Former Senator Al Franken turns 70

liberal talk radio

Al FrankenAl Franken was a writer and featured performer on Saturday Night Live in 1977–1980, leaving when producer Lorne Michaels did. Michaels had recommended Franken to succeed him as the producer, but NBC president Fred Silverman said no, probably because of a Franken skit that insulted Fred personally.

Franken returned to SNL in 1986, then from 1988 to 1995.  It was during that period that he did a running bit called “Daily Affirmations With Stuart Smalley.” It was a mock self-help show inspired by Franken attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

The skit series inspired a 1992 novel, titled after Smiley’s catchphrase, “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!” I’ll admit to relating to that mantra, even if I wasn’t quite sure it was true of me.

Air America Radio was a talk radio network, with a liberal POV, trying (and largely failing) to counterprogram the conservative message. The Al Franken Show was the flagship talk program from 2004 to Valentine’s Day 2007. That was the day Franken announced his candidacy for the United States Senate for the state of Minnesota.

The 2008 Senate race between Franken and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman was incredibly close, each with 41.99% of the vote. After recounts and court rulings, Franken wasn’t sworn in until July 7, 2009. The Minnesota senator had a progressive voting record and was reelected with 53.9% of the vote in 2014.

The allegations

Some sexual misconduct allegations were made against Franken in 2017. One famous photo from before he was in public office he apologized for, and the subject, a fellow comedian, accepted that. Nevertheless, the Senate Ethics Committee announced on November 30 it was “investigating allegations against him.” Some liberal groups and commentators… called on Franken to resign.”

As other accusations surfaced, “more than two dozen Democratic senators, led by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, called on Franken to resign before the ethics committee could review the allegations.

“Although Franken had asked to be allowed to appear before the Senate Ethics Committee to give his side of the story, on December 6 Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told him he had to announce his resignation by five o’clock or he could be censured and stripped of committee assignments. On December 7, Franken announced his intention to resign his Senate seat. He called some of the accusations ‘simply not true’ and said he remembered others ‘very differently.'”

I do wish he had gotten the hearing he was due, and not just for his sake. Many people believed that Gillibrand, who I’ve voted for multiple times and would select again, was working to get rid of a potential rival for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President.

I don’t buy the notion that she was that calculating. She’s long been a staunch advocate for ridding sexual harassment and assault in the military and might be getting some traction in 2021. Nevertheless, I was convinced early on that she had zero chance of obtaining her party’s support for a White House run in 2020.

Aftermath

In 2019, New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer documented substantial inaccuracies in allegations by conservative talk-radio host Leeann Tweeden. “Seven former or current senators who called for Franken’s resignation in 2017 told Mayer they regretted doing so.”

Here is the Al Franken website, which leads to his podcast (over 110 episodes) and “other stuff.” As he puts it: “A five-time Emmy-winning SNL comedy writer/producer, joins a four-time #1 NYT bestselling author, a three-time highest-rated national progressive radio host, a two-time Grammy-winning artist, and a former US Senator. So, it gets a little crowded in the booth when Al talks about public policy and sometimes political comedy with notable guests. Think ‘The Daily’ without the resources of the NYTimes.”

First is important; “can’t count” is better

Nine is enough

Margaret Chase Smith 1950I’ve long had this rule of thumb about progress for groups who have been traditionally underrepresented in an area. The person who is first is important, of course, indeed vital. But real equality takes place when one can’t count the number without looking it up.

So it’s excellent that Sarah Thomas is the first woman to referee a Super Bowl game. And there are plenty of other firsts in sports in recent years.

But “‘What is really going to excite me is when this is no longer aberrational or when this is no longer something that’s noteworthy,’ said Amy Trask, who in 1997 became the Oakland Raiders’ chief executive and the first woman of that rank in the N.F.L. Few have followed in similar roles.”

Once I knew all of the female spacefarers. Now that there have been more than five dozen, I look at the list and not recognize some of the names. And THAT is a GOOD thing. Too many to keep track of is the point of the exercise.

