Stansberry & Associates, an investment research firm catering to right-wing audiences' fears of President Barack Obama, has been fined $1.5 million for engaging in "deliberate fraud" and profiting from "false statements." Despite its shoddy history, numerous conservative outlets and personalities including Newt Gingrich, Fox Business, Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee, Alex Jones, WND, and The Washington Times, have helped legitimize the firm and its wild investment schemes. The firm has also enlisted the help of former Fox News contributor Dick Morris, who has frequently promoted the firm in sponsored video pitches.
Stansberry & Associates was founded in 1999 by Porter Stansberry and claims to have "been predicting the most promising emerging trends and the most influential economic forces affecting the market - with uncanny accuracy - for the past 13 years." Stansberry advertises its services to right-wing audiences with attacks on President Obama and warnings about a forthcoming apocalyptic type collapse of the American government and financial system. Stansberry emails carry subject lines like, "A Survival Secret That Could Save Your Life."
In 2007, Stansberry and his firm -- then called Pirate Investor LLC -- were ordered by a district court to pay $1.5 million in restitution and civil penalties as a result of a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint. As reported by the Baltimore Sun, Stansberry was accused of "disseminating false stock information and defrauding public investors through a financial newsletter ... They claimed investors could double their money if they paid $1,000 for a stock tip involving Bethesda energy company USEC Inc. In total, 1,217 people purchased the report, although 215 of them got their money back after complaining."
A judge in 2007 ruled that Stansberry's activity "undoubtedly involved deliberate fraud" and "making statements that he knew to be false." An appeals court later found that "it would take an act of willful blindness to ignore the fact that Appellants profited from the false statements." Stansberry's defense of his actions can be found here, and a group of publishers, including The New York Times ("The Right to Be Wrong"), defended Stansberry's case on First Amendment grounds.
The Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General announced on September 12, 2011, that Stansberry & Associates "agreed to pay a $55,000 civil monetary penalty to the Social Security Administration" for violating the Social Security Act. The firm settled the case by paying the fine while not admitting a violation. SSA's complaint alleged that Stansberry advertised it services by claiming to have information from "insiders" on how to increase your Social Security check, and "the SSA OIG believed that the characterization of Stansberry's SSA contacts as 'insiders' falsely implied that the information was not available to the public. The claimed 'insider' information was, in fact, available to anyone upon request."
Retired donors to a super PAC supported by Dick Morris say they are dissatisfied with how their money was spent. It's not hard to see why.
As Media Matters reported last week, Federal Election Commission documents show that Morris' Super PAC for America paid nearly $1.7 million, or nearly half of all money the Fox News political analyst and columnist for The Hill helped raise, to Newsmax Media, which manages Morris' for-rent email list.
The circular scam apparently worked like this: Morris, acting as chief strategist for the group, sent at least 21 emails to his private for-rent email list, urging readers to give generously to the PAC to fund television ads Morris claimed were essential to a Mitt Romney victory. Newsmax.com sent an additional 25 emails to their own list, featuring a similar pitch and often the signature of either Morris or Michael Reagan, a Newsmax columnist and the PAC's chairman. Then a large percentage of the take was directed back to the coffers of Newsmax, which derives significant profits from its ability to rent out its mailing list to various groups.
Super PACs are unregulated and free to spend their funds however they see fit. But they generally contribute most of their money to candidates or partisan advertising. It is unusual for them to spend half of their revenue on fundraising, and more so for that fundraising to directly profit the PAC's primary spokesperson and strategist. Said Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending: "Spending 50 percent for fundraising and other expenses would be high."
Morris' own supporters agree. Media Matters contacted more than 100 of his donors using publicly available information from the FEC. A disproportionate number of those listed in the FEC filings are retired, and at least a dozen of those contacted seemed extremely confused in their responses. Many more were openly hostile when asked for comment, especially in response to this reporter's stated association with Media Matters.
