Thursday, October 3, 2013

GOP Derp Shows Over National Park Service Closures


You know how all these Republicans are trying to say the WWII memorial was closed by the Obama Administration to make the shutdown worse? 
"Paul also accused Democrats of stopping funding and rejecting Republican proposals because “they think it’s a parlor game.” "
"“We’re trying to fund government and they’re trying to stop any funding because they think it’s a parlor game and they’ll win politically, but they’re not willing to negotiate and I think that’s an untenable position,” Paul said."
"Meanwhile, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) also suggested that the closure of the memorial was a kind of theater aimed at dramatizing the shutdown for the public."
"“There were barricades around something that 24/7, 365 I could” visit on previous occasions, Grassley said. “The show of putting barriers around because of the shutdown and spending all the money to do it … causes me to be a little cynical.”"
One GOP Congressman even went so far as to harass park ranger for doing her job, a job she had to do because of his vote:
""How do you look at them and ... deny them access?" said Neugebauer. He, with most House Republicans, had voted early Sunday morning to pass a funding measure that would delay the Affordable Care Act, a vote that set up a showdown with the Senate and President Barack Obama. With the parties unable to agree on how to fund the federal government, non-essential government functions shut down Tuesday."
Well here is the context they won't mention:
"The federal government shutdown that began at midnight did not exempt the National Park Service. The National Mall and Memorial's 330 employees are furloughed. Only three employees are exempt: the chief of maintenance, the deputy superintendent and the project manager who is overseeing the repairs to the Washington Monument, Johnson said. The repairs we continue through the shutdown since Congress had already approved the money for it, she said."

"Park Service employees came to work Tuesday to erect the barriers and turn off the fountains. It will take them through tomorrow to fully close all the federal parks and sites under their jurisdiction, Johnson said. After that, no maintenance people or park rangers are permitted to work, she said. Johnson was working off the clock on Monday afternoon."
And yes, there is a reason why all National Park Service ites are closed:
"National parks exist because they are protecting irreplaceable resources," says Joan Anzelmo, a former national park superintendent and spokeswoman for the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees."
"Anzelmo says "extraordinary natural resources, priceless historic artifacts and archaeology" are threatened when left unattended during the shutdown."
""There would be vandalism and theft," she adds. "There would be destruction in some places. There would be animals that are poached.""
"At Zion, Batrus worries about the 10,000 American and foreign tourists in the park this time of year."
""Allowing 10,000 people to come in and do whatever they want in the park ... would really be risking the resources" and the safety of visitors."
"Many may not appreciate the dangers that some activities present in the park, such as the risk of flash floods in Zion's narrow and popular canyons."
""Without a budget we're not able to explain to people some of the dangers of going into certain areas so you don't have the safety messages," Batrus asserts."
"Backcountry camping and risky canyon hikes in Zion require permits and safety briefings that are not available during the shutdown."

If Republicans Win This Shutdown Fight, It Will Be Bad For Everyone


Jonathan Bernstein has a question he thinks reporters should be asking Republicans today:
"Why are you against passing a clean CR [Continuing Resolution] and reopening the government?"
"That’s pretty basic stuff — and something that many House Republicans, in the third day of a shutdown, seem to have no idea how to answer."
...
"Either way, what Republicans have been up to since about Saturday night has been stumbling from one Fox-ready talking point to the next, while moving farther and farther from actually having any idea of what, specifically, they believe is worth shutting the government down over. And don’t forget: 20 Republicans now publicly support the clean CR that would reopen the government, and reports have it that anywhere from 100 to some 180 privately would be happy to see that result, even if they are too fraidy-cat to vote that way."
I like this line of questioning, and I do indeed think the media should be hammering Republican congressmen on this.

But I also have an idea for another question reporters should ask the GOP: If Democrats give in to Republican demands, will Republicans do this again during the next shutdown fight?

Here is why this question is important:

  • The GOP has been PUBLICLY planning to use the threat of a shutdown to push for concessions from Democrats ever since the House and Senate passed budget resolutions this Spring.
  • Democrats ARE NOT asking for concessions from Republicans. However, Republicans ARE asking for concessions from Democrats.
  • Republicans have a long list of potential concessions they could demand from Democrats.
  • If the government passes a clean CR (a Dem win), this government-by-crisis strategy will be a failure. If the government passes a CR with ANY Democrat concessions (a GOP win), this government-by-crisis strategy will be a success.

