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Louis Armstrong, The 'Decca Sessions'

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new seven-disc set that chronicles the trumpeter's big band performances. Mosaic restored and remastered each of the 166 tracks from Decca Records' original recordings.

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Other segments from the episode on September 10, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 10, 2009: Interview with Max Blumenthal; Review of the new 7 CD box set "The Complete Louis Armstrong Decca Sessions (1935-1946)."

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A 'Shattered' Republican Party?

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. The right is trying to de-legitimize the
Obama presidency according to my guest, journalist Max Blumenthal. There’s the
movement of people who claim Obama isn’t even an American citizen and others
who accuse him of being a Hitler or a Stalin. In Blumenthal’s new book,
“Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party,” he writes
that the Republican Party has gone from a big-tent philosophy to being fully in
the grip of its right wing. Blumenthal has been covering the Christian right
for six years, attending dozens of its rallies and conferences, listening to
its radio programs and sitting in movement-oriented houses of worship.

In his book, “Republican Gomorrah,” he writes about the people who created the
blueprint for the Christian right and the people who have funded it. Blumenthal
is a senior writer for The Daily Beast and has written for The Nation and the
Huffington post.

Max Blumenthal, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Your book ends with a scene of
Republican Congressman Paul Brown of Georgia and two of his friends, who are
very highly placed in the anti-abortion movement, praying over a door that
Obama was about to walk through to take the oath of office. What were they
praying about? Set that scene for us.

Mr. MAX BLUMENTHAL (Author, “Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that
Shattered the Party”): Well, Paul Brown, who is a congressman from Georgia -
he’s a born-again congressman who said that he was inspired to become and
Evangelical Christian by the guy who used to hold John 3:16 signs in sports
games, who wore a multi-colored wig, who’s actually in prison now for
kidnapping and stink-bomb attacks, that this image of this character at sports
games inspired him to become a born-again Christian.

And he gave special access to two characters, Paul Mahoney, and Rob Schenck,
who were involved in Operation Rescue during the 1990s, which is the militant
wing of the anti-abortion movement, which was at least indirectly connected to
several assassinations of abortion providers and attacks on abortion clinics,
most recently the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas.

What they were doing there in the Capitol was they were planning to anoint the
door that Obama would walk through as he prepared to give his inaugural address
with oil crosses. And the reason that I described this scene and thought that
it was important was that it was emblematic of where the movement was going to
go, that they were consecrating their planned opposition to the Obama
administration at a time when the media and probably the Obama administration
believed that they had the good will of even elements that had opposed Bill
Clinton in the 1990s, and that this was a new, post-partisan era. And I think
that this anointing of the door was symbolic of what was to come, and I think
it’s bearing out right now in the health care debate.

GROSS: One of the things Paul Brown has done is to compare Obama to Hitler and
Stalin, and he said on his Web site that he was concerned that Obama has a
vision that is fundamentally different from the system of limited federal
government that our founders established, that he will attempt to destroy the
free-enterprise, free-market economic system which has made us the wealthiest
nation in the history of the world.

We’re hearing a lot about comparisons between Obama and Hitler and Stalin
lately. What do you think is behind that?

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: Well, Paul Brown was referring to Obama’s plan to implement a
civilian force that could help during natural disasters. George W. Bush
actually introduced this plan, and Paul Brown and his Republican allies said
nothing. But the grass-roots right is determined to de-legitimize President
Obama, to prove that he was either not born here, that he’s not one of us or
that he has totalitarian intentions. And so Paul Brown has compared Obama
simultaneously to Hitler and Stalin, two leaders who were opposed to each
other.

It seems like a bizarre comparison, but if you tune in to right-wing radio,
especially fringe right-wing radio hosts like Alex Jones, you’re going to hear
warnings that Barack Obama plans to create concentration camps for right-wing
dissidents, that he’s going to implement mass gun seizures. And this fear is
designed to mobilize opposition at a grass-roots level to Barack Obama, to the
Democratic Congress and to the progressive agenda in general in order to win
more followers to the Republican grass roots and to the right wing, to raise
funds, and it’s working.

