Government Sells Off Stake In General Motors, Contradicting Conservative Predictions Of Impending Socialism

While Obama’s poll numbers remain down from last year, there has been good news this week. Following a poor roll out, the number of people obtaining health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act has jumped significantly, and the number should grow as two deadlines for January coverage and for avoiding penalties approach. Another major success of the Obama administration was seen this week without very much attention. The government sold its last shares in General Motors. Beyond the obvious benefits to General Motors and the Michigan economy, this was a financial success for the government when tax revenue and money saved on unemployment  claims is taken into consideration.

This is also a  philosophical victory.  Despite record corporate profits and stock market gains under Obama, many on the right wing persist in calling him a socialist. The government investment in General Motors, called by conservatives Government Motors, was a major part of this argument. I recall many conspiracy theories on conservative blogs which predicted that by now the government would have completely nationalized General Motors and moved on to other companies. Of course to those in touch with reality, it was clear that the Obama administration saw involvement in General Motors as a desperation measure, and not something they desired to do.

Conspiracy theories of further nationalization of the means of production were not limited to fringe bloggers. Via Steve Benen, Think Progress collected these predictions in 2010. Not all are as extreme in predicting socialism, but all were wrong:

Rep. John Boehner (R-OH): “Does anyone really believe that politicians and bureaucrats in Washington can successfully steer a multi-national corporation to economic viability?” [6/1/09]

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL): “It’s basically going to be a government-owned, government-run company. …It’s the road toward socialism.” [5/29/09]

RNC Chairman Michael Steele: “No matter how much the President spins GM’s bankruptcy as good for the economy, it is nothing more than another government grab of a private company and another handout to the union cronies who helped bankroll his presidential campaign.” [6/1/2009]

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC): “Now the government has forced taxpayers to buy these failing companies without any plausible plan for profitability. Does anyone think the same government that plans to double the national debt in five years will turn GM around in the same time?” [6/2/09]

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA): “Unfortunately, this is just another sad chapter in President Obama’s eager campaign to interject his administration in the private sector’s business dealings.” [6/2/09]

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX): The auto company rescues “have been the leading edge of the Obama administration’s war on capitalism.” [7/22/09]

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ): When government gets involved in a company, “the disaster that follows is predictable.” [7/22/09]

Steve also added this prediction from Mitt Romney:

To put it mildly, this isn’t what Romney expected. In 2009, Mr. “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” was so certain Obama’s policy would fail, he said Americans could “kiss the American automotive industry goodbye” if the administration’s policy was implemented. Indeed, at the time, Romney called the White House plan “tragic” and “a very sad circumstance for this country.” He wrote an April 2009 piece in which he said Obama’s plan “would make GM the living dead.”

 

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Afghanistan Planning To Resume Public Stoning As Punishment For Adultery

Attacking Afghanistan made far more sense than to attack Iraq as George Bush did following the 9/11 attack. * I could see an attack to disrupt al Qaeda and was happy to see bin Laden killed, but questioned if we would see any long-term benefits from installing a government there. This somewhat confirms my skepticism–Afghanistan is now planning to restore the Taliban policy of stoning women for adultery:

Afghanistan is planning to reintroduce public stoning as punishment for adultery 12 years after the Taliban was ousted from power, according to a new draft penal code.

The move has shocked human rights campaigners and will dismay donors who have poured billions of pounds into the country for reconstruction.

It will be viewed as another backwards step at the end of a year that has seen women’s rights undermined, with a slew of legislation and murders of prominent women.

Human Rights Watch called for international donors to withhold funding if the government goes ahead with the plan.

“It is absolutely shocking that 12 years after the fall of the Taliban government, the Karzai administration might bring back stoning as a punishment,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW…

As repulsive as both groups are, stoning is far worse than the forced vaginal probes and restrictions on reproductive rights which are supported by the American Taliban.

(* I would hope that by now the whole Truther line that 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush administration instead of a terrorist act by al Qaeda has been forgotten. In case anyone is still interested in that nonsense, Noam Chomsky has recently joined many others in debunking that conspiracy theory. Chomsky mocked “people around who spend an hour on the Internet and think they know a lot physics.” On the other hand, that is how the Internet works. How many other people on the far right with no knowledge of biology or climate science are coming up with arguments against evolution and global warming?)

