Beware the Deceivers: Iago is Alive Today

Shakespeare’s Othello – written some six centuries ago – remains relevant today.  I realized that a few months ago when I learned, my great grandfather, William Day Simonds, a prominent Unitarian minister in Madison and later in Oakland, California had published a book called “Sermons from Shakespeare,” in 1898.

I was surprised to learn during Google search on family genealogy that the book is still available in reprints, so I bought it.  What I got in return mail was a photographic reproduction of the original, which was fine.

I checked out his sermon entitled “Faultless Desdemona,” based on the play Othello and realized that the play offers great lessons for today’s mixed up world.

Pastor Simonds calls “Othello” one of the Bard’s greatest dramas and also says it is perhaps the most deeply religious of Shakespeare’s plays.  He wrote that it portrays the “fundamental principal in New Testament teaching … [of] the presence among men of a persistent and malignant evil, a power cursing humanity, a Father of lies deceiving the world, a dread, destroying spirit of darkness.”

Iago, in the play, is truly one of Shakespeare’s most evil villains, as you’ll find out as we trace Iago’s behavior.

The play is set in motion when Othello, a heroic black general in the service of Venice, appoints Cassio and not Iago as his chief lieutenant.  Iago, who thought he should have the appointment, is enraged and sets about to plot Othello’s downfall by falsely implicating Othello’s wife, Desdemona, and Cassio in a love affair.

Iago is the conniver, the manipulator, the deceitful one who makes all this tragedy happen.  As Pastor Simonds writes, “we are to watch the Evil One as he snares his prey. . . daring, gifted, dangerous Iago has made evil his God.  He will play with men to their hurt . . .”

Iago indeed an evil genius.  He feeds each person’s particular needs with lies that are cleverly fashioned to get that person to do what he wants them to do.  First, succeeds in getting Roderigo, a wealthy businessman who has his eyes on romancing the lovely Desdemona, to fuel the hurt felt by Desdemona’s father over his daughter’s marriage to the Moor.  She married Othello without first telling her father, and he was deeply hurt.  Othello is told: “Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see. She has deceived her father and may thee.” Thus, the seeds are planted in Othello’s mind that his young wife may eventually be unfaithful.

The ultimate lie comes when Desdemona accidentally drops a handkerchief.  (The piece of cloth was the first gift given her by Othello.)  It was found by Emilia, Iago’s wife who has been serving as Desdemona’s maid.  Emilia gives the hanky to Iago, who then plants it into Cassio’s apartment.

Iago had already misled Othello to believe that Desdemona was having the affair with Cassio.  It was an outright lie, since Cassio was involved with another woman and had no desires for Desdemona.  Iago also setup a phony conversation within earshot of Othello that indicated the affair was real.    These slender “proofs” confirm what Othello has been all too inclined to believe—that, as an older black man, he is no longer attractive to his young white Venetian wife. Overcome with jealousy, Othello kills Desdemona. When he learns from Emilia, too late, that his wife is blameless, he asks to be remembered as one who “loved not wisely but too well” and kills himself.

Iago’s duplicities eventually lead to the deaths, not only of Othello and Desdemona, but also to the love-struck Roderigo and to his own wife, Emilia, who he kills after she exposed his duplicity.  In the end, Iago profits little: his scheme exposed, he’s arrested, tortured and humiliated – perhaps the most damning punishment he could face.

Listen to how Pastor Simonds describes Iago’s treachery: “He proceeds to the lowest tricks of fraud and most foul lying, weaving around Desdemona a chain of circumstantial evidence. Facts are made to fit falsehoods and give Othello’s maddened brain the last sad evidence of guilt.  It all apparently goes the devil’s way.”

And my great grandfather concludes his sermon “Friends, evil is about us and within us.  An Iago may try at any hour the mettle of our spirits.  To be above temptation’s subtle power virtue must be the sole lord.”

So, I ask you: “Who is Your Iago?”

Evil – in the personification of Shakespeare’s Iago – enters our lives in one of two ways; either through internal weaknesses within ourselves or through external forces that corrupt our thinking, our aptitudes and our actions.

Let’s spend a short time on the internal aspects of evil. We all face temptations; most often we struggle through them without succumbing.  There are times, however, we give in.  Like, for instance, when I walk past the tray of chocolates on our dining room table and thus fall victim to the sin of gluttony.

Many of us find the need – rarely, I hope – to “white lie,” and if it’s a harmless one meant to spare someone else’s feelings, that’s fine.  But if it’s said to protect your reputation or to hide an embarrassment, you’re committing a sin of vanity.  Much of this is, of course, harmless; yet, it’s just plain dishonest . . . and believe me, it’ll eventually catch up with you.

Greed, sexual exploitation, selfishness and outright lying are all examples of internal weaknesses in the traditional Christian theology.  Pastor Simonds says bluntly, “The Christianity of Christ is a battle – not a dream.  It is the armed conflict of virtue and vice.”

I was struck by a note the mass murderer wrote before firing on persons in November this year at the Walmart in Chesapeake Virginia.  “Sorry everyone but I did not plan this I promise things just fell in place like I was led by Satan.”

What?  Was he trying to say that Satan pulled the trigger?  I’ve always been troubled by Christians who like to blame their sins upon the Devil or Satan; when I have done something morally wrong, frankly, I did it.  Blame me.

Now how about the external forces that often lead to our corruption, that lead us to accept falsities and untruths, and, most seriously, lead us to act upon those so-called false facts.

As we have noted in Shakespeare’s play, Iago has truly mastered the art of deception.  He has cleverly used the exaggerations, selective omissions of fact and just plain lies to achieve his evil ends.  He has fed into each person’s fetishes, beliefs and fears to plant seeds so that they will eventually perform the deeds he wishes to see done.  Make no mistake about it, he is a genius in this craft . . . an evil genius if you will. 

Shakespeare’s play offers warnings for the present day that we must be wary of those who would play into our emotions convincing us to take actions we might otherwise never think of doing.

