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Grift American style


elmer gantry

Salon has an interview with Rick Perlstein, in which Perlstein explains how Mike Huckabee’s hawking of some magic beans that purportedly cure diabetes is all of a piece with the intersection of New Right politics and good old fashioned American hucksterism:

[O]nline publications like Human Events and Newsmax— which is files and files of their horrible con games— would rent out their good name and their lists. You’d see something in your email like, Dear Human Events reader… and something about a 99-cent cancer cure. You never could tell where the grift begins and the politics end because there would always be rhetoric about how there’s a liberal conspiracy to hide this knowledge from the public; that this particular cancer cure was used by Ronald Reagan, et cetera, et cetera. . .

I believe that in the 1990s, The New Republic did an exposé of how Pat Buchanan had turned running for President into a business, so it didn’t start with Ben Carson or Mike Huckabee.

One of the many things I admire about Perlstein’s work is that he’s not contemptuous toward the people who are getting conned by this sort of thing, but rather understands the worldly success of the likes of Pat Robertson and Glenn Beck as a product of structural social and cultural factors, rather than evidence of individual stupidity and/or culpable naivete on the part of their marks:

A lot of this stuff comes from Evangelical culture, which is a culture of witness, so the hawking of miracles is absolutely baked into the cake. Someone like Pat Robertson was followed by a figure like Pat Buchanan or any number of candidates in the last two or three Republican primary seasons, who make a lot of noise by doing decently well in early polls but then fade out once the seasoned pros take over and the money becomes preeminent.

If this historical pattern holds, Mike Huckabee, if he does well early, will flame out before the second or third inning but I see no impediment whatsoever for him to be disqualified by the conservative rank-and-file, simply because this stuff has been going on without much complaint since the 1970s. This is part of the hustle, right? If Huckabee can claim to have been victimized because of his activities, he can always claim it’s the conspiracy of the liberal elites… and then it’s off to the races. . . .

Glenn Beck is a Mormon and this stuff is baked into Mormon culture even more than Evangelical culture. There’s the whole culture of multilevel marketing— or pyramid schemes, as they’re more derisively known— which is basically a system where you buy a franchise for some kind of product but you really only make money by selling a chunk of the franchise to your neighbor. The further down the line you are, the less likely you are to realize any profits, and most people lose lots of money on this stuff. MLM, some people joke in Utah, stands for “Mormons losing money” and so these guys are masters of the stuff. There’s also a culture of Evangelical or Mormon witnessing; being able to cry on cue when telling the story of your victimization is very important. This goes back to Elmer Gantry as portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the film of the same name.

There is or was a right-wing talk radio station in Denver, and awhile back I listened in rapt fascination to the Michael Savage show while stuck in a traffic jam. I was particularly struck by how between all the frothing at the mouth, Savage would pitch every kind of snake oil imaginable — miracle medical cures of course, but also financial miracles via no money down real estate pyramid schemes, gold bug propaganda, survivalist kits, you name it.

Anyway, all this makes me think of (what else?) law schools, but really you can apply a grifter-style frame to a huge number of social institutions, from the most disreputable to the most respectable. (For instance climate change denialism lends itself very well to this typology.)

I propose the following typology, using the current crisis in legal education as an exemplar. Any successful sustained grift (the term of art is a “long con”) will feature three sorts of promotional characters. These character types have fuzzy boundaries, and indeed a single person may at any one time exhibit traits of two or all three of them, as well as moving between types over time.

The Wise Guy

This guy (or gal) is on the grift and knows it. He therefore has a certain purity to him. Example: The people running Sterling Partners, the Chicago private equity firm that figured out how to gorge itself on federal loans by opening up for-profit open-enrollment law schools. Sterling Partners knows exactly what it’s about, which is profit-maximization courtesy the American taxpayer.

The Bullshitter

These are the classic sales types. Asking them if they believe their own pitches is like asking an actor if he really is the character he’s playing. In other words the question itself involves a category mistake. Examples: Basically every law school dean when he’s playing the role of a law school dean.

The Zealot

This person really believes. It’s of course extremely tempting to believe things that one wants to believe are true, and plenty of people give in to that temptation, even if doing so requires performing certain unnatural intellectual acts (Flaubert: “To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost.”).

I could add plenty of illustrative links but reading Perlstein makes me feel a certain sympathy for the devils, so readers can come up with their own favorites.

I do wonder where Erwin Chemerinsky fits into this maze however.

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  • Fighting Words

    For a variety of reasons, I know more than a few wingnuts (as, I’m sure, we all do). What’s really odd is that they’ll fall for many of these BS schemes, but they’ll firmly believe that something like global warming is an obvious con by liberals who just want to make money. I mean, projection much.

    • they’ll firmly believe that something like global warming is an obvious con by liberals who just want to make money.

      The fundamental belief of all wingnuts is that liberals are naive about how the world works, and they are not. Social programs are a pipe dream but missile defense can really work, for example, is a classic of the form.

      • Weed Atman

        All the conservatives I know, all of them, even the civil and intelligent and relatively sane and principled ones who don’t give a shit about anything but low taxes, fancy themselves “steely eyed realists” and shake their heads at the pie in the sky liberals who want to, and I quote “bend over for Iran,” or “make life fair” by simply making healthcare more accessible. The same people who are only capable of understanding foreign policy in terms of ‘merica platitudes (and I think you know exactly what I’m talking about).