Others were polite and curious to know how Dick Morris spent their money. Richard Clark, a retired farmer in Jefferson, New Hampshire, made two donations totaling $350 to Morris' group. He was taken aback to learn where roughly $160 of it went. "Half of the budget going to fundraising is probably too high, a quarter of the total is probably closer to the maximum," said Clark, who is also disturbed by Morris' wide margin of error in predicting the election's outcome. "Dick Morris' emails convinced me to contribute, but he was way off. I'm less likely to send him money in the future."
Don Hall, a disabled and retired insurance man in Amarillo, Texas, made five donations to Super PAC for America totaling $1,000. As a longtime fan of Morris' "lunchtime videos," the numbers and implications of the FEC filing disturbed him. "If it is true [that nearly 50 percent of funds went to fundraise through Newsmax and Morris' website] then it would definitely affect my trust in Morris," said Hall. "It would stop all contributions to him in the future."
Right-wing media are touting a Washington Post Fact Checker article alleging that the Obama campaign "failed to make its case" in a new ad claiming that Romney "shipped jobs" overseas. But a different Post article pointing to data from the Securities and Exchange Commission has affirmed that Bain Capital, with Romney as head, "owned companies that were pioneers in the practice of shipping work from the United States to overseas."
Donald Trump recently declared on CNBC that "Saudi Arabia is doing Obama a big fat favor" by increasing oil production in order to bring gasoline prices down, and that if Obama is re-elected the "favor will be repaid many times over." Fox Nation took this conspiracy even further, calling it a "SECRET SAUDI OIL DEAL TO WIN REELECTION"; Real Clear Politics, Breitbart.com, and Newsmax also promoted Trump's comments.
This has put conservatives in the bizarre position of claiming that Obama is nefariously lowering gasoline prices in order to help the economy and win re-election, after previously claiming that Obama was trying to raise gas prices.
And the claim that there is a "SECRET" "DEAL" is ridiculous: it is public knowledge that the U.S. has pressured Saudi Arabia to boost its oil output. The administration's apparent success in doing so undercuts Trump's previous attack that the Saudis were not ramping up production because Obama was a poor "messenger" or was too busy on "his basketball court" or something.
The Saudis have no incentive to do "Obama a big fat favor" unless it is in their own self-interest. As the Washington Post reported, energy economist Phillip Vergeler believes that Saudi Arabia is trying to "stay in the good graces of United States and Europe" by providing "economic stimulus," but they are also acting in order to slow down shale production in North America and put pressure on Iran.
The Daily Mail is a British tabloid that has repeatedly misrepresented climate research. Naturally, it is also one of Fox News' chief sources on climate science.
Last week the Daily Mail ran a story headlined: "Is this finally proof we're NOT causing global warming? The whole of the Earth heated up in medieval times without human CO2 emissions, says new study." Fox Nation ran a Newsmax summary of the article under the headline "Study Refutes Manmade Warming."
The Daily Mail, along with Newsmax, Fox, and other conservative media, distorted the very research they are trumpeting. The study's lead author, Professor Zunli Lu, said his paper "has been misrepresented by a number of media outlets" and "does not question the well-established anthropogenic warming trend."
It is unfortunate that my research, "An ikaite record of late Holocene climate at the Antarctic Peninsula," recently published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, has been misrepresented by a number of media outlets.
Several of these media articles assert that our study claims the entire Earth heated up during medieval times without human CO2 emissions. We clearly state in our paper that we studied one site at the Antarctic Peninsula. The results should not be extrapolated to make assumptions about climate conditions across the entire globe. Other statements, such as the study "throws doubt on orthodoxies around global warming," completely misrepresent our conclusions. Our study does not question the well-established anthropogenic warming trend.
Lu also told Peter Sinclair that "The reporter of that Daily Mail article published it anyway, after we told him the angle that he chose misrepresents our work." If this reflects poorly on the quality of journalism at the Daily Mail, what does it say about outlets like Fox who simply parrot the tabloid's inaccurate reports?
