FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Fri, 12 Feb 2016 23:39:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.1 Ad Attacks Cruz as ‘Weak’ on Defense http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/ad-attacks-cruz-as-weak-on-defense/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/ad-attacks-cruz-as-weak-on-defense/#comments Fri, 12 Feb 2016 22:34:02 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=104458 An ad from a conservative advocacy group attacks Sen. Ted Cruz as “weak” on defense, but makes several misleading claims to back up that assessment.

  • The ad claims “Cruz voted with Bernie Sanders against defense spending.” That’s misleading. Cruz and Sanders voted against a defense authorization bill for very different reasons. Moreover, the vote cited in the ad was on an authorization bill, not an appropriations bill.
  • The ad claims Cruz “proposed mass legalization of illegal immigrants.” Cruz offered an amendment to a Senate immigration bill to strip it of a path to citizenship — although it would have left open the possibility of legalization. But Cruz’s campaign says that was a political bluff to show that the real aim of the bill’s supporters was a path to citizenship.
  • Finally, the ad claims Cruz “even praised the traitor Edward Snowden.” In 2013, Cruz offered conditional praise of Snowden’s actions, but added that he was also open to Snowden being prosecuted if his actions broke the law. Cruz now says that based on more information he believes Snowden is a traitor who ought to be prosecuted.

According to Politico, American Future Fund, which advocates “a conservative and free market viewpoint,” has long been critical of Cruz’s foreign policy views. After spending heavily to defeat Cruz in the Iowa caucuses — which Cruz won — the group is now spending $1.5 million to air the commercial on broadcast and cable stations throughout South Carolina in the run-up to its Republican primary on Feb. 20.

On Defense Spending

The ad claims “Cruz voted with Bernie Sanders against defense spending.” As backup, the ad cites Cruz’s vote against the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2014 on Dec. 19, 2013. The NDAA authorized about $552 billion in defense spending and $81 billion for overseas operations, and set pay increases for service members.

As the ad says, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders also was among the 15 senators who voted against it. But the two senators voted against it for very different reasons.

Sanders said he opposed the bill because he was concerned about “waste, cost overruns and financial mismanagement” in the Defense Department.

Sanders, Dec. 19, 2013: I support a strong defense system for our country and a robust National Guard and Reserve that can meet our domestic and foreign challenges. At a time, however, when the country has a $17.2 trillion national debt and is struggling with huge unmet needs, it is unacceptable that the Defense Department continues to waste massive amounts of money.

Cruz said he voted against the bill as a protest vote because he was “deeply concerned that Congress still has not prohibited President Obama’s ability to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens arrested on American soil without trial or due process.”

Cruz, Dec. 19, 2013: The Constitution does not allow President Obama, or any President, to apprehend an American citizen, arrested on U.S. soil, and detain these citizens indefinitely without a trial. When I ran for office, I promised the people of Texas I would oppose any National Defense Authorization Act that did not explicitly prohibit the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens. Although this legislation does contain several positive provisions that I support, it does not ensure our most basic rights as American citizens are protected.

Cruz is referring to a provision in the NDAA for fiscal year 2012 that codified the president’s authority to subject anyone to indefinite military detention — including an American citizen — “who was a part of or substantially supported Al Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” In a signing statement, Obama wrote that he had no intention of doing that to any American citizens.

Obama, Dec. 31, 2011: I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation.

Nonetheless, Cruz supported the efforts of Sens. Mike Lee and Dianne Feinstein to add a provision to the NDAA for FY 2014 to make clear that the federal government does not have the authority to indefinitely detain Americans without charge or trial. Because that effort failed, the Cruz campaign said he simply could not vote for an NDAA that he felt was unconstitutional.

More important, though, it is a stretch to call Cruz’s vote against the 2013 NDAA a vote “against defense spending.” While the bill “authorized” spending, actual spending comes through appropriations bills. (See this article on “The Difference Between Authorization and Appropriation.”) There was no defense appropriation bill that year, and all government funding was wrapped into a continuing resolution, which Cruz opposed. But that was not an up-or-down vote on defense spending. However, on Nov. 5, 2015, Cruz voted for the latest Department of Defense Appropriations Act, which passed 51-44.

Interestingly, Cruz also voted on March 26, 2015, for a budget amendment offered by Sen. Marco Rubio that would have increased the defense budget in fiscal year 2016. The Pentagon requested $661 billion, and Rubio said his amendment would “fully fund” the department. The measure failed 32-68. Last month, a super PAC supporting then-presidential candidate Rand Paul criticized Cruz for voting to increase the defense budget without proposing to offset the cost with cuts elsewhere.

‘Mass Legalization of Illegal Immigrants’?

The ad further claims that Cruz “proposed mass legalization of illegal immigrants.” We’ve written about this claim extensively, as it has come up in several Republican debates in exchanges between Rubio and Cruz.

In 2013, Cruz offered an amendment to a Senate “Gang of Eight” immigration bill that would have stripped out a proposal for a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally. But Cruz’s amendment would have purposefully left intact the bill’s provisions to provide legal status for them. Numerous media outlets described Cruz’s plan as a compromise “middle road” in the immigration debate that he hoped might be palatable to enough legislators in both houses of Congress to actually pass.

Cruz publicly opposed S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, because it provided a “path to citizenship” for those then in the country illegally. Cruz labeled it an “amnesty” bill.

Although Cruz made numerous statements at the time in support of his amendment, Cruz’s campaign told us the amendment was a ploy to expose the real motivations of the bill’s supporters. While those supporters claimed the bill’s aim was to allow 11 million immigrants in the country illegally to come out of the shadows, the Cruz campaign says the senator was convinced the actual intent was to provide citizenship to those immigrants so they could become future voters. So, the campaign says, Cruz offered the amendment, knowing it would not pass, to show the real priority of supporters.

During a Republican debate in December, Cruz said flatly, “I have never supported legalization, and I do not intend to support legalization.”

As we said when we first wrote about the issue in December, we’ll leave it up to readers to decide if Cruz once supported legalization as a political compromise, and now disavows it, or if he was merely employing a legislative ploy to expose the motivations of his opponents.

Praise for Snowden

Finally, the ad claims Cruz “even praised the traitor Edward Snowden,” a former National Security Agency contractor who leaked to the media extensive Internet and phone surveillance by U.S. intelligence.

The ad cites comments Cruz made during an event hosted by TheBlaze in June 2013. According to a story in TheBlaze, Cruz said, “If it is the case that the federal government is seizing millions of personal records about law-abiding citizens, and if it is the case that there are minimal restrictions on accessing or reviewing those records, then I think Mr. Snowden has done a considerable public service by bringing it to light.”

The article goes on to say that Cruz also left open the possibility of backing prosecution for Snowden.

“If Mr. Snowden has violated the laws of this country, there are consequences to violating laws and that is something he has publicly stated he understands and I think the law needs to be enforced,” Cruz said.

During an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Rubio seized on the first comment, and said, “We cannot afford to have a commander-in-chief who thinks people like Edward Snowden are doing a good public service.”

The Cruz campaign told us that the context of Cruz’s comments at the time were “conditional,” as he prefaced his comments with the disclaimer “if it is the case that”.

After Rubio raised the issue, the New York Times asked the Cruz campaign where Cruz stood now on Snowden. “​It is now clear that Snowden is a traitor, and he should be tried for treason,” Cruz said in a released statement.

Cruz reminded the Times that in his comments in 2013, he also said Snowden should be prosecuted if he broke any laws. “Today, we know that Snowden violated federal law, that his actions materially aided terrorists and enemies of the United States, and that he subsequently fled to China and Russia,” he said. “Under the Constitution, giving aid to our enemies is treason.”

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Is Kasich ‘Worst’ on Spending? http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/is-kasich-worst-on-spending/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/is-kasich-worst-on-spending/#comments Fri, 12 Feb 2016 19:16:27 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=103394 Pro-Jeb Bush ads rely on skewed data to falsely label Ohio Gov. John Kasich as having the “worst rating on spending of any governor in the country, Republican or Democrat.”

The rating is based on data about Ohio’s general revenue fund spending, but the nonpartisan group that published the data warned that the figures for Ohio were skewed, for state comparison purposes, due to accounting methods employed by the state for Medicaid expenditures.

