Sunday, August 31, 2008

Beast of the Month - May 2008

Beast of the Month - May 2008
Roger Clemens, Cooperstown Caliber Major League Pitcher

"I yam an anti-Christ... "
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"

"There is no joy in Mudville."
Ernest Lawrence Thayer, “Casey at the Bat”

Okay, fine, we get it. It's no longer just about unconvincing performances before Congress by Sammy or Mac, nor is it about Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro or even Barry Bonds. Steroids is no longer the exception to the rule in baseball, it is the rule. And sorry Virginia, there is no Santa Claus.

That would be lesson after the release of the Mitchell Report, the investigative report commissioned by Major League Baseball that named at least some of the names of the steroid era, a list that still is likely the tip of the iceberg. Iceberg tip or not, the names of drug dopers could field a team of All-Stars that would hold their own against the '27 Yankees. Among the roster, besides Giambi and Bonds: 200-Game winner Kevin Brown, former Philadelphia Phillies hero Lenny Dykstra, 2003 NL Cy Young winner reliever Eric Gagne, 2002 World Series MVP Troy Glaus, two-time AL MVP Juan Gonzalez, one-time rookie sensation Wally Joyner, 1990 Rookie of the Year and postseason hero David Justice, 1987 Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove catcher Benito Santiago, 2002 AL MVP Miguel Tejada, 1995 AL MVP Mo Vaughn and 1994 home run champion Matt Williams. And though many of these revelations came with the predictable denials and no comments, the general impression is that despite it being a tad politically compromised (tellingly, the report only named players who roided up and not executives or league officials who had knowledge of the widespread abuse) Senator George Mitchell did a solid job in his investigation, and all claims could be backed up in court.

Winners in the latest juicer revelations are few and far between. One could be Mark McGwire, who, after a number of doping indictments all related to perjury, seems all the more wiser for his infamous 2005 Congressional clam-up. The other would be Barry Bonds, whose defenders can repeat their insistence he was hardly some lone wolf and that his prosecution appears to be a politically motivated vendetta. The biggest winner, however, would have to be Jose Canseco once again. Even more so than the Mitchell Report and Game of Shadows, it is Canseco who has written the definitive account of the steroid era in baseball. In 2005, when Juiced was released, he became widely reviled in the sports press as a liar and shameless opportunist for pointing the finger at other dopers and making stunning claims along the way. Three years later, nothing in his book has been disproved and much has been found to be shockingly accurate. Despite this proven track record of reporting history, the publication of his recent sequel (cleverly titled Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars, and the Battle to Save Baseball) led to a repeat of attacks on Canseco's honesty and character.

Meanwhile, there is little question who is the biggest loser from the Mitchell Report. That would be Roger Clemens, The Konformist Beast of the Month, who has replaced Bonds as the poster boy for steroid cheaters.

Clemens, like Bonds was for batters, is no mere pitcher. With all due respect to Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton (or even his current competitors Greg Maddux, Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez) The Rocket was named, in a 2006 ESPN poll of baseball experts, the greatest living pitcher by an overwhelming margin. He has won a record seven Cy Young Awards (two more than Randy Johnson, his closest competitor) and is the last starting pitcher to win an MVP trophy (after he went 24-4 for the Boston Red Sox in 1986.) His career record is 354-184 (nearly a 2 to 1 won-loss ratio) and is second only to Nolan Ryan in career strikeouts. He is also one of only three pitchers to strike out 20 batters in 9 innings (the others being Randy Johnson and Cubs one-time rookie flamethrower Kerry Wood) and he's done it twice.

(Granted, this has nothing to do with the rest of the article, but all these mentions of Randy Johnson bring up a good question: does a guy named Randy Johnson really need "The Big Unit" as a nickname?)

On a personal level, members of The Konformist staff have long admired Clemens for his tenacity, even if sometimes it has gone a tad psychotic. Of special infamy was his twin encounters with Mike Piazza of the New York Mets in 2000. After Piazza hit a grand slam off The Rocket a month earlier, Clemens beaned him on the hand and head with a single pitch during a July game. Then, in Game 2 of the World Series, Clemens threw a shard of Mikey's shattered bat at Piazza, leading to a bench-clearing on both sides. Even in this bizarre moment his greatness shines through: in that game he pitched a two-hitter with 9 strikeouts in eight innings of shutout ball, a performance that effectively silenced the Mets and led to Clemens' second World Series ring with the Yankees. This followed his one-hit shutout with 15 Ks in the ALCS, in the greatest postseason pitching performance besides Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Clearly, he was the true Yankee hero of their last World Championship.

And so it is this background that makes his inclusion on the Mitchell Report so tragic. What makes it even worse is his sad and sorry response. He could've owed up to his cheating (cheating that is apparent in evidence detailed below) in a tearful confession, a move that would've earned him long-term sympathy for honesty. Or he could've simply declared "no comment" and disappeared from public view for awhile. Instead, Clemens demanded a Congressional hearing to deny his usage of steroids. And, as Oscar Wilde would warn, when the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.

At first, it actually seemed like a good strategy: pit Roger Clemens word and character mano a mano against his former trainer, Brian McNamee. After all, if Canseco is, for all the accuracy of his books, a dubious character, he's got nothing on the shadiness of McNamee, a man who has since admitted lying even on the testimony that implicated Clemens. It seemed likely that, given the choice between believing McNamee against the word of Clemens, Clemens would win. He even tested this strategy somewhat successfully on 60 Minutes in an embarrassing suck-up fest "interview" by Mike Wallace.

The problem with this strategy, it turned out, is it wasn't just Clemens V. McNamee. It was Clemens V. McNamee, Andy Pettitte, and Chuck Knoblauch, two other players who McNamee outed as drug dopers. Both of them have since confirmed under oath what McNamee told Senator Mitchell. Pettitte added Clemens had admitted to him in 1999-2000 that he had received HGH injections. Clemens insists that Pettitte "misremembered" the quotes.

Not only was it Clemens V. McNamee, Pettitte and Knoblauch, it was literally Clemens V. Clemens. It was revealed by McNamee (in a rather sleazy moment) that he had injected Clemens wife Debbie with HGH for a Sports Illustrated pictorial, a claim she would later confirm. So according to Roger Clemens, Pettitte, Knoblauch and even his own wife were injected with performance enhancing drugs by his own trainer, but Clemens himself, despite his own deserved reputation for being ultra-competitive, wouldn't even dream of the doing the same.

Besides the testimony, there was physical evidence to back the charges against Clemens. McNamee may be a weasel, but he sure is a sharp weasel, saving vials, syringes and gauze pads involving his injections of Clemens, evidence McNamee handed over to prosecutors in February.

It is interesting to note how the actual Congressional hearings went. The Democrats on the committee, almost to a man and woman, pounced on Clemens' admittedly flimsy defense with glee. Perhaps it was because the case Clemens made was so beyond dubious. It certainly didn't hurt that, after Kobe, Bonds and Michael Vick, finally there was a sports scandal this decade where liberals could proclaim outrage without politically correct fears of being called a racist. But perhaps the biggest reason for the Democratic Party pounding of Clemens was due to him being a friend of the Bush family, most notably Bush Senior. As it turned out, GOP members at the hearing not-so-coincidentally seemed to go out of the way to defend Clemens and bash McNamee, making this into a partisan battle. Of course, this only inflated the circus-like nature of the hearings. In the end, neither party really won: the GOP looked like shameless defenders of outwardly deceitful testimony, while the Dems looked like a sniveling group of cowards who could only press a case in the most frivolous of causes. (Perhaps the hearings are a perfect metaphor for the last eight years on the Capitol.)

Frivolous or not, the Democrat's conclusions seem pretty solid: that Clemens did indeed take performance enhancing drugs and then perjured himself repeatedly on the issue. Despite this, it seems unlikely there will be any prosecution of Clemens over this, and even if there is, rumors are floating that Bush Jr. would pardon him at the request of his daddy. (Of course, this pardon would hardly match Scooter Libby's on the Outrage-o-meter.) In any case, it is telling to contrast the Clemens saga results with the vendetta against Bonds, and wonder, politically correct or not, if race is indeed a factor for the discrepancy.

Clemens may not face the long arm of the law, but in the court of public opinion, he has suffered the biggest loss of his career. He may be the greatest living pitcher, but five years from now (when the recently retired Clemens first becomes eligible for Cooperstown) he will likely be snubbed from Baseball's Hall of Fame over the scandal. That may the least of his worries: after filing a defamation lawsuit against McNamee, claiming his stellar reputation had been tarnished by his former trainer's allegations, reporters uncovered evidence of multiple adulterous affairs by the Rocket, including one with former country music star Mindy McCready. (When asked about the news allegation, McCready replied: "I cannot refute anything in the story.") Needless to say, besides putting obvious strain on his marriage, such revelations undercut his claim that his family man image has been unfairly tarnished by the steroid scandal.

It appears the fallout of the recent steroid revelations will soon go beyond Clemens, Bonds and others. Of special note: in Vindicated, Canseco outs current New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez as someone who asked for help in finding a trainer that would supply steroids. Rodriguez, a three-time AL MVP and a likely candidate to surpass Bonds in the career home run derby, has been hyped as a player who could supposedly restore the integrity of the game. While the charge has been hysterically denounced in the sports media in a repeat of the Juiced controversy, it is important to repeat that Canseco has a proven track record of telling the ugly truths that are eventually admitted as such.

