Browsing the archives for the Wingnuts Being Wingnuts category.


Those Sneaky Canadians

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abortion, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Sting videos just ain’t what they used to be. James O’Keefe just released one, with great fanfare, that allegedly showed “illegal activity conducted by high-level employees within Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.” What the video actually showed was a Project Veritas operator purchasing $75 of Hillary Clinton campaign swag and giving it to a Canadian.

In the five-minute video, a Project Veritas member approached the booth at the event on New York’s Roosevelt Island alongside an apparent Canadian citizen, who Project Veritas says it did not know but was in line with by “pure happenstance.”

The Canadian citizen asked if she could purchase some campaign gear. The campaign staff at the booth — which included Director of Marketing Molly Barker and Compliance Manager Erin Tibe — informed her that since she was not a U.S. citizen, she could not legally contribute to the campaign. The undercover Project Veritas member then offers to take the Canadian woman’s cash and make the contribution for her.

The video then jumps to a printout of Federal Election Commission laws, which prohibits foreign nationals from contributing to a campaign, directly or indirectly.

“Molly Barker broke the law by allowing our journalist to become the middleman,” the video says.

I watched the video. You can clearly hear the Clinton campaign staffers telling the Canadian woman she could not purchase Clinton hats and T-shirts unless she is a U.S. citizen. They asked if she had a U.S. passport or even a green card. She did not. Then the O’Keefe operative piped up and argued with them, saying the woman had come all the way from Canada to support Hillary. Then when the Canadian herself appeared to be ready to leave, the operative offered to buy stuff for the Canadian. When the operative asked if she would be allowed to do that, the Clinton staffer clarified that “you [which I take to mean the operative] would just be making a contribution to the Clinton campaign.” Then later, the Clinton staffer said that if it weren’t for federal law they would accept donations from foreigners. The video plays this up as if the staffer had said something shocking.

That’s it. That’s the “sting.” Reporters were, um, underwhelmed.

(Earlier this week, Scott Walker was reported to have said that building a fence along the Canadian border was an idea worth reviewing. I say that if politics here gets any crazier, Canada might build it.)

Oliver Willis wrote,

Project Veritas last month released a video showing their operative undercover with the Clinton campaign, discussing the registration process and whether they can register people who don’t support Clinton.

A Clinton campaign staffer is then shown telling the Project Veritas operative that they will register anyone who asks, regardless of their presidential preference. As Time reported, “Nothing in the video shows the Clinton campaign violating the law, or the campaign’s own policy. But Veritas claims, nonetheless, that the campaign is ‘skirting the law’ by first asking whether potential voters are supporters before making the registration offer. This approach to training volunteers is standard operating procedure across field campaigns, according to a Republican field staffer, who requested anonymity.”

Well, so much for that. The crew of anti-reproductive rights extremists releasing the scam Planned Parenthood videos has another one out, and this time it appears the scammers are confused about the mechanics of pregnancy.

This video actually targets Advanced Bioscience Resources, Inc., which the Fetus People call “the small and secretive company that has harvested and sold fetal body parts at Planned Parenthood clinics longer than any other entity.” ABR is a non-profit foundation that provides human tissue for scientific research. According to the Fetus People, an ABR “procurer” told a prospective “buyer” that getting an intact fetus is easy; they find a woman in an advanced stage of cervical dilation, and the fetus just “falls out.” Later in their press release the Fetus People called this a “second trimester” operation, meaning that any cervical dilation would have been induced, a point overlooked in the press release. WebMD explains how dilation is used in second trimester abortions; the fetus doesn’t “fall out.”

FYI, independent analysis has shown that even the “unedited videos released by these clowns have been doctored.

Glenn Simpson, a partner at the firm and a former Wall Street Journal reporter, assembled three teams of neutral experts to comb through the tapes using special video software. He said the teams found that all of the videos analyzed — even the supposedly “full,” unedited footage the CMP released — were missing large sections of time and misleadingly altered so that separate conversations appeared to take place in an uninterrupted take. Moreover, the forensic team found that the transcripts CMS released with the videos were frequently erroneous.

“It appears they commit what I would call ‘wishful thinking’ about what was said,” Simpson told reporters Thursday.

The videos show Planned Parenthood doctors discussing the donation of fetal tissue after abortions — a legal practice. But the CMP edited the videos into episodes that make it look as though Planned Parenthood is selling fetal parts for profit and changing abortion methods to deliver intact specimens. The family planning provider strongly denies both charges, and five separate state investigations into Planned Parenthood have cleared the organization of any wrongdoing.

Simpson said his team of experts found that the subtitles in the videos do not correspond to the actual dialogue, and that the CMP may have simply invented parts of the conversation when the recordings were too low-quality to determine what was really being said.

But, y’know, it’s all about the propaganda. A pollster is claiming that 54 percent of Republican voters think President Obama is a Muslim, so we’re not talking about advanced critical thinkers here. They’ll believe whatever they are told to believe.

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The Constitutional Anchor Baby Crisis, Revisited

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American History, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

On the Right the Shiny Object de la semaine, if not du jour, is birthright citizenship. This is the legal right to citizenship of all babies born in the U.S. regardless of the status of their parents. From time to time conservatives get whipped up into a Nativist frenzy and demand that birthright citizenship be ended, and now is one of those times.

