Saturday, December 16, 2017

Editorial: High Ground is Slippery

Coming up on Year Two of the Trump Misadministration was not the time for Democrats to make Al Franken walk the plank.

Forcing Franken to step down from the Senate because of relatively minor incidents that occurred when he was still a comic and radio talk show host, before he was elected to the Senate, creates a new opportunity for Republicans to pick up a Democratic seat in 2018. Democrats already faced long odds in regaining the Senate majority. Franken had three years remaining in his term but his departure would set up a special election next year to fill the last two years of his term.

This is an expensive show of high dudgeon by the Democrats in an attempt to seize the moral high ground. Republicans welcome the disgrace of Franken, but they show no shame or embarrassment in their embrace of Donald Trump and Roy Moore.

We don’t dismiss that the women who have complained about Franken may have a grievance with him, but it’s hard to determine the alleged misdeeds rose to the level of sexual harassment or abuse. It’s certainly not the level of abuse alleged against Trump, who remains in the White House despite at least 16 credible claims of sexual harassment and abuse and his recorded bragging of his sexual predation, and Moore, who received support from the Republican National Committee as well as from the White House in his campaign for the Senate from Alabama despite credible complaints that he pursued relationships with teenage girls as young as 14 and, in some cases, assaulting them. (And Clarence Thomas was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice in 1991 despite the sworn complaint that he sexually harassed Anita Hill.)

Arguably, the most serious complaint against Franken was aired Nov. 16 by Leeann Tweeden, a former model and conservative radio host in Los Angeles and a frequent guest on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show, about an aggressive kiss during a USO skit overseas in 2006, and a photo of Moore posing as a lecher above an apparently sleeping Tweeden, during a flight on the tour. Although news reports called it groping, the photo does not show Franken touching Tweeden.

Franken apologized for the incidents, though he said of the claim that he tongued Tweeden during the rehearsal kiss, “I remember that rehearsal differently, but what’s important is the impact it had on you, and you felt violated by my actions. For that, I apologize.” Tweeden accepted his apology, but that wasn’t enough to stem the outrage of #MeToo militants who said Franken had to go.

It’s easy to believe Republicans set up the fall of Franken. He has emerged as an effective senator who, among other things, had caught Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions lying to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his contacts with Russian officials before last year’s election, and Franken was being mentioned as a possible presidential contender in 2020.

Actor and comedian Tom Arnold, who hosted Fox Sports Net’s Best Damn Sports Show Period when Tweeden was a cast member from 2002 to 2007, claimed Tweeden was coached by Roger Stone, who has specialized in dirty tricks for Republicans since his time in the service of Richard Nixon. Tweeden denied she coordinated the statement, saying neither she nor any of her managers or colleagues at KABC “coordinated with any group, campaign or individuals outside of the news industry” when she decided to go public with her story. Stone also denied the claim, but he appeared to have advance knowledge that the allegations were coming as he was quoted saying, “It’s Al Franken’s ‘time in the barrel’,” hours before Tweeden’s allegations, The Hill reported.

Franken, who has been a consistent advocate for women’s rights, could have survived the Tweeden incident, but more allegations started trickling in, claiming that Franken groped butts and waists in photo shoots at the State Fair of Minnesota and other events. Then an anonymous allegation, reported in Politico Dec. 6, that Franken tried to kiss a former Democratic congressional staffer in 2006 after her boss was interviewed on Franken’s Air America radio show broke the dam, causing more than 30 Democratic senators to call on Franken to step down. Franken denied the incident took place, but on Dec. 7, after Democratic leaders called for him to resign, he announced he would leave the Senate.

