Thursday, July 02, 2009

Catching Palin's Numbers

Innumeracy: A term meant to convey a person's inability to make sense of the numbers that run their lives.

There's nothing wrong with appearing pretty and being bubbly. These are great attributes for a politician. But there has to be substance as well. Andrew Halcro wrote last year:
I've debated Governor Palin more than two dozen times. And she's a master, not of facts, figures, or insightful policy recommendations, but at the fine art of the nonanswer, the glittering generality. Against such charms there is little Senator Biden, or anyone, can do. . .

"Andrew, I watch you at these debates with no notes, no papers, and yet when asked questions, you spout off facts, figures, and policies, and I'm amazed. But then I look out into the audience and I ask myself, 'Does any of this really matter?' " Palin said.
So, when we get some facts from Palin's office, we should pay attention. Last week, this press release was made available on the state website:

Which closed with this:

The critical part of that State press release, the part where we get Palin's version of facts, is that last sentence about spending "millions of dollars."

At the time, Phil at Progressive Alaska wrote:

I suspect that statement is complete bullshit. Millions of dollars means from $2,000,000.00 on up, if I am correct.

I challenge Alaska's mainstream media to attempt to determine just how much this has cost Alaska taxpayers, and to have it broken down, case by case.
Well, in today's Anchorage Daily News, Sean Cockerham met the challenge:
Ethics complaints against Gov. Sarah Palin and top members of her administration have cost the state personnel board nearly $300,000 over the past year, almost two-thirds of which appear to be from the Troopergate investigation of the governor.
But Sean doesn't quote that "millions of dollars" charge from the June 23rd press release. All he says in the article is this:
The governor's office has said 15 "frivolous" ethics complaints against Palin or her staff, some on issues raised by bloggers, have been dismissed with no findings she violated the executive branch ethics act. "How much will this blogger's asinine political grandstanding cost all of us in time and money?" she asked about a March complaint.
It seems to me that the most significant part of this story is the gap between the Palin allegation last week and the actual cost of the complaints. Deducting the Troopergate costs - which resulted from Palin filing a complaint against herself so that the friendlier Personnel Board would review it instead of a Legislative Committee - the cost of complaints was down almost to $100,000.

Anyone who knows anything about math knows that an error of that magnitude is outrageous. It's like estimating a $100,000 house to cost about $2 million; a $10 scarf to cost $200. Either way it reflects poorly on the Governor's office. Either they were just lying or they are innumerate.

OK, the press release adds in public records searches, but the way they figure those charges is also grossly inflated and seems to be aimed at preventing people from gaining access to public records. At best it would still leave a huge magnitude of error.

There's a reason Palin doesn't use facts. This became clear during the presidential campaign. She's not on top of facts that matter in her job.

The second significant part of this whole fiasco, is the tone of the press release which makes it sound like people who file complaints are 'outrageous' and 'malicious' and 'asinine.' I understand that talk show hosts use divisive and derisive language to boost their ratings.

But the governor of all the people of Alaska should recognize complaints for what they are: a way for people to get accountability from their elected officials. Sure, there are people who maliciously file complaints, though I think in these cases the people filing the complaints believe they have legitimate grievances. But that's why we have courts and review boards to sort things out. I think that active gadflies serve an important purpose. When politicians know their actions and words will be questioned in the newspapers, on television, and on blogs, they will document their positions better before acting. That's how we get better government. Besides, professional review boards have standards that complaints must meet before opening full hearings to get rid specious filings.

My advice to the governor is to put on a happy face and welcome any charges because that will allow a legitimate review board to get all the information and to show the public what really happened. And to embrace the critics for making her do her job better. Remember: honey, not vinegar.

But I'm afraid that the governor's folks, unlike the talk show hosts, take this all very seriously and personally. It's as though they see themselves as force of goodness and light and anyone who opposes them must be allied with the forces of evil.

So, one last thing. Sean, why didn't you point out the discrepancy between the "millions of dollars" statement and the actual amount? Or did an editor cut it out? That itself would be an interesting story.

1 comment:

  1. This is like dealing with junior highers, isn't it? When dealing with kids when I am trying to sort out who dun what, they throw out negative adjectives. It becomes a great lesson in English as we go over what they have said, and the kids who have never paid atention are having to remember and be coached on it in front of each other.

    The numbers game that she plays reminds me of my ex. I think it was Phil who mentioend before that he didn't think that it was half of what she said, and it rang true with my ex husband. He told our kids that he paid "almost A THOUSAND DOLLARS" in child support. In front of our children, I explained rounding up and how $480 was not almost A THOUSAND DOLLARS or anywhere close to it. It was almost five hundred dollars and that in the course of TWO months that he paid ALMOST A THOUSAND DOLLARS but still didn't quite make it.

    How many 'gates would Palin need to to come out to her original couple million figure?

    Is Sarah Palin stupid or does she think her people are?


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