Charles and David Koch, brothers and the oil barons who are already shaping the 2014 midterm elections according to recently leaked audio recordings, are often portrayed as environmentally responsible advocates of the free-market that are unfairly targeted by Democrats. However, their political influence, which benefits the fossil fuel industry and their own bottom line, is unparalleled.
In response to a New York Times report about General Mills' new anti-consumer legal terms connected to its website privacy policies, Forbes came to the defense of the large corporation and its recent attempt to immunize itself from class action lawsuits.
On April 16, The New York Times reported that General Mills had changed its legal terms to include burdensome forced arbitration clauses, contract provisions that force consumers to waive their right to sue or join a class action. In the aftermath of the high-profile publicity and condemnation from consumer advocacy groups, General Mills abandoned the change after complaining their short-lived class action bans were "mischaracterized."
Forced arbitration clauses have become increasingly popular in the wake of Supreme Court decisions upholding the legality of such clauses. Unsurprisingly, forced arbitration is beloved by right-wing media and corporations alike, because they make it exceedingly difficult for injured consumers to join together in a class action.
However, General Mills' forced arbitration agreement was particularly outrageous. According to the Times, the new terms could be interpreted to bind consumers by merely downloading coupons, interacting with the company's website through social media like Facebook, or by entering a sweepstakes or contest, even if they were unaware that they had supposedly relinquished their right to sue.
In a recent column in Forbes, columnist Daniel Fisher responded to the Times by minimizing the importance of class actions as a method of recovery for injured consumers, and hyped forced arbitration clauses as an adequate alternative. Fisher went on to mock the Times for flawed reporting before relying on right-wing talking points about forced arbitration:
The bigger issue is what the Times writers work so strenuously to keep out of their stories. The fight here isn't over individual lawsuits; it's over class actions, those cases that reward lawyers with millions of dollars in cash fees and give their clients little to nothing. In editorials and articles like this, the Times carries water for the class-action bar, which also happens to supply a significant amount of money to the Democratic Party each year. The paper conflates the individual right to sue with the right of lawyers to assemble huge groups of consumers, typically without their knowledge or participation, into zombie armies that can compel companies into settling on lucrative terms.
What do General Mills customers really give up if they agree to an arbitration clause?
[A]rbitration does offer some advantages over traditional litigation. Such as: No lawyer would ever take a small case against General Mills in the first place. The General Mills policy specifies a $200 filing fee, which the company waives in cases involving less than $5,000. And anybody who really wants to preserve his right of jury trial can opt out of the policy entirely by notifying General Mills in writing.
The desert tortoise has become a symbolic scapegoat for right-wing media figures running defense for an anti-government cattle rancher who's threatening to wage a range war against federal law enforcement officers.
Conflict has erupted in Nevada between the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the family and supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy, a man who has refused multiple court orders to remove his cattle from public land. Bundy has stated that he does not recognize federal law and in fact argued in court in 1998 that the United States government didn't own the land in question (he lost). Now BLM officers and contract cowboys have begun confiscating Bundy's herd. And the scofflaw rancher has emerged as a right-wing folk hero after repeatedly stating that he owns firearms and is willing to "do whatever it takes to gain our liberty and freedom back."
At the center of the controversy -- according to right-wing media figures -- is the formerly endangered (and still threatened) desert tortoise. When Bundy's grazing rights were modified by BLM in 1993, it was in part to protect the species, which inhabits the same publicly-owned desert areas trodden by Bundy's cattle and was at the time on the brink of extinction.
That's where the connection to the tortoise ends, however. In 1993, Bundy began refusing to pay grazing fees required by the new rules. This led to an escalating series of reprisals from the judicial system that culminated in an order to confiscate Bundy's cattle in order to repay $1 million in fines and fees that over 20 years later remained unpaid. The current enforcement has less to do with protecting the tortoise, and more to do with Bundy's refusal to comply with the law or recognize the legitimacy of the federal government.
Nevertheless, right-wing supporters of Bundy's stand have tried to pin the conflict on the tortoise and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which is being depicted in negative terms ranging from being dismissed as irrelevant and economically harmful to becoming the basis for conspiracy theories about unlawful land grabs by Big Government.
On Fox, the situation afforded the network the opportunity to perpetuate the conservative narrative that the ESA unjustly puts the rights of wildlife above the rights of people. One host declared, "We're not anti-turtle, but we are pro-logic and tradition." His co-host sarcastically (and inaccurately) described the government's position as "get the cows off so they can have the desert tortoise live there in peace."
