March 27, 2014

In this corner: A Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist. In the other corner: A statistics whiz and founder of the data journalism site, FiveThirtyEight.

If that matchup sounds like the driest, most staid battle imaginable, well, it kind of is. And it's one that's been playing out ever since Nate Silver left the Times for his own venture. To condense the tiff: Silver said many columnists were "worthless" and predictable; Paul Krugman suggested FiveThirtyEight erred in vaunting numbers as infallible, accusing the site of "sloppy and casual opining." In the latest, weirdest salvo, Silver wrote a tongue-in-cheek analysis categorizing Krugman's references to FiveThirtyEight as either favorable or unfavorable, purportedly to show that Krugman has mysteriously turned on him and his work. There's even a chart.

The headline — "For Columnist, a Change of Tone" — is a nice joke on the Times' stylistic inclinations. But in racing to needle his former colleague with snark and numbers, Silver is exemplifying the exact criticism Krugman and others have made, that the site is cherry-picking data to reach preconceived, sometimes flawed conclusions. (As others have pointed out, Silver's latest broadside misses some key variables.) Worse though, the spat, which started as a couple of mild media critiques, has now completely devolved into a petty, personal slap fight between two very smart people. At this rate, the next round in the imbroglio may well be a Krugman article titled, "I know you are but what am I?" followed by a Silver analysis of metaphorical rubber and glue.

For such respected analysts and writers, is this really the best work they could be doing? Jon Terbush

12:44 p.m.

Oprah Winfrey is facing mounting criticism after withdrawing from a documentary about the sexual misconduct allegations against Russell Simmons, a decision activists are slamming as "callous."

Winfrey was originally attached as executive producer of the upcoming documentary focusing on the Simmons allegations, On the Record, but she removed her name from it earlier this month. Although Winfrey said in a statement she "unequivocally believes and supports the women," she says she had concerns about "some inconsistencies in the stories." Simmons has denied the allegations against him.

"This latest turn of events has been extraordinarily disorienting and upsetting," domestic violence activist Sil Lai Abrams, who has accused Simmons of rape, told the Reporter.

Equality Now global director Yasmeen Hassan also criticized Winfrey, telling the Reporter her decision was "callous" and saying, "There needs to be a lot more explanation given to these women, at the very least. This feels mind-boggling and is very bad for the #MeToo movement."

Women and Hollywood founder Melissa Silverstein additionally described the situation as "one of the saddest moments for the #MeToo movement," adding, "Just think how hard it is going to be for women, particularly women of color, to come forward next time when they have been thrown under the bus by none other than Oprah."

The Reporter notes that although Winfrey has cited alleged inconsistencies, especially in the account of the film's central accuser Drew Dixon, the Times' report on Dixon's allegations "was well vetted." Winfrey reportedly had additional issues with the film, including concerns over whether "the two filmmakers, who are white, captured the nuances of hip-hop culture and the struggles of black women," the Times writes. On the Record is still scheduled to have its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 25. Brendan Morrow

12:10 p.m.

One giant energy provider is taking a small chunk of climate change into its own hands.

Arizona Public Service Co., the largest utility provider in Arizona, will swear off coal power by the end of the decade, it announced Wednesday. That's seven years earlier than the company previously pledged, and comes under the purview of a CEO who just took that job in December, AZ Central reports.

As it stands, APS gets 22 percent of its energy from its coal-fired Four Corners Power Plant and Cholla Power Plant. Cholla is slated for closure in 2025, and while Four Corners wasn't supposed to close until 2038, Wednesday's announcement bumped that down to 2031. In addition, CEO Jeff Guldner said Wednesday that APS would completely shift to carbon-free power by 2050. APS does own the largest nuclear power plant in the country, and plans to use that Palo Verde plant to achieve its green energy goals.

In neighboring New Mexico, where the Four Corners plant is located, utility provider Public Service New Mexico has pledged to go carbon-free by 2040. California and Colorado also have laws that mandate completely carbon-free energy by 2040 and 2045, respectively. More states taking the plunge is essential for minimizing greenhouse gases, seeing as the U.S. is the second biggest emissions producer in the world, and that a full quarter of its emissions come from energy production. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:21 a.m.

President Trump on Wednesday downplayed the injuries suffered by U.S. soldiers following retaliatory Iranian missile strikes on a military base in Iraq earlier this month.