It’s widely believed that birthright citizenship is established by the 14th Amendment, and that it would take a constitutional amendment to change it. But many on the Right deny this. They don’t think the 14th says what it says, and they think birthright citizenship could be ended through an act of Congress. For example, Edward J. Erler wrote in National Review,

A correct understanding of the intent of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment and legislation passed by Congress in the late 19th century and in 1923 extending citizenship to American Indians provide ample proof that Congress has constitutional power to define who is within the “jurisdiction of the United States” and therefore eligible for citizenship. Simple legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president would be constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment.

I don’t have time to write a long post explaining why Erler is wrong. Fortunately, I already wrote that post, more than five years ago. In the earlier post (The Constitutional Anchor Baby Crisis) I respond to a George Will column that made nearly identical arguments to Erler’s. And those arguments are taken pretty much wholesale from the minority opinion in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898) . The detail that Will and Erler both hope nobody notices is that the majority opinion in Wong Kim Ark disagreed.

Erler also tries to argue that Wong Kim Ark only applies to children born of legal aliens, but I read the Wong Kim Ark opinion, and that’s not apparent to me. For one thing, I’m not sure “illegal aliens” was conceptualized then as we conceptualize it now. In any event, Wong Kim Ark was a man born in the U.S. to Chinese laborer parents who were considered “subjects of the Emperor,” at a time when Chinese laborers were strictly excluded from the U.S.  But Wong Kim Ark claimed citizenship by right of birth, and the Court agreed with him.

So here’s most of the earlier Anchor Baby post, and you can substitute “Erler” for “Will” if you like.

Now, most legal experts say that because of the 14th Amendment, Congress does not have the power to deny citizenship to so-called “anchor babies.” Doing this would require a constitutional amendment. But righties are arguing no, because the 14th Amendment doesn’t say what it says. This argument was presented by none other than George Will a few days ago, and it is a tortured argument, indeed. But when I read Will’s column I didn’t have the time to research what he was saying to see if it could hold mayonnaise, never mind water.

But lo, yesterday, while researching something else entirely, I ran into a discussion of United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898) (see also Wikipedia discussion of Wong). Wong Kim Ark was a man born in the United States of ethnic Chinese parents. At the time, the Chinese Exclusion Act was in effect. You probably remember that this barred anyone of the Chinese “race” from entering the U.S., and it denied citizenship to ethnic Chinese people already in the U.S. Wong challenged this law, and in a 6-2 decision the Supreme Court agreed with Wong, and said he was a citizen of the United States by virtue of being born here. And it seems to me there’s a made-for-television movie script in there somewhere.

Anyway, as I read about the Wong decision I realized that the dissenting argument in the Wong case is exactly the same argument being made today by Will and the Republican lawmakers.

The dissent was based on an interpretation of the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” Will and the two SCOTUS dissenters (John Harlan and Melville Fuller) say this phrase means “and not subject to any foreign power.” In their dissent of Wong, Harlan and Fuller point out that native Americans were (at the time) not citizens of the U.S. because the Civil Rights Act of 1866 had given citizenship to “all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed.”

This act became law just two months before the 14th Amendment was proposed. So, the argument is, this wording gives us insight into where lawmakers’ heads were at the time. And thus, if the parents are subjects of a foreign power, then their baby born in the U.S. is not eligible for citizenship. This was the dissenting opinion in Wong in 1898, and Will repeated this same argument in his Washington Post column. Will doesn’t bother discussing that pesky Wong majority opinion, however.

Will argues further,

What was this [the jurisdiction phrase] intended or understood to mean by those who wrote it in 1866 and ratified it in 1868? The authors and ratifiers could not have intended birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants because in 1868 there were and never had been any illegal immigrants because no law ever had restricted immigration.

As far as I know, the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first attempt to render any sort of immigration illegal, and it didn’t become law until 1882. Congress had passed an earlier version of the exclusion act in 1878, but this was vetoed by President Hayes. But the Wong majority decision says plainly that an act of Congress making Chinese immigration illegal, and denying citizenship status to ethnic Chinese, did not override the clear language of the 14th Amendment.

So, whether Will and the Republican lawmakers like it or not, SCOTUS already nixed their argument.

The majority opinion in Wong is based partly on English common law, which said that babies born in England are English, with the exception of the children of diplomats and children born to hostile forces occupying English territory.

In addition, at the time native American tribes were not considered subject to U.S. jurisdiction and were therefore not citizens. Another case decided in 1884 (Elk v. Wilkins, 112 U.S. 94) had declared that a native American who left his tribe and went to live in a white community didn’t automatically get citizenship, although he could be considered a citizen if he went through whatever naturalization process existed at the time and paid taxes.

Will leans heavily on the example of non-citizen native Americans to argue that the 14th Amendment was not intended to confer citizenship to babies of foreigners who happened to be in the U.S. at the time. But the Elk decision (which Will doesn’t mention, either) did not consider Indian tribes to be foreign states. A tribe was an alien political entity which Congress dealt with through treaties, but not the same thing as a foreign nation.

So, it seems to me the Wong decision — the majority opinion, anyway — more closely speaks to the circumstance of babies born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants than does the Elk decision. And I think I just blew by nerd blogging quotient for the day.

Update: Read more about Wong Kim Ark in “The Progeny of Citizen Wong.”

And thank goodness for archives.

