Tag Archives: mistermix

Updates On The Cheeseheads

Andrew Sullivan rounds up reacts

Christian Schneider at The Corner:

On Wednesday night, Wisconsin Senate Republicans did what most people thought impossible — they passed Governor Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill virtually intact, without having to split out controversial provisions that limited the ability for government employees to collectively bargain.

A letter Democrat Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller sent the governor today, indicating Miller’s unwillingness to further negotiate any details of the bill, was what prompted the GOP’s decision to take the bill to the floor.

“It was like, ‘I’m in the minority, and I’m going to dictate to you what your options are,’” said one GOP source about Miller’s letter. It was just three days ago that Miller had sent Fitzgerald a letter urging more negotiations, despite the fact that Governor Walker had been negotiating with at least two Democrat senators for nearly a week. “With his recent letter, it became clear that all he wanted to do was stall,” said the GOP source.

Another action that provoked the GOP senators to act was Democrat Senator Lena Taylor’s very public decision to have a spring election absentee ballot sent to her in Illinois. The spring election is scheduled for April 5th, which indicated Taylor’s desire to stay out of the state for another month. “That sure didn’t help,” said one GOP source.

The Wisconsin Constitution requires a quorum of three-fifths of the Senate in order to pass a bill that “imposes, continues or renews a tax, or creates a debt or charge, or makes, continues or renews an appropriation of public or trust money, or releases, discharges or commutes a claim or demand of the state.” For weeks, it had been known that Republican senators could separate the fiscal provisions of the bill from the proposed collective-bargaining changes, which were seen as non-fiscal. However, there was speculation that, if a bill was brought to the Senate floor that contained only the collective bargaining changes, it might not have the votes to pass.

On Wednesday night, the bill passed with a number of provisions that could be considered “fiscal,” such as the requirement that many government employees contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries to their pensions and pay 12.6 percent towards their health-insurance premiums.

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

The courage of the Wisconsin Senate conservatives cannot be understated. Before the vote, lawmakers were threatened with death and physical violence. After the vote, thousands of protestersstormed into the capitol building, ignoring announcements from police that the building was closed. Once inside, and at great risk to the public welfare, activists handcuffed some doors to the capitol shut. When security escorted the Senators to another building, a Democrat tipped off the mob, which then surrounded their cars and tried to break their windows as Senators returned home.

Senate Democrats, who are still hiding in Illinois, are now claiming that the majority’s committee meeting that broke up the budget-repair bill violated Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law. But the Open Meeting Compliance Guide clearly states that when there is “good cause,” only two hours’ notice is required. The Senate majority did provide the two hours’ notice. If the Senate Democrats’ 19-day refusal to show up for work wasn’t “good cause” enough, certainly minimizing the opportunity for union mob violence is.

The passion coming from liberal activists is understandable only if one believes in their apocalyptic rhetoric. Democratic Senator Timothy Cullen said the bill will “destroy public unions.” And Senator Chris Larson has said, “collective bargaining is a civil right” that if removed will “kill the middle class.” This is all false. First of all, since unions care more about seniority than good government, public-sector unions kill middle-class jobs; they do not protect them. Second, collective bargaining is not a right. And finally, Walker’s bill will in no way “destroy public unions.” Government unions are still perfectly free to practice their First Amendment rights to freedom of association, and in fact still retain more bargaining power than all unionized federal employees. They only difference is that now they will have to actively recruit members instead of forcing government employees to join them, and they will have to collect their own dues instead of getting the state government to take them directly out of workers’ paychecks. And there are many more benefits as well. Governor Walker writes in today’s Wall Street Journal:

When Gov. Mitch Daniels repealed collective bargaining in Indiana six years ago, it helped government become more efficient and responsive. The average pay for Indiana state employees has actually increased, and high-performing employees are rewarded with pay increases or bonuses when they do something exceptional.

Passing our budget-repair bill will help put similar reforms into place in Wisconsin. This will be good for the Badger State’s hard-working taxpayers. It will also be good for state and local government employees who overwhelmingly want to do their jobs well.

Even in good economic times, the case for government subsidies for radio stations, cowboy poetry, and union dues is very weak. But in a time of fiscal crisis, all of these subsidies are patently absurd. Taxpayers throughout the country should be inspired by Walker’s stand for common sense. We need more leadership like this in every state capitol and here in Washington.

E.D. Kain at Forbes:

And now conservatives have chosen public-sector workers and teachers as their hill to die on. They have followed the most radical voices in the party and the movement, and elected Scott Walker, Rick Scott, and various other Tea Party candidates. Heavily funded by big campaign donors like the Koch brothers and other corporate interests, the Republican party has made a concerted effort across the country to take on unions, public pensions, and social services for the poor.

Enabled by a strong school-reform movement within the Democratic party, emboldened Republicans have waged an all-out assault on teachers, public education, and public unions and masked it all in the language of school choice and accountability. And now, in Wisconsin, they have side-stepped the Democratic process and ended collective bargaining rights for public sector employees, even amidst huge protests and popular condemnation.

Republicans have a long history of union-busting and anti-labor rhetoric, but taking on teachers and cops is a big mistake. This blatant effort to weaken the Democratic party will have precisely the opposite effect.

The healthcare debate gave Republicans a chance to capture the narrative, spin the entire debate into one about fiscal ruin and deficits. Now Scott Walker has given progressives their chance. This is the Democrats chance to recapture that narrative, to turn the discussion back to the dignity of the middle class, to the importance of policies that do not simply push power and capital ever upward. This is the Republican’s Waterloo.

Nate Silver:

The quality of polling on the Wisconsin dispute has not been terrific. But there’s a general consensus — including in some polls sponsored by conservative groups — that the Republican position was unpopular, probably about as unpopular as the Democrats’ position on health care. And the most unpopular part of their position — limiting collective bargaining rights — was the one that Republicans passed last night.

Nor is the bill likely to become any more popular given the circumstances under which it passed. Yes, there’s some hypocrisy in claims by Democrats that the Wisconsin Republicans used trickery to pass the bill — they did, after all, approve it with an elected majority, just as Democrats did on the Affordable Care Act. Nevertheless, polling suggested that Wisconsinites, by a two to one majority, expected a compromise on the bill, which this decidedly was not.

One question is how much this might hurt Republicans at the state level. As David Dayen notes, Democrats will have opportunities to fight back almost immediately, including in an April 5 election that could swing the balance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, as well as in efforts to recall Republican state senators. Essentially all of Wisconsin outside of the Madison and Milwaukee metropolitan areas is very evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, so there could be a multiplier on even relatively small shifts in turnout or public opinion.

Andrew Samwick:

I refer to the passage of this bill as the end of the beginning — the opening salvo was to write the bill and find a way to pass it.  The next phase is to see if it can withstand legal challenges and recall efforts to change the legislative balance.  There will be some drama in that phase, but that’s not what really interests me.  The real issue comes in the next phase, assuming the law survives.  There will be two important questions:First, what will the strike that follows the implementation of the law look like?  Narrow or general?  How much support will the public sector unions get from other unions and non-union workers?  Will the disruptions to commerce be enough to get taxpayers and their representatives to fold?  Now that’s drama.

Second, what will happen in specific cases of local public sector employers negotiating with a stronger position?  Governor Walker defends his efforts partly as follows:

Local governments can’t pass budgets on a hope and a prayer. Beyond balancing budgets, our reforms give schools—as well as state and local governments—the tools to reward productive workers and improve their operations. Most crucially, our reforms confront the barriers of collective bargaining that currently block innovation and reform.

Suppose his intentions are borne out — teachers regarded as ineffective are not renewed, teachers regarded as effective are rewarded, or some combination of higher quality and lower cost emerges for people to see.  I am a strong believer that in a well functioning market, workers are protected by their ability to take their talents to another employer (Free to Choose, Chapter 8).  The key question will be whether the markets for public services at the local level function well enough for this to happen.  For an economist, that’s even more dramatic.

mistermix:

If the Wisconsin Republicans’ plan was to jam through the defeat of collective bargaining with a sketchy parliamentary move, they should have done it the minute that Democrats vacated the state. If that had happened, the howls would have been loud but fairly short-lived, since it’s easier to energize people when they’re trying to prevent something from happening, rather than complaining after the fact.

Instead, we have today’s trainwreck. Walker got his number one item, but he paid a huge price. He’s almost certainly a one-term governor. There’s a dissenting Republican in the Senate, and presumably we’ll hear more from him. If there’s a general strike, the union’s side of the case is now clearly outlined in the public mind. If the unions don’t strike, they look like paragons of restraint. And what about the recalls? No matter the outcome, they’ll occupy the press and public attention for the next few months.

The Democrats and unions took a sad song and made it better, as far as I can tell. One of the side-effects of our distraction-oriented media and low-information voters is that only one issue can be front-and-center in the public debate. Unions haven’t had much attention recently, so the slippery lies that blame them for all of our many ills have gone unchallenged. In Wisconsin, that’s not going to be the case for the next year or so.

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Filed under Economics, Legislation Pending

Pigford Bounces Around The Blogosphere

Daniel Foster at NRO:

On Jan. 5, 1999, a federal district court in Washington, D.C., approved a preliminary consent decree — essentially a seal of approval for a settlement — granting class-action relief for a wide swath of black farmers. Give or take an unseemly lawyer, it looked like the angels had won. It was a victory bipartisan in the making: Speaker Newt Gingrich had helped push through legislation waiving the statute of limitations for discrimination complaints, allowing the suit to clear a crucial legal hurdle. But the story was far from over, and Pigford v. Glickman would prove the settlement that launched a hundred thousand frauds.