“Is this the principled solution?,” Dahlia Lithwick asked at Slate Dec. 6. “By every metric I can think of, it’s correct. But it’s also wrong. It’s wrong because we no longer inhabit a closed ethical system, in which morality and norm preservation are their own rewards. We live in a broken and corroded system in which unilateral disarmament is going to destroy the very things we want to preserve …

“You can talk about gradations of harm — what Franken is accused of still pales next to child predation — but even that is a trap,” Lithwick continued. “The point is, as Jennifer Rubin notes [in the Washington Post], that ‘one party has adopted a zero-tolerance position (with Sen. Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, set to go before the ethics committee) and another party opens its arms to people it believes are miscreants.’ Rubin feels confident that becoming the party of alleged sexual abusers will harm the GOP in upcoming elections (did she live through last November?). My own larger concern is that becoming the party of high morality will allow Democrats to live with themselves but that the party is also self-neutering in the face of unprecedented threats, in part to do the right thing and in part to take ammunition away from the right — a maneuver that never seems to work out these days.”

In a Senate where Republicans have been ramming through unqualified and underqualified right-wing judicial nominees to lifetime appointments on 52-48 votes, as well as giving the green light to Trump’s agency heads who appear determined to undo government programs that have developed over the past 80 years to help workers, seniors, minorities and small businesses and family farmers, the best hope for progressive Americans is that Democrats can pick up three Senate seats in the next election to regain the majority and stop the damage being done. That is particularly important as Republicans already are preparing to use the deficits that their supply-side tax cuts will increase, as an excuse to cut Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other social programs that help the working poor as well as the middle class.

Democrats already were planning to defend 23 seats next year, including many in states Trump carried, as well as two independent senators who caucus with the Democrats. Only three Republican states — Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee — are rated solid pickup opportunities (though Texas Democrats have high hopes for unseating Ted Cruz). But even if Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) names a good progressive Democrat to replace Franken until next November, it does not help for Democrats to add Minnesota to the states they must defend.

Public officials must be held accountable for their misdeeds, but the Democratic caucus forcing members to quit upon the publication of complaints amounts to unilateral disarmament if Republicans are allowed to stay in office at least until their cases are resolved by each chamber’s ethics committee.

Franken originally offered to cooperate with a Senate Ethics Committee investigation of the complaints against him, but we think a more fruitful exercise might be to set up a truth and reconciliation commission to hear complaints of relatively minor transgressions.

We should draw a line against harassment of women, but in cases such as Franken’s, perhaps we should allow for a dotted line. If you think Franken should reverse his decision and remain in the Senate, call his Senate office in St. Paul at 651-221-1016 or his D.C. office at 202-224-5641 and tell him to stay put. — JMC

Editor's Note: When this was written, Al Franken had not said when his resignation would be effective. On Dec. 14, his office told the Associated Press he plans to leave office in early January, after Gov. Mark Dayton announced he would appoint Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to replace him. Franken reportedly said, "Tina Smith will make an excellent senator ... I look forward to working with her on ensuring a speedy and seamless transition." 

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2018

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Copyright © 2017 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the January 1-15, 2018 issue

COVER/Jefferson Morley
Trump mulls his own private army

High ground is slippery


Trump’s tax ‘reform’ will devastate at-risk college students

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Missourians hope to CLEAN up politics

Children’s health insurance might end in January because Congress spent the money on tax cuts;
Treasury’s long-awaited analysis of GOP tax plan bad news for Republicans;
Tax bill bad for renewable energy, but good for robots;
To prevent climate change, Dems need to learn lessons in ruthlessness;
Worker shortage slows rebuilding in Texas and Florida after hurricanes;
Under Mulvaney, consumers don't need protection;
Michigan governor names indicted medical chief to lead public health council;
Study shows marijuana legalization reduces alcohol use;
Scholar on liars has never seen one like Trump ...

The truth shall set us free

Our social structure is rigged 

President Trump’s Bears Ears order is an illegal attack on tribal sovereignty

It’s time to change more than Trump

The tax scam: naming the culprits

The rest of us get the lickspittle

Everyone hates this tax bill

Sex and long division: stronger together?

Deposing the lyin’ king

A newly elected Democratic Socialist tells how to win in Trump country

Republicans unhappy with independent bank watchdog

Medicare imports must be reduced

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Where are the Burghers of Congress?

False certainty is dangerous

Ultimate distractions

Apocalypse by accident?

BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky
Mining history written in blood

Net Neutrality RIP: Essential parts of America’s DNA are about to be destroyed

‘Dunkirk’ will evacuate major awards

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Time Magazine’s Person of the Year: The Weaponized Penis

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Bombshell: Will the real Hedy (NOT Hedley!) please stand up?

Al Franken should resign? That’s absurd. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

It's Not So Simple

By Art Cullen

Dueling stories about meatpacking and immigration published by The New Republic and Slate dragged Storm Lake and me in, so I would like to set the slightly altered record straight on both.

Each story came out last Wednesday (Dec. 6). Each is about a new chicken plant proposed for Fremont, Neb. That is the same story Katie Couric is doing for National Geographic Television this spring, contrasting the more open embrace of immigrants in Storm Lake — which has been at the immigration game a good long time — to the ordinance in Fremont that prevents renting to undocumented persons.

The two most important points:

• The New Republic story claims that anti-immigrant sentiment is driven by racism. The story suggests that East Coast bias despite good effort is not calling it out. It’s not that simple — racism and the well-funded noise machine that spews it are just a part of what forms the sentiment. I know Northwest Iowa pretty well, having lived here most of my life. There is a lot of racism but it does not explain our Republican race-baiting congressman, Steve King, in all his dynamic. People who are not racist vote for him and Donald Trump, who are both extremist boors if not outright racists. They create a perceived threat (Mexicans are overrunning us!) and offer a law-and-order solution (Build the wall, ship them out!). Iowa first validated Barack Obama for America and then voted for him twice. I think King and Trump are more cynical than being just sincere white supremacists. They understand that Northwest Iowa thinks it has been getting the shaft ever since they planted the state capitol in Iowa City and Minnesota was still part of our territory. Many of my ignorant friends conflate people of color with their having lost control of their own destiny; they don’t realize they never had control of it. It’s harder to hate the Chicago Board of Trade than it is a Mexican who doesn’t like American football or can’t speak English. They voted for Barack Obama to take on the Board of Trade and Wall Street. He didn’t.

• Second, the Slate story comes under attack from The New Republic story for not contemplating racism and the noise machine enough. I found the Slate story to be balanced and comprehensive old-fashioned reporting. The Slate story suggests that immigration will play out the same way it always has — the young immigrants will get an education and leave the small meatpacking town like the white kids before them. The Storm Lake experience tends to be different. We find that subsequent generations are sticking to Storm Lake because of tight family bonds we knew from our own families a couple generations ago. Storm Lake is growing organically while neighboring county seats are not. That is an inescapable fact. This lingering among generations is enhanced by aggressive efforts by Iowa Central Community College and Buena Vista University to provide life skills that can be employed in Storm Lake. It is happening.

Finally, The New Republic story says that we won the Pulitzer Prize for editorials on hog confinements polluting drinking water. As our readers know, the editorials were about local government transparency over their funding to defend themselves from a Des Moines Water Works lawsuit on nitrate pollution of the Raccoon River. The editorials also urged accountability for drainage districts that speed the delivery of nitrate to surface waters through underground tile; this flow is not regulated under federal or state law. It was not about hog confinements. In fact, this area of Iowa is especially well suited to dense livestock populations —it needs them for soil tilth — because of its flat lay and dense soil types. Livestock —cattle and hogs — can and do convey a benefit to what we call “sustainable” agriculture and clean water. It all depends on how the livestock and their manure are deployed and applied.

Now, about Storm Lake:

This is a county seat of about 15,000 people (we don’t know for sure because so many are undocumented) with a 3,000-acre lake and Buena Vista University, a small Presbyterian liberal arts college. It is dead center in Northwest Iowa, which has always made it a good salesman’s town and meatpacking center. People have always come and gone in Storm Lake since meatpacking was introduced here more than 80 years ago. We are about 150 miles from Fremont but not that far psychically.

The Farm Crisis of the 1980s began a wave of depopulation from which Iowa and Nebraska have not recovered. About the same time, Iowa Beef Packers (IBP), which revolutionized the cattle industry, set its sights on pork. When the unionized Hygrade pork plant closed in Storm Lake about 1980, IBP moved in after a year with no union and several hundred Laotian refugees willing to work for half of what the union boys did. Most of us didn’t blame the Southeast Asians — they fought our dirty war and we all knew that the unions were busted. We knew who the new boss was in town. They beat the Mob at their own game in New York City. Who were we to trifle with them?

