Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mail-Order Conservative Confidence Games.


As a non-listener of Fox News or any other Conservative propagandia outlet, preferring to limit my exposure to the rightwing noise machine from the observations of others I trust,"The Long Con, Mail-order conservatism," came as a bit of a surprise.

The Dailykos.com article noted:

"According to a University of Iowa study, researchers have found that as we age, a section of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex deteriorates. Researchers believe this part of the brain 'controls our beliefs and doubts and [the deterioration] is the reason why some people are more likely to fall for scams than others.'"

But Conservatives have found even more fools' gold for seniors and other gullible Sheeplets. (Note the entry on Confidence Tricks in Wikipedia.)


If yesterday's post, "Rush Steals From Seniors!" was an eye-opener for many, for those few righties who read this essay, it may prove to be a deal closer for those Conservative Sheeplets and "Dittoheads."

Written by Rick Perlstein at The Baffler, Perlstein starts off with a take on the famous Romney lies of the 2012 campaign:

"Mitt Romney is a liar. Of course, in some sense, all politicians, even all human beings, are liars. Romney’s lying went so over-the-top extravagant by this summer, though, that the New York Times editorial board did something probably unprecedented in their polite gray precincts: they used the L-word itself. 'Mr. Romney’s entire campaign rests on a foundation of short, utterly false sound bites,' they editorialized. He repeats them 'so often that millions of Americans believe them to be the truth.' 'It is hard to challenge these lies with a well-reasoned-but- overlong speech,' they concluded; and how. Romney’s lying, in fact, was so richly variegated that it can serve as a sort of grammar of mendacity.


"Some Romney lies posit absences where there are obviously presences: his claim, for instance, that 'President Obama doesn’t have a plan' to create jobs. Other Romney fabrications assert presences where there are absences. A clever bit of video editing can make it seem like Romney was enthusiastically received before the NAACP, when, in fact, he had been booed. There are lies, damned lies, statistics—like his assertion that his tax cut proposal won’t have any effect on the federal budget, which the Tax Policy Center called 'not mathematically possible.' That frank dismissal vaulted the candidate into another category of lie, an attempt to bend time itself: Romney responded by calling that group “biased”; last year, he called them 'objective.'

"There are outsourced lies, like this one from deep in my files: in 2007, Ann Romney told the right-wing site Newsmax.com that her husband had 'always personally been prolife,' though Mitt had said in his 1994 Senate race, 'I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country.' And then Ann admitted a few sentence later, 'They say he flip-flopped on abortion. Well, you know what? He did change his mind.'

"And then there’s the most delicious kind of lie of them all, the kind that hoists the teller on his own petard as soon as a faintly curious auditor consults the record for occasions on which he’s said the opposite. Here the dossier of Mittdacity overfloweth. In 2012, for example, he said he took no more federal money for the Salt Lake City Olympic Games than previous games had taken; a decade earlier, however, he called the $410 million in federal money he bagged 'a huge increase over anything ever done before.'

"There are more examples, so many more, but as I started to log and taxonomize them, their sheer volume threatened to crash my computer. (OK, I’m lying; I just stopped cataloging them, out of sheer fatigue.) You can check in at MSNBC’s Maddowblog for Steve Benen’s series 'Chronicling Mitt’s Mendacity' for the current tally. He was at Volume XXXIX as of this writing, though I’m confident several more arrived while this magazine was at the printers. Volume XXVIII, posted early in August, listed twenty-eight separate lies. Then came the Republican convention, when his designated fibbing-mate Paul Ryan packed so many lies into his charismatic introduction to the nation that aWashington Post blogger assigned by his editor to write a piece on 'the true, the false, and the misleading in Ryan’s speech' could find only one entrant for the 'true' section; and his editor then had to concede that 'even the definition of "true" that we’re using is loose.'


