Mailbag: "Reassign the PolitiFact staff to obits."
'Tis the season to share our reader mail, which we've edited for length and style.
In his new book Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America from Washington, Gov. Rick Perry says the federal government restricts "how much salt we can put on our food. We rated that False: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been exploring ways to reduce sodium in the food supply, but it hasn't made any mandates. And Big Brother isn't stopping Perry from salting his veggies at the dinner table.
"You mean to tell me that you read our governor's book and this was all you could come up with?? Pretty lame, I must say. Why not write about something significant like the 'global warming hoax' or President Obama's Socialist agenda? Now that's something your readers would appreciate!"
"If you think the government is not researching the reduction of salt in our food supply you are naive."
Our fact-check of Perry's claim that Washington's reach extends to "even telling us what kind of light bulb we can use" also generated some heat. We rated that Barely True, because a 2007 law increases efficiency requirements expected to result in consumers purchasing and using different bulbs. But that's not the same thing as the feds telling us which we can use.
Some readers thought we were too harsh. And nuts.
"Barely True? Are you guys crazy? Perry had it exactly right. In a couple years if you want a 100 watt incandescent light bulb, you won't be able to get it because of federal law. Who is preventing the sale of these light bulbs? It's the federal government. Which makes Perry's comment completely TRUE."
"The federal government is in the process of forcing fluorescent lighting into homes because it believes in making the population conserve energy, whether they like it or not. In my mind, this confirms Governor Perry's contention. If people wanted fluorescent lights in their homes, they would buy them in preference to incandescents and there would be no need for legislation."
"He isn't Barely Right, he is 100 percent correct, just like always. What is right is that the government is telling manufacturers and people that sell light bulbs that they can't sell any that don't pass a energy usage level."
"Where do you folks live? The Congress passed and the president — Bush — signed the measure regulating the manufacture of light bulbs."
And... more light bulbs
Speaking at conservative think-tank The Heritage Foundation, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, said you can buy four light bulbs for $1.99 at Walmart, while a single compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) costs "$10 a pop."
So we visited Walmart, where we found those $10 bulbs. But we also found prices lower than that, including a 13-watt CFL bulb that costs as little as $1.30. Barton also ignored other relevant factors, like wattage and electricity, that undercut his price comparison.
Several readers disagreed with our Barely True rating.
"At the end of your piece, you claim Congressman Barton said a 'two-income family could not afford such energy-saving bulbs.' He did not. He claimed it 'is not a very good deal.' I believe that is a significant difference, especially in an article that is fact-checking."
"I find Barton's comments to be correct. I have purchased the 'squiggly pig-tailed bulb' in the past. When compared to an old school bulb they are very expensive bulbs. Furthermore, the expensive bulbs do not last as they are advertised. So your 'longevity' comment is wrong. Why in the heck pay the additional cost?"
"I rate your review on CFL's versus incandescent bulbs as Barely True. It's true insofar as the claim that CFL's are cheaper to operate than incandescents. They may last longer as well, although my experience on that is mixed. However, as an old fart, I found early on that when a CFL purports to be the equivalent of an incandescent of a given wattage, it just ain't so. As you get old, you need more light to read. It's just a fact of life."
"This is one PoliFact Truth-O-Meter that should be rated as fairly ridiculous."
Others appreciated the analysis.
"Good piece on light bulbs. Since Barton was making cost claims, it would be highly relevant to get data on comparative electricity costs. Lower wattage means lower utility cost. One CFL is much cheaper over time."
"I really like the PolitiFact article on Barton's light bulb statement. I know you didn't discuss the operational cost of a 60 watt bulb versus a 15 watt bulb, but in addition to these kwh savings for lighting, there is an air-conditioning savings as well. Every watt used by a light bulb, is turned into a watt of heat. In an air-conditioned building, it's expensive to remove that heat."
"This Truth-O-Meter registered some good points but it didn't mention anything about whether the government is subsidizing CFL light bulbs. Is the federal government subsidizing the purchase of CFLs through rebates which artificially brings down the purchase price, making incandescents and LED bulbs comparatively expensive? If so, the argument might be made that the government is telling us which light bulb to use by manipulating the economy. I remember when I first started buying them and they were much cheaper because of instant rebates. I'm not sure if the rebates were coming from the government, but they came from somewhere."
"The story on Barton caught my eye because of my interest in the environment and global warming. I am attaching a letter I wrote to his office and his home town newspaper. It was inspired by your article. I thought you might like to see a response to your article in action."
Social Security and Ponzi schemes
On Fox News, Perry compared the Social Security system to a Ponzi scheme, named for Charles Ponzi, who conned investors by promising them quick, rich returns, but used their money to live high off the hog. He kept the scam going by bringing in new investors and using their money to pay off older ones. We rated Perry's statement False, because despite superficial similarities, Social Security is obligated to pay benefits, and the public is aware of how the system works. A Ponzi scheme is by definition deceptive, and constitutes criminal fraud.
Readers — wait for it — begged to differ.
"PolitiFact's determination that Social Security is not a Ponzi scheme was hysterically entertaining. The reality PolitiFact describes is so foreign to me that I'm convinced we must live in alternate universes. To cite the Social Security Administration as to whether or not Social Security is a Ponzi scheme like asking George Bush if he's an idiot. Of course he's going to say 'No.' The only real difference between Social Security and a Ponzi scheme is that Social Security is mandatory. Ponzi couldn't throw you in jail for refusing to participate."
"There are several differences between Social Security and a classic Ponzi scheme. But Social Security is indeed Ponzi-like in many aspects and is more heinous in some aspects. In fact, it started as a solvent self-contained system, but has grown into a fragile system that is more Ponzi-like than not. Gov. Perry's statements should be rated at least Half True."
"I agree that if you take the more formal definitions of Ponzi scheme that Perry is wrong. However, many words and terms take on different definitions when in common use. Not illegal but similar to pyramid schemes. Is there a time when the Baby Boomers in Social Security overwhelm the workers paying in?"
Bias and beef
Some readers gripe that we pick on conservatives while others just gripe.
"Boy, you can easily see you are filled with hate. It's oozing out of you. I can tell you don't like conservatives or Republicans at all. You find small sores and you pick at them hoping they bleed. I assume you give Democrats a free pass when they say stupid things which are no way in the best interest of the people. You know the greater good."
"If you picked just a TINY bit on Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, Lloyd Doggett, or Joe Biden regarding 'truths,' You'd have to use up all of each section of the American Statesman for six months.
"I really like your analyses but think you can be somewhat harsh in assigning ratings."
"And you wonder why the Statesman is losing customers."
Don't let the door hit you...
Some hopeful readers wrote to say goodbye.
"The elections are over. Reassign the PolitiFact staff to obits."
"In case you don't know... or refuse to believe... the election's over. The American people said that Obama's pants are on fire!"
"Thought I should let you know the election is over. It no longer matters what John, Rick, Greg, Kathie, or anyone else said during the run up to November 2. Thanks, and good luck in your new job."
Other readers sent us some good will.
"First visit to this site. Keep it UP!"
"Good job with PolitiFact's discovery and writing."
"I follow the PolitiFact articles and appreciate the hard work that goes into researching for the facts."
"Your section is getting to be my favorite part of the Austin American-Statesman. Thanks so much for your work."