No sane person would ever choose to move to poor Youngstown, Ohio, the current capital city of one of the most economically depressed corners of America.

But if you know anyone who’s thinking about re-locating anywhere even close to Ohio’s Mahoning Valley, make sure they first read “Crimetown USA” in the current

New Republic.

If they don’t quickly change their mind, you’ll know one of two things: they’re either nuts or they’re a former mob hit man who belongs to the federal witness protection plan.

David Grann’s piece about the once-powerful steel-making city “that fell in love with the mob” is not just well-written. It is an amazing chronicle of an FBI agent’s long struggle to end the town’s 50-year nightmare of deadly Mafia turf wars and widespread police and political corruption.

As Grann describes it, according to the authorities Youngstown was the seat of one of “the last truly mob-run counties in the country.”

It was “a place where the Mafia still controlled a chief of police, the outgoing prosecutor, the sheriff, the county engineer, members of the local police force, a city law director, several defense attorneys, politicians, judges, and a former assistant U.S. attorney.”

It was a place “whose residents had grown so used to a culture of corruption that they viewed it casually, even proudly; a place, in a sliver of America, where a malignant way of life was largely untouched for almost 100 years.”

Now, after more than 70 convictions, Grann says, the FBI’s investigation has “wound its way to the most powerful politician in the region, a man whom the FBI caught on tape with the mob nearly 20 years ago but who has eluded them ever since.”

Grann is talking about none other than Youngstown’s current U.S. Congressman and former football star, James Traficant. Traficant, one of our most “colorful,” most eccentric and most embarrassing congressmen, is expected to be indicted on federal charges soon.

Back in the early 1980s, when he was county sheriff, Traficant defended himself in court against charges he was being paid off by the Cleveland and Pittsburgh mobs. Despite some rather incriminating audio tapes that included Traficant’s talks with such characters as Charlie the Crab Carabbia, which Grann provides excerpts from, Traficant was acquitted.

Grann retells that amazing story and many others in a shocking, often chilling piece that sounds like he’s describing civic life in Cicero, Ill., in 1928.

Citizen Ralph Runs Again
Geeze, with progressive friends like

Mother Jones,
Ralph Nader doesn’t need any enemies on the right.

Unlike 1996, when he merely went through the motions by putting his name on the ballot, Crusader Ralph is really running for president this year on the Green ticket. He’s even willing to raise and spend money and therefore have to reveal the details of his own financial wealth, which at several million dollars are pretty impressive for a guy who is famous for his tightwad ways and his refusal to partake in any aspect of the consumer culture.

With his lifelong crusade against the economic and political power of corporations, Nader would appear to be the dream candidate of progressive/leftists at Mother Jones. But not so. Ken Silverstein’s piece, “Candidate Nader,” is more damning and cruel than friendly.

From Silverstein’s article, we learn that Nader – a guy who, unfortunately, has had more of an impact on the country’s corporate and government life than most elected officials – is not just a tightwad who lives on about $25,000 a year. He is a puritanical, moralistic, humorless, emotionally dried-up weirdo who is a horribly dull speaker and still proudly doesn’t own a car or even a computer (he owns seven manual typewriters).

Silverstein and the progressive folks he quotes are annoyed that Nader is obsessed with corporate power and economic issues to the exclusion of other human-centered issues they care about, like race, abortion and civil rights. Also, they are a bit embarrassed that the people who come out to see Nader on the campaign trail are, shall we say, disproportionately odd: vegans, animal liberationists and — even more embarrassing — mostly white.

The conservative magazines soon will be cranking out their attack pieces on Nader, but they will have to try hard to surpass the not-so-subtle hatchet job Silverstein does on one of Life magazine’s 100 most influential men of the century.

Meanwhile, for a more friendly – and much more substantive — look at Nader and his new crusade, see the

cover stories on Nader by Ruth Coniff and William Grieder. The editor of Progressive magazine, Coniff joined St. Ralph on the campaign trail – in his rental car — and her piece is nicely written and reported.

Nader’s goal, she says, is to build up the Green Party and create a nationwide network so that “in 2004 or 2008 there could really be a credible challenge to the major-party candidates.” She says Nader hopes he can scare the Democrats enough so that they’ll start paying attention again to labor unions, consumer groups, environmentalists and other progressive interests.

Nader’s run is worrying Democrats because it could cost Al Gore the election, especially in the liberal land of California. But Nader doesn’t seem to care much, Coniff says, who recounts what he told a group of fund-raisers in Madison, Wisconsin:

    A funny thing is happening in the Democratic Party. Every time they win, they say it’s because they took Republican issues away. And then when they lose, they say it’s because they are not appealing to the Republican voters. We want them to say they lost because a progressive movement took away votes.

Coniff says the idea of making Al Gore lose brought cheers from the assembled progressives. “But if the People’s Republic of Madison is prepared to overthrow the two-party system,” she wonders, “is the rest of the country ready for this?” Coniff’s comrade, William Greider, sure hopes so. He has already joined that potentially glorious revolution. He says in his piece, “Nader: A Personal View,” that he plans to vote for Nader to hasten the demise of a two-party system that is offering voters even less of a choice of presidents than usual this year.

Greider wants Nader to shake up the Democrat establishment, which is insufficiently leftist for his tastes. But he also wants to put some real ideas back into play. Harry Browne, the official presidential candidate of this column, wouldn’t agree with many of Greider or Nader’s ideas. But the

Libertarian Party’s
standard bearer sure would agree with their mission to smash the major parties’ hold on the presidential game, especially when it comes time for the big debates.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.