In a front page article on Friday, The Washington Post reported that a $50 LED light bulb manufactured in the U.S. by Philips had won the Department of Energy's L-Prize for using only 10 watts of energy to produce light as bright as a 60-watt incandescent bulb. But the Post completely obscured the consumer savings from the LED's energy efficiency, including in an infographic that had to be corrected because its math was wrong.
The graphic claimed we would be better off buying 30 incandescent bulbs over 10 years rather than one of the prize-winning bulbs:
But as several outlets pointed out, the Post greatly underestimated electricity rates. After correcting for this, the LED bulb that the Post called "costly" actually saves consumers a significant amount of money over time, as the corrected infographic shows:
Quite a difference.
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."
Having successfully wheedled a significant amount of free promotion for his new book and the upcoming season of his reality show, Donald Trump announced today that he has changed his mind and will not be moderating the Newsmax/ION debate later this month.
In a statement published by Politico, Trump, after plugging the date of The Apprentice finale once more for good measure, announced that he is unwilling to firmly state that he will not run for president as an independent and will not moderate the debate in order to avoid a "conflict of interest within the Republican Party."
Not coincidentally, this almost-certain-to-never-happen presidential run is the means by which Trump will -- likely with depressing amounts of success -- continue to drive media interest in himself throughout 2012.
Trump's decision to bail is embarrassing for Newsmax, even more so than the fact that he was moderating their debate in the first place.
The New York Times reports this afternoon that the right-wing magazine Newsmax will host a Republican debate later this month, and that it will be moderated by Donald Trump, the real estate mogul, reality show host, and nation's most prominent birther.
Mr. Trump's role in the debate, which will be broadcast on the cable network Ion Television, is sure to be one of the more memorable moments in a primary season that has already delivered its fair share of circus-like spectacle.
Mr. Trump's own flirtation with running for president this year seems almost quaint (whose birth certificate was he all worked up about?) compared with more recent distractions - like allegations of adultery and sexual harassment, gaffes that seemed scripted from a late-night comedy show, and a six-figure line of credit at Tiffany & Co.
Almost quaint indeed! Good to know we're at the point where we can shrug off one of the more blatantly racist spectacles in modern American politics. I guess Trump benefits, if that's the right word, from having already been too clownish a figure to let something like birtherism tarnish his reputation.
And it's no great shock that Newsmax would select a conspiracy-mongering publicity hound as their moderator. Newsmax publisher Chris Ruddy spent the Clinton years flogging the conspiracy theory that Vince Foster's suicide was actually a murder connected to the Clintons.
But during the Clinton years, people like Ruddy were confined largely to the fringe. These days... well, Mr. Trump has a few questions he'd like to ask.
This week, the right-wing media began its annual fake "War on Christmas" campaign, freaking out about a bogus Obama "Christmas tree tax." Here's what to expect from right-wing media during the next six weeks.
Days late to the artificial war on Christmas trees, Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce is accusing President Obama of displaying "contempt for Christianity" by levying a tax on Christians that she says is rooted in Muslim tradition.
On November 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved a plan initiated by tree farmers during the Bush administration to levy a fee on large tree farmers. The assessment was intended to fund a marketing campaign promoting fresh Christmas trees. Media conservatives quickly launched a false attack on the Obama administration, which subsequently announced that the industry-backed fee would be put on hold.
Bruce dismissed the undisputed fact that the fee was sought by tree growers, modeled on similar USDA initiatives including the "Got Milk?" and "Beef: It's What's for Dinner" campaigns. Pointing to the innocuous fact that the Obama administration has issued decrees honoring the Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, Bruce instead argued that the "checkoff" fee -- sought under a 1996 farm act -- is further evidence that Obama is "pandering to Muslims" while showing "contempt for Christianity":
Oh sure, the Fed is saying it was a marketing fee for the Christmas tree "industry," to supposedly improve the image of the apparently much hated and dreaded tree. The fact is it was a tax meant to fund a board appointed by a federal agency targeting one religion and one religion only -- Christianity.
