Northern Valley Beacon

News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Get rid of Medicare and ACA; they're getting out of hand.

Opponents of Medicare and the Affordable Healthcare Act received threatening news in USA Today.  The headline story today announced a drastic drop in Medicare deaths and costs.  

  • Mortality rates among Medicare patients fell 16 percent from 1999 to 2013.
  • Among fee-for-service patients,  hospitalization rates fell 24 percent with more than 3 million fewer hospitalizations in 2013 than 1999.
  • When admitted, patients were 45 percent less likely to die during their stay.
  • Costs almong fee-for-service patients fell 15 percent.  
The results of a study appeared in The Journal of the American Medical Association.  The lead author said they were "jaw-dropping."

As if that wasn't bad enough for healthcare opponents, USA Today carried another story on page 2 covering another article in JAMA.  It found that the rates of the uninsured in America dropped another 7.9 percent during the first quarter of this year and a significant increase in the number of people getting access to medical care.  

Meanwhile the horde of GOP presidential candidates and many sitting congress people vow to end Obamacare, announce its time to end Medicare, and keep voting to repeal Obamacare.

While significant strides are being made in improving healthcare in the U.S., the GOP expresses its intention to destroy the vehicles of that improvement.  The question they never answer is, why?  They bring up big government, but they never address the hard facts about  healthcare in the nation or acknowledge the improvements being made    And they never suggest a plan to imake healthcare accessible to more people.  A question raised before the Affordable Healthcare Act was passed at a forum in the Johnson Fine Arts Center at NSU was "Why do you want fellow citizens to be deprived of healthcare?"  No one that I know of has ever bothered to answer.  

Or will the GOP have the integrity to acknowledge the progress being made?  Or even care?  

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The end of farming

A  lush landscape, barren of people.

A musing in Dakotafire, a magazine that tries to institute a rural revival, contains an article that probes why fewer people call themselves farmers.  It says that it is not just because there are fewer farmers, and notes that many prefer to call themselves “'ag producers,' or say they 'run a farm business'."  It does cite a few people engaged in agribusiness who insist on calling themselves farmers.  

What the article does not explore is whether the choice in terms  reflects a change in what people who work on the land are actually doing.  It does not venture into the transformation from agriculture to agribusiness and that those who call themselves producers or businessmen are not farmers.  They are people who utilize the land as a production unit as part of corporate enterprise, not as an independent and sustainable element in a competitive market system.  

My own knowledge of farming comes from the fact that all my ancestors immigrated to America to become farmers.  My father was raised on a farm, although he became a letter carrier as a young man.  My mother had seven brothers, four of whom farmed, one of whom was a mechanic who repaired farm equipment, one of whom was a fuel dealer who served farms, and the last who was a machine shop foreman at an arsenal  Two of the  farmers were also machine shop foremen at the Farmall plant.  That is how they bought their farms. As a child who grew up during the depression and World War II,  I remember how the self-sufficiency of the farms provided for our extended family.  One of the farms was where my grandmother lived with two of her bachelor sons.  It was where the family gathered on most Sundays and was referred to as "out home."  While recovering from a year in bed from rheumatic fever, I spent summers on that farm where I gradually took on some of the work. I learned to drive on that farm operating a Farmall H tractor.  Later, when my uncles got older, reduced some of their farming activity, while I was a college student, I drove out to their farm twice a day to feed the livestock for them when they took a vacation.  

The farms were general farms.  That is, they grew in multiple sources of food.  The crops were rotated between corn, hay, oats, soybeans, along with plantings of potatoes, usually a row or two alongside a cornfield,  and they all contained fields devoted to permanent pasture.  The farms also contained large gardens, and my bachelor uncles had a vineyard and some apple, pear, and peach trees.   The livestock raised were pigs, cattle--both for milk and beef--and chickens--for meat and eggs.  Farming was a 24/7 enterprise.  The entire extended family participated in the  harvesting and preserving of the food.  It was an arduous way of life, but the self-sufficiency buffered the family during tough times.  

This background, along with a number of years working for International Harvester Co. led to a job as farm editor for the Moline Dispatch, a job I regard as the best one I have held in terms of pleasant and interesting work.  However, my coverage of the changing farm scene made clear that self-sufficient family farms were on the decline.  Farming as my family did was so demanding and arduous that children raised on farms wanted another kind of life or to practice agriculture in a way that left room in their lives for something other than constant labor.  And as my uncles became established, they reduced their operations.  Milking was the most demanding task, and farmers were willing to let dairies take over that aspect.  Then chickens and the daily gathering of eggs was let go.  Raising beef and pork, however, was too lucrative to abandon, and farmers gave up the feeding of livestock more slowly.  However, the trend was toward concentrating farming operations on one speciality, and professors of agriculture began to warn against horizontal and vertical integration, meaning that farms would no longer be self-sufficient units but would be tied into a corporate system by contract or corporate ownership.  

That is what has happened to agriculture.  The consolidation of farms into huge production units run on a factory  basis has eliminated family farms and many small communities over the past half century.  It has also changed the rural landscape in ecological ways.  My uncles won recognitions for their conservation farming.   They rotated crops to maintain the fertility and health of the soil, they maintained and created waterways and water containment features, rather than plow over them.   They were wary of using pesticides, and did so with much thought and caution.  But their farming was labor intensive and it took tenacious management skills to produce multiple crops and raise livestock that met the demands of a competitive market.  Those diverse operations, however, brought a factor of economic stability that single-cropping operations do not have.  Low prices for one commodity were generally offset by profits in others.  

