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Lying in the Age of Trump

The first U.S. Senate campaign I covered in Missouri was in 1974, when Republican Thomas B. Curtis ran unsuccessfully against Democrat Tom Eagleton. Since then, I’ve observed many political speeches, campaign appearances and national conventions.

I’ve also seen my share of political commercials. While some stretched the boundaries of truth, I never witnessed a blatant lie told to a television camera like the one being voiced now by the sincere–looking young face of Josh Hawley, Missouri’s attorney general.IMG_4710

Apparently this is what politics have become in the age of Donald Trump, when fact checkers work overtime to separate the truth from falsehoods. Hawley’s deception was the subject of yet another Paul Krugman column today (“Goodbye, Political Spin, Hello Blatant Lies”) in the New York Times.

In the TV ad Hawley claims he favors a requirement that health insurance companies cover pre-existing medical conditions. The Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate uses his son’s medical condition as a prop, even though everyone knows that Hawley was one of 20 Republican attorneys general from around the country who filed a lawsuit seeking to end Obamacare, including its popular guarantee of coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.Screen Shot 2018-10-09 at 1.29.34 PM

If the lawsuit is successful it would make millions of Americans uninsurable.

Hawley’s hypocrisy is astounding. Does he believe that voters are so gullible that a lie sincerely told outweighs the facts before them?

Newspapers have called Hawley out on this duplicity. A Washington Post columnist said the campaign ad was emblematic of the 2018 midterm election. You don’t usually see a politician claiming to be the savior of the very thing he’s trying to destroy, the columnist wrote. Krugman made the same point earlier: “If you or anyone you care about suffers from a pre-existing medical condition, Republicans are trying to take away your insurance. If they claim otherwise, they’re lying.”

At 38 years of age, Hawley is trying to take a short cut to political happiness. He is a candidate cast in the mold of another young Republican with no governmental experience, former Gov. Eric Greitens. Everyone knows how that turned out.

Hawley is trying to unseat two-term U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat with a long record of public service as a state representative, county legislator, county prosecutor and state auditor.

With no term completed in any government office, Hawley has no record upon which to run. In less than two years as attorney general, he’s had some missteps. Although the law requires the attorney general to live in the state capital of Jefferson City, Hawley continued to reside in Columbia and voted in a Boone County election.

Judges have sanctioned him for not doing his job. And it wasn’t until the Greitens’ scandal pots were boiling over that Hawley decided to even enter the kitchen.IMG_4709

With no positive record to show for himself, Hawley has been on the attack. Campaigns supporting him have made an issue of McCaskill’s husband’s wealth, a tactic Republicans have tried unsuccessfully before.

Newspapers have discredited this ad as being deceiving, too. “The implication that McCaskill is getting rich at voters’ expense is false,” reported the Washington Post. “Republicans should retire this smear campaign and move on toward a debate on the issues.”

One that really takes the cake is Hawley’s claim that McCaskill, who worked her way through Mizzou as a waitress, is part of the Washington elite and is “wealthy and well connected.” This is coming from a banker’s son with a degree from Yale, and who most recently raised campaign money at the exclusive Knickerbocker Club in Manhattan.

Over the years, I’ve seen up close many Missouri Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate: John Danforth, Kit Bond, Gene McNary, John Ashcroft, Jim Talent and Roy Blunt. They had all stepped on some lower rungs on their way climbing up the political ladder.

Young Josh has decided to skip all the rungs, hoping misinformation or disinformation will overcome fact-based reporting.

Following Basye’s Money

Big money dominates Missouri politics. Here in Columbia, and in Boone, Howard, Cooper and Randolph counties, Exhibit A is $50,000. A $50,000 bundle of cash state Rep. Chuck Basye accepted from David Humphreys, the businessman who tried to crush Missouri labor unions.

Basye, a Republican from Rocheport, is an opponent of organized labor. Since 2015, he has consistently voted in favor of so-called “right to work” laws. On Aug. 26, 2016 he received a campaign contribution of $50,000 from Humphreys, the Joplin-based businessman who spent millions of dollars trying to make Missouri a “right to work” state.

Opposing Basye in his bid for re-election in the 47th State House District is Adrian Plank, a Democrat and a union carpenter who circulated petitions in the successful drive to overturn the “right to work” law.

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David Humphreys, CEO of TAMKO Building Products in Joplin, gave $14 million in campaign donations to Republican candidates like Basye in an attempt to make “right to work” the law of the state. Labor unions urged their members to boycott TAMKO products.