David Blackmon, a Forbes contributor, penned a piece titled, "Using Snipers To Protect A Tortoise." (It's since been taken down, but cached here). In it, Blackmon argued that protecting the desert tortoise was merely a pretext being used by the government "with the clear expectation of running the Bundys off the land entirely."
As evidence that the protection of the tortoise is a scam, some in conservative media have pointed to the Bureau of Land Management itself, claiming it's been euthanizing tortoises and/or "planting" them in the desert in order to make a case that they're endangered.
In fact, a BLM tortoise conservancy in Nevada was forced to shut down due to budget cuts. Prior to its closure, the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center had to make the difficult decision to put down the tortoises that carried disease or were too feeble to survive on their own. The others were released back into the wild.
But despite how real the concerns about the future of desert tortoise may be, the reality is that the right-wing media is simply providing cover to a rancher who refuses to obey the law.
Conservative media figures have sharply criticized the recent push by Democratic politicians to alleviate poverty and reduce economic inequality. However, most of this criticism is grounded in a number of myths about the causes, effects, and importance of growing economic inequality in the United States.
Forbes recently hyped the American Tort Reform Association's (ATRA) annual "Judicial Hellholes" report, but failed to mention that the report's attempt at methodology is anecdotal and highly suspect.
This is not the first time members of the right-wing media have cheered ATRA's Judicial Hellholes report, which aims to point out the jurisdictions that are the "worst" when it comes to allowing lawsuits to proceed. Last year, a Wall Street Journal editorial board writer called the report the "Oscars" of "abusive class actions."
In his December 16 article, Forbes writer Daniel Fisher called the report "an entertaining read" and minimized legitimate criticisms of ATRA's "hellhole" selection process:
News flash: Madison, County, Ill. is no longer the nation's worst place for corporations to find themselves in court.
California took top honors in the American Tort Reform's annual "Judicial Hellholes" list, an unashamedly pro-defendant look at the nation's judicial system. The Golden State won for the welcoming stance its courts take toward consumer class actions -- particularly against food companies -- and rampant lawsuits targeting small businesses over disability-access rules.
A dozen or so law firms, many of them veterans of the tobacco litigation jackpot, have filed 75 class actions against food companies in California and similar cases are running almost one a week, ATRA reports. Many involve the same plaintiffs and take advantage of the state's stringent laws to target companies like Chobani and Trader Joe's with claims that they mislabeled products -- for example, using the term "evaporated cane juice" instead of "sugar."
Critics may say, with justification, that ATRA is financed by businesses with a strong profit motive to cut down on such litigation. But these lawsuits aren't without cost: ATRA says California consumers paid at least part of the cost of $33.5 billion in settlements in 2013 alone. And, as I have reported elsewhere, studies cast strong doubt on the idea that consumers get anything of value out of class actions supposedly brought in their name.
Unlike the Journal's positive take on the "Judicial Hellholes" report from last year, Fisher at least points out some of its flaws -- namely that it's underwritten by corporations that don't want to pay to defend themselves in court. But Fisher seems far more concerned with the amount of money these companies spend on litigation than he is with the very real harm corporate wrongdoers cause. According to the Center for Justice & Democracy, many of ATRA's members are Fortune 500 companies, including "representatives of the tobacco, insurance, chemical, auto, and pharmaceutical companies" -- all industries with a history of questionable business practices.
Forbes columnist John Tamny's declaration on The Daily Show that food stamps are "cruel" and would be replaced by private charity if people were "literally starving" with "distended bellies" is in keeping with his past remarks on the program -- In his regular role as a Fox panelist, Tamny has lamented that food stamp recipients are not publicly shamed and embarrassed for receiving the benefits.
On the December 17 edition of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, Forbes columnist Tamny spoke to correspondent Jessica Williams about the $5 billion recently cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as food stamps). Tamny told Williams, "If I were in control, I would abolish SNAP all together. I think food stamps are cruel." He added, "I don't think anyone is happy if they're reliant on someone else, if they're taking a handout."
Tamny argued that if people were "literally starving," a "massive outpouring of charity" would "make up for that fact":
WILLIAMS: What does literally starving look like?
TAMNY: This is going to come off the wrong way, but I guess it's where people have literally distended bellies where they're getting almost nothing. We don't hear about the poor in this country starving on the streets.
He went on to deny that the food stamp program keeps people from starving.
Multiple media outlets have targeted young Americans in an attempt to spread misinformation and myths about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), claiming that coverage is too expensive, the ACA provides too much coverage to young adults, and that Millennials are better off not signing up for coverage, despite vast evidence showing that young people both need and want coverage under the ACA.
