popular voting systems

Selecting user questions with a popular vote

Several organizations have launched websites where visitors post questions to be answered by politicians, and then a popular vote is used to choose the questions which are asked. All of these systems are basically scams: they're designed to fail, and they allow weak questions to rise to the top while tough questions languish.

For a tangible example of that, MoveOn used their membership list to vote a question for Barack Obama to the top of the list of possibilities, and it was asked of him in a televised debate. The incredibly weak question was about net neutrality, a topic he was already on record as supporting. In fact, a very basic search had his position on that topic as the first hit. In other words, it was a complete setup, a Soviet Union-style sham.

And, something similar happened with the same effort another time.

Now, of course, all of this depends on how you define "failure". If the goal is to have politicians asked tough questions or be confronted with their lies, these systems are complete failures. However, if the goal is to have politicians asked open-ended questions that they can answer with ease, then these systems work remarkably well.

In almost all cases, the questioners seem to have spent very little time anticipating likely responses, and as a result almost all of these questions can be answered with stock boilerplate. And, in almost all cases, the questioners don't seem to have researched the previous statements of those being questioned. Part of that may be a form of conditioning: most people have only seen the weak questions asked by TV newsanchors and the like and aren't familiar with tough questioning.

Make no mistake: politicians are quite happy with this setup. Since many of them are lawyers they have little trouble offering a vague answer that sounds like it answered the question. It provides a show, a verisimilitude of a debate. From the standpoint of many questioners, it offers an ego boost; perhaps those who offer weak questions should consider the ego boost of actually doing a public service.

The alternative to such systems is to have a set of known quantities (pundits, bloggers, etc.) vote on questions based on their toughness. And, all their votes will be public. Using that system, those known quantities will risk losing credibility if they vote up weak questions or vote down tough questions, they'll put their reputations at risk. For instance, a transportation policy expert will lose credibility if he votes down a tough question he disagrees with at the same time as he votes up an Obamagirl video.

Last modified Dec 15, 2008
Discussed in (click each link for the full post):

Reddit Ask Me Anything of Obama was OK, if you want to enable the corrupt establishment - 08/30/12

Remember the phrase "Question Authority"? What the site Reddit [1] did yesterday is the opposite of that.

Fox News/Youtube GOP debate, September 22, 2011 (Perry, Romney, Bachmann...) - 09/22/11

Tonight Fox News will be conducting a GOP debate in conjunction with Youtube, with some of the questions to be asked having been submitted via Youtube. Feel free to leave comments below before, during or after the debate. This post will be updated after a transcript becomes available. This debate stands to be just as bad and as much of a public disservice as all the others, especially considering the involvement of Youtube.

AskObama: did Steve Grove choose an unpopular immigration question because of Voto Latino? - 01/28/11

Yesterday, Steve Grove of Youtube interviewed Barack Obama with a series of questions that users had submitted through the "Ask Obama" event. The Youtube interview was a scam; see that link for the details and the backstory.

To further drive home just how much of a scam it was, Grove appears to have undercut the implied rules of the competition by choosing an unpopular video as the only question about immigration. However, that video just happens to have been uploaded by an organization that's partnered with Youtube.

According to the implied rules of the competition, Youtube visitors would vote on the most popular questions, and then Youtube would select from those top-voted questions the ones they were going to ask.

Yet, the video they selected only has 17 up votes and 10 down votes, and not only is it very difficult to find, but its popularity is swamped by dozens of other questions [1]. One wonders how Grove picked that particular video out of such a crowded field.

Perhaps a clue comes from the fact that the uploader [2] was Voto Latino, a Washington DC-based organization started by the actress Rosario Dawson. On their Youtube home page (youtube.com/user/votolatino) they include this:

Volunteers called thousands of voters and documented their experiences at the polls through our YouTube partnership Video Your Vote.

And, Grove today references this odd coincidence, retweeting this from VotoLatino:

RT @votolatino We helped get this video up & the President watched it. Thx Mario Lopez & Steve Li: http://fb.me/T7i8fqtj & @grove!
twitter dot com/grove/status/30945241347391488

The link in that tweet leads to this Facebook page containing a screengrab of the video as shown during the AskObama event and a repeat of their claim.

A screengrab of the video in a search for "ice" is attached, as is the video in question. See the first post for the full video.

Please contact @Grove and ask him to explain this odd coincidental discovery of his.

[1] For instance, I clicked "Next" countless times trying to find it at youtube.com/worldview after choosing "Video questions" and "Sorted by popularity". I gave up, and then searched for phrases I thought would be in the description. The only way I found it was through a search for "ice" (as in Immigrations and Customs Enforcement), and even then I had to click several times. In fact, it's only the 35th video shown for a search for "ice". There are 929 questions in a search for "dream act", and it's not in the first 100. And, there are dozens upon dozens of more popular questions - a few with videos - in the immigration category. The top five questions in the immigration category have between 1723 and 1899 up votes.

