Friday, November 16, 2007

Bruce fills stage, thrills devoted

By CASEY SEILER, Entertainment editor
Albany Times-Union
First published: Friday, November 16, 2007



Is it too late in his career to start thinking about Bruce Springsteen as a great dancer?

Not dancer in the boogie-down sense, although he can still pull that off. I'm talking in the Martha Graham sense, as in someone who's mastered the evocation of mood and meaning through the use of his body.

At 58, Springsteen isn't throwing himself around like Baryshnikov, but the sold-out Times Union Center crowd saw a man who can fill an arena stage like few performers half his age. He planted his feet and declaimed the lyrics, sculpting the air in front of him and punctuating each line. He stalked the catwalk exhorting the crowd to lean in, raise their hands, sing along. As if they needed convincing.

The E Street Band's first Albany appearance in almost five years was looser and more wide-ranging than either the 1999 reunion tour or the shows that attended "The Rising." This one was pitched a little closer to Springsteen's July 2005 solo show behind "Devils and Dust," in which the artist pushed his songs in fascinating directions.

One of the tunes reworked in that show, "Reason to Believe," was the clear highlight here: With all hands on deck, this "Nebraska" track built from a Howlin' Wolf blues vamp to a roadhouse guitar workout worthy of early ZZ Top; Springsteen delivered the last verse through a fog of distortion, sounding like the world's oldest man.

The terrific new album "Magic" was given the showcase it deserves without overwhelming the set. The politically significant title track was full of coiled menace ("Every night we tell the people it's not really about magic," Springsteen said. "It's about tricks"), while "Gypsy Biker," "Last to Die" and "Long Walk Home" sounded fuller live.

The band reached back more than three decades for "4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)" and a light-fingered, deeply funky take on "The E Street Shuffle." "Darkness of the Edge of Town" yielded its title track as well as "Candy's Room" (a showcase for drummer Max Weinberg), "Badlands" and "The Promised Land."

The extended encore included "Dancing in the Dark," "Born to Run" and more, finally ending with a rousing "American Land" from the Seeger Sessions project.

The band (minus Springsteen's wife, Patti Scialfa) remain firmly in each other's pockets. If there was a standout, it was the interplay between Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren, who balance out Springsteen's own blunt guitar with their own respective talents for raw power and delicacy.

Casey Seiler can be reached at 454-5619 or by email at cseiler@timesunion.com.

Music review

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Times Union Center, Albany

Crowd: A packed house of 15,155

Length: 135 minutes, starting a little late -- almost an hour after the slated 7:30 start

Highlights: "Reason to Believe," "Badlands," "The E Street Shuffle," "Long Walk Home"



Setlist:

Radio Nowhere
No Surrender
Lonesome Day
Gypsy Biker
Magic
Reason to Believe
Darkness on the Edge of Town
Candy's Room
She's the One
Livin' in the Future
The Promised Land
I'll Work For Your Love
4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
E Street Shuffle
Devil's Arcade
The Rising
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
Badlands
* * *
Girls in Their Summer Clothes
Thunder Road
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
American Land

Film Review: "Beowulf"


Surface Treatment

The Technology That Makes 'Beowulf' Impressive Also Saps It of Emotion

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 16, 2007; Page C01

In "Beowulf," director Robert Zemeckis uses a technique called "motion capture" to conjure fantastical things, angles into action and sweeping vistas to stun your eyes and take your breath away. But what he hasn't mastered and what the technique can't do is this: emotion capture.

The nuance of the dilated nostril, the licked lip, the involuntary swallow, the unwilled tear -- all gone. Is that a loss? Hard to say.

What you are seeing is the process by which actors' movements are recorded electronically, transformed into imagery, then inserted into a meticulously realized, computer-generated Dark Ages (it's A.D. 506 on the screen). Zemeckis, of course, has used this technology before in "The Polar Express."

This is the increasing reality of movies, this is the 'wulf that's at the door. Old dinosaurs like me can rant about pointy-headed issues like the diminishment of performance, the absence of chemistry in the cast (can electrons have chemistry? wouldn't they have valence?), but this is the future and it smirks.

However, for a few seconds, let's pretend "Beowulf" is a regular movie and such concepts as "performance" haven't gone missing, and deconstruct it based on regular movie considerations.

You have to say that the screenwriters, Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary, have fixed the oldest chestnut, the Anglo-Saxon epic tale, the bane of freshman year. When the original was assembled (written? collected? sung? chanted?) around the embers back in the good ol' 700s or so, no theory of psychology existed, so there was no storytellers' need to conjure coherent behavior patterns or fully realized plots. Man was so powerless and all nature seemed arbitrary, so stories could be arbitrary, none more so than the epic poem of the Anglo-Saxon peoples (even if it told of Scandinavian adventures): The great warrior Beowulf fights and kills first Grendel, then Grendel's ma; 50 years later he fights a dragon.

Unacceptably episodic today. No arc. No growth. Where's the reveal? What's the back story? Thus, Gaiman and Avary root the thing in family dysfunction, and the two monsters, plus the fire breather, are the manifestations of alpha-male pathologies for which many innocent people pay in blood, even if the alpha male is the only one on the planet capable of dealing with the terror he himself has unleashed.

As Zemeckis has it, Grendel kicks his way into the mead hall one night, all ticked off because the noise is frying his eardrums, and eats a lot of human thingies, which is easy to do if you're 17 feet tall. Old King Hrothgar (face and voice courtesy of Anthony Hopkins) offers half his treasury to any man who can kill Grendel, and soon enough the Viking guy with the body of Apollo shows. For reasons that make no sense except as a marketing decision, he decides to fight in the nude, and so it is that Ray Winstone's Beowulf has a six-pack that Ray Winstone as a human being would have to have spent the better part of the year creating in a gym. I suppose that's a good thing.



Grendel's beautiful mother (voice of Angelina Jolie) is ready to attack six-pack warrior Beowulf, though moviegoers won't know it from her expression.
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures


The fight is a corker, an ill-met-by-firelight match that involves much kung-fuing and dragon punching (Eastern martial arts are the model for most of the physical action) until most of Grendel hulks off, leaking plasma, to die in the marsh and upset Ma. Ma is Angelina Jolie as interpreted by someone who apprenticed by doing airbrush portraits on custom Harley gas tanks. She's all sleek, gleaming catgirl, and Jolie's great beauty is deployed for its intimidation value as much as for its allure. And thus we learn the curse of Danish kings, a curse that would last another few hundred years when a fellow named Hamlet fell for it. They like the beauties too much, even if they be demons or moms, no matter the consequences.

The years pass, 50 of them. Under Beowulf the new king, the land prospers. And then one day, who should arrive but Rodan, from Japan, breathing fire. No, monster lovers, it's not the old Toho Pterodactyl on wires; it's a flying dragon with microwave breath, and once more the old warrior has to buckle on the gear and get with it.

Again, a hell of a fight. Beowulf, spearing the flying fright train, manages to bind himself to it; he's Ahab aboard the whale, looking for a vulnerability as the careening thing napalms the castle, raining destruction. Somehow Beowulf gets close enough to go for the heart, but his arm isn't quite long enough. Hmmm, he's struggling to kill the flying dragon he's riding as it strafes a castle. What's a fella to do?

Now, is action this outlandish a movie or a cartoon or some weirdness in between? The answer is the last. Watching it -- through glasses, by the way, because it's in 3-D at most theaters, and the shades are cool Wayfarer-type frames, not the '50s cardboard punch-outs -- has the strange feel of a dream from someone else's head, where the details aren't quite sharp enough to convince but so sharp they almost convince. It seems motion-capture technology can't get beneath the skin, so while the characters' gross movements are convincing enough, the microcircuitry of facial expression, the complex dance between the fibers of muscle under the skin, the twitches, the ironic sniggers accompanied by a half-squinted eye, the whole nonverbal subtext of human communication, is oddly missing.

What the technique permits, of course, is liberation of the camera (or viewing apparatus, as a camera really isn't used). Extraordinary things are possible. For example, the "camera" will begin on a human face, climb to the rafters to a scurrying rat, stay with him as he dodges and climbs until at last he's pronged by a falcon, swept out of the mead hall, transported across the snowy fields and deposited in the lair of Grendel, where that old crank is getting more and more annoyed at the raucous noise of the celebrants. Or it can stay with Beowulf when he rides his knife down to sunder the thorax of a sea monster, splitting the creature and spuming oceans of blood on the descent. You simply couldn't do any of these things in real scale or even miniature. So the astonishing becomes commonplace.

Some of the illusions don't pay off. While the dragon is a true demon from hell, and the motion-captured Jolie a wonder of the fleshly world, poor Grendel fails, really, to impress. This is the ur-monster of English literature, and the designers should have risen to the task. Instead, we get a tall old grump with a displaced jaw, an attitude problem, dirty feet and a runny nose. He looks like Mr. Green Jeans on steroids, or those seedy old men who hang out at train stations.

At the film's end, you wonder: Is it anything?

Or is it just another stupid human trick?

I say the story works, but I wish they'd teach these avatars to act.

Beowulf (114 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, nudity and some sexual material.

Yankees May Pay Rodriguez for Home Run Record

By TYLER KEPNER
The New York Tiimes
Published: November 16, 2007



The Yankees are close to having one future Hall of Famer officially in the fold, working out contract language on a new deal for Alex Rodriguez that will reach at least $300 million if Rodriguez sets the career home run record. But closer Mariano Rivera remains unsigned as he waits for a four-year offer.

