December, 2017 browsing by month


Three men in conversation as 2017 ends:

Sunday, December 31st, 2017

Picture an eagle flying with only a single wing, or with simply a head…. photo by Dick Bernard, October, 2008, at dedication of gift by Mary Lou Nelson at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Dec. 22 I posted about Gratitude. In short order, long-time friend SAK, “across the pond” in Europe, responded in his usual eloquent way:

“To be sure, Mr. Bernard, very discouraging indeed but thanks for “keeping on keeping on”! (his comment continues at end of this post)…


Later the same day, three of us, relatives, all men, sat in conversation. One (not I) brought up “Tax Reform”, which had just passed the U.S. Congress.

The initiator, mid-40s, Husband and Dad, works for a major U.S. Corporation, progressing in his corporation in the usual way. Almost immediately on Tax Reform passage a memo had come to employees in his corporation: they would all receive a $1,000 bonus; the employee minimum wage would be increased to $15 an hour.

The second in the conversation, mid-50s, single Dad, is out of work. He had a contract job with a major international corporation which recently ended after one year. There were no performance deficiencies, and the need for his job continued. He was best qualified for it. Regulations, he said, terminated him. They don’t wish to be stuck with a permanent employee. He can reapply in six months for another temporary contract, if there is a position available, which doesn’t help him. His options are very limited. So his mood was not upbeat. I think “depressed” might be the best descriptor.

I was the third person. So, what do I say? We’re middle class, retired, pensions. medicare, social security. My pension was negotiated by my union and management years ago. It is fully funded and presumably secure. It happened in the 1970s, when such things were possible. A mutual fund I hold which has a few dollars in it increased in value by 22% in the last twelve months. This kind of performance is very pleasing to the Mar-a-Lago constituency, along with major league cuts in taxes….

If you’re a “lucky ducky” in the market, including retirement funds these are good days, indeed. Most pensions and 401ks and the like are in the stock market.

These can also be very deceptive days.


Just in my circle of three people on Dec. 22, there were three very different stories. I could relate other stories as I keep hearing them. We don’t have to listen or observe carefully to know them. The gap between the haves and the have nots is alarming, and will get worse.


How do the three of us who had that conversation see the dawn of a New Year, Jan. 1, 2018? Not the same way, I can guarantee.

How do you? How do tens of millions of others?

There are a million ways to engage in the New Year. Those of us in the “haves” have to engage in behalf of those who have little, and no extra financial or psychological or physical energy to do what needs to be done.

Happy New Year.


(continued from beginning of post):
Aneurin, known as Nye, Bevan (UK politician, member of parliament & holder of various cabinet positions) said: “The whole art of Conservative politics in the 20th century, is being deployed to enable wealth to persuade poverty to use its political freedom to keep wealth in power.”

That art has been further advanced by the U.S. in the 21st century. Many have pondered why so many are so easily persuaded to vote against their own interest.

The question is not new. In his essay, “The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude of 1576”, Etienne de la Boetie wrote: “Plays, farces, spectacles, gladiators, strange beasts, medals, pictures, and other such opiates, these were for ancient people the bait toward slavery, the price of their liberty, the instruments of tyranny“.

Today, it’s smart phones, celebrities, bogey (N. Korea, Russia . . .), TV series and opioids etc. We should also add: lies.

Trump promised to drain the swamp and that’s exactly the opposite of what he is doing – indeed I don’t even think he can do otherwise.

There is hope though (de la Boetie again): “Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.

Another year is going by so may I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy and Healthy New one.”

Seeing this, Fred responded:
It reminds me of two direct American corollaries. In the wake of the Andrew Jackson revolution (1828–1836) and his VP Martin Van Buren (1836-1840) and the slight but scary elevation of the common man, conservatives wondered how they would ever again convince the masses to vote against their own interests. In 1840 the Whigs chose their own version of General Andy Jackson: William Henry Harrison also a hero of the Indian Wars and the War of 1812. The Depression of 1837 hurt Van Buren (chanted the Whigs, “Van, Van is a Used up Man”).

Whigs presented the hero of Battle of Tippecanoe as a commoner who lived in a log cabin, a simple guy also advertised as a “hard cider” drinker (the quaff of the common man). In reality he was the son of a wealthy, prominent Virginia Planter and signer of the Declaration of Independence who had bequeathed WHH slaves. His VP, John Tyler, also Virginia-born scion from a leading family, was a States Rights man and conservative dream candidate. “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” won the popular vote narrowly but took the electoral vote resoundingly, 234-60. Of course, Harrison died a month after taking the oath of office and Tyler served out his term. Later, during the Civil War, Tyler served in the Confederate Congress. This was one of the most successful political frauds in American history and it put two of the American elite in office.

Then there was the incredible 1876 campaign. Post-Civil War Reconstruction continued with US troops still remaining in the South. The Republican U.S. Grant administration, along with its lingering taint of corruption, was leaving office. The GOP ran Rutherford B. Hayes and the Dems, after 26 years out of the White House, responded with Samuel Tilden. Tilden won the popular vote but garnered an electoral vote lead, 184-165, just one vote short of victory. There was a major problem with the 20 remaining electors. Both parties claimed all 20.

Congress, which was charged with authorizing vote authenticity, couldn’t reach agreement. To settle the issue, a supposedly bipartisan commission was appointed—eight GOP members to seven for the Dems. Republicans prevailed (who could have figured) and recognized GOP electors. The House of Reps, in control of Democrats, refused to accept the decision; the Republican Senate found it eminently fair. A behind-the-scenes compromise was reached. The solid Democratic South, with northern Dem acquiescence, agreed to accept Hayes as president and US soldiers in the South were withdrawn. Reconstruction would end and the rights African-Americans put in jeopardy. We all know how that turned out.

from David: To quote an old saw, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” I think people will support/vote for policies that seem to go against their own self interest for a few reasons. One, they think they are the right thing to do. An example would be progressives such as Bill Gates or Warren Buffet supporting higher taxes on the wealthy. Or peons like me, voting “Yes” in the last school bond election.