[2] Currently, the video is in the "SteveProd" account, but in Google Moderator (see the screengrab), the video is clearly marked as coming from "votolatino, Washington, D.C." and the small icon with the check mark is votolatino's logo. The "SteveProd" account just has that one video; it probably had other videos since the channel has lists total upload views of 44,574 and the only video in the account just has 386 views.

Another Youtube/Obama scam: ask State of the Union questions - 01/26/11

[UPDATE: Make sure and see this too]

Youtube and Barack Obama are conducting yet another scam, soliciting questions for Obama based on the State of the Union that he'll answer on Thursday, January 27. Other users vote up or down submitted questions, and then Obama will answer the top vote-getters.

The questions that get the most votes will invariably not be the best questions, the ones that Obama should be pressed on. In fact, they're likely to be some of the weakest questions of all. Obama and all other politicians should be "cross-examined" over their policies, and this latest scam will not even come close.

How systems like this are scams has already been discussed over and over with several examples involving Obama, Youtube, and others on the popular voting systems and Youtube corporate pages. If you don't agree that such systems are scams, see those pages and the past examples.

I submitted the following three questions to their immigration category; I'm not even going to bother suggesting voting them up because I know they'll never get enough of a vote differential between up and down.

For instance, at post time, six people like the DREAM Act question but five don't. The question is perfectly valid, very important, and needs to be asked. Yet, five people don't want it to be asked despite how valid it is. Under my plan (see the popular voting systems page), that wouldn't happen: known quantities who participated would be voting on how tough a question is, and if they unjustifiably voted a very tough question down they could be held publicly accountable.

Here are the questions; you might be able to find them through a search or here:

The Fed is profiting from money that illegal aliens send home to Mexico through their Directo a Mexico program ( http://24ahead.com/n/5978 ). Do you agree that a federal entity seeking to profit from illegally-earned money is a sign of corruption?

Do you agree that both college slots and college funding are finite? Do you agree that any college slots/funding given to illegal aliens under the DREAM Act will deprive some U.S. citizens of college? (attached video: youtube.com/watch?v=WZkvEmSy1vk)

Due to massive legal & illegal immigration, do you admit that the Mexican gov't has political power inside the U.S.? Do you agree that foreign countries shouldn't have political power inside the U.S.? What do you intend to do about it?

1/27/11 UPDATE 1: As yet another example of how Google Moderator (the software used in this case) and popular voting systems in general don't work, with voting closed the top 80 or so questions are all about pot. Those voting up the questions didn't abuse the system, they followed the rules of the system. And, the system revealed its flaws.

As for my questions, they have up/down votes of 9/6, 6/5, and 4/4 respectively. Meanwhile, this has 3152/282:

Mr. President, what is your stance on Net Neutrality? What do you intend to do to keep the internet free from censorship?

Obama's stance on Net Neutrality has been known for years and years and the FCC has taken steps in that area. A question that was going to do a public service would ask Obama a specific question about what his FCC has done in that specific area, based on a full knowledge of what they've said and done. Instead, questions like that just allow politicians to give stock speeches they've given many times before.

And, MoveOn voted up a similarly weak question about Net Neutrality in 2007 in a similar sham.

1/27/11 UPDATE 2: The event went exactly as expected: it was a complete sham. Steve Grove asked a series of weak questions, including some that were even weaker than "boxers or briefs?" And, Youtube managed to get in various plugs for their service, occasionally using the president of the U.S. as little more than a prop to promote a commercial company.

Video is attached, and at 33:00 you'll see Obama answer the only immigration question, about the anti-American DREAM Act. Instead of calling Obama on the downsides of that bill, Grove simply introduced a video of an apparent illegal alien and asked Obama when the bill might pass. (And, didn't call Obama on his use of nation of immigrants).

Personal anecdotes about the DREAM Act are not at all difficult to find (see dozens on the PIIPP page), but a debate about the downsides is very difficult to find. There are two or more sides to every story, yet all Youtube could do is present one side without acknowledging the viewpoint of another side.

1/28/11 UPDATE: I fixed the bad year (10) in the updates above. More importantly, the DREAM Act question that Grove chose is unpopular, but just happens to be from an organization that's partnered with Youtube in the past. See the link for the details.

Google Moderator finds its level: choosing questions for a puppet - 09/25/10

One of the main goals of this site is to hold politicians accountable. Google Moderator and similar systems go in the opposite direction: they've let a long series of politicians off the hook and in most cases they've even made it easier for politicians to mislead.

How to use Google Moderator at Youtube: very carefully - 05/28/10

Youtube now lets video uploaders create Google Moderator polls attached to their videos; Moderator lets users submit questions (or comments) and other users can vote up or down those user-submitted questions. In the past, Google Moderator and similar systems have been used by politicians to avoid being asked tough questions, and those who take advantage of this new capability need to make sure to only use it for situations where it's appropriate.

