Sometimes, There Really Are Conspiracies

Or at least, co-ordinated efforts that look pretty conspiratorial.

At first glance, the co-ordinated effort to hobble government efforts to provide for the “general welfare”–to work on behalf of the common good–would seem to have little or nothing to do with a widely reported incident at a Wisconsin Walgreens. A married couple on vacation realized that the wife had left her birth control at home, so she went into the drugstore, picked a box of condoms from the shelf, and took them to the register. A  pompous little prick at the register refused to ring them up, citing his “faith.”

As a contributor to Daily Kos noted,

There’s no law in America against being an ass, so this Walgreens clerk was entirely within his rights to behave like one. But, because of five Republicans on the Supreme Court, it now is problematic — and soon could be against the law nationwide, if Clarence Thomas gets his way — for Walgreens to fire him for “exercising his faith” when working in a drugstore.

The vast majority of Americans, opinion research shows, think a situation like this is absurd. As Jennifer Brooks notes in an article about the Pentz’s experience for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “When the Pew Research Center surveyed American attitudes about birth control, just 4% viewed contraception as morally wrong. 

The writer then connected this exhibition of religious nuttery to the broader–and far more concerning–longterm effort to neuter the authority of government.

The rightwing billionaires and the corporations and foundations aligned with them knew back in 1971 — when Lewis Powell laid out their strategy in his infamous Powell Memo the year before Nixon put him on the Supreme Court — that most Americans wouldn’t happily vote to lower billionaires’ taxes, end unions and regulation of gun manufacturers, or increase the amount of refinery poisons in our air.

So the strategy they came up with to capture control of our government was pretty straightforward:

  1. Convince Americans that taxes aren’t “the cost of a civil society” but, instead, a “burden” that they were unfairly bearing. 
  2. Convince Americans that regulations that protect consumers and the environment are also “burdens” from an out-of-control “nanny state.” 
  3. Convince Americans that unions aren’t “democracy in the workplace” that protect workers’ rights but, instead, an elaborate scam to raid workers’ paychecks to the benefit of “corrupt union bosses.”

As he writes (and many others have documented) they spent five decades and billions of dollars to subsidize think tanks and policy groups at both the federal and state level. As a result, there’s now an extensive network of them reaching from coast-to-coast, all turning out copious policy papers and press releases.

They also sponsored rightwing talk radio– and Australian billionaire Rupert Murdoch rolled out Fox “News” to compliment the propaganda campaign. Social media bots and trolls came later, as did literally thousands of websites pretending to be newspapers.

They hooked up with the NRA, which helped sponsor the Reagan Revolution and was richly rewarded with laws that forbade the federal government from compiling gun death statistics and gave complete immunity from lawsuits to weapons manufacturers and sellers for the damage their products cause (the only industry in America that enjoys such immunity).

And they finally got a lot of Americans to go along with their plan, because they’d added in a religious “secret sauce.”

As the writer tells it, Jerry Falwell was a critical part of that “secret sauce.”

Falwell was an inveterate grifter, hustling Jesus to build a multi-million-dollar empire while ignoring Jesus’ teachings about humility, poverty, and the need to care for others. A new, muscular Jesus — a Jesus who endorsed assault weapons and private jets for preachers — came to dominate much of America’s protestant Christianity.

This Jesus wanted you to get rich — riches are a sign of God’s blessing — and in the 1980s, the “prosperity gospel” was all over TV and in megachurches. 

The televangelists became multimillionaires, churches openly defied IRS regulations and preached politics from the pulpit, and millions of mostly non-political church-goers were suddenly evangelists not just for Jesus but also for the Republican Party…

To keep the rubes coming to the churches where they’d hear that GOP message, Republicans on the Supreme Court had to throw them the occasional bone. Giving bakers the right to tell gay people wanting a wedding cake to screw off was one of them, setting up the “religious right” of pharmacists to refuse to sell condoms.