The “Pigford class” — the range of individuals eligible to claim settlement money — originally was defined as

all African-American farmers who (1) farmed between January 1, 1983, and Feb. 21, 1997; and (2) applied, during that time period, for participation in a federal farm program with USDA, and as a direct result of a determination by USDA in response to said application, believed that they were discriminated against on the basis of race, and filed a written discrimination complaint with USDA in that time period.

Both sides acknowledged that the class size wasn’t likely to exceed 2,500. But the seeds of abuse were already sown. Despite the fact that the class was at first strictly limited to those who had “filed a written discrimination complaint” with the USDA, the settlement crucially allowed that most members of the class lacked any documentation of these complaints, purportedly owing to poor record-keeping by the USDA. So the resolution mechanism offered potential claimants two “tracks” toward settlement money. Track B required a higher bar for evidence — the “preponderance” standard traditional in civil actions, demonstrated during one-day “mini-trials” before court-appointed arbitrators — but it came with no cap on potential awards. Track A provided, in the words of the case’s judge, “those class members with little or no documentary evidence with a virtually automatic cash payment of $50,000, and forgiveness of debt owed to the USDA.” Track A claimants would also get their taxes on that debt paid directly to the IRS for them, and priority consideration on their next USDA loan application.

To get their checks, Track A claimants were required to show court-appointed facilitators “substantial evidence” that they had had “communication” with the USDA, a member of Congress, the White House, or any federal, state, county, or local official regarding a discrimination complaint. How “substantial”? According to the consent decree, “something more than a ‘mere scintilla’” — in practice, as little as the corroboration of one’s story by a single individual who was not immediate family. The definitions of “communication” and “complaint” were stretched as well: Under the agreement, even participating in a “listening session” with USDA officials was as good as filing a discrimination complaint. And in cases where there was no documentary evidence whatsoever of communication with the USDA, a popular defense was for claimants to explain that USDA officers would not even give them the forms and applications they requested — in one fell swoop both demonstrating the discrimination and accounting for the lack of a paper trail. Thus could blacks who had never cultivated land they’d owned or rented — who in point of fact might never have mown a lawn or tended to a shrub — claim that systemic racism thwarted their farming careers before they ever started. Such claimants came to be known as the “attempted to farm” class, and by some estimates as many as 92 percent of all Pigford filers marched under their banner.

Conor Friedersdorf at Sullivan’s place:

In the current issue of National Review, Daniel Foster has a long piece on Pigford vs. Glickman. As Wikipedia notes, the Pigford case is “a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), alleging racial discrimination in its allocation of farm loans and assistance between 1983 and 1997. The lawsuit ended with a settlement in which the U.S. government agreed to pay African American farmers US$50,000 each if they had attempted to get USDA help but failed. To date, almost US$1 billion has been paid or credited to the farmers under the settlement’s consent decree.”

As Salonexplains, the case is a matter of public controversy largely because Andrew Breitbart has become obsessed with it. His allegation is that the payout is rife with fraud and political corruption. I haven’t mentioned the matter before because having witnessed Breitbart’s carelessness with facts, the egregiously sloppy journalism he publishes on a daily basis, and his hubristic, immoral, “ends justify the means” approach to activism, I have serious doubts about his integrity and a strong conviction that his ethical compass is broken. More to the point, I just can’t trust a damn thing he publishes, and having discredited himself on a national scale in the Shirley Sherrod case, a lot of others agree.

But I’ve enjoyed Foster’s work for awhile now, and critical as I’ve been of a couple colleagues he works with at NR, the publication retains the ability to publish solid pieces, especially the ones prepped for print.

Although I can’t personally vouch for the facts in his Pigford story, having never reported on the matter myself, it reads like a solid piece – one that raises serious questions worthy of scrutiny. Alas, it is behind National Review’s paywall, and that presents a problem: As press coverage of the Pigford case increases – Breitbart is touting it singlemindedly at CPAC, and the stories are inevitable – the conversation is starting to focus is on the man whose heat-to-light ratio detracts from a cool-headed assessment of facts more than anyone in America. One purpose of this post is to suggest that we’d all be better off focusing the discussion on the NR piece, paywall or no. Certainly, liberal bloggers writing about the matter should acquire access to it. I’d be curious to see if they have a persuasive rebuttal. If so, I’ll air it here. And if not – if the Foster piece has everything right – the story definitely merits attention.

Here’s a very brief summary:

– Everyone agrees that between 1983 and 1997, the USDA discriminated against black farmers.

– The class action lawsuit made eligible for compensation farmers or aspiring farmers whose interests were harmed due to USDA discrimination. (There were other requirements too, but forget that for a moment.)

– According to Foster’s piece, a 1997 census study found a total of 18,500 black farmers nationwide.

– Yet there are nearly 100,000 claimants in the Pigford case.

There’s a lot more to Foster’s story, and this matter generally. But that gap between the number of claiments and the total number of black farmers in America is what struck me. If accurate it suggests widespread fraud.

A word about the bigger picture.

There are conservative bloggers expressing outrage that Americans haven’t been told more about this story. It’s worth pondering that reaction. It’s understandable: the misuse of public funds is always a legitimate story, and I hope this one gets reported out if that’s what has happened. But the fact that Americans have never heard of the Pigford case before now is most damning because it means we were utterly ignorant of the fact that the federal government was discriminating against thousands of blacks for almost 15 years, and as recently as the late 1990s! That is far more troubling than the possibility that private citizens perpetrated fraud on a poorly conceived settlement (though it doesn’t excuse it).

One narrative taking hold is that the Pigford case is about political correctness – that the fraud is “reparations in disguise,” and is enabled by a mainstream media willing to look the other way rather than inform the public about an injustice. Anyone spreading that narrative ought to remember that although the federal government’s racism against some Pigford claimants has been written about some in the media, it remains an obscure story known to very few people – and most of them didn’t show any interest in the story until it fit into the narrative of PC excess and the left buying off votes.

There’s nothing wrong or unnatural about political adversaries tuning into a story when their opponents may be guilty of corruption. A rare benefit of partisanship is that it creates an incentive to expose bad behavior. And the rest of us shouldn’t care about their motives insofar as it affects how we go forward– if fraud has been perpetrated on a large scale, better that we learn about it if only to prevent the same sort of thing in the future. Had the federal government discriminated for years against black farmers, however, then paid them off efficiently and without fraud, the vast majority of people in the conservative movement – and most of America along with them  – would’ve ignored the whole Pigford matter entirely. Is that the mark of a society overrun by political correctness?

Surely outrage is warranted for the initial discrimination.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

This is where you see “conservative” effectively becoming a synonym for “white populist.” You would think that the government discriminating against a class of farmers over 15 years, under three different presidential administrations, from two different parties, not in the distant, but recently, would be a pet cause for people disturbed by the overreach of government. In fact those who claim that banner, are disturbed by the remedy applied–not the problem, itself.

I’m reminded of David Brooks, lamenting the fact that Sonia Sotamayor didn’t go to school in the ’50s, while neglecting to mention that her alma mater (Princeton) didn’t even admit women until a decade later. The opportunistic rush to elide hard problems, in order to disparage imperfect, and perhaps even wrongheaded, solutions is an essential feature of modern conservative. In regards to blacks it shows itself in this sense that racism–even government-sponsored racism–isn’t actually a problem, people trying to fix it are a problem.

Mark Thompson at The League:

These concerns are poppycock – it is simply not the case that the discrepancy between the number of claimants and the number of black farmers in 1997 “suggests widespread fraud.”  As mistermix correctly points out, some very rudimentary fact-checking provides the answers to a lot of these concerns.*

For starters, this reporting elides the extreme severity of discrimination against black farmer, especially as perpetrated by the USDA: the average market value of a farm operated by a black farmer is only about 20% of the market value of an average farm operated by a white farmer, and even in 2007 black farmers applying for federal loans were able to receive loans of only about 1/3 of the amount of the average federal loan provided to white farmers.  Notably, in its settlement agreement in Pigford I, the USDA expressly refused to agree that it would cease discrimination against black farmers in its loan programs.

Second, using the number of black-owned farms extant in 1997 as the sole baseline for comparison is absurd on its face, particularly in light of the fact that the number of black-owned farms declined by almost 50% between 1983 and 1997, and in light of the fact that the settlements cover discrimination over a 15 year period.  At the very least, then, the far more appropriate benchmark would need to be 33,250, the number of black-owned farms existing in 1983.

Third, the settlement quite appropriately covers not only actual farmers but also people who sought to acquire or start a farm and applied for a loan from the USDA.  These persons would never appear in statistics of “black farmers” since, by definition, they needed the loans to become farmers.

Fourth, until 2002, no statistical distinction was made between “black farmers” and “black-owned farms,” which is important in light of the fact that any farmer would have been eligible to apply for one of these loans.  We do know that when this distinction started to be made, in 2002, there were at least 50% more “black farmers” than “black-0wned farms.”  Assuming these statistics would have been similar in 1982, then the number of “black farmers” in 1983 would have been at least 50,000.

Fifth, these claims ignore the possibility of farms changing ownership during that 15 year period, thus creating multiple possible claimants.

Sixth, nowhere in Conor’s post or Breitbart’s original reporting is there a mention of the fact that just because a claim is made does not mean it will be granted; instead, both seem to believe that claims will be rubber stamped once made.  But to the contrary, 30% of claims that were made under Pigford I were ultimately denied, and there’s no reason to believe that the rate will be any lower under Pigford II; this is an abnormally high rate of denial for a class action settlement, suggesting that the USDA is in fact reviewing claims quite carefully.