GOP's "America Speaking Out" is worse than just a joke - 05/26/10

Following their "YouCut" stunt, the GOP has released yet another stunt called "America Speaking Out" (americaspeakingout.com, put together by Rep. Kevin McCarthy). Like YouCut, it's based on popular voting systems and lets users submit and vote on ideas in a limited set of categories.

YouCut: another stunt showing that the GOP has run out of ideas (Eric Cantor) - 05/19/10

A week ago, GOP House Whip Eric Cantor launched "YouCut" (republicanwhip.house.gov/YouCut), an attempt to show that the GOP is serious about spending. Except, it's just another tea parties-style cheap stunt:

Tea party "Contract with America" considers highly impractical immigration ideas - 02/04/10

[UPDATE: They've narrowed down the choices to 21, from which tea partiers have to choose 10. None of them have anything to do with immigration.]

The group "Tea Party Patriots" is crowd-sourcing an agenda for their movement called the "Contract From America" (contractfromamerica.com): users can submit proposed planks and others can vote them up or down. In other words, this is a perfect storm of the issues that the tea parties have, combined with the issues inherent in popular voting systems. Please see both links for a discussion of those issues.

The current top five proposals in the immigration category are impractical, and supporting them would not only not solve issues with massive/illegal immigration but would give their opponents yet more ammunition to use against them. These are drunk-in-a-bar ideas, not serious proposals. And, none of them provide a step-by-step implementation plan or even hint at how they could be implemented. Saying "wouldn't it be great if..." is one thing, actually figuring out how to make it happen and what to do as things go wrong is almost always much more complex. Serious proposals would address that; because these aren't serious they don't:

1. "An Official Language of the United States" (616 Votes. Rating: 2888) could be a satire, considering the errors made in the proposal:

The official Language of the United States ought to be English. in the early 1900s, my great-grandparents had to have learned the English Language within 4 years. Today, us giving this amnesty has disrespected my ancestors and everybody else that came here the right way, and worked for their citizenship. Every immigrant should do the same. This would also slow-down immigration, which what both parties wanted to enact immigration reform.

English-only is a very popular position, much more popular than concerns over the massive political corruption associated with illegal immigration. However, it's also a very contentious area and not one that could be easily addressed in the current situation.

2. "Birth-Right Citizenship" (393 Votes. Rating: 1823). The only way this would succeed was after a decade or two of highly contentious court challenges. That doesn't mean that ending it for the children of two illegal aliens wouldn't be a bad thing, it just means that proposing this would be almost meaningless.

3. "Enforce Existing Immigration Law" (290 Votes. Rating: 1414). This is all it says:

Immigration law doesn't need costly reform, it just needs enforcement!!

That's true, but the poster forgot the important part about how to actually do that. Implementation is not exactly their forte.

4. "Immigration Reform" (102 Votes. Rating: 477):

We call for several areas of reform:

1) A national fence to protect the US borders with a fence or other barrier, and to guard and defend with deadly force that barrier against illegal entry.

2) Establish a national and reliable card check system to confirm citizenship prior to offering a job to an individual. Failure to comply will result in stiff fines and jail time to the owners or officers of those companies who knowingly hire non-citizens. Individuals and their families will not be extradited from this Country – they simply will not be able to earn a living and will hopefully leave on their own.

3) If an illegal immigrant commits a crime of any type in the US, they are to be kicked out of this Country after serving jail time.

4) Make so-called sanctuary cities illegal.

This too could be a satire, with the "zinger" hidden in the first. The idea that we'd shoot non-violent crossers is morally reprehensible and would cause international outcry. The second proposes a national ID card. Those two together are a bit North Korean. The third is what we already do. The fourth is something that could be done, but once again no details are provided on how to do things like, for instance, overcoming the power that illegal immigration-supporting mayors have.

5. "CIVIL RIGHTS RESERVED TO CITIZENS AND LEGAL RESIDENTS" (87 Votes. Rating: 414): "No person who is not a natural born or naturalized citizen of the United States of America or a legal resident alien shall be entitled to any civil rights afforded by the U.S. Constitution and shall be subject to immediate deportation with no right to a hearing." The problem, of course, is that even illegal aliens are granted rights under the Constitution, and changing that would require a multi-year, highly contentious process.

All of these seem almost like they were designed to keep American Civil Liberties Union lawyers employed. Around here, we do things differently from the tea parties: rather than trying to give the ACLU more ammunition and more work, we try to discredit them in order to reduce their power.

The way to resolve these issues is to discredit political and media sources who mislead about these issues and to question authority. Obviously, actually doing work and doing it in a smart and effective way is too difficult for the tea partiers.