The contest for control of the 47th District provides a good snapshot of the current state of Missouri politics. The big bucks that drive the national political scene begin right here at home. On Nov. 6, when voters consider the constitutional amendment (Amendment 1) to clean up state government, the campaign money Basye has accepted is a good example to remember.

Basye, a retired air traffic controller, had never run for political office before when he first won the seat in 2014. He had a lot of help–$300,000 in support from the House Republican Campaign Committee, which wanted to defeat the incumbent, Rep. John Wright, who was considered a rising star in Democratic politics.

Republicans targeted Wright, who had become a voice for ethics reform in the Legislature. Six months before the election, Wright wrote an opinion piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explaining how lobbyists had spent nearly $1 million on gifts for legislators.

Basye beat Wright by 261 votes, 5,007 to 4,746. Like this year, that vote count took place in a non-presidential election in which turnout can make all the difference.

On Sept. 16, 2015, Basye was one of those in the House who tried unsuccessfully to override then-Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a “right to work” law. Nixon said it was an unwarranted government interference in the operations of Missouri businesses, that it would be bad for the economy and it would drive down wages.

The following year, Humphreys donated $2 million to Republican Eric Greitens, who had promised to sign “right to work” should he become governor. Basye was among those who again voted in favor of the law on Feb. 2, 2017. Governor Greitens quickly signed it.

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Basye has consistently voted to support “right to work,” but in August voters in the four counties that are part of his House district defeated the “right to work” Proposition A: 31,249 “no” to 17,692 “yes”.

Two months ago Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejected “right to work” by a ratio of 67 to 33 percent. By then, Greitens had been shamed out of office because of a sexual scandal and charges of official misconduct.

The 47th District combines parts of north and west Columbia with rural voters in Boone, Howard, Cooper and Randolph counties. August primary election results show voters in all those counties overwhelmingly rejected “right to work.”

The proposed repeal of “right to work” was originally scheduled to be considered during the November general election. But if that happened, all those pro-union working people could have affected the outcomes of state House and Senate races throughout Missouri. Republicans didn’t want that to happen.

As the Legislature neared adjournment, the Republican-controlled General Assembly voted to move the “right to work” referendum to the August primary. Since 1914, there have been 26 similar votes on whether to repeal state law. This marked the first time in which a referendum was moved from the general election to the primary election.

Basye voted for that, too.

In fact, Basye has voted for many other anti-worker provisions. He voted to repeal the prevailing wage requirement for public construction projects, he has voted to prohibit local minimum wages, and he has voted to require that public sector employees, like teachers, must sign up each year to have union dues taken out of their paychecks.

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Dan Mehan, the head of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, has pushed for passage of “right to work” in the Legislature. Before the public vote on the the proposition, Mehan refused to commit to respect the voters’ decision. The business group could come back and try to get the Legislature to pass it again despite the public vote against it.

And even though voters rejected “right to work,” there’s nothing to stop the Legislature from coming back and passing it again. The only sure way is to head this off is to elect people to the Legislature who support workers.

Because the Legislature considers so many bills dealing with businesses, Basye has been the beneficiary of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from lobbyists and business-related political action committees. He has collected more than $135,000 for this election compared with $21,400 for Plank.

Few people know who represents them in the state Legislature. Fewer still have the time to pay close attention to how legislators vote in Jefferson City. Politicians know this; in fact, they count on it. They hope people aren’t paying attention.

On Nov. 6 will voters connect the dots? Will they remember that the ethics reforms John Wright wanted–a ban on lobbyists’ gifts and limits on campaign donations–are encapsulated in Amendment 1? Will all those pro-labor voters in Basye’s legislative district remember where Basye stands?

Smoke Signals in the West

SWEET HOME, Oregon–We were in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest recently as part of a five-week camping and hiking tour of the West, when U.S. Forest Supervisor Tracey Beck issued an order prohibiting campfires, smoking, welding and the use of chainsaws for the period Aug. 24 to Nov. 1.

The notice, posted on the campground bulletin board, came as no surprise. The western woods were so parched any spark could turn the tinder into a raging inferno. For days we saw the smoky haze that hung in the sky all around us from fires far away. We had first noticed it weeks earlier passing through western Nebraska. A woman stocking the self-service breakfast bar at our hotel in North Platte looked out a window and said the grey pall was coming from fires in Colorado hundreds of miles away.

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Notices banning outdoor burning were posted throughout Oregon.

