Sunday, February 5, 2006

Things I Learn On the Way to Other Things

I wrote a piece a couple days ago about Scooter Libby’s friends getting together to raise dough for his defense fund. The newspaper piece I was commenting on, in its last paragraph, listed ‘former ambassador’ Mel Sembler as being the chairman of the fund. It made me wonder about Mel, who he was and what his interest in Scooter was, and a day or so later I Googled Mel Sembler to see what he was all about.


MelandbettysemblerFor the most part, he’s all about some very scary stuff and so is his wife.


The development business he runs isn’t so scary, although his projects seem to leave a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths, particularly investors and communities who guarantee the bonds. And his ambassadorships are more run-of-the-mill payoffs from the Republican Party than anything out of the ordinary. Sembler’s a wealthy guy and he knows how to get money for Republican politicians, lots of money, money enough that he was put in charge of fundraising for the NRC.


It’s par for the course for both parties to reward the money guys, usually with ambassadorships and there’s no need to speak the language. Money itself is lingua franca


What is scary is the drug-rehab program Mel and Betty Sembler put together in 1976, ironically the 200th birthday of this free and secure country. Called Straight, Mel and Betty’s prisoner-of-war-camp for kids was a profit-center that channeled millions into their personal fortune. Leaving a trail of suicides and ruined young lives in its wake, Straight closed down in 1993, swamped by lawsuits and dismantled by a breathtaking array of institutional abuse claims.


I don't like child-abusers, particularly wealthy ones who are politically connected and institutionalize their abuse. They abused their own child in a similar program. It's what inspired them to cripple other young lives.


In its time, Straight was the largest juvenile drug rehabilitation chain in the world and as many as 50,000 teenagers entered the program. Kidnapped might be a better word than entered. For $40,000 a year, you could have your kid Pinocheted without so much as a court-order or anyone’s permission but your own. Tough love. It doesn’t get any tougher than that.


SamanthamonroestraightOne survivor is Samantha Monroe, now working as a travel agent in Pennsylvania, who told Montel Williams about regular beatings, rape by a counselor, forced hunger, and the confinement to a janitor's closet in "humble pants."  Humble pants contained weeks of her own urine, feces and menstrual blood. I guess that would humble most of us, but it sounds more like Guantanamo than a youth drug program.


Straight called this a timeout.

"I refused to let them take my mind,"
she says. Samantha was 12 at the time and the abuse took her years to overcome.


A kid, twelve years old, voluntarily committed to that experience by her parents and they are not in jail. For parents like that and enablers like Mel and Betty Sembler, jail is probably not the answer. But humble pants would be very appropriate.


The Montel Williams Show aired January 18, 2005. Mel Sembler stepped down as Ambassador to Italy the next day. You might want to check out the following links


  • http://www.thestraights.com/articles2005/montel-1-18-05.htm

  • http://thestraights.com/articles/melsembler-bio.htm 

  • http://www.alternet.org/story/27725/

because it’s far too complicated and sadistic a story to detail here.


Like a bad dream that won’t go away, Straight is still around, having morphed just like Sembler's treatment-guru of choice, Dr. Miller Newton. Newton, whose unaccredited Ph.D was in public administration, was tapped by Mel and Betty as Straight National Clinical Director. He's emblematic of how the discredited Straight is a Medusa that just won't stop sprouting heads. Newton personally launched spin-off businesses with names like KIDS, until he too went under in a flood of lawsuits. Newton has paid out over $12 million to his victims.


Since moving back to Florida, he calls himself "Friar Cassian," a priest in the non-Catholic Antiochian Orthodox church.


MelsemblerMel Sembler is titled Honorable by an official act of Congress. As such, it is correct (although ludicrous) to call him His Excellency The Honorable Melvin Floyd Sembler former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Italy, former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Australia, former Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Nauru. That’s a mouthful. He's got a $100 million annex to the American Embassy in Rome named after him and that ought to be reversed, immediately.


The other less-titled but better-known members of Scooter’s defense fund include two former Republican presidential candidates, Jack Kemp and Steve Forbes; three former Republican senators, Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Spencer Abraham of Michigan and Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming; and former CIA Director James Woolsey.


It’s hard for me to picture Jack Kemp looking up to Mel and addressing him as Mr. Chairman, much less honorable this or excellency that. But I don't know, you get pretty tough skin in politics. Do you suppose these fund members know who’s chairing their fund-raiser? It might be useful, as well as politically prudent for Jack, Steve, Fred, Spence, Alan and Jim to do the same thing I did.


Google Mel Sembler, then Google Straight drug program and then follow the yellow-brick road.
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There are lots more Things That Make Me Nuts, all of them on my personal web site.