The Artful Blogger

Clayton Thomas Kelly is back in the news. In May 2014, Kelly was involved with a nefarious cabal of political thugs who wanted to replace Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran (R) with Tea Party favorite State Sen Chris McDaniel. June 14, 2015 he was sentenced for 2.5 years for a stunt that reveals much about the Tea Party and the Neocons who run it.

I say nefarious on account that what this little group pulled was not only socially unacceptable, it was illegal.

Court records and news outlets have reported that Clayton Kelly (28), who labored under the name “Constitutional Clayton”, was an ambitious blogger who wanted to get noticed. Kelly got the attention he dreampt about. He connected with a handful of McDaniel’s ardent supporters and was commissioned to break into a nursing home and shoot video of Thad Cochran’s ailing wife who was suffering from dementia – all in an effort to spin up a rumor that Cochran had a mistress.

Why, you ask, would anyone want pull a stupid stunt like this? Enter Richard Sager – school teacher, raging Tea Party boy – and John Bert (aka John Mary) – a former radio talk show host and local Tea Party leader. Apparently, John Bert was the main inspirator, along with cohorts Mark Mayfield (who committed suicide after his arrest in the case) and Elaine Vechorik, a died-in-the-wool fan of McDaniel’s. Richard Sager was the handler.

As of today, there are still some lingering questions about Chris McDaniel’s involvement. Apparently, McDaniel’s campaign manager, Melanie Sojourner, knew about Kelly’s arrest well before the story broke.

If you want details, check out the sources:

The Clarion-Ledger, Jun 16 ’15: Cochran Photo Case Messages: “Chris not happy. Delete everything” 

The Clarion-Ledger, Jun 16 ’15: Kelly gets 2.5 years in Cochran photo case

Talking Points Memo, May 21 ’14: Meet The Blogger Who Risked it all For A Mississippi Tea Party Candidate

Slate, May 18 ’14: Arrest of Blogger for Taking Pictures of Senator’s Ill Wife Rattles Republican Party

Marijuana Nation Rising

Another study is out: Americans believe that marijuana (pot) is less harmful than alcohol. A summary of the study was published by the Washington Post with this summary:

A new Pew survey out today provides yet another illustration of the failure of America’s drug war. By a nearly five-to-one margin, Americans agree that alcohol is worse for you than marijuana.

Which begs the question: why is it still treated like a controlled substance in more than half of the states? MONEY.

But just saying that doesn’t define the problem enough. Like Deep Throat, we have to follow the money to find out who profits from control. When you arrive at the bottomline (and there’s always one in these types of things) you find that the prohibition of Marijuana is driven by people who profit from control.

  1. Pharmaceutical companies. They stand to lose a big chunk of revenue – both from legal and illicit sales of their products. In a Marijuana Nation, people who need it can get it; people who want it, can have it – without fear.
  2. Beer breweries. Like big pharma, major beer producers could see some erosion in revenue as people turn to smoking joints rather than consume 6 cans beer a night.
  3. Private prisons. They could lose the inflow of tens of thousands inmates who still go to jail for minor possession violations and cultivation.
  4. Law enforcement unions. The “war on drugs” draws funding from federal grants and bonds, therefore legalized marijuana means many municipal and state law enforcement could lose a chunk of funding. The shortfall may also be transitional as resources are refocused on other law enforcement priorities.
  5. Petrochemical companies. Possibly the biggest losers in a Marijuana Nation. One well-known theory claims that companies like Dupont, Allied Chemical Corporation and Hearst Paper Manufacturing Division of Kimberly Clark, just to name a few, were the first to profit from prohibition. It is completely true that the “hemp” version of marijuana was once a global cash crop for centuries – and the beauty of it is, it is destined to be so again.
Washington Post
Pew survey: Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol.

Yes. Here in the United States of America, special interest groups who are willing to spend tens of millions of dollars to protect billions in revenue. And they have been very successful for many decades. Shocker, right? Survey anti-pot groups websites and postings: the same weird logic and false information that comes from lobbyists who have also profited from prohibition. Ah, but now I’m starting to sound like one of those hemp conspiracists. Some folks don’t agree with the idea that industries might conspire against another industry to leverage a business advantage. Alternet’s Steven Wishnia posted Debunking the Hemp Conspiracy in

2008 with a impressive study that reveals a gradual social intolerance for the plant that led to prohibition.  