Another example would be poor folks supporting policies such as reduction/elimination of the “death tax,” aka, inheritance tax. They know that they aren’t subject to it but in their dreams, when they win the lottery, etc., they don’t want it to affect them.

I also think that a whole lot of people have bought into the idea that “big gummint” is the reason for their ills. It’s easier than looking in a mirror.

Then, of course, are the idiots who just believe the simplistic bullshit coming from the likes of Trump, Joe McCarthy, Huey Long, Joe Soucheray, Juan Peron, etc.

The country’s survived worse ( I think) than the current craziness. Let’s hope for continues resilience.

And TV Host Joe Scarborough, in a column in the Washington Post 12/28/17, passes on a recommendation from Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, here.

The French-Canadians; The Franco-Americans

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

Years ago I signed up for a workshop – I think it was titled “Family of Origin” – and the first assignment was to find out what we could about our ancestors, something which I had never explored before.

I was 40 at the time.

My parents took the bait; I found that my Dad was 100% French-Canadian, with very deep roots in Quebec, though near lifelong North Dakotan.

There are millions upon millions of people with French-Canadian ancestry today; hundreds of thousands of them in my own state.

“Quebec” (name first established in 1608) long pre-dates use of the name “United States of America (1776)” and “Canada” (1867). Here’s a National Geographic map from my copy of the Historical Atlas of the United States, Centennial Edition, 1988 (p. 96). Note the extent of “Quebec”. This was before the naming of “Canada”

(click to enlarge)

My first French-Canadian ancestor was in North America in 1618, and French-Canadians have had a very rich subsequent history all across North America.

I stay active in the quest to keep this rich culture alive, and yesterday prepared a reintroduction to be sent to our local mailing list. The 9-page mailing is here: French-Canadian001

If you wish, open and just scroll through the link. I’d especially recommend the last four pages, a recent essay entitled “Why Are Franco-Americans So Invisible?” by David Vermette, which appears in the Winter (Hiver) 2017 edition of Le Forum from the state of Maine.


I dedicate this post to my great-grandparents, Clotilde Blondeau and Octave Collette, who married at what was then called St. Anthony, soon to become Minneapolis MN, in 1868; thence 1875 to the Dayton MN area, thence to Oakwood (near Grafton) North Dakota in 1878.

Below is the tintype photo of them about the time of their marriage. Clotilde would have been about 5 when they arrived in Minnesota Territory from eastern Ontario in the early 1850s; Octave was about 17 when most of the Collette family moved from St. Lambert QC to St. Anthony (later, Minneapolis) in about 1864.

(click to enlarge, double click for close-up)

Clotilde Blondeau and Octave Collette at St. Anthony MN ca July 1869

I also dedicate this to my grandparents: Henry Bernard, born 1872 and raised in rural Ste. Sylvestre Quebec, coming to North Dakota in the 1890s; and Josephine Collette, born 1881 at the now disappeared Red River town of St. Andrews, where the Park River enters the Red. They married in 1901 at Oakwood ND.

Henry Bernards of Grafton ND about 1920, with visitors from Winnipeg. Henry, Josephine, Henry Jr, Josie, and Frank Peter are center part of photo. Their home was on the bank of the Park River, then 115 Wakeman Avenue.

Four Brief Homilies at Christmas 2017

Monday, December 25th, 2017

Sunday morning, Christmas Eve, a reader told me he’d been listening to Krista Tippet’s “On Being”, and the guest for this particular program was David Steindl-Rast, the old man in the Gratitude video from Dec. 22. The interview is a lengthy one, and well worth your time.

This morning, Christmas Day, Fr. Harry Tasto, a retired Priest and gifted homilist, gave his Christmas message at Basilica of St. Mary.

He spoke, briefly, to seven specific constituencies within this “family” called Church:
1. The Children
2. Those who are Young, previously below 21, now defined by some as Young into their 30s
3. Those in Middle Age
4. Finally, those who are Old

His brief remarks encouraged personal reflection back to myself in those ages – how did the world look to me, in those ages? What was my place in that world of others? What is it now?

He then talked to specific audiences he knew were in the Church this day, since they are of this Church always, not always satisfied parts of this large very old, not always comfortable, sometimes messy and even offensive “family”.

5. The Regulars
6. Those who come once in awhile
7. Those who rarely darken the doors, maybe never, even, but know the family is gathering there, much like Christmas dinners this weekend.

We’re all in families like described above, this day, and all days.

Fr. Tasto caused me to think back to two other “homilies”, one at a workshop in suburban Houston TX in 1998; the other at the Cathedral in San Antonio TX in 2000. Both came at an important time in my life. My story of them was my 2000 Christmas card, three very brief panels which you can read here: Homilies001

Today begins the next 365 days for all of us. Where were we a year ago? Where will we be a year from now?

Gratitude 2017; and “The One We Feed”

Friday, December 22nd, 2017


Angelica Cantante, Orchestra Hall, All Is Well, Minneapolis, Dec. 16, 2017


If you read no further than this paragraph, do take seven minutes to watch Louie Schwartzberg on Gratitude. I first saw this piece of film in 2012. Its message is powerful and timeless.


At this season, December, 2017, we are a nation at war against each other. A place where a few “winners” win, and everyone (including the winners) stand to end up as losers….

I think of that old proverb, often attributed to a Native American elder: the “Two Wolves” inside all of us. It is a proverb full of wisdom.



There is great good, all around, still. You don’t need to look far. There is reason for Gratitude.

There’s this gift from “anonymous” I saw on the blackboard at my local coffee shop, last Saturday morning. The sketch is a day brightener, possibly the work of some high school kid, gifted in art. I’m not the only one who has noticed it. I predict it won’t be erased any time soon.

