FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Sat, 31 Jan 2015 19:19:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 Obama Juices the Genome Numbers http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/obama-juices-the-genome-numbers/ Fri, 30 Jan 2015 23:39:47 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92353 In announcing his new “Precision Medicine Initiative” on Jan. 30, President Obama repeated an outdated and questionable number for the Human Genome Project’s return on investment, and oversold just how cheap sequencing a single person’s full genetic code has become.

The Human Genome Project was an international effort to map out the roughly 3 billion DNA bases present in every human cell. The project was declared complete in 2003. In his address to reporters, Obama repeated an impressive statistic he also mentioned in April 2013 about the genome project’s benefits.

Obama, Jan. 30: [O]ne study found that every dollar we spent to map the human genome has already returned $140 to our economy.

There was in fact such a study, released in 2011, but it was updated in 2013 to say the return on investment is $66 for every $1 spent.

In 2011, Battelle Memorial Institute released a report on the economic impact of the Human Genome Project. In that report, the authors noted that “every $1 of federal HGP [Human Genome Project] investment has contributed to the generation of $141 in the economy.”

SciCHECKinsertThe benefits of the HGP are certainly enormous, providing the basis for continuing breakthroughs in medicine and basic science, along with advances in environmental science, agriculture and other disciplines. The Battelle study estimated the total dollar benefit from these advances at $796 billion from 1988 through 2010, with only a $3.8 billion ($5.6 billion in 2010 dollars) investment by the federal government, that yielded the $141 per-dollar-spent figure.

Repeating that finding, however, is misleading on a few counts. At the time, there was debate on whether the methodology used in arriving at the $141 figure was reasonable. In the journal Nature, economists questioned whether the analysis really reflected the true costs and benefits; for example, the salaries of those working on the Human Genome Project were counted as benefits, rather than costs. Other countries’ contributions were also not included in the analysis. Perhaps more important, though, the $3.8 billion in federal expenditures only accounted for the initial costs of the HGP, through 2003, while the benefits were counted all the way through 2010.

The Battelle Memorial Institute addressed this criticism of its analysis by updating its report in June 2013. The economic benefits with two more years ballooned to $965 billion, and the total expenditures, both initial funding and further funding after the HGP’s completion, were tagged at $14.5 billion. The return on investment, then, was about $66 for every dollar spent. Though he is correct that a study did find the $140 ROI, Obama’s repetition of the original number overstates just how impressive the HGP’s economic effects have been.

Cost of a Single Genome

One benefit that has arisen from the HGP is that it is now much easier, and cheaper, to map our DNA. Technology now exists to quickly sequence anyone’s genome for only a few thousand dollars, down from about $100 million, the cost when the HGP first mapped one full genome.

This is key to the new “Precision Medicine Initiative.” Among the initiative’s goals is the creation of a million-person volunteer study cohort that will involve “profiles of the patients’ genes.” This doesn’t necessarily mean full sequences for each patient — it is cheaper and quicker to sequence only certain parts of the genome known to be important, though full sequences for some will obviously provide more information. Another goal is to expand “genetically based clinical cancer trials.” This as well will require cheap and effective ways to sequence patients’ DNA.

The president, however, exaggerated how cheap sequencing is now compared with what it cost when Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the NIH and a leader of the HGP, worked on sequencing the first human genome.

Obama: The year Dr. Collins helped sequence the first human genome, it cost about $100 million, and today it costs less than $2,000.

Actually, by the government’s own accounting, the average cost is $4,905.

The president is correct that the cost of sequencing one full genome has come down dramatically. As the White House and the NIH pointed out to us in emails, certain companies now say they are able to sequence whole genomes for $1,000 each. But the average cost has not yet reached that $2,000 plateau. The National Human Genome Research Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, has tracked the cost of sequencing since the early 2000s. As of the latest update in July 2014, the average cost, which includes expenses such as maintenance and labor, had fallen to $4,905 for one individual’s full genetic code.

The $4,905 average is clearly a significant improvement over $100 million, but it is almost 150 percent greater than the “less than $2000″ cited by the president.

– Dave Levitan

Obama Fudges Facts in Philly http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/obama-fudges-facts-in-philly/ Fri, 30 Jan 2015 21:35:52 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92347 In a speech to House Democrats, President Barack Obama stretched the facts to underscore political points about national security and the improving economy.

  • Obama quoted a Republican as saying it’s “not the end of the world” to “have the Department of Homeland Security not functioning.” Actually, the congressman said Homeland Security would still function even if Congress fails to meet a funding deadline, so it would not be “the end of the world” to miss the deadline.
  • Obama also boasted that “there is no economic metric by which we are not better off than when I took office.” Here are a few: The number of long-term unemployed has risen, as has average duration of their joblessness; the number of Americans receiving food stamps is up; and the rate of home ownership is down.

The comments came during a short speech Obama delivered at the House Democratic Issues Conference in Philadelphia on Jan. 29.

‘End of the World’?