“Things with Alex Rodriguez are looking good,” the senior vice president Hank Steinbrenner said last night. “As far as Mariano goes, we hope he decides to stay.”

Rodriguez and his wife, Cynthia, met with Hank and Hal Steinbrenner on Wednesday in Tampa, Fla. Rodriguez told the Steinbrenners that he wanted to stay with the Yankees, and a 10-year contract that will guarantee him about $275 million is expected to be completed soon.

The Yankees typically do not offer bonuses for making All-Star teams or winning postseason awards. But Rodriguez’s pursuit of the career home run record would bring increased revenue to the Yankees, and they are willing to share some of it.

The sides are discussing a marketing plan in which Rodriguez, 32, would benefit financially as he passes home run benchmarks in the coming seasons. He has 518 home runs and is 17th on the career list. If he passes Babe Ruth, who had 714 homers, and Hank Aaron, who had 755, he would trail only Barry Bonds, who has 762.

“These are not incentive bonuses,” Steinbrenner said. “For lack of a better term, they really are historic-achievement bonuses. It’s a horse of a different color.”

Steinbrenner said that the team president, Randy Levine, has been in contact with Major League Baseball to make sure the bonus package complies with a rule that does not allow teams to tie payments to certain individual statistics.

Rivera, meanwhile, has told the Yankees he wants a fourth year added to their three-year, $45 million proposal. General Manager Brian Cashman spoke yesterday with Rivera’s agent, Fern Cuza, but Steinbrenner has no plans to improve the offer, which would make Rivera, who turns 38 this month, the highest-paid closer in baseball.

“They haven’t rejected it outright, as far as I know,” Steinbrenner said. “It’s pretty much known that they’re seeking a fourth year, or more for three years.

“I want him back, and that’s why the offer is as high as it is. We don’t have to change anything. Everyone in baseball knows it’s a great offer; we’ve even gotten a couple of complaints about it.”

The Yankees also have interest in signing Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell with the idea of moving him to first base. Two Boston television stations reported yesterday that the Yankees had offered Lowell a four-year contract.

Steinbrenner would not comment on those reports, but he said he was not concerned about filling first base, adding that Jorge Posada could move there at the end of his four-year, $52.4 million deal. “There are a lot of things we’re looking into,” Steinbrenner said.

The Rodriguez deal, though, is in the final stages, with his agent, Scott Boras, leaving Rodriguez’s hometown, Miami, to work on the contract language. Boras was not present at the meeting with the Steinbrenners on Wednesday, when an open dialogue intensified negotiations.

“Alex and Cynthia visited with the Steinbrenners and Yankees officials yesterday, and following the meeting, Alex instructed me to discuss contract terms with the Yankees,” Boras said in a statement, his first since the Wednesday meeting.

Two managing directors for Goldman Sachs — John Mallory and Gerald Cardinale — were pivotal in brokering the peace between Rodriguez and the Steinbrenners, who were miffed at Rodriguez for opting out of his contract on Oct. 28.

Mallory works in Los Angeles and knows the Rodriguezes from Miami. The Rodriguezes reached out to Mallory, who called Cardinale, who is based in New York and is a YES Network board member. Cardinale called Levine several days ago and has since been instrumental in putting a deal together.

The Yankees had looked into the trade market for third basemen, but they preferred to save their chips for a run at Minnesota starter Johan Santana, who could become available soon. Rodriguez had sniffed the market, too, but both sides decided they were each other’s best option.

The timing of the reconciliation is intriguing, coming the day after open negotiations began for free agents. No other team had come forward as an aggressive pursuer of Rodriguez. Yet the Yankees made sure to all but lock him up before other teams could realistically make a strong push.

Boras is famous for negotiating massive contracts, but even with the bonus package, this deal will fall short of the 12-year, $350 million contract the Yankees believed Boras sought last month.

Boras had said all along that Rodriguez deserved to explore his right to free agency to determine his market value in a booming industry. In the end, that seemed to be less important than staying in New York.

In making the deal after the start of open free agency, the Yankees committed to 10 years, which was more than their initial overtures to Rodriguez.

In October, the Yankees were prepared to give Rodriguez a five-year extension beyond the three years left on his contract, which included a $21.3 million subsidy from the Texas Rangers.

Boras believed that was as far as the Yankees were willing to go. But the Yankees believed that through negotiation, they would have split the difference on years with Boras — he wanted 12, they wanted 8, so they would have met in the middle.

The 10-year deal is in place now, after weeks of acrimony stemming from a messy break-up. The Yankees and Rodriguez are engaged again, to honor and cherish, to have and to hold, for richer and richer and richer.

Bonds bust: Our nightmare is over

BY JAY MARIOTTI
Chicago Sun-Times Columnist
November 16, 2007



Barry Bonds's 755th home run was an opposite-field drive to left field in the second inning on August 4th.

This isn't a sad day for baseball. Hell, this is a joyful day, the first day of the rest of our lives without the creep who scummed up Henry Aaron, hijacked the Great American Home Run and held us hostage with his sleaze and smarm. I spent too many sad days and nights watching him in cathedrals like Wrigley Field and the waterfront park in San Francisco, loathing his every swing, hating what he was doing to my boyhood memories, knowing he was living a chemical lie.

On the third Thursday of November, 2007, the feds finally caught up with Barry Lamar Bonds. Not only do they think he cheated to break the all-time home run record, they say they have evidence that he lied to a grand jury about his use of steroids, human growth hormone, syringes and anabolic cream. If convicted on all five counts in a trial that should take place in the early stages of next baseball season, Bonds isn't going to Cooperstown or any honorable haven.

He's going to jail, maybe for a long time, which in turn should prompt baseball to forfeit his records either with an asterisk or a total whitewashing of his name. When someone cheats to shatter the milestone of a beloved, regal slugger, then lies when questioned about it under oath, we are within our right as a society to protect other eras by punishing and shaming Bonds as strongly as possible. Don't miss the point here and decry the performance-enhancing filth in sports the last two decades. We've had ample time to beat that dead syringe.

No, this is about justice in the world. This is about nabbing a crook at last. This is about Bonds being indicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges shortly before Greg Anderson, the personal trainer who has refused to testify against Bonds, was suspiciously released from prison. No sleuthwork is needed to connect the dots. Said the indictment: ``During the criminal investigation, evidence was obtained including positive tests for the presence of anabolic steroids and other performance enhancing substances for Bonds and other athletes.'' Unless a San Francisco jury rewards the hometown hero with a favorable verdict, which would reflect the blind loyalty showed by Bay Area sheep during his stalking of Aaron's record, Barry is going down.

Makes you want to sing ``God Bless America.''

``Did you ever take any steroids that (Anderson) gave you?'' Bonds was asked by the grand jury on Page 3 of the indictment.

``Not that I know of,'' said Bonds, whose statements were underlined to indicate the alleged perjuries.

``In the weeks and months leading up to November 2000, were you taking steroids?'' he was asked on Page 4.

``No, I wasn't at all,'' Bonds said.

``Did he ever give you anything that he told you had to be taken with a needle or syringe? ... He never gave you anything like that?'' he was asked on Page 6.

``Right,'' Bonds said.

``Were you obtaining human growth hormone from Mr. Anderson?'' he was asked on Page 6.

``Not at all.''

On and on it goes, questions followed by highlighted answers, until the grand jury finally concludes Bonds had delivered ``false statements'' and ``evasive and misleading testimony.'' Evidently, the feds are confident they have the goods to nail him on all counts, contrary to a belief in recent months that a four-year probe was going nowhere. All along, Bonds has lived his life as if rules don't apply to him. Seems the laws of land have placed him in the fight of his life.



Barry Bonds bows after hitting his 756th home run on August 7th in San Francisco.

I was at AT&T Park on the depressing August night when Bonds hit No. 756. I was there when he said afterward in the interview room, defiance thick in his voice, ``This record is not tainted at all. At all. Period.'' If convicted, we will remember that evening not for history but disgrace, for a con man compounding a stack of lies with more lies. How awful that a generation of baseball fans might see the Home Run King toppled by juice and perjury after the Hit King, Pete Rose, was ruined by gambling and dirtball associations. I've had confrontations with each.

``What do you have against me?'' Rose asked when I covered him in Cincinnati, wondering about the strange outsiders hanging around the clubhouse.

``You're a Barry Bonds hater,'' Bonds told me during a media session at the Westin Hotel, on the off day before the 2003 All-Star Game at U.S. Cellular Field.

Maybe I just know crud when I see it.

The hope, of course, is that we can move away from the Bonds sludge and celebrate his would-be heir. Not so coincidentally, Alex Rodriguez was agreeing to a 10-year, $275 million contract with the Yankees as the Bonds news was breaking. What else would you expect from A-Rod, who upstaged Game 4 of the World Series with his opt-out announcement, but to try and improve his own soiled image amid the disrepute of Bonds? It was no surprise to see ESPN juxtapose the two stories all night long, framing the shamed potential jailbird against the reigning superstar who is 244 homers shy of Bonds' 762. There is language in Rodriguez's contract that allows him to share team revenue as he approaches Bonds' record -- I mean, Aaron's record of 755 homers -- in coming seasons. Baseball wants you to believe A-Rod is wearing a white hat and driving the garbage truck, ready to pick up Barry's trash. Obviously, it can't be that simple and tidy.

