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This week on Truthdig Radio: The man who brought down Warren Jeffs’ Mormon fundamentalist sect, the Christian conspiracy to take over the military, and the hot new children’s book “Go the Fuck to Sleep.” Plus: a progressive analysis of the debt ceiling drama.
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Sam Brower, the man who brought down Warren Jeffs
“Go the Fuck to Sleep”
The Christian conspiracy to take over the military
A progressive take on the economy
Peter Scheer: Welcome to Truthdig Radio from Truthdig.com and KPFK Los Angeles. I’m Peter Scheer. On today’s show: Sam Brower, the man who brought down Warren Jeffs’ Mormon fundamentalist sect; Mike Farrell reports on the Christian conspiracy to take over the military; we read from the hot new children’s book “Go the F*** to Sleep”; plus, Robert Scheer and economist Moshe Adler offer a progressive analysis of the debt-ceiling drama.
But first, a bit of trivia: Netflix, which rents DVDs and streams live video over the Internet, is making waves with the sudden announcement that the company is essentially doubling subscription fees. To put things in perspective, think about this: According to one recent estimate, about one-quarter of all Internet traffic in North America passes through Netflix servers. That’s more than iTunes, more than Facebook, and more than all Web browsing combined. And that’s a lot of angry customers. Now, let’s get on with the show.
There is a group of fundamentalist Christians who see it as their mandate to occupy secular institutions, including the military, in advance of the prophesied return of Jesus. According to Truthdig contributor Mike Farrell, whose latest piece is “Extremely Unctuous,” they may be more successful than you think. Mike Farrell is an actor and activist best known for his work on “M*A*S*H” and his opposition to the death penalty. Welcome to Truthdig Radio, Mike.
Mike Farrell: Nice to be with you, thank you.
Peter Scheer: So we actually ran an article by David Antoon, who is a retired Air Force colonel, in 2007 called “The Cancer From Within” about the Air Force Academy and his struggle as a graduate of that institution—not wanting to send his son there, having learned how taken over it had become by fundamentalists. But this is part of a larger plan; can you just explain that to us?
Mike Farrell: Well, yeah. The studies that have been done on the … we have to understand, I think, make the differentiation between fundamentalist Christians, Bible-believing Christians, evangelical Christians, mainline Christians and what they call Dominionist Christians. Dominionist—that label seems to imply that there are these people who believe that they, and only they, have the right connection with Jesus, and therefore they are the one true faith, and everybody else—literally everybody else—is doomed to hell. And they have this mandate from God, from their perspective, to move into and take over secular institutions. And the one that I wrote about that is a big source of great concern is, of course, the military. A lot of people don’t understand the degree of commitment on the parts of these people. It’s very cult-like; in my view, it is a cult. And it is so intensely emotional that it becomes, that they become sort of rabid about it. So when you move into an area like the military … I use as the example what was called in the news, a few months back, the “Jesus rifles.” That somebody could be so intent on putting out “the word” that they would compromise young kids who are carrying weapons into a Muslim nation to fight for what they believe is freedom. …
Peter Scheer: Can you—I’m sorry, Mike—can you just explain what the “Jesus rifles” are?
Mike Farrell: Oh, sure, yeah. There were 800,000 American army weapons, or military weapons, that were outfitted with specific sights, and that were bought from a company in the United States by the Pentagon. And it was only later discovered that on these sights, this particular company—which is owned by one of these people with a very fervent Christian belief—was engraved a biblical, what I call the biblical code, that leads you to a quotation in the Bible about Jesus being the Lord God and all that stuff. Well, you know, the problem with that … maybe nobody would ever see that code, but for the people who did—and for the people on the other side who found it and discovered it and understood it—it undergirds this whole notion that we are a Christian nation fighting a war against Islam and every other faith that is not Christian—and not only not Christian, but in fact the very specific little sect of Christianity that these people represent.
Josh Scheer: Hey Mike, this is Josh. I just want—this is not about people of faith, of any faith, right? These are extremists.
Mike Farrell: Oh, of course.
Josh Scheer: Yeah.
Mike Farrell: I think that’s the point I was trying to make. There are extremists … you know, we hear about extremists in the media today, in the American media today, and everybody sort of automatically clicks into Muslim extremists or Islamic extremists, when in fact there are extremists in every faith and every belief system. And it’s important for us to understand that extremism … actually, there was a study done a few years back that suggests that there’s more extremist activity outside of the Muslim faith than there is inside the Muslim faith, in spite of what you read in the media. Religious extremism, I’m saying. And we see that—I mean, you know, you don’t have to go back to Dr. [George] Tiller; we see it from Christians, we see it from Jews, we see it from people of all kind of faith beliefs. They tend to get so crazed in the commitment to their connection with God—whatever they deem God to be—and how it is that one makes oneself aligned with God, that they believe that they must destroy the other … anybody who’s, from their perspective, a nonbeliever.