As I drive through the countryside, particularly in the Dakotas, I am always struck by how it has changed since those years I was a farm editor.  I can recall driving through the country when doing stories, and particularly in late afternoons or evenings, and passing by family homesteads, which dotted the land with some frequency.  You could always tell what farms had children because they were out in the yards playing or saddling up horses or grooming 4-H cattle or sheep.  If there were teenagers, they were generally gathered around a car in the yard as they chatted and made arrangements for school activities.  I remember how busy my cousins were as they did their home work and coordinated their extra-curricular activities with their friends.  As farm editor, I became acquainted with many of these young people and marveled at the productive and purposeful lives they lived.  

Now when I pass homesteads,  I seldom see anyone, let alone children, in the yards.  Occasionally, I see people mowing their yards on lawn tractors, and often see swing sets and other playground equipment in yards, but I never see children using it.  Since I have lived in South Dakota, I have watched small towns totally disappear as schools closed and main streets were boarded up.  Some places, such as Ordway and Wetonka, have completely disappeared.  In places like Columbia, you can't fuel a car if needed or buy a bottle of water.  

This  barren landscape is the result of consolidating and industrializing.  It is not the landscape of the agriculture once envisioned by Thomas Jefferson as the foundation for a free, self-determining people comprising a new democracy.  His vision was of farms as culture which sustained life and provided healthy and productive ways for people to live.  It is now the landscape of an industrial enterprise, of huge tracts tended by machines and chemicals, owned by and supporting fewer and fewer people.   As my last farmer-uncle put it before he died,  the land is being returned to the barons.   It is no longer a resource on which a democratic society can be sustained.

There was a time when farmers and agricultural scientists concerned themselves with incorporating technological advances in farming with the purpose of supporting human culture on the land.  But the corporate powers have eliminated the human values as part of what could grow on the land.  

People do not call themselves farmers, because they aren't.  As a Wikipedia author puts it, 
"However, in the not so distant past a farmer was a person who promotes or improves the growth of (a plant, crop, etc.) by labor and attention, land or crops or raises animals (as livestock or fish)."  Today, they are machine operators and chemical applicators engaged in the business of making money, not worker-managers engaged in the intertwining of natural and human culture for the production of food and, as Bill Gates puts it, a verdant, productive life for humans.  Business practice, not agriculture, is the driving force.  And so, they are not farmers; they are ag producers and they run farm businesses.  They are not engaging the land in ways upon which human communities are built and sustained.  And few are willing to face the consequences of that fact.   

Monday, July 20, 2015

Are you among those who have noticed Donald Trump is always incoherent?

"Hey Pope Francis, you suck!”

Donald Trump has risen to the top of the popularity list of GOP presidential candidates.  He entertains people by being the consummate asshole.  Huffington Post has announced that they will not cover him in their political columns, but have consigned him to the entertainment section, along with the likes of Kim Kardashian.  

However, some commentators warn that Trump should not be ignored.  A Washington Post writer states:

Trump’s message is a call to 1950s American greatness and a simmering, mad-as-hell populism that blames Chinese imports, freeloading Saudis and Mexican immigrants (and Mexico) for the nation’s ills. It appeals to a vein of the U.S. electorate that will remain a significant voting bloc for several election cycles to come: older whites. Trump calls his supporters the “silent majority,” the same name Richard Nixon used to marshal support from a white, middle-class, middle-aged population that felt underappreciated and feared the dramatic social change wrought by activist, antiwar youths and the civil rights movement.
Mother Jones sees a similar significance in how Trump reveals the political health of the nation:

... he is a political phenomenon that tells us much about a significant slice of the American public: Republican voters. It is indeed a drop-dead serious matter that a large bloc of GOPers—perhaps a plurality, depending on which poll you prefer—would entrust this nation to Trump. And the fact that Trump's demagoguery is prevailing at this early stage of the Republican presidential race is a measure of how far the tea party shift in the party has gone—and how this ideological extremism has developed deep roots within the GOP.
But the significance of Trump's rise in the polls is not simply his appeal to a segment that is intellectually and culturally stuck in the past; it is that no one takes alarm that the nation as a whole does not recognize that Trump's rantings are devoid of any coherent thought.  His wealth and brashness seems to cloud the recognition that what he says is the sound and fury of a national idiot.  He is not mentally all there. If, as some suggest, his appeal is that he speaks to the concerns of a segment of the populace, he is giving voice to derangement.

In one speech, Trump disparaged 23 people or groups of people with his malice.  What is 
significant is that his name-calllilng and his denigration str uyyrtrf in fragments and phrases. He does not predicate any sentences that complete thoughts or deal with facts.  His statements are incoherent with the only point of clarity being his intention of insulting and attacking a person.  

About John MCCain, he said:

"You hear our politicians. John McCain, two days, 'Oh, Benghazi!' You don't hear about it anymore... I'm more disappointed in the Republicans in many ways. They talk and talk and talk."

About President Obama:

"You know, I don't use Teleprompters like the president..."He doesn't even call to get our hostages back from Iran. Here we are in the middle of a deal and he doesn't even call about that. One sentence -- I'd say, 'Before we start, get those people back.' They'd be back the next hour.”