Blackboard at the Coffee Shop Dec. 16, 2017

Thursday I saw an acquaintance writing a note above the sketch. I know he’s facing a very serious surgery very soon. He wrote: “This drawing is awesome: who?” A simple, anonymous act lifted someone’s spirit.


My list of positives for 2017 is long, thus “gratitude” in the subject line. From my list I choose some examples possibly gifts to yourself for the New Year:

There’s the book, FIRE IN THE VILLAGE, by my friend, Anne Dunn. Anne is Native American, and she wrote this book of 75 short stories “to celebrate my seventy-fifth journey around the sun.” One of the stories, “Keeper of the Hair Bowl”, can be found here, an earlier post at this space. (Information on how to order the book is at the link.)

AND SO IT WAS by Annelee Woodstrom is another gift. Annelee is another long-time friend, who wrote this book, her third, during her 91st year 2016-17. Annelee grew up in Hitler’s Germany (born 1926), and has lived since 1947 in northwest Minnesota. Here is my description of the book and of Annelee. She experienced the worst, and made the best of it long term, and has many life lessons to share.

GADSDEN’S WHARF: Some years ago I was privileged to meet Rosa Bogar, a tireless advocate for community. This Fall came her most recent message, about an event at Gadsden’s Wharf in Charleston SC – a place where most of her ancestors arrived as slaves in the long ago. Rosa grew up in Orangeburg SC, with its own very troubled history in the civil rights era. She has long lived in the Twin Cities. Her most recent project is here: Gadsden’s Wharf001. Here is more about this reminder of the past, which is Rosa,s effort towards a better country and world for us all.

All three women are powerful witnesses for all of us.

Not to leave out the men:

PHANTOMS OF THE FRENCH FUR TRADE is a three volume scholarly work by Timothy Kent of Ossineke MI. Timothy’s personal biography is most fascinating. I got to know Timothy through his extraordinarily effective explanation of the Voyageur life. He lived the life, so as to write authentically about it.

You won’t reach Timothy by e-mail! Yes, he’s very civilized.

My friend, Jerry Foley, who has two degrees in history, and is French-Canadian by ancestry, has read the books and says about them: “Timothy Kent’s books are very detailed and easily readable stories of French Canadian families and of the fur trade, written by a person who loves this history. The books are insightful and well worth reading.”

A SONG IN THE DARK. Yesterday, at Orchestra Hall for a marvelous “A Minnesota Orchestra Christmas: Home for the Holidays”, I was scanning the program booklet and came across a marvelous Essay by noted pianist and accordionist (and fellow French-Canadian) Dan Chouinard. His comments about Holidays, and music, strike a chord. You can read them here: Dan Chouinard001

FINALLY, THE YOUNGSTERS – those of my school age grandchildren’s generation.

Last Saturday, at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis (photo leads this post) we heard over 200 2nd through 12th graders in concert as part of Angelica Cantante. In the group were three of our grandkids. Their sister, not as musically inclined, sat with us).

“All Is Well”, the second to last number sung by the massed choirs, particularly spoke to me. Here is a version of this song sung in 2012 by another youth choir.

Of course, “all” is not necessarily “well”…probably even amongst some of the choristers, or those of us in Orchestra Hall, or anywhere, for that matter.

But in that assembled group of youngsters I saw the essence of what our community, in the largest sense, must do to survive as a society: we must be a team, working together. At this point in our history, our country is not a team.

Merry Christmas.

In the spirit of the season: grandkid creche from some years back.


As often happens in my tiny corner of the universe, as I began composing this post, into my e-mail inbox, at 5:07 p.m. Dec. 13, 2017, came a remarkable article from the New York Times, “The Heroes of Burial Road”. The full headline is this: “The Heroes of Burial Road: Many Haitians can’t afford funerals, and bodies end up in anonymous piles. These men offer them some dignity.”

The narrator in Gratitude talks about our great gift of clean water, which we take for granted; the heroes in the NYTimes article give simple dignity to people who cannot afford even a simple funeral.

We take so much for granted in the United States. We feel so entitled. But look a little deeper. Every U.S. community has similar stories of people who have died without family, without resources.


There is much for every one of us to consider, at this Christmas, 2017.

Last Sunday, Janice Andersen in our church newsletter gave some perspectives, worth reading: Advent, Janice Andersen001 Janice, and many like her, have been inspirations to me for many years. The bridge that precedes and ends this segment was at a Just Faith Retreat we attended with her in May, 2005. Janice is a powerful witness to the best in each of us. Consider people like Janice as the bridge to other communities with needs.

There are so many stories, in each and every one of our lives.

Let’s get to work.


Christmas Card 1977

The phrase within the card:

“Then said a rich man.
Speak to us of Giving.
And he answered,
You give but little
when you give of
your possessions. It
is when you give of yourself that you
truly give.”

Kahlil Gibran
The Prophet

Dedicated to Dad, born 110 years ago today, Dec. 22, 1907. Died Nov. 7, 1997

from a great friend in Europe: To be sure, Mr. Bernard, very discouraging indeed but thanks for “keeping on keeping on”!

Aneurin, known as Nye, Bevan (UK politician, member of parliament & holder of various cabinet positions) said” “The whole art of Conservative politics in the 20th century, is being deployed to enable weath to persuade poverty to use its political freedom to keep wealth in power.”

That art has been further advanced by the U.S. in the 21st century. Many have pondered why so many are so easily persuaded to vote against their own interest.

Republicans on Fire

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

You might wish to read this summary of the freshly minted “Tax Reform” bill.

My summary:
1) The rich get much, much richer, permanently, by Law. Most especially, the great populist, Donald Trump and his family, make out like bandits.
2) The rest of us seem to get a little richer in 2018, but that is temporary, by Law.
3) About the time my kids begin to reach retirement age, they’ll learn the truth of what is now being done to their future.
Any young person (below retirement age) had best pay a great deal of attention to what was just signed into federal law.
Who makes the rules makes a great deal of difference.

