Family-run newspaper in Iowa rushes to cover refugee ban
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Donald Trump has complicated the life of Art Cullen, editor of the family-run Storm Lake Times in northwest Iowa.
"Over the last two days, I'm trying to determine who's getting the shaft," he says about Trump's decisive and confusing immigration moves. "We're all trying to sort out what the f--- is going on."
Storm Lake is a 10,910-person, immigrant-filled meatpacking town in snowy northeast Iowa. There's no shortage of Trump supporters, but 88 percent of the elementary school kids are of color, with 75 percent Latino, and a total of 21 languages are spoken, says Cullen.
He was on deadline last night with both his regular column for the twice-weekly and an editorial on the immigration confusion. His wife was working on a piece on de facto lost boys and girls of Sudan and South Sudan in Storm Lake. His son covered a Monday afternoon meeting of church and social welfare groups on what they deemed a crisis. It had to all get to the printer by 10 a.m. Tuesday.
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By coincidence, the Iowa Supreme Court just ruled in a huge environmental lawsuit involving Des Moines Water Works, a municipal water utility serving 500,000 customers in Des Moines and nearby counties. The court said the company can't win damages in a suit against three counties over nitrate pollution in the Raccoon River, a primary water source for Des Moines. (Des Moines Register)
It's a perfect storm in Storm Lake, says Cullen, and a window onto the conundrum of Donald Trump's worldview, be it on economic development or immigration.
Storm Lake is filled with immigrants who have been frequent cheap labor for the slaughter of hogs and the manufacture of ethanol out of the corn-rich environs. "So we ship in Mexicans to slaughter hogs because we've put them out of business with NAFTA and are shipping everybody all our finished corn and pork, polluting the river in the process."
"It's about agricultural pollution," Cullen said. "We can grow more corn to feed more hogs, so we can ship in more Mexicans, Sudanese and Hondurans to process the hogs, sending the finished products to Mexico, Japan, Canada and China."
And Trump's ham-handed immigration moves? Consider how the star player for the University of Iowa basketball team — an obsession of Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters — is Peter Jok, a great three-point shooter from South Sudan. His mom is a dual citizen from Des Moines and member of the National Assembly back in South Sudan (one of the seven countries cited by Trump is Sudan, not the newly independent South Sudan, though they were long one and the same).
Jok wrote on Instagram Sunday night, "Although I am a naturalized citizen of the United States and not affected by Trump’s executive order on immigration, a lot of my friends and family are. ...It’s unfortunate the order has/will affect so many families and Sudanese athletes playing in the college and in the NBA." (Hawk Central)
When editor Cullen saw Sudan was on Trump's list, he still wondered, "Wouldn't it be fascinating if Peter was arrested and detained at LAX? Then how would we think about Sudanese people?"
This is, after all, not just a set of issues for folks in Miami or New York City, he says. "It's also in Storm Lake, Iowa, out in the middle of cornfields, surrounded by hogs."
Yup. It's a long way from the white collar rhetorical battleground of the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House.
"Monday Night Massacre"
Trump fired the acting Attorney General for saying she wouldn't defend Trump's executive order suspending immigration from seven majority Muslim countries.
There was very loose talk on cable TV last night, including comparing it to President Richard Nixon notoriously firing independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox (and the related resignations of others) amid the growing Watergate scandal. CNN, and Democrats, called it, "Monday Night Massacre." That's hogwash (quite apart from the applying "massacre" to a single individual), with Watergate's most famous chronicler, The Washington Post, writing this morning, "The circumstances differed significantly from those surrounding the Saturday Night Massacre." (The Washington Post)
Nixon was obstructing justice. Here, Trump wanted the Justice Department to make credible legal arguments in support of his executive order. That's its job. There are credible arguments to be made on this position. Fareed Zakaria, among others, was especially weak, Harvard's never-shy Alan Dershowitz especially strong (defending the move's legitimacy).
Media doesn't take Conway, Spicer bait
On Sunday came Kellyanne Conway's complaint that media executives weren't dismissing all those nasty network reporters and pundits. Monday's Sean Spicer briefing (the best free entertainment in Washington for now) brought more whining by him about alleged poor reporting. (Poynter)
Especially in light of Conway's latest claim of press victimization, it was notable that top executives at MSNBC, CNN, CBS News and The New York Times declined my offer to run any response. They're not going to get into a spitball fight. They don't plan to serve as the "opposition party" Trump Svengali Steve Bannon claims they represent.
Union contract at Huffington
Newly unionized Huffington Post workers ratified their first contract that "guarantees that no unit member will receive less than a 3 percent per year increase, and many will receive substantially more." They're now members of The Writers Guild of America, East.
The bargaining committee for the workers said, "We had a lot of concerns we wanted to tackle: editorial autonomy, newsroom diversity, fair and transparent pay and job security. We're happy to say we've achieved a contract that addresses all that and more."
The covered unit represents 214 editorial employees, most in New York City, who are now part of a union that represents about 4,000 media workers. Those include writers on "The Daily Show with Trevor Noah," writers-producers in nonfiction TV and network radio and TV copywriters.
