Archive for Halls of Dishonesty: Disinformation and Deception
by John Weckerle
It was with a certain degree of disappointment when, during a recent visit to Facebook, I saw that a friend had “liked” the photo above. Created by conservative blogger Bill Whittle, it was found in a repost from “Cold Dead Hands” on the Facebook page of John Jacobs, which appears to be dedicated to alt-right reposts. It is unusual for your editor to comment directly on such things, but this one was egregious enough that it begged for a response:
It’s disappointing to see a friend like a thing like this. It’s essentially inflammatory, lacking in any real factual basis, and has very little relevance with respect to what welfare really is and how it works. Painting people who are out of work as grifters, as this does, is entirely inappropriate and inexcusable. Welfare and other public assistance programs have helped a lot of people get back on their feet. There are cheats in any system, but stereotyping welfare recipients in this way is shameful and fundamentally false. People who post or “like” this sort of thing should perhaps consider how fortunate they are to make their way without welfare – and hope they don’t someday join the ranks they so enthusiastically criticize.
A couple of friends concurred, and then another user (Kathy Arnold, whose account also seems repost-heavy) weighed in:
HELLO JOHN…..only 5-10%of people getting government assistance are disabled or abandoned children and veterans..the other 90-95%are able bodied………drug users, frauds, or just plain lazy,,i worked with HRS. DSS. DHS…FROM 1977,,,UNTIL I RETIRED IN 2014…I KNOW,,,,
An inquiry as to the source of this particular statistic rather predictably went unanswered, and so we decided to help Ms. Arnold out and do some looking around to see if we could either confirm the statistic and the characterization of welfare recipients, which we didn’t expect, or perhaps find some information to the contrary, which is what we expected.
We reviewed information from the following sources:
- Government Benefits, Source: USA.gov.
- Welfare Statistics, Source: Statistic Brain.
- Dynamics of Economic Well-Being: Participation in Government Programs, 2009–2012: Who Gets Assistance?, Source: U.S. Census Bureau.
- The High Public Cost of Low Wages, Source, University of California Berkeley Labor Center.
- Finally, The Truth About Welfare – How Many Blacks Vs. How Many Whites, Source: National Low Income Housing Authority.
- Who’s on Welfare? 9 Shocking Stats About Public Assistance, Source: The Cheatsheet. (Note: this article summarizes the UC Berkely report)
- MILITARY PERSONNEL: DOD Needs More Complete Data on Active-Duty Servicemembers’ Use of Food Assistance Programs, Source: U.S. Government Accountability Office Report to Congressional Committees.
- Hungry Heroes: 25 Percent of Military Families Seek Food Aid, Source: NBC News.
- Food stamp use among military rises again, Source: CNN Money.
- Military families turn to food stamps, Source: Marketplace.org
- Are there more welfare recipients in the U.S. than full-time workers? Source: Politifact
The references varied somewhat based on what specific programs they examined and the time frames in which the studies (or studies referenced in the article) were conducted.
The Berkely report examines participation and costs associated with major public assistance programs, including Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP), Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF, which many people typically refer to as “welfare”), Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as the food stamp program). It discusses wage stagnation, noting that wages for the bottom 10 percent of the wage distribution were only 5% higher than they were in 1979, and that from 2003 from 2013 “Inflation-adjusted wage growth was either flat or negative for the entire bottom 70 percent of the wage distribution.” The report goes on to note that 73 percent of the enrollees in major public support programs are members of working families. Consider this table from the Berkeley report:
Total Program Enrollment
|Enrollment from Working Families||Working Families’ Share of Enrollment|
The report concludes: “When jobs don’t pay enough, workers turn to public assistance in order to meet their basic needs. These programs provide vital support to millions of working families whose employers pay less than a liveable wage…. Overall, higher wages and employer-provided health care would lower both state and federal public assistance costs, and allow all levels of government to better target how their tax dollars are used.”
The Census Bureau report, analyzing date from 2009 to 2012, provides a wealth of information, Worthy of note is that 21.3 percent of the population participated in at least one assistance program in 2012, up from 18.6 percent in 2009, with Medicaid and SNAP being the apparent major factors considered in the study. Participation by people below the poverty rate was substantially higher than those above, and people below the poverty rate also tended to remain on assistance longer. A higher rate of participation is seen for people under 18 years of age than for other groups. Single-parent households participated more than households with married couples, and household with a single, female householder participated at a much higher rate than others. Participation was estimated at 37.3 percent, 21.6 percent, and 9.6 percent for people who did not graduate high school, graduated high school, and had one or more years of college, respectively. Program participation was highest for the unemployed and those not in the labor force, but substantial numbers of full-time and part-time workers also participated.
