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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Think Tank Report Says Poor Americans Have It Too Good

Think Tank Report Says Poor Americans Have It Too Good (via Moyers & Company)
Conservative think tanks have spawned a cottage industry churning out dubious studies purporting to show that poor families are living high on the hog on public benefits, a claim that anybody who has actually experienced poverty in America would find…

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Will the American Right Kill Us All?


Published on Tuesday, August 20, 2013 by Consortium News


A view of Hurrican Sandy from space. (Image via NASA satellite)

It is a touchstone of the American Right that the Framers drafted the U.S. Constitution in 1787 to tightly constrain the federal government and to promote states’ rights – and that this supposed “originalism” is inviolable regardless of the perceived needs of the nation or the dangers implicit in this so-called “strict construction.”

For various reasons – from the mainstream media’s timidity to the disdain some progressives feel for the Constitution’s compromises on slavery – this right-wing Founding Narrative rarely gets challenged, even though it is a demonstrable fiction. But this lazy tolerance of the Right’s made-up history now is becoming an existential threat to mankind.

That is because the scientific consensus continues to solidify that human activity is causing global temperatures to increase dangerously, possibly causing a catastrophic rise of three feet in sea levels by the end of the century. Yet, right-wing obstructionism, which deems federal environmental activism unconstitutional, has hobbled any effort to enact a timely response to the emergency.

By wallowing in a world of scientific denial and historical fabrication, the Republican Right and its Tea Party allies have prevented the U.S. government from responding aggressively to the existential emergency from global warming
The scope of the impending environmental disaster is fast becoming incontestable among scientists.
“It is extremely likely that human influence on climate caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010,” a draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said, according to the New York Times. “There is high confidence that this has warmed the ocean, melted snow and ice, raised global mean sea level and changed some climate extremes in the second half of the 20th century.”

The consequences are expected to grow much worse in the coming decades, with many climate scientists seeing the probability of temperatures rising more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit if the present trend continues, the Times reported.
“Warming the entire planet by 5 degrees Fahrenheit would add a stupendous amount of energy to the climate system,” the Times wrote. “Scientists say the increase would be greater over land and might exceed 10 degrees at the poles. They add that such an increase would lead to widespread melting of land ice, extreme heat waves, difficulty growing food and massive changes in plant and animal life, probably including a wave of extinctions.”

The possibility of a three-foot rise in sea levels would threaten some of the world’s major cities, possibly displacing hundreds of millions of people. The mix of mass dislocations from flooding and the loss of traditional agricultural lands to drought could exacerbate geopolitical tensions and spark warfare among desperate countries facing steep declines in standards of living or even mass starvation.

Given the prevalence of nuclear weapons in the hands of rival nations where the impact of global warming might be particularly severe – from China, India and Pakistan to Great Britain, Israel and the United States – the threat to human existence is made even more acute.

Politicizing Science

Aggressive action by the U.S. government, in particular, is required to avert this impending catastrophe, but today’s Right has politicized the near scientific certainty about global warming and the human role in its acceleration.

From the Tea Party to the “libertarians,” oil money from fossil-fuel energy tycoons, such as Charles and David Koch of Koch Industries, has fueled “populist” propaganda challenging the case for global warming, first by funding “scientists” who quibble with the research or who assert that the warming will be modest and manageable.

Beyond that, America’s political Right has added climate change to its list of perceived “statist” conspiracy theories, claiming that the scientific consensus is just a plot by Al Gore and “liberals” to find another excuse for overriding the supposed constitutional principles of a tightly constrained federal government.

And, since these alleged principles of “originalism” and “strict construction” are inviolable anyway, this thinking goes, there’s no legitimate case that can be made for expanding the federal government’s role in reducing U.S. emissions of the carbon dioxide and other global-warming chemicals.

That is why the emotional pull of the Right’s proclaimed Founding Principles must be addressed with sound historical research, even if some on the Left find it silly or irrelevant to ponder what Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and George Washington were thinking back in 1787.

It is dangerous to cede the historical reality to well-funded right-wing “historians” who are dispatched back in time by the Koch Brothers and their allies to cherry-pick a few quotes here and there to distort what the key Framers were actually doing with the Constitution, i.e. they were creating a vibrant federal government that would have the flexibility to address the country’s “general Welfare” then and in the future.

The Real Constitution

The historical reality of 1787 was nearly the opposite of how today’s Right portrays it. The Framers of the Constitution were intent on overthrowing a disastrous system from the Articles of Confederation, which had enshrined the 13 original states as “sovereign” and “independent” with the central government deemed only a “league of friendship” and lacking any significant power.

As the young nation descended into squabbling and insolvency in the mid-1780s, the advocates for a strong central government – led by Washington, Madison, Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris (who drafted the famous Preamble) – staged what amounted to a nonviolent coup d’etat against the old structure.

Meeting in secret in Philadelphia – and then circumventing the state legislatures by arranging special ratification conventions – the Framers pushed through a system that made federal law supreme and sought to make the states “subordinately useful,” in the words of James Madison.

This reality was recognized by political leaders who opposed what the Framers of the Constitution were doing. For instance, Pennsylvania delegates on the losing side of the Philadelphia debate explained their opposition, declaring: “We dissent … because the powers vested in Congress by this constitution, must necessarily annihilate and absorb the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of the several states, and produce from their ruins one consolidated government…

“The new government will not be a confederacy of states, as it ought, but one consolidated government, founded upon the destruction of the several governments of the states. … The powers of Congress under the new constitution, are complete and unlimited over the purse and the sword, and are perfectly independent of, and supreme over, the state governments; whose intervention in these great points is entirely destroyed.”

The Pennsylvania dissenters noted that the state sovereignty language from the Articles of Confederation was stripped out of the Constitution and that national sovereignty was implicitly transferred to “We the People of the United States” in the Preamble. They pointed out that the Constitution’s Article Six made federal statutes and treaties “the supreme law of the land.”