For weeks, Republicans have been threatening to hold up Homeland Security Department funding as a means to thwart President Obama’s executive action to halt some deportations. The immigration plan announced by Obama on Nov. 20 provides a temporary relief of three years from the threat of deportation to parents who are in the country illegally but who have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents — a plan that is estimated to apply to 5 million people.

In his speech in Philadelphia, Obama chastised an unnamed Republican congressman for downplaying the consequences of allowing a Feb. 27 funding deadline for Homeland Security to lapse.

Obama, Jan. 29: I disagree with any Republican who says letting funding for the Department of Homeland Security lapse is “not the end of the world.” That’s a quote from one of them. I tell you, these are the guys who are always saying they’re concerned about the borders. These are the folks who say they’re concerned about terrorism. Well, who do you think helps monitor our borders? What do you mean, “It’s not the end of the world”? That’s all you’ve been talking about. And now, suddenly, because you want to make a political point, you think that we can afford to have the Department of Homeland Security not functioning — because of political games in Washington?

The quote in question came from Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, in a story published by Politico, and it was taken out of context.

Obama says the congressman said it’s “not the end of the world” to “have the Department of Homeland Security not functioning,” but Diaz-Balart was clearly making the point that Homeland Security would continue functioning, even if the funding deadline is missed.

Politico, Jan. 28: Lessening the urgency, in some minds, of passing a Homeland Security funding bill is the fact that DHS’s operations wouldn’t necessarily shut down if funding expires after Feb. 27. In the October 2013 federal government shutdown, roughly 85 percent of DHS employees continued to work because their jobs were considered essential. However, their paychecks were withheld until the shutdown was over.

“In other words, it’s not the end of the world if we get to that time because the national security functions will not stop — whether it’s border security or a lot of other issues,” Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said, though he stressed that Congress shouldn’t ignore that deadline. “Having said so, I think we should always aspire to try to get it done.”

In the event of a funding lapse, DHS employees whose jobs are deemed “necessary for safety of human life or protection of property” are expected to continue working. That includes people responsible for criminal law enforcement operations, cargo inspections, counter-terrorism watches and intelligence gathering.

A Congressional Research Service report published on Oct. 24, 2013, found that during the shutdown three weeks prior, “While an estimated 31,295 employees were furloughed, roughly 85 percent of the department’s workforce continued with their duties that day, due to exceptions identified in current interpretations of law.”

On the day of the shutdown, Gillian Christensen, press secretary at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, assured that immigration enforcement would continue unimpeded.

“ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, as well as ICE Homeland Security Investigations will remain operational under a government shutdown because they have been deemed law enforcement necessary for the safety of life and protection of property,” she said in a statement.

It was precisely because those essential, national security functions would not stop in the event of a funding lapse that Diaz-Balart said missing the Feb. 27 deadline was “not the end of the world.”

Economic Metrics

At one point in his speech, Obama fired off a shotgun blast of statistics about improvements to the American economy, but it was the very last one that caught our attention.

Obama, Jan. 29: We’ve seen 11 million jobs created, best job growth since the ‘90s, best job growth in manufacturing since the ‘90s; steepest drop in the unemployment rate in 30 years; deficit cut by two-thirds; over 10 million people with health insurance that didn’t have it before. We’ve seen reading scores go up, high school graduation rates go up, more young people attending college than ever before. We’re number one in oil production; number one in natural gas production; doubled clean energy production; solar power up tenfold; wind power up threefold; carbon pollution down. There is no economic metric by which we are not better off than when I took office.

Our latest “Obama’s Numbers” piece in January includes a number of positive indicators for the economy under Obama. As we wrote, the economy has now gained nearly five times more jobs under Obama than it did during the presidency of George W. Bush; the unemployment rate has dropped to just below the historical average; real weekly earnings are up 1.7 percent, thanks in part to a plunge in gasoline prices; corporate profits have nearly tripled; and stock prices have soared.

But Obama went too far with the boast that, “There is no economic metric by which we are not better off than when I took office.”

As we noted in our story, “The number of Americans receiving food stamps remains 45 percent higher than when the president first took office, and the rate of home ownership has dropped by 3.2 percentage points, to the lowest point in nearly 20 years.”

And while the official figures show that the U.S. had 6,371,000 more people employed in December than it did when Obama took office in 2009, there are nearly 2.8 million people suffering from long-term unemployment — which is defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as being out of work for 27 weeks or longer. That is 86,000 higher than it was when Obama entered office. And the average number of weeks that the unemployed have been without work is 32.8 weeks — which is 13 weeks longer than the average duration of joblessness when Obama took office.

As for Obama’s claim that we are seeing the “best job growth in manufacturing since the ’90s,” that’s true if measured since January 2010. The U.S. has seen an increase of 777,000 manufacturing jobs between then and now, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But there has been a net loss of manufacturing jobs during the president’s time in office.

Republicans also have been quick to point to a decrease in the civilian labor force participation rate, which has now declined by 3 percentage points since Obama became president, to the lowest point since 1978. But that’s not entirely due to “discouraged workers” dropping out because they believe no jobs are available, as those Republican critics suggest.