We could go through this one article or report at a time, but we’ll summarize some of the other information we found. Among the various articles and reports we found a great many other interesting trends. Several sources indicated that perhaps 23,000 active military personnel receive SNAP benefits; that about 7 percent of veterans used food stamps in 2012; that about 23 percent of of households with at least one working adult received some form of assistance; and that about “60 percent of food stamp recipients who were of working age and weren’t disabled were employed while receiving benefits” (Politifact article).
In short, we found nothing that supports Ms. Arnold’s statistic or her assessment of the welfare-receiving population. In fact, we find quite the contrary. Low wages and income/wealth inequality represent a substantial contributor to participation in public assistance programs, and age and education also appear to play a substantial role.
We’ll close this article by reiterating our earlier point – it is shameful and dishonest to portray “welfare” recipients – many of whom are working but not making enough, and many of whom may not be able to work for a variety of reasons, as wealth-stealing parasites. Public assistance provided to many of these people is for all intents and purposes going into the pockets of those who are not paying the legitimate cost of doing business in terms of wages and benefits – essentially socializing their costs while privatizing their profits. Perhaps we should focus on that problem rather than maligning those who are affected by it.
by John Weckerle
Okay, not really, but we figured that the fake news enthusiasts out there would appreciate the title – and those who disdain fake news will very likely get a bit of a kick out of this story.
As reported by The Hill, “Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khawaja Asif tweeted, ‘Israeli def min threatens nuclear retaliation presuming pak role in Syria against Daesh.Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too AH.'” This was in response to an “article” posted on AWD News which “Moshe Yaalon, Israeli Defense Minister” as saying “‘As far as we are concerned,that is a threat,if, by misfortune, they arrive in Syria, we will know what to do,we will destroy them with a nuclear attack.'” Moshe Bogie Ya’alon is actually the former defense minister.
We checked both gentlemen’s Twitter accounts and confirmed that Mr. Asif was correctly quoted by The Hill. Mr. Ya’alon’s twitter feed is problematic; not only are most posts in Hebrew, which your editor has not yet learned, but they are posted as images (an apparent attempt to get around Twitter’s character limits) and thus could not be run through a translation app; we are therefore unable to assess any reaction Mr. Ya’alon may have expressed on Twitter to the idea of Pakistan’s involvement in the conflict with ISIS.
For those not familiar with Twitterspeak, Mr. Asif’s tweet more or less translates to “Israeli defense minister threatens nuclear retaliation presuming a Pakistani role in Syria against Daesh. Israel forgets that Pakistan is a Nuclear state, too, AH.” We find the final abbreviation to be perhaps the most amusing aspect of the story, perhaps even more so than the fact that Mr. Asif was taken in by the fake news story to begin with. Those unfamiliar with this particular abbreviation may find an explanation here. Apparently, the manners and decorum of international political discourse have taken a page from that seen during our recent electoral cycle.
by John Weckerle
With the election safely over, we turned to some of our local favorites to see what sort of high-fiving might be going on – and surprisingly found essentially none among our normal haunts. After apparently selling its trademark to the fossil fuel industry (the site essentially became a re-posting venue for screeds by petroleum industry-funded fossil fuel advocate Marita Noon), the Sandia Tea Party site appears to have gone “dark” in October. As expected (and hoped), the East Mountain Tea Party remains silent, but a little searching revealed that its former denizens Therese Cooper and Char Tierney are alive and kicking on the internet, dispensing their version of reality via Facebook. We don’t want to be raising the relevance scores on their accounts, so we won’t link directly, but on Facebook they are therese.cooper.9 and char.tierney.9, respectively, the latter having recently changed her Facebook account from CharTierney. Both accounts are reminiscent of what we saw on the East Mountain Tea Party site and sites associated with the Table of the Remnant and Operation Jesus Pictures. Silvana Lupetti is also apparently on Facebook (SilvanaLupetti). Unfortunately, we didn’t find anything particularly worth commenting on, but we’ll keep an eye out just in case.
We do, however, occasionally receive e-mails from readers containing what might be described in the current vernacular as “fake news,” and we thought we’d share a little of that with you today. We recently received an e-mail containing the following:
by John Weckerle
It was with some surprise that, several weeks ago, we decided to look in on the Sandia Tea Party site to see how they were treating the political silly season – and found that it had vanished from the web. Repeated visits over a week or two were fruitless, and it looked as if the Sandia Tea Party had, like its former sister organization, the East Mountain Tea Party, vanished from the face of the Earth, or at least from the Internet.
