Matt Welch

The Bigotry of Low Expectations

All along Hurricane Katrina's Evacuation Belt, in cities from Houston to Baton Rouge to Leesville, Louisiana, the exact same rumors are spreading faster than red ants at a picnic. The refugees from the United States' worst-ever natural disaster, it is repeatedly said, are bringing with them the worst of New Orleans' now-notorious lawlessness: looting, armed carjacking, and even the rape of children.

"By Thursday," the Chicago Tribune's Howard Witt reported, "local TV and radio stations in Baton Rouge...were breezily passing along reports of cars being hijacked at gunpoint by New Orleans refugees, riots breaking out in the shelters set up in Baton Rouge to house the displaced, and guns and knives being seized."

The only problem--none of the reports were true.

"The police, for example, confiscated a single knife from a refugee in one Baton Rouge shelter," Witt reported. "There were no riots in Baton Rouge. There were no armed hordes." Yet the panic was enough for Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden to impose a curfew on the city's largest shelter, and to warn darkly about "New Orleans thugs."

Even before evacuees could get comfy in Houston's Astrodome, rumors were flying that the refugees had already raped their first victim, just like that 7-year-old in the Superdome, or the babies in the Convention Center who got their throats slit. Not only was the Astrodome rape invented out of whole cloth, so, perhaps was the case reported 'round the globe of at least one prepubescent being raped and murdered in New Orleans' iconic sports arena.

"We don't have any substantiated rapes," New Orleans Police superintendent Edwin Compass said Monday, according to the Guardian. "We will investigate if the individuals come forward." The British paper further pointed out that, "While many claim they happened, no witnesses, survivors or survivors' relatives have come forward. Nor has the source for the story of the murdered babies, or indeed their bodies, been found. And while the floor of the convention center toilets were indeed covered in excrement, the Guardian found no corpses."

As Katrina wiped out New Orleans' communications infrastructure, and while key federal officials repeatedly expressed less knowledge than cable television reporters, panicky rumors quickly rushed in to fill the void. Many of them have shared the exact same theme--unspeakable urban ultra-violence, perpetuated by the overwhelmingly black population.

St. Tammany Parish President Kevin Davis issued a statement Monday that "Rumors are flying and being repeated occasionally in the media that describe supposed criminal actions in St. Tammany Parish. These rumors are NOT true." Police superintendent Compass had to fend off accusations that his beleagured force "stood by while women were raped and people were beaten."

The truth, whatever it may be, is clearly horrific enough, with just about every eyewitness account from New Orleans mentioning the palpable menace from crazed gangs of looters and ne'er-do-wells, especially after nightfall. Compass himself told reporters on Thursday that 88 of his cops were beaten back into a retreat by angry Convention Center refugees, forcing Mayor Ray Nagin to suspend rescue operations in favor of restoring a semblance of order.

But the lies matter too. If federal government officials can't even get their ass-covering justifications straight, let alone such non-trivial, easy-to-discern matters as whether there are indeed thousands of water-deprived refugees massed at a Convention Center, those stranded near the epicenter will likely be starved for information that could literally save their lives.

"Complaints are still rampant in New Orleans about a lack of information," NBC Anchor Brian Williams wrote on his weblog, echoing one of the most familiar complaints from the city.

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The Shame of the Steroid Hunt

Let's re-cap. A congressional body called the House Committee on Government Reform – not the House Committee on "Getting Past" the Fourth and Fifth Amendments, not the House Committee on Urinalysis, but the House Committee on Government Freakin' Reform – spent 11 hours on national television Thursday advocating several dozen illiberal measures that would give the government even more far-reaching power to harass individuals and neuter their labor unions. A microscopic sampling of these terrible ideas:

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Chemical McCarthyism

Does your urine belong to Congress? Should private citizens not suspected of any wrongdoing be hauled up to Capitol Hill and grilled under oath, on live TV, about what substances they've put in their bodies?

Congressman Henry Waxman sure thinks so. The Los Angeles Democrat is convening hearings Thursday, March 17 on the pressing national security issue of ballplayers using performance-enhancing steroids. Last Wednesday, subpoenas were sent out to seven current and former Major League Baseball players to testify about their hormones in front of the oxymoronic House Committee on Government Reform.

Only one player, recent retiree Jose Canseco, has enthusiastically accepted the committee's invitation, though he's lobbying hard for immunity. By crazy coincidence, the former Bash Brother has a new, factually-challenged and universally-panned bestseller on the market, titled Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big.

"Canseco's allegations about steroid use by Mark McGwire and other baseball players have received enormous media attention," an apparently envious Waxman wrote in his Feb. 24 letter requesting the hearings. "Many of the individuals have denied the accusations. Mr. Canseco insists his information is accurate. ... There is a simple way to find the truth in this matter. ... [H]ave them testify under oath."

Using the enormous power of the federal government to arbitrate literary disputes seems a little much. We wouldn't dream of forcing George W. Bush to swear on the Holy Bible just because Kitty Kelley reported that he snorted coke at Camp David, yet a private citizen's alleged use of a substance that's actually legal (with a prescription) is enough for Washington to set the wheels of publicity-masquerading-as-justice in motion.

And this isn't just a case of arrogant athletes getting their comeuppance – it potentially affects half the national labor force. Besides dragging Sammy Sosa and Jason Giambi on camera to recite the Fifth Amendment, the committee has issued a subpoena to Major League Baseball that, according to the L.A. Times, requests "results of drug testing since 2003," and "the names, disciplinary action taken and reason for suspension for all drug-related violations since 1990."

In other words, Congress is asserting its right to your drug tests, even if they were conducted based on a private agreement between employer and union, and even if the results – including disciplinary action – were understood at the time to be secret. About half of all employers test for drugs, and an estimated 50 million tests are performed each year. Should the federal government have the right to subpoena your private medical records?

That's hardly the only power-grab in this show trial. Waxman's committee (which is chaired by the equally distasteful Virginia Republican Tom Davis), literally believes it can investigative anything and everything it wants to. "Under the rules of the House," Davis and Waxman wrote Major League Baseball on Thursday, "the Committee on Government Reform may at any time conduct investigations of any matter."

Interestingly, baseball may end up mounting the first sustained attack on the committee's license to conduct fishing expeditions. Historically at each other's throats, team owners and the players union have joined forces under the same lawyer, Stanley Brand, who has vowed to fight the subpoenas on jurisdictional and constitutional grounds, all the way up to the Supreme Court.

"That would be limitless jurisdiction," Brand told told reporters after receiving the Davis/Waxman letter. "There would be nothing they couldn't look into ... . If that is the case, they don't have to have rules on jurisdiction because these guys can do whatever they want."

Cracks have already appeared in baseball's tenuous solidarity. Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling (who has no idea why he was subpoenaed) and White Sox slugger Frank Thomas have already said they'll testify. But Brand is at least talking a tough game about chalking a line in the sand.