Steve Grove asks Obama weak questions live on Youtube ("Your" Interview with the President) - 02/01/10

Earlier today, Steve Grove - Youtube's director of news and politics programming - interviewed Barack Obama live on Youtube (and on the White House's live feed) and asked him a series of weak questions that he answered with ease. Some or all of the questions he was asked were submitted by Youtube's visitors, very few of whom are familiar with specialized topics and with asking tough questions.

Google Sidewiki: mostly worthless for showing how political sites are lying or misleading - 09/23/09

Google has launched a new service called "Sidewiki" (link) that's a bit of a universal commenting system. If you have their toolbar installed, you'll see comments that others have left about the current webpage; see screengrabs at the link.

And, because the comments are ranked from "best" to "worst", this will simply reinforce the status quo at most sites in most cases. In other words, it won't help those like me who try to point out how MSM articles are lying or misleading. For instance, most visitors to the DailyKos will agree with their point of view. They'll vote down comments that point out how a specific post is misleading, and vote up comments that reinforce the article. Likewise with visitors to RedState or other partisan sites. The same goes to a lesser degree for MSM sites.

Only in specific cases - such as with a very popular article that's the focus of one group - will contrary information rise to the top. And, of course, since most people who are online and who are willing to engage in online activism are on the "liberal" side, they'll stand a better chance of getting their comments to the top.

But, wait, it's going to get even worse. Here's what Google says about their ranking system:

Using multiple signals based on the quality of the entry, what we know about the author, and user-contributed signals such as voting and flagging, we work hard to ensure that only the highest quality, most relevant entries appear in the sidebar. Most of the engineering work for Sidewiki was dedicated to this ranking algorithm.

What that means is that those who post contrary information - no matter how accurate and useful - will - after all their comments are voted down by partisan hacks - get a low overall ranking and will probably end up at the bottom of every list if they even show up at all. That's not exactly smart, unless that's how it was designed to work.

See popular voting systems for previous examples, including those involving Google and Youtube.

DHS wants your input on immigration policy, terrorism, FEMA - 08/03/09

The Obama administration has a habit of running popular voting systems - flawed systems that allows weak questions and proposals to rise to the top - and they're back with another one. This time it's concerning immigration policy and the other issues in the DHS's purview. They want your input at homelandsecuritydialogue.org

Youtube helps Obama find useful idiot questioners for his healthcare town hall - 06/29/09

Steve Grove of Youtube writes (youtube.com/blog?entry=20h2yiH79Tc):

President Obama is taking your questions this Wednesday in a special online health care town hall event. With health care at the top of the President's agenda, he is opening up the White House to questions via YouTube... He'll answer some of the most popular questions during the event, which we'll stream live from the White House YouTube channel.

In a word, this is a sham. And, it's similar to all the other shams that Youtube, CNN, Obama, and others have conducted for the past couple of years; see the popular voting systems summary for the background. Basically, the president of the U.S. is trying to fool people, and a private company is helping. In the current case it's even more obvious: they'll only choose "some" of the questions, and how exactly they're determining popularity isn't spelled out. In brief, Youtube is going to choose videos that are basically just set-ups from those who aren't experts in this field.

There are two things to do here (but that won't be done): do an end-around such filtering by trying to ask Obama and other politicians questions in person (see question authority), and for an actual expert to submit a very valid but adversarial question that Obama would have trouble with. If that question is selected, then it might make Obama look bad. If that question is not selected (the far more likely option), then the fact that Youtube didn't choose it can be used to make Youtube look bad.

UPDATE: The things I do for you! I just spot-checked about 15 of the 300 or so videos, and all are as bad as we've come to expect. Almost all boil down to one simple phrase: "when do I get *my* pony?" While some of those people may have valid concerns, the "questions" they're asking will simply give Obama an entree to a stock response. They're doing a public disservice by simply acting as foils for Obama. If they really wanted to do a public service, they would find an expert to ask the questions about their concerns instead of simply posting worthless vanity videos. Just because you have a case doesn't mean you should do your own lawyering.

UPDATE 2: I added my own video.

Obama wants your ideas on transparency, open government - 05/23/09

From opengov.ideascale.com:

On January 21st, the President issued the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, calling for an unprecedented level of openness in government. In the memorandum, the President outlined three principles for promoting a transparent and open government: transparency, participation, and collaboration. Now, the President is calling on you to help shape how that commitment is fulfilled. This online brainstorming session, open from May 21st to 28th, 2009, will enable the White House to hear your most important ideas relating to open government.

Visitors can vote on their favorite ideas. The problem is that, like with every other similar effort the Obama administration has conducted, the most popular ideas are not always the best ideas; see the popular voting systems summary. However, there are less than four hundred items submitted so far, so finding good ideas isn't as difficult as it was with those other efforts. And, as could be expected, the potheads are out and about, although better ideas (relatively speaking) are currently far ahead of their loopy plans.