Josh Scheer: But now, these people are in most part not, you know, blowing things up; they’re not terrorists in that way. Their kind of extremism is taking over these institutions and trying to kind of …
Peter Scheer: To what end ...
Josh Scheer: … topple the government. Yeah, to what end … but also to topple, to be … basically that they want to have the power, and they’re doing it in a different way than other extremists.
Mike Farrell: Well, they want to turn America into a theocracy. They want this to be—and you’ve heard, I know you’ve heard people say that they identify America as a Christian nation. There’s no question that the majority of the people that have a religious belief in this country are Christian. But that doesn’t make us a Christian nation, and the whole notion of separation of church and state is intended to make sure that there isn’t this insistence upon a particular religious belief that is inculcated into the body politic by those believers of a certain faith.
Peter Scheer: I think that’s an important point because, again, referencing that David Antoon piece we ran in 2007, tying in with your piece—“Extremely Unctuous” is the name of the piece—you know, there’s this idea, there’s this sort of stereotype, I think, of the military grunt as a kind of more conservative, more religious person. And that may be, but this is a scheme; this is an actual strategy to infiltrate, take over and dominate.
Mike Farrell: Absolutely. And it’s rampant in our country, and it’s done in very, I think, some very grandiose ways, but also in some very insidious ways, and that’s the one that worries me. The grandiose things we can all look at, identify this jerk in Florida who burned the Quran and made himself, on some levels, famous as a result of it, is one thing. But when people very quietly and very insistently insist their particular viewpoint into a system—into a system like the military—then I think we’re looking for big trouble. Because once the military becomes and/or is perceived to be an arm of a particular religious view, then we’ve moved into an area that is deeply tragic and, I think, very destructive.
Josh Scheer: And one question here because, you know, in schools for the most part … I mean some schools, obviously, that are not watched as much have separation of church and state. Why have these institutions been allowed to get away with this? Why are there “Jesus rifles”? Is it just, you know, have they corrupted … because shouldn’t the U.S. government step in?
Peter Scheer: Yeah, why isn’t this getting caught?
Josh Scheer: Yeah.
Mike Farrell: Well, yeah, the problem is exposing it. There was … Mikey Weinstein and the MRFF, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation—on whose advisory board I now serve—have raised so much attention and raised so many issues that the military hierarchy is beginning to pay attention. But they’re paying attention in a way that is typically ineffective. There was a report done by a Gen. [Patrick] Gamble, who recently went to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and talked to cadets, and asked about their experiences of being proselytized. And [he] didn’t understand, or if he understood—which is the more worrisome part—he was playing a game with them. But to give him the benefit of the doubt, [he] didn’t understand that you don’t talk to somebody in the ranks without an understanding of the fact that he or she can’t, unless being held in absolute confidence, can’t say anything that is contradictory to a superior. Because it’s going to harm his or her education, harm his or her career, harm his or her opportunities to advance. And that’s what we’re facing there. It has become so insidiously ingrained in the hierarchy at the military academies in general, that there is an unwillingness to unmask it on the parts of many people who either see things the same way or are unwilling to look very seriously and very closely at it in an investigatory manner that is effective.
Peter Scheer: One last question, Mike. Who is in charge of this? I mean, is there a dark room somewhere around a big table where there are people meeting and plotting this takeover?
Mike Farrell: [Laughs] I wish I could tell you. There are, there certainly are leaders of the Christian Dominionist fundamentalist movement that can be named, but … you know, there’s the guy named [Rousas John] Rushdoony, and there are some others that have sort of set the seeds of this thing in motion. But I think, what’s his name—[Jeff Sharlet], who has written about “The Family”—there are some other people who have seen, who have exposed this kind of behavior in other areas of our government and in other areas of our society. But I can’t tell you, other than to say that in the military hierarchy there are believers, whether they are—I mean, who have become believers—whether they are the ones who are responsible for the initiation of this process, I don’t know.
Peter Scheer: Well, thanks so much for speaking with us, Mike.
Mike Farrell: My pleasure.
Josh Scheer: Our Truthdig correspondent. [Laughter]
Peter Scheer: Yeah, Truthdig correspondent Mike Farrell, whose latest article is “Extremely Unctuous.” And you can find it on Truthdig.com.
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Kasia Anderson: This is Truthdig Radio. I’m Kasia Anderson, associate editor. And I’m pleased to be talking with author and private detective Sam Brower about his new book, “Prophet’s Prey: My Seven-Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints.” How’re you doing, Sam?
Sam Brower: Good. Good to be here.
Kasia Anderson: Good to have you. I myself am actually from Salt Lake City, Utah; I was born there and spent about 10 years there, so I know a little bit about the topic of your book; I was born in Utah myself. Why don’t you set up the case of the FLDS [Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] and the Warren Jeffs case for us?
