Mitt Romney, a polymer-based life form of nearly limitless pliability, is as long on cash as he is short on genuine convictions. For the Power Elite’s political brokers, few traits are more endearing in a potential president than malleability. Romney’s suppleness of spine helps explain how he was able to soak up $10 million in promised campaign donations from politically connected oligarchs during a day-long marathon fundraiser in Las Vegas.
Seeking an issue on which Romney takes a binding, definitive stand often seems like trying to overtake the horizon. Clayton Holden, a wheelchair-bound man and long-time medical marijuana patient, may be the only person who has ever seen Romney perform a plausible impression of Martin Luther (“Here I stand, I can do no other”) regarding any subject.
The most remarkable aspect of Romney’s encounter with Holden is that he displayed none of his characteristic equivocation in defending drug prohibition. He yielded not so much as a millimeter in his insistence that medical marijuana is a “gateway drug”; this means that Holden and other patients who use it either have to settle for useless or harmful government-approved treatments or endure the punitive wrath of the divine State. The Mittster didn’t even seek to palliate the feelings of this powerless, suffering individual by deploying a sympathetic platitude.
Owing to the influence of big-money campaign donation “bundlers,” and dubious bookkeepingof the sort that that is common among the politically protected Wall Street denizens whose favor he ardently courts, Romney has emerged as the fundraising front-runner among among GOP presidential aspirants. As Romney campaign minion Chris Slick memorably put it during the day-long grovel-fest in Vegas: “Today we demonstrate our ability to raise excessive and ungodly amounts of cash while other candidates are still pattering about in bumf*ck, Iowa somewhere. No one can come close to what our machine can do. No one.”
By “our machine,” Slick wasn’t just talking about Romney’s political campaign; he was referring to an interlocking network of pressure groups, lobbyists, and political criminals that support, sustain, and profit from the Warfare State.
Slick himself is director of online operations for“ACT! for America,” an anti-Muslim pressure group whose founder and chief spokesperson,Lebanon-born Brigette Gabriel (nee Nour Saman), tirelessly evangelizes on behalf of a war of annihilation against Islam. In a 2007 address at Rev. John Hagee’s mega-church, Gabriel insisted that Muslims “have no soul”. This which would mean, of course, that Muslims aren’t merely mistaken or sinful, but that they aren’t genuinely human.
There are many pressure groups who promote various elements of the War Party agenda ala carte. Gabriel’s group will settle for nothing less than the Full Cheney combo meal: Permanent war abroad, unlimited regimentation at home, indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, institutionalization of torture, and so on.
It’s worth pointing out that during the 1980s, Gabriel — under her birth name — was a correspondent/propagandist for a television network affiliated with the South Lebanon Army (SLA). During the horrific Lebanese civil war — a multi-sided conflict in which no belligerent had a monopoly on unspeakable acts — the SLA was an Israeli-supported militia that ran a notorious torture dungeon called Al Khiam Prison. Many of the methods now employed by Washington’s Homeland Security State — those not devised by the CIA, or reverse-engineered from Soviet sources, that is — were field-tested on detainees in the Al Khiam prison.
While Romney is connected to all of this by the only most tenuous of threads, it’s important to remember that he has spoken of the supposed need to “double Guantanamo”— that is, to expand the use of indefinite detention and the application of torture techniques that have been cloaked in the Gestapo-derived euphemism “enhanced interrogation.”
Whatever transgressions Romney has committed against the current GOP line, the hints of calculated cruelty behind his smarmy demeanor make him irresistible to at least some of those who want to make war against Islam the central organizing principle of American life.
It is in Romney’s profitable relationship with former U.S. Ambassador to Italy Mel Semblerthat these separate strands of cruelty are woven together like the braids of a torturer’s whip. In 2008, Romney appointed Sembler to serve as one of his ten national campaign fund-raisers. Sembler, a retired shopping mall magnate from Florida, also served as chairman for the legal defense fund established on behalf of convicted felon Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.
In addition to being an architect of the war in Iraq, Libby helped devise the legal framework for the globe-straddling archipelago of CIA torture facilities. In 2007, Libby was found guilty of perjury and obstruction in the case of outed CIA operative Valerie Plame; his prison term was commuted by George W. Bush, who –like Romney — is someone whose sympathy for the powerful and corrupt is inexhaustible.
Long before the administration of Bush the Dumber made torture an official federal policy, Mel Sembler and his wife were promoting the use of torture and indefinite detention in the “war on drugs.” In the early 1970s, they created a behavioral modification program called “Straight” that targeted youngsters who either had drug or alcohol addictions, or were considered to be “at risk” of falling prey to addiction. Many of the teenagers put into Sembler’s program complained of physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual abuse.
Thus Sembler’s “Straight” program was, in a sense, a progenitor of the Bush-Cheney “enhanced interrogation” regime.
“The Seed” was shut down in the mid-1970s, but Sembler’s network (nine clinics in seven states) continued to receive funding from the same federal agencies that had underwritten the Communist-derived initiative. “Straight” was closed down in 1993, but by this time it had planted seeds of its own that sprouted up across the U.S. and abroad, where “drug rehabilitation” facilities employed “treatment” techniques that were indistinguishable from the criminal abuses carried out in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.
In her valuable book Help at Any Cost, investigative journalist Maia Szalavitz documented how programs constructed from Sembler’s template had employed “punishments banned for use on criminals and by the Geneva Convention.”
Some teenagers selected for forced enrollment in BM programs have been treated exactly like terrorist suspects — snatched from their homes or the streets by rented thugs and then sent by way of “extraordinary rendition” to isolated detention facilities, often in foreign countries. The best-known professional child-napper is Rick Strawn, a retired Atlanta police officer whose personal history includes alcoholism and domestic abuse, as well as repeated accusations of child sexual exploitation.
Apparently, there are still people who can scrounge up nearly $3,000 a month to purchase the services of people who specialize in “therapeutic” child abuse, and state officials willing to countenance such operations as an adjunct to the “war on drugs.” There is a lot of ambient cruelty in late-imperial America, and Mitt Romney’s presidential aspirations will depend on his ability to catalyze that cruelty into hard cash.
Dum spiro, pugno!