As we noted when we wrote about this trend last year, other labor-force dropouts include members of the baby-boom generation who are retiring in droves. They also include disabled workers gaining Social Security disability benefits (a number that has doubled in the past 17 years, and is up 20 percent just since Obama took office). Also, the declining participation rate trend predates Obama and is expected to continue after he leaves office. The rate declined 1.4 percent under Obama’s predecessor, and a Labor Department economist, looking at current demographic trends, predicts further declines through at least 2022.

But no matter the causes of these trends, no one could credibly argue that the economic metrics mentioned above are “better off” under Obama.

– Robert Farley

All U.S. Jobs Did Not Go to Immigrants http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/all-u-s-jobs-did-not-go-to-immigrants/ Fri, 30 Jan 2015 14:55:29 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92291 Rick Santorum touted a shocking statistic to Iowa voters: Of the “6 million net new jobs created in America” since 2000, “all of them” are held by immigrants. That’s not accurate. Santorum ignores the 2.6 million job gains by native-born Americans over the age of 65 in the same time period.

Santorum also said, “We’re approaching percentage-wise the highest level of immigrants that we’ve ever had in America.” Perhaps, but we’re approaching it from a distance. The peak was in 1890, when 14.8 percent of the population was foreign-born. Census figures show 13.1 percent was foreign-born in 2013.

The former Republican senator from Pennsylvania who is preparing for a second presidential campaign made his claims on Jan. 24 at the Iowa Freedom Summit. On job creation, he said:

Santorum, Jan. 24: Since 2000 there have been 6 million net new jobs created in America. … How many of those net new jobs are held by people who were not born in this country? All of them.

Santorum’s claim comes from a June 2014 report by the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports lower levels of immigration. CIS used the Current Population Survey, data collected by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to determine: “The total number of working-age (16 to 65) immigrants (legal and illegal) holding a job increased 5.7 million from the first quarter of 2000 to the first quarter of 2014, while declining 127,000 for natives.”

The CPS, also called the household survey, asks about 60,000 households about their employment status as well as demographic information. The total job figures mirror those in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ payroll survey, which surveys about 550,000 work sites, and shows about 6.5 million net job growth from the first three months of 2000 to the first three months of 2014. Those numbers include all employees, even those over age 65.

In fact, the CIS report says that the job growth numbers for the native-born improve substantially when the over-65 age group is included, a cohort in which the proportion with jobs was growing in recent years while the proportion of younger workers with jobs wasn’t, as shown in these 2012 BLS charts produced by the New York Times.

A footnote in the CIS report says: “[L]ooking at all workers 16-plus shows that natives over age 65 did make employment gains. As a result, there are 2.6 million more natives of all ages working in 2014 than in 2000.” The immigrant net job gains for all workers was 6.2 million, as shown in the data CIS used. This makes Santorum’s claim simply not true. All of the net job growth since 2000 didn’t go to immigrants.

And changing the starting point makes a difference. The report he’s citing says from 2010 to 2014, 43 percent of net job growth went to the foreign-born, among those age 16 to 65. From the first quarter in 2010 to the first quarter in 2014, the native-born gained 3 million jobs and immigrants gained 2.3 million, among the 16-to-65 age group, according to CIS’ data chart. If we look at all workers age 16 and up, native-born workers saw a net gain of 4.4 million jobs, while the foreign-born saw a gain of 2.5 million during that time.

Immigrants, however, have recovered more quickly from the Great Recession than native-born Americans. The foreign-born job numbers for all workers are up 567,000 since the fourth quarter of 2007, the start of the recession, while the native-born job numbers are down by 3 million.

The Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends project also has analyzed the Current Population Survey data, finding that native-born workers didn’t begin to recover from the recession until the second half of 2010. In the first year after the recession, which ended in June 2009, the native-born had lost jobs while the foreign-born posted job gains. In a March 2012 report on the jobs recovery, the Pew Research Center’s Rakesh Kochhar, associate director of research, wrote that the difference in recovery came down to demographics: The faster rate of job growth for immigrants reflected their faster growth in working-age population.

Pew Research Center, March 21, 2012, “The Demographics of the Jobs Recovery”: The difference in the rate of growth in employment between native-born and foreign-born workers is roughly in line with the difference in the growth in their working-age populations during the recovery. From 2009 to 2011, the native-born working-age population increased 1.4% (2.9 million)and the foreign-born population increased 3.8% (1.3 million). Thus, the distribution of new jobs in the recovery across nativity groups — 35% foreign born; 65% native born — was in keeping with the changes in the population — 32% foreign born; 68% native born.

In testimony to Congress in 2011, Kochhar gave other possible reasons for immigrant workers recovering from the recession more quickly: They are more flexible in terms of moving location or occupation for work; immigration patterns reflect the economy, with the population of foreign-born increasing in times of economic expansion; and immigrants’ employment patterns tend to be more volatile, with sharper drops and steeper recovery.