“The legislative power vested in Congress … is so unlimited in its nature; may be so comprehensive and boundless [in] its exercise, that this alone would be amply sufficient to annihilate the state governments, and swallow them up in the grand vortex of general empire,” the Pennsylvania dissenters declared.

The Sweeping Powers

Those federal powers, listed in Article One, Section Eight, included “to provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States” and “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States.”

In other words, the Framers gave the U.S. Congress broad powers to act on behalf of the American people. But those powers were particularly unnerving to Southern Anti-Federalists, such as Virginia’s Patrick Henry, who warned the state’s plantation aristocracy that ratification would inexorably lead to the demise of slavery. “They’ll free your niggers!” Henry declared.

Despite losing the battle to block ratification, the Anti-Federalists did not go away. Behind the charismatic figure of Thomas Jefferson – and drawing important support from Southern slaveholders who feared federal encroachment on their investment in human chattel – the opponents of a strong central government set out to redefine what the Constitution meant. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Rethinking Thomas Jefferson.”]

That was a political struggle that Jefferson and other Southern slaveholders won against the Federalists of Washington, Hamilton and Morris by the end of the 1790s, with Jefferson’s defeat of John Adams for the presidency in 1800. The victory of Jefferson’s Republicans, those supposed advocates of human freedom, relied on the extra votes that the Southern states got by counting their slaves as “three-fifths” of a person for the purpose of representation.

As the bitter political warfare of the 1790s played out, Madison was pulled from his original alliance with the Federalists into the political camp of his Virginia neighbor and fellow slaveholder Jefferson. In doing so – in becoming a political representative of Virginia’s plantation system – Madison repudiated many of his earlier constitutional positions.

Jefferson called his election a new “revolution” as he reinterpreted the Constitution to afford very limited power to the federal government and expanded authority for states, even to “nullify” federal law. This revisionist approach amounted to a radical change from what Washington, Hamilton, Morris and the earlier Madison had constructed in Philadelphia.
In other words, Jefferson’s view was not the “original” understanding of the Constitution. Yet, today’s Right pretends it was. Even Jefferson, after becoming the third U.S. President, abandoned his “strict constructionism” when it was useful for him to do so, such as when he and Secretary of State Madison negotiated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

The Ongoing Struggle

But the struggle between the original Federalist view of the Constitution and its later hijacking by some of its anti-federal opponents has continued throughout American history, most notably in the South’s resistance to Northern efforts to restrict the spread of slavery into new states and ultimately in the secession of Confederate states after Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860.

Even after the South’s defeat in the Civil War and the end of slavery, the white Southern aristocracy did not surrender its insistence on a crimped view of the Constitution, often finding allies among the powerful Northern “robber barons” of the late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth. Both the segregationist Southerners and the laissez-faire capitalists of Wall Street wanted the federal government to keep its nose out of their business.

However, with the Great Depression of the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt reached back to the original concept of the Constitution – that the federal government was empowered to act on behalf of “the general Welfare,” a principle embedded both in the Preamble and Article One, Section Eight.

Yet, when this federal activism began to encroach on the South’s racial separation in the 1950s and 1960s, the Right again moved to reassert its revisionist take on the Constitution, that it supposedly enshrined states’ rights as supreme.
Though the Right lost this battle to defend racial segregation – much as the Anti-Federalists lost the fight to block the Constitution – the political struggle was by no means over as Southern whites moved to the Republican Party of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

With Reagan’s victory in 1980, the stage was set for the ascendance again of right-wing revisionism on the Constitution, with Reagan and his Republican successors, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, installing on the U.S. Supreme Court right-wing ideologues who embraced the faux history that right-wing “scholars” had been busy assembling.
These ideological descendants of the South’s slaveholders and the later alliance between the Robber Barons and Jim Crow are now positioned to interpret the Constitution as they see fit. Plus, they have a dedicated political movement in the Tea Party and on the Republican Right that has absorbed the made-up Founding Narrative of why the Constitution was written.

This combination of factors now presents an existential threat to the world because the Right’s distortion of the Framers’ original intent precludes crucial U.S. government action to restrain the spewing of climate-changing chemicals into the atmosphere.

It is a case where history is not just history, it is the future of mankind.

Monday, August 19, 2013

How False History Props Up the Right


Published on Sunday, August 18, 2013 by Consortium News

There is a logical way to think about governance – one that was shared by the key Framers of the U.S. Constitution – that the federal government should have sufficient authority to do what is necessary to fulfill the goals that the document laid out about promoting the general welfare and protecting the nation.

Put differently, the actual “originalist” thinking behind the Constitution was what might be called “pragmatic nationalism,” not what today’s Right tries to pretend it was, an ideological commitment to a tightly constrained federal government hemmed in by a strong system of “states’ rights.”

A Revolutionary War-era banner that has been adopted as an iconic symbol of the Tea Party.

Indeed, the “original” thinking behind the Constitution was almost the opposite of the right-wing canard. The key Framers – George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris (who authored the famous Preamble) – all believed that a vibrant federal government was needed to control the squabbling states which had pushed the new country to the brink of disaster under the Articles of Confederation.

In other words, the Right’s modern interpretation of the Founding Principles was not shared by the key Framers of the Constitution. Instead, the Right’s position on the Constitution apes the opposition to the Constitution by the Anti-Federalists, who warned that the new federal structure would subordinate the states to the central government and endanger slavery in the South.

Despite that real history, today’s Right has largely succeeded in distorting the Founding Narrative to convince millions of lightly educated Americans that – by joining with the Tea Party – they are defending the Constitution as the Framers devised it when, in reality, they are channeling the views of those who fiercely opposed the Constitution.

