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  • Right-Wing Media Assail Expansion Of Overtime Pay Protections To Millions Of Workers

    ››› ››› CRAIG HARRINGTON & ALEX MORASH

    Right-wing media assailed new overtime rules released by the Department of Labor (DOL) on May 17, which expand overtime pay protections to 4.2 million American workers previously exempt from compensation under outdated provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The new rule updates the minimum salary threshold to qualify for guaranteed overtime pay from $23,660 per year to $47,476 per year, and pegs the threshold to inflation going forward.

  • Experts, Media Say Trump Wrong, Clinton Right About Coal Industry's Decline

    Blog ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Media outlets and industry experts are recognizing that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is wildly off-base when he claims that he can revive the coal industry, and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is correct when she says that market forces -- not environmental regulations -- are the main cause of the coal industry’s decline.

    Following his victory in the May 3 Republican primary, Trump pledged, “We're going to get those miners back to work,” referencing coal miners in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio specifically. When asked how exactly Trump would accomplish that feat, a Trump advisor said the candidate would review Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards that affect the coal industry.

    But Trump’s plan to restore coal industry employment is highly unrealistic, as several industry experts and media fact-checkers have recently noted.

    In a May 5 “Fact Check,” the Associated Press reported that while Trump has long claimed that EPA emission standards on coal-fired power plants are “killing American jobs,” experts say “a bigger factor in coal's decline has been cheaper natural gas.” The AP noted that John Deskins, the director of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, “said government's ability to boost coal production is limited,” and the AP quoted Deskins saying, “It is very unlikely we will see a return to levels of coal production like we observed in 2008." The AP added: “There is another limitation on coal's future in Appalachia: After decades of heavy production, there is less of it to be mined.”

    Similarly, in a May 10 column in The Hill, contributor and Rice University associate professor Daniel Cohan wrote: “Despite the bold pledge, Trump is about as likely to bring back the heyday of coal mining employment as to cajole Mexico to fund a border wall. Neither is going to happen, no matter who is elected president.” Cohan noted that Appalachian coal mining employment “began to decline in the 1980s,” and that the “financial services firm Lazard estimates that wind, utility-scale solar and natural gas all provide cheaper options for new power generation than coal, even before considering subsidies.” Cohan added that the U.S. coal industry can also no longer count on coal exports, which “have plummeted as demand has waned in Europe and Asia,” particularly in China, where the government is cutting the country’s coal use to address severe air pollution and climate change.

    Additionally, a May 10 ClimateWire article titled “Trump Cannot Bring Back Coal” reported that both Deskins and Chiza Vitta, a Standard & Poor’s credit rating analyst, “see a continuing decline in the coal sector, with no real chance for a major recovery.” ClimateWire reported that Vitta said the coal industry is going to have to “be notably smaller to be profitable again” and added: “We do not view regulations as the primary factor for the decline.”

    As Forbes contributor Tim Worstall put it: “Trump simply isn’t going to bring back all those mining jobs. They’re gone, gone forever.”

    Meanwhile, PolitiFact has ruled that Clinton’s claim that “the market” is responsible for coal industry bankruptcies is “mostly true.”

    In a May 4 interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Clinton stated:

    One hundred thousand coal miners in this country lost their lives in the 20th century, so I want people to pay attention to what we, as a nation, need to do to support them. But the market is making this decision. The market has driven down the cost of coal so you have companies going bankrupt. So what I'm offering is a $30 billion plan to really revitalize coal country, to provide support for coal miners and their families, and I think that is the least the country owes these brave people.

    In its May 10 fact check of Clinton’s remarks, PolitiFact determined that it is “mostly true” that “market forces made coal companies go bankrupt.” PolitiFact stated: “We talked to coal industry experts who told us that the primary forces working against coal are market-based, notably the growth of natural gas as a cleaner, cheaper alternative.” In addition to low natural gas prices, Politifact reported that West Virginia University law professor Patrick McGinley cited a “depleted supply” of Appalachian coal and “growing demand and diminishing costs for renewable energy, like wind and solar power,” as significant factors in the coal industry’s decline.

    PolitiFact added:

    But it was a big, failed bet on the international coal market that ultimately pushed companies to a point where they couldn’t pay off their debts, forcing them to file for bankruptcy reorganization.

    About five years ago, the big coal companies  — Arch, Alpha and Peabody — took out massive loans to invest in metallurgical coal, a type found in the Appalachia region. They thought fast-growing Asian countries, particularly China, would want the coal to facilitate economic development.

    But China’s growth slowed, and the demand never materialized. The companies have been unable to pay back their debts on this project, and that’s what sent them into bankruptcy, [University of Wyoming professor Robert] Godby said.

