— PolitiFarce —

January 19, 2013

JEEPers, PolitiFact's Lie of the Year Turns Out to Be True

Monique Chartier

Thanks to John Loughlin for bringing this to my attention.

The original statement by the Romney campaign that was politifact-"checked":

[Mitt Romney] Says Barack Obama "sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China" at the cost of American jobs.

And a headline from Reuters on Thursday.

Fiat sees at least 100,000 Jeeps made in China in 2014

To paraphrase commenter Dan on another thread: but, but, but ... they have the Truth-O-Meter!!! How could PolitiFact have gotten it wrong???

So in the end, PolitiFact's beef with the Romney ad was an entirely argumentative disagreement about what course of action Jeep should take, not a factual objection to Romney's true statement that Jeep was going to start building cars in China. However, disagreeing about the implications of manufacturing Jeeps in China doesn't justify calling Romney a liar for accurately stating Jeeps would be manufactured in China. PolitiFact didn't even dispute that, and even conceded the "Lie of the Year" was built on a "grain of truth."

Ah. A "grain" of truth". PolitiFact is acknowledging that which has been pretty plain about many, many of their ratings: too often, the "Truth"-O-Meter starts with a grain of truth which it spins into a rating that doesn't have much at all to do with that quality. (Anchor Rising posts demonstrating this about some PolitiFact ratings can be reviewed here.)

I am a big supporter of news outlets, including specifically traditional newspapers, who employ honest, talented, hard-working reporters and put them on a beat. (That latter is so important - the context that is provided by institutional knowledge is a vital component of good reporting.) PolitiFact might have started out as an admirable concept. Regrettably, however, the way that it has been far too often executed has been a major disappointment and, accordingly, a poor reflection on the hosting newspaper.

[Monique is Deputy Editor of the RISC-Y Business Newsletter.]

September 18, 2012

Did They Just Set Up a Skating Rink in Hades? PolitiFact Changes a Ruling

Monique Chartier

As I just remarked via e-mail to GoLocalProv's Dan McGowan, I had almost wrapped up a stinging post this evening about PolitiFact's latest rating of a statement by Brendan Doherty. The post would have been entitled

Doherty Was Right; PolitiFact Is Wrong - Cicilline "Volunteer" Ramirez Not The Source of the Funds That Repaid His PEDP Loan

Alas, the world will never see that brilliant and hard-hitting post because it has now been pre-empted by a substantial "update" to the PolitiFact ruling that would have been its subject. A new preamble to the ruling summarizes. (Emphasis added.)

EDITOR's NOTE: On Sept. 16, 2012, PolitiFact Rhode Island rated as Mostly False a statement by Republican congressional candidate Brendan Doherty that was directed at U.S. Rep. David Cicilline. Doherty said: "The Providence Economic Development Partnership . . which you [Cicilline] chaired, loaned $103,000 in taxpayer funds to one of your campaign workers. The worker never paid back the loan." In light of additional evidence, we are changing our rating to Mostly True and providing this new analysis.

As the updated version of this PolitiFact ruling carefully states, the person and outlet who brought about this hitherto unthinkable change of a PolitiFact ruling is Dan McGowan at GoLocalProv with his story of August 30 - more precisely, the very good digging by Dan that preceded and comprised it.

Kudos to PolitiFact for being big enough to run a thorough correction.

Major congratulations to GoLocalProv's Dan McGowan for bringing about the correction with some excellent research.

September 15, 2012

Delaying the Independent Auditor: A Misinterpreted Deadline and No Signed Confession Facilitate This Cicilline-Friendly Rating

Monique Chartier

Ah, the good times are so fleeting.

PolitiFact has rated one of the items on the Doherty campaign's Top 10 List of David Ciciline's Most Serious Deceptions. (Love the concept, by the way. Bad elected officials need to be called out and their official misdeeds highlighted.)

We decided to look at number four, which focused on the outside audit of Providence finances covering the final fiscal year when Cicilline was mayor. (We’ll be examining another item in Doherty's "top 10" separately.)

We quote from Doherty's news release attacking Cicilline: "INTENTIONALLY MISSED DEADLINES: You were also required to provide key information about city finances to an independent outside auditor. The deadlines were clear -- yet you missed them by months. You delayed providing that information until after you were elected to Congress."

[Link to the Top Ten list here.]

Why does PolitiFact gives this one a "Mostly False"?

Our mind-reading skills are limited, so we can't judge whether any delay was prompted by an intent to withhold information until after the Nov. 2, 2010, general election.

Gee, most of use can't read minds, either. One good way to judge "intent", however, is to look at the person's conduct and intent in related conduct. "Related conduct" might be, for example, Cicilline's stonewalling of the internal auditor. Most people, specifically including PolitiFact, agree that former Mayor Cicilline acted with bad intent when he dragged Providence's Internal Auditor James Lombardi to the point that Lombardi had to file a FOIA request to get the information he needed. Yet Mayor Cicilline acted with innocent motive when he dragged the independent auditor? That's extremely difficult to believe in view of the track record.

Further, PolitiFact's asserts that

even if every deadline had been met, the results of the audit would not have been released before the November election. Such audits are due at the end of the year, nearly two months after the votes are counted, a timetable noted in the very document the Doherty campaign cites.
But that misses the point entirely. This GoLocalProv article correctly cites the far more significant, if unofficial, deadline.
The independent auditor for the city, James Wilkinson, of Braver PC, said the city turned in most of the documents needed for the report in early November—about a month late—and around the time of the election. He said it was the first time the city had been tardy since his firm took it on as a client four years ago.

"Early November"? Funny, Election Day 2010 fell on November 2. Was that about when the Cicilline administration released the information? Or perhaps they released it - almost as uselessly - on November 1?

Sure, the final audit by the independent auditor would not have been completed before the election. But had Mayor Cicilline released the information ON TIME, i.e., a month before the election, the independent auditor would have been in possession of the information to corroborate the internal auditor's findings before the elections. And information about the true fiscal condition of the City of Providence was the one thing that then-Mayor David Cicilline could not have floating around ... at least, not until after he had been successfully promoted away from the whole mess.

August 21, 2012

Differences in Sources Suggest RI Does in Fact Have Most Burdensome Mandates

Justin Katz

Admittedly, I've been griping about PolitiFact from the sidelines almost since it entered the field.  For many of the uses that the reporters put it toward, the notion of entirely objective facts is as absurd as the notion of entirely objective reporters.  The simplistic (albeit marketable) Truth-o-Meter emphasizes the point; something's being arguable is not the same as its being partially false.

My vantage point was backstage during production of PolitiFact RI's investigation of RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse's statement about health care mandates in Rhode Island, and I can't say I've had my concerns about fairness eased.

According to the Center's Competitiveness Report Card, Rhode Island has the greatest number of mandates in the country.  In an op-ed in the Providence Journal, Stenhouse characterized it as "the most burdensome level."  And PolitiFact reporter Gene Emery went on the hunt.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

June 3, 2012

Truth Once Again Blowin' In The Wind At PolitiFact

Monique Chartier

With regard to the Deepwater Wind project, one question and one question only matters:

Is it viable; does it break ground without the government mandating artificially high electric rates?

The answer is a definite "No"! Unfortunately, with its rating today of a statement by Lisa Blais, PolitiFact fogs this, the single most important aspect of the project.

When she speaks and writes, Lisa Blais is one of the most precise and well researched people that I know. So when I heard that she was going to get a "False" or "Mostly False" on the uproarious dreaded Truth-O-Meter because of something she said on the Helen Glover Show, there was no question as to who was correct. It was merely a welcome opportunity to once again smile about a rating "service" that too often rates a statement on the basis of a standard other than the concept that comprises its name.

One interesting item arises from this matter, however - not so much in the rating itself but in the e-mail exchange that Lisa had with the Providence Journal's C. Eugene Emery, Jr. He stated,

Obviously the Deepwater issue is important, but we rate the "truthiness" of the statement on its own. It's limited, but it keeps the fact-checking process from being so unwieldy it would be impractical to do.

Huh, that's interesting. Because "truthiness" was completely secondary when PolitiFact rated as "False" John Loughlin's statement that

94 percent of the carbon emissions which you so want to get rid of are caused by nature.

(For the record, this statement is True.)

And, in fact, "unwieldy" - the quality which Mr. Emery indicated that PolitiFact eschews - is an excellent description of the theories that PolitiFact chased down and quoted at length to fill out the "False" that they gave Loughlin on a statement that was ... well, just plain true. The problem, presumably, was that people might (correctly) question how much - more accurately, how little and at what price - man can cure global warming when they learn that our contribution to greenhouse gases is a paltry 6%, stipulating for a moment that the unproven theory of AGW is even correct.

Over at Legal Insurrection last year, Professor William Jacobson pointed to a rating of a Ken McKay statement to make what has turned out to be an object lesson about one of the methods of this rating "service"

Despite the wide-ranging attack by Whitehouse on those who opposed Obamacare, PolitiFact chose to engage in word games to get the rating it wanted, by focusing on McKay’s words “everybody” and “in Rhode Island”:

Too often, it appears that PolitiFact employs an easily shifting standard when it rates statements: at times, just-the-facts "truthiness" when it needs to play word games to distract from a much larger point; for other ratings, the addition of elaborate, "unwieldy" dressing when the public might draw an "erroneous" - dare we say inconvenient? - conclusion about a truthful statement.


Permit me to be more specifical as to how PolitiFact is miss-serving the public and the truth in the case of Lisa's statement. The headline of today's rating is

Tea Party leader Lisa Blais says Rhode Island consumers are now paying for Deepwater wind turbine project in their electric bills.

However deplorable, not everyone delves into an article or an issue. On any given day, many people are only going to skim headlines to pick up the news - I'm guilty of that myself.

And in skimming mode, the all-important modifier "now" in the PolitiFact headline is not likely to register. What will certainly register, however, is the "False". So people are going to come away from this rating thinking, "That's that offshore windmill project, isn't it? I thought it was going to be funded by our electric bills. But PolitiFact says it isn't. That's good!"

No, the funding for Deepwater Wind from higher electric rates has not yet fully kicked in because the main project itself is not yet underway. But with its rating today, PolitiFact has given the impression that Deepwater Wind doesn't involve and will not involve rate-payer funding at all. And that is just False.

May 13, 2012

Unemployability of Illegal Alien Students - Rating the Blindingly Obvious

Monique Chartier

PolitiFact decided to rate the statement by RIILE's Terry Gorman that

When these [undocumented] students graduate from college, they're still illegal aliens. They cannot get a job.

They rate it a "True".

As they gave such a rating to someone with whom I agree on the underlying issue, I'm sorry to complain, really, I am. But why did they undertake to rate this statement? Under US law, Illegal aliens, whatever their age demographic, cannot work in the United States. Obtaining a degree of any sort does not change that.

Conversely, I do look forward to an analysis, in due course (it's a little early now), by PolitiFact or someone of the statement by freshly inaugurated Governor Lincoln Chafee as to the positive impact on economic development in Rhode Island of the rescinding of e-verify.