Sam Brower: OK. The FLDS are a group of fundamentalist Mormons; they distinguish themselves from the mainstream LDS [Latter-day Saints] church by practicing polygamy, and they’ve been, of course, they separated themselves decades ago. And over the years they have devolved, I guess—or evolved, however you want to put it—into a criminal organization run by their so-called prophet, who is now awaiting charges in Texas involving child abuse and underage marriage. And he’s still actually running his organization from behind the jail walls; he has access to a phone, and he’s still running his whole criminal organization from there.
Kasia Anderson: How many members are affiliated with him at this point, do you know?
Sam Brower: You know, our best guesses are over 10,000. I have a database that contains over 13,000 names, and it’s growing all the time. They have multiple wives and very large families, and so it’s constantly growing and getting larger and larger.
Kasia Anderson: So, describe—the book says that you’re talking about the shocking inside world of FLDS members. What in particular did you find the most shocking? Was it the underage marriage and child abuse, obviously, or were there other aspects?
Sam Brower: You know, I guess the most shocking part was the age of the children who were getting abused. One of my first clients was Brent Jeffs and Brandon Jeffs, the nephews of Warren Jeffs, and they were being raped and sodomized by their Uncle Warren between the ages of 5 and 7. And that was my introduction into this group, into this cult. And then as I started going on … it’s very hard to get information. I mean, they’re such an insular group, such a quiet, secretive cult, that it’s very hard to get information. People just don’t really leave and spill their guts, you know; it’s sort of like kind of breaking into the mob. And so it’s very hard to get information, and then when the law enforcement raid—there was a law enforcement raid that took place in Texas that uncovered a lot of evidence, including Warren Jeffs’ personal priesthood record. And that was the—oh, gosh, I’d say smoking gun, except it was even more than that; it was just, you know, a private investigator’s dream come true. He laid it all out: I mean, children as young as 11, 12 years old being married out to old men. It was, you know, an incredible story of fraud and child abuse and blackmail and kidnapping, and all these horrible things that go along with an organized crime group.
Kasia Anderson: Yeah, I understand that it would by nature be difficult to get people to talk when they’ve fled such, or are trying to leave such horrific conditions. It [Brower’s book] says that you earned the trust of a lot of FLDS members. How did you go about doing that?
Sam Brower: The biggest thing on my side was, I just didn’t give up. During, over the years, law enforcement has tried to get in, but they ... time isn’t on their side, and they try and then they just hit a roadblock and they stop. But I just didn’t stop, and bit by bit I got to know people who had left the group, and then you get to know some of their friends and some of their relatives, and then you hear and learn more. You know, just little bits at a time over the years, just little tiny bits at a time, you start getting to know more people and you start learning more. And you find people that are still inside the group and things like that, that are willing to talk, but very cautiously. And so it was just a real slow process, but it was a process that worked in my favor.
Kasia Anderson: Right. And as a private investigator, had you done any cases like this before, or was this all new to you?
Sam Brower: Well, I’d done child abuse cases before, and they are always disturbing. I’ve worked on lots of cases like that, and they are very disturbing; they are unsettling. But nothing like this—something that was just overwhelming; I mean, literally, that you lose sleep over it.
Kasia Anderson: Right. And, you know, just for our listeners and also for my own edification, can you describe a little bit—you mentioned that the FLDS has spun off from mainstream Mormonism some time ago. Can you kind of lay out, in brief, the relationship between these kind of fringe groups and the Mormon Church in Utah and other, you know, Mormon-heavy locations?
Sam Brower: Yeah. Around the turn of the 19th century, the LDS church disavowed the practice of polygamy. They were trying to become a state, and they were trying to integrate into the mainstream country, and so they decided that in order to do that they would need to abolish that practice of polygamy. And it took some time, but over the years they were able to abolish that practice. But there was a handful of disaffected members, I guess, that didn’t want to participate in that. They thought the mainstream church was off-base, and they decided that they were going to go ahead and branch off on their own and start forming their own church. And so that was the beginning of it; that was the seed. And then over the years, they’ve each started battling with each other, you know, these different sects. One would break off from another one; you know, a church leader would die, and there would be a period of sort of like a medieval power struggle, where one would be trying to gain control over the other one’s congregation …
Kasia Anderson: [Laughs] Fiefdoms.
Sam Brower: … and there was this history of violence, and just a struggle to keep members and help the ranks grow. So that’s what these offshoot fringe group, kind of how they sprung up out here in the West.
Kasia Anderson: Right. And at this point the book cites there’s about 50,000 to 100,000 families around the United States, yeah, who practice polygamy?
