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Progressivism and Its Discontents

By: virtualnaut Wednesday June 12, 2013 12:04 pm

Well, I was reading a post from another blogger here (Joe S.) on whether Progressivism means anything anymore. Wanted to comment on his post but that avenue seemed closed to me.

Truthfully, I have self-identified here as “Progressive” with some misgivings. It’s shorthand for I feel I might belong here as a voice. But I might take it off my profile now.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I am always uncomfortable when people use terms with a certain precise historical meaning in a new way – such as “anarchist,” for example, which has made a strange reappearance.

I’m never quite sure in what spirit these terms have been borrowed.

“Progressive” formerly might have referred to an era, a movement and even a party in the early years of the 20th century. The reforms of that era aided activist women more than they aided American blacks. The Chinese, meanwhile, were cruelly excluded from the polity.

It was a time of muckraking and of upheaval for labor, and an era of official, even violent repression of seekers who envisaged new, sometimes radical forms of social justice.

And yet, certain truths of the time could not be hidden about, say, the miserable lives of immigrants in the workforce, and the shocking exposés of child labor.

Often the pious do-gooder Progressive establishment practiced a form of noblesse oblige from on high that did not resonate well with those whom it sought to “help.”


Filing Old Items and Feeling Old Feelings

By: virtualnaut Thursday January 31, 2013 12:31 pm

I’ve been going through old files and receipts, trying to clean things up around here a bit, and I came across a receipt from late 2010. It’s for a tire repair, when both my rear tires were flat. The receipt says “both had screws in them please check and advise and put spare tire back on vehicle.”

Wasn’t the first time I had to fix that kind of flat tire. Once I went to see a local computer expert, the third of four firms I tried to ask for help with our constant awful network intrusions, kind of desperate for help actually. I was so freaked out by that time, I actually hand-carried the box into the office, and when I came out my tire was pancake flat.

The auto repair guy gave me a look and said it appeared as if it had been cut, you know, like with a knife stab.

I heard this recently from another repair guy who said my daughter’s car had the same kind of flat tire, a slit. And then there was the time when my windshield wipers had been slit like that, and I had to buy new ones.

I don’t know if lots of people have experienced this kind of vandalism, but I was so used to it by 2010 I just paid up quietly to get back on the road. I’ve also discovered strange people in my yard, like SWAT teams with guns, and sometimes angry dudes with anti-Obama and pro-NRA bumper stickers on their car, claiming to be performing telephone pole inventories. Working for Alabama companies.

That’s not the worst of it, either. But I’ve decided to start talking about it, in print, since lately the computer actually seems to be working sometimes and maybe there won’t be nasty consequences.

Anybody else experience things like this? I’d love to compare notes.

In fact, I’d love to know if “Clea” – a grad student who found her PhD compromised – and who wrote to a Jeff Kaye-related site that is searchable with DuckDuckGo but not with Google happens to be real or not, because I think we could compare notes and find a lot in common.

There was an interesting article years ago about academic mobbing in Public Health written by a scholar in Wisconsin, too, but when I finally got un-frightened enough to imagine I might call the woman who wrote it, well, it appeared she had died in the interim.

Any ideas out their in FDL land? I’d love some feedback.

What’s Going on in Congress?

By: virtualnaut Thursday September 13, 2012 11:40 am


I’m trying to find some information on what’s just happened in the halls of Congress. It affects those of us in Minnesota who love the wild North, but I suspect it may affect everyone in America.

In the last few days, the U.S. House passed a bill to expedite a land exchange in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. This bill (H.R. 5544) was vague, failed to specify which lands might eventually be involved, waived public input, and seemed to be tangled up, bizarrely, with the FISA Reauthorization Act.

I happened upon this weirdness while looking at the Congressional Record for nine eleven.

The day before, a Florida tea party type on the Rules Committee, Rep. Richard Nugent, had introduced a resolution (it passed), ganging these two unrelated items together. As far as I can tell, his House resolution would both expedite the Minnesota land exchange and provide for extension of the FISA Amendment Act, which is expiring, for five more years, without discussion.

The resolution says “specified amendments” shall be considered as adopted. They aren’t actually specified anywhere as far as I can tell.

This resolution also dispenses with the reading of the bills, waives any points of order against consideration of their content and says: “In lieu of the amendment in the nature of a substitute consisting of the text of Rules Committee Print 112-30, modified by the amendment printed in part A of the report of the Committee on Rules accompanying this resolution.”

Say what?!

Rep. Jared Polis is on record opposing these new rules, which he called a “restrictive process that limits debate and discussion.”

Why am I suspicious?

For starters, the land-exchange bill has a specious, misleading name.

It’s called the Minnesota Education Investment and Employment Act. Oh, yes, who’s against investing in education and jobs? Nobody. That’s not what it’s about at all, however. It doesn’t identify what specific Forest Service parcels could be sold by the federal government and acquired by Minnesota. When I checked with the forest service, they said the lands had not actually been identified as yet, but that the lands could be sold for mining, for example.

Nevertheless, this bill passed the House with flying colors.

