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“Unemployment Truthers See New Conspiracy”: There’s Just No Way That Reality Is Real

Two years ago this week, the nation’s unemployment dipped below 8% for the first time since the start of the Great Recession. Almost immediately, Republicans were outraged – the good news couldn’t be real, they said, but rather must be the result of an elaborate conspiracy.

Friday we learned that the nation’s jobless rate has dipped even lower, dropping below 6% for the first time in over six years. Rush Limbaugh told his audience that the 2012 data was “entirely made up” and “artificially manufactured,” and the 2014 data is worse.

“[T]his today is just as illegitimate. This 5.9% number is even more illegitimate than the 7.9% number. There’s no way that this country has an economy producing jobs with an unemployment rate of 5.9%. It just isn’t happening…. [I]t isn’t real.”

Over the course of two years, from Jack Welch to Rush Limbaugh, we just haven’t seen much in the way of progress on the scourge of denialism among President Obama’s critics.

Indeed, this has come up quite a few times. Whenever the economy improves, a few too many on the right don’t celebrate; they reflexively deny the evidence and point to a conspiracy that exists only in their imaginations.

I’m reminded of this piece from Alex Seitz-Wald, now an msnbc colleague, written when Fox News first began pushing these conspiracy theories in earnest: “If it weren’t improper to psychologically analyze strangers, one might think the Fox hosts are displaying a textbook example of cogitative dissonance here, a psychological phenomena in which people who hold a strong belief about something, invent (sometimes farfetched) explanations for new evidence that conflicts with their existing views. Obama is bad for the economy, the jobs numbers show the economy is doing better, so there must be something wrong with the jobs numbers.”

If nothing else, Limbaugh’s assessment was helpful in its candor: in his mind, there’s just “no way” that reality is real. It can’t be real, therefore, it’s not real, evidence be damned.

I can appreciate where the denial comes from. Republicans just know that last year’s tax increases on the wealthy are slowing the economy; they just know that “Obamacare” is destroying the job market; they just know federal regulations are strangling economic vitality.

And when reality presents proof that they’re mistaken, well, reality must be wrong, too. “Those Chicago guys” must be at it again.

The right was so certain the Affordable Care Act would fail that it literally couldn’t believe the enrollment numbers. The right was equally certain that Mitt Romney was cruising towards a landslide victory, so it seemed obvious to them that pollsters conspired to ensure that survey results were “skewed.”

Climate data is politically inconvenient, so it must be rejected. The job numbers are politically inconvenient, so they must be ignored, too.

Such systemic hostility towards empiricism just isn’t healthy.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, October 6, 2014

October 7, 2014 Posted by | Conspiracy Theories, Jobs, Unemployment | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Reality”: A Product Of The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy

“Reality,” Stephen Colbert once famously said, “has a well-known liberal bias.”

It was one of those jokes that isn’t, one of those barbs that captures something painfully true, allows you to see it with clarity you never could if viewing straight on. It’s worth noting that Colbert said this years before that jump-the-shark moment last week when conservatives accused the Labor Department of conspiring against them. In case you missed it, it happened when the government released figures showing the unemployment rate has tumbled to 7.8 percent.

Most of us considered this good news. Because it validates President Obama’s narrative of a slowly-improving economy, many conservatives did not. They called the figure a fraud — “monkey business,” in the words of Donald Trump. Former GE CEO Jack Welch saw it as evidence of malfeasance from “these Chicago guys.” Fox “News” asked, “Is the number real?”

And so it goes in the conservative War on Reality.

Not that this was the first salvo in said war. Just before the numbers came out, conservatives were working to discredit polls that showed President Obama leading Mitt Romney. “Bogus,” said Rush Limbaugh.

You see, the war goes back a ways. Back to Sen. Jon Kyl saying that 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s activities are abortion-related and, when called on that lie, issuing a statement that what he said was “not intended to be … factual.” Back to Sarah Palin sounding the alarm about death panels, back to Glenn Beck saying conservatives started the Civil Rights Movement, back to people pretending there is some mystery over the president’s birthplace.

Heck, it goes back to the Bush administration cutting inconvenient facts from government reports, back to Bush brushing aside a pessimistic report on Iraq by saying the intelligence community was “just guessing.”

The point here — this cannot be overemphasized — is not ideology. Rather, it is about the fact that we cannot effectively debate ideology if we do not have a body of facts in common.

Under such circumstances, political discourse must devolve into incoherence. We cannot discuss what color to paint the room if we cannot agree on what constitutes red or green — or the room. We literally have no shared language with which to even have the discussion.

This is the legacy of the War on Reality. Some of us live under a new ethos, fueled and abetted by Fox, the Internet and talk radio, which holds that facts are optional and reality, multiple choice — and that anyone who questions this is part of the conspiracy against you. The results have not been pretty. When, in the history of American political discourse, have conservatives — some, not all — seemed more paranoid, put-upon and ready to believe themselves the victims of outlandish plots?

Hillary Clinton was rightly derided for saying a “vast right-wing conspiracy” was out to get her husband. But if that one-time utterance made her sound ridiculous, what shall we make of this constant drumbeat from the political right? What shall we make of a mindset in which the answer to every criticism, the response to every unwelcome fact, is to point to a conspiracy of bias that exists mostly in their minds?

Now, we reach a sobering watershed. Who knew even the professional numbers crunchers in the Labor Department were part of this vast left-wing conspiracy?

