Fox News' Stuart Varney dishonestly hyped new data on the number of Americans receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to accuse beneficiaries of committing fraud to avoid finding a job. But experts agree that fraud in the SSDI program is low and there is no evidence Americans are faking their disabilities.
A May 21 Drudge Report headline proclaimed a "Record 10,999,447 On Disability and linked to a CNSnews.com article announcing that the total number of disability beneficiaries in the U.S rose in April "setting a new all-time record":
On Fox's America's Newsroom, Fox Business host Stuart Varney claimed the "explosion" in disability beneficiaries showed "America is becoming increasingly a welfare state. " Varney accused SSDI beneficiaries of committing fraud by taking the "disability option" supposedly where able-bodied individuals who can't find a job use SSDI "almost as an insurance policy against no income or no job":
VARNEY: During the Obama years we've gone from eight million people, just about eight million people claiming Social Security disability payments all the way up to nearly 11 million. That is a huge explosion in disability payments. Now a lot of people are taking what's called the disability option. They can't find a job. So they take -- they treat disability almost as an insurance policy against no income or no job. So you have got this explosion in disability payments. And Martha, we can't afford it.
Two points, number one, if we go on like this the Social Security disability trust fund, totally runs out of money by the end of 2016. That is not that far away. Number two, there's been an expansion in who qualifies for disability payments. Mental disorder is now acceptable. Mood disorder, or back pain. Now, that kind of opens the door to fraud because you can't really prove a lot of that. And plus, once you get disability, you're on it for a very long time because the virtually very little inspection process to figure out who is off the disability, who has recovered. So pretty much payment for life. We can't afford this
Conservative media are touting a video from the right-wing Media Research Center purporting to show that vendors at gun shows always refuse to sell firearms to felons and other disqualified persons and that legislation to expand the background check system is unnecessary. But according to prior undercover reports, when private sellers at gun shows were not aware they were on camera, a substantial portion agreed to sell guns to people they believed could not legally possess them.
Vendors who have a Federal Firearms License are required to perform background checks on their customers, but so-called private sellers who say they are not "engaged in the business" of selling firearms have no such requirement at gun shows in 33 states. This discrepancy has been termed the "gun show loophole" and is the reason narco-terrorists, illegal gun traffickers and other dangerous individuals seek out unregulated sales at gun shows. The most infamous use of the loophole is the 1999 Columbine High School massacre where all four guns involved were passed through a local gun show by private sellers.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has estimated between 25 and 50 percent of vendors at gun shows sell without a background check. Adding sales over the Internet and through newspaper classified adverts, a substantial proportion of firearms are transferred without a background check in the United States. Federal legislation to expand the background check system to cover private sales failed in the Senate last year.
Right-wing media hyped a misleading apples-to-oranges comparison to claim that the U.S. is at a "tipping point" in the "relationship between welfare and work."
On April 15, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed new statistics showed that "the number of people living on the government dole outnumbered full-time working women." Fox Business host Stuart Varney then claimed "welfare is replacing work" because in 2012, 46 million people collected Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps) and 44 million women worked full time. Varney cited SNAP benefits as "the classic example" of an "explosion in welfare payments outgoing from the government to individuals and a decline in work," which he attributed to the Obama administration "buying votes." Meanwhile, Fox displayed this graphic:
Other right-wing media sources highlighted the same supposedly "telling" numbers. CNS News posted a graphic comparing the number of women working full time to total SNAP beneficiaries and the Drudge Report also hyped the connection:
But these numbers can't be compared, as many working women fall into both categories.
In fact, because the majority of recipients are working-class Americans with jobs, senior citizens, or children, an increase in SNAP beneficiaries is an extremely unreliable predictor of the number of full-time workers, let alone evidence of a tipping point before a decline in overall employment. A 2013 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that the "overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so" (emphasis original):
The overwhelming majority of SNAP recipients who can work do so. Among SNAP households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving SNAP -- and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving SNAP. The rates are even higher for families with children -- more than 60 percent work while receiving SNAP, and almost 90 percent work in the prior or subsequent year.