Lastly, there are certainly going to be other legitimate claimants who would not fall into the categories outlined above.  But even if there are not, a quick look at the numbers I’ve put together here quickly reveals that we are well within the realm of reasonableness: if the remaining claims are all approved at the same rate as the Pigford I claims, there will be a total of between 60,000 and 65,000 approved claims.  We know that, at a minimum, there were 50,000 black farmers in 1983 who were eligible to apply for these loans.  Given that, is it conceivable that there were at least an additional 10-15,000 people who attempted to become farmers but were denied the needed loans from the USDA or who simply obtained their farms (whether through inheritance or otherwise) subsequent to 1983?  I think the answer to that is “absolutely.”

None of this is to say that there hasn’t been and will not be successful fraudulent abuse of these settlements.  Where such fraud is discovered, clearly it should be prosecuted.  And no doubt, given the stakes involved, it should not be a surprise if these settlements turn out to be more prone to fraud than most – we are talking about large sums of money readily available with a relatively low burden of proof.  Unfortunately, such a low burden of proof is probably necessary here – unless the overwhelming majority of claims are in fact fraudulent, it’s safe to assume that forcing them to be tried under a higher standard of proof would impose far more costs than they would save.

What is appalling here is the ease with which the information I’ve noted above is readily available, and the utter failure of both Breitbart and Conor (and, I assume, Foster) to cite any of it.  Increasingly, it seems that the role of more high-brow political journalism is simply to, consciously or not, provide intellectual cover for the base’s ill-supported memes rather than seeking truth or attempting to challenge the base.  Instead of talking to the base, they merely parrot it.**

[UPDATE: 1.  In the comments below, Conor acknowledges his error, for which he certainly deserves credit, and which is something that is certainly all-too-rare in the blogosphere.

Mistermix:

After Conor Friedersdorf was thoroughly “fisked”—to use a word he can understand—for pimping an error-filled National Review article that supported Andrew Breitbart’s attempt to start a race war out of a settled case of discrimination, he responded with a little humility:

All I can say is that it was an honest mistake, and while I wish I would’ve raised it in my initial post, I am at least glad that I blogged about this issue because a lot of folks who were wrong in the same way I was now have the benefit of understanding this controversy better. I’ll certainly deploy your arguments as this case gets covered elsewhere.

That lasted about as long as it took the author of the original National Review, Dan Foster, to put up a lengthy defense of his original piece:

The main thing you need to know about that defense is that, at many key points, Foster cites either Andrew Breitbart or Breitbart’s helper, Lee Stranahan, for factual evidence. He many have done independent reporting on his own, but when it comes down to the important facts, he’s citing a person Conor has acknowledged that he can’t trust. But Conor’s more than willing to pimp Breitbart’s story through an intermediary. How is that anything but useful idiocy?

Daniel Foster at National Review:

I think my piece largely speaks for itself (although there was certainly some stuff that had to be cut: the original draft was twice as long as what ended up in the mag), and so I hope Coates and Thompson will read it. But let me briefly try to answer their criticisms, in order. (Apologies: if you haven’t read it, some of this will lack context).Thompson has seven points. Here’s one:

. . . this reporting elides the extreme severity of discrimination against black farmer, especially as perpetrated by the USDA: the average market value of a farm operated by a black farmer is only about 20% of the market value of an average farm operated by a white farmer, and even in 2007 black farmers applying for federal loans were able to receive loans of only about 1/3 of the amount of the average federal loan provided to white farmers.  Notably, in its settlement agreement in Pigford I, the USDA expressly refused to agree that it would cease discrimination against black farmers in its loan programs.

Okay, the story fully grants that there is statistical evidence of discrimination against black farmers in the relevant time period, so we’re not in disagreement there. To say, though, that “the USDA expressly refused to agree that it would cease discrimination against black farmers in its loan programs” in the settlement is a bit off. It’s sort of a “when did you stop beating your wife?” question. The settlement meant that the USDA didn’t have to admit, in the legal sense, to discrimination (though we’ll see later that they fell all over themselves to admit it in the moral sense), and that they could avoid the messy process of investigating and adjudicating it. Like many (most, all?) settlements, the USDA traded cash for the risk of legal liability.

Here’s two, four, and five, and seven, which are related:

Second, using the number of black-owned farms extant in 1997 as the sole baseline for comparison is absurd on its face, particularly in light of the fact that the number of black-owned farms declined by almost 50% between 1983 and 1997, and in light of the fact that the settlements cover discrimination over a 15 year period.  At the very least, then, the far more appropriate benchmark would need to be 33,250, the number of black-owned farms existing in 1983.

[. . . ]

Fourth, until 2002, no statistical distinction was made between “black farmers” and “black-owned farms,” which is important in light of the fact that any farmer would have been eligible to apply for one of these loans.  We do know that when this distinction started to be made, in 2002, there were at least 50% more “black farmers” than “black-0wned farms.”  Assuming these statistics would have been similar in 1982, then the number of “black farmers” in 1983 would have been at least 50,000.

Fifth, these claims ignore the possibility of farms changing ownership during that 15 year period, thus creating multiple possible claimants.

[. . .]

Lastly, there are certainly going to be other legitimate claimants who would not fall into the categories outlined above.  But even if there are not, a quick look at the numbers I’ve put together here quickly reveals that we are well within the realm of reasonableness: if the remaining claims are all approved at the same rate as the Pigford I claims, there will be a total of between 60,000 and 65,000 approved claims.  We know that, at a minimum, there were 50,000 black farmers in 1983 who were eligible to apply for these loans.  Given that, is it conceivable that there were at least an additional 10-15,000 people who attempted to become farmers but were denied the needed loans from the USDA or who simply obtained their farms (whether through inheritance or otherwise) subsequent to 1983?  I think the answer to that is “absolutely.”

As to the number of black farmers, I mention both the 18,500 and 33,000 numbers in my piece; neither jibes with the number of claims that have poured in. The point about the difference between black-owned farms and black farmers isn’t really true either. Take a look at this table from the 1992/1997 Ag census. It does in fact distinguish between black-owned farms and black-leased or -rented farms, and it provides numbers for black tenant farmers. They hew closely to the 18,500 figure. But even if we take the biggest number that Thompson’s multi-step statistical conjecture produces — 50,000 black farmers — we’re still missing half the claimants. It’s also worth noting that the type of loans and assistance the USDA is alleged to have withheld from blacks were for farm operators, not agricultural workers broadly construed. So if that’s what Thompson had in mind in making his distinction then it’s not clearly relevant. Look, I — and parties on both sides of the case — yield that USDA record-keeping makes it difficult to pin down how many black farmers there were at any given time. In fact, much of my article is basically an argument that that problem is what opened the case up to fraud.

Doubling back now to Thompson’s third point:

Third, the settlement quite appropriately covers not only actual farmers but also people who sought to acquire or start a farm and applied for a loan from the USDA.  These persons would never appear in statistics of “black farmers” since, by definition, they needed the loans to become farmers.

Aye, there’s the rub. The original Pigford class contained a few hundred farmers, and while the settlement was being negotiated, both sides agreed that when it was all said and done, there would likely be no more than 2,500 or so potential claimants. But trial lawyers and a sympathetic judge wrote the claims process in such a way that almost no proof was required to collect $50,000. Not only did you not have to prove that you were actually discriminated against by the USDA — you didn’t have to prove by a preponderance of evidence that you had even applied for a loan. Again, this is all in the piece and I won’t rehearse it here. But ask whistle-blower Pigford claimants and even advocates for Pigford II about the category of “attempting to farm” claimants, which by some measures account for the vast majority of outstanding claims.

And lastly Thompson’s sixth point:

Sixth, nowhere in Conor’s post or Breitbart’s original reporting is there a mention of the fact that just because a claim is made does not mean it will be granted; instead, both seem to believe that claims will be rubber stamped once made.  But to the contrary, 30% of claims that were made under Pigford Iwere ultimately denied, and there’s no reason to believe that the rate will be any lower under Pigford II; this is an abnormally high rate of denial for a class action settlement, suggesting that the USDA is in fact reviewing claims quite carefully.

Once you’ve read the bit in my piece about the standards of evidence required to collect $50,000 under the settlement you’ll laugh out loud at that last sentence. And if you read Andrew Breitbart’s report, in which he interviews USDA workers who actually rubber-stamped the claims, you’ll see that approval was nearly automatic in a number of jurisdictions.

Now let’s deal with Coates. Here’s the meat of his criticism:

This is where you see “conservative” effectively becoming a synonym for “white populist.” You would think that the government discriminating against a class of farmers over 15 years, under three different presidential administrations, from two different parties, not in the distant, but recently, would be a pet cause for people disturbed by the overreach of government. In fact those who claim that banner, are disturbed by the remedy applied–not the problem, itself.

Indeed it would be extremely worrisome if the federal government under three different presidents and two different parties had discriminated wholesale against black farmers. But the queer thing about the USDA programs at the heart of the Pigford case is that they were locally administered. The USDA bankrolled these loan programs, but they were actually run by hundreds or thousands of county boards in dozens of states, virtually all of them elected by the local farmers. Centralized, top-down, discrimination by the federal government would be awful but plausible; the sheer number and geographic scope of the claims suggests a remarkable universality. Maybe it is the case that a thousand different county boards, independently, thought blacks didn’t deserve farm operating loans. But there are also anecdotes about claims coming out of the Washington, D.C., suburbs; out of Chicago; out of a county in Arkansas where the entire loan board was black. . . .