It’s no secret that there’s pressure to permit sulfide mining in the neighborhood of Minnesota’s precious Boundary Waters. The track record for this type of mining is simply terrible. Acid mine drainage from coal mining is bad enough, but sulfide mining for heavy metals generates sulfuric acid as a byproduct. The process of extraction pollutes waters, kills aquatic life, leaves huge piles of waste rock and may contaminate the land of 10,000 lakes for centuries.

And then there’s a public transit security and local law enforcement support act in the mix (H.R. 3857), too. It requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to sustain “specialized operational teams used by local law enforcement under the Transit Security Grant Program, and for other purposes.” What’s that about?

I urge interested parties to take a look at the Congressional Record for this week. None of it seems transparent, but the intuitive feeling I got was of stuff being rammed through the House quickly, in secret.

Enough Already

By: virtualnaut Sunday April 22, 2012 5:53 pm

OK, the sixth computer has died. I can’t write anything or see anything. No browser except the phone. Weird interference.

Enough of this.

At the library, at least I can write this.

Occupying the State Senate District

By: virtualnaut Sunday April 1, 2012 9:07 am
Senate Chambers Just Begging To Be Occupied (photo: aquafornia, flickr)

Senate Chambers Just Begging To Be Occupied (photo: aquafornia, flickr)

Yesterday was my first experience as a district delegate.

I came by the responsibility accidentally, you might say. Spurred on by some activist WAMM ladies of my acquaintance to attend or perhaps occupy my local caucus a few weeks back, I proposed a citizen resolution to protest the indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA. Frankly, I was surprised to find my neighbors thought my resolution didn’t go far enough, and felt we ought to add another resolution demanding the closing of Guantanamo.

Since few seats are up for grabs here – the main order of business choosing from between two good state senators pitted against one another by redistricting – the caucus turnout was small. Pretty much everybody became a delegate by showing up.

So yesterday the larger district met at a local tech magnet school. The sign outside said “Welcome to Washington.” I took a picture. It made me smile. We are pretty far from Washington, plopped down here in flyover land.

I overdressed. I also packed my own sandwich because I didn’t know there would be food. It turned out okay, though. More than okay.

In the resolutions list – in addition to our neighborhood resolutions – there were others, clearly inspired by Occupy, about protecting the right to peaceably assemble, about reining in the bankers. The senatorial candidate eventually endorsed mentioned his opposition to Citizens United.

While I can’t say which resolutions will proceed on to the next level, I felt heartened, more at home than I have felt in a long time.

This might be as far as it goes. Perhaps it’s just an April Fool’s Day joke?

No, I don’t think so. I think the people in my neighborhood have had about enough and are stepping up.

By: virtualnaut Thursday March 15, 2012 2:13 pm

Following Salon’s passionate coverage of responses to the recent Scahill piece, and what it might portend…

Has anyone else at FDL read Poisoning the Press, Mark Feldstein’s fascinating pop history comparing Richard Nixon and his nemesis, D.C. Capitol commentator Jack Anderson?

I keep thinking about the current, claimed executive freedom to have people killed, off the books, without recourse to legal niceties, and it makes me recall the way Nixon – furious at Anderson’s scoops about his taking big contributions from rich guys like Howard Hughes and other underhanded illegalities – asked the CIA, seriously, to have Anderson killed.

It’s been a while since I read the book, but I believe they even discussed possible methods in the repertoire. If I recollect rightly, it included disgusting things like poisoning the pills he took every day, and tampering with his car.

To their credit, the CIA apparently felt spooked about knocking off members of the press, and suggested it might be unconstitutional.

Say what you like about the current occupant of the White House, I’m more concerned about precedents and the slippery slope, and another Nixon wannabe. I don’t know if most young people realize what that time, long ago now, was like, but I imagine had Nixon enjoyed the impunity, it might not have only been Anderson, but perhaps those more respected Washington journalist colleagues, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who picked up the scent cues he was leaving and followed them to Watergate.

Presidents – really anybody in power – including journalists remain people. Therefore fallible, subject to the human failings that beset us all. I’ve seen that with my own eyes, in my life. One can only try to live up to one’s highest views of a calling.

That said, I want to say thank-you to Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald. These are trying, dangerous times for journalists. Their bravery inspires.

Reapportionment Day Rant

By: virtualnaut Tuesday February 21, 2012 10:09 am

Now is the time for all good people to come to the aid of their party.

In the past week or two I’ve been doing my bit. Attending town hall meetings, making the probably futile attempt to affect the political process by showing up at caucus and volunteering for a committee: Resolutions. (I had proposed a resolution against the NDAA indefinite detention provisions and they didn’t have enough volunteers.)

Now waiting for the redistricting lines to come out later today, so we know for whom we might be voting. Maybe I’ll get a chance to vote against Michele Bachmann, who knows?

Asking questions about sulfide mining in northern Minnesota, now coming upon us without much real public discussion. I only know what I know because I personally went to a hearing at Minnesota Pollution Control and learned about Water Legacy.

Flusterating, is about the only way I can describe it.

Now, let me say this. I have come to deeply respect many of our current elected representatives in this process.