``The Yankees have never had a player since Babe Ruth that really had a 100 percent chance of setting the record,'' said Hank Steinbrenner, the new Boss. ``It's a historical achievement bonus more than it is an incentive bonus.''

All I have to say is, A-Rod better be A-OK -- as in clean. Because if he is merely the next Bonds in a vicious, never-ending cycle, baseball will have perpetuated its most dishonest era instead of learning from it.

They say the scars always heal, that the game inevitably overcomes scandals and crises. I can't be sure of that, not when baseball still has no reliable test for HGH and the dirty labs remain years ahead of the dope cops. But you'd like to think the Bonds indictment is at least a line of delineation for The Steroids Era, that the head of the monster has been chopped off and baseball can get around to cleansing itself and effectively policing the juicers.

By nightfall, everyone from Bud Selig to Donald Fehr to President Bush had weighed in, all calling it a sad moment. Time will tell, but I'd like to think we've finally found religion. Barry Lamar Bonds, scumbag, has been indicted.

Mike Lupica: Barry Bonds caught Hank Aaron, now he's just caught

New York Daily News
Friday, November 16th 2007, 4:00 AM



The Balco All-Stars: Barry Bonds, Victor Conte and Greg Anderson

This all really started with a dirty little drug company called BALCO, and then Barry Bonds sitting in front of a grand jury and saying, under oath, that he never knowingly used steroids from BALCO or anybody else. The government of the United States now says that was a lie, which is all anybody thought in the first place.

The government officially says that Bonds, who has hit more home runs than anybody in baseball history, lied about being a drug cheat. Bonds could go to jail for that. Pete Rose, who had more base hits than anybody in baseball history, once went to jail as a tax cheat.

Now it is 5:21 yesterday afternoon and a woman named Eve Burton, general counsel for the Hearst Corp., a woman who spent years trying to keep two San Francisco Chronicle reporters out of jail because of their reporting on Bonds and BALCO, looks at her computer screen in her office on the 42nd floor of the Hearst Tower at 57th and Eighth, and sees that she has an incoming e-mail.

It is a two-word message from Phil Bronstein, the editor of the Chronicle:

"Bonds indicted!"

For years Burton worked to keep two of Bronstein's best reporters, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, out of jail. So much of that was about Bonds, because BALCO was always about Bonds more than anybody else. The reporters were charged with contempt, and so Eve Burton kept filing in and out of the Federal Courthouse in San Francisco with motions and arguments, fighting for her reporters, fighting for the First Amendment.

While all this was going on, Barry Bonds kept chasing Henry Aaron's record of 755 home runs, and the only people who didn't know it was drugs who got him anywhere near Aaron over the last decade of his career didn't want to know, and shame on them, and the way they tried to blame everybody except Barry Bonds for who he is and what he did.



Barry Bonds watches the flight of his 752nd career home run during the second inning of the Giants' game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field (7/19/07).

So many people, in and out of the media, desperately wanted Bonds to be a victim of something other than his own arrogance and his obsession with being the home run king of baseball. So they called this a witch hunt. One more lie. Not from Bonds this time. Just about him.

He kept chasing Aaron. The government stayed in its slow chase after him. Finally yesterday Barry Bonds was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice. This really means the government produced finally came up with a positive drug test on Bonds. If you want to put down a bet, bet that somehow they got it out of BALCO, where this all began.

If it came from BALCO, that wouldn't just be justice, it would be poetic justice. That would make this poetic justice in addition to real justice.

Either that, or Greg Anderson got tired of sitting in a jail cell for Bonds and finally flipped on him.

In Eve Burton's office yesterday, after all the years of fighting for her reporters, she danced around her office on the 42nd floor like a schoolgirl and then the other people on that floor heard her yell, "YES!"

Halfway across the country in Milwaukee, the commissioner of baseball, Bud Selig, walked into his office after having been at the owners' meetings in Naples, Fla., and his phone rang and it was one of his PR men calling from an airport in Florida.

"Did you hear about Bonds?" Selig was asked.

All last season, Selig kept hearing that an indictment of Bonds was just around the corner, that it might even come before he passed Aaron. Only the indictment never came. Bonds passed Aaron. The night he did, there was this cockeyed notion that Selig should have done more to celebrate the moment, that somehow he was the bad guy.

Another lie.

"What about Bonds?" Selig said on the phone.

"They indicted him."

Selig didn't say anything right away. Finally he said, "Inevitable. Sad, but inevitable."

This indictment does not mean that Bonds is convicted, that the government will make its case in a courtroom, that what they have it has on him will meet the standards of either perjury, or obstruction of justice. But the government never believed him on in regard to steroids because reasonable people never did, the way reasonable people never believed that he grew the way he did and his home run numbers grew the way they did after the age of 35 because of all the gym work he did with Greg Anderson, personal trainer, ex-jailbird.

Nobody ever believed that the only way Bonds would ever use steroids is if he thought what he was using was flaxseed oil. If you believed that, you also believed pigs can fly.

The longer the government went without an indictment, the more you started to hear that it was more than a witch hunt, it was a vendetta now. You heard that if they it didn't have something on him by now they were it was never going to have anything on him. Only there turned out to be no clock on this the way there is no clock in baseball.

Of course this is a baseball story first and foremost because it is Bonds, and he is the one who hit all those home runs. But he did this. He is the one who could end up a bum the way Rose did, at least in the eyes of the law. Bonds knew exactly what he was doing, and what he was doing - unless you think Fainaru-Wada and Williams wrote a novel when they wrote "Game of Shadows" - was a laundry list of drugs that reads as if it were written in a pharmacy in hell.

Now the government says that he not only took all those drugs, but then he lied about it under oath and kept lying. And that isn't on baseball. It is on him. Baseball didn't do this to Barry Bonds, the media didn't do this, the feds didn't do this. He did this to himself. He takes a different kind of medicine now.

Barry Bonds indicted on 4 perjury counts, obstruction of justice

Lance Williams, San Fransisco Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, November 16, 2007



The perjury case against former Giants star Barry Bonds is built on documents seized in a federal raid on a Burlingame steroids lab and positive drug test results indicating that baseball's all-time home run king used steroids, court records show.

Bonds, perhaps the greatest hitter of his generation, was indicted Thursday on four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice. He is accused of lying under oath in December 2003 when he told the grand jury that investigated the BALCO steroid ring that he had never used banned drugs.

The 43-year-old free-agent outfielder faces arraignment Dec. 7 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, months of legal proceedings - and a federal prison term of about 30 months if he is convicted at trial, legal experts said.

In the indictment, federal prosecutors said Bonds lied when he denied using a long list of banned drugs, including steroids, testosterone, human growth hormone and "the clear," the undetectable designer steroid marketed by BALCO.

Bonds also lied when he testified that his longtime personal trainer, Greg Anderson, had never injected him with drugs, the government contended. The trainer, who was imprisoned for contempt of court after he refused to testify against Bonds, was freed Thursday night, hours after Bonds' indictment was unsealed.

To buttress its perjury case, the government has what prosecutors have called a "mountain of evidence" seized in a raid on the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative in September 2003 - documents including doping calendars allegedly showing Bonds' drug regimen and payment records of drug purchases.

In addition, the indictment says investigators have obtained "positive tests for the presence of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances for Bonds."

The indictment gave no details. But a source familiar with the case said BALCO founder Victor Conte had arranged repeated private steroid tests for Bonds to track the effects of his drug regimen. In the BALCO raid, the government seized those test reports, said the source, who asked not to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

Since the BALCO scandal began to unfold, Bonds has adamantly denied using steroids. He told the grand jury he used only flaxseed oil and an arthritis balm, not BALCO's designer drugs. In August, when he broke Hank Aaron's record to become baseball's all-time home run leader, Bonds declared that his record was "not tainted at all."

On Thursday, his lawyer, Michael Rains, vowed to fight the charges and predicted Bonds would be exonerated at trial.

Bonds' indictment roiled a sport that has been struggling to put an end to what's been called its "steroid era." Mostly in response to exposes about BALCO, baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has ratcheted up the sport's drug-testing programs and hired a former U.S. senator, George Mitchell, to investigate steroid use in the game.

On Thursday, Selig issued a statement saying he was watching the Bonds case carefully, but he gave no indication what action he might take. Mitchell's report is supposed to be released by the end of the year.

The indictment also marked the end of a yearlong government effort to force Anderson, Bonds' trainer and boyhood friend, to testify about Bonds and drugs. Anderson pleaded guilty to a steroid conspiracy charge in the BALCO case and was jailed for three months.

Then, last year, the government subpoenaed Anderson to testify before the grand jury investigating Bonds for perjury. Anderson refused and was imprisoned for contempt of court. Thursday night, more than a year after he went to prison, a federal judge ordered him freed. His lawyer, Mark Geragos, said Anderson had not cooperated with the government.

Bonds won the National League's Most Valuable Player award an unprecedented seven times - five times as a Giant and twice as a young player with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He led the Giants to the pennant and the World Series in 2002. On Aug. 7, in his 15th year as a Giant, he broke Aaron's mark of 755 career home runs, perhaps the most hallowed record in all sports.

Bonds finished the season with 762 home runs. His contract expired in 2007, and the Giants refused to offer him a new one. He has said he hopes to sign with another team and play in 2008.

