Right-wing media are fearmongering over an Obama campaign smartphone app that makes it easier for any smartphone user and Obama supporter to get involved in the campaign without first having to visit a campaign office. Conservative media are claiming that it will allow users to "spy" on their neighbors and report that information back to the campaign.
In fact, the app is designed to simplify the process for getting involved in the 2012 campaign; it includes only information that is publicly available; and it has built-in privacy protections against abuse. Moreover, the Romney campaign also makes voter information freely available to anyone who registers on its website.
On July 30, the Obama for America campaign introduced an iPhone app that "will make it even easier to connect with the campaign and pitch in wherever you are." From the campaign:
This campaign's strength has always come from the millions of grassroots supporters who are organizing their communities, and the new Obama app puts the latest organizing tools right at your fingertips.
With the new app, you can easily find local volunteer events near you, get a list of voters to talk to in your neighborhood, and access all the information you need to spread the word: from President Obama's record to state-specific voting info. You can also stay up to date with breaking news, which you can instantly share with friends and family using Facebook, Twitter, email, and text messaging.
In an article on the app, Pro Publica noted: "All this is public information, which campaigns have long given to volunteers. But you no longer have to schedule a visit to a field office and wait for a staffer to hand you a clipboard and a printed-out list of addresses." Pro Publica went on to report:
It's unclear if the app displays all registered Democrats who live in a certain area, or only a subset of voters President Obama's campaign is trying to reach.
Asked about the privacy aspects of the new app, a spokesperson for the Obama campaign wrote that "anyone familiar with the political process in America knows this information about registered voters is available and easily accessible to the public."
The information included in the app has "traditionally been available to anyone who walks into a campaign field office," said the spokesperson, who declined to be named.
While the app makes voter information instantly available, it displays only a small cluster of addresses at a time. It has built-in mechanisms to detect when people are misusing the data, "such as people submitting way too many voter contacts in a short period of time," the spokesman said.
CNN contributor Erick Erickson and other conservative media are claiming that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praised Chinese authoritarianism because he said that the Chinese have been successful in building infrastructure. But these outlets cropped LaHood's comments to exclude his explicit praise of U.S. democracy.
In an interview with Foreign Policy Magazine, LaHood said that the "Chinese are more successful" at building infrastructure "because in their country, only three people make the decision. In our country, 3,000 people do, 3 million."
Erickson used those remarks to claim in a post at RedState that LaHood "has come out in favor of the Chicoms over Americans," and that the Obama administration is "rooting against us and for a murderous regime of despots." But Erickson ignored that LaHood added that the U.S. has "the best system of government anywhere on the planet," as Foreign Policy Magazine reported:
LaHood said that despite this, democracy is still preferable. "We have the best system of government anywhere on the planet. It is the best. Because the people have their say," he said.
Right-wing media have praised the decision made by many Republican governors to not participate in the Affordable Care Act's expansion of Medicaid eligibility. But the provision being rejected by GOP governors would expand affordable health care coverage to millions of struggling Americans.
Right-wing media have attacked a contract between the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and a public relations firm to raise awareness of health and preventive care opportunities as a "propaganda piece" for the health care law that "violates many of the procurement laws." But PR campaigns like this are nothing new; in fact, the Bush administration spent $1.6 billion dollars over a 30-month span promoting its policies.
On the heels of what some in conservative media circles are heralding as a "breakthrough" story and "journalism in its purest form" -- the Breitbart.com piece highlighting a 1991 pamphlet that erroneously listed President Obama's birthplace as Kenya -- Rush Limbaugh entertained the "thought-provoking theory" on Friday that Obama is actually the one who started the birther conspiracies to take advantage of an "affirmative action opportunity that was available only to those born in Africa."
Limbaugh stated that he agreed with this premise and that the final takeaway from all of this was that "the guy" -- Obama -- "will exaggerate, make it up, lie, what have you. That's the lesson to be learned here."
It's unclear where this "theory" originated, but Limbaugh was referring to a piece posted at Pajamas Media on Friday by Roger Simon, who purported to guide readers through the "mystery of the Kenyan birth" and offered several "explanations" for why the pamphlet, published by Obama's former literary agency in 1991, said Obama was "born in Kenya." He ultimately concluded that "the agent's source for Obama's birthplace was... Barack Obama." Simon went on to write:
Why would he lie about where he was born?
