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Conspiracy



All Reason.com articles with the "Conspiracy" tag.



Published: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 16:00:56 -0400

 



Blood for Oil

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 06:00:00 -0400

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann, Doubleday, 352 pages, $28.95 For more than a decade, members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma were quietly, systematically slaughtered for their oil money. In Killers of the Flower Moon, journalist David Grann describes how Congress made the Osage dependent on whites who could gain from their deaths and how leading Oklahomans conspired to perpetrate and cover up mass murder. He shows how a federal agent struck a blow against the killers, but he also reveals that the murders took place over a longer period of time, and claimed far more victims, than the government investigation suggested. It is, as Grann told one interviewer, a story of how "a system rooted in racism, done under the pretense of enlightenment," produced a "criminal enterprise that had been sanctioned by the U.S. government." As Grann's narrative begins, the Osage people—who twice had been forced to relocate, once from their traditional land in present-day Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, and once from the Kansas territory the U.S. government had promised would be their permanent home—were reaping their reward for settling in a portion of north-central Oklahoma that no one else wanted. They had secured the rights not just to the soil but to the minerals beneath it. That poor, rocky land sat on top of oil. By the 1920s, the oil boom was making the Osage people immensely wealthy. The year 1923 alone brought in over $30 million in royalties (more than $400 million* today). As one magazine writer put it at the time, "Every time a new well is drilled the Indians are that much richer.…The Osage Indians are becoming so rich that something will have to be done about it." Something was done about it. Under the guise of protecting the Osage from their money for their own good—white man's burden, don't you know—Congress in 1921 passed a law requiring Osage individuals to be appointed white male guardians until they could prove that they were competent. In practice, the greater the percentage of Osage blood one had, the more difficult it was to prove competence. And the whites who controlled the purse strings had a strong incentive to collude to rob and defraud their dependents. They also had an incentive to murder. An Osage individual's headright claim to oil revenues passed on to his or her legal heir, regardless of blood quantum or tribal affiliation. The first section of Grann's book is aptly titled "The Marked Woman." Mollie Burkhart was literally the last woman standing in her Osage family after her mother was poisoned, one sister was shot, and another sister was killed in an explosion. With each death, the headrights and the wealth they represented accumulated. Mollie herself would be attacked—white doctors in on the conspiracy professed to give the diabetic woman insulin while actually injecting her with poison—but ultimately was saved. The experience she had of mysterious death after mysterious death in her family, and her justified sense that she herself was being hunted, offer a taste of the terror endured by the Osage. Grann quotes the historian Louis F. Burns: "I don't know of a single Osage family which didn't lose at least one family member because of the head rights." Mollie's story also underscores the insidiously personal long-term betrayal represented by the killings. She would eventually learn that the white man she believed to be her loving husband and the caring father of her children was, in fact, acting on a scheme concocted by his powerful cattleman uncle, William "King of the Osage Hills" Hale, to infiltrate her family, murder its members, and inherit their oil revenues. The murderers didn't limit themselves to killing the Osage. Knowing they couldn't trust local law enforcement, some tribal members asked a white friend, oilman Barney McBride, to go to Washington, D.C., on their behalf and request a federal investigation into the deaths. He agreed. The day after he arrived in the nation's capital, his naked body was found with over 20 stab wou[...]



Latest Russia Conspiracy Theory: Facebook Pages Are Culture Hacks Meant to 'Harvest Rage'

Tue, 10 Oct 2017 14:16:00 -0400

(image) It has come to this: The latest reporting on Russia's attempts to "interfere" with the U.S. presidential election focuses on Facebook groups that posted content created by Americans.

This, The New York Times breathlessly reports, represented an effort to "Reshape U.S. Politics."

What are the Russians accused of this time?

"The Russian pages—with names like 'Being Patriotic,' 'Secured Borders' and 'Blacktivist'—cribbed complaints about federal agents from one conservative website, and a gauzy article about a veteran who became an entrepreneur from People magazine," the Times informs us. "They took descriptions and videos of police beatings from genuine YouTube and Facebook accounts and reposted them, sometimes lightly edited for maximum effect."

So in essence, they did what a lot of Facebook pages do: Repost content that fits the theme of the page.

The Times describes this as "harvesting American rage," but that seems grossly overstated. These pages—which the site has removed—were not unlike countless other politically oriented pages on Facebook. Since virtually anyone can start a Facebook page, and since the Russian pages reportedly suffered from broken English, it's hard to imagine them having any real influence rather than being merely another interchangeable part of the online echo chamber.

The wide range of ideological opinion represented by the Facebook pages (which included material that highlighted police brutality and discrimination against Muslims, in addition to standard right-wing fare) also undercuts the idea that Russian efforts (or these efforts, at least) were directed toward a particular outcome.

"This is cultural hacking," Jonathan Albright, research director of Columbia University's Tow Center for Digital Journalism, told the Times. "They are using systems that were already set up by these platforms to increase engagement. They're feeding outrage—and it's easy to do, because outrage and emotion is how people share."

Maybe that's the aim. But that's also their right. The right to free speech, perhaps contrary to popular belief, is not limited to U.S. citizens. Anyone can (or should be) able to participate in America's marketplace of ideas.