Take patriotism, for example?  If a teacher or a college professor wishes to discuss slavery or the continuing scourge of racism, isn’t that instructor sometimes accused of being anti-American by certain folks?  Our children need a balanced education – an education based on reality and not myth.  That principle is being overrun by the current assault on our schools that any discussions into our historical examples of shame is somehow unpatriotic.

One of the classic examples of an untruth that has persisted now for forty years is Ronald Reagan’s portrayal of the vodka-drinking welfare queen – as he called her — who drove to the Chicago welfare agency in a Cadillac to collect her benefits.  It never happened!  Yet, the image has continued to poison the minds of millions of Americans who resent having to pay taxes for free-loaders.

More recently, you’ll recall a certain presidential candidate opening his campaign stating “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best . . .  They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Both of these statements help to feed the fiction that providing decent public welfare benefits is wasteful and corrupt.   Such deceptions interfere with making sound public policy.

Of course, the ultimate deception these days is the myth that President Biden stole the 2020 election.  Some 30% of Americans profess to believe that myth . . . as do some 65% of registered Republicans.  A vague video of two election workers placing a suitcase under a table has grown into evidence of a massive fraud that should have been cause to overturn the results in Georgia.  This terrible myth has thrown many Americans to distrust the electoral system, probably bringing many to avoid voting.

A lie repeated often enough becomes the truth in the minds of so many persons.

How do you fight against such deceptions.  Telling the truth ALWAYS is the best policy.

As Pastor Simonds concludes: “Truth is ever of God, in the Bible, in literature, in science.  . . . Othello was written in the upper air, where no shadow of unreality fell upon the page.  Its moral teaching, therefore, is truth and its moral purpose is clear.  Shakespeare here exposes the treachery of evil, and let’s men into the devil’s secret.”

Thus beware of deceivers.  Iago is very much alive today. Ken Germanson, Nov. 28, 2022

What the World Needs Now Is More Respect

(Edited from a homily given by Kenneth Germanson on April 3, 2022 to the Congregation of the Living Spirit, an ecumenical group in Waukesha, WI.)

I’ve been watching with awe as Ukrainian refugees are being accepted with wide-welcoming arms by most of the people of nearby Eastern European nations, particularly Poland.  Rarely have nations received displaced peoples with support, not only with food, water and shelter, but with such open acceptance.  Usually migrants are treated with disdain, disgust and horror.  Nowhere has it been truer than in our own country.  

Sadly, too, the treatment of migrants has become a political football.  Donald Trump, of course, helped to stoke the fires of resentment to immigrants when he announced his candidacy for President while riding down the escalator on June 16, 2015 and said:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us [sic]. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” [i]

Ukraine refugees were welcomed into Poland and other neighboring countries.

Perhaps the difference in the treatment of the Ukrainian refugees is due to race; the Ukrainians, of course, are white and of Slavic backgrounds, very similar to the Eastern European countries that are accepting them.  The Syrians, like the Latinx from Mexico and Latin America, are dark-skinned.  

Immigrant populations have long been subject to discrimination of the worst sort, particularly in our own country.  Think of the arriving immigrants from Ireland, Italy and Poland in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  And, of course, our own African-American diaspora.

In comparison, also in 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said as thousands of Syrians, Iraqis and Afghanistans sought refuge in Germany, “we’ll manage this.” Her generous reaction to the immigrants brought an avalanche of hateful and negative retorts.

Now, what does all this have to do with today’s topic:  Respect, the forgotten virtue?

I remember from my Catholic upbringing and the teaching of my convent-reared mother about the importance of the seven virtues: Prudence, Justice, Temperance, Courage, Faith, Hope and Charity.

To those I would add “Respect.”   Before you can respect yourself, you must respect others. Note that I said we must respect “others,” that means people and groups of people who are not like us.

There’s a tendency among most people – even those of us who believe we are caring, generous and open-minded – to think we are superior to other groups of people.  That type of thinking comes naturally.  Reflect upon these words by Erik Erikson, a famed psychoanalyst, who in 1973 noted how easy it was for a group of people to feel they are the “chosen species,” and how this belief clouds their ability to think and make reasonable and intelligence decisions.  This belief is dangerous since it creates, according to Erikson, a “kill and survive” mentality, a form of unthinking machoism in which a person may turn to aggression and even violence to fight those they deem to be wrong or who might challenge them.[ii]   

You’ve likely heard the phrase, “they’re not our kind of people.”  While it sometimes refers to a difference in skin color, it can also mean people who live in another, possibly less affluent, part of town; it can also mean a professional person who might look down his or her nose at a plumber, street laborer or sanitation worker, i.e. the garbage man or woman. 

I’ve always been offended by the term “red neck” to signify a person of lesser intelligence, that is, a lesser human being.   But when you think of it, shouldn’t “red neck” be a badge of honor, since in its purest form it refers to the person who has labored in the sun day-in and day-out, most likely doing the necessary work of growing our foods or building our highways.

The late George Meany, longtime head of the AFL-CIO, has said this to folks who might question the high hourly cost of hiring a tradesperson.  Noting the even higher hourly rate charged by attorneys, he suggested that most residents of New York City would agree that a plumber was more important for their daily existence than an attorney.  

Basically, respect becomes a virtue when you can respect all human beings, regardless of what station in life they inhabit, what the color of their skin, whether they be wealthy or poor or whether they may be homeless or panhandling on the street.  Now, let’s not be Pollyannaish about this.  In my mind, you may also dislike a person’s point of view, their actions or even their manner of dress.  

Recently, I finished the book, “Four Winds,” by Kristin Hannah, and I must say it affected me more than any book I’ve read in recent years.  This book could be a modern-day “Grapes of Wrath,” in the way it describes the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and how a family in Texas was smothered in the despair of the period.  It describes among other things how a single mother with two children migrated to California and found the people there – with a few notable exceptions – to be cruel and unwelcoming.  This desperate mom repeatedly was shunned or mistreated because she was dirty, unwashed and smelled.  Yet, she tried to maintain her dignity while trying to raise her children.

