By Dave Lindorff
The looming collapse of the US military in Iraq, of which a number of generals and former generals, including former Chief of Staff Colin Powell, have warned, is happening none too soon, as it my be the best hope for preventing military rule here at home.
From the looks of things, the Bush/Cheney regime has been working assiduously to pave the way for a declaration of military rule, such that at this point it really lacks only the pretext to trigger a suspension of Constitutional government. They have done this with the active support of Democrats in Congress, though most of the heavy lifting was done by the last, Republican-led Congress.
The first step, or course, was the first Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed in September 2001, which the president has subsequently used to claim-improperly, but so what? -that the whole world, including the US, is a battlefield in a so-called “War” on Terror, and that he has extra-Constitutional unitary executive powers to ignore laws passed by Congress. As constitutional scholar and former Reagan-era associate deputy attorney general Bruce Fein observes, that one claim, that the US is itself a battlefield, is enough to allow this or some future president to declare martial law, “since you can always declare martial law on a battlefield. All he’d need would be a pretext, like another terrorist attack inside the U.S.”
The 2001 AUMF was followed by the PATRIOT Act, passed in October 2001, which undermined much of the Bill of Rights. Around the same time, the president began a campaign of massive spying on Americans by the National Security Agency, conducted without any warrants or other judicial review. It was and remains a program that is clearly aimed at American dissidents and at the administration’s political opponents, since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court would never have raised no objections to spying on potential terrorists. (And it, and other government spying programs, have resulted in the government’s having a list now of some 325,000 “suspected terrorists”!)
The other thing we saw early on was the establishment of an underground government-within-a-government, though the activation, following 9-11, of the so-called “Continuity of Government” protocol, which saw heads of federal agencies moved secretly to an underground bunker where, working under the direction of Vice President Dick Cheney, the “government” functioned out of sight of Congress and the public for critical months.
It was also during the first year following 9-11 that the Bush/Cheney regime began its programs of arrest and detention without charge-mostly of resident aliens, but also of American citizens-and of kidnapping and torture in a chain of gulag prisons overseas and at the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay.
The following year, Attorney General John Ashcroft began his program to develop a mass network of tens of millions of citizen spies-Operation TIPS. That program, which had considerable support from key Democrats (notably Sen. Joe Lieberman), was curtailed by Congress when key conservatives got wind of the scale of the thing, but the concept survives without a name, and is reportedly being expanded today.
Meanwhile, last October Bush and Cheney, with the help of a compliant Congress, put in place some key elements needed for a military putsch. There was the overturning of the venerable Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which barred the use of active duty military inside the United States for police-type functions, and the revision of the Insurrection Act, so as to empower the president to take control of National Guard units in the 50 states even over the objections of the governors of those states.
Put this together with the wholly secret construction now under way–courtesy of a $385-million grant by the US Army Corps of Engineers to Halliburton subsidiary KBR Inc–of detention camps reportedly capable of confining as many as 400,000 people, and a recent report that the Pentagon has a document, dated June 1, 2007, classified Top Secret, which declares there to be a developing “insurgency” within the U.S, and which lays out a whole martial law counterinsurgency campaign against legal dissent, and you have all the ingredients for a military takeover of the United States.
As we go about our daily lives–our shopping, our escapist movie watching, and even our protesting and political organizing-we need to be aware that there is a real risk that it could all blow up, and that we could find ourselves facing armed, uniformed troops at our doors.
Bruce Fein isn’t an alarmist. He says he doesn’t see martial law coming tomorrow. But he is also realistic. “Really, by declaring the US to be a battlefield, Bush already made it possible for himself to declare martial law, because you can always declare martial law on a battlefield,” he says. “All he would need would be a pretext, like another terrorist attack on the U.S.”
Indeed, the revised Insurrection Act (10. USC 331-335) approved by Congress and signed into law by Bush last October, specifically says that the president can federalize the National Guard to “suppress public disorder” in the event of “national disorder, epidemic, other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident.” That determination, the act states, is solely the president’s to make. Congress is not involved.
Fein says, “This is all sitting around like a loaded gun waiting to go off. I think the risk of martial law is trivial right now, but the minute there is a terrorist attack, then it is real. And it stays with us after Bush and Cheney are gone, because terrorism stays with us forever.” (It may be significant that Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate for president, has called for the revocation of the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq, but not of the earlier 2001 AUMF which Bush claims makes him commander in chief of a borderless, endless war on terror.)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has added an amendment to the upcoming Defense bill, restoring the Insurrection Act to its former version-a move that has the endorsement of all 50 governors–but Fein argues that would not solve the problem, since Bush still claims that the U.S. is a battlefield. Besides, a Leahy aide concedes that Bush could sign the next Defense Appropriations bill and then use a signing statement to invalidate the Insurrection Act rider.
Fein argues that the only real defense against the looming disaster of a martial law declaration would be for Congress to vote for a resolution determining that there is no “War” on terror. “But they are such cowards they will never do that,” he says.
That leaves us with the military.
If ordered to turn their guns and bayonets on their fellow Americans, would our “heroes” in uniform follow their consciences, and their oaths to “uphold and defend” the Constitution of the United States? Or would they follow the orders of their Commander in Chief?
It has to be a plus that National Guard and Reserve units are on their third and sometimes fourth deployments to Iraq, and are fuming at the abuse. It has to be a plus that active duty troops are refusing to re-enlist in droves-especially mid-level officers.
If we are headed for martial law, better that it be with a broken military. Maybe if it’s broken badly enough, the administration will be afraid to test the idea.
It’s remarkably common for a grandson to take up his grandfather’s major project. This occurred to me when I read recently of Thor Heyerdahl’s grandson taking up his mission to cross the Pacific on a raft. But what really struck me was the BBC story aired on July 23rd documenting President George W. Bush’s grandfather’s involvement in a 1933 plot to overthrow the U.S. government and install a fascist dictatorship. I knew the story, but had not considered the possibility that the grandson was trying to accomplish what his grandfather had failed to achieve.
Prescott Sheldon Bush (1895 to 1972) attended Yale University and joined the secret society known as Skull and Bones. Prescott is widely reported to have stolen the skull of Native American leader Geronimo. As far as I know, this has not actually been confirmed. In fact, Prescott seems to have had a habit of making things up. He sent letters home from World War I claiming he’d received medals for heroism. After the letters were printed in newspapers, he had to retract his claims.
If this does not yet sound like the life of a George W. Bush ancestor, try this on for size: Prescott Bush’s early business efforts tended to fail. He married the daughter of a very rich man named George Herbert Walker (the guy with the compound at Kennebunkport, Maine, that now belongs to the Bush family, and the origin of Dubya’s middle initial). Walker installed Prescott Bush as an executive in Thyssen and Flick. From then on, Prescott’s business dealings went better, and he entered politics.
