Friday, October 31st, 2014

"Is your organization Mostly Liberal?"

Readers tell us what they thought of our recent reports.
Readers tell us what they thought of our recent reports.

New year, new reader mail, which has been edited for length and style.

DREAM Act

During the lame-duck session of Congress at the end of 2010, the U.S. Senate voted against the DREAM Act, which would have allowed undocumented residents brought to the United States as minors to later qualify for citizenship.

While lawmakers were kicking the legislation around, we checked statements criticizing the act.

In a Dec. 2 op-ed column, U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Humble, said of the act’s provisions: "After you complete two years of post high-school education or two years of military service you are eligible for citizenship. Once a citizen, this paves the way to  bring the rest of their extended family to the United States."

We rated that Barely True, meaning it had an element of truth: Two years in a higher-ed institution or the military is key to achieving citizenship under the act,  but the statement skipped over other stipulations that an undocumented resident would have had to satisfy before becoming a citizen. The proposed process would not be rapid, nor would the outcome be assured. And after achieving citizenship, a formerly undocumented resident could sponsor some family members to relocate, but not grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws.

One reader though we were too harsh: "I read your article on Poe's comments on the DREAM Act. I find that his statements were more than Barely True and more like Mostly True."

Others thought we weren’t hard enough.

"How you got Barely True as a rating for his statement is beyond me. Have we really sunk so low that we now ‘barely’ accept such inflammatory and dishonest statements from our elected representatives?"

"I believe that this should have received a False ruling, simply because the DREAM Act does nothing to increase or decrease the right of citizens to sponsor family members, which Poe's statement seems to suggest."

We rated Mostly True a statement by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, who said that under the DREAM Act, once undocumented residents became citizens "and turn 21, they can sponsor their illegal immigrant parents for legalization." Under the act, a U.S. citizen would be required to be 21 to sponsor his or her parents for legal residence. However, we found,  it's unlikely that anyone who becomes a citizen under the DREAM Act would be younger than 21."

One reader thought our rating was too generous.

"I can assure you that even ‘immediate family members’ are ineligible for a visa if they did not enter the U.S. with some form of inspection (even a tourist visa would be enough), as would be implied by Rep. Smith's use of the not-quite-accurate term ‘illegal.’ Otherwise, they are required to return to their home countries, where they will be barred from re-entry to the U.S. for a minimum of ten years. I believe that this highly significant point of law bears mentioning in your otherwise spot-on analysis."

Fact-checking Decision Points

In his memoir, George W. Bush says that when Vice President Joe Biden was a senator, he "recommended partitioning Iraq into three separate entities." We rated that Half True: Biden proposed dividing the country into three separate and semi-autonomous regions while retaining a federal system to handle common concerns including border security. But Biden has consistently said he wasn’t recommending a partition, which connotes dividing Iraq into more than one country.

One reader wrote: "Seems to me another country was once created on that same concept. It was called the United States of America!"

Student teaching

Announcing a bill he filed to "end the practice of Texas schools hiring full-time teachers with no classroom experience," State Rep. Mike Villarreal said in a press release: "Parents are shocked when I tell them that their children may have a teacher who never spent one minute practicing teaching but is now responsible for a classroom full of kids." We rated that True.

One reader quibbled with Villarreal more than our rating.

"Having retired from the U. S. Army I was, as were all officers, a  teacher of my soldiers throughout my military careers. I guess under the bill being floated by this eager Democrat would mean a retired colonel or general would have to take classes taught by some pimpled-faced mentor before they could teach a class of teenagers or even pre-teens. Sounds like another piece of legislation being filed that would take common sense out of the system. Can't school administrators interview potential teachers and make a determination regarding whether they have the skills for teaching? For example, a retired lieutenant colonel that has an engineering degree, that has been building bridges, runways and buildings, would not be able to teach classes relating to his experience without taking classes from someone that's never built anything?"

Social Security

Statements about Social Security fire up readers, and our fact-check of Gov. Rick Perry’s recent claim was no exception. "In 1981, Matagorda, Brazoria and Galveston Counties all opted out of the Social Security program for their employees," he said. "Today, their program is very, very well-funded and there is no question about whether it’s going to be funded in" years to come. We rated that Mostly True. Far as we could tell, the alternate plans are healthy and should remain so. But the Texas plans serve employees also eligible, depending on years of service, for an Austin-based pension plan. Perry's larger point, that Americans could benefit from swapping out Social Security for alternate plans, doesn't acknowledge this pre-existing safety net in the Texas counties.

Readers jumped on our rating and accused Perry of cherry-picking.
   
"While this statement may be True as far as it goes, you should have pointed out the fallacy in his argument. Perry is arguing that Social Security should be eliminated because three Texas counties were able to replace that program with their own program. What you should have pointed out, is that Perry is cherry-picking - these government workers have greater job security and higher incomes than their counterparts in private industry. Moreover, these workers are covered by (government!) health care plans, and so will be healthier than their counterparts in private industry, and will have fewer long-term disabilities as a result."

"What he is not mentioning, and what you should have pointed out, is the fact that the counties’ employees, by stopping to pay into Social Security, practically abandoned their elders. As you well know, Social Security is paying out directly what it is taking in. And, yes I know, there is the so-called trust fund which will be used up in the near future. Social Security can only pay out what those in the work force are paying in. Remove enough workers to form other kinds of insurance, and you destroy the system. Not pointing this out when you rated the remarks Mostly True was rather poor journalism."

"Gov. Perry has cherry-picked systems that are working well. What about others that have not fared so well?  For example, the state of Connecticut that is far behind in its payments to its teachers' retirement fund? What will happen to those folks?  The legislature in CT has not kept up its end of the bargain and made the necessary payments to the fund in these hard economic times. CT can't print its own money like the Fed, will this fund and ones like it go belly up?"

Another reader thought we should have rated Perry’s statement True: "Your article doesn't acknowledge that the option to opt out of Social Security could only be exercised if the government entity doing so put in place a like plan, such as the Galveston one. Also, only government entities were eligible for the option and it's likely all such employers had a separate retirement plan. I think Perry's statement was absolutely true."

Critics

Some readers think we’re full of bias. Others think we’re full of something, um, smellier.

"PolitiFact is just opinion that belongs on the editorial page. You are sore-losermen, because you were not able to shill the recent elections for the Democrats."

"You’re pure liberal bull. Don’t think every non-lib doesn’t see it."

"Is your organization Mostly Liberal?"

"On a scale of idiot to genius, I rate your response as foolish."

"What a waste of newsprint and ink!!!!!!!"

Compliments

Then again, some readers do write to say thanks.

"Now, more than ever, you need to keep on checking facts. Please, please, don't stop. Truth gets lost in the political arena and particularly during legislative sessions. We need your investigative expertise at the very least through this upcoming (legislative) session."

"Your section is getting to be my favorite part of the Austin American-Statesman."