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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactCheck Mailbag, Week of April 12-18

This week, readers sent us comments about Donald Trump, Social Security, balanced coverage, congressional reform and Sarah Palin.

In the FactCheck Mailbag, we feature some of the e-mail we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.

Debating Birthplace Issue

In reading your last week’s Mailbag [FactCheck Mailbag, April 5-11], I’m surprised that you did not respond to the following Mailbag comment from Steve Barg in his response to your article ["Donald, You’re Fired," April 9]:

"Here is your second point used to ‘debunk’ his concerns: ‘He claims that no hospital in Hawaii has a record of Obama’s birth. Hospital records are confidential under federal law, but Honolulu’s Kapi’olani Medical Center has published a letter from Obama calling it ‘the place of my birth,’ thus publicly confirming it as his birthplace.’ Are you really serious? So if I publish a letter calling the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, ‘the place of my birth’ that ‘publicly confirms it’ as my birthplace?"

I’m a big fan of FactCheck, but I had the same response when I read that point in your original piece. How exactly does a letter from Obama stand as proof of his birthplace? I want to see this issue refuted with clearly reliable facts. Please explain how this constitutes reliable information in the opinion of FactCheck.

Marla Patterson
Tulsa, Okla.

Steve Barg misses the point in his letter re: Trump and Obama’s birthplace. If the *MAYO CLINIC* publishes a letter from Mr. Barg in which Barg claims Mayo as his birthplace, then we may take it as acknowledgment from the publisher (Mayo) that they agree, that they "publicly confirm" the contents. Similarly, Mr. Obama did not self-publish his letter; the Kapi’olani Medical Center published it, lending their imprimatur and thereby approval to the contents.

Further, the managing editor of a Honolulu newspaper need not remember any specific announcement to remember the general policy and procedure governing such announcements. If the Hawai’ian Health Department routinely sent birth announcements to the newspaper during a given time period (not such an oddity as Mr. Barg presumes), then it is reasonable that any given announcement in the time period came from the same source. It does not appear to be FactCheck that is allowing partisanship to show through.

Chris Wolfe
Topeka, Kan.


Not Satisfied on Social Security

In your reply to David Guilmette [FactCheck Mailbag, March 29-April 4], you gave the following: "Clarification, April 6: We originally said ‘federal workers’ were covered, but a few still are not. When Social Security coverage began for federal workers, those hired prior to Jan. 1, 1984, were given the option of remaining under the old Civil Service Retirement System. Thanks to Frank Jamieson of Moline, Ill. for reminding us that, even more than 27 years later, some older federal workers remain outside the Social Security system. Except for those dwindling few, the Social Security Administration states: ‘All other Federal government employees participate in Social Security like everyone else.’"

Do you really believe that "all federal employees" participate in Social Security? Most people complain that a large part of problems with SSA is that House members, senators and executive branch employees have their own "golden parachutes" outside/independent of Social Security. Aren’t these people "federal workers"?

If they were all made to be subject to the laws they pass, they would be more likely to solve the associated problems. That’s why there’s an increasing call for a constitutional amendment that would forbid them from exempting themselves from ANY of the laws they pass, and not allow passage of any laws that apply only to them.

Gene Floersch
Minneapolis, Minn.

FactCheck.org responds: As the Social Security Administration says: "[A]ll members of Congress, no matter how long they have been in office, have been paying into the Social Security system since January 1984." In addition, the president, vice president and federal judges have paid Social Security taxes since 1984. Other federal employees hired before Jan. 1, 1984, were allowed to choose whether to switch to Social Security or stay with the Civil Service Retirement System. Also, we have debunked chain e-mails that claim Congress exempts itself from many of its own laws.

I read your answer to the person who pointed out that Wisconsin public employees cannot contribute to Social Security on the job. I think you missed a couple of elements in your response.

I am a retired Connecticut teacher; we have a state teachers’ pension and we do not pay Social Security. Nor, unless we work some other job where we can pay FICA taxes, can we *collect* it! We do pay into Medicare, however. I think that it’s quite unlikely that Wisconsin teachers can collect Social Security unless they worked other jobs; one doesn’t collect unless one has 40 quarters of credited FICA payments. Wisconsin teachers do not pay FICA taxes.