      • Also “steely eyed realists”, and shaking their heads at the ignorance and evidence-free idealism of their opponents: climate-change denialists, MRAs, Human Biodiversity enthusiasts…

    • Rob in CT


      Also, Perslstein is a better person than I am:

      One of the many things I admire about Perlstein’s work is that he’s not contemptuous toward the people who are getting conned by this sort of thing, but rather understands the worldly success of the likes of Pat Robertson and Glenn Beck as a product of structural social and cultural factors, rather than evidence of individual stupidity and/or culpable naivete on the part of their marks

      Can’t do it. I’m a faily nice guy, and I try to be understanding and give people the benefit of the doubt and all that. After all, I’m not into blaming poor people for being poor. And in the end, I do blame the scammers more than their marks, but with the RW grifting it seems to me that the marks are, in part, IN ON IT. They get something from the exchange. They buy snake oil, but they feel validated. Validated by a firehose of hate and bile. Which is awful, so no, I just can’t be so charitable.

      • Pat

        They feel that they are members of a community. They know who is in and who is out. With respect to this advertising, the marks believe that they are being given small gifts of knowledge. I get this from my rightwing sibs all the damn time. Try this vitamin supplement! Why don’t you use X? I bought this book about money management (they don’t have any) etc, etc.

        But it’s all about being a part of a small, warm community in a big scary world.

        • Rob in CT

          Or about getting access to “secret” knowledge that those gullible libs don’t have. Dummies!

          This is not exclusive to RWers, but man oh man is it more intense. The intersection of religion, rejection of authorities for being librul stooges, and disdain for doubt or nuance feeds it. So does the resentment so many of them seem to feel.

        • keta

          Exactly. Which is why the scare-mongering is so very, very effective.

          I’d feel sorry for them – really! – if they weren’t so fucking fun to make fun of.

          Yes, I’m a bad person.

    • Scott Lemieux

      but they’ll firmly believe that something like global warming is an obvious con by liberals who just want to make money.

      Cf. also THE ABORTION-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX run by doctors who see much more money from performing abortions than carrying pregnancies to term because…oops, gotta run, Tim Allen’s on!

  • My local wingnut talk station does Beck in the mornings, Ingraham followed by a local guy in the afternoons, Loesch in the evenings, etc. What’s stunning about it is that from Ingraham, who is the reining queen of right wing talk, all the way down to the local guy, the ads are all kinda the same. There’s a few things for building contractor test prep and local restaurants, but mostly it’s pure snake oil, and all of them, Ingraham included, will pitch just about anything.

    My current favorite is this one:


    Texas SuperFood® is made from 55 raw, antioxidant-rich, naturally grown, vine-ripened fruits and vegetables.

    It’s granola crunchy “all natural” hippie crap, but it’s from “Texas” and it’s “Super”, so it’s okay for wingnuts to spend $54 a month on it. I’m 99% sure I’ve heard either Loesch or Ingraham read promos for it, and the best part is that the guy peddling it is actually named “Dr. Black”.

    “Gentlmen, to evil.”

    • Lee Rudolph

      the guy peddling it is actually named “Dr. Black”.

      “Gentlmen, to


    • Funkhauser

      Woah. That’s some high-class con artist stuff.

      Dr. Dennis Black N.D. Is a Doctor of Natural Medicine and a graduate from the Arkansas College of Natural Health. He is not a medical doctor and does not practice allopathic medicine. He is not licensed to practice medicine in the state of Texas or any other state in the United States.

      • The Temporary Name
        • spearmint66

          Arkansas Upstairs School Of Natural Health

        • Good pull. Can’t say I’m surprised he got his fake diploma from what looks like an empty lot.

          • Lee Rudolph

            That’s not an empty lot, it’s homeopathic architecture!

            • Mrs Tilton

              The only way to improve this comment would be to mix a single drop of it into a bottle of water, shake it vigorously, mix a drop of that into a bottle of water, shaking vigorously, repeating until there could not possibly be even a single molecule of the original comment left. Plus, it would then cure cancer.

            • Pat

              OMG, not homeopathic architecture!

            • rea

              What, are you people homeophobes?

        • Described as “a relatively mature organization in [Arkansas’] colleges and universities industry”, leaving us to wonder what the state’s untested start-ups and shady fly-by-night institutions must look like.

          • Funkhauser

            I read the text to mean it’s mature for Waldron, AR.

    • malraux

      I like how prunes and plums are listed separately on the ingredients page.

      • I had a salad today with arugula and rocket.

        • Gregor Sansa

          As long as the dressing oil was just canola…

        • Lunch today includes zucchini and courgette (and black pudding, to make up for all that vegeness).

      • dayvel

        Prunes are not dried plums. Prunes are prunes. Prune growers are pretty picky about this.