The news had been full of stories about wildfires destroying homes, lives and hundreds of thousands of acres of timber. The worst seemed to be in Northern California where truckers abandoned their big rigs on Interstate 5 near the Oregon state line when the trees on both sides of the road burst into flames. Traveling through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado, we never witnessed any fires up close, but we learned that a forest fire affects the lives of people far away from the smoldering woods.

Visiting Portland, Oregon, we found that the poor air quality caused by far-away blazes had forced the local parks department to cancel outdoor athletic practices. We took our three grandchildren to an indoor play and entertainment venue, and the owner said he was having twice the usual business that day because youngsters were not supposed to play outside.

Shopping at a local grocery store, we were told no organic eggs were available because wildfires had affected laying hens in California. We had no way of confirming this immediately, but later I found a number of stories reporting that scientific studies were underway in California on the effects of wildfires on the poultry industry.

Everywhere we went we saw evidence of fires and people fighting them. Bureau of Land Management firefighters were lodged at our same hotel in Kemmerer, Wyoming, and we spotted fire-fighting crews on the interstate near Boise, Idaho.

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Smoke shrouds the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho

Most of all, we saw that the big sky of the west was not so clear. A U.S. Forest Service employee at the Sweet Home headquarters told me she once was able to see Washington’s Mount St. Helens from the lookout platform atop Iron Mountain, elevation 5,167 feet, in the Old Cascades. But when I climbed the mountain on Sept. 5, smoke obscured visibility to only the closest mountains.

At the same time as our trip, we had relatives visiting Glacier National Park in Montana where fires were also curtailing tourism. Traffic was banned on some roads, and the Lake McDonald Lodge area was closed to visitors.

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The hazy view from atop Iron Mountain lookout in the Willamette National Forest

Some people might think the rule banning campfires was one of those “job killing regulations,” since all those front yard mom and pop operations that advertise firewood for sale at $5 a bundle would be put out of business. And indeed, some people would probably forego camping if they knew they couldn’t have a fire.

The federal online registration agency, recreation.gov, gave me a chance to cancel my camping reservation with a full refund because of the campfire ban. But I was not inconvenienced. A campfire has never been essential to an outdoor experience for me. I was glad the government was laying down an order that might protect the forest.

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Campfires are not essential for a satisfactory outdoor experience

After all, most wildfires are caused by human activity. Natural fires start from lightning. But according to Stephen J. Pyne, an expert on wildfires, 90 percent of them are caused by human carelessness–accidents, arson, machinery and sparks from utility power lines.

As more people live, recreate or do business in the forests, the chance of wildfire increases.

Many years ago I traveled with my family aboard Colorado’s Durango to Silverton narrow-gauge train pulled by a coal-fired steam engine. I remember sticking my head out of a passenger car window to film the smoking engine with a Kodak home movie camera. That shot captured the scene of water hoses extending from the train’s water tender, attempting to douse fires that might be caused by glowing cinders that fell along the right of way.

On Sept. 11, the Denver Post reported that a group of residents and businesses in southwestern Colorado had filed a civil suit against the railroad, claiming it was responsible for a forest fire that started June 1 near the train company’s tracks north of Durango. The newspaper reported the fire grew to more than 50,000 acres, becoming the sixth largest wildfire in Colorado history. The lawyer representing the plaintiffs said the railroad carelessly ran its coal-fired steam train during an extreme drought despite starting numerous fires in the past.

A Denver television station reported Sept. 11 that a brush fire nearly a year ago that threatened the homes of thousands of people was started by a group of police officers who fired an incendiary round at a shooting range against the range’s rules. The fire burned 46 acres.

Wildfire seasons are becoming longer, and wildfires have become more destructive. More money is being budgeted to fight them.

According to the Associated Press, the federal government spent $2.4 billion last year to fight fires that destroyed 8,500 homes and businesses, damaged about 15,500 square miles (9.9 million acres) and killed 14 firefighters. The firefighting costs accounted for 55 percent of the Forest Service’s budget. In a major accounting change, a special Wildfire Disaster Fund of $3.2 billion has been set up this year to pay for fighting wildfires.

Climate change is affecting the wildfires. It’s not causing them directly, but it is making them more ferocious and more likely. For example, the tiny pine bark beetle which burrows into trees and kills them, is more likely to survive now because of milder and shorter winters in the West. The dead trees fallen by the infestation become kindling for future wildfires.

Pyne, the wild fire expert, is a professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. He has taught courses on fire and has published over 30 books, most of them dealing with fires. On his university web page, he has posted for journalists a concise summary of wildland fire and its management.