This historical issue is important because as the empirical case for “small government” ideology collapses – amid failures of “supply-side economics,” austerity in the face of recession, “free-market” extremism that let the banks run wild, anti-scientific stances denying global warming, etc. – all the right-wingers have left is this claim they are upholding the Framers’ original vision, an emotional tug on many Tea Partiers who dress up in Revolutionary War costumes and unfurl yellow flags with a coiled snake saying: “Don’t Tread on Me.”

Yet, the reality is that key drafters of the Constitution were staunch advocates of a strong central government invested with all the necessary powers to build a young nation and to protect its hard-won independence. Article One, Section Eight authorized a series of powers, including to “provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States” and “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers.”
In Federalist Paper 44, Madison expounded on what has become known as the “elastic clause,” writing: “No axiom is more clearly established in law, or in reason, than that wherever the power to do a thing is given, every particular power necessary for doing it, is included.”

At the time of the Constitutional Convention, Madison favored even a greater concentration of power in the central government, wanting to give Congress the authority to veto state laws, a proposal that was watered-down into declaring federal statutes the supreme law of the land and giving federal courts the power to judge state laws unconstitutional.

‘They’ll Free Your Niggers!’

So, today’s Tea Partiers, “libertarians” and the Republican Right are not so much descendants of the Framers as they are heirs to the Anti-Federalists who tried to strangle the U.S. Constitution in its cradle. And a principal motive for this fierce opposition was a desire to protect slavery.

Led by pro-slavery Southerners like Patrick Henry and George Mason, the Anti-Federalists warned that the Constitution would concentrate so much power in the federal government that it would lead inexorably to the eradication of slavery.
In battling the Constitution’s ratification in 1788, Patrick Henry warned his fellow Virginians that if they approved the Constitution, it would put their massive capital investment in slaves in jeopardy. Imagining the possibility of a federal tax on slaveholding, Henry declared, “They’ll free your niggers!”

It is a testament to how we have whitewashed U.S. history on the evils of slavery that Patrick Henry is far better known for his declaration before the Revolution, “Give me liberty or give me death!” than his equally pithy warning, “They’ll free your niggers!”
Similarly, George Mason, Henry’s collaborator in trying to scare Virginia’s slaveholders into opposing the Constitution, is recalled as an instigator of the Bill of Rights, rather than as a defender of slavery. A key “freedom” that Henry and Mason fretted about was the “freedom” of plantation owners to possess other human beings as property.

As historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg wrote in their 2010 book, Madison and Jefferson, the hot button for Henry and Mason was that “slavery, the source of Virginia’s tremendous wealth, lay politically unprotected.” Besides the worry about how the federal government might tax slave-ownership, there was the fear that the President – as the nation’s commander in chief under the new Constitution – might ‘federalize” the state militias and emancipate the slaves.

“Mason repeated what he had said during the Constitutional Convention: that the new government failed to provide for ‘domestic safety’ if there was no explicit protection for Virginians’ slave property,” Burstein and Isenberg wrote. “Henry called up the by-now-ingrained fear of slave insurrections – the direct result, he believed, of Virginia’s loss of authority over its own militia.”

Madison, a protégé of General Washington and a staunch Federalist at the time, sought to finesse the argument by noting that the Constitution’s drafters in 1787 had capitulated to the South’s insistence on its institution of human enslavement. Though Henry and Mason struck a chord with their slavery-is-in-jeopardy argument, Madison ultimately carried the day, albeit narrowly with Virginia’s convention approving the Constitution on an 89-to-79 vote.

But the Anti-Federalists didn’t disappear. Instead, they organized as a political force to harass, deplete and ultimately destroy the Federalists.

The Rise of Jefferson

In another parallel between the modern Right and the Constitution’s opponents, the Anti-Federalists in the South “posed as plucky populists, even though their ranks included many rich slaveholders,” as historian Ron Chernow noted in his 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton.

These days, “small-government” conservatives also pose as “plucky populists” though they are funded and promoted by self-interested billionaires like the Koch Brothers and Rupert Murdoch. In both movements, there also has been an undercurrent of racism, pro-slavery then and hostility to the nation’s demographic changes — and African-American president — now.

What the Anti-Federalists needed after their defeat in 1788 was a charismatic leader and they found him when Thomas Jefferson returned from France in 1789. A critic of the Constitution but not an outright opponent, Jefferson couched his resistance to a strong central government in his desire to keep the United States an agriculturally based society with states allowed to nix federal policies if they wished.

Appointed by President George Washington as Secretary of State, Jefferson was quickly at loggerheads with Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton who moved energetically to create the framework for an effective federal government that could collect taxes, pay its bills, establish credit and encourage the development of American industries.

Like Washington, Hamilton had experienced through his service in the Continental Army the chaos of the Articles of Confederation and the failure of states to meet their financial commitments to support soldiers in the field.

Born out of wedlock in the West Indies, Hamilton’s early life was one of Dickensian deprivation. Abandoned by his father and losing his mother to illness, the self-taught teen-age Hamilton scratched his way to some success working for a merchant and excelling as a writer. His talents were such that community leaders sent him to school in New York as a charity case.

Amid the rising turmoil of revolutionary America, Hamilton distinguished himself as a passionate advocate for independence and – when war broke out – recruited his college classmates into an artillery unit that performed bravely in the battles around New York. Hamilton’s courage and skills brought him to General Washington’s attention, and the French-speaking Hamilton soon became the Commander-in-Chief’s indispensable aide-de-camp.

Though Lt. Col. Hamilton represented General Washington in high-level contacts with French commanders and American generals, the young officer remained eager to prove himself on the battlefield. Eventually, he convinced Washington to give him a military command and he led the American bayonet charge against the final British redoubt at the battle of Yorktown in 1781.

The First Americans

So, like Washington, Hamilton had developed a uniquely American perspective on the young country, having fought across much of its territory with other young men from various states and backgrounds.

As Chernow wrote in Alexander Hamilton: “People continued to identify their states as their ‘countries,’ and most outside the military had never traveled more than a day’s journey from their homes. But the Revolution itself, especially the Continental Army, had been a potent instrument for fusing the states together and forging an American character.

