The New American

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  • Wash. Post Weather Editor Debunks Myth That Hurricane “Drought” Disproves Climate Science

    Blog ››› ››› KEVIN KALHOEFER

    The Washington Post’s weather editor Jason Samenow debunked the claim by climate science deniers and conservative media outlets that the lack of category 3 or higher hurricanes striking the U.S. over the last 11 years is "evidence that global warming is not affecting the storms."

    This month marks 11 years since the U.S. mainland was last struck by a “major” hurricane, defined by the National Hurricane Center as a category 3, 4 or 5 storm with sustained wind speeds of at least 111 miles per hour. In response, conservative media have misleadingly cited this fact to wrongly dispute the link between hurricanes and global warming.

    For instance, The New American asserted, “The latest report from NOAA that major hurricane activity has subsided for 11 years — despite high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere — provides welcome relief from the assorted predictions made by the ‘global warming’ doomsayers of catastrophic events that supposedly will be caused by human activity.” Similarly, The Daily Caller’s Michael Bastasch wrote that “the hurricane drought sort of runs counter to predictions global warming will make storms more frequent and more intense.” And perhaps most notably, radio host Rush Limbaugh falsely claimed that the lack of a major hurricane making landfall in the U.S. over the past 11 years “bores a hole right through the whole climate change argument.”

    But as Samenow explained, researchers believe it is just "dumb luck" that Atlantic storms with sufficient wind speeds to be defined as "major" hurricanes have remained offshore or slowed down before making landfall on the U.S. coastline. Atlantic hurricane activity also accounts for only a small portion of the total storms occurring around the world, as PolitiFact noted when it rated Limbaugh's claim a "Pants on Fire" falsehood.

    Samenow, who described the hurricane “drought” as “the most overblown statistic in meteorology,” also pointed out that many hurricanes that had devastating impacts due to extreme rainfall and flooding occurred during this "drought." He noted that because the definition of a “major” hurricane is tied only to wind speeds and not impacts from water, the term “omits some of the most consequential storms in modern history”:

    But the criteria for what makes a major hurricane is impossibly restrictive. It is tied to a single hazard, wind, and ignores impacts from water, which causes the lion’s share of fatalities and damage in most hurricanes.

    While big wind speeds grab people’s attention and sound scary, precious few people, if any, ever experience a storm’s peak winds. Such high winds are typically confined to a tiny area near the hurricane’s eye.

    But tens of thousands of people are exposed to a hurricane’s water, whether it’s freshwater flooding from heavy rainfall or coastal flooding from storm surge, the rise in ocean water as the hurricane comes ashore.

    Because the definition of a major hurricane ignores the effects of water, it omits some of the most consequential storms in modern history, which have occurred during the so-called drought.

    Consider, in the 11 years since Wilma, two of the three most costly storms in U.S. history occurred: Sandy in 2012, and Hurricane Ike in 2008 — neither of which was classified as “major.”

    Moreover, the "impacts from water" that Samenow describes are intensified by climate change. Scientists say that a warming climate is making storms more destructive due to warming air and oceans -- which lead to more rainfall -- and rising sea levels, which worsen storm surges.

    Samenow ultimately concluded: “The major-hurricane-landfall drought is an interesting statistic, and that’s about it. It is a fine metric to track and report as a curiosity, but it cannot be used to say anything useful about how hurricanes are affecting society or how their behavior may or may not be changing over time.” 

  • Gun Industry Lobby Debunks Right-Wing Media's Latest Ammo Supply Conspiracy Theory

    Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON

    Photo by MetalShaper

    The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry's trade group, is pushing back on a conspiracy theory promoted by right-wing media that the Obama administration is using the Environmental Protection Agency to eliminate the domestic ammunition supply.

    In November, The Doe Run Company announced that they will shutter their primary lead smelter at the end of the year -- the last such facility in the country -- as part of a settlement the company reached with the EPA in 2010. The settlement also involves the payment of $7 million in civil fines for violations of environmental law and an agreement to spend $65 million to correct past violations. A Doe Run senior communications liaison explained to The Salem News Online that, "The closure was really a result of increasing standards and an aging facility" and noted that it would be too expensive for the company to comply with clean air regulations.

    Conservative media have claimed the EPA move was a backdoor attempt to limit the supply of lead ammunition. But responding to those conspiracies, NSSF senior vice president Lawrence Keane told The Washington Times that, "Manufacturers use recycled lead to make ammunition. They don't buy from smelters. The EPA closing, which has been in the works for a while, will have no impact on production, supply or cost to the consumers."

    As Keane suggested, the root of the ring-wing media's conspiracy theory is the mistaken belief that ammunition must be made from lead obtained from the earth as opposed to recycled lead. Even Doe Run, which also operates a secondary lead smelting operation, noted in a November 7 press release that the closure will only affect products that require primary lead.