    PolitiFact said that environmental regulations “may make electricity companies apprehensive about investing in coal down the line,” and “may play a larger role” as the coal industry becomes more vulnerable and environmental protections grow. But the article concluded, “Economic forces on both the national and international markets are the main reason coal’s prominence in the American energy sector is now vulnerable, forcing coal-burning plant closures and several high-profile bankruptcies.”

    Indeed, while Clinton’s remarks about the coal industry have been frequently distorted by conservative media, competition from natural gas and renewables, depletion of easily recoverable coal reserves, and advances in mining technology are the most significant factors in the coal industry’s decline -- not environmental protections.

  • Anti-Solar Op-Ed Writer Claims To Speak For Poor, Actually Works With Utilities

    ››› ››› ANDREW SEIFTER

    Several media outlets have published op-eds by Monica Martinez, the president of a group called Hispanics in Energy, attacking net metering policies that support rooftop solar energy. But these outlets failed to disclose the ties Martinez's group has to numerous oil and utility companies -- including companies that are actively fighting net metering policies -- and many of Martinez's claims about the impact of net metering on low-income and minority communities are inaccurate.

  • Experts Debunk The Coal Industry's "Energy Poverty" Argument Against The Pope's Climate Action

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Fossil fuel advocates are criticizing Pope Francis' recent climate encyclical, claiming his call to phase out fossil fuels will harm the poor by preventing access to electricity and keeping them in "energy poverty." But fossil fuels are not economically viable in most of the communities that suffer from a lack of electricity, and on-the-ground experts have explained that distributed renewable energy sources are often a more effective way to lift the world's impoverished -- who will be most affected by the adverse impacts of climate change -- out of energy poverty.

  • Forbes.com Contributor Says He Resigned After His Sexism In Media Column Was Removed

    Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

    A Forbes.com contributor says he has resigned after an interview he posted with a women's rights leader was pulled from Forbes' website without his consent. The former contributor told Media Matters he "strongly disagrees" with the editors' reasons for the removal.

    Tom Watson, who contributed paid columns each month to the Forbes.com Social Ventures blog, posted a column on Monday, April 27 with the headline, "Sexism And The Media: As Election Heats Up, Are We Nearer To Tipping Point For Equality?"

    The center of the piece was an interview with Jamia Wilson, executive director of Women, Action & the Media, which Watson describes as "a nonprofit organization dedicated to 'building a robust, effective, inclusive movement for gender justice in media.'" Watson and Wilson discussed sexist media coverage of Hillary Clinton, the power of "Networked feminism," and "the need to create and improve newsroom standards about how sexual violence is discussed in the media."

    "I think that the story, the interview with Jamia Wilson, was important, especially the timing of it given where we are," Watson told Media Matters on April 29. "I do think this is the most important feminist election cycle in U.S. history, win or lose, and I think it's important to step up and comment on that."

    Watson said the column was posted at Forbes.com on Monday night, but removed the next morning. (A Google cache version shows the column on the Forbes site that evening.) He said editors informed him via email Tuesday that it had been pulled, but never asked for his consent.

    "They took down a post of mine that I felt was worthy of my Social Ventures blog and I couldn't live with that so I resigned," Watson said. "They told me that they had done it [via email]. I was at a faculty meeting at Columbia University, where I teach part-time, and I saw it come in. It kind of wrecked my day."

    Watson declined to reveal which editors informed him of the column's removal, but said he was told that "it was outside the parameters of my beat."

    He described his beat as "covering social entrepreneurship, non-profits, philanthropy, start-ups and digital activism space."

    Asked to comment on Watson's claims, Forbes Senior Manager of Corporate Communications Laura Daunis said via email, "Forbes felt the post was off topic and not aligned with the entrepreneurship channel's mission."

    After Forbes.com pulled the column, it was posted on Medium, but with this tagline at the end announcing Watson's concerns and resignation:

    Note: I have resigned as a contributor to Forbes.

    Yesterday, I posted this interview with Jamia Wilson of Women, Action & the Media, a nonprofit organization dedicated to "building a robust, effective, inclusive movement for gender justice in media." I consider her work, and that of feminist organizers everywhere, to be vitally important to the field of social entrepreneurship and to public life.

    The editors found it inappropriate for the section of Forbes I have contributed my Social Ventures column to for the last three years and they removed it this morning. I strongly disagree with their decision and we have parted ways.

    Despite this, I appreciate the audience and platform Forbes provided, and am grateful for the opportunity to write about social entrepreneurship, citizens movements, new nonprofit models, and philanthropy. That conversation will continue elsewhere.

    Thank you all for supporting my work, it is deeply appreciated.

