Saturday, January 30, 2010

How the great Howard Zinn made all our lives better

Harvey Wasserman
How the great Howard Zinn made all our lives better
January 28, 2010

Howard Zinn was above all a gentleman of unflagging grace, humility and compassion.

No American historian has left a more lasting positive legacy on our understanding of the true nature of our country, mainly because his books reflect a soul possessed of limitless depth.

Howard’s PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES will not be surpassed. As time goes on new chapters will be written in its spirit to extend its reach.

But his timeless masterpiece broke astonishing new ground both in its point of view and its comprehensive nature. The very idea of presenting the American story from the point of view of the common citizen was itself revolutionary. That he pulled it off with such apparent ease and readability borders on the miraculous. That at least a million Americans have bought and read it means that its on-going influence is immense. It is truly a history book that has and will continue to change history for the better.

But that doesn’t begin to account for Howard’s personal influence. He was a warm, unfailingly friendly compadre. He shared a beautiful partnership with his wonderful wife Roz, a brilliant, thoroughly committed social worker about whom he once said: “You and I just talk about changing the world. She actually does it.”

But Howard was no ivory tower academic. His lectures were engaging, exciting and inspirational. But they took on an added dimension because he was personally engaged, committed and effective. He chose to write books and articles in ways that could impact the world in which they were published. He showed up when he was needed, and always had a sixth sense about exactly what to say, and how.

Perhaps the most meaningful tribute to pay this amazing man is to say how he affected us directly. Here are two stories I know intimately:

In 1974, my organic commune-mate Sam Lovejoy toppled a weather tower as a protest against the coming of a nuclear power plant. When Sam needed someone to testify on how this act of civil disobedience fit into the fabric of our nation’s history, Howard did not hesitate. His testimony in that Springfield, Massachusetts courtroom (see “Lovejoy’s Nuclear War” via remains a classic discourse on the sanctity of non-violent direct action and its place in our national soul. (Sam was acquitted, and we stopped that nuke!)

Three years earlier I sent Howard a rambling 300-page manuscript under the absurdly presumptuous title A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, 1860-1920. Written in a drafty communal garage in the Massachusetts hills by a long-haired 20-something graduate school dropout, the manuscript had been rejected by virtually every publisher in America, often accompanied with nasty notes to the tune of: “NEVER send us anything like this again.”

But I sent a copy to Howard, whom I had never met. He replied with a cordial note typed on a single sheet of yellow paper, which I still treasure. I showed it to Hugh Van Dusen at Harper & Row, who basically said Harper had no idea why anyone would ever read such a book, but that if Howard Zinn would write an introduction, they’d publish it (though under a more appropriate title).

He did, and they did…and my life was changed forever.

Thankfully, Hugh then had the good sense to ask Howard to write a REAL people’s history by someone---the ONLY one---who could handle the job. He did….and ALL our lives have been changed forever.

Howard labored long and hard on his masterpiece, always retaining that astonishing mixture of humor and humility that made him such a unique and irreplaceable treasure. No one ever wrote or spoke with a greater instinct for the True and Vital. His unfailing instinct for what is just and important never failed him---or us. The gentle, lilting sound of his voice put it all to unforgettable music that will resonate through the ages.

A few days ago I wrote Howard asking if he’d consider working on a film about the great Socialist labor leader Eugene V. Debs, whose story Howard's books have uniquely illuminated.

Eugene V. Debs was beloved by millions of Americans who treasured not only his clarity of a shared vision for this nation, but his unshakeable honesty and unquestioned integrity.

Debs ran five times for president. He conducted his last campaign from a federal prison cell in Atlanta, where he was locked up by Woodrow Wilson. He got a million votes (that we know of). “While there is a soul in prison,” he said, unforgettably, “I am not free.”

Debs had deeply shaken Wilson with his brilliant, immeasurably powerful opposition to America’s foolish and unjust entry into World War I, and his demands for a society in which all fairly shared. In the course of his magnificent decades as our pre-eminent labor leader, Debs established a clear vision of where this nation could and should go for a just, sustainable future. Enshrined in Howard’s histories, it remains a shining beacon of what remains to be done.

Through his decades as our pre-eminent people’s historian, through his activism, his clarity and his warm genius, Howard Zinn was also an American Mahatma, a truly great soul, capable of affecting us all.

Like Eugene V. Debs, it is no cliché to say that Howard Zinn truly lives uniquely on at the core of our national soul. His PEOPLE’S HISTORY and the gift of his being just who he was, remains an immeasurable, irreplaceable treasure.

Thanks, Howard, for more than we can begin to say.
Harvey Wasserman is Senior Editor of, where this article first appeared.

'Ugly Betty' canceled by ABC

Jan 27, 2010
'Ugly Betty' canceled by ABC

America Ferrera stars as Betty Suarez on the ABC Television Network's CAPTIONBy Andrew Eccles, ABCJust in: Say so long to Ugly Betty.

ABC is canceling Ugly Betty, the show that made America Ferrera a star when it arrived in 2006. The series will wrap after the current fourth season, which will end with a 20th episode due in mid-April, reports USA TODAY's Gary Levin.

The show started strong on Thursdays but has lately posted anemic ratings and was hurt by a move to Fridays last fall. The show will continue to air Wednesdays at 10 ET/PT for the time being, where ratings haven't improved much.

"We've mutually come to the difficult decision to make this Ugly Betty's final season, and are announcing now as we want to allow the show ample time to write a satisfying conclusion," says ABC chief Steve McPherson in a statement. "We are extremely proud of this groundbreaking series, and felt it was important to give the fans a proper farewell."

Breitbart admits paying activist

Breitbart admits paying activist who tried to bug Democratic senator
By John Byrne
Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

The man who made the conservative activist who posed as a pimp to undermine the community organizing group ACORN, confessed that he pays him -- while at the same time arguing he has "nothing to do with" what he does.

James O'Keefe was arrested Monday after allegedly attempting to wiretap the Louisiana offices of Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA). After his interdiction by federal marshals, O'Keefe admitted to planning the operation.

Conservative pundits have sought to distance themselves from O'Keefe after the arrest.

"Let it be a lesson to aspiring young conservatives interested in investigative journalism: Know your limits," wrote conservative blogger Michelle Malkin Tuesday afternoon. "Know the law. Don’t get carried away. And don’t become what you are targeting."

In a statement, conservative heavyweight Andrew Breitbart -- who helped O'Keefe become famous after posting videos of him posing as a pimp and chatting with ACORN employees and served an an editor for The Drudge Report and contributor to the Huffington Post -- said he had "no knowledge about or connection to" any of the alleged buggers.

“We have no knowledge about or connection to any alleged acts and events involving James O’Keefe at Senator Mary Landrieu’s office," Breitbart remarked. "We only just learned about the alleged incident this afternoon. We have no information other than what has been reported publicly by the press. Accordingly, we simply are not in a position to make any further comment.”

And yet, on a radio interview the same day, Breitbart told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that O'Keefe was all but an employee.

HH: Last question, in terms of his relationship with you not connected to this event, are you still, is he in your employ in any way?

AB...What he does for the site exclusively is he tells his life rights, basically. So when he puts a story out there, it's on the Brietbart sites, the Big sites, that he can tell people what transpired. So...

HH: Do you pay him for that?

AB: Yes.

HH: And are you free to tell me how much you pay him?

AB: I'll...perhaps at another date, but he's paid a fair salary.

HH: Is he is an employee?

AB: I'm not sure that's technically the thing, but yes, he's paid for his life rights. And he's, you know, he's still...we reserve the right to say yes or no to any of the stories that he puts up on our site as we do to any other contributor who comes to the site.

HH: Will it be a mischaracterization to say he was working for you when he went about this?

AB: Well, I mean, no. He was not involved in anything that was related to Big Government, or

At the time of his arrest, O'Keefe was writing for Breitbart's website, though there's no indication Breitbart had any involvement with the wiretap bust.

In a follow-up posting on his website BigGovernment, Breitbart said he wasn't leaping to any conclusions -- but noticeably omitted the fact he was paying O'Keefe.

"Let me state clearly for the record: wiretapping is wrong," he wrote. "But until I hear the full story from James O’Keefe, I will not speculate as to what he was doing in Louisiana."

The exchange with Hewitt was noted late Tuesday by MediaMatters.

O'Keefe and three associates allegedly posed as telephone company employees in a self-confessed effort to tamper with the senator's office phones.

Glenn Beck For Dummies

Glenn Beck For Dummies
Beck is a fake revolutionary who has hijacked the freedom movement and is being used to lead conservatives and libertarians down the rabbit hole
Paul Joseph Watson & Alex Jones
Monday, January 25, 2010

Glenn Beck is being characterized by the establishment as the leader of the freedom movement and yet a closer analysis of his ideology reveals that Beck is nothing more than a fake revolutionary who has supported and is pushing policies that are diametrically opposed to those embraced by true constitutionalists.

