No Threat of WMD Justifying War

Using the nonexistent threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to go to war was among the worst of many blunders during the Bush years.Even after government reports admitted that the search was about as successful as O.J. Simpson’s search for the “real killer,” some conservatives continued to defend Bush on this. The conservative blogosphere has presented an alternative reality on many matters, including spreading a myth of meaningful discoveries WMD.

Conservatives are so desperate to find justification for this myth that they are suddenly drawn to Wikileaks. They ignore the fact that the issue was never whether there was any evidence that there had ever been WMD in Iraq. We know that Iraq had WMD. After all, as the old joke went, we have the receipts. The question at the onset of the war was over whether Saddam possessed such a terrible arsenal of WMD that he could wipe out the western world within minutes, as supporters of the war claimed, requiring an immediate attack by the United States. Nothing presented in the leaked documents shows justification for the rush to war.

Update: More at Media Matters.

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.

Conservatives Gone Mad

Marc Ambinder is wondering about something which most of us noticed quite a while ago in asking, Have Conservatives Gone Mad? He provides some examples:

It is absolutely a condition of the age of the triumph of conservative personality politics, where entertainers shouting slogans are taken seriously as political actors, and where the incentive structures exist to stomp on dissent and nuance, causing experimental voices to retrench and allowing a lot of people to pretend that the world around them is not changing. The obsession with ACORN, Climategate, death panels, the militarization of rhetoric, Saul Alinsky, Chicago-style politics,   that TAXPAYERS will fund the bailout of banks — these aren’t meaningful or interesting or even relevant things to focus on. (The banks will fund their own bailouts.)

There are far more examples. For example, climategate is just one example of the rejection of science by many conservatives (accompanied by a conspiracy theory based upon their creative misinterpretation of stolen email). There’s also their rejection of evolution, along with cosmology or any other branch of science which conflicts with a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible.  Plenty of other conspiracy theories, along with rejection of science, are also popular on the far right, especially if we extend to the Ron Paul crowd. At least the Paul supporters don’t accept the beliefs still held by many on the right that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attack and that Iraq had WMD at the start of the war.

Hatred of Obama has brought about a new set of reliefs which are unteathered from reality, from the claims that he was born outside of the United States to the claims he is a Muslim or a Marxist. Of course this is nothing new. The current bogus claims about Obama are as absurd as the discredited claims of the Swift Boat Liars. Right wingers continue to base conspiracy theories upon claims that both John Kerry’s war records and Barack Obama’s birth certificate are being kept secret. It is hardly a secret when both documents  have been posted on the internet.

Ambinder speculates as to the causes of this insanity:

Conor Friedersdorf thinks the problem lies with the conservative movement’s major spokespeople  — its radio/net news nexus — and the “overwhelming evidence that their very existence as popular entertainers hinges on an ability to persuade listeners that they are “‘worth taking seriously as political and intellectual actors.'” That is why the constant failures of these men to live up to their billing is so offensive, destructive, and ruinous to conservatives. There are plenty of women, too, is all I’ll say.

The right wing noise machine is certainly responsible for much of the problem. In many cases it isn’t even clear if the clowns who spread their insane beliefs even believe what they are saying, or are just doing this because it is an easy way to make a good living. Scott Adams has speculated about this and written, “I find it mind boggling that anyone believes a TV talk host is expressing his own true views.” We’ve had Glenn Beck say “I could give a flying crap about the political process.” Beck has also described himself as “a rodeo clown” and conceded, “If you take what I say as gospel, you’re an idiot.”

Unfortunately there are a lot of idiots who actually believe the things that people like Glenn Beck say, regardless of how much evidence there is that he makes it up. Ambinder has a suggestion for the media as to how to respond:

I think this sensibility is pervasive throughout the smart media — old and new. I think it’s one reason why, say, Jake Tapper and other good reporters are very keen about direct fact-challenging — why the media is reasserting itself as gatekeepers. (CNN might want to think about branding themselves here, even at the risk (well, the reality) of calling out Republicans more.) I think it’s because there’s so much misinformation out there — most of it spread by the conservative echo-chamber. With the advent of Fox News and the power of that echo-chamber, complaints about liberal media bias are quite irrelevant — the reaction to it being like lupus’s reaction to the body, as Jon Stewart correctly noted.

It would certainly be useful to have Jake Tapper of ABC, CNN, and others devote more time to fact checking. The far right will just write off the facts as liberal bias but maybe having the facts out there more will do some good. Fact checking will definitely play into the belief that CNN is a liberal counterpart to Fox which is absurd when you look at how many Republicans they have hired in recent years  since the network was sold by Ted Turner. There is no doubt that they will have far more to fact check with Republican than Democratic statements, plus the Republican falsehoods are much further from reality than the errors coming from the Democrats.