After being told to get out of town by a shopkeeper, the mom’s 13-year-old daughter was both infuriated and embarrassed and sounded off: 

“Who does he think he is? Just ‘cause he hasn’t hit hard times, the crumb thinks he has the right to look down upon us.”

In truth, don’t we all need to be treated with respect?  We need that to feel we have a purpose on this earth.  It gives us dignity.

In my more than 35 years as a labor union activist, we found that the issues that truly motivated workers to seek a union, or to risk going on strike, were the issues of being treated with dignity.  

These signs highlighted the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike.

You may recall that Martin Luther King made his famous “mountain top” speech on the eve of his death at a strike rally for garbage workers in Memphis. He said:

“The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. . .” [iii]

The strikers in Memphis carried signs proclaiming, “I Am a Man.”  That says it all, doesn’t it?

Think back, too, to the fight to end slavery and to the quest for women’s rights.  Those motivations, too, were based on the need for dignity and respect.  

 Sojourner Truth’s famous speech in 1851 to a women’s convention in Akron, Ohio, says it all:

“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?”

There’s a common thread to all of these examples.  Everyone of us needs to feel we are somebody.  I think a lot of those folks who support Donald Trump and his foolishness are frustrated just because they’re may feel they’re not respected.  That feeling has been fueled by rightwing politicians who claim the “elites” of society, as represented by the “mainstream media,” do not respect them and their position in life.  When a person is feeling disrespected, that person is prone to follow a demagog.

Yes, respect certainly could become the eighth virtue.  Perhaps, too, we can paraphrase the golden rule to read “Respect others as you would have them respect you.” 


[i] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apjNfkysjbM&t=208s

[ii] . . . Different tribes and nations, creeds and classes (and, perchance, political parties) consider themselves to be the one chosen species and will, especially in times of crisis, sacrifice to this claim much of the knowledge, the logic and the ethics that are theirs.”

  • Erik H. Erikson, The 1973 Jefferson Lectures in Humanities.

[iii] View speech here: https://www.afscme.org/about/history/mlk/mountaintop

Hope in Our Bleak Times

(Edited Remarks of Ken Germanson, March 6, 2022, to a virtual service of the Community of the Living Spirit, a nondenominational worship group in Waukesha WI. The complete service may be viewed here.)

Can our nation and society survive the multiple challenges facing all of us today: the threats against democracy by forces of the right; the divisiveness that has crippled our Congress and turned too many State Legislatures into passing absurd anti-democratic laws; the growing impact of climate change that could eventually doom millions and millions, the ongoing pandemic and, now in March of 2022, the attack by Russia’s Putin on Ukraine.  It goes on and on?

I’ve heard many say that never before have we been in such dire straits.  Sadly, too many also feel hopeless.

Yes, things are a horrifying mess, but I look back just in the past 92 years of my life to see we’ve been here before. 

I was born August 8, 1929.  Less than three months later, Oct. 29, the stock market crashed, bringing on the Great Depression that lasted through the 1930s.  One out of every four Americans were unemployed at the peak; it was a worldwide Depression with little hope on the horizon.  My dad, a tannery worker, was lucky because he was not laid off, but his wages were cut so drastically that my parents lost ownership of our house.  We continued to live there because the owner couldn’t sell the house, paying $35 a month rent.  I was too young to understand why I couldn’t get all the toys I wanted, but we always had food on the table and a weekly treat of a pint of ice cream to share among the five of us for Sunday dinner.

It was a dark time, indeed.[i]

Then, in November 1932, when the nation was at its lowest point, Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected in his inauguration speech of March 4, 1933, he gave us these encouraging words:  “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

FDR brought us the New Deal, fueled by the input of pragmatic idealists like Harry Hopkins, Frances Perkins and Wisconsin’s own Edwin Witte, often called the father of Social Security.  FDR’s leadership created jobs through the WPA, PWA and CCC, gave us Social Security for seniors and collective bargaining that prompted millions of workers to organize and create a better life for all working Americans.  And much more.[ii]

Voters seeing the progress and a better life ahead, supported Roosevelt overwhelmingly in the 1936 election as we slowly rose out of the depression.

September 1, 1939.  Hitler attacks Poland and overwhelms it in 30 days.  In six short weeks in spring of 1940, Hitler took over Belgium, the Netherlands and France.  His troops are poised on the shores of the English Channel, as he begins to terrorize London with his bombs.  The tragedy of Dunkirk occurs as 330,000 British troops have to be evacuated across the English Channel in June of 1940, and on June 18, Winston Churchill strengthened British resolve with one of his most famous speeches saying their resolve in the face of devastating bombing would be “their finest hour.”[iii]

Later in 1940, my uncle, who lived with us and helped raise me and my brothers, was drafted and sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana.  Then came, Dec. 7, 1941 and the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor.  Within months, the prospects of stopping the well-prepared forces of Japan and Germany seemed bleak indeed.  German submarines were sighted and one even landed on the shores of New Jersey while Japanese subs posed a threat to the California coast.  In April 1942, the U.S. surrendered the Philippines to the Japanese and the Bataan death march occurred.  Photos of skeleton-like U.S. soldiers struggling to walk while guarded by Japanese soldiers traumatized Americans that month.

Even in the heartland city of Milwaukee, we practiced air raid drills.  My dad was a block warden, charged with making certain our neighbors’ homes weren’t emitting any lights during the air raid drills.  Meanwhile, seniors in my high school were being drafted even before graduation, and the rest of us boys knew the draft board would get us eventually.  Virtually every house on our street had a blue star flag (signifying a family member in the service) and, sadly, a few had a gold flag.

In 1945, the war ended and we cheered. 