Hearing that, one must believe one of two things: either math also has a liberal bias, or, it is time to ask ourselves what becomes of a country where problem-solving is paralyzed because problem solvers cannot agree on a common reality?

Math, should it need saying, has no liberal bias. So give that question some hard thought. After all, we have only the one country. We may not share the same reality, but we will certainly share the same fate.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, The National Memo, October 10, 2012

October 15, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Truth About Jobs”: The Good News That The Deranged Right Just Can’t Handle

If anyone had doubts about the madness that has spread through a large part of the American political spectrum, the reaction to Friday’s better-than expected report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics should have settled the issue. For the immediate response of many on the right — and we’re not just talking fringe figures — was to cry conspiracy.

Leading the charge of what were quickly dubbed the “B.L.S. truthers” was none other than Jack Welch, the former chairman of General Electric, who posted an assertion on Twitter that the books had been cooked to help President Obama’s re-election campaign. His claim was quickly picked up by right-wing pundits and media personalities.

It was nonsense, of course. Job numbers are prepared by professional civil servants, at an agency that currently has no political appointees. But then maybe Mr. Welch — under whose leadership G.E. reported remarkably smooth earnings growth, with none of the short-term fluctuations you might have expected (fluctuations that reappeared under his successor) — doesn’t know how hard it would be to cook the jobs data.

Furthermore, the methods the bureau uses are public — and anyone familiar with the data understands that they are “noisy,” that especially good (or bad) months will be reported now and then as a simple consequence of statistical randomness. And that in turn means that you shouldn’t put much weight on any one month’s report.

In that case, however, what is the somewhat longer-term trend? Is the U.S. employment picture getting better? Yes, it is.

Some background: the monthly employment report is based on two surveys. One asks a random sample of employers how many people are on their payroll. The other asks a random sample of households whether their members are working or looking for work. And if you look at the trend over the past year or so, both surveys suggest a labor market that is gradually on the mend, with job creation consistently exceeding growth in the working-age population.

On the employer side, the current numbers say that over the past year the economy added 150,000 jobs a month, and revisions will probably push that number up significantly. That’s well above the 90,000 or so added jobs per month that we need to keep up with population. (This number used to be higher, but underlying work force growth has dropped off sharply now that many baby boomers are reaching retirement age.)

Meanwhile, the household survey produces estimates of both the number of Americans employed and the number unemployed, defined as people who are seeking work but don’t currently have a job. The eye-popping number from Friday’s report was a sudden drop in the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent, but as I said, you shouldn’t put too much emphasis on one month’s number. The more important point is that unemployment has been on a sustained downward trend.

But isn’t that just because people have given up looking for work, and hence no longer count as unemployed? Actually, no. It’s true that the employment-population ratio — the percentage of adults with jobs — has been more or less flat for the past year. But remember those aging baby boomers: the fraction of American adults who are in their prime working years is falling fast. Once you take the effects of an aging population into account, the numbers show a substantial improvement in the employment picture since the summer of 2011.

None of this should be taken to imply that the situation is good, or to deny that we should be doing better — a shortfall largely due to the scorched-earth tactics of Republicans, who have blocked any and all efforts to accelerate the pace of recovery. (If the American Jobs Act, proposed by the Obama administration last year, had been passed, the unemployment rate would probably be below 7 percent.) The U.S. economy is still far short of where it should be, and the job market has a long way to go before it makes up the ground lost in the Great Recession. But the employment data do suggest an economy that is slowly healing, an economy in which declining consumer debt burdens and a housing revival have finally put us on the road back to full employment.

And that’s the truth that the right can’t handle. The furor over Friday’s report revealed a political movement that is rooting for American failure, so obsessed with taking down Mr. Obama that good news for the nation’s long-suffering workers drives its members into a blind rage. It also revealed a movement that lives in an intellectual bubble, dealing with uncomfortable reality — whether that reality involves polls or economic data — not just by denying the facts, but by spinning wild conspiracy theories.

It is, quite simply, frightening to think that a movement this deranged wields so much political power.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 8, 2012

October 8, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Distracting Crazy Talk”: Will Bureau Of Labor Statistics Trutherism Backfire?

Well, I had hoped for better news fare, but the BLS Truthers are kind of blotting out the sun at the moment, infecting a lot of people who should know better right along with the crazy people and the stone hacks. I’ll just quote Greg Sargent here on the possibility that this frantic effort–born, I suspect, of over-reaction to the first presidential debate, which had conservatives cackling with insane glee before the first poll came in–could actually backfire. After citing other examples of the “closed conservative information feedback loop,” Greg says this:

This latest — unemployment trutherism — strikes me as having the potential to be a bit more damaging to Romney. It’s very likely that these claims are now going to break through to the nightly news, drawing still more attention to the dropping unemployment rate.

Of course, there’s always the danger that news outlets will cover this stuff in a he-said-she-said manner, reporting on the assertions of the unemployment truthers without calling them out, thus injecting them into the discourse. But that seems unlikely. This is really out there stuff, and hopefully the networks will say so outright. If so, it’s hard to see how it’s helpful to Romney for undecided voters to be treated to the sight of fury and panic about improving economic news among those who want him to be elected president.

On top of that, of course, if the freak-out is about the BLS report distracting attention from Mitt’s Triumphant Vanquishing of the Evil Obama, then the crazy-talk is a much bigger distraction: like turning on the local news and watching the weatherman have a nervous breakdown because his forecast turned out to be wrong.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 5, 2012

October 7, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Jobs | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

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