Now, I personally have over 40 quarters of Social Security credit on my own. (It gets even fuzzier when one wishes to collect on a spouse’s Social Security; I’m not even familiar w/ the details.)

However, I do not get the amount of Social Security to which I would, were I not a retired *public* employee, be entitled based on my lifetime FICA payments. Instead, my pension is placed against my Social Security entitlement and instead of the $400 or so a month I "earned" via paying FICA taxes, I receive approximately $150/month. It pays my Medicare premium (though not my supplemental!) so I get a bit under $40/month deposited to my checking account.

I have never understood why payments made by *my* employer (the state) to *my* pension fund should be treated differently from payments made by private employers to *their* employees’ 401K plans. I paid into my pension every single year; my salary was smaller than it otherwise would have been since I was going to get a "munificent" pension thanks to the state matching my payments. Of course, the state didn’t match my payments — that’s why public employee pension funds are in trouble: States reneged on their promises. *We* public employees did not renege on *our* promises!

The question the letter writer raised is an excellent one, and you glossed over some of the more profound ramifications on public employee earnings/pensions/etc in your response. All that being said, I still think what FactCheck does every day and every week is one of the most valuable services available to Americans in this age of the Big Lie!

Mari Bonomi
Kilmarnock, Va.


Balancing Coverage

I hope you will not join most of the media in falling into the trap of attempting to appear “evenhanded” by giving equal space to exposures of “lies” by the two sides — in the sense that if one side tells 10 whoppers and the other doesn’t tell any, you are compelled to appear evenhanded by devoting equal space to magnifying or imagining lies by the other side — even if there was none.

Fact: One side in American politics tells a lot more, and a lot bigger, lies than the other. That I don’t need to say which side is which proves my point; it is self-evident which side is the predominantly guilty party. So please report what is. If more chips land on one side than the other, so be it. Still report the facts.

Robert Sherman
Gaithersburg, Md.

In response to Joshua from Jackson [FactCheck Mailbag: "Unfair to Republicans," April 5]. Maybe Joshua should realize that the Republicans are gearing up for a presidential primary, while Democrats have an incumbent who is likely to have few challengers in the primary. Naturally, a lot more Republicans are speaking out, and some of that includes statements designed to distinguish themselves from other primary challengers.

I am not surprised at all that many of those statements have been addressed by FactCheck. Joshua seems to think that your organization has some control over who opens their big mouth.

Eric Ockert
Syracuse, N.Y.


Health Care and Congress

Thanks for your "Congressional Reform" piece ["Congressional Reform Act," March 18]. Perhaps much of the American public, which now has a low opinion of Congress and the administration, might soon press their representatives to agree on these statutory terms: "Members of Congress and nationally elected Administrators may have in effect health insurance that is no more comprehensive in benefits than insurance actually in effect for all those individuals under age 21 years or over age 70 who reside in the United States."

Debate on that, both in and out of Washington, D.C., might focus attention elsewhere than blaming others for a federal government shutdown. An appreciator of your work:

David F. Ertman
Jerusalem, N.Y.


Did Palin’s Tweet Add Up?

Based on the article’s ["Budget Spin," Feb. 16] own analysis of the president’s FY2012 budget proposal total ($3.7 trillion) and the amount the article says the president is willing to cut ($33 billion), it seems the tweet was correct at 0.1% of proposed cuts by the president. I know you will correct this. As your wonderful website usually does.

Thanks for the analysis though, this stuff can get awfully overwhelming with all these numbers being thrown out. If you could do an article on these budget cut proposal on both sides, and if they are real or just decreases in spending increases, especially Rep. Ryan’s recent proposal. Thank you for FactCheck.

Roy Ayitefyio
Atlanta, Ga.

FactCheck.org responds: Sarah Palin’s tweet referred to the percentage of the $1.645 trillion projected deficit, not President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget of $3.7 trillion. And she incorrectly cited the amount of discretionary spending cuts that Obama proposed.