Bonds is the most famous baseball star to be accused of a crime since 1989, when Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose, holder of the lifetime record for most hits, was banned from the game and indicted for tax evasion in a gambling scandal. Rose served five months in federal prison.

Former baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent called the prospect of Bonds' indictment "a terrific blow to the game," more troubling than the Rose scandal.

Rose was "one guy betting on baseball," Vincent told The Chronicle last year, while Bonds' indictment reflects a problem that strikes "right at the heart and the gut of baseball" - the sudden rise in the use of steroids and human growth hormone.

Vincent likened the Bonds case to the worst scandal in baseball history: the 1919 "Black Sox" affair, in which Chicago White Sox hitting star "Shoeless Joe" Jackson and seven teammates were indicted on charges of conspiring with gamblers to fix the World Series. The players were acquitted at trial, but baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a former judge who had been hired to clean up the game, banned them all for life anyway.

Selig cannot act so boldly, experts said. If Selig were to respond to the indictment by banning Bonds from the game, baseball's powerful players union almost certainly would object, and an arbitrator might well reinstate him, said baseball labor historian Robert Burk, a professor at Muskingum College in Ohio. In the modern era, baseball players accused of crimes have been allowed to continue playing until their cases are resolved, he said.

Bonds set off down the path that led to his indictment during the 1998 season, when St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire was winning acclaim for breaking the single-season home-run record then held by Roger Maris.

According to Bonds' former girlfriend, Kimberly Bell, and other people who know him, Bonds became jealous of the attention paid to McGwire, whom he regarded as an inferior player and a steroid user. In the offseason, Bonds began training with Anderson, a friend from the San Carlos Little League.

According to documents seized by investigators, Anderson began supplying the Giants star with steroids and human growth hormone. Through the drug use and weight training, Bonds became far more muscular and transformed himself into the greatest slugger of his era.

After the 2000 season, Anderson took Bonds to BALCO and introduced him to Conte, who at the time was providing undetectable steroids to Olympic athletes so they could beat drug tests. After baseball began steroid testing in 2003, Anderson began supplying an undetectable steroid to Bonds to ensure that he would pass baseball's new drug tests, the trainer said on a tape recording made without his knowledge.

By then, BALCO was the target of a drug probe led by a dogged investigator from the Internal Revenue Service's criminal division, agent Jeff Novitzky, a former basketball player at San Jose State. In September 2003, he led raids on BALCO and Anderson's home in Burlingame, taking away significant evidence of drug use by a long list of elite athletes - including Bonds.



After the raid, more than 30 athletes with ties to BALCO were subpoenaed before a federal grand jury, where they were granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for truthful testimony about BALCO and drugs.

Five baseball players - including New York Yankees star Jason Giambi - acknowledged using banned BALCO drugs obtained from Anderson. A sixth, outfielder Gary Sheffield, testified that Anderson, at Bonds' direction, had provided him "the cream" and "the clear." Sheffield said he had been told the substances weren't steroids.

But Bonds testified that he had never used banned drugs, telling the grand jury Anderson had only given him flaxseed oil and arthritis balm. Those denials form the crux of the perjury allegations.

After Bonds' grand jury testimony, federal agents began a wide-ranging investigation of the Giants slugger. In March 2005, Bell testified that Bonds had told her he had used steroids in 1999.

She also told the grand jury that Bonds had given her $80,000 cash to make the down payment on a house in Arizona. Bell said Bonds obtained the money by selling sports memorabilia for cash.

For more than three years, the BALCO probe was directed by U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan. In December 2006, Ryan was among nine U.S. attorneys who were abruptly fired by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Since then, the Bonds probe has been supervised by an acting U.S. attorney, Scott Schools.

Last month another star athlete suspected of lying about her role in BALCO - track and field superstar Marion Jones, sweetheart of the 2000 Sydney Olympics - pleaded guilty in federal court in New York to falsely telling federal agents she had not used banned drugs and making false statements about her participation in a check fraud scheme. After Jones pleaded guilty, BALCO investigators turned their attention back to Bonds.

Bonds joins a long list of celebrities and historic figures accused of perjury, the crime of making a false statement under oath.

Former U.S. State Department official Alger Hiss spent 44 months in prison for lying in a Cold War-era probe of a Communist spy ring. In his 1999 impeachment trial, then-President Bill Clinton was acquitted of perjury in the Monica Lewinsky affair. In March, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of lying to a grand jury in connection with the leak of an undercover CIA operative's name to news reporters.

But the perjury case that many experts liken to the Bonds case is that of former NBA star Chris Webber, indicted in 2002 after denying under oath that during his college basketball career that he had received money and gifts from a University of Michigan booster. Webber pleaded guilty to criminal contempt, paid a $100,000 fine and was ordered to perform community service rather than be imprisoned.

Steve Fishman, the Detroit lawyer who represented him, said Webber was able to settle the case because the prosecution's evidence was weak and Webber was a sympathetic defendant.

"The accusation against Webber was that he was not telling the truth about something that occurred when he was a teenager," Fishman said in an interview last year. "There are miles of differences between allegations that you received gym shoes when you were playing at the University of Michigan versus you received steroids while you were the National League MVP."

If convicted of perjury, Bonds would be lucky to avoid prison, legal experts said. Technically, the maximum sentence on a conviction for a single count of perjury is five years in prison and 10 years for obstruction of justice. But Patrick Mullin, a criminal defense specialist who practices in New York and New Jersey, said federal sentencing guidelines would call for a term of from 24 to 30 months if Bonds is convicted of all the charges.

"It could go higher," Mullin said. "This is tough stuff."



What's next?

If the Barry Bonds case follows the standard procedure for crimes charged in federal court:

Arraignment: Bonds will be arraigned in court, and a judge probably will read the charges against him and ask whether he wants to plead guilty or not guilty. Bonds could choose to delay entering a plea by asking the judge for an extension.

Plea: If Bonds pleads not guilty, he has the constitutional right to have a trial in front of a jury within 60 days. He also could waive that right and have a trial set for a later date.

Motions: After the arraignment and before the start of trial, prosecutors and Bonds' lawyers probably will file motions with the judge related to introducing evidence and questioning witnesses at trial.

Trial: If the trial date arrives and Bonds has not accepted a plea agreement or the case has not been thrown out on other grounds, it will be presented to a jury.

Sentence: If convicted on all charges, Bonds could face about 30 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines. (Technically, the charges could carry penalties of 30 years or more, but legal experts say that is extremely unlikely.)

What is perjury?

A knowing and deliberate lie, under oath, about an issue "material," or important, to an investigation.

Barry Bonds on steroids and the scandal

"Let them investigate. Let them. They've been doing it this long."

Feb. 20, 2006, to reporters at spring training

"I think people make up things just to have something to do. If somebody does something good, there has to be a reason why. Why can't he do it just because he's talented? I don't think it's fair.

Guys work out all year round now. We have personal trainers - we all do. Guys don't want to go on breaks. The game has changed. ... When we came in the game, a second baseman was a 4-foot-2 slap-hitter. Now you have second basemen that hit 40 home runs. I don't know what they're feeding these kids now."

Aug. 25, 2001, to reporters in New York

"You could test me right now and solve that problem real quick. You still have to hit that baseball. You still need hand-eye coordination. I think it's irrelevant."

April 5, 2002, to reporters at Pac Bell Park

Bob Costas: "For the record, have you ever used steroids?"

Bonds: "No."

Costas: "Would you ever consider using them under any circumstances?"

Bonds: "No. I don't have to. I mean, I'm a good enough ballplayer as it is. I don't need to be any better. I can't get any better at this age."

June 13, 2002, HBO's "On the Record"

"It affects you when this stuff comes into your home. When my son comes up to me and says kids at school are asking him if his father is on drugs, that's when it bothers me.

My cap has been 71/2 forever. I don't need to take anything illegal. Why do I need to cheat? I'm already good."

Sept. 1, 2002, New York Times Magazine

"You know, the part that I lose sleep over is my family ... and my family and my kids and what pain - which I say - should I blame you (the media) for it? There's no facts on Barry Bonds, but should I blame you? Who should I blame? Who should I blame for the things that go on that my kids have to listen to, who should I blame? You know, I don't. I tell my kids, you know what, just don't be famous."

Feb. 2, 2005, to reporters at spring training



Bonds, baseball and BALCO - a chronology

1986 Bonds, listed at 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, breaks into the majors as a 21-year-old rookie with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He hits 16 home runs and drives in 48 runs in 113 games.

1990 Bonds wins first Most Valuable Player award.

1992 Bonds wins second MVP.

1993 Peter Magowan, leader of a new San Francisco Giants ownership group, takes over as team president. Magowan's first move is to sign free agent Bonds to a six-year, $43.75 million contract, then the biggest in baseball history. Bonds wins MVP and Giants win 103 games, but the team misses the playoffs.

1994 Baseball strike shortens the season by 47 games, and the World Series is canceled for the first time in 90 years.

1995 Bonds becomes the first Giant to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in a season since his father, Bobby Bonds, did so in 1973.

1996 The Giants win approval from San Francisco voters to build a privately financed ballpark at China Basin. Bonds becomes the fourth player in league history to hit 300 home runs and steal 300 bases in a career. He also follows Jose Canseco as the second player to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a single season.

1997 Bonds signs a two-year extension worth up to $30 million, giving him the largest annual salary in baseball history. After two straight last-place finishes, the Giants win their division but are swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Florida Marlins.