April 19, 2012

Abortion Question Shows PolitiFact RI's Bias and Ignorance

Justin Katz

It's a tedious exercise reviewing the ways in which the pretense of ostensibly neutral journalists to judge truth via PolitiFact investigations is tilted severely toward their political leanings. Indeed, if it weren't for an explicit meter and the assertion that they are dealing only in facts, it wouldn't be worth the effort.

But in order that I may exorcise today's demon, I have to point out the ignorance and bias on display in Eugene Emery's finding that it is "mostly true" that "only 14 percent of Catholics agree with the Vatican's position that abortion should be illegal."

An objective assessment must acknowledge that there are two parts to the question, with a third qualifier necessary for an understanding of the results:

  1. What is the Church's position on the matter?
  2. Do Catholics agree with that position?
  3. In what sense are the respondents "Catholic"?

In order to answer the first question, Emery did not call up our very accessible bishop, Thomas Tobin, for an explanation. Rather, he thumbed through the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church and quoted it as follows:

The "Respect for Human Life" section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law."

The theological/philosophical language "willed either as an end or a means" ought to have provided Emery a clue that he should tread carefully. As with theological notions such as double effect and just war, the difficult matter is where the line is between willing an action and accepting it as a consequence of an action undertaken for a morally positive end.

Removing an unborn child from his or her mother's womb prematurely may be necessary to prevent both of their deaths, and it may thereafter be impossible to preserve the child's life. As a moral matter, such an action is substantially different from "willing" an abortion "as an end or a means." That is especially true "as an end," and inasmuch as the death of the child, of itself, will never save the life of the mother, "the means" are a step removed, as well.

When it comes to determining the law of the land — what should be illegal — we must acknowledge that the judgment of professionals and those who find themselves in horrendous positions is unavoidable. So, this moral teaching of the Church would translate as "except to save the life of the mother."

As with all translations of religious teaching into law, semantics are a problem. The procedure of "abortion" implies the intent of killing the child. That is, in the public debate and in the law, there is no separate term for "fatal early delivery," or some other construct that might be more accurate to describe a circumstance in which a doctor does something to save the mother's life that unavoidably ends the child's life. In public discourse, we simply call all such exigencies "abortions."

Therefore, given the only four options available in the surveys (legal always, legal most of the time, illegal most of the time, illegal always), it isn't really the case that the Catholic Church requires the last. A far more useful survey would draw a line in the third category to distinguish between "life of the mother" and other exceptions.

Of the three surveys that Emery reviewed, only the one conducted and promoted by the pro-choice activist group gives any such indication. They found that 51% of the 923 Catholics supposedly representing the 70 million or so U.S. Catholics believe that abortion should be legal "in just a few" cases or "never." The percentage climbs to 75% among those who "attend mass frequently" (44% and 31%).*

The survey goes a bit farther and gives some evidence of what "just a few" cases might be, although it does so in terms of what health insurance (whether public or private) should cover. In that case, the 14% who are against all abortions increases minimally to 16% who don't think any should be covered by insurance. The next marker, though, is 24% who don't believe it should be covered in any case except those that "threaten the life of the woman." Of the options, that is most closely the official Catholic view.

Adding in the qualification of Church attendance, however, the percentage moves up considerably. And the qualification is certainly relevant, I'd argue, because it doesn't tell us much to know that people who don't assent to the bishops instruction to go to Church regularly also don't assent to much more emotionally difficult teachings.

In summary, according to a poll commissioned by a group that actively advocates for access to abortion while calling itself "Catholic," 30% of Mass-goers don't think insurance should cover abortion in any case, and 42% don't think it should cover nothing or only life saving procedures. Adjust that a bit, if you like, to account for those who think the procedure should be legal but not covered even by private insurance, but it'd likely be a small tweak.

From a devout Catholic's point of view, assent to the Church's teaching is still too limited, but it's significantly different from 14%, and one needn't accept even the highest arguable number to think "mostly true" is more than a little bit of a stretch.

* For some perspective on a 923 sample size for a 70 million person population, consider that the Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys 1,200 people in Rhode Island alone to determine unemployment. That means that bias in the methodology could have a huge effect.

For example, the survey document does not define what the survey sample bases " proper proportions" on, the total population or the Catholic population. If the former, it could skew toward wealthy Northeastern whites who attend Church only occasionally. That may be a representative sample of people who happen to be Catholic in the general population, but not of people who are Catholic.

January 6, 2012

Cicilline Gifted Another Mostly True From Politifact -- Seriously?

Patrick Laverty

Oh my goodness. That was my reaction to this finding. Really?

I can really handle word-jockeying and picking apart statements word by word. I can handle claiming that "words have meaning" when coming up with the justification for the ruling, but at least be consistent about it!

My question is that if I say I do something 75% of the time and I actually do it 25% of the time, does that deserve a "mostly true" ruling?

Politfact is investigating Cicilline's statement on a recent WPRI Newsmakers about proper pension funding in Providence:

"with the exception of the last year or maybe the last two years, we were at 100 percent"
Like any good investigator should do, Politifact looked into it and here's what they found for the eight years that Cicilline was mayor of Providence:

2003 Cianci, John Lombardi, David Cicilline $42,008,000 80.25%
2004 Cicilline $46,321,000 85.99%
2005 Cicilline $49,329,000 92.15%
2006 Cicilline $51,454,000 96.22%
2007 Cicilline $50,584,000 100.20%
2008 Cicilline $54,200,000 100.00%
2009 Cicilline $48,509,000 99.80%
2010 Cicilline $50,299,000 97.66%
*Data taken from Politifact article

Ok sure, the funding level was "close". It was in the 90s and it was more than the previous administration. However, as Politifact themselves often say, that isn't what Cicilline said. He said it was at 100% all but two years. It was there for all but six years. That's a big difference.

So the issue really speaks to Politifact's credibility, if they have much left. They are, at best, inconsistent with their rulings especially when it comes to Congressman Cicilline. This is the same newspaper that int 2010 endorsed Cicilline for Congress, in part due to his fiscal management of Providence.


I have no idea why the Journal decides to compound their mistake by trying to make his fiscal management look better than it was. I would have thought that after being burned once by Cicilline on the endorsement that the editors would protect themselves a little better when it comes to its handling of his fiscal matters and call out his statements for what they are.

If this were anyone else who said they did something 6 out of 8 times and actually did it 2 out of 8 times, there's no question Politifact rules that as "False", as this one should have been.

January 2, 2012

Bending the Truth in Cicilline's Favor

Justin Katz

In an illustration of how its methods can serve the politicians that the editors like — covering their fundamental dishonesty with a focus on minutia — PolitiFact Rhode Island has given David Cicilline a "half true" for this:

"Earlier this week, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives -- with the enthusiastic support of Sarah Palin, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and the Tea Partiers -- once again turned their backs on the 14 million unemployed Americans in our country," the letter says, "and instead chose to focus their efforts on expanding the rights of sex offenders, terrorists, child predators, and abusers to carry concealed weapons across state lines."

Reporter Lynn Arditi admits that the part about "choosing to focus their efforts" on these outcomes is completely false. That means that the specifics — on whether the bill would incidentally expand the rights of suspect citizens — must be graded on a curve to split truth down the middle, because she finds that only in some of those cases is there any evidence that Cicilline might have a point.

But the whole exercise of searching for examples of people to whom Cicilline's labels might apply is ridiculous. Under "domestic abusers," for example, Arditi finds a Pennsylvania case in which a killer had a legal handgun after a restraining order had previously been imposed and then withdrawn. It may seem like splitting hairs, but inasmuch as that is precisely what Cicilline's evidence does, one has to ask: Is it appropriate to say that the man was, in a legal sense, an "abuser" before he was a murderer? Ought every man against whom a woman requests and then withdraws a restraining order be considered a perpetrator of domestic abuse? (It's funny, by the way, how liberals' perspective would change were it a question of allowing voting rights.)

And so it goes. When it comes to abusers, predators, and sex offenders, Cicilline points out states with laws that don't count a particular conviction as sufficiently criminal to deny a concealed carry permit. In New Hampshire, for example, "an adult who lures a child into engaging in sex for pornography" is charged with a misdemeanor, which doesn't affect his or her gun rights. (That's Arditi's paraphrase of the law. I'm not sure what "luring" the child technically entails, although it's sure to be despicable, whatever its limits.) For the purposes of the PolitiFact analysis, in other words, the person would be a child predator by Rhode Island standards, New Hampshire would still grant a concealed carry permit, so a federal law allowing such permits to apply across state lines would expand the rights of a child predator.

But when it comes to the "terrorist" label, Cicilline points to Kentucky, which brands a misdemeanor charge of "terroristic threatening" on somebody who (in Arditi's words) "threaten[s] to seriously injure someone or to cause substantial property damage." Cicilline's logic, in this case, is that Kentucky might arguably call somebody a terrorist, whether or not the same definition would apply in Rhode Island, and still grant him or her a concealed carry permit. In other words, he's tilted his logical table always to roll a point in his favor.

Whatever one thinks of the issue (or politician) in question, this "half true" shows precisely why the entire PolitiFact project ought to be dismissed and abandoned. By presenting heated political rhetoric as subject to methodical analysis, the writers gloss over the very thing that makes it insidious. Most unfair accusations have some kernels of truth underlying them; that's what makes them harmful. It's the dishonesty layered on top that causes the problems and deserves the moral objection, and in PolitiFact's analysis that is a secondary consideration... at least when the editors want it to be.

December 28, 2011

Hinckley's at Least Half Correct

Justin Katz

Yesterday, National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru suggested that PolitiFact isn't dealing in facts versus falsehoods so much as making political statements in a way that's packaged to appear objective:

One of the worst features of contemporary politics is the tendency -- found on the right, on the left and in between -- to label our opponents liars, often without a shred of evidence that the person we’re attacking is saying something he knows to be false. PolitiFact makes that problem worse, not better, by giving a supposedly authoritative imprimatur to such loose accusations.

On the same day, PolitiFact Rhode Island provided a fine example by tagging Republican Senatorial candidate Barry Hinckley with a "False" for his statement that the U.S. tax code is 80,000 pages long:

The Hinckley spokeswoman directed us to a colorful chart by CCH that shows how the number of pages in one of its publications, "CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter," has increased over the years. Its 2011 edition has 72,536 pages.

But that publication isn't just the tax code. "That includes the code, regs, annotations to court cases, revenue rulings, explanatory material, other things that come out of the IRS that are not regulations," said Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for the tax and accounting group at CCH. "But some politicians and media have picked that up and called it the code, which is not correct."

So, not only is it entirely plausible that Hinckley picked up the misuse of the word "code" from an otherwise reliable source, but the only way PolitiFact can reasonably turn its Truth-o-Meter all the way to "False" is by narrowly cropping Hinckley's statement. Expanding the analysis to include the entire statement should move the judgment at least to "Half True":

When Rhode Island Public Radio political reporter Ian Donnis asked about the refusal of most Republicans to consider any tax increase, Hinckley said, "Our tax code is desperately broken. It's 80,000 pages. So in my opinion, any effort to continue to tweak something that's broken is a fool's errand to begin with. So trying to raise more money through a busted tax code, I think, is the wrong way to go."