Well, he might have wanted to glamorize his past, but if that's so, it's pathetic. I suspected there was a more substantive reason, one that would cause him to leave his African birth place in place in the bio. But to take the risk of being found out, it would have to be strong.
What if, we thought, as others have suggested, the reason Obama's school records have not surfaced is that he enrolled, at one of those institutions at least, as a foreign student -- a Kenyan?
But why would he choose to do that? Well, maybe for a grant, a subvention, a scholarship that was available uniquely to students from Africa or similar locales.
Yes, I know that's not "fair," in the lexicon of the Lord of Fairness, to have adopted a phony identity and deprived others of an opportunity they may have more richly deserved. But it would certainly fit with Obama's early need to be recognized as a Kenyan by his agent and, presumably, his publisher. As we all know, it's not the crime, but the cover-up. (In this case, actually, it's both.)
As time went on, of course, college drifted away and politics reared its head. The Kenyan identity became less necessary, even a liability, so it was dropped.
I don't know about you -- but this makes sense to me. It also fits with the tomb-like silence around his college years.
But I could be wrong.
The conservative Powerline blog, which Limbaugh cited, jumped on Simon's thread, calling the theory "intriguing" and "thought-provoking."
Sadly, there is nothing "intriguing" or "thought-provoking" about entertaining conspiracies that are being pulled, as far as I can tell, from the air -- especially when so many holes have been poked into this particular birther bubble:
Fox News and other conservative media have promoted a video that suggests environmental regulations will cause "America to fail." But the video, created by a conservative group with a history of ethical problems, makes many misleading claims including denying global warming.
In a recent interview with MSNBC.com, scientist James Lovelock said that he was too "alarmist" in his previous statements about the consequences of global warming and he now appears to be overcorrecting in the opposite direction. While conservative media have used his reversal to question the scientific consensus on climate change, the truth is that Lovelock's views were never in line with mainstream climate science.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a large group of experts that synthesizes climate research into massive reports on the state of the science. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2009 that Lovelock, who is known for formulating the Gaia hypothesis in the 1960s, considered those reports "too optimistic, constrained by 'consensus' (a word that makes his teeth itch) and wedded to computer models." Climate experts, in turn, distanced themselves from Lovelock's doomsday rhetoric. The IPCC's chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, told Agence France-Presse in September 2009 that Lovelock's predictions were "highly improbable"; RealClimate.org, a blog written by climate scientists, noted in 2006 that Lovelock's claims weren't supported by scientific research.
AFP labeled Lovelock a "scientific black sheep." The London Independent said in 2006 that Lovelock was "going out on a limb" and that his claims were "far gloomier than any yet made by a scientist of comparable international standing." And The Washington Post reported in 2006 that "the warming that Lovelock fears will occur is far more dire than that projected by many other scientists," and that his "dire talk no doubt occasions much rolling of eyes in polite circles, particularly among scientists in the United States."
Right-wing media are touting a study claiming the health care reform law will not lower the deficit, but rather increase it by more than $300 billion. In fact, economic experts dismissed the study by conservative analyst Charles Blahous, saying it uses "discredited arguments."
Right-wing media are claiming that a Republican "war on women" is "phony" and "invented" by the left to distract attention from issues such as the economy and gas prices. But Republicans throughout the country have indeed pushed a plethora of legislation during the past few years that would result in limiting women's reproductive rights, access to health care access, and access to equal pay; moreover, right-wing media themselves launched a bullying campaign against Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke after she testified in favor of expanded contraception coverage.
Citing a recent study by the government of Nunavut in Canada, conservative media are claiming that the number of polar bears is "increasing." The takeaway, according to these media outlets, is that concerns about the fate of polar bears in a warming world are overblown. But polar bear scientist Steven Amstrup says these commentators are mistaken.
The polar bears located west of the Hudson Bay are one of 19 polar bear subpopulations, and one of 8 subpopulations that are thought to be shrinking, according to a comprehensive review conducted in 2009. (One population was found to be increasing, three are stable, and there isn't enough data to assess the other seven). Amstrup and others previously analyzed bears captured from 1984-2004 and found that the West Hudson Bay population declined from 1,194 in 1987 to 935 in 2004.
But a new survey by the government of Nunavut, a largely Inuit territory in Northern Canada, puts the population size as of last August at 1,013, according to a widely circulated article in Canada's Globe and Mail. This new estimate is derived from a plausible range of 717 to 1,430 bears and, importantly, comes from an aerial survey, unlike the previous studies which involved capturing and recapturing bears.