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Conservative-Industrial Complex

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conservatism, Republican Party, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

My only quibble (so far) about “‘They Don’t Give a Damn about Governing': Conservative Media’s Influence on the Republican Party,” published by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, is that “conservative media” is just one part of a larger, integrated right-wing infrastructure that has been driving U.S. foreign and domestic policy for at least 40 years.

Conservative media are the most visible part of the infrastructure, but conservative media alone wouldn’t be anything without what the study’s author calls the Conservative-Industrial Complex. This would be “the network of no-compromise advocacy groups financed by the Kochs and other right-wing patrons,” the author, Jackie Calmes, writes.

David Roberts at Vox spells it out

There are now hundreds of conservative media outlets, not only the national ones you’ve heard of but regional, local, and niche outlets that speak directly and exclusively to the conservative (read: older white male) demographic. It’s a full media ecosystem; there’s no longer any need for conservatives to stray outside it to stay informed, or “informed.”

Alongside the growth in media (and funded by many of the same people) has emerged a newly muscular ideological machinery. Together they form what political scientist Richard Meagher half-jokingly calls “the vast right-wing conspiracy”:

Conservative talk radio, print publications, television networks, and internet sites have numerous connections, both direct and indirect, with the think tanks, advocacy organizations, academic research centers, and foundations that develop and promote the Right’s policy agenda.

If you spend much time at Sourcewatch, you begin to see how the whole infrastructure, from media outlets, Heritage Foundation and other “think tanks,” and the mostly astroturf advocacy organizations are all being funded by a relatively small group. Oh, and don’t forget ALEC. Time and time again, you run into the same few names.  The Koch boys are prominent, of course, but other names that come up frequently include the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Scaife Foundations and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation.

In short, dozens of allegedly independent right-wing organizations are all being bankrolled by a relatively small group of foundations. And as Charles Pierce keeps pointing out, it’s these people who are driving the Right’s agenda, not the Republican Party.

It has been an article of faith in this shebeen almost since we opened it in 2011 that there is no actual Republican party in any real sense any more. Ever since the Supreme Court legalized influence-peddling in its Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, there only has been a loosely held group of independent franchises who are doing business for themselves under the Republican Party brand. This is why the suits belonging to obvious anagram Reince Preibus are so very empty.

Put another way, the Republican Party has lost control of this monster and really isn’t in charge of anything any more. The GOP exists only as a facade, or as part of the nominal political infrastructure that must be used in elections.

The take-aways from all this:

  • Calmes is right that they don’t give a damn about governing. The puppet masters (the Koch boys et al.) have no interest whatsoever in governing. They are looking out for their own interests.
  • A big chunk of the American electorate now gets all of its “information” about current events from the right-wing media infrastructure, meaning they soak in propaganda 24/7 and have no clue what’s actually going on.
  • There is no leftie equivalent of the right-wing infrastructure.

Operatives in both parties and independent observers generally agree that left-wing media do not come near conservative media in terms of the number of outlets, size of audience and political influence, despite the frequent parallels drawn between Fox and MSNBC, for example, or RedState and DailyKos, Hannity and Rachel Maddow. “It’s my conviction that there’s no comparison,” said Price, the Democratic congressman and political scientist. Pressure on Democratic politicians like him, Price said, comes less from left-leaning media than from liberal advocacy organizations like labor unions, environmental groups and women’s and minority rights organizations. …

…Arceneaux, the political scientist whose focus is partisan media, said politically engaged Americans on the right and the left “just consume news in a different way.” Liberals favor comedy satire shows like Jon Stewart’s, for example. Leftwing pundits initially had a bigger presence than conservatives among bloggers when the Internet first took hold, though no longer. As for radio and TV talk shows, Arceneaux said, “For whatever reason, liberal ideologues aren’t drawn to that.” One reason is suggested by Hemmer, who in her coming book Messengers of the Right also writes of less successful messengers of the left. “MSNBC, and earlier, Air America” – a short-lived network for liberal talk-radio shows – “were trying to replicate what they saw as the political influence of conservative media and they were unsuccessful at it,” Hemmer said in an interview. “Conservative media – and the habit of consuming conservative media that is so central to conservative political identity – have been something that has a half-century of history. And liberals don’t have that same history. To the extent that liberalism has a base, it doesn’t come out of media, it comes out of organizations – like labor unions, or groups like MoveOn.”

  • “Mainstream” media remains remarkably clueless about what’s really going on. News organizations think that “fairness” means neutrality, and neutrality means a “view from nowhere” — it’s an artificial impartiality that is maintained by doggedly pretending that the reporter is standing in the middle between two equivalent political forces. As a result, the meltdown into insanity of one of America’s major political parties, going on right before our eyes, is ignored. Politicians who express views that ought to get them committed are treated as “serious.” And political elites, the so-called “Villagers,” are just as bad.
  • Individual reporters may be catching on, but they fail to grasp the scope of things. Roberts of Vox continues,

One of the longstanding critiques of mainstream media on the left, from the very beginning of the blogosphere, was that reporters in the Beltway “Village” failed to grasp modern conservatism and wrote about it in such a way as to sand down and mute its extremity. Their attachment to a certain mental model of politics — “both sides” with their mirror-image extremes and centers — made them blind to“asymmetrical polarization.” In fact, people are still making that critique; here’s Paul Krugman from just a few days ago.