The attack is particularly significant given that Kasich has made balancing the federal budget a central part of his campaign. Kasich, a former chairman of the House Budget Committee, has described himself as “one of the chief architects” of a successful effort to balance the budget in 1997 for the first time in decades.

As several candidates vie for the Republican establishment vote, the pro-Bush super PAC Right to Rise came out with an ad in the New England area attacking Kasich’s record. The ad, called “Quiz,” claims Kasich “even had the worst rating on spending of any governor in the country, Republican or Democrat.” That line also was in a Right to Rise ad that ran in Iowa asking viewers to compare the records of the three governors running for president if you “can’t stomach Trump or Cruz.”

Those ads, as well as one on the Bush campaign website, all cite a report from the libertarian Cato Institute, which gave Kasich an overall “D”rating in its 2014 “Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors.”

The Cato report praised Kasich for enacting numerous tax cuts but said his “score was dragged down by his spending increases.” Indeed, Cato ranked Kasich dead last among governors on spending, based on large growth in general revenue fund spending in FY 2014, which was adjusted for population increases and inflation. (Interestingly, in 2006 Cato gave then Florida Gov. Jeb Bush a “C” grade, praising his tax cuts but noting that “[w]hat has finally caused his grade to drop to a C this term was explosive growth in state spending.”)

Cato particularly criticized Kasich’s push for Medicaid expansion made possible by the Affordable Care Act. Kasich has said he opposes the Affordable Care Act, but he supports the Medicaid expansion, which took effect Jan. 1, 2014.

Cato based its spending conclusions on data from a state expenditure report by the nonpartisan National Association of State Budget Officers. But that report carries a significant footnote for the data from Ohio.

The footnote, found on page 14, states that unlike most other states, Ohio’s accounting practices are such that most of the federal reimbursements for Medicaid expenditures are put into the general revenue fund. Other states list such federal reimbursements separately as federal expenditures. As a result, the footnote states, “This will tend to make Ohio’s GRF expenditures look higher and conversely make Ohio’s federal expenditures look lower relative to most other states that don’t follow this practice.”

The Kasich campaign argues that it makes more sense to look at all-funds spending, which includes state and federal (and other) spending. By that measure, Kasich’s record on spending is middle-of-the-pack — increases of about 2 percent a year. Those are the figures Kasich cited in an Aug. 2 interview on “Fox News Sunday,” when he dismissed the Cato report and claimed, “our budget overall is growing by about 2 percent or 3 percent.” When he says overall, he’s talking about the all-funds budget.

Kasich’s interview sparked a blog response from Nicole Kaeding, coauthor of the Cato report who now works for the pro-business Tax Foundation.

“By using the all-funds number, Kasich is trying to use federal spending to mask the quick increase in general fund spending,” Kaeding wrote. “Federal spending — besides Medicaid — is not increasing in Ohio that quickly. Kasich has little control over federal spending, but he is using it to hide how much Ohio’s state spending has grown during his tenure.”

“Our data is correct, and so is his,” Kaeding concluded. “Kasich seems to pick the dataset that shed the best light on him. Ohio spending has increased quickly when you look at the general fund.”

There are pros and cons to looking exclusively at either the general fund or all-funds budget when it comes to evaluating Ohio’s spending performance. And we won’t wade into the political debate about which way is best. But it is misleading to call Kasich the worst on spending based on general revenue fund spending data from NASBO. That ignores NASBO’s warning that an accounting peculiarity in Ohio regarding Medicaid expenditures makes its general fund look larger relative to other states that do their accounting differently.

We reached out to Chris Edwards of Cato, who was the other coauthor of the 2014 report card, and we asked him about NASBO’s footnote on Ohio spending.

He noted that between FY 2012, Kasich’s first year in office, and FY 2015, Ohio’s general revenue fund grew 16.8 percent and all funds grew 12.4 percent. For all states over the same period, general revenue funds grew 13.1 percent and all funds grew 13.2 percent. (We checked and confirmed these numbers independently.) These figures — which are not adjusted for inflation or population fluctuations — back up the Kasich campaign’s assertion that its all-funds spending was nearly in line with the national average over that period, even as its general fund appears to be well above the national average.

“So I would say looking now that Kasich’s spending increases over his first 3 years were roughly in line with the average for the 50 states,” Edwards said.

But Edwards then pointed to GRF-only data for 2016 released by NASBO (all-funds data is not yet available). That data show Ohio’s GRF “leaps by 13 percent compared to the 50-state average of 4.1 percent for that one year.”

That’s true, but again, back to those pesky footnotes. On page 41, a footnote provides an important caution when it comes to comparing the general revenue fund for Ohio with other states in FY 2016.

NASBO, Fall 2015: Medicaid expansion was not funded through the General Revenue Fund (GRF) in fiscal year 2015, but it is in fiscal 2016. This change is responsible for the majority of the fiscal 2016 growth. In addition, federal reimbursements for Medicaid expenditures funded from the GRF are deposited into the GRF. This will tend to make Ohio’s GRF expenditures look higher relative to most states that don’t follow this practice.

While Ohio had been funding federal reimbursements for Medicaid through the GRF prior to the ACA Medicaid expansion, it didn’t start funding those expansion funds specifically through the GRF until 2016.

That’s largely the reason why Ohio appears to have larger general revenue fund increases in 2016 relative to other states — many of which have also opted to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, said Brian Sigritz, director of state fiscal studies at NASBO.

The general fund figure “is definitely skewed for Ohio because of the way they do Medicaid,” Sigritz said. “It they weren’t a Medicaid expansion state, you wouldn’t see anything. But they are, and that’s mostly what’s leading to a big jump right now.”

In other words, it would be expected that as Medicaid funding increased — as it did in Ohio and 34 other states that have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — Ohio’s GRF would expand faster relative to other states based on the relatively unique way it does its accounting.

NASBO referred us to Ohio’s Department of Medicaid budget, which shows the GRF federal fund for Medicaid grew by nearly 29 percent from 2015 to 2016, while its GRF state Medicaid fund grew by only 1.2 percent. There was also a big drop in a separate federal fund group for Medicaid, outside the GRF, of 42 percent, showing that a shift had occurred in how Ohio categorized its Medicaid spending (see page 50 of the state’s FY 2016-2017 budget).

Edwards stood by the Cato rating, arguing that using the NASBO data is the fairest way to compare state spending.

“As an economist trying to be fair, I’ve almost always stuck with what NASBO reports,” Edwards said. “Over the years, I’ve noticed many discrepancies between NASBO data and what state specific budget documents show. But I’ve decided it is most fair to just use the NASBO-reported data. For one reason, state budget officers in the 50 states are the ones that provide the data to NASBO, and they know exactly what they are giving to NASBO. NASBO, to the extent it can, tries to get the states to report consistent data.”

“Kasich touts himself as a spending cutter, but it appears that he’s no more fiscally frugal than the average of all Democratic and Republican governors,” Edwards said. “Besides, his unilateral decision to expand Medicaid is a clear decision in favor of budget expansion over fiscal retrenchment.”

For the purposes of our fact-check, we would note that saying the spending increases over Kasich’s first three years were “average” is far different from the ads’ claim that Kasich was worse on spending than any other governor, Republican or Democrat.

Cato is entitled to its opinion on the Medicaid expansion, of course. But its comparison of state spending is based on a report that warns that Ohio’s general fund may appear larger than other states due to the way it accounts for Medicaid spending. And so it is misleading to conclude based on that data that Kasich has the “worst rating” on spending, as the ads claim.

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Video: Trump on Unemployment http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/video-trump-on-unemployment/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/video-trump-on-unemployment/#comments Fri, 12 Feb 2016 18:08:15 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=104563 This week, CNN’s Jake Tapper, in collaboration with FactCheck.org, examines Donald Trump’s claim that he “heard” that the unemployment rate is 42 percent.

The official unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in January, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s nowhere near what Trump said he heard.

Even including the underemployed (part-time workers wanting full-time work) and the “marginally attached” (those who have given up looking for a job but had looked for one in the past year), the rate would be 9.9 percent.

