,

Sadly, the PolitiFact story comparing the number of shark attacks to the frequency of voter fraud in Florida is just another example showing why we should show a reluctance to rely on PolitiFact on matters of fact.

PolitiFact chose an odd metric for measuring voter fraud in Florida, using the number of cases deemed worthy of investigation by the Florida Department of State.

As an obvious example of the trouble with that type of metric, consider the fact that the PolitiFact-affiliated Miami Herald found that 445 felons voted illegally in the 2000 election.  That's from just 12 Florida counties.  Florida's had far less than 1,000 shark attacks over the entire course of its recorded history.

Literally speaking, the ACLU lawyer featured on the Colbert Report was literally wrong.  And if PolitiFact had bothered to focus on the underlying argument that voter fraud in Florida is not a significant problem then an honest account of the fact is we just don't know the extent of the problem thanks largely to the ease with which we allow voter registration and absentee voting.

Certainly you may have political reasons for wanting to highlight the PolitiFact story.  That's between you and your conscience.  The fact is that voter fraud by a reasonable measure is very probably far more common than shark attacks.

That was from March 5.

As of this writing, the blurb about PolitiFact's finding remains the same, without comment.

Is it certain that Hasen received my message?  No, it is not certain.  It's just likely.

What Hasen reports at his blog is true.  PolitiFact did find it "Mostly True" that shark attacks outnumber cases of voter fraud in Florida.  Since that finding is false, however, an actor like Hasen misleads others by posting the report uncritically.  And if Hasen received my message, recognized its accuracy and nonetheless left the PolitiFact post up on his blog without any caveat then he's a liar.

Does Hasen have a motive to lie?  Could be.

I have no problem with Hasen opposing voter identification laws and the like--so long as he sticks to the facts.  He should either attach a disclaimer to the PolitiFact post or delete it.

March 8, 2012:  Altered final paragraph, as the first sentence initially read "opposing voter rights laws--."  That version misrepresented Hasen's position, and I apologize for the mistake.  The new version better captures his position.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Grading PolitiFact (Florida): the ACLU, sharks and voter fraud (Updated)

Something about this one made me think of the old joke about the lawyer forced to swim through shark-infested waters.  PolitiFact Florida impressively confirms one premise of an argument while failing to note that the argument is fallaciously equivocal.  Indeed, the ACLU spokesman only utters the words.  PolitiFact provides the equivocal definitions.

Another great moment in the history of journalism.

The issue:

(clipped from

The fact checkers:

Katie Sanders:  writer, researcher
Angie Drobnic Holan:  editor


Is voter fraud a problem?

That's the central and underlying issue in this fact check, which stems from a case in Florida where a schoolteacher ran afoul of the law by not properly following new legislation spearheaded by Florida's Republican-dominated legislature.

The Colbert Report produced a non-serious treatment of the issue.  An ACLU spokesperson contributed in kind.

The video commits any number of distortions of the issue, but we'll focus on just one. 

One of the people Colbert interviewed for his sarcastic report is Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. Florida officials claimed they needed to pass the law to prevent voter fraud, but these cases are actually pretty rare, he said.
"There are probably a larger number of shark attacks in Florida than there are cases of voter fraud," he said.
Simon says there are probably more shark attacks in Florida than cases of voter fraud.  His statement is intended to minimize the problem of voter fraud, using the perception that few shark attacks occur in Florida to power his point.  Take a guess at how many shark attacks occurred in Florida last year before encountering the stats.

Simon doesn't merely rely on the potential for inaccurate perceptions about the rate of shark attack.  Better than that, he says shark attacks "probably" outnumber the number of cases of voter fraud.

What is a "case" of voter fraud?

The relevant understanding of "case" in this context is an instance or occurrence.  A case of mistaken identity, for example, is any instance of mistaken identity.

That understanding is not for PolitiFact, however.  PolitiFact takes "cases" and interprets it, at least in the practical sense, as the number of state investigations for voter fraud.  A "case" in this fact check is a  "case" in the sense of a designation by a state agency.

Does that equivocal drift in definitions affect the outcome of the fact check?  Almost certainly.

PolitiFact (bold emphasis added):
The shark attack figures include documented instances of sharks attacking human victims. The voter fraud cases indicate the number of cases deemed legally sufficient for an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Summing up the table PolitiFact provides, shark attacks outnumber the "cases" of voter fraud 72-49 over the past four years.  For only one of those years (2011) did the number of shark attacks fall short of the number of "cases" of voter fraud.

The fallacy in PolitiFact's reasoning comes easily to light.

