Book Review: The Hidden History Of Neoliberalism

Thom Hartmann’s latest in the Hidden History Series, The Hidden History of Neoliberalism: How Reaganism Gutted America and How to Restore Its Greatness, is scheduled for release on Sept. 13. Well-written and timely, it takes a deep dive into neoliberalism with direct application to life in Iowa.

As the guardrails are removed from our Democratic Republic, it is important to examine how we got to a place where people believe government should have only a minimal role, if any, in our economic life. Hartmann’s new book fills that need. Not only does he explain what neoliberalism is, he says it is time for us to turn our backs to it.

My focus is on Iowa and the recent Republican rout of Democrats by taking the governor’s office and large majorities in both chambers of the legislature. Without saying what they were doing, Governor Kim Reynolds and the Republican crew embraced neoliberalism principles about which Hartmann writes. Their policies include reducing taxes, gutting government spending, reducing licensing requirements, and other tactics to minimize the impact of regulations on business and enable the invisible hand of the global free market to work its magic. For goodness’ sake, there was even a Grover Norquist opinion piece in the June 7 edition of the Cedar Rapids Gazette!

Reading Hartmann brought this aspect of the Republican culture war into focus. It is neoliberalism at its zenith.

If Iowa Republicans had their way, society as we know it would be dissolved, leaving scattered family units headed by white, male patriarchs. Such families would have many children. Women might well take a subservient role to men in public life. If you listen to Republican rants from the state capitol, they already believe their chosen tribal relationships are in place. If Republicans declare war on trans people, or others who don’t lead what they consider to be a traditional life, they will fight until every one of them has been run out of the state or marginalized. It’s a crusade!

Like all the books in the Hidden History series, The Hidden History of Neoliberalism is a great weekend read with depth of thought hard to find on television or radio. I’ve been reading Hartmann’s series for the last couple of years, and each time his explanations and historical research bring something new to my attention.

For example, I lived through the U.S. plot to overthrow Chilean president Salvador Allende, the C.I.A.-backed military coup by Augusto Pinochet, and the restructuring of Chilean society by Milton Friedman and his gang of Chicago school neoliberals. Hartmann highlights the relevance of Friedman’s work during this fifty-year-old event to today’s Republican governance. “The blank slate of a new Chile offered the perfect laboratory for Milton Friedman’s Chicago Boys to try out their exciting new neoliberal experiment,” Hartmann wrote. Neoliberals have been hard at work creating a radical, right-wing culture that seeks to dominate our politics.

Thom Hartmann

According to Hartmann, America could go one of two ways: continue down the road to neoliberal oligarchy, as supported by the GOP, or choose to return to FDR’s Keynesian economics, raise taxes on the rich, reverse free trade, and create a more pluralistic society. The Hidden History of Neoliberalism is a primer in how the United States got to this point.

In a June 29 interview, I asked Hartmann what progressives should do about the clear and present danger of neoliberalism.

“The best way to combat what they are up to is expose it,” he said. If Democrats would speak more loudly, in a consistent enough fashion, the Republican policies of supporting great wealth, and white, male supremacy would be easy to organize around. Hartmann acknowledged organizing Democrats to work on a single thing is complicated.

Hartmann is essential progressive reading and I recommend The Hidden History of Neoliberalism. While readers await the new book, the others can be found at

Happy autumn reading!

Thom Hartmann is a four-time winner of the Project Censored Award, a New York Times bestselling author of thirty-two books, and America’s #1 progressive talk radio show host. His show is syndicated on local for-profit and nonprofit stations and broadcasts nationwide and worldwide. It is also simulcast on television in nearly 60 million U.S. and Canadian homes.

To buy a copy of the Hidden History of Neoliberalism: How Reaganism Gutted America and How to Restore its Greatness, click here. The book is available Sept. 13, 2022.

Living in Society

Labor Day 2022

Tomatoes before processing.

Thank a union if you have today off work.

In 2021, 15.8 million wage and salary workers, 11.6 percent of the workforce, were represented by a union according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is a small, yet mighty segment of the American people.

The flip side of this is 313.7 million Americans are not represented by a union. To me, that is the more significant number. Most of us have plenty of non-paid work to do.