Now, the name Thyssen comes from a German named Fritz Thyssen, major financial backer of the rise of Adolph Hitler. Thyssen was referred to in the New York Herald-Tribune as “Hitler’s Angel.” During the 1930s and early 1940s, and even as late as 1951, Prescott Bush was involved in business dealings with Thyssen, and was inevitably aware of both Thyssen’s political activities and the fact that the companies involved were financially benefiting the nation of Germany. In addition, the companies Prescott Bush profited from included one engaged in mining operations in Poland using slave labor from Auschwitz. Two former slave laborers have sued the U.S. government and the heirs of Prescott Bush for $40 billion.
Until the United States entered World War II it was legal for Americans to do business with Germany, but in late 1942 Prescott Bush’s businesses interests were seized under the Trading with the Enemy Act. Among those businesses involved was the Hamburg America Lines, for which Prescott Bush served as a manager. A Congressional committee, in a report called the McCormack-Dickstein Report, found that Hamburg America Lines had offered free passage to Germany for journalists willing to write favorably about the Nazis, and had brought Nazi sympathizers to America. (Is this starting to remind anyone of our current president’s relationship to the freedom of the press?)
The McCormack-Dickstein Committee was established to investigate a homegrown American fascist plot hatched in 1933. Here’s how the BBC promoted its recent story:
“Document uncovers details of a planned coup in the USA in 1933 by right-wing American businessmen. The coup was aimed at toppling President Franklin D Roosevelt with the help of half-a-million war veterans. The plotters, who were alleged to involve some of the most famous families in America, (owners of Heinz, Birds Eye, Goodtea, Maxwell Hse & George Bush’s Grandfather, Prescott) believed that their country should adopt the policies of Hitler and Mussolini to beat the great depression. Mike Thomson investigates why so little is known about this biggest ever peacetime threat to American democracy.”
Actually, if you listen to the 30-minute BBC story, there is not one word of so much as speculation as to why this story is so little known. I think a clue to the answer can be found by looking into why this BBC report has not led to any U.S. media outlets picking up the story this week.
The BBC report provides a good account of the basic story. Some of the wealthiest men in America approached Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler, beloved of many World War I veterans, many of them embittered by the government’s treatment of them. Prescott Bush’s group asked Butler to lead 500,000 veterans in a take-over of Washington and the White House. Butler refused and recounted the affair to the congressional committee. His account was corroborated in part by a number of witnesses, and the committee concluded that the plot was real. But the names of wealthy backers of the plot were blacked out in the committee’s records, and nobody was prosecuted. According to the BBC, President Roosevelt cut a deal. He refrained from prosecuting some of the wealthiest men in America for treason. They agreed to end Wall Street’s opposition to the New Deal.
Clearly the lack of accountability in Washington, D.C., did not begin with Nancy Pelosi taking Dubya’s impeachment off the table, or with Congress’ decision to avoid impeachment for President Ronald Reagan (a decision that arguably played a large role in installing Prescott Bush’s son George H.W. Bush as president), or with the failure to investigate the apparent deal that George H.W. Bush and others made with Iran to not release American hostages until Reagan was made president, or with the failure to prosecute Richard Nixon after he resigned. Lack of accountability is a proud tradition in our nation’s capital. Or maybe I should say our former nation’s capital. I don’t recognize the place anymore, and I credit that to George W. Bush’s efforts to fulfill his grandfather’s dream using far subtler and more effective means than a military coup.
Bush the grandson took office through a highly fraudulent election that he nonetheless lost. The Supreme Court blocked a recount of the vote and installed Dubya.
Prescott’s grandson proceeded to weaken or eliminate most of the Bill of Rights in the name of protection from a dark foreign enemy. He even tossed out habeas corpus. The grandson of Prescott, that dreamer of the 1930s, established with very little resistance that the U.S. government can kidnap, detain indefinitely on no charge, torture, and murder. The United States under Prescott Bush’s grandson adopted policies that heretofore had been considered only Nazi policies, most strikingly the willingness to openly plan and engage in aggressive wars on other nations.
At the same time, Dubya has accomplished a huge transfer of wealth within the United States from the rest of us to the extremely wealthy. He’s also effected a major privatization of public operations, including the military. And he’s kept tight control over the media.
Dubya has given himself the power to rewrite all laws with signing statements. He’s established that intentionally misleading the Congress about the need for a war is not a crime that carries any penalty. He’s given himself the right (just as Hitler did) to open anyone’s mail. He’s created illegal spying programs and then proposed to legalize them. Prescott would be so proud!
The current President Bush has accomplished much more smoothly than his grandfather could have imagined a feat that was one of the goals of Prescott’s gang, namely the elimination of Congress.
U.S. Army Sgt. Juwan Johnson got a hero’s welcome while home on leave in June of 2004.
“Not only did I love my son – but my god – I liked the man he was becoming,” his mother, Stephanie Cockrell, remembers.
But that trip home was the last time his family saw him alive.
When Johnson died, he wasn’t in a war zone, he was in Germany.
“He had finished his term in Iraq,” his mother said. “I talked to him the day before his death. He said, ‘Mom, I’m in the process of discharging out. I’ll be out in two weeks’.”
On July 3, 2005, Sgt. Johnson went to a park not far from his base in Germany to be initiated into the ‘Gangster Disciples,’ a notorious Chicago-based street gang. He was beaten by eight other soldiers in a “jump-in” – an initiation rite common to many gangs.
“My son never spoke of joining a gang,” Cockrell told CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras.
Johnson died that night from his injuries. His son, Juwan Jr., was born five months later.
“I feel like I didn’t prepare him enough to deal with this and I should have,” his mother said. “But how would I have known there were gangs in the military? I could have had that talk with him.”
Evidence of gang culture and gang activity in the military is increasing so much an FBI report calls it “a threat to law enforcement and national security.” The signs are chilling: Marines in gang attire on Parris Island; paratroopers flashing gang hand signs at a nightclub near Ft. Bragg; infantrymen showing-off gang tattoos at Ft. Hood.
“It’s obvious that many of these people do not give up their gang affiliations,” said Hunter Glass, a retired police detective in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the home of Ft. Bragg and the 82nd Airborne. He monitors gang activity at the base and across the military.
“If we weren’t in the middle of fighting a war, yes, I think the military would have a lot more control over this issue,” Glass said. “But with a war going on, I think it’s very difficult to do.”