I’m dubious that these efforts were as intentional and strategic as the author clearly believes, but the degree of coordination is really irrelevant. The results–the major problems America now faces– are indisputable.

And as he says, they were all made possible by an unholy alliance of church and state that the Founders warned us against.


  1. “…they were all made possible by an unholy alliance of church and state that the Founders warned us against.”

    But their warning was a one-sided one; to keep government out of the churches but no protection to keep churches out of our government. It is that protection from “…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” which is giving the evangelical cult what they believe is their right to establish laws in their religious favor. Just as we continue watching the Trump White Nationalist MAGA bastardize the “the freedom of speech” which does not require fact or truth be spoken and mounting daily death toll from the NRA version of the 2nd Amendment.

    The “pompous little prick” at the Walgreens expressed his “faith” for refusing to ring up the sale of condoms was at the same time upholding the Republican determination to end decent health care for all. Today; the rampant diseases being sexually transmitted is a vital reason for using condoms. Those preaching “prosperity gospel” have forgotten that Jesus ran the money changers from the Temple; just as they have forgotten every word he ever spoke spreading peace and love one another while claiming they are continuing his work on earth…or at least in that Walgreens drug store.

  2. The incident, assuming it is true, of an employee refusing to sell a product due to his faith … a product available on the shelf of the store he works for, is not representing a position taken by the store chain. The employee is acting on behalf of the evangelical far right who have weaponized his personal faith against women’s health. He should not be working for a pharmaceutical chain. Perhaps a shovel digging trenches for Fox News cable in 105 F heat would be far more suitable for this righteously air conditioned deplorable. Then let’s hear about his dedication to his personal faith.

  3. Future pharmacy policy: If an employee won’t sell you an item from the store, you can just take it. The cost of the item will be garnished from the employee’s wages.

    It’s not workable, since there’s no record, but I still like it anyway. It makes me smile. 🙂

  4. Great article.

    JoAnn, mustn’t forget our modern day money changers, the ones footing the insurrection bill.

  5. While Lewis Powell and Jerry Falwell laid out the Chamber of Commerce and religious strategies for the downfall of the States Formerly United in the early 70s, they would not have been as successful without a little help from history. In 1985 Rupert Murdoch bought 20th Century Fox. In the 70s and 80s, Sam Walton grew Walmart to oust Sears as the largest retailer in the world by making retailing more powerful than manufacturing here first, by making manufacturing global, in his relentless search for cheap. Of course, through all of those years advertising and entertainment were redefined as screen-based, and Apple helped redefine screen-based as portable, pervasive and persuasive.

    We are here and now. A weak manufacturing presence on the world stage impoverished rural America. A service-based and information-centered low-margin retail-based economy dependent on advertising. A racially reactionary rural culture reeling from our first black President. Urban-based transnational corporations pacing us, rather than vice versa. We left leadership behind for followership.

    Now what?

  6. It actually was coordinated, just as the authors described. The Koch Consortium meets every year to revise and update the plans and pick the next target. Each of the billionaires is required to say how many of his billions he’s willing to give to the cause.

    I still have fond memories of Reverend Little Ed, selling his steak knives for Jesus on “WKRP in Cincinnati.”

  7. I read further about the Wisconsin incident. It suggested that the couple spoke to store management who told them it was Walgreen’s corporate policy to allow employees to do this and hand over the sale to another employee. If that is true, it is scary squared.

  8. There must be dozens, if not hundreds of products in the stores that might offend a persons religiosity. How could this sort of thing even work?
    As I think of it there’s no end to the junk in those stores that offends the hell out of me, well, maybe that’s why I prefer not to go there. But of course that precludes me from going almost anywhere. So I guess if I needed rubbers, well, maybe I’d have to send somebody else. I suppose maybe it’s fortunate that I’ve pretty much aged out of that stuff. Jus’say’n‽