Picture an eagle flying with only a single wing, or with simply a head…. photo by Dick Bernard, October, 2008, at dedication of gift by Mary Lou Nelson at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

December 21, 2017: And “After the Victory”, here.

from Fred: I agree with your summary of the GOP tax legislation but, unless your offspring will be retiring within a year two, I fear they will encounter some its side affects soon.

from Carol: Premiums for the most popular health insurance on the individual market exchanges are estimated to rise 34 percent on average next year, according to the consulting firm Avalere Health, because of previous sabotage done by the Trump administration. Premiums in Iowa would be up 69 percent, Wyoming 65 percent and Utah 64 percent.

Employer-based health insurance costs are forecast to rise in 2018 by the most since 2011, at 4.3 percent, according to the human resources consulting firm Mercer, and overall medical costs will be up 6.5 percent, the first increase in the rate in three years, according to the consulting firm PwC. Assuming those increases are passed along to workers, they would eat up half of the $910 tax cut received next year by households with income between $55,000 and $93,000 and all of the tax cut received by households earning $27,000 to $54,000.

“we would hire more people if we saw growing demand for our products and services. We would raise salaries if that is what it took to hire and retain great people. But if we had a tax cut that led to higher profits absent those factors, we would ‘pocket it’ for our investors” (source)

Tax “Reform”; Robert Mueller

Monday, December 18th, 2017

Today is one week to Christmas Day. Who wants (or has time) to be bothered with taxes and criminal investigations?

Read “Gifting America” if you wish. I recommend your taking the time. Then decide what you are going to do…and when…or if….

It’s “Christmas future” we’ll all be facing, possibly about to be snuck in the back door.

Picture an eagle flying with only a single wing, or with simply a head…. photo by Dick Bernard, October, 2008, at dedication of gift by Mary Lou Nelson at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Today, Angelica Cantanti. And a memory of Jerry Brownfield

Saturday, December 16th, 2017

Angelica Cantanti Youth Choirs at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis

This afternoon, 4 p.m., at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, open to the public, is a concert by the children’s choirs of Angelica Cantanti. Details at link. Free Will offering will be asked.

This is an outstanding group with a long history. Two nights ago, WCCO-TV featured the choirs on local nightly news. You can watch the segment here. Son-in-law Bill is the person interviewed on this segment.

Disclosure: three grandkids, Ted, Kelly and Lucy, will be on stage today. We’re really proud of them.

Come on down.

Jerry Brownfield

Just past midnight came sad news from a friend in Bellingham WA. Beth announced the death of her husband of 53 years, Jerry. It seems fitting to share what she had to say, in twin with the young people’s concert I proudly publicize above.

I think I met Jerry only one time, at their home in south Minneapolis, before they moved to Washington state. At the very least, he, like Angelica Cantanti, can help give meaning to this season.

(click to enlarge)

Jerry Brownfield, Ptarmigan Ridge, WA 2007

Here’s Beth’s e-mail to her list about her husband:

Dear Friends,

Jerry, my sweetheart of 55 years, and married 53 years, “walked into the forest” (as my native friends would say) on Thursday, Dec 7, after a sudden and brief illness.

FOR what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek spirit unencumbered?
ONLY when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.

Kahlil Gibran

This is from Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet, on death, and is fitting to Jerry’s situation. Pneumonia took his life and his breath. A stroke seven years ago took his singing voice and his balance. His death released him into a transition to a new relationship with his family and many friends. We picture him stepping into the forest, with a twinkle in his eyes, and bold steps into the world of nature that he loved most of all.

The picture of Jerry in front of Ptarmigan Ridge (Mt Baker) was taken 10 years ago. His full obituary is also on the Moles Farewell Tributes: here (Jerry Brownfield) where comments may be made.

NOTE: If you sent previous messages to us by email or post could you post those on the Moles Farewell Tribute site? We cannot do that on your behalf. We have received over 20 pages of collected emails. They were priceless and we would love having them collected here and shared with friends who experienced different facets of Jerry. Jerry would not have believed the influence and impact he had on so many people.

Jerry’s memorial service will be held at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, Bellingham, WA Saturday, January 27, starting at 3:30 pm, followed by a reception from five to six where we can share stories and memories.

Donations in his memory to Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center (13 Prospect St.#201, Bellingham, WA 98225), or Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival here.

Regarding myself, I am surrounded by love and support from our family, neighbors, Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, book groups, hiking groups, YMCA, Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival Committee, Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center, my Lummi friends, etc.

I am grieving, remembering, and forever grateful to have had Jerry in my life for all these years. Right now I am “Chopping Wood & Carrying Water” picking up things that Jerry used to do, carrying on with the things that Jerry supported me on for our entire life together.

Jerry would want you to know that he appreciates each of you for supporting him, or supporting me. Both he and I, from different planes, are grateful you have been part of our lives. Jerry’s hiking friends will scatter 1/2 of his ashes at Ptarmigan Ridge this summer. Jenny, Amie and I will decide the placement of the remainder.

Yesterday in Alabama

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

Picture an eagle flying with only a single wing, or with simply a head…. photo by Dick Bernard, October, 2008, at dedication of gift by Mary Lou Nelson at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

There have been several comments to yesterday’s post about the Dec. 12 U.S. Senate election in Alabama. That post, and the comments were all written and published hours before the polls closed in Alabama last night.

If we choose, the Alabama election can be a learning opportunity for every one of us, about most everything about the contemporary political process in the United States: how it works; how it is functional and dysfunctional; how each of us fit into “politics”.

In a recent post I referenced retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connors project on restoring Civics literacy. Take a look, here. Engage yourself, and help engage others.