Trump is referring to the number of working-age Americans not in the labor force. However, that includes millions of people who aren’t working and don’t want to, need to, or can’t.

Watch the CNN fact-checking video here, and read our Feb. 10 report “Trump Wildly Inflates Unemployment” for more details.

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FactChecking the Sixth Democratic Debate http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/factchecking-the-sixth-democratic-debate/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/factchecking-the-sixth-democratic-debate/#comments Fri, 12 Feb 2016 07:24:43 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=104476 Summary

One week after their last meeting, the Democratic presidential candidates debated in Milwaukee. We found:

  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said his bill on Social Security would extend the life of the trust funds by 58 years. It’s 40 years, according to the Social Security Administration’s chief actuary.
  • Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the Affordable Care Act “has helped more African Americans than any other group to get insurance.” But the Obama administration’s own figures show a larger drop in the uninsured among Latinos.
  • Clinton repeated a claim that “Americans haven’t had a raise in 15 years.” Real weekly earnings went up 9.2 percent in that time frame.
  • Both candidates glossed over some context during a disagreement about whether Sanders had once advocated regime change in Libya and Iraq.
  • Sanders inflated unemployment figures, including the “real” unemployment rate for African American youth, which he says is more than 50 percent. The official rate for blacks age 16 to 19 is half that.
  • The candidates disagreed over whether Sanders had been critical of Obama’s leadership, specifically in a blurb for a new book. Both made some accurate statements, but we provide context.


The sixth Democratic debate, and the second between only Clinton and Sanders, was hosted by PBS and held at the University of Wisconsin.

Extending the Life of Social Security

Sanders said his legislation to lift the cap on payroll taxes and expand benefits would extend the life of the Social Security trust funds by 58 years. Not quite. The Social Security Administration’s chief actuary said this month that Sanders’ bill would extend the trust funds by 40 years, from 2034 to 2074.

Sanders is the sponsor of the Social Security Expansion Act. To pay for an expansion in benefits, the bill would lift the contribution limit on the Social Security payroll tax, which now applies to earnings up to $118,500.

The Vermont senator challenged Clinton to support his legislation.

Sanders: And here’s an area where Secretary Clinton and I believe we have a difference. I have long supported the proposition that we should lift the cap on taxable income coming into the Social Security Trust Fund, starting at $250,000. And when we — and when we do that, we don’t do what the Republicans want, which is to cut Social Security. We do what the American people want, to expand Social Security by $1,300 a year for people under $16,000, and we extend the life of Social Security for 58 years.

Stephen Goss, chief actuary for the Social Security Administration, twice has looked at the financial impact of Sanders’ bill on the combined Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance trust funds.

In a March 26, 2015, letter to Sanders, Goss projected that under Sanders’ bill, “the year of reserve depletion for the combined OASDI Trust Funds would be extended by 32 years, from 2033 under current law to 2065.”

A year later, Goss increased the projected lifespan of the trust funds by another eight years to 40 years.

“Assuming enactment of the proposal, we estimate the funding for the combined OASI and DI Trust Funds would be sufficient to extend the projected year of reserve depletion from 2034 to 2074,” Goss wrote in a Feb. 4 letter to Sanders.

Under current law, full scheduled benefits would continue through 2033 and then drop to 79 percent in 2034, 74 percent in 2074 and 73 percent in 2089, Goss wrote. But under Sanders’ bill, full benefits would be paid through 2073, with benefits being reduced to 88 percent in 2074 and 87 percent beginning in 2089.

A Sanders spokesman told us the senator was referring to “58 years from now,” meaning from 2016 to 2074. But Sanders said “we extend the life of Social Security for 58 years,” taking credit for 18 years when the Social Security trust funds will pay out full benefits whether his bill passes or not.

African Americans and the ACA

Clinton said that “the Affordable Care Act has helped more African Americans than any other group to get insurance, to be taken care of.” But the Obama administration’s own figures show a larger drop in the uninsured among Latinos.

The Department of Health and Human Services released an analysis in late September, saying 17.6 million had gained health insurance coverage under the ACA. The administration said that figure included three groups: young adults who were able to stay on their parents’ policies until age 26, those who signed up for the Medicaid expansion and those who gained coverage through the state and federal insurance marketplaces.

The rate of uninsured African American adults dropped by 10.3 percentage points, a greater decline than among whites but not as much as the rate drop for Latinos. Here are the HHS figures for the decline in the uninsured between October 2013 and Sept. 12, 2015:

  • 4 million Latino adults gained coverage, with the uninsured rate dropping 11.5 percentage points to 30.3 percent
  • 2.6 million African American adults gained coverage, with the uninsured rate dropping 10.3 percentage points to 12.1 percent
  • 7.4 million white adults gained coverage, with the uninsured rate dropping 6 percentage points to 8.3 percent

An HHS fact sheet, also released in September 2015, said generally that “the Affordable Care Act is working to increase access to affordable, quality health care. This is especially true of the African-American Community.” But in terms of the uninsured, the coverage gains have been greater for Latinos.

A December 2014 Urban Institute report projected the ACA could “substantially narrow differences in uninsurance rates between whites and all racial/ethnic minorities, except blacks,” because blacks disproportionately live in states that did not expand Medicaid.

Clinton Still Wrong on Wages

Clinton repeated a bogus claim that “Americans haven’t had a raise in 15 years.”

Clinton: I know a lot of Americans are angry about the economy. And for good cause. Americans haven’t had a raise in 15 years.

Back in November, she said essentially the same thing at the second Democratic debate. Her claim fell short of being accurate at the time, and it’s even further short of the mark today.

The most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show real weekly earnings in December 2015 were 9.2 percent higher than they were 15 years earlier. That includes a 2.3 percent jump last year. (“Real” earnings are inflation-adjusted.)

It may well be so that many voters are “angry about the economy.” But the fact is, wages are rising faster than inflation.

Clinton went on to say that “[t]here aren’t enough good-paying jobs, especially for young people.”

How many job openings are “enough” is a matter of opinion, as is what pay level is high enough to be considered “good.”

But the fact is, the number of job openings was more than 5.6 million last December, according to BLS data. That’s nearly the highest in the 15 years the BLS has tracked job openings. It is just shy of the record of nearly 5.7 million set in July 2015.

As for “young people,” it’s true that, in January, the 10.3 percent jobless rate for those 16 to 24 years old was more than double the 4.9 percent rate for all adults. But the youth rate is always higher than the rate for older, more experienced adults. And the rate for 16- to 24-year-olds has now dropped back down to where it was in January 2007, before the Great Recession sent it soaring to nearly 20 percent.

Sanders on Regime Change

In heated foreign policy exchanges, Sanders and Clinton disagreed about whether Sanders had once advocated regime change in Libya and Iraq. Both sides glossed over some of the context.

The disagreement on Libya was part of an exchange initiated by Sanders, who criticized Clinton for being too eager to advocate regime change in countries, which he said has often led to “unintended consequences.”

“And in Libya, for example, the United States, Secretary Clinton, as secretary of state, working with some other countries, did get rid of a terrible dictator named [Moammar] Gadhafi,” Sanders said. “But what happened is a political vacuum developed. ISIS came in, and now occupies significant territory in Libya, and is now prepared, unless we stop them, to have a terrorist foothold.”

Clinton responded that Sanders, himself, “voted in favor of regime change with Libya, voted in favor of the Security Council being an active participant in setting the parameters for what we would do, which of course we followed through on.”

Sanders said that the resolution “was a virtually unanimous consent. Everybody voted for it wanting to see Libya move toward democracy, of course we all wanted to do that. That is very different than talking about specific action for regime change, which I did not support.”

Clinton then reiterated that Sanders “did support a U.N. Security Council approach, which we did follow up on.”

As we said, both sides are glossing over some important context.

It is true that on March 1, 2011, Sanders not only voted in favor of Senate Resolution 85, he also cosponsored it. The resolution, which was nonbinding and passed by unanimous consent, called on Gadhafi “to desist from further violence, recognize the Libyan people’s demand for democratic change, resign his position and permit a peaceful transition to democracy. …” So Sanders is correct that the resolution did not authorize or advocate for military action, though it did call for Gadhafi to resign his position.