The core point, here, is that tax law is irredeemably complex, and as an illustration, it's reasonable to count the pages of a document that incorporates all of the regulations, explanations, and judicial rulings with which a taxpayer would have to be familiar in order to confident of filling out the paperwork correctly. The word "code" might not have been as accurate as "law," but that is clearly Hinckley's meaning.

By contrast, recall PolitiFact's treatment of a statement from Terry Gorman about the law and in-state tuition. The actual code clearly falls in Gorman's favor, but judicial rulings (not fully applicable to Rhode Island, by the way) muddy the waters, and the reporters gave Terry a "Mostly False."

The bottom line is that, in order to reach an objective-seaming ranking of political statement, PolitiFact reporters have to apply their own perspective on what is relevant and what is truly key in a particular statement. Admitting bias upfront, rather than pretending that it doesn't exist, would be preferable.

October 5, 2011

Erroneous, One-Sided Public Discourse Misleads on Tuition

Justin Katz

As news consumers across the nation and the globe are aware, on Monday, September 26, the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education approved a policy granting in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants who attended local high schools. As recently as this spring, the General Assembly explicitly declined to join the twelve other states that offer this concession, so it is a matter of some controversy that an unelected board has cemented RI's reputation for diluted democracy by making ours the second to join the list as a matter of policy, not law.*

With this issue, as with many others, our drift toward unabashed aristocracy is abetted by a lack of balance in the public debate, locally. The problem goes much deeper than mere media bias, down to the data on which discussion and decisions are based. In this case, a report from the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University has enjoyed a near monopoly when it comes to research citations — from radio to Web sites, from television to print.

Even just in the A section of this Sunday's Providence Journal, the institute's findings received two high-profile mentions. The first came in a characteristically unfair PolitiFact take-down of Terry Gorman, executive director of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement. According to journalist Lynn Arditi, the study "showed that 74 undocumented students were attending one of the three public institutions of higher education in Rhode Island in 2009."

The second mention came from Board of Governors member Lorne Adrain, in an op-ed written on behalf of his fellow members. Adrain explains that their decision was based, in part, on the study's suggestion that "our state schools will still experience net new revenues from the policy."

Both assertions are demonstrably false. At a basic level, the study has broadly been assumed to deal with illegal immigrants (or "undocumented," if you prefer), although the term in the title and throughout the document is "non-citizens," which the authors never define. Thus, the report's executive summary cites the U.S. Census's 2009 American Community Survey, finding 69,757 "non-citizens" in Rhode Island, meaning that many residents counted as "not a U.S. citizen," no matter their legal status, as a few clicks at census.gov prove.

Something similar is true of the "74 non-citizen undergraduate students attending" public college. This data comes from the National Center for Education Statistics, and what it actually tallies are all "nonresident aliens" enrolled in RI's public undergraduate system. Clicking "i" for information brings up the following definition: "A person who is not a citizen or national of the United States and who is in this country on a visa or temporary basis and does not have the right to remain indefinitely."

The NCES may or may not have slipped illegal immigrants into that total, but it appears mainly intended to indicate students temporarily in the United States pursuing degrees. The new tuition policy will not apply to such "international" students. Moreover, legal-immigrant residents, whom the NCES counts among the general student body, appear already to be eligible for in-state tuition.

But let's pretend that the Latino Policy Institute's report actually addresses the students affected by the Board of Governor's new policy. That is, for the sake of argument, let's say that there are 74 illegal immigrant undergrads currently attending the University of Rhode Island (with 38), Rhode Island College (with 21), and the Community College of Rhode Island (with 15), and that in-state tuition will attract another 12 to URI, 7 to RIC, and 5 to CCRI. Will that increase in enrollment yield "net new revenues," as Mr. Adrain claims?

The Latino Policy Institute gives that impression by factoring in the "FTE instructional cost" for each institution, or the amount that it spends on a narrow range of expenses specifically filed under "instruction." The Institute subtracts that number from the tuition and counts the difference as a profit. Thus, the authors claim that "the enrollment of non-citizens would result in roughly $162,000 in revenue to public institutes of higher education per year."

The glaring error in this argument is that the "net new revenue" is not coming from "net new students." At out-of-state tuition rates, those 74 students are currently paying $1,435,010 in tuition. Give them the in-state rate, and the colleges and university are looking at a total tuition loss of $881,530. The 24 new students whom the lower tuition would supposedly attract would only bring the loss down to $703,586.

It's worth repeating that these headcounts are essentially made up. If illegal immigrants count among those here on a "temporary basis," there would be many fewer of them; if they count among those "who have been admitted as legal immigrants for the purpose of obtaining permanent resident alien status," there could be many more. In any case, the question of whether new illegal immigrant students provide a profit or require a subsidy would have to be the subject of another essay. (I'd argue that they represent a net cost of thousands of dollars each per year.)

At the very least, one can say that an unelected board should not be implementing public policy in lieu of duly passed laws, especially on the basis of erroneous and one-sided research. The Board of Governors should rescind its decision, and the civic society of Rhode Island should find a way to foster better-rounded public discourse.

* I attempted to change the Providence Journal version of this essay (which appears in the paper today) to reflect an AP report that specifically cited 12 other states that offer in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, with Oklahoma having already blazed the trail of doing so via policy. Either my correction came too late, or the Projo's findings differ from those of the AP.


I've corrected Lorne Adrain's gender in the above, and I apologize for the error. The only other "Lorne" I've ever heard of is Lorne Michaels from Saturday Night Live, and for some reason, my initial feeling that it was a woman's name never went away, despite knowing that Michaels is a man. Fortunately, though, my argument does not rely whatsoever on the personal qualities of the people whom I mention, and even if it did, I provided links to all of my sources, so readers can check my results on their own.

With all of the time that I spent culling data, I didn't have time to research Mr. Adrain's biography, which after all, is entirely irrelevant.

October 2, 2011

Do They Even Read What They Write?

Patrick Laverty

This one was just too easy. First Politifact accuses Terry Gorman of RIILE of issuing a "Mostly False" statement, and then they actually explain how their own ruling is wrong!

At issue is a statement that Gorman made about the recent RI Board of Governors offering in-state tuition to illegal aliens. According to the article, Gorman said

"[Federal] law says that you can't give in-state tuition to an illegal alien … unless you first offer it to any other student regardless of their state of residence."

And then they go over the law and explain how he's wrong because there is an out in the federal law:

The section goes on to say that states can grant undocumented immigrants public benefits that they otherwise would not qualify for if the state enacts a law to do so.
Well, I guess they gotcha there, Terry, eh?

Oh wait, in Politifact's own article, again they wrote:

...if the state enacts a law...
Did I miss something here? High school civics class was a while back, but I do know that it is only the General Assembly that can "enact a law". They didn't do that. The Board of Governors for Higher Education enacted a policy. The federal law doesn't say that "if the state enacts a law to do so or the Board of Governors of Higher Education enacts a policy".

So is Politifact trying to slide one pass us that it is "close enough"? Sorry, not good enough for me. Why? Try this. Go and Google "Politifact words have meaning" and see what you get for results. We have many instances where Politifact themselves have used this phrase when it works for them. Words do have meaning, as do a lack of words.

So based on this, Terry Gorman would seem to be exactly correct. According to the federal law, Rhode Island must offer in-state tuition to all US citizens because it didn't enact a law giving this benefit to illegal aliens. Until that time, it would seem that RI is in violation of federal law.

Sorry Politifact, but this time you get a "Pants on Fire".

September 24, 2011

Yoo Hoo! PolitiFact! How 'Bout Rating Assertions by the Board of Governors On In-State Tuition For Illegal Aliens?

Monique Chartier

It has come to my attention that the ProJo's infamous PolitiFact is currently investigating one of RIILE's several objections to in-state tuition for illegal alien students.

So how about some sauce for the gander? In fact, a strong case could be made that all politi-fact checking on this matter should be directed to the RI Board of Governors for Higher Education as it is the governing authority proposing to implement this policy.

With regard to the cost of such an expansion, the RIBGHE has made two assertions:

1.) It would be break-even: it will cost no one anything.

2.) Okay, yes, there will be a cost but it will be entirely covered by out-of-state tuition receipts.

[Hint: both of these statements are erroneous.]

And please don't do to either RIILE or the RIBOGHI what you did to John Loughlin on global warming: change the statement to be evaluated and then demand that the subject furnish proof of something he did not say.

"I'm saying really the earth is warming, but it's not conclusively caused by man. It's not conclusive. I mean 94 percent of the carbon emissions which you so want to get rid of are caused by nature." ...

Ultimately, the Loughlin campaign did not provide any evidence that nature is responsible for the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere

thereby positioning the Truth-O-Meter (... did somebody snicker?) to give a preferred rating.

September 18, 2011

David and PolitiFact on the Same Wavelength

Justin Katz

It's funny what different people find to be of interest in political documents. When I read the letter that David Cicilline sent to Monique regarding his vote against an amendment to Congressional legislation intended to ease rules of engagement restrictions for U.S. troops, what struck me were the careful words related to the right to bear arms (emphasis added):

I joined 141 other Democrats and 18 Republicans in voting against this amendment because it does nothing to change existing rules of engagement for American service members. Our men and women in uniform already possess the right to bear arms whenever they are in harm's way. Furthermore, when they are instructed on the rules of engagement, our troops are explicitly told that nothing prevents them from using deadly force to defend themselves. That's why a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which oversees all American military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, told the Wall Street Journal that H.AMDT. 318 "would likely not change a thing" about existing policy for the Armed Forces.

When are America's military personnel considered to be "in harm's way"? The amendment, itself, seems a little more broad:

The Secretary of Defense shall ensure that the rules of engagement applicable to members of the Armed Forces assigned to duty in any hostile fire area designated for purposes of section 310 or 351 (a) (1) of title 37, Unites States Code -- (1) fully protect the members’ right to bear arms; and (2) authorize the members to fully defend themselves from hostile actions.

That seems to me to ensure a right to bear arms for troops "assigned to duty" in a particular region, whether or not they happen to be within the "hostile fire area." In other words, a soldier with a little free time in Kabul would take the Second Amendment with him, even though he's not on the battlefield.

For its part, PolitiFact was more interested in the question of whether the amendment would actually change rules of engagement policy. So, the reporters turned to three military experts, at least one of whom appeared to be sufficiently ignorant of the subject as to address language that doesn't even appear in the amendment:

Victor Hansen, a professor at New England Law in Boston, described the language in Mica’s amendment -- "to proactively defend" -- as "loaded" and so broad that it was impossible to define for a practical purpose.

In the amendment that PolitiFact cites in the article, I see the language "fully defend." Happily, the Congressional record agrees with my eyes and not the experts.

Reading a little farther down, where PolitiFact paraphrases the question that it posed to U.S. Major Jason Waggoner, one gets the impression that "proactive" is actually the journalist's word. And, indeed, it appears ultimately to come from the title that Monique gave to her post, "Proactively Defending Himself: The Congressman from the First District Responds."

For the record, I doubt anybody disputes the rights of elected officials to "proactively defend" themselves against criticism. Furthermore, as wise as she is, I'm sure very few Americans would empower Monique to legislate via subject line.

