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“War Against Reality”: Neutron Jack Welch And The Jobless Numbers Conspiracy

Opening yet another front in their endless war against reality, right-wing conspiracy-mongers have moved on from polling data to federal unemployment statistics, apparently because – like the political polls they’ve disputed in recent weeks — the latest jobless number is not sufficiently damaging to President Obama.

Shortly after the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its September unemployment numbers on Friday morning, showing that the jobless rate fell last month from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent, outraged expressions of doubt began to appear on the Internet.

Nobody cited any substantive evidence to support allegations that the BLS had suddenly “cooked” its data to promote the president’s re-election, of course. Evidence isn’t required or expected in Fox Nation.

What sustained at least momentary interest in this new “truther” flurry, however, was a Twitter effusion from Jack Welch, the former General Electric chairman, who described the BLS number as “unbelievable” and complained that “these Chicago guys will do anything” because Obama “can’t debate.” (He later admitted to Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball, “I have no evidence to prove that [the White House influenced the BLS], ” adding disingenuously that “I just raised the question.”)

Although Welch is superficially a credible figure — indeed, still an idol in certain quarters of American business — he is also a particularly enthusiastic and volatile Romney surrogate. “Neutron Jack,” as he used to be known, admires Romney deeply, perhaps because both have become symbols of “corporate greed, arrogance, and contempt for workers.” His tweet about the BLS was a political expression, not an expert assessment, and invites skepticism. But Welch certainly is familiar with dubious numbers and political manipulation.

Several years after he retired from General Electric in 2001 — where his legendary managerial successes brought him accolades as the “CEO of the century” in the business press — the Securities and Exchange Commission opened an investigation of the company’s accounting practices. What the SEC eventually uncovered were long-running schemes to inflate earnings, reminiscent of Enron.

While nobody held Welch personally accountable, the violations that cost the conglomerate $50 million in fines occurred on the watch of the chief financial officer he had appointed in 1998. Other accounts of questionable business practices at GE date back much further.

More pertinent than GE’s accounting misadventures is Welch’s controversial role in the 2000 election, when he became known as an outspoken supporter of George W. Bush. (Considering the dismal history of the Bush presidency, voters might think twice before taking Welch’s political advice this year.) At the time, GE owned NBC and its cable networks CNBC and MSNBC, and Welch was known to make his presence felt in the studios and newsrooms. Nobody at 30 Rock had the slightest doubt about Welch’s hatred toward President Clinton and the Clinton administration, or about his desire to see Clinton replaced by Bush.

On Election Night, as witnesses later told Rep. Henry Waxman, Welch came into the NBC newsroom while the network’s political staff tried to determine who had won the historically-close contest between Bush and Vice President Al Gore. In what news executives later acknowledged was a serious mistake, they called the election for Bush, following a trend started by Fox News, where a Bush cousin was running election coverage under the watchful eye of former Bush consultant and Fox boss Roger Ailes.

According to Waxman’s findings, Welch blatantly tried to influence the decision by NBC election producers to name Bush the winner, based on Florida numbers that were too preliminary and too close to support that call.

Witnesses said that Welch personally examined the raw election data and told the NBC director of election coverage, Sheldon Gawiser, that he believed Bush had won. When Fox called the election for Bush, Welch could be overheard asking Gawiser why NBC had not yet done the same. Not long after that alleged conversation, NBC announced that Bush had won.

NBC News strongly disputed Waxman’s stated concerns over undue influence by Welch. But an internal evaluation later “recommended that the network [should] sequester the election decision desk and protect its election analysts from “unnecessary interruptions.”

Welch himself dismissed the Waxman investigation as “pure crazy” — which is pretty much how economists and government experts are describing his BLS tweet.

But whatever Welch’s present attitude and past behavior, is there any real reason why he should doubt the BLS jobs data — compiled by a corps of dedicated civil servants (not political appointees), many of whom are Republicans, month after month and decade after decade?

The short answer is no.

But before closing this pointless episode, there is another bit of sordid irony involving a different Romney associate. There was once a White House that sought to manipulate BLS statistics for its own partisan purposes. Before the Watergate scandal toppled him from power, Richard Nixon was constantly frustrated by his inability to exercise political control over the agency’s professional civil servants. In his paranoia, Nixon blamed this “problem” on “the Jews” that he believed were running BLS and their animosity toward him – so he and Charles Colson instructed Fred Malek, one of their political stooges, to ferret out the Jews and get rid of them.

Their anti-Semitic plot failed, Nixon resigned to escape criminal prosecution, Colson went to prison for Watergate offenses, and Malek languished in disgrace. Eventually he recovered his reputation, got rich working for Marriott, and buddied up to the Romneys. Last April, he and his wife hosted a “birthday party” fundraiser in Washington for Ann Romney, at $1,000 a head.