The good cheer didn’t last for long.  Within two years, the cold war began and our country (unified during the war effort) drifted into divisiveness as some of our politicians (Wisconsin’s Joe McCarthy, for example) stirred the up public about the “communist threat.”  Soon, anyone who might have an unconventional idea or supported worker or civil rights was castigated as a “communist.”[iv] 

That feeling grew intense in the 1960s with the Vietnam war.  Many of us who saw early-on that the war was wrong began speaking out, marching or campaigning to get out of Vietnam.  We were called unpatriotic or accused of being communists.  Meanwhile, our returning veterans reported being spit upon or treated badly.  It was an ugly time.  The division then was as bitter and unbending as we have today.  The basic difference and saving grace then was that neither party – Democrats or Republicans – were 100% in either camp.

Also, in the 1960s, the civil rights battles were raging.  Riots in the summer of 1967 overwhelmed many cities, even prompting Milwaukee’s Mayor Maier to place the city on a weeklong lockdown.  After Martin Luther King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, more than 140 American cities experienced disruptions, some of them violent.  It was a time when racists like Bull Conner, George Wallace and James O. Eastland strutted their nasty stuff.  But many Americans strived to bring peace and equality to society, including King, James Lewis, James Groppi and many more.[v]

Yes, now in March 2022, the future seems bleak to those of us who care about humanity, our earth, economic equality and social justice.

The lessons I’ve learned in my long life is that we must have hope.  As we’ve seen in the past, we’ve emerged from many of the past periods of chaos to create some form of resolution, never perfect, of course, but with a relative level of peace and often positive change.  For some folks, they may find hope in prayer.[vi]

Hope, however, is not enough.  We have to work to make positive changes, just as FDR’s “brain trust” helped lead us out of the Depression and the heroism of our soldiers, sailors and marines led us to peace in 1945.  My hope rests in the millions of ordinary people who are working unselfishly to save the earth from climate change, to heal racial differences, to bring economic justice and to end the pandemic.[vii]  The future of Ukraine is troubling, of course.  Yes, times are bleak, but we’ve been here before.  Ken Germanson, Jan. 22, 2022.


[i] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIKMbma6_dc …. or  let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

[ii] FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, 1941 STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS “THE FOUR FREEDOMS” (6 JANUARY 1941)

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want–which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.

[iii] Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say: This was their finest hour. – Winston Churchill That’s the position Britain found itself in the late spring of 1940. Poland, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France had all fallen under the Nazi jackboots. Britain was the only thing standing between Adolf Hitler and control of Europe. With Britain tottering on the abyss, its prime minister, Winston Churchill, gave one of the great rallying cries in world history, the “finest hour” speech of June 18, 1940.  To hear his words, listen here.

[iv] https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=10155257250556184

“Have you no sense of decency, sir.”  Joseph N. Welch, Army-McCarthy Hearings. June 9, 1954.

[v] “This is a conflict between the forces of light and dark, and in the end there will be victory for justice and democracy because will will triumph . . . If you can’t rub, walk; if you can’t walk, crawl, but keep moving forward!” – Martin Luther King sermon at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel on the University of Chicago Campus, April 13, 1956.

  • [vi] But those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
    They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:31

[vii]All the greatest things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom; justice; honour; duty; mercy; hope.” Winston Churchill.

Does racism explain voter switch in rural and small-town Wisconsin?

Consider Wisconsin’s Adams County, a largely rural county of some 20,000 residents.  Voters there in 2012 favored the reelection of Democratic President Barack Obama by 54%, a surprising total given that the county (over 96% white) voted to re-elect a black man.

Now, come to 2020 Presidential election; despite carrying Wisconsin, Democrat Joe Biden got only 36.6% of the vote in Adams County – a drop of nearly 18%. 

Adams County is shown in red

That’s a surprising shift in political attitudes, but the results Adams County voters were replicated in county after county in Wisconsin in 2020.  How are we to understand such changes?  Why have voters in rural counties and small-town Wisconsin moved from favoring an articulate, intelligent man like Democrat Obama to supporting a know-nothing creature like Donald Trump?

Going back to 2008, we find that President Obama carried 59 of Wisconsin’s 72 Counties, winning over Republican John McCain by nearly 14 percentage points.  And this was in a state that had an African-American population of 6.7%[i]  When the results of that election were finalized, it was easy to believe that finally the nation had progressed so that race and color were no longer an issue to the American voter. 

Remember the joy and enthusiasm many of us felt when Barack Obama and Michelle mounted the stage in Chicago’s Grant Park on election night to claim victory.  It truly was an overwhelming win, with Obama winning overall by 9.5 million votes. 

Our joy, sadly, was soon to turn.  The realization is that this nation – and Wisconsin, in particular – is tragically still a racist society, and that racism is clouding the minds of far too many of our citizens.  There have been lots of explanations as to why 58 of Wisconsin counties, nearly all rural or small town-oriented, voted for Trump in 2016.  Some has been attributed to the popularity of the right-wing media such as Fox News, One America News (OAN) and Newsmax that many have chosen as their sole source of news information.  Others call attention to the overwhelming numbers of lies perpetrated by Trump and his followers, perhaps proving the theory that if you say a lie often enough it soon becomes accepted as fact.

This misinformation has so clouded the mind of citizens, mainly in rural and small-town America, that they blame their gripes and ills upon liberals, so-called elitists, city politicians, immigrants, the poor and unemployed, civil rights groups and labor unions.   To be sure, rural and small-town Wisconsinites have cause to feel they’re being crapped upon.  Too many jobs in those areas are poorly paid, the family farm can rarely survive in today’s corporate farm economy, small town stores went away with the rise of our Walmart-Amazon based shopping system, and other issues. 

Having been fed a pack of lies for the last five years, these hard-working Wisconsin citizens have come to believe that people on welfare (in their minds, black people) are feasting off their tax payments.  Nonetheless, far too many of our non-urban Wisconsinites find it easy to believe that the average person of color is a lazy, good-for-nothing sucking away at the public trough. 

