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."
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.