    • I’m sure the blending of “news” (with intentional use of quotation marks), hokum and hucksterism may go back a lot further, probably at least well back in to the 19th century, but the lack of clear lines between news/rightwing commentary and paid advertising was mastered by Paul Harvey.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    one of the smartest, quickest-witted people i know is hopelessly, rigidly right wing politically and he’s also a complete sucker for every “alternative” preventative health thing that comes along *and* he got emotionally wrapped up in amway as well (he actually didn’t mind my rejection of rush limbaugh nearly as much as he resented me not going for scamway)

    it always worries me that there might be something i am nearly that stupid about and i don’t know what it is

    • I’m not surprised. If you’ve read anything about Amway, the organization has more than a few characteristics of a cult.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        we had several neighbors, not just this guy, get into amway all around the same time, and apparently they kind of got together and decided who would target who for the pitch, because he made it a mission but i never heard ‘boo’ from the others (in fact later on i got the impression *they* were kind of embarrassed to have gotten sucked into scamway)

        it was bad- it loused up our friendship. but that was in the late ’90s and considering how the last fifteen years have gone the friendship wouldn’t have done well anyway

        • matt w

          A long time ago I had a landlady who got into Amway and it seemed like the whole idea was to use your social relationships to pressure people into becoming the next level of your scheme. That’d make sense of why he resented your not going for scamway so much–if he can’t use your friendship to get you in he’s going to lose money. (My landlady was a pretty meek sort and I’m thinking she wound up at the bottom of the pyramid scheme.)

        • Knowing you’re in Iowa, I’m curious: is your friend, or is any of the other Amway people you know, Dutch? I know that after west Michigan the other big concentration of Dutch Christian Reformed is Iowa, and Amway/the DeVos family are a big presence among the Dutch Christian Reformed.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            no, more german or scandinavian. the dutch settled farther west

  • Karen24

    I have quite a few serious wingnut Facebook friends, and they are all suckers for scams, especially crazy investments and appallingly stupid health claims. The health claims are the worst. It’s one thing to lose money, but at least most of those people falling for those aren’t going to be evicted. The health scams, however, are pure evil foisted on those least capable of defending themselves against them.

    • tsam

      So the government mass medicating vaccine shills have gotten to you too? Smh. Educate yourself. They’re POISONING your children.

    • politicalfootball

      If your experience is anything like mine, your rightwing Facebook friends also account for the vast majority of misattributed quotes.

      I’ve started to use “snopes” as a verb, as in “You should have snopesed this one.”

      It’s my more educated rightwing friends who do this, but it’s always hilariously easy to spot this nonsense for anyone with a minimal understanding of history. Somehow, for some people, it doesn’t sound odd to have Thomas Jefferson uttering a rightwing platitude such as “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.”

  • Just_Dropping_By

    he’s not contemptuous toward the people who are getting conned by this sort of thing, but rather understands the worldly success of the likes of Pat Robertson and Glenn Beck as a product of structural social and cultural factors, rather than evidence of individual stupidity and/or culpable naivete on the part of their marks

    I’m not clear on how participation in the particular social and cultural milieus is not “evidence of individual stupidity and/or culpable naivete[.]” We’re not talking isolated pre-literate Pacific Islanders who have never seen an airplane before or some other group of people with no framework for rational analysis of what is being presented to them. Just because someone’s parents took them to the First Church of Gullibility from the time they were little doesn’t excuse them from failing to apply critical thought to things.

    • efgoldman

      Just because someone’s parents took them to the First Church of Gullibility from the time they were little doesn’t excuse them from failing to apply critical thought to things.

      “Critical thought” is anathema to any fundamentalist mindset, religious or any other kind.

      • sparks

        “Jesus Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It.”

      • Pat

        I’m going to have to push back on this with an anecdote.

        I have a rightwing sib, who takes care of our parent with progressive Alzheimers and also has a kid with autism. This sib’s spouse abandoned their family when the spouse finally came out of the closet, and the spouse has repeatedly sued my sib for no reason over the disabled kid. My sib lives in near poverty because, what a shock, you can’t work when you alone are responsible for two people who are mentally disabled. I live a thousand miles way. All I can do is send money when we can and talk to them regularly (i.e. give financial and emotional support).

        This sib is sinking deeper and deeper into the charismatic church. It’s all heartbreaking for me, because I know that my sib is smart and wants to do great things with their life. The church is a comfort. The church provides a little financial assistance, but mostly they allow my sib a brief respite, through music, from a very hard life. A community where my sib feels welcome. For being white, and straight, and holding on.

        Does my sib vote with the church against their own best interest? Of course they do. Do I argue? Not as much as I used to. The church is getting worse, and my sib needs them more than ever. It’s ugh all the way around.

    • Absolutely. Let’s start holding these people accountable & responsible for their deliberate ignorance & gullibility.

      • Bitter Scribe

        I think the Law of Consequences will do that, at least as far as the snake oil stuff goes.

    • Weed Atman

      Just because someone’s parents took them to the First Church of Gullibility from the time they were little doesn’t excuse them from failing to apply critical thought to things.

      Yeah, once you become an adult, it’s on you, 100%. I was raised in an extremely religious household and, guess what? I became an adult, thought for myself, and grew out of it. Once children become adults, a lot of excuses fall by the wayside.

      • Yeah, once you become an adult, it’s on you, 100%.