Meanwhile, Democratic politicians champion – rightfully – a host of causes that would seem to reward only people of color.  Such policies include seeking to bring pay equity to workers, to reform the justice system, including the “defunding of the police,” to regulate discrimination in the workplace and in the public market, and on and on.  Indeed, the Democratic politician is seen as favoring “those people,” while turning his/her back on the hard-working white citizens who struggle to make a living on their farms or in low-paying small-town jobs.

If you look closely at many of the lies and claims being championed in the last five years by Donald Trump, his followers and his puppets at Fox News et al, you can see the ugly snake of racism slithering along underneath. 

This nation with the election of Barack Obama in 2008 appeared to have turned the corner and had begun to repair our racial divides.  That progress all ended with the election of Donald Trump eight years later, and racism is flourishing once again.  Shame, shame, shame, Trump!

We find hope in the fact that most Americans – including huge numbers of rural and small-town Wisconsinites – are of good faith and are working to reverse this trend and revive the progress toward a color-blind society.  Ken Germanson, Jan. 11, 2022.


[i] U.S. Census Quick Facts. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/WI

Why can’t newspaper report scores of previous night’s ballgame? They used to.

When the morning newspaper gave out last night’s score

What a year this has been for Milwaukee sports!  The Bucks becoming NBA champions and the Brewers on their way to the playoffs, with a promise of a World Series in the offing.

Yet, each morning when I pick up the morning Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to learn the score of the previous night’s game, what do I normally see.  “The game ended too late for inclusion in this morning’s paper.  Please refer to our website.”  Ugh, I don’t wanna run to the computer; I want to sit down with my morning coffee and read the sports’ news.

It astounds me that with all the technology at the disposal of our modern newspapers that they can’t publish the results of any game lasting past 9:30 p.m.  It wasn’t always that way.

From 1957 to 1962, I worked in the newsroom of the Milwaukee Sentinel, the city’s only morning paper then.  We admittedly played second fiddle then to the well-regarded Milwaukee Journal, a paper once regularly ranked among the top five in the nation.  The Sentinel was owned by Hearst, Inc., the giant chain run in stingy fashion by William Randolph Hearst and his family. 

This Oct. 11, 1957 issue of Milwaukee Sentinel headlines Braves victory in World Series over Yankees. I wrote “City Dances in Street” article.

We were astoundingly short-staffed with the Journal probably having three reporters to every Sentinel reporter.  Yet, the Sentinel was a vital part of Milwaukee in those years, particularly during the exciting winning years of the Milwaukee Braves, 1957 and 1958.  Circulation bounced during those baseball seasons, with the Sentinel often bearing the good or bad news of the Braves game, whether it ended at 9:30 p.m. or in the case of West Coast games as late as 12:30 a.m. Milwaukee time.  In those days, newspaper boxes dotted the landscape, stationed at nearly every bus stop as well as at the gates of every large workplace in the area.  The papers were always quickly scooped up by thousands of factory and office workers each day.

Remember, there was no modern digital technology available; yet, the morning Sentinel delivered the news of a Braves win or loss to more than 200,000 households the next morning. 

There was tremendous teamwork involved in the newsrooms of the Sentinel and it was exciting to be a part of it.  The paper’s Braves writer, Red Thisted, wrote his stories from the press box at old County Stadium, passing them onto a Western Union telegraph operator who would telegraph the words to the Sentinel building, then located at Plankinton and Michigan.  For years, the words came out in tape to another WU operator who then glued the strips paper, which would be sent to the sport desk, where an editor would mark it up, signifying which letters were capitals and editing any grammar or style changes with standard editing marks.

It was then sent by pneumatic tube to the composing room where it would be distributed to a linotype operator to be typed up, and made into lines of lead type that would be placed into a chase containing all of the contents of a particular page.  Once a page was made up, it was sent to a stereotyper where it would be pressed into a cardboard-like sheet.  That sheet would then be molded in lead into a circular form to be placed on a printing press roller.

Then, the presses would roll and within less than 30 minutes the first papers for the run would be sent to the mail room to be sorted and placed on trucks to be delivered to carrier boys (normally no girls in those days), newspaper boxes, drugstores and other outlets.

The speed with which the Sentinel staffers got the news out was astounding.  And for those of us who were part of the process it was exciting and nerve-wracking.  Surprisingly, there appeared to be few errors in these hurried-up stories.  Instead, I think, it often prompted us to produce our best work.  I remember writing a story about a city bus, loaded with rush hour passengers, that got lost on a dark early evening in December in Washington Park.  I wrote the story on deadline in less than 15 minutes; a few months later the story won a national award for humor writing. 

And we staffers loved to scoop the mighty Journal.  The Sentinel’s longtime and legendary police reporter, George Pitrof, ran across the story of a coming indictment of a well-known Milwaukee baker who was to be accused of murdering his wife with a poisoned pie.  George learned about the story in the early morning of a Saturday and sat on it until about 4:15 p.m. when he phoned it into the city editor.  I was entering the newsroom from another assignment just at that moment and Walter “Chick” Wegner, the city editor, yelled at me to get to the rewrite desk to take the story from Pitrof.  I typed it up, editing Pitrof’s words as I typed, sending each paragraph as I wrote it to the desk for editing.  We got it done in less than 15 minutes.  The detailed story appeared in our first edition of the Sunday paper headlining this sensational story, beating the Journal.

So I wonder why with today’s cell phones, email setups and cloud technology I can’t get last night’s Milwaukee Brewers score. – Ken Germanson, Sept. 14, 2021

Labor Day 2021: Crossroads for Workers

Labor Day 2021 could mark a crossroads in the future fortunes of America’s working families. Will the “rich get richer and the poor get poorer” trend continue? Will working people continue to be at the mercy of long hours, manipulative managers and unsafe and unhealthy conditions continue?