“Speaking of the effect that the fighting had on him, John Marshall probably spoke for many soldiers when he said, ‘I was confirmed in the habit of considering America as my country and Congress as my government.’ During the war, a sense of national unity seeped imperceptibly into the minds of many American diplomats, administrators, congressmen, and, above all, the nucleus of officers gathered around Washington.”

Washington and Hamilton were among the military veterans who understood, viscerally, the failings of the Articles of Confederation in which “sovereignty” and “independence” were bestowed on the 13 states, causing them to look to their own needs, not those of the country.

As the 1780s wore on – even after Great Britain recognized U.S. independence in 1783 – the grand experiment in overthrowing a King’s dominion and establishing a Republic was in grave danger from the lack of a strong national government.

While Washington and Hamilton grasped this problem, Jefferson, who had returned to Virginia after his work drafting the Declaration of Independence in 1776, continued to view his state as his country. He also avoided any actual fighting for independence, fleeing rather than rallying Virginians to defend Richmond (when it was attacked by a Loyalist army led by Benedict Arnold) and then Charlottesville and Monticello (when they were threatened by the cavalry of Banastre Tarleton).

Jefferson, the coddled son of a wealthy plantation owner, preferred a philosophic or romantic view of revolution, never fully confronting its human horrors and practical challenges. His experience representing the United States in France were marked by both his lavish lifestyle at the fringes of Louis XVI’s court and a blind enthusiasm for the bloody French Revolution.

Neither did he see the realities of America very clearly as he toyed with a vision of a bucolic land of industrious small farmers, somehow blotting out the reality around him of large plantations worked by slaves whose hard labor made possible the comfortable life of Southern gentry and Jefferson’s addiction to luxuries.

As Washington, Hamilton and other Founders contemplated a strong central government, Jefferson mused about whether a national Congress was needed at all. So, his clash with Hamilton carried something of an historical inevitability about it.

Clash over Slavery

The two men differed profoundly over slavery. Having grown up poor on sugar islands of the Caribbean, Hamilton knew and despised slavery. He respected the humanity of African slaves whom he had seen literally worked to death or executed for any signs of resistance.

As Chernow wrote, Hamilton “had expressed an unwavering belief in the genetic equality of blacks and whites – unlike Jefferson, for instance, who regarded blacks as innately inferior.” Indeed, Hamilton may have been the most dedicated abolitionist among the Founders, even more consistently hostile to slavery than were John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.
By contrast, Jefferson delved into the pseudo-science of measuring the skulls of his black slaves to “prove” their inferiority. He also could not tolerate the idea of free blacks living alongside whites in America. By contrast, Hamilton not only considered blacks equal to whites but advocated on behalf of their right to live free in America.

In short, Jefferson was a mass of often ugly contradictions, declaring “all Men are created equal” while insisting that blacks were not; advocating a strictly “limited” federal government as a guarantee of “liberty” while staying silent about how that prescription fit neatly with the desire of his fellow plantation owners to maintain slavery; rejecting the tyranny of government power while making apologies for the mass executions by France’s revolutionary government.

Yet, while Jefferson surely was a hypocrite, he was, without doubt, a political genius. After Jefferson wore out his welcome with President Washington through back-biting attacks on Hamilton, Jefferson left Washington’s three-member Cabinet (Henry Knox was Secretary of War) and began fashioning the first American political party.

Backed by wealthy Southern plantation owners and supported by some opportunistic Northern politicians (like Aaron Burr), Jefferson not only forged his “Republicans” into a potent opposition to the Federalists but devised a system of sophisticated propaganda, including secretly financing newspaper editors to gin up “scandals” to be pinned on Hamilton and the Federalists.

Jefferson also understood the value of personal mythmaking, presenting himself as a humble philosopher who preferred designing Monticello or the Virginian Statehouse over the dirty business of politics. Though he had dressed and behaved like a dandy in Paris, Jefferson attired himself modestly after returning to America, the down-to-earth republican.
As Hamilton and the Federalists muted their opposition to slavery out of concern that the issue could shatter the new constitutional structure, Jefferson and the slaveholders took advantage of that relative silence to depict Washington’s administration and its efforts to put the country on a solid financial footing as favoring economic elites.

As Chernow wrote, “The most damning and hypocritical aristocratic economic system emanated from the most aristocratic southern slaveholders, who deflected attention from their own nefarious deeds by posing as populist champions and assailing the northern financial and mercantile interests aligned with Hamilton.”

So, Jefferson and his Southern-dominated political faction won the image battle. Jefferson and the plantation owners – despite possessing human chattel – were the embattled little guys while the abolitionist Hamilton and his merchant political base were the anti-democratic elitists.

Conspiracy Theories

In a distant echo of today’s Republican conspiracy theories about President Barack Obama, Jefferson and his political allies accused Hamilton and the Federalists of harboring secret sympathies for Great Britain and designs on replacing the Constitution with a monarchy – even though Hamilton had done more than almost anyone to win ratification, including organizing the Federalist Papers to sell the new structure to a skeptical public.

Despite President Washington’s warning against “factions,” Jefferson and his supporters pressed ahead gleefully poisoning the political atmosphere of the young nation – and prompting Hamilton and his side to strike back in kind. Eventually, after building a bureaucratic structure that put the nation’s finances on a firm footing, Hamilton begged Washington for his leave once again and retired to his New York law practice in 1795.

Amid all this partisan acrimony, President Washington and then President John Adams struggled to maneuver the country through a narrow channel to avoid war with Great Britain and then France. With the prospect of war looming, President Adams lured Washington back into government to create a professional military. In turn, Washington insisted that his old aide-de-camp Hamilton be made second-in-command and given the prime day-to-day responsibilities.