        I’d agree with that generally, but when I think about a lot of the older wingnuts I know/have known (lotta parents of high school friends and the like), I can’t quite blame them. They mostly didn’t go to college and haven’t been exposed to any kind of skeptical instruction or intellectual back and forth in, what, thirty years, forty years? For someone who graduated high school in the 1960s or 70s, when there were three TV channels, no talk radio, and no right wing noise machine, yeah, I can see how they’re susceptible to stuff that is so specifically targeted at them.

        Not everybody’s born with a built in bullshit detector, and if you spend your entire adult life with your head down working a job or chasing three kids or something, if someone comes along to you in your later years and says, in a tried and tested pitch, “People are coming to take your shit if you don’t send me $10.” or “These natural pills will make you feel better.”, I can’t say it’s surprising that a lot of people go for that.

        • And it’s not only about education. While it’s not as purely lefty/granola as was usually assumed until recently, a good chunk of the antivax crowd is mostly educated, and they’re also easy marks for homeopathic this, vegan or paleo that, pure this and natural that.

    • “God told me to do it”: not a good look in the courtroom.
      “My parents told me God said to do it”: Oh, that’s a perfectly legitimate excuse.

      • rea

        “God told me to do it”

        Years ago, I had a client who offered that explanation for strangling a girl . . .

        • Lt. Fred

          God told me to skin you alive, etc.

        • Did you vet the claim before presenting it in trial?

    • xq

      st because someone’s parents took them to the First Church of Gullibility from the time they were little doesn’t excuse them from failing to apply critical thought to things.

      Isn’t this the RW mindset on everything? “Personal responsibility”; “buyer beware”; victim-blaming. You can judge people however you’d like in your own mind, but these are not useful ideas when it comes to designing a society in which most people can live a decent life. Stupid and/or ignorant people are people too, and their interests matter.

      • tsam

        You need to be responsible and buy gold. Lots of gold. When society collapses, yellow rock good

      • UserGoogol

        And conversely, I’m a bleeding heart liberal, so I believe that people are products of their society, and don’t think you can really blame people if their bit of society shapes them into being a sucker.

        I mean really, critical thinking is something everyone applies kind of selectively. It’s not possible to question everything all the time, so you have to take some things for granted as being more trustworthy than others. Conservatives are attached to a particular sort of authority which isn’t really all that trustworthy in situations like this, but conservatism roots itself in ideas of authority which almost by definition have a certain amount of precedent behind them, (even if the history is often rather fudged) so it’s an understandable mistake to make.

        And it’s not like conservatives are unique in this aspect. (Some guy on this site keeps talking about law school, for instance.) Conservativism has some really fundamental issues with this sort of thing, but it’s really a part of the human condition.

        • Pat

          We all make assumptions in order to live in this world.

          • The Dark Avenger

            As a liberal, I apply Cromwell’s plea to the Scottish Kirk to my own positions so that I don’t become dogmatic:

            I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.

            • rea

              in the bowels of Christ

              Holy shit!

        • witlesschum

          Cosign all of this. The evidence suggests that being evidence-based is really hard and almost everyone manages it imperfectly to some extent.

          • My evidence says different.

            • witlesschum

              Chewed up seal blubber continues to not be evidence!

    • Rob in CT

      Some people are, for whatever reason, more gullible than others. Sometimes it’s upbringing, sometimes education level, and sometimes it’s something else.

      My mother is pretty gullible. She’s not religious at all. She saw right through the Catholic Church. So that’s not it. She never went to college, but though I do think critical thinking skills may be honed at college and this might boost one’s BS detector, I think that’s secondary. I honestly think her gullibility is innate. Which isn’t exactly her fault then, is it.

      I worry that, as she ages, her already right-wing outlook will harden further and she will be taken in by one or more of the multitude of hucksters on the Right.

      Shortly after the financial crisis, she was getting & forwarding all sorts of ridiculous conservative emails. Debunking them appeared to do nothing (though she seems to have knocked that off, so maybe, just maybe, it sunk in after a while). One of them was this utterly, unbelievably ridiculous financial apocalypse video. The guy who made it, I discovered after a 10-second google search, had been nailed by the SEC for fraud. She was all worried about things because this fraudster was babbling about how everything was going to collapse in 6 months. Buy my guide for $39.99 and be saved! Yeah, ok. I sent her the link to the SEC stuff I found and told her he was a scammer. Watch, I said. Six months from now things will not have collapsed. Promise me, I said, you won’t send any money to this guy. She agreed, and maybe she learned something. I hope so! But shit like that scares me. The video was so ridiculously over the top, my BS detector pegged at 11 almost instantly. How the fuck didn’t she see it??? It vexes me.

      • Rob in CT

        One thing that strikes me as ironic is how often this seems to go hand-in-hand with a strong feeling that everyone (or nearly everyone) else is out to get you.

        Everybody is always trying to screw you, except for THIS guy? Apparently that’s the way it works.

        It’s like there’s a generalized disdain for humanity that functions to disable one’s bullshit detector.

    • keta

      Even better than the stupidity is the pride these people take in their ignorance, and the certainty that they’re right and you’re wrong.

      I mean, knowing you don’t know everything is a sign that you’re at least rational.

      Enormously entertaining, but then, I’m still a bad person.