The unemployment rate for the native-born is 5.4 percent and for the foreign-born, 5.3 percent, according to the December 2014 figures.

The foreign-born, or immigrant, population includes anyone who wasn’t a U.S. citizen at birth. That means the immigrant population includes naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, temporary migrants, refugees and those who entered the country illegally. Santorum spoke about job growth while criticizing the levels of both illegal and legal immigration.

Percentage of Foreign-Born

In his speech in Iowa, Santorum also gave a new version of a claim on the foreign-born that we checked in November. But his figures are still off.

Santorum: We’re approaching percentage-wise the highest level of immigrants that we’ve ever had in America. Almost 14 percent now. It was 14.2 at the end of the great wave in 1920. There are more people not born in this country than have ever been in the history of the country.

In November, Santorum said only: “There are more people living in this country who were not born here than at any other time in the history of the country.” We pointed out that it was accurate in raw numbers, but percentage-wise the foreign-born made up a larger share of the population from 1860 to 1920.

This time, Santorum phrased his claim in terms of percentages, but the U.S. is still a good distance from having the highest level of immigrants in history.

U.S. Census figures show that 12.9 percent of the country’s population was foreign-born in 2010, and Census data from 2013 show that has edged up to 13.1 percent. That is close to the previous high, in 1920, when 13.2 percent of the population was foreign-born. But there were even higher percentages in the years before that.

The high point was in 1890, when 14.8 percent of the population was foreign-born. And in 1910, those who weren’t born in the U.S. made up 14.7 percent of the population.

In terms of raw numbers, there were 41 million foreign-born in the U.S. in 2013, and 46.7 percent of them were naturalized U.S. citizens, according to the Census. The estimated number of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally is 11.3 million, according to the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends project.

– Lori Robertson

Biden’s Twist on U.S. Economy http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/bidens-twist-on-u-s-economy/ Thu, 29 Jan 2015 22:01:37 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92266 Biden twisted international data on economic growth when he said the U.S. is “the only country in the world expected to continue to grow.” India, China and several Asian nations are expected to grow much faster than the U.S., just not as fast as they have in past years.

Overall, the U.S. gross domestic product is expected to grow at a faster rate than the world average in 2015, but a little slower than the world average in 2016 and 2017.

Putting his spin on the nation’s economic recovery during a speech at the U.S. Conference of Mayors on Jan. 22, Biden argued that an international comparison is in order (at the 18:10 mark).

Biden, Jan. 22: Listen to what the international community says. International Monetary Fund — every year rates what they expect the growth rate to be in the world, country by country. [The U.S. is] the only country in the world expected to continue to grow. They estimate growth rates at over 3.6 percent in the next two years. Every other part of the world, all of our competitors — their growth rate is being cut in half or is below zero. China, Europe — that’s not good for us. We want them to grow.

The following day, during a speech in Los Angeles, Biden reiterated the point (at the 7:40 mark).

Biden, Jan. 23: We are … better positioned than any nation in the world to lead the world economically. Look at the numbers. Look at the World Bank projections. Look at the IMF projections. We’re the only nation in the world where we’re projected to grow significantly. Every other nation’s going to have their GDP cut significantly. The Chinese it’s been predicted to be cut in half of what it was in the previous 15 years. That’s not a good thing; we want them to grow.

While the comments give the distinct impression that U.S. GDP growth is outpacing every other country, and that the U.S. is the only country with a growing GDP, that’s not the case at all.

Let’s go to the two sources listed by Biden, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

In a news release on Jan. 19, the IMF announced updates to its World Economic Outlook from its forecast in October 2014. Those updated projections showed the U.S. economic outlook had improved since its last report, and in fact with regard to GDP, “the United States is the only major economy for which growth projections have been raised.” The IMF cited the declining unemployment rate, appreciation of the dollar and a decline in oil prices for the upgraded forecast for the U.S.

IMF, Jan. 19: Among major advanced economies, growth in the United States rebounded ahead of expectations after the contraction in the first quarter of 2014, and unemployment declined further, while inflation pressure stayed more muted, also reflecting the dollar appreciation and the decline in oil prices. Growth is projected to exceed 3 percent in 2015–16, with domestic demand supported by lower oil prices, more moderate fiscal adjustment, and continued support from an accommodative monetary policy stance, despite the projected gradual rise in interest rates.

But that doesn’t mean the economies of all other countries are not growing. Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the U.K., India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa will all see an increase in GDP year over year, but the updated projections show their economies won’t increase as much as projected in October.

Nor does it mean there aren’t countries whose GDP is expected to grow faster than the U.S. In fact, even as the IMF downgraded the GDP forecast of major economies outside the U.S., the overall global growth of GDP was projected at 3.5 percent in 2015 and 3.7 percent in 2016 — tracking the projected GDP growth in the U.S.

Biden is correct that China’s GDP growth is well below where it was in the 2000s, but the latest forecast of GDP growth in China — 6.8 percent in 2015 and 6.3 percent in 2016, according to IMF forecasts — is still nearly double the growth rate projected for the U.S.

