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The Family by Jeff Sharlet

Posted on 17 November 2009 by Tim

Jeff Sharlet, bestselling author of The Family, was recently on the Thom Hartmann Show which is where I heard about him. The topic of his book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, is a group of Christian fundamentalists who are influencing American policies and gaining a powerful hold in politics.

I knew after hearing Jeff on the air with Thom that I had to at least try to get an interview. Amazingly, Jeff wrote back the next day! Here’s what we talked about.

Interview with Jeff Sharlet, Author of The Family

What is The Family and what distinguishes their elite fundamentalism, as you call it, from other fundamental Christian groups?

The Family — or the Fellowship, as they’re known to some — is the oldest and most influential religious right group in Washington. It dates back to 1935, when founder Abraham Vereide received what he believed was a new revelation from God, a message that he should give up ministering to the down and out and focus instead on the “up and out,” society’s elites, chosen for power by God. Unlike populist fundamentalist groups, the Family isn’t interested in the souls of the masses. Their membership is small by design. And their interests tend more toward economics and foreign affairs, toward what some in the group call “biblical capitalism” and “worldwide spiritual offensive.”

How were you able to get involved in and live with The Family?

I was invited. In the beginning of the book I tell the story of how a friend asked me to meet with her brother, whom she worried had joined a cult. I write a lot about religion, so she thought I’d be able to help. The brother, whom I’d known for many years, invited me to come see for myself. At the time, I didn’t know there was a political — or a powerful — side to the group. I didn’t even really know it was a group — it was presented to me as just a group of friends. The tax records and the group’s archives tell a different tale.

Jeff Sharlet author of The Family The members of The Family seem fixated on power and attaining positions of power. Where can members be found and what agenda are they pushing?

Some prominent members include senators James Inhofe, Tom Coburn, John Ensign, Sam Brownback, Chuck Grassley, and Bill Nelson, and representatives Frank Wolf, Zach Wamp, Bart Stupak, Mike McIntyre, Joe Pitts, and Heath Shuler. Congress buffs will note that that list includes both Republicans and Democrats. The Family has always been bipartisan; it’s also always been conservative. It doesn’t push an agenda, per se. Rather, it offers what it calls a “worldview,” a frame for understanding politics through a religious lens that emphasizes rule by elites, free market fundamentalism, and Christian-oriented approaches to foreign affairs, such as Senator Coburn’s attempts to create secretive Christian prayer cells in the Lebanese government, or Senator Brownback’s attempts to get Jordan’s King Abdullah to study the New Testament, or Senator Grassley’s involvement, in the 80s, with the Somali dictator Siad Barre, a self-described “Koranic Marxist” who agreed to pray with Grassley to Jesus in exchange for access to American military aid, which he got — and which he used to lay waste to his country. The Family, while not necessarily approving of Barre’s murderous methods, never objected, seeing it as part of God’s plan for the nation.

You’ve written that Mao, Hitler and Stalin provide inspiration or a model of leadership. How are these figures portrayed as leaders to emulate?

That’s Family boilerplate, the idea that one can gain insight into Jesus by studying strongman killers. The Family will say, “These are evil men, but look how effective they were! They understood power, just as Jesus did. They used it for evil; Jesus, and you, can use it for good.” Which is absurd, of course. When I was living with the Family, I said I didn’t think we had many positive things to learn from Hitler. “Oh no,” one of the “brothers” assured me, “it’s not his ends we’re interested in, it’s his method.” That method was called fascism.

This doesn’t sound like a cult per se but more of a social ideology or movement. What have they been able to change to align American policies with their agenda?

I agree; that’s one of the main arguments of my book. It’s been frustrating to see friends on the left mislabel the movement as a cult and critics on the right dismiss my work by insisting that I’m labeling the Family a cult. It’s not a cult, it’s a movement, and its power lies not in any kind of conspiracy but in cultural transformation. The bulk of the book is a chronicle of the ways in which they’ve influenced American policy, “influence” being the key word. Any great change is the result of many factors.