What seems legitimately disputable is whether the amendment that Rep. John Mica (R, FL) proposed, and the U.S. House passed, is actually as ineffectual as Cicilline and PolitiFact claim. After all, PolitiFact's experts characterize the language as "vague" and allude to "years of 'arguments among lawyers' aver what [the amendment] means." In other words, it is defensible to argue that the amendment will have no effect, but it isn't exactly a statement of fact. Otherwise, there would be no possibility of legal disagreement.

To be sure, checking the C-SPAN video and transcript, one can see that the two Democrats who spoke in opposition to the amendment did not do so because it would do nothing, but because it would do something. As Rep. Robert Andrews (D., NJ) explained:

I frankly agree that there are very, very few circumstances I could imagine where we would not want our troops in the field to be fully armed to their complete comfort and satisfaction level. And so it's hard for me to imagine a circumstance where that's not the case.

But it's easy for me to understand a circumstance where the person in the field who is charged with the responsibility of achieving the mission and achieving maximum protection of his or her troops should have the authority to make that decision.

It's a simple matter to produce examples of rules of engagement articles that refer to the inviolable right to self defense, as the Wall Street Journal does, in the piece that Cicilline cites, but it remains true that they can vary in some particulars from commander to commander and zone to zone. Where are troops considered to be within a hostile area? What steps must they apply to determine their own safety and the threat posed by a possible attacker? The 1999 Marine Corps Combat Manual, for example, requires "defensive tactics to neutralize the threat" if an attacker is unarmed. It seems to me highly probable that Mica's language will have some effect on the balance of judgment of Marines who find lethal force necessary when no weapon is visible.

I'm not arguing the case for or against the amendment, here, but Cicilline's statement that this amendment would do nothing is incomplete. The more significant question in need of research and discussion is why he voted against it. Like his Democrat colleagues, he may not have wanted to dictate minute military policy from Washington. Like PolitiFact's experts, he may not have liked the prospect of years of litigation. But the representative makes neither point, so why was "no" his default position?

That question would be difficult for PolitiFact, with its mainstream-media resources (or even me, with a search engine and a couple of hours to squeeze in for posting on a Sunday), to answer. However, if there are so few questionable facts being flung around in political debate on welfare, employment, pensions, healthcare, and so on that PolitiFact has the space to side with Cicilline on this minor matter, then the reporters could have looked more deeply (and without leading their experts to embarrass themselves by commenting on inaccurate language).

My gut tells me that Cicilline was more concerned about how an affirmative vote on a bill using the phrase "right to bear arms" might look on some progressive tally sheet during election season than with passing superfluous legislation. I grade his letter as "half true" and PolitiFact's judgment as "false."

August 9, 2011

A PolitiFact Social Security Stretch

Justin Katz

One can only wonder whether the Providence Journal's PolitiFact team reads their own newspaper. The other day, they did what they love most to do (whacking Republican candidates) and graded Senatorial candidate Barry Hinckley "false" for saying that "there's no money in Social Security." Theirs is not a new argument — it's one that partisan Democrats have been making for years:

Those who say the fund has no money, or that it has nothing more than a bunch of IOUs from the federal government, are referring to the fact that Social Security doesn't have $2.5 trillion in cash sitting in a vault somewhere. The federal government has loaned the money to itself, using the cash to pay for other expenses.

But these aren't IOUs, which generate no interest. The loan is in the form of special-issue Treasury bonds that earned $117.5 billion in interest in 2010, according to the latest trust fund report.

The reader suspects from PolitiFact's stretched analogy that the Hinckley's point is being deliberately missed:

So maybe a better analogy would be: Saying that Social Security has no money is akin to saying that you're broke if you have 20 cents in your pocket but $20 million in the stock of a heavily leveraged company.

Only if you are the sole proprietor of that company and the company itself is broke. I could draw up papers from Anchor Rising promising me a million dollar bonus, but that doesn't make me a millionaire. Even more: Currently, the government can only pay itself the Social Security IOUs because it borrows almost half of every dollar it spends, making the system not unlike a Ponzi scheme.

Indeed, the folks at PolitiFact should have read this Q&A-style article, which the Providence Journal ran on the first page of its Nation section on July 29:

Q: What about the Social Security Trust Fund? Can't that be used to pay Social Security benefits?

A: No. The government will continue to collect Social Security taxes, but the taxes flow in across the month, while the checks go out at the beginning of the month. Normally, the Treasury advances money to Social Security at the start of each month to pay that month's checks, then gets repaid as the tax money comes in. But the Treasury can't make that advance if it doesn't have cash. And while the Social Security Trust Fund has more than $2.5 trillion in assets, that money is invested in U.S. government securities. Usually, that's a good thing because U.S. government securities are considered the world's safest investment. In this case, it's a problem because if the government doesn't have money, it can't cash in the securities.

It's too bad Hinckley didn't think to cite that article as a source. It would have been amusing to see PolitiFact take it on.

August 1, 2011

Retirement Security for Them, Not You

Justin Katz

In a nutshell, my take on General Treasurer Gina Raimondo is that she's free to take the politically risky steps of pushing pension reform because she ultimately lacks the power to implement it; that will fall to the General Assembly and the governor. The far left in the state was tickled by her election and is surely looking forward to her ascension to higher office, where she'll have more influence on everything from abortion to welfare to public-sector labor policy.

But first she's got to thread this pension needle — forcing some hard decisions, to win the general-public tag of "courageous," while giving the left-Democrat-labor set no reason to write her out of its book of allies. That's what came to mind when PolitiFact took a look at her aversion to 401(k)s:

During an appearance on the July 10 edition of 10 News Conference, when reporter Jim Taricani asked her about the sustainability of the current system, she pointed out that without a pension program, most people are ill-equipped to deal with the financial challenge of retirement.

The state's pension program, she said, "is clearly crushing the state with a debt we can't afford and that's why we have to fix it. It really is a crisis. Having said that, the average 401(k) in America of a person who's 60 years old is under $100,000, so that isn't retirement security either. I think we can maintain an element of defined benefit, an old-fashioned pension plan, but design it in a way that is sustainable and affordable."

Frankly, I'd have preferred if PolitiFact had utilized the time of its paid journalists to research evidence of whether it's possible to design an affordable system, mainly by investigating the existence and financial health of defined-pension plans outside of the government sphere. Instead, they researched the 401(k) citation and found Raimondo to be, if anything, optimistic.

I'm not persuaded that 401(k) balances are an accurate summation of non-defined-benefit retirements. Of the retirees whose finances I know well enough to comment, none rely on such accounts, or even on IRAs. Rather, they've got regular savings, other sorts of investments, profits from home sales, and such sources of income as life-insurance payouts. None of that is captured in Raimondo's point that there is no secure retirement outside of defined benefits.

Moreover, the average or median 401(k) balance tells us nothing about the average that the an employee would have on a new government defined-contribution program. I'm skeptical that it's possible to design a self-sustainable retirement system that makes promises about the dollar amount that a retiree will receive when both the investment returns and the longevity of the employee are unknowns. On the other hand, it would certainly be possible to design a defined contribution program that generates the coveted security — with the main difference being that it's the responsibility of the retiree to see that the money lasts his or her entire life, not of the taxpayer.

That gets to the broader question: Let's say that Treasurer Raimondo is entirely correct in her insinuation that the average person is ill prepared to retire:

Her spokeswoman, Joy Fox, argued that because the savings rate is under $100,000, Raimondo’s statement would be True, even if the actual number was tens of thousands lower.

Fox also said Raimondo's larger point is that "given how little the average 401(k) was worth, the defined contribution system did not provide retirement security" for state workers who, in the treasurer's words, "at the end of a hardworking career . . . ought to have security in retirement."

Why ought it be a first principle that a population that is ill prepared for its own retirements must guarantee those of government employees? By all means, within the bounds of available resources, include retirement contributions in public-sector benefit packages, but don't demand that they be almost unique in the world of American employment in offering come-Hell-or-high-water security.

March 18, 2011

Covering Criticism of the Governor

Justin Katz

It's almost humorous. The Providence Journal's PolitiFact team couldn't do otherwise than find that Lincoln Chafee broke his campaign promise not to raise taxes without first relieving the burden of state mandates on cities and towns. As if to counter that affront to media darling, on the same page, they declared that he kept his promise to seek a two-tiered sales tax.

From a certain point of view, I suppose that is a promise kept, but as I've pointed out before, the supposed fact checkers slant the results by picking which part (or variation) of a statement they examine for truth. In that context, consider even this part of their explanation:

Chafee said then that state leaders should carefully examine the possibility of a two-tiered sales tax that would continue the 7-percent tax on many items and charge a 1-percent sales tax on the long list of exempt items that, according to a 2008 Division of Taxation study, account for more than $625.6 million in potential state revenue.

If all the exempt items were taxed at 1 percent, Chafee said, the state could raise an additional $89.4 million in revenue.

What Chafee has actually suggested is to apply 6% to to some exempt items and 1% to others, thereby raising about double the taxes that he initially sought. At the very least, that's a promise half-kept, but from my perspective, it constitutes a full break.

March 13, 2011

Re: Quoth the Meter

Justin Katz

To be clear about my description of the PolitiFact process, as it's been described to me in limited detail, I have to adjust Monique's paraphrase.

My understanding is that a board exists to determine what facts should be examined and what the Truth-o-Meter should read. Presumably, those two decisions are not made at the same time. It's an assumption on my part, but I take it that the board assigns a statement to a reporter to research and then, with gathered information in hand, judges its truthfulness and tells the reporter what conclusion to justify for publication.

Of course, evidence of the final results is suggestive of a practice in which the intervening research tends to affirm the a priori political preferences of the board, but declaring that to be the case goes a bit beyond the insight that I've been given.

Quoth the Meter, "Neverwrong": Once Rated, "The Truth" Cannot be Corrected

Monique Chartier

So, yesterday, in addition to highlighting a much needed new website, PolitiFact Bias, and announcing A.R.'s excellent new subject category, Justin revealed that, at the ProJo, a sort of Truth Board is in charge of determining PolitiFact "Truth"-O-Meter ratings participates in the selection of statements for the "Truth"-O-Meter as well as the determination of its rating after reviewing evidence gathered by a reporter. After making a determination, only then does the Board send forth a reporter to gather evidence for the pre-determined rating, in what appears to be an upending (conclusion first, gather evidence second) of the proper way to search for Truth. [Justin advises that I stretched his description of the role of the Truth Board. I am pleased to "rehash"; i.e., correct, my original conclusion.]

Under that post, former RI rep and Congressional candidate John Loughlin describes yet another aspect of PolitiFact's loosie-goosie attitude towards the truth: their inability to correct a rating when indisputable evidence emerges that it was wrong.

Politi-Fact has no credibility with me what so ever.

On July 20, 2010, I was given a "pants-on-fire liar" rating for relaying the information given to me by Arizona law enforcement that those being human trafficked across the US / Mexico board are often force to carry narcotics as a price of passage. It is extremely difficult to prove this, however this is what I was told by law enforcement on the ground in Arizona (Governor Jan Brewer said the same thing). Subsequent to piece's publication it was reported in the same Providence Journal that 72 Guatemalans were gunned down by the cartels for refusing to carry the drugs. Then the Interior Minister of Mexico made a speech outlining that the human traffickers were being forced to carry drugs.