"Pundits—that is to say, the ones who aren’t stitched into their profession’s lunatic semiology, which holds that it’s unfair to call a Republican a liar unless you call a Democrat one too—have been hard at work analyzing what this all says about Mitt Romney’s character. And more power to them. But that’s not really my bag. I write long history books that are published with photos of presidents and presidential aspirants on the covers. The photos are to please the marketers: presidents sell. But my subject is not really powerful people; biography doesn’t much interest me. In my view, powerful men are but a means to the more profound end of sizing up the shifting allegiances on the demand side of our politics.

"The leaders are easy to study; they stand still. We can amass reams on their pasts, catalog great quantities of data on what they say in the present. Grasping the shape of a mass public, though, is a more fugitive process. Publics are amorphous, protean, fuzzy; they don’t leave behind neat documentary trails. Studying the leaders they choose helps us see them more sharply. Political theorist James MacGregor Burns’s classic book Leadership explains that 'leadership over human beings is exercised when persons with certain motives and purposes mobilize, in competition or conflict with others, institutional, political, psychological, and other resources so as to arouse, engage, and satisfy the motives of followers . . . in order to realize goals mutually held by both leaders and followers.' Watching charismatic people try to seize their attention and win their allegiance becomes the intellectual whetstone. As political psychologist Harold Lasswell once put it, a successful aspirant to leadership is one whose 'private motives are displaced onto public objects and rationalized in terms of public interest.' Watching those private motives at work, the public they seek to convince comes into focus."

(Burns and Lasswell played an important role in this poster's education, especially Lasswell's book, Politics: Who Gets What, When, How - Joyce, Jnr.)

"All righty, then: both the rank-and-file voters and the governing elites of a major American political party chose as their standardbearer a pathological liar. What does that reveal about them?"

Mr. Perlstein then gets to the meat of the matter:


"An Oilfield in the Placenta

"In 2007, I signed on to the email lists of several influential magazines on the right, among them Townhall, which operates under the auspices of evangelical Stuart Epperson’s Salem Communications; Newsmax, the organ more responsible than any other for drumming up the hysteria that culminated in the impeachment of Bill Clinton; and Human Events, one of Ronald Reagan’s favorite publications. The exercise turned out to be far more revealing than I expected. Via the battery of promotional appeals that overran my email inbox, I mainlined a right-wing id that was invisible to readers who encounter conservative opinion at face value.

"Subscriber lists to ideological organs are pure gold to the third-party interests who rent them as catchments for potential customers. Who better suits a marketing strategy than a group that voluntarily organizes itself according to their most passionately shared beliefs? That’s why, for instance, the other day I (and probably you) got an advertisement by way of liberal magazine The American Prospect seeking donations to Mercy Corps, a charity that helps starving children in the Third World. But back when I was getting emails every day from Newsmax and Townhall, the come-ons were a little bit different.
"'Dear Reader, I’m going to tell you something, but you must promise to keep it quiet. You have to understand that the "elite" would not be at all happy with me if they knew what I was about to tell you. That’s why we have to tread carefully. You see, while most people are paying attention to the stock market, the banks, brokerages and big institutions have their money somewhere else . . . [in] what I call the hidden money mountain . . . All you have to know is the insider’s code (which I’ll tell you) and you could make an extra $6,000 every single month.'
"Soon after reading that, I learned of the '23-Cent Heart Miracle,' the one 'Washington, the medical industry, and drug companies REFUSE to tell you about.' (Why would they? They’d just be leaving money on the table: 'I was scheduled for open heart surgery when I read about your product,' read one of the testimonials. 'I started taking it and now six months have passed and I haven’t had open-heart surgery.') Then came news of the oilfield in the placenta.

“'Dear NewsMax Reader,' this appeal began, leaving no doubt that whatever trust that publication had built with its followers was being rented out wholesale. 'Please find below a special message from our sponsor, James Davidson, Editor of Outside the Box. He has some important information to share with you.'