But hopefully the steroid scandal will go beyond the current scapegoating of ballplayers. Of special note: in February, former relief ace (and infamous racist ranter) John Rocker claimed MLB commissioner Bud Selig knew he failed a drug test for steroids in 2000, and that doctors for both management and the players' association advised him and other Texas Rangers on how to effectively use steroids. (Among the other players were Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez and, of course, Alex Rodriguez.) But the real issue here isn't if A-Rod, Rocker and others were drug cheats: it's that it was known and sanctioned from the highest levels of the team, the players' union and even the league itself. This is the kind of scandalous conclusions that George Mitchell, for all his meticulous work, evaded in his report. Hopefully, this complicity in the doping scandal will soon no longer be ignored.

In any case, we salute Roger Clemens as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Roger!!!


Thanks to,,, and for help on this article

Canseco, Jose. Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2005.

Canseco, Jose. Vindicated: Big Names, Big Liars, and the Battle to Save Baseball. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.

Fainaru-Wada, Mark and Williams, Lance. Game of Shadows: Barry Bonds, BALCO, and the Steroids Scandal that Rocked Professional Sports. New York: Gotham Books, 2006.

Gammons, Peter. "Ample Living Proof of Clemens' Greatness." 1 May 2006 <>.

Mitchell, George. Report to the Commissioner of Baseball of an Independent Investigation into the Illegal Use of Steroids and Other Performance Enhancing Substances by Players in Major League Baseball. 13 December 2007.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

If Obama Loses

If Obama Loses
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
by Paul Street

The author, no fan of Barack Obama's "neoliberal centrist" ambitions, believes that "hubris and overreach" as well as race "could play a role in a hypothetical Obama defeat." Like other Democrats of his corporate bent, "Obama has done everything he can to reassure the nation's ruling bipartisan political class that he is fully on board with the American Empire Project." An Iraq and Afghanistan war funder, Obama "deserves to lose Iraq as an issue working in his favor." If he loses, "it will be important for progressively inclined citizens and activists to understand that it was corporate-imperial centrism, not the left and not the People, that got defeated."

If Obama Loses
by Paul Street

"Obama appears to be a natural and longtime neoliberal centrist."

"It Would Not Be Because of Race"

While seeking to distance himself from his former pastor Jeremiah Wright last spring, Barack Obama told reporters that if he lost in his quest for the presidency, "it would not be because of race. It would be because of mistakes I made along the campaign trail"[1].

I have no idea what's going to happen in November. This presidential election is even more difficult to call than the last two, thanks in part to race.

Still, I can safely say that, like many of Obama's formulations, his comment was partly true and largely false. Racial bloc voting and the well-documented reluctance of many whites to vote for a black presidential candidate - widely evident during the Democratic primaries - are obviously going to be a relevant factor in the November elections [2]. If Obama loses to the reactionary war-mongering nut-job John McCain despite a political context that would normally strongly favor a Democrat this time around, the refusal of a significant number of white voters to support a black candidate will be a significant part of the explanation.

The Swift-(Wright-) Boating is Underway

"'Conservatives' continue to score points with the ‘patriotism' and military cards, absurdly tarring Obama as a ‘far left' opponent of American interests and security."

But other factors besides "race" (racism), Obama mistakes included, will contribute to an Obama defeat if he loses. The powerful Republican right-wing attack machine is already effectively "Swift-boating" him. The "war hero" (former bomber of Vietnamese civilians) and leading Iraq "war" (imperial invasion) enthusiast John McCain and the FOX News crowd are bludgeoning Obama with the charge of being "soft" (insufficiently militaristic and imperial) on Iraq and now on Russia. With dominant U.S. media consistently following the lead of the far right by framing electability around "toughness" when it comes to "national security," situations like the current conflict between Russia and Georgia work to leading Russia critic McCain's distinct advantage.

Obama has done everything he can to reassure the nation's ruling bipartisan political class that he is fully on board with the American Empire Project, but it doesn't matter: "conservatives" continue to score points with the "patriotism" and military cards, absurdly tarring him as a "far left" opponent of American interests and security. That preposterous allegation is the central theme in the far-right crackpot Jerome Corsi's current best-selling book The Obama Nation - a monument to neo-McCarthyist smear tactics in the post 9/11 era.

Corsi was the co-author of the ridiculous but important and widely read 2004 volume Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry. His latest bestselling hatchet-job is loaded with lurid innuendos and guilt-by-association narratives claiming to link the deeply conservative Obama to African radicalism, "black rage," drugs, Reverend Wright (of course), the Communist Party, the Weathermen, Islamic "anti-Americanism" and the plot to open up Israel and the United States to nuclear attack.

"Any Democratic presidential candidate (no matter how centrist and compromising) is going to be subjected to relentless charges of ‘leftist' weakness and questionable ‘Americanism.'"

Race is a critical sub-text throughout the narrative of "Swift Boat 2.0," of course.

Corsi is making the dominant media rounds and is a featured guest on right wing talk radio around the country.

This is not really Obama's fault, of course. The Fatherland (FOX) "News" crowd would be doing the same thing in different ways if Hillary Clinton or John Edwards (who we now know would have been dead in the water thanks to his sordid dance with Rielle Hunter) had gotten the nomination. At this stage in the corporate-totalitarian and imperial degradation of U.S. political culture, any Democratic presidential candidate (no matter how centrist and compromising) is going to be subjected to relentless charges of "leftist" weakness and questionable "Americanism" - vicious accusations that will be dutifully bounced across the dominant media's echo-chambers and hall of mirrors.

Still, just as Edwards went into the primaries with the Rielle Hunter affair waiting to explode, Obama (no dummy) certainly made his bid with full knowledge that the "controversial" (sadly) Afro-Centric Reverend Wright (his pastor of 20-plus years) would likely emerge as a potent symbol for the Republicans' racist, right-wing noise machine.

Overreach and Fatigue

Hubris and overreach could play a role in a hypothetical Obama defeat, with voters getting turned off by the quasi-millennial aspects of the Obama ascendancy, replete with an oration before 200,000 Germans and an acceptance speech to be delivered to 70,000 chanting Democrats in a Denver football stadium that will have to do since Mount Sinai is unavailable. You don't have to be a Republican to think it's more than a little over the top.

Obama fatigue could factor into a possible Obama defeat as millions of Americans get tired of seeing Obama's face and hearing his measured baritone "eloquence" over and over and over again. We are now technically into the fifth year of the Obama phenomenon, launched during the Democratic National Convention in late July of 2004. Obama is over-exposed at this point, even as most Americans (including many of his supporters) know amazingly little about his actual public record and world view. A recent Pew poll finds that nearly half (48 percent) U.S. voters say that they "have been hearing too much about Obama lately." Just barely more than a quarter (26 percent) of Pew's respondents said they had heard too much about McCain.

Alienating Media

Team Obama has recently demonstrated some remarkably controlling and prickly behavior towards the press. This could be a big mistake. If it isn't more careful about ruffling dominant media egos, the Obama camp could do significant damage to the "Obama Love" proffered by a corporate media that retains a soft spot for the supposed "maverick" McCain. As Gabriel Sherman noted in The New Republic in late July, "Reporters are grumbling more and more that the campaign is acting like the Prom Queen. They gripe that it is ‘arrogant' and ‘control[ling],' and the campaign's own belief that Obama is poised to make history isn't endearing, either. The press certainly helped Obama get so far so fast; the question is, how far can he get if his campaign alienates them?" (G. Sherman, "End of the Affair: Barack Obama and the Press Break Up," TNR, July 24, 2008. read at

Why Obama Deserves to Lose Iraq

"His plans for ‘withdrawal' have long been nauseatingly ambiguous and maddeningly deceptive."

The offensive notion that "the Surge" is "working" in Iraq has hurt Obama and helped McCain. But while it is true that "the Surge's" triumphs are grossly exaggerated and that claims of U.S. "success" in Iraq ignore the fact that the Iraq War should have (as Obama says) "never been launched in the first place," Obama deserves to lose Iraq as an issue working in his favor. He has repeatedly voted funds for the criminal occupation and distanced himself from antiwar activists and from more courageous politicians (e.g. Jack Murtha and Russ Feingold) on Iraq . He backed pro-war antiwar Democrats in the 2006 Congressional primaries. He has embraced the preposterous Orwellian claim that the U.S. invaded Iraq out of its excessive "good intentions" to export democracy. He has advanced the odious Orwellian notion that the U.S. is involved in a selfless effort to "put Iraq back together." Absurdly applauding America for its great "sacrifice" in the cause of "freedom" within and beyond Iraq and enthusiastically embracing George W. Bush's equally illegal invasion of Afghanistan, "antiwar" Obama has never come close to acknowledging the extent of the monumental damage the U.S. has done to Iraq (including more than a million Iraqi dead) during (and before) the occupation. His plans for "withdrawal" have long been nauseatingly ambiguous and maddeningly deceptive, hiding the strong likelihood that a President Obama would maintain the Iraq occupation for an indefinite period.