When IBP could find no more plow boys or Asians they sought help south of the border. That was 25 years ago. Storm Lake was more uncomfortable with Mexicans than Asians because we didn’t have the same guilt. We didn’t realize what the North American Free Trade Agreement was doing to those corn farmers in Jalisco who got uprooted and moved to Storm Lake after we shipped them all our cheap, subsidized leftover corn and pork.

We all got over it. All but the Trump 30%, let’s stipulate. Storm Lake gets along wonderfully. The New Republic suggests that a Hmong woman could not seriously be better off in, say, Storm Lake instead of Queens. I visited New York recently — I can guarantee you that Hmong woman who wants to grow long beans and egg plant is immeasurably better off with two acres in Storm Lake than 200 square feet in the Big Apple. Our schools will support the Hmong woman’s children. The Baptist Church is sponsoring them and making sure their needs are met. This does not happen in Queens or even Des Moines. It still happens in Storm Lake, where not everything is racist. Storm Lake voted for Obama, for Clinton, for inclusion, and against Steve King and exclusion every time. We just elected a Latino to the city council and a Latina to the school board. We will elect more as they step forward, and they will.

We know what we can do here. We will not be building Teslas or running Amazon. We will grow corn and raise hogs — we hope here — for slaughter. There are huge environmental challenges to it all, not the least of which is all the corn we grow with all those chemicals so that we can feed all those turkeys and chickens and hogs. We have to get that under control. We have to diversify and heal the landscape. We can and will manage those things. We will be forced to — Nature is demanding it right now, and we are starting to answer with more sustainable approaches like winter cover crops.

Livestock create jobs. They are jobs on the first rung of the ladder to success. Rural Mexicans are building goat farms and horse farms. Hmong women are peddling at the Farmers’ Market and appear to laugh a lot doing it. Arturo Deanda is moving cars. Tyson pays $15 per hour to start, which is no crime. Would that most magazines pay unheralded writers that much. Que sera. Storm Lake is just trying to get by in a system over which it has no control, and to help poor people out of poverty and instability as we can. When you hear the horror stories from El Salvador you want to give them everything you have. That’s the simple part of the story. And that’s the biggest part of the story in Storm Lake, from one who was born here but can see its warts. Too bad if it is different in Fremont.

Art Cullen is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editor of The Storm Lake Times in Storm Lake, Iowa, and managing editor of The Progressive Populist. His book, “Dateline Storm Lake: Immigration, Agriculture and Climate Change” is scheduled to be released in October by Viking. Email:

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Those doing a victory dance at the election of Doug Jones to U.S. Senate from Alabama should remember that 650,000 voted for a child molester