Bashing Trump on immigration
The Chicago Tribune, an alma mater of mine that took a nonsensical "principled" position of endorsing Gary Johnson for president, says this about Trump and immigration:
"President Donald Trump wanted to prove his commitment to protecting America from terrorism. Instead, he illustrated the damage an inexperienced leader can inflict on innocent individuals by acting rashly to exert authority." (Chicago Tribune)
Best colleges and, now, best states
On Feb. 28, U.S News & World Report (for which I write) will reveal results of a Best States analysis that brings into play 68 metrics, including healthcare, education, infrastructure, gender parity and government. This follows upon a Best Countries ranking last year. (U.S. News)
Bannon's banal repetition
The Trump administration's notion of caricaturing the press as the "opposition party" is a variation on a theme one is seeing among right-wing parties elsewhere, as underscored in a fine piece on Al Jazeera's excellent London-based "The Listening Post" media show.
When populist right-wing European parties just met in Koblenz, Germany, it was rather conspicuous who wasn't allowed into the gathering, including some of Germany's best mainstream outlets, as well as the new Politico Europe.
As host Richard Gizbert underscores, the rising parties are breaking taboos and traditions on political discourse and the press struggles to discern how much attention they should pay. But have no doubt that the same pattern is at play: us against them (the press).
As he concludes, it's an unceasing debate about the role of the media in a "post-fact world." (The Listening Post)
The glory of democracy
The technology site TechDirt informs, "Over the last few months, we've had a very, very small, but still vocal group of folks in our comments who have gotten angry every time we've been critical of Donald Trump — even when we were making nearly identical complaints about him as we did about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton." (TechDirt)
The HBO competitor to the broadcast kingpins last night did a nice job last night both on the Democrats' chances of filibustering Trump's imminent Supreme Court choice and on an important upcoming court case.
The latter involves the proclivity of businesses to shaft both employees and customers by mandating binding arbitration in disputes and making it impossible to sue, including precluding class action lawsuits.
In particular, they looked at ethically challenged Wells Fargo screwing customers and noted how arbitration rulings overwhelmingly favor companies. At Wells Fargo, like other banks, you can't even open a checking account without (surely unknowingly) agreeing to fine print that bars you from ever suing.
Oh, it also had a great piece on professional poker players playing A.I. poker bots and getting their butts kicked, raising the prospect that A.I. could handle issues of warfare, cyber-security and business, among others, better than humans.
The morning babble
Monday evening's events dominated. "Fox & Friends" said to keep in mind that Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was going to get fired, anyway. "I don't understand why somebody just wouldn't want to make our country safe," said Ainsley Earhardt. It re-aired snippets of young Trump aide Stephen Miller's doubling-down appearance on Tucker Carlson's show defending the immigration order he apparently at least co-wrote, while changing the topic via a chat with a Maryland asphalt manufacturer who met with Trump ("The American Dream is Back" was the chyron).
"You guys should probably keep him off television," counseled Trump whisperer Joe Scarborough about the clearly green Miller. Alluding to adults such as Defense Secretary James Mattis, who apparently were very much in the dark about the immigration decision partly crafted by Miller, Scarborough wondered, "Why would you work at this (word theatrically left out) show?"
CNN "New Day" co-host Chris Cuomo argued that to say there any ambiguity facing Sally Yates is "generous to the president at this point." There was the implicit theme there, and elsewhere, of portraying Yates as heroine. For sure, she was helped by a tone-deaf White House badmouthing her as weak on immigration. But, as one former high-ranking Democratic Justice Department official told me, Trump should have merely said, "I dumped her for failing to carry out a basic responsibility as Acting Attorney General and defending an executive order in court."
A conspicuous silence
"Unlike most of the tech industry, the four telecom giants have been silent on Trump’s travel ban — It could be because AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile need something from the Trump Administration." (Recode)
"Fashion industry remains silent on Trump’s immigration ban." (Business of Fashion)
Super Bowl loser (already)
"GNC, which has been planning a Super Bowl commercial as part of its huge rebranding effort, said it has been rebuffed by the National Football League today, four days after Fox cleared its commercial in writing." (Ad Age)
"Jeff Hennion, exec VP-chief marketing and e-commerce officer at GNC, said the NFL objected to its commercial because fewer than 3 percent of its products include two of the 162 substances banned by the league. According to Mr. Hennion, the NFL has approval rights over commercials in the big game."
Axelrod on Spicer, Bannon
"In justifying the appointment of Steve Bannon, the president's chief strategist, to the National Security Council, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer cited my role in the Obama White House as a precedent. Spicer said press secretary Robert Gibbs and I attended classified National Security Council meetings 'all the time.’ That is simply not true." (CNN)
Amid the current unrest, read Jonathan Eig in The Undefeated on Ali:
"Ali loved America even though his ancestors didn’t choose this country but were brought here on slave ships. He loved America even though he was forced to attend segregated schools. He loved America even after the government and many of its citizens turned on him for becoming a Muslim. He loved America even after he was convicted of draft dodging and banned from boxing for three-and-a-half years."
"Ali loved America because he was a fighter, and America let him fight for his unpopular — and what some thought were unpatriotic — beliefs. He loved America because it’s a nation that gives fallen fighters repeated chances to get up off the mat." (The Undefeated)
Cutting Trump some slack
Amid the hoopla, and talk of "chaos," there was this:
"Stressing that the very future of the republic was at stake, President Donald Trump called upon all Americans Monday to stand strong and resolute in the face of empathy."
“'Now, more than ever, we as a nation must remain steadfast in resisting the urge to understand the feelings and perspectives of others,' said Trump, adding that a rising tide of dangerous empathy could, if unchecked, quickly engulf the country in compassion."
Yes, it is a dangerous tide. At least according to The Onion.