Acorn Cleared By Brooklyn Prosecutors; Tape Found To Be Edited

ACORN was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by Brooklyn prosecutors and the supposedly incriminating tape was found to have been edited. New York Daily News reports:

Brooklyn prosecutors on Monday cleared ACORN of criminal wrongdoing after a four-month probe that began when undercover conservative activists filmed workers giving what appeared to be illegal advice on how to hide money.

While the video by James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles seemed to show three ACORN workers advising a prostitute how to hide ill-gotten gains, the unedited version was not as clear, according to a law enforcement source.

“They edited the tape to meet their agenda,” said the source.

O’Keefe and Giles – who visited ACORN offices in several cities, including its Brooklyn headquarters – stirred controversy when they posted the videos on their Web site.

They were hailed as heroes by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and their footage led several government agencies to temporarily cut funding for ACORN as the prosecutors opened an investigation.

“On Sept. 15, 2009, my office began an investigation into possible criminality on the part of three ACORN employees,” Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said in a one-paragraph statement issued Monday afternoon.

“That investigation is now concluded and no criminality has been found.”

Update: Many of the attacks on Acorn from the right wing were based upon false information spread by Andrew Breitbart. Media Matters reports that Breitbart has walked back his claims of criminality on the part of ACORN.

Even though the evidence against ACORN has been shown to have been fabricated my bet is that this will not change the attitude of most on the right. They enjoy  living  in their fantasy world and have far too many defenses built up to protect them from facing reality.

The American right wing has become an authoritarian movement which operates by fabricating false evidence to demonize their opponents.  They will hold to their fantasies about ACORN just as many on the right still think that Saddam was involved with the 9/11 attack, there was WMD in Iraq at the time of the war, that the claims of the Swift Boat Liars about John Kerry were anything other than politically motivated lies, and that Barack Obama is a Muslim born outside of the United States.

Peter Hoekstra Continues To Play Politics With Failed Terrorist Attack

Yesterday I noted how my Congressman, Peter Hoekstra, extended his long track record of playing politics with terrorism by using this week’s attempt to blow up a plane in Detroit for political gain. Hoekstra, who is now a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in Michigan, continued this again today on (of course) Fox:

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said Sunday that it is fair to blame the Obama administration for the attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Detroit on Christmas Day.

Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Select Intelligence Committee said that the administration has not taken the threat of terrorist threats on the U.S. seriously.

Asked by Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace if it is fair to blame the Obama administration for the attacks, the Michigan Republican replied “”Yeah, I think it really is.”

Hoekstra said that increased domestic threats have made themselves more evidence this year, with this attack and the Fort Hood shootings, but said that the Obama administration is trying to “downplay” the threat.

“The Obama administration came in and said we’re not going to use the word terrorism anymore, we’re going to call it man made disasters, trying to, I think, downplay the threat from terrorism,” he said. “In reality, it’s getting much more complex.”

So it is Obama’s fault that a  terrorist entered the country on a visa granted under former president George Bush while I have never seen Hoekstra criticize Bush for the multiple errors in judgment which contributed to the success of the 9/11 attack. As I noted in the earlier post:

The Clinton administration left the Bush administration warnings about al Qaeda. The Bush administration not only ignored these warnings but lied about receiving them. Then there was that CIA briefing entitled “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” just before the attack which George Bush ignored. As Al Gore discussed in The Assault on Reason, paying attention to this warning should have led to a review of the State Department/INS watch list which already contained the names of many of the 9/11 terrorists. Others could have also been identified before the attack as they were using the same addresses or frequent flier numbers. In 2006 Keith Olbermann also reviewed the many warnings which were ignored.

It is total fiction on Hoekstra’s part to claim either that the Obama administration is not taking terrorism seriously or that “The Obama administration came in and said we’re not going to use the word terrorism anymore.”  Barack Obama has spoken out several times about the need to respond to terrorism including his speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars back in 2007. Steve Benen recently noted that the Obama administration is not only taking action against terrorism, but has had significant successes. A report from ABC News last August quoted National Security Adviser, Gen. Jim Jones who cited other ways in which the Obama administration is having greater success against terrorism than the Bush administration.

Taking such liberties with the truth is hardly new for Hoekstra who has previously made discredited claims of finding WMD in Iraq. He has also tried to play politics with terrorism previously. After having written an op-ed condemning others for divulging military secrets, he himself was found to have divulged secrets on Twitter. He previously resorted to scare tactics which have been criticized by several former national security officials when there was talk of moving prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to a maximum security prison in Michigan.

Peter Hoekstra Once Again Helps Al Qaeda Spread Terror For His Personal Political Gain

The dumbest thing  you can do in response to a terrorist attack is further the goal of the terrorists by spreading more fear. My Congressman, Pete Hoekstra, couldn’t resist doing this yet again in hopes of obtaining political gain following yesterday’s terror attempt in Detroit.