So, for instance, they teamed up with the National Association of Manufacturers in the 1940s to roll back organized labor’s New Deal gains. In the postwar era, they were instrumental in whitewashing the records of former Nazi sympathizers such as Hermann Abs, the “wizard” of West Germany’s financial resurrection until the Simon Wiesenthal Center exposed him as Hitler’s banker. That kind of work helped stoke the Cold War in its early days; the Family viewed it as World War III. In 1959, two powerful senators, Frank Carlson and Homer Capehart, became champions for the Haitan dictator Papa Doc Duvalier, initiating the long and awful American relationship with the lunatic leader, who actually thought he was God. In the late 60s, they declared the coup that brought Indonesian strongman Suharto to power — considered by the CIA “one of the worst mass killings in the 20th century” — a “spiritual revolution,” and began sending delegations of congressmen and oil executives to meet with Suharto, who they considered God’s anointed man for Indonesia. They lobbied hard — and successfully — for massive American aid to the junta of generals that sidelined Brazilian democracy for more than a decade, and they stood by the Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos to the end. More recently, they’ve become champions of the Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni, whom they’ve designated a “key man” for Africa. Museveni has no bigger champion in Congress than Family men James Inhofe and Sam Brownback, two senators who’ve taken a very involved role in Ugandan politics.

Is there a connection between this group and the rise of fundamentalism in the military?

I’m looking at that now for my next book. Last spring I published a piece on fundamentalism in the military called “Jesus Killed Muhammad’ in Harper’s magazine (it’s online and free, now). At the time, I thought they were parallel but not directly related movements. Now, I’m not so sure. Working with an advocacy outfit called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, I’ve been able to document some surprising connections. More on that front to come.

About Writing The Family

I’ve read that it took you 5 years of work to produce your book The Family. What aspect of the research was the most challenging? Did you find it difficult to get the information you needed?

The most significant source for the book was Collection 459 of the Billy Graham Center Archives, the papers of the Fellowship Foundation — one of the Family’s several nonprofit entities, and the one that dumped the papers of many of the different nonprofit groups in the archive. Nearly 600 boxes and hundreds of hours of tape. Literally millions of pages — budgets, memos, plans, correspondence, membership lists, prayer, diaries. Some of it crucial, some of it banal, some of it fascinating, a lot of it, frankly, boring. I worked with quite a few research assistants and spent literally years on these papers — and I still only saw a fraction of them. On top of that, I conducted research in a number of other archives around the country. I’ve a giant stack of documents I copied from the Reagan Library, for instance, that I didn’t end up using. The most challenging aspect was wading through all this paper. At the same time, I struggled for a long time to understand what I was seeing. The Family really represents a different strain of religious conservatism than has previously been identified. That made it difficult. Then, too, there’s the secrecy of the group, which officially “submerged” — their word — in the late 1960s. Since the success of the book, quite a few former Family members have come to me with just amazing documents — if only I’d had these when I was writing the book! There’s still a lot more to learn.

It has been about a year since The Family first came out, where do you plan to go from here with your writing on religion and politics?

At the beginning of this summer I was working on a book I’ve owed to Basic Books for awhile, using the story of “If I Had a Hammer” to trace the transformation — and, in many ways, collapse — of an organized left from its first public performance in 1947 to now. The Family scandals of the summer — the affairs of Senator Ensign, Governor Mark Sanford, and former congressman Chip Pickering, all linked to the Family’s C Street House — have put me back on the religion beat. This time I’ll be looking more broadly at the role of scandal in how we think about religion and politics. That book should be out next fall, and then it’ll be followed by a collection of essays called “What They Wanted,” which approaches religion and politics through a consideration of the tension between despair and desire. And then, at last, I’ll finish up The Hammer Song, a book I originally conceived as a sort of antidote for myself after too many years in the shadow of the Family.

Thanks again for talking with me Jeff!

If you’re interested in finding out more about Jeff Sharlet or his work head on over to JeffSharlet.com.

In addition to writing books, Jeff Sharlet is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone. Sharlet has also been featured on numerous TV shows. Not surprisingly, one of the best ones I found was his appearance on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. See the video below.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Jeff Sharlet
Daily Show
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The Cross Image by Glen

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ZOMBIES! Recorded Attacks by Max Brooks

Posted on 05 November 2009 by Tim

Funny-man Max Brooks has unleashed another zombie tome on his eager mass of readers – Recorded Attacks.

