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Mon, June 17

Column: Let's look at the facts before we react

Facts are tricky. Several recent items make for good examples.

A letter to the editor from Jim McHood stated that only 15 percent of people describe themselves as liberal. That probably came from a Pew poll that says exactly that. Except it says an additional 6 percent identify as "very liberal." Why leave that out of the letter? Indeed, people identifying as conservative have liberals beat, but then there are 37 percent who don't identify as either. They identify as "moderate."

What does that mean in real world, and what do all those moderates do? It's a mixed bag. Last election we had voters electing Republicans while approving marijuana and gay marriage. Gallup finds more people identify as Democratic than Republican, and more independents lean that way, but then those independents are bigger than either party.

Mr. McHood's letter said that the public has never approved of Obamacare. This is perfect example of tricky facts. CNN finds that about one-third of those who disapprove are unhappy with it because they wanted the program to do more. If you combine them with those who approve, they outnumber those opposed. Oops.

The LA Times reported that police are getting killed in greater numbers. A closer look, though, shows that a lot of those are on-the-job accidents. The number of officers actually shot or otherwise murdered is a lot less, and remains fairly steady, despite our population growth. One death is too many, but the point could have been made using the real numbers. Why exaggerate?

County Attorney Shelia Polk had a column in the Arizona Republic defending how many people we keep in prison. She cited the high percentage who are either in for violent crimes or are repeat offenders. Sounds reasonable, but, wait, what was that about "repeat offenders"? So some might be people simply busted for pot a couple of times? Those numbers needed to be separated. We are fortunate to have Ms. Polk, but in this piece she ran her numbers together.

To balance my examples I looked through recent letters to the editor for ones that I disagreed with but which had good references. I thought I'd found that in Thomas Gatchell's letter, but following up the references didn't work out. He had two statements and links about Obamacare. One claimed the Congressional Budget Office said it was unsustainable. It had a link to a presentation but the link was broken. That happens. I did find a description of the presentation by the author of the talk. The description says Obamacare "will increase the federal budgetary commitment to health care," during its first decade, but that it "would reduce the federal budgetary commitment to health care in the following decade." It also says, "the legislation will reduce budget deficits," both in the short and long term. The author is concerned about sustainability but considers the law a positive step. Its economic effects "are steps in the direction of sustainable fiscal policy.

However, they are small steps."

Mr. Gatchell's other statement was about the cost of the Obamacare subsidy going up over years. The CBO document linked with it is to a general budget analysis. There is one line in a table that shows funding for the subsidy increasing, as you might expect for a program just ramping up. But that line is strictly showing outflow, not any of the offsetting receipts, deficit reduction, and health savings that the previous document referred to.

There is a line later in the document showing that, after counting pluses and minuses, the cost about doubles. That's for all health programs including Obamacare, children's health coverage, Medicare, etc. About half of the increase is for Medicare. But I'm not offering that as a complete analysis either. Tables of numbers are hard to interpret without knowing all the details. As the document says elsewhere, there are many additional factors to consider, such as, "significant growth in spending on retirement and health care programs caused by the aging of the population" and, "rising per capita health care costs." Some factors just are what they are.

You can't analyze every document behind every claim, so what can you do? Get your information from sources with opposing views. My typical daily news includes the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. If you like Fox TV news, then alternate it with NPR radio news. If you like studies from ProPublica.org or EPI.org on the left, then get the other side from Heritage.org. If you like Fox's website then go to ThinkProgress.org too. At least that way you increase your odds of getting an accurate picture.

Tom Cantlon is a local business owner and writer and can be reached at comments@ tomcantlon.com.

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