Media coverage of nuclear power often suggests that environmentalists are illogically blocking the expansion of a relatively safe, low-carbon energy source. However, in reality, economic barriers to nuclear power -- even after decades of subsidies -- have prevented the expansion of nuclear power. While nuclear power does provide meaningful climate benefits over fossil fuels, economic factors and the need for strict safety regulations have led many environmentalists to focus instead on putting a price on carbon, which would benefit all low-carbon energy sources including nuclear.
In the weeks leading up to the release of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change's (IPCC) fifth assessment report summarizing climate science on Monday, conservative media have spread a variety of myths about the process, credibility and findings of the group. Contrary to misinformation, the report reflects that scientists are more convinced than ever that manmade climate change is real and dangerous.
In the four years since the minimum wage was last raised, right-wing media have forwarded a number of myths to prevent any possible increase in the future, which often directly contradict economic evidence.
A review of claims made by the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels over the last quarter century shows that he has repeatedly been proven wrong over time. Michaels is one of a few contrarian climate scientists who is often featured in the media without disclosure of his funding from the fossil fuel industry.
Forbes contributor Jerry Bowyer relied on shoddy logic and baseless assertions to attempt to debunk the well-supported claim that marriage equality has a variety of economic benefits.
In his July 4 blog post - touted by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) - Bowyer claimed that the Supreme Court's recent marriage equality decisions would hurt businesses by adding to "paperwork" for same-sex couples:
One of the most frequently cited arguments is that a pro-same sex marriage ruling would cut down on paperwork. But the problems with this are numerous. First of all, in a situation where some states have same sex marriages and some don't, it seems like a new marriage category adds to the paperwork. So, the argument only applies to a ruling which forces same sex marriage on all the states, which was not one of the real world scenarios which were addressed before the courts.
In anticipation of President Barack Obama's announcement of measures to reduce carbon emissions, conservative media outlets are once again attempting to cast doubt on the science behind climate change. But despite their claims, a substantial majority of scientists acknowledge the evidence that the earth is warming largely due to human activity.
Forbes magazine's coverage of a Supreme Court case that sharply limits consumers' and small businesses' rights focuses on a supposed victory over trial lawyers, ignoring its impact on enforcement of federal statutory rights.
On June 20, the Supreme Court released its opinion in American Express v. Italian Colors Restaurant. In a sharply divided opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court ruled that class-action waiver provisions in arbitration clauses are enforceable even when denying plaintiffs the right to proceed as a class would make it functionally impossible to litigate to protect their rights under federal law.
Although consumer advocates, 22 states led by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, the United States, and even arbitration professors wrote briefs to urge the Court to protect consumers' ability to vindicate their federal statutory rights, Forbes chose to characterize Am Ex as a case about plaintiffs' attorneys' business model:
Class-action lawyers took a major hit to their business strategy today at the U.S. Supreme Court when a conservative majority led by Justice Antonin Scalia rejected an antitrust lawsuit against American Express [...] on behalf of thousands of merchants.
Class-action opponents say the procedure itself has become hopelessly corrupt, with lawyers pursuing claims with the main objective of negotiating a settlement that returns their "clients" pennies but generates meaningful fees for themselves.
With this decision, the justices in the conservative majority made it clear which side they're on.
The case involves a claim by small businesses, led by Italian Colors - an Oakland, California-based restaurant--that American Express's policy of requiring merchants to accept all of its cards violated federal antitrust laws. Pursuing antitrust claims is so expensive that the cost of arbitrating cases individually would exceed what plaintiffs could recover. However, to accept American Express cards, businesses must agree to waive their right to pursue claims against the company through class actions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that a class-action waiver would not be enforced where doing so would prevent a plaintiff from vindicating its rights under federal antitrust laws.
In a stunning blow for plaintiffs and consumers, the Supreme Court reversed this decision. Justice Scalia acknowledged that the Court might refuse to enforce an explicit waiver of statutory rights, writing
As we have described, the exception [to the requirement that class action waivers are enforceable] finds its origin in the desire to prevent "prospective waiver of a party's right to pursue statutory remedies," Mitsubishi Motors, supra, at 637, n. 19 (emphasis added). That would certainly cover a provision in an arbitration agreement forbidding the assertion of certain statutory rights.
Although he agreed that an explicit agreement not to enforce antitrust laws might be invalid, Scalia nonetheless closed the courthouse door to plaintiffs whose agreement effectively immunized corporate defendants:
But the fact that it is not worth the expense involved in proving a statutory remedy does not constitute the elimination of the right to pursue that remedy.