  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Newest Attack On Investor Class Actions Too Much for Even Forbes

    Blog ››› ››› COLEMAN LOWNDES & MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    A new Delaware law that would restore the rights of stockholders to bring class action lawsuits without fear of having to pay legal costs if they don't win every single part of their legal claim is being slammed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its affiliate, the Institute for Legal Reform (ILR). But even right-wing media outlet Forbes isn't sold on their arguments. 

    In May, the Delaware Supreme Court surprisingly ruled in ATP Tour v. Deutscher Tennis Bund that corporations were allowed to unilaterally add bylaws forcing the loser in shareholder litigation to pay all the associated legal fees. These sorts of "loser pays" provisions are atypical in the U.S. but have been promoted by conservative organizations like the Chamber and the ILR under the guise of ending "frivolous lawsuits." Ultimately, though, such provisions have the effect of deterring or outright blocking many meritorious class action lawsuits brought by victims of corporate malfeasance.

    In response to the state supreme court's holding in ATP Tour, Delaware legislators have proposed SB 236, a bill that would reinstate the normal prohibition on "loser pays" bylaws. The ILR is already registering its vocal opposition to the bill, arguing that it will leave corporations vulnerable to "abusive litigation."

    Usually, right-wing media can be counted on to recycle the Chamber and ILR's pro-business talking points, in particular The Wall Street Journal editorial board. This time, however, even Forbes' Daniel Fisher questioned ILR's arguments. According to Fisher, who has supported anti-consumer provisions like forced arbitration clauses in the past, "opponents of SB 236 may be pushing too far" by promoting a loser pays system:

    The bill's sponsor, Democratic Sen. Bryan Townsend, said he will set the bill aside for a while amid vocal opposition by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, according to the Wilmington News Journal.

    The bill seems to restore the status quo by affirming the limited liability nature of corporations, where shareholders can only lose money to the extent of their investment. But the ILR said the proposed law -- passed, it noted, on "an extraordinarily expedited basis" -- would reverse a decision that "gives corporations a way to protect their shareholders" against the costs of "abusive litigation."

    [...]

    By pushing to retain the option implied by the ATP Tour decision, opponents of SB 236 may be pushing too far. Delaware courts have granted them ample tools to deal with shareholder litigation and chipping away at limited liability might be a cure that is worse than the disease.

    Fisher's skepticism of ILR's issues with the bill are well-founded. According to Paul Bland, executive director of Public Justice, the Delaware Supreme Court's decision not only runs afoul of the basic concepts of contract law by allowing corporations to unilaterally change the rules of the game on their investors, it makes it "far easier for corporations to insulate themselves from accountability if they cheat shareholders or break the law. By contrast, the vast majority of courts in the U.S. disapprove of this kind of loser-pays provision."

    It's not just states like Delaware that are threatening the viability of investor class action lawsuits, one of the best ways for defrauded stakeholders to get legal relief from the corporation who harmed them. Any day now, the Supreme Court will issue its decision in Halliburton v. Erica P. John Fund, a case that could make it nearly impossible for investors who have been the victims of corporate fraud to join together as a class and sue. Watch Bland explain in two minutes how Halliburton could be yet another in a long line of pro-business decisions from the conservative majority at the Court:

  • Forbes Paints Rosy Picture Of Anti-Consumer Arbitration Provisions That Ban Class Actions

    Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    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 Nevada Tortoise War Is A Right-Wing False Flag

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    The desert tortoiseThe 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."

    Radio host Dana Loesch and others took the antipathy toward the ESA and support for Bundy to its natural, absurd conclusion by invoking the right's most predictable reference: Benghazi.

    Dana Loesch tweet

    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. 

  • State Of the Union Is Warming, Despite Right-Wing Snow-Trolling

    ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    On January 28, President Obama gave his fifth State of the Union speech during which he addressed the urgent need to act on climate change. Conservative media pundits latched on to the cold winter weather in the area during his speech to laugh off global warming, despite the clear long-term warming trend.

  • Second Wind For "Preposterous" Right-Wing Lawsuit Over Healthcare Exchanges

    ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    The New York Times reported on a dangerous legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) brought by officials in states who refuse to implement their own healthcare exchanges, which has been widely trumpeted in right-wing media. But these lawsuits are based on a far-fetched theory that the law only authorized essential tax credits in state exchanges, not federal ones, a counterintuitive claim that has been widely discredited.

  • George Will: Who Cares About Corruption? Citizens United Is "Excellent"

    Blog ››› ››› MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYS

    Conservative Washington Post columnist and Fox News contributor George Will cherry-picked outlier examples of campaign finance violations while ignoring legitimate concerns about the potential for big-money donors to corrupt elections and balloted measures .

