Why I left 60 Minutes – POLITICO Magazine

The obvious question: Why wait 37 years to tell this story?

The nut of the story follows:

“My last 60 Minutes segment, ‘Foreign Agent,’ featured well-known former U.S. officials and presidential campaign aides from both parties who were cashing in on their political connections by working as lobbyists or investment bankers for foreign entities. One of the latter was former Commerce Secretary Pete Peterson, at the time the CEO of the New York-based investment firm Blackstone and, more important, one of Don Hewitt’s closest personal friends. The two men were so close that Don would often join Peterson on his company helicopter for Friday-night flights to the Hamptons, thereby avoiding the summertime bumper-to-bumper traffic.The script we’d written included the line, ‘For Japan and other foreign interests, finding former U.S. officials to do their bidding is not at all difficult,’ accompanied by the image of a Japanese newspaper advertisement with five smiling Blackstone officials, extolling their prior U.S. government service and connections. The translation of the ad read, ‘If you are thinking about developing a new business or an investment strategy … that will be effective in the U.S., by all means, consult us!’During the production process, when I showed Mike Wallace the photo I’d had shipped from Tokyo, Mike said, ‘That’s not our story—you’re not filming that.’ And I countered, ‘Mike, what are you talking about? This is the nut of the story—former officials trading on the prestige of their former positions, trying to make a buck with foreign companies and governments.’ Wallace and I had a huge expletive-filled shouting match, toe to toe, our faces close; I refused to back down, and he stormed out. We put the picture in the piece.The first time Don screened the piece, he quipped, ‘I guess I’m not going to get any more rides on Pete’s helicopter.’ But as the days and weeks wore on, with the piece not green-lighted for air—ostensibly because it was ‘too long’—I realized that I had no choice but to find some sort of editorial compromise, which was offensive to me then and, quite frankly, still is.One day, while I was on the phone, Don walked into my office and asked whether I’d found a way to ‘fix’ the piece.’Yes,’ I said, and I suggested that we remove Peterson’s name from the script and replace it with the name of another well-known Blackstone official, former Reagan budget director David Stockman. It was a nanosecond shorter—two syllables instead of three—and it solved the unstated, real problem that Don had with the story. Don smiled, said ‘Terrific,’ and left the room, which meant the segment had just been approved for air that Sunday.

via Why I left 60 Minutes – POLITICO Magazine.

Dont repeat mistakes that led to Superweeds

“What we created is simply a weed control system the main effects of which are to sell more Roundup and expensive modified seeds and allow farmers to cover more acres.”

“But not to fear, industry has a new solution — if you call it that: Take an older, harsher weed killer, 2,4-D, and breed resistance to it into seeds so more can be applied, enough to kill those pesky Superweeds. Meaning we are going to start over with the same approach, asking farmers to pay more for the privilege.

“How long do you think it will be before today’s Superweeds evolve to resist this ‘technology’? Adding to the risks, this ‘solution’ threatens other important parts of agriculture — the grapes and horticultural crops expanding across Iowa. Of course the chemical makers have an answer for this — a newer version of 2,4-D that is less likely to drift.”

via Dont repeat mistakes that led to Superweeds.

Suspicion confirmed: We need shorter Levi’s

I once wrote a column in which I confessed that I have short legs. My 34-30 Levi’s bunch up a little at the ankles, but at least they don’t require tailoring.

Being short-legged, I am an avid observer of other men’s legs, and I’ve realized over the years that I am far from the most dachshundian of men. Thousands, millions of American men have shorter legs than I. I especially notice the fellows of Asian and Latin descent, good-looking fellows who have topped out at 5-4 or 5-6, and whose legs would probably appreciate a 26- or 28-inch pant.

I’ve also noticed that a lot of guys wearing 32 or 34-inch legs are faking it. They want to be taller than they are, which is clear from the way their jeans accordion at the ankles like 1980s leg warmers.

Today I was thrift store shopping and spotted a nice pair of 34-30 Levi’s, but when I took them to the fitting room, they came about halfway down my shin. Proof positive that mean are forced to tailor their jeans because they can’t find any that fit!

So what’s the deal with Levi’s, and every other pants-maker, never offering anything shorter than a 30-inch inseam? It’s discrimination, man, and I’m sick and tired of it!

