Democratic Debate Part 3
June 29, 2007
Few errors, lots of dreaming.
We caught a few candidates off base at the third debate among Democratic contenders for the 2008 presidential nomination:
For the most part the candidates seemed to have done their homework and came to Howard University in Washington, D.C., June 28 with reasonably accurate facts and figures at the ready. Here are a few flubs we found.
HIV Rate Bad Enough, Thank You
Richardson: Close to 20 percent of the African people have some kind of HIV virus.That's a huge overstatement. It is true that there are some individual countries in Africa with a 20 percent or higher rate of HIV infection. In fact, when we contacted the Richardson campaign, an aide cited statistics showing seven countries with that level of infection. However, that's out of 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa alone, according to the State Department.
While the number of HIV cases in sub-Saharan Africa is quite large – 24.7 million in 2005, according to the United Nations – it is not nearly 20 percent of the total population of the region. In fact, it’s 5.8 percent, according to the World Bank. Adding in Northern Africa, with its lower rate of HIV infection, would further reduce the overall percentage for all the "African people." The United Nations Development Program did estimate in 2005 that more than 25 percent of Africans were directly affected, though not infected, by HIV; this included spouses, children and elderly dependents of HIV sufferers.
Lots, But Not That Much
Rep. Dennis Kucinich falsely blamed the military for gobbling the largest share of the budget.
Kucinich: And we also know that our tax dollars right now are being spent overwhelmingly on war and military buildup.Not really. In 2006 (the last year for which final numbers are available), defense accounted for 23.6 percent of total spending. That is a significant percentage of our spending, but it pales in comparison to the 46.3 percent we are spending on various entitlement programs.
Facts Behind Bars
Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel gave a vastly inflated statistic about the incarceration of African Americans.
Gravel: In 1972, we had 179,000 human beings in jail in this country; today, it’s 2.3 million, and 70 percent are black, African Americans.Gravel got part of that right. According to the Justice Department, there are nearly 2.3 million people incarcerated as of June 2006. But nowhere near 70 percent of inmates are African American – the correct number is 40 percent.
AIDS and the Poor
Edwards: We need to ensure that Medicaid covers AIDS drugs and AIDS treatment – to make sure that people get the treatment they need, particularly low-income families who get the – who are diagnosed with AIDS – low-income individuals.Actually, Medicaid, a state-administered health care program for the poor, covers AIDS drugs already. Deirdre Duzor, the director of Medicaid’s pharmacy division, says she is not aware of any state limitations on Medicaid coverage of AIDS prescriptions.
What Edwards may have been trying to say is that he favors extending Medicaid coverage to low-income HIV patients who don't qualify for Medicaid because they aren't yet sick enough to be considered disabled. Even for low-income persons, just being diagnosed with HIV is not sufficient to be eligible for Medicaid. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan research group, “Medicaid eligibility rules present a 'Catch-22' relative to the current standard of HIV care: many low-income people with HIV are not eligible for Medicaid until they become disabled, despite available therapies that might prevent disability.”
A $2 Trillion War?
Kucinich used a figure on the high side when estimating the eventual cost of the Iraq war.
Kucinich: [The U.S.] will spend anywhere from 1 [trillion dollars] to $2 trillion on this war.
Other studies put Iraq costs even higher. Kucinich may have been referring to a Feb. 2006 report by Linda Blimes of Harvard University and Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University. They estimated that the total cost of the war in Iraq could range from $1 trillion to $2 trillion, including such things as higher fuel prices and future health care costs for soldiers wounded in the war.
Hillary and HIVFor the most part, however, we found that the various candidates' claims checked out, even some of the more conspicuous ones. For example, our ears perked up when Sen. Hillary Clinton talked about the impact of HIV/AIDS on African American women.
Clinton: If HIV/AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of 25 and 34, there would be an outraged outcry in this country.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, HIV/AIDS is indeed the leading cause of death of black women aged 25 to 34.
Sen. Clinton also accused the Bush Administration of "disgracefully" keeping funding for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program "flat," and in fact, spending on that program has hovered at just over $2 billion for the past five years, according to figures from the Department of Health and Human Services.
Gravel on Scholarships
We also confirmed Gravel's dramatic claim about what could have been purchased with the money spent on the war.
Gravel: 21 million Americans could have a four-year college scholarship for the money we’ve squandered in IraqWhether the money has been "squandered" is of course a matter on which opinions differ. But we calculate that the cost of covering all tuition and fees for 21 million students, based on the average charges for public colleges and universities for each of the past four years, would have come to $443 billion, which is just under what CRS says has been appropriated for the Iraq war so far.
Pie in the Sky
We leave it to our readers to decide whether any or all of these are good ideas or bad ideas. We merely note here that the candidates said little about how they planned to deliver on those promises, how much their plans would cost or who would pay.
- by Brooks Jackson, with Viveca Novak, Justin Bank, Jessica Henig, Emi Kolawole, Joe Miller, Lori Robertson, Carolyn Auwaerter and Allie Berkson
Sabol, William J. and Minton, Todd, and Paige Harrison, "Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2006." Bureau of Justice Statistics. 27 June 2007.
Trends in College Pricing: 2004. Oct. 2004. College Board. 29 June 2007.
Office of Management and Budget. Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2008. Washington: GPO, 2007.
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