… there are still plenty of mainstream political reporters who cling to the both-sides illusion to this day, imagining politics as a sober business conducted by Very Serious People in suits, premised on a shared set of facts and assumptions. But as the far right sends the Republican Party through an ever-more-absurd series of showdowns and tantrums, the illusion is fading. Now lots of established journalists seem to have moved on to the bargaining stage of grief, holding out hope that the Adults will once again take charge.

But see Steve M on this point; he thinks Roberts is being too generous to the established journalists and the “Villagers.”

We’re seeing evidence that the Republican Party is getting a clue it has lost control. I don’t think the GOP bargained for the fact that the puppet masters and the activists, who don’t care about governing, don’t care about the GOP, either. The Party was just a host, and the activists are like parasites devouring their host. But I’m not seeing a bottom yet, either. And I’m not seeing anyone approximating an Adult who can take the mess back into hand.

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Conservatives and the Conceit of Happiness

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conservatism, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Steve M has a worthwhile post up about an NY Times column by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. A.C. Brooks thinks we Americans should be more optimistic. In particular we need optimistic leaders, he said, and politicians have to choose whether they will project optimism (good) or pessimism (bad).

While the citizenry may vacillate, leaders generally have to select one disposition or the other. Pessimism arouses fear and anger, while optimism inspires hope. Hope can accompany fear in times of extraordinary sacrifice (such as war), but this is rare. As a practical matter, a leader must choose.

This is rich, considering that it’s the U.S. Right that stays in power by keeping its base whipped into a seething frenzy of resentment and outrage. A.C. then claims a study found optimistic leaders to be more effective, and Steve M informs us that’s not what that study found. What it actually said was that leaders who project happiness are perceived to be better leaders, but they actually aren’t by any objective measure.

But I noticed a long time ago that righties place high value on a perception of happiness. For years we’ve been told that “studies say” conservatives are happier than liberals, and for years I have refused to believe this. They certainly don’t act happy (see above about seething frenzy of resentment and outrage). The “happiness” claim seems especially odd in light of a number of studies that have found conservatives to be more fearful than liberals. Fear and happiness do not co-exist.

I commented on this discrepancy back in 2006, noting that the “studies” showing conservative happiness were based entirely on self-reporting; in other words, conservatives must be happier because they rated themselves as happy.

So back then I speculated that “Conservatives on the whole are less introspective and more conformist than liberals. Thus, they are more likely to say they are happy because (a) they’re in denial about their own unhappiness, and (b) that’s what they think they’re supposed to say.”

Turns out that I was right. More recent studies based on more objective measures such as behavior and language analysis gave liberals an edge in the happiness department. Conservatives are more likely than liberals to “self-enhance.” Self-enhancement bias is defined by the science geeks as “the tendency to describe oneself more positively than a normative criterion would predict.” This is illustrated by the words of the great Anne Richards, who said of George H.W. Bush that he was born on third base and thought he’d hit a triple.

But then I continued to reflect whether I’ve ever much cared if my political leaders are “happy.” I’d say having a healthy sense of humor is a plus, but when you speak of happiness as a quality that is intrinsic to an individual, and is not just a passing condition, IMO you’re getting into trouble. And if you have to lie to yourself (see above about self-enhancing) to persuade yourself you are “happy,” does that even count?

(BTW, Buddhists make a distinction between happiness as an emotion and happiness as a cultivated mental state. The emotion happiness is a reaction to an object or circumstance, such as a gift or good fortune. This kind of happiness, while pleasant, is a temporary and empty thing. Happiness as a cultivated mental state is something like a mental habit of remaining balanced and content no matter what is going on “out there.” The way to achieve the second kind of happiness is to let go of self-clinging, greed, fear, and all that. More of a self-releasing than a self-enhancing.)

Reagan fans always make much of Saint Ronald of Blessed Memory’s famous “sunny disposition.” It always seemed to me that the “sunniness” was wrapped around a sour core of umbrage, as if he were perpetually reacting to a personal insult. The “sunniness” was largely an affectation, IMO. The guy was an actor, after all.

One might infer from this that righties want to believe Real America is just like Little House on the Prairie, except with cars and microwaves. And when they look out upon the land and can’t see what they want to see — largely because it isn’t there — it enrages them. Gosh darn it, they would be happy except for that dadblamed reality thing.

And this takes me back to the other Brooks, who petulantly whined that Ta-Nahisi Coates didn’t appreciate the American Dream and was in fact “dissolving the dream under the acid of an excessive realism.” Yes, when you wake up, dreams do dissolve. That’s generally not considered an argument for staying asleep, though.

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No Surprises Here

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firearms, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

By the way, folks, you know that guy who killed two women and wounded several others in a movie theater in Louisiana the other day? He was an anti-feminist, anti-abortion, teabagger neo-Nazi whackjob.

He was opposed to women having a say in anything”: The ugly views of America’s latest mass shooter
Associates say John Russell Houser was an anti-feminist who supported fascist political movements

Portrait of Louisiana Killer: Liked Hitler and Hated Liberals

Lafayette Theater Shooter Fan of David Duke, Neo-Nazis, and Antigovernment Conspiracies

This guy was so far Right that even Jim Hoft couldn’t think of any way to argue he was really a liberal. However, Houser had a history of mental health issues, which righties are using to argue that his political views are irrelevant.

