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Truth-O-Meter burrows for the truth

By Willoughby Mariano
Published on Sunday, February 6th, 2011 at 6:00 a.m.

Trust PolitiFact Georgia to burrow for the darkest and fuzziest of truths.

Last week, we tested a DeKalb County congressman on the economy, an Athens congressman on one of his tweets, boosterish claims about Atlanta tourism, and whether Egypt’s ambassador has his facts straight.

Most importantly, we uncovered that metro Atlanta’s groundhog General Beauregard Lee, long overshadowed by the more famous Punxsutawney Phil, is better at predicting the weather. Scandalous.

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U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson: The economy we preside over today is better than the one we inherited.

Johnson, from DeKalb County, used President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to give his own state of the American economy.

"There is no doubt that the economy we preside over today is better than the one we inherited," the representative said in a one-paragraph statement on his website.

Is it?

In some areas, the economy has improved over the past two years in measurable areas such as trade and the Dow Jones industrial average. Johnson is correct about that.

But major components such as housing and unemployment are still in the dumps. Until those key areas turn around, it’s hard to argue that the overall economy has improved. Plus the deepening national debt poses a threat to recovery.  

Johnson’s statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give readers a different impression. Under our guidelines, the congressman’s statement rates as Barely True.

U.S. Rep. Paul Broun: President Barack Obama supports immigration amnesty.
                                
Shouting "you lie" at President Barack Obama? So 2009.
   
During 2011’s State of the Union address, Broun, an Athens Republican, tweeted the above critique from his office.
   
Is Obama pro-amnesty?   
   
Broun referred to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which failed last year. It would have allowed illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to become citizens if they attend college or serve in the military.  
   
Opponents use the word "amnesty" to criticize the DREAM Act. Backers generally don’t.

However, we found that people who like parts of the bill, make good arguments that it’s "amnesty" because its is similar to tax or parking ticket amnesties in which violators pay a penalty for forgiveness.

You can also say it’s not "amnesty." The obstacles to becoming a citizen are so challenging experts think most young people who would be covered by the act won’t make it.

The tweet was unequivocal, but the label is debatable and should come with more explanation.  
   
Half True.

State Economic Development Commissioner Chris Cummiskey: Georgia is the second-fastest-growing state for international tourists.
   
Who needs the Statue of Liberty to draw tourists when you have the Big Chicken?
   
Cummiskey surprised us with the above claim during a recent state budget hearing:
   
A greater increase than New York? California? Sunny Florida?
   
A spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Economic Development directed us to a federal study. In 2008, an estimated 634,000 international tourists came to Georgia, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration. About 689,000 international tourists visited the Peach State the following year, the federal agency reported. That’s nearly a 9 percent increase.

The top markets for international tourists who visited Georgia were the United Kingdom, Germany, the Caribbean, the Netherlands, France and Brazil.
   
New York, Florida, California, Nevada and Hawaii ranked first through fifth in the number of international tourists, but only two of those five states (Florida and Hawaii) actually had more international tourists in 2009 than 2008.
   
True.

Egyptian ambassador to the United States Sameh Shoukry: In the past 20 years, Egypt has made "great strides" in political and democratic reform.           
               
Egyptians recently took to the streets to protest the authoritarian rule of President Hosni Mubarak and urge him to step down. Shoukry appeared on "This Week" with Christiane Amanpour to discuss the situation and made the above claim.

Really?
   
We found that numerous human rights organizations have given Egypt low marks for political openness and press freedom. Organizations described what improvements that have taken place as limited and at times occurring in spite of the government.

For instance, the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said, "Since taking power in 1981, Hosni Mubarak has gone all out to curb not just press freedom but also citizens' rights to freedom of information."

Human Rights Watch noted police brutality is widespread in a 2011 report.

The government continues to arrest journalists, police brutality is widespread and the ruling party maintains firm control. We rate the ambassador's statement False.

General Beauregard Lee: He predicts the weather better than Punxsutawney Phil.

Politics, step aside. The Truth-O-Meter must address a matter of Southern pride.

The honor of local groundhog General Beauregard Lee.

The South’s most esteemed weather prognosticator has long lived in the stout and lumpy shadow of the more famous Punxsutawney Phil of Pennsylvania.  

But does Beau really deserve second place to that Yankee glory hog?

Beau’s website says he is accurate 94 percent of the time. Phil’s record is a measly 85 percent, it said.

The staff of Lilburn’s Yellow River Game Ranch, where the General lives, tracks Beau’s rate based on local temperatures.

Phil’s staff says he is "incapable of error."

We performed an independent analysis using federal weather data for 2001 through 2010.

The General predicted whether spring will start early nationally with 60 percent accuracy. Phil’s rate was 30 percent.

Beau predicted Atlanta weather with 50 percent accuracy. Phil got Punxsutawney’s right 40 percent of the time.

Georgia’s underhog is the champion, paws down.  

General, the Truth-O-Meter salutes you with a Mostly True.

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Researchers: Willoughby Mariano

Names in this article: Paul Broun, Chris Cummiskey, General Beauregard Lee, Barack Obama, Sameh Shoukry

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