US Govt

There are currently 24 women in the US Senate and 58 all-time. That’s not nearly enough. Still, I can no longer name all of the current female Senators, which I could do as recently as the early 1990s. (Margaret Chase Smith, R-ME, was the ONLY woman in the Senate the year I was born.)

I’m looking forward to the point when I can’t name all of the women who have been on the US Supreme Court. (Hint: there have been five of them, and three are on the court presently.)

The late, great Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a great quote about this. “When I’m sometimes asked ‘When will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]?’ and I say ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.” Amen.

Of course, I needed to get my calculator to count all of the women who have been elected President or Vice-President of the United States. I can’t count that high. Lessee, there’s one…

United Nations

UN Women announces the theme for International Women’s Day, 8 March 2021, as “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world.” It calls for “women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls…

“The majority of the countries that have been more successful in stemming the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic and responding to its health and broader socio-economic impacts, are headed by women.

“For instance, Heads of Government in Denmark, Ethiopia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, and Slovakia have been widely recognized for the rapidity, decisiveness, and effectiveness of their national response to COVID-19, as well as the compassionate communication of fact-based public health information.

“Yet, women are Heads of State and Government in only 20 countries worldwide.”

Being for the benefit of…

Yes, THAT Paul Simon

I shall have gone to three benefit events in a two-week period in October. None of them, unsurprisingly, were in person. Two of the three I HAD attended in person LAST year. But that was so long ago.

Wizard’s Wardrobe

The Wizard’s Wardrobe is a program in Albany’s South End. “Children spend time with a special tutor just for them — to read, write, and explore the wonderful world of books.” It was started by two members of my church, Deb and Eric Fagans. They were inspired by the TED talk Once Upon a School.

The program grew out of the relationship our church had developed with the Giffen Elementary School in the South End of the city of Albany. Several of our members tutored at Giffen and held an annual Book and Author event there.

The benefit on Monday, October 5 featured Katherine Paterson, Newbery Medal-winning author of The Bridge to Terabithia. She read as did local authors Margaret Miki Conn, Lorraine Garnett, and Marion Roach Smith. The Black Theatre Troupe of Upstate New York performed The eyez in the wall, written and directed by Aaron Moore. The ASL Interpretation was provided by Marian Eaton. The Master of Ceremonies was Rex Smith, Editor of the Times Union newspaper.

There was a ZOOM afterparty following the presentation. I knew about half of the participants personally. One of the attendees was Gregory Maguire, a local author who’s done well. He wrote the book Wicked, upon which the musical was based. What’s the correct protocol for departing a gathering online?

Green The Senate, Save the Planet

Paul Simon hosted an event to support seven US Senate candidates on Thursday, October 8. The singer wrote, “In a year that has been incredibly challenging, often overwhelming, and too often heartbreaking, it is easy to become discouraged. But future generations are counting on us, and I urge you to channel your energy in these final days before Election Day to help secure a pro-environment majority in the Senate.”

Simon began the program by singing American Tune. Then there were videos, including from the sponsor Give Green and from former Presidential candidate and rich guy Tom Steyer. Some of the candidates gave brief video presentations.

Then Simon interviewed three of them: Steve Bullock (MT), Jamie Harrison (SC), and Theresa Greenfield (IA). Paul was an unsure questioner, seeking to ask certain things and at the same time wanting the candidates not to be hemmed in by his queries. Still, the candidates acquitted themselves well.

After another video, Paul sang The Boxer, Homeward Bound, Sound of Silence, and Here Comes the Sun. He was accompanied by a guy named Mark Stewart. He was wearing a mask, but I think he’s this guy.

Literary Legends@Home

The Friends and Foundation of the Albany Public Library are having its annual Literary Legends Gala on Saturday, October 17 from 7 to 10 pm. Each year, the group “selects a new outstanding person of letters in our community, and invites the community to celebrate them with a cocktail reception in their honor.” Well, not in person THIS year.