Obama "Citizen's Briefing Book" has no immigration suggestions - 05/11/09

The Obama administration has released the final version of their "Citizen's Briefing Book", the culmination of them soliciting ideas from the citizenry. See the link for the backstory, and you can download a copy from whitehouse.gov/ope.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln thanks you for your input on the SAVE Act, will be in touch - 04/11/09

On the attached video, Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln responds to citizen input on the SAVE Act and her related push to increase volunteerism. This is part of the Youtube effort called "Senate Hub" in which users submit questions which are then answered by various senators (youtube.com/user/senatehub).

Obama's "Open for Questions": even MSM notices how bad it was - 03/26/09

Earlier today, Barack Obama conducted an online townhall meeting in which part of the time was spend answering questions that had been submitted to and voted up at whitehouse.gov/openforquestions. Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times has a run-down here. The problems with the system he used are covered in the popular voting systems summary, including a brief description of a better way to do things.

As predicted, the questions were weak. However, on the plus side the mainstream media or at least the online version of same appears to be catching on to the flaws in the voting system that was used, with John Ward Anderson of The Politico offering "Pot-related questions deluge W.H." (politico.com/news/stories/0309/20526.html). Likewise, Michael Scherer from Time Magazine offers this very good round-up of the "top" questions.

The wastoids from NORML can't figure out how to ask one good question and concentrate on pushing that to the top, but by making obvious to anyone how such systems can be abused they might lead us to using better voting systems for future efforts. (And, their incessant bombarding of such efforts and comments on MSM articles is sure to backfire.)

And, the uber-hack Ben Smith offers "Ensuring a friendly audience for online town hall" (politico.com/blogs/bensmith/0309/Ensuring_a_friendly_audience_for_online_town_hall.html):

...The event should not be mistaken, however, for a perfect reflection of the concerns of the American people, or even of American Internet users, for two reasons... One is perhaps unavoidable, and perfectly fair: Well organized groups, like advocates for the decriminalization of marijuana, can push their desired questions to the top. (Is the most important budget question really, "With over 1 out of 30 Americans controlled by the penal system, why not legalize, control, and tax marijuana to change the failed war on drugs into a money making, money saving boost to the economy? Do we really need that many victimless criminals?")... The second is deliberate: The Democratic National Committee blasted out the link to the Open for Questions website yesterday afternoon to Organizing for America's list, reportedly to include about 14 million people. It's reasonable to assume that those Obama supporters make up a high percentage of the participants.

Well, duh. See the link to the better way to do things above.

UPDATE: In retrospect, sending an email to NORML letting them know I discussed them was a bad idea. Apparently another symptom is tone-deafness. Also, there's a full transcript of the event here.

Why "Ask the President" will ask Obama worthless questions (Ari Melber, The Nation, WashTimes) - 03/22/09

The Nation, the Washington Times, and the Personal Democracy Forum are behind a new effort to solicit questions for Barack Obama from the general public: communitycounts.com/obama

Anyone can submit questions and then vote for their favorites. The "best" questions might then be asked of him at a White House press conference. If you want Obama to be really pressed on very tough questions - the type the MSM refuses to ask - this is not going to give you what you want. However, if you want Obama to only be presented with puffball questions including those he's already answered, then you should cheer this latest effort. So, it's either a sham or a blessing depending on your position on the role of the press; if your reference point is Pravda, start cheering now.

See the popular voting systems summary for past examples of other shams - including those perpetrated by those behind the current effort - and for a description of a better way to do things.

And, believe it or not, it gets even worse. Over to Ari Melber of The Nation introducing the plan in "The People's Press Conference" (thenation.com/doc/20090406/melber):

After public voting, the coalition will select and send a credentialed journalist to attend the next presidential press conference, ready to choose from the list of the most popular citizen questions. (This journalist would focus only on these questions from citizens and would not reduce the time available for the standing pool of White House reporters.) The precise question will not be announced in advance, though the choices will obviously be public. At the press conference, the journalist can choose from the top questions, prioritizing a topic that is substantive, factual and that has not already been addressed by the president... This assumes, of course, that President Obama agrees to participate...

So, after all the voting, the question that's asked will be filtered by the journalist (would that be you, Ari?) And, all of that is pending Obama's approval.

The way around all of these issues is to choose the questions as described at the summary link above, and then have someone go to Obama's public appearances and ask him the toughest questions whether he approves or not. That's the only way to make sure that he's asked actual tough questions.

UPDATE: The Nation (web version) published a letter to the editor I wrote them about this. Enjoy my left-friendly, more formal voice: thenation.com/bletters

Got a question for John Boehner? (Digg, until 1/22/09) - 01/21/09

Digg.com is soliciting questions that they're going to ask of Republican House Leader John Boehner. Until midnight on January 22, 2008, you can submit and vote on questions here: digg.com/dialogg/John_Boehner_1

The "Citizen's Briefing Book", the latest Barack Obama scam - 01/15/09

The latest scam from the Barack Obama camp is a "Citizen's Briefing Book" at change dot gov: citizensbriefingbook.change.gov

Change.gov Round 2: Ask Obama stupid questions, get stock responses - 01/13/09

Barack Obama's change dot gov has released their responses for the second round of their scam where they encouraged people to submit and vote for questions that Obama would answer (change.gov/newsroom/entry/open_for_questions_round_2_response). As with other popular voting systems, it was designed to fail, with weak questions being voted up while tough questions (such as the ones I submitted) languishing or being voted down (my vote totals at that link).

