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."
In a column for Forbes, the head of the Institute for Energy Research exaggerated the safety risks associated with wind power by including suicides, murders, and several other fatalities that have little to do with wind industry safety in order to misleadingly claim that the oil and gas is "one of the safest" industries.
Robert Bradley Jr., the CEO of the fossil fuel industry-funded Institute for Energy Research, claimed that wind turbines "present significant safety risks for humans," adding: "Since the 1970s, 133 fatalities have occurred on turbines -- that's a high figure considering the relatively small size of the wind sector." That figure comes from an anti-wind group whose list includes a wind plant construction worker shot during a protest against the plant, a wind turbine operator found hanging in an apparent suicide, a man who committed suicide after opposition to wind turbines on his land, a man that died while climbing a turbine for a class, a snowmobile hitting the fence around a wind farm construction site, and a "shirtless and shoeless" man electrocuted inside of a windmill.
More credible statistics show that in 2012 there were 12 wind industry deaths worldwide -- eight of which were in China where workplace safety standards are lax. In the U.S., the American Wind Energy Association has allied with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to train workers on fall, electrical, and crane hazards. By comparison, 1,384 people died in coal mine accidents in China last year, and sulfur pollution alone contributes to about 400,000 premature deaths in China annually.
Estimates of the number of deaths per terawatt hour based on data from the World Health Organization and occupational safety statistics have also found that fossil fuels contribute to far more deaths than wind energy:
In the wake of a milder-than-expected snowstorm, the president of the American Meteorological Society has batted aside claims that balky short-term weather forecasts undermine long-term climate models.
Last week, a snowstorm forecast for the Mid-Atlantic, the "Snowquester," petered out in some areas expected to be hit hard. The incident served as another reminder that, as the Washington Post's Jason Samenow explained, short-term weather prediction is difficult, and carries a certain pressure to arrive at "the bottom line" for the benefit of viewers without qualification or explanation of uncertainties (of which there are many).
You may already know how this next part goes: writing in Forbes, the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels suggested the "busted forecast" of the storm was actually a lesson that "Our "best science" can be wrong," and that in this sense there were "parallels with global warming." He allowed that this was a "statement of the human condition" -- presumably, rather than another example of scientists acting "Like lab rats that will do anything to keep the cocaine flowing." Unfortunately for a guy who invoked "The Natural" in his column, Michaels' logic was about as persuasive as that of a scout deciding that a .335 lifetime hitter may bat .111 the next few years based on a single 1-for-9 doubleheader.
Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, the president of the American Meteorological Society, wrote in an email to Media Matters that Michaels' argument indicates a "fundamental [...] misunderstanding of weather and climate models," an "apples vs. oranges comparison." Weather models try to predict the weather at a specific place and time, while climate models project the average of those weather events over a longer time period and larger area, which is more predictable.
Back to that baseball analogy: Minnesota Twins' first baseman Rod Carew went 0-for-5 on April 26, 1977. On the season, he hit .388, leading the league. Carew finished his 19-year career with a .329 average, about 1.6 hits for every 5 at-bats. Given all this, it would have been very hard to predict his performance in any one game -- but easier to predict how he would hit generally.
Shepherd added that the "somewhat bad" Snowquester forecast was being "cherry-picked" from several "great" recent weather forecasts.
Michaels is among the professional climate "skeptic" world's few actual climate scientists, and has been paid handsomely by the fossil fuel industry for this dubious distinction, but making such a fundamental mistake in his column further undermines his credibility.
A scientist who spearheaded findings of rising greenhouse gas emissions is rebuking a Forbes columnist who incorrectly claimed that temperatures have been "flat" to question the manmade causes of climate change.
Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data showed a dramatic rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in 2012. Pieter Tans, who heads NOAA's greenhouse gas measurement group, told AP that "The prospects of keeping climate change below" 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100, as world leaders agreed to do, "are fading away." He added that the carbon jump is "just a testament to human influence being dominant."
Rather than using the news to evaluate the costs associated with our addiction to fossil fuel and discuss the steps we must take to avert the worst consequences of climate change, James Taylor of the industry-funded Heartland Institute used it to deny science. Taylor claimed that global temperatures are "essentially the same today" as they were in 1995 despite a contemporaneous rise in carbon emissions, and that this was a "devastating rebuke to assertions that rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are causing a global warming crisis."
But Tans told Media Matters in an email that Taylor is "factually wrong" even using his short-term example -- 2012 was actually warmer than 1995 by about 0.16°C -- and that Taylor cherry-picked a date that had higher temperatures than surrounding years:
Taylor is factually wrong about the global temperature. According to the NASA GISS web site the year 1995 was 0.16 deg.C cooler than 2012. He could have compared to 1994 or 1996, in which case the difference from 2012 would have been 0.31 and 0.25 C cooler respectively. Therefore it makes sense to not compare individual years, but to take a 10-year smoothed average. In that case 1995 was cooler than 2012 by about 0.28 C. The second decimal depends a little on your smoothing technique.