  • efgoldman

    Surely at least some of these grifters have done/are doing something prosecutable.

    • That determination requires a prosecutor willing to face the counter-charges of religious persecution. Every so often one comes along, but that amount of spine is, one might argue, an evolutionary disadvantage.

      • Craigo

        Back in the 90s, a company called Wisdom Tree engineered a way to defeat the lockout chip for the NES, and released a number of Christian-themed video games without paying licensing fees to Nintendo.

        Many a fundamentalist wrote to Wisdom Tree to thank them for their “ministry.” Little did they know that Wisdom Tree was actually a subsidiary of a secular outfit called Color Dreams, and that they specifically chose the Christian angle because they knew that risk-averse Nintendo would never press their claim for fear of a backlash.

        • Gregor Sansa

          That story actually surprises me, thpugh it shouldn’t.

        • Bitter Scribe

          There’s that much of a market for Christian-themed games?

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            lot of material to work with, though: parting seas, pitching babies into rivers, pairing up animals and loading an ark, the stations of the cross, etc etc etc

            (the more i think about it the more it becomes kind of frightening)

            • Lee Rudolph

              With Mormon-themed games, you could have all that plus Indians, planets, and plural marriage!!!

              • Malaclypse

                And the horses in pre-Columbian America are an awesome patch on a disappointing reality!

            • Craigo

              Through the magic of emulation, I’ve played every game in the Wisdom Tree catalog. The lockout spoof meant that the hardware and software could not effectively communicate, so much of it is bad – incredibly bad.

              But you hit the nail on the head. There were minigame collections based on the Old and New Testaments, including one where you play as Moses’s mother, and several of Christ’s greatest hits. Spiritual Warfare (a Zelda clone) is playable, and also original – you’re a kid who converts heathens and banishes demons with magical fruit and the jawbone of an ass.

              But their piece de resistance had to be – I shit you not – Super 3D Noah’s Ark. Which happened to be a total conversion of – again, I’m not fucking with you – Doom, i.e. every moralizer’s stock reason for the downfall of society in the 1990s.

              I’ve never actually experienced the full game, because the particular lock-on technology they used to beat the SNES’s safeguards is difficult to emulate properly. But as far as I can tell it’s a faithful conversion, only with two of every animal in place of demons, and fruit instead of heavy weapons.

              • jim, some guy in iowa

                makes it all sound kind of *fun*- and a return to what seem to be the origins of the whole mess, stories and fables and parables handed down through enough generations to become a religion

            • mds

              pitching babies into rivers

              Hey, sounds like Peasant’s Quest!

          • Craigo

            They actually did very well for themselves through Christian bookstores (and again, it helps when you simply refuse to pay licensing fees on the games you sell). It was an untapped market.

        • Jordan

          Is that last part true? Color Dreams released more unlicensed non-christian games than christian games, after all.

          I think it more likely that they could only make pretty crappy games without the license etc., and realized the Christian market would tolerate crappy knockoffs of mainstream games (which is all they could deliver while saving on the licensing fees) as long as they had the right “message”.

          • matt w

            One of the Color Dreams guys said:

            It was fun while it lasted, but it turned out that Nintendo allegedly pressured the companies into canceling their orders by threatening not to sell them their own licensed games if they bought from us.

            …and according to Wikipedia this threat didn’t work on Wisdom Tree games because they sold in Christian bookstores that didn’t buy other games anyway.

            Given the general consensus that Color Dreams games were pretty crap, I wonder if there’s a bit of wishful thinking to “Companies ordered lots of our games but Nintendo leaned on them to rip the orders up!”

            • Jordan

              That rationale makes more sense to me.

              I looked over wikipedia’s list of non-licensed games and the only one I remembered fondly was RBI, which was awesome (and also wasn’t made by Color Dreams).

              • Craigo

                Tengen (RBI’s developer) was a label created by Atari to sell unlicensed NES games, which were almost all fantastic. Their versions of Tetris and Gauntlet were almost perfect.

                As for your earlier question – there’s a reason why Nintendo and Atari sued and countersued each other for nearly a decade, yet Color Dreams/Wisdom Tree went untouched, and it wasn’t because the latter was judgment-proof. In the early 1990s they reportedly had annual revenue into eight digits.

                • Jordan

                  Ahh, I skipped over Gauntlet on that list. That was very fun too.

                  And thanks for the additional info about Color Dreams.

            • Craigo

              The only confirmed instance of a major North American retailer getting frozen out by Nintendo was Ames – and that was over Tengen, discussed below, not Color Dreams/Wisdom Tree.

      • Pat

        Unless you catch them doing something rude with the organist or the altar boys.

    • keta

      Why? It’s the American way, mister, and these folks are just jerking off on the bootstraps of fools.

  • Weed Atman

    See, I think this road eventually leads everyone to become a Zealot. There’s only so long you can cynically bullshit before you actually believe that bullshit. There have to be studies backing this up.

    I’m thinking specifically of Ted Cruz. I know people keep talking about Cruz’s formidable intellect, but here’s the thing: he’s not going to be smart for much longer (even leaving aside that doing well on law school issue spotting exams is a very limited skill set that does not necessarily imply intelligence).

