The right has come up with more than its share of conspiracy theories related to President Obama. In fact, some of the more nonsensical ideas – he wasn’t born in the United States; he’s secretly non-Christian – began before he was even elected.
Obama sat down with Bill Simmons recently for an interview published by GQ, and Simmons asked a question I’ve wondered about myself.
SIMMONS: What’s the most entertaining conspiracy theory you ever read about yourself?
OBAMA: That military exercises we were doing in Texas were designed to begin martial law so that I could usurp the Constitution and stay in power longer. Anybody who thinks I could get away with telling Michelle I’m going to be president any longer than eight years does not know my wife.
The president didn’t literally use the words “Jade Helm 15,” but I think it’s safe to say that’s what he was referring to.
In case anyone’s forgotten about this one, let’s recap. Earlier this year, the military organized some training exercises for about 1,200 people in areas spanning from Texas to California, which started in mid-July. Somehow, right-wing activists got it in their heads that the exercises, labeled “Jade Helm 15,” were part of an elaborate conspiracy theory involving the Obama administration, the U.S. military, Walmart, and some “secret underground tunnels.”
It all seemed terribly silly – because it was – but several Republican officials, including senators, governors, and House members, at least pretended to take it seriously for a short while. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) even felt the need to order the Texas Guard to “monitor” the military exercises – just in case.
The training exercises wrapped up in September without incident.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 20, 2015
At the CNBC debate, Ben Carson tried to argue that he never had anything to do with an extraordinarily shady supplement company.
That is nonsense. The truth is that Carson had a years-long relationship with Mannatech—a company that pimps pseudoscience and allegedly engaged in unethical marketing practices.
Jim Geraghty broke this story months ago at National Review. Mannatech is a supplement company that sells so-called glyconutrients. Its representatives have suggested the product can treat autism, cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. Spoiler: “Glyconutrients” do not cure cancer, and no credible researcher or doctor says they do.
In fact, if Carson had glanced at the company’s Wikipedia page, he would have seen that one top glycobologist said these “glyconutrients” have no identifiable impact on the human body besides making you pass more gas. Seriously.
The state of Texas sued the company, which settled in 2009 by paying $4 million to Texas customers, promising that its representatives would stop saying its products could “cure, treat, mitigate or prevent any disease.” The company didn’t admit to any wrongdoing.
When Geraghty reached out to Mannatech about their relationship with Carson, spokesman Mike Crouch said this: “We appreciate his support and value his positive feedback as a satisfied customer.”
But Mannatech doesn’t just sell bad medicine. At least one lawsuit alleged it uses astonishingly unethical marketing practices to do so. In 2004, a mother sued after trying to use the company’s products to help her 3-year-old son, who suffered from Tay-Sachs disease. The suit alleged that the company showed naked pictures of the boy—which his mother said she shared with representatives of the company in confidence—to suggest to hundreds of seminar attendees as evidence that its products worked. The worst part? The son died while using Mannatech supplements, according to the suit. The company confidentially settled that suit in 2005 for $750,000.
Anyway, Carson addressed at least three of the company’s annual conferences, according to National Review. His image appeared on its website’s homepage. He praised its fart-inducing glyconutrients on PBS. And as recently as last year, he suggested the company had tapped into God’s secrets for good health.
“The wonderful thing about a company like Mannatech is that they recognize that when God made us, He gave us the right fuel,” Carson said in a video touting the company’s products.
“Many of the natural things are not included in our diet,” he continued. “Basically what the company is doing is trying to find a way to restore natural diet as a medicine or as a mechanism for maintaining health.”
As part of his characteristically lackluster debate performance, Carson tried to distance himself from Mannatech on Wednesday night when a CNBC moderator pressed him on that relationship.
“I didn’t have an involvement with them, that’s total propaganda,” he said, betraying a total misunderstanding of what the word “propaganda” means. “What happens in our society, total propaganda. I did a couple of speeches for them, just for other people, they were paid speeches. It is absolutely absurd to say that I had any kind of relationship with them. Do I take the product? Yes. I think it’s a good product.”
To be fair, it is a good product—if you like to fart.
By the way, this isn’t the first time Carson has touted pseudoscientific nonsense on the presidential debate stage. At the last debate, he touted the debunked idea that parents should disregard the Centers for Disease Control’s recommended vaccine schedule and “space out” their children’s vaccinations. As The Daily Beast detailed, that suggestion is a species of anti-vax trutherism. It’s less pernicious than full-on vaccines-cause-autism trutherism, but it is trutherism nonetheless. “Spacing out” your kids’ vaccines has one effect, and one effect only: increasing the amount of time your kids are vulnerable to the diseases from which those vaccines inoculate them.