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Polling Belief In Conspiracy Theories

Public Policy Polling found that a substantial number of Americans believe in some conspiracy theories, but fortunately not many believe that lizard people are secretly taking power. The most significant finding related to current public policy is that a large majority of Republicans believe global warming is a hoax. A significant number of Republicans still believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Here is a summary of their findings:

-          37% of voters believe global warming is a hoax, 51% do not. Republicans say global warming is a hoax by a 58-25 margin, Democrats disagree 11-77, and Independents are more split at  41-51. 61% of Romney voters believe global warming is a hoax

-          6% of voters believe Osama bin Laden is still alive

-          21% of voters say a UFO crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947 and the US government covered it up. More Romney voters (27%) than Obama voters (16%) believe in a UFO coverup

-          28% of voters believe secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order.  A plurality of Romney voters (38%) believe in the New World Order compared to 35% who don’t

-          28% of voters believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks.  36% of Romney voters believe Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11, 41% do not

-          20% of voters believe there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism, 51% do not

-          7% of voters think the moon landing was faked

-          13% of voters think Barack Obama is the anti-Christ, including 22% of Romney voters

-          Voters are split 44%-45% on whether Bush intentionally misled about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. 72% of Democrats think Bush lied about WMDs, Independents agree 48-45, just 13% of Republicans think so

-          29% of voters believe aliens exist

-          14% of voters say the CIA was instrumental in creating the crack cocaine epidemic in America’s inner cities in the 1980’s

-          9% of voters think the government adds fluoride to our water supply for sinister reasons (not just dental health)

-          4% of voters say they believe “lizard people” control our societies by gaining political power

-          51% of voters say a larger conspiracy was at work in the JFK assassination, just 25% say Oswald acted alone

-          14% of voters believe in Bigfoot

-          15% of voters say the government or the media adds mind-controlling technology to TV broadcast signals (the so-called Tinfoil Hat crowd)

-          5% believe exhaust seen in the sky behind airplanes is actually chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons

-          15% of voters think the medical industry and the pharmaceutical industry “invent” new diseases to make money

-          Just 5% of voters believe that Paul McCartney actually died in 1966

-          11% of voters believe the US government allowed 9/11 to happen, 78% do not agree

Most of these beliefs are ridiculous, but a few do not really relate to conspiracy theories. Question 10 is “Do you believe aliens exist, or not?” The  question is regarding their existence (not whether they are visiting our planet) and, while we don’t know for certain, most likely there is life on some other planets, and therefore there aliens probably do exist.

Question 18 depends upon how it is interpreted: “Do you believe that the pharmaceutical  industry is in league with the medical industry
to ‘invent’ new diseases in order to make money, or not?” If you consider the marketing tactics used by drug companies. the National Institute of Health is promoting this “conspiracy theory.”

Question 9 is “Do you believe the Bush administration intentionally misled the public about the possibility of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to promote the Iraq War, or not?” The Bush administration was making statements which were blatantly untrue and which knowledgeable people at the time realized were false.  This leaves two possibilities. Either George Bush and people in his administration were utterly incompetent or they were lying. There is also good reason, based upon his actual statements and actions, that Bush had desired to invade Iraq even before 9/11, and used 9/11 as justification.  Granted there is no way to know for sure which is the explanation, but it is hardly believing in a conspiracy theory to believe that dishonesty is a more likely explanation for what occurred than the degree of incompetence necessary to rule out dishonesty. (This is not the same as believing that the Bush administration faked or was behind the 9/11 attack.)