Alas, with this morning’s browsing we find the site back in place, with Sandia Tea Party Official Internet Spokesman Chuck Ring at the helm. Unfortunately, the Sandia Tea Party site appears to have become primarily a venue for screeds provided by fossil fuel energy industry advocate and anti-environment writer Marita Noon, executive director of Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy, which is described by SourceWatch as “a lobby group funded by New Mexico oil and gas industry interests.” Ms. Noon is also an author at Breitbart.com, founded by the late serial liar and fraudster Andrew Breitbart. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, depending on one’s point of view), it would appear that the energy industry is not getting its money’s worth, at least based on the most recent article, dated August 2, found on the Sandia Tea Party web site.
In the most recent article, Ms. Noon attacks the biofuels industry, and particularly the Renewable Fuel Standard, on the basis that these have led to widespread corruption, influence peddling, and fraud. The article presents a number of examples in which various parties have fraudulently sold or otherwise taken advantage of tax credits associated with the production of biofuels (Renewable Identification Numbers, or RINs). Ms. Noon presents these as support for eliminating the Renewable Fuels Standard. We do not challenge the idea that these incidents occurred, and we recognize that there are some environmental and socioeconomic issues associated with biofuels that require more consideration than they are getting, but it seems a huge stretch to portray these accounts of fraud as an indictment of the biofuels credits or the industry as a whole. This would be akin to saying that telephone solicitors who defraud people are the fault of the telephone system, or that the solution to identity fraud would be to eliminate identities. Regardless of the system, there will always be those who will try to turn it to their advantage illegally. Fraud in the energy industry is not limited to the biofuels sector – after all, we all remember this little incident. As to influence peddling and possible corruption, we found this article by Bill Moyers interesting. And there are plenty more out there for those who are interested and have time for a little searching.
The reality of all this is that fraud is a crime that has been committed in nearly all sectors, and that the issue is one of dishonesty rather than something industry-specific. We’ll leave our readers with a link to America’s 10 most famous fraudsters, and draw attention to number 2 in the slideshow.
by John Weckerle
In a June 3 article titled “Stranger Than Fiction: Which It Appears To Be,” Sandia Tea Party official internet spokesman Chuck Ring denounces the Evangelical Immigration Table – a coalition of evangelical organizations seeking immigration reform – and its logistics partner, the National Immigration Forum, on the basis of a Breitbart.com (once the web site of the late serial liar Andrew Breitbart) article. Mr. Ring and the Breitbart writer, Mike Flynn, take issue with the fact that the coalition had announced a $250,000 ad buy as part of its efforts to support the immigration reform bill currently slogging its way around (note that we did not say “through”) Congress. The criticism is based on two premises: that the coalition “doesn’t legally exist as an incorporated entity or nonprofit organization,” and that the organization is not transparent with respect to its funding and activities to the point that Mr. Ring, speaking for the Sandia Tea Party, accuses the organization of “hiding its true agenda.”
Let’s deal with the legality of the group’s existence first. There is no legal requirement that coalitions or other groups of people exercising their First Amendment right to free speech (and, as legal precedent based on the First Amendment dictates, free association) be registered or recognized by government in any way, and there is no prohibition against such groups purchasing advertising. The Breitbart article states: “There are strict limitations on what (c)3’s (sic) and (c)4’s (sic) can undertake” (somewhat true, but these limits apply primarily to interference with elections and lobbying and can be fairly murky; see the IRS web site on exemption requirements for charitable organizations for more information) “and clear prohibitions on them coordinating on an issue campaign” (an absolute falsehood in the grand tradition of the site’s founder).
As far as transparency is concerned, those who have already clicked through to the two organizations in question will have seen what we did: both organizations list their leadership and/or key members, something that the Sandia Tea Party has neglected to do on their web site. Neither does the Sandia Tea Party publish the names of their contributors and the amounts of their donations. We challenge them to do both. On our own, we can’t gather much information about the latter, but a little research has provided us with some information regarding the Sandia Tea Party, its officers, and its (at least as far as we can find out) “nonexistent” status as a Federally recognized tax-exempt organization.
by John Weckerle
Those of our readers who are still tuned in most likely noticed that there was a nearly two-month hiatus in our coverage of – well, everything. This is probably the longest break in our commentary since we started up, and we’re still not sure just how often we’ll be posting, although we’re pretty sure it will be more often than once every couple of months.