There is a precedent for this -- in the Muslim world it's called the "Jizya" -- a tax levied on non-Muslim citizens in the Islamic world, allowing them to practice their religion while being "protected" by the Muslim state.
In our case, it seems more like an atheistic federal government looking for tribute by those pesky Christians who dare to think there is a higher authority than the permanent political class.
Bruce's vitriolic screed is being promoted at Fox Nation as evidence of Obama's "War on Christianity."
"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:
Hope springs eternal. Despite more than a year of fruitless digging, the right-wing media can't let go of their hope that Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan will be disqualified from hearing cases about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.
Recently, conservative media have been hyping letters from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) as well as 49 other congressional Republicans seeking documents to determine if Kagan was involved with health care litigation during her time as solicitor general (the position she held immediately before being appointed to the Supreme Court).
Conservative media don't bother hiding the reasons for hoping that Kagan must be recused. As Judicial Watch head Tom Fitton wrote on BigGovernment.com, "The U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately settle the issue regarding whether or not Obama's socialist healthcare overhaul will be the law of the land. Everyone knows it. And if Elena Kagan is forced to recuse herself from hearing the case that will be one fewer dependably liberal vote on the Supreme Court for Obamacare."
In addition to Fitton's post on BigGovernment.com, HotAir.com's Ed Morrissey breathlessly hyped the 49 House members' letter, asking, "Did Elena Kagan mislead the Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation hearing when answering questions about her level of involvement in ObamaCare?" The Washington Times also hyped the same letter, as did Newsmax. And National Review Online blogger Carrie Severino and Glenn Beck's website TheBlaze.com hyped both the 49 House members' letter and Smith's letter.
But CNS News may take the cake for the most overwrought reaction. CNS reported that Smith had begun an "investigation" into whether Kagan had been involved in health care litigation as solicitor general. It subsequently had to append an "editor's note" to the article explaining that the House Judiciary Committee "requested a correction of the story" because Smith had not launched a "formal investigation" but had merely made a "request for addition information."
CNS's overreaction to Smith's letter to the Justice Department epitomizes the right-wing's campaign to have Kagan recuse herself from health care litigation. The right-wing media keeps demanding further inquiry into the issue of whether Kagan should recuse herself. The additional information shows that there is no reason for Kagan to recuse herself. But the right-wing media claims that all it needs is a little more information, and it will become clear that Kagan did recuse herself.
Below the fold is a brief recap of the right-wing media's recusal campaign so far.
Scientists at the National Solar Observatory and the Air Force Research Laboratory say three lines of evidence suggest that the sun may soon enter an extended calm period instead of following its normal 11-year cycle of high and low sunspot activity.
The authors of the studies reportedly "said there was not yet enough data to firm up a climate connection to solar activity" and that they don't know how long the calm period would last. Nevertheless, Fox used the research to proclaim that "We Might Be Headed for a Mini Ice Age":
Other media outlets jumped on the research as well. In a post at at the Telegraph, James Delingpole wrote: "It's official: a new Ice Age is on its way," claiming that the recent findings "make global cooling a much more plausible prospect in the next few decades than global warming."
And under the headline "Earth May Be Headed for Big Chill From Little Ice Age," Newsmax declared: "The Earth could be heading straight for a little ice age -- and not a global warming phase as dictated by Al Gore and others -- posits the U.S. National Solar Observatory (NSO) and the U.S. Air force Research Laboratory."
In fact, solar physicist Frank Hill, who was involved in the research, explained via email that those warning of a mini ice age are making a "huge leap" from current scientific understanding of the variables involved:
Right-wing media have attacked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for using federal workers' pension funds to ensure that the government meets its obligations for the short-term while lawmakers and the White House try to reach a deal on raising the debt ceiling. In fact, Geithner's actions are in line with those of the Treasury Department under former Presidents Bush and Clinton, the government is legally required to reimburse the program once the debt limit is increased, and economic disaster could have occurred had Geithner not taken these measures.