  9. Geee, this days blog about sums it up. watching from the trenches in my own blue collar way,i watched/felt it happen live and in color. while the news has become more irrelevent because of too many talking heads,and CNNs big matra,headline news,after all thats all ya need right? focus on the shit that sells. instead of being more aware how it all went bye bye,but then again since were demanded to give more,produce more,(economic slavery eh?)well, thanks.. the new source of any drivel,the i phone and the need to scour the net for useless trivia over the vital needs to keep the rich/issues in check..some looked at me and my tiraids about the rich running this nation as,conspiratorial nut sack. welcome to reality. 50 years in the making,and now the rich and one whole party and a buncha of the other,is sooooo close to making America a stock ticker symbol for you to rehash at 6 tonite. the right wing is now into a full force denial of rights and liberties,and acountability. i beleive this election cycle is the last..unless the facts are called out and the 1/6 commission has the full backing of the DOJ in actully sitting the scam lawyers on their ass finally and taking back America. otherwise,like a prior blogger,whats left but to leave and find better sand to grind in our isnt a conspiracy,its real..ask,what is the end game?

  10. ever hear of boycotting?seems when chic filete came out as anti gay,its whole corp went bananas over the flack,ya dont hear them cluckin now.. besides,big corps like walgreens may need alittle shove about their lobby and donations to gov officials..

  11. Peggy Hannon is correct. The Koch consortium has also provided funds to drive the right wing social media campains against Social Emotional Learning (SEL), CRT, andd transgender kids to name just a few.

    It’s also helpful to read what I call “Howard Zinn” focused, or bottom up, histories to help us realize the extremes the governments (Federal and State) have gone to to support the rich against the poor. A couple of examples are the 11834 Lowell MA mill strikes where strike supporters in other cities were taking in strikers’ chldren duringwas the strike so that would have food tgo each, and the government sent to police and and soldiers to prevent them from boarding trains to other cities, and tghe machine gunning of a camp of families in the Colorado coal strikes of 1913, I have long known of the government supporting the rich over he poor, but I didn’t understand the extent and violence of it until I read Zinn’s People’s History of the US.

  12. Pete:
    bill clinton was the last signature to allow china into the open markets, his stance was not until the improve human rights for its people,we see how that went. over the decades jobs and products owned by American investors have been purchased like a open market in china. in other words, Americans buy and pay china to make the products we buy everyday. china is merely the manufactuer in most cases. American investors have dismantled the labor and manufacturing sector in America for personal gain. look at the numbers,bozo and his ilk. they have made the majority of thier riches here in America, while using America as a door mat. they dont pay enough in taxes to pay the toll for the use of our roads to deliver their products,much less pay their employees a living wage. untold wealth has prosper and we the working class live one step from poverty. now they want to take it all,and run it like they want,for profit.. i muse the words economic slavery,think about those words together.and now look at whos gonna “own” our nation.

  13. one other issue,Obama a a person is probably a good one,his backing fo wall street made him what he is, rich,and on the sidelines. hes gained his fame and fortune,but never did a damn thing for the working class,like flint,,yea, stuff like that,,

  14. Norris,]
    please i have enough of those digging holes and repairing roads alongside me.. geezzzz..

  15. And, who was it that brought Falwell to the fore? St.Reagan! Worse than the mythical violining of Nero, Reagan
    was able to push the “You can have it all!” and “We have to get back to our spiritual roots,” fantasies onto the national scene.
    We may not be looking a a literal conspiracy, but those with the “hobble government” turn of mind/agenda, do not
    fail to notice what similar minded jackasses are putting out, and then expand upon it.

  16. Well,

    My cousin, Father Tom who works at the Joliet archdiocese as a teacher, readily admits that there’s nothing in Scripture that talks against contraception. Nowhere does it say contraception is wrong. So, if you’re supposedly a christian, and you go beyond what is written, then you are not a christian! So then if you’re making things up, anyone can make up a religion, but, will those made up religious beliefs allow you to refuse service or act in a way to limit others right to freewill?

