The Progressive Populist

A Monthly Journal of the American Way

November 1995 -- Volume 1, Number 1

This is the premiere edition of the PROGRESSIVE POPULIST. If you would like to subscribe to the PROGRESSIVE POPULIST, simply send a check for $18 for one year (12 monthly issues) to the Progressive Populist, P.O. Box 150517, Austin, TX 78715-0517. Please note whether you prefer the Email version or a newsprint version.


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Jim Hightower: Bank Fees, Bank Robbers; Drug Prices: Gouged by GATT; Potentate of Pomposity; NAFTA Job Losses; Telecommunications Rip-off.

Jim Cullen: Taking Back Congress--Then What? With the Republican congressional leadership pushing a legislative agenda that cuts health and welfare benefits for the middle class as well as the poor, Democrats are regaining confidence that they can pick up the 17 seats they need to regain control of the House. But Progressive Populist Editor Jim Cullen finds that some union members and progressive Democrats are wondering if the Democrats will return to their working-class roots or simply take the populist line until after the election.

Charles Levendosky: The Great Land Grab of 1995. Agribusiness interests invested more than $1.1 million to the campaigns of seven U.S senators and 10 representatives who are sponsoring legislation to transfer to the states control of 270 million acres of public land administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Levendosky, editorial page editor of the Casper, Wyoming, Star-Tribune warns that states can then sell the land to agribusinesses. "Only the most naive think that former BLM land will remain public domain once state legislators get their hands on it."

Carol Countryman: In the first of her "Tales from East Texas," called "White Trash, Liberal and Proud," writer and freelance troublemaker Carol Countryman outlines the challenges facing the last remaining liberal feminist in Henderson County.

Art Cullen: Glickman Willing to Fight Over Pork. In an interview with Art Cullen, editor of the Storm Lake, Iowa, Times and managing editor of the Progressive Populist, U.S. Secretary Dan Glickman says he is willing to fight meatpackers to break up the "vertical integration" of the pork industry, which places producers at the mercy of a few packing houses.

A Call to Hope and Action, by Ronnie Dugger

Ronnie Dugger: Altered State. In this reprint from the August 14/21 issue of The Nation, the founding editor of The Texas Observer (and contributing editor of the Progressive Populist) calls for formation of a populist movement and proposes his own progressive populist agenda.

Sen. Tom Harkin: "Why I Am a Progressive Populist." Harkin, the Democratic senator from Iowa, replies to critics who say the Democrats must change in order to win back the majority of Congress. "The Democratic agenda remains rooted in the progressive-populist tradition that has made the party strong and the country even stronger ... Now is not the time to retreat--it is the time to redouble our commitment to our progressive traditions and fight even harder."

Peter Montague: Conservative Principles. Montague, editor of Rachel's Environment and Health Weekly, notes that so-called "conservatives" in Congress recently managed to gut nearly two dozen environmental laws and regulations and slashed the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 30 percent. But Gordon Durnil, a longtime Republican whom George Bush appointed in 1989 as Chairman of the International Joint Commission on water quality in the Great Lakes in the book The Making of a Conservative Environmentalist, came to the conclusion after studying the facts that putting our children in harm's way by exposing them to industrial chemicals was dangerous and immoral and ought to stop. Durnil sees it as a basic conservative tenet that an invasion of our bodies by toxics is a fundamental violation of a most basic right.

Freelance: A bill for the big farmers/
Proud to be fossil patriots from Kansas (see below).

Art Cullen: One Farmer Tilts at Windmills. Art Cullen reports on a northwest Iowa farmer and rural county commissioner who is willing to buck the movement toward expansion of mammoth pock feeding operations that threaten not only air and water quality but also a way of life.

James McCarty Yeager: Class, Race and Warfare in 1996. "Consider a few of the dismal facts describing the current distribution of the goods of the American economic empire: Corporate chieftains earned 149 times as much as the average worker in 1993. One B-2 bomber costs as much as 30,000 college educations. The official black unemployment rate is twice that of the white population. And 10 percent of the population owns 70 percent of the national wealth. If this is healthy, what would cancerous look like?"

Art Cullen: Travelling the Gravel Road of the Info Superhighway. Storm Lake, Iowa, Police Chief Mark Prosser would like to send pictures of criminals and missing persons electronically to other law enforcement agencies for immediate response. But he can't. Buena Vista University Computer Center Director Joe Traylor would like to reach out in this rural town of 9,000 via telephone lines for expanded communications. But he can't. High-speed telecommunications services that are available now in Omaha for as little as $30 a month won't be offered here for the "foreseeable future," says a phone company spokeswoman. Whether it's roads or phone lines, the chicken-egg scenario is seen: We don't have enough people to make it pay, and without the infrastructure we won't have enough people.