Are Russians trying to breed chaos by stoking certain segments of America's political debates? Guess what: Free speech means our debates are always chaotic. That makes them stronger. Suppressing speech because Russians may have amplified it, on the other hand, undermines our culture of free speech and has the potential to be a lot more harmful than any Facebook page could possibly be.




The Great James Buchanan Conspiracy

Sun, 01 Oct 2017 12:00:00 -0400

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, by Nancy MacLean, Viking, 334 pages, $28 The board of education in Brown v. Board of Education—the 1954 Supreme Court decision that desegregated American public schools—was located in Topeka, Kansas, a city that was overwhelmingly white. Brown overturned a policy set by a majority, and it was right to do so: School segregation is just as wrong when it is imposed democratically as it is when it is imposed by suppressing the black vote. So the strangest thing about Democracy in Chains—a book that contains many, many strange claims—may be how its author, the Duke historian Nancy MacLean, treats Brown. On one hand, she believes that those who want to bind majorities with preset constitutional rules are up to something sinister. Her chief villain on this score is James Buchanan, an economist and political philosopher who argued that government actors ought to be subject to built-in structural constraints. On the other hand, MacLean clearly thinks Brown was correctly decided. Indeed, she accuses Buchanan of working to undermine the ruling. MacLean seems not to notice Brown is itself an example of the phenomenon MacLean is denouncing: a Constitution being used to overrule a democratic outcome in the name of protecting a minority. It's an awkward start for a baroque conspiracy story, and it signals what a mess the book will be. The historian has little to no evidence for her history. She invents some when necessary, and will at times just make assertions to suit her narrative, mustering neither real nor phony evidence to back them up. Many of her factual and interpretive errors have already been covered elsewhere, in venues ranging from Vox to The Washington Post. Rather than get lost in the weeds of covering every false statement or misleadingly gerrymandered quotation in this book, I want to focus here on the core claims that it gets wrong: MacLean fundamentally misunderstands Buchanan's intellectual project, treating his theories about politics as an apologia for the wealthy and powerful. This gives short shrift to a serious body of thought, and it fails to see that his arguments can indict the wealthy as much as anyone else. She tries to tie Buchanan's work to the segregationist order in the South, even implying that his ideas arose from a desire to preserve it. She essentially invents links along the way. She paints Buchanan as an important influence on Augusto Pinochet's repressive dictatorship in Chile. Not only does her evidence fail to support this, but she misses an important piece of counterevidence: a 1981 speech, delivered in Chile, in which Buchanan condemned dictatorial rule. And finally, though Buchanan was neither an orthodox libertarian nor a central influence on the libertarian movement, she puts him at the heart of a Charles Koch–driven conspiracy to impose a radical libertarian agenda on the United States. In the process, she manages to misread both Buchanan and Koch in telling ways. Public Choice, Private Greed? Buchanan won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for his role in founding the "public choice" school of economics. This school's key idea, to quote the Nobel committee, was to seek "explanations for political behavior that resemble those used to analyze behavior on markets." The result was a body of work in which politicians and bureaucrats, no less than entrepreneurs and investors, often "act out of self-interest," driven not just by a vision of the common good but by a desire for votes or bigger budgets. MacLean, by contrast, treats public choice as little more than an effort to question the good-heartedness of public servants. Its conclusions, she insists, have "no true research—no facts—to support them" and are rooted in "projecting unseemly motives onto strangers about whom they knew nothing." She takes it for granted that when public choice economists complain that special-interest groups profit from government, they're aiming to protect the rich from [...]



How Ron Paul Gets the NFL 'Take the Knee' Controversy Wrong

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 12:30:00 -0400

Ron Paul appeared on Alex Jones's InfoWars to weigh in on the controversy that has the nation pointlessly aggrieved: some football players aren't happy with how often police kill black men and choose to express this by kneeling rather than standing when the national anthem is played before football games. Paul, the former Republican congressman (and two-time Republican, and one-time Libertarian, presidential candidate) seemed to see other things worth being angry about in the kneeling NFLers behavior and in the team owners' tolerating it, for various unconvincing and poorly expressed reasons. President Donald Trump has chosen to cynically and idiotically fan the flames of this phony controversy, dividing the nation roughly between those who either agree that cops violently misbehave too often or that Americans should be able to peacefully and symbolically express that opinion during the national anthem at a football game, and those who think public and presidential pressure should force everyone to "show respect for the flag" in one proscribed ritual way. Matt Welch masterfully parsed out nearly all the issues relevant to the libertarian perspective about this dumb controversy at Reason earlier this week. Among his conclusions were that it would be great to get government money and giveaways and crony treatment out of sports, and that it's a healthy thing for free Americans to react to presidential dudgeon by doing the opposite of what (he claims) he wanted. (Trump, the political imp of the perverse, likely would have been disappointed if everyone had obeyed his command to rise for the anthem.) On his show, Alex Jones, a popularizer of the idea that the U.S. government conducts baroque and sinister conspiracies with maddening regularity and for tyrannical ends, now seems more worried that "white people" and America are being criticized. Paul, fortunately given the shadow of racist comments that appeared under his name (but were not, he insists, written by him) decades ago in newsletters he issued, doesn't directly rise to that bait, moving forward as if it wasn't even said. But Paul apparently, for reasons he never specifies or makes clear in this interview, finds the display of kneeling by football players to be a distasteful example of a modern right-populist bogeyman, "cultural Marxism," an (often seen as conspiratorial) movement to overturn all traditional western values in order to soften our underbelly to accept totalitarian communism, through means unspecified. The Ron Paul who created a stir for a message of small government, sound money, and liberty in his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns nearly entirely avoided this kind of cranky right-wing talk. I never heard him claim the free choices of any American to express an anti-government opinion in any context was something to be upset about in any way. (I witnessed dozens of hours of his political speeches while researching my 2012 book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.) Being a politician seemed to bring out the best in him, a real rarity. When seeking a national audience as a presidential candidate, the need to appeal outside his pre-existing constituency containing many whose anti-statism had a right-populist streak gave him room to paint a wide and sympathetic vision of liberty, one with no place for griping about "cultural Marxism" or that some people are freely choosing to not embrace those old-time western family values. That Ron Paul left right-wing culture war nonsense entirely behind, speaking instead of the human tragedies of military empire, the dangers of federal management of the money supply, the stupidity and evil of restricting our free choices that don't directly harm others, from drug use to raw milk consumption. That Ron Paul celebrated the powers of a free people and free culture to unify us and make us the best we could be, as individuals and as a nation. His message of peace, prosperity, and a government that no longer went out of[...]