Gang activity clues are appearing in Iraq and Afghanistan, too. Gang graffiti is sprayed on blast walls – even on Humvees. Kilroy – the doodle made famous by U.S. soldiers in World War II – is here, but so is the star emblem of the Gangster Disciples.
The soldier who took photos if the graffiti told CBS News that he’s been warned he’s as good as dead if he ever returns to Iraq.
“We represent America – our demographics are the same – so the same problems that America contends with we often times contend with,” said Colonel Gene Smith of the Army’s Office of the Provost Marshal.
The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command reported 61 gang investigations and incidents last year, compared to just 9 in 2004. But army officials point out less than 1 percent of all its criminal investigations are gang related.
“We must remember that there are a million people in the army community,” Smith said, “And these small numbers are not reflective of a tremendous, pervasive, rampant problem.”
The rise in gang activity coincides with the increase in recruits with records. Since 2003, 125,000 recruits with criminal histories have been granted what are known as “moral waivers” for felonies including robbery and assault.
A hidden-camera investigation by CBS Denver station KCNC found one military recruiter was quick to offer the waiver option even when asked, “Does it matter that i was in a gang or anything?” That is well within military regulations.
“You may have had some gang activity in your past and everything … OK … but that in itself does not disqualify…,” the recruiter said.
Military regulations disqualify members of hate groups from enlisting, but there is no specific ban on members of street gangs. Sgt. Juwan Johnson’s family says such a prohibition is long overdue.
“Just maybe we can save someone else’s child … somebody else’s husband … somebody else’s father,” his mother said. “I would have loved to have seen him with his child, I really would have — that part is hard, that part is hard.”
This month a military court sentenced two of Juwan Johnson’s attackers to prison.
The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office arrested activists Mark and Deborah Kuhn in West Asheville Wednesday morning after a complaint that the couple was desecrating an American flag. They say a deputy invaded their home and used excessive force. [The photo at right, taken by a neighbor, shows Mark on the ground, with Deborah standing by, during the arrest.]
The flag was hung upside down as an act of protest and had several statements pinned to it, including a picture of President Bush with the words “Out Now” upon it and one explaining the meaning of the upside down flag, a sign of distress.
The Kuhns, along with several neighbors and witnesses, assert that a sheriff’s deputy violently invaded their home at 68 Brevard Road. The sheriff’s office claims that the couple assaulted deputy Brian Scarborough and resisted arrest.
According to the report from the sheriff’s office, Scarborough arrived at the home at 8:45 a.m. in response to a complaint about the desecration of a flag.
Lt. Randy Sorrell says that while the address was in the city of Asheville, “when we receive a complaint that the law is being broken, we have to respond.”
Under a rarely enforced state statute, it is a misdemeanor to desecrate or trample a U.S. or North Carolina flag. The Kuhns said the flag was taken as evidence, though the sheriff’s department has no record of it.
After knocking on the door, the couple answered it and, after being shown the statute, said they complied and took the flag down. Scarborough then asked for their identification.
“The flag covered our whole front porch; he comes up with this printout about the law and tells us that we can’t attach things to the flag, that we’re desecrating it,” Deborah Kuhn said. “We tell him we’re not meaning to desecrate it — all we had was a picture of [President] Bush with ‘out now’ on it and a note saying this was not a sign of distress or disrespect. We did this because the country is in distress and we don’t know what to do.”
Then, she said, Scarborough “started talking arrest, so we took the flag down. He kept wanting to see our ID. We refused. We said, ‘Why should we show you our ID — are you arresting us?’; so we walked back into the house and closed the door.”
There, the accounts diverge. According to Deborah Kuhn, Scarborough “tried to force the door, but we got it closed and locked it with the deadbolt. He then kicked it, punched the glass out, unlocked our door and came after us.”
The sheriff’s office report states that “the man [Mark Kuhn] refused to identify himself and slammed the door on the officer’s hand, breaking the glass pane out of the door and cutting the officer’s hand.”
However, the Kuhns’ account is backed up by Jimmy Stevenson, who was working with Ace Hardwood Floors nearby and asserts that he saw Scarborough break down the door.
“I saw that one cop [Scarborough] pull up and I saw those people come out on the porch and start talking to him,” Stevenson said. “They took their flag down, asked the officer to leave and closed the door. Then he started kicking the door, he kicked it about five or six good times, then he laid right into it. After he got done kicking it, he broke the window out – I saw him hit the window.”
Deborah Kuhn says that Scarborough then “pursued my husband into the kitchen, they were scuffling, [and] Mark was trying to get away from him. He pulls out his billy club and I call 911 and say that an officer has broken into our house and is assaulting us.”
Scarborough sustained a cut to his arm when the window broke and Mark Kuhn had several cuts on his face from the scuffle with Scarborough.
“I was just trying to defend myself and back away from him,” Kuhn said. “They never, ever told us why we were being arrested until we were in jail.”
Deborah Kuhn asserted that no warrant was displayed or permission asked to enter the house. After calling 911, she says, she ran outside and began screaming for help.
Sam York, who lives nearby the couple, was awakened by the struggle, as the Kuhns and Scarborough both came out into the yard. “I woke up to Debbie screaming,” he said. “Mark and Debbie were saying ‘you assaulted us’ and the officer [Scarborough], was demanding their identification. Then another officer threatened them with a taser. He told Debbie to back away or he’d taser her and demanded that Mark get on the ground.”
Sorrell confirms this part of the account: “When they were outside, one of the other officers produced a taser and he [Mark Kuhn] surrendered and submitted.”
Deborah Kuhn’s screams also drew the attention of Shawn Brady and several of his roommates, who live next door to the couple. “I run outside and ask them what’s going on and there’s cops chasing Mark around his car,” Brady said. “They threaten to taser him and demand that he get on the ground. He gets on the ground and we ask them what they’re being charged with. They tell us it’s none of our concern. I tell them they’re our neighbors and it is our concern.”
Neal Wilson, who lives with Brady, also saw the deputy produce the taser, he says. After repeated questions, Brady and roommate Tony Plichta said that the deputies replied that “they didn’t know yet” what the couple would be charged with.
“This is an outrage,” Brady said. “The 1st, 4th and 5th Amendments were clearly broken today.”
Plichta expressed similar anger. “They actually wanted to know why we cared — these are our neighbors,” he said.
Following the arrest, the Kuhns were taken to the Buncombe County Detention Facility, where they were charged with two counts of assaulting a government official, and one count each of resisting arrest and desecrating an American flag. Their son posted their bail shortly afterwards.
This was not the first time that the flag had attracted attention. On July 18, with just the upside-down flag hanging, an Asheville police officer stopped by to inquire about the situation.