For once, the urinalysis enthusiasts in the nation's sports pages are not joining as one to cheer on the feds. Epithets like "witch hunt" and "grandstanding politicians" are being tossed around, and for the first time in my memory, sportswriters are expressing concern about privacy rights and the long reach of Uncle Sam.

"I think they feel empowered to do whatever they want," Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Randy Wolf said last week, while emphasizing that he opposes steroid use. "You look at what they did with the 'confidential' drug tests that we had ... they said, 'Eh, we don't care if it was confidential or not. We're going to do what we want with it.'

"It's kind of a 1984 deal where basically, they want to know everything you're doing at all times, and because we're in the public spotlight our civil liberties are flushed down the toilet. It's chemical McCarthyism."

Get Ready for PATRIOT II

The "fog of war" obscures more than just news from the battlefield. It also provides cover for radical domestic legislation, especially ill-considered liberty-for-security swaps, which have been historically popular at the onset of major conflicts.

The last time allied bombs fell over a foreign capital, the Bush Administration rammed through the USA PATRIOT Act, a clever acronym for maximum with-us-or-against-us leverage (the full name is "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism").

Remarkably, this 342-page law was written, passed (by a 98-1 vote in the U.S. Senate) and signed into law within seven weeks of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. As a result, the government gained new power to wiretap phones, confiscate property of suspected terrorists, spy on its own citizens without judicial review, conduct secret searches, snoop on the reading habits of library users, and so General John Ashcroft wants to finish the job. On Jan. 10, 2003, he sent around a draft of PATRIOT II; this time, called "The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003." The more than 100 new provisions, Justice Department spokesperson Mark Corallo told the Village Voice recently, "will be filling in the holes" of PATRIOT I, "refining things that will enable us to do our job."

Though Ashcroft and his mouthpieces have issued repeated denials that the draft represents anything like a finished proposal, the Voice reported that: "Corallo confirmed ... that such measures were coming soon."

You can read the entire 87-page draft here. Constitutional watchdog Nat Hentoff has called it "the most radical government plan in our history to remove from Americans their liberties under the Bill of Rights." Some of DSEA's more draconian provisions:

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Last Spin Around the Beltway

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On the last Beltway Sunday before the nail-biting presidential election, the crowded sidewalks, bars and pizza-slice joints of D.C.'s trendy Adams Morgan neighborhood buzz with campaign talk from college kids and slumming young pols. Ethiopian-born taxi drivers break down the intricacies of Michigan electoral trends, while bartenders proclaim they want to vote for Bill Clinton one more time.

And at Ralph Nader's buzzing and cluttered four-story Victorian campaign headquarters a few blocks up from K Street, the frazzled twentysomething workers spend their little free time muttering about the lack of Nader coverage in the New York Times and Washington Post -- even as their candidate was blasting the Times' extraordinary editorial campaign against him as repulsive.

The two heavyweight papers combined for more than 15 full pages of campaign coverage Sunday, none of it focusing on the Green Party presidential candidate who, according to a Washington Post survey of 14 pundit predictions, will get 4.35 percent of the popular vote.

But the New York Times editorial board Sunday did find newsprint space to batter Nader for a third time in five months, saying he "Seems at this point to be beyond the reach of reason," that his supporters need to "face the fact that the Nader candidacy represents a direct threat to a woman's reproductive freedom," and that "it is an act of supreme arrogance for Mr. Nader to consign the country to bad policies for some imagined ideological payoff down the road."

In response, Nader told NBC's Tim Russert on Sunday morning that "this is really pretty repulsive. Even a tabloid wouldn't sink to those kinds of levels. Many of my reforms that I have proposed over the years are shared by the New York Times editorials in the past. It's just inconceivable they would be so occluded by their poster-boy, Al Gore, that they could denigrate an effort to give the American people a broader choice, and broader competition."

With the race between Democrat Gore and Republican George W. Bush getting even tighter at the wire, and the Green Party candidate's support hovering perilously close to the 5 percent minimum threshold for federal matching funds, Nader was all over the Sunday editorial pages and Monday newsmagazines littering the coffee shops of Georgetown and Foggy Bottom, even as he stayed out of the news pages.

Lifetime political reporter David Broder of the Washington Post wrote Sunday for the paper's op-ed page that Nader "put on the best campaign" of this election.

"Despite being shut out of the presidential debates, having meager funds and not a nickel of public financing, Nader has made himself the fulcrum of power in a half-dozen battleground states," Broder wrote. "Often in the past a nagging bore, he proved himself a quick and witty TV performer, adept at sharp sound bites. ... Nader's greatest feat was shifting his followers' focus from his impact on Election Day, when he is clearly a spoiler, to a different rationale for his candidacy: 'To establish a progressive political reform movement' that, he says 'will monitor and challenge the politicians of both parties.'"

Elsewhere in the Post, longtime Gore confidant and tutor Martin Peretz, editor in chief and chairman of the New Republic, argued that the country needs the vice president's pragmatic centrism, not the Green candidate's misguided idealism.

"Though the left won't admit it, Gore's fiscal conservatism, combined with his targeted spending to help society's most vulnerable, would do more to promote real-world equality than the extravagantly utopian schemes of Ralph Nader."

Nader staffers are still shaking their heads at Peretz' broadside in his own New Republic last week, "basically getting as close to calling him an anti-Semite without actually saying it," said Assistant Press Secretary Tom Adkins.

"[Nader] is a man without any discernible views on foreign policy," Peretz charged in the Nov. 6 issue. "Or he was until last week, when he proclaimed that Israel is entirely responsible for the recent violence in the Middle East and that Gore is 'cowardly' for not saying so. Now that the Arab-American vote matters tactically, Nader has discovered the rest of the globe, and has decided to play the lousy game of identity politics that he used to scorn."

For the record, Peretz' observations were based on Nader quotes published by NewsForChange.com which neither said nor hinted Israel is entirely responsible for the recent violence. In fact, Nader has placed blame on both sides, although his views are more sympathetic to the Palestinians than that of any presidential candidate in memory. Also, Nader has been "proclaiming" such a view since at least Oct. 17 -- not last week, as Peretz claims -- and quite possibly before that.

Russert cross-examined Nader on his Middle-East views, asking him whether he supports the Association of State Green Parties' call for the U.S. government to "stop all further U.S. aid to Israel."

"Right now it's so tension-filled, that that wouldn't be a functional thing to do," he replied. "Although I might remind you, Tim, that Prime Minister Netanyahu, in a joint address to Congress in July 1996, said he wanted to get off economic aid from the United States, because Israel's becoming a mature economy, and he wanted to be independent. And he got a rousing ovation. Now, these things should be discussed."