Ralph Nader, In the Public Interest: Corporate Welfare is Booming. Remember that brief dustup during the 1992 Presidential campaign about how little in federal taxes that foreign companies pay because of all the ways they can maneuver their books and engage in pricing transfers to artificially increase their costs in the U.S. The estimates of taxes they should have paid ranged from $3 billion a year to seven times that number. Well, nothing has been done about this problem since. Neither Gingrich, nor Dole nor Clinton have dealt with this issue or related tax loopholes for corporations. So Taxwatch, a broad coalition of environmental, community, consumer and religious organizations sent Congress a list of 12 corporate tax breaks and loopholes, totalling $91.1 billion over five years, which the coalition believed should be ended.

Richard Rothstein: The Minimum Wage and Pocket Change. Republicans and their small-business supporters have always hated the minimum wage--House Majority Leader Richard Armey vows to fight minimum wage increases "with every fiber of my being." So why does the Republican budget also cut the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is supposed to ease the burden on the working poor?

Hal Crowther: Waiting for the Visigoths. Most American voters not only fail to understand the connection between economics and politics, they fail to acknowledge that one exists. Taught for generations to despise Karl Marx and everything he stood for, they have refused to learn the simple Marxist precept that illuminates history better than anything else political science has devised: An unequal distribution of wealth divides a society into classes, and class interests determine everything else. Sometimes this class blindness, this economic blindness, is simply staggering. At its worst, the American public acts like a quarter of a billion blind mice, mutant mice who circle around the purring candidates every election and deny that these are cats.

Book Review: Todd Basch: Another Populist Moment? "Is the language of populism, continually renewed to chill a fresh elite and warm a fresh array of ordinary folk, still the language we need?" Todd Bash compares Michael Kazin's The Populist Persuasion with Lawrence Goodwyn's 1978 edition of the Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America.

Media Beat: Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon: The Union-Busting States of America? Think back about a dozen years to when President Reagan waxed eloquent about the right of workers in Poland to form unions. That was then. Today, most U.S. media are quiet about another country where the right to organize unions has virtually disappeared. It's a country where workers are often spied on, threatened or fired when they try to launch unions. It's a country known as the United States of America--or perhaps that should be "the Union-busting States of America."

A.V. Krebs: Populism: Born, Bred in Agrarian Revolt. While rural America and the family farming community in particular has always allied itself traditionally with ideals of agrarian populism and Jeffersonian democracy, it frequently is left out of the equation when "liberals" talk about fundamental political and economic reform. Some of that wrong-headed thinking can be simply attributed to urban liberal myopia, but also it happens because "farmers" are looked upon (all too often by the "liberal establishment") as part of the problem, rather than being, as history records, usually the first and hardest-hit victims of corporate oppression. But family farmers should not be ignored for the insight and leadership they can and should provide in this future populist struggle.

Dan Yurman: Autumn Winds Chill Militias. In Idaho it's time to come down from the high country. Snow levels will soon descend below 7,500 feet. As September temperatures in the Snake River Valley plunge overnight into the 40s, it's also time to consider what the warm months of summer brought us. Mostly, what summer brought was hot air, media foolishness traditionally associated with the "dog days" of August, and some interesting public responses to militia initiatives.

Laura McClure: AFL-CIO: A Revolution of Degrees. Some union activists are more hopeful than others about the changes AFL-CIO President-elect John Sweeney's administration might bring to the labor movement. But the hard job of rebuilding the labor movement remains in the hands of people we don't read about in the papers, the thousands of union members and officers who are trying every day to democratize and enliven their unions.

Jesse Jackson: Class War in the Foxhole. The huge and growing gulf between rich speculator and workers in paycheck poverty is not an act of nature, nor the inevitable result of a global economy. This gulf comes from power. What has happened in America over the past 20 years is that the power of organized money has grown and the power of organized people has declined. A new popular movement is needed to revive labor unions, to rouse the unorganized, to galvanize working people, and to take back the Democratic Party or launch a new one.

Molly Ivins: For Whom Are They Balancing the Budget? We keep saying we have to balance the budget so we won't pass this dreadful debt on to our children, but what we are doing is destroying our children's ability to get anywhere. The Republicans are cutting student loans and job-training programs. We're sacrificing young people so the rich can get even richer.

Free Lance: Nothing in Life, Especially the Press, is Free (see below).

Eugene McCarthy: The Caesarian Solution. If it is unfair to pass the national debt onto the next generation, McCarthy wonders, why not tax the past generations that built up the debt and profited by it? A capital levy, phased in and related to capital gains taxes, should be imposed so as to collect $5 trillion dollars to apply on the debt. It could incorporate a holding period before imposing the tax, providing for some graduation of taxes within the range of differences among the top 10 percent of wealth owners. This would not be a redistribution of wealth, but rather a redistribution of debt.



Both the House and Senate versions of the federal budget included deficiency payments that compensate farmers for low market prices. But, according to the Center for Rural Affairs in Walthill, Neb., both versions cut benefits to family-size farms, while practically exempting the largest farms from cuts. The Senate bill would cut payments on an additional 15 percent of base acres, but the largest farms have sufficient acreage to continue receiving the maximum $100,000 payments under the program. The House version appears to close one loophole but leaves others open, letting the largest farms escape cuts. The only exceptions are large cotton and rice farmers, who would sacrifice marketing loan gains.