The original Doc Martin vs. Red Wing debate

A year ago I was at a gigantic new age surplus store in Chicago and saw a display of Red Wing boots selling for $250 and up. A few months later I was at a recording session while three hipster musicians compared their vintage Red Wings. I was impressed and surprised. Having lived in the country and out of the urban fashion loop for the last 20 years, I hadn’t realized that Red Wings had launched a “Heritage” line that was leaving an impressive footprint on the hipster fashion runway.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, my dad would bring his Red Wings to me with a box of rags and saddle soap and Nor-V-Gen and make me clean and oil them. It was not something I did willingly, always wondering under my breath why he didn’t shine his own damn shoes. But I did admire the Red Wings, and years later, I bought myself a pair at a shoe store in Red Wing, Minnesota.

The original Red Wing vs. Doc Martin debate took place in 1989, in the Mission District in San Francisco. I was visiting with a friend from Minnesota, and our California friends were all sporting new Doc Martins.

I thought they were silly — not just the boots with their yellow stitching, but the rock ‘n’ roll boys with their herd mentality, their black leather, and their willingness to spend $100 to look just as unique as the myriad other suburban white kids in the Mission.

Like most young Americans, I had been there. As a senior in high school, I started buying old Humphrey Bogart suits and trench coats at the thrift store. I went off to college in 1981 in Seattle with a short European army jacket and a New Wave hairdo.

One day as a college sophomore, back in Minnesota, I caught sight of myself in a mirror wearing an orange mohair sweater. I realized how desperate I was to use clothing to attract attention, and I decided to buy clothing from that point on that would not make a statement. (And yes, I understand that I was making the ultimate statement by doing so.)

It wasn’t much later that I bought my Red Wing boots. The brand had not achieved iconic status at the time, so the boots were a practical choice, not a fashionable one — with a dash of home-state pride thrown into the mix. “Vintage” was a word that applied to wine and cars, not clothing.

Return, then, to the summer of ’89, on 20th St. in the Mission among the Bay Area hipsters (before the word was in everyday use). I made a comment that Red Wings were clearly preferable: better made, better looking, American, and not such an obvious fad. The conversation devolved (and here it should be noted that many empty cans of Black Label were on the table), until we had broken into teams, jumping up and down shouting “RED WINGS, RED WINGS” on our side (I had apparently won some of them over already) and “DOC MARTINS, DOC MARTINS” on the other.

Red Wing actually took a step back during the next few years. They started relying on Chinese labor and contracted out a few nondescript models of hunting boots and hikers before hitting on the “heritage” idea.

Even when they were down, there were always a few good American-made models to be had, and I had a few. The best was a pair of loggers with a Vibram sole that I used for backpacking for 15 years. I wanted to kill our black lab puppy who chewed them up when they were almost new, but the damage was mostly cosmetic. Eventually my feet flattened out and they didn’t fit anymore, so I sent them off to the thrift store. Later I picked up a pair of mismatched steel-toed seconds for 20 bucks, but they disappeared out of the back of my truck a couple years later. I also found some used Irish Setters for a dollar, but they didn’t fit well and were a pain to lace up, so I passed them on to some other lucky thrift store shopper.

Recently I stopped at the outlet store in Red Wing and picked up a pair of cowboy-style boots with a low heel for riding horse and working around the barn, and a pair of rubber boots for my wife to muck out the stalls.

The latest chapter in this saga came yesterday, when my wife said my 17-year-old son had bought himself a pair of Doc Martins online.

I sat him down for a fatherly heart-to-heart talk, telling him about the original Doc Martins vs. Red Wings debate, and informing him that when he goes off to college next year, he may find that the Docs don’t send the same message in the big city as they do in a small conservative farm town.

He went online to check out the Red Wings, and immediately realized that he hadn’t done his homework. It was clear to him that our local boots had a lot more street cred than those silly English ones with the yellow stitching. Unfortunately, the vintage Red Wings cost a lot more, but I told him I’d take him down to the outlet store in Red Wing to see if we couldn’t find a deal.

Of course I can’t take credit for the resurgence of the Red Wing brand, but I do harbor a fantasy that our shouting match in the Mission may have lit a spark among the hipster elite, which kindled into a small flame by whispered regrets  (“Docs are cool and all, but have you ever heard of Red Wings?”) and spread by word-of-mouth and the Internet until the demand for Minnesota’s boot of choice caught someone’s attention in the board room. “Hey, do you think there might be a market for a line of vintage Red Wings?”