California Demands Money from Gatorade to Protect Water from Slander

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 12:45:00 -0400

Good news, Californians! Attorney General Xavier Becerra is using your tax dollars to punish the real evildoers: those who would besmirch the good name of water. You might not think anyone would want to destroy water, since we'd all die without it. But you just don't understand the evils of corporate marketing strategies. Becerra does, though, and he has successfully fought off a malicious plot by a sports drink manufacturer to convince children that water is evil by giving out a mobile video game for free. And the world is just a little bit safer. This is not the plot of a bad Saturday morning cartoon from the '80s, people! It's real. In 2012, Gatorade introduced the world to Bolt!, a mobile game starring Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt, noted for his sprinting skills. That was what the game was about: Players made Bolt run and pick up gold coins. If players hit a Gatorade logo, he would run even faster. If they hit water, though, he would slow down and lose energy. Now, you might say to yourself, "Well, water would kind of be a threat to a sprinter if he's trying to run." And people with a lengthy history of playing video games might recognize that water is often represented as a threat and a slowing effect to be avoided in any kind of game that involves running or driving very quickly. And in any event, you might think it unlikely that this game would cause anyone to actually stop drinking water. Thank God we have Becerra here to set us straight. This game was actually a marketing conspiracy to turn people—especially children—against water so they'll drink Gatorade instead. Fortunately, we have Becerra here to protect water's good name. Becerra accused Gatorade of false advertising, and he has managed to extract a settlement from the company. His office notes: Gatorade promoted "Bolt!" on social media, drawing in a youthful audience of which more than 70 percent was aged 13 to 24. The app amassed more than 2.3 million downloads and 87 million games played worldwide in 2012 and 2013. The app was also made available on iTunes for a period of time in 2017. "Bolt!" was downloaded an estimated 30,000 times in California. It is no longer available for download. As part of the settlement, Gatorade will be required to pay $300,000, of which $120,000 will be used to fund research or education on water consumption and the nutrition of children and teenagers. In addition, the settlement requires Gatorade to disclose endorser relationships in any social media posts and prohibits the company from advertising its products in media where children under age 12 comprise more than 35 percent of the audience. The settlement also prohibits the company from negatively depicting water in any form of advertisement. The population of California, by the way, is 39 million people. So less than .1 percent of the state's population ever saw this game; most probably never even knew it existed. Guess where the rest of the settlement goes? It goes to Becerra's office. Some cynical people might argue such a mechanism creates a financial incentive for the attorney general's office to exaggerate the nature of a deep-pocketed defendant's misdeeds. What inspired this absurd idea that water needs the government to protect it from defamation? It's all about the nanny state. Gatorade has plenty of sugar in it. The original version has 21 grams of sugar per serving, though there are also low-calorie powder versions with about half that amount. And yes, they do market themselves deliberately as an alternative to water, but also specifically for those involved in athletic activities. So this is another mechanism for the state's health nannies to go on the attack against sugary drinks and try to get money for it. Why bother trying to convince the citizenry to raise taxes on sodas when they can just take the money directly from the corporations? The press release from Becerra's office makes it clear their attack is partly driven by a desire to co[...]