You know, during the Bush years, the right-wing groups lost a lot of money
because they function better throwing stones from the outside than they do from
the inside calling shots. Now, their coffers are filling up. So a lot of this
rhetoric is designed just to ramp up the debate and to mobilize forces and
elements that have been dormant for eight years because the Republicans were in
power.

GROSS: You describe someone named Anton Chaitkin as launching the opening
volley of an orchestrated campaign designed to link Obama and his health care
reform proposal to the mass euthanasia of Hitler. Who is Anton Chaitkin, and
what was his role in launching that opening volley?

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: Anton Chaitkin has described himself as a historian without
disclosing his affiliation with the political empire of extremist cult leader
Lyndon LaRouche. And he publicly accused Ezekiel Emanuel, who is the chief
bioethicist at the National Institutes of Health and the brother of
presidential chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, of creating a plan for Hitlerian
death panels based on Hitler’s T-4 program. He did this well before anyone in
the, you know, conservative right or within the Republican Party suggested that
Barack Obama had a Hitlerian agenda with his health care proposal. And the
LaRouche movement began distributing leaflets throughout the town halls of
Obama with a Hitler moustache painted on his face. And interestingly, right-
wing groups adopted this rhetoric. I can’t say they adopted it directly from
Lyndon LaRouche, but I was unable to detect any other sign of this rhetoric
anywhere else before Anton Chaitkin pinpointed Ezekiel Emanuel as the point man
for Obama’s Hitlerian agenda.

And subsequently, we’ve seen mainstream Republican leaders echoing LaRouche
rhetoric: for instance Sarah Palin accusing Barack Obama of planning to
implement death panels based on the advice of Ezekiel Emanuel, and Charles
Grassley, the senior senator from Iowa, who is in charge of negotiating for the
Republican side Barack Obama’s health care reform proposals, said there may be
some reason to worry that this plan will include some kind of mechanism for
pulling the plug on grandma. So you see mainstream Republicans echoing the
rhetoric of an extremist movement that many people thought had disappeared
years ago.

GROSS: And what is Anton Chaitkin’s connection to the LaRouche movement?

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: He’s a LaRouche staffer for Executive Intelligence Review,
which is the political bulletin of the LaRouche organization.

GROSS: Do you see a connection between the Christian right and the claims that
Obama bears resemblance to Hitler and to Stalin, that he’s leading us in the
direction of fascism? Because this is different from the kind of anti-
democratic rhetoric that we’re used to, which is more about, you know, family
values and, you know, culture wars and abortion. This is, like, Hitler, Stalin,
fascism, communism. So is that, do you think, connected to the Christian right?
Where do they come in on that?

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: I think it’s ironic that they would level this rhetoric at
someone who’s really a sort of centrist, consensus-building figure, when one of
the movement’s great inspirations, R. J. Rushdoony, advocated replacing the
U.S. Constitution in secular government with a totalitarian theocracy in which
disobedient children, adulterers, witches, abortion doctors, women who receive
abortions, et cetera, would all be executed. Rushdoony’s son-in-law, Gary
North, who was a former staffer for Ron Paul, the Republican libertarian, and
who is an economist, advised stoning these evil-doers to death because stones
are less expensive.

The Christian right, during the 1980s, advocated putting people with AIDS,
particularly homosexuals, in quarantine, in camps. They’re on the record saying
this. And Mike Huckabee, who campaigned for president in 2008, was among those
who advised - who advocated quarantining AIDS patients, and he’s refused to
recant his advocacy for this sort of policy.

So I think it’s ironic that a movement that has authoritarian, if not
totalitarian, tendencies, along with this paradoxical anti-government strain,
would level these accusations at one of their opponents.

GROSS: The Southern Poverty Law Center released a report about how anti-
government rhetoric is spilling over into the mainstream, and as examples,
they’ve mentioned some politicians, including Texas Governor Rick Perry, Fox
Business Network anchor Cody Willard, who the report quotes as saying: Guys,
when are we going to wake up and start fighting the fascism that seems to be
permeating this country? Glenn Beck, the example they gave from Glenn Beck is:
if this country starts to spiral out of control, and Mexico melts down or
whatever, if it really starts to spiral out of control, Americans just won’t
stand for it. There will be parts of the country that will rise up.