In any case, long-term temperatures trends, a far more relevant indicator of climate change, aren't "flat" at all: each of the 12 years since the turn of the century have ranked among the 14 warmest on record. But Taylor obscured the long-term temperature rise by using a short period of data, as seen in this graphic from Skeptical Science:
A group named Donors Trust has been funneling far more money than ExxonMobil ever did to climate denial groups, but because the source of the funds remains largely hidden, the public has been unable to pressure the donations to stop as they did with Exxon. A small portion of Donors Trust's funding was recently revealed by the Center for Public Integrity, yet even that small portion has significant ties to the Koch brothers and other fossil fuel interests.
Between 2008 and 2011, Donors Trust doled out over $300 million in grants to what it describes as "conservative and libertarian causes," serving as "the dark money ATM of the conservative movement." Donors Trust enables donors to give anonymously, noting on its website that if you "wish to keep your charitable giving private, especially gifts funding sensitive or controversial issues," you can use it to direct your money.
One of the "controversial issues" that Donors Trust and its sister organization Donors Capital Fund have bankrolled is the campaign to cast doubt on the science of climate change and delay any government action to reduce emissions.* The following chart created by The Guardian based on data from Greenpeace shows that as ExxonMobil and the Koch Foundations have reduced traceable funding for these groups, donations from Donors Trust have surged:
Several of these organizations have sown confusion about the science demonstrating climate change. The Heartland Institute, which The Economist called the "world's most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change," received over $14 million from Donors Trust from 2002 to 2011, making up over a quarter of Heartland's budget. in 2010. In 2012, Heartland launched a billboard campaign comparing those that accept climate science to The Unabomber, Charles Manson, and Fidel Castro. Several corporate donors distanced themselves from the organization, but Donors Trust made no comment. Heartland removed the billboard soon afterward but refused to apologize for the "experiment."
Meanwhile, The Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) received over $4 million from Donors Trust from 2002 to 2011, accounting for over 45 percent of CFACT's budget in 2010. The highest-paid member of CFACT's staff is Marc Morano, who runs a website that pushes misleading attacks on climate science. Morano defended Heartland's billboard and said that climate scientists "deserve to be publicly flogged." Despite Morano's sordid background, CNN twice hosted him to "debate climate change and if it is really real" without disclosing that he has no scientific training and is paid by an industry-funded organization. CFACT lists the Forbes columns of Larry Bell, who calls global warming a "hoax," as "CFACT research and commentary." The organization is advised by several prominent climate misinformers, including Lord Christopher Monckton and Willie Soon.
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) has revealed the sources of approximately $18.8 million of Donors Trust's funding from 2008 to 2011, culled from Internal Revenue Service filings. That leaves over $281 million in anonymous funds during that period, assuming that the organization gives out approximately as much as it takes in each year.
While the individuals and corporations funding Donors Trust remain largely hidden, we know that at least five separate foundations connected to Koch Industries have given over $3.8 million to Donors Trust in recent years. Koch Industries, owned by brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, is the largest privately owned company in the U.S. and controls several oil refineries and pipelines.
China is reportedly set to impose a modest carbon tax, as well as effectively increase taxes on its coal industry. As the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases continues to take steps to curb climate change, the oft-repeated conservative argument that the U.S. can't act until China does becomes increasingly tenuous.
In 2011, the International Energy Agency warned that unless dramatic action is taken by 2017, it will be effectively impossible to meet the international commitment to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6°F) -- a goal that many nations said still would not be enough to guarantee their survival. Experts say that the longer we delay, the more it will cost to reach the target. In light of this, arguing that we can't work to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions until other nations agree to do the same could be seen as immoral.
But in recent years, it's also become nearly counterfactual: China has been taking steps, including investing more in clean energy than the U.S. and creating a long-term, comprehensive plan for expanding its renewable energy industries. Now this developing nation is set to put a price on carbon -- a move that most economists from across the ideological spectrum agree is one of the best ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions (along with cap-and-trade). Yet the U.S. -- a much wealthier nation -- is no closer to making such a move.
It is true that China will play a critical role in whether we are able to limit catastrophic climate change. In 2007, China overtook the U.S. as the largest contributor to global carbon emissions (although the U.S. still emits far more per person), and its emissions are expected to grow until at least 2030. If China goes through with plans to expand coal production, it will emit more carbon than any other planned energy project in the world. However, China has recently signaled that it will take steps to limit its coal consumption.