Dear Righties: If having “mental health issues” means political or religious motivations are irrelevant, then Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez can’t be called a terrorist. You can’t use mental health issues to excuse white men and not everybody else.

IMO most of the time in these situations, you’ve got someone with emotional or behavioral problems but who is not psychotic. “Not psychotic” means he was capable of making reasoned decisions and knowing right from wrong. So, it’s a combination of someone who is emotionally or socially distressed and who also has some big, honking opinions. Probably both factors need to be present to create a mass killer. This accounts for most terrorism as well, IMO.

Are Louisiana movie theaters “gun free zones,” by the way? I doubt it.

The bigger picture is how easily this guy got guns. He not only had a history of “mental health issues”; he also had a history of domestic violence (for which law enforcement seems to have given him lots of passes) and other threatening behavior. Steve M has details.

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NY Times Catches On to Rightie Book Scam (Updated)

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The darkest 24 hours, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Righties are apoplectic because the New York Times is not putting Ted Cruz’s book A Time for Truth (cough) on the best-seller list.

The New York Times informed HarperCollins this week that it will not include Ted Cruz’s new biography on its forthcoming bestsellers list, despite the fact that the book has sold more copies in its first week than all but two of the Times’ bestselling titles, the On Media blog has learned.

Just going by number of copies sold, ATfT ought to be #3 or so this week.  The New York Times, however, says that it has standards that include analysis of sales patterns, not just units sold. In other words, the NYT is looking out for bulk sales. It’s going to be harder to cheat your way onto the best-seller list by having organizations buy up your book in bulk.

Or, as Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy explained,

“In the case of this book, the overwhelming preponderance of evidence was that sales were limited to strategic bulk purchases,” she wrote.

This is a scam that’s been going on for a long time, and I’m glad the Times is calling it out, finally. As you probably know already, here’s how it works: Somebody writes a book titled Liberals Are Awful and Will Eat Your Baby. Conservative “book clubs,” think tanks, and other organizations buy up tens of thousands of copies in bulk, making the book a “best seller.” Then they either re-sell copies at a steep discount or give them away at conferences or as part of a promotion for something else (sign up for our newsletter and get a free copy of … ). It’s a variation of “wingnut welfare,” in other words.

Eventually, most of the copies will end up in landfills, unread. But the book is on the  best-seller list, which earns the author a lot of publicity and interviews and television guest spots to promote right-wing nonsense.

Back in 2007, five Regnery authors realized they weren’t being paid royalties for all the tens of thousands of copies that allegedly were sold, and they sued. Regnery was selling the books at a steep discount to its own affiliates, giving books away as premiums to newsletter subscribers, and donating them in bulk to like-minded organizations. Obviously, the authors weren’t making any money on all these books. Regnery called this a marketing strategy.

Sarah Palin boosted sales of her own books with $64,000 in bulk purchases made by her own political action group, SarahPAC. The books were offered free to anyone who made a donation of $100 or more. Awhile back Mitt Romney cranked up sales of his book No Apology by asking institutions to buy thousands of copies in exchange for his speeches

The hosts ranged from Claremont McKenna College to the Restaurant Leadership Conference, many of whom are accustomed to paying for high-profile speakers like Romney. Asking that hosts buy books is also a standard feature of book tours. But Romney’s total price — $50,000 — was on the high end, and his publisher, according to the document from the book tour — provided on the condition it not be described in detail — asked institutions to pay at least $25,000, and up to the full $50,000 price, in bulk purchases of the book. With a discount of roughly 40 percent, that meant institutions could wind up with more than 3,000 copies of the book — and a person associated with one of his hosts said they still have quite a pile left over.

For a while, the Times was marking “bulk sales” books with an asterisk, but now they’ve gone the extra mile and simply are not listing them. If more “best seller” compilers do this, it could kill right-wing publishing.

Getting back to Ted Cruz’s book — HarperCollins is part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, note. So far I haven’t been able to find out who the bulk purchasers were. Cruz does have his fans who no doubt bought his book legitimately. But do any of them read?

Update: Here’s another way to scam the system I didn’t even know about.

In essence, The Times accused Cruz’s publisher of trying to buy its way onto the bestseller list by having a firm like Result Source hire thousands of people across America to individually purchase a copy of “A Time For Truth,” in the hope that some of those retailers are on the secret list of booksellers who report their sales to the Times, or that the aggregate purchasers will simply be too high for the Times to ignore.

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The Route

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Obama Administration, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

While acknowledging it’s just symbols and there are still real battles to fight, I am finding the sudden political retreat on symbols of the Confederacy fascinating, if only as a socio-cultural phenomenon. Josh Marshall wrote

I still cannot believe the Charleston Massacre has triggered quite this total a collapse of support, not just for flying the Confederate battle flag in places of honor at Southern state capitols, but for public display and honor for the Confederacy and the War of the Rebellion in almost any form. Whatever the precise cause or convergence of under-noticed trends, there now seems like no doubt that we are witnessing a watershed in the country’s long, wretched and denial-ridden wrestling with the public memory of the Civil War.

As the song says — There’s somethin’ happenin’ here; what it is ain’t exactly clear

For years, most of the American Right has defiantly refused to give up the Confederate flag and all symbols of the Lost Cause. Now, all of a sudden, it’s like some of them can’t put the Confederacy behind them fast enough. What happened?