The New Red Scare

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 12:00:00 -0400

These days America sometimes looks as if it were slipping into the grip of another Red Scare. Only this time the object of fear and loathing is the far-right menace, not the far-left one. The first Red Scare happened after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The second followed WWII, and helped commence the Cold War. Both scares involved a hysterical overreaction to a genuine threat. Totalitarian communism was antithetical to America's most cherished values, and anti-communism was the morally correct position to take. Some took it too far. The overreaction led to loyalty oaths and star-chamber hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee and Hollywood blacklists and a general atmosphere of what, today, we might call political correctness: an intolerance of dissenting ideas that challenged, or were insufficiently devoted to, the prevailing anti-communist orthodoxy. The more common name for the overreaction is McCarthyism. All of this produced almost inevitable blowback, which came to be known as anti-anti-communism. Anti-anti-communists did not support communism, but they also opposed McCarthyism. To muddle the issue even further, many on the left were at least sympathetic to communism, and at least a few were objectively pro-Soviet, so it was easy to lump anti-anti-communists in with those who were pro-communist, and it could be difficult to navigate all of the finely grained distinctions. Those debates have passed into history's sepia pages. Now the current debate over the alt-right has begun to display some of the same hallmarks. To begin with, there is the undeniable existence of a clear and present danger. The racist right's identitarianism is antithetical to America's most cherished values, and opposing the alt-right is the morally correct position to take. The threat must be countered at every turn. At the same time, the wholesome and necessary opposition to bigotry has started to metastasize into something less healthy. You can see that in the way Berkeley reacted to a speech by Ben Shapiro. From the militarized police preparation to the emotional counseling for students, you'd have thought Shapiro, a Jewish conservative who opposes Donald Trump, was the reincarnation of Adolf Eichmann. You can see it at the Oregon Bach Festival, which recently fired British conductor Matthew Halls for affecting a Southern accent while joking with a friend. The friend, Reginald Mobley, is from the South, and black. A woman reported Halls for making racist comments. Mobley insists "there was nothing racist or malicious" about his friend's joke. Too bad, festival officials said; Halls is out. Mobley told a British newspaper Halls "has been victimized and I'm very upset about it." You can see it at the University of Iowa, which requires job applicants to promise they will "demonstrate their contribution to diversity and inclusion" if they are hired. (Virginia Tech tried to impose a similar litmus test for faculty members a few years ago.) To consider why that might be problematic, imagine the university were to demand that applicants "demonstrate their fidelity to capitalism and free enterprise." You can see it in the proliferation of college "bias response teams," which swing into action when somebody reports somebody else—informs on them—for saying or doing something that might be viewed as offensive or hurtful. On today's campus, that can be practically anything. One actual case: "Anonymous student reported that African-American Alliance's student protest was making white students feel uncomfortable." Another resulted in the defunding of a student satirical newspaper after it poked fun at safe spaces. You can see it in the debate over the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has come under fire for conflating mainstream conservatives, and even non-conservatives such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School who opposes Islamic extremism, with neo-Nazis and Klansmen.[...]



Sinister Russian Manipulation of Facebook Lures Four People to a Rally

Tue, 12 Sep 2017 12:42:00 -0400

If you like sensationalist tales of foreign masterminds manipulating domestic dissension, The Daily Beast has a doozy for you: The article beneath that headline informs us that "Russian operatives hiding behind false identities used Facebook's event management tool to remotely organize and promote political protests in the U.S." It then illustrates this with the tale of a rally in Twin Falls, Idaho. If the facts these writers relate are true, there's an interesting story here. Unfortunately, what's interesting about it is almost entirely obscured by the way the report is told. First there is the bizarre fixation on Facebook, a company whose role the writers repeatedly invoke. I know that anything that puts Facebook and Russia in the same vicinity is media catnip right now, but surely the story here is that Russia would want to organize such rallies, not that it used Facebook to do so. Imagine that the KGB had covertly planned a demonstration on U.S. soil in 1980. If its organizers had spoken with each other on the phone, would your coverage focus on AT&T? If they had used photocopied fliers to promote the rally, would your coverage focus on Xerox? I have many problems with Facebook as a company, but surely the fact that its tools make it easier to organize events is a good thing, even if some of the people who use those tools are unsavory. The other big problem with the piece is how it frames the operation: The Facebook events—one of which echoed Islamophobic conspiracy theories pushed by pro-Trump media outlets—are the first indication that the Kremlin's attempts to shape America's political discourse moved beyond fake news and led unwitting Americans into specific real-life action. "This is the next step," Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and expert on Russia's influence campaign, told The Daily Beast. "The objective of influence is to create behavior change. The simplest behavior is to have someone disseminate propaganda that Russia created and seeded. The second part of behavior influence is when you can get people to physically do something." Sounds spooky, huh? But if you're still reading six paragraphs later, that spooky feeling may dissolve: Although 48 people clicked that they were "interested" in the protest, only four said they went to City Council Chambers that day, according to the event page, possibly because it was a Saturday and the Council was not in session. It is also possible to claim attendance on Facebook at an event that didn't exist. Twin Falls had already been the focus of sustained attention on anti-immigrant websites. So the people behind this rally weren't building from scratch here; they were plugging themselves into a preexisting paranoid narrative about foreign predators invading Idaho. And yet as best as we can tell, they were able to draw only four people to their protest. Maybe those wily Russians aren't so great at behavior modification after all. We already had good reason to believe that Russia's propaganda campaigns consist largely of trying to amplify forces that already exist in our society. If this rally is typical, it suggests that such signal boosts haven't had much effect. Much as it may please some people to blame America's divisions on some alien force, they were born here in the U.S.A.[...]



Are Facebook Ads Part of the Russia-Trump Conspiracy Theory?