I know as part of your research for your new book, “Republican Gomorrah,” you
were listening to the mainstream media, and you were listening to more fringe-y
media and talk shows of all sorts. Do you agree with this, the conclusions of
this report, that a lot of anti-government rhetoric is spilling over into the
mainstream?

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: Well, I would simply say that the Republican Party, over the
last 20 years, has been subsumed by extreme elements, mainly by the Christian
right, and the Republican Party at the same time has been the most dominate
party for the last 30 years. So naturally, you know, the extreme rhetoric of
the right-wing fringe is going to become mainstream if the major opposition
party to the Democrats, who now control Congress and the White House are
echoing it, and Fox News is providing a megaphone for it.

So this is no surprise at all. What also needs to be noted is many of the radio
shows that are projecting this information and broadcasting it - these
conspiracy theories about concentration camps for right-wing dissidents, about
mass gun seizures, about death panels - are some of the most popular radio
shows in the country. James Dobson of Focus on the Family is one of the top
five radio hosts in the country. So is Michael Savage, who accused Obama of
trying to indoctrinate an Obama youth corps with his speech encouraging public-
school students to study hard and stay in school, the same with Sean Hannity.

So all of the people who are introducing these conspiratorial theories about
Barack Obama, suggesting that he’s either Hitler or Stalin or both, command
enormous audiences and are therefore taken seriously by the mainstream media,
which attempts, you know, this veneer of balance, of entertaining both sides.

But when one side is completely hysterical, conspiratorial and is leveling
baseless attacks, should it be taken seriously? And what are the consequences
of taking those attacks seriously in a democracy? I think those are questions
that need to be raised.

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Max Blumenthal. He’s the author
of the new book “Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the
Party.” Let’s take a short break here, and then we’ll talk some more. This is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is Max Blumenthal. He’s been
reporting on the extreme right for about six years. His writing has been
published in the Nation, the Huffington Post, Salon and other publications, and
he’s a senior writer for the Daily Beast, and he’s the author of the new book,
“Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party.”

Now, you went to a couple of gun shows in Reno, Nevada, and in Antioch,
California, and you write that you came away with a portrait of a heavily
armed, tightly organized movement incited by right-wing radio to a fever-
pitched resentment of Obama and his allies in Congress.

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently released a report saying that the
militia movement, which had strengthened during the Clinton years, organizing
against the powers of the federal government, faded out early in this decade
with Republicans in power, but it’s on the rise again. The militia movement is
on the rise again. Did you see evidence of that at the gun shows that you
attended?

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, absolutely. I think there is a perception, especially
within the media that Barack Obama could avoid inciting the kind of opposition
that President Clinton did by implementing a moderate to liberal agenda. And
what I was able to witness at these gun shows earlier in the year, before the
battle was brewing over health care and the government bailout was an
incipient, extreme opposition to Barack Obama building within the Republican
grassroots and on the far right.

And it stemmed from conspiracy theories spread by radio hosts who are not very
well-known in the mainstream, but are extremely popular, like Alex Jones, that
President Obama had a plan to put right-wing dissidents in concentration camps
under the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA. And when I spoke to people
at gun shows, this conspiracy theory was really popular, the same with, you
know, Obama’s supposed plan for mass gun seizures.

And so, people were buying as many guns as they could, including high-powered
weaponry, like 50-calibur, semi-automatic rifles, which have been shown to be
able to down aircraft, you know, sniper rifles that can be easily disassembled
and put into a briefcase that’s concealable. I showed this in a video I did
called “Gun Show Nation.”

And the crowd you see at gun shows, I mean, some people are just basic,
apolitical gun enthusiasts, but it’s a very political gathering. There are
Confederate flags. There are even Nazi flags being displayed throughout the
conference because it brings in elements that are even considered extreme
within the right-wing grassroots, like neo-Nazis.