About John Kerry:

"Our chief negotiator [on Iran] at 73 is in a bicycle race. He falls and breaks his leg. This is the mentality." 
 About Hillary Clinton:

"Hillary Clinton was the worst secretary of state in the history of our country. The worst. The world blew up around her. Our enemies are a disaster and they hate us more. Our friends are all gone. We don't get along with anybody. Everybody's ripping us off..."Who would you rather have negotiating a trade deal with anybody? Trump or Hillary?”
And his account of the Macy's CEO on the phone breaking off the relationship with Trump:

"So my cellphone rings and it's [Macy's chief executive] Terry Lundgren...He goes, 'Donald, hi.' He's like my best friend. I said, 'Terry, what's your problem?' He said, 'You're very controversial.' ... He said, 'Donald, I had calls from Hispanic people saying they're going to boycott Macy's.' I told him what to do. I said, 'Terry, be tough. They'll be gone one day.'..."This is a man I played golf with. I was with him all the time. He really was, was, was -- you understand, because I don't forget things. He said to me, 'Please, please, Donald, can I cut you?' It's not a big deal. I'm selling ties. And you know what? Honestly, they were made in China, so I didn't care."Here's the bottom line on Macy's: Thousands and thousands of people are cutting up their Macy's credit cards.”
Trump makes up, distorts, and ignores facts.  What he says has  no correspondence with reality.  His attacks are always personal.  His entire campaign is one of demeaning and discrediting other people.  Those who claim that he is giving a voice to a disgruntled political base ignore just what that voice is saying and how it is said.  It is stream-of-consciousness malice.

It is not a matter of people having differing opinions.  It is a matter that benign Americans don't want to face:  some of their fellow Americans are not nice people.  They are mean, dishonest, and intend ill on other people.  Trump's stupidly hateful remarks about John McCain are an expression of the malevolent streak that pulses through American politics.  

Can this streak dominate the nation.  Well, it dominates South Dakota.  The blog that seems to be endorsed by the GOP in South Dakota contains precisely the ignorance of facts, the moral carelessness, and the inane bravado of Donald Trump.  It throbs with malice.  And that, in South Dakota, is what  the GOP campaigns on.  And wins.  And why the state is intellectually and morally incoherent.  

Trump to G.O.P: “You’re Fired”

Des Moines Register asks Trump to withdraw his candidacy

Monday, July 13, 2015

What happened to Wisconsin? The spirit of Joseph McCarthy.

Wisconsin is a haunted state. The ghost of Joseph McCarthy haunts the state house.  His spirit has returned to get revenge on those who exposed his claims about communists infiltrating the government as false and thrust him into obscurity for a while.  Without any proof that anyone was subverting the government, his investigations cost more than 2,000 government employees their jobs.  Edward R. Murrow, in turn, investigated McCarthy's claims and showed the nation through television that they were maliciously fabricated and the damage they did to many people and the nation. 

The affinity for destruction has reemerged in Wisconsin politics in the form of Gov. Scott Walker.  Walker has mounted a successful McCarthy-like campaign against public employees, particularly teachers and professors, and has aggressively opened the state up to corporate exploitation.  Even though his efforts to disenfranchise the bargaining rights of public employees were met with massive protests,  he survived a recall election and then was re-elected.  

In his second term he introduced budget bills that called for the dismantling of the the prestigious University of Wisconsin system and the elimination of tenure for professors.  But his most striking move was a budget bill that eliminated much of Wisconsin's open records law.  When the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal exposed that the closing of open records was being proposed in the budget bill just before July 4,  the Governor and his GOP cohorts did quick retreat and removed those provisions from the bill.  The Chicago Tribune reported that  

"The proposed change would have made Wisconsin’s law one of the most restrictive in the country, no longer allowing journalists, activists and others to request to see lawmakers’ e-mails and legislative drafting notes. Such a change, retroactive to July 1, would also have further protected Walker as he enters the presidential race and finds his record under greater scrutiny."

There has been much dissembling and evasion about how much Walker was directly involved in the move to close records off from the public and the press,  but newspapers report that his office helped draft the bill eliminating open records.  However, the national news about Walker focuses on his plans as a presidential candidate, and gives scant mention to his "achievements" in Wisconsin.  He has dismantled much of what has distinguished Wisconsin as a progressive state and proposes more that would change institutions which have made the state a leader in education, environmental protection, and workers' rights.  

The question is, of course, why a majority would support and vote for a man who is destroying the state's legacy.  The answer is in examining the state's political history and factions that once supported and voted for Joseph McCarthy and how those factions resurged into power.  

For many years I had property in the pinelands along the Wisconsin River which are only about 40 miles from Madison.  It was a place where I retreated to work but also provided outdoor relaxation and recreation.    I wrote much of my doctoral dissertation there under the pine trees. During those years, I did moonlighting work in communications consulting and production with a group of associates who were writers, photographers, and graphic producers who wanted to keep their skills active and earn a little extra money.  We used the pinelands as our work studio.  A number of those people had ties with the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and we found that the place and state were conducive to creative and productive work.  The kind of oppressive and destructive atmosphere that Walker represents was not a presence.  How did the political and social atmosphere get so drastically reversed? 