Whether or not he was playing "identity politics," Nader did introduce a new Arab-themed line Sunday night in his litany of complaints about what he describes as the Clinton-Gore administration's atrocious civil rights record.

"One group of immigrants is being subjected to recurrent ethnic profiling," Nader, the child of Lebanese immigrants, told a rally of around 10,000 supporters at Washington's MCI Center. "And just like the Irish came to America and were discriminated against, and then it was the Jews who were discriminated against when they came, then it was the Italians: now it's the turn of the Muslim people who come to this country, and this must also be subject to strong civil rights enforcement."

Coverage and cross-examination of Nader's campaign increased enormously after the third and final presidential debate Oct. 17, when the two candidates remained neck-and-neck and the press realized Nader's support was larger than the margin of difference between Bush and Gore.

Suddenly, Nader was a "spoiler," staffers were asked "the same two questions" dozens of times a day, and some reporters on the Green trail began asking questions based on raw rumor: "Is it true you were offered $20 million to step down?"

Meanwhile, ever so slowly, the candidate's positions and beliefs have begun to receive a modest amount of scrutiny, in between hours of also-relevant questions about how he will feel on Tuesday if the country faces four years of George W. Bush.

Meanwhile, the Green Party candidate is finding surprising allies among conservatives, who are running pro-Nader television ads in some states, and filling the Beltway airwaves with rare praise for a far-left crusader.

"It appears that Mr. Nader is actually running a campaign of conscience," the Washington Times editorialized Saturday. "He believes, rightly or wrongly, that corporate fertilizer has poisoned the roots of the Democratic Party and by exercising his right to run for the presidency, he has given progressives a principled, and in many ways, pragmatic choice. ... [They] deserve every vote they have fought for."

On D.C.'s Sunday chat roundtables, liberals like Jesse Jackson played down the Nader factor and talked up the importance of the Supreme Court, while conservative bedrocks such as William Bennett gave high praise to the Green Party candidate.

"Nader has made I think a very persuasive case about where he disagrees with Gore on fundamental issues, and with Bush on fundamental issues," Bennett said on CNN's "Last Word" program. "We acknowledge the existence of Ralph Nader, who's a legitimate person with legitimate views, but the Gore people somehow want to suggest that what he's doing is undemocratic. We did not hear these points made when Ross Perot was draining votes from George Bush."

Gore Finally Attacks Nader

PALO ALTO, California -- On a day when Al Gore spent his valuable time trying to quell a progressive revolt in the once safely Democratic Pacific Northwest, insurgent presidential candidate Ralph Nader laughed at his opponent's discomfort, and accused the vice president of being "incapable of telling the truth."

"It's so pathetic," Nader told NewsForChange. "He's trying to salvage his campaign, which is sinking in the quicksand of a credibility crisis. People ... have seen through him on TV. It's like he has marbles in his mouth. They don't believe him, and they're right. He's proved in eight years of his record that we shouldn't believe him."

Gore spent Monday in Washington and Oregon, longtime Democratic states where Nader's near-double-digit support has eaten away at the vice president's once-commanding lead on Republican George W. Bush. Perhaps cranky from deflecting barbs from his left just two weeks before the closest election in 40 years, a puffy-eyed Gore was forced to talk about the Green Party candidate for one of the first times in the campaign.

"I will stack my environmental record against anyone -- including him," he told reporters on Air Force II. "I don't want to use the argument that a vote for him is a vote for Bush -- that may be true, but I prefer to do my best to encourage people to support me enthusiastically."

Nader shook his head and cackled when told of Gore's comments.

"Ask him if he's come out against a commercial airport in the Homestead Air Force Base ... in the Everglades," he said. "And has he moved to shut down the incinerator that's poisoning kids in an elementary school 1,100 feet away in East Liverpool (Ohio), or has he fought to close down nuclear power and replace it with strong energy efficiency standards?

"And has he been on the back of the motor vehicle companies? He's given them everything they want," Nader continued. "What was his record on opposing WTO and NAFTA, which were anti-environmental? He completely surrendered on that. And he could have helped in the (treaty) legislation to require recognition of labor and environmental rights. Now he's saying he's going to do it. Where was he before it passed Congress? He was fighting (North America Free Trade Agreement opponent) Ross Perot," he said.

"There's no end. The guy is incapable of telling the truth any more. The only way you can exonerate him is to ascribe a massive degree of self-delusion and amnesia."

Gore and Bush are neck-in-neck in national polls and electoral college guesstimates, while Nader, buoyed by paying crowds of up to 15,000 nearly every day, is now up to 5 percent nationwide. He could conceivably tip the scales away from Gore in at least nine states: Democratic strongholds Minnesota (10 electoral votes), Washington (11), Oregon (7) and New Mexico (5); classic "swing states" like Michigan (18), Missouri (11), Pennsylvania (23) and Wisconsin (11); and Gov. Jeb Bush's Florida (25). Together, that represents 121 of the 270 needed to elect the next president.

"Gore has a problem. In addition to not getting his message through, the difference in this race right now is Ralph Nader," pollster John Zogby told Reuters on Sunday. "If Gore moves to the left with a populist message, he risks losing ground in the vital center. If he moves to the center he will watch Nader's support increase."

Gore, who has less campaign cash than Bush, has been forced to spend it fighting Nader this week in 11 states carried by Clinton in 1992 and '96, instead of focusing on Florida and Michigan.

Bush, on the other hand, is not burdened by a significant challenge on his right flank, since late-starting Reform Party nominee Pat Buchanan is stuck at 1 percent nationally despite having $12 million in government matching funds. After being on the defensive in Florida a few weeks ago, the Texas governor is now attempting a pincer movement by spending millions on advertising in California, where his deficit in a recent poll had shrunk to just six percentage points.

Nader on Monday night wrapped up a four-day swing through the Golden State, where he campaigned at universities and sports arenas in Southern California, the Bay Area and the Central Valley.

After being relatively ignored by the national media since declaring his candidacy back in February, Nader and his 'spoiler' campaign have been the subject of long articles the past three days in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury-News, San Francisco Examiner and others.

To head off the damage, Gore has dispatched a Dream Team of progressive Democrats -- Jesse Jackson, Paul Wellstone, Barney Frank, Tom Hayden, Robert Kennedy, Jr. -- as well as lesser known environmentalists and feminists, to remind Nader voters that the next president could appoint three or four Supreme Court justices, potentially wiping out hard-fought gains of various splinters of the civil rights movement.

"Tom Hayden actually came out to New Mexico for Gore," said New Mexico Green Party official Carol Miller, who knew the L.A. Democrat back when he was a co-defendant in the infamous Chicago Seven trial of radical protesters of the 1968 Democratic Convention. "He's lucky I wasn't there, or else there's no way he could have said anything with a straight face."