Beck and Fox News have hijacked the patriot movement and are leading conservatives and libertarians down a meaningless partisan rabbit hole in a clear attempt to neutralize genuine opposition to the big government agenda of the Obama administration.

It is important to stress that we are not picking a fight with Glenn Beck or Fox News in general as a crude effort to garner attention. Glenn Beck routinely attacks real libertarians, Ron Paul supporters, and those who would define themselves as constitutionalists. We are constantly forced to rebut his smears against people in the freedom movement while Beck claims to be one of us.

Indeed, Judge Andrew Napolitano, who also appears on Fox News, is an example of a real constitutionalist and we are in full agreement with his views.

As the video below illustrates, despite the fact that Beck claims to be “a Libertarian at heart,” he has publicly supported programs and legislation that are universally abhorred by the vast majority of libertarians, such as the banker bailout and the USA Patriot Act.

Beck has also been aggressively pushing for new taxes in order to pay for the bailout that he supported. On December 4, he appeared on fellow neo-con Bill O’Reilly’s show to promote a 2 percent VAT tax to be adopted that would go directly to pay down the national debt.

While lending support to the Tea Party movement out of one side of his mouth, out of the other Beck is promoting the exact thing they are protesting against – more taxes.

Beck is not a real libertarian, he is a performing circus act who is being positioned as a clown to discredit issues that the genuine freedom movement embraces, such as exposing the fact that man-made global warming is a fraud.

Certainly, on several issues Beck jives with populist sentiment, but on all the major fronts – war, the patriot act, warrantless spying, the bailout, and new taxes, he is nothing more than a shill for big government.

Beck’s agenda is to put out a dual message – to discredit and polarize the conservative movement to the benefit of the two party monopoly. His bizarre and clownish antics of fake crying, which were proven to be staged when Beck replicated them on demand for a GQ photo shoot, are doing nothing but reinforcing the stereotype that the freedom movement is extreme and unbalanced.

Beck’s entire 9/12 project has nothing to do with uniting America and everything to do with reinforcing neo-conservative rhetoric about how we should relinquish our rights and accept the police state because terrorists want to attack us and Saddam Hussein had WMD’s and yellowcake.

During his Monday September 22 2008 TV broadcast, Beck expressed his vehement support for the bailout, stating, “The $700 billion dollars that you’re hearing about now is not only I believe necessary, it is also not nearly enough.” However, as soon as Bush left office and Obama picked up the baton and continued the same financial policy, he changed his tune and routinely attacked the bailout as an example of how socialism was taking over America.

The bailout was bad news for America under Bush just as it is under Obama, both were merely performing a transfer of wealth from America to offshore banks and giving the Federal Reserve total dictatorial control over the economy, but Beck only opposed it when Bush was out of office, proving that his opinions are not wedded to right or wrong, but to which puppet is in the White House.

A host of mainline conservative talking heads opposed the banker bailout, as did the majority of the American people, but Beck went on television and publicly supported it. This is irreconcilable with Beck being “a libertarian at heart” as he claims.

In addition, Beck aggressively attacked Ron Paul and his supporters during the election campaign when it looked like the Texan Congressman might have a real chance of winning the nomination. Beck implied that Ron Paul supporters were domestic terrorists and should be dealt with by the U.S. Army, but later tried to side with Ron Paul supporters when the infamous and discredited MIAC report echoed his own talking point that people who support Ron Paul were dangerous.

The smear came during a November 2007 show when Beck was on CNN. Alongside ex-Marxist David Horowitz, Beck demonized Ron Paul supporters, libertarians and the anti-war left as terrorist sympathizers and inferred that the U.S. military should be used to silence them, parroting a talking point that traces back to a September 2006 White House directive. When asked about the issue, Ron Paul dismissed Beck as “pretty discourteous” and a “demagogue”.

Beck has also worked with government propagandists Popular Mechanics in an effort to “debunk” the existence of internment camps in America. Beck’s hit piece consisted of setting up a straw man argument while ignoring the manifestly provable evidence that such facilities exist and that they are admittedly being prepared to house citizens during times of civil unrest.

Beck has ceaselessly attacked 9/11 truthers as dangerous extremists, echoing precisely talking points put out by Obama information czar Cass Sunstein. Just last week Beck said on his nationally syndicated radio show that there are 9/11 truth activists in the White House and they threaten the life of Obama. The fact that Beck is repeating White House talking points to demonize political adversaries of the administration proves that his image as an anti-establishment guru is a manufactured fraud.

Beck has been a vehement cheerleader for the wars of aggression launched since 9/11 and in addition called for Iran to be attacked, claiming that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is preparing a “second holocaust.” Once again, these political opinions stand completely contrary to libertarian principles, which follow the founding fathers’ view that an expansionist aggressive foreign policy is bad for America.

Beck has attacked Obama for unraveling the Bush war machine, when in fact Obama has done everything in his power to expand Bush’s wars, beefing the campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan while removing a token amount of troops from Iraq and replacing them with an even greater number of contractors.

By attacking Obama for being different to Bush, when in reality he offers no change whatsoever, Beck keeps people locked in the left-right paradigm and ensures that instead of coming to the realization that the whole system is rigged, they will merely vote in another puppet for the new world order in 2012.

Beck is the perfect example of controlled opposition, he is there to co-opt and ensure the Tea Parties are under control and that they never focus on taking on the real power behind the American economy – the Federal Reserve.

Glenn Beck is a fake revolutionary whose job it is to lead conservatives and libertarians away from uniting behind the real issues, while absorbing the successes of the patriot movement and in turn discrediting it by way of his clownish antics and easily derided mannerisms. He is part of a wider approach on behalf of Fox News to become a beacon for freedom movement and then act as a steam valve for its issues, deluding people into thinking their interests are being represented when in reality they are merely being sucked up and spewed out as something entirely misrepresentative.

It is vital that we alert the freedom movement to the fact that Beck is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and one must only scratch beneath the surface to discover that his true political standpoint is the complete opposite of that embraced by true constitutionalists. If we continue to let Beck and Fox News pose as our leaders the entire movement will crash and burn because we will be allowing the foxes to guard the henhouse.

FeedBack: Fish oil

FeedBack: Fish oil may really be an 'elixir of youth'

Brought to you by the fish industry! ;-) The only true anti-aging and anti-cancer elixir is a 100% RAW FOOD DIET. The body was designed to only eat raw foods, which contain all of the enzymes within them to digest those very foods. When the body eats cooked food, not only do the white blood cells of the body rush to the stomach to attack the "poison" that it doesn't recognize (thus leading to people getting sleepy after eating), but also the body has to use up its own limited supply of enzymes to digest the food that was just ingested... thus leading to aging. Also, cancer cells can not exist in the presence of oxygen... and cooked food has all of the oxygen cooked out of it. Raw food still has its oxygen intact. Anybody selling an "elixir of youth" that is outside of these "raw food" facts is selling you a pile of BS.

Scott Rose

Only 35 Subscriptions for Newsday's Web Site

After Three Months, Only 35 Subscriptions for Newsday's Web Site
John Koblin
January 26, 2010

In late October, Newsday, the Long Island daily that the Dolans bought for $650 million, put its web site,, behind a pay wall. The paper was one of the first non-business newspapers to take the plunge by putting up a pay wall, so in media circles it has been followed with interest. Could its fate be a sign of what others, including The New York Times, might expect?

So, three months later, how many people have signed up to pay $5 a week, or $260 a year, to get unfettered access to

The answer: 35 people. As in fewer than three dozen. As in a decent-sized elementary-school class.

That astoundingly low figure was revealed in a newsroom-wide meeting last week by publisher Terry Jimenez when a reporter asked how many people had signed up for the site. Mr. Jimenez didn't know the number off the top of his head, so he asked a deputy sitting near him. He replied 35.

Michael Amon, a social services reporter, asked for clarification.

"I heard you say 35 people," he said, from Newsday's auditorium in Melville. "Is that number correct?"

Mr. Jimenez nodded.

Hellville, indeed.

The web site redesign and relaunch cost the Dolans $4 million, according to Mr. Jimenez. With those 35 people, they've grossed about $9,000.

In that time, without question, web traffic has begun to plummet, and, certainly, advertising will follow as well.

Of course, there are a few caveats. Anyone who has a newspaper subscription is allowed free access; anyone who has Optimum Cable, which is owned by the Dolans and Cablevision, also gets it free. Newsday representatives claim that 75 percent of Long Island either has a subscription or Optimum Cable.

"We're the freebie newsletter that comes with your HBO," sniffed one Newsday reporter.

Mr. Jimenez was in no mood to apologize. "That's 35 more than I would have thought it would have been," said Mr. Jimenez to the assembled staff, according to five interviews with Newsday staffers.

"Given the number of households in our market that have access to Newsday's Web site as a result of other subscriptions, it is no surprise that a relatively modest number have chosen the pay option," said a Cablevision spokeswoman.