In my district and in the neighboring districts, we can count ourselves fortunate to have persons of intelligence and – perhaps even more important – just plain common sense representing us. I have heard John Marty and Bev Scalze field a question on Voter ID with such eloquence and precision. Really impressive. Rep. Alice Hausman, always pleasant, yet a tough professional, knows her way around crafting good bills – and that’s important in a legislature with so many Tea Party freshmen. She gave a three-minute comment on why racino is coming up right now that enlightened all of us.

On the federal level, Betty McCollum manages to be a fiscal conservative and a social progressive. Her staff is responsive. She actually comes to these small-town local affairs, and she listens.

Usually, the other attendees are gray-hairs like myself, but recently I was excited to note a high-schooler offering a resolution on the marriage amendment. Got to say that gave me a goofy pleasure. Another generation that cares, finally.

Yet something weird always happens. For instance: I go to my town meeting with a question in mind. I want to know why the local paper runs a piece on a controversial bill to sweep away teacher seniority without mentioning the fact that it’s sponsored by ALEC members.

The papers never seem to mention ALEC, but I’ve been following the bills introduced in the state House of Representatives, and they have ALEC fingerprints all over them. ALEC members chair the Education Finance and Education Reform committees here. Common Cause is all over this, and of course so is, but the newspapers, not so much.

I’m thinking it’s interesting that an online for-profit school company was corporate co-chair of the ALEC education task force. Also, I’m thinking it’s no surprise that ALEC opposes teacher’s unions and supports reducing the authority of university-based schools of education. I’m thinking, in fact, that these ideologically hyper-conservative types would like to roll back education to before the Civil Rights Era while making a free-enterprise curriculum mandatory.

Finally, I’m thinking maybe this is why Ellen Anderson – our governor’s smart choice for the Public Utilities Commission – might have been rejected by the Minnesota Republican delegation, because a person in that position would appoint one regulator of this mess while the current Speaker of the House would appoint a business representative. Yuh-huh. (Our crafty speaker is a “former” ALEC member, I have read.)

So my town-hall question is fielded by Rep. John Lesch, who offers gamely but lamely that Democrats don’t really have anything like ALEC, the secretive, behind-closed-doors cabal that benefits from billions in corporate donations.

Yes, I think, we knew that.

Why can’t we talk about the fact that far-right-wing types DO?!

But just as I’m thinking this, the whole room starts to vibrate, like we’re sitting on top of a compressor. I think, WHAT!? I put my hand on the table, thinking, yes, I feel a definite rumbling. I look at the person next to me. He’s ignoring it, so I ignore it, too.

We’re above a restaurant, so I just chalk this up to “whatever.” However, when we exit, and we go outside into the freakishly warm February sunlight, I see a gigantic surveillance stalk on a portable generator. Its business end stands right at the level of the upstairs windows where we had been meeting.

Has it come to this? Is it because of Gabby Giffords or something? I find it bizarre. Has this happened to anyone else?

Skin Tight Rant

By: virtualnaut Friday February 3, 2012 12:56 pm

Lately I’ve been thinking about what today we call “the one percent.”

I am reminded of what the great French novelist Honoré de Balzac concluded in one of his “philosophical tales” of the early 1830s, La Peau de Chagrin.

Yes, it’s a funny title, even in its original language.

It means, literally, the skin of grief, but refers in translation to a magical shagreen, or animal hide, that confers upon its owner the ability to own anything desired merely by looking at it, to have every wish granted, to satisfy any craving, to control all within reach.

The end result is that, for the owner of the skin, nothing ever satisfies.

As Balzac (who wrote madly to keep himself out of debt) knew very well, it’s never only about money. Rather, it concerns the evil grasping of a certain stratum of “society.” Only a grand observer of human nature at its most debased, as Balzac certainly was, would warm to his subject with this astute comment: “Vice is a sign of affluence.”.

Listen, as he continues:

However dignified misfortune may be, society understands how to belittle and ridicule it with an epigram … like the young Roman matrons in the Circus, it never shows mercy to the fallen gladiator; it lives on gold and ridicule . . .

Death to the weak! That is the watchword of what we might call the equestrian order established in every nation of the earth, for there is a wealthy class in every country, and that death-sentence is deeply engraved on the heart of every nobleman or millionaire. Take any collection of children in a school: this microcosm of society, reflecting it all the more accurately because it does so frankly and ingenuously, always contains specimens of the poor helots, creatures made for sorrow and suffering, subject always either to pity or to contempt: The Kingdom of Heaven is theirs, say the Scriptures. Take a few steps farther down the ladder of creation: if a barnyard fowl falls sick, the other hens hunt it around, attack it, scratch out its feathers and peck it to death.

Faithful to this law of egoism, society exerts all its rigors to punish those bold enough to spoil its feasts, or sour its pleasures.

Human nature ordains, however, that sometimes there comes a moment when “society” – meaning high society – earns a comeuppance from the 99 percent, as France knows as well as any nation on earth.

The gladiator once in a while slays the lions. The creatures “made for sorrow” may choose to resist either society’s pity or its contempt. The equestrian order – O excellent Balzac, what a telling phrase – may on occasion, for just a little while, find itself unhorsed.