Though cable news channels have been repeating the rumor that Democrats are urging Nader to quit his campaign and deliver the election to Gore, the Green Party candidate flatly denies it, and says he hasn't spoken directly to his increasing number of critics.

"I was on Jesse's program [in August]," he said. "I didn't want to embarrass him, but in December '98 when we went to the same dinner gathering in Washington, he turned to me and said 'I'm running in 2000, Ralph, because I don't want the Democratic Party to be controlled by the likes of Gore and (Rep. Richard) Gephardt."

Echoing a consistent theme in his campaign, Nader accuses the progressive Democrats and environmentalists attacking his credentials of playing the "politics of fear and expediency."

"I was fighting for the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and air and water pollution laws when they were in short pants," he said of his liberal critics. "I mean, they tell me the most devastating criticisms of the Gore-Clinton administration, and they turn around and endorse them -- again? -- because they think Bush is worse. See, they've given up their bargaining power.

"The Democrats don't respect you," Nader continued. "The minute that the Democrats know that they're thinking about 'Bush is worse than Gore' -- even though they don't like Gore on his environmental betrayals -- they got you."

Fielding questions from concerned students at Stanford University Monday night, Nader reiterated his positions that Republicans know they'd be "crazy" to try to overturn Roe v. Wade, that Democrats were responsible for approving extremely conservative justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, that political appointees to the bench are notoriously unpredictable, and that the two parties are otherwise both beholden to the "permanent corporate government in Washington."

As for siphoning votes and tipping the election?

"That's their problem, that's not my problem," he said with a grin. "They say I'm taking votes away from [Gore]. Well, I'm more worried about him taking votes from us."

Nader Lets Loose

HOUSTON -- Ralph Nader is clearly running for president on a completely different planet than the one inhabited by Al Gore and George W. Bush.

While the Democratic and Republican nominees squabble over how to invest the current bountiful government surplus and improve upon the United States' unprecedented economic prosperity, the Green Party candidate is battling grimly to counteract American voters' "total loss of control" of a country he says is actually worse than the nightmare envisioned in George Orwell's "1984."

"Orwell just didn't have a big enough imagination," Nader said in Austin, Texas Wednesday. A more accurate futuristic novel, he said, is Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World."

With his famous rumpled blue suit, droopy eyes, hunched back, Ichabod Crane fingers and a voice that sounds perpetually in need of a glass of water, Nader can come across so dour he makes Jimmy Carter look more bubbly than Richard Simmons. When he begins rallies by droning: "Welcome to the politics of joy," there is a great temptation to laugh.

Yet, despite first impressions - and after some shaky attempts earlier in the campaign to leaven his bleak worldview with jokes involving a rubber chicken -- Nader is actually running a campaign full of good humor and crowd-pleasing punchlines, especially in the last few days.

In Austin on Wednesday night, for example, Nader announced apropos of nothing in particular that he was launching an initiative to reduce the classical seven-second soundbite to a single second ... by transforming them into "soundbarks." Whereupon he answered a mythical question about Alan Greenspan raising interest rates by letting out a mangled-sounding canine scream.

This newfound looseness at least superficially softens Nader's depiction of a litany of problems completely off the radar of Gore and Bush. Of course, it is hardly surprising that a lifelong anti-corporate consumer advocate running a reformist campaign would have a darker view of the public condition than the dominant mainstream candidates. But some of Nader's policy prescriptions, while very popular with the thousands of supporters who pay to see him almost every day, seem almost willfully antithetical to the conventional wisdom on voter tendencies.

For instance, in San Antonio on Thursday, Nader actually called for an increase in Internal Revenue inspectors. "I don't like the idea of the majority of American people fairly paying their taxes, and a few millions of people not paying their taxes," he explained. "These are a lot of rich people, too."

Those taxes, too, would be increased in several areas under a Nader presidency, to help pay for his smorgasbord of aggressive policy iniatives.

"You apply a modest 3.5 percent payroll tax to cover universal health insurance, and if anything more is needed you have the biggest source of overdue taxpayer dollars in American history, and it's called the trillions of dollars in stock transactions every week that are not taxed one penny," he said. "One quarter of one percent of stock transaction tax will bring in over $100 billion a year. It also serves another purpose -- it dampens speculation. We should tax things we don't like first, like pollution, rather than things we do like, like honest labor."

Nader didn't elaborate on the differences between a "payroll tax" and taxing "honest labor."

While Bush sounds the popular alarm against the influence of the deeply unpopular "trial lawyers" over the Democratic Party and the country as a whole, one of Nader's biggest applause lines is about how he's "sued the federal government more than anyone else in history."

Bush "gleefully declares how he restricted the rights of Texans when they're wrongfully injured from having their full day in court before Texas judges and Texas juries, and he did this on behalf of corporate perpetrators who produce toxic chemicals that produce disease and who produce defective products," Nader charged Thursday.

Novel Use of Capital Punishment

On several counts, though, Nader stands in complete opposition to a fairly unified Bush-Gore stance.

While both major party candidates agreed at the final debate Wednesday night that the death penalty is an effective deterrent, Nader says that "every study in history shows the death penalty doesn't deter crime," and then further suggests that if capital punishment must exist, then it should be enforced on "corporate criminal CEOs."

While Bush and Gore argue incessantly over whose military budget has the largest increase in spending for readiness and weapons, Nader advocates drastically slashing the defense budget, and recalling U.S. forces from Western Europe and Asia, "where we spend $70 billion defending our prosperous allies from a nonexistent enemy."

On issue after issue, Nader's positions spring from his analysis that the country is facing a much graver civic illness -- a "cancer" spread by giant corporations -- than perhaps any presidential candidate has ever diagnosed. Bush's call for education reform elicits a rant against the "tyranny of the multiple-choice standardized test." A question about public transit brings the gloomy reply: "It's almost too late."

Whether it's duty, perversity or an innate taste for political theater, Nader almost never passes up an opportunity to point out how the American glass is half-empty. In Las Vegas, he said he was against gambling. In the Silicon Valley, he held a press conference criticizing Intel's plan to build a new plant that would create more than 20,000 jobs. If he mentions the Internet, it's usually in the context of "all your personal information, whizzing all around the world without your knowledge."

Riffin'

But increasingly these bitter pills are followed by easy to digest comic riffs, many of them absurdist, or completely tangential.

"Have you looked at your late evening news lately on TV? Can you bear to?" he asked 1,000 or so students in San Antonio, in the middle of a more sober discussion about taxing corporate broadcasters to finance a "people's TV." "Here's what the late-evening television news is, thirty minutes: It starts out with three minutes of street crime usually, very superficially covered. No debating of political stories or city hall. The first weather team comes on -- they're obsessed by the weather! It's unbelievable! Doppler radar, dozens of meteorologists, and they start, you know, 'Over the Cascades, there's something coming heading over the Rocky Mountains, heading towards San Antonio. And they allot about four minutes to the weather.