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Nutty Conservative Ideas Of The Week From Denial Of The Drop In Unemployment To Why Slavery Was Good

One of the many falsehoods spread by the right wing is the  untrue claim that Barack Obama had promised to lower the unemployment rate under 8 percent. Of course the right wing has done quite a bit to keep the unemployment rate up, including failing to act on the American Jobs Act and decreasing government jobs. Now that, despite the best efforts of the right wing, unemployment has dropped under 8 percent, conservatives are upset. Their imaginary bar at 8 percent unemployment now works against them. Just imagine how unhappy they would be if Obama had achieved a full economic recovery in just four years, as unlikely as this would be considering how badly the Republicans had damaged the economy before Obama took office.

When conservatives are mad they don’t just get angry. They will deny and invent conspiracy theories. An unemployment rate truther movement has already begun. A conspiracy theory inevitably leads to debunking of the conspiracy, which can be found here.

The unemployment truther movement wasn’t the only right wing lunacy from this week. A Republican member of Congress from Georgia, Paul Broun, had this to say about evolution, embryology, and the Big Bang Theory:

“All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and the Big Bang Theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell,” Broun said. “And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who were taught that from understanding that they need a savior.”

Representative Jon Hubbard of Arkansas has an entire book out which explains far right wing views such as why slavery was a good thing for blacks:

“… the institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise. The blacks who could endure those conditions and circumstances would someday be rewarded with citizenship in the greatest nation ever established upon the face of the Earth.”

And don’t forget that dishonest guy who replaced the real Mitt Romney on Wednesday who took positions entirely different from those Romney has campaigned on,  and attacked Big Bird.

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GOPUSA Remains Afraid Of The Old Conservative Boogey Man–World Government

For as long as I can remember, going back to the days of the Birchers, conservatives have been worried about the sovereignty of the United States being destroyed by world government. In the past some of the conspiracy theorists were kept out of the Republican Party by conservative leaders such as William F. Buckley, Jr. In more recent years, the extremists are not only back but now dominate the GOP. Phyllis Schlafly calls global government, allegedly backed by Barack Obama, one of the biggest issues of this election at GOPUSA:

One of the biggest issues in the November election is whether we will continue or stop President Obama’s move toward restricting U.S. sovereignty and rushing down the road to global governance. One would think that the obvious failure of the European Union and disdain for the euro would put the skids on global integration, but no such luck.

Obama has such delusions of his own power that he thinks he can do by executive order whatever he cannot get Congress to approve, even Harry Reid’s Democratic Senate. Obama’s most recent executive order starts off with the extravagant claim that it is issued “by the authority vested in me as president by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America.”

Funny to hear delusional people such as Schlafly claim that Obama has delusions.

 

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No Surprise: Ron Paul Super PAC Run By Truther

Least surprising news I’ve heard today: Super PAC supporting conspiracy theorist Ron Paul is operated by a Truther. (I’m even more concerned about the amount of support Paul gets from neo-Nazis and white supremacists who understand the most likely result of  implementing Paul’s views.)

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Republicans Believe The Darndest Things

Conservatives believe a wide variety of bizarre things. While the exact list differs with the individual, many of the presidential candidates have admitted to being told to run by voices in their head. Other conservative leaders have even gone to war based upon religious prophesy. Many conservatives believe that lowering current tax rates will increase tax revenue and create jobs, believe that creationism is a valid alternative to evolution, believe that all the scientific evidence for climate change is an elaborate hoax, some such as Rick Perry still  question if Barack Obama was born in the United States, some still  believe Saddam was behind the 9/11 attack, and some believe a wide variety of conspiracy theories (especially if named Ron Paul). Herman Cain adds another bizarre belief to this list. Michelle Cottle wrote about Cain’s belief in numerology:

Raise your hand if you have a favorite number.

Keep it raised if you believe this number to be your “lucky” number.

Now keep it up only if you think this number has a literal, meaningful, ongoing impact on your life.

Finally, if your hand is still up, ask yourself this: If you were running for president and wrote a campaign book, would you devote an entire chapter to this number, explaining how its frequent appearance in your life signals that you are meant to win and explaining that, though you are “not a devout numerologist,” this number clearly keeps popping up “more than coincidentally”?

If that hand is still raised, it probably means that you are Herman Cain. (Hi, Herman!)