So the question stands: If the GOP gets the concessions it wants, what will be it's motivation to allow future CRs to pass without also demanding more concessions? Why would they abandon such a successful strategy?

And make no mistake, this strategy is terrible for everybody, regardless of your political affiliation.


Further Reads:

Kevin Drum: "President Obama Has Had Enough"
"I think Obama is right. Conservatives are basically trying to invent a new Constitution because they don't like the way the current one works, and they're doing it by threatening the equivalent of nuclear war if they don't get their way. There's simply no way that any president can give in to that."
Michael Linden: "Since the GOP took control of Congress, NIH funding is down 13%. Pretty galling to hear GOP members use it as a political prop now."

John Sides: "Political polarization of the American public continues to rise. Or does it?"
"To many, President Obama's first term and the 2012 campaign seemed only to polarize Americans further. But once you take the design of the survey into account, the new ANES data do not support that conclusion."

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Mainstream Media Falls For Absurd GOP Rhetoric

Always leave it to the media to feed the false balance monster:


Washington Post: "In shutdown blame game, Democrats and Republicans united: It’s the other side’s fault"

"Even before the midnight deadline for a government shutdown, the players were already staking out their positions in the battle to come: the fight over who was at fault."
"President Obama argued that Republicans were to blame for using a budget bill as a means of extortion to roll back health-care reform. No, the GOP shot back, it was Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) who were responsible for refusing to negotiate."

It seriously doesn't take much scrutiny to see just how patently absurd this is. Both sides want to pass a Continuing Resolution to fund the government through the rest of the year. However, the GOP wants to add language to delay or defund a key law passed by the Democrats a few years back. The GOP is calling this a compromise since they originally wanted to repeal the whole law. I am just curious as to what practical definition of "compromise" this falls under. Let's ignore for a moment the fact that either of these options would effectively sabotage Obamacare, meaning it would be a repealed anyway*.  I see what Republicans both get and sacrifice in this supposed compromise. I also see what Democrats sacrifice. But I seriously have no clue what Democrats are getting. This is a necessary component of compromise to keep the word from being utterly meaningless. For example, it isn't a compromise for a thief to steal my TV set instead of my car.

What is even more absurd about this whole thing is the Democrats have already compromised on the CR's spending levels. I just seriously cannot understand how some in the media are so gullible to such obvious political spin. Democrats have a reasonable argument for why Republicans are to blame. But Republicans have nothing short of absurdities to justify blaming Democrats. The scary thing about this is that around half the country is still buying it. It isn't bias to point the finger at the culprit. It is objectivity.


*Republicans have not exactly kept this motivation secret, describing the efforts as the "last opportunity we're going to have to stop Obamacare" and a way to "stop the president’s health care law."


Update 10/2/13: Judd Legum also captures the absurdity of the GOP and mainstream media's definition of "compromise."

Further Reads:

 

Greg Sargent: "For GOP, a refresher on the meaning of the word `compromise’"
"In the “compromise” scenario Republicans are insisting on, then, only one side — Democrats — would be making concessions, and Republicans wouldn’t be giving up anything. Folks inclined to blame “both sides” for what’s happening here need to reckon with this basic imbalance."

Kevin Drum: "The Obamacare Fight Starts Tomorrow"
"For the past year or so, Obamacare has been the perfect foil for every corporation in America that's done something unpopular with its benefits package."

Kevin Drum:  "Here's Why the Public Blames Republicans for an Imminent Government Shutdown"
"This is why the public is likely to blame Republicans for a government shutdown: because Republicans have been very clear all along that they were deliberately stringing out the budget process so they could use a shutdown as leverage for their demands."
I don't share Drum's optimism the public will figure it out, at least not when most of the mainstream media seems to have largely ignored this extremely relevant piece of context...

Ezra Klein: "Don’t forget what the shutdown is really about"
"imagine if the Republican Party had won the 2012 election and Senate Democrats threatened to breach the debt ceiling and cause a financial crisis unless Republicans added a public option to Obamacare. Does anyone think a President Mitt Romney would find that position reasonable? Does anyone think that position would be reasonable."

Ezra Klein: "John Boehner’s ‘Plan C’ hurts Congress, hurts taxpayers, fixes nothing" 

This "Plan C" is politics at its worst. It's something that sounds good, but is still a terrible and utterly illogical idea.