"And you know sometimes they run out of time because the sun is out, right? So they give you the suburbs around San Antonio that are maybe like four miles apart, 'Seventy-two degrees here, 74 degrees there,' on the map. And when they want to eat up more time they say, 'twenty years ago it was 80 degrees!' And then they give you four minutes of sports, one minute of contrived chit-chat between the two anchors. A random animal story. Latest report from the New England Journal of Medicine. And they say that's what happened in San Antonio tonight? Hello!"

Thursday, he went out of his way in San Antonio and Houston to praise Southwest Airlines, which has been shuttling him in coach class from town to town. "Our favorite airline is Southwest. Not only are they fighting the other airline monopolies, they answer the phone on the second ring." This spurred a two-minute rant about being on hold and listening to "robots."

"You know, if I'm working late in my office and want to hear some classical music, I just call up United Airlines," Nader said.

Like Arianna Huffington, Nader has learned that humor is an effective tool in getting a point across, and defrosting the public's skeptical opinion of ideological sorts. From the beginning he has employed one-liners of uneven effectiveness to lampoon his rivals -- "Bush is really a corporation running for president disguised as a human" being the stalest of the lot. Some of his wisecracks have fallen with a painful thud, such as during his painful appearance on the Tonight Show, when he responded to Jay Leno's question about what he does for fun by blurting out "Strawberries!" (It is possible that this was inspired Dadaism, but at the time he looked like a man who does not spend much time making his fellow humans laugh).

But as the campaign has rolled along, Nader's tortured syntax has sharpened up a bit, and his comic timing has improved exponentially. Now his endless sub-clauses are punctuated with funny little cheap attacks. "Industrial hemp has only one-third of one percent of THC -- even Bill Clinton couldn't get high off it," he said Thursday. And: "Bush says he's a 'compassionate conservative' ... he says that without smirking now."

The levity may provide some welcome relief to the earnest crowds who nevertheless probably have some limit to how much they can hear in one night about pipeline safety, flouridated water and the 50 ways giant corporations are trying to ruin everybody's lives. And -- could it be? -- the experience of making a doomed run at the presidency, and attracting nearly 100,000 paying supporters who scream on his every word, seems to be providing this notoriously austere senior citizen with a legitimate sense of energetic joy.

"This is a lot of fun," he said last night. And though he was referring to the arcane tactic of rewriting customer contracts, he may as well have been speaking for his candidacy as a whole. "You should try it some time."

Debate Fight Ends Brusquely

ST. LOUIS -- On a day when Missouri's sky-high hopes for a moment in the national spotlight were marred by tragedy, Ralph Nader's quixotic fight to wiggle his way into the presidential debates ended ignominiously at the hands of campus security guards.

After filing a federal civil rights suit against the Commission on Presidential Debates in the morning, then denouncing America's "stench of fascism" in the afternoon, the Green Party candidate stormed the third and last presidential debate last night at Washington University armed with a valid credential and an interview appointment, but was turned away once more by rent-a-cops acting on behalf of Democrats and Republicans.

"One police guy said 'You cannot come in here' and took me by the elbow and told me I had to go back," Nader told reporters, describing WU as an "armed camp." Security called debate commission officials, who supported their order, he said. "We all had the same badge around our necks which was supposed to allow us to get on the campus," Nader said.

With the end of the brief debate season and all its hope-against-hope talk by Nader supporters of a Jesse Ventura-style bum rush up the polls, Nader was left with the grim consolation prize of establishing some kind of citizen debate watchdog group.

"This will be the last time the debate commission will have a monopoly ... so have your fun, debate commission, this is your last hurrah!" Nader warned defiantly. "By the time we finish with ... the deposition, and the investigations of the stench of crooked corporate money, it's ranking in the public opinion polls will be below a terribly performing used car salesman."

His suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston against the commission, the commission's two co-chairmen, a commission security consultant and a State Police sergeant, claims Nader's rights were denied by his exclusion from the hall at the first presidential debate Oct. 3. He had been given a ticket to the event by a local college student.

The day started abysmally for everybody in Missouri politics. Gov. Mel Carnahan, a classic 66-year-old Southern Democrat who was giving conservative John Ashcroft a serious run for a vital seat in the U.S. Senate, was pronounced dead before sunrise, after his Cessna plunged to the ground in a terrible fog near Jefferson City, killing the governor, his son Randy, and campaign aid Chris Sifford. There was immediate talk from Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush's camp that maybe the debate -- which St. Louis had been looking forward to so much -- should be canceled out of sympathy for the Carnahans. And a collective of local anarcho-lefties called "O17" (for October 17) was deflated to discover its chosen day for Seattle-style protest had turned into a national day of mourning.

Nader's campaign team, at a noon press conference, was visibly shaken by the Carnahan news. Press chief Laura Jones shook her head anxiously and whispered "Can you believe it? I mean, did you see all those Carnahan signs on the streets?" After commiserating with his handlers for 15 minutes in a corner of the State Capital building, Nader walked to the podium with a deeply spooked look in his sunken eyes.

"This is a tragic day for the state of Missouri. I extend my condolences to the family of Governor Carnahan," he said, and then paused for 15 seconds to collect himself. "Against this background of tragedy it seems almost tertiary to talk about the press-conference subject today, but I will go ahead with it, because I know that the governor wanted to become a U.S. Senator to represent the people for change in the U.S. Senate."

And go ahead with it Nader did. He described his expulsion from the first debate in Boston as "an indefensible act of political arrogance," and an "unlawful police order to exclude me." The debate commission -- a private bipartisan body that set the 15 percent bar of poll support for inclusion into the campaign contests, is "not only a political atrocity, it's now a military initiative." The Democrats and Republicans, meanwhile, are "complicit in allowing big business to hijack our democracy and our government, and to strip us of our control over everything that matters."

Nader always maintained that a debate without him would be a debate that ignored the Drug War, white-collar crime, child poverty, the Taft-Hartley Act, and so on. And last night, as in the previous two presidential debates, both candidates steered toward a safe harbor of near agreement on most controversial issues. Given a clear opportunity to slam Bush's enforcement of Texas' much-criticized death penalty system, for example, Democrat Al Gore said only that he also supported capital punishment.

Driven to the margins of the mass media, Nader is left with his impressive paid super-rallies, and speech after corporate-bashing speech in front of white college students. St. Louis, a city with a huge African-American population and an epidemic of classic suburban-flight issues -- blight, vanished tax base, awful municipal service, crime, despair -- should be uniquely receptive to Nader's class-war proposals to soak the rich and give freebies like health care and college education to the poor, and his arguments to end discriminatory enforcement of the Death Penalty and the Drug War.