And it’s a gathering place. Gun shows have become a gathering place for people
who are the most extreme opponents of Barack Obama’s agenda, and they’re
energized again by the battle over health care, and we’re seeing it across the
board. It’s not just with the extreme, militia-oriented elements. We’re seeing
it within the Christian right.

A recent poll showed that seven out of 10 white Evangelicals are extremely
opposed to Barack Obama’s proposed health care reforms. And the Christian right
is raising a lot of money, organizing against health care. So it’s across the
board. The right is growing again. And those who pronounced the death of
conservatism or the death of the Christian right were premature.

GROSS: You know, you say at these gun shows, you know, in addition to there
being conspiracy theories that Obama will put people who oppose him in
concentration camps, which would be another Hitler comparison, there’s also a
lot of people who are convinced that Obama plans to usher in a Marxist
dictatorship.

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: There are, and there are also a lot of people, possibly the
majority of people I spoke to, who didn’t really seem to know the difference
between fascism and communism. The goal is to paint Obama as a totalitarian,
secret communist, fascist, terrorist, Muslim, whatever they can do, a basic
pastiche of right-wing hobgoblins, a multi-colored pinata of every evildoer
they want to smash in order to delegitimize him and mobilize as much opposition
as possible.

And as I discuss in my book, this began during the rallies after Sarah Palin
was nominated as vice president. It began when Sarah Palin said - I’m slightly
paraphrasing - that Barack Obama is not one of us. His America is not our
America, and he’s palling around with terrorists.

At that point, you began to hear cries from the crowd that Barack Obama is a
traitor. That he is treasonous and so on. And the campaign didn’t end with
Barack Obama’s inauguration. Those rallies didn’t end. They’ve extended into
the health care debate, into the debate over the government bailout and into
every element of Barack Obama’s agenda. And the more time that goes on, the
more extreme the rhetoric becomes and the more diffuse the opposition to Barack
Obama becomes.

So it’s not led by Sarah Palin or any right-wing, any conservative leader
anymore. It’s hard to pinpoint where the opposition is coming from, but it’s
coming from diffuse, right-wing elements that are mostly within the Republican
grassroots. It’s spreading, and it’s growing more and more extreme, to the
point where Barack Obama is compared to Hitler, the most evil man in history.

Max Blumenthal will be back in the second half of the show. His new book is
called “Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party.”
Blumenthal is a senior writer for the Daily Beast. I’m Terry Gross, and this is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with journalist Max Blumenthal,
author of the new book "Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered
the Party." He writes that the Republican Party has gone from a big tent
philosophy to being fully in the grip of its right wing.

One of the things your book does is kind of give portraits of a life of the
people who help create the right as we know it now. But a lot of people who you
profile in the book are people who - whose names, or groups whose names won't

be familiar to most Americans because they are people who operated largely
behind the scenes and are known to insiders but not to outsiders.

Let's do a little bit of who's who of some of the people who you write about in
your recent history of the right. Let's start with R.J. Rushdoony, who is - I
guess who you would describe him as one of the founders of the extreme end of
the Christian right as we know it today.

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. I would describe him as the man who gave the Christian
right its theocratic blueprint for the society and government it hoped to
create in the United States at a time when the movement was moving from the
pews into the streets and becoming increasingly radicalized by federal
government attempts to integrate public schools and even so-called private
Christian schools.

R.J. Rushdoony was a survivor of the Armenian genocide, who came to this
country and became a theologian. He's the descendant of six generations of high
priests, and he laid out a plan in several tomes for replacing the federal
government, the secular government, with a Totalitarian theocracy in which
functions like road building and medical care and schooling would be provided
by the church. The criminal justice system would be turned over to the church
and run according to Leviticus case law, so disobedient children, adulterers,
loose women, etcetera, would all be executed.

And, of course, you know, many of the people he influenced didn’t take it as
literally as Rushdoony did, but he, as I said, provided the Christian right
with a blueprint of the society they hoped to create.