"The idea behind this amendment, as Vitter explains it, is that Congress should live in the same health-care system its foisting on everyone else. But that's not what the amendment does. Obamacare doesn't force large employers to dissolve their health insurance arrangements and send their employees to the marketplaces. Congress is creating a worse version of Obamacare and applying it only to itself."

David Weigel: "No, Democrats Never Really Held the Debt Limit Hostage"

"To recap: Raising the debt limit always been unpopular, and tough to explain to voters. A few times, Democrats balked at raising it for a few days to make a point, then caved in. Many more times, they've just voted for the damn thing. John Boehner's Republicans have only ever agreed to raise the debt limit if they won major policy concessions from the president. Both parties don't do it. One party does it."

Greg Sargent: "John Boehner doesn’t have to let the Tea Party paralyze whole government"

John Sides: "Republicans and Democrats are treating the 2012 election like a mandate. They’re both wrong."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

No, Obamacare Will Not Be Delayed or Defunded

The newest GOP hostage taking strategy in the continuing resolution and debt ceiling fights is to try and add language delaying Obamacare and/or the individual mandate. What is truly startling about this is just how unbelievably unlikely it is these strategies will ever succeed in delaying either. Before these bills can succeed, they must be approved by the Democrat-controlled Senate and signed by the President. However, this will almost certainly never happen. Ezra Klein and Sarah Kliff from The Washington Post's Wonkblog explain why (I will skip the whole "he will never do this to the signature achievement of his presidency" because it is just too obvious):

Why Senate Democrats will not delay the implementation of Obamacare or the individual mandate:

Klein: "Democrats point out that Obamacare's implementation schedule wasn't an accident. It was purposefully designed to begin in an off-year. That way there would be a year to work out the worst kinks, and by the time of the actual election, Democrats could point to millions of people getting insurance, running ad after ad highlighting constituents who now have coverage. If implementation didn't begin until October 2014, all voters would know about Obamacare would be the early glitches, as insurance coverage wouldn't begin until January 1, 2015."

Why Obama will not delay the implementation of Obamacare or the individual mandate:

Kliff: "A delay to the individual mandate – or the entire law – would also have a giant ripple effect throughout health-care industries, who have spent the past three years preparing for a 2014 launch. They've spent millions on marketing and outreach, writing business plans that hinge on a significant expansion of the health insurance market next year."
"This is especially true for health insurance companies, which decided months ago the prices they would charge consumers on the marketplaces. Those prices assumed that the law would have an individual mandate. Insurers would have likely set different prices if they didn't think the requirement to carry coverage would be in effect."

How the individual mandate is different from other parts of the law that have been delayed:

Kliff: "all the delays so far do have one thing in common: They erased political headaches for the law while barely denting the number of people that the health overhaul will cover in 2014. The delays Republicans are asking for now would cause major political and substantive headaches for the law while sharply reducing the number of people it covers."
"The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, without an individual mandate, 11 million fewer people would gain coverage next year."
"That would happen for two reasons. First, fewer people would buy health insurance coverage without a federal law requiring them to do so. Second, the people who signed up would likely be sicker people, who really thought they would use the coverage. That would cause premiums to spike, making the market a tougher sell for healthy people."

How the individual mandate is different from the employer mandate:

Kliff: "The individual and employer mandates often get lumped together as similar policies. They do, after all, both have the word mandate in their name – and both require certain entities to buy health insurance coverage. In practice though, they're significantly different. The individual mandate is a lynchpin policy, one that makes the rest of the Affordable Care Act work by bringing millions more people in the health-care system who don't currently buy coverage."
"The employer mandate, by contrast, is more of an extra nudge, aimed at encouraging companies to keep doing something they already do right now."
"The Congressional Budget Office estimates that with its [the employer mandate's] delay, a half-million fewer people gain coverage in 2014. This has a lot to do with the fact that most big employers already offer insurance right now, with no requirement to do so."

Make no mistake. A delay of Obamacare and/or the individual mandate is a political and practical impossibility. Delaying the individual mandate in particular would cause insurance rates to spike and insurance companies to flee the exchanges. It wouldn't just be a disaster for insurance companies, but also for the millions of currently uninsured people expected to gain coverage in 2013 (If Democrats are looking for a simple way to explain why they won't delay the individual mandate, try starting there).

Monday, May 13, 2013

Important Context On State's Objections to Benghazi Talking Points

Recently uncovered emails sent by Victoria Nuland about the CIA talking points are not as incriminating as some would have you believe.