Sam Brower: That’s probably a good guess. And I don’t know that they’re … they’re not all Mormon kind of offshoots; there’s lots of different cults, I guess, and sects, and things like that. I mean, you see every once in a while out here, just some guy wanders off into the desert and has a vision and comes back and says God told him to marry his secretary or something, you know?
Kasia Anderson: [Laughs] Yes, all these interesting prophetic moments. I should correct myself; that wasn’t from your book, that was from a secondary source about polygamy.
Sam Brower: Yeah.
Kasia Anderson: But, to bring us up to date, there’s obviously a couple shows in popular culture that deal with polygamy. I know that you don’t have to be the “Sister Wives” expert or something to be able to speak to it, but do you feel like there’s any risk involved with having these types of practices kind of mainstreamed, or brought into popular culture? Or is the simple fact of their existence not a problem for you?
Sam Brower: Well, I feel there is. I mean, I was asked to screen a preview of “Big Love” and I wouldn’t go do it, because I’d seen what it was like and it’s not realistic. And also, the shows like “Sister Wives” and things like that, I think it sends out a bad message that these groups are somehow legitimate. In actuality, maybe with Kody Brown and his group in this moment in time, they’re pretty benign. You know, maybe they do fit in better than some of these other groups. I really don’t know; I haven’t really focused on them. But then again, I know that the leader of his group was Owen Allred, and when he died in 2005, there was a lot of tension, a lot of worry here about whether … you know, which way their group’s going to go. You know, are they going to get a new leader that’s going to be radical and lead them down these paths of child abuse and all the other ancillary crimes that go along with it? Or is he going to be somebody that’s going to kind of lead the people into the mainstream? And when you have these ingredients of religious fanaticism and blind obedience, all it takes is one more ingredient—which is a radical leader—and the whole thing can explode and take thousands of people down a very dangerous, slippery slope.
Kasia Anderson: Speaking of Mormons in the public eye, we have two candidates for president—Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney—who are Mormons. Do you think that there’s any chance of their success in the race for the White House? Or is America still a little bit too wary of Mormonism, in your opinion?
Sam Brower: Well, as far as the mainstream LDS church goes, I don’t like to think that the rest of the world is not ready for a Mormon president. I mean, there is a Mormon congressman, and senators and Cabinet members, and all kinds of different people in the government all over the place.
Kasia Anderson: Harry Reid in Nevada, yeah.
Sam Brower: So when people think of Mormonism, I guess they think automatically of polygamy. But the mainstream church is no more part of, for instance, the FLDS church than Lutherans are of the Catholic; they’re two totally different religions. So there’s no fear on my part for them becoming president; I think they would both probably be fine presidents.
Kasia Anderson: OK. Well, on that note, we’re going to wrap up here; thanks for your time. This is private detective and author Sam Brower; we’ve been talking about his new book, “Prophet’s Prey: My Seven-Year Investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints.” Thanks for your time, Sam.
Sam Brower: Thanks so much.
* * *
Peter Scheer: This is Truthdig Radio. I’m Peter Scheer in studio with Robert Scheer, and we’re joined from New York by Moshe Adler. When he’s not blogging for Truthdig, Moshe teaches economics at Columbia University, and he is the director of Public Interest Economics, which provides consulting services to unions and other progressive organizations. Welcome, Moshe.
Moshe Adler: Hello.
Peter Scheer: Hi. So Bob wrote a column today called “The GOP’s Sick Priorities,” and it talks about this debt-ceiling limit debate and the attack on entitlements—what they call entitlements—and you read it, I understand. What was your reaction? What’s the argument, first of all Bob—why don’t we start with you?
Robert Scheer: Well, my argument is that it’s a phony. Whatever problems exist with Medicare, they have to do with health care costs and have nothing to do with the current debt problem. And Social Security, I argue, is in pretty good shape; it can be fixed very easily by increasing the contribution of people making more than $250,000 a year, but Social Security is perfectly solvent for the next 25 years. How many corporations can make that claim? And even at that point, it can account for 75 percent, and there’s 2.4 trillion in a Social Security trust fund, so I think these, what they call entitlements … first of all, the whole word bothers me. It makes it sound like you inherited it from birth, you’re entitled, you’re privileged, you’re spoiled. In fact, these are programs that people paid for, and paid for over the years, and have a right to have those programs honored. I’m also very worried that the president seems to indicate he might even accept cuts in Medicaid, which protects 68 million very vulnerable people, and that would be an absolute outrage. My basic argument is that the banking meltdown caused this; there was a 50 percent increase in the debt because of the banking meltdown. We also had this 50 percent increase before, thanks to George W. Bush’s fighting two wars that he wouldn’t pay for, and his eagerness and willingness to give a tax break for the rich. So to my mind, the debt ceiling argument has nothing to do with these programs.