By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, October 28, 2015
“Texas Swagger No Longer Travels Well”: Rick Perry, George W. Bush, And The Death Of The Cowboy Conservative
Rick Perry, who dropped out of the 2016 presidential race on Friday, was always a long shot. It seemed hard to imagine that the erstwhile Texas governor could win the nomination in a field decidedly stronger than the one he failed to overcome in 2012. And in the end (which didn’t come all that long after the beginning), what Perry hoped to be a redemption song turned into a swan song. Mistakes were made. The campaign gambled Perry would make it to the first “varsity” debate and that donors and supporters would believe again. He didn’t and they didn’t. (A necessary disclosure: My wife advised Perry’s ill-fated campaign.)
There’s no guarantee Perry would have risen to the occasion even if he had made the main debate stage. There may be little correlation between being a good debater and a good president, but there seems to be a strong one between being a good debater and being a good candidate.
Regardless, Perry never really got the chance. So we are left asking questions like “What if today’s more prepared Rick Perry had run in 2012?” or “What if John Kasich hadn’t gotten into the race and bumped Perry out of that last debate slot?”
The world will never know. Yesterday’s rock stars are today’s forgotten men. The political gods are fickle.
But here’s one clear lesson of Perry’s failed campaign: Texas swagger no longer travels well. Blame changing demographics in America, and George W. Bush.
In my forthcoming book Too Dumb to Fail, I document how several Republican presidents, including Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush, all profited politically by feigning a sort of everyman ignorance. After losing a congressional bid, Dubya reportedly vowed that he’d never be “out-countried” again. This was smart short-term politics, but it also reinforced the notion that the GOP was the “stupid” party. That’s a notion that haunts us, and Perry, to this day.
For a long time, though, being a “good ol’ boy” was decidedly better than being an effete urbanite, and Republicans liked this contrast. Times are changing. Republicans are running out of old, white, married, rural voters. Being a “cowboy conservative” ain’t what it used to be.
As I have long argued, conservatives should “modernize, not moderate.” Some of this does include emphasizing substantive policy positions that might better appeal to 21st century Americans. But a good bit of it involves style.
Younger, more diverse, and cosmopolitan voters aren’t so much embracing liberalism as they are rejecting what might be described as a caricature of a Republican. It’s an image, largely of Republicans’ own creation, that repels these voters culturally and aesthetically. A 2014 survey of millennials, for example, demonstrated that “[o]ften, they decided they were liberals because they really didn’t like conservatives.”
The stereotypes that George W. Bush helped cement about the “dumb” swaggering cowboy made it almost impossible for Rick Perry to reinvent himself. The two men were never particularly close, but the prospect of electing another Texas governor (literally, the next Texas governor after Bush) was always going to be a tough sell, especially since the two were stylistically very similar. Bush left office extremely unpopular, and didn’t just damage the Republican brand; he did specific damage to a particular type of Republican.
Consider the case of George Allen, who was thought of as a bit of a rock star as governor of Virginia and U.S. senator. Political insiders viewed him as the likely GOP nominee in 2008. But he fell apart, and I don’t think it was just the “macaca” gaffe that did it. It was also the Confederate flag, the cowboy boots, and the “Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia” line. (People assumed he reserved that for the young man he called “macaca.” In fact, this was his shtick. Allen said virtually the same thing to me the first time I met him and told him I was from Maryland).
It’s hard enough to get a second chance to make a first impression, but it becomes doubly difficult when your persona viscerally reinforces urban America’s pre-existing negative notions about Southerners. These biases and stereotypes may not be fair. But whoever said running for president would be? In the end, Perry’s accent and swagger were too much a part of our collective conscience for even hipster glasses to overcome.
By: Matt K. Lewis, The Week, September 14, 2015
“When Top Prosecutors Break Bad”: So What Does It Say About Our Politics That Two Of Them Were Indicted This Month?
In theory, attorneys general are the people who are supposed to catch the bad guys, not be them.
But now two attorneys general from big, important states have been indicted within the space of a few days of each other. One is accused of forgetting to tell investors in an energy project that he had a stake in it, and the other is accused of leaking secret grand jury proceedings to the media to smear political opponents.
The more colorful story comes to us from Texas, where Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton was indicted on felony securities fraud charges. If you’re from outside Texas and Paxton’s name is ringing a vague bell, it might be because a mere two days after the Supreme Court issued its same-sex marriage decision, Paxton came out roaring that judges in the great state of Texas were entitled to deny marriage licenses based on their religious beliefs. I think Alabama may have beaten him to the punch on that one, but that’s about it. Paxton’s move led some other Texas lawyers to start calling for him to be disbarred.