Nevertheless, traffic has fallen. In December, the web site had 1.5 million unique visits, a drop from 2.2 million in October, according to Nielsen Media Online.

In the short time that the Dolans have owned Newsday, it's been a circus. When they were closing the deal to buy the paper in May 2008, they had their personal spokesman scream at an editor who assigned a reporter to visit the Dolans, seeking comment; there was a moment back in January of last year, when Newsday editor John Mancini walked out of the newsroom because of a dispute over how the paper was handling the Knicks; in the summer, the paper refused to run ads by Verizon, a rival; Tim Knight, the paper's publisher, and John Mancini, the editor, eventually both left.

The paper, which traditionally has been a powerful money maker, lost $7 million in the first three quarters of last year, according to Mr. Jimenez at last week's meeting.

In October, the web site relaunched and was redesigned. One of the principals behind the redesign is Mr. Mancini's replacement, editor Debby Krenek.

To say the least, the project has not been a newsroom favorite. "The view of the newsroom is the web site sucks," said one staffer.

"It's an abomination," said another.

And now the paper is in the middle of a labor dispute in which it wants to extract a 10 percent pay cut from all employees. The cut was turned down by a lopsided vote of 473 to 10, this past Sunday.

Things are bleak in old Hellville, the pet nickname some reporters have established for life on Long Island.

"In the meeting with Terry, half the questions weren't about labor issues, but about why isn't this feature in the paper anymore?" said one reporter. "People are still mad about losing our national correspondents, our foreign bureaus and the prestige of working for a great newspaper. The last thing we had was a living wage, being one of the few papers where you're paid well. And to have that last thing yanked from you? It's made people so mad."

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Friday, January 29, 2010

"Avatar" becomes king of the (box office) world

"Avatar" becomes king of the (box office) world
January 26, 2010

Self-proclaimed "king of the world" director James Cameron has just upstaged himself.

The filmmaker's sci-fi fantasy epic "Avatar" has surpassed his own 1997 record-setting disaster movie "Titanic" to become the highest-grossing movie ever, not accounting for ticket price inflation, foreign currency fluctuations and surcharges on 3-D screens.

Through Monday, "Avatar" racked up $1.85 billion in worldwide ticket sales, edging past "Titanic's" $1.84 billion -- a feat it achieved in less than 40 days, according to the film's distributor, 20th Century Fox.

"Avatar's" domestic take of $554.9 million still slightly trails "Titanic's" $600.7 million, but overseas it has taken in slightly more, $1.30 billion to the earlier film's $1.24 billion.

However, "Titanic" still rules the universe in terms of how many people went to see it compared to the number that have lined up for "Avatar."

As Bruce Nash estimates on his box office site, domestic ticket sales for "Avatar" would have to reach $925 million in today's dollars to match, on an inflation-adjusted basis, the box office that "Titanic" achieved in 1997. Given the current estimated average ticket prices of $7.46, "Avatar" still needs to sell about 50 million more tickets before it matches the inflation-adjusted domestic gross of "Titanic."

While it may be a long shot that "Avatar" would ever reach that milestone, the film continues to have strong "legs," which in Hollywood parlance means staying power. Its weekend-to-weekend box office declines have been minimal compared with that of a typical movie.

In its sixth weekend, the movie dropped only 18% domestically and 16% internationally, according to Fox.

"Avatar" is still playing on 16,000 screens worldwide, with 72% of its ticket sales coming from 3-D screens.

We're now waiting to hear what Cameron will say at the Oscars on March 7 if he and "Avatar" take top honors. How about "I'm lord of the universe"?

--Claudia Eller

Colbert rips ‘butt-sniffing’ Harold Ford

Colbert rips ‘butt-sniffing’ Harold Ford
By David Edwards
Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Harold Ford has been accused of flip flopping on issues like abortion and gay marriage as he is apparently planning to mount a primary challenge to Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in New York. Stephen Colbert expressed his admiration for Ford's wavering positions by awarding him "Alpha Dog of the Week" Monday.

The former congressman from Tennessee has tried to shed the charge of carpetbagger but Colbert applauded Ford's "massive carpet bags." Ford could have tried to ingratiate himself to the locals but when asked if he had been to Staten Island, he proudly said, "I landed there in the helicopter, so I can say yes."

"You see," explained Colbert. "Ford wants to represent all the people of New York, who, to him, all look like tiny, tiny ants."

The Comedy Central comedian went on to praise the the audacity of Ford for changing his position on issues important to New York Democrats. "I gotta give Ford credit for having the musky sack to change not only his address but also his political views," said Colbert.

Four years ago, Ford told then-Fox host Alan Colmes, "I was not pro-choice at one time."

Just last week, the former congressman seemed to contradict himself when he said, "I am personally pro-choice & legislatively pro-choice."

"He believes that every American has the right to choose when it is politically expedient to be pro-life," explained Colbert.

And in 2006, when asked by CNN's Wolf Blitzer about his position on gay marriage, Ford said, "Well, I've never flip-flopped on gay marriage, Mr. blitzer. I've always been opposed to it."

Only last Monday Ford told Matt Lauer that he was in favor of "civil unions and same-sex marriage."

"But what really puts Ford ahead of the butt-sniffing chain is that he's not pulling this reversal in Clustermunch, Iowa," explained Colbert. "He's doing this in New York City: the media capitol of the world" where all the bits of video tape are saved and "there are whole newspaper pages dedicated to everything famous people do."

"So, for lifting your leg on New Yorkers and telling us it's just and egg cream, you sir, are my Alpha Dog of the Week," exclaimed Colbert.

The Real Hipsters of Silver Lake

The Real Hipsters of Silver Lake
Jason Louv

Christ, they’re making a reality show about Silver Lake hipsters… Maybe I should apply?

Oh boy. Perhaps trying to capitalize on Ellen Page and Alia Shawkat’s in the works Williamsburg-to-Silver Lake comedy, some reality show producers are looking for rich, poorly-dressed Silver Lakers to show off their lives on television. Here’s the Craigslist pitch: “A new Reality Show is casting Silver Lake’s rich, wealthy, hipster GUYS and GIRLS 21-30 whose personal style is homeless chic: Guys with beards, ratty hair and raggedy yet stylish clothing – and Girls dressed in fashionable, vintage hippie-type garb accessorized with large sunglasses and oversized tote bags. You must be incredibly involved in the Silver Lake social scene, enjoy a sensational nightlife Silver Lake style and be very outspoken with a vivacious personality. You must also hang with a racially diverse, intriguing group of friends who all live in Silver Lake.” The show sounds like it’ll be The Hills: Slightly Farther East, but we’re still crossing our fingers for a Jersey Shore: Way Farther West.

Jay Leno triumphs over what's cool,0,158827.story

Jay Leno triumphs over what's cool
NBC's logic-defying decision to replace him with Conan O'Brien was based on misguided demographics.
January 23, 2010
Neal Gabler
January 23, 2010

Every high school in America has its cool kids, the smart, snarky ones who sit in the prow of culture, and its dorks, the plodding if amiable ones who sit in the middle of the boat and try not to make waves. One needs to be reminded of this in assessing what was really at stake in the headline-making Leno-O'Brien war that ended Thursday with an agreement to pay $45 million to O'Brien and his staff.

Celebrities and critics are still taking sides -- the younger, hipper ones decrying how shabbily NBC had treated poor Conan; the older, statelier ones backing Leno -- giving us a clear demonstration of just how much this was a function not so much of money or ratings but of demographics. O'Brien and Leno stood across a cultural and generational divide: young vs. old, cool vs. uncool.

The origins of this battle actually go back to 2004 when NBC decided to boot Leno to the curb five years down the road and replace him with Conan O'Brien, 13 years Leno's junior, after Leno had been helming "The Tonight Show" for 17 years. Aside from Leno, no one seemed particularly startled by this succession, though it turned television logic on its head. Leno was drawing huge ratings, regularly beating the pants off of his CBS competition, David Letterman. By the time he left, he was attracting 5 million viewers a night, and "The Tonight Show" was one of NBC's most profitable franchises. And though Leno's ratings, like all ratings on broadcast television, had declined in his last year, he was still unassailable.

Which was precisely what NBC had expected when Leno took over "The Tonight Show" in 1992 after being tapped over Letterman. Everyone agreed then that Letterman was edgier than Leno, more iconoclastic, and, to a lot of people, funnier. Letterman wore the self-deprecating dork's mantle, but it was a ruse. He was the cool, droll kid who had reinvented late-night television, and NBC decided he might not be the best fit for the square "Tonight Show," where middle-American Johnny Carson had held forth for 30 years.

As it turned out, NBC was right. Leno had been an edgy -- and very funny -- comedian once, but he had gradually drifted to the center where the larger audience was. If that meant blunting his comedy, Leno was willing. By the time he took over "Tonight," Leno's basic commodity was not his humor, which had become toothless, but his likability. He was your grandmother's comedian -- the comedian of the Silent Majority.