Recorded Attacks by Max Brooks

The new book is a graphic novel recounting zombie attacks from around the world. Although it’s light on reading content, both text and sheer volume, the book is teeming with awesome zombie fight scenes and eerily enticing scenes of death and mayhem.

Max teamed up with artist Ibraim Roberson for the illustrations, which are pretty sweet! The locations are quite varied and well portrayed – Africa, Japan, Siberia…

Since there is little informational content here, and only a sprinkle of text (even for a graphic novel), you’ll want to read The Zombie Survival Guide. What the book does well is serve as a powerful visual reminder of what is in store for those who are unprepared.

It is said that we often repeat history. Luckily, Max provides us a resource we can learn from so we don’t. Teeth will be gnashed, flesh will be shredded and blood will flow. They’re here…are you prepared?

When talking about zombies it should go without saying…but for the dense people here’s a warning – this graphic novel is indeed graphic. Blood, gore, and even a few minor scenes of nudity are inside. Parents have been warned.

Who Is Max Brooks?

Max is the author of The Zombie Survival Guide and the New York Times bestseller – World War Z. Among his other accomplishments, Max worked as a writer on Saturday Night Live, Roseanne and 7th Heaven.

Check out Comic Impact’s review of Recorded Attacks. Multiversity Comics has a great review too!

Zombie Girl Image by kevindooley


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Gothic Charm School by Jillian Venters

Posted on 07 August 2009 by Tim

You see, “gothic” has become a shorthand in the media for “depressed crazy person who is a ticking time bomb.” – The Lady of Manners [more]

Who is Jillian Venters?

Jillian is a Gothy woman (obviously) that writes the popular blog Gothic Charm School. She reminds us that for many being Goth is not a costume but a lifestyle. Jillian will be a guest columnist in the Winter 2009 English-language Gothic & Lolita Bible from TOKYOPOP! and will also be a panelist at Innocente Seraphim Gothic Lolita and Ball-Jointed Doll convention on August 8th, 2009.

Gothic Charm School: The Book

The Lady of Manners, Jillian Venters, author of Gothic Charm School read a few chapters of her new book to a primarily goth-leaning crowd at Powell’s Books. She was perched up on the wooden book platform behind the podium in a black and white striped dress, with little bows in her hair. We found out that, like most of us, she loves Powell’s Books and can usually be found in the horror section.

After sharing tidbits from the book, she opened up for some Q&A. The questions and answers are not verbatim but are a close approximation.

Q: Any tips for goths growing older?
A: Be aware of your age and wear a style that is appropriate. Also, have a good skincare regimen.

Q: What is your take on steampunk?
A: The style is nice, but why create a character persona? Just be yourself and wear the clothes.

Jillian figured the idea of creating a character for the outfit grew out of literature and other sub-cultures.

Q: At work, do you have a problem with people taking you seriously?
A: Generally, no. It was more of a problem working at Wizards of the Coast. But at Microsoft things are much better.

Q: What is a snarkling?
A: It comes from a combination of snarky and darling. Snarkling!

If you’re interested in finding out more about Jillian and the Gothic Charm School, she will be interviewed live on Glass of Win. The show will air on BlogTalkRadio August 13th. Show info here.

Jillian Venters of Gothic Charm School

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Governor (and Doctor) Howard Dean Discusses Health Care Reform and President Obama’s Plan

Posted on 24 July 2009 by Tim

I was pleasantly surprised when I picked up Powell’s Books Calendar of Events earlier this month to see that Governor Howard Dean would be coming to speak about his new book. Gov. Dean’s book is titled, Howard Dean’s Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform: How We Can Achieve Affordable Medical Care for Every American and Make Our Jobs Safer. That’s a monster of a title but don’t worry it’s a quick read at only 160 pages.

As you may or may not know, Gov. Dean served as the Governor of Vermont and after running for president in 2004, he became the Democratic National Committee Chairman. Howard Dean led the 50-State Strategy which helped Democrats pick-up seats in the House and Senate, even in traditionally conservative states. Now, the Democrats lead the country as the majority party.

Full-Length 2-Part Video Below! Watch and Leave A Comment.