POSTNOTE: Much more, if you wish: “Stars Falling On Alabama Last Night”

Thoughts on the Day of Alabama

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017

PRE-NOTE: My comments on Alabama are “below the fold”, following the “headlines”, as well as several comments from others which were added before the polls closed Tuesday evening….

This post is about Politics. For those who do not like talk about politics, any time you see the Eagle, below, you’ll know what follows.

Picture an eagle flying with only a single wing, or with simply a head…. photo by Dick Bernard, October, 2008, at dedication of gift by Mary Lou Nelson at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Those who follow this blog know I comment on politics frequently, and I will continue to do so.

If you don’t like the topic, when you see the Eagle, simply move on. But I hope you remember my essential definition of a functioning eagle: two wings and a healthy body and head….

For today, I decided to look up in my home dictionary the assorted definitions of the family of words, “Politics”.

(click to enlarge)

(For a printable pdf of this definition: Politics defined001.)

My personal opinion: people are politics, nothing more, nothing less. We get exactly what we want especially in a democracy where, presumably, we have a right to choose, collectively, who will represent us.

We cannot pass the buck.

Politics is all of us. In our democracy, politics has consequences, far beyond the vote.



Today is an important election in Alabama. Sometime later today we will learn how Alabamams define “politics”.

Only once have I actually been to Alabama. It was on the July 4 weekend in 1966. I was a summer school student at UofIllinois (Normal), and took a solitary trip south, through East St. Louis, through Memphis, through Oxford, Mississippi, east into northwest Alabama, and back to Normal through Tennessee and Kentucky and southern Illinois.

1966 was not a kind and gentle time in the deep south – sometime not too long before a civil rights leader had been assassinated along the same freeway I was driving south from Memphis into Mississippi – but even with a new Volkswagen and Minnesota plates, I recall no nervousness. The red clay stands out in memory; Tupelo, birthplace of Elvis Presley, does too.

Today, I know only a single Alabaman. I think he grew up in Michigan and married a North Dakotan, a relative of mine. He’s a gracious gentleman senior to me, and Saturday I got his annual Christmas card.


So, today I leave the Alabama election to those in Alabama. Though for only a year, the election for interim U.S. Senator in Alabama is a very big deal election, with state and national implications.

Alabama represents us.

What I will watch for today is how many eligible voters actually cast ballots, and for whom the ballots are cast. There will be endless ‘slicing and dicing’ of these returns into segments – race, gender and so forth – but in the end it will be how many will actually vote. I would like to know how many of those votes are truly well-informed….

Alabama will be something of a marker for me about whether or not we have learned anything in the past tumultuous year.


Christmas is almost here.

Our friend, Bud, lies in a hospital bed facing emergency quadruple bypass surgery most likely tomorrow. We visited him a few hours ago, happening by chance to be with him in the room when the doctor delivered the very bad news.

Bud’s notion of “future” changed in an instant a few days ago.

As a nation, we are facing our own crisis, on many fronts. How will we respond?

I met with a good friend yesterday and talked more about my eagle with two wings and a reasonable head analogy. He’s a retired guy, a number of years Democrat, born, raised and most of his life Republican from a conservative state. He and I agree there has to be a better way of dealing with each other in this (formerly, in my opinion) great nation.

That’s where I’m at in this election day in Alabama.

from a friend of more than 60 years: I marvel at how our GOP has changed over my lifetime. I remember the heated debates my Dad and his brother had over politics. His brother was a Democrat because he loved FDR for all that he did for our two families, getting us out of the drought and depression. Dad hated the Democrats because of a group within the party called the Southern Democrats. These were racists who hated Lincoln for freeing their slaves. So the Democratic party was really a Big Tent party containing the extremes ranging from these southern racists on the right and the liberals on the left and a smattering in between. The party experienced continual chaos. The GOP, on the other hand, was a center right progressive party.

I have been a life-long registered Republican and have watched its transformation over the years. With the Civil Rights Act of 1965, some of these southern racists became disgruntled with the Democratic party and moved over into the GOP in 1968. Then came the big shift [by those] referred to as the Reagan Democrats, where the remainder of the southern racists moved into the GOP. These racists now call themselves Evangelicals, and now they make up the majority of the GOP. The last statistics that I have seen put these southern racists at about 17% of the registered voters, with another 9% of the GOP made up of more moderate voters. These southern racists are people with which I have nothing in common, yet I have remained a registered Republican with the hopes that some intelligence will creep back into the party.

It was interesting to note that in 2008 with the election of Obama, the Southern Poverty Law [Center] reported an increase in hate groups from around 400 to around 1400. Most of the growth in hate groups consisted of Klu Klux Klan chapters, and most of those chapters in the bible belt. The KKK originated during the reconstruction period after the Civil War, and many chapters formed alliances with local law enforcement. Their hatred not only was focused on African Americans, but also at non-white Protestants as well as Jews, Native Americans and even newly arriving Southern European immigrants such as Italians.

One of the things that I have grappled with as the party transformed is the changing economic posturing. So I chose to split conservatism into economic conservatism and social conservatism. The social parts I leave to the individual to address as long as they don’t try impress their antiquated beliefs upon others. From an economic standpoint, if you look at the administrations leading up to and creating the Great Depression as well as the recent Great Recession, they are all GOP administrations practicing conservative economics. Add to that those famous words coming out of the mouth of George H W Bush; “read my lips, no new taxes”, followed by tax hikes, all because of the mess created by the Reagan Administration tax cuts and the philosophy of trickle-down economics. History has shown that conservatives do not know how to govern when it comes to economics. I don’t know whether they really believe that tax cuts to the wealthy will really trickle down, or whether they know that the greedy wealthy people will just keep the resulting riches, and that the voters are too ignorant to understand it all. The unfortunate part of the tax cuts and tax increases is that the tax cuts are made for the wealthy and the tax increases are levied on the working class. The result of such activities is that in 1980, the middle class made up 70% of the population, while the impacts of the tax cuts and the following tax increases have reduced the middle class to around 25%. And now we are potentially facing another crisis as the result of the tax cuts that are currently being pushed by the GOP.