Someone writing from Charleston made the point that one of Dylann Roof’s victims, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was also a state senator, and he was a well-known and popular figure. The writer continues,

I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of Republican Senators who have come forward to release very personal statements about Sen. Pinckney’s death, especially among the Lowcountry delegation. The statements made about him strike me as more than just the generic nice things one is supposed to say.

Put another way, Roof made the very amateur mistake of killing people who couldn’t be turned into “thugs” by right-wing media. Every single outrageous harming or killing of a black citizen in recent memory has been followed by an avalanche of smears of the victim. Even the petite teenage girl roughed up by a cop at a Texas pool party was smeared on Fox News, I understand. Maybe I’ve missed it, but I haven’t heard any such smears this time.  

It was a Bible study group, after all, killed by a teenage punk who had been planning it for months. No excuses this time.

This explanation is probably closer to it, though.

The Confederate battle flag — that bellicose assertion of a Southern “heritage” otherwise known as “white supremacy,” that defiant, “fuck you” of a symbol in whose honor the blood of far more than nine people has been shed — it wasn’t suddenly toxic because of last week’s massacre in Charleston. Multinational corporations, and the politicians they keep on retainer, weren’t disowning the flag because of a popular movement. The people hadn’t had the time to organize. The pavement on this road to Damascus was still wet.

Instead, what was actually happening, behind the scenes, wasn’t nearly so romantic. No one was breaking from their usual habits. Everyone, in fact, was doing what they always did. The profit-seeking entities were trying to maximize future earnings; and the state-level politicians were following their demands. This wasn’t a case of the powers-that-be doing something they resented. No one was pushed here; everyone was ready to jump.

In other words, all that white supremacy stuff is bad for business.

Not for the first time in 2015, the conservative movement has found itself on the losing side of a culture war battle it once routinely won. And just as was the case in Indiana, when a petty and combative anti-gay law inspired national boycotts and a business-sector backlash, movement conservatives cannot fathom how liberals aren’t to blame. It’s conservatives, after all, who man the ramparts to protect capitalism and big business. As he was ranting about “the left’s” war on the Confederate flag on Tuesday, one could almost hear Rush Limbaugh transform into Walter Sobchak from “The Big Lebowski,” bellowing, “Has the whole world gone crazy?!”

The conservative movement fancies itself to be pro-business, just as it fancies itself to be pro-national security. But, increasingly, their ideas are out of touch with reality on both fronts.

Yet for all the right’s professed belief in “common sense,” the reason why businesses were, metaphorically, setting the flag to the flame continued to elude conservatives, even when it was staring them in the face. As CNN, the Associated Press and others reported, the Amazons, eBays, Sears and Walmarts of the world weren’t acting out of fear or sentiment. Their motivations were straightforward, cold, and rational. Walmart wants to shed its reputation as a Red State phenomenon; Sears wants to prove it’s not exclusively for dads; Amazon’s politics are, if anything, probably “liberaltarian”; and it’s hard to imagine eBay’s pro-Confederate market was ever that big.

To paraphrase the Dao De Jing — Capitalism is not sentimental; it treats all things as straw dogs. Ironically, and incomprehensibly to the fellow quoted in the New York Times yesterday, the route of Confederate symbols isn’t the beginning of Communism. It’s Capitalism that decided Confederate symbols had to go.

So it’s probably not true, as someone else said, that Dylann Roof is pretty much singlehandedly responsible for the fall of the Confederate Flag. However, he did help create the moment that made the Route possible.

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Peak Cluelessness

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Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

This one belongs in a bell jar in the Utter Obliviousness Museum.

Here’s another one:

At some point, the rest of us are going to have to exact that price. The stars and bars can go, and if Bedford Forrest, who may have been a singular cavalry officer but did, after all, serve as first Grand Wizard of the Democratic Party’s 19th-century terrorist arm, goes with it that’s not an unbearable loss to anyone’s heritage. But while we’re scrubbing the bad baggage from our culture, can we have a merciful end to the painfully stupid leftist obsession with cop-killing racists such as Mumia Abu Jamal, communist terrorists like Bill Ayers, and psychopathic Marxist white supremacists like Che Guevara? How about, as Victor Davis Hanson suggested, an end to racist Leftist institutions like the Congressional Black Caucus and La Raza? If we’re to crack down on the cultural cachet of the Old South, can we conduct a similar purge of the New Black Panthers?

I say, in the interest of fairness, that every single public monument in the U.S. erected to honor Mumia Abu Jamal (a name I haven’t heard in a few years, btw), Bill Ayers, and Che Guevara come down immediately, and every single street named after one of these guys can be re-named George Washington Avenue. How about that?

The rest is a little more problematic, but since the New Black Panthers are, what, a couple of guys in Philadelphia? We could ask them politely to rename themselves, or something.

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Ahimsa-based Morality

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Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

As you know I generally ignore Ross Douthat. The boy’s not that bright, and his views on just about anything are rigidly predictable. But I got sucked into reading a blog post by Ross because of the title — “The Liberalism of Adult Autonomy.”

Yeah, respecting the autonomy of adult humans is a pretty liberal thing to do. But this is Ross Douthat we’re talking about, so if adult autonomy is “liberal” you know he’s going to be against it. I had to look. Tell us how autonomy is bad, Ross.