The number of SNAP households that have earnings while participating in SNAP has been rising for more than a decade, and has more than tripled -- from about 2 million in 2000 to about 6.4 million in 2011. The increase was especially pronounced during the recent deep recession, suggesting that many people have turned to SNAP because of under-employment -- for example, when one wage-earner in a two-parent family lost a job, when a worker's hours were cut, or when a worker turned to a lower-paying job after being laid off.
A separate report from the USDA pointed out that in 2012, "75 percent of all SNAP households, containing 87 percent of all participants, included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled nonelderly person. These households received 82 percent of all SNAP benefits."
This latest attempt to cast the SNAP program as spurring unemployment ignores current economic reality. SNAP enrollment has risen as a result of the economic downturn. The Economic Policy Institute noted that "SNAP swelled because the economy entered the worst recession since the Great Depression and remains severely depressed even 18 months after the official recovery began." According to a 2012 report from the Congressional Budget Office, SNAP enrollment is projected to decline as the economy recovers:
The number of people receiving SNAP benefits will begin to slowly decline at the end of fiscal year 2014, CBO expects, reflecting an improved economic situation and a declining unemployment rate. Nevertheless, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits will remain high by historical standards, CBO estimates. That is partly because of a growing U.S. population and thus a greater number of potential SNAP participants.
Florida Watchdog.org, an offshoot of the Koch brothers-funded Watchdog.org, parroted right-wing media claims that Congress is receiving an "exemption" from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by receiving a "special subsidy" from the government for its health insurance. However, this zombie lie is not based in fact and is due to a Republican effort to politicize the implementation of the law.
Conservative media outlets are misrepresenting job estimates to suggest that a stimulus grant program for renewable energy projects has been a waste of taxpayer money. In fact, in just two years the program has supported up to 75,000 jobs and has propelled growth in the renewable energy industry.
Earlier this week, Congressional Research Service analyst Molly Sherlock testified before Congress on the jobs impact of the Sec. 1603 grant program, which was established by the Recovery Act to provide grants in-lieu of existing tax credits for renewable energy projects. Sherlock cited a recent analysis by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) which found that the projects that benefitted from the grant program have supported up to 75,000 direct and indirect jobs per year since it began in 2009, including construction jobs and long-term operations and maintenance jobs.
Based on NREL's figures, she estimated that the program itself has created 4,021 direct jobs per year, including 3,666 construction jobs and 355 ongoing operational jobs. Including indirect jobs, that number rises to as many as 31,000 jobs per year. Sherlock noted that these rough estimates "may understate actual job creation" because they don't factor in how many of the projects that received grants were motivated by the 1603 program.
But that didn't stop the right-wing media from cherry-picking data from her testimony to distort the success of the program. The Washington Free Beacon reported that the "Obama administration spent $10 billion to create 355 renewable energy jobs per year." Meanwhile, CNS News reported:
The Obama administration distributed $9 billion in economic "stimulus" funds to solar and wind projects in 2009-11 that created, as the end result, 910 "direct" jobs -- annual operation and maintenance positions -- meaning that it cost about $9.8 million to establish each of those long-term jobs.
This faulty math discounts thousands of direct construction jobs, let alone the tens of thousands of jobs created in supporting industries.
Rush Limbaugh's ugly attacks on Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke have centered on the idea that she -- and other women who think birth control should be covered by health insurance -- "wants all the sex in the world whenever she wants it, all the time, no consequences." For support, Limbaugh has referenced a CNS News blog post by CNS communications director Craig Bannister that's headlined "Sex-Crazed Co-Eds Going Broke Buying Birth Control, Student Tells Pelosi Hearing Touting Freebie Mandate."
The blog post obsessed about the cost of condoms and postulated that $3,000 -- the amount Fluke said some female Georgetown students pay for three years of birth control -- could buy enough condoms to have "sex 2.74 times a day, every day, for three straight years."
First of all, Fluke wasn't talking about condoms -- she was talking about birth-control pills. And when used as contraception, birth control pills must be taken regularly to be effective, regardless of how much sex the user is or isn't having.