The U.S. has the world’s largest economy, with a GDP of $17.5 trillion in 2014, followed by China ($10 trillion), Japan ($4.8 trillion), Germany ($3.9 trillion), France ($2.9 trillion), U.K. ($2.8 trillion), Brazil ($2.2 trillion), Italy ($2.2 trillion), Russia ($2.1 trillion) and India ($2 trillion).

Data on GDP from the World Bank presents a similar picture to the IMF. According to the World Bank’s Global Economic Prospects report, the world’s economic prospects are expected to improve in 2015, but the report warned that some trends present some “downside risk.”

World Bank, Jan. 13: Underneath the fragile global recovery lie increasingly divergent trends with significant implications for global growth. Activity in the United States and the United Kingdom is gathering momentum as labor markets heal and monetary policy remains extremely accommodative. But the recovery has been sputtering in the Euro Area and Japan as legacies of the financial crisis linger. China, meanwhile, is undergoing a carefully managed slowdown with growth slowing to a still-robust 7.1 percent this year (7.4 percent in 2014), 7 percent in 2016 and 6.9 percent in 2017. And the oil price collapse will result in winners and losers.

Overall, the World Bank stated, “After growing by an estimated 2.6 percent in 2014, the global economy is projecteGDPWBd to expand by 3 percent this year, 3.3 percent in 2016 and 3.2 percent in 2017.”

As the accompanying chart shows, the World Bank expects GDP growth in the U.S. to do slightly better than the world average in 2015 (3.2 percent in the U.S. versus 3.0 percent for the world). But in 2016 and 2017, the World Bank projects the GDP growth for the U.S. will lag the world average.

As for China, it’s true that GDP growth has been more rapid in years past, with a peak of 14.2 percent in 2007. But the projected growth rate in China is still more than double the growth rate for the U.S. As the report noted, China is “undergoing a carefully managed slowdown” but growth is at a “still robust” 7.1 percent in 2015.

Biden is correct that the U.S. economy is outperforming most major competitors, particularly those in Europe. But it’s an exaggeration to say the growth rates for European countries have been cut in half.

The IMF downgraded its forecast for GDP growth in the European nations of Germany, France, Italy and Spain to 1.2 percent in 2015. That’s 0.2 percentage points lower than it had projected in October. And while there have been a few instances of countries seeing a net decline in GDP in 2015 (such as Russia), most are projected to improve, just not as quickly as the U.S. But in the case of India (which is projected to see 6.3 percent growth in 2015), China and several Asian nations, the growth rate — even with downgraded forecasts — is expected to be much higher than in the U.S.

– Robert Farley

Distorting Climate Change Threats, Solutions http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/distorting-climate-change-threats-solutions/ Wed, 28 Jan 2015 22:01:32 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92195 Two potential Republican candidates for president distorted the facts about climate change and casually dismissed well-established threats and potential solutions:

  • Rick Santorum falsely claimed that U.S. policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions “will have zero impact” on climate change. The U.S. is the world’s second-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, and a reduction in its GHG emissions could slow global warming.
  • Santorum claimed that even those who accept the science on climate change agree that U.S. action will accomplish nothing, which is also inaccurate.
  • Mike Huckabee said Islamic extremism poses a greater threat than climate change. That’s his opinion. But in expressing it, he grossly understated the potential impact of climate change by saying it threatens to give Americans “a sunburn” — an issue almost entirely unrelated to climate change. Military leaders have long warned that climate change poses a national security threat.

Santorum’s ‘Do-Nothing’ Plan

Santorum, a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania who ran for president in 2012 and is preparing to run again in 2016, appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Jan. 25. Michael Smerconish, the show’s host, asked Santorum how he would have voted on a “sense of the Senate” amendment to the Keystone XL Pipeline Act that declared “climate change is real and not a hoax.” The measure overwhelmingly passed, with only Sen. Roger Wicker, a Republican from Mississippi, voting against it.

Smerconish, Jan. 25: The Senate voted this week 98 to 1 that climate change is not a hoax. If Rick Santorum were still in the Senate, would you have supported that?

Santorum: Is the climate warming? Clearly over the past, you know, 15 or 20 years the question is yes. The question is, is man having a significant impact on that, number one.

And number two, and this is even more important than the first, is there anything we can do about it? And the answer is, is there anything the United States can do about it? Clearly, no. Even folks who accept all of the science by the alarmists on the other side, recognize that everything that’s being considered by the United States will have almost — well, not almost, will have zero impact on it given what’s going on in the rest of the world.

Smerconish: So, is your answer do nothing?

Santorum: Again — well, the answer is do something. If it has no impact, of course do nothing. Why would you do something and with the — with people admitting that even if you do something, it won’t make a difference?

Santorum’s larger point is correct. The U.S. can’t solve the problem of global warming all by itself. President Obama himself agrees with that.