Meanwhile, Conan O'Brien was handed Letterman's vacated spot after Leno. O'Brien had never been before the camera. He was a writer. But he was a great idea for a late-night show host: Harvard-educated, then trained at the writers' tables on "Saturday Night Live" and "The Simpsons." It didn't get any cooler than that. Even if he was as jittery as a nervous Chihuahua and milked his handful of jokes for everything they were worth by shameless mugging, he was young and different -- a hipster.

More important, he was the beneficiary of a sea change in television. Over the 16 years from O'Brien's first appearance on late night to his taking over "The Tonight Show," Leno didn't change his nice guy persona and O'Brien didn't get any more comfortable on stage. They remained pretty much the same. It was the culture that changed around them. And that's where demographics came in.

Few people alive today remember that television was once measured, reasonably, by how many people actually watched a particular program. You either had the most viewers or you didn't, and advertisers paid accordingly. The problem with this system was that year in and year out, actually 20 out of 21 years from 1955 through 1976, CBS got the highest ratings. ABC and NBC couldn't make a dent. So ABC, typically mired in third place, devised another strategy. It got the brilliant idea of finding a slice of the audience in which it could compete with CBS -- never mind that the choice was arbitrary. That's how ratings suddenly got divided into demographic segments -- which was like a football team saying that while it lost the game, it outscored its opponent in the third quarter and that ought to count for something. ABC boasted that it got younger viewers than CBS.

All of this is relevant to Leno and O'Brien because of the way ABC and NBC justified this magical and nonsensical confabulation. Younger viewers, they said, were better viewers. They were more susceptible to advertising blandishments. They were more likely to decide on a product and maintain loyalty to it for life. And they were harder to reach and therefore more desirable. Whatever the excuse, the result was that older viewers -- and old meant over 50 -- were suddenly worthless in television terms. Losing Conan O'Brien, should O'Brien have gotten restless and decided to leave NBC when his contract was up, wouldn't have been much of a loss on its face. Even if he had gone to Fox or syndication, there was no way he could have competed against Letterman, much less Leno. He would have been the Irish Arsenio.

But Conan was young and hip; and, astonishingly, he had over the years gotten increasingly favorable reviews and growing cachet, especially as Leno was denigrated by the press for having gone mainstream. O'Brien became a critical darling. Reversing the logic that had prompted it to reject Letterman, NBC apparently concluded that O'Brien was the pompadour of the future. If it lost him, it would lose his cool.

Leno, for all his ratings prowess, was just too square for NBC in the age of the almighty 18-to-34 demographic that everyone now lusted after. In a way, NBC, like an aging suitor, was addled by youth.

There was just one complication. Leno, unlike O'Brien, actually could take his Silent Majority elsewhere, uncool or not. When NBC at the eleventh hour offered Leno the 10 o'clock slot, it wasn't because it expected him to reap great ratings against dramatic shows or even because it wanted cheaper programming. It was a defensive maneuver to keep him from defecting to another network and demolishing O'Brien on "The Tonight Show," its cash cow. NBC didn't really want him, but it didn't want to have to compete against him either.

What NBC didn't seem to have reckoned was just how much its desire to play with the cool kids would cost them -- not in terms of ratings at 10 where it knew Leno would be swamped, but in the weak lead-ins to the local news that sparked an affiliate revolt and in sagging ratings for "The Tonight Show" itself. O'Brien's supporters may think he is the neatest kid in class and that he is therefore entitled to occupy the host's chair, but he is pulling half the ratings Leno got and recently is even down from Leno in the coveted demo. And O'Brien isn't doing any better than Letterman.

In his defense, O'Brien claimed he needed time to build his audience, though detractors could parry that he had 17 years to build an audience. Put less charitably, O'Brien may have been modish, but he wasn't funny.

But this was never about funny -- if it was, neither O'Brien nor Leno would have inherited "The Tonight Show." This was about image. In the great high school of life, NBC opted to follow the siren call of cool. And now, for what may be the first time since 18 to 49 became the American grail, the system has blown up, so much so that NBC was willing to pay O'Brien tens of millions of dollars just to get rid of him and restore Leno to "Tonight."

And that is the real significance of the Leno/O'Brien smackdown. Say what you will about Leno, his return is a cultural milestone.

As O'Brien faded into the evening last night with bundles of cash and newfound martyrdom, the baby boomers have finally gotten some small measure of revenge, however old and dorky and undesirable they may be.

Silver Lining for Vikings Fans (Politically)

by Dave Zirin

This is a day to empathize with the agony amongst the long-suffering fans of the Minnesota Vikings. With a trip to the Super Bowl in their buttery grasp, they fumbled it all away. In a game they largely dominated from start-to-finish, the Vikes lost in overtime to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game, 31-28. Miscues, interceptions, and some questionable calls will have Vikings Nation asking "what if" for the next nine months.

Yes, there is misery in Minnesota. But there is also a silver lining, and I'm not talking about the joy in Green Bay at the spectacular fall of Minnesota QB Brett Favre. Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was locked and loaded to arrive at the Minnesota State Legislature on February 4 - three days before the Super Bowl - to press for a new $1 billion stadium with $700 million to be paid by the taxpayers. The Vikings, like many teams, is holding up the specter of moving the franchise to Los Angeles if they don't get a nine-figure welfare check. With the state's phony populist absentee governor Tim "Glass Jaw" Pawlenty saying little more than, "We have to keep the Vikings no matter what," Wilf was ready to roll the state's taxpayers. But now that the team has failed to reach the Big Game, the wind is out of Wilf's sails and Zygi is no longer coated with stardust. This isn't to say that Wilf won't emerge triumphant, but without the team in the Super Bowl, it's much more apparent that he will have a fight on his hands.

As Minnesota resident and dogged stadium opponent Willard Shapira wrote, "Most communities around the U.S. have caved in to such outrageous demands but socially concerned Minnesotans are fighting the Vikings tooth and nail. Others around the U.S. battling big-money and establishment power politics would take heart from a public victory over the Vikings and their gang of arrogant, plutocratic conspirators in business, politics and the media."

Remember that Minnesotans repeatedly rejected the Twins billionaire owner Carl Pohlad's efforts to get a new baseball stadium on the public dime. Despite their votes, Pawlenty rammed the $500 million facility through the legislature and it opens for business this spring. Now the owner called "the Big Bad Wilf" wants his piece of the public pie, recession be damned. The Vikings failure to make the Super Bowl makes his effort far more perilous.

On the flip side, and ever so ironically, New Orleans first trip to the Super Bowl makes it a near impossibility for the Saints owners, the Benson family, to fulfill their pre-Katrina dreams of moving their franchise to the City of Angels. If they made that move, I'm convinced that the Crescent City would implode with grief. Now, as a Super Bowl team, that move becomes a political impossibility.

Therefore in one tense contest to see who would ascend to the Super Bowl, two sets of owners saw their most treasured dreams to burn tax payers and break hearts go up in smoke. That's something all fans should cheer. Even in Minnesota.

Dave Zirin is the author of the forthcoming “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) Receive his column every week by emailing Contact him at

Babewatch: Coco Lectric

We take this break in honor of Coco Lectric of the Austin, Texas burlesque group The Jigglewatts. These pics are from her show this month at the Lakewood Theater in Dallas.

To see more:

Brian Butler’s “Night of Pan”

Brian Butler’s “Night of Pan” with Kenneth Anger and Vincent Gallo to Premiere in London at Horse Hospital

Butler will also perform with Death in Vegas’ Richard Fearless

Los Angeles, CA – Los Angeles based filmmaker, artist and musician Brian Butler ( will host the London premiere of his noted short film, “Night of Pan,” along with other works, in London at the Horse Hospital on February 20th at 7:30pm, admission is free. Butler will also perform a live sound performance with projections, accompanied by Death in Vegas’ Richard Fearless. The evening will be rounded out with DJ sets from Fearless and Butler, along with other surprise guest DJs.

The Horse Hospital is a unique arts venue in London which has been providing a space for underground and avant-garde media since 1993. It is located at Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 1HX.

“Night of Pan” is a seven and a half minute film featuring film auteur Kenneth Anger and actor Vincent Gallo. The film has been screened in various versions internationally – Beijing, Lisbon, Cannes, Athens, Rome, Berlin, Los Angeles and but never in the world center of occultism, London.

In the film, Anger, Gallo, and Butler depict a pagan ritual that symbolizes the stage of ego death in the process of spiritual attainment.

Brian Butler is a multidisciplinary artist who creates works around dark magical themes. He works extensively as a producer on director Kenneth Anger’s films. Additionally he has written for Dazed & Confused and performs along with Anger in the band Technicolor Skull.

# # #
For more information on Brian Butler please contact Susan von Seggern at or (011 1) 213-840-0077.

Susan von Seggern
Public Relations Consultant

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Dead Sea Scrolls prove Bible unoriginal

Dead Sea Scrolls prove Bible unoriginal
Sunday, 24 January 2010
Acharya S

"They speak of a Teacher of Righteousness and a pierced messiah, of cleansing through water and a battle of light against darkness.