Unless working people begin to understand we live in a society of classes, the corporate / managerial / financial class versus the working class, American workers are doomed to a future of second class status. Most tragically their children and grandchildren are similarly fated. The United States is no longer a society where a person through hard work and perseverance can expect to move into a high economic status. Horatio Alger is no more.

Only during the relatively brief three decades (1950 to 1980) have American workers achieved a degree of economic equality. The post-World War II era was a time of promise for working families, when the sons and daughters of industrial workers could go to college or when the family could own a ranch home in the suburbs or when they could buy a cottage “up north.” It was a time of progressive taxation when those at the top faced a 90% income tax rate.

How did that come about? Because workers in the 1930s realized that only through solidarity could they improve their status in life.

Whether it was due to the privations of the Great Depression or the realization that workers were being terribly exploited, workers understood that only by rising up and joining together to speak in one-voice could they bring about change. During the early 1930s, even when jobs were scarce, workers walked out on their jobs and struck industrial plant after industrial plant. There were numerous disruptions of all types: unemployed worker marches in Milwaukee in 1933, World War I veterans in the great “bonus marches” and plant walkouts.

The early 1930s were time of disruption and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a politician with a wealthy patrician upbringing and one who had no particular left-wing ideology) realized that to keep peace within the nation actions had to be taken to help America’s working families rise from the poverty in which they lived. In 1935 he signed into law two historic laws, the Social Security Act which not only provided assistance for the elderly but created a safety net for many of America’s poor and the National Labor Relations Act that established the right of collective bargaining for private sector workers.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing NLRA into law on July 5, 1935. Often called “Labor’s Magna Carta,” many wonder whether the law has lost its promise to workers in 2021.

The NLRA may have been the law that helped most directly to bring the nation out of the Depression since it established the right to form unions, and as workers joined unions and more and more went on strike, wage levels soon began to bring most prosperity to workers.

FDR and the Democrats in Congress in 1935 didn’t pass the NLRA (named the Wagner Act after its chief sponsor Sen. Robert Wagner (D-NY)) out of any burning sympathy for the working class. Congress passed the law to bring an end to the disruptions (the strikes and demonstrations) that were occurring in the nation. In short, they passed these laws to end such mass actions and, some believe, to assure the survival of the capitalistic system. So massive were the strikes that many feared the nation may turn to accept communism.

Section 1 of the Wagner Act stated the purpose of the law was to remedy the situations that “lead to strikes and other forms of industrial strife or unrest, which have the intent or the necessary effect of burdening or obstructing commerce.”

The Wagner Act would not have been passed without the selfless sacrifice of millions of American workers who banded together to demand equality.

By 1954, 34% of American workers were union members and the typical worker had gained a degree of equity. In the 1980s, when some 20% of workers were union, the typical CEO’s pay was only 42 times that of the production worker. Today, when less than 10% of American workers are in unions, the CEO is now earning 280 times more than the worker in his/her shops.

Now, on Labor Day 2021, the question is whether American workers can begin to understand that their best bet to earn family-supporting wages on jobs that are both safe and healthy is to realize their class status. Only then will workers mobilize and act in solidarity to take the mass actions that bring about change.

It won’t be easy: the worker protections built into the Wagner Act not only have been eroded by the Congress and the Courts through the years but the nature of the workplace has changed. The factory environment that nurtured the togetherness of the 1930s is largely gone; today’s workers often work remotely or are being sold on the idea of being “independent,” as Uber and Lyft seeks to do. This makes organizing difficult. In addition, since President Reagan’s firing of PATCO Strikers 40 years ago, managements have become more skilled in beating back organizing efforts.

There’s promise, however, in that unions are more popular with the public with a recent Gallup Poll showing that 64% of Americans view unions as a “positive.” Working people have their fate in their own hands. Only by working together in solidarity can equity occur. Ken Germanson, Sept. 6, 2021

Searching for a Mate, 1950’s Style

Today, if you’re single and seeking a romantic engagement, it seems to easy. Just go online at eharmony.com, match.com, silversingles.com (the later site for those of us over 50) or one of the many other dating sites.

It didn’t seem so easy in our younger days, though. Think back to those days when, if you were like me, you had no “steady” and seemingly very little prospect of ever finding a mate. I have to go back to 1954 when I was 24 years old. I had been without a girlfriend for more than two years, and, along with several other guys, tried unsuccessfully using various strategies to meet up with “the” girl.

George Devine’s Ballroom on the 2nd Floor of the Eagles Club was a major attraction for singles and married couples in the mid-20th Century.

Often with Charlie, who had been my college roommate, we’d tour the bars seeking companionship, where the girls were either non-existent, were too old or even if we saw a girl with possibilities, we’d fail to get up the nerve to approach her, largely through our own fear of rejection. What sad sacks we were!

In our quest, we found the best places to meet girls were at Milwaukee’s many dance halls; in those days there was the Modernistic Ballroom at State Fair Park; the Wisconsin Roof atop an office building at 6th and Wisconsin, and the Paris Ballroom (which if memory serve me right, was at 20th and Mitchell). And there were ballrooms at old Muskego Beach and Waukesha Beach, two amusement parks in the area.

The place with the greatest possibility for a hookup, however, was Geo. Devine’s Million Dollar Ballroom, a huge, ornate room located on the second floor of the Eagles Club at 20th and Wisconsin, now known as The Rave. What a place it was on a Saturday night. Always crowded with three bands playing alternately to provide continuous dancing. There was a full-sized swing orchestra, playing tunes of the 30s and 40s; a smaller jazz band, and a polka band. When the polka band played, they’d perform the Promenade, where dancers formed two large circles, girls on the inner circle, boys the outer. As the band played, we’d march in opposite directions until the music stopped. Then we had to select the girl closest to us and dance. It was an easy way to meet a person of the opposite sex; occasionally, you might seek a further dance with them, perhaps even to the point of suggesting a future meeting. (I never connected, but recently, I met a couple who met exactly that way, dancing some 60 years ago at the old Jefferson Hall on W. Fond du Lac Ave.)