In an interview with Fox News in March 2011, Sanders said, “Look, everybody understands Qaddafi is a thug and murderer. We want to see him go, but i think in the midst of two wars, I’m not quite sure we need a third war, and I hope the president tells us that our troops will be leaving there, that our military action in Libya will be ending very, very shortly.”

However, as Clinton said, the resolution Sanders cosponsored also urged the United Nations Security Council “to take such further action as may be necessary to protect civilians in Libya from attack, including the possible imposition of a no-fly zone over Libyan territory.” Indeed, a couple weeks later, the Security Council did approve a resolution calling for a no-fly zone and called on members “to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in the country.”

Earlier in the same debate exchange, Sanders wagged his finger and mouthed the word “no” when Clinton said, “Senator Sanders voted in 1998 on what I think is fair to call a regime change resolution with respect to Iraq, calling for the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime.” He did.

While it’s true, as Sanders said, that he opposed the war in Iraq under President Bush (and that then Sen. Clinton voted in favor of authorizing the use of force), Clinton was referring to votes cast by Sanders in 1998 when Bill Clinton was president. Sanders voted in favor of the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which included a “sense of the Congress” statement that “It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.” He also voted in favor of a resolution that similarly stated, “Congress reaffirms that it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic  government to replace that regime.”

Inflated Unemployment Numbers

Sanders padded his numbers when speaking of the unemployment rate.

Sanders: Who denies that real unemployment today, including those who have given up looking for work and are working part-time is close to 10 percent? Who denies that African American youth unemployment, real, is over 50 percent.

What Sanders refers to as “real” unemployment actually includes — as he admits — a lot of people who have jobs, plus a lot more who aren’t currently looking for work.

He is referring to one of several “alternative” measures of labor “underutilization” published each month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The U-6 measure starts with those the BLS officially classifies as unemployed — meaning those who say they have looked for a job at least once in the past four weeks, but don’t have one.

To that is added those “marginally attached” to the labor force, meaning those who say they want work and have looked for a job in the past year, but aren’t currently looking. Also added are those who say they want a full-time job but are forced to work part time because full-time work isn’t available, or their employer has cut back their hours.

It’s true that the U-6 rate was 9.9 percent in January, which indeed is “close to 10 percent.” But Sanders fails to mention that the rate has dropped substantially since hitting more than 17 percent in 2009 and 2010, and is not far above the 8.4 percent rate that prevailed in January 2007, before the recession. In fact, it’s almost exactly the median rate for all the months since the BLS began publishing the figures in 1994 — which is 9.8 percent.

As for African American youth, the official unemployment rate for blacks age 16 to 19 was 25.2 percent — half the figure cited by Sanders. The U-6 rate for black teens isn’t readily available on the BLS website, and it could well be more than 50 percent, as Sanders claims. But even so it would still include many who have part-time jobs, and many more who aren’t actually looking for work.

Sanders’ Book Blurb

Clinton and Sanders disagreed over whether Sanders had been critical of Obama’s leadership, in particular in a forward or a blurb for a new book. We’ll lay out what exactly Sanders said.

Here’s that exchange:

Clinton: But I want to — I want to follow up on something having to do with leadership, because, you know, today Sen. Sanders said that President Obama failed the presidential leadership test. And this is not the first time that he has criticized President Obama. In the past he has called him weak. He has called him a disappointment.

He wrote a forward for a book that basically argued voters should have buyers’ remorse when it comes to President Obama’s leadership and legacy. …

Sanders: Madam Secretary, that is a low blow. I have worked with President Obama for the last seven years. … As a result of his efforts and the efforts of Joe Biden against unprecedented, I was there in the Senate, unprecedented Republican obstructionism, we have made enormous progress.

But you know what? Last I heard we lived in a democratic society. Last I heard, a United States senator had the right to disagree with the president, including a president who has done such an extraordinary job.

So I have voiced criticisms. You’re right. Maybe you haven’t. I have. But I think to suggest that I have voiced criticism, this blurb that you talk about, you know what the blurb said? The blurb said that the next president of the United States has got to be aggressive in bringing people into the political process.

That’s what I said. That is what I believe.

Sanders didn’t write a forward for the book by liberal radio and TV host Bill Press, but he did write a blurb of praise. Press’ book, titled “Buyer’s Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down,” carries a much-shortened version of Sanders’ quote. The blurb across the top is: “Bill Press makes the case … Read this book.”

But Sanders didn’t say that Press made the case that Obama had “let progressives down,” as that blurb may lead some to believe. Sanders’ full quote is close to what he described in the debate. He wrote: “Bill Press makes the case why, long after taking the oath of office, the next president of the United States must keep rallying the people who elected him or her on behalf of progressive causes. That is the only way real change will happen. Read this book.”

We’ve written before about Sanders calling Obama “weak” and a “disappointment.” He said in a July 2011 radio interview: “I think that there are millions of Americans who are deeply disappointed in the president, who believe that with regard to Social Security and a number of other issues, he said one thing as a candidate and is doing something very much else as a president, who cannot believe how weak he has been — for whatever reason — in negotiating with Republicans, and there’s deep disappointment.”

Clinton also mentioned a more recent Sanders comment, saying that “today Sen. Sanders said that President Obama failed the presidential leadership test.” Sanders didn’t say Obama had failed a “test,” but did say Obama hadn’t succeeded in terms of presidential leadership.

In an interview for MSNBC’s “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell,” Sanders said: “There’s a huge gap right now between Congress and the American people. What presidential leadership is about is closing that gap.”

Asked if he thought President Obama had succeeded in closing that gap, Sanders said: “No, I don’t. I mean, I think he has made the effort. But I think what we need, when I talk about a political revolution, is bringing millions and millions of people into the political process in a way that does not exist right now.”

— by Eugene Kiely, Brooks Jackson, Lori Robertson, Robert Farley and D’Angelo Gore


Social Security Administration. “Contribution And Benefit Base.” Undated, accessed 12 Feb 2016.

Stephen C. Goss, chief actuary, Social Security Administration. Letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders. 4 Feb 2016.

Stephen C. Goss, chief actuary, Social Security Administration. Letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders. 26 Mar 2015.

Congress.gov. “S.Res.85 – A resolution strongly condemning the gross and systematic violations of human rights in Libya, including violent attacks on protesters demanding democratic reforms, and for other purposes.” Introduced 1 Mar 2011.

Turner, Trish. “Sanders Questions ‘War’ in Libya.” Fox News. 28 Mar 2011.

United Nations website. Resolution 1973. 17 Mar 2011.

Clerk of the House website. Final Vote Results for Roll Call  539. 17 Dec 1998.

Congress.gov. “H.Res.612 – Expressing unequivocal support for the men and women of our Armed Forces who are currently carrying out missions in and around the Persian Gulf region.” Introduced 17 Dec 1998.

Department of Health and Human Services. ASPE Data Point. “Health Insurance Coverage and the Affordable Care Act.” 22 Sep 2015.

 Clemans-Cope, Lisa and Matthew Buettgens and Hannah Recht. “Racial/Ethnic Differences In Uninsurance Rates Under The ACA.” Urban Institute. 16 Dec 2014.

Simon & Schuster U.K. “Buyer’s Remorse: How Obama Let Progressives Down,” by Bill Press. accessed 12 Feb 2016.

FactCheck.org. “FactChecking the MSNBC Democratic Forum.” 9 Nov 2015.

Hunt, Kasie. “Sanders: Obama hasn’t closed presidential leadership gap.” MSNBC.com. 11 Feb 2016.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National); Average Weekly Earnings of Production and Nonsupervisory Employees, 1982-1984 Dollars.” Data extracted 12 Feb 2016.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey: Job Openings, Seasonally Adjusted.” Data extracted 12 Feb 2016.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National); Average Weekly Earnings of Production and Nonsupervisory Employees, 1982-1984 Dollars.” Data extracted 12 Feb 2016.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey; Unemployment Rate – 16-24 yrs, Seasonally Adjusted.” Data extracted 12 Feb 2016.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey; Unemployment Rate – 16 yrs and over, Seasonally Adjusted.” Data extracted 12 Feb 2016.

Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Table A-15. Alternative measures of labor underutilization. Data extracted 12 Feb 2016.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey; Total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of all civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers Labor force status: Aggregated totals unemployed.” Data extracted 12 Feb 2016.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey; Unemployment Rate – 16-19 yrs., Black or African American, Seasonally Adjusted.” Data extracted 12 Feb 2016.

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Clinton’s Exaggerated Wall Street Claim http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/clintons-exaggerated-wall-street-claim/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/clintons-exaggerated-wall-street-claim/#comments Thu, 11 Feb 2016 15:26:56 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=104379 Hillary Clinton exaggerated when she claimed Bernie Sanders “took about $200,000 from Wall Street firms” through the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The DSCC did provide about $200,000 to support Sanders’ 2006 Senate race, but a relatively small percentage of the DSCC’s contributions came from “Wall Street.”

In fact, the DSCC’s largest single contributor that year was Friends of Hillary — which was Clinton’s Senate campaign.

Clinton has been criticized by Sanders for accepting large donations and speaking fees from financial companies. In response, Clinton has said the donations have not influenced her decisions — which was the point she made at an event at Manchester Community College in New Hampshire a day before that state’s primary (see the 45:40 mark):

Clinton, Feb. 8: Senator Sanders took about $200,000 from Wall Street firms. Not directly but through the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. You know, there was nothing wrong with that. It hasn’t changed his view. Well, it didn’t change my view or my vote either.

The DSCC did support Sanders, as Clinton says. In 2006, then Rep. Sanders defeated Republican Richard Tarrant to win the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retiring Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont. Although he ran as an independent, Sanders was backed by the state Democratic Party and supported by both the state and national Democratic committees.

During the 2006 campaign, the DSCC gave $37,300 to the Sanders campaign and spent an additional $60,000 supporting him in campaign advertising. It also gave $110,000 to the Vermont Democratic Party to help Sanders, making eight separate committee transfers (the last coming on Oct. 4, 2006).

That adds up to $207,300 — a little more than the $200,000 claimed by Clinton.

However, Wall Street of course wasn’t the sole source of the DSCC’s money in 2006. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the DSCC raised $121.4 million in the 2006 campaign cycle and roughly $10 million of that came from what the center defines as “Wall Street.” (That would include donations from the political action committees and employees of companies in two industries: securities and investment, and commercial banks.) That’s a little more than 8 percent in Wall Street money.

Clearly, Clinton’s assertion that Sanders “took about $200,000 from Wall Street” is an exaggeration.

In fact, the DSCC received $2 million in 2006 from Friends of Hillary in two $1 million donations. That made Clinton’s Senate campaign committee the single largest contributor to the DSCC for the 2006 campaign. Goldman Sachs ranked fifth at $685,050.

By Clinton’s logic, Sanders “took about $200,000″ from Friends of Hillary.

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Trump Wildly Inflates Unemployment http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/trump-wildly-inflates-unemployment/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/trump-wildly-inflates-unemployment/#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2016 22:57:43 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=104377 Donald Trump said he “heard” the unemployment rate was really 42 percent. It’s not. That figure would include retirees, teenagers, stay-at-home parents and anyone else who doesn’t need or want to work.

The unemployment rate is actually 4.9 percent for January.

If Trump wanted to include the underemployed (part-time workers wanting full-time work) and the “marginally attached” (those who have given up looking for a job but had looked for one in the past year), then he could use 9.9 percent as his number for the underemployed and the unemployed. That’s the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “U-6″ measurement of labor underutilization, its most comprehensive statistic on those who are underemployed or unemployed but want to work.

We fact-checked Trump on this topic back in June, when he said in his speech announcing his presidential candidacy that the “real” unemployment rate is “anywhere from 18 to 20 percent” and “maybe even 21 percent.” He was wrong then. The only figure of 18 percent we found came from a University of Maryland economist who included “the effects of immigration,” he said, and the “many” students who are being “duped” into applying for “useless programs” at universities and for-profit schools.

But Trump has doubled his already inflated figure since.

Trump has floated this 40-something number several times, most recently in his victory speech after winning the New Hampshire Republican primary (at the 11:21 mark).

Trump, Feb. 9: I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created. Remember that. Don’t believe those phony numbers, when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment.

The number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent. Do you think we’d have gatherings like this if we had, if we had 5 percent unemployment, do you really think we’d have these gatherings?

Back in July, he said on Fox News that “somebody actually last week said we have a 40 percent unemployment [rate].”

He also made the claim in a Time magazine interview in August, and a press conference in September. Our fact-checking colleagues at the Washington Post and Politifact wrote about those instances, with both organizations giving Trump their highest ratings for falsehoods.

We don’t mean to pile on, but Trump’s claim is bogus, and a real whopper. Forty-two percent of the American working-age public is not unemployed and wanting a job.

In his Time magazine interview, Trump claimed that 93 million Americans were out of work.

Trump, Time magazine interview, Aug. 20, 2015: Our real unemployment rate–in fact, I saw a chart the other day, our real unemployment–because you have ninety million people that aren’t working. Ninety-three million to be exact.

If you start adding it up, our real unemployment rate is 42%. We have a lot of room. We have a lot of people who want to work.

Trump is referring to the number of working-age Americans who are not in the labor force. As we pointed out when then Texas Gov. Rick Perry in 2014 said he was “worried” about those not in the labor force, they include everyone age 16 and over who isn’t working or looking for work: teenagers, college students, folks who are well into their retirement years, stay-at-home parents, the independently wealthy and more.

In fact, the current figure — 95 million as of January — includes only 6 million who say they want to work.

To be counted as officially “unemployed” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a person without a job must have tried to find employment in the four weeks before the BLS survey is taken. The labor force includes everyone who is employed and unemployed. That means those who are counted as “not in the labor force” aren’t working and haven’t looked for work in the past month.

Since there are some Americans, currently 2 million, who have sought employment in the past year but not the past month (the “marginally attached”) and another nearly 6 million who are working part time but want full-time work, politicians sometimes use the BLS U-6 figure to capture those Americans. As we said, that measure of unemployment and underemployment is 9.9 percent — double the official unemployment rate, but nowhere close to the figure Trump has touted.

In June, David Stockman, a former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan, used a “real unemployment rate” of 42.9 percent, which he based on the potential labor hours if every American adult, ages 16 to 68, worked full time. Obviously every American between those ages doesn’t work full time or even want to. Stockman noted: “Yes, we have to allow for non-working wives, students, the disabled, early retirees and coupon clippers. We also have drifters, grifters, welfare cheats, bums and people between jobs, enrolled in training programs, on sabbaticals and much else.”

The labor force participation rate, the percentage of the civilian population that is either employed or looking for work, has been on a downward trajectory since 2000. As we noted in our most recent “Obama’s Numbers” article, that’s partly due to the aging of the population. BLS data published in December 2015 show 44 percent of those not in the labor force in 2014 said they were retired. Other reasons for not working: Eighteen percent cited school; 19 percent cited illness or disability; and 15 percent cited home responsibilities. About 3.5 percent said they couldn’t find work or gave another reason.

This is the fourth time that we have fact-checked Trump claiming that he “heard” something that’s not close to being accurate.

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Debunking Obama’s Dubai Domicile http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/debunking-obamas-dubai-domicile/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/debunking-obamas-dubai-domicile/#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2016 19:18:30 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=103155 Q: Are the Obamas buying a vacation home in Dubai?
A: No. This rumor was circulated on a fake news website.


Is President Obama buying a four million dollar home in Dubai, and was a top Admiral fired by Obama for questioning why he was buying the home in Dubai?


This rumor started with an article posted on Jan. 10 by a disreputable news site, WhatDoesItMean.com, under the headline, Top US Admiral Fired For Questioning Obama Purchase Of Mansion in Dubai.”

WhatDoesItMean.com, Jan. 10: A stunning new Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) report circulating in the Kremlin today states that one of the United States Navy’s top commanders was relieved of his command a few hours ago after he sent out an “email/posting” revealing that President Barack Obama was in the process of purchasing a multi-million dollar seaside luxury villa in the United Arab Emirates city (UAE) of Dubai. 

This report is bogus. It’s from a website widely known as a fake news source that focuses on conspiracy theories. WhatDoesItMean.Com is self-described as “One Of The Top Ranked Websites In The World for New World Order, Conspiracy Theories and Alternative News.”