Reflecting both on Caitlyn né Bruce Jenner and the Gallup data that inspired my own sojourn into polygamy, Damon Linker argues that social conservatives (in particular, his friend and mine Rod Dreher) are wrong to portray the rise of social liberalism as a matter of individualism unbound from all moral restraint. Rather, it represents the triumph of one distinctive moral code, the morality of rights, over another, the morality of ends.

I lack the strength to check out Ross’s sojourn into polygamy, although you are welcome to go there if you want to. If you do, give us a report.

Anyway, according to Douthat and his buddy Linker, there are two kinds of morality, that of ends and that of rights. And having read both essays, I have concluded neither one of these guys has thought things through.

Basically, the morality of “ends” is the idea that morality is based on some arbitrary notions of what’s allowable and what isn’t that mostly come from entrenched cultural bias often connected to Iron Age scriptures. The “ends” people like to believe that their ideas about morality are eternal and external — written in the sky someplace — but that’s an obvious delusion, considering that such ideas are continually shifting from one generation to the next. Go back a few generations, and you can find white European Christians approving of slavery and the creation of castratifor example. Go back a little further, and you find a culture in which it wasn’t immoral for a nobleman to kill a serf, even for capricious reasons.

The ends people are certain they have the right — indeed, the obligation — to use force to stop people from engaging in behaviors that they, the ends people, don’t like. This sort of thing was more acceptable in times past, when populations were more culturally homogeneous, and most people in a population shared the same biases.  But now the ends people are a minority, and it upsets them that others find them narrow-minded, meddling and tiresome when they see themselves as noble and principled.

But I also reject the notion that the only alternative is a morality based on rights. Rights are a kind of entitlement; morality has to do with how we treat each other. Obviously there’s a lot of overlap, but one is not necessarily the other.

This brings me to ahimsa, a Sanskrit word that means “do not harm” or “do not injure.” It has been described as advocating total nonviolence, but for now I’d prefer to say it’s a value of not causing harm, or perhaps following the path of least harm. Isn’t that what we’re talking about when we speak of morality — causing no harm to each other and to ourselves?

Damon Linker touches on this when he writes,

If you’re committed to an overarching (religious or philosophical) vision of human flourishing that precludes gender reassignment surgery, then an expression of disapproval and perhaps even disgust at the Vanity Fair cover would seem to be in order. But if you’ve left behind any such comprehensive morality of ends in favor of a morality of rights, then it’s hard to see what’s wrong with Jenner’s actions, or with the magazine in promoting them publicly on its cover. No one is harmed as a result, and the harm Bruce Jenner felt as a woman trapped in a man’s body has (one hopes) been alleviated by undergoing the surgical transformation into Caitlyn.

Again, why would one hold an “overarching (religious or philosophical) vision of human flourishing that precludes gender reassignment surgery” other than bias? Those who are disgusted are not disgusted for logical reasons; this is just visceral reaction dressed up to look virtuous.

Linker mentions harm. One can argue that Jenner’s wife was harmed — I honestly don’t know what she felt about it — but since Jenner’s decision really only affects herself and immediate family, I don’t see what business it is of mine, nor is it clear to be what moral issues are involved here without knowing the impact on her family.

On the other hand, as Douthat points out, there are people who mutilate themselves for reasons other than gender reassignment. Apparently there is a kind of neurological/psychological syndrome in which healthy people feel compelled to cripple themselves, amputating limbs or insisting on living in wheelchairs and braces when they have no physical injury. Here I’d say there is a moral issue, because these people are not only harming themselves, they are unnecessarily making themselves a burden to others. To me, this is entirely different from gender reassignment surgery.

Do they have a right to do this? As I’ve said before, you may have a right to smear yourself with honey and sit on an anthill, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. You may have a right to do all kinds of things that could harm yourself or others, which IMO makes it immoral.

People are frustrated with being forced into “ends” morality because it often is harmful. This is especially true in matters of sexuality; see, for example, the Duggar family. They were packaged as paragons of “ends” morality, and it turns out this was and is just an illusion. I feel sorry for all the kids, including the sons.

People are realizing that what consenting adults do in private is just not society’s concern, and in fact it’s best for all of us if people can be open and honest about their preferences and not pretend to be one thing while doing something else — see Denny Hastert.

Douthat continues,

At the same time, however, rights-based morality has been around for quite a while, while our contemporary social liberalism is a more recent, post-1960s flowering. It is a very particular and context-bound theory of rights, in other words, with particular definitions of what those rights cover and what counts as harm and victimhood. And in its specific vision of who has rights, how they can be exercised, and which harms violate them, today’s liberalism does tend to push for widening adult autonomy (eroticized and otherwise) in ways that an alternative vision might not.

I’m not entirely sure what’s clanking around in Douthat’s head here, but if “widening adult autonomy” translates into letting adults make decisions about their own lives whether Douthat approves or not, I’m all for it. And while he doesn’t bring up abortion, somehow I suspect placicng women’s rights over fetal “rights” is lurking somewhere in his thinking. He also implies that maybe adults shouldn’t be allowed to divorce if their children disapprove — seriously — which I think is weird.

So once again, the common thread across these issues is not simply a broad morality of rights and harms and consent. It’s a particular definition of which rights matter most, which harms are meaningful and which are trumps, and whose consent is required to justify a particular decision. The current definitions advanced by social liberalism do not make individual autonomy the measure of all things; they do not simply instantiate a will to power or self-fulfillment. But they do treat adult autonomy as a morally-elevated good, and rate other possible rights and harm claims considerably lower as a consequence.

