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Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See for full contents of our site

February 18, 2010


Jonathan Rowe, Yes Magazine - It's going to take a while to get used to the thought that the "Senator" part of Senator Byron Dorgan soon will be in the past tense. For most of my adult life, Byron has been an elected official of exceptional conviction and resolve. He also has been an employer and friend of mine. . .

Byron's retirement, which he announced recently, isn't just a loss for the Senate. It marks the waning of a political outlook that took shape in the farm states more than a century ago and that has given spine to the nation's politics for decades. Byron is probably best known today for opposing the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which since the Depression had held the speculative urges of the banking industry in check. In a prescient speech on the Senate floor in 1999, he warned that Congress would "look back in ten years time and say we should not have done this." He called it practically to the year. (Only seven other senators voted along with him.)

That instinct about money-center bankers-that you have to keep them on a tight leash-was not accidental. It is warp and woof of who Byron is and the milieu in which he was raised. Byron grew up in a small farming community in North Dakota, "out there on the prairie" as Garrison Keillor says. It was the kind of place where farmers spent long dreary winters brooding about debt, and the way the financial system is designed to keep the people who do the work under the thumbs of those who lend the money.

The atmosphere was thick with the memory of the Nonpartisan League, the farmer protest party that won majorities in the state in 1918. The NPL had created new institutions-for example, a state-owned bank and grain elevator-to free farmers from the grip of bankers and other corporate powers. It established a state income tax that favored work and enterprise over passive investment. During the Depression, NPL governor William "Wild Bill" Langer had called out the National Guard to stop farm foreclosures. Langer once lay bodily across the railroad tracks to prevent grain shipments from leaving for Minneapolis until North Dakota farmers got a decent price.

Byron soaked up this tradition. . .


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