I presented all of this exculpatory evidence to Politi-Fact and was told "well, we already covered that story so we don't want to go back and re-hash it." These low-lifes called me a liar and didn't have the guts to go back and correct their error. I can only conclude it was because Politi-Fact is agenda driven journalism at its very worst.

March 12, 2011

Accepting PolitiFact (or not)

Justin Katz

To be honest, I sort of hoped that the PolitiFact brand would drift away after the election. Sometimes, I guess, these contrived media brands are like government departments — more or less permanent. In the interest of public service, I've created a new category for posts to help deepen and broaden the brand, after a fashion.

Part of the impetus for the category was also the proximate introduction to a new site called PolitiFact Bias and a post, on his own blog, by Rhode Island resident and Cornell law professor William Jacobson:

I have written about PolitiFact before, includine the clear bias shown by The Providence Journal in its application of ratings during the campaign by former Democratic Mayor David Cicilline against Republican John Loughlin in my home RI-01 District. I also have noted an analysis of PolitiFact bias against conservatives.

Two recent examples demonstrate that PolitiFact as a brand has serious problems.

Jacobson offers two instances in which PolitiFact, as I've complained before, fails to follow its own criteria for rating the validity of a statement from True to Pants on Fire. In the months between my complaint and Jacobson's, I've actually been offered a bit of inside description of the PolitiFact process: Apparently, we can't attribute all of the blame to the journalists who pen the pieces, because at least at the Providence Journal, there's a PolitiFact board that rules on the statement and tasks the writers with explaining it.

I couldn't get details on the makeup of the board, but the process sounds exactly as the skeptical public already suspected: The analyses back-fill to the conclusions.

March 8, 2011

Reporting on Experts

Justin Katz

Theodore Gatchel notes a perpetual problem facing a public that wishes to be informed:

There are so many experts on virtually every subject imaginable that anyone who relies on them for information is faced with the problem of determining which experts to trust. Unfortunately, almost everyone falls in that category. Investors rely on experts for market information, patients rely on doctors, governments depend on intelligence agencies, and everyone listens to the weather report.

As experts proliferate, so do the differences of their opinions. President Eisenhower once said about the reports he received concerning the French in Indochina, "There are almost as many judgments as there are authors of messages." The problem then becomes one of determining which experts to believe. Eisenhower's complaint is every bit as applicable today as it was when he made it.

Gatchel suggests a report card system for experts to enlighten readers as to how particular experts' "predictions have panned out in the past." The problem, it seems to me, is that any such attempt does little but create another topic on which experts can proliferate.

Consider a generic weekly columnist for a major national newspaper: the number of claims and implied predictions in his work would quickly become so plentiful, with so much of their accuracy subject to legitimate debate, that it would become easy work to distort his overall success by selecting particular predictions and interpreting real-world outcomes in a particular way. The result would be the translation of opinion into ostensibly objective data — like a PolitiFact score sheet for the honesty of public figures.

February 16, 2011

Terry Gorman: The Burning Truth About the Cost of Illegal Immigration

Engaged Citizen

I feel compelled to clarify some of the misstatements made by reporter Gene Emery in a PolitiFact hit piece which gave me a rating of "Pants On Fire".

First off, when I first spoke with Mr. Emery, he stated that he became interested in the cost of illegal immigration after seeing a RIILE sign at our new Governor's inauguration that announced that illegal aliens cost RI taxpayers $400 million per year. If that were the case, then why did he begin his article with the statement that Mr. Gorman stated that fact on the Helen Glover Show of January 6, 2011? Why bring someone else into the story if the story is meant to criticize me? Is there an agenda? He then went on to state that reliable data on this subject is difficult to find. His facts seem to bear this out.

Next, he disputes 8,740 as the number of illegal alien children and the US born children of illegal aliens in RI in 2004. I provided him the source for my information to no avail. The same source estimates that number to be 10,770 in 2010. It appears that Mr. Emery conveniently uses the numbers that seem to make his assertions work. The cost estimates for education were completely misrepresented by this reporter. In our conversations and emails, I emphatically stated that I believed the costs associated with my estimates were to educate illegal alien children AND the US born children of illegal aliens - the latter number he seems to have left out. I also stated in our telephone interviews and e-mails that I applied the RIDE statistic of 20.1% of the total student population enrolled in Special Education in RI to my 8,740 estimate to arrive at my total education cost. These figures are easily accessible on the RI Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website, RIDE, under the heading In$ite. The reporter references data from the Pew Hispanic Center reports that seem to verify his numbers but he neglects to avail himself of ALL the data, some of which would substantiate my numbers. Another agenda in the making?

The RIDE study I mentioned estimates the cost to educate English Language Learners, ELL students, in Providence alone to be in excess of $25 million. Jessica Vaughn, Director of Policy Studies at the well respected, non-partisan group Center for Immigration Studies submitted a Letter to the Editor on February 7, 2011 rebutting Mr. Emery's assertions. But it was only posted on projo.com and not printed in the Providence Journal. Why? In that letter, Ms. Vaughn gave the reporter her own rating of "Pants on Fire ".

Mr. Emery also mistakenly asserts that, in my estimates, I use Medicaid figures. Medicaid was never mentioned in any of our conversations or emails. I referenced solely RIte Care figures. Although now he has informed all of us that we currently have 350 illegal alien pregnant women receiving social services in our state, he claims that cost to be only $600,000 dollars. Does it not cost on average $10,000 per delivery at hospitals in RI? He also asserts that the state of RI does not keep track of these babies once they are born. These babies are automatically US citizens by virtue of their birth on US soil. They are also entitled to welfare, food stamps, housing and medical care. Does he expect us to believe that our state does not keep track of these costs?

He also asserts that one of my sources for costs was an Interpeter at a local hospitaI. I specifically stated to him that the interpeter informed me that she was required by her hospital administration to record, on a daily basis, any services provided to patients who did not have a Social Security, Green card number, passport etc. According to Mr. Emery, hospitals in RI do not keep track of the uncompensated care costs for services rendered to illegal aliens. If that is the case, how do they justify their requests for reimbursement from the state for those costs each year?

Here is another questionable statement. A spokesman for the Hospital Association of Rhode Island claims that hospitals in RI do not require patients to provide their Social Security numbers or their Green Card number if they have them. If that is the case, how do hospitals pursue them if they default on their payments?

All in all, I find Mr. Emery's PolitiFact assertions to be classified as "Pants on Fire ". Maybe this post will force the State of Rhode Island to finally reveal the enormous cost of illegal immigration to the taxpayers. When they do, I'm sure I know whose "Pants On Fire" will be extinguished. MINE.

Terry Gorman is the Executive Director of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement.

January 11, 2011

Sadly, the Propagandist Can't Be Ignored

Justin Katz

Look, Pat Crowley of the National Education Association Rhode Island is a paid union hack. One knows what his conclusions will be simply by looking at his job title. He allows no illusion that he will say anything other than what he thinks will benefit his employer, whether true or not. If read at all, his public writings should be studied as examples of propaganda.

Consider his latest missive, which (I suppose) the Providence Journal had no choice but to publish. Crowley attacks people whom he says are making a "Flight of the Earls" argument — that rich people are leaving Rhode Island — notably Ed Achorn and (although he can't bring himself to say so) me. The first disingenuous aspect of his argument is that the people to whom he points aren't actually saying what he suggests. Anybody who reads Anchor Rising knows that I've been referring to the "productive class" (upwardly mobile working and middle class families) as those leaving the state, and Ed Achorn has been making similar arguments, at least in the several years since I first posted my related research (see here, here, and here).

Unfortunately, respectable journalists continue to take Crowley as a serious participant in intellectual discussion, which leads them to some pretty egregious and misleading errors. WPRI blogger Ted Nesi, for example, writes in response to Crowley's op-ed:

Projo columnist Ed Achorn says wealthy Rhode Islanders are leaving the state in significant numbers because of high taxes. NEARI official and Rhode Island's Future contributor Pat Crowley says that's dead wrong.

Follow Nesi's link to what Achorn says, and one finds this:

The flight of the middle class is an ominous trend. It puts downward pressure on housing prices, eating away at a key source of most families' wealth. It drains our state of precious human capital, as educated people who could contribute greatly to charity, civic culture and the tax base head elsewhere for opportunity. It costs jobs, as businesses shut down or move.

Even in Crowley's fever swamp, the middle class isn't "the wealthy." Media professionals risk their credibility when they allow a union mouthpiece to summarize the arguments of his opposition.

But one needn't read Achorn's article to have reason to suspect that Crowley is up to tricks. For one thing, Census data showing total population at 10-year increments for the past half-century have only tangential relevance to the question of whether a particular demographic group is leaving the state. Decade-long windows also don't allow much opportunity to align trends with actual policies. Since the last time the Census came to town, for its year 2000 count, Rhode Island has enacted and done away with phase outs of capital gains taxes and an alternative flat tax. One must look at year-to-year data for such a purpose.

When Crowley does look at year-to-year data, he has no choice but to become anachronistic:

In 2005, there were 11,913 people with incomes over $200,000 a year. By 2008, the number climbed to 12,515. Taxpayers in the $100,000 to $200,000 range grew from 41,817 to 51,904 in the same period. This was the very same period of time The Journal was editorializing that these high-income taxpayers were fleeing the state, and calling for action to keep them here. Action was taken, and we are paying for it with budget deficits.

Actually, no. To the extent that people were arguing that "high-income taxpayers were fleeing the state," it was prior to these years. The capital gains tax phase out was enacted in 2002, and the alternative flat tax made it through the legislature in 2006. Rhode Island's annual budget deficits far precede "the very same period of time," and during the years 2002-2007, the amount of state income taxes that "the rich" have paid has increased in a steep upward slope.

In other words, the increase in wealthy taxpayers that Crowley cites corresponded with the very policies that were supposed to have that effect. Now, in response to the lies and political activity of Crowley's crowd, those policies have disappeared and, not-so-ironically, leftists and unionists are promoting the effects of the policies as evidence that they were not needed.

The sad thing is that Crowley's essay is clearly a political strategy. Later this week, the Ocean State Policy Research Institute will be briefing legislators on a report addressing taxpayer migration, going fully public with the report next week. In the meantime, on Monday, I'll be posting my updated research. As Nesi illustrates when he blatantly mischaracterize's Achorn's argument and places it in balanced opposition to Crowley's propaganda — as if the two sides should be considered equally credible — the tendency will be to see our statements in terms that Crowley has set.

Anybody observing with an unjaundiced eye can begin to see why Rhode Island is in its current predicament.

December 24, 2010

Truth-O-Meter, Pants on Fire

Justin Katz

The Wall Street Journal doesn't give PolitiFact a grade, but one suspects it wouldn't even reach the level of "half true":

So the watchdog news outfit called PolitiFact has decided that its "lie of the year" is the phrase "a government takeover of health care." Ordinarily, lies need verbs and we'd leave the media criticism to others, but the White House has decided that PolitiFact's writ should be heard across the land and those words forever banished to describe ObamaCare.

"We have concluded it is inaccurate to call the plan a government takeover," the editors of PolitiFact announce portentously. "'Government takeover' conjures a European approach where the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are public employees," whereas ObamaCare "is, at its heart, a system that relies on private companies and the free market." PolitiFact makes it sound as if ObamaCare were drawn up by President Friedrich Hayek, with amendments from House Speaker Ayn Rand. ...