So the Republican accusations about gaming the BLS statistics may simply be another case of projection. Perhaps they think Obama is doing it because they always wanted to.


By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, October 5, 2012

October 6, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Moderate Mitt” Isn’t Back”: He Suddenly Talks Like One But Is Only Embracing The Rhetorical Strategy Of George W. Bush

The news overnight was that Mitt Romney had decided to do a mea culpa for the secretly recorded “47 percent” remarks that rocked his campaign a few weeks ago, calling them “just completely wrong” in an interview with Sean Hannity.

This came 24 hours after a debate in which Romney labored to present himself as more of a pragmatist than an ideologue, objecting insistently when President Obama tried to link him to conservative economic ideas that would threaten the safety net. And it came a little over a week after Romney invoked his own Massachusetts healthcare law – a law that served as the blueprint for Obamacare and that Romney ignored as much as possible during the Republican primaries — as proof of his commitment to aiding poor and middle-class Americans.

These developments are leading the press to declare that Romney is moving to the center – and some pundits to celebrate the supposed return of Mitt the Massachusetts Moderate. But this is a complete misreading of what Romney’s actually up to.

Yes, it’s true, he’s been striking a more moderate tone of late. And for good reason. In the Obama era, the Republican Party has moved far to the right, reflexively opposing every major Obama initiative (even those grounded in traditionally Republican principles) and imposing stringent purity tests on its own candidates. The result is that the GOP never bothered these past four years to formulate a coherent and marketable policy blueprint. To the masses, the GOP’s main selling point has been – and continues to be – this simple message: We’re not Obama. To the extent the party has spelled out affirmative policy ideas, it’s mainly created headaches for Republican candidates running in competitive general election contests.

Romney has long been aware that he can’t actually run on the ideas that his party has generated these past few years, but he’s been further constrained by the right’s deep suspicion of his own ideological credentials. Thus, Romney has spent most of the general election campaign awkwardly switching between vague, broad-stroke pronouncements aimed at swing voters and gestures that mesh with the radicalized, Obama-phobic spirit of today’s GOP base.

What’s changed in the last week or so is the balance: Romney is now primarily pitching his message at non-GOP base voters – people who are likely to recoil at the implications of the policy ideas that the national Republican Party has embraced – and skipping the red meat.

His debate exchange with Obama over taxes is a perfect example. Romney is clearly vulnerable on the issue; the plan he’s presented would slash tax rates in a way that disproportionately benefits the wealthy, and would either explode the deficit or require the elimination of popular, widely used tax deductions. This reflects the actual priorities of the Republican Party, but it’s also at odds with what most Americans (who consistently tell pollsters they don’t like deficits and want taxes on the wealthy raised, and who are fond of their tax deductions) want. Romney’s solution: Insist during the debate that the rich won’t get a tax break and that the deficit won’t explode and avoid specifying any deductions that might be on the chopping block. Given his strong delivery (and Obama’s inability to force him off his script), Romney probably succeeded in sounding reasonable and moderate to most casual viewers.

He played the same game on other sensitive subjects that came up during the debate, like healthcare and education, and his decision to repudiate his own “47 percent” remarks – something he refused to do when the tape was first released a few weeks ago – marks another step toward the rhetorical middle.

Comparisons between Romney now and George W. Bush in 2000 are becoming popular, since Bush employed the same basic strategy in his campaign that Romney used in the debate. There’s an important difference, though: Bush’s platform actually included some nods to moderation. With Romney, it’s only his words.

For instance, Bush called for an expanded federal role in education, which translated into No Child Left Behind, and for federal action to make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors, which led to the creation of Medicare Part D during his presidency. You can certainly take issue with how these laws were crafted and implemented, but Bush’s willingness to pursue them at all represented a break from conservative dogma.

But Romney’s actual platform contains no moderate planks. For instance, he tried to assuage middle-of-the-road voters on healthcare by insisting during the debate that he would repeal Obamacare without sacrificing its popular features, like a ban on the denial of coverage based on preexisting conditions. “No. 1,” Romney said, “preexisting conditions are covered under my plan.” It’s essential for any candidate trying to appeal to general election swing voters to say this, but the actual policy Romney has proposed would not have the effect he described.

Education is another example, with Romney asserting that, “I love great schools. And the key to great schools, great teachers. So I reject the idea that I don’t believe in great teachers or more teachers.” Again, this is tonally in line with what middle-of-the-road voters want to hear, but where is the policy to back it up? As president, Obama presided over a stimulus program that saved hundreds of thousands of teachers’ jobs, and he proposed further action through the American Jobs Act last fall. Romney has railed against both of those programs and not offered any blueprint for hiring more teachers.