Speaking to reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump was asked why he has repeatedly said no Americans were hurt in the strikes despite reports that 11 U.S. service members were airlifted for medical reasons. The president said he was told the soldiers had "headaches" and he doesn't consider the injuries to be as serious as others he's seen in the past, such as the loss of limbs.

The comment quickly stirred up some backlash — CNN's Chris Cillizza called Trump's description of the injuries "problematic" considering some of the patients are still being evaluated. He also brought up Trump's personal history which includes five deferments from serving in the Vietnam War, four of which were the result of bone spurs in his heels.

The president was also chastised by Mark Hertling, a retired Army officer who served as the commanding general of the U.S. Army Europe and the Seventh Army. Hertling said that blasts like the one in Iraq can result in various long-term effects, some of them quite severe. Trump, he said, was "dangerously wrong" in his dismissal. Tim O'Donnell

10:08 a.m.

It's hard to make jokes during an impeachment, but Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is making it work.

Booker is among the 100 senators acting as jurors in the impeachment trial of President Trump, and all of them have to stash their electronics in marked cubbies while they're inside the Senate chambers. But as Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) documented on his Instagram Wednesday morning, Booker is using his cubby to store a snack that doubles as an excellent visual gag.

Booker may have dropped out of the presidential race earlier this month, but this joke probably would've earned him a boost from corny dads everywhere. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:05 a.m.

An attack on a U.S. military base in Kenya by al-Shabab fighters that killed three Americans earlier this month mostly flew under the radar amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran. But it's now raising questions about the effectiveness of the U.S. military's presence on the African continent, The New York Times reports.

There's still a lot that's unclear about al-Shabab's breach of the base, and the military's Africa Command has remained tight-lipped in the aftermath. Nobody is sure why the base — which is home to valuable surveillance aircraft — wasn't better protected, and there's also been some criticism of the Kenyan security forces who are being trained by the deployed U.S. troops.

At the Manda Bay base, the Kenyan forces are relied upon heavily to protect the airfield since there aren't enough American forces to stand perimeter security, a Defense Department official told the Times. But their performance during the skirmish with al-Shabab reportedly frustrated American officials. For example, the Kenyan forces announced they captured six of the attackers, all of whom were released after it turned out they were bystanders.

Some have taken their speculation a bit further. One person briefed on an inquiry into the attack told the Times that investigators are looking into the possibility that the al-Shabab fighters received aid from Kenyan staff on the base, although one American official said the attackers likely made their move after patiently observing the routines of American soldiers. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

9:41 a.m.

One of the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination this year is now suing the last one.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) has filed a defamation lawsuit against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for suggesting in an interview last year that she's a "Russian asset."

Clinton during a podcast appearance in October said that an unnamed Democratic candidate for president is "the favorite of the Russians." She then said that Jill Stein is "also a Russian asset," seeming to suggest the unnamed Democrat is one as well. While Clinton didn't mention the candidate she was referring to, when later asked if she was talking about Gabbard, her spokesperson told CNN, "If the nesting doll fits."

Gabbard at the time tore into Clinton as the "queen of warmongers" in response to her comments, and she demanded in November that Clinton "immediately hold a press conference to verbally retract — in full — your comments," as well as release a statement saying she made a "grave mistake" and that "I support and admire" Gabbard's work. Clinton did not do so.

The lawsuit filed against Clinton contends that her comments caused Gabbard "to lose potential donors and potential voters" and that she "has suffered significant actual damages, personally and professionally, that are estimated to exceed $50 million — and continue to this day." The campaign is seeking "compensatory damages and an injunction prohibiting the further publication of Clinton's defamatory statements." Clinton hasn't commented on the lawsuit. Brendan Morrow

9:17 a.m.

It turns out women have less faith in their political power than men do.

In the wake of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) allegedly telling Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) he didn't think a woman could beat President Trump, CNN posed the same question to American voters in its poll with SRSS released Wednesday. When asked "Generally speaking, do you think a woman can win the presidency of the United States, or not?," nine percent of men responded with "no." But in a twist, women gave an even direr prognosis, with a full 20 percent saying the same.

It may seem shocking that American women have less confidence in themselves than men. Then again, women also have a more personal grasp on the sexist reality ruling politics and everyday life.

SSRS conducted the poll Jan. 16-19 among 1,156 adults, and the full sample has a margin of sampling error of ±3.4 percentage points. For the sample of 500 Democrats, the margin of error was ±5.3 percentage points. Kathryn Krawczyk

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