    In his October 30 column, Will attacks campaign finance reform and celebrates the Supreme Court's infamous Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for large donors to corrupt elections with outsized contributions. Will highlights a pair of lower-court cases where judges struck down regulations on political speech that affected seemingly small-time civic participation to downplay the danger of political corruption, conveniently overlooking how these decisions might make it easier for large corporations to obfuscate their own political participation:

    Brick by brick, judges are dismantling the wall of separation that legislators have built between political activity and the First Amendment's protections of free speech and association. The latest examples, from Mississippi and Arizona, reflect the judiciary's proper engagement in defending citizens from the regulation of political speech, a.k.a. "campaign finance reform."

    In 2011, a few like-minded friends and neighbors in Oxford, Miss., who had been meeting for a few years to discuss politics, decided to work together to support passage of an initiative amending Mississippi's Constitution. The amendment, restricting the power of the state and local governments to take private property by eminent domain, was provoked by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo ruling that governments could, without violating the Fifth Amendment ("nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation"), take property for the "public use" of transferring it to persons who would pay more taxes to the government.

    The Mississippi friends and neighbors wanted to pool their funds to purchase posters, fliers and local newspaper advertising. They discovered that if, as a group, they spent more than $200 to do these simple things, they would be required by the state's campaign finance law to register as a "political committee." And if, as individuals, any of them spent more than $200 supporting the initiative, they must report this political activity to the state.

    Mississippi defines a political committee as any group of persons spending more than $200 to influence voters for or against candidates "or balloted measures." Supposedly, regulation of political activity is to prevent corruption of a candidate or the appearance thereof. How does one corrupt a "balloted measure"?

    The answer to this question should be obvious, and even Will begrudgingly admits "there is some slight informational value in knowing where money supporting a voter initiative comes from." Although Will doesn't mention it, the judge in the Mississippi case clearly left the door open for future regulations of political speech, giving a nod to the possibility of improper influence with respect to ballot initiatives:

    Significantly, the Court does not hold that Mississippi may not regulate individuals and groups attempting to influence constitutional ballot measures. Instead, the Court holds only that under the current regulatory scheme, which is convoluted and exacting, the requirements are too burdensome for the State's $200 threshold.

    Nevertheless, Will goes on to call the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United -- one that allowed a tsunami of corporate money to enter the election process -- an "excellent" one. But even Citizens United noted the corrupting danger of unchecked money in the political system, and transparency was explicitly recognized as the critical protection against such a problem.

  • What The Media Left Out: Pro-Fracking Report Was Funded By Gas Industry

    Blog ››› ››› DENISE ROBBINS

    Source: Dmitry - Fotolia.com via Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News

    Multiple mainstream media outlets have covered a new report touting the economic benefits from hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") without disclosing the report's industry funding.

    The recently released study, titled "America's New Energy Future: The Unconventional Oil & Gas Revolution and the US Economy," received widespread media attention on Thursday. The report, conducted by consulting group IHS CERA, was commissioned by multiple fossil fuel organizations that stand to benefit from growth in the oil and gas industry. According to the report, the increase in unconventional oil and natural gas extraction has added an average of $1,200 in discretionary income to each US household in 2012, and now supports 1.2 million jobs -- projected to increase to 3.3 million by 2020. These figures are much larger than the findings of many previous economic studies.

    However, multiple major news outlets, including ReutersCNBCForbes.com, and the Los Angeles Times, covered the new report with no mention of its financial ties to the industry. The research was monetarily supported by America's Natural Gas Alliance, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Chemistry Council, the Natural Gas Supply Association, and others who stand to gain economically from an unregulated increase in fracking. Kyle Isakower, vice president of regulatory policy at the American Petroleum Institute -- the largest trade association for the oil and gas industry -- lauded the new report, saying "[f]or an organization like the American Petroleum Institute, being able to cite the findings and reputation of IHS goes a long way toward making its point to government officials." According to Steve Forde, vice president of policy and communication at the Marcellus Shale Coalition (an industry trade group), economic impact studies such as this are "an important advocacy tool" for industry development.

    Bloomberg, which did disclose the report's industry ties, reported that the IHS report didn't take potential environmental impacts from extracting unconventional oil and gas through drilling and fracking, such as groundwater contamination and strains on water resources, into account.

    UPDATE (9/10/13): The Wall Street Journal joined the slew of coverage that failed to disclose the report's oil and gas industry funding, in an editorial published on Tuesday. The editorial claimed the IHS report was "evidence" that fracking "may be the country's best antipoverty program." The Wall Street Journal has published editorials downplaying the risks of fracking before.

  • The Sequester: Myths And Facts

    Right-Wing Media Promote Multiple Falsehoods About Looming Spending Cuts

    ››› ››› ALBERT KLEINE

    Right-wing media outlets have advanced a number of myths regarding automatic across-the-board spending cuts -- commonly called the sequester -- in order to hide the facts behind an inherently harmful economic policy.