Monday, October 10, 2016

Reality check on the second presidential debate

CNN has done a detailed fact-check on some of the more important and outlandish assertions made in last night's presidential candidate debate between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton (yes, that old American election thing is still going on, bored to tears with it as we are). Bear in mind that this is not some partisan Democratic hatchet job, but a report by a respected American news outlet.
In a gloves-off, no holds barred slanging match, some pretty loose and lurid statements were bandied around by both candidates during the debate, and Mr. Trump repeatedly gel back on his favourite attack ploy: the schoolboy taunt of "liar, liar".
But just how do the assertions of the two candidates stand up to scrutiny?

Hilary Clinton's claims:
  • Obamacare has meant that 90% of Americans now have health insurance of some kind. In fact, a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey shows that the percentage is actually 91.4%. CNN verdict: True.
  • The hacking of Democratic Convention emails this summer was orchestrated by the Russians, and intended to benefit Trump's presidential campaign. In fact, National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security have indeed fingered Russian agents as responsible for the hacks, but aspersions that the intention was to boost Trump at the expense of the Democrats merely speculative. CNN verdict: True (as regards Russian involvement) and probably False (as regards the underlying intentions).
  • During Bill Clinton's presidency, Americans (and especially African-Americans) enjoyed substantially improved economic prosperity and reduced unemployment. In fact, between 1992 and 2000, African-American incomes increased by 31.5% (close to the 33% figure Ms. Clinton quoted) compared to an increase of 13.9% for Americans as a whole. CNN verdict: True.
  • Trump's plans would end up increasing the taxes of middle-class families, despite his claims to be cutting taxes for everyone. In fact, a detailed analysis done by a former member of President Obama's National Economic Council (and checked by conservative Tax Foundation) suggests that, while Trump's tax plan may reduce average tax burdens, around 25 million poor and middle-class families (especially single mothers, and those with young children) would see their tax burden increased. CNN verdict: True.
  • During his campaign, Trump has insulted many different groups, including women, immigrants, blacks, Latinos, people with disabilities, Muslims and POWs, never once apologizing. In fact, Trump is on public record as insulting all of these groups and more. CNN verdict: True.
Donald Trump's claims:
  • Under Obama care, health premiums are going up by "astronomical" amounts like 68%, 59% and 71%. In fact, while the odd insurance company may be calling for increases of this nature, the average increase requested is just 9%, and 2016's average premium increase was just 2%. CNN verdict: True But Misleading.
  • Canadians go to the US for major operations because the Canadian health system is so slow and waiting times are so high. In fact, about 52,000 Canadians travelled outside the country for operations in 2014 (the latest figures available, according to CNN), the majority probably to the US, but this only represents a tiny percentage of the 35 million population. Actually, The Fraser Institute's figures for 2015 show a substantial fall to about 45,000, and the organization's methodology has been much criticized anyway. CNN verdict: True But Misleading.
  • Clinton wants a single-payer government-run health insurance system. In fact, Clinton has clearly said all along that she sees the government system as just one choice alongside private health insurance providers. CNN verdict: False.
  • Clinton's 2008 Democratic leadership campaign was the source of the controversial picture of Obama in traditional Somali garb. In fact, the original source of the photo was never fully disclosed, and the Clinton campaign organization quickly distanced itself from the photo, which was not part of its authorized campaign. CNN verdict: It's Complicated.
  • Clinton's deleting of 39,000/35,000/33,000 emails while Secretary of State was inexcusable. In fact, Ms. Clinton admits to deleting 32,000 emails, and handing another 30,000 over to the Department of State when asked. About 5,600 of the 15,000 deleted emails that have been retrieved and reviewed were probably in some way work related. CNN verdict: False (as regards the numbers) and True (as regards Clinton's downplaying of their work-related aspect).