Obama has never exhibited the elementary courage or decency to oppose the occupation of Iraq on moral and legal grounds - as a monumental imperial crime. He has only opposed it as a "strategic blunder" and "mistake": as a "dumb war" that isn't "working." This has made him vulnerable to losing the Iraq War as an issue working on his behalf once the Bush administration and dominant U.S. war media succeeded in selling the notion that the criminal invasion was finally being properly executed - the vile idea that the unmentionably criminal invasion is "working."

Kicking Progressives in the Face

The ugly conceit with which Obama has been willing to risk alienating progressive, left-leaning voters could come back to haunt him in November. The militantly centrist corporate-sponsored Obama has irritated many of his leftmost supporters with the lurches he has made further to the right after securing the Democratic presidential nomination. Even I (a consistent left critic of Obama since his highly conservative 2004 Keynote Address) have been surprised at the speed and strength with which he has kicked his more progressive supporters in the face (and other bodily regions) by:

* embracing the Supreme Court ruling that invalidated a Washington D.C ban on personal handguns and claimed that the Second Constitutional Amendment pertains to private citizens, not just organized state "militias."

* declaring his belief in the state's right to kill certain criminals, including child rapists.

* becoming the first major party presidential candidate to bypass the public presidential financing system and to reject accompanying spending limits (violating his earlier pledge to work through the public system and accept those limits).

* supporting a refurbished spy bill that grants retroactive immunity to telephone corporations who collaborated with the White House in electronic surveillance of American citizens (violating Obama's earlier pledge to filibuster any surveillance legislation containing such immunity).

* appointing the corporate-friendly Wal-Mart apologist and Hamilton Project [3] economist Jason Furman as his economic policy director - something that stood in curious relation to his criticism ("I won't shop there") of Wal-Mart's low-wage anti-union practices when speaking to labor audiences.

* increasing his declared support of "free trade," contradicting his campaign-trail criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

* "tweaking" his claim that he would meet with Iran 's president (he added new and more restrictive conditions).

* embracing (in a speech to the powerful pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee - AIPAC) Bush-McCain rhetoric on the supposed Iranian nuclear threat and promising to do "anything" to protect the nuclear occupation and apartheid state of Israel from Iran (a nation previously attacked by Israel ).

* calling (in his AIPAC speech) for an "undivided" Israel-run Jerusalem despite the fact that no government on the planet (and not even the Bush administration) supports Israeli's right to annex that UN-designated international city.

* making bolder Iraq "withdrawal" statements indicating that an Obama administration would not leave Iraq.

* vocally supporting a major part of the Republican agenda: the granting of public money to private religious organizations to provide social services.

* endorsing the conservative white male Blue Dog Democratic Congressman John Barrow (D-GA) over the progressive black female challenger Regina Thomas in a July 15 primary [4].

* flip-flopping on energy policy by calling for increased domestic and offshore oil drilling after it became clear that McCain was getting traction with voters by calling for such environmentally insensitive drilling.

"Dropping the Class Language"

With a large part of the citizenry supporting serious progressive change in the wake of the hard-right Cheney-Bush nightmare, Obama's corporate-imperial centrism could end up costing him the White House. This is standard operating procedure for the Democrats, who have long been unable and/or unwilling to run in accord with the progressive and anti-imperial sentiments of the American majority [5].

Last time out, John "I am Not a Redistribution Democrat" Kerry made the usual surrender. Given the closeness of the 2004 race and the unpopularity of the arch-plutocratic George W. Bush, Kerry could have won if he'd run further to the populist left. With help from the "liberal" New York Times (which agreed not to publish its findings on the Bush administration's illegal wiretapping until well after the election), the super-opulent windsurfing aristocrat Kerry ran to the corporate center and thereby gave us four more years of the Worst President Ever.

This great failure followed in perfect accord with Thomas Frank's widely mentioned but commonly misunderstood book on why so many white working class Americans vote for regressive Republicans instead of following their supposed natural "pocketbook" interests by backing Democrats. Released just before Bush defeated Kerry with no small help from working class whites, Frank's What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (New York: 2004) has generally been taken to have argued that the GOP distracts stupid "heartland" (white working-class) voters away from their real economic interests with diversionary issues like abortion, guns, and gay rights. Insofar as Democrats bear responsibility for the loss their former working class constituency, Frank is often said to have argued that this was due to their excessive liberalism on these and other "cultural issues."

"The corporate-sponsored, capitalism-praising Obama is repeating the same old classist Democratic mistake."

But Frank's argument was more complex or perhaps more simple. At the end of his book, in a passage that very few leading commentators seem to have read (a shining exception is New York Times columnist Paul Krugman), Frank clearly and (in my opinion) correctly blamed the long corporatist shift of the Democratic Party to the business-friendly right and away from honest discussion of - and opposition to - economic and class inequality for much of whatever success the GOP achieved in winning over working-class whites. As Frank noted in his final chapter:

"The Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the organization that produced such figures as Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, and Terry McCauliffe, has long been pushing the party to forget blue-collar voters and concentrate instead on recruiting affluent, white-collar professionals who are liberal on social issues. The larger interests that the DLC wants desperately to court are corporations, capable of generating campaign contributions far out-weighing anything raised by organized labor. The way to collect the votes and --- more important --- the money of these coveted constituencies, 'New Democrats' think, is to stand rock-solid on, say, the pro-choice position while making endless concessions on economic issues, on welfare, NAFTA, Social Security, labor law, privatization, deregulation, and the rest of it. Such Democrats explicitly rule out what they deride as 'class warfare' and take great pains to emphasize their friendliness with business. Like the conservatives, they take economic issues off the table. As for working-class voters who were until recently the party's very backbone, the DLC figures they will have nowhere else to go; Democrats will always be marginally better on economic issues than Republicans. Besides, what politician in this success-worshipping country really wants to be the voice of poor people?"

"...The problem is not that Democrats are monolithically pro-choice or anti-school prayer; it's that by dropping the class language that once distinguished them sharply from Republicans they have left themselves vulnerable to cultural wedge issues like guns and abortion and the rest whose hallucinatory appeal would ordinarily be overshadowed by material concerns. We are in an environment where Republicans talks constantly about class - in a coded way, to be sure - but where Democrats are afraid to bring it up" (Frank, What's the Matter With Kansas?, pp. 242-245).

The corporate-sponsored, capitalism-praising Obama is repeating the same old classist Democratic mistake. For all Obama's talk about activating the popular base to bring about "change from the bottom up," Obama is making his own ironic contribution to the de-mobilization of the progressive electorate with a militantly centrist, neoliberal, and boring policy agenda that is noticeably bereft of populist inspiration. It's more Goldman Sachs and Hamilton Project than lunch pail and picket line, consistent with his (actually) elitist comments to an affluent gathering of fundraisers in San Francisco prior to the April 22nd Pennsylvania primary (won decisively by Hillary Clinton with large support from white working-class voters).

"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania," Obama condescendingly said, "and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone for 25 years and there's nothing's to replace them...And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them." Later, in clarifying his comments, Obama said that poor white small town Americans simply "don't vote on economic issues," turning instead to things like guns, gay marriage, abortion and religion [6]. Sounding like he accepted the standard false version (the self-serving upper-middle-class adaptation) of "the Tom Frank Kansas thesis," he failed to note that working class whites actually vote more on the basis of economic concerns than do affluent whites [7] and that Democrats lose white proletarian voters by taking the workers' material concerns "off the table" and running (unlike John Edwards' ill-fated semi-progressive 2007-08 campaign) away from the populist language and commitments that once made the Democratic Party a relevant defender of working peoples' material interests. (He had nothing to say about the source of the "bitterness" that leads him to cling so strongly to the guns of American Empire and to his own self-serving notions of God.)

I recently sat through a tiresome Obama " Town Hall " on "Economic Security" before hundreds of relatively unenthused supporters in Cedar Rapids , Iowa . Beyond some brief chest-pounding about Exxon-Mobil's latest record profits and "big oil's" campaign contributions to McCain, the content and tone of Obama's policy presentation was positively Dukakisian. It was very University of Chicago , loaded with arcane neoliberal policy wonkery that may have countered McCain's picture of him as an empty-headed celebrity (ala Paris Hilton) but also left much of the audience cold. It seemed almost calculated not to mobilize people for an epic confrontation with the vicious arch-plutocratic and messianic-militarist bastards behind the McCain campaign. A former John Edwards staffer who cringed through the event with me asked "where's the red meat?" I imagined millions of formerly engaged Obama supporters forsaking politics altogether - their hopes for reform and "change" shattered and their desire to avoid politics reinstated - when and if Obama's tepid, business- and Empire-friendly campaign goes the way of Mondale, Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry.

Snotty Know-it-All Middle-Class Obamaists Not Transcending Race

Which brings me to another factor that could help cost Obama the election - the elitism, ignorance, and occasional race-baiting of many of his ostensibly progressive white middle and upper-middle class supporters. So far this campaign season, I have been lectured by three white Iowa City liberal-"progressive" Obamaists on how Tom Frank's book shows the "idiocy" of the white lower and working classes - those misguided proletarian dunderheads who foolishly "vote against their own pocketbook interests" (against those supposedly wonderful and progressive Democrats) because of childish vulnerability to "cultural issues" like "guns, God, gays, and abortion."