I wrote about my relationship with unions in 2007.

I have been on just about every side of the union issue, beginning with my membership in what was then called the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America in 1971 (where I hold a retirement card). I worked at the University of Iowa while AFSCME unsuccessfully tried to organize us in the early ’80s, and supervised groups of teamsters from Local 238 in Cedar Rapids, and Local 142 in Philadelphia. In Philadelphia I negotiated the contract with the local business manager. My mechanics signed cards when I ran a trucking terminal near Chicago, and ultimately decided the teamsters union was not for them. Based on this experience, I know a bit about unions.

Fair Share Ten Years Later by Paul Deaton, Jan. 15, 2007.

If you believe unions are strong in 2022, some of them are. There are high profile news stories about organizing Amazon workers and Starbucks employees. Time Magazine reported last October the number of work stoppages over contract issues had doubled. Simple facts of the American economy emerging from the coronavirus pandemic — higher corporate profits, a Democratic president who supports organized labor, and a shortage of workers — have created a pro-labor sentiment. My advice is for workers to get what they can, while they can, as this environment may not endure once corporations determine how to cope with workforce changes.

Rick Moyle, executive director of the Hawkeye Area Labor Council AFL-CIO, wrote in this morning’s Cedar Rapids Gazette we should hold elected officials accountable.

The bottom line is that we can no longer allow our elected officials to say one thing on the campaign trail and do just the opposite once elected. They bank on people forgetting the statements and promises they have made. Working people can no longer afford to be duped into partisan rhetoric and hot button topics. We must come together and hold our elected officials accountable, regardless of party affiliation.

On Labor Day Hold Politicians Accountable by Rick Moyle, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Sept. 5, 2022.

Ahead of Labor Day, AFL-CIO launched what it believes is the largest voter organizing drive in history to restore America’s promise. “All told, more than 100,000 volunteers will reach at least 7.7 million working people between now and Election Day,” according to an article at Iowa Labor News.

On June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday. President Grover Cleveland signed it into law. Even though I retired during the pandemic, and its been many years since I carried a union card, I believe I’ll take the day off, work at home, and thank a union.

Living in Society

A Case for Bohannan

Coffee with Congressman Dave Loebsack, Feb. 22, 2020. Left to Right: Christina Bohannan, Dave Loebsack, Brad Kunkel, Elle Wyant, Paul Deaton. Photo Credit – David Leshtz.

I first met Christina Bohannan at a coffee shop in Iowa City, at my last political event before the coronavirus pandemic. My first impression was she was smart and engaged. As I’ve gotten to know her, she has proven to be a compassionate, knowledgeable leader, of the kind we need in the U.S. Congress. She will work hard to represent every resident of the First Congressional District. We should elect her on Nov. 8.

Republican incumbent Mariannette Miller-Meeks made the case for electing Bohannan by going off the deep end to adopt the crazy talk of today’s Republicans. Bohannan remains grounded and sensible.

Bohannan is a mother and a state representative. Like former Congressman Dave Loebsack was, Bohannan is a college professor. She is also a current colleague with former Congressman Jim Leach at the University of Iowa College of Law. She has both of their endorsements.

Bohannan is on the right side of issues. We’ve come to a place in society where rational arguments about specific policy positions will have little bearing on the 2022 midterm election. This election will be based, in large part, on visceral reactions people have had to the legacy of the Trump administration, including stacking the Supreme Court of the United States (ex. Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization which overturned Roe v. Wade), attempts to overturn any and all government regulation of the economy (ex. Executive Order to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan), and cutting government budgets without fear or awareness of consequences (ex. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017).

Bohannan has plenty more in her campaign kitbag.

For further reading, Bohannan’s biography is on her website. Viewing a recent speech the Iowa State Fair will get readers up to speed on current policy positions. What else is there to say?

She is the Democrat in the race. In 2022, that’s what we need.

Living in Society

Responding to the Fringe

Woman Writing Letter

This is a reply to a letter of support for Brad Sherman in this week’s The Hometown Current. He is running against Elle Wyant in the Iowa House District 91 open seat.