1998 Bonds starts working out with Greg Anderson, a boyhood friend.

1999 Bonds, playing only 102 games because of injuries, finishes with 34 home runs. He is named Player of the Decade by the Sporting News.

2000 The Giants open Pacific Bell Park on April 11, and Bonds homers in a loss to the Dodgers. The team sets a franchise attendance record and wins its division before losing to the New York Mets in the playoffs. Bonds hits a career-high 49 homers.

Anderson introduces Bonds to Victor Conte, a self-taught scientist who boasts he can propel athletes to peak performance through a personalized regimen of nutritional supplements.

2001 Bonds, now listed at 6-foot-2 and 228 pounds, hits a season-record 73 home runs and wins his fourth National League MVP award, also a record. Bonds also amasses season records for total walks (177) and slugging percentage (.863).

2002 Bonds signs a $90 million, five-year contract with the Giants. He becomes the fourth player in history to hit 600 home runs and the first to be named MVP five times in a career. Still, a World Series ring eludes him as the Giants make it to the Fall Classic but fall to the Anaheim Angels in seven games.

In August, federal agents receive a tip that elite athletes are obtaining illegal steroids from the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO, a laboratory in Burlingame owned by Conte. An investigation begins.

2003 Giants win division but lose in the playoffs to the Florida Marlins. Bonds becomes the first player with 500 career homers and 500 steals. He is named NL MVP for the sixth time and third year in a row. In August, his father dies at 57.

In September, federal and local agents raid the offices of BALCO and seize containers labeled as steroids, human growth hormone and testosterone. A search of Anderson's Burlingame home turns up suspected steroids, $60,000 in cash, and documents that indicate performance-enhancing drug use by several athletes, including Bonds.

In the final months of the year, more than 30 athletes testify before a San Francisco grand jury investigating BALCO. Bonds denies he ever took steroids; New York Yankees star Jason Giambi, formerly of the Oakland Athletics, testifies he used several steroids from Anderson.

2004 U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft announces the indictment of four men for distributing steroids, including substances known as "the cream" and "the clear," to athletes: Conte, Anderson, BALCO Vice President James Valente and track coach Remi Korchemny. Athletes who allegedly received drugs are not identified.

In December, The Chronicle reports Bonds told the grand jury that he had used a cream and a clear substance supplied by Anderson but that he didn't think they were steroids. Bonds wins fourth straight MVP.

2005 Bonds is limited to 14 games after three knee operations. The Giants have a dismal season, finishing 75-87.

In March, The Chronicle reports that Kimberly Bell, a longtime Bonds girlfriend, testified before a federal grand jury in San Francisco that the Giants star told her he began using steroids before the 1999 season.

Bonds continues to work out with Anderson, who eventually pleads guilty to conspiracy to distribute steroids and is sentenced to three months in prison and three months' home confinement. Conte is sentenced to four months in prison and four months of house arrest for the same crime.

2006 Bonds passes Babe Ruth for second place on the all-time homer list, leaving him behind only Hank Aaron.

A federal grand jury continues investigating whether Bonds committed perjury in 2003 when he denied under oath that he had ever taken steroids. On July 5, Anderson is sent to federal prison for refusing to testify. Anderson is released briefly but ultimately is sent back to prison, where, until Thursday, he had been since November.

Bonds tests positive for amphetamines. At the behest of Commissioner Bud Selig, former Sen. George Mitchell begins an investigation into steroid use in baseball.

Bonds agrees to a one-year, $16 million contract for 2007.

2007 Bonds is selected as a starter in the All-Star Game played in San Francisco but decides to skip the Home Run Derby.

Bonds ties Aaron's home-run record with No. 755 on Aug. 4 in San Diego. Bonds breaks Aaron's home-run record with No. 756 on Aug. 7 at AT&T Park.

On Sept. 15 in San Diego, Bonds leaves the game in the third inning with a sprained toe. He's listed as day-to-day.

On Sept. 21, Bonds writes in his online journal that the Giants told him the previous day that he would not return to the team in 2008. The Giants hold a news conference later that afternoon confirming that Bonds' 15-year career as a Giant will end at the conclusion of the 2007 season.

On Sept. 26, he plays his last game as a Giant.

Sources: Major League Baseball; Baseball Almanac; Giants

Compiled by Chronicle research librarian Johnny Miller

E-mail Lance Williams at lwilliams@sfchronicle.com.

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

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Victor Davis Hanson: When Good News is No News


November 15, 2007
http://www.realclearpolitics.com

There's an old expression about war: "Victory has many fathers, while defeat is an orphan." But in the case of Iraq, it seems the other way around. We've blamed many for the ordeal of the last four years, but it is the American victory in Anbar province that now seems without parents.

Over the last few months, the U.S. military forced Sunni insurgents in Anbar to quit fighting. This enemy, in the heart of the so-called Sunni Triangle, had been responsible for most American casualties in the war and was the main cause of unrest in Iraq. Even more unexpectedly, some of the defeated tribes then joined in an alliance of convenience with their American victors to chase al-Qaida from Iraq's major cities.

As President Bush recently told U.S. troops about Anbar province: "It was once written off as lost. It is now one of the safest places in Iraq."

But that dramatic turnabout in Iraq is rarely reported on. We know as much about O.J.'s escapades in Vegas as we do about the Anbar awakening or the flight of al-Qaida from Baghdad. When we occasionally do hear about Iraq, it is just as likely through a Hollywood movie - "In the Valley of Elah," "Redacted," "Lions for Lambs" - preaching to us how the U.S. was mostly incompetent or amoral in fighting a hopeless war.

The Abu Ghraib prison scandal of 2004 warranted 32 consecutive days on The New York Times' front page. Congressional appeals for timetables and scheduled withdrawals, amid cries of "fiasco" and "quagmire," were regularly reported this summer. Now, though, there is largely silence in newspaper headlines about the growing peace in Anbar province.

Why this abrupt amnesia about Iraq, given a radical drop in American casualties and entire cities now largely free from serial violence?

Many anti-war critics are so invested in the notion of the Iraq war as the "worst" something or other in U.S. history that they cannot accept the radical turnaround after over four years of war.

Other opponents have simply changed their argument from "Iraq is lost" to "Even if we do win, it will not have been worth the cost." Either way, good news from the front seems to translate into no news.

Even some supporters of the war are leery and hesitant to tout American success. Maybe they remember past optimism over successful elections and the euphoria over the purple fingers - all occurring prior to the Shiite/Sunni sectarian bloodletting of 2006.

New uncertainties elsewhere also overshadow Iraq - the falling dollar, martial law in Pakistan, skyrocketing oil prices, and fear of a soon-to-be nuclear Iran. Amid all that chaos, Iraq may no longer be our chief worry.

The military - unlike the Bush administration - is strangely silent about its recent successes. The caution is not just due to uncertainty over whether the Sunni Triangle will stay won for good.

Instead, the September testimony of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and the reaction to it - whether the "General Betray Us" Moveon.org ad or Sen. Hillary Clinton's jab that to believe the general's testimony required a "willing suspension of disbelief" - reminded officers how Iraq will loom large in election-cycle domestic politics. Getting drawn into such politicking is something responsible military leaders try to avoid.

Nevertheless, we may be witnessing one of those radical, unforeseen reversals in America's wars that have often changed our history.

The White House was burned by British forces in late August 1814; a little more than four months later, the British were routed at New Orleans. During the Civil War, the Union army was on the ropes in July 1864 yet outside Atlanta by September. The Germans were driving through France in March 1918, but fleeing toward the Rhine by August. The communists took Seoul in early January 1951, yet were pushed back across the Demilitarized Zone a little more than three months later.

Of course, we don't know the final outcome in Iraq, given the remaining problems of Shiite militias and diehard al-Qaidists - and the question of our own remaining resolve.

The U.S. Army and Marine Corps may well soon stabilize the Iraqi democracy once deemed lost. Or perhaps, in the manner of Vietnam between 1973-5, the public may have become so tired of Iraq - despite the improvement - that it simply wants it out of sight and out of mind.

Either way, history is now being made while we sleep.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and author, most recently, of "A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War." You can reach him by e-mailing author@victorhanson.com.

Billy Joe Shaver’s Spiritual Album


Everybody’s Brother Celebrates the Resiliency of the Human Spirit

CountryMusicOnline.net

Billy Joe Shaver - Everybody’s Brother

billyjoeshaver.com

Billy Joe Shaver’s been thinking about making a spiritual album for a long time, but like everything in his life, he approaches spirituality on his own terms. “Somebody called this album ‘honky tonk Gospel,’” Shaver says chuckling. “I kinda like that.”

The last few years have been rough on Shaver. His mother, wife and son Eddy all died within a year’s time. Then he suffered a massive heart attack, but he recovered and was soon back on the road, his characteristic optimism intact. “When I started working on this album, I pulled out a lot of old songs and started changing ‘em. Most of ‘em are heavy – there’s some strong medicine here.”

Everybody’s Brother (in stores September 25th on Compadre Records/Music World Entertainment) is a celebration of life as much as it is a meditation on mortality. “There were times I thought I’d be happy to go,” Shaver confesses, “but you don’t go when you want to. You go when God wants you. I’ve always been lucky and I’m lucky to still be here. God gave me this gift [of songwriting] and I’ll keep polishing it as long as I can.”