By Marc Jampole

While anyone who believes in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIPS, food stamps, public schools, cheap public universities, abortion rights and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants should rejoice in the victory of Democrat Doug Jones over the truly deplorable Roy Moore for the U.S. Senator from Alabama, we should only do so with caution.
Trump and the Republicans are still in charge. The GOP is still upsetting decades of Congressional protocols pushing through a tax bill that represents the largest transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy in U.S. history, a tax bill opposed by more than 70% of all Americans. The current administration is still overturning regulations that address climate change and protect Americans on the job site and in the marketplace. The appointment of a young generation of ultra-right, pro-corporate judges continues.
Moreover, democracy in America is still threatened, not just by the Republicans in Congress and the White House, but by the voters themselves. Only 32% of registered voters participated in the Alabama special election, a total that all the news media is labelling as high or heavy. A majority of voters stayed home and that’s a good turnout? No wonder Congress so often thwarts the will of the people and acts against the best interests of most Americans to favor a wealthy few. The people often don’t speak loudly enough.
More dangerous to American democracy than the lack of voter participation is the fact that more than 650,000 voted for a child molester. Even if every one of the Alabama voters who stayed home had voted against Moore on the principle that a child molester should not represent a state in the U.S. Senate, that doesn’t mitigate the fact that more than 15% of the total electorate either didn’t care or took the word of a man over a large number of very credible women and supporting witnesses. Either these voters are morally bankrupt or irredeemably misogynist. The low turnout magnifies the power of this 15%, just as it did in the 2016 Republican primary races in which Donald Trump never exceeded 25% of the total of eligible Republican voters. When voters stay home, a motivated minority can turn the country in an ugly direction—in this case, almost electing a child molester.
Which brings us to Senator Al Franken, a good guy and leading liberal light. On the scale of sexual offenses that men can perpetrate against women, Franken’s is much less offensive than Roy Moore’s. But still not acceptable. And they occurred multiple times. He made at least eight women feel uncomfortable with his frat boy antics. Why didn’t he learn from his mistakes?
I’m fairly certain that someone said something to him about the inappropriateness of his behavior at least once over the years. Back in 1973 when I was teaching my first university-level French course at the University of Washington—Introduction to French Literature—I was prone to making salacious puns and sexual innuendos in my lectures. I was just a 22-year-old doofus trying to be funny and clever—I was and am an incorrigible punster with a vivid imagination and a love of jokes about sex. After about three weeks, one of my female students took me out for a coffee and told me the jokes made the women feel uncomfortable. I was as embarrassed as I have ever been, completely humiliated. I stopped the sexual joking immediately. I never had another complaint. I am still grateful that my student sent me in the right direction so early in my career and adulthood.
That was 45 frigging years ago!!! Don’t you think that along the way some outspoken woman would have done the same favor for Franken, who as a liberal must have hung out with a number of sensitive, sensible and assertive women? Keep in mind, too, that some of Franken’s antics took place in public “on the job,” typically working for large organizations. Every large organization has had a sexual harassment policy in effect and given training to supervisors on identifying and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace since about the mid-1990s. Many seem routinely to ignore the policy especially as it applies to powerful men, but that doesn’t let the liberal feminist Franken off the hook.
It therefore shocks me to see so many comments on Facebook asking Franken to remain a Senator, petitions pleading he reconsider and nasty notes to New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, leader of those demanding Franken resign. These well-meaning liberals and progressives risk giving up their ideals for political expediency—exactly what we accuse the other side of doing. If being accused of molesting a 14-year-old, assaulting a 16-year-old and pestering a bunch of young girls when he was in his thirties disqualifies Roy Moore from elected office, how can we exempt Al Franken for his overly aggressive and sexual touching and feeling? The case of Trump is even more apt. If we disqualify Trump for his 18 instances of harassment, we must qualify Franken for his eight. When it comes to the discomfort it could cause a woman or the assertion of a prerogative of power over a woman, I can’t see much difference between touching a woman’s breast and slipping fingers underneath her panties. Both equally heinous.
Franken has to go. Otherwise there is no moral ground on which to accuse Trump, Moore and other Republicans. Otherwise, we send a message that in certain cases it is alright to harass women, and even perpetrate a mild, good-natured, we’re all-just-having-a-good-time sexual assault.

Monday, December 11, 2017

What is the relationship between domestic & foreign policy in the current administration? Is it an incoherent stew or is there a grand strategy?