"Here’s the information in question: 'If you have shied away from profiting from the immense promise of stem cells to treat disease because of moral concern over extracting stem cells from fetal tissue, pay close attention. You can now invest with a clear conscience. An Israeli entrepreneur, Zami Aberman, has discovered "an oilfield in the placenta." His little company, Pluristem Life Systems (OTCBB: PLRS) has made a discovery which is potentially more valuable than Prudhoe Bay.'

"Davidson concluded by proposing the lucky investor purchase a position of 83,000 shares of PLRS for the low, low price of twelve cents each. If you act now, Davidson explained, your $10,000 outlay 'could bring you a profit of more than a quarter of a million dollars.'


"Not long after I let the magic of the placenta-based oilfield sink in, I got another pitch, this one courtesy of the webmasters handling the Human Events mailing list and headed 'The Trouble with Get-Rich-Quick Schemes.' Perhaps I’m a little gullible myself; for a couple of seconds, I believed the esteemed Reagan-era policy handbook might be sending out a useful consumer advisory to its readers, an investigative guide to the phony get-rich-quick schemes caroming around the right-leaning opinion-sphere. But that hasty assumption proved sadly mistaken, presuming as it did that the proprietors of outfits like Human Events respect their readers. Instead, this was a come-on for something called 'INSTANT INTERNET INCOME'—the chance at last to 'put an end to your financial worries . . . permanently erase your debts . . . pay cash for the things you want . . . create a secure, enjoyable retirement for yourself . . . give your family the abundant lifestyle they so richly deserve.'


"Back in our great-grandparents’ day, the peddlers of such miracle cures and get-rich-quick schemes were known as snake-oil salesmen. You don’t see stuff like this much in mainstream culture any more; it hardly seems possible such déclassé effronteries could get anywhere in a society with a high school completion rate of 90 percent. But tenders of a 23-Cent Heart Miracle seem to work just fine on the readers of the magazine where Ann Coulter began her journalistic ascent in the late nineties by pimping the notion that liberals are all gullible rubes. In an alternate universe where Coulter would be capable of rational self-reflection, it would be fascinating to ask her what she thinks about, say, the layout of HumanEvents.com on the day it featured an article headlined 'Ideas Will Drive Conservatives’ Revival.' Two inches beneath that bold pronouncement, a box headed 'Health News' included the headlines 'Reverse Crippling Arthritis in 2 Days,' 'Clear Clogged Arteries Safely & Easily—without drugs, without surgery, and without a radical diet,' and 'High Blood Pressure Cured in 3 Minutes . . . Drop Measurement 60 Points.' It would be interesting, that is, to ask Coulter about the reflex of lying that’s now sutured into the modern conservative movement’s DNA—and to get her candid assessment of why conservative leaders treat their constituents like suckers.

"The history of that movement echoes with the sonorous names of long-dead Austrian economists, of indefatigable door-knocking cadres, of soaring perorations on a nation finally poised to realize its rendezvous with destiny. Search high and low, however, and there’s no mention of oilfields in the placenta. Nor anything about, say, the massive intersection between the culture of 'network' or 'multilevel' marketing—where ordinary folks try to get rich via pyramid schemes that leave their neighbors holding the bag—and the institutions of both evangelical Christianity and Mitt Romney’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"And yet this stuff is as important to understanding the conservative ascendancy as are the internecine organizational and ideological struggles that make up its official history—if not, indeed, more so. The strategic alliance of snake-oil vendors and conservative true believers points up evidence of another successful long march, of tactics designed to corral fleeceable multitudes all in one place—and the formation of a cast of mind that makes it hard for either them or us to discern where the ideological con ended and the money con began.

Richard Viguerie, a smile you can trust.

