BLM Deputy: Zinke monuments memo was not fact-checked

BLM Acting Deputy Director John Ruhs testifies on fact-checking in Interior and, presumably, the mines of Moria

On Twitter this morning, Sen. Mark Heinrich (D-NM) alleged that there were “basic factual errors” in the recommendation on national monuments that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke submitted to President Trump last month, including the claim that monument designation had reduced hunting access in New Mexico. According to local BLM staff, hunting access has improved under monument designation. Noting that these facts appear to contradict Zinke’s report, Heinrich asks John Ruhs, the Acting Deputy Director of the Bureau of Land Managment, whether the secretary’s office consulted local BLM officials before drafting its report. In this video, Ruhs said the secretary’s office did not consult local BLM officials. Neither did it ask the BLM to fact-check Zinke’s memo.

That memo was previously kept secret, but it leaked this weekend. In it, Zinke recommends shrinking 10 national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act by previous presidents, mostly Barack Obama. He also makes several assertions that Outside magazine describes as “lies.” To be fair, some of what Outside criticizes are not claims of fact. But taken altogether, Zinke’s memo suggests that he formed his plan to reduce national monuments first and went looking for evidence second.

Back in May, Energy & Environment News reported that Interior had suspended meetings with Resource Advisory Councils, the local groups that have advised on federal land management decisions since 1996. Zinke did, however, consult a different group of stakeholders: oil companies. According to personal schedules obtained by the Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act, during the first two months after he was confirmed, Secretary Zinke held “more than a half-dozen meetings with executives from nearly two dozen oil and gas firms…including BP America, Chevron and ExxonMobil.” He also met with Bakken oil magnate and 39th-richest American John Hamm, who is head of the American Petroleum Institute.

Such meetings account for one of the most technically true claims in Zinke’s report to president Trump, that public comments on the issue of shrinking national momuments “can be divided into two principal groups.” That is correct only in the sense that 99.2% of public comments received by the Department of the Interior wanted the monuments to stay at their current size. The other 0.8% felt differently. But this dividing of the more-than-99-percent and the less-than-one-percent into “two principal groups” was not a deliberate attempt to mislead the president. Zinke must have believed that 0.8% was significant, because he sided with them.

Taken together, these behaviors suggest that the secretary had a conclusion in mind when he set out to gather information about national monuments. That conclusion coincided with the wishes of resource extraction companies and contradicted the preference of the general public. Despite Zinke’s statements about consulting “stakeholders,” he took active steps to stop hearing from local groups invested in land management decisions. He didn’t even bother to ask BLM if what he was telling the president was true. These behaviors suggest one of two scenarios:

  1. Interior Secretary Zinke is bad at his job, or
  2. Interior Secretary Zinke knew what the president would want to hear and told him that.

So is he a yes-man or an incompetent? Neither possibility comports with the image Commander Zinke has projected throughout his political career. Neither do the recommendations in his memo square with his professed commitment to preserving public lands. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for why Zinke proceeded according to the principle of Just Sayin’ Stuff in order to produce a factually inaccurate memo to the president, and why his actions during the first six months of his tenure as an appointed official in the executive branch have diverged so sharply from the values he professed as an elected legislator from Montana. I would like to hear them. I suspect we all would.

Carson campaign to fact-checkers: Google it

Dr. Ben Carson describes an episode of the 1980s TV series The Incredible Hulk.

Dr. Ben Carson describes an episode of the 1980s TV series The Incredible Hulk.

In an interview with Wolf Blitzer last week, Ben Carson said that Mahmoud Abbas, Ali Khamenei, and Vladimir Putin all knew each other at Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University in 1968. It seems unlikely that the president of Palestine, the supreme leader of Iran and the homecoming king of Russia would all become friends at communist college—serendipitous even. And, lo and behold, it didn’t really happen. At least it didn’t in that nitpicking, fact-checker sense that there’s no evidence for it. When Politifact asked the Carson campaign where they got their information, they responded:

Thanks for your inquiry. We are not in the habit of providing Googling support to the media. If there is a specific aspect of Dr. Carson’s statement that you wish to challenge, please let us know and we can go from there.

There’s a unicorn in my refrigerator. Prove me wrong, dicks.

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Tester’s correction on timber litigation also turns out to be wrong

Sen. John Tester stands before one of three backdrops available to Montana politicians (flag, snowmobile)

Sen. Jon Tester stands before one of three backdrops available to politicians in Montana (flag, snowmobile.)

Last week, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) told Montana Public Radio that “every logging sale in Montana right now is under litigation—every one of them.” He was speaking in support of Secure Rural Schools funding, which provides payments in lieu of taxes to counties that contain large tracts of federal land and depend heavily on logging. Fortunately, Tester was wrong. Only 14 of 97 timber sales in Montana are currently under litigation, and only four of those have stopped logging. Tester’s office issued a correction the next day, saying that “nearly half of awarded timber volume in fiscal year 2014 is currently under litigation.” That also turned out not to be true.

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On calling certain other people liars

Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!

If the internet has reduced your brain to a stimulus/response meme generator, the most exciting part of Tuesday night’s debate was Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” remark. It was weird! He kind of misspoke! Let’s put it on that “walk into Mordor” thing! For my money, however, the strangest moment in the presidential debate was when moderator Candy Crowley corrected Romney regarding Obama’s use of the word “terror” after the attack on the US consulate in Libya. He did say that in the Rose Garden the day after the attack. What Romney claimed was not factually accurate, or strictly correct or, you know, true. But was he lying?

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This fucking guy

Paul Ryan says whatever to some votes at the Iowa State Fair.

Paul Ryan has been directly involved in the 2012 general election only a short time, but he seems bent on racking up as many fact-check stories as he can by November. Speaking to an audience at East Carolina University, Ryan claimed that 1.4 million businesses filed for bankruptcy in 2011, and that the economy under Obama has been worse than under Carter. Quote:

The president can say a lot of things and he will. But he can’t tell you that you’re better off. Simply put, the Jimmy Carter years look like the good old days compared to where we are right now.

“Simply put” is a verbal signal Ryan uses to warn his family to stop listening when he is about to lie, like when Sarah Palin says “gee” or “the.” It turns out that around 48,000 businesses filed for bankruptcy last year, not 1.4 million. It also turns out that fact checkers will jump all over a claim re: quantitative data that can be found on the internet within 30 seconds, and they did.

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