GROSS: Where do you most see R.J. Rushdoony's influence in the far right today?

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: Well, most of the leaders among the Christian right would deny
that Rushdoony has any influence at all on them because of the controversial,
radical nature of his work.

However, Marvin O'Lasky, who helped inspire George W. Bush's faith-based
initiative has footnoted and cited Rushdoony in some of his early work, and you
see some of Rushdoony's ideas reflected in the faith-based initiative which has
replaced government social services with services performed by the church and
funded groups, including abstinence only groups, with taxpayer money.

So, Rushdoony has at least loosely inspired that initiative, which continues
into the Obama administration. I also see it in initiatives funded by one of
Rushdoony's acolytes, his financial angel, who I write about in my book, Howard
F. Ahmanson, Jr. who's the son of the famous philanthropist Howard Ahmanson
from Southern California. And at age 18, Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr. inherited $300
million after his father died. His mother died soon after and he literally went
crazy spending two years in a mental institution.

When he came out of the mental institution, he became a born-again Christian
and encountered Rushdoony who became his - practically his surrogate father.
And in return, Ahmanson funded Rushdoony's political empire and then funded
some very successful Christian right initiatives. For example, the intelligent
design movement - Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr. has donated at least $2.8 million to
the Discovery Institute in Seattle which created the intelligent design
curriculum.

Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr. donated one million dollars to Prop 8, the successful
ballot initiative in California in 2008 to ban same-sex marriage. In 1985
Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr. said, my goal is the total integration of biblical law
into our everyday lives, and whether or not he's an avowed follower of
Rushdoony anymore, I think that remains the goal of all these initiatives that
he's funding which remain successful, even though some pundits are pronouncing

the death of the Christian right.

GROSS: Well, what's another group or funder on the far right that you’ve been
following, that you think is important and powerful but unknown to most people?

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: Well I wouldn’t call this individual unknown. He's an important
person in American life and in American history, and I'm referring to James
Dobson, who's commonly and wrongly referred to by some pundits as Reverend
James Dobson, when in fact, he's not a religious leader. He's not a theologian.
He has no religious credentials - even though he's the most influential leader
of a religious movement, the Christian right, and also the most popular.

He's a child psychiatrist, and James Dobson understands that behind the rights'
politics of resentment is a culture of personal crisis that he's been catering
to and cultivating since he became a public figure in the early 70s. And what
Dobson does and where his strength comes from, is the correspondence in his
organization Focus On the Family, based in Colorado Springs, which rakes in
about $150 million every year. The correspondence department there handles so
many letters and so many phone calls that they have their own zip code in
Colorado Springs.

The letters basically are people pleading for advice on basic problems - from
their child's bedwetting problem to marital strife. And they will receive, in
short order Dobson-approved advice. But then their person information is
entered in a database and they're bombarded with political mailings, telling
them that the source of these problems and the source of societal decay is
liberalism, is the homosexual agenda, feminism, etcetera.

Dobson's radio show, which is one of the top five radio shows in the country,
operates the same way. And so, what Dobson has done and why he's a central
character in my book is he has helped cultivate the sensibility of the movement
that controls the Republican Party, and with these people who view him not just
as a political leader or a religious leader, they view him as a magic helper
who's helped save them from personal problems.

They will do whatever he commands at election time and he's been able to set
his shock troops against Republican moderates and against vulnerable Democrats.
He was credited for helping reelect Bush in 2004, and I credit him as a major
reason why Sarah Palin was named vice presidential nominee in 2008, of John
McCain - and has a lot to do with the fact that James Dobson said, on his radio
show, that he would not vote for John McCain unless he named a suitable vice
presidential candidate.

GROSS: Which would be Sarah Palin?

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: Which would be Sarah Palin. And when Sarah Palin was named,
Dobson gave McCain his full-throated endorsement and began promoting Sarah
Palin to the Republican grassroots.

GROSS: My guest is Max Blumenthal, author of the new book "Republican Gomorrah:
Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party."

We’ll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Max Blumenthal, author of the new book "Republican Gomorrah:
Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party." It profiles the people who
created the blueprint for the Christian right.