But even when he ventured to the largely African-American Mid-City area of town, where spruced-up entertainment centers share space with totally abandoned 40-story high-rises, and whole city blocks of stores are boarded up, Nader can't seem to draw a minority audience. At the massive Scottish Rites Temple, maybe 10 in an audience of over a hundred were black.

As is his custom when addressing an audience that might be focused on race issues, Nader immediately launched into attacks on "loan sharks” and redlining. Perhaps after sizing up the typical Nader crowd of '60s veterans and the new Seattle Kids, he then delivered the red meat they were waiting for. "We need a political revolution in this country!" he said, drawing the biggest applause of the speech.

If Nader tips the electoral balance from Gore to Bush in any state, Missouri would be a prime candidate. Party affiliation, the presidential race, and several statewide contests are all statistical dead heats going into November, and the national contenders in particular are nervous, because Missouri has a better track record in electing presidents than any other state in the union (Adlai Stevenson was the last one the "Show Me" citizens got wrong).

Though Nader is spending much energy on already decided states like New York, California and Texas (subject of Nader's forthcoming "Don't Waste Your Vote" tour), he did not shy away from aggressively campaigning in a close race. "Missouri is a swing state," he told supporters. "Missouri is a state you can send the politicians a big message by giving local, state and national Green Party candidates your vote."

An essential Nader campaign justification for potentially wreaking havoc on Gore's campaign is that Nader's supporters theoretically come from the ranks of the political drop-outs, and from the ranks of people who got excited by the campaigns of Ventura, Sen. John McCain and Ross Perot. But at his rallies, there is nothing remotely centrist, moderate-Republican or even Texan about the rhetoric. "We always thought Communism would bury us," said Green Party state senatorial candidate Mary Auer, in one supporting speech. "It's not Communism that's going to bury this country. It is going to be buried -- it's well on it's way -- and it's by capitalism."

Ventura, who believes a Third Party must be centrist, and that socialist-leaning college students need a good dose of reality before being taken seriously, would have flinched at some of Nader's spirited flogging of "giant corporations" later in the afternoon, at the nearly 1,000-strong O17 rally in a park adjacent to Washington University.

"There's just one thing I want you to believe, and that is ... you can take back your country, and say to those giant corporations that they are going to be your servants, not your masters!” said Nader. "What happens is that in a very few decades corporations have reasserted their power to new heights of autocracy over our democracy. And we have to now assert our democratic power.

"We have so much to offer the rest of the world by example, by appropriate science and technology, by our finest traditions of justice, and by the great generosity of our people. All these are being pressed downward by the greed and power of fewer and fewer giant corporations that are merging by the week."

At the end of the speech, the energized Nader stormed the university barricades, and received his final insult. Accompanied by a reporter from the campus TV station and bearing a credential to speak with two reporters at their tent outside the field house where the debate took place, he was turned forcefully away, even though two of his campaign staffers had been allowed inside with the same type of pass.

Nader left the campus and his campaign aides said he planned to go to his hotel to watch the debate.

Outside the debate security lines, little knots of cuddly anarchists stood off under trees, looking mysterious. Huge puppets of evil-looking pigs walked by, dangling mini-politicians from their hooves. A group of nerdy kids wore red shirts that said, simply, "On to Mars!"

As the crowd dissipated, and the kids who drove all the way from Wisconsin on the proceeds of a campus bake sale plotted their next move in the anti-globalization fight, Nader's pessimistic stream-of-consciousness rap echoed in ears that won't soon be listening to any Jim Lehrer-moderated debate:

"The two rapidly diminishing men you will see on the debate tonight, frightened by their own shadows, crumbling before the same corporate powers, homogenizing their minds, refusing to recognize the truth, withering and wallowing and wavering and shaking and dodging confronting the fundamental subject matter that is on the minds of most people in this country. Which is: that they're all losing control.

"That people are losing control over almost everything that matters to them. They're losing control over their government, over their workplace, over their marketplace, over the environment, over their own children, they're losing control over their own time, they're losing control over their own human being, over their own privacy to these corporate invaders, they're losing control over their own territorial jurisdiction, their own sovereignty, which is being transferred on the installment plan to these international autocratic systems of governance, that we call the World Trade Organization, and the NAFTA -- both supported by the Republican and the Democratic parties, including Bill Clinton and Al Gore."

Nader Confronts Minority Critics

It may seem odd for a presidential candidate who favors reparations for slavery and regularly denounces the "discriminatory prison-industrial complex" to be on the defensive about race relations, but that's exactly where Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader has found himself this week.

After being accused by several business-oriented minority groups on Monday of being "oblivious" to race and gender issues and of campaigning in a "cloistered environment" of white males, Nader spoke out Thursday in uncharacteristically specific language against the "racial chasm" and the "discrimination [that] persists throughout American life."

In his statement, and in meetings Wednesday with Wisconsin minority leaders, Nader sought to quell what has for him become a disturbing trend: groups on the left wing of the Democratic Party challenging his progressive credentials

This month alone, Liberal icon Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass) has traveled to Wisconsin to convince Nader supporters that Gore is actually better on red-meat liberal issues; Robert Kennedy Jr. -- whose father was one of the few politicians Nader has ever truly admired -- has told anyone who will listen that a vote for the Green Party candidate would be a vote against the environment; National Organization of Women President Patricia Ireland accused Nader of being "willfully ignorant" of women's issues; and Monday's letter charges the candidate with failing to actively seek minority support.

"Mexican-American people, poor people, need him the most," Ben Benavidez, president emeritus of the Mexican American Political Association, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "In the [California] Central Valley, we never see him here."

Nader and his supporters have lashed back at the critics, accusing them of acting out of "political expediency," or suffering from "Frightened Liberal Syndrome."

"It just shows you how totally servile some of these constituency groups are toward the Democratic Party," Nader said last week in Las Vegas. "[They] have been given the back of the hand for eight years by the Democratic Party, but crawl to an endorsement in return for no policy agenda because 'They're not as bad as George Bush.'"

But behind the political skirmishing there are some very real differences in approach towards race between Nader and his critics on the Left. Where they see a Green Party and presidential campaign made up largely of middle-class whites, he sees "constituency group" critics hooked on "symbolism" instead of progress.

Where some of his critics see a candidate who, in the words of writer Vanessa Daniel, "appears to be tiptoeing around an elephant when he fails to mention ... race and racism," Nader sees a more "systemic" class struggle against corporations, of which racial discrimination is an important but lesser component.

And when potential supporters all but plead for a warmer, more human personal touch, Nader stubbornly remains who he is: a solitary and frequently awkward man who brags that his campaign is "about ideas, not emotion."

Uses a Different Lens

Perhaps the most accurate critique of Nader is that he rarely spotlights problems through the lens of race.

"Nader often speaks to problems that have their most devastating effects in communities of color," Daniel wrote. "However, he almost never points to the racial dimensions of these issues."