PolitiFact's decree is part of a larger journalistic trend that seeks to recast all political debates as matters of lies, misinformation and "facts," rather than differences of world view or principles. PolitiFact wants to define for everyone else what qualifies as a "fact," though in political debates the facts are often legitimately in dispute.

And that's precisely why they wish to define "facts." For the same reason that the left typically strives to define its preferred cultural innovations in terms of "science." Facts and science are supposed to be the objective foundations on which our opinions are built; treat one side's opinion as a lie, and its structure will necessarily lean the other way.

The journalists behind PolitiFact across the country may not be self-aware purveyors of malicious propaganda, but the "lie of the year" (like the local variation on the Social Security Ponzi scheme question) proves them unable to control their rhetorical experiments for their own opinions.

December 10, 2010

More Bias on Display

Justin Katz

We're well past the point at which it became fruitless to care, but it's fascinating to watch a mainstream media "fact check" feature contort itself to justify the bias that we all know to exist in the halls of Big Journalism. One can almost see the erased editorial marks reading, "this organization couldn't possibly say anything 'false'," in a recent PolitiFact concerning Steven Brown of the ACLU."

The statement being addressed is that "over half of the foreign-born population in Rhode Island is white," and the findings were as follows:

Brown directed us to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, 2006-2008, which includes three-year estimates of foreign-born populations in the United States. Specifically, he said he was citing the figures showing that 45.2 percent of foreign-born Rhode Islanders are white.

That's not more than half. ...

Drawing from data in the 2006-2008 survey, the census said that 32 percent of foreign-born people, about one third, are white alone, not Hispanic or Latino. ...

A one-year report from 2009 showed that 30 percent of Rhode Island respondents identified themselves as "white alone, not Hispanic or Latino."

So, judged by the statistic that Brown incorrectly thought he should be using, his statement was only false by a little; judged by the appropriate statistic, Brown's statement was false by a lot. On what grounds did PolitiFact give him a "half true"? The bias, here, needn't have been as overt as a decision to figure out how to preserve the ACLU's shine, but belief in that shine helped Mr. Brown escape the public acknowledgment that something that he said was so misleading as to be false.

November 17, 2010

ProJo's Politiflackdom is built into the Model

Marc Comtois

I promise after this that I won't hack at the ProJo's politiflack (for at least today). Remembering that the ProJo's model for Politifact came from the St. Petersburg Times, I note Mark Hemingway's reminder that "‘Politifact’ is often more politics than facts":

In 2009, Politifact won a Pulitzer prize, so people put a lot of a faith and credibility in what they say. However, rather than objectively weighing the facts, Politifact is hardly above employing highly-politicized context to render judgment. The latest example of this is their recent item on Rand Paul.

Here’s what Rand Paul said: “The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year.”

Here are the facts: “Federal civil servants earned average pay and benefits of $123,049 in 2009 while private workers made $61,051 in total compensation, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The data are the latest available.”

Here’s how Politifact rated Rand Paul’s statement: “False.”

Come again? The only way that Politifact can reach this conclusion is through a great deal of sophistry, which they lard on with abandon:

Since most people usually think about how much they, their spouses and their colleagues get paid in salary alone — not salary plus benefits — we think most people hearing this statement would assume that Paul means that the average federal employee gets paid a salary of $120,000. That’s simply not true.

So what they’re saying is not that what Paul said was literally false, but that according to how they think people will understand what he said, it’s not true.

Lack of context, sophistry...Well, I guess the ProJo is following the model.

What Chafee Means by "Harmful"

Justin Katz

I've received reader email expressing cynicism at the Providence Journal PolitiFact's release, post-election, of its finding that Governor-elect Lincoln Chafee's statement was "barely true" that "experts say the property tax 'is the most harmful to economic growth and ... the sales tax is least harmful." Indeed, Eugene Emery's article notes:

[Tax Foundation economist Kail] Padgitt referred us to a study by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an international agency founded to help its 33 member countries find the best economic policies.

The OECD's 2008 study of tax structures and economic growth says that when taxation is necessary, a stronger reliance on property taxes is the best method for encouraging an economy to grow, followed by consumption taxes, such as sales taxes. High corporate taxes, it concluded, were the worst when it came to increasing the gross domestic product (GDP).

The only rational conclusion to which one can come, on the question, is that it depends. Blanket statements of which tax is preferable are fatally flawed in that there are limitless number of ways in which a regional government can hinder or help its local economy, and the particular mix at any given time will have a huge effect on what tax increases are more or less damaging.

Inasmuch as Rhode Island's underlying problem is an inability to attract and retain economically productive people — to start and populate businesses — increasing property taxes should be a nonstarter. On the other hand, given the size of the state, with cross-border shopping opportunities mere minutes away for most residents (and the Internet readily accessible), increasing the sales tax will likely drive our consumer economy increasingly away. That's good for neither near-term economic growth nor the initiation or immigration of businesses to the state.

But it's nothing new to suggest that Rhode Island cannot afford to increase any taxes (or fees, for that matter). What's interesting about Chafee's statement is what I think underlies it. Local progressives, among whom Chafee clearly numbers, often declare that the property tax is "the most regressive." That's obviously questionable in comparison with a proposal to tax necessities that are currently exempt from taxation, under the law. But I'd wager that Chafee is extrapolating from that cliché that regressiveness in the tax structure is inherently harmful to the economy.

November 8, 2010

With the Journal's Hot Air in His Sails

Justin Katz

This paragraph, from a post-election article by Providence Journal staff writer Peter Lord deserves some reflection:

For much of the general election campaign, polls indicated there was no contest. Cicilline was running ahead by 20 points or more. And he raised and spent about $1 million more than Loughlin, though that included financing his primary campaign.

Any list of Cicilline's advantages should include the assistance that the Providence Journal offered — notably through its ostensibly neutral PolitiFact feature (as we noted several times, including here, here, here, here, here, and elsewhere). There's simply no denying the bias; the Projo's own handling of headlines shows some awareness of the fact. For the online version of the story — which will remain as a public record for people around the world to see — the title is "Cicilline holds off GOP's Loughlin." On the front page of last Wednesday's print edition, however, the headline jubilantly proclaims, "Cicilline sails past GOP's Loughlin."

Sorry, ye power brokers, given advantages of fundraising, name recognition, local partisan preferences, media adulation, presidential campaigning, and so on, Cicilline should have won by a much greater margin than 6% of the vote.

Let's hope that Loughlin continues to campaign over the next two years — including a dedicated effort to remain relevant and heard on issues in the news — and begins 2012 on a more equal footing for a race with a different outcome.

November 3, 2010

UPDATED: RI House Summary

Justin Katz

The RI House now has 9 Republicans (ten, if you include John Savage, from East Providence). 12% is better than nothing, I guess.

At least both chambers will have heckling sections, now that Rhode Islanders have given the Democrats the run of Rhode Island, with Linc Chafee as a governor alternately to cheer buffoonishly as he spearheads reckless policies and to blame as a "former Republican" when the state continues to deteriorate.

The outcome brings to mind the conclusion of my Providence Monthly essay from last year:

If former Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey was correct, when he withdrew from the state and from speculative candidacy, that Rhode Islanders simply do not want to bring the feast to an end, then his opponent in the last Republican U.S. Senate primaries will prove to have the perfect head for that three-belled cap. Lincoln Chafee is an "independent" still bearing the stain of his years as a nominal Republican. His pretentions toward fiscal conservatism will make a target of free-market and small-government principles, even as his actual liberalism clears the way for increasing burdens on taxpayers and businesses and facilitates a drunken lurch toward the libertine left in the dark hours of apocalyptic night.

In any case, conservatives might find new liberty in lacking an ally in the hall of power; we'll be free to venture out and rebuild the kingdom from the frontiers in.

All that's left to us, now, is to begin rebuilding the shires, as it were, while the state continues to limp along toward wounded delirium. Too many potential reformers have made the calculation that leaving is the wisest course, and as other states pull out of the recession, leaving Rhode Island behind, that skew will only worsen.


Providence Journal reporter Gene Emery did me the honor of a personal PolitiFact check by email and corrected me on my total, above. The problem wasn't that I miscounted, though; it was that, in my haste to move on to other investigations, I forgot to add the parenthetical note about John Savage that now appears in my first paragraph.

October 28, 2010

ProJo PolitiFlacks for Cicilline

Marc Comtois

Oh, it sounds so good, doesn't it? PolitiFact will fact check politicians to see what is true and not. But, as we've been pointing out here and there, PolitiFact can be used as another vehicle to slant political news coverage, albeit under the guise of "fair and balanced" fact checking. Justin has already explained how context can skew the "meter reading", but selection bias is also a major factor in the sort of "news shaping" for which the ProJo is obviously using PolitiFactFlack when it comes to the Laughlin/Cicilline Congressional race.

The ProJo has already endorsed Cicilline, but it's also interesting that the last three "fact checks" done by their inferentially unbiased PolitFact feature have all had to do with the 1st Congressional District race and all have come out favorably for Cicilline. They include a "Mostly True" in favor of a Cicilline claim against Loughlin, a "Barely True" regarding an independent ad attacking Cicilline and a "False" about a Loughlin claim regarding global warming (which doesn't seem particularly germane to the overall race). Overall, since the beginning of the race, the 'Flacks have given Loughlin 1 "Barely True", 2 "False" and 1 "Pants on Fire." Meanwhile, Cicilline has earned 1 "True", 1 "Mostly True", 1 "Half True" and 1 "False" (Cicilline's exaggerated claim that he brought $3 billion in economic development).

It's understandable that a Congressional race would garner significant attention from the 'Flacks. But the breakdown of their "results" and their late concentration on this race to the exclusion of others is revealing. Could it be that the CD-1 race is a little too close for comfort for the Fountain street gentry?

Further Tying Credibility to Cicilline Campaign

Justin Katz

I wonder if anybody at the Providence Journal — particularly on the PolitiFact crew — is concerned that, every few days, Cynthia Needham whacks a big chunk of their organization's credibility off the table in the service of David Cicilline's Congressional campaign. Last week, she gave David Cicilline a "mostly true" rating for his claim that John Loughlin "voted to let people accused of domestic violence keep their guns":

Nowhere does the 2005 bill suggest one must be accused of a crime to have the statute apply.

Cicilline overstates the scope of the bill that Loughlin voted against. But he is correct to suggest that if Loughlin's side had prevailed, those subject to domestic violence restraining orders would be allowed to keep their guns.

This week, she's declaring an ad by Americans for Common Sense Solutions to be "barely true" even though it's nearly identical in character to Cicilline's claim:

In 1996, Rhode Island lawmakers took the existing sex offender registration law, which required convicted offenders to register with local police departments, and added language requiring police to notify the community. That vote took place while Cicilline, now the mayor of Providence, was still a state representative.

So how did he vote? The short answer is, he was one of three representatives who voted against it.

Probably realizing that she's pushing the envelope on applying her political preferences as the deciding criterion in an ostensibly objective measure, Needham resorts to the PolitiFact rulebook:

PolitiFact's definition of a Barely True statement says it "contains some element of truth, but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."