Why, then, do
so many people believe in the “hemp conspiracy”? First, it’s the influence of The Emperor Wears No Clothes ; many people inspired to cannabis activism by Jack Herer’s hemp-can-save-the-world vision and passionate denunciations of pot prohibition buy into the whole “conspiracy against marijuana” package. Another is that many stoners love a good conspiracy theory; secret cabals are simpler and sexier villains than sociopolitical forces. The conspiracist worldview, a hybrid of the who-really-killed-the-Kennedys suspicions of the ’60s left and the Bilderbergs-and-Illuminati demonology of the far right, is especially common in rural areas and among pothead Ron Paul supporters. Most people don’t have the historical or political knowledge to dispute a conspiracist flood of detailed half-truths. – Steven Wishnia, Alternet

For all his snakiness,

Wishnia makes a few good points. But his rationale is too precise; his conclusion is too clean. Yes, potheads love a conspiracy, but he forgets (or doesn’t want to acknowledge) that conspiracy is like folklore; there’s always just enough fact to stick out like a smoking bong.

Consider the effect that a restored hemp industry could have on textiles and other industries. Hemp is quite useful, used for centuries in the manufacture of everything from rope to canvas to clothing. Hemp production would end absolute control over textiles and other hydrocarbon dependent products. Domestic hemp production might decrease our dependence on foreign textiles. Note also that cultivation of hemp is cheap and environmentally sustainable. If that’s the case now, could it also have been the case when Marijuana was made illegal?

By the way, hemp is marijuana is cannabis. Same basic plant, same prohibition, different names.

My favorite marijuana conspiracy is the one that says that smoking weed will increase incidence of disease. The Hearst “yellow journalists” loved to poke at that, and it’s actually true – to a point. The fact is, anything done in excess is bad for you. What about moderate use? Moderate users have been smoking pot for centuries. If there were any direct effects from smoking weed (e.g., cancer or other disease) we’d have empirical data. But we don’t. Do you know why? Because there is no direct effect. NORML released this well-written and fairly comprehensive report on various medical studies. So this amounts to ‘another’ bottom line for legalization: no conclusive evidence, no direct cause-effect relationship between Marijuana and disease. Here’s a link to the NORML report: http://norml.org/component/zoo/category/cannabis-smoke-and-cancer-assessing-the-risk

Stoner Laughing
Ed Rosenthal declared that the successful legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington last November have “cured” him of his need for medical marijuana. Raw Story

When the Tea Party first emerged, I was inspired by their platform to limit government’s reach and let me live my life as I choose. As an adult, tax paying citizen, I am entitled to make decisions about my personal enjoyment. As long as my choices do not infringe on the rights of others, then what I do is my business, nobody else’s. Unfortunately, the Tea Party was hijacked by the Christian social agenda and got sidetracked by a dozen other little agendas that never made sense to me. Yet, the dream lives on. 

Twenty states and the District of Columbia now have laws legalizing marijuana in some form (see MAP). Colorado and Washington state have recently granted full legalization for recreational use, while the others issue individual permits for medicinal use of marijuana. Support is strong for major changes and I believe that very soon, Marijuana will be granted federal legalization. 

Now is our chance to end this wasteful and horribly distorted prohibition. More of us need to stand up and speak up. Marijuana nation IS rising. But it needs our constant vigilance.  

Book Review of “The Road to Serfdom”

The core of Hayekian philosophy is not conservatism; at least not the way American conservatives claim. Did they read Hayek or are they just pretending?

Humanism is a progressive philosophy. The goal is to improve yourself and the society in which you live and upon which you are dependent. For society to thrive, you need a sense of community that is engaged and supportive. It is not enough to improve yourself; as a member of the community, you must also be concerned with social responsibility.

Humanists do not accept the status quo if the status quo means that people are suffering. For that reason, you’ll find a humanist agitating for change and ways to end suffering. Invariably, even among humanists – there is disagreement on the details. Both Freidrich Hayek and Karl Marx were Humanist economists. One advocated for controlled capitalism, the other for communism. What they wanted to achieve was similar, how they thought we could accomplish it was very different.

Which brings me to a kind of conundrum when I meet conservatives who use The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek as a Christian uses a bible – high velocity, with intent to do bodily damage. This book is said to have spurred the Tea Party and the Ultra Conservative movement.  In 2006, the book appeared on Martin Seymour-Smith‘s list of the 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written and made HumanEvents.com’s list of Top Ten Books Every Republican Congressman Should Read.

If only they would read it. If only they truly understood what Hayek was trying to accomplish, perhaps they would realize what an utter fraud the leaders of the Republican Party (and the Tea Party) have committed. And the fraud? To say that they have blended Hayekian philosophy into the late not so great brand of American conservatism is nothing more than mere bullshit.

For backstory, Hayek is considered one of the intellectual leaders of the libertarian brain trust. Among the things contemplated were the limit of government’s role versus the range of freedom for the governed. Frankly, I have no problem with that notion. Government ought to stay out of personal lives and focus on governance. While Hayek message is also cautionary (at a time when caution was needed), it is the degree and the way that he makes his case that is troublesome.