This is probably why conservative opinion-leaders seem so unbothered by Romney’s shift to the middle. They recognize that it makes him sound more agreeable to swing voters and that it could help in how he’s portrayed through the media. And they also realize that no matter how much he talks like one, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that a President Romney would govern like a moderate.


By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, October 5, 2012

October 6, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“God Must Be A Kenyan”: Hey Conspiracy Theorists, It’s Showtime!

I assume that several of our house conservatives have been sitting around this morning waiting for this post on the new BLS data so they can trot out their conspiracy theories or note that the “real” unemployment rate is 11 percent. So, go have fun.

I think it’s a little sad to see people so openly rooting against America and against people finding work. That much-discussed Jack Welch tweet was an abomination. As TNR’s Alec MacGillis tweeted back, it’s always nice to see a leading figure of American commerce cheer against his country and its economy. And “BLS cooked-the-numbers” theories are just silly. This monthly gathering of data is a massive job that goes on all month long involving thousands of people and inputs.

The great news about this report and the new jobless rate of 7.8 percent, down below 8 for the first time since Obama took office (how’s that for a stump-speech line?), is that it happened for the right reason: The labor force grew, meaning that more people are out there looking for work, which is a contrast to some previous months when the rate fell because the labor-force participation rate decreased. And the revisions to the last two months, adding 86,000 jobs, is especially heartening.

In substantive terms, it is certainly true that the participation rate is lower than it was in January 2009 by a couple percentage points. And it’s also true that 114,000, the new number, isn’t enough to keep up with the growth in the size of the labor force. So substantively, it’s not a great number.

But we’re in the home stretch of a presidential campaign. So politically, the number is really good for Obama. Just what he needed. God must be a Kenyan.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 5, 2012

October 6, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Of Hooters, Zombies and Senators”: Attention Must Be Paid To Races In The House And Senate

Today, let’s take a look at debates that do not involve Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. You can thank me later.

I am talking about the races for the United States Senate, people. Attention must be paid! And, as a reward, we can also discuss a new campaign ad featuring zombies.

There are 33 Senate contests this year, although voters in some of the states may not have noticed there’s anything going on. In Texas, for instance, Paul Sadler, a Democrat, has had a tough time getting any attention in his battle against the Tea Party fan favorite Ted Cruz. Except, perhaps, when he called Cruz a “troll” in their first debate.

In Utah, Scott Howell, a Democrat, has been arguing that if the 78-year-old Senator Orrin Hatch wins, he might “die before his term is through.” Suggesting a longtime incumbent is over the hill is a venerable election technique, but you really are supposed to be a little more delicate about it. Howell also proposed having 29 debates. The fact that Hatch agreed to only two was, he claimed, proof of the senator’s fading stamina.

Nobody in Massachusetts could have missed the fact that there’s a Senate race going on. In their last debate, Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren sounded like two angry squirrels trapped in a small closet. A high point came when the candidates were asked to name their ideal Supreme Court justice. “That’s a great question!” said Brown brightly, in what appeared to be a stall for time. He came up with Antonin Scalia. Then, after boos from the audience, Brown added more names, until he had picked about half the current court, from John Roberts to Sonia Sotomayor.

Meanwhile, in Nebraska, the Democrat Bob Kerrey began his debate remarks with: “First of all, let me assure you that I’m still Bob Kerrey.” This seemed to be a bad sign.

There are actually about only a dozen Senate races in which there is serious suspense about who’s going to win. To the Republicans’ dismay, many of them are in states that were supposed to be a lock for the G.O.P.

Tea Party pressure produced several terrible candidates. We have all heard about Todd Akin in Missouri, who claimed after a recent debate that Senator Claire McCaskill wasn’t sufficiently “ladylike.” Since then, Akin has doubled down on a claim that doctors frequently perform abortions on women who aren’t pregnant.

In others, the Republicans found awful candidates without any help from the far right.

Senator Bill Nelson in Florida received the gift of Representative Connie Mack IV as his Republican opponent, and promptly unveiled an ad calling Mack “a promoter for Hooters with a history of barroom brawling, altercation and road rage.” Mack’s fortunes seem to have been sliding ever since. Recently, while he was greeting voters at a Donut Hole cafe, one elderly couple asked him to get them a menu.

Some Democratic candidates are also turning out to be stronger than anticipated — like Arizona’s Richard Carmona, a Hispanic physician who served as surgeon general under President George W. Bush. Carmona is a Vietnam combat veteran who worked as a SWAT team leader for the Pima County Sheriff’s Department. “In 1992,” his campaign biography reports, “he rappelled from a helicopter to rescue a paramedic stranded on a mountainside when their medevac helicopter crashed during a snowstorm, inspiring a made-for-TV movie.”