Well, that’s the end of my rambling for one day, and anxious to see how the Alabama election goes. Take care my friend.

Response to my friend: Nothing wrong with emotion – I wish there was more passion, mixed with a willingness to dialogue openly with others of differing points of view. We tend to separate into our affinity groups – the people that share our point of view. It is easy to do in these days of Facebook, et al; is not healthy for our society, when people like your Dad (who I was privileged to meet) and his brother could argue politics, but still worked and lived together in the same community.

(There was the same kind of tension in my own family. My grandfather on my mother’s side apparently had some problems with Roosevelt, in part because of “loafers” who he saw on work crews planting trees on his land in the 1930s. Earlier in his life he’d been active in the Farmers Union movement, one of the first North Dakota members and activists; and before that an active supporter of the socialist Non-Partisan League which reacted to the excesses of big business on North Dakota farmers. There still remains a State Bank of North Dakota and some other entities from that experiment in the teens and 20s of the last century.

On the other side, my Dad’s brother was in the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). In 1935 he managed to join the Navy, another government job, and six years later went down with the Arizona at Pearl Harbor and along with the other dead there became a hero. It is said that Grandpa had ill feelings towards the Japanese…. Such is how feelings and debates go.)

We could argue exact percentages in your writing. The only thing you missed – perhaps you didn’t know – Catholics were a big target of the Ku Klux Klan especially in the later 1920s, including in our own state.

It is an honor to be your friend.

from Norman: Nice commentary on the special election today in Alabama.

Given its long history as a red state…how long as it been since Sparkman was one of its senators?…it would be an upset in Moore were not to win today thereby assuring that the Republicans will retain that seat so as to help the tower man with small hands and all “make America great again!”

They need that seat to maintain their seat given the their small majority margins especially when they try to get legislation through that is divided along party lines.

The Democrats on the other hand foolishly pushed Franken to resign with granting him due process of any kind to take the moral high ground or whatever other motivation was behind their responding to several anonymous complaints.

Kind of ironic as so many Americans…I would like to think the majority of us…still believe in due process…the right to see and hear one’s accuser …before judgment and is made.

So, the Republicans played this much better in terms of pragmatic politics given that in all likelihood they will retain the Alabama seat while the Democrats put themselves in the position of possibly losing the Franken seat on 2018 while enjoying a filler in the seat without any seniority in the interim.

That was a rush to judgement to take the “higher ground” and from a pragmatic political viewpoint…you have a political party to win elections so that you can set the agenda…nothing more and nothing less…and to potentially give up a senate seat in a closely divided senate without giving the accused the benefit of due process is just plain politically stupid and something that will come back to haunt the Democrats for a long time.

Response to Norman, from Carol: I don’t totally agree with “Norm.” This is what the Republicans said when they elected Trump, and are saying more now- Trump may be a hot mess but it’s the PARTY, doggone it, and he’s OUR hot mess. Nothing else matters.

I saw a posting last night by someone in Alabama who didn’t like Moore at all, but he was voting for “the seat.” (I responded that we don’t vote for furniture.) No political representatives are going to be perfect – and whether or not Franken should have resigned is kind of a different argument. (I think he would have been very vulnerable in the next election. I also think Dayton is making a big mistake appointing his lt. governor who basically nobody’s ever heard of.) But I think the Republicans would have kept Charles Manson in office to save “the seat.” It’s not a football game. Integrity matters.

Response to Carol, from Norm: Thank you, Carol, for your response.

Yes, integrity matters and to me that means giving everyone accused of whatever the right of due process which was not granted by the many Democratic senators who rushed to judgement regarding the complaints many of them anonymous.

The bottom line here just as the Republicans so well know is “do we have the votes?”, nothing more and nothing less that that.

As such, if the good folks in Alabama decide to elect Moore which appears very likely, then that is who they want to represent them…and more importantly they need that seat in such a closely divided senate.

The Democrats may have taken what they thought was the so called “moral high ground” by pushing Franken to resign…or to state that he plans to resign in the future…without granting him due process…that was absolutely appalling no matter how “well intentioned!”

Bottom line here is does a party have the votes or not, nothing more and nothing than that as that is what a political party is for and only for that reason, i.e. to win elections and ideally to win the majority in a legislative body and to hold the state and national executive offices as well to be able to press its public policy agenda.

Everything else is irrelevant in my view.

We can sit in the corner having claimed the high moral ground whining poor us ain’t it awful while the other side that has the votes passes tax “reform” legislation that we don’t like, adopts immigration reforms that we do not agree with, and tries to overturn almost every major public policy change that President Obama accomplished during his eight years in office.

We may well feel that right is on our side during such moments trying to tell ourselves that it is the principle of the thing that counts while the other side dismantles and/or repeals much of the public policy programs that we worked hard to get adopted and strongly feel are important parts of the fabric of civilized nation.

On the other hand, since we don’t have the votes, so what?

“Evil Triumphs When Good People Do Nothing”

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

POSTNOTE, Dec. 8: A thought provoking commentary of the last days, here.


These thoughts seem random, even to myself. Hopefully, you’ll find some “hook” for thought and conversation.

(click to enlarge, from June, 2000)

With Al and Franni Franken at a political event in Lake Elmo MN June 15, 2006.

Middle of the night I awoke with a few words in my head: “evil triumphs when good people do nothing.” I remembered a quotation similar to this from some past time, and, as I often do, I looked those words up on the internet.

There is no definitive answer; there are many possibilities.

Probably the closest I can come is Edmund Burke, here:

“Thoughts on the cause of present discontents”.
“When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

This was in 1770, when the word “men” was the word for power, when storm clouds were gathering in the insolent colonies in North America. It is a good quote.