The U.S. “diplomatic post” in Benghazi in flames after the attack of Sept. 11, 2012. (Esam Omran Al-Fetori/Reuters, copied from the Washington Post)

Update 5/15/13: When I originally wrote this article, I relied on interpretations of an email exchange by The White House, State Department, and CIA. These interpretations came from CBS News, ABC News, and The Weekly Standard. However, the White House has now released to CNN a series of 100 emails, including the aforementioned email exchange. Essentially, it looks as though the actual emails effectively debunk the theory that the Obama Administration intentionally mislead the American people about the nature of the Benghazi attacks. I have added updates explaining the differences as they apply to this post.

On Monday, May 10th, ABC News released an Exclusive Report on changes to the CIA Talking Points provided to congress shortly after the September 11th, 2012 attacks in Benghazi. Contrary to a previous assertion by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, it appears as though the State Department and White House were heavily involved in the re-writing of those talking points:
"White House emails reviewed by ABC News suggest the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department. The edits included requests from the State Department that references to the Al Qaeda-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia be deleted as well references to CIA warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi in the months preceding the attack." (ABC News Exclusive Report)
The gut reaction to this news may be that Republicans were right all along suggesting the administration engaged in a cover up, hiding the fact that Benghazi was a pre-planned terrorist attack, for political reasons.

But gut reactions can be very misleading. The addition of some context, as well as attention to detail, provide a few challenges to this reaction (Although there are many issues to explore with these revelations, this post will focus exclusively on State Department Spokesman Victoria Nuland's objections to the CIA's talking points).

Victoria Nulan's Smoking Gun?


One of the most contentious aspects to these revelations is a specific objection by Victoria Nuland to the initial references to al Qa'ida, as well as previous warnings by the CIA. The original Weekly Standard column gave a somewhat oversimplified account of these objections:
"The talking points were first distributed to officials in the interagency vetting process at 6:52 p.m. on Friday. Less than an hour later, at 7:39 p.m., an individual identified in the House report only as a “senior State Department official” responded to raise “serious concerns” about the draft. That official, whom The Weekly Standard has confirmed was State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland, worried that members of Congress would use the talking points to criticize the State Department for “not paying attention to Agency warnings.”"
A smoking gun right? Well, not so fast. Before we explore this in detail, it may be prudent to point out a somewhat obvious fact: Emails often lack context. Most of the time, when someone writes an email, they are not actively thinking that those emails are going to one day become public. As a result, being careful to provide appropriate context is not always a common priority. When viewing "leaked emails," don't be surprised if you find a few "hide the decline" instances. In addition, a closer inspection of the talking points, as well as her specific reactions should provide some insight.

The first thing to note is what exactly Victoria Nuland was objecting to. Here is the version of the talking points Nuland saw at 6:52 pm:
  • The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex. This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and currently available information continues to be evaluated. On 10 September we notified Embassy Cairo of social media reports calling for a demonstration and encouraging jihadists to break into the Embassy. 
  • The investigation is ongoing as to who is responsible for the violence, although the crowd almost certainly was a mix of individuals. We do know that Islamic extremists participated in the violent demonstrations. 
  • Initial press reporting linked the attack to Ansar al-Sharia. The group has since released a statement that its leadership did not order the attacks, but did not deny that some of its members were involved. Ansar al-Sharia's Facebook page aims to spread Sharia in Libya and emphasizes the need for jihad to counter what it views as false interpretations of Islam, according to an open source study. 
  • The wide availability of weapons and experienced fighters in Libya almost certainly contribute to the lethality of the attacks. 
  • The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qa'ida in Benghazi and eastern Libya. These noted that, since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador's convoy. We cannot rule out the individuals has previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks. 
  • The U.S. Government is working w/ Libyan authorities and intelligence partners in an effort to help bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of U.S. citizens.
Luckily, CBS News provided a much more detailed account of Nuland's response:
7:39 p.m. email: State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed the most sweeping concerns. "I have serious concerns about all parts highlighted below in arming members of Congress with information to start making assertions to the media that we ourselves are not making because we don't want to prejudice the investigation... Why do we want the Hill to be fingering [al-Qaeda linked] Ansar al-Sharia when we aren't doing that ourselves until we have investigation results? And the penultimate point is a paragraph talking about all the previous warnings provided by the Agency [CIA] about al-Qaeda's presence and activities of al-Qaeda...[which] could be abused by members of Congress to fault the State Department for not paying attention... so why would we want to cede that, either?"
 Update 5/15/13: The interpretation of Nulan's email differs slightly from the actual email. However, none of the differences appear substantial, although the final sentence is significantly less verbose than its interpretation. 