Joe McCarthy  stirred up the nation with accusations of communist pervasion.  As the Cold War progressed, his charges created a paranoia in the populace.  People were made so fearful of communist rule that merely calling someone a communist, whether true or not, could raise the temperature of paranoia and malice among the people to the point where they would revile and destroy anyone so accused.  McCarthy played upon ignorance, fear, and the human tendency to fix blame for the problems they perceive.  He understood what successful dictators use to acquire and maintain power among people who can be fooled and swayed by propaganda that appeals to fear, prejudice, the need to feel superior to others.  He used legislative hearings as a means to disseminate his accusations and publicly humiliate and destroy the reputations of people.  Television was his undoing.  People brought before his hearings denounced his accusations and tactics for their falseness and their maliciousness.  Edward R. Murrow examined the facts and the people he ruined on his news shows.  McCarthy had acquired so much influence that he intimidated Pres. Eisenhower, who disapproved of him but thought it politically unwise to confront him.  However, he eventually backed people in the Senate who censured Mc arthy for conduct unbecoming a U.S. senator.  

Scott Walker uses essentially the same tactics.  When the state faced budget problems, he   blamed the public employees and their unions and eliminated the right to bargain for salaries.  Although collective bargaining is a negotiating process and the state has the right to counter union proposals at the bargaining table, Walker co-opted any voice by employees by eliminating collective bargaining.  He characterized union members as thugs.  This resonated among workers in Wisconsin who were suffering under low wages.  He suggested that the unions were hogging wages in a way that kept non-union workers underpaid.  And so, workers saw unions as the enemy, not the corporations which underpaid them while giving executives lavish salaries and bonuses.  These workers do not understand what the so-called Reagan Revolution did to America's workforce.  They place the blame for their inadequacies of income on the unions, not on the global corporations.  

Rather than collectively bargain for higher pay, workers supported Walker in taking away the bargaining rights of fellow workers.  

Walker's move to dismantle the university system and eliminate tenure is also an appeal to the resentment of the working class which feels that collective bargaining and job protections are unfair privileges.  

Walker has used the kind of false accusation and appeal to misplaced resentment that propelled Joseph McCarthy's rise to power.   His attempt to close off public access to government records fits in that scheme of keeping the public ignorant, misinformed, and in a state of fear and suspicion of fellow citizens.

Walker has tried to move Wisconsin close to what South Dakota is.   South Dakota already has laws which keep public records closed to its citizens.  It is a right-to-work state, which means employers have the right to work workers as hard and with as little compensation and respect as they choose.  Its education system is fettered by corporate and political ties. And it features the lowest remuneration in the nation for any kind of honest work.  

South Dakota is the model for what Scott Walker would like to make the nation.  Joseph McCarthy is the founding father to him.  

UPDATE:  In signing budget  bill,  Scott Walker strips state workers of minimum wage and takes away tenure for professors.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Anybody feel like an f-bomb?

As someone who taught The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for many decades,  I had to reply to those who thought it shouldn't be taught in an American classroom because a major character around whom the true significance of the novel revolves is named Nigger Jim.  Like many other of Mark Twain's novels, it explored and challenged not only the practice of racial discrimination and designation, but the social and culture fallacies which created them.   

Another iconoclast who demolished the basis of racial discrimination and hatred was Richard Pryor with his comedy albums That Nigger’s Crazy (1974) and Bicentennial Nigger (1976).  He later vowed not to use the term nigger . His stated reason in an Ebony interview was a trip to Africa.T

Well, I took a trip to Africa – which, by the way, is where I plan to live some day. I went to Kenya, and while I was there something inside of me said, “Look around you, Richard. What do you see? I saw people. African people. I saw people from other countries, too, and they were all kinds of colors, but I didn’t see any “niggers.” I didn’t see anWy there because There are no “niggers” in Africa. Can you imagine going out into the bush and walking up to a Masai and saying, “Hey nigger. Come here!?” You couldn’t do that because Masai are not “niggers.” There are no “niggers” in Africa, and there are no “niggers” here in America either. We Black people are no t”niggers,” and I will forever refuse to be one. I’m free of that, it’s out of my head. My mother is not a “nigger.” Is yours one? So if your mama ain’t no “nigger,” how could you be one? See, when I went to Africa, to my Motherland, I realized that terms like “nigger” and the word “bitch” that so many Black men call our women are tricks, like genocide on the brain.
When President Obama said that refraining from using the word nigger  in polite society was not a measure of the elimination of racism, he raised a verbal firestorm among the conservatives, who tried to use his citation of the word as a character flaw, and among the more liberal, whose objections exposed a tendency toward inanity and some plain old ignorance.  

The word has different dimensions of meanings, depending upon whether it is uttered by a white person or a black person.  ln the mouth of a white person it means that the blackness it refers to is a degraded, subhuman, and despicable form of life.  It is the most profound insult to those to whom it refers.  In the mouth of a black person, it is a parody of all the malevolent ignorance embraced in the prejudicial white mentality.  When blacks used the word to each other, it conveyed the whole history of white oppression, debasement, and injustice inflicted upon black people.  It was the most sardonic of jokes.

While I was in the service, I hear the word used with both meanings.  There were many, many whites who regarded and called black people niggers.  And the blacks used the word among themselves to satirize and laugh at the stupid ignorance and malice of those who used the word against them.  However, it was getting to be a time when a white man never said nigger to a black man's face because the white man's face and ass would very quickly be filleted.  The word is freighted with all the atrocities the whites have inflicted upon blacks and the blacks reached the point where they would not take it anymore.  