Thu, 07 Sep 2017 13:10:00 -0400

The Trump-Russia conspiracy hunt is scraping the bottom of the barrel—Facebook ads. The New York Times reports Facebook "identified more than $100,000 worth of divisive ads on hot-button issues purchased by a shadowy Russian company linked to the Kremlin." More than 3,000 ads were identified, although most of them did not refer to specific candidates. That company, the Internet Research Agency, was reported by The New York Times in 2015 to be a troll farm. Now the Times insists that Facebook's disclosure "adds to the evidence of the broad scope of the Russian influence campaign" but admits that as of yet "there has been no evidence proving collusion in the hacking or other Russian activities." Facebook's chief security officer, Alex Stamos, said the company had shared its findings with Robert Mueller, the former FBI director appointed special counsel on the Trump Russia investigation, and would continue to work with him "as necessary." What is all that supposed to mean? In a country founded on the idea of free and open speech, how concerned should we be that foreign companies make ad buys on Facebook? The "marketplace of ideas" is robust enough to handle it. Ideas succeed and fail on their merits. Advertisements can get ideas in front of people, but they can't get those people to accept or act on those ideas. To begin with, $100,000 in Facebook ads is not a lot of ads (the company had more than $9 billion in ad revenue in the last fiscal quarter alone). For the most part, Facebook ads are pretty ineffective. Even if the Russian company had purchased 10 or even 100 times as many ads, it's no big deal. There is little evidence political ads sway voters. The idea that a relatively small ad buy on a relatively ineffective platform interfered with the presidential election is ludicrous. Free speech works because any idea is absorbed and subjected to the pressures of a marketplace. More voices only make the marketplace richer and give free participants in that marketplace more information with which to make decisions. The most unseemly part of the Trump-Russia conspiracy-mongering has been the contorting of free speech in a free country to appear shadowy, devious, sophisticated, and overly influential. Back in January, when the intelligence community released an unclassified version of its report on Russian attempts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election, the bulk of it focused on the operation of Russia Today (a network I've appeared on a few times) and its coverage of third-party candidates and of issues like police brutality, military drones, and mass surveillances. The spooks argued such coverage undermined American democracy. Precisely the opposite is true—increased coverage of third-party candidates and of issues often under-reported by the mainstream media can only improve decision making in a democracy. The Trump-Russia witch hunt focuses disturbingly on political speech, and smacks of quashing it based on perceptions of the source. This "kill the messenger" premise offers the government the opportunity to suppress messages it doesn't like. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a top congressional Trump-Russia conspiracy theorist, has already suggested Facebook should do more to monitor where its ads are coming from and shut down foreign ones. "Clearly Facebook doesn't want to become the arbiter of what's true and what's not true," Schiff told the Times. "But they do have a civil responsibility to do the best they can to inform their users of when they're being manipulated by a foreign actor." The true manipulation comes from those who think the age-old American tradition of free speech and free press is sinister and ought to be abridged.[...]



Dick Gregory Took Us All on a Strange and Powerful Trip

Sun, 20 Aug 2017 11:25:00 -0400

The comedian and activist Dick Gregory has died at the age of 84. Talk about a career that's virtually impossible to categorize. From avant-garde joke teller to civil-rights figure to diet guru to conspiracy mongerer, he lived a full life that in many ways mirrors all the twists and turns of American life over the past 50 or 60 years. He was relentlessly pessimistic about the state of the country even as he inspired his audience to work for change. I found him interesting because he was always out there on the horizon, lighting a path—albeit often one not particularly grounded in facts—that many of us would be following down soon after. Born in St. Louis in 1932, Gregory ran track for Southern Illinois University in Carbondale on a scholarship, got drafted, and eventually ended up in Chicago, where he became one of the hottest entertainers of the early 1960s. Hugh Hefner of Playboy, which was still headquartered in the Windy City, was a huge fan and helped to massively increase Gregory's audience. Like Lenny Bruce and other cutting-edge comics of the time, Gregory played with social conventions in a way that was both thrilling and nervous-making. "Segregation is not all bad," went a characteristic one-liner. "Have you ever heard of a collision where the people in the back of the bus got hurt?" He was a regular presence at civil rights events during the '60s, ran for president, authored a popular natural-foods cookbook in 1974, Dick Gregory's Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin' with Mother Nature and helped popularize the idea of healthy fasting. "When I look at the obituaries," he once quipped, "I don't see no one but all you eaters." He was a fixture on the college tour circuit by the 1980s, when I saw him perform at Rutgers, and his monologues were shot through with frankly insane conspiracy theories (I vaguely recall him claiming that the victims of the Atlanta child murders had been mutilated in a way that suggested a government cover-up). An immediate critic of the Warren Report on the JFK assassination, he dismissed official accounts of 9/11 as well, even declaring a liquid fast until the "true story" was made available. Unsurprisingly, he taped a long appearance with Alex Jones about 9/11. In 1964 he published a memoir, co-authored by famed sportswriter and novelist Robert Lipsyte (Reason interview here), controversially titled Nigger. Gregory later said that he wished he'd chosen a different title, but he dedicated the volume to his mother with the note, Dear Momma— Wherever your are, if you ever hear the word "nigger" again, remember they are advertising my book. The opening chapter of Nigger, in which Gregory chronicles a Christmas when his absent father ("a real Capone with the whores and the bitches") comes home and beats his wife, son, and mistress, is one of the most painful accounts of black rage that America has sadly produced. It stands with passages from Frederick Douglass, Richard Wright, and James Baldwin in its anger, empathy, and pain. For anyone interested in the black family and the way in which mother-son dynamics get forged in a culture of absentee fathers, Gregory's autobiography is invaluable. The book's documentation of segregation and its effects on American culture should be required reading for those of us who didn't live through that period or have forgotten its reality. His turn to conspiracist thinking allows insight into how minorities who have suffered systematically at the hands of a dominant culture search for meaning and understanding in a hostile world. Dave Chapelle's recent Netflix specials explicitly discuss this tendency among blacks, and it's a predilection that extends to other groups of people who feel marginalized. In Donald Trump's America, understanding the complaints (without necessarily endorsing them) of people who feel pushed to the fringe [...]