As to his point about what this case, and my story, says about racial politics in America, I can only reiterate: There was discrimination against black farmers, and it was shameful. But so too is the race-hustling, trial-lawyer greed and fraud that has come out of the settlements. I didn’t even include in the piece stuff about reparations activists and unsavory Nation of Islam types glomming onto Pigford as a proxy for their own goals. E.g. Gary Grant, President of the Black Farmers & Agriculturalist Association (BFAA), which played a pivotal role in expanding Pigford settlements, went so far as to tell Fox News in 2001 that he doesn’t care if all the claimants are really farmers. “If you are an African-American, you deserve $50,000 because your roots are in farming and your folks have already been cheated,” he said. “You are collecting what your grandparents didn’t have the opportunity to.” In 2003, BFAA vice-president Ridgely Muhammad, who moonlights as “minister of agriculture” in the Nation of Islam, wrote on a black nationalist web site that the Pigford settlement illustrated both promise and peril for the reparations movement: the promise of showing how to navigate the “legal flaws in current reparations lawsuits” and the peril of allowing “white ‘do gooder’ lawyers’” to profit from the proceedings. Faya Ora Rose Touré (Rose Sanders until she elected to step away from her “slave name”) is a Selma, Alabama civil-rights lawyer who won an appellate court ruling to extend the filing deadline for Pigford claimants. She has also long been a dogged fighter for reparations, having once gone to court alongside Johnny Cochran to seek compensation from corporations that profited from slavery. Today, she is Shirley Sherrod’s lawyer. And then there is Dorothy Tillman, a former (Obama endorsed) Chicago alderman who during her tenure in public life has made reparations her signature political issue, and who has been recognized by Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.), Congress’s greatest champion of reparations, for her work for “Black farmers and for justice.” The list goes on.

Breitbart and documentary filmmaker Lee Stranahan, who is working on a Pigford project, tell me they have recently recorded evidence of a black activist giving what Breitbart called a “demented Princeton Review” seminar on how to game the settlement to a packed black church in the South. I haven’t seen the tape so I didn’t run with it and I’ll reserve judgment, but I do know (and again, it’s in the piece) that real black farmers who were really discriminated against are still hurting, because the settlements were structured to spread the money far and wide, and right quick, not to actually bring relief to struggling black farmers who are still working the land.

To paraphrase Coates, the point is this: You would think that a bunch of fraudsters and fringe ideologues using legitimate claims of past discrimination to bilk taxpayer dollars and propagate a divisive program of grievance politics, not in the distant or recent past, but today, would be a pet cause for people interested in overcoming the legacy of racism in this country. In fact those who claim that banner are disturbed by the exposure of that problem — not the problem itself.

Adam Serwer:

Pigford I

As the Congressional Research Service report notes, “as of November 2010, 15,642 (69%) of the 22,721 eligible class members had final adjudications approved.” Foster says you’ll “laugh out loud” at the necessary evidentiary standards for filing under Track A, but someone could have plausibly walked away from reading Foster’s piece believing none of the 94,000 claims would be dismissed, when 31 percent of those in the original settlement were.

The claimants were required to show “substantial evidence” that they were entitled to part of the settlement. This doesn’t fit neatly into an article, so it’s understandable Foster didn’t include it, but I’ll just blockquote it here:

• a copy of the discrimination complaint filed with USDA or a copy of a USDA document referencing the discrimination complaint;

• a declaration by a person who was not a member of the claimant’s family, stating that the declarant had first-hand knowledge that the claimant had filed a discrimination complaint with USDA and describing the manner in which the discrimination complaint was filed;

• a copy of correspondence from the claimant to a member of Congress; the White House; or a state, local or federal official averring that the claimant had been discriminated against (except that, in the event that USDA did not possess a copy of the correspondence, the claimant also was required to submit a declaration stating that he or she sent the correspondence to the person to whom it was addressed);

• a declaration by a non-familial witness stating that the witness had first-hand knowledge that, while attending a USDA listening session or other meeting with a USDA official (or officials), the claimant was explicitly told by a USDA official that the official would investigate that specific claimant’s oral complaint of discrimination.

In his response, Foster alludes to the Big Government report that claims to cite testimony from “USDA workers who rubberstamped the claims.” Adjudicating whether the claims have merit was not handled by the USDA; it’s handled by a court-appointed third party, who is backed up by another court-appointed monitor who double checks the claim. The USDA can provide evidence as to whether or not a particular claim is false, and I’m guessing that might be what he means.

Let me just point out, though, that if 31 percent of the claims are being denied, it literally means they aren’t being rubber-stamped. The reason the terms were so generous was that, as Media Matters points out, folks at the USDA were literally throwing complaints into the trash, making documentation on the government’s end difficult. There’s basically a choice here — you can make it easier to prove a claim and risk that some terrible people will try to defraud the government, or you can make it so difficult that a number of people with legitimate claims won’t be able to prove they were discriminated against. In either case, it’s possible, even likely, that some people who deserve money won’t get it and some who don’t will. But that doesn’t amount to “massive fraud,” nor do I think it discredits the entire process.

Fortunately, if you believe that the old terms were too generous, there are additional fraud protections in the Claims Resolution Act, that further empower the claims adjudicator and gives access to claims information, including the names and address of the claims filers, to the GAO. Not that you’d know that from Foster’s piece. Chances are if/when someone tries to file a fraudulent claim, both we — and Congress — will hear about it.

Around 74,000 people filed claims past the deadline, the vast majority of these were dismissed for not meeting the deadline. The large number of late claims prompted the Senate to pass — unanimously, I might add — a second settlement.

Pigford II

$1.15 billion was approved to address the claims that weren’t handled by Pigford I. The total number of dollars anyone has been paid from this is zero. Every single one of the late claimaints who didn’t squeak through under Pigford I will have to refile, and according to the USDA, not a single claim has been filed yet because the court hasn’t assigned an adjudicator. It’ll be another two to three years before any Pigford II claims are adjudicated.

That’s what makes the allegation of “94,000 phantom farmers” are getting payouts inaccurate. Foster never mentions that only around 16,000 have seen any money at all, while around 7,000 other claims were denied (“the gravy train shows no signs of slowing down”). He’s using the total number of claims filed in the past, leaving the reader with the impression that all of them will be approved, even though all the late filers have to refile. His original piece also leaves the impression, both in his discussion of the evidentiary standards being used for Track A, and the use of the 94,000 number in his conclusion, that everyone is just getting handed a check by the USDA. Just get your friend Carl to say you were a black farmer.

Foster finds the USDA’s widespread, systemic discrimination against black farmers to be inconceivable, because of the scale involved. “Centralized, top-down, discrimination by the federal government would be awful but plausible, the sheer number and geographic scope of the claims suggests a remarkable universality.” I find that to be an astonishing argument. Jim Crow was not a “centralized, top-down affair”; it was a matter of “local administration.” “Local administration” is how segregation worked; it’s how Southern Democrats did things like ensure the benefits of the New Deal would be restricted to whites.

I also had a really visceral emotional reaction to Foster’s original conclusion:

At a December 8 signing ceremony, President Obama heralded Pigford II as the close of “a long and unfortunate chapter in our history.” In a way, one hopes the president is right—that the credulity, or perhaps the shame, of the American government and its taxpayers cannot be strained to accommodate the petty greed of more than 94,000 phantom farmers, and that the con will finally have run its course. But that is unlikely. Two Pigford style class-action suits—one for Hispanic farmers, another for women—with the potential to dwarf current settlements are working their way through the courts. Like so many Pigfords to the trough.

Look, the genteel white populism of this paragraph can’t be explained away. Not only have those greedy black frauds stuck their snouts into your wallet, but the Messicans and womens are on their way. There’s simply no way to credibly pivot from a statement like this, which attacks the very idea of financial restitution for past wrongs, to genuine concerns about farmers who deserved money that didn’t receive it because of the settlement terms.

Historically speaking, according to the Congressional Research Service citing an internal USDA report tracking their practices between 1990 and 1995, the crowd at the trough actually looks considerably less diverse:

According to the commissioned study, few appeals were made by minority complainants because of the slowness of the process, the lack of confidence in the decision makers, the lack of knowledge about the rules, and the significant bureaucracy involved in the process. Other findings showed that (1) the largest USDA loans (top 1%) went to corporations (65%) and white male farmers (25%); (2) loans to black males averaged $4,000 (or 25%) less than those given to white males; and (3) 97% of disaster payments went to white farmers, while less than 1% went to black farmers. The study reported that the reasons for discrepancies in treatment between black and white farmers could not be easily determined due to “gross deficiencies” in USDA data collection and handling.

Shortly afterward, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman suspended farm foreclosures and ordered an investigation into the matter. Before then, no one had been particularly bothered by it, for obvious reasons. Some snouts are more welcome at the trough than others.

I have no doubt that some people will try to defraud the government out of money here, nor do I discount the possibility that some have. Frankly, I think the bigger worry is that some people who deserve money will be bilked out of it by people posing as agents or lawyers and promising to ensure, for a fee, claimants get their settlement money. A class-action settlement is a juicy target for con artists. Those people deserve to be in jail. The fact that some people will try does not invalidate the government’s effort to rectify past wrongs.

Finally, I just want to address Foster’s original nut graf:

And in finally securing justice for himself and the few hundred farmers who first joined his class-action suit, he’d unwittingly set off an injustice greater than the one he sought to rectify: one that would involve the waste of billions of dollars, systemic fraud implicating top federal officials, the unseemly electioneering of two presidential campaigns—even murder.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but I don’t see how Foster has proved that billions were wasted or that there is systemic fraud in the Pigford settlement. It’s only “unseemly electioneering” if you pretend there wasn’t substantial bipartisan support for the settlement, or if you think the president is unmoved by racial injustice and merely spends his entire day thinking about how to get whitey’s money. The idea that the settlement itself is responsible for people who planned to defraud the government by making a false claim and murdered a witness they feared might talk is just stupid.  But this paragraph certainly reflects the ideological disposition of most conservatives — that efforts to rectify past racial injustices always create “more injustice” than the original crime.