Richard Pryor came to realize that there were a lot of people who did not understand the joke when a black man used the word.  The satire and irony was lost on them.  The intention to debase dominated the use of the word even in black society, and it lost the humorous edge which made fun of the white intention.  If one used the word, one had to be careful to use it in italics or quotation marks, which is not easy to do in spoken English.  That's when a linguistic blunder was commited.

The blunder was in creating the euphemism n-word.   It is like using the euphemism f-word when we are trying to be too delicate to say fuck.  The euphemism merely refers to the word and creates an emphasis on the original.  In avoiding the word itself, the euphemism carries the same intention.  Walk up to a black man and say, "Hey, fucking n-word."  And see what happens.  The intention behind the word is not eliminated by the euphemism.  

It is impossible to talk about the racial history of our country--and many others--without using the word nigger in explaining the racial attitude that dominated so much of our history through slavery, Jim Crow, civil rights, and our current era where we find racism seething under the false mask of the n-word.  

The matter is one of using language to communicate, not to denigrate and hurt and kill the spirit.  In many ways the n-word is more destructive of human society that the original because it belies a devious ploy.  We use the softer word, but the original malicious intention of that word is called to mind.  We know it is lurking under the facade of niceness.  Another n-word.  

The real problem we have is that we keep f-wording up the language.  .  


Friday, June 19, 2015

Who the heck was Harney?

He killed Indians,  didn't he?

This weekend will be the closing of public comments on whether to change the name of Harney Peak in the Black HIlls to Hinhan Kaga, the Lakota name for the place.  The name is hard to translate into English.  Kaga means to make, create, or imitate.  Hinhan is the Lakota plural for owls. So, the English translations have been "maker of owls", "where owls are created", "owl nest", and so on.  The Lakota accounts of the formation of the people and of the land itself is written in the land.  There are spiritual associations with the landscape that few non-Indian know about, let alone understand.  The western mind is simply not equipped to make a translation that evokes the associations with which Lakota words and place references are loaded.  It is best to let the Lakota word stand as it is.

But the proposed name change has unleashed a storm of blog chatter.  Blog chatter is what Shakespeare's Macbeth was referring to when he said, "it is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."   Among the contention is the questions of why give the peak a Lakota name when other tribes preceded them, presumably, in occupying the area in which it is located.  Before the honkey hoard evicted the Lakota people from the woodlands, other tribes who were displaced by the Lakota lived there.  What is ignored in those ravings is that the Black Hills were regarded as "the heart of all that is" by many nations and they held it in the same reverent regard as the Sioux nations.  As with many places in the U.S., Hinhan Kaga was considered sacred and hostilities were suspended when various nations came to make the spiritual observations that the place represented to them.  The important part of the name change is that it re-establishes the significance the place has for the indigenous people, and therefore informs the non-indigenous of a greater significance.  

So, then, what does Harney mean?  Harney is among those regarded as military heroes in American white history whose character and deeds are not without a basis for scathing criticism, sometimes contempt.  The leader of that group of military heroes is (Brevet) General George Arnstrong Custer.  While Custer had some military successes, he was predominantly a vainglorious ass  When he is mentioned in military history, it is not as a hero, but as a fool who violated every standard of military thought and deed in a way that got him and 268 of his troops killed.  He is held up as an example of what not to do.

To the Lakota and other tribes, Custer was a violator of a treaty, still nominally in effect, that betrayed the Indian nations and led to the theft of the Black Hills, in fact all of West River South Dakota.Custer had his military moments, but a study of his actions as a commander show a man who was daring and lucky during the Civil War, but who miscalculated and blundered his way through his Indian campaigns, until he made the ultimate blunder.  He violated his orders, tried to shape a heroic image from the killing of Indians and dispossessing them of their lands.  

Harney was a soldier of the same stripe.  His early biographies portray a man of military competence who in his off-hours enjoyed gardening.  However, as with Custer, later studies of historical and military documents reveal quite another personality.  In a recent biography of Red Cloud, Harney's career is summed up this way:

Harney, with his plump cheeks and snowy whiskers, resembled a uniformed Father Christmas.  But his jolly countenance was deceiving.  He had once been chased out of St. Louis by a mob after he'd beaten to death a female slave for losing his house keys.  And he hated Indians and enjoyed killing them, either in the field or at the end of a rope on the gallows.  He had led the troops against the Sauk in the Black Hawk War and against the Seminole during Andrew Jackson's Everglades campaign--where his buffoonish negligence resulted in the massacre of an entire detachment of dragoons.  He himself had escaped by capering through the Florida bush wearing only his underwear.  The resultant embarrassment increased Harney/s fervor to slay red people;  and during the Mexican War his overzealous pursuit of the Commanche--as opposed to engaging Santa Ana's troops--enraged the commander of the U.S. forces, Gen. Winfield Scott, who relieved him of command. [135]
Harney's most famous engagement with the Sioux was the Battle of Ash Creek, where he killed 86 men, women, and children, and  earned the name of Woman Killer.  The account in the Red Cloud biography of his treatment of the captives, mostly women. is:

After Harney force marched the captives to Fort Laramie, the officers were allowed to  select the prettiest for themselves, with the rest :"shared out among the soldiers."  A year later half=breed "war orphans" ran thick aat the fort, including an infant girl alleged to have been fathered by Harney himself.[138]

The book summarizes his later career:

...Harney's bungling adventures continued into the farcical.   He still hunted Indians, seemingly for sport, but that never bothered the authorities back east.  .  It was only in 1859 when he nearly set off a shooting war with Great Britain that his superiors thought to rein him in.  [After a series of misadventures] Harney was quietly retired and whisked from the national stage.  [157]

So, Harney was the name given to the highest point in the Black Hills with its spiritual connection to the Lakota and other nations as "the heart of everything that is."