In a Jan. 27 speech in India, Obama urged collaborative action: “Even if countries like the United States curb our emissions, if countries that are growing rapidly like India — with soaring energy needs — don’t also embrace cleaner fuels, then we don’t stand a chance against climate change.”

But that doesn’t mean U.S. policies will have “zero impact” on global warming.

Emissions reductions by the U.S. could indeed play a role in slowing the rise of global temperatures. The U.S. could also have an indirect impact, because its leadership on the issue could spur a global movement to cut down on the carbon dioxide emissions that are warming the planet.

SciCHECKinsertThe U.S. is the second-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, after China. In recent years the U.S. has been responsible for about 16 percent of all global emissions. In 2012, the U.S. emitted about 6.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide and other GHGs. Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann told us that if the U.S. continues to emit GHGs at that level, it alone would cause about half a degree Celsius warming by the end of the century (just under 1 degree Fahrenheit) in addition to the about 1 degree Celsius of warming we have already seen since the start of the Industrial Revolution. “That is hardly ‘zero impact,’ ” Mann said.

The Obama administration has taken several steps and is working on others to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules in June 2014 that would cut power plant emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The power sector is the biggest source of GHG emissions in the U.S. at 32 percent, so a reduction of that size would have an impact. EPA estimates the proposal would cut about 730 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year.

The administration also finalized rules in August 2012 that will increase fuel-economy standards for vehicles to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The administration projects this will cut in half greenhouse gas emissions from affected vehicles throughout the program’s life, and transportation is second only to electricity in terms of sources of carbon dioxide emissions. The administration estimated that the new fuel standards could reduce oil consumption by 12 billion barrels through 2025. A simple calculation shows that would mean a reduction of 5.16 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide through the life of the program, more than all of Europe emits in a single year.

A recent study published in the journal Nature suggested that to avoid catastrophic warming, about one-third of all the remaining oil reserves (and higher percentages of coal and natural gas) needs to stay in the ground. The Middle East, for example, alone would need to leave 260 billion barrels unused. A single U.S. policy — increasing fuel-economy standards to 54.5 mpg — would represent almost 5 percent of that amount.

Santorum is also wrong when he says “even folks who accept all of the science by the alarmists on the other side” agree that U.S. policies will have “zero impact,” although Ken Caldeira, a professor at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University in California, described the direct impact as “rather minor.”

“Unfortunately, Santorum is largely correct that U.S. policies in place will have rather minor direct effects on global climate,” Caldeira said.

Minor, of course, is still some impact, and implementing more aggressive policies to cut emissions, of course, could change that.

In addition to direct impact, Caldeira and all climate scientists we interviewed agreed that leadership on the issue is crucial from the United States.

“It is a little bit like littering,” Caldeira said. “Would Rick Santorum say that it is okay to litter because my bit of littering is not going to make a big difference in the total amount of litter that is produced each year? Or would he say that littering is wrong, and good, responsible people should not litter. … If we are littering, we cannot compellingly ask others not to litter.”

NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt also said that Santorum ignores the potential for this country’s leadership to affect change abroad.

“Indeed, efforts to reduce climate change have to include all major emitters,” Schmidt wrote to us in an email. “However, the implied conclusion that nothing need be done is a fallacy. … If the U.S. starts credibly reducing emissions, that sends a signal to others (i.e., China, Europe, etc.) and prevents them from using the U.S. lack of action for theirs.”

This has been borne out in recent months when Obama announced a climate deal with China and a “personal commitment,” as the president called it, to work on global warming with India, which is the world’s third-largest emitter of GHGs. Though it has been criticized by some as too timid, the China deal illustrates how pressure from some of the biggest emitters can have an impact.

Santorum also questioned whether “man [is] having a significant impact on climate change. The answer from the scientific community, as we have written before, is “yes.”

In its latest report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that human influence on climate is clear. “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” according to the report. “Extremely likely” means the issue in question has a probable outcome of between 95 percent and 100 percent.

Huckabee Mischaracterizes Threats

In his speech to the Iowa Freedom Summit, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee criticized the president’s State of the Union call to combat climate change.

Huckabee, Jan. 24: When [Obama] said, “the greatest threat this nation faces … is climate change.” Not to diminish anything about the climate at all, but Mr. President, I believe that most of us would think that a beheading is a far greater threat to an American than a sunburn.

Huckabee is certainly entitled to his opinion that the Islamic State, the terrorist group responsible for the beheading of American hostages, is a far greater threat to America than climate change.

But his joke about a sunburn is both a drastic understatement of global warming’s potential impacts and simply wrong. Sunburn is related to increased sun exposure, rather than to warming temperatures. Huckabee may have been confusing climate change with depletion of the ozone layer, which could in fact raise the risk of sunburns. The gases primarily responsible for ozone depletion, such as the chlorofluorocarbons previously found in refrigerants, spray cans and elsewhere, are also potent greenhouse gases that can contribute to warming. The increased sunburn risk related to ozone depletion, however, is entirely unrelated to warmer global average temperatures.

The threats posed by a warming climate have been well-documented. These include national security threats about which Huckabee expressed concern.