Conservative media outlets are claiming that a leaked draft of the UN climate panel's upcoming report undermines previous predictions of rapid warming driven by rising CO2 emissions. But scientists say these claims are "nonsense" and that the draft report only adds to the existing body of evidence that manmade climate change is a serious problem.
A draft of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fifth assessment report, due to be published in fall 2013, was leaked by Alec Rawls, a blogger who volunteered to review the report despite having no scientific expertise. In a blog post on Watts Up With That, Rawls claimed that the draft report contains a "game-changing admission" that galactic cosmic rays have significantly contributed to global warming, undermining the scientific consensus that climate change is driven by human activity. But experts say Rawls "completely misrepresented the IPCC report," noting that he ignored a paragraph that explicitly states there is "high agreement" among scientists that cosmic rays do not have a meaningful impact on global temperatures. Dr. Steve Sherwood -- a lead author of the chapter in question -- told Australia's ABC News that Rawls' claim is "ridiculous," adding: "we conclude exactly the opposite, that this cosmic ray effect that the paragraph is discussing appears to be negligible."
Furthermore, as Skeptical Science pointed out, even if cosmic rays did influence global temperatures, "they would currently be having a cooling effect." Dr. John Abraham of the Climate Science Rapid Response Team told Media Matters:
The IPCC report certainly was not saying the changes in the sun were causing the earth to warm. In fact, if the leaker was correct in his interpretation, the earth should be cooling right now!
But that didn't stop Investor's Business Daily from echoing his misinformation, claiming that the leaked draft "indicates the IPCC is actually admitting that a factor outside man's activities is playing a significant role in our climate." IBD quoted Rawls' claim that the section on cosmic rays "completely undercuts" the IPCC's conclusion that manmade climate change poses a significant threat, without noting that Rawls is not a scientist and has been thoroughly discredited.
Meanwhile, climate contrarian blogger Anthony Watts claimed to have discovered the real "bombshell" in the draft report: a chart comparing observed changes in global average surface temperatures with projections from the four previous IPCC reports. The chart indicates that early UN projections may have slightly overestimated warming because they did not take into account natural factors like solar forcing or aerosols, which tend to have a cooling effect. But the draft notes that "observations through 2010 generally fall well within the projections made in all of the past assessments."
Fox News regular Hans von Spakovsky used a recent U.S Court of Appeals decision striking down Michigan's affirmative action ban as an opportunity to denigrate the "modern 'civil rights' movement" and misrepresent the Sixth Circuit decision as "abusive activism." Contrary to von Spakovsky's claims in the National Review Online, the appellate decision that found the process behind the ban unconstitutional is based on U.S. Supreme Court precedent.
Repeatedly discredited von Spakovsky is infamous for continuously stressing in the right-wing media the prevalence of voter fraud, despite a dearth of evidence. On November 16, he took on equal protection jurisprudence in the National Review Online and criticized the "continued legal decay" of the Sixth Circuit appellate court and its "liberal activists." His scorn was in response to the recent decision of this federal court of appeals which - for the second time - declared that the 2006 Michigan ballot initiative that passed a constitutional amendment banning affirmative action was an unconstitutional restructuring of the state political process. As reported by SCOTUSblog's Lyle Denniston:
By imposing a total ban on any consideration of a race-based education policy, the main opinion said, the majority of voters who opposed affirmative action created a situation in which they not only had won on a policy point, "but rigged the game to reproduce [their] success indefinitely." Minorities are not guaranteed that they will win when they enter into political policy debates, the opinion stressed, but they must not be put at a special disadvantage in seeking policies that they favor and that will benefit them in particular.
The Circuit Court majority opinion, written by Circuit Judge R. Guy Cole, Jr., relied explicitly upon two Supreme Court rulings, both based on the same "political process" reasoning used by Judge Cole. The first was Hunter v. Erickson, a 1969 decision striking down a move by voters in Akron, Ohio, to change the city charter to make it much harder for city officials to adopt any housing policy to benefit racial minorities. The second was Washington v. Seattle School District No. 1, a 1982 decision striking down a voter-approved statewide law that bar the use of busing to achieve racially integrated public schools.
Other conservative media reporting has at least acknowledged that the ACLU and NAACP based their successful challenge to Michigan's ban - known as "Proposal 2" - on Supreme Court precedent. Forbes, although it wrote in opposition of the holding, recognized such precedent but theorized it "would probably be treated differently by the Supreme Court today" because there are likely four justices currently opposed to all affirmative action. Unfortunately, Forbes also misrepresented the opinion as holding "minority groups are entitled not just to equal protection under the laws, but special measures designed to correct past discrimination."