What might have worked is if people had submitted only a small number of very tough questions and voted those up. Instead, dozens or hundreds of questions on one topic were submitted, with the weakest rising to the top. And, in at least one case, they selected a lower-ranked question than one that they apparently didn't want to answer. While they've redirected change.gov/openforquestions to the response link above, you can see the voting as it was at change.gov/page/content/openforquestions20081229

This time around, they've divided the answers into two parts: top-ranked questions that they already answered, and a video containing their answers to new, supposedly top-ranked questions that they hadn't already answered. Except, they'd already answered those too.

The video (link) consists of future White House press secretary Robert Gibbs answering a series of very weak questions, all of which - surprise! - are related to policies that Obama is pushing. For instance, here's the first one he answers:

What strategies other than bailouts can we employ to keep jobs in America?

Gibbs says that's a very good question, and it is: for him. Because, it allows him to simply launch into a commercial for Obama's stimulus scheme.

Note that the question above came in fourth in the Economy category, right behind this slightly tougher, unanswered question:

Will President Obama, work to remove tax incentives for US corporations, who move their operations over seas?

In the National Security category, a War on Drugs question was at #1; it was a bad question, but they didn't answer it.

The other questions Gibbs answers all give him a chance to launch into stock speeches, including those about No Child Left Behind, transit, universal healthcare, and science. The one about science is incredibly weak; tougher questions were asked in Politburo debates:

How will the Obama administration encourage the future generations of Americans to become the world's leading scientists and engineers?

As Gibbs describes, Obama has a plan! Gibbs even references the fact that he's heard Obama give answers to these issues on the campaign trail.

The only slight news on the video is a question about whether they'll repeal Dont Ask Dont Tell, which Gibbs answers with one word: "yes". Of course, we already knew that: in April 2008, Obama said he'd get rid of it, even if he hedged a bit on the timing in September of that year. Why ask Obama a question he's already answered?

The other section is entitled "Previously Addressed Questions", and that's where they relegate gems such as this from Bob Fertik of democrats.com:

Will you appoint a Special Prosecutor (ideally Patrick Fitzgerald) to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration, including torture and warrantless wiretapping?

They answer with previous quotes from Obama which basically boil down to him hemming and hawing about him looking into the issue. The answer about a Palestinian state is more hemming and hawing; on January 20th we'll hear his thoughts on the matter.

And, the potheads are out of luck again: Obama responds to their latest attempt with the answer he gave them before that he won't legalize marijuana.

The bottom line is that "Open for Questions" was a scam, and you should look very closely at all those who submitted and promoted weak questions. They either knew they were participating in a setup, or they couldn't figure that out. Either way, they aren't doing you or the U.S. much of a service.

Andrew Revkin/NYT: 11 weak science questions for Obama (dot Earth) - 01/02/09

Andrew Revkin writes the "dot Earth" blog for the New York Times, and he offers "11 Questions for Obama’s Science Team" (link). As one might expect, all of the questions are to one degree or another variations on, "Comrade Lysenko, tell us of the wonders of your system." About the only slightly tough question concerns ethanol. None of the questions challenge fundamental assumptions or expose flaws in the reasoning of Obama or his science selections.

More immigration questions for Barack Obama (change.gov Open for Questions) - 12/29/08

Barack Obama's change dot gov is starting round two of their "Open for Questions" scam (why it's a scam is explained here) where they solicit questions from the public at change.gov/openforquestions.

Obama releases "answers" to change.gov user-generated "questions" (420, dude) - 12/15/08

Barack Obama's change dot gov recently asked the citizens to submit questions which he would deign to answer. Now, the answers to the "top" questions have been released here.

The questions were weak, the answers were weak and could have been gleaned from Obama's positions. All that was predictable; see the discussion of popular voting systems.

First, my question - tougher than any of the others I saw - got 17 up votes versus 13 down votes. Since the question is fact-based, one wonders why 13 people didn't think Obama should have been asked it.

Reading these questions is making me weep for our Idiocracy. This is the most popular question:

"Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?"

The answer:

President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.

I'm going to leave the research to you the reader, but typing a few common-sense search queries would have quickly revealed Obama's position, albeit a bit "nuanced" ("decriminalization" vs. "legalization") and possibly involving a minor flip-flop. Why couldn't the person who asked the question have done that first? How could the stoned hippie that asked the question know how to find the form to submit a question but not know how to use Google? Why would anyone vote for such a stupid question that Obama had already basically answered?