Peter Scheer: OK. Well, now let’s check with the economics professor. Moshe, do you agree with his numbers there?
Moshe Adler: Yeah. I mean, I think that everything that Bob said is obviously true. And the only thing that … I just want to continue along the same line and say that the Republicans want us to think that what the government does is take care of old people with Social Security, and take care of old people by adding Medicare, and so on. But really what the government does is set rules that enrich the rich; this is really what the government does. And I think that if we come to have a stalemate with budget negotiations, with raising the deficit ceiling negotiations, and the government becomes underfunded, then the question becomes, OK, what functions should the government co-pay? And it bothers me a great deal that the president is kind of holding hostage all the poor, the most vulnerable people, and saying well, if you don’t give me what I want then I’m going to go hurt Social Security, the CPN, Medicare beneficiaries—instead of saying, if you don’t want to finance the government, if you don’t want to pay taxes, then OK, I’m going to stop the services that the government gives you, which actually let you exploit the rest of us. So I would say the first thing to do, if the government becomes underfunded, is let’s furlough the lawyers, say, that enforce the patent law. Let competition flourish, and let everybody who wants to produce something, let them produce something. And prices for drugs will fall, prices for software will fall; we will all be better off for it. Innovation will flourish, and these exorbitant monopolies that are all created by the patent law will vanish. So let’s start where the government makes you rich, and you pretend as if all the government does is kind of take from the rich and give to the poor, whereas what the government really does is give you the tools to become monopolies and exploit the rest of us. I mean, I would say let’s furlough all the lawyers that enforce the … that prevent local communities from having access to radio stations in their communities, and give these radio stations to big corporations. I mean, we have one corporation, for instance—Clearwater Communications—that owns 1,200 radio stations. And it’s notorious for not letting community voices be heard on its channels, and propagating right-wing ideology that says that patent law is a good idea, or letting the rich be rich is a good idea, and taxes are bad. So let’s start—if the government has to stop some functions—let’s start with the functions that make the rich rich and let’s … stop hurting people who are unemployed, or something.
Peter Scheer: Right. And you see this also with taxes, because the Republicans in Congress just walked away from an offer by the White House to cut, what, $4 trillion in spending because they would have had to raise taxes on wealthy people, and they refused to do that.
Moshe Adler: Right. So if they are not willing to pay for the government, then the government should stop protecting them. And I would say that this is the first function that the government should stop doing before it cuts unemployment benefits to a family that has no income, or cutting Social Security benefits to old people who most rely …
Peter Scheer: Dad, do you want to comment?
Robert Scheer: Yeah, I do. I think the point is really well taken. What the tea party has done—and by the way, these people are funded with a lot of money from big corporations and so forth, as is the Republican Party, and unfortunately also as is the Democratic Party—they’ve shifted the whole debate. And it’s big government versus little government. And what Moshe is saying is basically big government serves big business, and that’s the truth right across the board. The programs that have been singled out—Social Security and Medicare—working people are paying for; these are funded by, basically, regressive taxes. I mean, the math on that is really quite simple, particularly Social Security, which is paid for by working people and earned income. And, you know, people have hedge funds and so forth; they don’t pay into Social Security, they’ve been exempted from it. But if you really look at the budget, and what is big government, you have to first of all—and “entitled”—you have to look at the military. Certainly a big area, pushing a trillion dollars a year, Cold War levels, in real dollars, bigger than the rest of the whole word combined; all of the nation’s defense budget. And they don’t put that on the table. You’ll cut funding for kids who need medical care, pregnant women, but you won’t look at a weapons system designed to defeat a sophisticated military enemy, the old Soviet Union, that no longer exists? There’s no justification for it. But Lockheed and Boeing and these contractors, they feel entitled, and they keep that defense budget up—the military-industrial complex that … President Eisenhower warned us against. If you look at the whole bailout of Wall Street, which caused this big mess, caused the 50 percent rise in the debt, here we have the Fed and the Treasury keeping money costs for the banks low, protecting their interests. And finally, I would point out that it’s not just the preservation of law in terms of radio signals and patents and so forth, but the basic multinational corporation needs a powerful U.S. government to protect its interests around the world, whether diplomatically, in military terms, or economic clout—trade negotiations and so forth. So big government, big federal government, is at the service of the multinational corporations. And I agree, why doesn’t Obama call their bluff—which is, after all, what happened in the Clinton-Gingrich dust-up—and say, look, do you guys really want to curtail government? And we in fact had that statement this week from the business round-table, and all the big corporations saying hey, you better not do that.
Peter Scheer: I just want to, first of all, say we are speaking with Robert Scheer and Moshe Adler on Truthdig Radio. Moshe is an economics professor and expert, and Bob is the editor of Truthdig. I’m Peter Scheer.