In plain English, that means it's okay if the rules make it impossible to win as long as they don't make it impossible to play.
First, if the Court embraces Petitioners' position and severs the link between arbitration and effective vindication of rights, statutes intended by Congress to protect weaker parties against stronger parties will essentially be gutted. Small businesses might as well move to a different country where they no longer enjoy the protection of the antitrust laws. At the whim of an employer, workers could be required to prospectively waive their Title VII rights. Consumer protection laws such as the Truth in Lending Act could be silently, but inescapably, repealed by corporations with the stroke of a pen.
Forbes gave short shrift to its implications for real consumers, choosing instead to style the issue as a battle between powerful lawyers and big corporations. Taking advantage of pro- corporate Supreme Court decisions, corporations are increasingly forcing consumers to accept class-action waivers. If you purchase a cruise ticket, a car, or a cell phone contract, chances are you are subject to a class-action waiver too.
Now, under the Supreme Court ruling, those corporations who forced you to forego your rights could be immunized from liability for violating the law.
Justice Elena Kagan summarized that outcome in her dissent:
The monopolist gets to use its monopoly power to insist on a contract effectively depriving its victims of all legal recourse. And here is the nutshell version of today's opinion, admirably flaunted rather than camouflaged: Too darn bad.
The right wing media's promotion of a widely-debunked Alex Jones conspiracy theory about the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) ammunition acquisitions prompted House Republicans to hold a hearing to investigate. The theory, which assigns some sinister motivation behind the recent ammo purchases, first gained traction on the websites of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones before finding its way to Fox News and Fox Business and finally to the halls of Congress.
On April 25, Republican Reps. Jim Jordan (OH) and Jason Chaffetz (UT) held a joint hearing "to examine the procurement of ammunition by the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General." The hearing followed right wing media reports speculating about the reasons for the acquisitions.
The conspiracy theory picked up steam in March 2012 after a series of reports were posted to Alex Jones' InfoWars.com, including one that claimed "it's not outlandish" to conclude that the government, "is purchasing the bullets as part of preparations for civil unrest." An opinion piece at The Daily Caller cited the reports to suggest that the Obama administration is planning to kill thousands of American citizens. The DHS purchases were brought up on Fox News, prompting Fox and Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade to ask, "why they need all those bullets." And while covering the story, Fox Business host Lou Dobbs wondered why the government was "arming up" while trying to "disarm American citizens."
Forbes contributor Ralph Benko wrote that "It's Time For A National Conversation," and called for Congressional action:
If Obama doesn't show any leadership on this matter it's an opportunity for Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, to summon Secretary Napolitano over for a little national conversation. Madame Secretary? Buying 1.6 billion rounds of ammo and deploying armored personnel carriers runs contrary, in every way, to what "homeland security" really means.
Reps. Jordan and Chaffetz answered that call.
As Media Matters has previously noted, the claim that DHS is stockpiling ammunition for some ominous purpose is simply wrong. In reality, the Associated Press reported that while DHS did buy 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition, the government bought the bullets in bulk to save money on ammunition used in training and in the field. As the AP noted, "More than 90 federal agencies and 70,000 agents and officers used the department's training center last year." On a separate occasion, Media Matters reported that DHS responded that ammunition purchases are lower than in previous years and that while the law allows DHS to set purchase contracts of billions of rounds in order to reduce prices and save money, the government hasn't actually purchased nearly that many rounds.
Alex Jones, who has called President Obama the "global head of Al Qaeda," and claimed that the terrorist attacks in Boston, New York City, and Oklahoma City were carried out or sponsored by the government, has gained influence with the right wing media. Recently, Drudge Report's Matt Drudge promised that 2013 would be "year of Alex Jones."
UPDATE: The hearing on Alex Jones' conspiracy theory inspired new legislation that's now before Congress. On April 26, U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK) introduced bills in both chambers of Congress in order to limit federal agencies from stockpiling ammunition. From Inhofe's statement (emphasis added):
"President Obama has been adamant about curbing law-abiding Americans' access and opportunities to exercise their Second Amendment rights," said Inhofe. "One way the Obama Administration is able to do this is by limiting what's available in the market with federal agencies purchasing unnecessary stockpiles of ammunition. As the public learned in a House committee hearing this week, the Department of Homeland Security has two years worth of ammo on hand and allots nearly 1,000 more rounds of ammunition for DHS officers than is used on average by our Army officers. The AMMO Act of 2013 will enforce transparency and accountability of federal agencies' ammunition supply while also protecting law-abiding citizens access to these resources."