But Hamilton’s work establishing an effective military only fed the paranoia of the Jeffersonians about how Hamilton might deploy the Army, possibly fulfilling Patrick Henry’s prophesy that the federal government would overturn slavery. The Federalists also made major mistakes including enactment of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which were aimed at maintaining American neutrality and silencing some of the most belligerent voices, particularly the Jeffersonians who favored siding with France in a European war.

Though Jefferson had been elected Vice President under Adams — by earning the second largest number of votes in 1796 – he secretly conspired against the President’s policies, devising the states’ rights theories of “nullification” and even “secession” while encouraging his paid newspaper editors to savage Adams’s character.

In the early years under the Constitution, Jefferson also drew his Virginian neighbor James Madison into the Jeffersonian camp. As he sought to make a political career amid his fellow slaveholding Virginians, Madison broke with his old allies, Washington and Hamilton.

Madison renounced many of his former pro-federalist positions, joining Jefferson in such unconstitutional theories as “nullification,” the supposed right of a state to reject federal law – the opposite position from where Madison had stood during the Constitutional Convention.

Federalist Crack-up

With Hamilton facing intense personal attacks and with Washington’s death in 1799, Federalist unity began to crack. The curmudgeonly President Adams was estranged from Vice President Jefferson, but he also disliked Hamilton and disapproved of his modern theories about banking and industry.

In 1800, running with New Yorker Aaron Burr, Jefferson was able to snatch the presidency away from Adams – although ironically Jefferson’s winning margin was created by the Constitution’s “Three-Fifths Clause,” which allowed the South to count black slaves as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of representation.

As the third U.S. President, the clever Jefferson solidified his myth as a simple republican, getting rid of a gilded carriage that Adams had bought, sometimes answering the door at the White House himself, and shuffling around in slippers.
On the supposed strict-constructionist principles of republicanism, however, Jefferson behaved more like an imperial president. Though he had disparaged Hamilton’s efforts to build a professional military, Jefferson dispatched Navy ships to attack the Barbary pirates without first seeking congressional approval.

Jefferson’s supposed commitment to a view of the Constitution as limited to the specific powers enumerated in Article One, Section Eight also was cast aside in 1803 when Napoleon offered to sell the Louisiana Territories to the United States. Though the Constitution had no provision for such a purchase, Jefferson and Secretary of State Madison suddenly found new merit in the Constitution’s elastic “necessary and proper” clause.

Jefferson also encouraged selective persecution of troublesome newspaper editors and he dealt harshly with his political rivals. Even out of office, Hamilton remained a bête noire to the Jeffersonians, the target of frequent personal attacks. In 1804, Vice President Burr challenged Hamilton to a duel and – though Hamilton had declared he would not fire on Burr – Burr took aim and killed Hamilton, who was only 49.

With Washington and Hamilton gone, the Federalists slid toward irrelevance, even as their earlier structuring of the U.S. government and its financial system kept the nation prosperous. Further marginalizing the Federalists, Jefferson continued to solidify his political movement, ensuring 24 consecutive years of Virginian control of the White House, with Jefferson followed by James Madison and James Monroe.

The Louisiana Territories also opened up more agricultural land and thus the need for more slaves. The Federalists shrank into a narrow regional party in New England and eventually disappeared, their abolitionist principles and pro-government attitudes suppressed for decades.

With his skill at wrapping the interests of fellow slaveholders in high-blown republican rhetoric, Jefferson more than any Founder put the United States on course for the Civil War. Yet, even today, as more is learned about Jefferson’s racism and his gross hypocrisy (including apparently taking slave girl Sally Hemings as a concubine), he is held in high historical regard (including by some progressives who admire his words while ignoring his deeds). [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Rethinking Thomas Jefferson.”]

Jefferson is an icon to today’s Tea Party and to “libertarians,” who have embraced the post-Constitution version of Madison, too. By hailing these Founders in particular – though Patrick Henry and George Mason also make the Liberty Hall of Fame – the modern Right gives the concepts of “states’ rights” and “strict construction” a gloss of constitutional legitimacy. Conservatives brush aside the fact that the actual Framers, including the earlier Madison, rejected this view. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “The Right’s Dubious Claim to Madison.”]

Why this history is particularly relevant today is that, while the Right’s mythological Constitution may be an historical fiction, it still dominates the imaginations of many Americans. Thus, even as the Right’s policy prescriptions fail in providing for “the general Welfare” – from free-market extremism to austerity in the face of recession to letting 30 million Americans suffer without health insurance – the Tea Partiers are convinced they are doing what’s right because it is what the Framers enshrined in the Founding Document.

If that misconception is shaken, the Right will have nothing left to sell the American people, except perhaps bigotry and nihilism.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Conservative Media Sell Out Their Followers To A Disgraced Financial Firm

Conservative Media Sell Out Their Followers To A Disgraced Financial Firm

Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

"The End of Barack Obama?
A wealthy Maryland journalist (who's neither a Democrat or Republican) has exposed a scandal brewing within the current Administration.

He says it could ruin Obama's entire Presidency... and would also result in some of the most dramatic changes to ordinary American life in more than 50 years."