As I said, I’m not expecting any credit. But if the geniuses in Red Wing want to show their appreciation, my son needs a good pair of boots.

Cost of college

Interesting article by Thomas Frank (who is always interesting) on the rising cost of a college education , due to a combination of factors: administrative bloat, replacement of federal grants with federal loans, failure of the media, and mainly the abandonment of once great public institutions to the forces of the market.

I witnessed Minnesota’s public higher ed divestment as a member of the community college faculty union in the 1990s, as the state Legislature gave higher ed an ever shrinking piece of the budget pie. Simple math: lower taxes, higher tuition.

One thing Frank didn’t mention, that I thought he would: As students are forced to think more about the cost of college, they increasingly see college as career training, contributing to the demise of the liberal arts education. As a result, more market-oriented citizens, fewer big-picture thinkers, more individualists, fewer communitarians, more corporatists, fewer cooperative-ists.

I generally don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but this sure was a happy coincidence for the prevailing forces in American culture who want to reduce human life to a contest for greenbacks.

Top 10 reasons not to vote Republican in 2014

It’s depressing to think we’re talking about the Republicans winning the Senate this year, when we should be talking about them losing the House. For what it’s worth, here’s my contribution.

Top 10 reasons not to vote Republican in 2014

10. They’ve got a race problem. There’s a reason just about everyone is white at most Republican events. The party has been race baiting forever, and it could be the party would’ve died a long time ago if it weren’t for the support of southern racists. Lyndon Johnson knew he was giving the South to the Republicans when he signed the Civil Rights Act, and it’s played out exactly as he predicted. The South is now the Republicans’ only stronghold, in large part due to a reaction against the Democrats’ support for minorities. From Reagan starting his campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, to the elder Bush’s infamous Willie Horton ad, to the insane reaction to the first Black president, Republicans have shown their true colors for years. Or should that be “color”?


Because of their race problem, the Republicans will probably never do anything about immigration reform, which would result in great benefits for everyone, and they’ve stonewalled every attempt to do so.

9. They’re the real abortion party. In spite of their obsession with denying women the right to choose abortion, their opposition to contraception and sex education actually makes them the pro-abortion party. During decades of pandering to the religious right on the issue, they’ve actually attempted to do very little, suggesting that the party leaders are stringing religious fundamentalists along with empty promises.

Don’t ask Hillary about abortion if you can’t handle her answer

8. Opposition to the minimum wage. They don’t just oppose an increase in the minimum wage; they would like to eliminate the minimum wage altogether, because it offends their anti-government, pro-business ideology.


They think business owners will give workers a fair wage out of the goodness of their hearts, or that the benevolent “market” will magically make everyone earn what they really deserve. We’ve seen how that works. In fact, a higher minimum wage was part of the growth of the middle class and the glory years of the ‘50s and ‘60s the Republicans are so nostalgic for. More money in the pockets of the middle and lower classes is good for everyone.


Their anti-government ideology means they would also like to destroy Social Security, Medicare, and Obamacare (even though it’s essentially a private insurance program), gut public education and environmental protection, and limit government to building roads and waging war (which they never seem to mind spending money on — see number 5).

Republicans unanimously vote down minimum wage increase

7. They’re the war party. The one part of the public sector they support is the military (although supporting veterans is another matter). As we saw during the Bush II years, Republicans are in bed with the military-industrial complex, and they will always support war, however unwise, unjust, or unwinnable. Despite their fixation on the national debt, they will never cut defense to the levels needed to reduce the deficit.


Bush laughs at no WMD in Iraq

6. Opposition to equal pay for women. The latest example is the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would do nothing more than ensure that women working the same job as men, with the same qualifications, would be paid the same as their male counterparts. Not one Republican voted in favor. No surprise coming the party of “legitimate rape.”

Equal pay for equal work a no-brainer, right?

5. Opposition to equal rights for LGBTQ people. Republicans, many of whom pretend to be “libertarians,” want government control over our bedrooms. They have opposed gay rights and gay marriage forever and will continue to do so because of their reliance on the religious right for votes (see number 3) and their general discomfort, as conservatives, with the new and the different.