"Those tactics gelled in the seventies—though they were rooted, like all things right-wing and infrastructural, in the movement that led to Barry Goldwater’s presidential nomination in 1964. In 1961 Richard Viguerie, a kid from Houston whose heroes, he once told me, were 'the two Macs'—Joe McCarthy and General Douglas MacArthur—took a job as executive director for the conservative student group Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). The organization was itself something of a con, a front for the ideological ambitions of the grownups running National Review. And fittingly enough, the middle-aged man who ran the operation, Marvin Liebman, was something of a P. T. Barnum figure, famous on the right for selling the claim that he had amassed no less than a million signatures on petitions opposing the People’s Republic of China’s entry into the United Nations. (He said they were in a warehouse in New Jersey. No one ever saw the warehouse.) The first thing Liebman told Viguerie was that YAF had two thousand paid members but that in public, he should always claim there were twenty-five thousand. (Viguerie told me this personally. I found no evidence he saw anything to be ashamed of.) And the first thing that Liebman showed Viguerie was the automated 'Robotype' machine he used to send out automated fundraising pitches. Viguerie’s eyes widened; he had found his life’s calling.


"Following the Goldwater defeat, Viguerie went into business for himself. He famously visited the Clerk of the House of Representatives, where the identities of those who donated fifty dollars or more to a presidential campaign then by law reposed. First alone, and then with a small army of 'Kelly Girls' (as he put it to me in 1996), he started copying down the names and addresses in longhand until some nervous bureaucrat told him to cease and desist.

"By then, though, it was too late: Viguerie had captured some 12,500 addresses of the most ardent right-wingers in the nation. 'And that list,' he wrote in his 2004 book, America’s Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Over America, 'was my treasure trove, as good as the gold bricks deposited at Fort Knox, as I started The Viguerie Company and began raising money for conservative clients.'

"Fort Knox: an interesting image. Isn’t that what proverbial con men are always claiming to sell?


"The lists got bigger, the technology better (“Where are my names?” he nervously asked, studying the surface of the first computer tape containing his trove): twenty-five million names by 1980, destination for some one hundred million mail pieces a year, dispatched by some three hundred employees in boiler rooms running twenty-four hours a day. The Viguerie Company’s marketing genius was that as it continued metastasizing, it remained, in financial terms, a hermetic positive feedback loop. It brought the message of the New Right to the masses, but it kept nearly all the revenue streams locked down in Viguerie’s proprietary control. Here was a key to the hustle: typically, only 10 to 15 percent of the haul went to the intended beneficiaries. The rest went back to Viguerie’s company. In one too-perfect example, Viguerie raised $802,028 for a client seeking to distribute Bibles in Asia—who paid $889,255 for the service.


"Others joined the bonanza. Lee Edwards, a YAF founder who today works a nifty grift as 'Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought' at the Heritage Foundation writing credulous hagiographies of conservative movement figures and institutions (including, funnily enough, the Heritage Foundation), cofounded something called “Friends of the FBI.” This operation’s chief come-on was a mass mailing of letters signed by the star of TV’s The FBI, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., purportedly to aid the families of fallen officers. The group raised $400,000 in four months—until Zimbalist abruptly withdrew his support. The TV star said he’d looked at the organization’s books and seen how much was going to the fundraisers—and claimed he’d been the victim of 'fraud and misrepresentation.'

"In 1977, Democratic Congressman Charles H. Wilson of California proposed timid regulations to inform donors exactly how much of their money was going to the cause they thought they were supporting. The Heritage Foundation raced forth with an 'issues bulletin' announcing that any such rule changes would subject 'church leaders' to 'vicious' attacks, and would 'increase the paperwork on every Christian organization . . . inevitably lessening the funds each charity can use for its stated purpose.' (Christianity itself being the obvious target of this Democratic subterfuge of 'reform.') And just to give the cause the imprimatur of elected office, a favorite congressman of the Christian Right, John Conlan of Arizona ('He’s never been honest,' Barry Goldwater once said about him), was drafted to explain that the high overhead of direct-mail campaigns was a boon to the charity-customers: it represented start-up—'prospecting'—costs that would permit organizations to raise yet more money down the line. ('Defends charities against Big Government,' read the caption beneath a picture of Conlan in Conservative Digest—the magazine Richard Viguerie published.)