Moshe, we were talking a lot about taxes, and you wrote a blog item, I believe, for Truthdig about why higher taxes would be good for us, would be good for the bottom line. Could you explain that?
Moshe Adler: Yes, but I just want to add about the debt ceiling … like Robert, I’m bothered by the fact that the president puts on the block Social Security and Medicare, et cetera, and not the programs that help the rich, like patent protection and so on. But I also want to say that the first thing that should go, if we don’t get the increase in the debt ceiling, is actually the payment of our, quote unquote, “debt obligations.” And I’m really upset that the Democrats have reached an agreement with the Republicans, that if they don’t reach an agreement, they will still pay… the interest on the debt obligations that are extending. Because I think that if we don’t reach an agreement, then definitely … You know that China is a big, big lender to the United States, and the government of China, as a matter of fact, is. And the reason that China does that is because it wants to weaken the yen against the dollar, or it wants to make the dollar strong, because what it is trying to do is it’s trying to make its labor cheap compared to American labor, and its products cheap compared to American products, and therefore shift employment from United States workers to workers in China. Now, I actually think that American workers and Chinese workers should work together rather than against each other, but surely American workers should not acquiesce with their own government paying interest—meaning making the Chinese government profit from their misery—and risk-free, because we promised that we would not renege on our obligations here. I think that this is the first thing that needs to go. I mean, American workers do not have any interest in protecting the credit ratings of the United States; they actually suffer from it. So all of these negotiations about the debt ceiling from the Democratic Party are all mishandled, because the interests of working people are just not well represented.
Peter Scheer: Well, let me ask Robert. Dad, do you agree that the first thing that should go is payments on the debt?
Robert Scheer: Actually, I don’t. I think that there is a national interest, when you borrow money, in paying it back. I don’t think that Moshe is saying this, but I don’t want to demonize the Chinese. I don’t think … I mean I think we’re very fortunate that they’re willing to underwrite our debt, and I think those debts have to be met. I think this is why the pressure should be on the business community, which even more handsomely supports the Republican Party than it does the Democratic Party. And we saw their statement this week to say, hey, cut it out! This is not kidding around; you are damaging our interests internationally. And I want to repeat a point that I made at the very beginning: the idea of scapegoating Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, which have nothing to do with this debt, is just the big lie. And for the business community to sit by and think Obama is going to save them, and yet they don’t put pressure on their Republican allies, this is a time when they have to speak up or they should be exposed. And that’s what Obama should do; he should say, look: We got into this mess because of what the bankers did, we got into this mess because of radical deregulation, we bailed you guys out, and you still support these Republicans who now want to put all the responsibility on working people and seniors, and that’s obscene.
Peter Scheer: We’re going to have to leave it there. Moshe and Bob, thank you so much for joining us.
Moshe Adler: Thank you for having me.
* * *
Kasia Anderson: This is Kasia Anderson, and I’m here with Johnny Temple, publisher and editor-in-chief of Akashic Books. We’re speaking to Johnny in Brooklyn. How’re you doing today?
Johnny Temple: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me on.
Kasia Anderson: And as many of our listeners might have heard about, your imprint was responsible for bringing the recent publishing phenomenon “Go the [F***] to Sleep” into the world. Can you tell us a little bit about the back story of how that fell into your clutches?
Johnny Temple: Yeah. The author, Adam Mansbach, is a friend of mine who I have published a little bit before. … He’s a literary novelist, and I’ve published a few of his short stories, and he co-edited an anthology that we published. And he came to me with the book proposal for “Go the [F***] to Sleep,” which he had put together in collaboration with Ricardo Cortés, a really excellent illustrator. When I first got the proposal, I laughed very hard, because it’s a book targeted for parents with young children, and I am in fact a parent with two young children. So I loved it, but I didn’t really think very seriously about publishing it when I first got it because it’s so unlike anything else that we publish. Most of what we publish is literary fiction, and a little bit of political nonfiction; we’ve never done a parody of a children’s book before. But I showed the proposal to my wife and to a few other friends who are parents of small children, and I got such a vehement, strong reaction from every parent I showed it to that it compelled me to show it to some more parents. And I kept getting the exact same reaction—people basically urging me to publish it. And so I quickly got my wits about me and decided, yeah, we’d be a great home for this book. And it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Kasia Anderson: So you did sort of some impromptu testing, field-testing of parents out there?
Johnny Temple: Definitely.
Kasia Anderson: And so this is not “Goodnight Moon.” It seems, you know, it’s very rare that we speak to people with children’s books, or books of any kind where we can’t say the actual title on the air. What’s your impression of the kind of overall tone of the book? It is all rude, is it to shock you? I’ve read some reviews on Amazon; it feels like there’s some sweetness to it too.