“Climate change is accentuating trends toward more bad fire–call it a performance enhancer,” Pyne wrote. “The principle effects seem to be a reduction in winter and spring precipitation, which has lengthened the fire season and made more fuels available, and hot dry spells, which drops relative humidity.”

If it were more humid, a fire would slow down or even die. But recurring drought dries out the trees making them ready fuel for fires.

The smoke signals I saw in the West contained a message. Mother Nature is trying to tell us something.

Remembering Ernest Hemingway

KETCHUM, Idaho–Rolling out of the Sawtooth Wilderness, heading south on Idaho Route 75, Judy and I recently paused in Ketchum to see how Ernest Hemingway was remembered there.

The great writer of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Old Man and the Sea” (for which he won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1954) spent his last troubled years in Ketchum. His best writing behind him and plagued by mental illness, he took his life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Ketchum on July 2, 1961.

We parked the car downtown, and the first person we met on the street said that when he was a young man he had chauffeured Hemingway home from restaurants and bars when he was too intoxicated to drive. The man called himself Robert Burns, like the Scottish poet. I didn’t know if he was pulling my leg about the Hemingway anecdote or about his name, or both.

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Robert Burns

But Burns gave us good directions on where we should go to find out about the author’s days in Ketchum: The Community Library and the Regional History Department’s Hemingway collection.

Ernest Hemingway and his fourth wife, Mary, bought a home in Ketchum in 1959 when he was concerned about the political situation in Cuba. But the writer and well-known celebrity had been coming to the Sun Valley area since 1939 when Union Pacific’s marketing team invited him to their new Sun Valley Resort. According to information shared by the library, Hemingway put the finishing touches on his great Spanish Civil War novel while staying in Sun Valley Lodge suite #206. At that time, he was accompanied by his soon-to-be third wife, Martha Gellhorn.

According to the library, Hemingway wrote in the mornings, hunted in the afternoons and gambled in the bars in the evenings. He was drawn to the area because of the great trout fishing and bird hunting.

Among the photos in the Hemingway collection is a shot of Hemingway and actor Gary Cooper, which appears to have been taken during a hunting trip. Cooper played the lead in the movie adaptation of “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

Among the artifacts in the collection are a Royal portable typewriter, which has been identified as one that Hemingway probably used. Numerous copies of books by and about the author, as well as oral histories, are also part of the information assembled about the writer.

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Documents and a carrying case seem to authenticate this Royal portable as once belonging to Hemingway

There is a walking tour around the city so a visitor can find Lodge Room #206 where he did some writing, the Casino Bar where he gambled and the Christiania Restaurant where the author  and Mary had dinner the night before his death.

Near the end of his life, Hemingway wrote standing at a desk in his Ketchum home on works that were published after his death: “A Moveable Feast,” “The Dangerous Summer,” and “Islands in the Stream.” The home is not open to the public. The Community Library owns it, and a person there told me there is a long term plan for a room to be made available for a guest writer in residence. Every year the library sponsors a Hemingway-related writing seminar that runs two or three days.IMG_4657

This year the seminar focused on “A Farewell to Arms,” the career-launching novel that was based on Hemingway’s experiences as an ambulance driver during World War I.

Hemingway is buried in the Ketchum Cemetery under large evergreen trees. Family and friends are buried nearby.

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Hemingway’s simple gravesite appeared to be a symbolic stop for some literary pilgrims. On the day we visited his gravesite it was decorated with a bouquet of flowers and a nearly empty bottle of Crown Royal.

This puzzled me. I had read a lot about Hemingway, including more than one biography. I didn’t know of a connection between Hemingway and Crown Royal. I knew he liked to drink a lot, but I thought his favorite was a civilizing martini. But we didn’t have time to ponder the matter. We moved on.

 

A Very Un-American Technique

By William Allen, Guest Columnist

If North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un decided he didn’t want his people to know about climate change, he could just do what tyrants do: order the words eliminated from government websites and ban his scientists from saying them.

Government censorship of climate change is alive and well, but not in North Korea. It’s happening in the United States of America.

The most recent examples of this dictatorial behavior by the Trump administration were reported today (Sept. 5, 2018) and Aug. 14. In the first case, the White House Office of Management and Budget was shown to have cut references to climate change and its effects on human health from an Environmental Protection Agency analysis.

In the August case, the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit science integrity advocacy organization, reported that a survey it conducted with Iowa State University of scientists in 16 federal agencies found widespread censorship and self-censorship of climate science since Trump took office.

“We are no longer authorized to share scientific findings with the public if they center on climate change,” said one of the 4,200 respondents, who were allowed to comment anonymously. “Materials are marked as only for internal use.”