Amstrup said media outlets claiming the aerial survey shows an increasing population are mistaking a single point estimate for a trend. "The population size is just a number. It is a valuable number to have, but from the standpoint of population welfare, it is the trend in numbers that is critical," he wrote in an email. Because previous estimates used a different methodology, and covered a different geographic area, they cannot be easily compared to the latest figures, contrary to the media narrative. When the aerial survey is repeated in later years, it will then be able to tell us more about how the population size is changing. In the meantime, the Canadian government is expected to release its latest capture-recapture data next month.
Population estimates are used to determine how many polar bears can be killed each year. Hunting polar bears is a significant source of income among the Inuit, who have been skeptical of dire predictions of popopulation decline.
Amstrup emphasizes that "in the bigger picture, whether any one population is currently declining, stable or increasing is beside the point," adding, "it is criticial to remember that our concern about polar bears is focused on the future." The scientists who spend their lives studying polar bears have been unable to envision how the population numbers can withstand the long-term decline of the sea ice.
More detailed responses from Amstrup below:
Right-wing media are now resorting to mocking female university students' health care needs and their call that religiously affiliated colleges and universities provide access to contraceptives. But studies have found that numerous benefits (medical, social, and economic) exist in providing college-aged women -- the most vulnerable demographic for unintended pregnancies -- affordable access to contraception.
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.
President Obama recently outlined his proposal that would give millions of homeowners a chance to save thousands of dollars annually by refinancing their mortgages at a lower interest rate even if their homes are currently underwater. The right-wing media immediately went on the attack, claiming that Obama's mortgage relief plan is a political stunt being used to "pander" to voters during an election year.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama said that his administration "will take every possible action to safely develop" America's reserves of natural gas, and that the "development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don't have to choose between our environment and our economy." The next day, in Las Vegas, the president talked about "an America where more cars and trucks are running on domestic natural gas than on foreign oil. Think about an America where our companies are leading the world in developing natural gas technology and creating a generation of new energy jobs; where our natural gas resources are helping make our manufacturers more competitive for decades."
So Obama supports the development of natural gas. And conservatives think they have figured out the reason why: George Soros.
Lachlan Markay, of the Heritage Foundation, wrote yesterday:
George Soros, a billionaire investor and major backer of President Obama, stands to reap a windfall from legislation promoting natural gas-powered vehicles. The White House unveiled a proposal on Thursday that would do just that.
One company that stands to benefit handsomely from the president's proposal is Westport Innovations. The company converts diesel engines to be fueled by natural gas. Wall Street analysts predicted a boom for the company if the NAT GAS Act were passed.
If Westport reaps the predicted windfall, one of the chief beneficiaries will be George Soros, a major Obama donor and supporter. Soros's hedge fund holds 3,160,063 company shares (as of its last SEC filing).
Hot Air's Tina Korbe credited Markay for uncovering "a potentially key motivation for the president's recent proposal to offer incentives to companies to buy and use trucks powered by natural gas." Korbe added with an air of wildly unsupported certainty that this is an example of "the president's perpetual crony capitalism."
The Daily Caller also got in on the fun:
President Barack Obama, at a Las Vegas UPS facility Thursday, pitched a plan to boost the American use of natural gas, a plan that would not only benefit long-time natural gas proponent billionaire T. Boone Pickens, but also long-time Obama supporter, billionaire investor and progressive philanthropist George Soros.
So did the president craft a national energy policy based largely on how it would benefit George Soros' investment portfolio? It certainly seems likely, assuming you've been conditioned to believe that Soros is secretly pulling the strings at the White House, in which case the mere fact of Soros' connection to the natural gas industry is evidence enough to convict.
You just have to disregard the fact that the many millions of dollars in political donations made by the oil and gas industry and the natural gas pipeline industry -- which would also stand to benefit handsomely from expanded use of natural gas vehicles -- have overwhelmingly gone to Republicans. There's also the inconvenient presence of billionaire T. Boone Pickens. who cut checks to George W. Bush, funded the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, and, as noted by the Daily Caller, would make some serious bank with accelerated development of natural gas.
So if Obama's goal was to line the already well-lined pockets of one of his prominent supporters, he's also throwing vast sums at the people and industries who have bitterly opposed him and are likely to continue doing so in the future.
But hey, it's a conspiracy! It doesn't need logic, it just needs selectively reported facts and the thinnest patina of plausibility.
(Full disclosure: Soros has donated to Media Matters)
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."