Producer John Carter Cash, son of Shaver’s pal Johnny Cash, added his own studio polish to the project, while capturing all the rowdy energy of Shaver’s live performances. “I’d play the song for the band and they’d chart it. Then we cut it. We did five songs a day, most of ‘em on the first take. The studio band included Jamie Hartford on electric and acoustic guitars, Dave Roe, Johnny Cash’s long time bass player on upright and electric bass; Laura Cash, John Carter’s wife on fiddle; Pat McLaughlin on mandolin, acoustic guitar, backing vocals; Randy Scruggs on acoustic guitar; Paco Shipp on harmonica; Tony Harrel on piano, harmonium, organ and accordion and Rick Lonow, drums and percussion. Special guests include John Anderson, Tanya Tucker, Marty Stuart, Kris Kristofferson, and Native American singer/songwriter Bill Miller. Everybody’s Brother is Shaver’s sixth release on Compadre Records (other albums include Freedom’s Child, The Real Deal, and Billy and the Kid).

The songs on Everybody’s Brother deal with love, loss, mortality and the hereafter, all viewed from Shaver’s unique perspective. “Rolling Stone” opens the album with a bang. The tune addresses Shaver’s recent Las Vegas Wedding when he cracked his vertebrae during a post-reception wrestling match with a friend. “Get Thee Behind Me Satan” includes John Anderson who trades off on lead vocals and adds his harmonies to the chorus on the bluesy rocker. It’s a confession and a celebration of salvation, with Shaver delivering a performance with a jubilant, unrestrained power. Next up is “No Earthly Good,” a duet with Kris Kristofferson of a Johnny Cash song from his Personal File album. The song is a gentle put down of spiritual people who refuse to take responsibility for the sad state of the world. “I wrote for Cash’s publishing house for a few years and he gave me that title, but I was so dumb, I didn’t jump on it,” Shaver recalls. “You Just Can’t Beat Jesus Christ” rides a stomping Waylon Jennings rhythm. It was cut with Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson’s nephew, Freddy Fletcher, on drums, Rougie Ray, who lays down some amazing harmonica licks, and a 15-year-old Eddy playing smoking guitar, at Jack Clement’s studio in the 70s. “It’s another first take. Jack’s famous for working fast. It was all done live and everything leaks, so you can’t overdub. John Carter remixed it carefully and it sounds like a million bucks.” Four love songs Shaver wrote for his wife Brenda over the years give the album its heart. “To Be Loved By A Woman,” “The Greatest Man Alive,” “I’ll Always Be Your Best Friend” and “Most Precious.” “I’ve been saving some of these songs for a long time,” Shaver says. “I went through them with John Carter and these seemed to hold together. They’re all about loving someone so much you want the best for them. ‘Most Precious’ is the name of a perfume my wife used to wear. It was so light you could hardly tell she had it on, but I could tell. She was most precious to me.”



The most remarkable song on the album is the title track, a nine minute epic. Bill Miller adds pow wow drums, Native American cedar flute and Native vocals to the track for a soundscape that pays tribute to America’s oldest music. “It was my idea to mix cowboy and Indian music,” Shaver says. “I’m Blackfoot on my father’s side, and Bill’s a full blood Mohican. He did a wonderful job.” The song is a folk hymn praising the Lord and offering a prayer for our deliverance from the evils of war, poverty and hypocrisy. “The chorus is Lakota,” Shaver explains. “‘Hey Hanta Yo’ means ‘move aside’ – get out of the way if you ain’t gonna help. It was a hard song to write and the night before we recorded it, I was up all night writing. I believe I had a visitation from Johnny Cash. I believe some of the verses are from him. I ought to give him co-writing credit.” Shaver also reprises “When I Get My Wings,” the title track from his Capricorn album of 1976. John Carter Cash rearranged it for bluegrass mandolin and sanctified Hammond B3. “It’s a love song to the hereafter,” Shaver says. “John Carter had a whole different take on it and it’s doggone fine.”

Shaver will be back on the road to support Everybody’s Brother, but he’s already looking forward to his next album and promoting his autobiography Honky Tonk Hero (University of Texas Press, 2005) and The Wendell Baker Story, his latest acting effort. “Luke Wilson wrote and directed The Wendell Baker Story. I play a retired Reverend in a nursing home with Harry Dean Stanton and Kris Kristofferson. I’ve been playing Reverends in a lot of stuff, and I don’t know why.” It could be Shaver’s brutal honesty and openhearted generosity of spirit, which shines through on screen or off. The soulful quality of Everybody’s Brother shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Shaver, a man who’s able to touch the hearts of listeners and win new fans and friends wherever he goes.

Billy Joe Shaver’s life is the stuff of legend, stranger than any fiction. Abandoned by his parents shortly after he was born in 1939, he was raised by his grandmother in Corsicana, Texas. A Hank Williams show he saw in the late ’40s changed his life for good. “I don’t remember how old I was, but I was too young to be sneaking out my bedroom window and walking down the railroad track at night. Homer and Jethro [a country comedy act featuring the super pickers Homer Haynes (guitar) and Jethro Burns (mandolin)] were playing on the loading dock behind a bread factory and I wanted to see them. I shimmied up a pole to hear better and Jethro said: ‘Listen to this next guy, he’s gonna be a big star.’ Hank came out and sang one song. Then he walked off stage cause nobody was listening, but he made eye contact with me and sang right to me. Even though I’d been singing and making up songs since I could talk, it inspired me. When I crawled back in the window later on, my grandma was waiting. She beat the hell out of me.”

Shaver got a Gene Autry guitar when he was 11, and started playing and hanging out in the nearby African-American settlement, soaking up the blues, boogie woogie piano and slide guitar sounds that filled the air. At 17, Shaver enlisted in the Navy, but he was soon back in Texas, writing songs and working in a lumber mill. An accident with a saw cost him parts of three fingers, but he kept writing and playing small clubs. “I decided to hitch to LA and become a songwriter,” Shaver recalls. “I was on Highway 10 most of the day and couldn’t get a ride, so I crossed the road and went the other way, to Nashville.

“People think I walked into town and got Waylon to do my songs.” Every track but one on Jennings’ 1973 album, Honky Tonk Heroes, was written by Shaver. “I’d actually been in town for years, writing songs for Bobby Bare’s publishing company before Waylon made that album.”

Kristofferson put up the money to produce Shaver’s first album, Old Five And Dimers Like Me, but it took the success of Waylon’s Honky Tonk Heroes before anyone would take a chance on Shaver. “That album laid in the can for a year. Right after Monument put it out, they went out of business. My timing was off,” Shaver says dryly.

Shaver’s songs became anthems of the Outlaw movement, but his personal life was a mess. “I was beset by drugs. When I looked in the mirror, I looked like I was dead. I finally gave my life over to Jesus Christ and, while I’m not a religious man, I am a spiritual man. He saved me.”

Everyone from Elvis to Dylan covered Shaver’s songs, but his own albums didn’t fare that well until the 90s, when he put together a band, simply called Shaver, with his son Eddy. Eddy had played in his father’s bands before, but when he switched to electric guitar, their heavy metal honky tonk attack established them as a smoking live act. The albums they cut together, Tramp on Your Street, Highway of Life, Victory, Electric Shaver and The Earth Rolls On are classics. They seemed unstoppable. Then, Eddy died of a drug overdose.

“I guess God has a plan for me,” Shaver says laughing slowly. “Jesus Christ took away the sting of death when he came to me and if you’re not afraid of dying, you can be happy all the days of your life.”

A-Rod Spins Into Action


By Buster Olney

http://www.espn.com

posted: Thursday, November 15, 2007

Imagine that Alex Rodriguez was running for president against Hillary Clinton and John McCain and Barack Obama, and then ask yourself this: How much would they have paid for the negative publicity he got over the last 18 days?

Ten million dollars? Twenty? Fifty million? Because for 18 days Rodriguez got hammered by everyone, everywhere. By our respected colleague Peter Gammons, who wondered forcefully if this sort of gauche hubris explained why Rodriguez hadn't yet played in the World Series. A-Rod got hammered by print columnists, by Mike and Mike, by Mike and the Mad Dog, by Michael Kay in New York and Mike Felger in Boston and the Mad Dog in Lansing and Softy in Seattle. A-Rod got hammered from sea to shining sea, after word of his decision to opt out of his record-setting contract leaked out in the middle of Game 4 of the World Series -- an act for which his agent Scott Boras first blamed on the Yankees; then blamed on a mistake; and then, probably cajoled by his All-Star client, finally blamed on himself, acknowledging what everybody in the game thought anyway.

A-Rod continued to get hammered last week, after word came out that Boras had demanded an initial offer of $350 million from the Yankees, and as the Players Association -- in a you-can't-make-this-up moment -- raised the question of whether there was collusion against a player who the Yankees had been prepared to offer the highest salary in the history of sports. If Rodriguez had taken their call.

We know now for certain that none of it was necessary, because in the end, Rodriguez is going to sign for precisely the contract offer he would've gotten from the Yankees had he sat down to negotiate with them during the World Series.

Well, not exactly the same offer. The Yankees have insisted on deducting, in their face-to-face negotiations with Rodriguez, about $21.3 million from the final amount -- the number of dollars in subsidy that the Yankees lost from the Texas Rangers when Rodriguez opted out of his current contract. Call it the Boras Tax, if you will.