The merest look into Paxton’s track record leaves you shaking your head that the man ever managed to become Texas’s top lawyer to begin with. He’s been in the financial soup before. Back when he was a legislator, he got hooked up in a Ponzi scheme. In that one, he got bilked and lost nearly $100,000. The man who according to the Dallas Morning News perpetrated the swindle had previously established his credibility by being part of an expedition group that claimed to have found the remains of Noah’s Ark in Iran.
Paxton also seems to have lifted a $1,000 Montblanc pen that another man had left behind at a security checkpoint. This wasn’t revealed until after he was elected AG. And now, a grand jury in his home county north of Dallas says he talked friends into investing $600,000 in an energy company while failing to tell them that he was making a commission off their investments. An attorney general!
Paxton’s attorneys have said he will plead not guilty.
In Pennsylvania, the indicted attorney general is Kathleen Kane, who in 2012 became the first female Democrat ever elected to the job. In the Democratic primary, she beat Patrick Murphy, the former congressman and Iraq War veteran.
The Kane indictment has its roots in a 2014 Philadelphia Daily News article about how a different prosecutor bungled an investigation into a local civil rights leader a few years prior. Kane had sparred with that prosecutor, so when people started wondering where the Daily News got its info, thoughts turned naturally toward Kane’s office. Kane acknowledged that her office may have provided the paper with some material but insisted that none of it was bound by secrecy rules. Or maybe that someone in her office did that without her knowledge. Now she’s been charged with perjuring and obstructing administration of law, though she maintains she has done nothing wrong.
Kane is slightly more than just a local Philly story. After beating Murphy, she dispatched the Republican in a landslide. She got talked up for a lot of races. Big future. And she clearly has connections beyond southeastern Pennsylvania. It popped my eyes a little to see that Kane is being represented by Gerald Shargel. Why? Because Shargel is a New York lawyer. And he is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, a mob lawyer. Partly. He does other stuff. He’s a brilliant lawyer, and everybody up to and including John Gotti is entitled to a vigorous defense. It’s just a little surprising.
But Shargel is Clarence Darrow compared to the man Kane had doing her public relations, Washington lobbyist Lanny Davis. On this front, she chose to link arms with Ivory Coast war criminal Laurent Gbagbo and National Football League thought criminal and Washington, D.C., football team owner Dan Snyder, both of whom had been served by this same PR heavy. But about a month before her indictment, Kane’s wiser angels prevailed, and she ended her relationship with Davis. Or maybe he severed ties to her. It’s unclear. In any case, the Allentown Morning Call reports that Davis was her 10th PR adviser in the space of two years.
We’ve all come not to expect much from politicians. And in a lot of places, at the local and state level, when a pol retires after 20 or 30 years without ever having been indicted, that’s something that counts as a legitimate accomplishment. But from attorneys general, who direct huge staffs of lawyers and investigators and can destroy careers and put people in jail, it would be nice to do a little better than this.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, August 14, 2015
When I first heard about the arrest and subsequent death of Sandra Bland in Texas after she apparently tried to get out of the way of a police vehicle and failed to signal a lane change, I immediately thought of the University of South Carolina law professor (and ex-cop) Seth Stoughton’s distinction between the “warrior” and “guardian” models of policing, as explained here at TMS a while back.
So I was pleased to see that TPM recruited Stoughton to watch the daschcam video of the encounter between Texas trooper Brian Encinia and Bland and offer his commentary.
He concludes that Encinio did nothing illegal–but also avoided several opportunities to de-escalate the situation, pretty clearly because he thought it was important to have Bland acknowledge his authority. And so an encounter that might have been brief and harmless–it seems Encinio intended to give Bland a mere warning until she started acting uppity–turned confrontational, violent, and eventually, for Bland, lethal.
When Encinia ordered Bland to exit her vehicle, she refused. “I don’t have to step out of my car.” Rather than handling the remainder of the stop with her sitting in the car, or explaining why he wanted her to step out of the car, or attempting to obtain her cooperation, or calmly explaining the law, Encinia simply invoked his legal authority, shouting at one point, “I gave you a lawful order.” He was right. It was lawful. And when Bland did not obey, she was refusing a lawful order, a crime under Texas law. Her arrest, like the confrontations that led up to it, may have been lawful, but it was entirely avoidable had Encinia chosen a different approach.
We all deserve more than legal policing. We deserve good policing.
Now it’s entirely possible Encinio was strictly following his training, which, as Stoughton has noted in the past, is often based on the “warrior model” notion that every citizen is a potential cop-killer and every encounter a potential shoot-out, making it incumbent on the officer to “stay in charge” from the first moment. But if this isn’t a situation where bad policing can be blamed on a “bad cop,” it’s all the more reason to examine our policies to make sure certain Americans don’t have to assume–as Sandra Bland seemed to fear, accurately–that minor traffic offenses can turn deadly.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 24, 2015