Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

With the election's end, 'truthiness' improves

Truthiness boomed in the wake of the election. Coincidence? We think not.
Truthiness boomed in the wake of the election. Coincidence? We think not.

The election cycle might have ended, but the old Truth-O-Meter kept spinning last week at AJC PolitiFact Georgia.

Topics ranged from animal abuse to the national debt to high school graduation rates. And just about the time Georgians were finishing off the last of the Halloween candy and beginning to plan for the Thanksgiving feast, we took a look at childhood obesity.

It was an unusually "truthy" week, as it turned out. We'd like to take some credit for keeping the power brokers a little more honest. But then we'd probably have to give ourselves a "Pants on Fire."

We hear the state Legislature will be returning to Atlanta in a few months. So it's fitting, we had a bit of a break from the usual mendacity. The Truth-O-Meter needs all the rest it can get before the General Assembly's calamitous return.

In the meantime, we'll keep the Truth-O-Meter primed.

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"Georgia has the second-highest rate of childhood obesity in the United States."

The news was enough to make the AJC PolitiFact Georgia scribe toss her leftover Halloween candy corn to the squirrels.

"Georgia has the second-highest rate of childhood obesity in the United States," said a recent news release from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

Are Georgia kids really that hefty?
 
Yes, we felt guilty. One PolitiFact Georgia reporter had spent a recent afternoon dressed as a witch, handing out fistfuls of sweets to trick-or-treaters.

A hospital spokeswoman pointed us to a report issued by the Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit group that specializes in disease prevention.

Sure enough, there Georgia was, second only to Mississippi in 2007 for obesity rates among 10- to 17-year-olds. In this state, 21.3 percent of children were obese, the report said. Mississippi's rate was 21.9 percent.

We looked at several surveys on the subject. There was some variance, but there's widespread agreement that Georgia kids are obese. And by one widely respected measure, Georgia's kids are the second-most obese in the nation.

We rate Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's statement True.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg: Georgia and other states with weak gun laws have more crime.

Bloomberg took aim at the Peach State during a CNN interview, where he made the above statement.

But a National Rifle Association spokeswoman called Bloomberg's claim "absolutely ridiculous." Washington, D.C., Chicago and New York have some of the strictest rules, but they're not the safest cities in our country.

Those cities' crime rates vary widely. The nation's capital had a higher violent crime rate than any of the 50 states in each of the past three years, according to FBI data. The Big Apple had the lowest among the nation's 25 largest cities.

We looked at numbers from a variety of sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC numbers do show states with weaker gun laws tend to have more firearm deaths. The FBI data shows some of those states had more violent crime (not all committed with firearms), but others were in the middle of the pack nationally. We rate Bloomberg's statement as Mostly True.

State Sen. Robert Brown, D-Macon: "Animal abuse is often an indicative trait of future acts of violence against humans."

Brown wants to strengthen Georgia's animal cruelty law.

"Animal abuse is often an indicative trait of future acts of violence against humans," said Brown in a recent hearing, "and prosecuting such behavior is our first line of defense against potentially dangerous criminals."

Is it true?

"He's right," said Mary Lou Randour, professional outreach director for animal cruelty for the Humane Society of the United States. "It's just another example of the type of people who are anti-social and aggressive."

We looked at a number of studies from various groups, and they all came to the same conclusion.

Brown said he's considering legislation that would create tougher penalties on people who abuse animals in the presence of children, but he's not sure whether it will pass because legislators will be focused on the state's budget challenges.

Brown appears to have done his homework. This one is a slam-dunk. We rate his claim as True.

U.S. Sen.-Elect Rand Paul, R-Ky.: "The interest on the debt now is going to approach in the next couple of years ... what we spend in the national defense budget."

As one of the highest-profile tea party candidates of 2010, Rand Paul made reducing federal spending a centerpiece of his successful campaign for a Senate seat from Kentucky.

In a Nov. 7 appearance on ABC's "This Week With Christiane Amanpour," Paul suggested the debt is growing to staggering levels -- close to the cost of national defense.

We hadn't heard that comparison before, so we wanted to check it out.

Paul is correct to point out the coming explosion in net interest payments -- a level that will rise steadily in comparison to defense spending over the next decade as defense spending falls modestly.

But he's a bit too aggressive. It will probably do so by 2015 or 2016, which would be the final two years of President Barack Obama's second term, if he wins one. That seems pretty far away. Still, his point stands.

Mostly True.

Gov. Sonny Perdue: Georgia's high school graduation rate topped 80 percent in 2010.

With the announcement that Georgia's high school graduation rate topped 80 percent, Perdue took a celebratory tour of the state's standout schools.

He promised he'd reach the mark by 2010. With the help of students and staff, he kept his word. Or did he?

Other measures say Georgia's rate is lower. And while the state Department of Education reports it's making great strides, one group said last year the rate is so low Georgia's children are in "crisis."

Although the state Education Department said it has improved its reporting methods, the data and calculations still have enough unresolved problems that it's hard to say whether the state actually met Perdue's goal.

It's also not clear how much the state graduation rate has improved. Georgia said its rate has soared during Perdue's term, but other measures say it's flat or rose by a few percentage points.

While the high 2009-2010 graduation rate may be an encouraging sign, it's not quite a cause for celebration. He earns a Half True.