For most of Florida's history as part of the United States it has prohibited voting by felons.  Every time a felon votes illegally, it constitutes a case of voter fraud--albeit not the phony representation of "case" settled on by the fact checkers.

Most often nothing can be done to prosecute a case of voter fraud against a felon who votes illegally even though it happens with some regularity.  The Miami Herald, for example, reported the following in the wake of its investigations of the 2000 presidential election:
At least 445 Florida felons voted illegally on Nov. 7, casting another cloud over a disputed presidential election already mired in legal challenges, a Herald investigation has found.

The tainted votes -- found in a review of nearly half a million votes cast in 12 Florida counties -- provide evidence that the presidential race was influenced by thousands of ineligible voters. Nearly six million voters in Florida's 67 counties cast ballots.
Got that?  The Herald found evidence that thousands of ineligible votes were cast in just one election.  But let's treat the numbers conservatively.  The Herald says at least 445 felons voted illegally--fraudulently--in Florida.  Add that 445 to the 49 "cases" of voter fraud listed on PolitiFact's chart and we end with a total of 494 cases of voter fraud.  The total documented number of shark attacks in Florida is 637 over its entire history as recorded by the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Who thinks felons failed to vote illegally at least enough to make up the remaining 143 vote difference?

Obviously the number of cases of voter fraud in the relevant sense are more than enough to outpace the number of shark attacks.  It is likely that ideology accounts for PolitiFact's eventual "Mostly True" ruling--not the facts.
The ACLU’s claim is true on its face, but we’re knocking it down a peg with consideration of a few things. One, the state’s count doesn’t represent a complete set of possible fraud being prosecuted in the state. Two, a "case" does not always include just one instance of fraud.
Three, the stat count artificially limits the number of cases of voter fraud in Florida by ignoring a number of sources of fraudulent votes.  Thus the ACLU's claim is not true on its face.  In addition, the ACLU argument misses the point that Republicans try to make in supporting strengthening of voter identification laws:  The law as it stands provides few tools to identify cases of voter fraud.  Nobody knows the full extent of voter fraud because of that lack.

About all we really know is that the cases of voter fraud are overpoweringly likely to outnumber the documented cases of shark attack.

Too bad we can't rely on PolitiFact to make the easy determination.

The grades:

Katie Sanders:  F
Angie Drobnic Holan:  F

This item receives the tag "journalists reporting badly."


PolitiFact could have used this fact check to educate readers about the difficulty of uncovering voter fraud.  Instead, it trivialized the issue to almost the degree achieved by the Colbert Report.

A few select comments from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's 1998 report "Florida Voter Fraud Issues":

FDLE's experience in recent years, including cases predating the 1993 and 1994 " Motor Voter" changes, suggests the areas that are "ripe" for potential fraud fall primarily into these categories:

Voter Registration Fraud: — Minimal identification and citizenship proof requirements provide ample opportunity for voter registration fraud. This includes specialized "changes of address" done solely to allow a vote in a particular election, when in fact, no actual change of address has occurred.

Absentee Ballot Fraud: — The desire to facilitate the opportunity for each person to vote has resulted in increased opportunity to use absentee ballots improperly. (Once one has registered fraudulently, he or she can obtain an absentee ballot for every election thereafter if he or she wishes. The lack of "in-person, at-the-polls" accountability makes absentee ballots the "tool of choice" for those inclined to commit voter fraud.)

Illegally or Improperly "Assisting" Others To Vote Their Absentee Ballot: — Those inclined to do so can capitalize on others' access to an absentee ballot by voting their ballot for them, often with the actual voter not knowing what has occurred. This offers tremendous opportunity for vote fraud, particularly to those who have access to the ill or infirm or those who do not have the ability to resist the influence of another as they are urged to vote in a "required" manner. It also encourages those inclined to commit voter fraud to seek to utilize absentee ballots provided to those whose interest in voting is marginal or non-existent.

Vote-Buying: — Securing votes by payment or other "rewards" or the "selling of one's vote" — is an age-old problem that still exists.

Once registered to vote, any person may request and utilize an absentee ballot without ever having to appear in person to vote. If the voter registration process does not require significant proof of citizenship, address, and identity, then those inclined to commit fraud will capitalize on the process by successfully registering those who have no right to vote, and then "facilitate" their (illegal) vote by absentee ballot.
To re-emphasize the key issue, these vulnerabilities in the voting system remain very easy to exploit and very difficult to detect once they occur.  Assuming that the number of cases deemed worthy of investigation by the Florida Department of State adequately represents the number of cases of actual voter fraud ranks as epic on the scale of folly (aka the Folly-O-Meter).