Another "top" question was:

What will you do to establish transparency and safeguards against waste with the rest of the Wall Street bailout money?

You the reader can probably answer that in your sleep, and you don't even work for the Obama administration:

President-elect Barack Obama does not believe an economic crisis is an excuse for wasteful and unnecessary spending. As our economic teams works with congressional leadership to put together a plan, we will put in place reforms to ensure that your money in invested well. We will also bring Americans back into government by amending executive orders to ensure that communications about regulatory policymaking between persons outside government and all White House staff are disclosed to the public. In addition all appointees who lead the executive branch departments and rulemaking agencies will be required to conduct the significant business of the agency in public so that every citizen can see in person or watch on the Internet these debates.

What did anyone expect him to say? "I'm going to blow it on American Dad Bendables?"

My change.gov question for Barack Obama (in-state tuition for illegal aliens) - 12/11/08

Change dot gov is soliciting questions from the citizens and allowing others to vote on submitted questions. Presumably Obama will answer the most popular questions and, as previously discussed this system shares the same flaws as other popular voting systems and is thus little more than a scam designed to fool people into thinking that Obama will answer tough questions.

As a test, I (using the same Robert Bellaire pseudonym as I used at MyBHO) submitted the following question. Due to character length limitations I didn't include as much supporting information as I would have wanted:

You support giving in-state tuition to illegal aliens. But, each such discount given to an illegal alien represents one that's taken away from a U.S. citizen. What would you say to a U.S. citizen who can't go to college because of what you support?

I wasn't able to determine a permalink for the question, but you can find it by searching for tuition illegal at change.gov/page/content/openforquestions.

I predict it will get very few up votes and a larger number of down votes, and it might be marked as "inappropriate" and removed entirely as they've done with other questions. However, if I got, say, an Instapundit-level of traffic I could probably propel it near the top. And, that illustrates the peril of such systems and why they're a scam: the questions that Obama should be asked will never make it out of the starting gate.

12/29/08 UPDATE: I did slightly better than expected, getting 17 up and 13 down. More on that and the other questions here.

I also resubmitted the same question for Round 2 of their contest. They've added categories for education, defense, etc. meaning there will be slightly less noise. However, as before, my tough question will be ignored in favor of lightweight questions that Obama won't have trouble with.

New Obama scam: visitors vote for questions he'll be asked - 12/10/08

Barack Obama has recently launched a new effort that lets visitors to change dot gov submit questions he should be asked. Others then vote those questions up or down, and he'll presumably answer the top rated questions at some point in time: change.gov/page/content/openforquestions

This is, in a word, a scam: it shares the same huge design flaw as other popular voting systems in which weak questions are pushed to the top while the questions he should be asked are ignored. In fact, he has experience with such a scheme, where a weak question from the 10Questions group was asked of him after MoveOn asked its members to propel it to the top of the list.

For instance, MoveOn has three million or so members. If a discomforting question looks like it is rising to the top, all they'd have to do is tell their members to go vote up a weak, setup question and the "problem" would be solved.

And, the current top question is incredibly weak:

What will you do to establish transparency and safeguards against waste with the rest of the Wall Street bailout money?

That's akin to asking, "Comrade Lenin, what will you do to ensure that the Five Year Plan is carried out?" Obama won't have any problems with that question, and they probably have boilerplate in one of his past statements answering the very question.

NOT-VERY-SURPRISING UPDATE: "Blagojevich questions censored on Transition site" (link) has a screengrab of three questions involving Blago that were marked as "inappropriate" and removed from the list of possibilities. Who could have predicted that something like that would happen? Oh, yeah, I did.

Wikipedia is a good, credible source for one thing at least - 11/09/08

In the past, I've been extremely critical of Wikipedia and I still consider them, among other things, as a source of disinformation. In fact, if you're reading this as a single post you'll see that I have a site just about them.

However, there is one good thing I have to give them credit for. Actually, two things:


Sadly, the provider of this "self-made" photo doesn't have a user page or another way to send her thanks.

eCitizen's "Ask the President-Elect": yet another setup? - 11/07/08

The eCitizen Foundation (ecitizenfoundation.org) has launched the "Ask the President-Elect" Project, where regular citizens can submit video or text questions for Barack Obama. The questions that get the most votes will then be asked of our new president or his transition team, with three of the top vote getters being flown to MIT for a live event.

And, it appears to be as much of a setup as similar past efforts.

Open Debate Coalition: a failed format for fake debates - 09/26/08

The "Open Debate Coalition" - a group consisting of people such as Glenn Reynolds ("Instapundit") and Stanford law professor Larry Lessig [1] - is calling on John McCain and Barack Obama to open the presidential debates by allowing questions chosen by regular people and not just the MSM.

However, what they support has not only been proven to be a failure, but two of the signatories helped show how such formats can be gamed and another was involved with the system that was gamed.