    Most people consider weapons of war evil, although necessary in the military, but, inappropriate on suburban and city streets. Just like religious groups stand in front of family planning offices, the same could be done concerning arms dealers…

    After all, everyone can’t run around packing heat so to speak but claim you love your neighbor! So, if a person or a group are protesting concerning religious beliefs, religious beliefs in the Christian and Hebrew texts talk about equality, talk about taking care of the poor, the ill, the fatherless child and widows, the foreign resident, and even aiding your enemy in a time of trial. Love your enemy? Who would have thunk it LOL. But, there it is, in big bold scriptural print.

    It’s funny when these things are pointed out when they’re trying to dispute what you actually know are correct teachings from scripture, and, they have no rebuttal! They end up just walking away when these things are pointed out, but at least, it’s making them think. Don’t glean your entire field? Leave some for the poor or disadvantaged? Support the widows? Support the orphans? Respect the foreign resident? Respect your enemy? Show them all compassion and love? Wow, what a concept!

  17. The issue of course is this: all the money, think tanks and brainwashing only work if the subject is willing. This 60 year effort by conservatives and it’s apogee with Trump reveal what was already present in society, low hanging and ripe for picking.

  18. Rexdeleon; speaking of products which might be offensive to some people, have you seen the TV ads for Ballsy products “for men to take care of down there” or women’s reusable period panties? Priorities of American people in general need to raise their standards at all levels on all issues.

  19. “I’m dubious that these efforts were as intentional and strategic as the author clearly believes”

    Thom Hartman as a “contributor to Daily Kos”: Humor? He is an American radio and podcast personality, author, former psychotherapist, businessman, and progressive political commentator. Hartmann has been hosting a nationally syndicated radio show, The Thom Hartmann Program, since 2003 and hosted a nightly television show, The Big Picture, between 2010 and 2017.

    To write this article, he must have read “One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America,” by Kevin M. Kruse. Kruse documents how 1930s businessmen conned five leading pastors of the day to teach capitalism as Christianity. AThe results–the major problems America now faces– are indisputable.”

    But I’ve mentioned this well-documented book here before …

  20. Manscaping, JoAnn, the term is manscaping.

    It’s another topic that just makes me smile. I don’t care one way or another if someone does “take care down there”; the whole conversation just strikes my funny bone. (And in case there’s any confusion, that was not meant as a double entendre.)


  21. AMEN to jack smith! Keep on trucking.

    The whole truth about about what happened at Walgreen’s: “Our policies are designed to ensure we meet the needs of our patients and customers while respecting the religious and moral beliefs of our team members,” the spokesperson said. “The instances are rare, however when a team member has a moral or religious conviction about completing a transaction, they are required to refer the customer to another employee or manager on duty who will complete the transaction, which is what occurred in this instance.”

  22. Excellent post – whether it is a conspiracy or something stumbled into, I’d believe a combination of the two. Sometimes a small conspiratorial push achieves the desired goal by a circuitous route, but it is still the result of the “plan”.

    John H – I like your suggestion, however unlikely. I suspect that Walgreens is just trying to avoid lawsuits. The “pompous little prick” couldn’t sue, but the customer couldn’t be denied their purchase.

    I hate to harp, but our decades of “normalizing” has had a supporting role in the conspiracy, as well. As long as we treat the outliers as “normal”, the Overton Window shifts. “Both sides”, “on the left and the right”, and even “polarized” – are all at fault. The GOP has made a strong embrace of the extreme right to further the goals of the Powell Memo. We need to stop pretending that the Democrats embraced the Weathermen and SDS. It never happened. In fact, “liberal organizations” and labor unions purged suspected “Commies” or pushed them into positions of no power.

    Back to “think tanks”, that is another one of our “sins”. A think tank, properly, asks questions, “how to reduce poverty” or “how to guarantee business stability” and seeks the best answer. These right-wing “think tanks” start with the answer, sort of like religious dogma, and fit it to whatever question they want. Occasionally they may produce good work, but that is not their purpose. They are there to proselytize their political biases.

    I only hope enough people wake up and work to counteract the deleterious effects of the Powell Memo in my lifetime.

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