"Here’s the thing, though: as is the case with most garden-variety pyramid schemes, the supposed start-up costs never seemed to stop. And conservative groups that finally decoupled their causes from Viguerie’s firm found their fundraising costs falling to less than fifty cents on the dollar. Viguerie would point out his clients didn’t feel ripped off. At that, maybe some were in on the con, too—for instance, his client Citizens for Decent Literature, an anti-smut group, took in an estimated $2.3 million over a two-year period, with more than 80 percent going to Viguerie’s company; the group’s principal was future S&L fraudster Charles Keating.


It all became too much for Marvin Liebman, the Dr. Frankenstein who had placed the business model in Viguerie’s palpitating hands. Liebman told conservative apostate Alan Crawford, author of the valuable 1980 exposé Thunder on the Right, that Viguerie and company 'rape the public.' Another source familiar with the conservative direct-mail industry wondered to Crawford, 'How anyone of any sensitivity can bear to read those letters scrawled by little old women on Social Security who are giving up a dollar they cannot afford to part with . . . without feeling bad is unbelievable.'

"'Such qualms clearly did not carry the day—and now the practice is apparently too true to the heart of conservatism to die. In 2007, the Washington Post reported on the lucrative fundraising sideline worked up by syndicated columnist Linda Chavez. George W. Bush had nominated Chavez to be his first secretary of labor, but then backpedaled after reports that she had lied about an undocumented worker living in her house. Among the prime red-meat entries on her résumé is a book called Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics. And while Chavez probably wouldn’t have brought much reliable wisdom to the task of regulating organized labor, it’s quite clear from the Post report that she had mastered the art of the shakedown. In her direct-mail career, she had 'used phone banks and direct-mail solicitations to raise tens of millions of dollars, founding several political action committees with bankable names: the Republican Issues Committee, the Latino Alliance, Stop Union Political Abuse and the Pro-Life Campaign Committee. Their solicitations promise direct action in the ‘fight to save unborn lives,’ a vigorous struggle against ‘big labor bosses’ and a crippling of ‘liberal politics in the country.’” But true to the Viguerie model, less than 1 percent of the money that Chavez’s groups raised went to actual political activity. The rest went either back into further fundraising pitches or into salaries and perks for Chavez and her relatives. 'I guess you could call it the family business,' Chavez told the Post. I guess you could."

And Chavez was never convicted, indicted, or much less, arrested for her shakedowns.

From the Wikipedia entry:

"Eric S. 'Rick' Perlstein (born 1969) is an American historian and journalist. He is a former writer for The Village Voice and The New Republic. He has also written for Mother Jones,[1] The Nation,[2] many other magazines. He wrote a political column for RollingStone.com in 2012.[3]

"Perlstein graduated from the University of Chicago with a B.A. in History in 1992, and did graduate work in American Studies at the University of Michigan.[4] Until 2009 he was a Senior Fellow at the Campaign for America's Future where he wrote for their blog about the failures of conservative governance, The Big Con.[4][5]

"Perlstein is the author of Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (2001), which won the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for history,[6] and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008), which was named a notable book of the year by the New York Times Book Review. He is currently working on a book "about the rise of Reagan in the 1970s"[7] entitled The Invisible Bridge."

We've written extensively about Conservative crimes and criminals, most often about the crimes of murder and theft, but the cons of the nasty Conservative mail order combine both when they prey on those who are "scheduled for open heart surgery."


Newsmax, The American Prospect, Human Events, National Review all collude in the con games against the ill and the destitute, but no one should really be that surprised about any part of the Conservative money-making conspiracy that Perlstein outlines.  The surprise is that under Democratic administrations the FCC is nowhere to be found, nor is the Justice Department curious about Conservative racketeering.  Could it be that the accusations of "spinelessness" on the part of Democrats is really true?

Next: "Waging Culture War for Fun and Profit."



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Leonard: I'm just saying, you catch more flies with honey then with vinegar.
Sheldon: You catch even more with manure, what's your point?

The Big Bang Theory


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