There are those who think the name of the peak should not be changed.  And there are those who think the shooting of nine worshipers in Charleston, S.C., last Thursday was not an act of racism.  Naming the peak Harney may be an intensely ignorant and stupid insult to the Indian nations.  But to white America, it memorializes the kind of person and the kind of acts that so many people worship and revere. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Something is rotten in the State of South Dakota. The smell is overpowering.

The EB-5 scheme didn't produce much in the way of beef, but it sure did a lot of fleecing.

[Potential readers beware:  this is a piece of very long-form journalism.]

The Watertown Public Opinion in an editorial (June 3) republished in the Aberdeen newspaper (June 7) asks why the federal justice department was asked to investigate the EB-5 affair in South Dakota and why, in declining to pursue any further actions, it refuses to provide information on what it found and the basis for its decision. The editorial focuses on the issues raised by the decision:
First, how was [Richard] Benda able to divert more than $500,000 for his own use without raising red flags?  Were others involved?  What happened to the money once it was diverted and can any of it be recovered?..
What exactly were the Feds looking for when they conducted their probe?  What started their investigation of Benda, SDRC and EB-5? What exactly did they find?
What were [the] allegations [that started the probe] and why not discuss what the FBI findings were?  How did that affect the decision not to file charges?
Probably worst of all is the specter that politics and the 2014 U.S Senate race came into play when Democratic appointee U.S. Attorney for S.D. Brendan Johnson more than hinted something was afoot during the election.  Today, with the election decided, and the FBI's decision, we know nothing will be done.  It leaves an awful taste in our mouth, and if Johnson ever runs for office in South Dakota, as many suspect he will, he will need to be held  accountable for what he said and more importantly, what he did not say.

All this silence does is raise questions about what happened, who may have been involved, and if there were problems with the administration of the program.  

Silence, when it comes to government leads to questions and the more questions that are left unanswered leads to even more questions.  

That's why openness in government is so important.  And the real lesson on the EB-5 mess: The more the public is denied access or answers, the less trust there is. 
However, what became the EB-5 scandal has two narrative lines that go back many years long before the death of Richard Benda forced the breaking of some news about what was taking place in South Dakota government.  One narrative line is the establishment and history of the South Dakota International Business Institute (SDIBI) on the NSU campus. In 1994, the creation of the SDIBI was announced to the public and the faculty at the same time.  The faculty were puzzled because the initiation of a new program is generally proposed and discussed in faculty forums as it goes through the implementation process.  They were puzzled but not surprised, as they assumed the program was something dreamed up and imposed by the Board of Regents. The Regents  often have agendas that have little to do with education or scholarly research.  Still, the establishment of the SDIBI sparked inquiries and commentary that extended onto other state campuses, partly of out resentment that NSU was the chosen site for a special program, but predominantly out of curiosity about just what a South Dakota International Business Institute was supposed to do and how it related to any academic functions. 

The peculiar circumstance of the SDIBI was that it maintained a degree of separation from the NSU administration.  When its director, Joop Bollen, got the Regents involved in some legal entanglements, NSU and the Regents knew nothing about his actions.  When the Dean of the School of Business was asked about why NSU was not supervising Bollen's activities, he replied that NSU administrators were given only occasional updates on Bollen's activities, with the understanding that his main reporting responsibility was to the Governnor's Office of Economic Development. His response was affirmed by testimony of NSU's counsel.  However, Mike Rounds said when he was governor he was not aware of Bollen's activities because Bollen was an employee of the Board of Regents.  

Eventually, in this narrative, the new president of NSU reviewed the university budget and asks why the university is funding and housing an activity that has no apparent relevance to its mission, teaching and research. The SDIBI left NSU and located its residence in the offices of the Aberdeen Development Corporation, a tax-funded corporation subsidized by the city and the county which also has nebulous history in terms of its mission and actual function.  When Bollen moved, he took all the SDIBI records with him and they have never been made available for examination.

The history of the SDIBI is murky because of apparent dissembling on the part of people involved with it and the remarkable incoherence of its origins, purpose, and function.  It began in 1994 by declaration of the Board of Regents, and in its early years did show some efforts to establish relationships with foreign institutions of higher learning.  For brief times it publicized alliances in Poland and Germany, but news about those kinds of efforts trailed off.  In 2004, it qualified to be a regional center by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and began its involvement in the EB-5 program.  And that is when it got involved in the second narrative line regarding the Northern Beef Packers.  

Although Northern has divested itself of connections with economic development and EB-5, its international programs occupy a separate and somewhat unusual status within the academic community.  The international program is now called the Center for Excellence in International Business & Entrepreneurship (CEIBE). and under the general title of International Programs it operates an Academic English Program which seems to have no connections or relationships to the academic programs in English or foreign languages, but operates with a detached independence.  This is noteworthy because of the negative perception it creates among potential and present students.  I have been questioned about why NSU seems to have such low regard for its academic programs within the College of Arts and Sciences.  There seems to be money and attention given to the international program while other basic academic areas are being diminished.  One of my retired colleagues said it looked as if the university was being maintained as a cover for business schemes of dubious nature. 