One of the up-and-coming leaders he profiles is Tony Perkins, President of The
Family Research Council. The group is described on its Web site as an
organization dedicated to the promotion of marriage and family and the sanctity
of human life in national policy.

This evening the group is hosting a national town hall Webcast on health care
reform to discuss what it considers to be the dangers of President Obama's
health care plan. I asked Blumenthal to tell us about Perkins.

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: Tony Perkins comes from Louisiana. He was a state legislator
there who wanted to become a senator. He wanted to be in the position that
David Vitter is in right now. But, because of a scandal in which he signed a
check when he was chief of staff for another senatorial candidate, paying the
Ku Klux Klan leader, David Duke, for his mailing list.

Tony Perkins was unable to make good on his ambitions. Tony Perkins, as I
reported, also spoke to a white supremacist group, the Council of Conservative
Citizens in 2001 and has refused to disclose what he said there. So he went to
Washington, was sort of tapped by Dobson to lead this group, the Family
Research Council after Dobson fell out of favor with his previous lobbyist Gary
Bauer.

And Perkins has emerged as a figure even probably more influential than David
Vitter as the person he could’ve been had he made it into the Senate. He's able
to dictate the Christian right agenda to Republican senators who depend on the
Christian right grassroots to get reelected and he is incredibly involved in
the town hall disruptions that we're seeing across country. The Family Research
Council hosts weekly conference calls with hundreds of pastors across the
country who are telling their congregations to go out to these town halls to
create disruptions and to voice their discontent with Barack Obama's health
care proposal.

Perkins has also helped introduce the rumor that Barack Obama's health care
proposal contains a mandate for citizens to fund abortion. And they're running
commercials, The Family Research Council, making this claim and raising lots of
money among their followers to broadcast these commercials throughout the
country.

GROSS: You have managed to get into places and report on meetings where the
press is not welcome. One example of that was about a year ago when you went to
the church that Sarah Palin had been baptized in, the Wasilla Assembly of God,
which is a Pentecostal church in Alaska, and she spent over 20 years there as a
member. And you were there one of the days that Bishop Thomas...

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: Muthee.

GROSS: ...Muthee of Kenya was there and he's somebody who claimed to be able to
expel witchcraft from deep within people. I guess exorcisms, in a way. Would
you give us a sense of what it was like to be there when Bishop Muthee was
there? Was Sarah Palin there that day too?

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: Sarah Palin was campaigning that day and Bishop Muthee, the
self-proclaimed witch hunter from Kenya, who had anointed Sarah Palin in 2005
as she was running for governor against the spirit of witchcraft, was there at
a small house in Wasilla. It was pouring rain outside and I stumbled in and the
entire congregation was speaking in tongues. And I had heard from other
reporters that no media would be allowed, that taking notes was forbidden, that
filming was strictly forbidden, so I began speaking in tongues. I'd never done
it before so I just started rattling off the names of the Jackson siblings.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: And insinuated myself into the congregation and watched Bishop
Muthee as he, you know, referred to Sarah Palin as the biblical Queen Esther
and then began leading the crowd in a really intense prayer to cast out the
spirit of witchcraft.

Then another pastor came up, took the microphone, and declared that we will put
our feet against the heads of the enemy and crush the python spirit by stepping
on the enemy's neck. There was an instructive event to attend, you know, in
terms of the theology that animated the congregation that Sarah Palin and her
family had belonged to for 20 years and which she was baptized, in the Wasilla
Assembly of God.

GROSS: So were you discovered there are actually being a reporter and not a
true believer?

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: Well, I couldn’t resist pulling out a small digital camera and
so I was sort of discovered. But afterwards, I pulled out another digital
camera and concealed it much better and was able to show some of the episodes
that I just described in a video that I have online called, "In the Land of
Queen Esther" along with some interviews I conducted around the Wasilla and
Anchorage area - but especially in Wasilla which is considered the Bible Belt
of Alaska - with people who considered Sarah Palin to be a biblical figure and
believe that - or at least a biblically-inspired figure - and believe that
Alaska, because it was shaped like a crown, was called upon God to lead the
nation and would be a refuge in the end times for everyone from the lower 48
who had escaped the rapture.