What a complete joke. The Providence Journal should consider whether there's any relationship between this sort of thing and their sliding circulation.

October 25, 2010

Context Makes Opinions of Facts

Justin Katz

Perhaps the most helpful aspect of the Providence Journal's PolitiFact feature is the significant degree to which it illustrates how even basic discussions of facts become deeply muddled in subjective context. As I've previously pointed out, when Democrat David Cicilline makes a statement about Republican John Loughlin's position on Social Security that is substantively a misrepresentation, context gets him a rating of "half true," while a substantively true statement on Loughlin's part — that Social Security is structured like a Ponzi scheme — becomes snagged in "false" because such schemes are scams, while Social Security is operated by our benevolent government.

Now, reporter Cynthia Needham is back to leveraging the PolitiFact brand to assist Cicilline's campaign for Congress. Under scrutiny is his statement that "John Loughlin voted to let people accused of domestic violence keep their guns." Needham explains why she went with only a "mostly true" rating, as follows:

The problem with the Cicilline advertisement's claim is that it incorrectly says the bill applies to those "accused of domestic violence." A restraining order is actually a civil document that can be obtained without accusing the subject of a specific crime. ...

Nowhere does the 2005 bill suggest one must be accused of a crime to have the statute apply.

That's not just the minor adjustment that Needham's rating suggests. That's hugely significant in the context of Cicilline's claim that Loughlin is "extreme." In the Democrat's spin, Loughlin specifically voted to allow people accused of a particular violent crime keep guns. One must note, of course, that accusation isn't supposed to be guilt, in our system of justice, but that discussion isn't necessary, because Cicilline's claim is simply not true. Loughlin voted against a broad confiscatory law because it was broad and confiscatory.

It's not a crime, to be sure, but Needham's habitual judgment of facts could be called context abuse. Wouldn't it be interesting if some of PolitiFact's other contributors were to test their Truth-O-Meter on her?

October 19, 2010

A Governor for Dictatorial Times

Justin Katz

Lincoln Chafee's time as Warwick mayor ended before I'd taken much of an interest in Rhode Island politics, so I'd never had occasion to learn about his much touted resolution of a teacher dispute and strike in the city. The details in a recent PolitiFact article suggest that he might be more than comfortable with a role of governor in a time of state centralization of power:

In spring 1994, after talks broke down and the state mediator resigned in frustration, Chafee stepped in and cut a deal with the teachers, essentially bypassing the School Committee.

Under the agreement, backed by eight of the nine members of the Democrat-controlled City Council, base pay for a top-step teacher went from $39,762 during the 1990-1991 school year to $49,371 for 1996-'97, the final year of the pact. That's a 24.2-percent hike. The deal also included an extra 2.5 percent that teachers who were working during the 1992-'93 school year are entitled to receive when they retire or resign, a bonus that continues to be paid as teachers leave.

The question that the article addresses — leading to a "half true" rating for Chafee's Democrat opponent for governor, Frank Caprio — is whether Chafee can really be faulted for giving the teachers such a huge raise. The context that writer Eugene Emery finds compelling in Chafee's favor is that the total amount can be seen as spreading out over the course of the six years that the dispute continued.

Only in public sector labor disputes is it considered natural for wage increases to be counted over years of negotiation. Most workers who receive raises after long stretches of stasis don't see them as distributed across the years from one increase to another. Indeed, that mentality — the inevitability of retroactive pay — surely underlies the union's willingness to drag the process out for so long... until it could find some official party to acquiesce and make its members whole.

In this case, it appears that the voters of Warwick were not interested in replacing their school committee with representatives who would acquiesce to the union, and they had no reason to suspect that their votes for mayor would achieve the same result.

October 11, 2010

Incentive Not to Work

Justin Katz

In contrast to the PolitiFact about which I complained, yesterday, this one by Eugene Emery was actually informative. The statement under scrutiny was from Republican candidate for governor John Robitaille, that "Rhode Island has a very generous unemployment compensation rate compared to most other states":

By the latest measurement, during the first quarter of 2010 Rhode Island ranked second in the nation. The state paid the typical recipient 47.8 percent of the average weekly wage of $816.71. (Hawaii topped the list, at 54.8 percent. Massachusetts, by that measure, was at 37.3 percent, ranking it 29th.)

Put another way, the average hourly wage in Rhode Island during the first quarter of 2010 was $20.42. The average person receiving unemployment insurance got the equivalent of $9.76 per hour. The benefit could be as much as $13.76 an hour for an individual or $17.20 per hour for someone with five or more dependents.

Robitaille's contention is that unemployment benefits so high discourage people from going back to work once unemployed. I've actually run into that dynamic, with a new carpenter who spent most of the single day that he worked with my company telling another new guy how nice it was to be able to go fishing and such while receiving a government subsidy.

It's important to note that unemployment needn't exceed the pay rate that a potential worker could expect. It just needs to be more than he or she requires to live an acceptable lifestyle.

October 10, 2010

Cynthia Needfacts and the Politiham Feature

Justin Katz

Frankly, if the folks behind the Providence Journal's PolitiFact feature wish not to lose entirely the salable premise thereof — its neutrality — mere months from its introduction, they should ban Cynthia Needham from touching the Truth-O-Meter. Monique made mention of Needham's take-down of Republican Congressional candidate John Loughlin, last week, but the matter deserves a little closer look, beginning with Needham's prior finding that Democrat David Cicilline was being "half true" when he said that "the Republican candidate has talked about privatizing Social Security... so we know where he stands on the issue."

Taking it point by point, Cicilline is correct when he says Loughlin has talked about privatization. It's important to note however that words matter. Had Cicilline made a more stringent accusation, we might have judged it differently.

It's important to note, too, that it would be entirely accurate, by this measure, to state that David Cicilline has "talked about privatization." It's a dumb measure that one would only apply if the objective was to assist the Cicilline spin. Note, especially, that the folks at Politifact chose the phrasing that they investigated. Alternately, they might have looked to a September 29 article in the Pawtucket Times, helpfully provided on Cicilline's campaign Web site:

Privatization, which Cicilline contends his Republican opponent, John Loughlin, has said might be appropriate for younger workers, would "eliminate Social Security the way we know it and make seniors take their savings, go into the stock market, and gamble your future."

Everything about this statement is false. Loughlin has suggested that partial privatization would be appropriate for younger workers, leaving Social Security "the way we know it" intact; the money being invested, rather than stored away in phony federal IOUs, would come from those young workers, not "seniors"; and the money would not come out of savings, but out of contributions already slated for Social Security taxation. Personally, I think Loughlin's view isn't nearly strong enough, but I'm not the one trying to claim an elective office. The point is that PolitiFact is supposed to investigate actual statements and facts, and in this case, Cynthia Needham chose a particular quotation from a field of lies that she found to be easier to spin in a positive way for the candidate whom she presumably prefers. She goes on:

He's also right that Loughlin voted against the resolution urging Washington to oppose it.

Again, Needham's parsing of language is entirely one-sided. The accusation in question is that Loughlin wishes to privatize Social Security. There's plenty of room between that position and thinking that a state legislature shouldn't pass a symbolic resolution in favor of not doing so.

On the third point, however, Cicilline misses the mark. He does not appear to know where his opponent stands on the issue. Loughlin himself says Cicilline is flat out misinterpreting his position. Yet that hasn't stopped Cicilline from criss-crossing the state using the accusation to scare elderly voters and win votes.

So, here at the end of an article that provides the quick-check device of a Truth-O-Meter to allow skimming readers to get the sense of the article, Needham acknowledges that the core substance of Cicilline's comment constituted a misrepresentation. She proceeds to give that an equal rating to an irrelevancy ("has talked about") and an insignificant vote made half a decade ago.

Now turn to Needham's subsequent attack on John Loughlin's veracity on the same issue, which is utterly absurd. The statement under investigation is that "Social Security is a Ponzi scheme" (click here for video of that answer). To which Needham finds:

There are similarities. As PolitiFact Wisconsin notes, Social Security uses taxes on current wage earners to finance the retirement checks of millions of Americans.

So, structurally, Needham acknowledges that Social Security operates in a way at least similar to Ponzi schemes. How does she weave a Truth-O-Meter "False" from a statement that is substantively accurate?

... there is a second, critical component that defines a Ponzi scheme: fraud. To reach the level of this kind of scam, an investment setup must intentionally con investors, while making efforts to convince them that the finances are legitimate.

At best, this is a statement of opinion. As an investor in Social Security, I absolutely distrust the promises being made about the returns that I can expect on my investment. More importantly, whatever honesty the government is able to muster for its own scheme (whether Ponzi or some other variety) derives from the fact that the "investors" have no choice. Would Needham pick the "fraud" nit if an entity other than the federal government were offering the same investment opportunity and threatening to confiscate property and even imprison people who chose not to participate? To ask is to answer.

The article then moves from opinion to advocacy with this:

A Ponzi scheme is guaranteed to run aground when the pool of investors is tapped out, whereas the Social Security administration's troubles could be remedied by raising taxes or other restructuring, should the federal government choose to do so, [URI Economics Professor Rick McIntyre] said.

In other words, Social Security differs from a Ponzi scheme because the latter will inevitably fail, while the government can simply transform its own variation of the scam into a straight-up redistribution of wealth. When the "investors" in Social Security can no longer keep up with the recipients, the government has the power to unilaterally change the payouts and/or draw on resources (taxation) external to the program. Any Ponzi scheme could be resolved with that sort of power.

And for closing, Needham simply can't maintain the mask of objectivity:

But there's one more thing. Loughlin doesn't just compare Social Security to the Ponzi scheme concept, he takes it a step further and draws a parallel with the specific case of Madoff, who is believed to have run the largest fraud of this kind in history.

Publicly measuring a 75-year-old U.S. government program against such a massive crime is not only overstating the issue, it's bordering on irresponsible.

Deploying poor logic and a tautology, Needham illustrates her personal investment in the issue of which she's presenting herself (falsely) as a neutral arbiter. That the perpetrator of the scheme is the U.S. government does not make it less of a scam. That the program has lasted 75 years is merely a consequence of the fact that each wave of investors is a full generation or more removed from the beneficiaries, meaning that the demographic collapse is certain to be slow. And raising ire on the basis of comparing a federal program to a crime merely begs the question.

October 3, 2010

Rating of John Loughlin on Social Security: PolitiFact's Truth-O-Meter Earns Itself a "Pants on Fire"

Monique Chartier

The "Truth"-O-Meter in today's Providence Journal rates Congressional candidate John Loughlin's comparison of social security to a Ponzi scheme as "False".

Let's take a look, shall we?

Here's the definition of a Ponzi scheme.

A Ponzi scheme is an investment fraud that involves the payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors.

Here's how social security works.

The Social Security system is funded primarily by federal taxation of payrolls.

Okay, so the social security system funds the benefits (purported returns) paid to retirees (existing investors) out of the pockets of current employees (new investors).

Social security's revenue situation is even worse than that, however. As of this year, seven years ahead of projections, spending on benefits exceeds revenue, meaning that all of the social security taxes paid by employees and employers IS NOT ENOUGH TO COVER benefits currently being paid out.