Urban consumers benefit from the low market prices that the deficiency program is designed to compensate, but many still have trouble sympathizing with farmers who work with hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets, but the National Family Farm Coalition puts it in perspective in the Preamble to its Ames Platform, which noted that in 1990 nearly 22 percent of U.S. farm operator households had incomes below the official poverty threshold, twice the rate of all U.S. families; from 1982 to 1993 the index of prices received by farmers rose only 7.5 percent while the index of prices paid by farmers rose 23 percent; and in 1993 the average price of corn per bushel was $2.12 (in 1987 dollars), compared with $5.23 in 1975, while wheat was $2.61 a bushel compared with $7.30. The median return on investment by the food processing industry from 1990-1994 was 15.9 percent, compared with 11.4 percent for all industries and 3.4 percent for farmers. PROUD TO BE FOSSIL PATRIOTS FROM KANSAS

While researching the historical underpinnings of the Populist movement, we ran across the following definitions:

CONSERVATIVE, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as

distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

CORPORATION, n. An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.

POPULIST, n. A fossil patriot of the early agricultural period, found in the old red soapstone underlying Kansas; characterized by an uncommon spread of ear, which some naturalists contend gave him the power of flight, though Professors Morse and Whitney, pursuing independent lines of thought, have ingeniously pointed out that had he possessed it he would have gone elsewhere. In the picturesque speech of his period, some fragments of which have come down to us, he was known as "The Matter with Kansas."

These definitions are from The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, published in 1911.


The Progressive Populist is the creation of Jim Cullen in cahoots with his two brothers, John and Art.

Jim Cullen has been in journalism for 20 years, working at weekly and daily newspapers in Iowa, Louisiana and Texas. Most recently, he spent nearly four years as associate editor of The Texas Observer in Austin. At these papers, Jim has served as a political reporter and columnist.

Jim is editor of The Progressive Populist. He and his wife, Becky Garcia, live in Austin.

John Cullen has worked as a photographer, reporter and editor at newspapers in Iowa and Washington state. He was named Iowa's Press Photographer of the Year.

Six years ago, John founded The Storm Lake Times, a twice weekly county seat newspaper in his Iowa hometown.

John is publisher of The Times and The Progressive Populist. He and his wife, Mary, have two children and live in Storm Lake.

Art Cullen has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Iowa for 16 years as a reporter and editor. He twice won the Champion-Tuck Award for Economic Reporting, based at Dartmouth College, for reporting on the Farm Crisis in Iowa.

Art is editor of The Storm Lake Times and is managing editor of The Progressive Populist.

Our cover artist, Dolores Cullen, is married to Art. They have four children, including two uncontrollable twin 3-year-old boys.

The Cullens are the sons of the late Pat and Eileen Cullen of Storm Lake. Pat Cullen was foolish enough to run as a Democrat for the Iowa Legislature on the Kennedy ticket. He had a KKK cross burned in his "honor".He lost.

The Progressive Populist is owned by its employees. It is edited in Austin and produced at The Times in Iowa.

The Progressive Populist is printed by Ric and Grace Casson, a husband-wife team and co-owners with the Cullens of The Times Printing Company.



A strike at Detroit's two daily newspapers continued into its fourth month. When picket lines of the six striking unions temporarily stopped delivery of Sunday newspapers in early September, the newspaper was forced to airlift copies from the printing plant by helicopter. Finally, the newspapers got a judge to limit the number of pickets outside the plant, which effectively allowed the newspapers to get their trucks through the picket lines.

While many advertisers have pulled out, including Kmart Corp. and the major grocery chains, six national corporations continued to advertise in the scab newspapers: J.C. Penney, Lord & Taylor, Target, Home Depot, Dayton-Hudson and Montgomery Ward. The AFL-CIO has called for a nationwide boycott of those businesses.

Both Gannett and Knight-Ridder have tried to bring in replacements from other newspapers. Labor Notes, a Detroit-based labor magazine, noted ironically that only last year the Free Press editorialized against the use of permanent replacements during strikes, but its owners told Guild members they would begin hiring permanent replacements on August 10 and more than 1,100 had been hired by Labor Day.

In the Detroit Journal online strike paper, Margaret Trimer-Hartley wrote that "Gannet and Knight-Ridder, Inc. know they will need far fewer workers as technology takes over the industry. Busting the unions would enable the companies to easily get rid of all the workers they no longer need. No more buyouts. No more severance packages. No more strings attached.

"Additionally, the millionaires and billionaires who head these corporations could exert even more control over the editorial content of the press without the unions. For example, reporters who cannot negotiate cost of living raises through their unions will likely do -- or write -- whatever they think their bosses want them to just to get a raise.

"If they can bust the unions in Detroit, they can bust them anywhere. And without protections and free speech in the workplace, what role would the mega media monopolies serve in this so-called democracy?"

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