“He was very polite and just said that because it was a sign of distress, he wanted to make sure everything was OK,” Deborah Kuhn said. “We said we had it out as a show of desperation — our country is in distress and we just don’t know what to do. We asked if we had violated any ordinance. He said, ‘No, you have every right.’”
After that, Deborah Kuhn said that she posted up the picture of Bush and the explanation of their reasons for displaying the flag in protest.
A couple of days later, Mark Kuhn said that a man in military fatigues came to their door, and was driving a car with a federal license plate. “He stood here telling me that I needed to take the flag down or fly it right,” he said.
Kuhn adds that he assumed the man was with the National Guard, due to the nearby armory.
Wilson, Plichta and Brady said that after the man stopped by, they also saw him drive by several times during the following days, and one night, witnessed several other men in fatigues taking pictures of the flag.
Furthermore, Wilson said that as the Kuhns were being arrested and taken off, he saw a man in fatigues drive by and shout “Go to jail, baby!”
After his experience, Mark Kuhn said he is convinced this is not an isolated occurrence. “If Americans don’t wake up to the martial state we’re in, the cops, the police, the sheriffs, the state police will all come to our door and take us away if we allow this to happen – it’s time for America to wake up.”
Peace activist voices her independent streak
July 22, 2007
By Cindy Sheehan
The feedback I have been receiving since I announced that I would challenge U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, for her House seat — unless she gives impeachment the go-ahead — has been running about 3-to-1 positive.
Some people have offered to quit their jobs to move to California’s Eighth Congressional District to help my possible campaign. People are lining up to donate and help, and I am again very grateful and touched beyond belief by the generosity and energy of my fellow Americans.
I truly understand the not-so-supportive people, though, because I have been in their shoes. Here in the United States, most of us put our faith in a two-party system that has failed peace and justice repeatedly. The Republicans do not have a monopoly on the culture of corruption (although BushCo has elevated it to policy status), and the way we do politics in this country needs a serious shakeup, when all we the people are getting is a shakedown.
I was frightened out of ever voting for a third party, or an independent candidate, but voting out of fear is one of the things that bestowed us with the Bush crime mob and may give us the Republican, if not in party affiliation, Hillary Clinton.
I was a lifelong Democrat only because the choices were limited. The Democrats are the party of slavery and were the party that started every war in the 20th century, except the other Bush debacle. The Federal Reserve, permanent federal income taxes, not one but two World Wars, Japanese concentration camps, and not one but two atom bombs dropped on the innocent citizens of Japan — all brought to us via the Democrats.
Don’t tell me the Democrats are our “saviors” because I am not buying it — especially after they bought more caskets and more devastating pain when they financed and co-facilitated more of President Bush’s abysmal occupation. The Democrats also are allowing a meltdown of our republic by allowing the evils of the executive branch to continue unrestrained by their silent complicity.
Good change has happened during Democratic regimes, but as in the civil rights and union movements, the positive changes occurred because of the people, not the politicians. I will run as an independent because I find the corruption in both parties unhealthy, and I believe we need to have more allegiance to humans than to a political party.
I have nothing personally against Pelosi and have found our previous interactions very pleasant. However, being “against” the occupation of Iraq means ending it by ending the funding, preventing future illegal wars of aggression and holding BushCo accountable. Words have to be backed up by action, and if they aren’t, they are as empty as Vice President Dick Cheney’s conscience.
If Pelosi does her constitutional and moral duty by Monday, then I believe some balance will be restored to the universe, and my organization, People for Humanity, can carry on with its humanitarian projects. If she doesn’t, we will carry on anyway, with a political campaign to boot.
I hope this challenges other people who desire healthy political change and not temporary Band-Aids to replace other Democrats and Republicans who do not conform to the beatitudes of peace, sustainability and the rule of law for everybody, not just poor or marginalized people.
Being a born and raised Californian and being a Bay Area resident for the past 14 years have given me great insight into the people and concerns of San Francisco.
I am concerned with many of the same things: same-sex partnership laws, the environment, health care, affordable post-secondary education, better schools, counter-military recruitment, poverty, AIDS research and cures, decriminalization of marijuana, and especially stopping war and ensuring real peace.
I think I agree with Pelosi on many of these issues, but the difference is, I don’t live in a mansion on the hill. Many of these issues have affected me and my family personally, and I am committed to fighting for the people, not the corporate interests.
I wouldn’t put myself through this if I weren’t dead serious and committed to making America a better country than we have now, and holding people to a much higher standard than politics as usual. I am rested, restored to health and ready to rumble. I realize that if ever there was a time for politics as unusual, it is now.
Administration, Anti-Medicare Candidacy of Dr. Ron Paul
July 22, 2007
By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
Whipping westward across Manhattan in a limousine sent by Comedy Central’s “Daily Show,” Ron Paul, the 10-term Texas congressman and long-shot Republican presidential candidate, is being briefed. Paul has only the most tenuous familiarity with Comedy Central. He has never heard of “The Daily Show.” His press secretary, Jesse Benton, is trying to explain who its host, Jon Stewart, is. “He’s an affable gentleman,” Benton says, “and he’s very smart. What I’m getting from the pre-interview is, he’s sympathetic.”
“GQ wants to profile you on Thursday,” Benton continues. “I think it’s worth doing.”
“GTU?” the candidate replies.
“GQ. It’s a men’s magazine.”
“Don’t know much about that,” Paul says.
Thin to the point of gauntness, polite to the point of daintiness, Ron Paul is a 71-year-old great-grandfather, a small-town doctor, a self-educated policy intellectual and a formidable stander on constitutional principle. In normal times, Paul might be — indeed, has been — the kind of person who is summoned onto cable television around April 15 to ventilate about whether the federal income tax violates the Constitution. But Paul has in recent weeks become a sensation in magazines he doesn’t read, on Web sites he has never visited and on television shows he has never watched.
Alone among Republican candidates for the presidency, Paul has always opposed the Iraq war. He blames “a dozen or two neocons who got control of our foreign policy,” chief among them Vice President Dick Cheney and the former Bush advisers Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, for the debacle. On the assumption that a bad situation could get worse if the war spreads into Iran, he has a simple plan. It is: “Just leave.” During a May debate in South Carolina, he suggested the 9/11 attacks could be attributed to United States policy. “Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us?” he asked, referring to one of Osama bin Laden’s communiqués. “They attack us because we’ve been over there. We’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years.” Rudolph Giuliani reacted by demanding a retraction, drawing gales of applause from the audience. But the incident helped Paul too. Overnight, he became the country’s most conspicuous antiwar Republican.