Anti-Gay stance still enshrined in majority of state GOP platforms

4. The gun fetish. On guns, the Republican Party has gone completely off the rails due to conspiracy theories, Fox News, and nostalgia for an America that never was or wasn’t as good as they think — in this case the Wild West. Only the fringe on the left actually wants to eliminate private gun ownership, but if you listen to the NRA, everyone with a D by their name wants to take away everything from hunting rifles to handguns. Their push for more guns in more hands in more places at more times is downright crazy. Most Americans want some reasonable gun control and believe it may have an effect on the horrific rate of gun-related deaths in our country. Most Americans are already tired of seeing gun rights yahoos carrying their sidearms at the school playground or city park.


Open carry event at Texas Jack-in-the-Box draws police response video

Man legally stalks children’s baseball game: ‘I’ve got a gun and there’s nothing you can do about it’

3. Religious insanity. Republicans need religious fundamentalists’ votes because there aren’t enough rich people to support their anti-middle-class economic policies. As a result they have embraced a twisted history that paints the Founding Fathers as good Christians. Many of them want Christian prayer in schools, creationism in science classes, and Bible verses on the courthouse lawn. As a result of the Republican Party’s “deal with the (religious right) devil,” the lunatics have now taken over the asylum. Many Republican leaders believe the End Times are upon us so there is no point in protecting the environment or avoiding war. They are actually looking forward to global catastrophe, because it means Jesus is coming soon. This should disqualify them from holding public office, which requires a belief in protecting the people from catastrophe, not welcoming it.


Christian delusions are driving the GOP insane

How the religious right is fueling climate change denial

The crackpot caucus

Oklahoma candidate wants to stone homosexuals to death

Which brings us to …

2. Climate change denial. The Republican Party has become the anti-science party — not just because of all the fundamentalists who don’t believe in evolution and long for the End Times, but also because of the pro-business, anti-environment forces who care about nothing but short-term profits. A true “conservative” party would be looking 100 years down the road and taking the safest course to prosperity, not questioning overwhelming scientific evidence strictly to line the pockets of a small minority of super-rich.

Scientists more certain than ever on climate change

‘Dark money’ funds climate change denial

Which brings us to …

1. They’re stealing from you! During 30-plus years of their pet ideology, “supply side” or “trickle-down” economics, being implemented on the local, state, national, and global level, real income for the vast majority of us has stagnated or declined, while the richest (folks you’ve probably never met) have seen their earnings and savings multiply. The numbers are in on this economic “theory”: It screws the working class and middle class for the benefit of a tiny minority at the top.

The Ryan budget is a broken record of failed trickle-down economics

Next time someone argues for ‘trickle-down’ economics, show them this

Rainy day project

DSC_0480If it’s raining where you  are, consider dismantling or demolishing something that’s been an eyesore in your life for too many years. It worked for me.

Yesterday Diane and I were depressed about the rain, which we were expecting in the afternoon but came in the morning. So we destroyed the old Wurlitzer organ, which has been sitting on our porch since my mom passed away last fall.

That was fun, so we moved on to the old pickup camper that’s been parked in the trees behind our house for 16 years or so.

We bought it in the early ’90s when we were living in International Falls. I had recently purchased a 1967 Dodge 100 pickup, and a few months later we found the Tel Star camper of about a the same vintage. We didn’t travel a lot with it, but it become living quarters for us and later my brother and sister-in-law.

Shortly after Cedar was born in 1995 we stayed in it in Detroit Lakes when Diane was teaching a summer school class at the technical college. The next summer we had it set up next to the teepee on our Rum River property, before the mosquitoes drove us indoors to the farmhouse where Jim and Debbie were living (and where we live now).

After that Jeff and Linda lived in a duplex of the pickup camper and their VW camper before they moved into the farmhouse when we went back to Da Falls.

It’s been sitting in its current location since we moved her permanently in 1997, growing less and less watertight and mouse proof. For years, Diane’s been complaining about the air of white-trashiness it lends to our yard, and I’ve been defending the old beast, pretending it may serve a purpose someday, mainly out of the desire not to do anything with it because it would either cost money or take time and effort.

So yesterday on a whim I started in with a hammer, a super bar, and a pruning shears (to cut wires and hoses and copper tubing for the propane stove). I completely lost track of time as I pulled paneling and insulation from the walls, pried loose cabinet doors, and uncovered an impressive array of mouse nests.

I’m down to the basic wood structure and aluminum sides now, wondering if I should set a match to what’s left, hoping it falls down when the wood burns, or put the circular saw blade on backwards and start cutting aluminum.

The result will be one less eyesore, lots of splinters, and the satisfaction of wrecking something that needs wrecking. Also something salvaged: a rainy day.