    You see, even granting the argument that he’s a cynical operator who doesn’t believe any of the bullshit he’s peddling, that’s beside the point. I’m pretty sure psychological research backs me up on this (although I have no cites handy) but 5 more years of denying climate change and peddling the rest of his stupid bullshit, he’s going to start actually believing it if he doesn’t already. He’s hermetically sealed himself inside the right wing noise machine. A veritable black hole when it comes to liberal bullshit like science and evidence and logic. A few more years in his position, doing what he’s doing, and we will achieve perfect epistemic closure (if he hasn’t already).

    His intelligence will dull. The system he is in, by design, will force him to lose touch will everything that powered his intellect. His ability to tell fact from bullshit, to think complexly and abstractly, will be permanently slowed. In short, no matter how smart he was, what he’s doing will permanently addle his brain. I guarantee it.

    • matt w

      I guess you could argue that’s what happened to Scalia.

      • Weed Atman

        I remember an interview he gave last year where he says that he only gets his news from rightwing talk radio and the Washington Times because, basically “the Post is full of mean poopyhead liberals.” Seriously.

        A once powerful mind ground to a nub by hermetically sealing itself in a bubble. Sad.

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          used to have people telling me how great fox news was because it was telling them what they already knew… and i’d think “okay so you want a doctor that tells you that pain in your side is just a bad spinal adjustment and *not* cancer?”… which apparently they *do*. it wouldn’t be so hard to take if the stupid fuckers didn’t have the vote

          • Weed Atman

            My mother, wonderful woman, former lifelong liberal and Democrat-I fear her brain has been permanently addled by a decade of Fox News. She’s angrier, more racist, more reactionary, and less informed and less thoughtful than I’ve ever seen her.

            • sparks

              Same thing has happened to a friend of mine. He’s to the point that he insists on his right to be obnoxiously racist and sexist, and denies the right of anyone to criticize him. He’s put distance between himself and a lot of his old friends, including me. Or more accurately, we’ve distanced ourselves.

              Oh, yeah. He’s the sex tourism guy I mentioned in a thread below.

              • Pat

                I think Scalia has Alzheimers.

                • Malaclypse

                  No, he’s an angry, bitter man, and has been for a long time. That’s nothing like Alzheimers, and using Alzheimers like a slur is just as uncool as calling someone “retarded.”

      • keta

        LSD is what happened to Scalia. It’s the only explanation. He’s simply going Syd Barrett.

    • Lee Rudolph

      There’s only so long you can cynically bullshit before you actually believe that bullshit. There have to be studies backing this up.

      Well, along those lines, my long-time car-pool buddy the social psychologist often mentioned (probably with attributions, but I don’t remember) studies like this: you take some people (by which I of course mean USAn undergraduates), determine their opinions on some issue (I don’t know what methods you use—maybe you just ask them outright, but I imagine it’s more indirect than that), and then using some pretext that you can get past the IRB you have them prepare and deliver a brief speech in favor of a contrary set of opinions on that same issue. Many of them manage to talk themselves into believing the new opinions, and will even claim they’ve always felt that way!

      I could probably be vaguer if you gave me more time.

      • Weed Atman

        I remember that from taking social psych! Yeah. I think being a Republican politician has to really dull your mind. If he were still practicing law I think he’d be okay-I think someone like Paul Clement exercises his mind enough in his work to be fine. But people like Ingraham and Cruz will be indistinguishable from Rick Perry in a decade or two.

        • I think you’ve got Cruz wrong. He didn’t just go to Harvard Law, he was Solicitor General for Texas, and then–this I think is stronger evidence against your assumption–he was hired by a worldwide corporate law firm to head their appellate and supreme court practice. I think he’s less Rick Perry than he’s Paul Clement…with some Elmer Gantry and a bit of sober, straight Roy Cohn thrown in for flavor.

    • Bitter Scribe

      Cruz is often compared to Joe McCarthy. It’s an interesting comparison because from all indications, McCarthy didn’t really believe his own bullshit. He took up anti-Communism because he needed an issue to help him get re-elected, and he would be all friendly when he met people he had just about called traitors the day before. Some woman asked him at a party, at the height of his fame, when he had discovered anti-Communism. His reply: “Two and a half months ago.” That’s why he didn’t have much staying power when the Senate finally started to push back.

      My own guess about Cruz is that he’s more sincere, which is a pity.

      • Same thing with a lot of segregationists. iirc Orville Faubus was actually not that racist/segregationist early in his career, but after losing an election for not being sufficiently segregationists he went all in with Jim Crow.

        • politicalfootball

          The same has been said of George Wallace, who once resolved to never again be “out-n*****ed,” and who, in his late career, ultimately reconciled, after a fashion, with his black constituents.

          • Yup. And the reconciliation was probably mostly sincere. Very different from unrepentant Strom Thurmond.

  • matt w

    Before Michael Savage was in talk radio, he was Michael Weiner, peddler of the link between aluminum pans and Alzheimer’s. So the quackery is even more deeply rooted than the wingnuttery in that one.

    • The aluminium / Alzheimer’s alarmism is in vogue again, though these days the Aluminati are more focussed on the infinitesimal quantities of aluminium hydroxide included in some vaccines as an adjuvant.
      In alt-health there is no theory so bad or so thoroughly refuted that it won’t come back.