As libertarian law professor Eugene Volokh noted on his blog:
The logic makes no sense. There's nothing substantive in common between being paid to have sex, and having contraceptives be provided by a health plan. (Would you call a man a gigolo because he uses a condom that he got for free from some university giveaway?) The allegation that somehow Ms. Fluke is "having so much sex" strikes me as misunderstanding the way birth control pills work: You have to take them all the time even if you're having sex only rarely, and even if you're having sex with only one person (I mention this because the implication seems to me that Ms. Fluke is being promiscuous).
Right-wing media are now resorting to mocking female university students' health care needs and their call that religiously affiliated colleges and universities provide access to contraceptives. But studies have found that numerous benefits (medical, social, and economic) exist in providing college-aged women -- the most vulnerable demographic for unintended pregnancies -- affordable access to contraception.
Since President Obama took office, the right-wing media have engaged in a smear campaign against Obama administration officials as well as people Obama has nominated for spots in the judiciary. This witch hunt has continued unabated in 2011.
Although the right-wing media are generally supportive of tax cuts, they often find themselves opposing them whenever they are proposed or supported by President Obama and Democrats. This is true of the proposal to extend an existing holiday on the payroll tax. The latest attack came from Fox Nation -- with an assist from CNSNews -- which mocked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as having "totally lost it" for comments she made about the payroll tax holiday and extension of unemployment insurance.
In a recent press briefing, Pelosi noted that independent estimates have shown that the two proposals "would make a difference of 600,000 jobs to our economy." On December 15, Fox Nation seized on a CNSNews article that reported her comments and linked to it with the following headline:
Matt Drudge is highlighting a headline from the conservative CNS News that reads: "Obama: 'I Don't Think Ethics' Was My Favorite Subject."
The problem is that the headline is totally misleading. Obama was discussing what he thought about an ethics class he took in eighth grade. He says that since then he has come to value the lessons he learned in that ethics class.
From the CNS article:
"I did not love every class I took. I wasn't always paying attention the way I should have," Obama said. "I remember when I was in 8th grade I had to take a class called ethics. Now, ethics is about right and wrong, but if you'd ask me what my favorite subject was back in 8th grade, it was basketball. I don't think ethics would have made it on the list."
Obama went on to tell the high school students that even though that 8th grade ethics class was not one of his favorites it did have a significant impact on his life -- and now inspires the way he acts as president.
"I still remember that ethics class, all these years later," Obama said. "I remember the way it made me think. I remember being asked questions like: What matters in life? Or, what does it mean to treat other people with dignity and respect? What does it mean to live in a diverse nation, where not everybody looks like you do, or thinks like you do, or comes from the same neighborhood as you do? How do we figure out how to get along?
"Each of these questions led to new questions," said Obama. "And I didn't always know the right answers, but those discussions and that process of discovery -- those things have lasted. Those things are still with me today. Every day, I'm thinking about those same issues as I try to lead this nation."
Big swing and a miss for Drudge.
Glenn Beck's The Blaze is stoking fears of a sinister plot aimed at "indoctrinating children" with the "overtly controversial stance" that global warming is man-made with free books and SpongeBob SquarePants:
On July 20, 2011, kids in the Washington, D.C. area were treated to free books during a special U.S. Department of Education event. Two of the books that were offered featured popular Nickelodeon characters as part of the network's "Big Green Help Series," a campaign encouraging children to help protect the Earth.
But one of these publications takes an overtly controversial stance, as it promotes the idea that global warming is a man-made problem that requires human intervention in order to be stemmed.
Of course, there should be nothing remotely controversial about the idea that humans are contributing to climate change. Countless scientific organizations and groups long ago moved past the notion that the concept is "controversial." The controversy exists only in the fevered imaginations of right-wing commentators, like those at The Blaze, where it has become a point of pride to deny a massive body of scientific research.
Hope springs eternal. Despite more than a year of fruitless digging, the right-wing media can't let go of their hope that Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan will be disqualified from hearing cases about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
Recently, conservative media have been hyping letters from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) as well as 49 other congressional Republicans seeking documents to determine if Kagan was involved with health care litigation during her time as solicitor general (the position she held immediately before being appointed to the Supreme Court).