The Manchurian Crooner

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 11:21:00 -0400

(image) It was the Korean War—I mean the war they fought in the '50s, not the nuclear holocaust that various idiots are proposing now—that brought the word "brainwashing" into the common lexicon. Introduced in Edward Hunter's 1951 book Brain-Washing in Red China, whose cover declared that "an entire nation" was under "hypnotic control," the word's popularity exploded when the public learned that the American POWs who had recorded propaganda messages for North Korea had been subjected to intense indoctrination sessions. The idea took hold that the Communists had actually reprogrammed their captives' brains, perhaps permanently.

As science, this turned out to be false—the mind is not so malleable. As fuel for pop culture, on the other hand, it has given us everything from The Manchurian Candidate to the record I've embedded below. Eddie Hill's "I Changed My Mind," released in 1954, may well be the only country song ever written about brainwashing. In this particular spin on the subject, the cure for mind control turns out to be prayer; that isn't quite as exciting as the end of The Manchurian Candidate, but I suppose it was better suited for radio airplay.

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/h56OfKVgqtg" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0">

Trivia: Joan Javits, co-composer of the song, made more of a mark when she co-wrote "Santa Baby." She was also the niece of Sen. Jacob Javits, which I guess makes this record the lost bridge between Nashville and the Rockefeller Republicans.

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.)




Lawrence O'Donnell Slams Jeff Flake for Not Criticizing Birtherism Earlier, Even Though Flake Criticized Birtherism 8 Years Ago on MSNBC

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 18:00:00 -0400

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) has been all over the airwaves this month promoting his new book, Conscience of a Conservative, in which he laments that "Never has a party so quickly or easily abandoned its core principles as my party did in the course of the 2016 campaign." In the process Flake has predictably drawn heavy fire from Trumpworld, and perhaps less intuitively from certain quarters on the left. For instance on Monday, in a segment shared with the inevitable social-media headline "Lawrence O'Donnell Shreds Jeff Flake for Being Six Years Late on Trump, GOP Criticisms," the MSNBC host played a clip of this recent exchange between the senator and Chuck Todd: Flake: I wish that we as a party would have stood up, for example, when the birtherism thing was going on. A lot of people did stand up, but not enough. Todd: Did you do enough? […] Flake: On that? I think I did. To which O'Donnell retorted, "Oh, no, no, no, no, you did not. You definitely did not do enough." What was the evidence for O'Donnell's confidently dismissive assertion? This: "The first time we can find Jeff Flake saying something negative about Donald Trump's lies about Barack Obama's birth was in June of last year after Donald Trump had already locked up the Republican Presidential nomination." But there's a problem with that particular search string. Birtherism—the subject of Chuck Todd's query—long predates Donald Trump's involvement in it. And Jeff Flake was out there condemning the conspiracy theory over Barack Obama's alleged lack of U.S. citizenship as far back as 2009, both legislatively and in the media. Including on MSNBC. On July 27, 2009, the House of Representatives, of which Flake was then a member, voted 378-0 on a resolution "Recognizing and celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the entry of Hawaii into the Union as the 50th State." Conspicuously, for the politics of the time, the bill's third "whereas" in the preamble was: "Whereas the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961." As NBC News concluded back then, "It appears Congress has moved on and has accepted Obama's island birthplace." Or as a more gleeful Daily Kos headline put it, "It's Unanimous: Obama Born in Hawaii [and Freeper Meltdown]." The resolution had nine Republican co-sponsors. One of them was Jeff Flake. Chris Matthews brought Flake on MSNBC's Hardball the next night, touting him as a "leading co-sponsor" of the bill, and setting up their conversation with the question, "So what happened to the members of Congress who had been fanning the flames to delegitimize the president? Will they put to rest this insanity?" Here's are some selections from their exchange; bolding will be mine: Matthews: The other [House Republicans] are [still] pushing this. They want to put a birth certificate out there. How do they reconcile that with voting to say that this president clearly is one of us? Flake: I don't know. I suppose that other effort will go away pretty quietly now. I hope it does. I hope that this lays to rest any controversy that's out there. This shouldn't have been a controversy at all. Matthews: What's in the water out there? Flake: Well, I don't know. I think you saw some on the left, after the Bush-Gore race back in 2000, some who called Bush the illegitimate president for quite a while after that. And then you're seeing it here, not exclusively, but mostly on the right. It's unfortunate. It just kind of cheapens the debate. At which point leading Democratic co-sponsor Rob Andrews, who was also on the program, cut in to call the Bush-Gore example "a ridiculous comparison": Andrews: There is absolutely no doubt about Barack Obama's birth certificate. There's no dispute about this, which is why all you guys voted for it last night. Flake: No, I co[...]