Update April 6, 2012:

A Florida television station airs a story documenting approximately 100 non-citizens registered to vote in Florida, at least some of whom voted in past elections. 

March 4, 2012:  Replaced "explain" with "exploit" in the final paragraph.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

The contraception deception

From the White House fact sheet on "Women's Preventive Services and Religious Institutions:
Covering contraception saves money for insurance companies by keeping women healthy and preventing spending on other health services. For example, there was no increase in premiums when contraception was added to the Federal Employees Health Benefit System and required of non-religious employers in Hawaii.  One study found that covering contraception lowered premiums by 10 percent or more. 
The White House tried to sell its contraception policy by selling it as a money saver.

Annenberg Fact Check found that proposition dubious even while checking the softer claim of cost neutrality:
Is the Obama administration correct when it claims its contraception mandate will be “cost neutral” for insurance companies? Or are the critics right when they say Catholic institutions will pay a hidden cost in the form of higher premiums when their insurers are required to give “free” contraceptives to their female employees?

We’ve found plenty of evidence. But it’s often conflicting — and ultimately inconclusive.
Others, including commentator Mark Steyn, have pointed out a very important dimension of the problem that the Annenberg article fails to address:  If the contraception mandate results in fewer babies then it will tend to exacerbate the demographic doom from which ObamaCare was supposed to eventually save us.

The notion that an all-powerful government would distract from its looming bankruptcy by introducing a universal contraceptive mandate would strike most novelists as almost too pat in its symbolism.
The degree to which the administration's cynical ploy succeeds in improving President Obama's re-election odds also serves as a measure of America's unwillingness to take the hard steps necessary to avert its looming fiscal crisis.

Bread, circus, contraceptives.


More reading on the deceptions of the Obama administration, the Democratic Party and the mainstream media.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

March Artist: Invisible Animals

Updating the music player in the sidebar this month, we replace fine guitarist Joe Beier with Los Angeles "post-rock" artist Invisible Animals.

I recommend the tune "Collider," which is probably different from anything you've ever heard and diabolically catchy.  This tune can stick in your noggin.

Other than that it's kind of hard to describe.  You should probably give it a listen.

PolitiFact's incredibly thin credibility

Sure, PolitiFact occasionally delivers some good information. But an abundance of problems keep PolitiFact from obtaining substantial credibility among conservatives, and liberal/progressive confidence in PolitiFact is on the wane for a variety of reasons.

One just can't ignore the evidence repeatedly. Things are amiss at PolitiFact. How can a fact checker make errors like the one we're about to examine? It just doesn't make any sense.

Yesterday's item on a Rick Santorum claim contained a reference to Lou Dobbs. Here's what it looked like at first:

A reader noticed that the reference to Lou Dobbs was dated and posted a message to PolitiFact's Facebook page. Dobbs works for Fox Business Network these days. Before long "PolitiFact" (often Angie Drobnic Holan) responded:

For those of us who follow PolitiFact closely enough to know its policy statements, the above message served as an indication that a correction notice might now accompany the story.  After all, the Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter clearly states:
When we find we've made a mistake, we correct the mistake.
  • In the case of a factual error, an editor's note will be added and labeled "CORRECTION" explaining how the article has been changed.
  • In the case of clarifications or updates, an editor's note will be added and labeled "UPDATE" explaining how the article has been changed.
  • If the mistake is significant, we will reconvene the three-editor panel. If there is a new ruling, we will rewrite the item and put the correction at the top indicating how it's been changed.
As of this writing no editor's note appears with the original story.  There is no admission of error and no notice that a correction was made after the item was published.

Is it a small thing?  I suppose so, in a way.  I often fix typographical errors without giving readers a correction notice.  However, I am committed to always providing a notice of any change that significantly affects the information in the post.  A misspelled name qualifies.  And certainly if I misidentified Lou Dobbs' employer I'd attach a correction notice.

But here's the thing:  I don't even have an expressed corrections policy.  I do corrections of fact because it's the right thing to do even though the transparency hurts sometimes.  It does serve as a fine motivation for reporting accurately on the first try.

The solution to PolitiFact's problem is very simple.  If the corrections policy calls for a correction notice via an editor's note upon finding a mistake then post one.

Otherwise change the policy so that it describes the actual practice.

Perhaps those who run PolitiFact have made the determination that adding a correction notice every time serves to undermine its credibility.

But the failure to follow a statement of principles isn't acceptable for a fact checking operation.  Is it?  By rights, the failure to follow principles deals the harder blow to PolitiFact's credibility.

Mar. 1, 2012:  Fox Business Network, not Fox Business Channel, as I initially put it.  No, I didn't make the mistake to make a point.