Johnny Temple: Yeah, the book is actually very, very tender and very sweet, and that is, I think, recognizable to 99 percent of parents. The book is, on the one hand, it’s an expression of frustration, but the subtext for the frustration is actually love and tenderness, because the book is kind of making light of how parents have to, you know, swallow their words rather than speak them. There is profanity in every page of the book, but it is of course—this is definitely a book that is not meant to be read for children. It’s a book for adults. So basically, the book is a parent’s alternate monologue of what they could be saying to their kids if they were allowed to express their frustration. … I actually think that the book upholds the sort of highest values of parenting, because the context for the book is that we swallow our frustration for the health and safety of our children. And that’s kind of what the book is about.
Kasia Anderson: Right. I guess it kind of flies in the face of this sanctified childhood ideal, or it seems to, in some people’s opinions. But you’re saying that it actually isn’t that subversive, when it comes down to it?
Johnny Temple: Not really. I mean, it’s subversive because it’s laced with profanity. And we’re very proud about the fact that there’s a group in New Zealand trying to get the book banned, and a CNN.com commentator wrote an attack piece on the book. …
Kasia Anderson: Right, I saw that, yeah.
Johnny Temple: … Her attack piece drew so much negative reaction that CNN.com had to follow it up with a story about the negative reactions to their original piece.
Kasia Anderson: [Laughs] They got all meta on you there.
Johnny Temple: Exactly. And even online, on Facebook, Twitter, or on Amazon.com book review postings, whenever someone chimes in with a criticism of the book for its crudeness or its immorality, there’s a roving pack of impassioned parents always ready to defend the book. And I’m not saying that the book is beyond criticism, but we have not yet seen any smart criticism of the book. And every criticism that I’ve seen that has been made is really just silly or completely misunderstanding the book. You know, half the criticisms are people who think it’s a book meant to be read for kids. And that’s just kind of stupid, because it’s obviously not meant to be read to kids; it even says it on the back of the book, that you shouldn’t read it to kids.
Kasia Anderson: Right. No help for the humorless there. Can you read for us a little passage from the book as an exclusive for our listeners?
Johnny Temple: Sure. I will read the first two pages. “The cats nestle close to their kittens, the lambs have laid down with their sheep, you’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear, please go the [f***] to sleep. The windows are dark in the town, child, the whales huddled down in the deep, I’ll read you one very last book if you swear you’ll go the [f***] to sleep.” There you go.
Kasia Anderson: You heard it here. And as I’ve noticed on my trips around the interwebs, there have been a couple dramatic readings from some dramatic people. Can you say a little bit about that, has that been kind of a fun thing to watch happen in popular culture?
Johnny Temple: Yeah. This is one of the few books that we’ve published where the book has really, in a very visible way, taken on a life of its own. And we knew that was happening when we found out that Samuel Jackson, the actor Samuel L. Jackson, was going to appear on the David Letterman show and read the book on the David Letterman show. And we had basically nothing to do with that. And what had happened was, we made an audio licensing deal with a wonderful company called Audible. And they recruited Samuel L. Jackson to do the audio recording of the book, and then they arranged for him to appear on the David Letterman show. And his reading—if we had been able to pick our … you know, if we had been able to say who was our top choice, or who would read the book on the audio book, it would have been Samuel Jackson. So that was just sort of manna from heaven. And then when we launched the book in New York at the New York Public Library, Paul Holdengräber, the director of programs at the New York Public Library, recruited Werner Herzog …
Kasia Anderson: Amazing, yeah.
Johnny Temple: … to do an exclusive reading of the book at that event. He didn’t appear at that event, but he had recorded his voice for the event, and it was incredibly powerful and dramatic and hilarious.
Kasia Anderson: Yeah, I could listen to him read anything. He’s really quite something. So in the lead-up—I mean, how early on, when the book was in its final stages pre-launch—when did you kind of have an inkling that this was going to be something big?
Johnny Temple: Well, the inkling came fast and furious. What had happened was the book was originally supposed to be published in October of 2011, and the author did an impromptu reading from the book at an auditorium in Philadelphia at an event he was a part of. And he was just sort of … just basically doing a practice reading of the book in front of an audience, because it was still six months before publication. And so he did this reading, and there were a couple hundred people in the audience; it was him and four or five other performers, artists and authors. And response from the audience was so solid that he had to stop between verses until the laughter subsided. And he called me up afterwards to tell me that there’s a great sign, that he did a reading and it got a great response. So we were feeling very good about the fact that without anyone knowing about the book, an audience of a couple hundred people loved his presentation. But what we didn’t realize was that people in the audience had started tweeting and making Facebook posts and telling their friends, and basically overnight the book became a worldwide sensation. Amazon.com had a pre-order page up selling the book, and that pre-order page become a sort of peg around which the enthusiasm for the book gathered. And the book shot up to the very top of the Amazon.com best-seller list six months before publication. And we started getting calls from all around the world, from people and book publishers and foreign-language book publishers. And then major American book publishers started trying to buy the book from us.