In my case, on June 19, 1954 I married my wife of 63 years (she passed in 2017). I met her at my place of work. And, my friend Charlie. He also met his future wife at work. All this proves is that sometimes you don’t have to work too hard to find your lover; she (or he) might be there, just under your nose, waiting for you. Ken Germanson, March 12, 2021

10 years after Act 10, What?

Ten years ago, Wisconsin union members and supporters stormed the State Capitol to protest newly elected Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal (Called Act 10) that literally took all bargaining rights away from public employee unions (except for police and firefighters unions).

Despite massed crowds – reaching close to 150,000 persons on frigid weekends – the Act passed, by passing usual legislative protocols.  The marches proved to be inspirational events that solidified the state’s union members, from the building trades and industrial unions to the school teachers and municipal worker unions.

Ten years later, in an interview on Wisconsin Public Radio, Walker crowed that the measure was a resounding success.  He admitted his goal had been to take the power away from “special interests,” a euphemism that hid his real goal of seeking to weaken Wisconsin’s labor movement.  Repeatedly, he claimed Act 10 to power from “the union bosses” and restored it to the “taxpayers.”  Sadly, he fooled many Wisconsin voters into believing he was lowering the taxes of middle and low-income families when the real saving went to his fat-cat, big business supporters.

Up to 150,000 crowded Capitol to protest Act 10 passage.

Was Act 10 a resounding success, as Scott Walker claims?

Basically, it’s a no.

First, there’s no doubt that Act 10 hurt Wisconsin’s unions, most obviously public employee unions and teachers unions.  Membership has dropped 41%, from 385,000 (or 15% of the state workforce) in 2009 to 227,000 (8.7% of the workforce) in 2020.  These figures are from the right-wing MacIver Institute, but are accurately reflecting Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Secondly, the passage of Act 10 emboldened Walker and his Republican follow-alongs to pass a right-to-work law in 2015 that weakened the bargaining power of construction unions.  And, Walker’s success in these anti-union laws served as a signal to other states to do the same.  Both Kentucky and West Virginia quickly followed Wisconsin in passing such anti-union laws.

Walker can tell you that the weakening of unions is a good thing, but it’s bad for all Wisconsin workers, union and nonunion alike. 

Wages have stagnated in the state.  The median family income in 2019 in Wisconsin equaled $61,747, well-below the national median of $65,712.  By comparison, in neighboring Minnesota, the median income is $71,306, nearly $10,000 a year more than in Wisconsin.  Walker may be bragging that the GOP actions have cut taxes, but that means little to those whose wages have go down or have stagnated in failing to keep up with inflation.

Study after study have shown that as union membership declines the income and living standards of all workers decline, except for those earning the big bucks.

Additionally, teachers have suffered badly; scores upon scores chose retirement options rather than teach under the conditions imposed by dictatorial school districts.  A professor friend who taught future teachers told me that class sizes dropped as fewer and fewer young people chose this profession.  Walker’s propaganda campaign called teachers a “privileged class,” with their nine-month work year, their workday that ended at 3 p.m. or so, and with “Cadillac” pensions and health insurance unfortunately paid off for several years.  Too many of our citizens believed teachers lived such a privileged life, totally disregarding the off-hours time given to grading papers and drawing up lesson plans.  (Personally, having taught a few classes of adults, I know how exhausting just my limited experience was; I can’t image how taxing facing 30 or more squirming kids six hours a day and five days a week can be.)

There’s no doubt the education of Wisconsin children has suffered as a result of Act 10 and the Walker attacks on teachers.

There have been some surprising side effects to Act 10 that have a positive impact upon workers and their unions. 

Today, workers are showing more solidarity than has been seen since the 1930s.  When Walker rammed Act 10 down the throats of Wisconsin workers, they woke up to finally understand how they were being screwed by Walker and the Republicans, who constantly – and erroneously – tried to pass off their actions as benefiting the “little guy and gal.”

Among today’s remaining unions, we’re seeing more active memberships.  And this has led to greater militancy as well, showing employers that – regardless of Act 10 or R-T-W laws – workers acting in solidarity can win gains in wages, benefits and working conditions, and thus improve the lives of their families.

Sadly, though, Wisconsin workers, whether teaching a bunch of school kids or working in nursing homes or toiling in the heat or cold on a construction site, are still paying the price for Scott Walker’s cavalier action of ramming Act 10 down upon the Badger State.  But, it’s to be hoped that by showing militancy and solidarity, Wisconsin workers can take actions that will give them the last laugh.  Ken Germanson, Feb. 18, 2021. 

Trumpism’s last ditch gasp?  Or the beginning of more hatred?

The mobs retreated from the U.S. Capitol Building, but not until they had draped that august structure with the odors of hatred.  Sadly, these hordes of American citizens left their mark.  Make no mistake: Trumpism is not dead, even if that poisonous individual peacefully leaves the White House on Jan. 20th.

As we approach the inauguration, we’re seeing some signs of sanity returning to the leaders of the Republican Party, most of whom have spent the last four years feeding into the actions of the egomaniac who has occupied the Presidency for the last four years.  Mitch McConnell (that sour-faced Doctor No) is suddenly being praised for being a statesman by not going along with the “stolen election” lies; yet, it was McConnell, whose iron-fisted leadership permitted the orange-haired nut to continue tweeting his lies and spreading his divisive hatred throughout the nation.  And other leaders of the GOP, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, among too many others, cheered on Trump’s dangerous, chaotic behavior.

Mobs marching on Capitol on January 6.

Whether the GOP leaders will continue their return to sanity is open to question; remember there were over 140 Republican Representatives and eight Senators who voted against certifying the election results.  Several of them, like Hawley and Cruz, have Presidential ambitions for 2024 and may be using their Jan. 6th behavior as a badge of honor to claim Trump’s base in the party.