There are two major reasons for our absence. First, your editor has experienced a reconfiguration of professional activities, and this change, while a very good one, has included both a great deal of being very busy and an unavailability of access to the blog. Second, quite simply, we got tired of being angry.
Let’s face it; when you’re spending a substantial amount of time investigating corruption and debunking politically motivated falsehoods, bigotry, and other nastiness, you run the risk of having it get to you. It can be very labor-intensive, especially for those of us who actually try to research and fact-check the things we produce, and the risk of doing so is that it typically involves immersing oneself in a rather unpleasant stew of unsavory material. Indignation, anger, and similar emotions can be a drain on one’s energies.
During a trip to Washington, D.C. last week, I had a discussion touching on this with a colleague. We both probably fall within the “more or less centrist” realm, although we are likely on different sides of the theoretical political mean. One of the many things we agreed upon was that the fringe groups are co-opting the political discourse, and in a destructive manner. The problem is that a lot of the rest of us appear to be either falling for it or bowing out, and the result has been a prolonged economic downturn, the appearance of a negative national attitude, and a dubious future. We’re stuck with a legislature that cannot seem to make progress on what should be sensible national priorities because it is mired in ideological conflict, and hardly a half-year goes by without Congress flirting with national financial disaster over some dearly held, all-or-nothing political position that is probably not held as an absolute necessity by most of us.
It is time for line-in-the-sand politics to come to an end. The nation faces serious problems that need attention and action, and opportunities that should be seized. If we turn our attention to what works rather than what we believe (as opposed to what we can demonstrate), we can make headway and not only bring our economy back from the brink, but set it on a course to reach new heights that include opportunities for all – and we can do it without destroying the environment or leaving people behind. To accomplish this, however, we’re going to have to take the spotlight off the fringes, get it on center stage, and let the bitter, anti-government extremists wail alone in the darkness.
At this point, we’ve pointed out enough dishonesty and prejudice on the part of the fringes to make it clear that these are the hallmarks of their efforts. At this point, anybody who’s still taking them seriously is probably going to continue to do so, regardless of what we demonstrate concerning their credibility, and we’re tired of sounding like a broken record. We’ll probably take aim once in a while, but likely with far less frequency. Instead, we may wish to bring out information that will shine a light under the rocks, so to speak, and counter the disinformation being circulated by special interests masquerading as grass-roots movements with actual information that has at least some support from the world of facts and real analysis.
In short – it’s time for us to move on – and by “us,” we don’t just mean those of us at New Mexico Central headquarters, but all of us who can. Let those of us who can come together do so, and let the others remain apart if they must.
by John Weckerle
Our readers may have noted that we’re occasionally sporadic with respect to the frequency of our posts. The challenging economy is becoming a challenge, and sometimes we find ourselves working hard just to keep working hard, and the need for some of us to continue generating an income sometimes means a need to take a break from other pursuits. We returned to the online world today and took a quick look in on the folks at the Sandia Tea Party, and noted a September 15 post by Edgewood Town Councilor Chuck Ring on the Rebuild the Dream Contract for the American Dream. A copy of said contract is provided in image form – not surprisingly titled “Communist Contract AD Alliance Partners” by the author – as is a graphic providing the logos of organizations affiliated with Rebuild The Dream. Mr. Ring invites us to go conspiracy hunting at a site called “Discover The Networks: A Guide to the Political Left.” He then suggests that there is something misleading about Rebuild the Dream’s use of the logo of one of the supporting organizations, “OUR Walmart,” insinuating that OUR Walmart is a fictitious organization or one that may have “misused” Walmart’s name. He points out that a Google search leads to a listing for “ourwalmart.org,” a site no longer in service with a link to Walmart’s corporate home page.
In this, Mr. Ring indulges in a little fast footwork himself – so fast that he apparently shot past the first three hits on the search he recommends. The first two lead directly – and predictably – to the organization called Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OURWalmart), an association of Walmart employees who quite pointedly state that they are not satisfied with the conditions of the their employment. In that context, we don’t see anything misleading. A little research indicates that Walmart challenged the use of the domain name “ourwalmart.org” by the organization – a challenge that appeared valid given domain naming conventions, which is something your editor knows a little about. However, we’ll point out that the logo on the “commiegraph” does not include a domain name, so we fail to see the deception in its inclusion on the graphic, which was clearly lifted from the Rebuild the Dream site and presented without attribution on the Sandia Tea Party site.
by John Weckerle
It’s been a while since we checked in on the folks at the Sandia Tea Party. In our last article on the subject, we examined two posts on the Sandia Tea Party site: one which we felt was a slap at minorities, and another on global climate change on which we thought it appropriate to clarify the source. Predictably or not, both articles vanished from the Sandia Tea Party site very quickly after our article was published.