The FFAPL is honoring the writer Elisa Albert. Past honorees have included William Kennedy, Paul Grondahl, Amy Biancolli, Gregory Maguire, Barbara Smith, Marion Roach Smith, Dr. Leonard Slade, Athena Lord, Frankie Bailey, Alice Green, Peter Golden, Lyn Lifshin, and Dan Wilcox. (The second time Gregory and Marion appear in this post.)

The gala is the primary fundraising effort of the FFAPL, which “provides critical financial support to the Albany Public Library in order to help the Library provide education, literacy, career development, cultural enrichment, and lifelong learning.” It can provide mini-grants for the library to offer programming that the APL cannot. One can buy tickets here.

BTW, on October 20 at 12:15 pm, there will be a ZOOM review of the book Outgrowing God: A Beginner’s Guide by Richard Dawkins. The reviewer will be Carl Strock, a former columnist for the Daily Gazette, Schenectady. It is free but one must preregister here.

Senator Elizabeth Warren turns 70

the trouble with “tough” women in politics

Elizabeth WarrenAs a candidate for President of the United States, Elizabeth Warren probably has a plan for that. The Guardian suggests she is the intellectual powerhouse of the Democratic party.

Recently, she’s been getting applause even in heart of MAGA country. I think that’s because the “liberal firebrand” had been a diehard conservative, for years a registered Republican.

Maybe that’s why her campaign is “on the rise”. “Voters are inspired by her personal story of struggle growing up in Oklahoma and how she connects that to her worldview of fighting for everyday people and challenging power.”

She tells about her dream for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Back in the 1970s, “our toaster oven had an on-off switch and that was it. At some point, someone had the bright idea of adding a timer and automatic shut-off. This simple change made it a whole lot harder for distracted mothers” – like her – “or anyone else, to leave it running until it set the kitchen on fire.

“Thirty years later, while working on an article about how the government could protect consumers from predatory financial companies, I thought about those old toaster ovens. By then, it was all but impossible to buy a toaster that had a one-in-five chance of bursting into flames and burning down your house. A government agency monitored toasters for basic safety, just like government kept lead paint out of children’s toys and rat poison out of medicine.”

Elizabeth Warren has lots of ideas about education. Her student debt plan, formulated from grassroots pressure, is seen as an outsized economic boon for people of color. Try her new calculator to see how much of your student loan debt would be cancelled under her plan.

“Growing up, I knew I wanted to be a teacher… But that meant I’d need a college diploma. Our family didn’t have the money to pay for it.. But I got my second chance at a public commuter college that cost $50 a semester and opened a million doors for me.

“I got my degree and I got to live my dream: I became a teacher for students with special needs. My story was only possible because America invested in kids. That just isn’t true today.

“Betsy DeVos is the worst Secretary of Education we’ve seen. She and her team are up to their eyeballs in conflicts of interest. Instead of championing our students, they protect for-profit colleges that break the law and cheat them.”

And she has a plan to pay for things. An Ultra-Millionaire Tax in place for the 75,000 largest fortunes in the country would cover Universal Child Care and early education, do universal free public college, and cancel student loan debt for 42 million Americans. Even the 1% know they aren’t paying their fair share: a new poll shows 60% of millionaires support her idea.
Elizabeth Warren.obama
It seems she has two major impediments in her campaign. One is that she’s a woman of a certain age. Jill Filipovic wrote in the New York Times about age and the female politician: “They are seen as too young and inexperienced right up until they are branded too old and tedious. Elizabeth Warren… finds herself put in the same ‘old’ category as [Bernie] Sanders and Joe Biden, even though both men are nearly a decade older than she is. Men who are more or less the same age as Ms. Warren — John Hickenlooper (67), Jay Inslee (68) — are not lumped in with the white-hairs.”

The Daily Show’s Desi Lydic weighs in on why female 2020 presidential candidates such as Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren aren’t getting as much media coverage as their male counterparts.

Hillary Clinton’s 2016 communications director talked to Vanity Fair about Warren, Harris and the Likability Quotient. She sees the trouble with “tough” women in politics, is that “The media unintentionally perpetuates male candidates’ advantages because they look and sound like candidates who have won in the past. And—shocker—they’re usually men.”