The book describes Gov. Dean’s experience as a physician and his critiques of the healthcare industry, specifically the for-profit health insurance industry. He is very precise in his critiques and draws great comparisons to other countries and even demonstrates the efficiency of Medicare to show how much money can be saved. His argument is that we should at least offer every American the chance to utilize the same quality care and service that people over 65 years of age enjoy when they use Medicare.

Howard Dean’s Speech

Gov Howard Dean Talking About Healthcare
Dean was going to begin by signing books but since some people had taken their lunch break to attend he switched gears and launched into a clear and passionate speech about the problems we face and how we can fix them. Just moments into his speech, a heckler starts harassing him about single-payer healthcare. The heckler was roundly shushed by the audience and Gov. Dean asked him to please respect other people’s time and when it comes to Q&A he will be called on to speak. However, the guy wanted to be a pain and he was eventually asked to leave by Powell’s employees. Another heckler attempted the same thing shortly after and was again shushed by the crowd and asked to leave by employees. After that it went without a problem and was very informative.

Gov. Dean Answering Question About Big Pharmaceuticals Points to take away:

  • We offer efficient, government run healthcare already for veterans and the eldery. We should expand this to everyone.
  • Medicare only costs 4% of every dollar to administer. The best private insurance can do is 20%. Huge savings potential.
  • Primary care physicians in the British healthcare system typically make more money than primary care physicians in America.
  • Prevent health problems instead of overpaying for expensive treatment in the case of preventable diseases.
  • President Obama’s plan will offer a huge benefit to small business by relieving them of the expense of providing health care. With a public option.
  • American businesses will become more competitive with foreign companies who enjoy lower employment costs due to their own governments’ universal healthcare plans. (Example, Toyota from Japan is gobbling up market share due to low costs. Please note: This is my example and not one Gov. Dean pointed out.)

Gov. Howard Dean’s Speech Part 1:

Gov. Howard Dean’s Speech Part 2:

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New Book: Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges

Posted on 22 July 2009 by Tim

Pulitzer-Prize winning author Chris Hedges debuted his new book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle at Powell’s Books on Tuesday, July 21. The book is essentially about the devolution of our society from a literate, critical thinking mass that can separate reality from illusion into a society focused on spectacle and shallow entertainment to the detriment of our society and the world as a whole.

Chris Hedges Receives a Standing Ovation from Oregonians

Michael Jackson

In his talk at Powell’s Books, Mr. Hedges started out by talking about Michael Jackson and the spectacle of his death. Hedges said that Michael had his childhood stolen from him and was “surrounded by vultures” who preyed on his insecurities. Michael turned himself from a masculine African-American man into an androgynous, effeminate individual whose “chalk white skin” became a “Caucasian death mask”.

The point was certainly not to mock Michael Jackson but to illustrate America’s disturbing obsession with the rise and fall of celebrities. Hedges goes on to describe the odd spectacle of Michael Jackson’s funeral which was turned into an entertaining media event complete with singing children, performing artists and even a plug for KFC chicken courtesy of Magic Johnson.

Politics and Brand Obama

In his critique of politics, Chris Hedges discusses the vast sums of money required to run for Congress. He also points out that economics trumps politics as demonstrated by the unregulated bail out of the financial sector. Although Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and others get special attention, Hedges zooms in on Bill Clinton for some precision strikes against his welfare policy and NAFTA. Both of which, as Hedges describes, are major contributing factors to the economic problems our nation faces.

Chris Hedges Speaking at Powell's Books on July 21st.

Regarding Barack Obama, Hedges refers to his campaign as Brand Obama since he was portrayed as something new and fresh, willing to change the old ways. However, Brand Obama has been unwilling to consider the “prosecution of the Bush Administration” and has not repealed many of the spying programs nor has he “reinstated habeus corpus”.

The Economy

Hedges points us in the direction of Henry David Thoreau to learn more about living a simple life so we can achieve a real sense of happiness rather than chasing the latest trends and celebrities to escape our existence. Following that, he delves into the shift in our economy from production to consumption.

A great point Chris makes is that life is not just about “tangible success but of resurrection of integrity”.

After about an hour of speaking, with occasional bursts of applause, Chris Hedges took questions for about 30 minutes or so. It was a very stimulating presentation and discussion. I’m glad I was able to make it out to see him speak. A big thanks to Powell’s Books!

Chris Hedges Around The Web:

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