Paul’s opposition to the war in Iraq did not come out of nowhere. He was against the first gulf war, the war in Kosovo and the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which he called a “declaration of virtual war.” Although he voted after Sept. 11 to approve the use of force in Afghanistan and spend $40 billion in emergency appropriations, he has sounded less thrilled with those votes as time has passed. “I voted for the authority and the money,” he now says. “I thought it was misused.”
There is something homespun about Paul, reminiscent of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” He communicates with his constituents through birthday cards, August barbecues and the cookbooks his wife puts together every election season, which mix photos of grandchildren, Gospel passages and neighbors’ recipes for Velveeta cheese fudge and Cherry Coke salad. He is listed in the phone book, and his constituents call him at home. But there is also something cosmopolitan and radical about him; his speeches can bring to mind the World Social Forum or the French international-affairs periodical Le Monde Diplomatique. Paul is surely the only congressman who would cite the assertion of the left-leaning Chennai-based daily The Hindu that “the world is being asked today, in reality, to side with the U.S. as it seeks to strengthen its economic hegemony.” The word “empire” crops up a lot in his speeches.
This side of Paul has made him the candidate of many people, on both the right and the left, who hope that something more consequential than a mere change of party will come out of the 2008 elections. He is particularly popular among the young and the wired. Except for Barack Obama, he is the most-viewed candidate on YouTube. He is the most “friended” Republican on MySpace.com. Paul understands that his chances of winning the presidency are infinitesimally slim. He is simultaneously planning his next Congressional race. But in Paul’s idea of politics, spreading a message has always been just as important as seizing office. “Politicians don’t amount to much,” he says, “but ideas do.” Although he is still in the low single digits in polls, he says he has raised $2.4 million in the second quarter, enough to broaden the four-state campaign he originally planned into a national one.
Paul represents a different Republican Party from the one that Iraq, deficits and corruption have soured the country on. In late June, despite a life of antitax agitation and churchgoing, he was excluded from a Republican forum sponsored by Iowa antitax and Christian groups. His school of Republicanism, which had its last serious national airing in the Goldwater campaign of 1964, stands for a certain idea of the Constitution — the idea that much of the power asserted by modern presidents has been usurped from Congress, and that much of the power asserted by Congress has been usurped from the states. Though Paul acknowledges flaws in both the Constitution (it included slavery) and the Bill of Rights (it doesn’t go far enough), he still thinks a comprehensive array of positions can be drawn from them: Against gun control. For the sovereignty of states. And against foreign-policy adventures. Paul was the Libertarian Party’s presidential candidate in 1988. But his is a less exuberant libertarianism than you find, say, in the pages of Reason magazine.
Over the years, this vision has won most favor from those convinced the country is going to hell in a handbasket. The attention Paul has captured tells us a lot about the prevalence of such pessimism today, about the instability of partisan allegiances and about the seldom-avowed common ground between the hard right and the hard left. His message draws on the noblest traditions of American decency and patriotism; it also draws on what the historian Richard Hofstadter called the paranoid style in American politics.
Paul grew up in the western Pennsylvania town of Green Tree. His father, the son of a German immigrant, ran a small dairy company. Sports were big around there — one of the customers on the milk route Paul worked as a teenager was the retired baseball Hall of Famer Honus Wagner — and Paul was a terrific athlete, winning a state track meet in the 220 and excelling at football and baseball. But knee injuries had ended his sports career by the time he went off to Gettysburg College in 1953. After medical school at Duke, Paul joined the Air Force, where he served as a flight surgeon, tending to the ear, nose and throat ailments of pilots, and traveling to Iran, Ethiopia and elsewhere. “I recall doing a lot of physicals on Army warrant officers who wanted to become helicopter pilots and go to Vietnam,” he told me. “They were gung-ho. I’ve often thought about how many of those people never came back.”
Paul is given to mulling things over morally. His family was pious and Lutheran; two of his brothers became ministers. Paul’s five children were baptized in the Episcopal church, but he now attends a Baptist one. He doesn’t travel alone with women and once dressed down an aide for using the expression “red-light district” in front of a female colleague. As a young man, though, he did not protest the Vietnam War, which he now calls “totally unnecessary” and “illegal.” Much later, after the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, he began reading St. Augustine. “I was annoyed by the evangelicals’ being so supportive of pre-emptive war, which seems to contradict everything that I was taught as a Christian,” he recalls. “The religion is based on somebody who’s referred to as the Prince of Peace.”
In 1968, Paul settled in southern Texas, where he had been stationed. He recalls that he was for a while the only obstetrician — “a very delightful part of medicine,” he says — in Brazoria County. He was already immersed in reading the economics books that would change his life. Americans know the “Austrian school,” if at all, from the work of Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, two economists who fled the Nazis in the 1930s and whose free-market doctrines helped inspire the conservative movement in the 1950s. The laws of economics don’t admit exceptions, say the Austrians. You cannot fake out markets, no matter how surreptitiously you expand the money supply. Spend more than you earn, and you are on the road to inflation and tyranny.
Such views are not always Republican orthodoxy. Paul is a harsh critic of the Federal Reserve, both for its policies and its unaccountability. “We first bonded,” recalls Barney Frank, the Massachusetts Democrat, “because we were both conspicuous nonworshipers at the Temple of the Fed and of the High Priest Greenspan.” In recent weeks, Paul’s airport reading has been a book called “Financial Armageddon.” He is obsessed with sound money, which he considers — along with the related phenomena of credit excess, bubbles and uncollateralized assets of all kinds — a “sleeper issue.” The United States ought to link its currency to gold or silver again, Paul says. He puts his money where his mouth is. According to Federal Election Commission documents, most of his investments are in gold and silver and are worth between $1.5 and $3.5 million. It’s a modest sum by the standards of major presidential candidates but impressive for someone who put five children through college on a doctor’s (and later a congressman’s) earnings.
For Paul, everything comes back to money, including Iraq. “No matter how much you love the empire,” he says, “it’s unaffordable.” Wars are expensive, and there has been a tendency throughout history to pay for them by borrowing. A day of reckoning always comes, says Paul, and one will come for us. Speaking this spring before the libertarian Future of Freedom Foundation in Reston, Va., he warned of a dollar crisis. “That’s usually the way empires end,” he said. “It wasn’t us forcing the Soviets to build missiles that brought them down. It was the fact that socialism doesn’t work. Our system doesn’t work much better.”
Under the banner of “Freedom, Honesty and Sound Money,” Paul ran for Congress in 1974. He lost — but took the seat in a special election in April 1976. He lost again in November of that year, then won in 1978. On two big issues, he stood on principle and was vindicated: He was one of very few Republicans in Congress to back Ronald Reagan against Gerald Ford for the 1976 Republican nomination. He was also one of the representatives who warned against the rewriting of banking rules that laid the groundwork for the savings-and-loan collapse of the 1980s. Paul served three terms before losing to Phil Gramm in the Republican primary for Senate in 1984. Tom DeLay took over his seat.