The observation was repeated by many of the scientists, who are just trying to do what we taxpayers pay them to do — discover the truth and tell us.

These are only two of the many examples of censorship committed by the Trump administration and governors of at least two states as they try to hide the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is happening, humans are causing it, and extremely serious consequences are ahead for all of us.

If, like me, you are a proud American with traditional democratic values, you:

  • understand that censorship has its place, such as occasionally in times of a shooting war, when we don’t want the enemy to know our plans.
  • get upset when censorship is used to keep the public in the dark on the facts behind a crucial public policy issue that affects the future of our families.

Climate change censorship is done at the behest of powerful corporate interests that profit from fossil fuel use. It is chicken-hearted, dangerous and immoral.

And very un-American.

By delaying a sensible discussion of what to do about climate change, the censors boost the likelihood that current and future generations of Americans will pay dearly — in blood and fortune. Not to mention the rest of the world.

For background on the 97 percent scientific consensus and the long-standing propaganda efforts by the fossil fuel industry, Dark Money operatives and their well-paid climate denial circus clowns to confuse the American public, please see my recent columns on “The Great Climate Hoaxers” and “A Most Hilarious Climate Change Myth.”

The current column is aimed at helping you understand the broad pattern of climate fact censorship. That pattern can be difficult to see, unless you connect the dots. Here are just a few of the most telling dots since the turn of the 21st century. (As someone who has voted for decades for candidates from both major parties, I sadly note here that all the climate denial perps below happen to be Republicans.)

Dot 1. Bush. The White House run by two oil executives, George W. Bush and Richard Cheney, was notorious for meeting secretly with fellow fossil-fuelers. And below the surface, their political hacks actively censored climate fact. The best example was Philip Cooney, a lobbyist for the oil industry trade association American Petroleum Institute who became chief of staff for Bush’s White House Council on Environmental Quality.

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Philip Cooney appears at a Congressional hearing in 2007. Photo by C-SPAN.

In June 2005, Cooney was outed by a whistleblower and the New York Times for heavily editing a government climate science report to Congress in a way that produced “an air of doubt about findings that most climate experts say are robust,” according Andrew Revkin of the Times. The whistleblower, Rick Piltz, a longtime staffer in an interagency climate research program, said political appointees had hindered “forthright communication of the state of climate science.”

Cooney was a lawyer, not a scientist. A few days later, he left the Bush administration and was hired by ExxonMobil, prompting a wag from Greenpeace to comment, as reported by the Guardian newspaper, “The cynical way to look at this is that ExxonMobil has removed its sleeper cell from the White House and extracted him back to the mother ship.”

Extremely witty, except that calling it a sleeper cell misses the bigger point: the mother ship was running the whole White House.

Dot 2. Florida. In 2011, when Florida Gov. Rick Scott took office, his administration launched an unwritten policy banning scientists and other employees of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection from using “climate change” or “global warming.” This censorship of more than 3,000 people in the agency was revealed in 2015 by Tristram Korten of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

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Official photo of Florida Gov. Rick Scott. The red patches on his Florida lapel pin do not represent areas projected by scientists to go underwater as sea level rises with climate change. Those areas are depicted in the graphic below.

Supervisors had made it clear the terms were not to be used in any reports, emails or other official communications. (My University of Missouri students and I heard about this censorship from scientists we interviewed on a 2013 trip around Florida to write about endangered plants, some of which will probably go extinct because of sea-level rise caused by climate change.)

Scott refused to comment for Korten’s widely published story, and his public relations people denied any such policy. (It’s fair to note that about $20 million of Scott’s $132 million net worth is in energy company investments, according to the Tampa Bay Times.)

The bitter irony here is the well-established scientific projection that much of Florida is likely to go underwater in coming decades.

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Florida as it would appear under different scenarios projected for the coming decades of sea-level rise — 3 feet (1 meter), 9 feet (3 meters) and 18 feet (6 meters). More details here. Graphic by University of Florida.

Scott, who was once Bush’s partner in ownership of the Texas Rangers, is now running for U.S. Senate. The Tampa Bay Times reported that the governor recently has met with oil barons in Texas and Oklahoma and received a large influx of campaign contributions from fossil-fuel industries around the nation.

Fill ‘er up with regular, fellas! … Thanks. Now, what do I owe ya?

Dot 3. Wisconsin. The administration of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has been scrubbing the consensus view on climate change from its websites and other official communications since shortly after Walker took office in 2011. The censorship has been documented by the news media, led by independent blogger Jim Rowen, a longtime critic of Walker’s policies on the environment.