Stansberry & Associates, an investment research firm catering to right-wing audiences' fears of President Barack Obama, has been fined $1.5 million for engaging in "deliberate fraud" and profiting from "false statements." Despite its shoddy history, numerous conservative outlets and personalities including Newt Gingrich, Fox Business, Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee, Alex Jones, WND, and The Washington Times, have helped legitimize the firm and its wild investment schemes. The firm has also enlisted the help of former Fox News contributor Dick Morris, who has frequently promoted the firm in sponsored video pitches. 
Stansberry & Associates was founded in 1999 by Porter Stansberry and claims to have "been predicting the most promising emerging trends and the most influential economic forces affecting the market - with uncanny accuracy - for the past 13 years." Stansberry advertises its services to right-wing audiences with attacks on President Obama and warnings about a forthcoming apocalyptic type collapse of the American government and financial system. Stansberry emails carry subject lines like, "A Survival Secret That Could Save Your Life."
In 2007, Stansberry and his firm -- then called Pirate Investor LLC -- were ordered by a district court to pay $1.5 million in restitution and civil penalties as a result of a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint. As reported by the Baltimore Sun, Stansberry was accused of "disseminating false stock information and defrauding public investors through a financial newsletter ... They claimed investors could double their money if they paid $1,000 for a stock tip involving Bethesda energy company USEC Inc. In total, 1,217 people purchased the report, although 215 of them got their money back after complaining." 
A judge in 2007 ruled that Stansberry's activity "undoubtedly involved deliberate fraud" and "making statements that he knew to be false." An appeals court later found that "it would take an act of willful blindness to ignore the fact that Appellants profited from the false statements." Stansberry's defense of his actions can be found here, and a group of publishers, including The New York Times ("The Right to Be Wrong"), defended Stansberry's case on First Amendment grounds.  
The Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General announced on September 12, 2011, that Stansberry & Associates "agreed to pay a $55,000 civil monetary penalty to the Social Security Administration" for violating the Social Security Act. The firm settled the case by paying the fine while not admitting a violation. SSA's complaint alleged that Stansberry advertised it services by claiming to have information from "insiders" on how to increase your Social Security check, and "the SSA OIG believed that the characterization of Stansberry's SSA contacts as 'insiders' falsely implied that the information was not available to the public. The claimed 'insider' information was, in fact, available to anyone upon request."
Stansberry's ubiquity among right-wing media outlets is yet another example of conservatives scamming their own audiences through questionable financial schemes.

Conservative Media Host Stansberry & Associates For Investing Advice

Despite Stansberry & Associates' history of fraud, shady practices, and transparently ludicrous investment pitches, conservative outlets like Fox Business, WND, and Glenn Beck have welcomed the firm as financial experts in recent months. For instance:
  • Stansberry is a columnist for WND. Since January, WND has published 10 of Stansberry's financial advice columns. WND describes Stansberry as a "well-known investment adviser" who exclusively offers WND readers his insights. WND publisher Joseph Farah has emailed readers on behalf of Stansberry claiming the firm has found "a rarely publicized loophole in the consumer banking system" to "accumulate some silver anonymously."
  • Fox Business' Markets Now hosted Stansberry & Associates analyst David Eifrig on May 1, 2013, to discuss the bond market. Fox Business made no mention of the firm's shady past. To the contrary, anchor Dennis Kneale suggested at the conclusion of the segment that Eifrig's Stansberry newsletter, Retirement Millionaire, has been a winner for investors. Retirement Millionaire claims to show its subscribers "secrets" such as "How to help prevent cancer with two foods" and "How to receive a free wine vacation."
  • Porter Stansberry appeared on the May 2 edition of Glenn Beck's radio program "to talk about gold and the reasons for holding it." Beck held up Stansberry as a financial expert during the interview, and promoted his website. He also thanked Stansberry "for your sponsorship" of the program. A note on GlennBeck.com states that "Glenn's radio and TV broadcast from the NRA is brought to you by PrimeGuard Personal Defense, Target Focus Training, and Stansberry and Associates Investment Research."

Numerous Right-Wing Newsletters Send Emails For Stansberry

Numerous conservative newsletters have sent sponsored emails from Stansberry & Associates to their email subscribers. In 2013 alone, Media Matters has received advertisement emails for Stansberry Research through such conservative newsletters as Dick Morris Reports; Gingrich Productions; Human Events; Mike Huckabee; Newsmax.com; Townhall.com; and The Washington Times. The sponsored emails contain language from the newsletter indicating that the ad does not necessarily reflect the views of the newsletter.

While Stansberry has rented out CNN host Newt Gingrich's newsletter several times, a Gingrich spokesperson previously claimed that Stansberry is blacklisted from associating with Gingrich. ABC News reported in November 2012 that after a questionable email was sent by Stansberry to another Gingrich list managed by Human Events, then-Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said, "We do not rent to the entity in question ... In fact, we go to lengths to vet where we rent." ABC also reported that "Gingrich has a say over which advertisers can have their messages go out to the [Human Events] list."

Stansberry's emails prey on conservatives' fears about the Obama presidency. Recent emails include subject lines like:
  • "Bet you don't know this about Obama" [Sponsored email in Washington Times newsletter, 7/25/13]
  • "A Survival Secret That Could Save Your Life" [Sponsored email in Newsmax newsletter, 7/17/13]
  • "New Scandal in the White House?" [Sponsored email in Gingrich Productions Newsletter, 7/11/13]
  • "Astonishing find in Michelle Obama's tax returns" [Sponsored email in Gingrich Productions newsletter, 6/20/13; sponsored email in Townhall newsletter, 6/13/13; sponsored email in Newsmax newsletter, 6/6/13]
  • "Why You Must See Line Item 12 of Michelle Obama's Tax Returns" [Sponsored email in Dick Morris Reports, 6/19/13; sponsored email in Newsmax newsletter, 6/17/13]
  • "Could This be Even Worse Than ObamaCare?" [Sponsored email in Newsmax newsletter, 5/13/13]
  • "The Big 2015 Surprise For Democrats" [Sponsored email in Newsmax newsletter, 4/17/13]
  • "One thing that could ruin Obama" [Sponsored email in Newsmax newsletter, 3/24/13; sponsored email in Townhall newsletter, 3/20/13]
  • "One thing Obama hopes you never figure out" [Sponsored email in Dick Morris Reports, 1/3/13; sponsored email in Townhall sponsored email, 1/3/13]
Stansberry also sponsors videos for Dick Morris' website. A message appears at the end of several of Morris' recent "Lunch Alert!" videos with Morris stating: "This video was sponsored by Stansberry Research. They have some important information that I think could really affect your future. I found it fascinating and I urge you to look at it at the end of this video." Morris has also filmed numerous other sponsored reads for Stansberry in recent years at the end of his videos. Morris has a long history of dubious ethical practices.