Perhaps the problem is who commands the use of the words. We are all “bad”, perhaps even “evil” to someone. In a forced choice, even on a very bad day, hardly anyone would self-describe themself as “bad”, most preferring “good”. As Mitch Daniels, President of Purdue University, discusses effectively in a column headlined in today’s Washington Post,
“Is anyone ever wrong anymore?”


The first e-mail today was my favorite digest of daily national news, “Just Above Sunset”, this one titled “The Next Enlightenment”, focusing on Time Magazines Persons of the Year, “The Silence Breakers”. Todays Sunset is worth a full read. Donald Trump, Roy Moore and Al Franken are prominent in the cast of characters.

Earlier this past evening I had written two good friends – both women – about my feelings about the issue du jour as it seemed to be developing re Franken:

“I try to separate emotions from rational thought in this. I admit it is not easy, as both a man, and as a person who admires Franken for lots of reasons.

Without belaboring the point, I think what most troubles me in the “sex” cases, of all sorts, over a lot of years, is the tendency of people to leapfrog over due process, where someone is presumed guilty based on allegations, without hearing, for offenses that occurred years ago, before even running for office. Ironically, the only people who will get their due process are Trump, who can afford to obstruct and delay any charges against himself forever; and Roy Moore, whose followers don’t care if he’s guilty or not.

So, on we go….”


Picture an eagle flying with only a single wing, or with simply a head….

I began this post yesterday afternoon, with a tentative title “The politicization of sex”. The draft contents of the blog when I woke up this morning are below, unchanged. Maybe this will give some impetus for conversation.

Sen. Al Franken is probably soon to be political history (I write before he speaks publicly). he has been politically killed – that is exactly what is happening. I wonder if champagne glasses are clinking in the office of D. J. Tice, editorial page editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who wrote about Al Franken’s new book back in August, as follows. Tice did not seem much of a fan of Franken.

I happen to think that Sen. Franken has been a very good Senator, a credit to the United States of America. The American people – and I mean that regardless of station in life – have lost an articulate witness. And the issue is strictly a political issue. If sexual allegations were applicable to all, Donald J. Trump would be long gone already; and Roy Moore would also have disappeared from public view, rather than endorsed as the next U.S. Senator from Alabama.

A few days ago, about when the Franken thing erupted – shortly followed by the Keillor thing? – I had occasion to dust off a sermon made by a Presbyterian Minister at a prestigious church in St. Paul in Feb. 1999. You can read it here: Morality and Civility001. The homilist was Dr. John M. Miller, and I think this person is the same as the John Miller who delivered the remarks in the wake of the Bill Clinton impeachment.

If you read the remarks, and I hope you do, note especially the last page (of the six) where this Christian minister, near 19 years ago, laid out his concerns. The six pages are worthy of discussion.

If I’m correct in my ID of the minister, apparently Dr. Miller didn’t last very long at House of Hope.


It would be nice to have a “Christmas spirit”.

I’m experiencing the opposite….

from Joe:
Folks might want to respond to the Doug Jones [Alabama candidate] requests for contributions…

from Jane: As I said to them, this is murky territory all around. All allegations are not equal and all sexual harassment is not equal. Franken’s acts are distasteful, but I and many woman friends feel that these allegations are not proven to be true and pretty mild compared to all the other Mighty Men who have fallen. That includes the president (no cap on purpose.)

I am afraid that Franken will be the sacrificial lamb so Congress and followers can stop talking about the harassment of women. There needs to be deep and frank discussion and decisions on how to deal with this problem. They lack a policy of procedures for addressing this in Congress. Thus the response seems to be more based on 2018 elections than anything truth-finding or justice. Should these cases for elected officials and potential elected officials always automatically go to the Ethics Committee to be proven? Does confession and apology avoid this step? Then what are punishments that actually fit the crime?
I very much disagree with forcing elected officials out of office on hearsay. That is not how the judicial system works, and I wouldn’t think that is how the legislative system should work.

A side note. Here in SE MN our state legislator Greg Davids, was investigated for fraud. No one forced him to resign. There was some scooting around the law and threading needles that allowed him off the hook and should not have. They were very blatant charges, but his party never asked him to resign. Were there loop holes in the ethics investigation? Yes.

None of this is easy, but Congress needs a plan to patrol itself.

from Peter:T he broad range of behaviors that now constitute “sex” in various contexts reminds me of the speed limit. As a professional driver, I am constantly being passed, and not legally or skillfully, by drivers who sometimes express annoyance at me, some by getting a foot from my bumper. I pull over to let them pass when I can. One stopped, and I said, “Is there some problem?” “I’m trying to go the speed limit.” “Well, it’s fifty right here, so you were.” the boy roared away contemptuously. However, my point is that the police can just dip into the traffic stream any time they need to boost the revenues a little, because nobody but me pays any attention to the speed signs.

Yes: I’m implying that an awful lot of men have a history, somewhere in their past, of unpleasantries such as groping, propositioning, and much, much worse. Almost all of my close female friends say they have experienced this, and many more than once.

And in the current atmos-Fear, it no longer matters whether a story can be verified. That is a symptom of a paradigm shift I’m writing about these days, which occurred when technology allowed one person to drop a million or so others into terror and xenophobia in the same moment. It is the number of eyeballs looking at something, and not what that something may or may not be, that now is the most lucrative commodity. Aggregated attention is power.