10Questions.com is a horrible idea, here's *more* proof - 11/21/07

10 Questions.com lets people vote on their favorite questions for the political candidates, which their MSM partners (NYT and MSNBC) will presumably try to get the candidates to answer (two have already come in: youtube.com/profile?user=10ques).

My issue with the site is that it allows those who can drive traffic to the site to propel weak questions to the top; this allows partisan hacks to avoid having difficult questions asked.

Janet Murguia/NCLR misleads to support illegal immigration (Kansas City, Minuteman issue) - 11/04/07

The National Council of La Raza ("The Race") is an extremist-funding group that in turn is funded by large corporations [1] that profit from illegal activity. Senator Chris Dodd even wants to give them millions of dollars.

They recently pulled their 2009 convention out of Kansas City, MO because a member of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps was appointed to that city's Parks Board. Local Hispanic leaders even went as far as trying to deliver a letter to that board member's house in what appears to be an attempt to intimidate her.

Now, their president, Janet Murguia, offers "La Raza left because it objects to extremism". She objects to the "extremism" of the MCDC and pretends it isn't about policy. Since her group continually supports illegal immigration, and the MCDC opposes it, that's highly questionable.

Here's the only thing she has to say about everything that's been involved in this issue, including the letter:

While I can't address every issue raised since the controversy erupted, the views and passion expressed - on both sides of the issue - deserve a response.

Obviously, someone else would address a possible act of intimidation, but I guess that's more than we should expect from her.

Then, she brings up a quote from MCDC leader Chris Simcox; I don't know the context, but it appears to have been originally reported by Gustavo Arellano, someone who has a clear agenda and, even if he got the quote accurate, doesn't provide any context [2].

Then, she discusses an original member of the Minuteman Project who was sending messages to a Nazi group... "privately". It should be obvious to anyone that none of the Minutemen groups want such connections, and I'm not going to even bother to verify that after her extra-curricular activities were discovered she was tossed from the group.

Then, she delves into the ADL's "Immigrants Targeted: Extremist Rhetoric Moves into the Mainstream." The problems with part of that report are discussed at the link, and she helps point out yet another problem:

The founder of the Dustin Inman Society, D.A. King, said in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that immigrants are "not here to mow your lawn - they're here to blow up your buildings and kill your children, and you, and me."

Bolding added. And, in fact, that's similar to what's in the ADL's report [3]:

Speaking at a Newton County (Georgia) Republican Party meeting in April 2007, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, King reportedly told attendees that undocumented immigrants are "not here to mow your lawn – they're here to blow up your buildings and kill your children, and you, and me."

Now, here's the kicker (which everyone knew was coming). The Southeast Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League, Bill Nigut, says [4]:

In a speech to a handful of Georgia Republicans in Covington earlier this year, King cleverly intertwined our legitimate fears of the threat from Islamic terrorists with a rant against undocumented Mexicans. At one point, according to a report in the Rockdale Citizen newspaper, he displayed a mock-up of a Mexican photo ID card, filled in with the name supplied by King: "Al Qaida Gonzalez." ...When he told the gathering that "They're not here to mow your lawn - they're here to blow up your buildings and kill your children, and you and me," King says he was speaking of the Islamic threat. But since Muslim yard services tend to be few and far between, his intentional mixing of images seems clear: He is out to create fear about all illegal immigrants, be they Islamic terrorists or Mexican gardeners.

So, now we see that King wasn't refering to "immigrants" (Murguia's word) or "undocumented immigrants" (the ADL's report's words), but to Islamist infiltrators. In other words, Murguia and the ADL report are highly misleading, and that was obviously intentional. (Further, the only "reporting" from the AJC that I could find is in a blog post, but I didn't check their archives.) At the last link, King says he was refering to this government report (PDF). (The Rockdale Citizen doesn't appear to have online archives: rockdalecitizen.com)

Obviously, both Janet Murguia and the ADL aren't just sloppy, what they say can't be trusted.

[1] discoverthenetworks.org/groupProfile.asp?grpid=153
[2] ocweekly.com/news/news/see-tombstone-nab-a-mexican/21117/
[3] adl.org/civil_rights/anti_immigrant/da_king.asp
[4] mdjonline.com/content/index/showcontentitem/area/1/section/17/item/97577.html


10Questions.com is a horrible idea, here's proof - 10/29/07

10Questions.com is a new site that aggregates Youtube and similar political videos and allows visitors to vote on their favorite. The top 10 will then be asked of the presidential candidates, with the candidates then asked to upload replies.

The site is co-sponsored by several blogs as well as the New York Times and MSNBC.

Tech President/10 Questions: is it meant to work in the first place? - 10/17/07

This site "techPresident" (techpresident.com) has launched a new feature called "10 Questions" that's highly similar to the existing site Community Counts (one of those behind CC is involved in 10Q).