GROSS: The church meeting that you went to is just one example of where you’ve
used a hidden camera. Are you, are you 100 percent comfortable with going in on
false pretenses and using a hidden camera to document what you see?

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: That would be the only time that I’ve used a hidden camera. And
I, generally, I think I’ve never entered an event on false pretenses or
concealed my identity, which is why I get kicked out of so many places,
including violently, as I was tossed out of the College Republican National
Convention in 2007, physically, because of my disclosure that I was basically a
member of the liberal media. So it’s always a risk, but I think it’s best to be
above board. The only reason why I concealed my camera at Sarah Palin’s church
was because there was no other means of capturing what was going on.

GROSS: Your book “Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the
Party” is in part motivated by words said by - or written by Republican
President Dwight Eisenhower. Would you leave us with some of what he said that
in part inspired you to write this book?

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: While I was writing my book, I discovered a letter by Dwight
Eisenhower to a dying veteran of World War II who had terminal cancer. The
veteran Robert Biggs wrote to Eisenhower that he felt from his recent speeches
the feeling of hedging and a little uncertainty, and that he waited for someone
to speak for us and we’ll back him completely if the statement is made in
truth. And it seemed to me and to Eisenhower that Biggs was sort of suggesting
that he would prefer a more authoritarian leader, at least a more heavy-handed
leader, someone more like George W. Bush.

And Eisenhower decided to respond to Biggs, when he could’ve just tossed the
letter in the trash can or he could have just issued a canned response. And
Eisenhower’s response I think was really remarkable and somewhat eerie because
at the time he was under attack from the radical right of his day, the John
Birch Society, which had named him and many of his cabinet members, as
communist agents - and Joseph McCarthy. And he wanted to guard his Republican
Party and its big tent philosophy, against its right flank.

So Eisenhower responded with his vision of the open society, remarking that,
you know, the unity that Biggs was asking for was only logical in a military
organization, but in a democracy, debate is the breath of life. Eisenhower
bemoaned the fact that there were people who had experienced mental stress and
burden, who viewed this form of government, democracy, as possibly dispensable,
because it places too much pressure on them. And he recommended a book called
“The True Believer” by Eric Hoffer - really interesting figure who was a self-
educated philosopher, who was a dockworker. And the central thesis of Hoffer’s
book, which is an analysis of the mentality of the true believer, is that faith
in a holy cause is really a substitute for lost faith in ourselves. And this
book was passed down through the Eisenhower family and helped inform Eisenhower
as he warned against the rise of the radical right and its influence on the
Republican Party. And I included this letter in my book because my book shows
the Republican Party ignoring Eisenhower’s warning and realizing his worst
fears.

GROSS: Max Blumenthal, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, thanks for having me.

GROSS: Max Blumenthal is the author of the new book “Republican Gomorrah:
Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party.”
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Louis Armstrong, The 'Decca Sessions'

TERRY GROSS, host:

Louis Armstrong began and ended his career playing mostly in small New Orleans-
style jazz bands. But in the 1930s and most of the ‘40s, he worked with a large
orchestra, while recording side projects with other singers and bands. The
recordings he made for Decca between 1935 and ‘46 are collected in a new box
set. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says it confirms the range and depth of
Armstrong’s art.

(Soundbite of song “On A Little Bamboo Bridge”)

Mr. LOUIS ARMSTRONG (Musician): (Singing) On a little bamboo bridge by the
waters of Kalua, beneath Hawaiian skies, I fell in love with you.

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Louis Armstrong on a rare dip into Hawaiian music with Andy
Iona and his Islanders in 1937. It’s almost a jazz axiom that singers who can
swing any material will be called on to do so, and no exaggeration to say
Armstrong made swinging popular to begin with. He sounded so good doing it,
everybody wanted it, singers and players both.