Since then, we’ve been busy with other things, but have been keeping an eye on the site from time to time. There have been a few times where we’ve considered taking the author(s) to task on disinformation and other issues. It is rife with “the usual” – branding people with different opinions as “socialists” (even those who advocate sustainable development are now included in this ever-broadening category); suggesting that widely accepted scientific postulates are a) false, b) stupid, c) the result of dishonesty or myopia in the scientific community, or d) all of the above; and peppering all this with vague (or sometimes not-so-vague) scatological references that are certainly more enjoyable to write than they are to read.
We find ourselves currently amused by several posts on the site dealing with issues associated with carbon and anthropogenic climate change. The first of these consists of a doctored (we hope) photograph depicting a child urinating off a pier with the caption “After rising CO2 levels were blamed for increasing ocean acidity, a new theory emerges.” Apparently, this is supposed to suggest that it is foolish to believe that an increase in atmospheric CO2 lowers the pH of water.
by John Weckerle
With a busy week behind us and this morning’s garden endeavors complete, and having been watching for a while, we decided to take a closer look in on the Sandia Tea Party site (www.sandiateaparty.com) and see what the newest local chapter was up to. We found ourselves neither greatly surprised nor disappointed: both in format and in content, we found exactly what we expected.
From the standpoint of format, the Sandia Tea Party site is a mess, suggesting that something has gone terribly wrong with the group’s WordPress software. This is just a little surprising, since a look through the articles on the site suggests that it is being managed by Edgewood Town Councilor Chuck Ring, who has been blogging for at least a couple of years. The effective formatting characteristic of WordPress is entirely lacking, and the site is all plain text. An anomalous swath of dark background nearly obscures one section of content.
As bad as the formatting is, the content does little to compensate. We examined two articles – one on the famed “Pigford” cases, and one on global warming – and that was enough. Let’s have a quick look at the two.
by John Weckerle
Today we find ourselves a bit behind the news – as we try to be when we think a situation should be given time to develop before commenting on it. We refer, in the current situation, to the most recent video hoax perpetrated by James O’Keefe, this time a purported “sting” against Ron Schiller, a National Public Radio fundraiser, resulting in yet another doctored video that supposedly depicts the target doing something horrible – in this case, harshly criticizing the Tea Party. For information on the situation, we provide the following links from NPR and Glenn Beck’s The Blaze:
- Questions Raised About O’Keefe’s Editing Of NPR Sting Video
- NPR: O’Keefe ‘Inappropriately Edited’ Video; Exec’s Words Still ‘Egregious’
- Elements Of NPR Gotcha Video Taken Out Of Context
- Ends vs. Means: The Ethics of Undercover Journalism
- Does Raw Video of NPR Expose Reveal Questionable Editing & Tactics?
Not surprisingly, neoconservative “news” outlets and blogs both local and national gleefully and immediately pounced on the “story” as either confirmation of longstanding claims of liberal bias or yet another reason to cut all funding to NPR and/or public broadcasting, and perhaps only a little more surprisingly the “mainstream” news media jumped right on the bandwagon. To the latter: the fact that something sells advertising space doesn’t mean it’s news. Nice job on the verification.
by John Weckerle
We breathed a sigh of certain relief November 3, having come through a taxing election season that assaulted us with a barrage of untruths, half-truths, twisted facts, deceptions, and outright lies. It was over.
Well, of course it wasn’t.
Your editor read something dishonest today. We will spare you the gory details for now. We will simply say that we have had enough of being nice about this sort of thing. Those who occasionally look at our left-hand column will see a new category. We will caution those who publish falsehoods or inaccurate information (including those who pass along such content without checking their facts first) that we are likely going to be a little less kind about it in future. We all have a responsibility to at least try and verify the accuracy of what we are publishing/posting, and we’re tired of certain operators uncritically providing a venue for the dissemination of misleading information. In short: if you’re putting out something inflammatory, accusatory, or controversial – whether it originates with you or elsewhere – you’d do well to make sure you can back it up: because if you can’t, we may be coming after you.