In fact, on their privacy policy page, the website explains its content is largely fiction:

WhatDoesItMean.com: Some events depicted in certain articles on this website are fictitious and any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental. Some other articles may be based on actual events but which in certain cases incidents, characters and timelines have been changed for dramatic purposes. Certain characters may be composites, or entirely fictitious.

This website frequently uses outlandish headlines. Some of its most recent articles include:World Rushes To Obama’s Door For New ‘Miracle Bombs’ That Don’t Kill AnyoneandRussia Shockingly Adds Hillary Clinton To Terror Sponsor Watchlist.”

The purported author of the article on the Dubai home is Sorcha Faal, identified on the website as “Sister Maria Theresa … the 73rd Sorcha Faal of the Sorcha Faal Order, Elected as Mother Superior 3 February 2007.”

In fact, the Obamas are not purchasing the house in question, and Rear Adm. Rick Williams — the officer named in the story — was terminated for other reasons. 

The Dubai Villa

The article provides a detailed description of the home that it falsely claims Obama is buying:

WhatDoesItMean.com, Jan. 10: As to the “Obama house hunting mission” Admiral Williams was making his query about before being fired, this report continues, SVR intelligence “assests” in the UAE identified it as being a luxury seaside villa located in the Palm Jumeirah development of Dubai being offered for sale at the price of $4.9 million (18 million United Arab Emirates Dirham), and which a deposit on it was made this past week by the Washington D.C. based global public affairs company Podesta Group.

The article links to a home listing by Ocean View Real Estate for a villa in Dubai that was still on the market as of this report. On Jan. 13, the English-language tabloid Xpress from Dubai quoted the CEO of Ocean View Real Estate, Tim Boswell, as dispelling the notion that Obama had purchased, or was even looking at the home.

“On a serious note, I know that a man of Obama’s stature will send his ‘people’ to view the villa before buying it, but we are not aware of any such leads,” Boswell told the paper. “My villa has been up for sale since the last six weeks and I can assure you no presidents have viewed it so far.”

The image of this home has been circulated widely online, showing up on home improvement websites and being cited by some as the exterior of the Bulgari Resort Villa in Dubai, which will open in 2017.

And, despite what the article claims, Williams was not fired because he criticized Obama’s idea to purchase a home in Dubai.

In fact, the Navy Times reported on Jan. 9 that Williams was fired for viewing pornography on his work computer — which the bogus news article referenced when it said Williams was fired for “allegations of his misuse of government computer equipment.”

Stars and Stripes, a Department of Defense authorized news outlet, reported on Jan. 9 that, prior to his firing, Williams had been commander of the Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 15 based in San Diego. The article said Williams was fired “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command” based on the result of “an investigation into allegations of misuse of government computer equipment.” It provided no further details.

So, Williams was fired, but it had nothing to do with the president.

The Companies

WhatDoesItMean.com misappropriates the credibility of two companies with ties to Obama. The article falsely claims that the Podesta Group, a powerful lobbying firm, put a deposit on the Dubai home for Obama, and that DLA Piper provided legal representation. 

The Podesta Group was cofounded by Obama adviser John Podesta and his brother, Tony. DLA Piper is a multinational law firm that gained “critical mass with a 2005 merger between UK-based DLA LLP and Chicago-based Piper Rudnick,” as described by Forbes. Obama and his family lived in Chicago when he was a senator from Illinois. During Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, two DLA Piper executives were Obama bundlers and the company’s employees were among his biggest donors.

But, as we said, the Dubai house is still on the market for now and the real estate agent listing it said Obama has expressed no interest in it.


Faal, Sorcha. “Top US Admiral Fired For Questioning Obama Purchase Of Mansion In Dubai.” whatdoesitmean.com. 10 Jan 2016.

Kumar, Anjana. “‘No, I haven’t sold my Palm villa to Obama.'” Gulfnews.com. 13 Jan 2016.

Myers, Meghann. “Navy strike group commander fired for viewing porn at work.” Navy Times. 9 Jan 2016.

Admiral relieved of duty 6 months after taking the helm of Carrier Strike Group 15.” Stars and Stripes. 9 Jan 2016.

Ho, Catherine. “The Podesta Group has earned at least $1.15m lobbying for Puerto Rico.” Washington Post. 29 June 2015.

Parnell, David. “Roger Meltzer Of DLA Piper, On Law Firm Legacies, China, And Defining The ‘Global Elite.'” Forbes. 19 Oct 2015.

National Journal. “Hill People: David Morgenstern.” 12 Feb 2011.

Eilperin, Juliet. “John Podesta: The backbone of the second Obama term departs.” 23 Feb 2015.

Barack Obama’s Bundlers.” Opensecrets.org. Undated, accessed 2 Feb. 2016.

Barack Obama: Top Contributors, 2012 Cycle.” Opensecrets.org. Undated, accessed 2 Feb. 2016.


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The Facts About Zika http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/the-facts-about-zika/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/the-facts-about-zika/#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2016 17:22:35 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=104248 Several members of Congress wrote to government officials about the recent Zika virus outbreak in Brazil and a suspected rise there in the number of microcephaly cases. But some of those letters overstated what’s known about these two phenomena.

  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand claimed: “Over 4,000 babies in Brazil … have been born in the last year with microcephaly.” As of Jan. 29, Brazil’s Health Ministry reported 4,180 suspected cases, but only 270 were confirmed. The remaining cases were either under investigation (3,448) or discarded (462).
  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal said those 4,000 cases in Brazil “have been linked to the outbreak of the Zika virus.” As of Jan. 29, only six of the 270 confirmed babies with microcephaly had tested positive for Zika. Health officials say evidence strongly suggests a link between Zika and microcephaly, but they also emphasize the link hasn’t been scientifically confirmed.

The senators were reacting to the Zika virus’ spread through the Americas, including Brazil, and a rise in the number of suspected cases of microcephaly. Microcephaly is normally thought of as a rare neurological condition, where an infant’s head is substantially smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex. However, the condition often signifies a deeper problem — abnormal brain development.

Doctors in Brazil began noticing a possible increase in microcephaly cases around August 2015, as reported by the New York Times. The Zika virus likely spread to the country roughly a year earlier.

Researchers in Brazil theorize that the virus initially spread to their country during the FIFA World Cup tournament in July 2014. But a group of scientists in French Polynesia believe Zika may have spread from their country to Brazil during the Va’a World Sprint Championship canoe race held in Rio de Janeiro in August 2014.

There is plenty of concern among groups such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the concern, in part, arises from a lack of knowledge about Zika and its potential causal link to microcephaly. We’ll explain what’s known about that possible relationship and the cases in Brazil so far.

Counting Cases of Microcephaly

On Jan 28., Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, wrote a letter to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, urging the institute “to prioritize research into developing diagnostic tests, vaccines and therapeutic drugs to fight the continued spread of the Zika virus.” In her letter, she claimed: “Over 4,000 babies in Brazil … have been born in the last year with microcephaly.”

But according to information provided by Brazilian authorities, that’s inaccurate.

From Oct. 22, 2015, to Jan. 29, 2016, Brazil’s Ministry of Health reported 4,180 suspected cases of microcephaly, which included 3,448 cases under investigation, 270 confirmed cases and 462 discarded cases.

The fact that more cases have been discarded than confirmed shows that diagnosing microcephaly is not straightforward.

SciCHECKinsertAccording to the Mayo Clinic, microcephaly is broadly defined as “a rare neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than the heads of other children of the same age and sex.” The syndrome is usually “the result of the brain developing abnormally in the womb or not growing as it should after birth.”

Different organizations and doctors have different definitions for “significantly,” however.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains: “Although a universally accepted definition of microcephaly does not exist, microcephaly is most often defined as head circumference … greater than 2 standard deviations below the mean, or less than the 3rd percentile based on standard growth charts.”

A review article published by the American Academy of Neurology in 2009 provides similar information: “Microcephaly is an important neurologic sign but there is nonuniformity in its definition and evaluation.” The article, though, also points to two standard deviations from the norm as the most often used definition.