The bullets had barely stopped flying in Berlin when many intellectuals and pundits declared that socialism was a fait accompli – an accomplished fact; a thing already done. The enemy, often characterized as rampant capitalistic oligarchies propped up by royalty or riches (take your pick), were on the run. Surrender was inevitable. History tells us another story. Not only did the oligarchs survive, they reformed during reconstruction. Which was good, for a while. But then even stronger cabals were formed, but that’s a story for another time. 

Hayek was among an opposing group – people like Jose Ortega and John Dos Passos – who feared the rise of socialism, but for different reasons. Ortega believed that given any opportunity, “mass man” would swell up and destroy the intellectual world in a fit of rage. Dos Passos was originally enthralled by socialism, but he became disillusioned by what he saw in Stalin’s Russia.

The trouble with an all-powerful secret police in the hands of fanatics, or of anybody, is that once it gets started there’s no stopping it until it has corrupted the whole body politic. I am afraid that’s what’s happening in Russia. – Dos Passos

Hayek took another turn. He believed that all forms of collectivism were doomed to failure — including collective bargaining. He pinned socialism as the greatest threat to individual liberty. It was on that point that he harps the most. In his world, all forms of socialism should be rejected by freedom loving people. So broad was that brush that he included simple things like government giving money to the old and infirm so that they could buy food and shelter. 

If it wasn’t pure democracy and absolute capitalism, Hayek had nothing kind to say. One chapter is nothing more than a long run-on rant about communism, socialism, fascism, totalitarianism, and despotism. On the first read, it seemed like one lumpy and wholly inaccurate mess. On redirect (by a friend who has read other works by Hayek), I find that he rails against ideology for the sake of ideology. It’s not that he has a problem with socialism, per se, but that he worries about the dogma that historically follows it. Given historical examples – the Soviet, Mao’s China, North Korea – he makes a point. The brush, therefore, is even wider than I originally thought.

What confounds me is that Hayek points out weaknesses in collectivism without serving back weaknesses in capitalism (for example). Let’s agree that there are many examples where central planning, or collectivism, has failed; 1960s American experimentation with urban planning comes to mind. But post-war Japan is a great example where short-term collective/central planning was extremely effective for raising up battered economies. 

It is true that the virtues which are less esteemed and practiced now — independence, self-reliance, and the willingness to bear risks, the readiness to back one’s own conviction against a majority, and the willingness to voluntary cooperation with one’s neighbors — are essentially those on which the of an individualist society rests. Collectivism has nothing to put in their place, and in so far as it already has destroyed then it has left a void filled by nothing but the demand for obedience and the compulsion of the individual to what is collectively decided to be good. – Hayek

As an interesting footnote to my study, there was a chapter – nine, I believe – where Hayek seems to support the idea of government sponsored social insurance, including health care.

As history shows, socialism did not sweep Western Europe, but it did roost. Through free elections, the people of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and France reformed as mixed economies which allowed extensive private enterprise alongside substantial state enterprise and government intervention. This outcome was probably deeply disappointing to Hayek.

Who imagines that there exist any common ideals of distributive justice such as will make the Norwegian fisherman consent to forego the prospect of economic improvement in order to help his Portuguese fellow, or the Dutch worker to pay more for his bicycle to help the Coventry mechanic, or the French peasant to pay more taxes to assist the industrialization of Italy? – Hayek

And yet what the fisherman, the mechanic, and the peasant decided to do has worked out very well them, hasn’t it? Which then causes me to wonder, what the hell is he worried about?

I’m not an economist, so maybe I missed something, but “The Road to Serfdom” seemed to be more about Hayek’s philosophical views rather than an articulate analysis of competing systems. But I don’t think that this is the result of false advertising on his part. I believe Hayek sought to balance the rush to collectivism and wanted to fill what he perceived as a lack of complete discussion.

Consider how he contrives conflict. In one breath, he says, “…money is one of the greatest instruments of freedom ever invented by man,” but by another, he spouts that “it is money which in existing society opens an astounding range of choice to the poor man.” How does this work, that a poor serf may be caused to admire the “astounding” array of choices at his feet? Call me stupid, but I’ve always thought that the lack of money restricts choices and constricts possibilities. Isn’t that the center argument of the spiral into poverty? Isn’t that the very spiral that has caused gross imbalance of wealth? Isn’t this imbalance at the core of discontent among the masses especially as the lack of choices become acute?

If Hayek doesn’t understand the plight of the serf, then how can he advise us on how to avoid serfdom? Maybe it is because he never intends to deal offer advise; perhaps this book is as it appears – a collection of belly aches that ascribes to no ideology whatsoever.

Speaking of gastronomical distress, I believe mine is caused by reflection and realization that the current brand of conservatism believes that they have accurately portrayed his work. Seeking gravitas, they have exposed their ignorance. Therefore, the fraud is not Hayek’s but everyone who says that they have read his book and can give a good account why it must be held as the grail of the new American neo-conservative movement. I hope they do better on other subjects.