"What's the matter with these clowns" one university-affiliated forty-something white male Obamaist asked me the other day, citing Frank's book. "Don't they get that the Democrats are the party of the workers and the poor?"

The Obama fan who asked me this insulting question became noticeably perturbed when I noted (A) the white working-class actually "votes its pocketbook" more than the white middle and upper class and (B) that Frank's book actually ends with the argument I quoted above, observing that the corporate-captive and excessively bourgeois Democratic Party opens the door for working class defection and apathy precisely by abandoning its commitment to working-class people's moral-economic issues and needs. The Democrats have long been the other business wing - the "inauthentic opposition" in - the corporate-managed American "one-and-a-half party system" (Princeton political scientist Sheldon Wolin's term) and Obama is not fundamentally challenging that terrible reality.

"'Race-neutral' Obama has exhibited a disturbing tendency to eagerly join the white post-Civil Rights majority in blaming blacks for their disproportionate presence at the bottom."

Affluent white Obamaist liberals display a related and disturbing tendency to argue that any criticism of their hero's aristocratic bearing and commitments actually betray the critic's underlying "racism."

"You know what people really mean when they say Obama is bourgeois and elitist, don't you?" a patronizing white male university-connected know-it-all Obamaist asked me a few weeks ago. Before I could say anything, he answered his own question: "they mean they think he's ‘an uppity nigger.'"

Oh, okay. I'm sure there are plenty of white folks, including a large number of Republicans, who are using the charge of elitism and "haughtiness" as cover for racism. But I (the author of two books and numerous project studies and hundreds of articles against white supremacy and institutional racism) am not one of those racists. When many whites and (by the way) blacks I know say that Obama is bourgeois and elitist, they simply mean that (whatever his skin color) he's, well, bourgeois and elitist, which (by the way) he is.

He's also very weak, from a progressive perspective, on race, interestingly enough, part of why he has long been viewed as elitist by a significant portion of the black community in Chicago and Illinois. Having run to the right of Kucinich and even Hillary and Edwards on racial justice issues, "race-neutral" Obama has exhibited a disturbing tendency (strongly approved by arch-conservative white Republican commentators like William Bennett, Charles Krauthammer, and George Will) to eagerly join the white post-Civil Rights majority in blaming blacks for their disproportionate presence at the bottom of American hierarchies.

It is interesting to hear university town white Obamaists claim that that their candidate "transcends race" while hurling reckless charges of racism at those who make the elementary observation that Obama is an elite, Harvard-educated, and Wall Street-sponsored (and excessively white-friendly) candidate running an openly (for those willing to do some elementary research) corporate-imperial campaign. As the black and Left political scientist Adolph Reed Jr. noted last April, the Obama campaign repeatedly contradicted its own claim to "transcend race" during the primary season. "Obama supporters have been disposed to cry foul and charge racism at nearly any criticism of him," Reed observed, "in steadily more extravagant rhetoric." They claimed, for example, that Hillary Clinton was expressing racial bias when she dared to criticize Obama as "inexperienced." The attempt to portray one's opponent as short on experience is "standard fare in political campaigns" (Reed) and goes back to the beginning of electoral politics.

Along the way, the Obama campaign has called for voters to support its candidate because of the opportunity to "make history" simply by putting someone who happens to be half-black in the White House. That is hardly going "beyond race" [8].

Obama recently made the false charge that the McCain campaign has been telling voters to oppose the Democratic presidential candidate because he "doesn't look like those other presidents on the dollar bills." The McCain camp's opportunistic response was (naturally) over the top but, sadly, McCain was right to note that Obama had played the race card in an unfortunate way.

Obamaists should be careful with the racism charge if they want to avoid over-alienating potential supporters, who don't generally deserve to hear snotty know-it-all pseudo-progressives screeching "Your Whiteness is Showing" (the title of an ill-advised letter from the progressive anti-racist Obama supporter Tim Wise to certain already pissed-off white female Hillary Clinton fans last June) because they happen to find the openly imperialist capitalism and Afghan Invasion enthusiast and Israeli apartheid supporter Obama hard to swallow. The Obama campaign is making a mistake by not doing more to actively discourage some of its more irritating staff and supporters - an especially good example is current "Progressive for Obama" Web site chief Carl Davidson (who has absurdly leveled the accusation at me on at least two occasions) - from recklessly charging racism.

Maybe It Isn't About Running for President

"Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, the Clintons, and Gore did not need to be black in order to walk the same basic tiresome centrist line trod by ‘the new black Clinton.'"

Speaking of race, it is common to hear white middle-class Obama supporters excuse and explain their candidate's conservative centrism as a result of the fact that's he's black and therefore "has to be especially careful not to offend" white voters by seeming too strident or "angry." "John Edwards can get away with talking class struggle," one academic Obamaist told me last fall, "because he's white. Barack can't because he's black and that's scary enough in and of itself for white voters."

There's a kernel of truth in this argument. Toxic white racial fears and stereotypes of the "angry black man" (e.g. Jesse Jackson Sr. and big bad Reverend Wright) are alive and well in U.S. political culture. Sadly enough, white dread of (legitimate) black anger may well help make it especially hard for a black male politician to fight for the poor and working-class Many against the rich and powerful Few. I have long suspected that Obama has felt the need to go an extra mile or three to prove his fealty (in ways that are often quite unpleasant to behold) to dominant domestic and imperial hierarchies and doctrines partly because he senses that his racial identity raises red flags for the nation's predominantly white political class and electoral gatekeepers and the white majority electorate.

Still, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, the Clintons, and Gore did not need to be black in order to walk the same basic tiresome centrist line trod by "the new black Clinton" (or perhaps "the new black Carter" - see below), Barack Obama. Obama appears to be a natural and longtime neoliberal centrist, consistent with his elite private prep school and Harvard background, his "deeply conservative" temperament, his well-known personal narcissism, and his impressive corporate sponsorship.

It should be understood that the main white folks who can't deal with "populist" rhetoric are the rich and powerful Few. Angry "class language" (Frank) works pretty well with much of the white working class majority - a main reason that any potentially viable candidate who speaks it to any significant degree (e.g. John Edwards in 2007) must be marginalized and discredited by corporate media.

"Re-establishing Confidence in the Legitimacy of the Current Political Order"

And insofar as it is true that Obama "can't be all that progressive because he's black" (something that may NOT be true) wouldn't that seem to indicate that it's, well... a mistake for progressives to advance a black candidate for president?

This might seem like a terrible thing to say (I can just see my nemesis Carl Davidson ready to pounce!), but there's a deeper point here. Maybe the struggle against racism and other political and societal evils isn't about running people (of any color) for the presidency - the top position in the executive committee of the American ruling class - or any other high elective office. Maybe it isn't about U.S. electoral politics.

"By the end of his life, King had concluded that only revolutionary change could save the U.S. from an ever-deepening descent into repressive authoritarianism."

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. turned down efforts to get him to run for the White House and died for his determination to authentically resist American capitalist, racist, and imperial power structures - what he called "the triple evils that are interrelated." By the end of his life, King had concluded - correctly in my view - that only revolutionary change could save the U.S. from an ever-deepening descent into repressive authoritarianism. As King noted in the spring of 1967, liberals have for too long "labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions of society, a little change here, a little change there." What is really required, King knew, was "a reconstruction of the entire society...a radical redistribution of political and economic power."

That is exactly what Obama is NOT about. "Perhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama," Ryan Lizza recently observed, "is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them." Later in the same essay Lizza notes that Obama is "an incrementalist."

As Greg Guma recently noted in a thoughtful reflection on Obama as "The New Jimmy Carter": "the truth is that, in Obama, a worried establishment has found the vessel through which they hope to restore international and domestic stability." As Guma darkly but rightly observes, "Obama, like Carter, can be useful [to the U.S. power elite] in calming things down and re-establishing confidence in the legitimacy of the current political order. In short, he can reinforce the argument that ‘the system' still works"[9].

Beyond Electoralism

Revolution (desperately required) aside, even the attainment of basic reforms is about building and expanding grassroots social movements beneath and beyond the false promises of political campaigns and mass media, who market domesticated corporate candidates like they sell cars and candy. It's about the real politics of popular organization and resistance beneath and beyond the quadrennial narrow-spectrum corporate-crafted candidate-centered election extravaganzas, whoever wins and whoever loses. As Dr. Reed noted last November, "Elected officials are only as good or as bad as the forces they feel they must respond to. It's a mistake to expect any more of them than to be vectors of the political pressures they feel working on them" [10].

Given the harsh realities that make even avowedly "progressive" politicians, policymakers, and candidates veer center and right, Reed argued, correctly in my estimation, progressives should focus less on election dramas and more on building movements for democratic change from the bottom up and across and between elections:

"We need to think about politics in a different way, one that doesn't assume that the task is to lobby the Democrats or give them good ideas, and correct their misconceptions."