The narrative line of the Northern Beef Packers has shady beginnings.  When the plans for a turkey processing plant formed and Huron was designated as its site, an outfit from Connecticut called Ridgeway Farms announced that it would build a beef-processing plant in conjunction with it.  As with the background story of the South Dakota International Business Institute, the information surrounding these plans is fragmented, guarded, and suspicious.   Governor Mike Rounds was initially in support of the plans.  It is when he launched his idea of promoting South Dakota Certified Beef as a value-added measure for the state's agriculture.  Some complications and conflicts, which are tucked away under that blanket of secrecy under which so much of South Dakota operates, arose and suddenly the plans for a beef plant in Huron were abandoned.  Ridgeway Farms had planned to feature Hereford Beef in the kind of marketing promotion that has been successful for Angus beef.  No one has spoken on the record about what went wrong, but some people in Huron have claimed that Gov. Rounds and Ridgeway executives got into a dispute over a division of authority between the state, which was helping raise financing, and the Ridgeway people, who had reputations for shaky and shady business practices.  The rumor was that Gov. Rounds pulled his support and encouraged some investors to do  likewise. 

In November 2005, Ridgeway moved its headquarters out of Huron to Flandreau.  It had financial support from the Farmers Union, the Flandreau city council, and the Flandreau economic development organization.  But during the early part of 2006, Ridgefield Farms went silent on the progress of its plans, and in August of that year  75 of its investors voted to have all its assets in Flandreau turned over to Farmers Union Industries,  which shortly thereafter won a judgment for $1 million from Ridgeway and then filed a lawsuit to recover $3 million it and others had invested in the project.  Ridgeway left the state.

However, Dennis Hellwig, a livestock auction barn owner in Aberdeen, says he received a call from Phillip Friend of Ridgeway Farms urging him to  get involved in a beef plant for Aberdeen, and that's how Northern Beef Packers began.  There isn't much that anyone got right.  The plant is located on land once owned by Hellwig, which has more detractions than advantages.  Largely, it was a matter of a bunch of people who hadn't the vaguest idea of what they were doing bumbling around in a business that requires aggressive and brilliant marketing, a host of environmental protection and waste product disposal measures, and people with sound knowledge and experience to run the business.  It had none of those, and when it hired some, they quickly disappeared, probably out of dismay and frustration at the  bungled enterprise.  Its biggest problem was a lack of investors.  The enterprise was not able to sell all the TIF (tax increment financing) bonds it was authorized.  That's where the EB-5 loans came in. They were a way to try to  rescue those who had invested, pay the contractors,  and move the plant.toward completion.  

Facts about the failures of the enterprise came out in court transcripts, and Denise Ross writing for the Mitchell Daily Republic published some revealing interviews with people involved in the court actions.  Joop Bollen became closely associated with the Hanul Law Firm which recruited and organized the EB-5 investors with him, working with lawyers James Parks of Los Angeles and Si-Il Jang, of South Korea.  At one point they hired a Los Angeles firm, Maverick Spade, to help organize the finances and assist with the recruiting of investors.  The lead person for Maverick Spade, David Kang, told Denise Ross that Joop Bollen and James Park had somehow displaced NBP CEO David Palmer and had taken control of the accounts, the money, and ran the daily operations.  Kang attributes their presumptuous incompetence for the final failure of the enterprise:  "They were in over their heads. They didn't understand how to do development, construction projects, things of that nature. That's ultimately why they fell flat on their face." 

A conspicuous omission in the accounts of what was going on with Northern Beef Packers is the testimony and other information that could be supplied by people such as David Palmer and others who were officers in the corporation.  In that there is a parallel to how the South Dakota International Business Institute was handled at Northern State.  The people who were nominally in charge of Bollen and the SDIBI. the dean of the school of business and the academic dean of the university, were told that Bollen and the SDIBI were accountable to the Governor/s Office of Economic Development, not the university.  This is a most peculiar circumstance that would not occur in most states.  The peculiarity is that a political office is allowed to impose a program on a university and then is told that the university has no authority to know or monitor what that program is doing, although it is contributing funds, academic credibility, personnel and space to the program. In most states the governing boards and the university officers and faculty would intently guard against allowing politically connected programs to compromise the academic integrity and openness of the university.  However, in South Dakota universities have been sanctioned a number of times for nor following the rules of academic freedom and integrity.  The current president of NSU, James Smith, asserted his responsibility as an academic officer in questioning the university's relationship to Joop Bollen and the SDIBI and removed them from the campus and the university purview.  Bollen moved his operation into the offices of the Aberdeen Development Corpration and took all the SDIBI records with him. 

It was not surprising that the EB-5 scheme and operation would receive political cover from the state administration and legislature, because political plots, intrusions, and secrecy are the established ways of doing business.  As the Watertown Public Opinion states, what is surprising is that the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice have not issued any information on their findings and the reasons for taking no action.  Given the record of deviousness and secrecy in the history of the SDIBI and the Northern Beef Packers, the public can only conclude, cynically and portentously, that political subversion and subterfuge extends beyond state government and its corporate bed fellows.  When corporate schemes involve government, government, at the local, state, and federal level, finds ways to keep the people from knowing what is being done to them in them.