The condition can be rooted in different causes, including chromosomal abnormalities, decreased oxygen to the fetal brain, infections during pregnancy, alcohol or drug abuse during pregnancy, and malnutrition.

Evidence of microcephaly can be found as early as the latter stages of the second trimester using an ultrasound, says the CDC. The condition can also be diagnosed after a baby is born. After birth, doctors will measure the circumference of a baby’s head.

If the baby’s head falls within a range that is below what its pediatrician defines as normal for its age, the doctor may request additional tests. A CT or MRI scan can provide information about the development of the newborn’s brain. These tests may be needed to confirm microcephaly in infants.

Early diagnosis does have the potential to lead to false diagnosis. According to National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “Some children with microcephaly will have normal intelligence and a head that will grow bigger, but they will track below the normal growth curves for head circumference.”

The difficulty with definitively diagnosing microcephaly has lead some to question whether Brazil underreported cases in the past — and whether they overreported their 2015 cases as well.

For context, the Associated Press and the New York Times write that out of 3 million births in 2014, Brazilian doctors reported only about 150 cases of microcephaly. But 150 cases is surprisingly small for a country the size of Brazil. For comparison, Margaret Honein, a CDC epidemiologist, told the AP the United States “has an estimated 2,500 cases of microcephaly a year” out of 4 million births.

Researchers at the Latin American Collaborative Study of Congenital Malformations (ECLAMC) have also questioned Brazil’s past and present recording of microcephaly cases, reported Nature.

On Dec. 30, Jorge Lopez-Camelo and Ieda Maria Orioli, researchers at ECLAMC, published a report outlining how Brazilian authorities may have underreported cases of the neurological condition in the past and how they might be overreporting cases today.

For example, the ECLAMC report stated that defining microcephaly as a head size two standard deviations smaller than the norm “includes necessarily a large number of normal individuals.”

The authors also told Nature that the current “surge might largely be attributed to the intense search for cases of the birth defect, and misdiagnoses, because of heightened awareness in the wake of the possible link with Zika.”

In a Q&A on its website, the CDC says: “The baseline prevalence of congenital microcephaly [in Brazil] is difficult to determine because of underreporting, and the inconsistency of clinical criteria used to define microcephaly.” It adds that while “population-based estimates of congenital microcephaly in Brazil vary, the number of infants with microcephaly currently being reported in Brazil is greater than would be expected.”

Regardless, Gillibrand was inaccurate when she definitively wrote: “Over 4,000 babies in Brazil … have been born in the last year with microcephaly.” According to Brazil’s current count, only 270 cases have been confirmed.

The Possible Zika-Microcephaly Link

On Jan. 29, Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, wrote a letter to President Obama urging the administration to “increase funding for research related to combatting” Zika. In his letter, Blumenthal wrote: “More than 4,000 cases of microcephaly and birth deformities in infants in Brazil have been linked to the outbreak of the Zika virus.” That claim is inaccurate.

As previously mentioned, there have only been 270 confirmed cases of microcephaly, not “more than 4,000.” Also, while scientists and public health authorities have seen a correlated increase in reported cases of both microcephaly and Zika in Brazil, they stress that a causal link has yet to be established. As of Jan. 29, only six of the 270 confirmed babies with microcephaly also tested positive for Zika.

For example, on Jan. 28, when reporters asked about “the numbers” supporting a causal link between Zika to microcephaly, Dr. Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the CDC, wasn’t able to give hard numbers. Instead, she said it’s “an ongoing investigation, information is being gathered.”

Blumenthal would have been correct if he had said — as the White House wrote on its website — that Zika “may be linked” to microcephaly.

As of Feb. 5, the World Health Organization reported that “Brazilian national authorities estimate that between 497,593 and 1,482,701 cases of Zika virus infection have occurred since the outbreak began” around August 2014.

The Zika virus is primarily spread through mosquito bites, in particular the Aedes species, which also spreads the dengue and chikungunya viruses. However, there have been cases of the Zika virus transmission through sexual contact, including one probable case in 2011, a possible case in 2015 and a confirmed case in Texas on Feb. 2, 2016.

According to the CDC, “about 1 in 5 people infected with Zika virus become ill.” Of the people who do become ill, the symptoms are usually mild, often include “fever, rash, joint pain, or conjunctivitis (red eyes)” and last “several days to a week.” The virus “usually remains in the blood of an infected person for about a week but it can be found longer in some people.”

Since Zika often entails a silent to mild infection, it is difficult to conclusively diagnose by symptoms alone.

To be clear, Blumenthal does have reason to raise concern about the possible link between Zika and microcephaly.

As Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO, said on Jan. 28, the possible link to more serious conditions like microcephaly changed the risk profile of Zika from “a mild threat to one of alarming proportions.”

At this point in time, scientists and health officials believe the increase in reported cases of Zika and microcephaly are positively correlated — meaning, when reported cases of Zika went up in certain areas, an increase in reported cases of microcephaly followed.

Health officials strongly suspect a casual link, though they have little direct evidence to support it — as of Jan. 29, only six babies have had microcephaly and tested positive for Zika in Brazil.

Scientists also have some understanding of the mechanism behind how Zika could, in theory, lead to microcephaly. Though they stress much still needs remains unclear about this mechanism. As Nature reports, “many researchers say that epidemiological data alone will not convince them of a link between Zika and microcephaly; they would like to see evidence of how and why the virus causes the condition. With this in mind, scientists are developing animal models to investigate Zika’s effects on the body.”

Based on what is known, on Feb. 1, the WHO declared the Zika outbreak a public health emergency. During a speech in Geneva announcing the news, Chan emphasized the need to “coordinate international efforts” to better understand the relationship between Zika and microcephaly. The New York Times reported that an “emergency designation from the W.H.O. can prompt action and funding from governments and nonprofits around the world.”

On Feb. 2, Dr. Anthony Costello, WHO director for maternal, child and adolescent health, also said the organization has set a global response unit for Zika “using all the lessons we’ve learned from the Ebola crisis.” The New York Times reported that the WHO’s decision to declare Zika a public health emergency may have been influenced by the criticism it received for “its tardiness in declaring Ebola an international emergency” during the 2014 outbreak.

Due to the possible transmission and microcephaly-Zika link, the CDC also issued travel precautions to certain countries, including Brazil, for pregnant women or women who are trying to become pregnant. While they haven’t issued a formal travel notice, the WHO says that: “Travellers should take the basic precautions … to protect themselves from mosquito bites.”

According to the CDC, “a mother already infected with Zika virus near the time of delivery can pass on the virus to her newborn around the time of birth, but this is rare.” It also writes “it is possible that Zika virus could be passed from a mother to her baby during pregnancy. We are studying how some mothers can pass the virus to their babies.”

Thomaz Gollop, a fetal medicine specialist who runs his own clinic in São Paulo, told us by email that he believes a “causal relationship” had been established in the six microcephalic babies who tested positive for Zika.

But he also said: “We do not have a prospective scientific study to state with scientific reasoning that it was in fact, the Zika virus that caused these defects. However the suspicion is very strong!”

In order to confirm a causal link, scientists and health officials, like those at the CDC and NIH, have said that they would need to find and study more cases where contracting Zika during pregnancy may have led to babies with microcephaly and brain defects. But, as previously mentioned, some researchers also want more mechanistic evidence before they definitively say Zika causes microcephaly.

Some mechanistic evidence supporting the theory that Zika causes microcephaly does already exist, however.

When G.W.A. Dick, a researcher at the National Institute for Medical Research in the United Kingdom at the time, first described the virus in 1952, he found that: “Zika virus is highly neurotropic in mice and no virus has been recovered from tissues other than the brains of infected mice.” Neurotropic means “affecting the nervous system.” Dick also wrote that: “Neuronal degeneration, cellular infiltration and areas of softening are present in [Zika] infected mouse brains.”

In 1971, T.M. Bell, a researcher at Newcastle General Hospital in the U.K. at the time, and colleagues, also found that “pathological changes in the brain are correlated with growth of the [Zika] virus.”

To be clear, Bell and Dick’s work is still evidence for a causal link between Zika and brain defects – but on the cellular level instead of the individual or population level. But when researchers find evidence for cellular-level causal links, this provides them with clues about the mechanisms behind how one variable may lead to another.