I am afraid we will see a lot more of this kind of attack, whether it is actually a counter-attack or just an assault, before humanity gets it right; and a lot of good people will be injured, both the accusers and the accused. All political figures’ personal histories are now being mined for such information. This is going to change the makeup of leadership, but it will not necessarily be an improvement.

from Fred: Feeling sad with lots of mixed emotions. I had hoped that Senator Franken might be chosen as a VP candidate next election cycle as I thought he had the fortitude to ask the tough questions and to speak out on the issues and get to the truth. So not only do I mourn that he is not sitting in the Senate representing regular people like me I mourn the dream I had of the future. Anyone that has watched him work in committee knows that he did his homework and asked the questions that needed asking in a way that demanded respect. He was one of us in a lot of ways.

from Lydia: As a feminist since age 14 (almost 45 years) & as a survivor of child sexual abuse (age 9 to 12), while a teen sexual harassment by adult men (age 13 to 17) & sexual assault/rape twice (at 20 by a stranger–he bragged that I was “# 19”) & by a “friend at age 25…I am APPALLED at the SCAPEGOATING of Sen. Al Franken–by mushy spineless “liberals”. Even if the allegations are true (& I have big DOUBTS, given the first accuser LEEANN TWEEDEN has been a right-wing FOX News commentator who worked with Sean Hannity to SMEAR 2 Obama Admin. people(Shirley Shrrod & Van Jones) based on LIES)—these allegations are so minimal. These allegations of KISSES & butt-pats TRIVIALIZE serious sexual harassment on the job much less those who are predators against girls (like ROY MOORE) and the epidemic of sexual assault/rape where TENS OF THOUSANDS of rape kits gather dust & are NOT E4VEN TESTED in pooice departments across the country. “Date rape”, “acquaintance rape” & on-campus sexual assaults are DISMISSED without serious investigation—& the perpetrators are free to continue.

But, AL FRANKEN–a CHAMPION of women’s rights and equality is BURNED AT THE STAKE? It’s disgusting. The Democrats claim is that now they will be “pure enough” to go after ROY MOORE if he’s elected to the Senate. What fools! The Republicans will give Moore a pass–since he’s “a Godly man” who has been falsely accused for political reasons”.

Pressuring Franken out of office was a terrible thing to do that makes no wpman safer & in my view will only bring us closer to (inevitable?) BACKLASH on this whole topic. Soon enough we will no longer be discussing HOW to address rampant sexual harassment in the work-place or sexual violence in our culture. It will be back to (Big) Business As Usual. WHAT A WASTE that a decent Senator has been lost (& I disagreed with Franken on some issues–he ws never anti-war & he bows to Israel as does EVERY politician)—but, at least Franken GAVE A DAMN about every day people…when so many of those we elect (regardless of political party) serves the powerful & serves themselves. I hope Minnesotans will write Senator Franken at his St. Paul office and THANK HIM FOR HIS SERVICE. (I already did).

from Bruce: A wise man once told me that “good triumphs over evil. Nobody, however, thinks they are evil.” That I think is where we are today in the United States of America.

Observation #2: The argument that Al’s transgressions are not as bad as Moore’s or Trump’s is a version of “lessor evil politics” that has over the last 20 years given us the mess we are in today.

Observation #3: Democrats think that Al’s transgressions can be overlooked because of his politics, but have difficulty accepting that Republicans think the same thing about Trump and Moore. I suspect the Republicans practice the same hypocrisy.

Another observation is there isn’t due process in political discourse. To suggest there is is to blur protected speech. In the Franken mess, I suspect Al realized his political days were numbered and that he soon would be forced to resign from the beginning. At that point, he should’ve made the proactive decision to apologize to Franni, Tweeden and all those he inappropriately touched. He should’ve said he was ashamed by his caddish behavior and embarrassed by the rationalization that it was his privilege. At that point he should’ve said he was stepping down because today in the 21st century that way of thinking and acting was wrong and didn’t belong in the US Senate. He then should’ve demanded president Trump should do the same and that Roy Moore doesn’t belong in the US Senate either, and that he was going to form a movement to eradicate this type of behavior. But alas he didn’t. If he did history would’ve been kind to him, however he defaulted to the conventional political approach using apology-nonapology and waiting to see how many shoes would drop before he was forced to resign. It would’ve taken courage, but that is a virtue that today doesn’t exist in American politics.

from Florence: I’ve wondered often about what moved the women to come out now as victims of Sen. Franken’s “sexual over-reach”. Whatever their motive, I’m pretty sure that their grievances would have been (and maybe were) trivialized and/or dismissed. How have each of you handled these situations in your life whether as a victim or friend or confidant of a victim? Personally I never talked about my earliest “Me, too.” experience until I was over 40 and given a voice at a Take Back the Night circle. I was over-whelmed at the caring and support I received as I shed the bucket of tears I never could prior to then. Other sexual transgressions against me throughout my life made me wary and very protective and, fortunately, the perpetrators knew I was in charge of my own person. Did I tell anyone else? No, only my husband, after we were a committed couple.

Was I willing to give Sen. Franken a bye? Yes, and I wrote to him asking him to stay on as our Senator, but to “mind his manners” into the future. Others have disagreed with me. Their voices have prevailed. History will be the judge as to the prudence of Sen. Franken’s decision to resign, obviously with understandable reservations, and the DFL Feminist Caucus insistence that it was necessary to maintain the party’s integrity around the issue of sexual abuse.

from Jane (see previous comment, above): Here is a link to a woman writer who echoes my thoughts.

from Alan: Al Franken has been an extremely great Senator for Minnesota and these United States. Every other Senator would have let Sessions, the AG, mget by with lying but not Franken. The second woman that accused him of groping was during a picture at the State Fair. When my wife and I looked at that picture of that woman, she had the happiest look on her face as possible, and she was complaining? If he was squeezing her buns, it must have felt wonderful by the look on her face, but I don’t think he was. She wanted a picture with him and that is why she looks so happy. The Democratic Senators and others that have told him to resign are wrong, very wrong. They have railroaded him he decided to get on the train. I am going to write him a note asking him to jump off the train, but to fill out his term and run again in 2020. There is no one in the Senate to take his place and to do as well as he will do for Minnesota and the country.