(Soundbite of song, “(I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead) You Rascal You”)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: (Singing) I’ll be glad when you’re dead, you rascal you. I’ll be
tickled to death when you leave this Earth you dog. I took you for my friend
and you drank up all my gin. I’ll sure be glad when that cat’s dead and buried.

WHITEHEAD: Louis Armstrong on trumpet 1941, fronting the Luis Russell Orchestra
that had backed him often since 1929. They had more New Orleans feeling than
the average swing band. With them in 1938, Armstrong introduced what had become
Dixieland music’s national anthem, though his original version is still the one
to beat.

(Soundbite of song, “When the Saints Go Marching In”)

WHITEHEAD: There were other good soloists in Luis Russell’s band, but they had
the same problem top players usually have recording with Armstrong. Almost
everyone sounded like a letdown compared to him. But he welcomed fellow singers
onto his dates and loved being their comic foil. His guests in the ‘30s and
‘40s included old friend Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald in the first of their
glorious match ups, future film star Dorothy Dandridge and most often the four
Mills brothers. They help Armstrong give the needle to Steven Foster’s ode to
plantation living, “The Old Folks at Home.”

(Soundbite of song, “The Old Folks At Home”)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: (Singing) Now, brothers, it was way down upon the Swanee ribber.

THE MILLS BROTHERS (Musicians): (Singing) Far, far away.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: (Singing) Dere's wha my heart is turning ebber.

THE MILLS BROTHERS: (Singing) Dere's wha de old folks stay.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: (Singing) Don’t you know one thing? All up and down de whole
creation…

THE MILLS BROTHERS: (Singing) Sadly he roam.

Mr. ARMSTRONG (Singing): Now look at that, dat’s where my heart’s still longing
for de plantation.

THE MILLS BROTHERS: (Singing) And for de old folks at home.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: (Singing) Now sing brothers.

THE MILLS BROTHERS: (Singing) All we were then…

WHITEHEAD: Louis Armstrong in sermonizing mode. In the ‘30s, he also recorded a
couple of comedian Bert Williams’s comic sermons and absorbed a lot of his
half-sung, half-spoken delivery. Like fellow Williams fan Fats Waller,
Armstrong heard how swing feeling and comic timing flow together. Both are a
matter of precisely placed beats, anticipation and knowing just how long to
delay a payoff.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Consider this funeral oration written by Hoagy Carmichael.

(Soundbite of song, “Poor Old Joe”)

Mr. ARMSTRONG: (Singing) Now poor old Joe, he’s gone and dead, a mean bad
brother is gone to his reward, old Joe led the life too fast, now here is my
story, poor old Joe liked his liquor straight and strong, poor old Joe liked
women lean and long, yes sir, tried to go at much too fast a pace, he came in
second place to the (unintelligible) ha, ha, ha…

WHITEHEAD: All this music comes from Mosaic’s “The Complete Louis Armstrong
Decca Sessions: 1935-1946” - seven CDs worth by big and little bands expertly
annotated by the finicky dean of Armstrong annotators, Dan Morgenstern.

(Soundbite of music)

WHITEHEAD: Pops’s Decca sides demonstrate his excellence as a singer, how he
infuses even offhand solos with rhythmic genius and how he came to personify
jazz’s twin impulses: to make it new and revel in old glories. Even as he kept
refining his language, producers had him revisit some of his milestones.
Updating 1928’s “West End Blues” 11 years later, Armstrong showed he’d listened
to the original as much as everyone else.

(Soundbite of song, “West End Blues”)

WHITEHEAD: By 1939, Armstrong’s original “West End Blues” was revered as a
classic. His old, improvised solo all but chiseled in stone. In a way, such
revivals of his oldies anticipate the nostalgic New Orleans-style groups he’d
returned to later. By the late 1930s, Louis Armstrong had achieved mythic
stature in jazz, before he even turned 40.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead teaches at the University of Kansas and he’s a jazz
columnist for emusic.com. He reviewed the complete Armstrong “Decca Sessions:
1935-‘46” on the Mosaic label. You can download Podcasts of our show on our Web
site freshair.npr.org.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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