      • matt w

        the Aluminati are more focussed on the infinitesimal quantities of aluminium hydroxide included in some vaccines as an adjuvant.

        Oh well that is just fucking awesome.

    • To be fair (and to be fair to him, because I’ve had interactions with him and found him to be an intensely unlikable person), one of the supposed founders of the liberal blogosphere, Markos’ co-author on his first book, Jerome Armstrong, used to do astrology and got busted by the SEC for pump and dump.

      • matt w

        Yeah, I’m not saying quackery is restricted to one side. As I understand it Savage/Weiner wasn’t yet completely a wingnut when he was pushing the aluminum link.

        It looks like Armstrong (with Kos and Bleszinski) cofounded SBNation, which became Vox, so his influence on the liberal political internet is pretty hard to overstate.

  • The Whackyweedia entry on ‘Affinity fraud” seems to agree that Mormons are especially gullible:

    A 2012 article in The Economist reports that Utah is believed to have the highest per-capita rate of affinity fraud in the U.S. due to about two-thirds of the state’s residents being members of the LDS Church. Authorities estimate affinity fraud cost Utahans an estimated $1.4 billion in 2010 alone, an average of about $500 per resident.

    I suppose ‘gullibility’ was a criterion for LDS membership right at the beginning.

    • skate

      I think it was in “The Mormon Murders” that I read ~ 25 years ago that the Mormon faith includes something akin to the prosperity gospel, i.e., that people who are wealthy are that way because they are good people and God is rewarding them. Thus, if a Mormon who is wealthy is pitching a business deal to another Mormon, then his very wealth suggests that he is trustworthy.

      As you can tell from the book title, that didn’t work out very well for some people.

      • So affinity fraud is not so much a phenomenon to which Mormonism is prone, it is a central, essential component of the religion.

        • sparks

          Makes shearing the sheep rather unnecessary, as they’ll shear themselves.

          • Throw in the tithe if you want to get into the temple in this life (let alone if you want your own planet once you’re dead) & they have them coming & going.

            • Malaclypse

              I’m more than a little suspicious that the real reason Mittens never released those tax returns was not that he didn’t want everybody to see how low his tax rate was, but he didn’t want his church to see his real income.

      • Craigo

        I’m usually averse to telling people how they should follow their religion. But how that prosperity gospel bullshit – which is common in many Protestant faiths as well – squares with “they have received their reward in full” is beyond me.

    • Isn’t Utah also ground zero for the ‘food supplement’ racket?

      • BigHank53

        Yes, at least two of the big manufacturers are in Utah. Also very popular in Utah: shady chiropractors. The general Mormon distrust of the federal government covers the FDA, too.

      • Brett

        USANA, which my mother got into for a few months when I was a kid.

    • Origami Isopod

      A friend who was raised in Mor[m]on culture (she’s escaped, fortunately) notes that not only are pyramid schemes rife therein, but so is the ability to cry on cue. She heard an anecdote from a “Gentile” lawyer in Utah who was facing off against a Mormon one in settlement negotiations. The Mormon lawyer started to cry when he was talking about his client. “Like, what? Who the fuck cries in a business meeting? Mormons, that’s who.“

      • Weed Atman

        I just want to say that while there’s no shame in crying when it’s genuine, and I hate it when people say it makes a man less manly, fuck that manipulative bullshit.

    • Bitter Scribe

      Utah has been called the “fraud capital of the world” by the Wall Street Journal…The uncommonly high incidence of fraud is a direct consequence of the uncommonly high percentage of Utah County residents who are Mormons. When Saints are invited to invest in dubious schemes by other Saints, they tend to be overly trusting. Michael Hines, director of enforcement for the Utah Securities Division, told the Deseret News that in Utah County it is common for scammers to ensnare their victims by asking them to evaluate the proposed investment through prayer. “People need to realize,” Hines warned, “that God is not a good investment adviser.”

      –Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        they don’t gossip among themselves about who screws over who financially? amazing. ’round here most conversations would be reduced by a third to half without *that* subject

        • matt w

          So this is from a very glancing acquaintance with LDS culture (lived in Salt Lake for a year, kept to myself a lot), but I suspect that Mormons aren’t supposed to engage in that kind of negative conversation.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            probably so. still impressed, though, because i’m pretty sure the local christians aren’t supposed to be as interested in envy and greed as they are

        • Brett

          I’m pretty sure that does happen, albeit quietly. I grew up Mormon here (atheist now), and my mother is still active. You hear about the other stuff that’s going on in other ward members’ lives – other people’s medical problems, drug issues, and so forth.

      • Brien Jackson

        They should just offer the Mormons free college courses in exchange for their generous contributions.

    • Brett

      I grew up Mormon in Salt Lake City, and that doesn’t surprise me at all. Hell, my mother got into USANA when I was a kid for a while. Nothing came of it except some shakes that I liked.

      • Brett

        Sorry, to add-

        I think it’s because being Mormon in Utah is different, almost like being a member of an ethnic group more than just a church member. There’s church meetings, weekly activities, seminary in high school and institute in college, callings, special events, firesides, warnings against dating non-members, Boy Scouts – the list goes on. It all creates a very serious “in-group” feeling that’s great for networking.