One of Stansberry's pitches involves scaring potential customers that the American economy and government will collapse, and martial law will be imposed:
As this problem comes to a head, I expect there will be a near-complete shut-down of the American economy. Life as we have known it for more than 40 years will essentially cease to exist. Our governments on both the Federal and State level will shut down. Banks will not open. Businesses will at least temporarily shutter their doors. I expect we'll see martial law, enforced by the U.S. military.
The video concludes that "the savings of millions will be wiped out" except for the people who "take a few simple steps and take charge of your family's fate" -- by subscribing to Stansberry's monthly newsletter, Stansberry's Investment Advisory, for $49.50.

In November 2012, Mother Jones' Asawin Suebsaeng reported on another Stansberry scheme warning that Obama will somehow circumvent the 22nd Amendment and grab a third term in office.

Posted in 
Fox Business, WorldNetDaily
Alex Jones, Glenn Beck, Newsmax, Newt Gingrich

Friday, August 9, 2013

Conservatives Used to Mock Ayn Rand -- How Did She Become a Hero to Right-Wing Nerds Everywhere?

Today's doltish conservatives, like Paul Ryan, worship her. But their forebears called Rand's work "preposterous"


The growing influence on the American right of Ayn Rand, the libertarian right’s answer to Scientology’s novelist-philosopher L. Ron Hubbard, is a wonder to behold. When she died in 1982, Alissa Rosenbaum — the original name of the Russian-born novelist — was the leader of a marginal cult, the Objectivists, who had long been cast out of the mainstream American right. But the rise of Tea Party conservatism, fueled by white racial panic and zero-sum distributional conflicts in the Great Recession, has turned this minor, once-forgotten figure into an icon for a new generation of nerds who imagine themselves Nietzschean Ubermenschen oppressed by the totalitarian tyranny of the post office and the Social Security administration.

Rand-worshipers can be found in, among other places, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. At a 2005 gathering to honor her memory, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan declared, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.”

The late Gore Vidal would not have been surprised by the former Republican vice-presidential candidate’s choice of a patron saint. After all, it was Vidal who observed, in a 1961 article for Esquire:
She has a great attraction for simple people who are puzzled by organized society, who object to paying taxes, who dislike the ‘welfare’ state, who feel guilt at the thought of the suffering of others but who would like to harden their hearts. For them, she has an enticing prescription: altruism is the root of all evil, self-interest is the only good, and if you’re dumb or incompetent that’s your lookout.
Vidal might be dismissed as a biased leftist. But the late William F. Buckley Jr., the founder of post-1945 conservatism who engaged in a famous televised spat with Vidal during the 1968 Democratic convention, shared Vidal’s contempt for Ayn Rand. After her death in 1982, Buckley wrote in the New York Daily News: “She was an eloquent and persuasive anti-statist, and if only she had left it at that, but no. She had to declare that God did not exist, that altruism was despicable, that only self-interest was good and noble.” In 2003, Buckley described his encounter with Rand’s interminable propaganda novel “Atlas Shrugged”:  “I had to flog myself to read it.”

Ayn Rand and her “Objectivist” cult members never forgave Buckley for reading them out of the mainstream American right, along with the equally crackpot John Birch Society. In 1957 Buckley, then the young editor of the flagship magazine of the conservative movement, National Review, published a review of “Atlas Shrugged” by Whittaker Chambers, the ex-communist intellectual who had played a key role in exposing Alger Hiss as a Soviet spy.
Chambers titled his review “Big Sister Is Watching You.”  He wrote:
Its story is preposterous. It reports the final stages of a final conflict (locale: chiefly the United States, some indefinite years hence) between the harried ranks of free enterprise and the “looters.” These are proponents of proscriptive taxes, government ownership, Labor, etc. etc. The mischief here is that the author, dodging into fiction, nevertheless counts on your reading it as political reality. “This,” she is saying in effect, “is how things really are. These are the real issues, the real sides. Only your blindness keeps you from seeing it, which, happily, I have come to rescue you from.”
The juvenile plot of “Atlas Shrugged” is a melodramatic war between “Children of Light” and “Children of Darkness”:
The Children of Light are largely operatic caricatures. In so far as any of them suggests anything known to the business community, they resemble the occasional curmudgeon millionaire, tales about whose outrageously crude and shrewd eccentricities sometimes provide the lighter moments in Board rooms. Otherwise, the Children of Light are geniuses. One of them is named (the only smile you see will be your own): Francisco Domingo Carlos Andres Sebastian d’Anconia.
Today’s libertarian rightist radicals distinguish between “makers” and “takers.” In the flagship conservative magazine of the 1950s, Whittaker Chambers did not tolerate such crude sloganeering:
In Atlas Shrugged, all this debased inhuman riffraff is lumped as “looters.” This is a fairly inspired epithet. It enables the author to skewer on one invective word everything and everybody that she fears and hates. This spares her the plaguey business of performing one service that her fiction might have performed, namely: that of examining in human depth how so feeble a lot came to exist at all, let alone be powerful enough to be worth hating and fearing. Instead, she bundles them into one undifferentiated damnation.
Long before the historian Corey Robin made the case for the Nietzschean roots of much modern libertarianism, Chambers detected Nietzsche’s influence on the author of “Atlas Shrugged”:
Miss Rand acknowledges a grudging debt to one, and only one, earlier philosopher: Aristotle. I submit that she is indebted, and much more heavily, to Nietzsche. Just as her operatic businessmen are, in fact, Nietzschean supermen, so her ulcerous leftists are Nietzsche’s “last men,” both deformed in a way to sicken the fastidious recluse of Sils Maria. And much else comes, consciously or not, from the same source.
Chambers concluded that despite all her talk about individualism and liberty, Rand was driven by a romantic and illiberal vision in which a heroic minority of superhuman geniuses would remake a corrupt society from top to bottom:
One Big Brother is, of course, a socializing elite (as we know, several cut-rate brands are on the shelves). Miss Rand, as the enemy of any socializing force, calls in a Big Brother of her own contriving to do battle with the other. In the name of free enterprise, therefore, she plumps for a technocratic elite (I find no more inclusive word than technocratic to bracket the industrial-financial-engineering caste she seems to have in mind).
Chambers did not live to see one of Ayn Rand’s early disciples, Alan Greenspan, become chairman of the Federal Reserve, the ultimate technocrat of the financial caste, if not of industrialists and engineers.