I’m still struggling to understand how adult autonomy is not a moral good, especially given our individualistic culture. A dictionary defines autonomy as “independence or freedom, as of the will or one’s actions: the autonomy of the individual.” We’re not to have independence and freedom? We’re not supposed to have something to say about our own will or actions?

Like I said, weird.

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Not So Free in Muskogee

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Republican Party, Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Gotta read this column by Thomas Edsall:

In the fall of 1969, Merle Haggard topped the Billboard country charts for four weeks with “Okie from Muskogee,” the song that quickly became the anthem of red America, even before we called it that.

“We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee, we don’t take our trips on LSD, we don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street, we like livin’ right and bein’ free,” Haggard declared. “We don’t make a party out of lovin’, we like holdin’ hands and pitchin’ woo.”

Times have changed.

Today Muskogee, Okla., a city of 38,863, has nine drug treatment centers and a court specifically devoted to drug offenders. A search for “methamphetamine arrest” on the website of the Muskogee Phoenix, the local newspaper, produces 316 hits.

In 2013 just under two-thirds of the births in the city of Muskogee, 62.6 percent, were to unwed mothers, including 48.3 percent of the births to white mothers. The teenage birthrate in Oklahoma was 47.3 per 1,000; in Muskogee, it’s 59.2, almost twice the national rate, which is 29.7.

Need I mention that Muskogee voters proudly vote Republican?

… the Baltimore riots have become a vehicle for conservatives to point to the city as an emblem of the failure of liberalism and the Democratic Party. The current state of affairs in Muskogee suggests that the left does not deserve exclusive credit for social disorder.

Rightie politicians and media have been crowing that Baltimore represents a failure of liberalism. I could link to umpteen hundred such rants, but here’s just one.

Jeb Bush says the strife in Baltimore proves the war on poverty “failed” to expand opportunity in America’s most disadvantaged communities. In a Chicago Tribune op-ed published Wednesday, the presumptive 2016 candidate writes that Democrats are wrongly responding to the unrest with calls to increase government spending and reform the criminal justice system.

And, of course, from a progressive perspective just the opposite happened; there’s no part of America untouched by Reaganism and right-wing anti-tax, trickle-down nonsense lo these past 30 plus years. See, for example, an in-depth report by Emily Badger in the Washington Post, “How Baltimore and cities like it hold back poor black children as they grow up.” There are places in the U.S. that are something like economic and social black holes, and it’s nearly impossible for people who grow up there to escape. Programs — you know, the government spending thing — that enable greater mobility actually appear to work. I suspect investing in better public schools and transportation systems wouldn’t hurt either, but of course conservatives hate public schools and transportation and fight spending on such things tooth and nail. And, dude, do you not see that the criminal justice system seriously needs reforming?

Edsall mentions this:

John Nolte, who writes for Breitbart.com, Tweeted at 9:26 p.m. on Monday, April 27, “Baltimore is what happens when you replace the two-parent family with a welfare check & union-run public schools.” An hour later, Laura Ingraham, a talk-show host, followed suit: “No fathers, no male role models, no discipline, no jobs, no values = no sense of right & wrong.”

I’ve yet to see evidence that breaking up teacher’s unions improves public schools, and if we want to talk about lacking a sense of right and wrong let’s talk about the police.

But what happened to Muskogee? Edsall presents copious data showing that while rates of out-of-wedlock births are slowing down among blacks they are speeding up among whites. Since 1980 the rate of out-of wedlock births has increased by 4 percent among blacks (and decreased in recent years) but has risen by 33 percent among whites. Further,

The highest rates of white teenage pregnancy in the 30 states with available data are in red states. While the national white teenage pregnancy rate in 2010 was 38 per 1,000, white rates were at least 10 points higher in nine states: Oklahoma (59), West Virginia (64), Arkansas (63), South Carolina (51), Alabama (49), Mississippi (55), Tennessee (51), Kentucky (59) and Louisiana (51). Each of these states cast decisive majorities for Romney in 2012.

The high pregnancy and birthrates among white teenagers in states where the Christian right and Tea Party forces are strong reflect the inability of ideological doctrines stressing social conservatism to halt the gradual shift away from traditional family structures.

In fact, the map in the second chart [see article] shows that the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the most socially conservative denominations in America, is dominant in every one of the nine states with the highest white teenage pregnancy rates, with the sole exception of West Virginia.

And on and on. The Red States really are going to hell in a handbasket.

Edsall points out that Republicans are in complete control in 24 states, and in most of those states the legislatures are waging all-out culture war. But they are so focused on blocking access to abortion and stopping same-sex marriage they are oblivious to the very real social and economic problems going on under their noses. Edsall again,

The problems of majority black Baltimore are extreme, but many of the trends found there are as extreme or more so in majority white Muskogee.

The Baltimore poverty rate is 23.8 percent, 8.4 points above the national rate, but below Muskogee’s 27.7 percent. The median household income in Baltimore is $41,385, $11,661 below the $53,046 national level, but $7,712 above Muskogee’s $33,664.

If conservatives place responsibility on liberal Democrats, feminism and the abandonment of traditional family values for Baltimore’s decay, what role did the 249 churches in and around Muskogee play in that city’s troubles?

Right-wing politicians have been given too big a pass for way too long.

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