"It's a mistake to focus so much on the election cycle; we didn't vote ourselves into this mess, and we're not going to vote ourselves out of it. Electoral politics is an arena for consolidating majorities that have been created on the plane of social movement organizing. It's not an alternative or a shortcut to building those movements, and building them takes time and concerted effort. Not only can that process not be compressed to fit the election cycle; it also doesn't happen through mass actions. It happens through cultivating one-on-one relationships with people who have standing and influence in their neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, families, and organizations. It happens through struggling with people over time for things they're concerned about and linking those concerns to a broader political vision and program. This is how the populist movement grew in the late nineteenth century, the CIO in the 1930s and 1940s, and the civil rights movement after World War II. It is how we've won all our victories. And it is also how the right came to power" [11].

"We didn't vote ourselves into this mess, and we're not going to vote ourselves out of it."

Reed's point on the need to concentrate first and foremost on the building of movement capacities - NOT corporate-crafted elections that answer mainly to elite interests - is echoed in Noam Chomsky's instructive reflections on the 2004 presidential contest. By Chomsky's analysis on the eve of the last election:

"The U.S. presidential race, impassioned almost to the point of hysteria, hardly represents healthy democratic impulses."

"Americans are encouraged to vote, but not to participate more meaningfully in the political arena. Essentially the election is yet another method of marginalizing the population. A huge propaganda campaign is mounted to get people to focus on these personalized quadrennial extravaganzas and to think, ‘That's politics.' But it isn't. It's only a small part of politics."

"The urgent task for those who want to shift policy in progressive direction - often in close conformity to majority opinion - is to grow and become strong enough so that that they can't be ignored by centers of power. Forces for change that have come up from the grass roots and shaken the society to its foundations include the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the women's movement and others, cultivated by steady, dedicated work at all levels, everyday, not just once every four years..."

"So in the election, sensible choices have to be made. But they are secondary to serious political action. The main task is to create a genuinely responsive democratic culture, and that effort goes on before and after electoral extravaganzas, whatever their outcome" [12].

How individual progressives define their version of the "sensible choice" is of little interest to me at this point. People write me to ask "should I vote for McKinney ?" "What about Nader?" "Should I vote tactically for Obama to block Mad Bomber McCain since I live in a contested state?" "I think I'm just going to sit the election out - what do you think?"

I don't know what people should do on Election Day. I'm not sure I care (it changes from day to day, to be honest). What I'd really like to know is when true progressive folks are interested in "struggling with people over time for things they're concerned about and linking those concerns to a broader political vision and program."

And I am frankly haunted by the likelihood that Greg Guma is right: while McCain is obviously terrible and dangerous, Obama is attractive to a large section of the U.S. power elite because he promises to "calm things down and re-establish confidence in the legitimacy of the current political order" by "reinforce[ing] the argument that ‘the system' still works." Wouldn't that seem to suggest that the loathsome and dangerous McCain is the lesser evil in the long run?

Our current corporate-totalitarian system and political culture doesn't work. It is a grave threat to human survival and peace and justice at home and abroad. Dr. King was right forty years ago about the pressing need for "radical reconstruction" and the "radical distribution of political and economic power." The path of that reconstruction is long and leads well past my own time on this planet, but it is at least clear to me that millions of people in the world's most powerful nation are being dangerously hypnotized and repressively de-sublimated yet again by the false hopes and colored lights of the narrow-spectrum corporate-crafted election extravaganza.

If Obama loses, and he may, it will be important for progressively inclined citizens and activists to understand that it was corporate-imperial centrism, not the left and not the People, that got defeated. If he wins, those citizens and activists need to understand the severe limits of what triumphed and be prepared to fight and organize on a daily basis beneath and beyond presidential elections.

Paul Street ( is a veteran radical historian and independent author, activist, researcher, and journalist in Iowa City , IA. He is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Paradigm 2005); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (Routledge 2005): and Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (Rowman&Littlefied 2007). Street's new book Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics can be ordered at


My annotation for this piece could easily run to 100 notes - something that would be impractical for reader and writer alike. Readers who want sources for assertions without notes can feel free to write me at

1. Obama is quoted in Glen Ford's brilliant article, "Obama Stumbles on His Own Contradictions," CounterPunch (April 30, 3008), read at

2. Among many possible sources, see especially John Judis, "The Big Race," The New Republic (May 28, 2008).

3. The Hamilton Group is a leading "conservative" (business-friendly) economic think tank. Furman, 37, is linked closely to Robert Rubin, the top Wall Street financial mogul and former Clinton economics advisor and Treasury secretary. Rubin's regressive views on behalf of "free trade" (including the North American Free Trade Agreement, investor's rights, wages, welfare and "deficit reduction" gave the Clinton administration "credibility" in the halls of corporate and financial power.

4. See Leutisha Stills, "Obama Charges Rightward," Black Agenda Report (June 25, 2008), read at

5. For an (I hope) useful summary of that progressive majority opinion and some key sources, see Paul Street , "Americans' Progressive Opinion vs. ‘the Shadow Cast on Society by Business," ZNet Sustainer Commentary (May 15, 2008), read at

6. Paul Krugman, "Clinging to a Stereotype," New York Times, 18 April, 2008, p. A23.

7. See Larry Bartels, "Inequalities," New York Times Magazine (April 27, 2008), p. 22. As Bartels points out, Frank exaggerated white working-class voters' susceptibility to cultural diversion: "In recent presidential elections," he notes, "affluent voters, who tend to be liberal on cultural matters, are about twice as likely as middle-class and poor voters to make their decisions on the basis of their cultural concerns." In other words, working class white voters don't especially privilege "cultural issues" (God, guns, gays, gender, and abortion) over pocketbook concerns and actually do that less than wealthier voters.

8. Adolph Reed Jr., "Obama No," The Progressive (May 2008). For what its worth, I am told by a reliable source that Michelle Obama dismissed concerns with experience as racism during a coffee with female Democratic voters in eastern Iowa last fall.

9. Ryan Lizza, "Making It: How Chicago Shaped Obama," The New Yorker, (July 21, 2008); Greg Guma, "Barack Obama: The New Jimmy Carter," ZNet (July 28, 2008), read at See also Larrisa MacFarquhar's useful reflctions on Obama's "deeply conservative" world view and commitments: see Larissa MacFarquhar, "The Conciliator: Where is Barack Obama Coming From?," The New Yorker (May 7, 2007). Near the end of his article, Lizza proclaims that "He [Obama] is ideologically a man of the left" - a ridiculous indication of how shockingly narrow the political and ideological spectrum is in the U.S. today.

10. Adolph J. Reed Jr., "Sitting This One Out," The Progressive (November 2007)

11. Reed, "Sitting This One Out."

12. Noam Chomsky, "The Disconnect in American Democracy" (October 27, 2004) in Chomsky, Interventions ( San Francisco : City Lights, 2007) pp. 99-100. See also Howard Zinn's excellent reflections in "Election Madness," The Progressive (March 2008).

a/k/a Tommy Chong

a/k/a Tommy Chong
Regular price: $24.99
Sale price: $19.95

a/k/a Tommy Chong chronicles the entrapment and incarceration of comedic legend Tommy Chong. Josh Gilbert's award winning documentary offers a sometimes frightening, often hilarious account of "Operation PipeDreams", a nationwide drug paraphernalia sting operation spearheaded by former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Russell Crowe as Bill Hicks?

Russell Crowe as Bill Hicks?
Aug 25, 2008
by Gary Susman
Categories: Deals, Film, To Care or Not to Care

Not sure how I missed the news that Russell Crowe wants to play Bill Hicks in a biopic of the late comedian. The actor is quoted talking about the project here, and a recent radio interview with longtime Hicks collaborator Kevin Booth (h/t to the Dead Frog comedy blog) confirms Crowe's role in commissioning a screenplay, which is not yet finished. I'm also not sure how I feel about the idea, since Crowe (who's not known for his jocular side) is already 12 years older than Hicks was when he died at 32, and since a botched biopic would trivialize Hicks as just another E! True Hollywood Story casualty, a guy who smoked too much and courted controversy and died of cancer on the cusp of fame. On the other hand, Booth's participation should ensure that Hicks gets the respect he deserves; and Crowe is protean and versatile enough to play pretty much anybody (Exhibit A: The Insider). Besides, Crowe reportedly wants to focus on performance sequences than biographical scenes, and anything that gets Hicks' legendary stand-up material more circulation (even in mimicked form) is good.

The Real Rate of Inflation is 13%

The Real Rate of Inflation is 13%
The Mogambo Guru
The Daily Reckoning
August 27, 2008

It was when “official government-approved” inflation figures were released that I really lost it last week, as that particular rate of inflation is now a staggering 5.6%. This is - as you can probably tell by the look of panic and terror on my face - Terrible, Terrible News (TTN).

And when you look at what John Williams at calculates as inflation, according to the time-honored method of actually looking at real prices instead of the “qualified estimates” that are used today, you will see that annual inflation in consumer prices is actually running at over 13%! Some of the worst in American history! We’re freaking doomed!