A reading of Nader's writing quickly bears this out. In 19 months worth of columns posted on his Web site, he uses the words "African-American," "black," "Latino," "Hispanic," "minority" and "race" a total of nine times combined, over 69 columns. In one press conference last week, by comparison, he used the words "corporate" or "corporation" at least 57 times.

Nader's overriding ideology -- shaped by a career which began with him exposing faulty General Motors designs and then being hounded by GM private investigators -- is that corporations, "will push the envelope to its limit of oppression if they're allowed to," as he told a Long Beach State class last week. Nader, comfortable in the role of pedant, often lectures his fellow travelers in The Struggle about how their narrow concerns are part of a broader pattern of corporate wrongdoing.

Nader told a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People convention in July that all the major social movements in U.S. history had one common theme: "They took power away from people and institutions who had too much power, and made that power be shared by the many," he said.

"Who opposed the anti-slavery movement? Who opposed the women's right-to-vote movement? It wasn't just some men," Nader argued. "It was the railroads, it was the liquor industry, it was industrial interests that didn't want women to speak out with voting power against child labor and the injustices of the Industrial Revolution. And who opposed the workers in the steel, coal, textile and other areas trying to unionize? It was the corporations. And who opposed the farmers, dirt-poor farmers coming out of Texas? It was the big banks and the insurance companies. And I might say it's much the same today."

Indeed, one of Nader's bitterest criticisms of NOW and its president was that they have failed to appreciate the damning effects of "marketplace discrimination" against women -- which he has chronicled in two separate books.

His strict capitalist critique sometimes puts him completely at odds with the vast majority of historians. For example, in "Citizen Nader," a 1973 biography, author Charles McCarry recounts an incident when Nader vehemently denied the argument that Catholic-Protestant tension was behind the troubles in Northern Ireland. "No, no," he said. "It's a struggle for social equality, pure and simple."

Tone Deaf?

Nader's love of statistics, combined with his eschewal of pleasures such as novels and intimate friendship, has produced some amusing miscalculations over his storied and tireless career as a public advocate -- and made it difficult for him to build bridges beyond the wonk-activist community.

You will not see Ralph Nader sing in the choir and deliver Southern-drenched sermons at a Black Baptist church, a la Al Gore or Bill Clinton. He is fond of children and clearly in his element around college students, but is not exactly a touchy-feely type guy. On the Tonight Show With Jay Leno, for example, he was the only person on stage to avoid kissing singer Gloria Estefan. And his "traveling entourage," if you could call it that, consists of his nephew and one other young man.

His interactions with African-Americans on the campaign trail are telling. On Leno, he sat next to D.L. Hughley, a black comedian from South-Central L.A., and the next day he was still impressed with the encounter. "That D.L., he's the real deal!" he told supporters at a Brentwood fundraiser.

At an Oakland press conference after a meeting with union members, an African American questioner asked Nader why there weren't more nonwhites represented in the discussion.

"It's very simple: Millions of low-paid workers are people of color, and they're not unionized," Nader said quickly, before reciting minimum wage statistics and historical dates of legislation.

At the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, a young black journalist/activist presented the Green Party candidate with a T-shirt. "Right on!" Nader cheered. Later, at a press conference, when the same man was asking his third or fourth long question -- monologues, really -- Nader cut him off with the loud stage voice he employs when telling a joke: "Hey! Equal opportunity for everyone!"

Such clumsy moments may be explained as simply nerdiness. But Nader has little leeway for such stumbling among minority intellectuals who believe the Green Party whose banner he is carrying -- and the "Seattle Coalition" of labor unionists and environmentalists he aches to lead -- are merely the protest wings of the white middle-class.

"Nader, although he is of Lebanese descent, personifies a brand of colorblindness that is endemic in the white American left," Daniel wrote.

Medea Benjamin, the Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate in California (and a white woman), says her biggest challenge is to "overcome the hostility" of various groups of color. "I'm really focusing on expanding our base," she said. "They feel that the Green Party is mostly white ... and they tell us 'You know, come back to us in a couple of years, when you've grown up.'"

But to say Nader is tone-deaf on civil rights issues is dead wrong. A shortlist of his heroes would include Martin Luther King, Jr., and former Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall (whose visit to Harvard Law School in 1958 was a formative event in young Ralph's life), and he rarely fails to tell college students how much they owe to the generations that proceeded them.

"Let me tell you, if it wasn't for the people in the '50s and '60s, and what they did with civil rights, half of you wouldn't be here," he told the Long Beach State class. "Right here, in this room. What they did for women's rights, for people of color, half of you wouldn't even be here. I went to school at Princeton University, 740 students, 750 students. No women, two African Americans, no Hispanics. ... Now, what are you gonna do for the next generation?"

In less-combative moments, Nader shows some empathy for African-Americans who are support Gore in hopes of defeating Bush, but even then his outrage at how Democrats treat blacks is palpable.

"They're just terrified of the Republicans ... and they have some justification for that," he said at a Brentwood fundraiser, where there was exactly one African-American among 30 guests. "On the other hand the Democrats give them far more rhetoric than reality. But I mean, for the Democrats to do what they did on so-called welfare reform, beat up on a three-hundred-dollar-a-month welfare mom, and not do anything about corporate welfare, which is far greater in dollars ... is unconscionable."

And, by almost any measure of progressive politics, Nader's agenda is the most far-reaching blueprint for federally mandated "racial justice" that has ever been seen on the national level. He wants to end the (racist) drug war, abolish the (racist) death penalty, outlaw racial profiling and racial redlining, double the minimum wage, abolish poverty, provide universal health coverage, increase community policing, establish community-based credit unions, prosecute payday loan-sharks, strengthen Affirmative Action, punish companies who profited from slavery two centuries ago, and so on and on and on. And, in case anyone hasn't noticed, his running mate is a Native American woman.

"We have got to be determined that we are not going to be flim-flammed, we are not going to be sweet-talked, we are not going to be regaled with rhetoric, that we are only interested in justice as a result, not justice as a broken promise," he told the NAACP.

"If you ever wondered why the right wing and the corporate wing of the Democratic Party has so much more power over that party than the progressive wing, it's because the right wing and the corporate wing have somewhere to go: It's called the Republican Party," Nader said. "But if you look at the progressive wing, if you look at working families, if you look at trade unions, look at groups trying to advance civil rights and consumer rights and environmental rights, they have nowhere to go. And you know when you're told that you have nowhere to go, you get taken for granted.

"And when you get taken for granted, you get taken."

The Great Debate Protests

LAS VEGAS -- George W. Bush and Al Gore may have finally smoothed over their differences on presidential debates, but Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, for one, is not satisfied with the results.

Nader, whose only sliver of hope to contend in these elections is to share TV time with Bush and Gore, announced he will be outside the debate locations and available to the press for at least one of the three scheduled events, and that supporters will hold a demonstration in Boston to support his exclusion.