Response to Kesterson Letter

I read with interest Kris Kesterson’s letter to the editor of The Hometown Current titled, “Brad Sherman – a true patriot.” Why doesn’t the author explain why he is a patriot instead of listing assertions that have long been discredited?

In a free country, Kesterson is entitled to her opinion. I hope there are additional letters in the newspaper laying out the reasons to support him or Elle Wyant, the Democratic candidate for House District 91.

What I see in this letter is a litany of radical, right-wing talking points. If Sherman believes or supports these things, he lies on the fringe of our society. Wyant would be the better legislator for her ability to represent all Iowans and bring focus to what’s most important: education, economic development, and equity.

As it stands, the letter informs us the candidate holds radical, fringe positions which have no place in the Iowa state house.

Living in Society

Toward Summer’s End

Wildflowers along the state park trail.

The appearance of tall, yellow wildflowers is a sign summer is ending. By the calendar there are three weeks of summer left, yet the Labor Day weekend marks the end of trips and vacations, and the beginning of school. For some, school already started.

I finished planting in the garden and focused on closing out the last vegetables. I preserved enough tomatoes, peppers, pickles and greens. All that remains is finishing the plots, clearing them, and in October planting garlic.

Perhaps as a closing to summer, President Joe Biden gave a speech last night. I gave it a full B grade, although it is definitely worth hearing. If readers are so inclined, here it is.

Happy last days of summer!

Living in Society

Kevin Kinney’s Summer Barbecue

Inside State Senator Kevin Kinney’s barn in rural Johnson County. Photo Credit – Dominic Patafie.

The weather was perfect for a barbecue.

The first large political gathering in our new state senate district took place on Saturday, Aug. 27, in rural Oxford. Kevin Kinney is a full-time farmer seeking re-election to the senate after an incumbent Republican and he were mapped into the same new district by the state legislature. Kinney is running a strong campaign.

I volunteered to help with the event, arriving two hours before the starting time. The Kinney family had already done most of the set up, so I was able to take a walk around the farm and talk to the senator. The farm runs a cow-calf operation with 40 brood cows. We discussed the configuration of his corn and bean planter. I also asked some questions about the corn crop using this photo on my mobile device. Corn is drying out.

Field corn.

State Auditor Rob Sand was the featured guest. When he wasn’t speaking to the group, he socialized, took selfies with attendees, and distributed bumper stickers that said, “Bowhunter. State Auditor. Rob Sand Finds Bucks.” Lieutenant Governor candidate Eric Van Lancker was added to the speaker lineup. In addition to giving a short speech, he spent most of the event socializing with attendees. Both Sand and Van Lancker were present for the duration of the event.

My assigned duties were at the registration table where I greeted almost everyone who attended. Getting to know people is one of the reasons I attend political events, so it was a perfect assignment. A number of Johnson County Democrats I’ve known for decades came out. No one did a head count, yet I estimate 150 or so attendees.

Overflow parking with cattle at the Senator Kinney Summer Barbecue Bash, Aug. 27, 2022.

By all accounts, the food was good. Being mostly vegetarian, I skipped the meal except for a couple of slices of watermelon and a cookie. There was plenty to eat. After the speeches and meal were finished, people lingered while drinking beverages from large coolers and talking in groups. It was the kind of event that is becoming increasingly rare in Iowa Democratic politics. As I mentioned to people when they signed in, it was a great day for it.

If re-elected, Kevin Kinney would be the only Democratic, full-time farmer in the Iowa Senate.

Living in Society

Vote For the Sensible Candidate in Iowa House District 91

As the fall campaign approaches, supporters of Elle Wyant, Democrat for Iowa House District 91, are in the local newspapers with letters of support. Here are two examples from this week’s publications.

Vote Wyant for District 91

At the May 12, 2022 League of Women Voters District 91 Candidate Forum, Brad Sherman said the “green movement” is fueled by socialism, and he said, “One of these days the plants are going to rise up and say they don’t have any carbon dioxide to breathe. Then it will all go the other way.” His comments show an arrogant and dismissive attitude toward the real dangers of climate change and toward science in general. Vote for Elle Wyant if you want legislation based on scientific reality instead of extreme ideology.