Rodriguez is going to get the largest contract ever in sports, when the I's are dotted and the T's crossed. He'll survive. But Boras' reputation as a savvy negotiator will not. He somehow managed to badly overplay the perfect hand.

Boras represented the best player coming off one of the greatest seasons ever, in the midst of a Hall of Fame career, a 54-homer, 156-RBI monster season played out in sports' biggest market, for the richest team. Boras held four aces, in a sense, and yet his client's contract will be somewhat lighter, by about 7 or 8 percent, and his client's reputation -- which had just begun to heal, through his remarkable 2007 season -- was trashed.

Nobody should ever doubt that Boras was largely responsible for Rodriguez's $252 million contract in the winter of 2000-2001, a deal twice as large as any contract in professional sports, at that time. Boras pushed the buttons of Texas owner Tom Hicks and wound up with a landmark agreement.

But if Rodriguez finishes a new deal with the Yankees, of about $270 million, it will be a record-setting contract concluded in spite of his agent's missteps -- a deal built on Rodriguez's talent, his hard work, and his willingness to step forward and go around Boras, with humility in hand, to reach out to the Yankees.

If Rodriguez hadn't done that, there's every indication from rival executives that he would've been forced to go door to door, to the Angels or the Dodgers or the Mets or the Red Sox, to ask for a deal even within $100 million of what the Yankees offered. "That was the thing that was so strange about this," an agent mused on Wednesday evening. "There was nobody, in this market, who could pay close to what the Yankees could pay -- because of the market, and because of how important A-Rod is to them."

Alex Rodriguez has 173 homers and 513 RBIs in four seasons with the Yankees, and very soon he will win his second Most Valuable Player Award with them. He plays hard, prepares diligently, is a much better teammate than anyone realizes, and is in the midst of an incredible career. For all that, you would think that he would be embraced, and yet, he is not. In fact, several agents agreed on Wednesday night, that the damage done to Rodriguez's image over the last 18 days may take years to repair. "The only way he comes back from this," said one agent, "is if he plays a big role in the Yankees winning a World Series, or when he actually starts getting closer to Barry Bonds' record. Then the focus will be on his accomplishments."

Finally.

But in the years ahead, A-Rod will have to live with the consequences of his own decisions and his own actions, and will continue to get booed. Meanwhile, if Boras draws the industry's standard rate of 5 percent, he will get about $14 million of Rodriguez's new contract.
Sometime in the last 18 days, you can bet that A-Rod -- as he came to grips with the reality that he had to accept a $21 million cut in his offer from the Yankees, and as he absorbed the kind of negative publicity that can jar politicians awake at night in a cold sweat -- has wondered what, exactly, he is paying for.

Rodriguez continued to get hammered in today's papers: George Vecsey writes that the Yankees should just say no. Hank Steinbrenner's stance caught A-Rod off guard, writes John Harper, and A-Rod was so mad that he considered suing Boras. A-Rod felt the wrath of fans, writes Mike Vaccaro.

Many in baseball are thrilled that Boras blew this negotiation, writes Bill Shaikin.
A-Rod has repudiated Boras, writes Murray Chass. A-Rod realized Boras had turned him into the most reviled figure in sports, writes Bob Klapisch. The Steinbrenner sons got the best of Boras, writes Mike Lupica. All sides fumbled this, writes Ken Davidoff.

• Wallace Matthews thinks this is a negotiating ploy. Things are moving along in the negotiations, Hank Steinbrenner tells Tyler Kepner.

• Was told Wednesday night that the base salary part of the contract talks were the easiest -- the Yankees laid out the parameters of their offer, and A-Rod agreed, in general, before the conversation turned to other parts of the contract.

Review: Bruce back with 'Magic' show



By Regis Behe
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Thursday, November 15, 2007

To be sure, there were moments of sheer and utter brilliance during Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's concert Wednesday at the Mellon Arena.
But more prevalent were the moments of recognition, the merging of the performers with the audience, a union of people more alike than not.

Unlike Mick Jagger, who affects an imperious air, or the strange mystic that is now Bob Dylan, Springsteen is the uber everyman. Dressed in jeans, a work shirt and boots, he could have been any one of a thousand or so guys in the audience Wednesday night.

But then again, not. From the first chords of the opener, "Radio Nowhere," there was a sense of Springsteen as an avatar, a leader who offers hope in dark times. Dipping heavily into material from his new release, "Magic," he offered a sturdy if unspectacular version of "Gypsy Biker" and the summery intoxication of "Girls in Their Summer Clothes."

Best, however, was "Livin' in the Future," and its dark lyrics, notably "my ship Liberty sailed away on a bloody horizon" even as he held out hope that "none of this has happened yet." Which was followed by the redemption of "The Promised Land," the band powerful, propulsive, one of those moments when you feel the music coursing through your veins.



For better or worse, the E Street Band has become a quasi-orchestra, with very little room for soloing save a few licks here and there by sax player Clarence Clemons or guitarists Nils Lofgren. This approach, for the most part, works on songs such as "The Ties That Bind" and "She's the One."

But the evening's best moments were surprises, diverging from the E Street formula: A stirring, stark version of "Youngstown" that featured just Springsteen and his acoustic guitar. Better still was a shocker, the unexpected "Kitty's Back" from 1973's "The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle," brilliantly understated with organist Danny Federici and pianist Roy Bittan given room to shine, the song percolating with almost a jazz-like feel until its rousing climax. Which was followed by the bombastic glory of "Born to Run" enough to sate both the diehards and casual fans.

Regis Behe can be reached at rbehe@tribweb.com or 412-320-7990.

Concert Review: The Boss rocks the 'Burgh

Thursday, November 15, 2007
By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



John Heller / Post-Gazette
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band opened their concert at Mellon Arena with their latest single "Radio Nowhere."


"Pittsburgh! Is anybody alive out there?"

Bruce Springsteen launched his show at the Mellon Arena with that call and got his answer back with a mighty roar from the sold-out crowd of 17,000-plus.

The connection was instant and, with that, Springsteen and the E Street Band souped-up their engine for "Radio Nowhere," the lead-off track from "Magic" and a perfect set opener, with Bruce declaring, "I was spinning 'round a dead dial."

There's nothing like a Springsteen show to bring back all those memories of when the dial was very much alive. It's a rush of nostalgia seeing Springsteen and his remarkably intact band on stage, whether it recalls the great mid-'70s or the glory days that followed.

Fortunately, that's only a small piece of the deal. Springsteen, at 58, continues to step up his game and if anyone's looking for a voice of reason, a moral compass, in these tough times, they need look no further.

More than anyone else writing songs right now, Springsteen has found a way to deliver a message about the state we're in, while still making it rousing and fun and cathartic.

The Boss delivered no less than eight songs from "Magic," his latest recording and his best since, well, maybe "Nebraska" 25 years ago. If you knew the songs going in -- or even if you didn't -- the words about war and sacrifice and deception and faith rang out strong and powerful.

The pairings made them all the more poignant. "Lonesome Day," a song from "The Rising" about post-9/11 grieving, preceded "Gypsy Biker," a new song (that could have come off of "Darkness on the Edge of Town") about a soldier who doesn't come home.

He introduced "Magic," a quietly menacing song, saying, "We're living in a time when you see the truth twisted into lies." It was followed immediately by the more hopeful "Reason to Believe," delivered like a boot-stomping ZZ Top song with Springsteen singing in the harmonica mike like mean ol' Tom Waits.

There was a whole lot of glorious, fist-waving "Born to Run" in the set, as well. "Night" came back to back with "She's the One," electrifying the house. "Backstreets," with his friend Terry Magovern recently dying, was as emotionally wrenching as it was uplifting.

He introduced the deceptively joyous-sounding "Livin' in the Future" talking about the "attack on the Constitution" the last six years. He turned around with "The Promised Land," with that thrilling collision between his harmonica and Clarence Clemons' sax -- a dream of how things could be. He belted out the words "I've done my best to live the right way/I get up every morning and go to work each day" as if it were part of the Pledge of Allegiance.

"The Rising," a soul-stirring requiem for 9/11 victims, slammed into "Last to Die," one of the most powerful anti-war songs of the decade, and "Long Walk Home," a rousing plea to get the country back on track.

Yeah, it sounds heavy, but it was a blast at the same time, and it took on a local flavor with Joe Grushecky (introduced as "the man who's bringing sexy back") joining him for "Code of Silence" and, during the encores, an eerie, devilishly acoustic run through "Youngstown."

On this trip, The Boss wasn't jumping off of pianos or sliding across the stage, as he once did. But he didn't have to. He and the songs were still giving 150 percent, and the crowd gave it back.

On anthems like "Badlands" and "Born to Run" there was enough energy in that building to power a medium-sized city. Like Pittsburgh.

Long live The Boss.

Scott Mervis can be reached at smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.
First published on November 15, 2007 at 12:14 am




Set List:

Radio Nowhere
The Ties That Bind
Lonesome Day
Gypsy Biker
Magic
Reason to Believe
Night
She's the One
Livin' in the Future
The Promised Land
Code of Silence
Backstreets
Working on the Highway
Devil's Arcade
The Rising
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
Badlands

Encores:

Youngstown
Girls in Their Summer Clothes
Kitty's Back
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dwight Yoakam: Dwight Sings Buck



Dwight Yoakam
Dwight Sings Buck
(New West)
US release date: 23 October 2007
UK release date: 22 October 2007

by Lester Feder
http://www.popmatters.com

Bringing Buck Back

Few pilgrims make Bakersfield, California their destination. But it was my first stop after I moved to Los Angeles in 2001. I was going to see Buck Owens, one of the greatest country music gods of the ‘60s now in retirement at the Crystal Palace.