So is it fair to say that social security is beginning to lose a "consistent flow of money"? Returning to the definition of a Ponzi scheme,

With little or no legitimate earnings, the schemes require a consistent flow of money from new investors to continue. Ponzi schemes tend to collapse when it becomes difficult to recruit new investors or when a large number of investors ask to cash out.

In sum, it pays "returns" to investors from revenue it collects from new investors. It's not pleasant to say, much less address. And there is no imminent threat to the checks of those currently collecting. But social security appears to be a textbook Ponzi scheme. Why are PolitiFact and the Providence Journal attempting to deflect this rather obvious characterization?

September 19, 2010


Justin Katz

As difficult as it may be for me to come to the defense of Patrick Lynch, I have to point out that the PolitiFact folks are doing exactly what they accuse Lynch of doing, here:

Our Truth-O-Meter can't predict the future, so we don't know if the jobs estimates being projected by either Lynch or Deepwater are correct, whether the wind farm will -- as some experts have predicted -- actually cost the state jobs by driving up the cost of electricity, or whether fossil fuel prices will someday make Rhode Islanders glad they invested in the small- or large-scale offshore wind farms.

But for now, we rule that Lynch was telling only half the story when he quoted Deepwater officials, so we'll give him a Half True

Lynch had quoted Deepwater's testimony that it would directly create only six new jobs in the state, and PolitiFact objected that he didn't account for contractors who would help to build the necessary components. Putting aside the fact that it is wholly speculative (i.e., predicting the future) that the company will not find out-of-state contractors, as any Rhode Island business, agency, or even municipality is wont to do when a non-RI firm wins the bidding process, PolitiFact ignores the context of the debate.

The weight of the decision to privilege Deepwater with government assistance — to the point of manipulating the law to ensure that guardian agencies, like the Public Utilities Commission, wouldn't have to acknowledge that the project is a bad deal for the people of the state — fell on the assumption that building a permanent industry, here, would be worth the cost, Building buildings and the other "temporary construction jobs" on which PolitiFact relies for its verdict are great but don't necessarily justify the extraordinary steps that our state officials have taken.

I'd adjust Lynch up to a "mostly true."

September 5, 2010

Barely "Factual"

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal's still-new PolitiFact feature, with the market-hook Truth-o-Meter has generally been worth a perusal and sometimes a thorough read, although I've thought the journalists behind it could shoot for bigger targets much of the time. For today's review of a statement by state rep. and congressional candidate John Loughlin (R., Tiverton), though, they seem to have drifted a bit — claiming that a statement on the economic benefits of tax cuts was "barely true." Here's the statement that PolitiFact fact checked:

After Ronald Reagan cut taxes in 1981 the U.S. enjoyed "exponential growth."

Before looking at the substance of the claim, we need to adjust PolitiFact's parameters:

Taken literally, "exponential" refers to growth at an ever-increasing rate, as when something doubles, then triples, then quadruples. The economy during the Reagan years did no such thing.

Actually, it would be more accurate to suggest that the literal meaning of "exponentially" is not so much a reference to continual, unceasing growth, but to growth that is so large that it is best expressed in terms of exponents (x-squared and such). The growth of the economy in 1982 was actually recessionary, but in 1983, according to PolitiFact, it was 4.5%, and in 1984, it was 7.2%. Especially considering that nobody actually means "exponential growth" literally in public discourse, it isn't unreasonable to suggest that such growth fits the bill.

But the more important question is whether the statement is accurate by non-literal standards. PolitiFact offers two arguments in the negative. First, journalist Eugene Emery notes that growth thereafter "returned to a fairly typical 3 percent and 4 percent, which (while healthy) isn't exponential by any standards. Second, he points out that Reagan's 1981 tax cut was followed by tax increases, of various forms, in 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, and 1987. He then asks Loughlin why "he mentioned only Reagan's tax cut and not the subsequent increases."

Perhaps if he hadn't been in a gotcha frame of mind, the journalist would have looked at the prima facie nature of his own question, particularly after he'd heard the following from a professional economist:

We asked Edinaldo Tebaldi, an assistant professor of economics at Bryant University, about the timing. He said it takes one to three years "to fully see the benefits of tax cuts."

In summary, Reagan (in concert, of course, with the rest of the federal government) cut taxes in 1981, and two and three years out, the economy grew. He then allowed taxes to increase, and after the same lag, the growth moderated. By the terms of the Projo's own fact-checking team, the evidence would indeed support the statement that tax cuts offer a very significant boost to the economy.

August 9, 2010

A Flat Pyramid Scheme

Justin Katz

In the course of checking a claim by Congressman Jim Langevin, C. Eugene Emery, Jr., offers this explanation of the calculation behind the "multiplier effect" allowing Democrats to claim, as Langevin did, "for every $1 we spend on unemploymen t benefits, $1.90 is put into our economy":

When you give $1 to people who have lost their jobs and they have run out of savings, those dollars get spent. So Mary gives it to Mike down the street to buy some of his fruits and vegetables. Mike, who relies on customers like Mary, might put 25 cents in the bank but use the rest to buy seed and fertilizer from Tom's store in town. Tom might save a dime of the 75 cents he got from Mike but use the remaining 60 cents for a new pair of glasses.

When economists calculate the gross domestic product, they add up all those transactions (excluding the amount set aside in savings and money that ends up overseas if you buy foreign goods). In this limited example, Mary's $1 has added $2.35 ($1 plus 75 cents plus 60 cents) to the gross domestic product. Yes, it's still just $1, but by passing it along it has helped three people.

For purposes of economic theory, this is an interesting consequence of the definition of the GDP, but in contriving a policy to increase economic activity and employment, it's not so useful. The GDP calculation does not differentiate between a dollar that Mike spends because Mary transferred her government cash to him and a dollar that Mike pulls out of his savings because he thinks investing in his business is a better strategy. To get the economy rolling of its own volition, policies must encourage the latter.

Since a government in deficit has no savings of its own, it must take Mary's dollar from somebody else, whether decreasing some other expenditure, increasing taxes, or borrowing from the future. That means that Mike might reasonably expect the personal profits from his business to decrease, encouraging him to find other things to do with his money than invest in his economic output (savings, foreign transactions, etc.).

Whether we continue to extend unemployment benefits is more a moral question than an economic one. But on the economic side, priority number 1 ought to be encouraging business owners and entrepreneurs to take on the risk that ultimately provides folks like Mary with employment.

June 13, 2010

A Leaked Document Followed by a Reluctant Confirmation: Under ObamaCare, 50% or More of Americans Will Not Be Able to Keep Their Health Care Plan

Monique Chartier

Friday's Investor's Business Daily.

Internal administration documents reveal that up to 51% of employers may have to relinquish their current health care coverage because of ObamaCare.

Small firms will be even likelier to lose existing plans.

The "midrange estimate is that 66% of small employer plans and 45% of large employer plans will relinquish their grandfathered status by the end of 2013," according to the document.

In the worst-case scenario, 69% of employers -- 80% of smaller firms -- would lose that status, exposing them to far more provisions under the new health law.

This contradicts the repeated reassurances made by President Obama as he was attempting to sell health care "reform":

If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan.

There is one seemingly small characteristic of this document which is chilling in its long-term implication to American health care should ObamaCare remain unchanged before its implementation.

The 83-page document, a joint project of the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the IRS

Confirmation that the federal government is well on its way to edging market forces altogether out of the system and replacing them with the tax gun. Commenter David P correctly points to the next inevitable step, which is for government to dictate "the terms under which it provides service".

In Massachusetts, we are getting a preview of how this will unfold as government price controls combined with government mandates now begin to squeeze and then whittle down the number of health care providers willing to stay and dance to the tune of MassCare.

December 30, 2009

Whitehouse We Have Heard on High

Justin Katz

It's a curious standard, that which Edward Fitzpatrick applies to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's objectionable remarks on the Senate floor:

No doubt, those lines gave voice to the Democratic anger and frustration that mounts every time Sarah Palin posts more nonsense on Facebook. ...

Perhaps it's good for Rhode Island to have a fiery, outspoken senator to go with the understated Sen. Jack Reed. Perhaps there is some political utility to such speeches. If Palin is going to be using her Twitter account to perpetuate the "death panel" idea (PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year"), maybe Democrats need to do more to fire back.

Fitzpatrick appears to conclude that, based on the math of the vote, Whitehouse could have afforded to take the high ground, in this case, but think of the interaction that he's describing and at least partially justifying: A woman who is at most an open-ended candidate, but currently just another political commentator, puts content on social networking Web sites, and a man elected to represent the people of Rhode Island fires back in an official, scripted speech from the floor of the national legislature. One shudders to think what other government institutions the Democrats will consider utilizing to "fire back" at citizens who express unhelpful objections on the Internet.

Also curious is Fitzpatrick's position in light of his column — back before the "summer of death panels and socialists" as he quotes Dana Milbank — praising Whitehouse for being "aggressive." That was in reference to Whitehouse's comparison of the Bush administration to the historical horrors that he now applies more broadly, to everybody who opposes his party's takeover of American healthcare.

I'd suggest that the high road was left back when President Transparency and Compromise took office and began showing his partisan closed curtains, not the least by releasing reports casting conservative beliefs as reason for suspicion of terrorism, and when Democrats like Sheldon Whitehouse pounded the metaphorical table about the need for a "truth commission."


A side-note: Fitzpatrick cites the Obama-as-Hitler signage of Lyndon LaRouche supporters among the affronts to which Whitehouse is understandably reacting without mentioning that LaRouche is a Democrat. That information might be relevant to his narrative.

May 29, 2009

As the 80's Rock Band Asia Almost Once Said: Your Inconsistency, It Really Comes as No Surprise…

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here is the core of Miss California Carrie Prejean's now-famous statement of her position on gay marriage…

I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman.
And here is one of President Barack Obama's statements of his position on gay marriage, this one from an interview by the Reverend Rick Warren…
I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman.
For holding this position on gay marriage, Pat Crowley of Rhode Island's Future argues that Miss Prejean and President Obama (and former Warwick City Councilman Robert Cushman) should be considered "bigoted primadonas" (sic)…
Time was, considering people lesser beings, not entitled to the same legal protections as others, would rightly award you the moniker of bigot…NO MORE! Now, thanks to Mr. Cushman and the others that rose to the defense of Ms Prejean she wasn’t being bigoted at al…she was simply willing to speak her mind…and how American is that?...

So speaking you mind is courageous, but telling the person who speaks their mind they are a bigoted primadona who is using their platform to confirm their own superiority and reinforced the inferiority of others, well, that is unpatriotic.

Oh wait, Mr. Crowley doesn't include President Obama on his list of bigots. Or does he? Maybe at some point he'll clarify.


Commenter "Twisting the point" notes that Robert Cushman's op-ed is a viewpoint-neutral argument about the importance of "having the courage to speak our minds and stand up for what we believe" (Cushman's words), and takes no position one way or the other on gay marriage. So it's only Ms. Prejean and President Obama -- if this is about actual positions -- who are characterized as bigoted primadonas (sic) for disagreeing with Mr. Crowley on gay marriage.

Mr. Cushman stands accused only of questioning people's patriotism.