Rand’s conceited Nietzschean elitism was shared by another libertarian hero, Friedrich von Hayek, who wrote to Rand:  “You have the courage to tell the masses what no politician told them:  you are inferior and all the improvements in your conditions which you simply take for granted you owe to the efforts of men who are better than you.”  (Hayek later confessed that he was defeated by “Atlas Shrugged”: “Although I tried seriously to read the book, I failed, because there was no romance in it. I tried even more diligently to read that fellow John Galt’s hundred-page declaration of independence, and I knew I’d be questioned on all that, but I just couldn’t get through it.”)

The mentality of Ayn Rand, as described by Chambers back in 1957 in the pages of the leading conservative magazine, is remarkably similar to the mentality of the Tea Party right that seeks to sabotage government (as Rand’s heroes sabotage the economy), no matter the consequences for the nation:
In addition, the mind which finds this tone natural to it shares other characteristics of its type. 1) It consistently mistakes raw force for strength, and the rawer the force, the more reverent the posture of the mind before it. 2) It supposes itself to be the bringer of a final revelation. Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. Dissent from revelation so final (because, the author would say, so reasonable) can only be willfully wicked.
What should we conclude from the fact that Ayn Rand’s works are admired by 21st century American rightists like Paul Ryan who have forgotten, if they ever knew about, sophisticated conservative intellectuals like Chambers and Buckley? Gore Vidal’s comments in 1961 seem chillingly prescient in 2013:
Ayn Rand’s ‘philosophy’ is nearly perfect in its immorality, which makes the size of her audience all the more ominous and symptomatic as we enter a curious new phase in our society. Moral values are in flux. The muddy depths are being stirred by new monsters and witches from the deep. Trolls walk the American night. Caesars are stirring in the Forum. There are storm warnings ahead.

ALEC's Illegal Past?

Rick Perlstein

Rick Perlstein

Where the past isn’t even past.

ALEC's Illegal Past?

Demonstrators protest against ALEC in the lobby of the Palmer House Hotel. (Courtesy of Flickr user Mikasi)

The notorious American Legislative Exchange Council is meeting in Chicago, and the city’s mighty protest warriors are in effect: writes Micah Uetricht today on the Nation website, “A crowd of forty protesters took over the lobby of the Palmer Hotel on Monday, with six people arrested as religious, environmental, and labor activists denounced ALEC. A group of several dozen hoodie-wearing protesters staged a die-in at the hotel this morning, noting the group’s role in spreading Stand Your Ground laws that helped protect George Zimmerman after shooting unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, a mass rally has been called for Thursday organized by the Chicago Federation of Labor, and other actions are expected throughout the week.”

By now most everyone on the left knows of ALEC and how it works, which is an accomplishment in itself: it writes “model bills” intended to ram right-wing notions through state legislatures, to institute the “right to work” (for less), to repeal the minimum wage—and, of course, Stand Your Ground. And they did so under the radar—until, that is, a brilliant and concerted activist effort to flush them out into the light of day. Now you can learn everything you need to know about them in this outstanding episode of Bill Moyers & Company, “The United States of ALEC.” Which means, in one important respect, ALEC has already been beaten. For escaping the notice of Washington-focused observers was always their goal.

As the 1980 book Thunder on the Right, by Alan Crawford, documented (a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the rise of the Reagan Revolution), there had been an American Legislative Exchange Council before the right-wing godfather Paul Weyrich convinced Richard Mellon Scaife to cough up $80,000 in seed funding to turn it into a right-wing ideological wrecking crew in 1974. But it had merely been sleepy educational exchange for right-leaning state legislators, and one which besides, as a 501(c)3, was banned from direct political participation. One day, however, quite nearly out of the blue, that $80,000 check arrived from Scaife. ALEC’s executive director, whose name was Jaunita Barrett, asked Weyrich, Scaife’s emissary, why in the world he would want to underwrite such a shell of an outfit, and a non-political one to boot. He responded that this was precisely her organization’s appeal: “Juanita, ALEC is the only state legislative organization in the country—of our persuasion—which has a 501(c)3. If they took ALEC to Washington and did a good job, they…could go back to Scaife and get Scaife to set up a Political Action Committee to finance state legislative campaign races.”

It worked: dismissing the meddlesome Jaunita Barnett, ALEC set up shop in both Washington and the rent-free office of a conservative Illinois state representative, whose phone lines it illegally made use of, and began surreptitiously advancing the conservative infiltration of state legislative agendas. ALEC wasn’t even mentioned in any newspapers until 1978. By which point the Trojan Horse had already begun ferrying politicians on propaganda junkets Taiwan, sponsoring conferences to seed Proposition 13–style movements around the country—and surely more, but it’s hard to know what, because they had been so effective in avoiding publicity. And hardly at all before the 1990s—and, until a couple of years ago, even political junkies didn’t know it existed, even as it became one of the most powerful forces in state capitols around the country.

Well, ALEC can’t hide any more. Certainly not in Chicago. I’ll be there yelling and screaming at them in front of the Palmer House Hotel tomorrow, Thursday, at noon, side by side with my Chicago Teachers Union brothers and sisters—kids, come by and say “Hi!”

Micah Uetricht writes about the coalition of labor, community and environmental groups is making it clear that ALEC isn’t welcome in the union town.