  • Trump will be able to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton's actions regarding the deleted emails. In fact, the Attorney General could appoint a special prosecutor if he or she believed that there was a good chance of criminal charges sticking, but that remains rather doubtful. However, Trump as President could technically force the AG to do so, although only by threatening to remove him or her from office if they refused. CNN verdict: True.
  • Ex-President Bill Clinton lost his license to practise law, and had to pay $850,000 in damages to Paula Jones. In fact, Bill Clinton's Arkansas law license was suspended for a period after the Monica Lewinsky hearings, and he did have to pay out $850,000 to Paula Jones as the result of a later hearing. CNN verdict: True.
  • If Trump had been President, the USA would not have gone into Iraq in 2003, and Captain Khan would not have lost his life. In fact, Trump publicly declared his support for a US invasion of Iraq both before and after the decision was made in 2002, and only changed his mind on the issue later, in 2004. CNN verdict: False.
  • Clinton plans to raise "everyone's taxes massively". In fact, she has proposed a tax hike only on the top 1% of Americans, i.e. those earning over $250,000 a year, and everyone else will not be affected. CNN verdict: False.
  • Syrian President Assad, Russia and Iran are all "killing ISIS" while American troops stand on the sidelines. In fact, both the Assad regime and Russia are concentrating their strikes on anti-government (and often US-backed) rebel groups, only some of whom are also coincidentally working against ISIS. There is also little evidence that Iran has been targeting ISIS is Syria, although they have been of some limited use in Iraq. CNN verdict: False.
  • Muslim-Americans don't cooperate with American law enforcement and anti-terrorism agencies. In fact, there is no evidence that any Muslims were aware of and withheld informational after the San Bernardino shootings, as Trump claims. Indeed, a University of North Carolina study concludes that, since 9/11, Muslims within the USA have been more effective in providing information on terrorist activities than government security forces have. CNN verdict: False.
  • Neither Hilary Clinton nor President Barack Obama are willing to publicly use the phrase "radical Islamic terrorism", which Trump insists is the first step in dealing with the problem. In fact, Clinton is not averse to using the phrase where it is merited, although President Obama is more reticent, warning that a fixation with labels can sometimes be a distraction from the real issues involved. CNN verdict: False (in the case of Clinton) and True (in the case of Obama).
  • Clinton has used her time in office to earn $250 million. In fact, Hilary Clinton has made about $21.6 million from speeches and appearances made since she stopped her job as Secretary of State in 2013. Even together with her even higher-paid husband, this figure is in the region of $150 million, and their joint income from all sources is estimated to be around $230 million, most of it attributable to Bill Clinton. CNN verdict: False.
  • As a Senator, Clinton failed to bring 200,000 jobs to upstate New York as she had promised to do. In fact, as Senator from 2001 to 2008, which coincided with the start of the Great Recession, employment rates in upstate New York did fall slightly, as indeed they did in most of the rest of the country, although some areas did see some improvement. CNN verdict: Mostly True.
  • The USA had an almost $800 billion trade deficit last year. In fact, the country had a $763 billion deficit in the international trade of physical goods last year, but a $262 billion surplus in services, yielding an overall trade deficit of about $500 billion. CNN verdict: False.
So, the score? Well, that is probably not the best way to look at it, but suffice to say that Donald Trump made many more unsubstantiated claims than did Hilary Clinton. And this list does not include a whole host of other iffy Trump claims, like that he never said that Japan should have nuclear weapons, that Arab-Americans were seen partying on the afternoon of 9/11, that pallets of American money were seen being delivered to Iran, that Barack Obama (or possibly Hilary Clinton) was the founder of Islamic State, and many other such Trump delusions. All of this may go some way towards explaining the fact that, according to a CNN poll, 57% of voters polled thought that Clinton "won" the debate, compared to 34% who saw Trump as the winner.
Probably more to the point, though, is how many of the claims Trump aired - whether unsubstantiated or not - are believed by the gullible public. Many people will believe that if a politician is willing to stand up in front of millions of people and assert something, then it must surely be true. How little they know The Donald...

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