Paul would not come back to Washington for another dozen years. But in the time he could spare from delivering babies in Brazoria County, he remained a mighty presence in the out-of-the-limelight world of those old-line libertarians who had never made their peace with the steady growth of federal power in the 20th century. Paul got the Libertarian Party nomination for president in 1988, defeating the Indian activist Russell Means in a tough race. He finished third behind Bush and Dukakis, winning nearly half a million votes. He tended his own Foundation for Rational Economics and Education (FREE) and kept up his contacts with other market-oriented organizations. What resulted was a network of true believers who would be his political base in one of the stranger Congressional elections of modern times.
A Lone Wolf
In the first days of 1995, just weeks after the Republican landslide, Paul traveled to Washington and, through DeLay, made contact with the Texas Republican delegation. He told them he could beat the Democratic incumbent Greg Laughlin in the reconfigured Gulf Coast district that now included his home. Republicans had their own ideas. In June 1995, Laughlin announced he would run in the next election as a Republican. Laughlin says he had discussed switching parties with Newt Gingrich, the next speaker, before the Republicans even took power. Paul suspects to this day that the Republicans wooed Laughlin to head off his candidacy. Whatever happened, it didn’t work. Paul challenged Laughlin in the primary.
“At first, we kind of blew him off,” recalls the longtime Texas political consultant Royal Masset. “ ‘Oh, there’s Ron Paul!’ But very quickly, we realized he was getting far more money than anybody.” Much of it came from out of state, from the free-market network Paul built up while far from Congress. His candidacy was a problem not just for Laughlin. It also threatened to halt the stream of prominent Democrats then switching parties — for what sane incumbent would switch if he couldn’t be assured the Republican nomination? The result was a heavily funded effort by the National Republican Congressional Committee to defeat Paul in the primary. The National Rifle Association made an independent expenditure against him. Former President George H.W. Bush, Gov. George W. Bush and both Republican senators endorsed Laughlin. Paul had only two prominent backers: the tax activist Steve Forbes and the pitcher Nolan Ryan, Paul’s constituent and old friend, who cut a number of ads for him. They were enough. Paul edged Laughlin in a runoff and won an equally narrow general election.
Republican opposition may not have made Paul distrust the party, but beating its network with his own homemade one revealed that he didn’t necessarily need the party either. Paul looks back on that race and sees something in common with his quixotic bid for the presidency. “I always think that if I do things like that and get clobbered, I can excuse myself,” he says.
Anyone who is elected to Congress three times as a nonincumbent, as Paul has been, is a politician of prodigious gifts. Especially since Paul has real vulnerabilities in his district. For Eric Dondero, who plans to challenge him in the Republican Congressional primary next fall, foreign policy is Paul’s central failing. Dondero, who is 44, was Paul’s aide and sometime spokesman for more than a decade. According to Dondero, “When 9/11 happened, he just completely changed. One of the first things he said was not how awful the tragedy was . . . it was, ‘Now we’re gonna get big government.’ ”
Dondero claims that Paul’s vote to authorize force in Afghanistan was made only after warnings from a longtime staffer that voting otherwise would cost him Victoria, a pivotal city in his district. (“Completely false,” Paul says.) One day just after the Iraq invasion, when Dondero was driving Paul around the district, the two had words. “He said he did not want to have someone on staff who did not support him 100 percent on foreign policy,” Dondero recalls. Paul says Dondero’s outspoken enthusiasm for the military’s “shock and awe” strategy made him an awkward spokesman for an antiwar congressman. The two parted on bad terms.
A larger vulnerability may be that voters want more pork-barrel spending than Paul is willing to countenance. In a rice-growing, cattle-ranching district, Paul consistently votes against farm subsidies. In the very district where, on the night of Sept. 8, 1900, a storm destroyed the city of Galveston, leaving 6,000 dead, and where repairs from Hurricane Rita and refugees from Hurricane Katrina continue to exact a toll, he votes against FEMA and flood aid. In a district that is home to many employees of the Johnson Space Center, he votes against financing NASA.
The Victoria Advocate, an influential newspaper in the district, has generally opposed Paul for re-election, on the grounds that a “lone wolf” cannot get the highway and homeland-security financing the district needs. So how does he get re-elected? Tim Delaney, the paper’s editorial-page editor, says: “Ron Paul is a very charismatic person. He has charm. He does not alter his position ever. His ideals are high. If a little old man calls up from the farm and says, ‘I need a wheelchair,’ he’ll get the damn wheelchair for him.”
Paul may have refused on principle to accept Medicare when he practiced medicine. He may return a portion of his Congressional office budget every year. But his staff has the reputation of fighting doggedly to collect Social Security checks, passports, military decorations, immigrant-visa extensions and any emolument to which constituents are entitled by law. According to Jackie Gloor, who runs Paul’s Victoria office: “So many times, people say to us, ‘We don’t like his vote.’ But they trust his heart.”
In Congress, Paul is generally admired for his fidelity to principle and lack of ego. “He is one of the easiest people in Congress to work with, because he bases his positions on the merits of issues,” says Barney Frank, who has worked with Paul on efforts to ease the regulation of gambling and medical marijuana. “He is independent but not ornery.” Paul has made a habit of objecting to things that no one else objects to. In October 2001, he was one of three House Republicans to vote against the USA Patriot Act. He was the sole House member of either party to vote against the Financial Antiterrorism Act (final tally: 412-1). In 1999, he was the only naysayer in a 424-1 vote in favor of casting a medal to honor Rosa Parks. Nothing against Rosa Parks: Paul voted against similar medals for Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. He routinely opposes resolutions that presume to advise foreign governments how to run their affairs: He has refused to condemn Robert Mugabe’s violence against Zimbabwean citizens (421-1), to call on Vietnam to release political prisoners (425-1) or to ask the League of Arab States to help stop the killing in Darfur (425-1).
Every Thursday, Paul is the host of a luncheon for a circle of conservative Republicans that he calls the Liberty Caucus. It has become the epicenter of antiwar Republicanism in Washington. One stalwart member is Walter Jones, the North Carolina Republican who during the debate over Iraq suggested renaming French fries “freedom fries” in the House dining room, but who has passed the years since in vocal opposition to the war. Another is John (Jimmy) Duncan of Tennessee, the only Republican besides Paul who voted against the war and remains in the House. Other regulars include Virgil Goode of Virginia, Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland and Scott Garrett of New Jersey. Zach Wamp of Tennessee and Jeff Flake, the Arizonan scourge of pork-barrel spending, visit occasionally. Not all are antiwar, but many of the speakers Paul invites are: the former C.I.A. analyst Michael Scheuer, the intelligence-world journalist James Bamford and such disillusioned United States Army officers as William Odom, Gregory Newbold and Lawrence Wilkerson (Colin Powell’s former chief of staff), among others.