"But anyone looking to the Dead Sea Scrolls in search of proof, say, that Jesus of Nazareth was the messiah presaged by the prophets, or that John the Baptist lived among the scroll's authors, will be disappointed."

News items are circulating about how "hints" and "insights" contained in the famous Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in caves near the ancient site of Qumran can be found in the Bible. In other words, certain ideas in the scrolls also appear in the New Testament, meaning, of course, that the impression of Christianity as a "divine revelation" appearing whole cloth miraculously from the very finger of God is clearly erroneous.

Few scholars today claim that any of the Dead Sea Scrolls ("DSS") date to the time after Christianity was allegedly founded by a "historical" Jesus in the first century of the common era. Indeed, it is agreed that most of the scrolls pre-date the turn of the era and that none of them show any knowledge of Jesus Christ or Christianity.

In my book The Christ Conspiracy, I demonstrate that Christianity is an amalgam of the many religions, sects, cults and brotherhood traditions of the Mediterranean and beyond. One of the major influences on Christianity is that of Jews, obviously, including those mentioned in the New Testament, i.e., the Pharisees and Sadducees. Ancient Jewish historian Josephus also mentions the sect of the Essenes, who are traditionally associated with Qumran, in a "by default" argument. However, scholar Solomon Schecter - who discovered a scroll at Cairo that was later found at Qumran - points to a heretical sect of Sadducees or Zadokites, as they are called in both the Bible and DSS. In The Christ Conspiracy, I discuss this Zadokite origin of the DSS and this group's obvious influence on the New Testament.

What this rumination all means, of course, is that Christianity is, as I contend in my books, largely unoriginal, representing not fresh and new "divine revelation" but, again, the amalgamation of not only the ideas of the Zadokite authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls but also influences from the Essenes, Jews, Samaritans and many others.

Hints of the Scrolls in Bible

To understand how the Dead Sea Scrolls influenced early Christianity, just turn to the New Testament.

Take, for example, the Great Isaiah Scroll, a facsimile of which is on display as part of the Milwaukee Public Museum's Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. Written around 125 B.C. and the only scroll to emerge virtually intact from the caves at Qumran, its messianic message is quoted in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, John and Luke, the earliest of which wasn't written until around A.D. 65.

The scrolls' so-called "Son of God" text reads much like the story of the Annunciation in the Gospel of Luke. And the Scrolls' "Blessing of the Wise" echoes the beatitudes of Matthew's Sermon on the Mount....

This early dating of the gospels, it should be noted, is based only on the a priori assumption that the story they relate is at least partially true in recounting a "historical" Jesus who truly walked the earth at the time he is claimed in the gospels themselves. There is no external evidence whatsoever for the existence of any canonical gospel at this early a date. In fact, the canonical gospels as we have them do not show up clearly in the historical record until the end of the second century.

Moreover, the Sermon on the Mount - supposedly the original monologue straight out of the mouth of the Son of God Himself - can be shown to be a series of Old Testament scriptures strung together, along with, apparently, such texts from Qumran. No "historical" founder was necessary at all to speak these words, as they are a rehash of extant sayings. (Even in this patent literary device the gospels cannot agree, as Luke 6:17-49 depicts the Sermon as having taken place on a plain.)

It is easy to see why the Catholic Church would blanche upon the discovery of these scrolls, as it could be - and has been - argued that these texts erode the very foundation of Christianity. It appears that this news, however, when released slowly has little affect on the mind-numbing programming that accompanies Christian faith.

The bottom line is that the existence of the Old Testament and the intertestamental literature such as the Dead Sea Scrolls shows how Christianity is a cut-and-paste job - a fact I also reveal in The Christ Conspiracy, in a chapter called "The Making of a Myth," which contains a discussion of some of the texts obviously used in the creation of the new faith. These influential texts evidently included some of the original Dead Sea Scrolls, serving not as "prophecy," "prefiguring" or "presaging" but as blueprints of pre-existing, older concepts cobbled together in the New Testament.

Oops, that was a bad call, Earth

The Sunday Times
January 24, 2010
Oops, that was a bad call, Earth
Some scientists want to send signals into space in search of aliens but others warn we may get more than we bargained for
Richard Woods and Chris Hastings

“CALLING all aliens, this is Earth. Are you receiving me?”
Rather than simply listening for signals of extra-terrestrial life, some scientists are preparing to take a much more active approach to finding alien intelligence on other planets.

They believe we should start beaming regular signals into space specifically to find intelligent life, even though other scientists believe it could be an invitation to danger.

“My personal view is that being more active is a worthy strategy,” said Douglas Vakoch, director of interstellar message composition at the SETI [search for extraterrestrial intelligence] Institute in California. “There is more serious talk of it, though not at the institute level.”

At an astrobiology conference in Texas in April, SETI enthusiasts will discuss new methods of discovering extraterrestrial life, including sending out interstellar messages. Alexander Zaitsev, a Russian scientist who has already beamed out four carefully composed signals to nearby stars, has been invited to attend.

In the UK, Dr Marek Kukula, public astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, said: “Part of me is with the enthusiasts and I would like us to try to make proactive contact with a wiser, more peaceful civilisation.”

However, he warns that advertising our presence could be risky. “We might like to assume that if there is intelligent life out there it is wise and benevolent,” he said. “But of course we have no evidence for this.

“Given that the consequences of contact may not be what we initially hoped for, then we need governments and the UN to get involved in any discussions.”

The issue will be among those raised at a two-day meeting at the Royal Society in London this week, under the heading, “The detection of extraterrestrial life and the consequences for science and society”.

Among the speakers will be Professor Simon Conway Morris, a Cambridge University evolutionary biologist, who says there is good reason to think aliens exist — and that they may well have chemical and biological similarities to us.

Conway Morris, whose talk is entitled “Predicting what extraterrestrial life will be like — and preparing for the worst”, said: “My basic argument is that, contrary to most neo-Darwinian thinking at the moment, evolution is much more predictable than people think.

“In particular, I would argue that the emergence, by evolution, of intelligence, cognitive capacity and all that stuff is an inevitability.”

In short, under the right conditions of a “biosphere” such as that present on Earth, the molecules necessary to form complex and intelligent life are already available; Darwinian evolution will do the rest.

“I think we can argue some intelligence must emerge in a biosphere,” said Conway Morris. “If that is correct — and it applies to manipulative skill — then that suggests there should be alien technologies.”

Astronomers have already discovered about 300 planets beyond our solar system, and some suggest it is only a matter of time before more Earth-like planets are identified.

That suggests there should be “lots of extraterrestrial civilisations around. At least that’s the principle, but where are they?”, says Conway Morris. Why have aliens not popped up — except in Hollywood films such as ET and Independence Day — despite decades of eavesdropping with radio telescopes?

The astronomer Heather Couper said: “My main worry is that our technology is simply not up to the task. Earth came into existence four to five billion years ago, but the oldest stars are twice that age. They may have life, but that life may be far more advanced than we are.”

Others suggest aliens may have good reason not to give away their presence. Weak electromagnetic signals have been transmitted from Earth for nearly a century in the form of radio, television and other transmissions. By now some should have travelled 100 light years out into space, though they will be growing fainter and fainter.

If aliens have picked up footage of, say, Bernard Manning or Simon Cowell, let alone the Second World War, they may have decided to keep quiet. “They may be very like us,” said Conway Morris. “I’m not sure I’d answer the telephone.”

However, the most likely explanation, he admits, is that there simply are no alien civilisations out there, perhaps because planets with biospheres are very rare.

Dr Robert Massey of the Royal Astronomical Society, takes a similar view: “If there were thousands of civilisations out there, I think we would have detected something by now. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”

Bradbury would create 'Bank of Oregon'
Bradbury would create 'Bank of Oregon' if he were governor
By Harry Esteve, The Oregonian
January 20, 2010

The state of Oregon should have its own bank so taxpayer dollars could help fund local businesses instead of boosting the profits of big multinational banks, says Bill Bradbury, Democratic candidate for governor and former secretary of state.

Bradbury announced his proposal today in Portland as part of his plan to find jobs for more Oregonians. The state bank, modeled on one in North Dakota, would form the cornerstone of his jobs proposal, he said.

"It's time to make Oregon's money work for Oregonians," Bradbury said. Small businesses are hurting because banks are squeezing off credit necessary for growth.

Oregon currently deposits hundreds of millions of dollars in a variety of banks, many of them the megabanks that wound up needing federal help to stay afloat after signing off on too many risky home mortgages. Bradbury's proposal would create the Bank of Oregon, which would partner with local banks to make loans to small businesses, economic development projects and start-ups.