Anthony Cherniawski of The Practical Investor is not interested in my dour assessment of the situation, and took a look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U), which increased a whopping 0.5% (non-seasonally adjusted) in July, which is plenty bad enough for one month, but one’s tongue tries to hide by jumping down one’s throat when one learns that it was not a fluke, and that prices are 5.6% higher than in July 2007! 5.6% annual inflation is the best they can wring from admittedly-doctored statistics? Yikes! I’m screaming my guts out here!

Mr. Cherniawski coolly says that I don’t know the literal half of it, as “The alarming part of this report is the acceleration of inflation in the past 3 months. While the unadjusted rate for the past 12 months was 6.2%, the 3-month annualized rate of increase was 11.9%.” Yikes! We’re freaking doomed!

The report itself noted, without any hint of alarm, that “On a seasonally adjusted basis, the CPI-U advanced 0.8 percent in July, following a 1.1 percent increase in June.” Yow!

Some of the terrifying specifics were that the energy index rose 4%, which accounted for “about half of the overall increase in the all items index.”

The worse news for people who eat food is that “the food index rose 0.9 percent in July after rising 0.8 percent in June. Indexes for five of the six major grocery store food groups rose at least 1.0 percent.” In one freaking month! This is outrageous inflation!

This inflation in food may be why interviewed Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of an outfit called America’s Second Harvest, which is “the nation’s largest food bank network”, and which is a name that they are soon changing to “Feeding America”, which seems oddly apropos, considering that in January, they surveyed their 200 food banks and found that “demand was up 20 percent over last year.” Wow! What an increase!

“We’re seeing more and more people visiting food banks for the first time because they’ve lost their jobs or they’re not getting raises”, she says. Yikes! People are reduced to begging for food because they are not getting raises!

Equally alarming is the news from John Williams at, who says that real inflation in prices, as measured in a subset of the BLS Consumer Price Indexes, the CPI-W, “jumped to 6.2%”.

What makes the CPI-W inflation subset so interesting is that, as Mr. Williams explains, “The CPI-W is used for making the annual cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security payments” which would indicate that the federal budget line-item for Social Security, already one of the largest categories in the whole bloated federal budget that is already over $3 trillion a year, will be increasing by a theoretical 6.2%, just by virtue of mandated higher payments!

Then, to make it all worse, the Labor Department reported the latest survey of producer prices for July, the Producer Price Index, which went up by a stunning 1.2% for the month, where the only saving grace is that it is less than the 1.8% increase in June!

As Mark Gongloff so pithily explained in his Ahead Of The Tape column of the Wall Street Journal, “While consumers suffer inflation a the bottom of the pricing pipeline, producers feel it at the top”, and that producers will be very keen about passing higher costs along to the consumer as quickly as possible, because “to the extent inflation gets stuck with them, their profits suffer.”

And since everybody knows the ugliness of profits suffering, I will not go into it, as it usually means that I am going to be fired soon, and I don’t want to think about that right now, other than to say that “profits that suffer” is ugly in the best of times, and it will be Much, Much Uglier (MMU) this time, thanks to seemingly-impossible leveraged investment use of every freaking dime, real or imagined, here or in the future.

Okay, I will say one other thing; if you are not buying gold, silver and oil in a fit of terrified self-preservation, to the exclusion of everything else including back-to-school clothes for your stupid kids that make them look like mental defectives and cost a fortune, then you are almost certainly making the biggest mistake of your life.

Well, maybe the second biggest mistake after deciding to have the damned kids. Or maybe the third biggest mistake after deciding to get married in the first damned place and then having the damned kids in the second place, but you get the point.

Bolt could have run 9.52 in Olympics, coach says

Bolt could have run 9.52 in Olympics, coach says
Reuters, Wednesday August 27 2008
By Sam Cage

ZURICH, Aug 27 (Reuters) - Triple Olympic gold medallist and world record holder Usain Bolt could have run the 100 metres in 9.52 seconds if he had not slowed to celebrate, his coach said on Wednesday.

Glen Mills said Bolt, who electrified Beijing with his sprint victories, was at the start of his 100 career and would peak only in about two years' time.

"If he had continued, the slowest he would have run would have been 9.52," Mills told reporters ahead of Friday's Weltklasse athletics meeting in Zurich, where Bolt is due to run the 100.

"This is his first year of running the 100 metres," Mills said. "In two more years he should be peaking at this distance and by then I am certain he will be down to there."

Bolt set a world record of 9.69 seconds in the 100, and was so far ahead of the field that he slowed before the end to celebrate.

Bolt then broke Michael Johnson's 12-year-old mark in the 200 and added a third gold by contributing to a world record for Jamaica in the 4x100 relay.

On Friday, Bolt will face the two men who won medals behind him in the Beijing 100, Richard Thompson of Trinidad & Tobago and American Walter Dix.

Other Beijing winners on show in Zurich include women's pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva and Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia, who won the men's 5,000 and 10,000 metres.

"I've had some sleep since I've been here so I'm not tired. I'm trying to get my blood pumping again," Bolt said.
He declined to speculate on what time he might run on Friday.

"I don't think you can really set another goal after doing that at the Olympics," said Bolt, who turned 22 the day after his 200 Beijing win. "I'm just trying to get to the end of the season, injury free, and go home and enjoy myself."

(Editing by Clare Fallon)

Holiday World plans towering water slide

Holiday World plans towering water slide
By Zach Dunkin
Posted: August 26, 2008

Holiday World & Splashin' Safari in Santa Claus, Ind., today announced an $8.9 million expansion that will include the world's tallest water ride for the 2009 season.

Pilgrims Plunge, a classic "shoot the chute" ride, will use an open elevator to lift boats filled with riders 135 feet in the air. The boats will pause briefly and then rapidly descend a record 131 feet at a 45-degree angle, creating a wall of water splashing 45 feet high and 90 feet wide. Its maximum speed will top 50 miles per hour.

In addition, park president Will Koch announced a free HoliWatch program for 2009. The wristband-style radio frequency identification service will serve as locators for families or groups who become separated during their visit.

The expansion project is the second largest in the 63-year history of the park, located 180 miles southwest of Indianapolis.

Contact Star reporter Zach Dunkin at (317) 444-6079.

Cindy Sheehan Bugged in Denver

August 25, 2008
Cindy Sheehan Bugged in Denver
by Rob Kall

Cindy Sheehan returned to her Denver hotel room today to find the door unlocked and ajar. She walked in to discover a man working on her phone, screw driver in hand.

Sheehan reported, in an email:

"As I walked toward my room, I noticed that the door was opened with the security bolt blocking the complete closing of the door. I knew immediately that I had not left the door open, and I double checked to make sure it was the right room because, as a frequent traveler, I have been known to forget my room number, but it was the right room.

I was upset at first thinking that housekeeping had made a mistake and left my room open and I was worried that something might be missing. So I walked into my room and bigger than life, there was a man standing by my desk holding the room phone with a screwdriver in his hand!

I immediately said; "What the hell are you doing? Are you putting a bug on my phone?" He looked like he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and stammered out: "N--no, we are having problems with the phone." I told him to get out of my room because my phone was fine and I called the front desk and the person at the front desk stammered something out about "problems" with some of the phones.

This room was reserved soon after we got to Denver last night because the room we had was inadequate for 3 people. The room was reserved under my campaign manager's name with a CFC debit card. By the time we left for the march, it could have very well been ascertained that I was the one in this room, and the room we did reserve could be bugged, also. I am confident that that's what was happening when I walked in on the "maintenance" man"

You don't come in the room with a screwdriver if there are problems with the hotel phones. You do it electronically, through the system or you hook up a new phone."

She said to me, "How many hotel rooms have I been in the past four years? It was so obvious."

I asked, "Do you think it was Pelosi's people?" since Sheehan is running against Pelosi, for her congressional seat.

She replied, "Of course, I don't know."

I asked, "Have there been any other episodes that would make you believe this kind of action is being taken against you?"

She replied:

"Not since I've been running for congress, but there were several times when I was in Crawford, or protesting in D.C., when I felt like we were being surveiled. And actually, in Washington D.C., for a period of time, they would just blatantly follow me, and I would just invite them to come in and have coffee with me. Whenever I was in D.C., whose ever jurisdiction it was, I'd have either the Metro police, the Capitol Hill police or the Park police right on me. Sometimes they were in uniform and sometimes they were plainclothes. But they were very obvious."

Asked how her campaign is going, Sheehan replied:

"I believe the momentum is definitely on our side, especially the last couple weeks, with our signature drive.

The department of elections started to mess with our signatures and say that so many were in-valid, when we knew for a fact that they were valid, because I was checking them myself, on the computer. That really motivated people to help us-- to come to the office to help us or sign the petition (to get Cindy on the ballot) or whatever, that said that they had been meaning to help and that this was something that got them of the fence and got them to actually come into the office and volunteer. We've had ten of thousands of dollars come into the campaign since then and we really have a comfortable amount of money to get our message out-- the message that our country is in deep trouble and Nancy is definitely not the solution. She's part of the problem. And we're going to educate the people of San Francisco about this using alternative forms of media and convince them that I am the alternative-- that I will work to be the voice of the people of San Francisco. And that's something that she has not ever been. I think there is a lot of positive excitement and momentum. Her book tour didn't help her out any.