In today’s Washington, Paul’s combination of radical libertarianism and conservatism is unusual. Sometimes the first impulse predominates. He was the only Texas Republican to vote against last year’s Federal Marriage Amendment, meant to stymie gay marriage. He detests the federal war on drugs; the LSD guru Timothy Leary held a fundraiser for him in 1988. Sometimes he is more conservative. He opposed the recent immigration bill on the grounds that it constituted amnesty. At a breakfast for conservative journalists in the offices of Americans for Tax Reform this May, he spoke resentfully of being required to treat penurious immigrants in emergency rooms — “patients who were more likely to sue you than anybody else,” having children “who became automatic citizens the next day.” (Paul champions a constitutional amendment to end birthright citizenship.) While he backs free trade in theory, he opposes many of the institutions and arrangements — from the World Trade Organization to Nafta — that promote it in practice.
Paul also opposes abortion, which he believes should be addressed at the state level, not the national one. He remembers seeing a late abortion performed during his residency, years before Roe v. Wade, and he maintains it left an impression on him. “It was pretty dramatic for me,” he says, “to see a two-and-a-half-pound baby taken out crying and breathing and put in a bucket.”
The Owl-God Moloch
Paul’s message is not new. You could have heard it in 1964 or 1975 or 1991 at the conclaves of those conservatives who were considered outside the mainstream of the Republican Party. Back then, most Republicans appeared reconciled to a strong federal government, if only to do the expensive job of defending the country against Communism. But when the Berlin Wall fell, the dormant institutions and ideologies of pre-cold-war conservatism began to stir. In his 1992 and 1996 campaigns, Pat Buchanan was the first politician to express and exploit this change, breathing life into the motto “America First” (if not the organization of that name, which opposed entry into World War II).
Like Buchanan, Paul draws on forgotten traditions. His top aides are unimpeachably Republican but stand at a distance from the party as it has evolved over the decades. His chief of staff, Tom Lizardo, worked for Pat Robertson and Bill Miller Jr. (the son of Barry Goldwater’s vice-presidential nominee). His national campaign organizer, Lew Moore, worked for the late congressman Jack Metcalf of Washington State, another Goldwaterite. At the grass roots, Paul’s New Hampshire primary campaign stresses gun rights and relies on anti-abortion and tax activists from the organizations of Buchanan and the state’s former maverick senator, Bob Smith.
Paul admires Robert Taft, the isolationist Ohio senator known during the Truman administration as Mr. Republican, who tried to rally Republicans against United States participation in NATO. Taft lost the Republican nomination in 1952 to Dwight Eisenhower and died the following year. “Now, of course,” Paul says, “I quote Eisenhower when he talks about the military-industrial complex. But I quote Taft when he suits my purposes too.” Particularly on NATO, from which Paul, too, would like to withdraw.
The question is whether the old ideologies being resurrected are neglected wisdom or discredited nonsense. In the 1996 general election, Paul’s Democratic opponent Lefty Morris held a press conference to air several shocking quotes from a newsletter that Paul published during his decade away from Washington. Passages described the black male population of Washington as “semi-criminal or entirely criminal” and stated that “by far the most powerful lobby in Washington of the bad sort is the Israeli government.” Morris noted that a Canadian neo-Nazi Web site had listed Paul’s newsletter as a laudably “racialist” publication.
Paul survived these revelations. He later explained that he had not written the passages himself — quite believably, since the style diverges widely from his own. But his response to the accusations was not transparent. When Morris called on him to release the rest of his newsletters, he would not. He remains touchy about it. “Even the fact that you’re asking this question infers, ‘Oh, you’re an anti-Semite,’ ” he told me in June. Actually, it doesn’t. Paul was in Congress when Israel bombed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear plant in 1981 and — unlike the United Nations and the Reagan administration — defended its right to do so. He says Saudi Arabia has an influence on Washington equal to Israel’s. His votes against support for Israel follow quite naturally from his opposition to all foreign aid. There is no sign that they reflect any special animus against the Jewish state.
What is interesting is Paul’s idea that the identity of the person who did write those lines is “of no importance.” Paul never deals in disavowals or renunciations or distancings, as other politicians do. In his office one afternoon in June, I asked about his connections to the John Birch Society. “Oh, my goodness, the John Birch Society!” he said in mock horror. “Is that bad? I have a lot of friends in the John Birch Society. They’re generally well educated, and they understand the Constitution. I don’t know how many positions they would have that I don’t agree with. Because they’re real strict constitutionalists, they don’t like the war, they’re hard-money people. . . . ”
Paul’s ideological easygoingness is like a black hole that attracts the whole universe of individuals and groups who don’t recognize themselves in the politics they see on TV. To hang around with his impressively large crowd of supporters before and after the CNN debate in Manchester, N.H., in June, was to be showered with privately printed newsletters full of exclamation points and capital letters, scribbled-down U.R.L.’s for Web sites about the Free State Project, which aims to turn New Hampshire into a libertarian enclave, and copies of the cult DVD “America: Freedom to Fascism.”
Victor Carey, a 45-year-old, muscular, mustachioed self-described “patriot” who wears a black baseball cap with a skull and crossbones on it, drove up from Sykesville, Md., to show his support for Paul. He laid out some of his concerns. “The people who own the Federal Reserve own the oil companies, they own the mass media, they own the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, they’re part of the Bilderbergers, and unfortunately their spiritual practices are very wicked and diabolical as well,” Carey said. “They go to a place out in California known as the Bohemian Grove, and there’s been footage obtained by infiltration of what their practices are. And they do mock human sacrifices to an owl-god called Moloch. This is true. Go research it yourself.”
Two grandmothers from North Carolina who painted a Winnebago red, white and blue were traveling around the country, stumping for Ron Paul, defending the Constitution and warning about the new “North American Union.” Asked whether this is something that would arise out of Nafta, Betty Smith of Chapel Hill, N.C., replied: “It’s already arisen. They’re building the highway. Guess what! The Spanish company building the highway — they’re gonna get the tolls. Giuliani’s law firm represents that Spanish company. Giuliani’s been anointed a knight by the Queen. Guess what! Read the Constitution. That’s not allowed!”
