Saturday, July 30, 2011

Analyzing political analysis -Politifact and Bill O'Reilly

A word of warning - this blog has a bias. I am a pro-life, conservative, pro-family, pro-marriage wife and mother. I do not pretend otherwise.

Now wouldn't it be nice if every political analysis group came out and admitted that up front? Some do, but once in a while you have one that sort of wants to pretend neutrality while it leans, well, mostly left.

Politifact tends to do that, although a recent study found the following:

A February 2011 study published by the University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics news site, a part of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, finds a significant bias on the part of PolitiFact in favor of statements made by Democrats: “That means a supermajority of falsehoods documented by PolitiFact over the last year – 76 percent – were attributed to Republicans, with just 22 percent of such statements coming from Democrats.”

A glance at the most recent PolitiFact ratings by the Oregonian would definitely support findings of a pro-Democrat bias.

This recent article on Politifact about the Poverty Rate is a good example of its liberal bias.  First of all, they are taking apart a comment made by Bill O'Reilly made on the Fox News Channel.  Both O'Reilly and Fox are clearly conservative  and don't pretend to be otherwise.  Last week, O'Reilly said:


"What the debt situation is really, really all about is your right to pursue happiness," O’Reilly said. "America is the greatest country on earth because it gives the most people the most opportunity to prosper. It does that by using the free marketplace whereby people can work hard, make money and provide for themselves and their families.

"But since the mid-1960s, America has practiced social engineering. Spending tax money directly, trying to improve the lives of those who don't have very much. Those payments are called entitlements. And they are now so high they threaten to bankrupt the entire nation. Liberal Americans tend to support the entitlement society while conservatives are more inclined to promote individualism and smaller entitlement spending.

"President (Barack) Obama, of course, is a liberal. And the Democratic Party is now dominated by the left. That's why in the past two and a half years federal spending has broken the bank. ...

"The essential mistake that Barack Obama is making is that he believes Lyndon Johnson's Great Society entitlements can elevate the poor to prosperity. They can't. In 1965, the poverty rate in this country stood at 14 percent. Now, after untold trillions have been spent fighting poverty, the poverty rate is 14.3 percent. Amazing, is it not? The conclusion, America is bankrupting itself with an entitlement philosophy that does little."
Politifact says that this assertion that the poverty rate has stayed about the same is false.  But on reading the Politifact article I wonder if they didn't actually prove O'Reilly's point:

Politifact says: • He uses the wrong numbers. The poverty rate -- the percentage of Americans whose income is lower than the federally determined poverty line -- was 17.3 percent in 1965, not 14 percent. For 2009, O’Reilly is correct -- the rate was 14.3 percent.

So if you compare the poverty rate in those two years, it has fallen by 3 percentage points, or by about one-sixth its original level. It didn’t stay roughly constant, as O’Reilly claimed.

Well, he really didn't say it was constant.  Still if it was 17.3 in 1965 and it is now 14 or so, that's not very good progress to have in over 46 years! 

But I got a good chuckle over this:
 The poverty rate has fallen even further if you start counting a few years before the Great Society began. Between 1959 and 1962, the poverty rate ranged between 20 and 22 percent. If you compare that level to 2009, poverty declined by an even steeper rate -- by more than one-third.

So if we say the poverty rate was 22 in 1962 and fell to 17 in 1965, that's a drop of 5 points in three years - so couldn't we surmise that the poverty rate was dropping faster and further before the government programs started to interfere?

I found this troubling as well:
Gary Burtless, an economist with the centrist-to-liberal Brookings Institution, cautions that O’Reilly’s comment overlooks the actual purpose of the Great Society programs, which wasn’t to boost incomes directly, in a way that would be detectable in poverty statistics, but rather to "improve the health care, nutrition and educational attainment or performance of Americans."

If the programs were successful, Burtless said, "it was because they improved the health care received by the old and poor, they improved the schooling received by disadvantaged youngsters and they improved the nutritional quality of the diets of the poor. These programs may eventually have reduced ‘money poverty,’ but only if improving medical care, educational attainment and nutritional intake has an indirect effect that reduces money poverty."

This is an admission that the goal wasn't to really raise people out of poverty to but to make them dependent on the government for health care, education and food. 

Politifact ends their article with:
O’Reilly said the Great Society programs did nothing to reduce poverty, but we rule that claim False.
This is a false premise fallacy because O'Reilly didn't say the programs did "nothing to reduce poverty."  Clearly they did a lot- it was their effectiveness that he was calling into question. 

The did get this part right:

This is not to say that O’Reilly is entirely wrong. Present levels of entitlements may not be sustainable, as he suggests. O’Reilly might be right that relatively few of the poor have been lifted into "prosperity," as opposed to somewhere slightly above the poverty line. And the final 14 percent of Americans may be the most difficult to lift out of poverty, suggesting that at some point the cost-benefit ratio for anti-poverty expenditures may become harder to defend.