To Duke Historian Nancy MacLean, Advocating Free Markets Is Something 'The World Has Never Seen Anything Like...Before'

Wed, 02 Aug 2017 13:53:00 -0400

Duke University historian Nancy MacLean recently issued Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, an alas quite hot book that purports to expose the dark secrets of Nobel Prize-winning economist James Buchanan and the "radical right"/libertarian movement he's allegedly the brains behind. MacLean has been convincingly accused by many who understand his work and the libertarian movement with both less built-in hostility and more actual knowledge than she has (including me here at Reason) of getting nearly everything wrong, from fact to interpretation. She recently took to the Chronicle of Higher Education to allegedly reply to her critics. A quick wrap up of many specific problems found in her book by her critics—by no means all—that MacLean ignores even while allegedly "respond[ing] to her critics," and which the editors at the Chronicle let her ignore: • Her claim of meaningful similarity between John Calhoun's constitutional vision and that of Buchanan and his public choice school cannot be reasonably maintained. • Her assertion that the modern public choice/libertarian constitutionalist vision has nothing to do with James Madison is not true. • Buchanan did not, contra MacLean, believe that all taxation above voluntary giving is theft akin to a mugger in the park. • She attributed to Buchanan the belief that those receiving government aid "are to be treated as subordinate members of the species, akin to… animals who are dependent" though he used that phrase to describe the attitude that was the opposite of his. • Her attribution of Buchanan's use of the Hobbesian term "Leviathan" to (racist, uncoincidentally for her rhetorical smear purposes) Southern Agrarian poet Donald Davidson rather than, well, Hobbes, falls apart with study of when and how Buchanan began using the term in his work. • She regularly cites libertarian thinkers as saying nasty things implying a contempt for the poor or for democracy that are not supported by the full context of the quotes; victims of her malicious misinterpretation including David Boaz and Tyler Cowen. It's a pattern of hostile incomprehension, and her "response" indicates that this is partly because she's deep-down unable to view thinkers or funders who advocate limiting government's scope, expense, or power any other way. MacLean speaks to none of the above specific critiques of her book in the Chronicle, merely generically complaining about being attacked and insisting that people who critique her work clearly hadn't read or understood it, or linking to people who sophistically defend some possible meanings in a manner far more subtle and complicated than she bothered to do. Mostly eschewing factual or interpretational specifics, she reached instead for sympathy by complaining these specific critiques on her methods and understanding as a historian made her "feel vulnerable and exposed" and interpreting an intellectual metaphor for a physical threat. She does a cute turnaround insisting against all evidence that those who praised her book were the only ones who read it, and that the very political forces she inveighs against in her book "helped create the current toxicity" allegedly exemplified by academic experts explaining how she got so many things so very wrong in her attempt to make her readers hate and fear anyone who wants to restrict government's power to manage our lives. She certainly does not address a core problem with her book I detailed in my review: the "historical fact" upon which her entire thesis depends, her book's distinguishing selling point, which she claims to have uniquely discovered through diligent archival work, that James Buchanan was the secret influence behind the political funding machine of[...]



Nancy MacLean's Libertarian Conspiracy Theory [Podcast]

Mon, 24 Jul 2017 16:00:00 -0400

Duke University historian Nancy MacLean's new book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America, combines conspiracy theories, accusations of racism, and dire warnings about a libertarian plot to create an American oligarchy. It's a historical story that's a "product of [MacLean's] imagination," with a reading of sources that's "hostile and tendentious to the point of pure error," as Reason's Brian Doherty put in a review we published last week.

In today's podcast, Doherty joins Nick Gillespie, Katherine Mangu-Ward, and Andrew Heaton to discuss how MacLean fundamentally misunderstands her subject matter; this year's Freedom Fest (an annual convention for libertarians in Las Vegas that just wrapped up); conservative-leaning libertarians vs. left-leaning libertarians; the constitutional ramifications of Donald Trump potentially pardoning himself; and whether or not we're living in the panopticon.

Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below:

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What Nancy MacLean Gets Wrong About James Buchanan