"It's time to declare economic sovereignty from the multinational banks," Bradbury said. He said he discussed his proposal Tuesday night with state Treasurer Ben Westlund, who responded favorably. Westlund could not be reached immediately for comment.

Other elements of Bradbury's jobs plan include more money for schools, helping new farmers get started with loans and modern techniques and pushing for Oregon to become the "sustainability capital of the world" by continuing to give incentives for green energy projects.

Bradbury's jobs plan comes a little more than a week after his main opponent in the 2010 Democratic primary, former Gov. John Kitzhaber, released his jobs plan. Like Bradbury, Kitzhaber focused on renewable energy and sustainability, but also called for improved job training programs and a more stable state tax structure as keys to a better employment picture that goes well beyond the state's two-year budget cycle.

Bradbury's response: "People need jobs to feed their families now, not in 10 years."


Bill Moyers Journal
January 22, 2010

BILL MOYERS: Even some of the most hardened reporters I know, old hands at covering famine, disaster, and war, are shaken by the carnage in Haiti. Over my own long life in journalism I've had my share of the sounds and smells that linger in your head long after you have left the scene. But I've found it especially hard this past week to absorb the pictures coming from Haiti.

Perhaps it's that as we get older, we become more melancholy watching history repeat itself, seeing people suffer all over again, when you've already seen them suffer so much. As if you know now some things will never change.

You have to ask, why does this country suffer so? The reverend Pat Robertson gave us his answer, recycling his theology of a vindictive god.

REV. PAT ROBERTSON: Something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people may not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon the Third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the Devil. They said, "We will serve you if you get us free with the French." True story. And so the Devil said, "Okay, it's a deal."

BILL MOYERS: This is the same Pat Robertson, of course, who agreed with his soul mate, the late Jerry Falwell, that God had allowed the terrorist attacks on 9/11 because America needed a come-uppance for tolerating gays, women's rights and the separation of church and state.

But this time Robertson's callous idiocy toward the suffering in Haiti created such a backlash that his press agent came out to explain that the good Reverend does indeed have compassion for Haitians and is actually sending relief and recovery teams to help them.

Another controversy was triggered when the conservative David Brooks offered a less superstitious explanation for Haiti's suffering than Pat Robertson's. Brooks opined that it's because Haiti is "progress-resistant" — a society held back by voodoo religion, high levels of social mistrust, poor child-rearing traditions, and a lack of any internalized sense of responsibility. Critics fired back that Brooks should read a little history.

The journalist Mark Danner has done just that. He's also lived some of Haiti's history, almost losing his life a few years ago while covering unrest there. Writing in the New York Times this week, Danner said "There is nothing mystical in Haiti's suffering, no inescapable curse that haunts the land." It was brought on, he said, by human beings, not demons.

Start with the French. They ran Haiti as a slave colony, driving hundreds of thousands of slaves to early deaths in order to supply white Europeans with coffee, sugar and tobacco. In 1804, the slaves rebelled and after savage fighting defeated three foreign armies to win their independence. They looked to America for support, but America's slave-holding states feared a slave revolt of their own, and America's slave-holding president, Thomas Jefferson, the author of our Declaration of Independence, refused to recognize the new government.

Their former white masters made matters worse by demanding reparations, and by exploiting and exhausting the country's natural resources. Fighting over what little was left, Haitians turned on each other.

Coup followed coup, faction fought faction, and in 1915, our American president Woodrow Wilson sent in the Marines. By the time they left almost 20 years later, American companies had secured favored status in Haiti. In 1957, the country was taken over by the brutal and despotic rule of Papa Doc Duvalier, whose son, Baby Doc, proved just as cruel as his old man. Don't let the familial nicknames fool you. The Duvaliers were murderous thugs and thieves who enjoyed the complicity of American interests until the dynasty played out in 1986.

Five years later in 1991, when the popular former priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide won the presidency as a champion of the poor, he spooked Washington. Said one U.S. senator, Aristide "wasn't going to be beholden to the United States, and so he was going to be trouble. We had interests and ties with some of the very strong financial interests in the country and he was threatening them."

The Bush/Cheney administration, in cahoots with Haiti's privileged, helped destabilize his government.

Every president from Ronald Reagan forward has embraced the corporate search for cheap labor. That has meant rewards for Haiti's upper class while ordinary people were pushed further and further into squalor. Haitian contractors producing Mickey Mouse and Pocahontas pajamas for American companies under license with the Walt Disney Company paid their sweat shop workers as little as one dollar a day, while women sewing dresses for K-Mart earned eleven cents an hour. A report by the National Labor Committee found Haitian women who had worked 50 days straight, up to 70 hours a week, without a day off. If that doesn't impact the tradition of child rearing and lead to social distrust, I don't know what will.

So, once again, beware the terrible simplifiers and remember that through all its suffering Haiti is a country born of revolution, like our own, whose people sing of their forefathers breaking their shackles, proclaiming their right to equality, and shouting "Progress or Death." Yes, there's still more death than progress. It's the bitter fruit of exploitation centuries old. But even if the Devil were at work, there are Haitians determined that he will not have the last word. The last word is the poet's calling. Listen to what was written by Danielle Legros Georges, born in Haiti and now teaching at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She sent us a poem and we asked our colleague Kamaly Pierre, who also has family and roots in Haiti, to read it. Its title: "Poem for the Poorest Country In the Western Hemisphere."

KAMALY PIERRE: Oh poorest country, this is not your name.
You should be called beacon, and flame,

almond and bougainvillea, garden
and green mountain, villa and hut,

little girl with red ribbons in her hair,
books-under-arm, charmed by the light
of morning,

charcoal seller in black skirt, encircled by dead trees.

You, country, are the businessman
and the eager young man, the grandfather

at the gate, at the crossroads
with the flashlight, with the light,

with the light.

BILL MOYERS: That's all for now. I'm Bill Moyers.

Justice Department Decapitates Gun Industry

Obama Justice Department Decapitates Gun Industry: FBI Arrest 21 Gun Industry Executives in Las Vegas to Attend Gun Show
Illinois Gun
January 23, 2010

What’s being touted as the largest single investigation and prosecution against individuals in the history of the Justice Department’s enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act occurred Monday in Las Vegas.

The individuals arrested are executives and employees of military and law enforcement products companies that were in Las Vegas to attend the 2010 Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show (Shot show) and are charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

The indictments allege that the defendants engaged in a scheme to pay bribes to the minister of defense for a country in Africa but the alleged sales agent was in reality an undercover FBI agent.

The defendants allegedly agreed to pay a 20 percent commission to a sales agent who the defendants believed represented the minister of defense of an African country in order to win a portion of a $15 million sale to outfit the country’s presidential guard.

The Las Vegas Sun is reporting the names of those arrested and the location of their companies as being;

Daniel Alvirez and Lee Allen Tolleson, Bull Shoals, Ark., Helmie Ashiblie, Woodbridge, Va., Andrew Bigelow, Sarasota, Fla., R. Patrick Caldwell and Stephen Gerard Giordanella, Sunrise, Fla., Yochanan Cohen, San Francisco, Haim Geri, North Miami Beach, Fla., Amaro Goncalves, Springfield, Mass., John Gregory Godsey and Mark Frederick Morales, Decatur, Ga., Saul Mishkin, Aventura, Fla., John and Jeana Mushriqui, Upper Darby, Pa., David Painter and Lee Wares, United Kingdom, Pankesh Patel, United Kingdom, Ofer Paz, Israel, Israel Weisler and Michael Sachs, Stearns, Ky., and John Benson Wier III, St. Petersburg, Fla.

One name on the list, Amaro Goncalves is reported to be a vice-president of sales for Smith & Wesson (SWHC)

According to reports the arrest did not take place at the SHOT show but the FBI did use the show as an oportunity to bring all of the people together in one place for arrest.

Needless to say with the recent incident involving the BATFE and the Texas Gun Show, this action by the Justice Department and the FBI is causing concern and confusion for patroits and gun owners nation wide.

David Codrea of the Gun Rights Examiner is asking “why the mass arrests here and now”?

One of the main comments from bloggers is “what’s wrong with paying a commission.”

Since the election of Obama the main question for gun owners as been, “when will Obama come after the guns”?

It looks like that question has been answered!

Links of interest

Details of Iraq alleged suicide to be sealed 70 years

Details of Iraq whistleblower’s alleged suicide to be sealed 70 years
By Stephen C. Webster
Sunday, January 24th, 2010

By 2080, anyone with a direct interest in learning how Dr. David Kelly died, will themselves be dead.

That's how an Oxford coroner reacted to a recent ruling ordering the details of the former United Nations weapons inspector's death locked away for 70 years.

Kelly's story, however, was gravely important in 2003, just before he was found dead in the woods behind his home in Oxfordshire, U.K. As the BBC revealed in the wake of his passing, he had been the key source behind a story claiming intelligence on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction was "sexed up."

Hours before his death, he reportedly e-mailed New York Times reporter Judith Miller, warning her of "many dark actors playing games," according to the BBC.