In a report released in October 2014, the Pentagon wrote that “rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.”

The report calls climate change a “threat multiplier,” meaning it could exacerbate many problems apparent today. Notably, the report includes terrorism among those threats that climate change could worsen, by creating “gaps in governance” that might allow extremist ideologies to spread.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report included a section on “human security,” and concluded that: “Climate change will have significant impacts on forms of migration that compromise human security.” Though the IPCC notes that “there are no robust global estimates of future displacement” due to climate change — in other words, exactly how many climate refugees we may see — the United Nations Refugee Agency wrote in a September 2014 report that the “vast majority” of 51.2 million “persons of concern” to the agency — which includes refugees, stateless persons and others — are in climate change hot-spots.

The threats to national security are not a new revelation.

In 2007, the federally funded Center for Naval Analyses (which provides research and analysis to military and other government agencies) released a report led by 11 retired three- and four-star admirals and generals; among its primary findings was the assertion that “projected climate change poses a serious threat to America’s national security.” That report as well highlighted the issue as a threat multiplier, and added that “projected climate change will add to tensions even in stable regions of the world.”

Editor’s Note: SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.

– Dave Levitan

FactChecking Science-based Claims http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/factchecking-science-based-claims/ Wed, 28 Jan 2015 21:58:49 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92281 Today we introduce a new feature and welcome a new staff writer to FactCheck.org.

The new feature is “SciCheck,” and the staff writer is Dave Levitan.

SciCheck will focus exclusively on false and misleading scientific claims that are made by partisans to influence public policy. Dave Levitan will be its author.

Dave has a master’s in journalism with a certificate in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting from NYU – one of the best programs of its kind in the country. He has nearly 10 years of experience as a freelance science writer, and has been published in Inside Climate News, Scientific American, Discover, Grist, Yale Environment360, Slate and Cancer Network, among other publications.

Our new science feature is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation, which was founded by the late Frank Stanton, president of CBS for 25 years, from 1946 to 1971.

– Eugene Kiely

Rand Paul Exaggerates Tax Credit Fraud http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/rand-paul-exaggerates-tax-credit-fraud/ Wed, 28 Jan 2015 15:34:07 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92227 Sen. Rand Paul falsely claimed that a tax credit program for low-income workers has a “fraud rate” of 25 percent and costs taxpayers “$20 billion to $30 billion.” Paul cited a report by the Government Accountability Office, but that’s not what the report said.

The earned income tax credit program had an “improper payment error rate” of 24 percent in fiscal year 2013, according to the latest GAO report. The error rate includes fraud, but also represents mistakes made by taxpayers when filing tax forms and the IRS when processing payments. The GAO blamed the mistakes on the “complexity of the tax law.” The errors cost taxpayers $14.5 billion — which is less than half of the high-end estimate provided by Paul.

Paul, a Kentucky Republican who is considering running for president, joined two other potential GOP presidential candidates at a Jan. 25 forum sponsored by the conservative Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas also attended.

The moderator, Jon Karl of ABC News, asked the senators if they agreed with Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposal to expand the earned income tax credit and pay for the expansion by eliminating other tax breaks. The EITC is a refundable tax credit, which means that low-income taxpayers who have no tax liability can receive a refund. Otherwise, the tax credit is used to reduce a taxpayer’s liability.

Paul said he opposes Ryan’s plan and criticized the EITC program for being rife with fraud.

Paul, Jan. 25: When you look at the earned income tax credit, it has about a 25 percent fraud rate. We’re looking at $20 billion to $30 billion. And this is from estimates from the GAO [Government Accountability Office], from the government themselves.

That’s not what the GAO said.

The GAO issued a report Dec. 9, 2014, on improper payments made by various government agencies, including the IRS. The GAO said the EITC program had what it labeled an “improper payment error rate” of 24 percent at a cost of $14.5 billion in fiscal year 2013.

The GAO figures represent the midpoint between the estimates provided by the IRS itself, as required under a 2002 law, and contained in a report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration that was released March 31, 2014. The TIGTA report says the “improper payment rate” was between 22 percent and 26 percent in fiscal year 2013, costing taxpayers between $13.3 billion and $15.6 billion — roughly half of what Paul claimed when he placed the range between $20 billion and $30 billion.

The GAO and TIGTA do not mention fraud in their reports or use the term “fraud rate.” TIGTA defines an improper payment as “a payment that should not have been made or that was made in an incorrect amount or to an ineligible recipient.” GAO says that includes “duplicate or erroneous payments, payments to ineligible recipients, or payments for ineligible services.”

Improper payments include fraud, but the GAO and TIGTA reports do not say how much of the improper payments may be the result of fraud.

Why is there such a high error rate for the EITC program? GAO says that “the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) OIG reported that the complexity of the tax law was a barrier to reducing the improper payment error rate for the Internal Revenue Service’s Earned Income Tax Credit program.”