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 21:00:00 -0400

The board of education in Brown v. Board of Education—the 1954 Supreme Court decision that desegregated American public schools—was located in Topeka, Kansas, a city that was overwhelmingly white. Brown overturned a policy set by a majority, and it was right to do so: School segregation is just as wrong when it is imposed democratically as it is when it is imposed by suppressing the black vote. So the strangest thing about Democracy in Chains—a book that contains many, many strange claims—may be how its author, the Duke historian Nancy MacLean, treats Brown. On one hand, she believes that those who want to bind majorities with preset constitutional rules are up to something sinister. Her chief villain on this score is James Buchanan, an economist and political philosopher who argued that government actors ought to be subject to built-in structural constraints. On the other hand, MacLean clearly thinks Brown was correctly decided. Indeed, she accuses Buchanan of working to undermine the ruling. MacLean seems not to notice Brown is itself an example of the phenomenon MacLean is denouncing: a Constitution being used to overrule a democratic outcome in the name of protecting a minority. It's an awkward start for a baroque conspiracy story, and it signals what a mess the book will be. The historian has little to no evidence for her history. She invents some when necessary, and will at times just make assertions to suit her narrative, mustering neither real nor phony evidence to back them up. Many of her factual and interpretive errors have already been covered elsewhere, in venues ranging from Vox to The Washington Post. Rather than get lost in the weeds of covering every false statement or misleadingly gerrymandered quotation in this book, I want to focus here on the core claims that it gets wrong: MacLean fundamentally misunderstands Buchanan's intellectual project, treating his theories about politics as an apologia for the wealthy and powerful. This gives short shrift to a serious body of thought, and it fails to see that his arguments can indict the wealthy as much as anyone else. She tries to tie Buchanan's work to the segregationist order in the South, even implying that his ideas arose from a desire to preserve it. She essentially invents links along the way. She paints Buchanan as an important influence on Augusto Pinochet's repressive dictatorship in Chile. Not only does her evidence fail to support this, but she misses an important piece of counterevidence: a 1981 speech, delivered in Chile, in which Buchanan condemned dictatorial rule. And finally, though Buchanan was neither an orthodox libertarian nor a central influence on the libertarian movement, she puts him at the heart of a Charles Koch–driven conspiracy to impose a radical libertarian agenda on the United States. In the process, she manages to misread both Buchanan and Koch in telling ways. Public Choice, Private Greed? Buchanan won the Nobel Prize in 1986 for his role in founding the "public choice" school of economics. This school's key idea, to quote the Nobel committee, was to seek "explanations for political behavior that resemble those used to analyze behavior on markets." The result was a body of work in which politicians and bureaucrats, no less than entrepreneurs and investors, often "act out of self-interest," driven not just by a vision of the common good but by a desire for votes or bigger budgets. MacLean, by contrast, treats public choice as little more than an effort to question the good-heartedness of public servants. Its conclusions, she insists, have "no true research—no facts—to support them" and are rooted in "projecting unseemly motives onto strangers about whom they knew [...]



Russia's Global Anti-Libertarian Crusade

Fri, 07 Jul 2017 06:00:00 -0400

One of the surreal twists of the past year in American politics has been the rapid realignment in attitudes toward Russia. Democrats, many of whom believe that Russian interference was key to Donald Trump's unexpected victory last November, are now the ones sounding the alarm about the Russian threat. Meanwhile, quite a few Republicans—previously the keepers of the anti-Kremlin Cold War flame—have taken to praising President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader and Moscow as an ally against radical Islam. A CNN/ORC poll in late April found that 56 percent of Republicans see Russia as either "friendly" or "an ally," up from 14 percent in 2014. Over the same period, Putin's favorable rating from Republicans in the Economist/YouGov poll went from 10 percent to a startling 37 percent. The dominant narrative in the U.S. foreign policy establishment and mainstream media casts Putin as the implacable enemy of the Western liberal order—an autocratic leader at home who wants to weaken democracy abroad, using information warfare and covert activities to subvert liberal values and to promote Russia-friendly politicians and movements around the world. In this narrative, President Donald Trump is like the French nationalist Marine Le Pen, whose failed presidential campaign this year relied heavily on loans from Russian banks with Kremlin ties: a witting or unwitting instrument of subversion, useful to Putin either as an ideological ally or as an incompetent who will strengthen Russia's hand by destabilizing American democracy. At its extremes, the Russian subversion narrative relies on a great deal of conspiratorial thinking. It also far too easily absolves the Western political establishment of responsibility for its failures, from the defeat of European Union supporters in England's Brexit vote to Hillary Clinton's loss in last November's election. Putin makes a convenient boogeyman. Nonetheless, there is a real Russian effort to counter American—plus NATO and E.U.—influence by supporting authoritarian nationalist movements and groups, such as Le Pen's National Front, Hungary's quasi-fascist Jobbik Party, and Greece's neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. Today's Russia is no longer just a moderately authoritarian corrupt regime trying to maintain its regional influence. Cloaked in the mantle of religious and nationalist values, the Kremlin positions itself as a defender of tradition and sovereignty against the godless progressivism and the migrant hordes overtaking the West. It has a global propaganda machine and a network of political operatives dedicated to cultivating far-right and sometimes far-left groups in Europe and elsewhere. Tom Palmer, vice president for international programs at the Atlas Network, has been actively involved in projects promoting liberty in ex-Communist countries since the late 1980s; he has taken to warning against a new "global anti-libertarianism." Writing for the Cato Policy Report last December, Palmer noted that "Putin, the pioneer in the trend toward authoritarianism, has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into promoting anti-libertarian populism across Europe and through a sophisticated global media empire, including RT and Sputnik News, as well as a network of internet troll factories and numerous made-to-order websites." Slawomir Sierakowski of Warsaw's Institute for Advanced Study and Emma Ashford of the Cato Institute have also warned about the rise of an "Illiberal International" in which Russia plays a key role. Of course, for many libertarians, the post–Cold War international order that Putin seeks to undo is itself of dubious value. For one thing, that order is based on America's role as GloboCop, which isn't very [...]