The campaign's going great. We've been able to hire more staff."

Asked about her goals for Denver, she described:

"After protesting the Republicans for so many years, the Democrats have been moving steadily to the right. We want to show that we're not okay with that, that we want to bring the party closer to the people and further from the corporate lobbyists."

So many people are waking up and starting to realize that there is very little difference in the leadership of the two parties. Working for an altenative third party or independent is one way to bring about real change.

So many people with Obama shirts and pins have come up to me and told me that they're 100% on my side and they're very distressed with the right turn of the Obama campaign and the democratic party and they're hoping that demonstrations that we were at earlier, and that will be happening all week, will bring their party to where they think it should be.

Meanwhile, Cindy's hotel room phone is in the hotel room refrigerator.

Rob Kall is executive editor and publisher of, President of Futurehealth, Inc, inventor . He is also published regularly on the He is a frequent Speaker on Politics, Impeachment, The art, science and power of story, heroes and the hero's journey, Positive Psychology, Stress, Biofeedback and a wide range of subjects. He is a campaign consultant specializing in tapping the power of stories for issue positioning, stump speeches and debates. He recently retired as organizer of several conferences, including StoryCon, the Summit Meeting on the Art, Science and Application of Story and The Winter Brain Meeting on neurofeedback, biofeedback, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology.

My radio show, The Rob Kall Show, runs 9-10 PM EST Wednesday evenings, on AM 1360, WNJC and is archived on

Or check the archived interviews at:

A few declarations.

-While I'm registered as a Democrat, I consider myself to be a dynamic critic of the Democratic party, just as, well, not quite as much, but almost as much as I am a critic of Republicans.

- My articles express my personal opinion, not the opinion of this website.

John Edwards and Fake Morality

John Edwards and Fake Morality
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
by Mel Reeves

Big Business media are coming to resemble the National Enquirer more each day. Former senator and presidential aspirant John Edwards' marital indiscretions loomed larger in the corporate media mind than matters of war and peace, fiscal solvency or human rights. There seems to be no correlation between spousal fidelity and presidential performance. "It does appear that the current president has been faithful to his wife - yet George Bush has committed every transgression imaginable against the U.S. Constitution, and has behaved faithlessly towards to the citizenry he is sworn to protect."

"Porn posing as news is right up our alley."

Despite all the recent hoopla over when and how long former North Carolina Senator and recent Democratic party presidential contender John Edwards cheated on his wife Elizabeth and whether he and Reil Hunter have a love child or not, at the end of the day it has very little bearing on our collective wellbeing.

When someone watches Entertainment Tonight or picks up a supermarket tabloid, they do so because they are interested in the private lives of the rich and famous. They do it out of morbid curiosity, or simply to know how the other half lives.

But when one reads the "news" it is with the anticipation that you will be provided with useful information. So when we are served a menu of tabloid news - the information on Edwards's affair was initially taken from the National Enquirer - one has to ask: what does this have to do with me?

Is infidelity an indicator of how a politician will perform in office? I think not. Judging from past presidents that were philanderers it didn't seem to limit their effectiveness in office. While Bill Clinton may have been the worst of the lot, in terms of sexual discretion, he was still able to steer the US imperial ship and impose America's will on the world. John Kennedy was rumored to have shared Marilyn Monroe with his brother and was otherwise unfaithful to his wife, Jacqueline. It does appear that the current president has been faithful to his wife - yet George Bush has committed every transgression imaginable against the U.S. Constitution, and has behaved faithlessly towards to the citizenry he is sworn to protect.

"Most print and broadcast outlets do not give us actual news, but rather, their own prepackaged, prejudiced perspective on the world."

Salacious reporting about extramarital affairs and rumors of affairs is part of the pornification of the news. Most print and broadcast outlets do not give us actual news, but rather, their own prepackaged, prejudiced perspective on the world. And since the American public has been trained to be entertained more than informed - titillated rather than intellectually stimulated - porn posing as news is right up our alley.

While FOX news is little more than an infomercial for right wing ideology - and the worst offender in this race to numb our minds - the other "news" organizations are not far behind. CNN, supposedly "the most trusted name in news," and MSNBC brought in their experts to kick the John Edwards scandal around, and CBS, NBC and ABC all used up precious airtime dabbling in dirt.

Not that there is a dearth of real news. There are two big Bush wars that are barely covered beyond the airing of official press releases and Pentagon-inspired commentary. Why aren't the media scandalized by the General Accounting Office's discovery that $23 billion slated to be spent in Iraq is unaccounted for? Why does the Attorney General of the United States think that folks should go Scott-free for unlawfully filling Justice Department jobs? There are enough unanswered questions to busy any 24-hour news machine - if explicating the world were actually the objective.

But the press chose to belabor Edwards' indiscretions.

"Edwards had the nerve to run a populist campaign."

Edwards is no longer running for office, though there were rumors that he was being considered as a vice presidential candidate.

I suspect that one of the other reasons the former presidential candidate was attacked with such ferocity was because he had the nerve to run a populist campaign in an age when the ruling class feels no need to throw a bone to working people. Whatever the reason, Edwards showed real heart and compassion, touring poverty-stricken areas and speaking of the "two Americas." Like none of the other contenders, he put a spotlight on New Orleans. In some ruling circles, that's considered a crime.

If a politician came along who made sure that Johnny could read whether he lived in the Ozarks or the ghetto, kept affordable roofs over our heads, ensured that we all took home a fair and livable wage, were afforded universal health care and equal opportunity, few of us would care about the condition of his or her marriage.

Corporate media keep us focused on false morality - on the private affairs of luminaries - so that we won't confront the real forces that devalue the lives of the vast majority of us.

Mel Reeves is an activist living in Miami. He can be contacted at

Friday, August 29, 2008

Whopping Fish Declared New Species

Whopping Fish Declared New Species
Jeanna Bryner
Senior Writer
Thu Aug 21, 11:11 AM ET

A man-sized grouper that trolls the tropical waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean for octopuses and crabs has been identified as a new fish species after genetic tests.

Called the goliath grouper, the fish can grow to six feet (1.8 meters) in length and weigh a whopping 1,000 pounds (454 kg). Until now, scientists had grouped this species with an identical looking fish (also called the goliath grouper, or Epinephelus itajara) living in the Atlantic Ocean.

"For more than a century, ichthyologists have thought that Pacific and Atlantic goliath grouper were the same species," said lead researcher Matthew Craig of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, "and the argument was settled before the widespread use of genetic techniques."

Once upon a time, about 3.5 million years ago - before the Caribbean and the Pacific were separated by present-day Panama - they were, in fact, the same species. Now, DNA tests have revealed the two populations have distinct genes, indicating they likely evolved into two separate species after their ocean homes were divided by Central America.

Scientists disagree about how to define the term "species" and what separates species from one another biologically, though some say that a species is a group that can mate with one another and produce offspring that are not sterile. However, this biological definition doesn't always hold up, for instance, with coyotes and wolves (considered separate species), which can successfully produce fertile offspring. In this study, the scientists relied on differences in the fishes' genetic codes to establish the separate grouper species.

The new Pacific species, now designated as Epinephelus quinquefasciatus, is described in a recent issue of the journal Endangered Species Research.

The Atlantic variety, E. itajara, is currently listed as critically endangered by the IUCN, or International Union for Conservation of Nature. Due to its scarcity, E. quinquefasciatus also may be considered critically endangered.

"In light of our new findings, the Pacific goliath grouper should be treated with separate management and conservation strategies," said researcher Rachel Graham of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York.

The research was funded by Programa Petrobras Ambiental, Conservation International Brazil to Projeto Meros do Brasil, The Summit Foundation, National Science Foundation and Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

FDA to permit irradiation of spinach, lettuce

FDA to permit irradiation of spinach, lettuce
George Raine, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, August 22, 2008

Nearly two years after E. coli bacteria traced to California-grown spinach killed three people and sickened 205, the federal government says it will allow producers of fresh iceberg lettuce and spinach to use irradiation to control food-borne pathogens and extend shelf life.

The Food and Drug Administration is amending the food-additive regulations to provide what it calls the safe use of ionizing radiation for just the two leafy greens. The FDA also has received petitions seeking permission to use irradiation for other lettuces and many other foods.

The government is allowing the practice in the wake of the major E. coli outbreak in 2006 and numerous other problems with food safety and recalls. But this won't be first time such a technique has been used on food. Consumers have eaten irradiated meat for years.

Despite some consumer concern, the FDA says irradiation is safe.

"The agency has determined that this action is of a type that does not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment," reads the FDA's final rule, released Thursday and effective today.

'Expensive gimmick'

As expected, criticism of the FDA was swift.

Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit consumer rights group that challenges what it calls corporate control and abuse of food and water resources, said that very little testing has been conducted on the safety and wholesomeness of irradiated vegetables. The group also said the action was off target.

"It is unbelievable that the FDA's first action on this issue is to turn to irradiation rather than focus on how to prevent contamination of these crops," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "Instead of beefing up its capacity to inspect food facilities or test food for contamination, all the FDA has to offer consumers is an impractical, ineffective and very expensive gimmick like irradiation."