Something that has never been addressed is the role of law firms in the fleecing of public funds and the destruction of public trust.  Probably because lawyers are considered officers of the courts and promote themselves as advocates for clients who find themselves embroiled in legal issues, the public tends to think that law firms are restrained from participating in the scams and the bilking of the kind that is demonstrated by the way Hanul Law and its accomplices handled the EB-5 program in South Dakota.  The bottom line of this scam is that 160 Chinese and Korean investors were defrauded of a half million dollars each.  The state committed $30 million to the beef plant, although not all of it was paid out.   In all the commotion and wrangling, local law firms get mentioned, statements are issued from them, but all the public gets is a picture of chaos and dissembling, and the only aspect of the picture that is clear is the dishonesty, the secrecy, and the betrayal of the public trust. 

There are lawyers aplenty, but none  representing the public interest.                                      

The law firm that is persistently present in every aspect of the EB-5 scam and numerous associated schemes is Siegel, Barnett and SchutzThe names of the firm's members are are on court documents and are listed in business papers not as attorneys representing clients but as active participants in the organizations and events involved. 

The connection of Siegel, Barnett, and; Schutz to NSU is the construction of the Barnett Center on  the NSU campus.  Prior to the construction of that athletic center, NSU held its basketball games in the Aberdeen Civic Center, so that the construction of an on-campus facility was a huge boost for the college.  It came about when Joseph H. Barnett, a principal in the law firm and a 19-year legislator who served as Republican majority leader and speaker of the  South Dakota house, promoted funding for the center in the legislature.  The building was completed in 1987, two years after Barnett died in office in 1985.  Barnett was hugely influential in Republican politics who was often said to be the source of Bill Janklow's power.
The construction of the building marks the time when the Barnett law firm  became a continuing presence on the South Dakota Board of Regents,  which Janklow converted into a political, rather than an educational, arm of government.  The wife of a member of the Barnett law firm was appointed by Janklow to the Board.  She was succeeded by the appointment of Harvey Jewett in 1997, who has been reappointed twice, with his current term expiring in 2017. Until the past year, Jewett was listed as a partner in the Barnett law firm.   His biography on the Regents web page still lists that affiliation. He is no longer listed as a firm member.  When Jewett was appointed a regent, some of the senior professors commented that NSU was now a part of the Jewett fiefdom.  In addition to being a member of Siegel, Barnett, and Schutz, he was a top executive in the Super 8 Motel corporate structure.  
  During the mid-1990s is when there was much questioning and discussion concerning the establishment of the South Dakota International Business Institute and just what the function of Joop Bollen was.  Most of the questioning was coming from other campuses.  When Jewett was appointed a regent, personnel from other campuses said that he was, in effect, the CEO of Northern State. The series of presidents who served NSU in the 1990s and the next twenty years were regarded as surrogates for the regents, not functioning college presidents.

The extent of the "Jewett fiefdom" is defined by his activities in conjunction with another member of the Siegel, Barnett, and Schutz law firm, Jeff Sveen.  Sveen is the chairman of the board of a firm that used $55 million in EB-5 loans from 110 investors in its start up and is largely an enterprise of the Hutterite colonies,  Dakota Provisions in Huron.  The firm is owned by Dakota Turkey Growers, a consortium of 44 Hutterite colonies.  Sveen's name appears in many documents related to the EB-5 business.  Dakota Provisions was initially a plant devised to process and sell turkeys raised by the Hutterite colonies.  It has branched into other meat products.  The original plans for building a beef plant was in conjunction with the building of the turkey processing plant in Huron, where the two businesses would share the infrastructure for water supply and waste disposal.
Sveen has been involved with the incorporation of many Hutterite colonies and is listed as the agent for many of the nonprofit corporations.  In a dispute over management and ownership of the Hutterville Colony near Stratford,  Sveen was listed as agent for both the contending corporations.  He was removed as agent  by the Hutterian Brethern, but the court appointed Harvey Jewett as a receiver of the Colony to divide the property between the contending factions to settle the dispute.  The state supreme court decided that the courts had no jur isdiction in settling a religious dispute and nullified the court a ctions.  The Hutterian Brethern then sued the Siegel, Barnett, and Schutz firm for racketeering violations, but the suit was dismissed.  The Rapid City Journal summarized Sveen's role with the Hutterites this way:  

Aberdeen attorney Jeffrey Sveen is chairman of the board for the Dakota Turkey Growers business, and is one of two managers for Dakota Gobblers, according to documents from the state. The two businesses are part of the turkey processing operation. He was also involved in some financial matters involving the Aberdeen beef plant, according to records at the Brown County Clerk of Courts office. 
Sveen also represents dozens of Hutterite colonies in the region...
 The involvement of the Board of Regents and NSU in the EB-5 related affairs has never been fully explored or explained, even though Joop Bollen drew them into costly legal actions. Bollen was never held in any way responsible for his actions, his failures of responsibility to the NSU administration, his taking of records from NSU, or his writing his own contract with the state when he privatized his EB-5 regional center.  

The state has refused to investigate or explain how he was allowed to perform as he did or to reveal any documents or information that might indicate how he was granted such extreme privileges.  Now the FBI closes an investigation without any explanations.  The final opportunity to get some explanation of how so much conniving and destruction of public trust could take place is in the filing of freedom of information requests from the U.S. justice department.

Governments may wish to keep a lid on who was involved in the fleecing of investors and the duping of the public, but the smell of corrupt practices is too strong to ignore.  There are people out there who know things,  Eventually someone might have the decency to explain. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States