Publius at Big Government:

At a press conference at CPAC featuring Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Steve King and Andrew Breitbart, black farmer Eddie Slaughter tells his impassioned story about how the Pigford settlement has actually hurt the original and actual victims of discrimination at the hands of the USDA.

Adam Serwer and Daniel Foster at Bloggingheads

Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:

This is going to get complicated quickly. My apologies. If you’ve never heard the word Pigford before this may be a post to skip. In my last stint guestblogging at The Daily Dish, I wrote a post about the Pigford controversy, where I basically argued that since it’s inevitably going to be an ongoing matter of dispute, the best way to talk about it is to focus on the reporting published in National Review by Daniel Foster, a writer whose basic integrity as a person I trust, rather than the stuff published by Andrew Breitbart, whose outspokenness on the matter is clearly outweighed by the numerous instances in which he has brazenly injected egregiously misleading information into public discourse.

So often, stories like this turn into conversational train wrecks. I see one coming – and an opportunity to do better. Let’s treat this like a complicated matter, one where even people writing in good faith can make mistakes, making it a perfect fit for the vetting function that comes from honest back-and-forths in the blogosphere.

The vetting started immediately. I’d noted an aspect of Foster’s piece that seemed particularly persuasive to me. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Adam Serwer, and Mark Thompson pushed back hard. I quickly saw that I’d been mistaken in buying into that particular argument, and said so. As is their wont, the folks at Balloon Juice misunderstood and misrepresented my narrow apology.

Meanwhile, National Review posted Foster’s piece online, so that folks no longer had to rely on my poor summary. Foster pushed back against his critics. Serwer went another round. And then the good people at Bloggingheads arranged for a diavlog between Foster and Serwer, which can be seen here. Some of the conversation is tedious through no fault of the interlocutors. This is a complicated story to talk about, especially for an audience that isn’t initiated. Other parts are riveting. It isn’t often that you see two writers with wildly different takes on race in America willing to confront one another and converse in ways that make both of them uncomfortable.

The exchange that has played out is basically what I hoped for when I wrote that initial post urging engagement with Foster’s piece. I’d wager that Foster, Serwer, Thompson and Coates would all write things a bit differently if they could redo this whole exchange. On the whole, however, I think they’ve all conducted themselves rather well: more precisely, whatever their mistakes, they’ve all argued in good faith, with intellectual honesty and a desire to leave the public better informed about the matter at hand. Put another way, if everyone merely rose to the level of imperfect reporting, analysis and argument displayed here, American public discourse would be greatly improved.

But damn, this is a messy, maddening process. Among the writers I’ve mentioned, there were heated exchanges, hurt feelings, occasional suspicions of bad faith, tedious intervals that didn’t make for particularly entertaining journalism… and as a reader, one had to wade through all of it for the payoff of being a lot better informed on the other end… but even being better informed, there wasn’t the satisfaction of easy answers or resolution to all the disagreements.

What I find so wrongheaded about the Balloon Juice approach to this story – and the approach taken by folks who emailed me insisting that I should have never written my initial post – is the glib insistence that merely wanting a robust exchange was tantamount to being Andrew Breitbart’s useful idiot.

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I’ll Take Skynet Is Taking Over The World For $800, Alex

Ken Jennings at Slate:

When I was selected as one of the two human players to be pitted against IBM’s “Watson” supercomputer in a special man-vs.-machine Jeopardy! exhibition match, I felt honored, even heroic. I envisioned myself as the Great Carbon-Based Hope against a new generation of thinking machines—which, if Hollywood is to believed, will inevitably run amok, build unstoppable robot shells, and destroy us all. But at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Lab, an Eero Saarinen-designed fortress in the snowy wilds of New York’s Westchester County, where the shows taped last month, I wasn’t the hero at all. I was the villain.

This was to be an away game for humanity, I realized as I walked onto the slightly-smaller-than-regulation Jeopardy! set that had been mocked up in the building’s main auditorium. In the middle of the floor was a huge image of Watson’s on-camera avatar, a glowing blue ball crisscrossed by “threads” of thought—42 threads, to be precise, an in-joke for Douglas Adams fans. The stands were full of hopeful IBM programmers and executives, whispering excitedly and pumping their fists every time their digital darling nailed a question. A Watson loss would be invigorating for Luddites and computer-phobes everywhere, but bad news for IBM shareholders.

The IBM team had every reason to be hopeful. Watson seems to represent a giant leap forward in the field of natural-language processing—the ability to understand and respond to everyday English, the way Ask Jeeves did (with uneven results) in the dot-com boom. Jeopardy! clues cover an open domain of human knowledge—every subject imaginable—and are full of booby traps for computers: puns, slang, wordplay, oblique allusions. But in just a few years, Watson has learned—yes, it learns—to deal with some of the myriad complexities of English. When it sees the word “Blondie,” it’s very good at figuring out whether Jeopardy! means the cookie, the comic strip, or the new-wave band.

I expected Watson’s bag of cognitive tricks to be fairly shallow, but I felt an uneasy sense of familiarity as its programmers briefed us before the big match: The computer’s techniques for unraveling Jeopardy! clues sounded just like mine. That machine zeroes in on key words in a clue, then combs its memory (in Watson’s case, a 15-terabyte data bank of human knowledge) for clusters of associations with those words. It rigorously checks the top hits against all the contextual information it can muster: the category name; the kind of answer being sought; the time, place, and gender hinted at in the clue; and so on. And when it feels “sure” enough, it decides to buzz. This is all an instant, intuitive process for a human Jeopardy! player, but I felt convinced that under the hood my brain was doing more or less the same thing.

Indeed, playing against Watson turned out to be a lot like any other Jeopardy! game, though out of the corner of my eye I could see that the middle player had a plasma screen for a face. Watson has lots in common with a top-ranked human Jeopardy! player: It’s very smart, very fast, speaks in an uneven monotone, and has never known the touch of a woman. But unlike us, Watson cannot be intimidated. It never gets cocky or discouraged. It plays its game coldly, implacably, always offering a perfectly timed buzz when it’s confident about an answer. Jeopardy! devotees know that buzzer skill is crucial—games between humans are more often won by the fastest thumb than the fastest brain. This advantage is only magnified when one of the “thumbs” is an electromagnetic solenoid trigged by a microsecond-precise jolt of current. I knew it would take some lucky breaks to keep up with the computer, since it couldn’t be beaten on speed.

Instapundit:

DID THE SINGULARITY just happen on Jeopardy? The Singularity is a process, more than an event, even if, from a long-term historical perspective, it may look like an event. (Kind of like the invention of agriculture looks to us now). So, yeah. “In the CNN story one of the machine’s creators admitted that he was a very poor Jeopardy player. Somehow he was able to make a machine that could do better than himself in that contest. The creators aren’t even able to follow the reasoning of the computer. The system is showing emergent complexity.”

mistermix:

I’m not a big Jeopardy geek, but my understanding is that players are surprised at how big a role button management plays in winning or losing a round. In the few minutes of the Watson game that I watched, it was pretty clear that Watson was excellent at pressing the button at exactly the right moment if it knew the answer, which is more a measure of electromechanical reflex than human-like intelligence.

To the credit of IBM engineers, Watson almost always did know the right answer. Still, there were a few bloopers, such as the final Jeopardy question from yesterday (paraphrasing): “This city has two airports, one named after a World War II hero, and the other named after a World War II battle.” Watson’s guess, “Toronto”, was just laughably bad—Lester Pearson and Billy Bishop fought in World War I, and neither person is a battle. The right answer, “Chicago”, was pretty obvious, but apparently Watson couldn’t connect Midway or O’Hare with WW II.

Mark Krikorian at The Corner:

I was on the show, in 1996 or ’97, and success is based almost entirely on your reflexes — i.e., pushing the buzzer as soon as Trebek finishes reading the question, er, the answer. (I came in second, winning a dining-room set and other fabulous parting gifts, which I had to sell to pay the taxes on them.)The benefit to society would come if we could turn Alex Trebek into Captain Dunsel.

Jim Behrle at The Awl:

If I owned a gun, it would probably be in my mouth as I type this. I don’t know how the physics of that arrangement would work, but the mood in Chez Jim is darker than Mothra’s hairy crotch. I’ve just been sitting here listening to Weird Al’s weirdly prescient “I Lost on Jeopardy” in the dark, cuddling with a tapped-out bottle of WD-40. Humanity took a hit tonight. Our valiant human heroes made it close, but that Watson tore us new assholes in our foreheads. ALL OF US. That noise you heard driving to work was your GPS system laughing at you. While you were sneezing on the D train this morning your Kindle was giving you the finger. There is blood in the water this morning and this afternoon and forever more. This wasn’t like losing some Nerdgame like chess. Who the hell even knows how to play chess? The horsies go in little circles, right? “Jeopardy!” is the game that makes dumb people feel smart. Like National Public Radio, it’s designed to make people feel superior. And we just found out that people are not superior. No, not at all.I might personally call the whole thing a draw. I read Ken Jennings’ piece in Slate and I can tell the machine was just better at ringing the buzzer than him. If it was truly a battle of Humanity versus Accursed Frankensteinian Monstrosity there should have been one human and one monstrosity. Or one smart human, one machine and me. I could answer sportsy questions. And the rest of the time stay out of Ken’s way. No disrespect to Brad, but this is one fight that ought to have been fought one-on-one. Don’t make humans battle each other to save the world from machines. It’s too cruel. I’d sit back and let the goddamned human expert answer the tough questions. I’d just be there to figure out a way how to unplug the fucking thing when no one was watching. So, here’s the lineup for this Rematch that I demand, formally, right here on The Awl—which I know everyone at IBM reads—Me, Ken and your little Betamax.