Notice that her objections are two-fold:
  1. Her objections to the mention of al-Qa'ida links are based on a fear of prejudicing the FBI investigation. Nuland herself was constrained from mentioning this information in her daily press briefings. Given this fact, it is no surprise why she questions why the CIA would give congress information she was not herself allowed to divulge yet. However, as CBS News points out, A facilitator of the email threads mentions the FBI did not voice any major concerns. Yet despite this, the following version of the talking points, released at 8:59pm, removes the third talking point discussing the link to Ansar al-Sharia. Since the CIA originally removed the strongest reference to "Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qa'ida" during internal distribution, the only mention remaining of a terrorist group possibly being involved is the 5th talking point. It is not yet clear why this talking point was removed. It is possible there was a miscommunication somewhere that led the FBI to mistakenly approve the talking point about Ansar al-Sharia. Perhaps they changed their mind for security reasons.

    Update 5/15/13: According to the original email, when Nuland received the response about the FBI not having any major concerns, that email already includes the updated talking points. This means that we can rule out the possibility that Nuland had anything to do with the removal of that talking point beyond her conserns about prejudicing the investigation. It may be the case CBS meant to convey this point with their interpretation. However, CBS's use of the word "they" was slightly ambiguous. 

    Either way, this case proves that some discussions were happening outside of the email thread, which means that readers should be very mindful of the context behind the emails. It is also interesting to note that the mention of terrorist groups in the 5th talking point were kept. However, it can also be noted that this specifically talks about past events and at best vaguely implies a link between the aforementioned terrorist groups and the Benghazi attacks. If there was a grey area over what would or would not have prejudiced the FBI investigation, it is possible this may have fallen into the latter category. Either way, the bottom line is that Nuland's objections to these terrorist references have virtually nothing to do with politics.
  2. Her last objection deals exclusively with the 5th talking point. Her worry that the talking point could be "abused by members of Congress to fault the State Department for not paying attention" does sound quite political and pretty incriminating. However, as mentioned before when reading leaked emails, one should always be mindful of context. There are a few facts that need to be examined before coming to any conclusion about Nuland's objection. I will dedicate the rest of this post to exploring these facts and what relevance they have to Nuland's objection.

 Throwing The State Department Under The Bus 


First and foremost, we should observe that the first talking point mentions the attack took place at two places, a State Department consulate and CIA annex.  However, it has since been revealed that the "consulate" in question was not actually a consulate, but a CIA compound. Eli Lake of The Daily Beast explains:
"The CIA’s role in the Benghazi facility’s security was part of an arrangement with the State Department, according to a November 1 Wall Street Journal story that first disclosed several details about the true nature of the U.S. mission in Benghazi. That piece also said 23 of the 30 people evacuated from the Benghazi compound on the evening of the attack were CIA officers using State Department cover. Other U.S. officials confirmed this to The Daily Beast. “The Benghazi compound was a U.S. intelligence station with State Department cover,” one U.S. official said."" (emphasis mine)
Ambassador Stevens was merely visiting the compound at the time of the attack. Tragically, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, given the secretive nature of the mission, administration officials could not reveal this at the time.

With that in mind, let's take a second look at that 5th talking point in more detail:
The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qa'ida in Benghazi and eastern Libya. These noted that, since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador's convoy. We cannot rule out the individuals has previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.(emphasis mine)
If we pair the emphasized parts with the first talking point, mentioning the attack was "a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex," it is clear the CIA was putting the blame for any screw-ups on the State Department.

As Glenn Kessler explains, this is no trivial matter:
"The clear implication is that State screwed up, even though internally, it was known that this was a CIA operation. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland especially objects to the reference to previous warnings, saying it “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings.”"
Essentially, Victoria Nuland objects to the CIA throwing the State Department under the bus for what is arguably a CIA screw-up. Is this completely innocent? Well, it is a bit too early to tell until more information comes out about the US Mission in Benghazi. Either way, it is far from the smoking gun some sensationalist headlines make it out to be.