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Official state photo of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Most recently, in December 2016, Rowen showed how officials in the state’s Department of Natural Resources re-wrote a web page on the Great Lakes to remove any mention of climate change and the scientific consensus.

For example, the old page said: “Earth’s climate is changing. Human activities that increase heat-trapping (‘greenhouse’) gases are the main cause. Earth´s average temperature has increased 1.4 °F since 1850 and the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 1998.” It added that “scientists agree” on a wide range of impacts if the pattern continues, including “severe economic consequences” for “our valuable shipping industry, lakeshore recreation, and coastal businesses.”

The new page ignores all that and falsely claims there’s still a debate about the science: “As it has done throughout the centuries, the earth is going through a change. The reasons for this change at this particular time in the earth’s long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.”

Note how the government censor replaced the word “scientists” with “academic entities.” Such a sublime rhetorical dis!

Dot 4. Trump. It’s not like climate change scientists and policy-makers didn’t see the big oily wave coming when Trump was elected in November 2016. That December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention canceled a long-planned February 2017 conference on the relationship between climate change and health.

The CDC cited “budget priorities,” but many scientists saw it as self-censorship. After all, keeping a low profile is one way to survive a president who sees climate change as a hoax. A non-profit foundation sponsored the conference, which lasted one day instead of the originally planned three. Meanwhile, evidence has mounted that diseases spread by mosquitoes, ticks and other blood-suckers are rising dramatically, as least in part because warmer temperatures are enabling these pests to survive in more parts of the United States.

The Trump climate censorship problem was well-documented by the Union of Concerned Scientists study mentioned above. But some agencies actually began cleansing websites even before his inauguration. For example, Environmental Protection Agency officials replaced “climate change” with “extreme weather” and cut references to “climate science” and “climate studies,” according to the Silencing Science Tracker.

The Silencing Science Tracker is a joint program of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law and the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund. By monitoring news reports, it tracks federal “attempts to restrict or prohibit scientific research, education or discussion, or the publication or use of scientific information” since Trump’s election. (If interested, you can sign up on its website to receive daily or weekly email reports.)

As of this writing, the tracker’s climate webpage has listed 119 instances of “silencing” — defined as censorship, canceling research grants and pressuring scientists to change findings.

The only positive thing to say about this is, at least Trump’s ways of silencing critics aren’t as bad as Putin’s.

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The top few among 119 entries on the Silencing Science Tracker climate webpage as of Sept. 5.

Connecting dots. There’s much more to tell, of course, including legal and social media harassment of scientists.

But if we stop here and connect just the dots above, the evidence is clear: there’s a broad campaign to reach into the world of scientific truth-seekers and silence them.

A hopeful sign is that climate researchers in government are practicing their version of “duck and cover.” They’re not giving up. But neither are Big Oil and Big Coal operatives and their vest-pocket politicians.

As citizens, we can make a statement on this in November by voting for politicians who stand against climate censorship and the climate denial circus. Until we do that, the show will go on in the denial Big Top. And it will keep going even if Trump goes to the Big House.

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William Allen is a 25-year veteran of professional journalism, including 13 years covering science for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He also spent 2004-2017 teaching science, agricultural and environmental journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia. He currently is an assistant professor emeritus and still teaches part-time at the university.

A Most Hilarious Climate Change Myth

By William Allen, Guest Columnist

My favorite myth about scientists who study climate change is that they’re in it for the money. This myth is my favorite because it’s absolutely hilarious.

People who think scientists go into this profession because they want to get rich are either delusional, don’t understand the values and norms of science, or work for the climate-denial circus, which has spent millions of dollars trying to fool you by creating scores of myths.

As a follow-up to last week’s column on “The Great Climate Hoaxers,” let me introduce you to the Myth of the Greedy Scientists — No. 32 on the list of 197 “Global Warming & Climate Change Myths”. The list has been produced by Skeptical Science, an award-winning, non-profit science education group. Their work, all volunteer though worthy of Paypal donations, is widely respected as a credible source of climate change information, including the devious claims of the denial circus.

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The top of the list of 197 climate change myths from climate change deniers, as compiled by the group Skeptical Science.

The list also includes such myths as climate change isn’t bad, the sun is responsible and it’s all part of a natural cycle — all lies commonly hawked by the circus clowns.

As to the Greedy Scientists myth, the scientist and writer John Timmer, in a 2016 article in Ars Technica magazine, said that since climate science “doesn’t have a lot of commercial appeal, most of the people working in the area, and the vast majority of those publishing the scientific literature, work in academic departments or at government agencies” with relatively moderate professional-level salaries.