In fact, the winning argument and opinion explicitly did not turn on the constitutionality or "entitlement" of affirmative action, but rather on the restructuring of a state political process to the specific detriment of a racial minority. As reported by The New York Times:
[The decision] was not based on racial discrimination, but rather on a violation of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection. The ban, the court said, unfairly placed a special burden on supporters of race-conscious admissions policies.
People trying to change any other aspect of university admissions policies, the court said, had several avenues open: they could lobby the admissions committee, petition university leaders, try to influence the college's governing board or take the issue to a statewide initiative. Those supporting affirmative action, on the other hand, had no alternative but to undertake the "long, expensive and arduous process" of amending the state Constitution.
"The existence of such a comparative structural burden undermines the equal protection clause's guarantee that all citizens ought to have equal access to the tools of political change," said Judge R. Guy Cole Jr., writing for the majority.
Von Spakovsky, however, did not bother to analyze this reasoning or acknowledge Supreme Court precedent in his condemnation of the Sixth Circuit's "duplicitous legal reasoning." Instead, he summarily relied on the dissent's assertion that the holding was an "extreme extension" of civil rights law and concluded:
The Sixth Circuit's decision shows just how far the modern "civil rights" movement and their supporters in the judiciary have gone in adopting the arguments and actions of the discriminators and segregationists of prior generations. Their support for racial discrimination makes them indistinguishable.
Conservative media outlets are praising Mitt Romney's newly released energy plan, claiming it will lower gas prices, create jobs, and "make America an energy superpower." But experts say Romney's goal of energy independence by 2020 is a "pipe dream" and that his plan overlooks environmental consequences and fails to address the real obstacle to U.S. energy security: our dependence on oil.
As automakers are starting to bring electric vehicle (EV) technology into the mainstream, conservative media outlets have repeatedly misled consumers about electric cars by trying to paint them as environmentally harmful and unsafe, among other false claims.
As many faith leaders have recognized, climate change presents a massive ethical challenge since those least responsible for global warming are among the most vulnerable to its consequences, including water scarcity, climate-sensitive diseases, and sea level rise. Yet in response to the recent international climate talks, conservative media outlets are mocking developing countries for seeking adaptation assistance, saying they just want to "cash in" on "climate gold."
Anonymous hackers recently released another batch of emails taken from a climate research group at the University of East Anglia in 2009, along with a document containing numbered excerpts of purportedly incriminating material. Many of these selections have been cropped in a way that completely distorts their meaning, but they were nonetheless repeated by conservative media outlets who believe climate change is a "hoax" and a "conspiracy."
In an August 4 post titled "If On The Dole Why Do You Still Get To Go To The Poll?" Forbes columnist Bill Flax wrote, "Before we devolve into a Third World dictatorship where the mob denies the liberties of losing minorities we ought to ponder several potential solutions." His list of suggestions:
- A basic literacy assessment;
- A non-partisan test ensuring competency of basic constitutional principles;
- A stake in the community reflected by property, employment or other measures;
- Restrict the franchise to lessen conflicts of interest regarding state employees, lobbyists, contractors, etc.;
- Surrender one's voting privileges when seeking public assistance.
The rest of Flax's post touched on familiar right-wing falsehoods: half of Americans don't pay taxes; fighting poverty is a waste of money; the poor in America aren't really poor because they can buy appliances.
As a reminder, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 banned the institution of "basic literacy assessment[s]" and other "voting qualifications or prerequisites" based on race. Apparently, Flax thinks it's OK to discriminate against people based on their jobs -- public employees -- or economic status -- the recipients of "public assistance" -- by removing their ability to vote.
Though Flax's suggestion that voting rights should be rolled back came in a blog post, his writing is also published in Forbes magazine.
Flax's bio says he "live[s] in Cincinnati, Ohio and work[s] in the banking industry." Last year, he had a book published called The Courage to Do Nothing: A Moral Defense of Markets and Freedom. The back cover says, "Read The Courage to do Nothing to learn economic truths ignored by the cultural elites determined to change America into a European-style socialist boondoggle."
"Has a central tenant [sic] of global warming just collapsed?" That's the first sentence of a July 29 Fox News article about a recent study which shows nothing of the sort, demonstrating just how broken climate change coverage is at news outlets like Fox, where scientific illiteracy meets political slant.
Last week, Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), one of the few climate scientists who think we don't need to worry much about global warming, published a paper purportedly challenging mainstream climate models that is both limited in scope and, by many accounts, flawed. After a Forbes column by James Taylor of the libertarian Heartland Institute misinterpreted the study and declared that it blows a "gaping hole in global warming alarmism," an avalanche of conservative media outlets, including Fox, followed suit:
A Forbes column falsely attributed to climate scientist Phil Jones a quote that appears to have been written by conservative commentator Steven Hayward. The Forbes column also attempts to undermine global surface temperature records with several other misleading claims.