Lord Hutton, the British judge who led the state's investigation into Kelly's death, also ordered his written records pertaining to the case sealed for 30 years, according to UK's Morning Star Online.

The report added that Hutton's inquiry "concluded that Dr Kelly had killed himself by cutting an artery in his wrist. But the finding has been challenged by doctors who claim that the weapons inspector's stated injuries were not serious enough to have killed him."

A paramedic who responded to the scene was quoted by The Guardian, saying: "There just wasn't a lot of blood... When somebody cuts an artery, whether accidentally or intentionally, the blood pumps everywhere. I just think it is incredibly unlikely that he died from the wrist wound we saw."

The claims eventually led a group of six doctors to bring formal demands for an investigation into Kelly's death. An initial inquiry was headed up by the British Ministry of Defense.

"[Just] how far were the Blair/Bush administrations willing to go in order to fabricate a reason for the Iraq war?" asked RAW STORY's Investigative News Editor Larisa Alexandrovna in a post to her blog, At Largely. "The Bush administration was at the very least willing to out a covert CIA officer, committing treason in the process. What was Tony Blair willing to do?"

Sadly, with the court's inquiry ended, the questions seem doomed to persist.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


by Mitchel Cohen

Two decades ago, the garbage barge, the Khian Sea, with no place in the U.S. willing to accept its garbage, left the territorial waters of the United States and began circling the oceans in search of a country willing to accept its cargo: 14,000 tons of toxic incinerator ash. First it went to the Bahamas, then to the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Bermuda, Guinea Bissau and the Netherlands Antilles. Wherever it went, people gathered to protest its arrival. No one wanted the millions of pounds of Philadelphia municipal incinerator ash dumped in their country.

Desperate to unload, the ship's crew lied about their cargo, hoping to catch a government unawares. Sometimes they identified the ash as "construction material"; other times they said it was "road fill," and still others "muddy waste." But environmental experts were generally one step ahead in notifying the recipients; no one would take it. That is, until it got to Haiti. There, U.S.-backed dictator Baby Doc Duvalier issued a permit for the garbage, which was by now being called "fertilizer," and four thousand tons of the ash was dumped onto the beach in the town of Gonaives.

It didn't take long for public outcry to force Haiti's officials to suddenly "realize" they weren't getting fertilizer. They canceled the import permit and ordered the waste returned to the ship. But the Khian Sea slipped away in the night, leaving thousands of tons toxic ash on the beach.

For two years more the Khian Sea chugged from country to country trying to dispose of the remaining 10,000 tons of Philadelphia ash. The crew even painted over the barge's name -- not once, but twice. Still, no one was fooled into taking its toxic cargo. A crew member later testified that the waste was finally dumped into the Indian Ocean.

The activist environmental group, Greenpeace, pressured the U.S. government to test the "fertilizer." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Greenpeace found it contained 1,800 pounds of arsenic, 4,300 pounds of cadmium, and 435,000 pounds of lead, dioxin and other toxins. But no one would clean it up.

The cost of the cleanup at Gonaives had been estimated to be around $300,000. Philadelphia's $130 million budget surplus would more than cover it, but Philadelphia lawyer Ed Rendell -- then mayor of that city and later Chairman of the Democratic National Committee -- refused to put up the funds. Joseph Paolino, whose company (Joseph Paolino and Sons) had contracted to transport the waste ash aboard the infamous Khian Sea garbage barge owned by Amalgamated Shipping, refused as well.

In July of 1992, the U.S. Justice Department -- under pressure from environmental groups throughout the world -- finally filed indictments against two waste traders who had shipped and dumped the 14,000 tons of Philadelphia incinerator ash. Similar indictments were brought against three individuals and four corporations who illegally exported 3,000 tons of hazardous waste to Bangladesh and Australia, also labeled as "fertilizer." But none of the waste traders were charged with dumping their toxic cargo at sea, nor even with falsely labeling it as fertilizer and abandoning it on the beaches of Haiti, Bangladesh, and Australia. They were charged only with lying to a grand jury. ("Indictments Announced in Philadelphia's Haiti Ash Scandal; Greenpeace Calls for Immediate Cleanup," Greenpeace News, July 14, 1992, and "Philadelphia and U.S. EPA Get Unexpected Ash Packets," Greenpeace Waste Trade Update, March 22, 1991.)

A month earlier, similar watered-down indictments were announced against three individuals and four corporations who illegally exported 3,000 tons of hazardous waste to Bangladesh and Australia, also labelled as "fertilizer." Meanwhile, the government stonewalled, for years; it took more than a decade for the U.S. government to clean up the waste.

U.S. law was interpreted to protect the dumpers, not the dumped on. Unwilling recipients of toxic wastes are offered no recourse. In recent years, much of the waste from industrialized countries is exported openly, under the name of "recycled material." These are touted as "fuel" for incinerators generating energy in poor countries. "Once a waste is designated as 'recyclable' it is exempt from U.S. toxic waste law and can be bought and sold as if it were ice cream. Slags, sludges, and even dusts captured on pollution control filters are being bagged up and shipped abroad," writes Peter Montague in Rachel's Weekly. "These wastes may contain significant quantities of valuable metals, such as zinc, but they also can and do contain significant quantities of toxic by-products such as cadmium, lead and dioxins. The 'recycling' loophole in U.S. toxic waste law is big enough to float a barge through, and many barges are floating through it uncounted."

Every year, thousands of tons of "recycled" waste from the U.S., deceptively labeled as "fertilizer," are plowed into farms, beaches and deserts in Bangladesh, Haiti, Somalia, Brazil and dozens of other countries. The Clinton administration followed former President George Bush's lead in allowing U.S. corporations to mix incinerator ash and other wastes containing high concentrations of lead, cadmium and mercury with agricultural chemicals and are sold to (or dumped in) unsuspecting or uncaring agencies and governments throughout the world. (Greenpeace Toxic Trade Campaign, "United States Blocks Efforts to Prohibit Global Waste Dumping by Industrial States," December 2, 1992.)

These dangerous chemicals are considered "inert," since they play no active role as "fertilizer" -- although they are very active in causing cancers and other diseases. Under U.S. law, ingredients designated as "inert" are not required to be labeled nor reported to the buyer.

President Clinton -- expanding the policies of his ignominious predecessors -- continued to obstruct the rest of the world from regulating the disastrous international trade in hazardous wastes. At a critical March 21-25 1994 international conference in Geneva, the United States stood with only a handful of waste-producing countries against the entire world in opposing a resolution banning the shipment of hazardous wastes to non-industrialized countries.

Shadowy covert operations figures spent the next two decades promoting schemes involving the shipment to Haiti of U.S. toxic wastes.

In November 1993, Time Magazine reported that a former U.S. government operative had detailed "an elaborate plan to tap U.S. aid funds for low-interest loans that would be used to transport New York City garbage to Haiti, where it would be processed into mulch to fertilize plants bioengineered to provide high-quality paper pulp. 'We could collect $38 a ton for the garbage,' claims [Henry] Womack ... who helped oversee construction of the base that the Reagan Administration-backed contras used to stage attacks against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua." Womack has similar dreams for Haiti: "We'd make a bundle, and the government could get enough to pay the whole army's salaries." (Jill Smolowe, "With Friends Like These: A Host of Shadowy Figures is Helping Haiti's Military Rulers Hatch a Plot to Sideline Aristide Permanently," Time Magazine, November 8, 1993.) Womack lived in a South Miami house with a couple: the sister of Michel François, who headed the death squads in Haiti and served as chief of its national police, and her husband.

Although most agents are not usually as candid as Womack, such plans are common. In August 1991, for example, Almany Enterprises, a company also headquartered in Miami, proposed shipping 30 million tons of incinerator ash from various U.S. cities to Panama over the subsequent four years. Almany would pay the government only $6.50 per ton of toxic waste received in Panama. The ash is believed to be highly contaminated with cadmium, copper, lead and zinc. Almany proposed to landfill the ash in marshlands near the free zone of Colon. Dozens of similar schemes are rampant. Throughout the Caribbean and Central America the devastating health crisis is exacerbated -- if not directly caused -- by international capital's "recycling" of toxic wastes. (Indeed, Haitian women who have emigrated to the U.S. have been found to have double or triple the cervical cancer rates as women born in the U.S.)

Said Ehrl LaFontant of the Haiti Communications Project: "Instead of repatriating Haitian refugees to Haiti, the U.S. government should repatriate this toxic waste back to its own country."

Toxic waste dumping in Haiti was, after all, a lucrative source of income for the Duvalier dictatorship. Former Haitian despot Duvalier profited handsomely in his relationship with the U.S., to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. That relationship included allowing U.S. toxic fertilizer to be dumped in Haiti, at the expense of the Haitian people.