A second inspector general’s report, which was released in April, said the IRS is looking at ways to simplify the tax law. “Management noted that IRS is exploring new approaches such as the simplification of EITC eligibility criteria and the identification of more efficient means to distinguish valid claims from over claims,” the report said.

Improper payment rates have been a problem for years in many government programs. The GAO report listed the five federal programs that reported the largest improper payments in fiscal 2013: Medicare’s traditional fee-for-service program ($36 billion), EITC ($14.5 billion), Medicaid ($14.4 billion), Medicare Advantage ($11.8 billion), unemployment insurance ($6.2 billion). Those five programs accounted for 78 percent of the total improper payments made by the federal government in fiscal 2013, GAO says.

In an attempt to reduce improper payments, Congress passed the Improper Payments Information Act of 2002, which requires agencies to annually estimate the cost of improper payments and publish a corrective plan to reduce them.

Despite the law, the IRS continues to report high rates of improper payments in the tax credit program. In the first year of reporting improper payments, the IRS said the rate was between 25 percent and 30 percent in fiscal 2003. It dropped the next year to 22 percent to 27 percent. But it hasn’t changed much since then. (See Figure 2 in TIGTA’s latest annual report.)

We’re not minimizing the problem of improper payments in the earned income tax credit program. But Paul is wrong to claim that all recipients of EITC’s improper payments — whether overpayments or ineligible payments — obtained the money by committing fraud. He is also far off on how much the errors cost taxpayers.

– Eugene Kiely

Romney’s Poverty Points http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/romneys-poverty-points/ Mon, 26 Jan 2015 22:52:39 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92148 Mitt Romney said that under President Obama “there are more people in poverty in America than ever before.” That’s true, but the poverty rate — which accounts for population changes — was higher under several former presidents than it is currently.

Romney, who is considering a third presidential run, made the statement while discussing income inequality at an event sponsored by the Republican National Committee.

Romney, Jan. 16: Under Obama the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse, and there are more people in poverty in America than ever before.

It’s true that “income inequality has gotten worse.” According to research by Emmanuel Saez, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, post-recession incomes of the top 1 percent of earners grew by 34.7 percent from 2009 to 2012, while incomes of the bottom 99 percent of earners grew by just 0.8 percent. The top 1 percent saw 91 percent of the income gains in the first three years of the economic recovery, according to Saez.

It’s also true, as Romney said, that the 45.3 million people living in poverty in 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is more than under any other president. However, the 2013 figure, the most recent available, was lower than the 46.5 million people living in poverty in 2012. The 2013 count is also the lowest since 2009, Obama’s first year in office.

Romney’s focus on the raw numbers also ignores the fact that the poverty rate declined in 2013. That year, the official rate was 14.5 percent, down from 15 percent in 2012, and the lowest rate since Obama’s first year as president.

More importantly, when comparing Obama to past presidents, a better measurement would be the poverty rate, since it takes population into account. And the most recent rate under Obama is not the highest that it has ever been. The rate was 15.1 percent in 1993 under President Clinton. It was 15.2 percent in 1983 under President Reagan. And it was between 17.3 percent and 22.4 percent in the seven years between 1959 and 1965 under Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Even using a different measure of poverty — the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure — the rate under Obama isn’t the highest on record.

The SPM was developed in 2011 to account for many of the government programs assisting low-income families and individuals that are not included in the current official poverty measure. It “creates a more complex statistical picture incorporating additional items, such as tax payments, work expenses and in-kind benefits in its family resource estimates.” It generally factors in the cost of food, clothing, shelter, and utilities used by families. It also takes into account such things as geographical differences in the cost of living.

In 2013, 15.5 percent of the population was living in poverty, based on the Supplemental Poverty Measure. That was down from 16 percent in 2012. Like the official poverty rate, the SPM, in 2013, was the lowest since 2009, the earliest year for comparable estimates.

However, in January 2014, prior to the release of the 2013 figure, the White House Council of Economic Advisers calculated an “anchored” version of the supplementary measure, which sets poverty thresholds based on expenditures for necessary items and then adjusts for inflation in each year. Using those assumptions, the White House found that “the percent of the population in poverty when measured to include tax credits and other benefits has declined from 25.8 percent in 1967 to 16.0 percent in 2012.”

– D’Angelo Gore

Jan. 23: Jobs, Sick Pay, Regulations http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/jan-23-jobs-sick-pay-regulations/ Fri, 23 Jan 2015 19:39:50 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92366
The State of the Union http://www.factcheck.org/2015/01/the-state-of-the-union/ Thu, 22 Jan 2015 22:07:53 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=92141 WCBS radio’s Wayne Cabot interviews FactCheck.org Deputy Managing Editor Rob Farley about President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address.

Farley discussed these statements made by the president in his annual speech to Congress:

  • “[O]ver the past five years, our businesses have created more than 11 million new jobs.”
  • The United States is “the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave.”
  • The U.S. is the “only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee … paid maternity leave to our workers.”
  • “[M]ore than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking to bring jobs back from China.”

For our full article on this topic see “FactChecking Obama’s State of the Union.”