As Cain enjoys his tour as the GOP’s Anyone-But-Mitt of the moment—and reaps the consequent saturation media—one can’t help but wonder when the candidate’s peculiar obsession with supernatural signs and signals is going to become a subject of interest.

In Chapter Nine of This Is Herman Cain—entitled “‘Forty-Five’—A Special Number,” Cain notes that his “conception, gestation, and birth all occurred within” the year 1945 (true of pretty much anyone born in the last three months of that year). He then launches into a detailed account of how “45 keeps on popping up as I go about the business of being elected—you guessed it—as the forty-fifth president of the United States of America.”

The article goes on to describe further examples of how Cain  “sees divine messages everywhere.”

Raise your hand if having someone as delusional and unqualified as Herman Cain as president makes you nervous.

Keep it raised if you are also worried about the other Republican candidates this year.

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Academic Study of Ideologues Ignoring The Facts

The Boston Globe has an article which describes a phenomenon which has been clear for a long time as a new discovery. They reported on studies which found that people, especially ideologues, often ignore facts which contradict their views:

Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This bodes ill for a democracy, because most voters — the people making decisions about how the country runs — aren’t blank slates. They already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.

“The general idea is that it’s absolutely threatening to admit you’re wrong,” says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as “backfire” — is “a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance.”

This is hardly surprising. We’ve seen this during the Iraq war as many conservatives held onto beliefs that there was WMD in Iraq or that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attack. In addition, we see conservatives expressing numerous beliefs which are counter to fact. In economics we see conservatives hold onto the same erroneous economic views regardless of how often they lead to disaster. In science this includes belief in creationism and denial of the human role in climate change. In history we see a growing number of conservatives deny the fact that the Founding Fathers supported separation of church and state despite all the historical documentation that this is what they intended.

The conservative movement, with its disconnect from reality, is also prone to spreading unfounded conspiracy theories. In recent elections we’ve seen them hold onto disputed claims such as those from the Swift Boat Liars and the Birthers. Many conservatives continue to claim that neither John Kerry’s military record or Barack Obama’s birth certificate have been released. In reality, not only have both documents been made public but they have also been posted on line. Then we have the Tea Party movement which is totally disconnected from reality.

Of course there are also some nutty views held on the far left too. The difference is that  the left in this country is dominated by people who are generally pragmatic and even moderate by international standards. Those with views which are contrary to fact on the left tend to have little influence, while the conservative movement has become dominated by ideologues who deny the facts whenever they contradict their extremist views.

The researchers looked at a few specific issues:

New research, published in the journal Political Behavior last month, suggests that once those facts — or “facts” — are internalized, they are very difficult to budge. In 2005, amid the strident calls for better media fact-checking in the wake of the Iraq war, Michigan’s Nyhan and a colleague devised an experiment in which participants were given mock news stories, each of which contained a provably false, though nonetheless widespread, claim made by a political figure: that there were WMDs found in Iraq (there weren’t), that the Bush tax cuts increased government revenues (revenues actually fell), and that the Bush administration imposed a total ban on stem cell research (only certain federal funding was restricted). Nyhan inserted a clear, direct correction after each piece of misinformation, and then measured the study participants to see if the correction took.

For the most part, it didn’t. The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With those two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic — a factor known as salience — the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total.

Incorrect views on the right, such as on WMD and the effect of tax cuts, are fairly widespread. I imagine that there are some on the left who believe that Bush supported total restrictions on stem cell research, but most liberal writings have been more specific in criticizing Bush for the federal restrictions on funding of stem cell research. Articles frequently noted that, while the ban was not total, Bush’s limitations on the stem cell lines on which research was allowed wound up crippling stem cell research.

This phenomenon described is hardly surprising or anything new, but there might be some value in publicizing such academic research. This might help a bit in countering the misinformation which commonly comes from Fox and the Tea Party rallies. Of course the research also demonstrates what we already knew–those who believe these claims are unlikely to change their minds based upon the facts.