Duvalier's U.S.-based lawyer, Ron Brown, also did well, economically, by their relationship. In the early 1980s, Brown was a partner at the powerful Washington law firm of Patton, Boggs & Blow. Duvalier secured his services by paying him $150,000 as a retainer, and Brown went to work for the brutal dictator on Capitol Hill. Before his death while flying over Yugoslavia and scouting U.S. investment opportunities, Brown had been personally linked to Lillian Madsen, who had married into an extremely wealthy Haitian family with vast holdings in coffee and beer. (She later divorced.) Madsen lived in an expensive Washington townhouse that had been purchased for her in 1992 by the commerce secretary himself and by his son, D.C. lobbyist Michael Brown. The Madsens were major backers of Duvalier and among the main domestic financial backers of the September 1991 coup against elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Brown uttered nary a word to support the return of Aristide and democracy to Haiti, nor did he protest the U.S.'s toxic practices there.

Brown also represented Fritz Bennett, the brother of Michelle Bennett Duvalier, wife of the deposed dictator, when the brother was arrested in Puerto Rico for trafficking in narcotics. (Michelle Duvalier's touch with reality herself can be somewhat shaky, as when, in exile, she said: "Flee Haiti? Why do you say we were fleeing Haiti? The president and I decided it was time to leave. Nobody can ever say we had to leave Haiti. We wanted to go.")

Brown was also the subject of a scandal involving Vietnamese businessman Nguyen Van Hao, who was the Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Development under the corrupt U.S.-backed Saigon dictatorship in the early 1970s. Hao alleged that Brown agreed to be paid $700,000 in exchange for his help in lifting a trade embargo against Vietnam. Hao, who previously lived in Haiti, and Brown had a mutual Haitian friend, Marc Butch Ashton -- Lillian Madsen's brother-in-law. Ashton was a financial advisor to Baby Doc. A large landholder and owner of Haiti Citrus, a lime exporter, Ashton allegedly used a squad of 40 Tonton Macoutes death squads to guard his properties. Poor farmers who leased their land to Haiti Citrus say they were intimidated and tortured by Ashton's thugs when they tried to get better terms. (Counterpunch, December, 1993)

Brown himself detailed his services to Duvalier in a nine-page memo. Brown's letter, written in French on Patton, Boggs & Blow letterhead, blamed Monsieur Le President's problems on an unfair image created by the U.S. media. As to his efforts on Haiti's behalf, Brown wrote that "We continue to dedicate a considerable amount of time to the improvement of relations between the Republic of Haiti and members of congress and the American government, with the goal of substantially increasing American aid to Haiti. Early success in this regard," crowed Brown, "is essentially the result of our Washington team." (Counterpunch, December 1993)

Brown also informed Duvalier that he was looking after Haiti's long-term interests by maintaining good relations with leading American political figures:

"While we have always enjoyed excellent relations with the government of President Reagan, we have also established personal contacts with almost all the Democratic candidates in order to ensure that we continue to have access to the White House regardless of who wins the presidential election in 1984." Brown boasted that his "leading role in the Democratic National Committee has served us in these efforts, while a certain number of my colleagues in the Republican Party assure the permanence of our access and the excellence of our relations with the government of President Reagan."

Juan Gonzalez, writing in the New York Daily News, continued the story:

"When Brown wrote his memo, Amnesty International had accused the Duvalier regime of torture, detentions without trial and `disappearances'.

"Here is some of what Brown reported to Baby Doc:

" 'Despite the unfair image of Haiti by the American media, and despite the opposition expressed by some members of Congress, it is certain that today ... a growing number of people -- both members of Congress and government officials -- stand ready to defend the interests of Haiti. This ... is essentially due to the work of our Washington team. ...

" 'We continue to pay a great deal of attention to the Black Caucus and to other liberal members of Congress ... [who] are now, thanks to our efforts, ready to help. Although some of them continue to make negative comments about Haiti, all, without exception, have proved to be cooperative on the issue of aid.' "

Brown was reporting on his success in getting Congress to say one thing but do another. On foreign aid, he proved more than worth his annual retainer. While he represented Haiti, annual U.S. assistance increased from $35 million to $55 million.

Brown offered not a word in the memo about human rights.

Brown went on to serve as President Clinton's Secretary of Commerce, which is one of the agencies that oversees toxic waste shipments and promotes corporate investment in Haiti, particularly in the notorious assembly zones established by the International Monetary Fund's structural adjustment program there. (The assembly zones were populated by the IMF's removal of 1/3rd of the rural population from their lands, now to be used for export crops to the U.S. and elsewhere).

In his confirmation hearings before the Senate, Brown was not asked a single question concerning toxic wastes, nor of his relationship with the Duvalier dictatorship.
Mitchel Cohen hosts "Steal This Radio," a weekly show on, and is the Chair of WBAI radio's (99.5-FM) "Local Station Board". He works with the Brooklyn Greens / Green Party.

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Conan O'Brien ends final NBC's 'Tonight Show'

Conan O'Brien ends final NBC's 'Tonight Show' with over 7 million viewers - now he can be edgy again
Richard Huff
Sunday, January 24th 2010

In the last two weeks we've seen Conan O'Brien become himself again.

We saw him stand up to his bosses and win - sort of.

We also saw the guy be funny in ways he wasn't for most of the seven months he hosted "The Tonight Show."

Now that he's free from NBC, he's got to use that same intestinal fortitude - and comic genius - to create his next opportunity.

Armed with a load of cash, and the benefit of time, O'Brien needs to get back to what made him desirable in the first place - edgy comedy targeted at a younger audience.

Not the kind of stuff he did for most of his seven-month run on "Tonight," but what he did for nearly 17 years on NBC's "Late Night."

O'Brien was different at 11:35 p.m. than he was an hour later, and that's a downside to broadcast TV.

"That's the problem you always face," says analyst Bill Carroll of the Katz Media Group. "We want you for who you are and now we make you who we want you to be."

Reaching a mass audience means softening the edges, a bit, which O'Brien did.

"Every comedian dreams of hosting the 'Tonight Show' and, for seven months, I got to," O'Brien said near the end of his last show Friday night. "I did it my way, with people I love, and I do not regret a second."

Viewers, however, may argue that what they saw was somehow different, at least up until the end, when all bets were off - and O'Brien's ratings soared.

And his final show didn't disappoint. It attracted more than 7 million viewers, according to preliminary numbers released by Nielsen, clobbering David Letterman's 2.8 million viewers and Jimmy Kimmel's 1.4 million.

Part of O'Brien's exit talks with NBC centered on who gets the "intellectual property" rights to stuff he and his team created in his run there. One most often mentioned was the Masturbating Bear, a guy in a bear costume who, well, enough said.

The bear was a huge hit with O'Brien's "Late Night" crowd, yet, wasn't used on "Tonight" for the first time until Wednesday, when, frankly, it was too late.

The point is that while he's losing the bear in the $45 million divorce with NBC, O'Brien has a chance to get something bigger back - his sense of humor.

"The networks never really counter-program in late-night," Brad Adgate, a senior vice president at Horizon Media said of O'Brien's options now that he left NBC. "I would offer his 'Late Show' [the next time]. To do something that's exactly what Leno and Letterman are offering, I don't know if that's what viewers want."

Fox officials have said they're interested in O'Brien. And Fox, no doubt, can provide marketing muscle and reach. Anyone doubting that should look at the way Fox promotes "American Idol" to the point that you half-expect Simon Cowell to anchor the news alongside Ernie Anastos.

Going the broadcast route might provide the most money, and audience reach, but that could be a mistake.

O'Brien would be better off going to a cable network where he could push the boundaries of content and further unleash his creative spirit in ways broadcast networks could never provide.

O'Brien appropriately ended his last "Tonight Show" with an all-star rendition of "Freebird," a song that includes the line, "Cause I'm as free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change."

He had changed on "Tonight." And, in many ways, though he was leaving, in the end it was good to see an old friend emerge in O'Brien - the same one we'd like to see back in the fall.

Sugar Makes A Comeback

Sugar Makes A Comeback
By Eric
Jan 17, 2010

Are you one of those soda purists who curse the day when their favorite beverage switched from heavenly sugar to that sorry substitute – the evil high-fructose corn syrup? Do you find yourself scanning each new store you enter to see if maybe, just maybe, they carry Coca-Cola in the tall glass bottles, the ones manufactured in Mexico that still contain sucrose?

Realizing that a sizable portion of the soda-buying public yearns for a return to sugar in their soft drinks, the folks over at Pepsi went all retro on us, introducing “Throwback” versions of both Pepsi and Mountain Dew. Packaged in cans that look just like the ones you remember from yesteryear, these products are available for a limited time – until February 22, according to the company website.

At Retroland, we want to know how you feel about the return of these sucrose-laden soft drinks. Have you tried them, and if so, what did you think? Share your thoughts on these retro-sodas with all of us at Retroland. Meanwhile, some of us will be anxiously waiting to see if Coke jumps on the bandwagon, so that one needn’t travel too far to, once again, experience “The Real Thing.”