Let that be a lesson. If the Democrats in Texas had just nominated a Hispanic Vietnam combat veteran who saved crash victims and inspired a TV movie, they wouldn’t have to depend on debates to get some attention.

The race where the Democrats are getting a nasty surprise is in Connecticut, where Representative Chris Murphy is having a tough time against the Republican Linda McMahon, the former professional wrestling mogul. McMahon has spent a record $70 million of her own money over the past three years trying to convince voters that what Connecticut really needs is a senator who knows how to create jobs in a simulated sport awash in violence, sexism and steroid abuse.

Improbable candidates who don’t have $70 million to blanket their state in ads can always just cobble something really weird together, put it up on the Web and hope it goes viral.

Last time around, Carly Fiorina, who was running for Senate in California, created a sensation with “Demon Sheep,” featuring an actor wearing a sheep mask with glowing red eyes.

Now John Dennis, the Republican opponent of the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, has a new California sheep-themed conversation-starter. It portrays Pelosi as the leader of a cult of zombies, preparing a lamb for sacrifice. Then Dennis breaks in, saves the lamb, calls one of the zombies “Dude,” and denounces Pelosi for supporting the indefinite detention of American citizens who are suspected of being terrorists.

Not your typical Republican. Dennis ran against Pelosi before and got 15 percent of the vote. But I feel the zombie ad could well push him up into the 20s.


By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 5, 2012

October 6, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Jobs Report Truthers Return”: Anytime There Are Positive Jobs Numbers, Conservatives Cry Conspiracy

Today’s jobs report, showing the unemployment rate dropped below 8 percent for the first time in over 40 moths, will have Democrats gleeful and Republicans (deep in their hearts) despondent. But what if the numbers are actually just a part of a plot to get President Obama reelected? It’s a stupid question, but the immediate reaction of many conservative media figures has been not only to ask it, but to answer it as well.

On Fox News, which completely ignored the numbers for the first 30 minutes they were out in favor of stories about (what else?) gold and a live performance by 12-year-old Jackie Evancho, host Bill Hemer darkly warned, as he summarized the report, “a lot of questions remain about those numbers.” Co-host Martha MacCallum agreed that the report “raises a lot questions.” Finally, they brought on Fox Business analyst Stuart Varney to give it to us straight: “There is widespread mistrust of this report and these numbers, because there are clear contradictions.” Varney explained that many of the jobs created are part-time, and that there were discrepancies between the two surveys that make up the report (one looks at jobs added and the other calculates the unemployment rate).

“Oh how convenient that the rate drops below 8 percent for the first time in 43 months five weeks before an election! That’s why there’s some mistrust of these numbers,” Varney continued. And while questioning the numbers produced by the economists at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Varney approvingly cited statistics from Mitt Romney’s stump speech, saying the 23 million underemployed figure Romney often invokes shows the jobs situation is “grim.”

Just a month ago, Varney didn’t question the validity of the previous jobs report. “OK, I say this is a flat-out bad report on the state of the economy. America simply is not at work,” Varney said in one of two quotes that landed on a GOP tipsheet. But in his defense, that report did show bad news for Obama while the new one is likely good news for the president, so he’s just doing his job.

And Varney wasn’t alone. As Salon’s Andrew Leonard noted this morning, former GE CEO and frequent Obama critic Jack Welch was quick on the draw too, tweeting, “Unbelievable jobs numbers .. these Chicago guys will do anything .. can’t debate so change numbers.” There were other theories too. Conn Carroll, a senior writer at the conservative Washington Examiner, thinks the conspiracy goes far beyond the BLS. “I don’t think BLS cooked numbers. I think a bunch of Dems lied about getting jobs. That would have same effect,” he tweeted. Eric Bolling, another Fox News host, tweeted, “WOW Obama Labor Dept (7.8%) smarter than all 25 of Americas top Economists (8.2%est).. or something far more insideous [sic].” Bob Metcalfe, a conservative academic, added, “Who’da thought Obama’s Labor Department, as their October Surprise, would report the highest one-month ‘employment’ jump in 29 years?” Sonny Bunch, the managing editor of the Washington Free Beacon, tweeted — we assume facetiously — “THEORY: George Soros hired 500k part-time hole-diggers/hole-filler-inners to artificially depress unemployment rate.”

All this fits into a long, dark tradition of questioning BLS data. President Nixon even sent a top aide to make a list of all the people he suspected were Jews in the agencies because he believed they were tweaking economics forecasts to make the president look bad.


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, October 5, 2012

October 6, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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