Paul is not a conspiracy theorist, but he has a tendency to talk in that idiom. In a floor speech shortly after the toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan, he mentioned Unocal’s desire to tap the region’s energy and concluded, “We should not be surprised now that many contend that the plan for the U.N. to ‘nation-build’ in Afghanistan is a logical and important consequence of this desire.” But when push comes to shove, Paul is not among the “many” who “contend” this. “I think oil and gas is part of it,” he explains. “But it’s not the issue. If that were the only issue, it wouldn’t have happened. The main reason was to get the Taliban out.”
Last winter at a meet-the-candidate house party in New Hampshire, students representing a group called Student Scholars for 9/11 Truth asked Paul whether he believed the official investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks was credible. “I never automatically trust anything the government does when they do an investigation,” Paul replied, “because too often I think there’s an area that the government covered up, whether it’s the Kennedy assassination or whatever.” The exchange was videotaped and ricocheted around the Internet for a while. But Paul’s patience with the “Truthers,” as they call themselves, does not make him one himself. “Even at the time it happened, I believe the information was fairly clear that Al Qaeda was involved,” he told me.
“Every Wacko Fringe Group In the Country”
One evening in mid-June, 86 members of a newly formed Ron Paul Meetup group gathered in a room in the Pasadena convention center. It was a varied crowd, preoccupied by the war, including many disaffected Democrats. Via video link from Virginia, Paul’s campaign chairman, Kent Snyder, spoke to the group “of a coming-together of the old guard and the new.” Then Connie Ruffley, co-chairwoman of United Republicans of California (UROC), addressed the crowd. UROC was founded during the 1964 presidential campaign to fight off challenges to Goldwater from Rockefeller Republicanism. Since then it has lain dormant but not dead — waiting, like so many other old right-wing groups, for someone or something to kiss it back to life. UROC endorsed Paul at its spring convention.
That night, Ruffley spoke about her past with the John Birch Society and asked how many in the room were members (quite a few, as it turned out). She referred to the California senator Dianne Feinstein as “Fine-Swine,” and got quickly to Israel, raising the Israeli attack on the American Naval signals ship Liberty during the Six-Day War. Some people were pleased. Others walked out. Others sent angry e-mails that night. Several said they would not return. The head of the Pasadena Meetup group, Bill Dumas, sent a desperate letter to Paul headquarters asking for guidance:
“We’re in a difficult position of working on a campaign that draws supporters from laterally opposing points of view, and we have the added bonus of attracting every wacko fringe group in the country. And in a Ron Paul Meetup many people will consider each other ‘wackos’ for their beliefs whether that is simply because they’re liberal, conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis, evangelical Christian, etc. . . . We absolutely must focus on Ron’s message only and put aside all other agendas, which anyone can save for the next ‘Star Trek’ convention or whatever.”
But what is “Ron’s message”? Whatever the campaign purports to be about, the main thing it has done thus far is to serve as a clearinghouse for voters who feel unrepresented by mainstream Republicans and Democrats. The antigovernment activists of the right and the antiwar activists of the left have many differences, maybe irreconcilable ones. But they have a lot of common beliefs too, and their numbers — and anger — are of a considerable magnitude. Ron Paul will not be the next president of the United States. But his candidacy gives us a good hint about the country the next president is going to have to knit back together.
moe is sick. 8P
more pictures from OCF:
i’m grumpy and out of sorts, which is odd since i just got back from OCF, which was awesome. there is a bunch of shit going on in my life currently, which OCF distracted me from for long enough that, when i was forced to go back to it, it really sucked. i’ll post about OCF now, and get to the griping about shit later.
there are a bunch of pictures, and there are still a huge quantity that i have yet to process. there will be more photos over the next few days as i get around to it.
i got a ride to the fair from moe(!), but she had to leave on saturday, so i rode back with norma. we got there thursday and ended up camping behind morningwood, which was much superior to mosquito acres (sorry ducky), where i camped last year. it was completely shaded, so it was much cooler even in the hottest part of the day, there weren’t any mosquitos or yellowjackets or obvious bug sex, and it was about 10 feet from the backstage area, behind a “secret” door next to the band locker.
the shows went extremely well. we had our first and only dress rehearsal on thursday night, did a run of six shows in 3 days, and came away with a solid script that is being expanded on by the entire cast. it was amazing, because even though simon and a few others didn’t completely know their lines, we were able to pull it off with a humour that the crowd found infectious, and those who didn’t have their lines completely ready by the first show were doing quite well indeed by the second show. the music was outstanding. there were songs by stuart, jeremy(!), kiki, and amy bob, and the audience invariably went away humming the tunes.
BBWP performed at the “real” fire show (which is the one for the public, in kermit lot) again this year. it was huge. the backdrop was enormous, and there were around 1,500 – 2,000 people in the audience. i fell off my buckets about 5 minutes before we were supposed to go on, but, miraculously, i didn’t sprain my ankle again. i don’t like performing on an uneven surface when i’m doing BBWP, but if i hadn’t done it, there would only have been two of them, so i “took one for the team” and did it anyway. it was exciting, too, because i haven’t been practicing as much as i probably should, and as a result, my spinning got so erratic that i had to stop and start over again, which resulted in my burning all the hair off of the exposed area of my hips and crotch… very exciting indeed… it was also a miracle that the diaper i was wearing didn’t catch fire. it didn’t matter, though, because that’s part of the show – it’s supposed to be humourous, and it was. everything was good.
the fremont philharmonic played at the ritz saturday night. apparently we have a standing invitation to play at the ritz saturday nights from now on, and it’s likely because the guy who is the ringmaster of ceremonies for the fremont solstice parade, Baron Von Huffenfuel (otherwise known as peter toms) is in charge of scheduling artists to play at the ritz. this, too, is a very good thing, because it means that we get into the ritz for free, and the ritz is one of my favourite places at the fair. during the four days i was there, i spent at least 8 hours in the sauna.
saturday night i discovered that my digital camera doesn’t necessarily have to flash, and if i tell it not to flash, that it has a significantly slower shutter speed, which makes pictures of things at night really interesting. chelamela meadow is one of those things: it is full of hippies with sparkly and twinkly toys, costumes and suchlike, of all kinds. also, there was one installation where there were a bunch of solar-powered lights that were hidden in metal sculptures, and a solar-powered fire sculpture that was really cool: it was about 8 feet tall, and consisted of an elaborate base on which there was a narrow tube that had fire dripping down from the top of it.
in a strange way, OCF is comparable to an enormous, outdoor, hippie-oriented mall: the main thing to do there is buy stuff, eat, go to concerts and watch the strange people. it’s interesting to me that i dislike malls as much as i do, and yet i feel totally at home at OCF… although i do tend to avoid the crowds most of the time.
i’ll probably write more, but now i’m going to do something else.