By Marc Jampole
That the incendiary announcement that the United States was moving its embassy to Jerusalem comes in the wake of the Senate’s passage of the Trump GOP tax giveaway to the wealthy begs the question: Does any relationship exist between domestic and foreign policy in the Trump years? Can we connect the current administration’s domestic policy to shift wealth to the wealthiest and permanently entrench the wealthiest as a ruling elite to our bellicose, go-it-alone, anti-Muslim foreign policy? Is there a grand design? Or is it just an incoherent stew of bad ideas?
To a great degree, domestic and foreign policy always work hand and glove in the United States. For the most part, both have always served the interests of the ultra-wealthy and a coterie of large companies in industries long used to mixing in politics such as energy, metals extraction, telecommunications and defense.
The current foreign policy abandons attempts to solve world problems collectively and replaces it with an angry isolationism that tries to bully or bluster to get its way. It appears to represent a radical turn from the approach of at least the last three administrations, but if you scratch the surface…la plus sa change, as the French say. We seem always to have a ton of troops and advisors in a number of foreign countries. We still employ a large number of private companies to perform military functions. We still seem to do the bidding of Saudi Arabia and therefore demonize Iran. Diplomacy may be gone. We may be courting authoritarians and snubbing allies. But we’re still flexing our military muscle, still fighting several senseless wars. We still employ a large number of private companies to perform military functions. We still seem to do the bidding of Saudi Arabia and therefore demonize Iran. Diplomacy may be gone. We may be courting authoritarians and snubbing allies. But we’re still flexing our military muscle, still fighting several senseless wars.
But what does our foreign policy—both what continues and what is new—have to do with domestic issues?
As it turns out, our continued military misadventures that transcend regimes have four profound connections to domestic affairs, all of which have both political and policy implications.
First and most obvious, the defense industry plays a large role in our politics. No candidate from either party has strayed very far from espousing the central tenets of our foreign policy since the end of World War II, which of course call for tremendous annual expenditures for the military. Our sainted President Obama, for example, was a leading proponent of developing a new generation of nuclear weapons and raised no objections to robot weapons that decide on their kill without human intervention. The acquiescence to or support of the defense industries by all leading politicians results in a greater likelihood that we will use the weapons.
For the most part, politicians from both parties also buy into the long-time U.S. policy of being the arms master to the world, selling more military weaponry to other countries than the rest of the nations of the world combined. Often these sales, by private military corporations, take place only because of U.S. loans to the purchasing government.Thus our federal budget is stretched and our politics distorted by the influence of military contractors.
Besides draining our treasury of funds that could be used to help people, both in the United States and throughout the world, our large military expenditures and our long-time policy of being the arms master of the world contribute to the overall “culture of guns” that exists in America. We are armed to the teeth and have armed the world to the teeth. The political and policy dynamics of selling guns abroad and guns in the United States reinforce each other: America, armed to the teeth, land of freedom and defender of freedom.
In other regions of the world, our arms mongering causes disruptions. In the United States, it leads to a slaughter unseen in any other nation of the world. Then again, no other nation in the world has so many guns in active circulation. Every study shows that the more guns a society has, the more people will die and be injured by guns. Our elected officials seem to accept the casualties in the United States in the name of a single freedom proclaimed as inviolable through a gross misinterpretation of an amendment to the constitution ratified more than 200 years ago, long before the invention of automatic weapons and bump stocks.
Our foreign policy also helps to justify our domestic police state apparatus, and has done so since the end of World War II when we decided we were better off with the Soviet Union as an enemy than as a friend. When we don’t have an enemy, we manufacture one, or expand a minor threat such as ISIS into a major one. Government uses international affairs as the rationale and justification for all manner of intrusion into our lives, such as eavesdropping on the phone calls of American citizens, executing secret searches, tracking library card use, seizures of private property, classifying millions of documents as top secret and cracking down on undocumented immigrants.
Finally, foreign affairs serves as a distraction from domestic issues. Traditionally, people come together in a war. They’re ready to make sacrifices for the good of the country.They forget or are willing to postpone consideration of pressing domestic issues such as healthcare, minimum wage and growing inequality. The common enemy—be it real or imagined—takes our mind off domestic concerns. Think North Korea and the fear of nuclear attack.
Defense industry influence, the gun culture, the excuse for creating a security state, a distraction from domestic problems. These four links between domestic affairs and foreign policy transcend administrations and have existed since at least the Truman Administration. Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, getting into a name-calling contest with an erratic lunatic with a finger on the bomb, escalating the war in Afghanistan again and trying to wiggle out of the Iran nuclear deal may make us quake from fear that our foreign policy has gone rogue, but the main outlines of the post-war bipartisan consensus to be both the world’s bully and its arms dealer persist, as does the pernicious interaction between foreign policy and domestic affairs that is the necessary outcome of that overarching strategy.