The journey to Bakersfield was surreal. Two friends and I drove up the Pearblossom Highway through a desert landscape studded with Joshua trees, which looked like shaggy refugees from a Dr. Seuss book. We stopped in a high-desert town for the local delicacy, date milkshakes, and papusas made by immigrants from El Salvador. In the town’s junk shop, I bought a jazz record from the ‘30s that eerily paired a song called “Mohammed” with another called “Afghanistan”. We almost had to turn around when we reached Bakersfield because a hot rod convention had filled just about every motel room.

We arrived giddy with cultural vertigo, the perfect mood to see this fading country luminary. Owens’ music has always been the sound of exuberant dislocation. Born to North Texas sharecroppers in 1929, Owens and his family were blown west by the dustbowl. He began performing in Arizona before developing his trademark “Bakersfield sound” in the 1950s for audiences of Okies, Arkies, and other Southern migrants drawn to the city’s booming agriculture and petroleum industries. His music was seasoned with the heartache of someone who knows what it’s like to be away from home. “The Streets of Bakersfield” is one of the great portraits of a lost soul in the American landscape, while “Cryin’ Time” is the ultimate sad-sop weeper.

But most ear-catching was his kick-ass attitude that blasted out of the radio with the force of a Telecaster turned up to 11. Who else could pull off a line like, “Who’s gonna jump when you say, ‘Frog!’… Who’s gonna be your man?” Owens was a punk from an exploding cowtropolis, and his music bottled the energy of startled young urbanites whose families had been forced off the farm.

Owens always made his music on the margins, describing himself as being from the “Bob Wills and Little Richard school of music”. His rambunctious love for rock and roll was evident in his playing, but he was a faithful hillbilly traditionalist. In 1965, he even took out a curious ad in the Music City News declaring, “I shall sing no song that is not a country song.” But he always refused to migrate to the country capital, Nashville, even when he was hottest thing in country music. Yet, he also walked Southern California’s cultural faultlines. He recorded for Hollywood-based Capitol Records, but his one song about Tinseltown, “Act Naturally”, used the glamour of play up his own dejection: “I hope you come to see me in the movies / Then I know that you will plainly see / The biggest fool that ever hit the big time / And I’ll I gotta do is act naturally.”

Owens sadly lost his way in the ‘70s. Country fans tastes were changing, and he was derailed by the accidental death of his partner, Don Rich, whose searing harmony and smoking guitar was the bedrock of Owens’ band, the Buckaroos. He finished his days in the limelight as costar of the TV show Hee Haw, a diminished version of the young firecracker he’d once been.

Youngster Dwight Yoakam brought him briefly out of retirement in the late ‘80s, when their duet, “The Streets of Bakersfield”, topped the country charts. While Owens never left music after that, he mostly confined his playing to weekly appearances at the Bakersfield supper club he’d built in 1996, the Crystal Palace, until his death in 2006.



With his new tribute album, Dwight Yoakam has given us Owens back again, the young Owens whose music could set hay bales on fire. Yoakam was a fitting heir to Owens’ legacy. After migrating to Los Angeles following an unsuccessful stint in Nashville, Yoakam became a California rabble-rouser who sang country with rock and roll in his belly. The Kentucky native grafted himself on to the Bakersfield sound, shaking up the moribund Nashville establishment with a string of chart-toppers in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Most of the songs on Dwight Sings Buck are faithful recreations of Owens’ originals. Owens’ songs wouldn’t tolerate stiff, note-for-note duplication, however. Yoakam manages to sound like he’s channeling Owens at his peak, while his band eerily summons the spirits of Don Rich and the rest of the Buckaroos with classics like “My Heart Skips a Beat”, “Cryin’ Time”, and “Above and Beyond”.

Yet Yoakam’s voice remains his own. And what a voice… it calls to mind the strangest paradoxes. He sings like a silky foghorn, soothing you to sleep at the same time he blasts you awake. He sings the way a chocolate-covered chili pepper might taste.

Yoakam is not afraid to open up Owens’ style when his spirit moves him. One of my favorite songs on the album, “Close Up the Honky Tonks”, combines the Bakersfield sound’s Telecaster and pedal steel with Latin percussion courtesy of former Motown session artist Bobby Hall.

Yoakam also deviates from Owen’s original on “Together Again”, the album’s final track. But where “Close Up the Honky Tonks” reinterprets the song, “Together Again” recomposes it. There is no stylistic departure—Owens could have sung the song the way Yoakam does, albeit with a pared-down band. But he sings an entirely new melody that gestures only faintly at the original. Owens legacy, Yoakam seems to be saying, is broader than the individual notes he sung, but a force that animates a much wider range of music.

That’s certainly what Owens is for me, though the night I saw Owens at his Crystal Palace was ultimately depressing. He was already quite sick, and barely played even while he was on stage. So here’s thanking Dwight Yoakam for reviving Buck Owens’ soul now that his body has been laid to rest. And all country fans—all those who are moved by America’s restless spirit, for that matter—should thank him, too.

RATING: 9+/10 stars

— 2 November 2007

Jonah Goldberg: Ditch the Rich Hits

The wealthy are not made of money.

http://www.nationalreview.com

November 14, 2007 12:00 AM

“The question is, should we be giving an extra $120 billion to people in the top one percent?”

So asked Gene Sperling, Hillary Clinton’s chief economic adviser, at a recent National Press Club panel discussion. Translation: It’s the government’s money, and anything left over after Uncle Sam picks your pockets is a “gift.”

Indeed, to hear leading Democrats talk about the “richest one percent” — a diverse cohort of investors, managers, entrepreneurs, and, to be sure, some fat-cat heirs — one gets the impression that wealthy Americans are a natural resource, to be pumped for as much cash as we need.

Further, the Democrats don’t think that well will ever run dry. “I no more believe that the hedge-fund managers are going to quit working at billion-dollar hedge funds because tax rates go up 5 percent than Alex Rodriguez will quit playing baseball because they put in a salary cap,” Austan Goolsbee, Barack Obama’s economics guru, said Friday.

This sort of thing used to be a staple of the hard Left. “Look at the wealth of America, weigh its resources, feel its power,” wrote the editors of The Nation back in 1988, endorsing presidential candidate Jesse Jackson’s extravagant public spending plan. “There’s enough money in this country to do everything Jackson asks, and more.”

But now this vision simply defines liberal economics. John Edwards’s unending campaign for president is based on the idea that there are two Americas and everyone will be better off when un-rich America mugs rich America. According to Democrats, it’s greedy to want to keep your own money, but it’s “justice” to demand someone else’s.

Michael Boskin, Rudy Giuliani’s economic adviser, said, “There is no — let me repeat — no example in the last quarter century of a large, complex economy that has been successful with high taxes.” He added: “The Western Europeans have seen their standards of living decline by 30 percent in a little more than a generation because of their high taxes.” The U.S., meanwhile, has outperformed the competition over the last quarter century.

I’m with Boskin. But I think there’s a more pressing issue. What does it do to a democracy when people see government as something only other people should pay for?

Let’s take seriously for a moment the notion that rich people are an inexhaustible army of Energizer bunnies that just keep going and going, no matter what taxes you throw in their path. You can see where Democrats get this idea, after all. The top 1 percent of wage earners already provide nearly 40 percent of federal income tax revenues. The bottom 50 percent of taxpayers contribute only about 3 percent.

Taxes are a necessary evil. But their silver lining is that they foster a sense of accountability and reciprocity between the taxpayer and the tax collector. Indeed, democracy is usually born from this relationship. Widening prosperity brings a rising middle class, which in turn demands the rule of law, incorrupt bureaucracies, and political representation in exchange for its hard-earned money. You might recall the phrase “no taxation without representation.”

The one great exception is what development experts call the “oil curse.” In countries “blessed” with oil wealth or similar resources, the relationship between the government and the governed gets distorted. These “trust-fund states” (author Fareed Zakaria’s term) don’t need taxes, so their rulers worry little about representation and accountability, opting instead for paternalism or authoritarianism. Worse, the people are less inclined to see government as their expensive servant and more as their goody-dispensing master.

Today, our politics seem to be suffering from a “rich people curse.” We treat the rich like a constantly regenerating pinata, as if they will never change their behavior no matter how many times they get whacked by taxes. And we think everyone can live well off the treats that will fall to the ground forever.

Of course, typical wage earners pay plenty of taxes, but not in ways that foster a sense of reciprocity with the government in Washington. Their biggest federal payment is the regressive payroll tax intended to fund Social Security and Medicare. Even though, as a matter of accounting, these payments are no different from other taxes, they’re sold simply as retirement and health insurance programs.

Meanwhile, Democrats keep telling the bottom 95 percent of taxpayers that America’s problems would be solved if only the rich people would pay “their fair share” of income taxes. Not only is this patently untrue and a siren song toward a welfare state, it amounts to covetousness as fiscal policy.

I don’t know what the best tax rates are, for rich or poor. But I’m pretty sure that it’s unhealthy for a democracy when the majority of citizens don’t see government as a service they’re reluctantly paying for but as an extortionist that cuts them in for a share of the loot.

© 2007 Tribune Media Services, Inc.