For example, at Pennsylvania State University, which has a prominent climate research program, a newly hired geoscience professor made just under $70,000 and a tenured professor made about $120,000. Not bad, but you’re not going to see many climate scientists cruising around in yachts, or chilling out beside the pool at gated vacation mansions in Florida, or flying out for a weekend at a posh resort in … I don’t know, where do oil and coal executives go?

For his article, Timmer got more than 50,000 results when he googled for “global warming gravy train.” (Let’s just say they weren’t fact-based stories like you’re reading now.)

As a public-service science journalist since the 1980s, I’ve gained pretty good insight into the values, norms, and personalities of scientists. I understand how research is done, why scientists dedicate their lives to it, and why evidence — not opinion, not money — is their basic principle and motivation. I respect that.

When it comes to my experience using scientists as sources, they generally come in higher on my list of personal credibility rankings than, say, politicians and corporate officials. Yet, I’ve always kept a skeptical attitude about the claims of scientists. In the journalism vernacular, I never “married the native.” And I’ve developed a really good BS detector for science fraud.

I know that some engineering faculty and molecular biology “gene jockeys” can get patents, spin off entrepreneurial companies and get rich. But that is just not so for university and government climate scientists, who mainly come from a different side of the physical, life and social science communities. They’re workaday (and into the night) folks who are in it mainly for the pursuit of knowledge and truth, the thrill of discovery, a concern about life on the planet, a decent living for their families and helping others. Sure, like all humans they have their faults.

But greed is not one of them.

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A researcher examines Greenland ice in 2017 during a NASA study of how the ocean is melting the island’s glaciers. Photo by NASA.

If you’d like to laugh more, consider this anecdote from Scott Mandia, professor of physical sciences at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island, whose 2010 blog entry is cited on the Skeptical Science website:

“I recall a lecture I gave on climate change back in April 2009. After I was finished, a gentleman told me that he thought the whole thing was a hoax so that we scientists could get rich from funding. Before I even had a chance to reply, a voice from the crowd (my wife) yelled out, ‘Trust me, I can tell you, he isn’t making any money from this. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Nothing!’ The truth hurts, doesn’t it?”

Climate scientists are sitting ducks for this Greedy Scientists myth, a propaganda technique that falls into the category sometimes called the “plain folks device.”

All scientists spend years becoming experts in their knowledge-based profession. In other words, they are intellectuals. And a significant portion of U.S. society is anti-intellectual, just as it has been throughout our history. Thus, the oily propagandists at issue here push the “anti-intellectual button” with millions of susceptible Americans who know little about scientists, fear scientists or just plain hate them because they’re “smart.”

Perhaps the funniest (and most ironic) part of this myth is that those who push it — the lawyers and public relations brains of the climate denial circus — are paid by incredibly rich corporate executives of fossil fuel companies and other denizens of the Dark Money world. In essence, these super-wealthy titans have sent out a snake-oil sales force equal to the men who hawked cure-alls off the back of covered wagons in the 1800s, complete with co-conspirators planted in the crowd.

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Label from a bottle of snake oil, a concoction synonymous with deception and fraud.

Average Americans shouldn’t feel ashamed if they don’t fully grasp the complex science behind climate change. But they ought to recognize when they’re being taken by snake-oil specialists, especially in the run-up to the Nov. 6 elections. Bottom line: if you sense smoke and mirrors, trust your BS detector.

The snake-oilers want you to think there’s a scientific debate over whether climate change is happening and humans are causing it. But as last week’s column shows, there’s no such debate. We’ve got to get on with the next step: what are we as a nation and a global community going to do about climate disruption?

Rome is burning, and in classic flimflam fashion, they’ve slyly kept us watching the wrong hand — a fire we started and have long known is a threat. We need to switch the focus to the other hand and discuss, “Where’s the water?”

Don’t be played for a fool. Vote for candidates who want to take action on climate change.

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William Allen is a 25-year veteran of professional journalism, including 13 years covering science for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He also spent 2004-2017 teaching science, agricultural and environmental journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia. He currently is an assistant professor emeritus and still teaches part-time at the university.

The Great Climate Hoaxers

By William Allen, Guest Columnist

The news on the climate change front this month is grim as usual: 2018 is on track to be the fourth hottest year on record, a seawater heat wave is coursing through the ocean off of California, and scientists have identified several potential tipping points that could push the planet to a “Hothouse Earth” state not reached in 1.2 million years. Climate-related events harmful to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on the planet appear to be increasing in number and intensity.