Glenn Goetz, Amana, Iowa County Democrats

~ Published online in the Marengo Pioneer Republican, Aug. 23, 2022

Wyant vs. Sherman: sensible vs. extreme

Iowa County is peppered with yard signs that say “Brad Sherman Freedom.” Sherman’s Libations for Liberty support this quote from Benjamin Rush: “A simple democracy… is one of the greatest evils.”

Sherman signed a resolution stating there was widespread voter fraud in the November 2020 election (there was not). Sherman is angry that Trump was unable to overturn a free and fair election to stay in power. He is against democracy. He wants to keep Trump in power against the will of the voters. How can he claim to be a champion of freedom? Is this the person we want to represent us?

Elle Wyant is running on a platform that includes education, economic development and equity. She has the sensibility that comes from being part of a fifth generation Iowa County farm family. Vote for Elle Wyant, Democratic candidate for House District 91.

Betty Stiefel, Victor, Iowa Count Democrats.

~ Published in the print edition of the Williamsburg Journal Tribune, Aug. 24, 2022

Living in Society

Processing the Intake

Bee seeking pollen in a thistle plant.

As daylight moves toward summer’s end, the amount of information available has increased dramatically. After a busy Monday, I have to stop the input and process what I’ve gained. In an ever-forward life, that’s hard to do.

In the next township over, one of the Iowa CO2 pipelines is planned to cross Johnson County. The public debate is whether private companies should be able to use eminent domain provisions of the law the way a government would to run these pipelines. If you got everyone involved in the projects – companies, government, land owners, farmers, and citizens – I’m pretty sure we could agree that these pipelines serve no useful purpose to the environment. During initial rollout of the plans, companies hardly mentioned the environmental impact of CO2 emissions on earth because there are and may be more markets for the commodity. This is mostly about being able to export Iowa ethanol to California, which has stricter air quality regulations than Iowa. Well maybe I’m wrong these folks wouldn’t agree.

In Iowa’s First Congressional District, Republican incumbent Mariannette Miller-Meeks has defined her campaign as one tapping into a mother lode of money and crazy policies in her national party. In a way this makes the race easier for Democrats as she will be out of touch with what all district residents want and need. It will be harder because of the endless well of dark money in politics agitating everything. Democrat Christina Bohannan is busy doing the work of a candidate all over the district. There is a lot to take in as I plan my engagement in the fall campaign.

I am disengaging in my position as president of our home owners association in a development with a population of about 250 people. Finding people to be on our all volunteer board has been challenging. I served on the board in three different periods since first being elected in 1994. There are real responsibilities with managing our public water system, roads, trash and recycling removal, and a separate wastewater treatment plant. We kept the board fully staffed since I returned in 2017, yet few showed interest in leading the effort. Both managing the activities and finding a replacement will take time I’d rather be spending elsewhere.

Our family decided to become home owners. We built new in 1993 and 29 years later, a lot needs attention. Lilac bushes planted in 1994 are now overgrown. Repeated straight line winds and a derecho knocked down trees and branches. We are at 12 years since last roofing the house. Major appliances need upgrade. The list of home repairs and upgrades is pretty long. We have to be ready to slow down, and that means making the house more livable as we age. We tend to avoid these projects because we don’t want to think about them and how we finance them on a fixed income. We have to get going or the to-do list will only continue to grow.

Seems like I spent a lot of my life developing game plans and this is no different. I know enough to stop the input of new projects and focus on optimizing the use of time and resources. I’ll give it until Labor Day. If planning goes on past then, it may drive me crazy.

Living in Society

Politics At Summer’s End

Rural Polling Place

The conventional wisdom about Iowa’s First Congressional District election is incumbent Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks has the advantage over Democrat Christina Bohannan. This was borne out by polling sponsored by the Bohannan campaign.

In a Change Research poll conducted June 30-July 4, the results confirmed Miller-Meeks enjoyed a one point advantage at 39-38 percent. This poll is getting stale, and with more than 20 percent of those polled not for either candidate, it is too early to make much of this one point lead. As summer ends with the last long weekend before the election, where do things stand?

Miller-Meeks first.

At her inaugural tailgate, where she announced her candidacy for re-election, Miller-Meeks assembled a typical cast of Republican characters.