Kasia Anderson: How would that have worked? It was yours and yours at that point, right? Or could you …
Johnny Temple: We could have stopped our publication plans and just handed it over to them, and they were offering us huge amounts of money to just buy the books off our hands. But basically what happened was, because the book went viral after Adam’s reading in Philadelphia, we suddenly had to move the publication date up from October to the middle of June, just to keep up with all the excitement it had generated. So it was very early on that we had an inkling that the book was going to be successful; the book became a huge success before we were prepared, basically.
Kasia Anderson: Yeah. Well, is there any downside to that sort of instant success and the momentum that it built? I mean, were you worried about leaks to the Internet [Laughs], or sort of any kind of backlash happening?
Johnny Temple: It has been very stressful, but I don’t think there’s really any downside. The downside is that sudden success brings a whole lot of stress, but this is the kind of stress I can live with.
Kasia Anderson: Yeah, exactly. That must have been fun for you as a publisher to watch all this, you know, excitement on Amazon and elsewhere.
Johnny Temple: Oh, yeah. I mean, every day it continues. You know, every day brings new surprises, and it’s … like I said, the book has taken on a life of its own. So these things happen with it that have never happened with other books that we had before. We’ve licensed it into translation; it’s in 30 different languages.
Kasia Anderson: Wow. Any merchandizing spinoffs? Are we going to have sippy cups at McDonald’s with themed …
Johnny Temple: We have been approached from a number of different merchandising companies, but I’m not sure that we’re going to pursue anything.
Kasia Anderson: Right. Now, what about a follow-up? Can we look forward to Mansbach coming up with some more rude poems for parents?
Johnny Temple: [Laughs] Well, actually, quite the contrary. Our follow-up is that Ricardo, the illustrator, and Adam, the author, are working on a G-rated version of the book that is going to be entirely child-friendly. So it will, in fact, be a children’s book, with a slightly different title and with no profanity; it will be 100 percent child-friendly. And we’re excited, because little children know that there’s a dance that they do in the difficulties that they present to their parents in going to bed. And in fact, if you read the book, if you read a censored version of the book to children, they actually very much enjoy it because it outs them for their mischievous nighttime antics.
Kasia Anderson: Right, and it’s a little bit of candor from the parent’s point of view as well, which they also might appreciate.
Johnny Temple: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Kasia Anderson: So just to talk about it from the publishing side again, with this kind of a huge hit, does this mean good things for the other books and authors in your lineup? Does it change the game for you at Akashic?
Johnny Temple: It does perhaps change the game. I mean, it’s certainly going to be a great year in terms of our business; we’re a small company, and we are constantly, chronically struggling to break even, and to just stay in business. There’s never been any security; we don’t have any backers. I mean, it’s a wonderful thing we don’t have any backers—we don’t have anyone we have to answer to. But the flip side of that is that we’re chronically fragile, so this will hopefully stabilize us for at least a couple of years. Now, in terms of it changing the game beyond that, we’ll have to wait and see how big of a success the book is. If the book is a monstrous success, and year after year every pregnant woman gets a copy of the book at her baby shower, you know, and the sales keep going, that could really change things for us beyond just a couple of years of stability. And you know, it has been wonderful, the book has been for five weeks … it has been No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list. So our status as a publishing company is definitely being elevated somewhat. So I do think that it helps our whole list, because it helps Akashic, and it puts us—we were already on the map in literary circles, but now people can see that we can, in fact, produce and handle a national bestseller. You know, the top selling book in the country. So, yeah, I think there’s all sorts of benefits for us and for our authors to gain. But hopefully it won’t be just a comfortable 18 months; hopefully this will help us to find a way to keep this company going in a viable, long-term way, because up until now it’s extremely draining physically and emotionally on me and my staff. And it’s amazing, I think, that we’ve kept the company going this far, but it’s always had this feeling that this can’t go on forever, because it just takes too much out of us.
Kasia Anderson: Well, I predict that this will be a classic for years to come, and it’s a—congratulations—very deserved success. And with that, we’re going to wrap up. I’ve been speaking with Johnny Temple, publisher and editor-in-chief of Akashic Books, which recently put out the hit title “Go the [F***] to Sleep.” Thanks, Johnny, I appreciate your time.
Johnny Temple: Thanks so much for having me.
Peter Scheer: That’s it for this week. Find us next Wednesday at 2 on KPFK or anytime online at Truthdig.com. Thanks to our guests Mike Farrell, Johnny Temple, Moshe Adler, Robert Scheer and Sam Brower. Thanks also to our board op Jee, engineer Stan Misraje and Alan Minsky. For Kasia Anderson and the Scheer brothers, thanks for listening.