Might these mobs soon be seen as “heroes” or “courageous patriots” for storming the Capitol?  Some rightwingers are calling them that now.  A case in point is that of Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot three persons, killing two, during the demonstrations after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha in August.  Rittenhouse has become a hero among some groups, and there’s been robust fund-raising among groups (In just a few days after the incident, various groups had raised $900,000.)

Right now, Trump has few supporters among the established leadership of this nation or among the nation’s “mainstream media.”  Let’s hope that doesn’t change, but there are signs that Trumpism has plenty of media support, in including that of the social media type.  Fox News for a brief moment seemed to accept Joe Biden’s victory, but already, just a few days after the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, you can hear the network returning to their past evil ways. 

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have all suspended Trump from their platforms, but there will continue to be plenty of ways through alternative sites for Trump and his cronies to spread their lies and their messages of hate.   Cable news channels like Newsmax and One America News have become the go-to viewing of more and more Trump supporters. 

These media outfits are already harping on the point that the Jan. 6 mobs of nearly 100% whites caused less damage and harm than the numerous Black Lives Matter demonstrations of last summer.  They are still trying to claim the election was “stolen,” a truly ludicrous claim given that Biden-Harris got seven million more votes than Trump-Pence.  One America News is running pleas on how to make contributions to those Senators and Representatives who stuck with Trump in the election certification votes.

Sadly, it appears there will still be plenty of ways for this right-wing cabal to continue spreading its messages of hate and divisiveness.  And, virtually all of their words will be nothing but lies meant to deceive their followers . . . all with the hope of expanding the ranks of “believers.”

Too many Americans will continue to be receptive to the demagogic appeal of the Trump message.  These misguided folks are everywhere among our own families, our neighbors, our workmates and even our closest friends.  Many are kind and generous in their personal life and some, of course, are mere thugs.  Trump offered the false appeal that he’d fight for the little guy and that he was a strong leader; both proved false, but too many people still are believers.  And, there was the racism inherent in his message, and that stirred much of his support.

President-elect Joe Biden’s basic message of building a more equitable economic society where working people can be assured of a decent living standard is the right message; it’s what most Americans desire and need.  He will face one helluva challenge to deliver on that message, but it’s got to be his No. 1 priority (after resolving the pandemic, of course). 

Meanwhile, the country will face the cancer of Trumpism that will fester among too many of our citizens.  The question is:  Can we come up with the therapy needed to halt this cancer from metastasizing?   — Ken Germanson, Jan 10, 2021.

Mr. Biden: Be Bold on the Economy

No doubt about it, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will not have an easy time of it when they finally take office. Partisan politics is a reality right now, with few Democrats or Republicans ready to stray from their respective party lines.

And the Congress is truly split right down the middle. Even if the Democrats somehow manage to win both Senate seats in Georgia, the Senate will be evenly divided at 50-50, with Vice President (to be) Harris needing to determine the vote. And the House Democratic margin has narrowed to about a six seat difference, leaving little room for Democratic defections.

This would seem to call for Biden to take a cautious, middle-of-the-road approach, seeking to build an agenda through compromise. If he were to follow that course, Biden’s Presidency will fail . . .the country along with him.

The country is facing no end of problems, to be sure. Ending the pandemic is, of course, most urgent, but Biden will need to still focus most directly on one principal goal: restoring the nation’s economy so that there will be jobs and sufficient income for all. No longer should we be looking at the Dow Jones averages to determine the health of the country; instead we must be looking statistics that tells us about employment levels, the poverty rate and average wages of workers.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, along with the Democratic leaders in Congress, must be bold! They must speak with one strong voice to develop programs that will make the U.S. economy work for all its citizens. For an example, they could look back to the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that helped rescue the nation from the crippling effects of the Great Depression. FDR was bold in offering policies that sometimes were challenged and thrown-out by the U.S. Supreme Court, but he persisted until he was able to pass policies that put money back into the wallets of working people, fueling an economic recovery built upon their increased purchasing power.

And if you look at history, you’ll see that FDR’s bold New Deal was a crowd-pleaser; even though he lost the support of most of the business community (and nearly all of the media), he won re-election over Republican Alf Landon in 1936 by the historic margin of 523 to 8 in the electoral college. FDR lost only two states, Maine and Vermont.

The New Deal included direct jobs programs like the WPA, PWA and CCC, plus affirming collective bargaining rights for labor unions in the passage of the Wagner Act (National Labor Relations Act). To this day you’ll see bridges and buildings that were built as PWA and WPA projects. An addition to my own high school was built under a PWA project and my uncle, who lived with us, found employment through the WPA in a bridge-building project. My father-in-law found employment during the Depression as a CCC camp supervisor in northern Wisconsin.

If you’re puzzled by President Trump’s popularity among blue-collar workers in this country, consider that his campaign messages (and his many lying tweets) played on the economic needs of workers, usually blaming the wrong causes, such as immigrant workers and government regulations. Yet, his message found open ears among families struggling to make ends meet with low-paying jobs.

Indeed, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris must make lots of noise for an economic program that will help American families earn a living wage or to have a good safety net if they are unemployable. It’s not only good economics, but it’s winning politics!

As a beginning, Biden would do well to look to the “Jobs for Economic Recovery Act,” offered by Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin; Ron Wyden of Oregon, and others. The bill would create a federal subsidized jobs program, enabling unemployed workers to earn wages doing useful work for up to six months, with possible extensions. In addition, the program would pay for job-creating projects created by states, local governments or private groups with the federal government reimbursing wages from 58% to 100%, rising as the state’s unemployment rate might worsen. Most importantly, the bill would not permit replacing workers or undercutting prevailing or union-negotiated pay rates.

A companion bill has been offered in the House by Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) and others. Moore has said she will press to have the bill placed on the active agenda.

Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi would do well loud and clear in support such an economic program. It’s a winning strategy and will serve this nation well. – Ken Germanson, Dec. 31, 2020.