If you feel overwhelmed and don’t want to think about what it all means, that’s understandable. The science behind global warming and the climate disruption it causes is complex. And potential solutions seem confusing, even threatening.

But turning away and tuning out is just what Big Oil and Big Coal want you to do. Especially now, in the run-up to the Nov. 6 elections.

Climate change is the ultimate local issue. Anywhere you live or go, big changes are arriving, and they’ll affect you and your family for generations.

Yet for decades, the fossil fuel giants have put on a show to distract and confuse you about this — a show that would make P.T. Barnum blush. Their circus performers include such obfuscators as Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Chicago-based rightwing Heartland Institute, and even President Trump, who has called scientific warnings about climate change a “hoax,’ “con job” and “myth,” and has pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement (a milquetoast pact at best anyway).

The climate-denial clowns have tried hard to persuade the public that climate science is bound up in “a major scientific controversy” and that anyone who supports policies to move society off its carbon addiction is “alarmist.”

They don’t want you to know that an overwhelming consensus exists among climate scientists that global warming is due to human activities, especially carbon dioxide and methane pollution, and that disruptive climate change already is occurring.

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Result of a Skeptical Science peer-reviewed survey of all (more than 12,000) peer-reviewed abstracts on the subject ‘global climate change’ and ‘global warming’ published between 1991 and 2011. Image by the Consensus Project

To give you an idea of how hard the climate-denial circus has been trying, we present three of its greatest hits so far. (There are dozens more.)

First, in the “Most Sinister” category, there’s the leaked 1998 memo by American Petroleum Institute, the trade association for the oil and gas industry. The memo outlined a secret climate communications plan that included hiring a small band of gadfly scientists to obfuscate the scientific consensus. In part, the API would attempt to “inform” the news media about “uncertainties” in climate science, which in turn would lead the public to question policymakers.

According to the memo, “Victory will be achieved when recognition of uncertainty becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.”

If that sounds familiar, compare it with this line from a 1969 conspiratorial memo by the Brown and Williamson tobacco company for a campaign that recruited similar scientists and public relations operatives: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

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Sen. James Inhofe visiting Ukraine, October 2014. Photo by U.S. Embassy, Kyiv, Ukraine

 

 

The second greatest hit, in the “Most Replayed” category, was first uttered by Inhofe, the senior senator from Oklahoma, which is one of the nation’s top oil-producing states. Inhofe has received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from Big Oil and Big Coal. In 2003, he said in a speech on the Senate floor that “manmade global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

This choice line, reminiscent of the pot calling the kettle black, has been used in a rhetorical technique of indoctrination by repetition. Inhofe and other Republicans, including some from Missouri, routinely repeat it verbatim, much as Trump keeps repeating “witch hunt” and “total hoax” as propaganda to undermine the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion and Russian meddling.

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Heartland Institute’s May 2012 billboard. Photo by Heartland Institute

 

Third, in the “Outrageously Faulty Generalization” category, is the Heartland Institute’s May 2012 Chicago billboard caper. Heartland officials placed a billboard advertisement along the inbound Eisenhower Expressway with a picture of Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber. Next to the picture were these words: “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?” The billboard, which also featured the institute’s web address, was soon removed.

In a news release, Heartland said it had planned similar billboards showing mass murder Charles Manson and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

“What these murderers and madmen have said differs very little from what spokespersons for the United Nations, journalists for the “mainstream” media, and liberal politicians say about global warming,” the institute said.

What would you expect from a so-called think tank given $736,500 by Exxon Mobil between 1998 and 2006, plus other funds from the Koch brothers and other denizens of the “dark money” world? Heartland was only one of the many front groups, websites, bloggers, op-ed letter writers, media commentators, and scientists in the Big-Oil and Big-Coal denier circus.

The hits like these keep on coming, folks. A sucker is born every minute, but you don’t have to be one of them. Keep an eye out for the propaganda, especially over the next few months, as more hoaxers try to win election and go to Washington to “serve” at the side of the Hoaxer-in-Chief and his Big Oil and Big Coal administration.

As you approach the ballot box, consider the urgent need for more politicians who will move forward us on climate. Ask yourself: will he or she help us figure out how to get off carbon?

Talk about family values. Your family’s lives are at stake.

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William Allen is a 25-year veteran of professional journalism, including 13 years covering science for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He also spent 2004-2017 teaching science, agricultural and environmental journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia. He currently is an assistant professor emeritus and still teaches part-time at the university.