This research also was conducted in mice and not humans. While viruses can affect different organisms differently, scientists often use mouse models to perform experiments that otherwise wouldn’t be permitted on humans. But Dick and Bell’s work does show that Zika has the mechanistic potential to cause microcephaly.

Health officials may have also seen a similar spike in microcephaly cases during a Zika outbreak in French Polynesia in 2013-14.

The WHO says a Zika outbreak was reported for the first time in Yap in 2007, but it wasn’t until the French Polynesian outbreak in 2013 that “national health authorities reported potential neurological and auto-immune complications of Zika virus disease” during the French Polynesia outbreak.

As the New York Times reported: “French Polynesia is the only area outside of Brazil to be affected by a Zika outbreak in which public health officials have identified an increase in the number of fetuses and babies with unusually small heads.”

Reason for Doubt

But the ECLAMC report pointed out (page 7) that the investigation of a possible Zika-microcephaly link during the French Polynesian outbreak took place in November 2015, after Brazil declared a state of emergency. For this reason, the report says the investigation is “not an independent event.” Since Zika only circulates in the body for a short period, this also makes retroactive analysis of an outbreak difficult.

As previously mentioned, diagnosing microcephaly isn’t straightforward. But Zika isn’t the easiest to diagnose either.

In the report summary (pages 9-10), Lopez-Camelo and Orioli point out that identifying the Zika virus in the blood is difficult due to its short circulation period. Its similarity with the dengue virus also makes definitive diagnosis problematic. Reuters and The Scientist have also written about the difficulties of testing for Zika using current serological, or blood-testing, tools.

During roughly the week of infection, when the virus is still present in the body, health officials can use a test that identifies Zika by its ribonucleic acid. Since every virus has its own specific RNA — or every organism for that matter — the test has a high degree of accuracy.

After that first week though, health officials have to test for Zika antibodies. The immune system produces antibodies in response to viruses and other pathogens. But a virus’ antibodies aren’t as specific to it as its RNA, so this method sometimes “cross-reacts” with dengue antibodies. And dengue is widespread in Brazil.

However, researchers worldwide are currently working to develop better diagnostic tests for Zika. Fauci, for example, told reporters on Jan. 28 that the NIH is working to develop “diagnostic platforms that can rapidly determine if a patient is infected with Zika or has been infected either recently or in the past, and distinguish it from other viruses, particularly Dengue infection.”

Lavinia Schüler-Faccini, a researcher at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, told us by email that, in the six microcephalic babies that did test positive for Zika, “the virus genetic material was identified by RT-PCR” — that is, through Zika RNA. She also told us these were “severe cases of stillborns or babies that died shortly after birth — where a chronic and generalized infection was present.”

Despite the severity of the microcephaly cases where researchers did find the Zika virus present, Lopez-Camelo and Orioli question Brazil’s overall numbers.

Lopez-Camelo and Orioli also reviewed microcephaly records in Brazil dating back to 1967 and compared those numbers to reports in 2015. On average, Brazil sees roughly two cases of microcephaly for every 10,000 births. But the Brazilian state of Pernambuco tends to see more cases each year – 10 on average, according to the Pan American Health Organization, a regional office of WHO.

In 2015, 147,597 babies were born in Pernambuco. Based on the historical data, the researchers estimated that the maximum number of expected cases of microcephaly would be around 45 for that number of births and without any potential influence of Zika. Yet in 2015 Pernambuco officials reported 1,153 cases, according to the ECLAMC report.

If Zika had been infecting people at rates similar to the 2007 outbreak in Micronesia, which includes Yap Island, the virus could potentially explain an additional 353 cases of microcephaly – not an additional 1,108 cases, the authors say. This, among other findings, gave Lopez-Camelo and Orioli reason to question Brazil’s numbers.

The Jury’s Still Out

The point is, much is still not known about the possible relationship between the Zika virus and microcephaly. There is evidence that the two conditions are positively correlated within certain areas of Brazil and possibly French Polynesia. While strongly suspected, scientists and health officials have little direct evidence to support a casual link, but that’s due, in part, to the nature of Zika and microcephaly diagnosis. Lastly, Zika does appear to target the brain, but some scientists say much more mechanistic research needs to be done to confirm a causal link between the virus and microcephaly.

In short, much is still unknown about Zika, microcephaly and their possible link. The WHO declared the outbreak a public health emergency for precisely this reason — to “coordinate international efforts” to better understand the two conditions’ potential relationship and to control Zika’s spread.

As a result, Blumenthal was inaccurate when he said that the Zika outbreak “has been linked” with “4,000 cases” of microcephaly in Brazil. The jury is still out on the Zika-microcephaly link – and the numbers behind it.

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

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Our Children’s Future http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/our-childrens-future/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/our-childrens-future/#comments Tue, 09 Feb 2016 22:03:45 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=101733 pg16insertPolitical Leanings: Republican/Pro-Ben Carson Super PAC

Spending Target: Unknown

Our Children’s Future is a super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

The PAC filed with the Federal Election Commission on April 30, 2015. Jeff Reeter, former campaign finance chairman for Carson, is its chairman. The group describes itself as focusing on “large-dollar fundraising,” but it reported raising only about $100,000 through Dec. 31, 2015.

Super PACs may solicit and spend unlimited amounts of money explicitly advocating for or against specific candidates, but they may not coordinate that spending with the candidates themselves.

On Oct. 22, 2015, Our Children’s Future and The 2016 Committee announced they would combine efforts to form “a unified, comprehensive strategy to increase voter education in early primary states through print, online and broadcast advertising as well as grassroots engagement.” According to the groups’ joint announcement, Our Children’s Future will retain its focus on “large-dollar” fundraising, while The 2016 Committee will continue to focus on small grassroots fundraising and advocacy. Currently, the two organizations remain separate entities.

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The 2016 Committee http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/the-2016-committee/ http://www.factcheck.org/2016/02/the-2016-committee/#comments Tue, 09 Feb 2016 22:01:35 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=101689 pg16insertPolitical Leanings: Republican/Pro-Ben Carson Super PAC

Spending Target: Unknown

The 2016 Committee is a super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Its mission is “to raise support and awareness of Dr. Carson’s candidacy and organize a grassroots army of activists to propel Dr. Carson through the nomination process and into the White House.”

John Philip Sousa IV is the chairman of The 2016 Committee. Sousa, a descendant of the famous composer, has been a financial consultant and one-time congressional candidate. He currently serves as a board member for the self-described low-immigration group known as the Federation for American Immigration Reform. He also has served as vice chairman of Americans Against Illegal Immigration (a now-defunct PAC active in California between 2005 and 2009). Additionally, Sousa created and served as chairman of Americans for Sheriff Joe, a PAC which supported Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s reelection campaign in 2012.

Bill Saracino serves as the group’s national director. Saracino, a career campaign operative, has worked on more than 75 campaigns, according to The 2016 Committee’s website. Like Sousa, Saracino worked on Arpaio’s reelection in 2012.

Chuck Muth, a longtime conservative activist, is the group’s communications director. He is president of Citizen Outreach, a Nevada-based conservative advocacy organization, former executive director of the American Conservative Union, former executive director of the Nevada Republican Party, and former national chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus.

The 2016 Committee’s focus, according to its website, is on organizing a grassroots following, mobilizing traditional Republican voters, and especially targeting health care workers, minority voters, and evangelicals. Additionally, much of its spending goes towards the production and dissemination of education materials, most notably Sousa’s campaign primer, Ben Carson: Rx for America.

The 2016 Committee had raised nearly $10 million as of Dec. 31, 2015, according to the group’s year-end report filed with the Federal Election Commission.

Among the committee’s largest donors are Colorado conservative Tatnall Hillman, who gave $56,000, and Louis Mogas, founder and chairman of Texas-based Mogas Industries, who gave $22,000. Hillman is a major donor to Republican causes.

The 2016 Committee has announced a partnership with another pro-Carson super PAC, Our Children’s Future. A statement released jointly by both organizations said Our Children’s Future will focus on fundraising from large donors, while The 2016 Committee focuses on grassroots fundraising and advocacy. Currently, the two organizations remain separate entities, but they still could combine in the future.

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