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas joined an array of familiar Iowa Republican faces at Streb Construction to support the freshman congresswoman as she announced her intent to seek a second term representing Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District in 2022. Besides Cotton, who has become a regular visitor to Iowa, U.S. Reps. Ashley Hinson and Randy Feenstra, former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, former Acting U.S. Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, and Iowa Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kaufmann tried to fire up a crowd of about 200.

George Shillcock, Iowa City Press Citizen, Sept. 20, 2021.

As Miller-Meeks spent time in the 117th Congress, she got to know more Republicans there and began sounding like someone other than the person I met during her early campaigns and heard speak when she was Director of the Iowa Department of Public Health. More than any politician I’ve known, the conversion to Washington, D.C. insider was fast and complete. She sounds less like someone legislating on behalf of Iowans and more like someone who took a crazy pill.

As her re-election campaign shifts into gear after the Labor Day weekend, one of her first campaign events will be another football tailgate in Iowa City, this time with U.S. Senator Rick Scott of Florida, who is the author of the Republican plan to rescue America. Scott wrote, among other things, these two sentences into his plan, “All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.” Miller-Meeks tapped into the mainline of radical right wing Republicanism.

If it wasn’t known already, at a Thursday, Aug. 18 event in Jasper County, Miller-Meeks made her complete alignment with the 45th president clear. She participated in a town hall meeting hosted by America First Agenda with panelists Linda McMahon, former Administrator of the Small Business Administration, Doug Hoelscher, former assistant to the 45th president, and Matthew Whitaker, former Acting U.S. Attorney General (same person who attended her first tailgate). America First Agenda is an organization that supports the 45th president and his chosen candidates. He even gave the first keynote address for the group. The Jasper County event was the first stop in a nationwide rollout of candidate support by the organization.

Miller-Meeks is a Trump Republican and undoubtedly adheres to the policy statement of America First Agenda. These are hardly Iowa values, yet the Republican seems convinced embracing them will lead to re-election.

Christina Bohannan is different. She is a Democrat. I want to make clear that I am not a campaign insider. The majority of what they ask of me is for financial donations, occasional event invitations, and even less frequently for canvassing help. I am not active in Bohannan’s campaign the way I was and am in other campaigns. I offer no exclusive insider information in this post.

Bohannan check-boxed the summer with appearances throughout the district at Democratic gatherings, parades, meet and greet events, fund raisers, visits to county fairs, a State Fair appearance flipping pork burgers, voter canvassing, and other typical campaign events. Bohannan acknowledges she is behind in fund raising (she recently had $1.27 million cash on hand to Miller-Meeks’ $2.66 million), yet believes they have enough money to meet campaign goals. This is all fine, and necessary.

The issue Bohannan faces is threading the needle of support for President Joe Biden’s policies with sufficient distancing from him to counter Republican attacks of being a “Biden Democrat.” While I like Biden Democrats, when I say it, it means something different from Republicans who speak in dog-whistle language. Republicans have been relentless in pursuit of this attack meme.

Here is a link to a WHBF interview with an example of how Bohannan responded to a direct question, “Will you run on Joe Biden’s record or run away from it? Where do you disagree with the administration when it comes to policy, if at all?” I like her answers. She refused to accept the interviewer’s framing despite his showing more persistence on the point than most journalists. Attempting to re-direct attention from Biden to Miller-Meeks is a solid response for Bohannan. It needs work because she comes across as dodging the question more than getting us to focus on her opponent. If she doesn’t address her clear support for Joe Biden more directly, the meme will stick.

Having a Trump minion in the Congress is not good for me or for Iowa. Because Republicans need to retain the seat to gain a majority in the U.S. House, they have and will invest big in Iowa’s First District. I believe Christina Bohannan is up to the challenge yet it will be a long, hard road to election day. Bohannan can use our help. Click here to learn how you can join the effort.

Juke Box

Juke Box – Don’t Dream It’s Over

There is something about the Hammond B-3 organ. We’ll look back on these coronavirus pandemic videos with fondness one day, I predict. (hat tip to David Shorr).

Make it a great weekend!

Don’t Dream It’s Over by Crowded House.