And you have to put a little more at stake than just money. For Ken, Me and the Watson. Why did they call it Watson, anyway? Wasn’t Watson just Sherlock Holmes’ butler? And Alexander Graham Bell’s friend who was in the other room and got the first phone call. Why not call the thing what it is: HYDE. Or LILITH. Or Beezelbub of the Underland? Its dark, soulless visage no doubt crushed the very spirit of our human champions. Maybe force it to wear a blonde wig. And talk in Valley Girl language. “Like Oh My God, Gag Me with a Spoon, Alex. I’ll like take like Potpourri for like $800!”

This rematch should happen on Neutral Ground. I suggest Indianapolis. Halftime at the next Super Bowl. This gives Ken a chance to put the pieces of his broken ego back together. And for me to eat some Twinkies. There probably won’t even Be a Super Bowl because of the Looming Lockout, so America will just be watching commercials and various superstars mangling America’s Favorite Patriotic songs. Make IBM take their little Cabinet of Wonders on the Road. Get the military involved to make sure there are no shenanigans this time like plugging it into the Internet or texting it answers from the audience. Also, I want the damned thing to NOT be plugged into the Jeopardy game. It needs to be able to hear Alex and to read the hint on the little blue screen. How much time does it take a human to hear Alex and see it printed out and understand just what the hell the half-idiot writers of “Jeopardy!” were getting at? (Was a Dave Eggers mention really necessary during Wednesday night’s episode? The category was Non-fiction. And it’s obvious that Watson has some kind of super Amazon app embedded in its evil systems. The first 200 pages of Dave’s Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius were pretty good. Everything else is Twee Bullshit. “I am a dog from a short story. I am fast and strong. Too bad you know I die in the river from the title of this short story. Woooof!” I mean, seriously, “Jeopardy!” Get a library card. There are billions of other writers and I’ve seen at least 5 shows in which you’ve used some form of Dave Eggers. )

Ben Wieder at The Chronicle Of Higher Education:

The victory made one group of people very happy.

The computer-science department at the University of Texas at Austin hosted viewing parties for the first two nights of the competition.

“People were cheering for Watson,” says Ken Barker, a research scientist at Texas. “When they introduced Brad and Ken, there were a few boos in the audience.”

Texas is one of eight universities whose researchers helped develop the technology on which Watson is based. Many of the other universities hosted viewing parties for the three days of competition as well.

Mr. Barker says he was blown away by Watson’s performance on the show, particularly the computer’s ability to make sense of Jeopardy!‘s cleverly worded clues.

But the computer did make a few mistakes along the way.

Most notably, Watson incorrectly wrote “Toronto” in response to a Final Jeopardy clue in the category of U.S. Cities. Both Mr. Jennings and Mr. Rutter returned the correct response, which was Chicago.

Mr. Barker says Watson may have considered U.S. to be a synonym of America and, as such, considered Toronto, a North American city, to be a suitable response.

Raymond J. Mooney, a computer-science professor at Texas, says Final Jeopardy is the Achilles heel of the computer.

“If it didn’t have to answer that question, it wouldn’t have,” he says.

Clues in that final round are often more complicated than others in the show because they involve multiple parts.

The phrasing of the question Watson got wrong included what linguists refer to as an ellipsis, an omitted phrase whose meaning is implicit from other parts of the sentence. The clue that tripped up Watson, “Its largest airport is named for a World War II hero; its second largest, for a World War II battle,” left out “airport is named” in the second clause.

Mr. Mooney says it will be some time before the average person will be using a computer with the capabilities of Watson, but he did see one potential immediate impact from the show.

Ezra Klein:

The sentient computers of the future are going to think it pretty hilarious that a knowledge-based showdown between one of their own and a creature with a liver was ever considered a fair fight.

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A Day Of Reckoning For Jenny McCarthy, And Not Just For “John Tucker Must Die”

Frankie Thomas at New York Magazine:

One of the most famous flawed studies ever conducted, Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s now-retracted 1998 paper that linked vaccines to autism has been found to be not a scientific error, but a deliberate lie. BMJ, a British medical journal, has just published its investigation of the matter and concluded that Dr. Wakefield purposely falsified his data. They report that he was contracted by lawyers determined to sue the vaccine manufacturers, regardless of scientific truth.

Jonathan Adler:

A report by journalist Brian Deer in the British Journal of Medicine, the first in a series, reveals that the Wakefield study relied upon “bogus data” that was “manufactured” by those who conducted the study.  Specifically, Deer found that the study’s authors misrepresented medical and other information about the children in the study, including the timing and appearance of relevant symptoms, creating a false impression of a vaccine-autism link that was not there.

An accompanying editorial in the BMJ pulls no punches.

The Office of Research Integrity in the United States defines fraud as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism. Deer unearthed clear evidence of falsification. He found that not one of the 12 cases reported in the 1998 Lancet paper was free of misrepresentation or undisclosed alteration, and that in no single case could the medical records be fully reconciled with the descriptions, diagnoses, or histories published in the journal.

Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield. Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No. A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results he wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross. Moreover, although the scale of the [General Medical Council’s] 217 day hearing precluded additional charges focused directly on the fraud, the panel found him guilty of dishonesty concerning the study’s admissions criteria, its funding by the Legal Aid Board, and his statements about it afterwards. . . .

Meanwhile the damage to public health continues, fuelled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals, and the medical profession. Although vaccination rates in the United Kingdom have recovered slightly from their 80% low in 2003–4, they are still below the 95% level recommended by the World Health Organization to ensure herd immunity. In 2008, for the first time in 14 years, measles was declared endemic in England and Wales. Hundreds of thousands of children in the UK are currently unprotected as a result of the scare, and the battle to restore parents’ trust in the vaccine is ongoing.

(citations omitted)

Perhaps now, finally, the vaccine-autism charade is over. I’ll await the reports on Oprah and MSNBC’s “Countdown.”

mistermix:

Wakefield was employed by a lawyer who wanted to sue vaccine makers and was paid a total of £435 643, plus expenses. He “discovered” the autism-MMR link after being put on the payroll, but before doing any research at all.

Nick Gillespie at Reason

Kevin Drum:

The punchline, of course, is that parents panicked over Wakefield’s results and lots of them decided not to get their kids vaccinated. As a result:

Measles has surged since Wakefield’s paper was published and there are sporadic outbreaks in Europe and the U.S. In 2008, measles was deemed endemic in England and Wales.

The vaccine-autism quackery that Jenny McCarthy and her ilk continue to promote isn’t just harmless fun and games. It’s damaged untold children and might well have killed a few. It’s long past time for it to stop.

Ann Althouse:

What psychological suffering this man caused in so many vulnerable parents of little children! For a scientist to subvert science — why don’t we have a much more intense feeling of horror about that? How dare those trained in science to misuse it and undermine the enterprise of science? Our shared interest in science is so strong – our need to rely on experts so great — that we should severely punish those who betray it. But we can’t, really, can we? If we tried, we might only exacerbate the pressures on scientists to toe the line and give us the answers we want, lest we target them for destruction.

Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money

Max Read at Gawker:

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely it’ll do much to convince the conspiracy-minded, who are positive the pharmaceutical industry is covering up the real evidence that autism is caused by vaccines; like birtherism and other nutty beliefs, fear of vaccination is about strong feelings and not really about evidence. Which is too bad. Babies are dying of vaccine-preventable diseases, and people like Andrew Wakefield need to be held responsible.

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The News Out Of Stockholm

The Jawa Report:

Forbes:

STOCKHOLM — Two explosions shook central Stockholm on Saturday, killing one person and injuring two, rescue officials said.Police spokeswoman Petra Sjolander said a car exploded near Drottninggatan, a busy shopping street in the center of the city. Shortly afterward, a second explosion was heard higher up on the same street, and a man was found injured on the ground. He was later pronounced dead.

…”I saw some people crying, perhaps from the chock,” he said. “There was a man lying on the ground with blood coming out in the area of his belly, and with his personal belongings scattered around him.”

Gabiro said the blast was “quite loud” and he saw smoke coming from the area where the man was lying.

Few details except one familiar item. The vehicle was stuffed with gas canisters, which I take as propane cylinders and gasoline. Gee I wonder if anyone has tried that before?And it appears they wanted to blow up Christmas, excuse me, Cross Worshiping Shoppers.

Must have been those pesky Lutherans protesting the commercialization of Christmas?

Michelle Malkin:

They’re at it again. Cartoon jihadists hit Stockholm yesterday in a suicide bombing. Two innocent bystanders were injured; the jihadist died of stomach wounds. All for the pretextual crime of “insulting” Islam.

Lisa Lundquist at The Long War Journal:

Swedish police confirmed that the owner of the car used in the bombing has been identified as Taimour Abdulwahab, born Dec. 12, 1981; today would be his 29th birthday, according to Swedish journalist Per Gudmundson. The car was purchased as late as November of this year.

There was an R.I.P. page on Facebook for Abdulwahab, created earlier today, noting he “died an heros dead in Stockholm” on Dec. 11. Abdulwahab’s own Facebook page, which appeared under the nom de guerre “Taimour Al-Abdaly,” is replete with references to militant Islam and videos from Iraq and Chechnya, and listed “favorites” include “Islamic Caliphate State” and Sheikh Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, the radical Jordanian cleric and mentor of Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Within the past few hours, both Facebook pages have been taken down.