A Nigerian man claiming ties to al Qaeda attempted to set off an explosion on an international flight arriving in Detroit yesterday. He had a powder and a fluid strapped to his leg which he mixed in an attempt to create an explosion as the plane descended into Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The attempt failed with only a minimal explosion and the man was subdued.

In response to this attack there needs to be an investigation as to why someone who was already on terrorist watch lists not only managed to get aboard the plane but to do so with potentially explosive substances strapped to his leg. We need to find out if he was really acting under orders of al Qaeda and what other plans they might have. This highlights a security problem I have long feared–we are vulnerable to the weakest link in screening anywhere in the world as once someone gets past security at one airport they can travel internationally with far less scrutiny.

This is a time for reasoned evaluation of our security systems, not to attempt to instill further panic for political gain as Hoekstra has. Hoekstra is the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee and is a candidate for the 2010 Republican nomination for Governor. Presumably he thinks that he improves his prospect among Republicans by making cheap political points such as this:

“It’s not surprising,” U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Holland Republican, said of the alleged terrorist attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight in Detroit. A Nigerian who authorities said had told them he was ordered by al-Qaida to detonate an explosive was in custody. Reports linked the explosives to Yemen.

“People have got to start connecting the dots here and maybe this is the thing that will connect the dots for the Obama administration,” said Hoekstra.

Such conduct is hardly new from Hoekstra. He has previously made discredited claims of finding WMD in Iraq. After having written an op-ed condemning others for divulging military secrets, he himself was found to have divulged secrets on Twitter. He previously resorted to scare tactics which have been criticized by several former national security officials when there was talk of moving prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to a maximum security prison in Michigan.

Besides commenting before we have much information and unnecessarily spreading fear, Hoekstra’s message makes little sense in trying to blame a Democratic administration. It was the Republican Congress which blocked attempts to fight al Qaeda under Bill Clinton. Other Democrats such as John Kerry were warning about the threat of terrorism well before 9/11.

The Clinton administration even left the Bush administration warnings about al Qaeda. The Bush administration not only ignored these warnings but lied about receiving them. Then there was that CIA briefing entitled “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” just before the attack which George Bush ignored. As Al Gore discussed in The Assault on Reason, paying attention to this warning should have led to a review of the State Department/INS watch list which already contained the names of many of the 9/11 terrorists. Others could have also been identified before the attack as they were using the same addresses or frequent flier numbers. In 2006 Keith Olbermann also reviewed the many warnings which were ignored. Barack Obama has spoken out several times about the need to respond to terrorism including his speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars back in 2007.

Playing politics with terrorism has also been commonplace from Republicans. After 9/11 we had a time of national unity when people of both parties were willing to support George Bush in taking reasonable action to respond. Instead the Republicans took advantage of 9/11 both for partisan gain and to push through their pre-9/11 agenda, including attacking Iraq, which has only acted to weaken the country and increase the risk of terrorist attacks.

There are many people in Michigan, including myself, who have family members who will be returning home from vacations on international flights through Detroit.I hope that rather than helping him politically, many more Michigan voters are repulsed by Peter Hoekstra’s irresponsible attempts to spread fear and seek personal political gain at a time when we need a serious review of the problem. Pete Hoekstra has demonstrated yet again that he is not fit to be Governor.

Blair Admits He Would Have Found Excuse To Invade Iraq Without WMD Claim

When can we have George Bush subjected to questioning like this in interviews?

Reporting from London – Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he would have found a justification for invading Iraq even without the now-discredited evidence that Saddam Hussein was trying to produce weapons of mass destruction.

“I would still have thought it right to remove him. I mean, obviously you would have had to use and deploy different arguments about the nature of the threat,” Blair told the BBC in an interview to be broadcast this morning.

It was a startling admission from the onetime British leader, who was President Bush’s staunchest ally in the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

Blair’s comments were immediately denounced by critics who accused him of using false pretenses to drag Britain into an unpopular war that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of allied troops and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.

Of course we know that Bush would never get into a situation in which journalists would be allowed to question him in this nature. Another difference is that the lies during the run up to the war are being investigated in Great Britain while being ignored here.

Iraqi Taxi Driver Source of Information on WMD Threat

Remember the warnings that we had to stop Saddam because he could could unleash weapons of mass destruction  within 45 minutes? It now looks like the source of this discredited threat was an Iraqi taxi driver. They were so desperate to make a case for going to war that they tried to run with any story they could come up with, regardless of how weak the evidence.