  • "Drone"-ing Out The Truth

    Blog ››› ››› BRIAN POWELL

    Right-wing media outlets have been in full freak-out mode this week, fabricating a myth that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been using drones to spy on Midwestern ranchers. In fact, the EPA has been utilizing manned flyovers -- not drones -- to investigate potential polluters since the Bush administration, in an effort to save money and enforce clean water regulations efficiently.

    For the past ten years, the EPA has conducted intermittent flyovers "to verify compliance with environmental laws on watersheds," as Reuters reported:

    "EPA uses over-flights, state records and other publicly available sources of information to identify discharges of pollution," said a statement issued by the EPA's Kansas City regional office. "In no case has EPA taken an enforcement action solely on the basis of these over-flights."

    EPA has for 10 years used flyovers to verify compliance with environmental laws on watersheds as a "cost-effective" tool to minimize inspection costs, according to the statement.

    The Lincoln Journal Star has reported the EPA uses four-seat Cessna airplanes -- not drones -- as even the John Birch Society's New American acknowledged in a correction to its report:

    This article originally said that the EPA was using drones to monitor feedlots, but a representative from Senator Johanns office has alerted us that in actuality manned aircraft have been used to monitor the feedlots. We apologize for the error.

    Nevertheless, right-wing commentators began falsely throwing the word "drone" into their reports about the EPA's enforcement mechanisms. For example, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly:

    KELLY: You know, you gotta picture yourself, right, as one of these Midwestern farmers, because what's been in the news lately? The fact that President Obama's killed more terrorists with drones than any other president. That President Obama has a so-called "kill list." And that on that kill list, sometimes civilian casualties go as well, because if you're near an al-Qaeda terrorist, they assume if you're of an adult male age in a certain community, you also are a terrorist.

    Even an American terrorist, an American al-Qaeda, was killed by a drone. So now you're in the Midwest, and you know you're not a terrorist, but nonetheless, you gotta get a little squeamish when you see a drone going overhead.

  • Why Is CNN Paying So Much Attention To A Whites-Only Scholarship Organization With No Money And No Applicants?

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Earlier, I noted that last Tuesday, CNN gave airtime to Colby Bohannan, president of the Former Majority Association For Equality, a nonprofit that exists solely to give scholarships to white males -- and only white males. Bohannan and his group have enjoyed a flurry of media coverage in recent weeks despite the fact that as of February 24, the organization had been in existence for nearly a year, had not received a single scholarship application, and had raised less than $500.

    Though its website says the organization was incorporated in March of 2010, FMAE doesn't show up in any news reports available on Nexis prior to February 25, 2011,* when the Austin American-Statesman profiled the organization:

    The 501(c)3 nonprofit was formally incorporated with the state in March. The group hasn't received any applications, Bohannan said.

    A search of public records indicates Bohannan pleaded no contest to charges of theft of property of less than $500 in 2001 and of issuance of a bad check in 2003. William Lake , the group's treasurer, pleaded no contest to issuance of a bad check in 2008.

    Bohannan said he was charged with theft after authorities found a county speed limit sign in his Texas State dorm room and with writing a bad check for groceries, also while in college. Lake said he was charged with writing a bad check while managing a now-defunct business he started. Both said the charges have been disposed of.

    Bohannan said the group is raising money — as of Monday, the group had raised $485, according to its website — and that he hopes to award scholarships by July 4. The money can be used to go to any college, not just Texas State, Bohannan said.

    Bohannan's group isn't the first to offer scholarships only for white students. In 2006, Boston University's College Republicans created a program with similar requirements. A Republican group at a university in Rhode Island offered a similar award in 2004.

    So in nearly a year of existence, Bohannan's group had raised only $485 and hadn't awarded a single scholarship or even gotten a single application. And there's nothing innovative about the group: It's been done before.

    And yet several media outlets, led by CNN, decided that Bohannan and his organization were worthy of coverage.

    On February 28, CNN's Christine Romans interviewed Bohannan. She didn't interview or quote anyone who disapproves of Bohanna's actions. On March 1, Romans repeatedly played clips of Bohannan and devoted a segment to asking CNN contributor Erick Erickson and guest April Ryan about it. On March 4, a CNN.com article used Bohannan's Former Majority Association for Equality as evidence of "signs of racial anxiety" and "A growing number of white Americans are acting like a racially oppressed majority." On March 5, Romans again played a clip of her interview of Bohannan and asked guests Michelle Rhee, Bill Bennett, and Harold Meyerson about it.

    Though CNN has led the way in covering this obscure organization, it isn't alone. Fox News has devoted a segment to it, as has Fox Radio's Alan Colmes. Townhall.com has covered it, along with ABC News, Reuters, a Colorado CBS affiliate, the Texas Tribune, and New American magazine.

    That last one isn't surprising: The New American is a publication of The John Birch Society. The question is why news organizations like Reuters and -- especially -- CNN think a tiny organization with no money that's never awarded a scholarship deserves all this attention?

    * The March 4 CNN.com article appears in Nexis dated December 21, 2010, but this appears to be an error; the article has a Nexis load-date of March 5.