One of the links on Abdulwahab’s Facebook page shows photos of him in what appears to be Jordan.

The warning emailed to Swedish authorities shortly before the bombing yesterday contained a request for forgiveness from the plotter’s family for deluding them about a recent trip to the Middle East; the trip was made for terrorist training purposes.

“I never went to the Middle East to work or earn money. I went there for Jihad,” he stated.

Jim Hoft at The Gateway Pundit:

Suspected Swedish bomber Taimour Abdulwahab Al-Abdaly used the Muslim dating site Muslima.com in his search for a second wife. (Daily Mail) The Swedish suicide bomber was a trained jihadist who was recently looking for a second wife.
He was a father of two young children.

Legal Insurrection

Aaron Goldstein at The American Spectator:

In an interview with the BBC, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said he is “not sure” if e-mail threats sent minutes before two bombs exploded in downtown Stockholm are connected to yesterday’s bombing which killed the attacker and injured two civilians.

The threat stated in part, “Our actions will speak for themselves, as long as you do not stop your stupid war against Islam.”

While Prime Minister Reinfeldt (the leader of Sweden’s ostensibly conservative Moderate Party) might not be sure if the e-mail threat and subsequent bombings are connected, an Islamist website is very sure.  The website, Shumukh al-Islam, identified the bomber as Taimour Abdulwahib Al-Abdaly.  The jihadist forum referred to Al-Abdaly as “our brother” and indicated that Al-Abdaly had “carried out the martyrdom operation in Stockholm.”

The Daily Mail reports that Al-Abdaly was born in Iraq, had moved to Sweden nearly twenty years ago and had attended university in England.  The British daily also indicated that Al-Abdaly had a history of expressing jihadist sympathies posting videos concerning the War in Iraq, Chechnya and Guantanamo Bay.

mistermix:

How in the hell do you detonate a huge car bomb, and a suicide bomb, in the middle of a busy shopping area a couple of weeks before Christmas without killing anyone but yourself? I’m sure we’ll learn every little detail about the person who did this, and maybe there are more attacks to follow, but at the moment this looks like more confirmation of DougJ’s thesis that terrorism is for losers.

James Joyner:

We’ve been lucky in two respects.  First, most of the terrorist attacks in the West since the 9/11 attacks — now more than nine years ago — have been spectacularly inept.  Second, we’ve thus far been spared by the classical suicide bombers of the type that have plagued Israel for something like a quarter century.

Given that the security measures needed to defend against the latter are so onerous that they’re intolerable in a free society — indeed, a society which would tolerate them for more than the occasional high value target could not reasonably be described as “free” — it’s only a matter of time.

Bruce McQuain at Q and O:

As is obvious, people are out to kill Swedes and they don’t much care who it is that’s unlucky enough to be around the next bombing attempt (of course, the probability of being killed in a terror attack in the West is probably akin to the probability of being struck by lightning as it is – but it still scares people excessively.).

So … they can roll over, give up their liberty and freedom and someday see their children grow up in an oppressive culture that doesn’t value anything the Swedes value today.   Or Sweden can take a deep breath, hitch up its courage, declare real war on radical Islam and the killers it creates and sweep them from their country.  By doing so they can also serve notice that the dominant culture – Swedish culture – will remain as such and that those who’ve immigrated from other lands and other cultures can adapt to that culture or leave.  Here’s a basic truth that needs to be heeded: You cannot be tolerant with the intolerant.

When those who would kill you declare war on you as these killers have, you have two choices – fight the war or surrender.  You can’t decide not to participate.  It doesn’t work that way.  Hopefully Sweden will understand that and choose the former over the latter.

Moe Lane

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There Are No Happy Endings On Craigslist

David Murphy at PC World:

Craigslist was expected to have earned an estimated $36 million from advertising associated with its Adult Services section in 2010—at least, that was the case when we first reported the projections from Advanced Interactive Media in late April of this year.

You can now expect that number to drop significantly, as Craigslist has removed its Adult Services section for U.S. visitors. The move surely comes as a relief to the various entities that have been petitioning for Craigslist to shut down the section—including human rights groups and more than 17 attorneys general from states across the nation.

There’s no indication that Craigslist has removed its Adult Services section for good, however. Although links to the site are now eliminated when accessing the main Craigslist page from an IP addressed based in the United States, one can still pull up the page from other countries. There’s been no comment from any Craigslist spokespeople whatsoever—officially or otherwise—related to the matter.

Chris Matyszczyk at Cnet:

The section was originally entitled Erotic Services. Its name was changed to reflect a new discipline, as, under pressure from attorneys general, Craigslist declared it would manually screen every ad in its newly named Adult Services section.

It is arguable whether the content of this new section truly changed. Some would say it was adult business as usual.

(Credit: Screenshot: Chris Matyszczyk/CNET)

Recently, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark gave a troubling if spontaneous interview to CNN, in which he seemed unable to answer questions about whether the site was facilitating child prostitution. Then, instead of answering the specific charges, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster took to the company’s blog to assail the CNN reporter’s methods.

Evan Hansen at Wired:

Craigslist has made numerous changes to its sex listings over the years to accommodate critics, changing its sex listings label from “erotic services” to “adult services,” imposing rules about the types of ads that can appear, and manually filtering ads using attorneys. But it has also fiercely defended its overall practices as ethical, and criticized censorship as a useless and hypocritical dodge.

When Craigslist was hit with a lawsuit by South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster in 2009, it struck back with a preemptive lawsuit of its own and won. In a blog post last month, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster explained the company’s filtering policies in detail, pointing out its lawyers had rejected some 700,000 inappropriate ads to date, and suggested its methods could offer a model for the entire industry. He has also used the company’s blog to blast critics, most recently an “ambush” CNN video interview of Craigslist founder Craig Newmark.

Craiglist has a point: Given other sites on the web (and in print) serve the same types of ads without the same level of scrutiny, it seems politicians are making the pioneering, 15-year-old service an opportunistic scapegoat. Internet services may accelerate and exacerbate some social problems like prostitution, but they rarely cause them. The root of these issues — and their solutions — lie in the realm of public policy, not web sites and ham-handed web site filtering.

Frances Martel at Mediaite

Michael Arrington at TechCrunch:

Craigslist has fought back using little more than their blog and logic. And they’re right. Having prostitution up front and regulated, as Craigslist does, means less crime is associated with it. It’s not like prostitution, sometimes called the world’s oldest profession, was invented on the site.

The fact that eBay and others do exactly the same thing, but without human review and moderation, doesn’t seem to matter. Craigslist Sex is what scares the general population, and it’s what the press and the politicians will continue to use to get their hits and votes.

So the Craigslist Adult Section was removed. Is the world now a safer place?

Update: This only appears to affect U.S. sites, so if you’re looking for a happy ending in Saskatoon or the West Bank, have at it.

Mistermix:

After a few months of getting shit from AGs looking to make a name for themselves, Craigslist has replaced its adult services ads with a “Censored” bar.

Until they gave up, Craigslist was the only big site hosting adult ads that made a good-faith effort to keep exploitation out of their site. eBay owned a site that also posted erotic ads, made no effort to police it, and they simply blocked access from the US when the site was criticized.

Perhaps we’ll have an honest conversation about ending the prohibition of prostitution in a few more years, but this episode shows that we’re nowhere near ready to have it now.

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As La Bamba sings: “In The Research Two-Thousand, In The Research Two-Thousand!”

Markos Moulitsas at Daily Kos:

A bit over two weeks ago, a group of statistic wizards (Mark Grebner, Michael Weissman, and Jonathan Weissman) approached me with a disturbing premise — they had been poring over the crosstabs of the weekly Research 2000 polling we had been running, and were concerned that the numbers weren’t legit.

I immediately began cooperating with their investigation, which concluded late last week. Daily Kos furnished the researchers with all available and relevant information in our possession, and we made every attempt to obtain R2K’s cooperation — which, as I detail in my reaction post here — was not forthcoming.  The investigators’ report is below, but its conclusion speaks volumes:

We do not know exactly how the weekly R2K results were created, but we are confident they could not accurately describe random polls.

The full report follows — kos

More Kos:

Since the moment Mark Grebner, Michael Weissman, and Jonathan Weissman approached me, I took their concerns seriously and cooperated fully with their investigation. I also offered to run the results on Daily Kos provided that they 1) fully documented each claim in detail, 2) got that documentation peer reviewed by disinterested third parties, and 3) gave Research 2000 an opportunity to respond. By the end of last week, they had accomplished the first two items on that list. I held publication of the report until today, because I didn’t want to partake in a cliche Friday Bad News Dump. This is serious business, and I wasn’t going to bury it over a weekend.

We contracted with Research 2000 to conduct polling and to provide us with the results of their surveys. Based on the report of the statisticians, it’s clear that we did not get what we paid for. We were defrauded by Research 2000, and while we don’t know if some or all of the data was fabricated or manipulated beyond recognition, we know we can’t trust it. Meanwhile, Research 2000 has refused to offer any explanation. Early in this process, I asked for and they offered to provide us with their raw data for independent analysis — which could potentially exculpate them. That was two weeks ago, and despite repeated promises to provide us that data, Research 2000 ultimately refused to do so. At one point, they claimed they couldn’t deliver them because their computers were down and they had to work out of a Kinkos office. Research 2000 was delivered a copy of the report early Monday morning, and though they quickly responded and promised a full response, once again the authors of the report heard nothing more.