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9 comments:

  1. I wonder if Jesus saw cost to benefit ratios when he called poor fishermen to work His cause.

    http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/us_hunger_facts.htm

    14% of US population in 1968 28 million
    14% of population in 2010 43 million
    children are 25 % of our population but 35% of the poor - about 15 million.

    I am wondering which entitlements you think we should start with. Aid to dependent children. Special education (which is much more of a school program in inner city poverty areas). WIC - which is childhood nutrition and pregnant mothers. Food Stamps- which is now credit cards and can no longer be "sold". Public schools. Medicaid. (At least medicare people have contributed to for 30 years in order to benefit fully).

    Truly, I will have never used any of these programs. It will not affect of effect my well being. Can YOUR parish take up the slack of YOUR neighborhood?

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  2. Good work, Elena.

    JBO: The root of Jesus' instruction to assist the poor comes from personal caring. The government doesn't care about anybody. As a result, please consider the risky wisdom of giving the government the role in society that Jesus saw as a defining mark of His people.

    The government does not do charity more effectively than private organizations and people. But it's a great way to marginalize the role of religion in public life.

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  3. Thanks Bryan. I can't add much more to your comment.

    I will say though that it's time to look at some of these programs very critically and cut the ones that just aren't effective and meeting their goals.

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  4. Which ones- that is the ultimate question. Again- is YOUR parish ready to care for YOUR neighborhood?

    I don't know where you live Bryan- but in the United States the government IS the people. We are a representative republic.

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  5. I don't know which ones Janette. I think each program would have to stand or fall on its own merits. And actually I think the parishes around me are already doing a great job of helping on the hunger front.

    Yes, we are a representative republic. That's what the mid term elections and the Republican sweep were all about.

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  6. Oh and Janette - where is the documentation I have been asking for?

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  7. The government is the people applies about like the church is the people. We both know that in real life most churches have a small handful that do most of the work while the bulk fill the pews on the day or worship and little more. It's the same with government. There is a professional class (typically unionized) that is employed to perform the duties of government, including ministering to the poor. And you'll find in rare that the ACLU will allow a government worker to give a person food or drink in Jesus' name.

    Many in the 21st century church appear ready to repeat the error of Pietism from the beginning of the 20th century. Don't confuse government-provided assistance with spiritual charity until the head of the government is the Lord himself. And my advice is to discourage the government from squeezing the church out of doing one of its most effective tools of witness.

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  8. I'm not looking up any documentation for you El. You are the minutia person- I gave you the links to the encyclicals. I listen to my conservative pastor and he says the same thing as your pastor. He is the one that gave the social encyclical links. Have you asked your Bishop--- or a very conservative Bishop---on his stand about safety nets? Not those people on TV who are selling you stuff- actual working Bishops with a flock.

    Again- I have no problem with most- if not all of these programs being cut. Flat tax. 10% Spending in the only places that the government is supposed to spend- national defense and inter state commerce.

    My family is safe. Those who are in financial trouble are either covered by wealthy relatives or members of the LDS church. Almost everyone has downsized properly. My grandson is well. It will be easy to homeschool him and any other children God grants my two children. We are both healthy. Your parents are dead and my mother has plenty- and is well insured. My son and son in law both have excellent skill sets- and if worse comes to worse- we have plenty of land that has been fallow in the heartland (and my son in law's family has a large farm-which he will inherit). Your family has land by the shore of a lake.

    I am slowly learning that the stance of the conservative Catholics is "let it roll". I don't understand it--but it works for me- financially. Just go to church- receive Communion and then do whatever feels good for my family as long as I don't break the actual commandments. Got it. Sort of the Pharisees thing---forget the guy on the side of the road when it comes to federal dollars. he doesn't deserve it- he can figure out which closed Catholic hospital he can get help in.

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  9. You're not looking it up because you already know that you will not find anything to hold against me. There is nothing in Catholicism that states that I must believe that government is the best solution, the most effective solution and basically the only solution to helping the poor. Therefore, I am perfectly free to look at the results in the US over the last 50 years and question whether all of the time and money poored into it was the best use of our talents and treasure.

    Therefore Janette, unless you care to find something that says otherwise you can refrain from further ad hominen attacks in that regard or risk having them removed.

    The conservative Catholic stance as I understand it is that we have very limited resources and we have to become the best stewards possible of those resources. I have never heard a bishop or a pastor say "just do what feels good for your family" ever. In fact we are encouraged to reach out and help. But that's not the same thing as unchecked taxation to grow more government bureaucracy.

    And about that guy on the side of the road - don't assume that he has never been given a handout or a hand up. We also have freedom in this country.

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