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Republicans Not Doing Enough To Weed Out The Lunatics

A couple of weeks ago I cited an article from Playboy on the influence of Republican operatives on tea party groups. One section I didn’t mention previously is about how the party people are trying to  make tea party candidates more electable:

Our candidate-interview process is pretty simple. The candidate is asked two questions:
(1) Are you a birther?
(2) Are you a truther?
If the answer is anything but “no” or “hell no,” the conversation ends right there. If the candidate answers correctly, the conversation continues, looking at viability and whether we can have a worthwhile impact. The reality of this litmus test is as patriotic as practical. Donors don’t contribute to lunatics.

It’s not a bad litmus test to start with, but they really need to do more to wean out the lunatics, such as Rand Paul. There are plenty of other conspiracy theories he subscribes to, such as the NAFTA Superhighway.

The litmus test should also go beyond weeding out conspiracy theorists. For example, anyone who believes in creationism really lacks the understanding of science to hold any position of authority in the 21st century–plus this is a sure sign that they have been brainwashed by the far right. Unfortunately far too many Republicans believe in creationism. Perhaps at very least they could get rid of the young earth creationists. Would they really miss Sarah Palin? How about one-third of Texas? It appears that Rand Paul might also would fail this test (or at least panders to those who would) after having refused to answer a question about the age of the earth. I hope others continue to press Paul to answer this one.

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David Weigel Leaves Washington Post Following Leaks Of Criticism Of Right Wing

David Weigel provides a demonstration of how nothing on the web is really private–even on closed lists where such privacy is assumed. Weigel is a left libertarian whose views of the right wing seem to be similar to my own. It is not so much their views which repel myself and I believe Weigel, but that their actual policy positions turn out to be quite different from their limited government rhetoric. On top of that, there is the anti-intellectualism, adherence to conspiracy theories and revisionist history, xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism which, while not true of everyone on the right, is far too common for comfort.

Weigel was hired to cover the right wing for The Washington Post to some degree  I did question a major newspaper hiring him for such a position, suspecting from the start that his views might give conservatives more fuel for their attacks on the imaginary “liberal media.”

If this was the outcome, it wasn’t because of  any unfair bias being displayed in Weigel’s work. Even some conservatives were supportive of Weigel, such as at The American Spectator:

To start with, it’s important to note that all of the comments at the center of the recent uproar were made on a private email list that was supposed to be off the record. Just for a moment, think of the things that you’d say if you were joking or venting anger among friends, and imagine if they became public with context removed. If everything we said privately were public, I wonder how many of us would be able to maintain jobs or friendships. Weigel is being attacked for writing that the world would be better if Matt Drudge could “set himself on fire.” But people make off hand remarks like that all the time without literally wishing bodily harm upon other humans.

This and other private comments by Weigel have contributed to the charge that he’s hostile toward conservatives and a standard issue liberal, but I don’t think that’s accurate. I could just as easily report on private conversations in which he’s revealed a fondness for Ronald Reagan, a willingness to vote for Bobby Jindal as president, and agreed that Van Jones should have been fired for his 9/11 trutherism. Plus, it should be noted that in the past, he’s even contributed to the American Spectator.

It should also be noted that he went on Keith Olbermann’s show and shot down a story about Sarah Palin committing perjury that had been lighting up the liberal blogs and defended Cato’s Michael Cannon against a “dishonest and unfair hit” by the Center for American Progress.

I’ve disagreed with Weigel on a number of occasions, and have called him out when I’ve felt he’s placed an inordinate amount of focus on fringe characters or extreme statements made by conservatives. But I also know that he isn’t some “drive by” journalist. He knows his subject matter well, reads constantly, goes to lots of conservative events, maintains friendships with conservatives, and talks to a lot of conservatives for his articles and quotes them accurately.

Weigel’s resignation came not as a result of any signs of bias in his work but because of comments written on Journolist, a private email list, which were leaked. Unfortunately Weigel probably saw his comments as being the equivalent of private conservation when in reality any comments made on line can wind up being as public as anything posted on a blog.

It is unfortunate that Weigel is no longer at The Washington Post, but I am confident that he will find other sources to write for. I certainly hope so as we certainly need voices like his to help counter all the ignorance, hatred, and misinformation being spread by the authoritarian right.

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