Conservative media don't bother hiding the reasons for hoping that Kagan must be recused. As Judicial Watch head Tom Fitton wrote on BigGovernment.com, "The U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately settle the issue regarding whether or not Obama's socialist healthcare overhaul will be the law of the land. Everyone knows it. And if Elena Kagan is forced to recuse herself from hearing the case that will be one fewer dependably liberal vote on the Supreme Court for Obamacare."
In addition to Fitton's post on BigGovernment.com, HotAir.com's Ed Morrissey breathlessly hyped the 49 House members' letter, asking, "Did Elena Kagan mislead the Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation hearing when answering questions about her level of involvement in ObamaCare?" The Washington Times also hyped the same letter, as did Newsmax. And National Review Online blogger Carrie Severino and Glenn Beck's website TheBlaze.com hyped both the 49 House members' letter and Smith's letter.
But CNS News may take the cake for the most overwrought reaction. CNS reported that Smith had begun an "investigation" into whether Kagan had been involved in health care litigation as solicitor general. It subsequently had to append an "editor's note" to the article explaining that the House Judiciary Committee "requested a correction of the story" because Smith had not launched a "formal investigation" but had merely made a "request for addition information."
CNS's overreaction to Smith's letter to the Justice Department epitomizes the right-wing's campaign to have Kagan recuse herself from health care litigation. The right-wing media keeps demanding further inquiry into the issue of whether Kagan should recuse herself. The additional information shows that there is no reason for Kagan to recuse herself. But the right-wing media claims that all it needs is a little more information, and it will become clear that Kagan did recuse herself.
Below the fold is a brief recap of the right-wing media's recusal campaign so far.
Right-wing media have claimed that President Obama attacked Israel in his recent restatement of U.S. policy that a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 borders with agreed upon swaps. These criticisms follow a long series of falsehoods, distortions, and smears advanced by the right-wing media to claim that Obama and his administration are anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic.
Media conservatives attempted to discredit President Obama's speech on immigration before it even happened, launching a nonsensical attack on the location of Obama's speech -- El Paso, Texas -- to push the myth of immigrant violence. In fact, the location underscores how preposterous that myth is.
Criticizing Obama for holding the speech in El Paso, CNSNews wrote:
El Paso is across the border from Juarez, Mexico, a city where 3,111 civilians were murdered last year--more than in all of Afghanistan.
El Paso is one of nine Border Patrol sectors along the almost 2,000-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border, running from the Gulf Coast to the Pacific Ocean. Located directly across from the Mexican city of Juarez, it has been among the more dangerous border areas in recent years.
Fox Nation trumpeted the CNS piece, calling El Paso the "wrong town" for an immigration speech:
But what about the crime rate in El Paso, where the speech was actually held? It turns out that El Paso is one of the safest large cities in the nation. In fact, CQ Press rated El Paso the city with the lowest crime rate in the United States with a population of over 500,000 residents in 2010.
Indeed, El Paso actually illustrates the success of federal agents and local law enforcement in keeping violence from spilling over to the United States.
Terry Jeffrey, editor-in-chief of Media Research Center subsidiary CNSNews, takes the right's war on public school teachers a few steps further:
What Wisconsin ought to be debating is whether these public school teachers should keep their jobs at all.
Then every state ought to follow Wisconsin in the same debate.
It is time to drive public schools out of business by driving them into an open marketplace where they must directly compete with schools not run by the government or staffed by members of parasitic public employees' unions.
In addition to being less expensive and better than public schools at teaching math and reading, Catholic schools -- like any private schools -- can also teach students that there is a God, that the Ten Commandments are true and must be followed, that the Founding Fathers believed in both and that, ultimately, American freedom depends on fidelity to our Judeo-Christian heritage even more than it depends on proficiency in reading and math.
That's what at least some conservatives want to get out of their attacks on unions: The complete elimination of public schools. And Jeffrey is adamant that private schools not be regulated by states in any way: "the state shall not regulate the private schools, period." That means no oversight to make sure private schools are successfully educating children. Or to make sure they're providing safe conditions and sanitary facilities. Nothing. What could possibly go wrong?