Update 5/15/13 from CNN:
"Senior administration officials say that long before the CIA heard concerns from the State Department about warnings being put in the talking points, CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell advocated for removing the warnings out, since he felt the talking points should focus on what happened in Benghazi on September 11, rather than the previous six months. He also felt it was unprofessional and unfair for the CIA to cite its own warnings to the State Department, officials said." (emphasis mine)

Subsequent Revisions


As mentioned earlier, the following version of the talking points, released at 8:59pm, removed the third talking point discussing the link to Ansar al-Sharia. The Weekly Standard column mentioned that, despite this and other small changes, Nuland was still unhappy. However, The Weekly Standard fails to mention the obvious reason why this is. Despite Nuland's arguably justified objection to the 5th talking point (you know, the one where the CIA throws the State Department under the bus), it still remained in the 8:59pm revision of the talking points, only with one minor revision. Again, context matters!

Misleading Journalism


Clearly all we can tell from these details that Nuland voiced two separate concerns about two separate aspects of the talking points. Her objection to the inclusion of references to terrorist organizations had to do with her current understanding of what information could and could not be divulged to the public. This was generally apolitical. However, her objection to the CIA throwing the State Department under the bus was in fact political, although arguably justified and essentially unrelated to any mentions of terrorist organizations. The only reference to terrorists scrubbed as a result of this objection was entirely incidental. So Nuland's objection provides no further evidence of the popular GOP conspiracy that the Obama Administration covered up uncomfortable details about the Benghazi attack due to the election. Be skeptical of sensationalist stories that suggest otherwise.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Downside of Rating Systems In Political Fact Checking

http://www.marketplace.org/sites/default/files/styles/primary-image-610x340/public/list-truth-chalkboard.jpg

In his farewell message to fans of political fact checking, departing FactCheck.org director Brooks Jackson reflects on the growth of the fact checking industry, the merits of fact checking, criticisms of fact checkers, and various legitimate pitfalls made by various fact-checking sites. Among the pitfalls he discussed, the one that most caught my eye dealt with the ratings systems fact checkers use so often:
Rating statements with devices such as “truth-o-meters” or “Pinocchios” are popular with readers, and successful attention-grabbers. But such ratings are by their nature subjective — the difference between one or two “Pinocchios” is a matter of personal judgment, and debatable. Some statements are clearly true, and some provably false, but there’s no agreed method for determining the precise degree of mendacity in any statement that falls somewhere in between. Rating systems have also led to embarrassment. A senator who said a “majority” of Americans are conservative was rated “mostly true” (and later “half true”) even though the statement was false. The story cited a poll showing only 40 percent of Americans rated themselves conservative. That’s more than said they were moderate (35 percent) or liberal (21 percent) but still far from a majority. The senator had a point, but stated it incorrectly, thereby exaggerating. A simple “truth-o-meter” had no suitable category for that. Our approach would have been to say that it was false. But we would also note that the senator would have been correct to say Americans are more likely to call themselves conservative than moderate, or liberal, when given those three choices.
While I disagree that ratings systems are entirely subjective (most have specific rules for each category), I do agree that the organization of categories is not rigorous. There are obviously statements that do not easily fit into any given category. Furthermore, these rating systems can be a distraction, giving the reader an incentive to merely look at the rating and ignore the actual fact checking. Although I do understand not everyone has time to read an tire article over every claim that has been checked, simple summaries (such as the ones used by FactCheck.org) at least give the reader a basic idea as to what was right and/or wrong with the checked claim. I will admit ratings systems have doubtless contributed to the rising popularity of fact checking. But it isn't clear whether or not they actually do more harm than good.

In addition to discussing the pitfalls of fact checking, Jackson also made some very good points about the actual purpose of fact checking in political discourse:
"Complaining that fact-checkers failed to stop politicians from lying is like complaining that a firefighter failed to prevent an arsonist from starting a fire.
Furthermore, it seems to me that anyone who asks the very political operatives behind the 2012 falsehoods to rate our performance is pretty much interviewing the arsonists about the merits of the firefighters. We don’t write to impress politicians or their hirelings. We write to help the voters — and we don’t expect to get an invitation to dinners at the White House. We can’t stop politicians from trying to bamboozle voters. But we can make voters harder to fool."
Indeed there is an extremely important role for fact checkers to play in political discourse. And Jackson sums it up quite nicely. Scientific skepticism, which fact checkers apply to politics, has a role in nearly every aspect of life, including politics. In this spirit I thank Mr. Jackson for the quality work both he and his team have done over the past nine years. FactCheck.org is my favorite fact checking site and I wish him the best of luck in the future!