On the industry side, there is little demand for irradiation from California growers and shippers of spinach and iceberg lettuce.

"I think that from a growers' perspective, we have to consider anything that helps us provide safety for consumers, but whether this takes off depends on consumers," said Cathy Enright, vice president for government affairs for Western Growers, which represents growers, packers and shippers of nearly half of the nation's fresh fruits, vegetables and nuts.

"In any marketing decision, we have to look at cost in adapting the technology and consumer acceptance," which will take time to develop, she said.

The petition for the voluntary use of ionizing radiation was filed in 2000 by the Grocery Manufacturers Association. At the time, said Robert Brackett, the group's chief scientist, the grocers wanted permission to use irradiation in the preparation of many foods. However, they amended the petition and asked the government to focus on iceberg lettuce and spinach after the 2006 E. coli outbreak.

The contamination was traced to spinach co-packaged by Dole and Natural Selection Foods in San Juan Bautista (San Benito County). Spinach virtually vanished from grocery stores as demand plummeted.

"That was a big motivation for us," said Brackett, in Washington, D.C.

California producers of leafy greens, in the aftermath of the case of the contaminated spinach, formed a voluntary group called the Leafy Green Marketing Agreement, which developed a food safety protocol for its members - nearly all of the major leafy green producers in California. The approved business practices range from accommodating fieldworker sanitation to preventing animal contamination of leafy green vegetables.

Staved off regulation

The marketing effort also kept the producers steps ahead of attempts at government regulation of the industry.

The marketing group, said its chief executive, Scott Horsfall, was surprised by the government rule announced Thursday, saying, "It's not something we have talked about in the year and a half we have had the marketing agreement in place."

He added, "I do not know anyone clamoring for it. There has to be consumer acceptance. We do not know how big a hurdle that might be. The science needs to be looked at and the cost, too."

Others feel it is a step in the right direction.

The grocers' association's Brackett said, "It's more of a safety net. No matter how good a job you do with preventative steps - good practices, proper sanitation - there is still a small chance for contamination. This takes care of those small chances."

Feral swine

The California spinach was contaminated by feral swine, an investigation later found. Most of the victims were from Wisconsin and Utah. William Marler, a Seattle lawyer representing victims of food-borne illness, is handling lawsuits for 103 families affected by the outbreak. All the suits except four have been resolved, he said Friday.

Marler said the ionizing radiation tool "gives potential consumers more choice." He said most of the E. coli problems in recent years have been with mass-produced, bagged product, "and those products are ripe for using some kill step like irradiation to make it safer."

Marler, along with the Grocery Manufacturing Association, advocates for national food safety oversight regulation and said this week's FDA rule may prompt more of a discussion about that.

"Everyone would have to play by that rule," said Marler.

E-mail George Raine at

This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Feds Say They've Solved 9/11 Mystery

Feds Say They've Solved 9/11 Mystery

GAITHERSBURG, Md. (Aug. 21) - Federal investigators said Thursday they have solved a mystery of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: the collapse of World Trade Center building 7, a source of long-running conspiracy theories.

The 47-story trapezoid-shaped building sat north of the World Trade Center towers, across Vesey Street in lower Manhattan. On Sept. 11, it was set on fire by falling debris from the burning towers, but skeptics have long argued that fire and debris alone should not have brought down such a big steel-and-concrete structure.

Scientists with the National Institute of Standards and Technology say their three-year investigation of the collapse determined the demise of WTC 7 was actually the first time in the world a fire caused the total failure of a skyscraper.

"The reason for the collapse of World Trade Center 7 is no longer a mystery," said Dr. Shyam Sunder, the lead investigator on the NIST team.

Investigators also concluded that the collapse of the nearby towers broke the city water main, leaving the sprinkler system in the bottom half of the building without water.

The building has been the subject of a wide range of conspiracy theories for the last seven years, partly because the collapse occurred about seven hours after the twin towers came down. That fueled suspicion that someone intentionally blew up the building in a controlled demolition.

Critics like Mike Berger of the group 9/11 Truth said he wasn't buying the government's explanation.

"Their explanation simply isn't sufficient. We're being lied to," he said, arguing that there is other evidence suggesting explosives were used on the building.

Sunder said his team investigated the possibility that an explosion inside the building brought it down, but found there was no large boom or other noise that would have occurred with such a detonation. Investigators also created a giant computer model of the collapse, based partly on news footage from CBS News, that they say shows internal column failure brought down the building.

Investigators also ruled out the possibility that the collapse was caused by fires from a substantial amount of diesel fuel that was stored in the building, most of it for generators for the city's emergency operations command center.

The 77-page report concluded that the fatal blow to the building came when the 13th floor collapsed, weakening a critical steel support column that led to catastrophic failure.

"When this critical column buckled due to lack of floor supports, it was the first domino in the chain," said Sunder.

The NIST investigators issued more than a dozen building recommendations as a result of their inquiry, most of which repeat earlier recommendations from their investigation into the collapse of the two large towers.

In both instances, investigators concluded that extreme heat caused some steel beams to lose strength, causing further failures throughout the buildings until the entire structure succumbed.

The recommendations include building skyscrapers with stronger connections and framing systems to resist the effects of thermal expansion, and structural systems designed to prevent damage to one part of a building from spreading to other parts.

A spokeswoman for the leaseholder of the World Trade Center, developer Larry Silverstein, praised the government's work.

"Hopefully this thorough report puts to rest the various 9/11 conspiracy theories, which dishonor the men and women who lost their lives on that terrible day," said Silverstein spokeswoman Dara McQuillen.

In discussing the findings, the investigator Sunder acknowledged that some may still not be convinced, but insisted the science behind their findings is "incredibly conclusive."

"The public should really recognize the science is really behind what we have said," he said, adding: "The obvious stares you in the face."

Educators Urge Lower Drinking Age to Cut Bingeing

Educators Urge Lower Drinking Age to Cut Bingeing
By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 20, 2008; B03

Scores of college presidents, including the head of Maryland's public university system and the president of Johns Hopkins University, have an unexpected request for legislators: Please, lower the drinking age.

The Amethyst Initiative, launched in July, is a coalition of college presidents who say that the legal drinking age of 21 encourages binge drinking on campuses. William Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, William Brody, president of Johns Hopkins, C.D. Mote Jr. of the University of Maryland and the presidents of Washington and Lee, Sweet Briar, Towson, Randolph-Macon, Duke, Tufts, Dartmouth and others have signed on to the effort.

It is likely to be difficult politically to change the drinking age, which has been 21 since the mid-1980s.

In a survey released yesterday by Nationwide Insurance, which is hosting a symposium on binge drinking in Washington in November with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, 75 percent of adults said they support tougher enforcement of existing drinking laws.

In Maryland, the House drug and alcohol committee chairman called on local colleges to not take part.

"Far more teens die in alcohol-related incidents than [in those caused by] all the other illicit drugs combined," said Del. William A. Bronrott (D-Montgomery), who co-founded the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, which fights drunken driving and underage drinking. "Lowering the drinking age to 18 will only make the situation worse."

Just Released: 2009 Honda Fit

Just Released: 2009 Honda Fit

The fuel-efficient, style-rich 2009 Honda Fit can be yours for only $14,550. By Douglas Kott

There was a time when economy cars were suffocatingly boring—4-wheeled penalty boxes whose main directives of low price and high mileage put a chokehold on any hint of driving excitement or style. But Honda’s Fit, along with other so-called “B-class” cars like the Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris, represents a sea change in thinking, helped along by $4-a-gallon gasoline. Suddenly, it’s hip to be eco-square.

In its last generation, the Fit already had an edge on its competitors in the driving fun category, and the all-new model goes the extra mile with a stronger version of its 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. Now with 117 bhp (up from 109) with additional mid -range torque and high-end power from a more sophisticated i-VTEC valve-lift system, the Fit charges across intersections like a scalded…penguin (with 0-60-mph times likely in the high 8-second range, it doesn’t quite make “cat” status). And while some models drop by 1 mpg in the combined EPA mileage cycle, the sales volume leader—the Fit Sport—retains its 27 city/33 highway rating from last year when equipped with the excellent 5-speed paddle-shift automatic (a 5-speed manual is also available).

The new Fit is also roomier, its wheelbase stretched by 1.9 in. and overall interior width up by 1.2 in. And the cabin feels more airy, by virtue of a windshield whose base has been pulled forward by 4.7 in., and fixed front quarter windows that are three times larger than before. The dash styling is adventurous, more along the lines of the Civic, only without the double-tier instrument nonsense. The rear “Magic” seats remain…they articulate ingeniously to fold flat, or you can just tilt up and lock the lower cushions to put tall objects immediately behind the front seats. Headrests are now recessed into the seatbacks; they no longer need to be removed to fold the seats down.

While the base Fit starts at $14,550, the Fit Sport ($16,060) hits the sweet spot, its aero kit, more aggressive nose and 16-in. alloy wheels showing off the body’s forward-sloping wedge shape to best effect. The Fit Sport “Navi” ($17,910) pairs in- dash navigation with a yaw-control system. Whatever the choice, the new Fit is frugal with fuel yet rich with style.