While the investigation didn’t look at all of Research 2000 polling conducted for us, fact is I no longer have any confidence in any of it, and neither should anyone else. I ask that all poll tracking sites remove any Research 2000 polls commissioned by us from their databases. I hereby renounce any post we’ve written based exclusively on Research 2000 polling.

I want to feel stupid for being defrauded, but fact is Research 2000 had a good reputation in political circles. Among its clients the last two years have been KCCI-TV in Iowa, WCAX-TV in Vermont, WISC-TV in Wisconsin, WKYT-TV in Kentucky, Lee Enterprises, the Concord Monitor, The Florida Times-Union, WSBT-TV/WISH-TV/WANE-TV in Indiana, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Bergen Record, and the Reno Gazette-Journal. In fact, just last week, in an email debate about robo-pollsters, I had a senior editor at a top DC-based political publication tell me that he’d “obviously” trust Research 2000 more than any automated pollsters, such as SurveyUSA. I didn’t trust Research 2000 more than I trusted SUSA (given their solid track record), but I did trust them. I got burned, and got burned bad.

I can’t express enough my gratitude to Mark, Michael, and Jonathan for helping bring this to light. Sure, our friends on the Right will get to take some cheap shots, and they should take advantage of the opportunity. But ultimately, this episode validates the reason why we released the internal numbers from Research 2000 — and why every media outlet should do the same from their pollster; without full transparency of results, this fraud would not have been uncovered. As difficult as it has been to learn that we were victims of that fraud, our commitment to accuracy and the truth is far more important than shielding ourselves from cheap shots from the Right.

Soon, we’ll have a new pollster (or pollsters) to work with, helping us to fulfill our vision of surveying races and issues that are often overlooked by the traditional media and polling outfits. As for Research 2000, the lawyers will soon take over, as Daily Kos will be filing suit within the next day or two.

Justin Elliott at Talking Points Memo:

R2K president Del Ali tells TPMmuckraker in an email, “I have much to say, however, I am following my attorney Richard Beckler’ ESQ’s counsel and referring all questions to him. I will tell you unequivocally that we conducted EVERY poll properly for the Daily Kos.”

Beckler is the co-chair of the Securities Litigation, Government Enforcement and White Collar Defense practice at Howrey LLP in Washington. Kos, for his part, tell TPMmuckraker that Daily Kos is represented by Adam Bonin of Cozen O’Connor in Philadelphia. Bonin’s bio says he “represents clients in campaign finance, election law and lobbying compliance matters and has been a leader in efforts on behalf of the rights of online speakers.”

Kos has promised to sue R2K in the next day or two.

R2K is an extremely well-established pollster that has been employed and quoted by countless national and state-level newspapers as its website describes:

Some of our most active media clientele include the Bergen Record, The Raleigh News & Observer, The Concord Monitor, The Manchester Journal Inquirer, The New London Day, The Reno-Gazette, The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, The Spokesman-Review, KCCI-Television in Des Moines, Iowa, WRAL-Television in Raleigh, North Carolina, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and KMOV-Television in St. Louis, Missouri.Our Polls can be seen on CNN’S “Inside Politics” and are also mentioned frequently in the National Journal’s “Political Hotline”, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Wall Street Journal

Kos said in a post today that R2K has not offered a substantive response to the statistical analysis. R2K President Ali is described in his bio as having “analyzed over 2000 political races for media as well as for advocacy organizations and businesses.

Late Update: Here’s more from lawyers for Kos and Ali.

Nate Silver:

Although I expect to proceed fairly carefully with respect to Research 2000, which Daily Kos will be suing for alleged fraud, I have suggested here and to at least one reporter that I had my own suspicions about Research 2000 which paralleled some of the findings in the study by Mark Grebner, Michael Weissman, and Jonathan Weissman. I want to be a bit more explicit about what I mean by that.

This is a copy of two e-mails that I sent to Mark Blumenthal of Pollster.com in the wee hours of the morning on February 4th. Like the examples in the Grebner study, they point toward cases in which Research 2000’s data appeared to be other-than-random (although, as I declaim in the e-mails, not necessarily triggered by fraud).

from Nate Silver [xxx@xxx]
to Mark Blumenthal [xxx@xxx]
Mark Blumenthal [xxx@xxx]
date Thu, Feb 4, 2010 at 4:17 AM
subject Research 2000 weirdness
mailed-by gmail.com

Mark,

Not to sound too conspiratorial, but to be honest I'm getting
a little bit suspicious about Research 2000, or at least the
polling they've conducted for Markos over the past two years.
Do you know those guys at all?

I'll keep this pretty brief.  In part it's because of the
occasionally really weird result they turn out -- for instance,
they had only 27 percent of Republicans or something in favor
of gays in the military whereas Gallup and ABC/Post have had
those numbers in the 60s.  There are two or three other examples
like this I could point to.  For another, their contact
information and web presence is pretty sketchy relative to that
of other pollsters and there's not a lot of detail about the
scope of their operations.

But mainly, it's that that their data feels way too clean for
me.  Take a look at the attached chart, for example: these are
the age breakdowns in the Democratic vote share for the last
20 contests surveyed by R2K and PPP, respectively.  The age
breakdowns in Research 2000's numbers are almost always close
to "perfect" -- in 20 out of 20 cases, for instance, the
Democrat gets a lower vote share from among 30-44 year olds
than among 18-29 year olds.  PPP's data, on the other hand,
is *much* messier -- which is what I think we should expect
when comparing small subsamples, particularly subsamples of
lots of different races that are subject to different
demographic patterns.

Likewise, take a look at their Presidential tracking numbers
from 2008 (http://www.dailykos.com/dailypoll/2008/11/4).
They published their daily results in addition to their
three-day rolling average ... and the daily results were
remarkably consistent from day to day.  At no point, for
instance, in the two months that they published daily results
did Obama's vote share fluctuate by more than a net of 2
points from day to day (to reiterate, this is for the daily
results (n=~360) and not the rolling average).  That just
seems extremely unlikely -- there should be more noise than
that.

Megan McArdle:

To his eternal credit, that evidence is being published by Kos himself.  I wish more commentators were this forthright when they’ve been taken in by bad data.

I also wish he hadn’t been taken in by bad data, including this infamous poll which proves that Republicans are, like, the awfulest, stupidest people in the entire known universe.  Given the patterns that the investigators who published on Kos have found, it seems like that poll is probably bunk–concocted or massaged to fit the thesis of the person who commissioned it.  (Just to be clear, I don’t think Kos knew that this was happening.  A customer who is told what he wants to hear is a customer who is happy to buy more polls.)

However, the fact that R2K has apparently been discredited will not prevent this poll from popping up, over and over, in the work of pundits and bloggers.  The speed and openness with which Kos has exposed this problem is admirable.  But we need to be even faster at sniffing out bad apples before they pollute the data barrel.

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner

Jim Geraghty at NRO:

Even worse for Markos Moulitsas, he apparently was working on a book, entitled “American Taliban” that relied heavily on a Research2000 poll of American conservatives.

UPDATE: Markos declares via Twitter, “No premises in American Taliban depend exclusively on R2K polling.”

On his site, he elaborates, “Of references to R2K, except in two instances where I couldn’t do so without affecting page count (too late for me to do that since the index was done), but those two examples also references other supporting polling, so my premise didn’t depend on the R2K results.”

Moe Lane:

Jim Geraghty is too polite to admit that he’s laughing his ass off at the thought that Markos Moulitsas is going to go sue R2000 for supposedly faking up the polls done for his website.

I’m not.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Did I mention that we’ve been calling these polls crap for a long time?  And that no one with the sense that God gave a drunken wombat took these polls seriously?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Guess who was writing a book that relied on R2000 telling Markos everything that he wanted to hear about how awful we RepubliKKKans are?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

mistermix

Ed Morrissey:

Give Markos Moulitsas some credit for full disclosure, at least.  It would have been very easy for dKos to quietly drop Research 2000 as their pollster and put their resources into a more worthy vendor without ever explaining why.  That would have certainly cost them less than hiring attorneys to sue the pollster.  Given the fact that the firm claims to be operating “out of a Kinko’s office,” it seems less than certain that Markos will ever see much of his money returned to him, assuming he can prove fraud, which is not an easy task.

I’m also not inclined to crow over the failure of dKos polling.  That ship had sailed long ago anyway, and Markos knew it, which is why he launched an independent study of the data.  Political campaigns commission their own polls and so do traditional media outlets.  If Markos had the resources to do the same, why not?  It allowed him to play with the bigger outlets, although in the end the task proved beyond his ability to manage it.  Still, one never knows until one tries.

He also makes another good point:

Sure, our friends on the Right will get to take some cheap shots, and they should take advantage of the opportunity. But ultimately, this episode validates the reason why we released the internal numbers from Research 2000 — and why every media outlet should do the same from their pollster; without full transparency of results, this fraud would not have been uncovered. As difficult as it has been to learn that we were victims of that fraud, our commitment to accuracy and the truth is far more important than shielding ourselves from cheap shots from the Right.

Again, I’m disinclined to take cheap shots, mainly because Research 200o did have an existing clientele that lent respectability to their product.  It’s also important to note that this is Markos’ take, and that the firm itself will probably have a very different position on the end of their relationship.  But Markos is right when he warns that pollsters should provide full transparency for their surveys so that people can assess performance properly, such as sample size, question formulation, demographics, and so on.  Without that information, polls can easily manipulate both respondents and readers alike.

The only criticism that comes to mind is the lawsuit itself.  Why bother?  Markos would be better advised to cut his losses.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent

Dan Amira at New York Magazine

UPDATE #2: Patrick Ruffini at The Next Right here and here

Allah Pundit

UPDATE #3: David Freddoso at Washington Examiner

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