"We cannot allow our democracy to exclude competitors who want to try to improve the political system," he told an audience of 400 at the University of Nevada Las Vegas on Friday afternoon. "If we get on the debates, all bets are off. Because Jesse Ventura was at eight percent in Minnesota before he got on the debates. And he got on 10 debates and he won the governorship of Minnesota with 38 percent of the vote."

The Commission on Presidential Debates, a bipartisan group founded by the two main political parties, has decided that third-party candidates must have 15 percent minimum support in the polls to qualify.

"I mean, this is the most amazing thing!" Nader said. "How did we ever get into this situation, where the two parties control the debate commission, they created it, they fund it with beer money, auto money and tobacco money, and then they say 'We don't want anybody to compete with us.'

"You don't see that in the marketplace, do you?" Nader asked. "You don't see that in nature. Imagine, can nature regenerate itself if they keep seeds from sprouting? Can the business community regenerate itself if they block entrepreneurs and innovators? Only the two parties get away with it. And they get away with it because the media lets them get away with it."

Nader, who has filed suit against the FEC, has been encouraging supporters to write and call the major TV networks asking them to create their own multi-candidate formats.

"The media could say, 'Enough of you, we're gonna get together and sponsor a massive four-way debate every week on the networks,'" he suggested, apparently including Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan in this scenario.

Candidates should be included, the consumer advocate said, if they command five percent national support or if a majority of voters polled want them in the debates. Nader has been estimating his own support at between four and eight percent nationally, while current nonpartisan polls have him slightly lower. And while he has repeatedly claimed a "vast majority" of Americans want him included in the debates, polls released this week actually showed a minority agreed.

At a Southern California fundraising event Wednesday night, Nader told supporters the two parties were spooked when Ross Perot went to the 1992 debates and then won 19 percent of the vote. "They'll never make that mistake again," he said. This, one day after he appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno brandishing a rubber chicken to punctuate his claim that his major party rivals are scared to debate him.

Nader has been frustrated by the lack of regular national media coverage of his campaign, arguing several times a day that newspapers like The New York Times are "violating their own criteria of newsworthiness" by ignoring him. His public events and press conferences -- some of which are not even advertised on his Web site -- were generally covered by 10 to 20 reporters during his four-day swing through California and Nevada this week. The Associated Press has been the only major media outlet consistently present.

"It's a Catch-22," he told one of many sympathetic questioners. "See, you don't go up in the polls unless you get the mass media, and you don't get mass media unless you're going up in the polls."

Many of his supporters throughout the week have said the "giant media corporations" are afraid of Nader, because his message is so radical and the media's policies are so corrupt. Often, Nader agrees.

"If you look at the Federal Elections Commission (campaign fundraising reports), you see all kinds of contributions from CBS, NBC and ABC executives to both parties," he said Friday. "They're not about to expose that on '60 Minutes,' or the evening news."

News executives might also be put off by Nader's persistent suggestions they should pay "billions of dollars in rent" for being allowed to use the public airwaves -- rent that would then be used for "our own stations and programs," he said.

"Any democracy worth its salt should never have to rely so heavily on commercial media. But that's the case here: It's in the hands of the mass media whether we're going to break through or not," he said.

Nader Does Brentwood

BRENTWOOD, California -- The presidential candidate who is running to defend the little man against huge media/entertainment empires spent two hours Wednesday evening raising money from Limousine Liberals at the Brentwood mansion of ex-Viacom CEO Frank Biondi.

A gathering of 30 or so Hollywood types, Baby Boomer hippies and Santa Monica political junkies sipped wine, wrote checks and peppered Ralph Nader at close range with tactical questions about the upcoming presidential debates.

The Green Party nominee responded with a fidgety but oddly stirring speech about his disillusionment with the Democratic Party, even as cabana boys in pink golf shirts watched over the valet-parked cars on the loose gravel courtyard by the guest house.

"There's a little bit of a Frightened Liberal Syndrome," said Nader, when asked to explain the reticence of the Establishment Left to support his candidacy. "We've seen it in some editorials in liberal journals, and I am so shocked that [it comes from] a party that cannot save the Congress from its extreme wing of the opposing party -- Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, Dick Armey, Trent Lott ... some of the most craven, vested-interest, cruel legislators that have ever crawled on Capitol Hill."

Like many of the people nibbling salmon and sushi in the gorgeous, high-ceiling room, Nader said he voted Democrat in every presidential election since 1980, but that he couldn't do it any more.

"They outsmarted themselves with this triangulation situation," he said, of the Democrats‚ Clinton-led move to the political center.

"They lost the Congress in '94, '96 and '98. ... I don't think LBJ would have allowed that to happen; FDR wouldn't have allowed that to happen -- they would have had Newt Gingrich for lunch."

Guests included liberal icon Stanley Sheinbaum, former conservative Arianna Huffington and Green Party senatorial candidate Medea Benjamin, but the tone was hardly High Hollywood. Conversations were more likely to cover research on rhesus monkeys and the fate of Pacifica Radio than Nielsen ratings or the Latin Grammy Awards taking place across town at the Staples Center.

Carol Biondi, a long-time advocate for children's health issues, has known and occasionally worked with Nader since 1967. She and her husband Frank, who ran Universal Studios, HBO and Viacom in the late '90s and now heads a venture capital fund that invests in Internet companies, have held previous fundraisers at their Martha's Vineyard home for Bill and Hillary Clinton.

While Carol Biondi lauds Hillary's "amazing work," she finds the mainstream presidential candidates lacking.

"None of them focus on the areas that are for me the most critical," she said.

Nader is refusing all money from corporations and political action committees, limiting his take to individuals. At a rally earlier Wednesday at Long Beach State University, he said he's spent around $3.6 million so far on his campaign this year.

Nader was noticeably nervous at the beginning of his speech, shifting his weight from foot to foot while twitching his long delicate fingers more than usual. He delivered his usual indictment against the "rigged two-party system," spiced with more personal-sounding details than usual when describing his fallout with the Democrats.

"I say to the Democratic Party: you have not fulfilled your historical mission, in making the wealth inequality in this country less prone and less disparate, and moving to abolish poverty," he said.

He also had biting words for vice-presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman, who he described as "a corporate Democrat who's never met a weapons system he didn't like, who talks about personal morality and encourages corporate immorality, who champions in making it difficult for defrauded people to have their day in court against the big companies, and who takes huge money from the insurance ... defense and drug companies." The crowd was polite, breaking out into applause a handful of times, and asking heartfelt questions about why people in this country don't seem to care.

Afterward, when asked if she would vote for Nader, Carol Biondi echoed the private comments of at least four other guests.

"Yes, I hope to, but if it's neck and neck, you know, Gore's a lot better than Bush," she said. "And Ralph knows that."
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