        I don’t want to bash it, either, because it effectively acts as a second safety net for members. When I was young, my mom got some assistance in paying the rent from the ward after authorization from the bishop, and we got tons of help from other members on stuff like getting the yard in our new house ready and fixing our fence. But it also creates a very “high trust” environment that’s prone to affinity fraud, especially in the middle- and upper-class, heavily mormon neighborhoods.

        EDIT: I’d add the “missionary” factor as well. A very high fraction of actively participating Mormon men and women serve two-year missions. It’s a good way to create a bunch of good sales-men and -women.

  • skate

    MLM? Mormons? Right-wing zealotry? Sounds just like my home town, headquarters of Melaleuca and proud of it.

    • Jordan

      Ha! Thats the one my grandmother was into.

  • msobel

    What category is Ted Cruz? All the political stories are of the form:
    “He has the most outlandish beliefs.” Since he lies about almost everything factual, I assume he is, to use your term, a bullshitter, who doesn’t believe any of it.

    Another supporting clue is that he was a winning debater. In my experience, debaters don’t care about truth but only winning which is why so many are lawyers.

    • This category:

      In a sermon last year at an Irving, Texas, megachurch that helped elect Ted Cruz to the United States Senate, Cruz’ father Rafael Cruz indicated that his son was among the evangelical Christians who are anointed as “kings” to take control of all sectors of society, an agenda commonly referred to as the “Seven Mountains” mandate, and “bring the spoils of war to the priests”, thus helping to bring about a prophesied “great transfer of wealth”, from the “wicked” to righteous gentile believers.

      Actually, looks as if someone’s little brain was washed, rinsed, repeated & hung out to dry:

      RAFAEL EDWARD CRUZ’S CONSERVATIVE baptism came at 13, when his parents enrolled him in an after-school program in Houston that was run by a local nonprofit called the Free Enterprise Education Center. Its founder was a retired natural gas executive (and onetime vaudeville performer) named Rolland Storey, a jovial septuagenarian whom one former student described as “a Santa Claus of Liberty.”

      Storey’s foundation was part of a late-Cold War growth spurt in conservative youth outreach. (Around the same time in Michigan, an Amway-backed group called the Free Enterprise Institute formed a traveling puppet show to teach five-year-olds about the evils of income redistribution.) The goal was to groom a new generation of true believers in the glory of the free market.

      Storey lavished his students with books by Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises, political theorist Frédéric Bastiat, and libertarian firebrand Murray Rothbard—and hammered home his teachings with a catechism called the Ten Pillars of Economic Wisdom. (Cruz was a fan of Pillar II: “Everything that government gives to you, it must first take from you.”) Storey’s favorite historian was W. Cleon Skousen, an FBI agent turned Mormon theologian who posited that Anglo-Saxons were descendants of the lost tribe of Israel. Skousen was also a patriarch of the Tenther movement—whose adherents view the 10th Amendment as a firewall against federal encroachment. (By Skousen’s reading, national parks were unconstitutional.)

      Cruz was a star pupil. “He was so far head and shoulders above all the other students—frankly, it just wasn’t fair,” says Winston Elliott III, who took over the program after Storey retired. When Storey organized a speech contest on free-market values, Cruz won—four years running. “It was almost as if you wished Ted might be sick one year so that another kid could win.”

      Cruz and other promising students were invited to join a traveling troupe called the Constitutional Corroborators. Storey hired a memorization guru from Boston to develop a mnemonic device for the powers specifically granted to Congress in the Constitution. “T-C-C-N-C-C-P-C-C,” for instance, was shorthand for “taxes, credit, commerce, naturalization, coinage, counterfeiting, post office, copyright, courts.” The Corroborators hit the national Rotary Club luncheon circuit, writing selected articles verbatim on easels. They’d close with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free…it expects what never was and never will be.”

    • keta

      He worships at the altar of the Church of Ted.

  • Nick056

    DFW’s essay “Host” ought to be essential reading in our AM-radio-ridden era. Has a great interview with a producer for a talk radio host out of Orange County who weasels out of saying what her program is actually trying to accomplish other than “stimulate listeners.” Read: wind them up to get them vulnerable for the scam products, horrible investment pitches, Sharper Image trinkets, and guarantees that the Face on Mars possesses curative powers.

    Nothing beats telling your mother you’re really pretty sure cancer is not a fungus, which she heard thanks to a show hosted by the guy who wrote Communion.

  • Jordan

    I’m not sure the Mormon thing has much explanatory power re: Glenn Beck. Beck grew up Catholic and only converted when he was 35. He lived in Provo for 6 months when he was 18, and otherwise has lived in lots of other places in the country, but not Utah (or eastern Idaho, or Northern Arizona …).

    On the other hand, he didn’t make the turn from asshole shock-jock type to political grifter until the year after he converted, so …

  • KadeKo

    Late to the thread as always, but:

    I’m just unawake enough, right now, to have thought that photo was Tim Robbins in an outtake from Bob Roberts.

  • MattF

    For the record, the ‘long con’ is actually a specific grift. The traditional definition is that the short con is the victim giving you what he has in his pockets, the long con is the victim going home to get more.

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