Conservative Attempts to Defend Fox and Create a False Equivalency With MSNBC

Along with many other liberal bloggers, I’ve had numerous posts regarding how Fox not only gets the facts wrong on their news shows but outright makes things up to promote their beliefs. In response to members of the Obama administration  pointing out the truth about Fox, conservatives have tried to create a false equivalency between Fox and MSNBC.

To a limited degree the comparison is accurate. The evening shows on MSNBC such as those anchored by Kieth Olbermann and Rachel Maddow should be classified as opinion shows and not objective news shows. It is worth noting that, while which facts to concentrate on are influenced by their political views, the facts presented by Olbermann and Maddow are considerably more accurate than the falsehoods frequently stated by the hosts of the Fox opinion shows. In addition, MSNBC  balances this with a show hosted by conservative Joe Scarborough. Another significant difference is that MSNBC has actual news shows on during the daytime, while the “news” shows on Fox are biased and promote the same falsehoods as on their opinion shows.

Conservatives have come up with a number of absurd arguments to counter the criticism of Fox. Some act as if it is the Obama White House who initiated the attack when it  is Fox which is responsible for this conflict. Fox has even fabricated a story that they were denied the ability to interview an Obama administration official. Conservatives who ignored real violations of civil liberties, and generally ignore everything in the Bill of Rights other than the Second Amendment, make absurd claims of violations of the First Amendment. In reality members of the Obama administration are expressing their own freedom of speech to make observations which are as obvious as that the sky is blue, and are taking no action to limit Fox’s right to express their views. Fox’s viewership has even gone up, showing they are not being harmed. Some have even compared this to Nixon’s enemies list, perhaps oblivious to the differences such as the Nixon administration’s use of tactics such as wire taps and tax audits against their perceived enemies.

With all the false information being spread by Fox, conservatives would love to be able to build a case that Olbermann and Maddow are as inaccurate in their stories as the Fox talking heads. This certainly cannot be done, but conservatives are still trying. Via Memeorandum I found this ridiculous attempt.

There are at least two major problems with the argument against Maddow. First, rather than being wrong in her facts, the same post which attacks Maddow shows that Maddow had a guest on her show which presented the facts. They might not understand why a failure such as George Bush might be mocked for being a motivational speaker, regardless of how many former presidents have done the same, but there is no justification for saying that viewers of Maddow’s show were given false information after she completed her coverage of the story.

It is also rather ridiculous that they would cite something so trivial to falsely question Rachel Maddow’s accuracy considering how Fox has been wrong in their facts on so many major issues in recent years. This includes their falsehoods on what is contained in the health reform bills, their false claims that WMD was present in Iraq at the onset of the war, and their false claims of a connection between Saddam and al Quada.

Update: Keith Olbermann’s response

West Michigan Can Wind Up With Even Worse Than “Crazy Pete”

West Michigan is on the front lines of the culture wars, including the types of areas which banned the Harry Potter books for promoting witchcraft. For years the area has been represented in Congress by Pete Hoekstra (often known as Crazy Pete). Among the low lights of Hoekstra’s career have been discredited claims of finding WMD in Iraq, divulging secrets on Twitter, and resorting to scare tactics which have been criticized by several former national security officials. Hoekstra has become sufficiently crazy to now have potential for to seek higher office as a Republican and he has decided to give up his seat in hopes of becoming governor. If that prospect isn’t scary enough, a Republican who sounds even crazier than Crazy Pete has announced plans to run for his seat.

Jay Riemersma has announced plans to run for Hoekstra’s seat. Riemersma, a former tight end for the University of Michigan and the Buffalo Bills, should have stuck with sports rather than entering politics. He is one Michigan man I will never support. CNN’s Political Ticker summarizes his views:

Since retiring from professional sports, Riemersma has been working for the conservative Family Research Council and coaching high school football. In November 2008, he penned a letter to the editor in the Holland Sentinal entitled “How could Christians vote for Obama?”

In the article, he said that “faith should permeate every aspect of our lives” and said any Christian who chose to support Barack Obama’s presidential bid did so “from a lack of understanding.”

“Too many Christians shroud their God-given light with misguided intentions and uninformed choices,” Riemersma wrote. “Moving forward to the next election, I implore all Christians to base their vote not on a political party or a polished politician, but rather on Biblical principle.”

Former Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr, often considered the Democrat on Bo Schembechler’s staff, will be appearing at receptions for Riemersma in Holland and Grand Haven on Thursday. Apparently Carr is placing loyalty to team above principle.

Some Democrats have felt they have a chance to take Hoekstra’s seat once he steps down, noting that George Bush won 60 percent of the vote in 2004 in this Congressional district but John McCain won just 50.8 percent of the vote in 2008. I fear that Riemersma is just the type who might get out the vote in West Michigan and will likely do better than McCain, especially with Obama not on the ballot.