Rebecca Solnit writes Unconscious Bias is Running for President: On Elizabeth Warren and the False Problem of ‘Likeability’. She sees stories like this one – I Can’t Believe Elizabeth Warren Is Losing to These Guys – as articles that tie her to failure before the race has truly started.

The other topic of “controversy” is described by former Treasury Secretary Robert Reich: “Elizabeth Warren is one of the most talented politicians and policy leaders in America. We must not allow Trump or anyone else to ‘swift-boat’ her because she identified herself as an American Indian three decades ago.

“At worst, Warren may have stretched the bounds of the definition of whiteness. That’s understandable. She grew up in Oklahoma, a state created from Indian Territory. She probably witnessed the disrespect and occasional brutality that Native Americans were, and still are, subject to. Her own genetic test showed at least one Native American ancestor. She has stressed that she is not a member of a tribal nation.”

“She hasn’t insulted Native Americans by calling a leading politician ‘Pocahontas’ and joking about the Trail of Tears in the 1830s.

“Warren got no career benefit from her self-designation. At every step of her exceptional rise in the legal profession, those responsible for hiring her saw her as a white woman. The fact that she claimed Indian descent on a Texas bar form that was meant to be confidential is further evidence that her identification arose from sincere belief.”

One can agree or disagree with her positions on other specific issues, but that’ll have to be another post. Still, there’s reason to believe that she would make America great again. Guess who voters prefer in 2020 if the ‘perceived electability’ factor was removed.

Elizabeth Warren turns 70 on June 22, the same day as Meryl Streep.

If I tend to believe her over him, is that partisan?

judge shall actSure, Brett Kavanaugh would not be the Supreme Court justice I would prefer on policy. But I sincerely believe my current antipathy towards him stems from two issues:

1. I tend to believe Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegation regarding him. We still live in a legal system that fails to identify, prevent and redress the widespread sexual assault and mistreatment of women. “We must account for that failure in parsing these events and allegations. For decades, these systemic inequities have barred people from reporting assault and receiving justice.”

Blasey Ford’s well-documented records were generated long before Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Her compelling testimony of sexual assault reopened old wounds for other victims Her description of how memory works matches what I’ve experienced.

Prior to testifying, she received death threats. She wouldn’t put herself and her children in peril over a fabricated story about a sexual assault which would prevent only this particular conservative judge from being put on the Supreme Court.

The fact that some Democrats are surely “being political” about this does not negate her truth.

2. Brett Kavanaugh is a recognizable type. Greg Hatcher wrote Watching the Douchebro Death Spiral: I Was That Guy. Fillyjonk had an epiphany, as quoted by Dustbury: “Party culture”? Totally a thing.

Like his sponsor, Brett Kavanaugh seems to lie about almost everything, including stupid stuff, traceable stuff. Kavanaugh lied about getting into Yale only on merit. His grandfather was an alum..

Politifact fact-checked his Senate confirmation hearings and found him veracity lacking.

His 1982 calendar does NOT exonerate him, but rather, points to the fact that Brett is Mark Judge’s boozy friend Bart, a belligerent and aggressive drunk.

That woman on CNN who said, “Tell me what boy hasn’t done this in high school?” rather broke my heart. BTW, not me, for one. The passage of time doesn’t erase youthful mistakes in the criminal justice system, for most people of a different race or class.

I’m happy the Senate forced the extension of the FBI probe of Kavanaugh. If we’ve made any progress since the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas debacle, it as that the character assassination foisted upon Hill does not seem to be sticking as much to Blasey Ford. Meager progress in 27 years, but it’s something.
***
Brett Kavanaugh: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford Testifies Against Brett Kavanaugh | The Daily Show with Trevor Noah – Nah, I don’t believe his response to the Blood Alcohol Chart question either.

NY Times opinion piece: An Injudicious Man, Unfit for the Supreme Court. “This was a job interview, not a criminal trial. Kavanaugh, in his fury and pathos, failed the test.”