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 MinneKota@gmail.com

Monday, March 27, 2017

Being a resident expatriate

In the 1920s, America's most important writers, artists, and thinkers left the  United States to live in other places, predominantly Paris.  Gertrude Stein is attributed for labeling these expatriates the "lost generation."  She said America was her country, but Paris was her home.  An expatriate is one who withdraws from residence in  or allegiance to his or her country.

By that definition,  I am an expatriate. I cannot bear allegiance to a country that has embraced the moral and intellectual degradation of Donald Trump.  I am by no means alone.


The expatriates of the 1920s left their country for a complex of reasons, one of which was captured in a post-World War I song "How are you going to keep them down on the farm once they've seen Paree?"  But there were more profound reasons for the sense of alienation in the United States that went beyond the experience of a less restrictive and more tolerant style of life that Paris represented. While many white Americans gathered in Europe to  pursue the arts,   the Harlem Renaissance was blossoming for African Americans in New York City and providing a beacon for those living under Jim Crow.  Art, literature, and music provide alternative ideas and the stuff out of which an alternative culture can be constructed.  The 1920s was laying the cultural foundation with which America faced the Great Depression, another world war, and the need for civil rights.  Called the Jazz Age,  the 1920s was a time when black culture was adopted by the larger culture through music.  It was a time of intense literary activity when the moral implications of the premise of the nation were under examination.  It was the time when the character of what Tom Brokaw has called The Greatest Generation was formed.  

Expatriates found that they needed a distant perspective from which to judge the values of their country.  Some did it from the vantage point of Europe; others did it through the vantage point of disengagement from American society.  I have seen a parallel movement to social disengagement at work in South Dakota.   There are many people who reside in South Dakota but find their home in other places.  A number of people I know center their "home life" in the Twin Cities.  They subscribe to the Minneapolis and St. Paul newspapers and organize their social and cultural lives around events and reources in the those cities.  And over the years, many South Dakota friends have relocated their residences when they found the opportunity.  

For many people, the dominant culture of South Dakota has nothing to offer them.  Once when  i was teaching college,  a nationally prominent person from South Dakota was in the state for a speaking engagement.  Some of we professors were able to combine our classes and have him speak to our students.  A student asked him if he ever considered returning to South Dakota to live.  The man replied that the last he thing he could do is live in a state where the ultimate activity is "to blast away at the world's dumbest bird with shotguns or sit in a boat by the world's biggest stock dams fishing for the world's dumbest fish."  The students understood that the response was humorous hyperbole, but nevertheless reflected a cultural fact of life.  

For many Americans, the nation has come to represent the kind of cultural deficiency that South Dakota had for that man.  While the nation fusses over old conservative and liberal arguments,  many people see that other nations in the world have in fact surpassed the U.S. in social progress.  The election of Donald Trump represents a giant leap backward into a world of small mindedness and petty resentments.  America is no longer the shining city on the hill. It is the cultural shanty town near the dump. 

As an Army veteran who served in Germany during the Cold War,  I find that the country I was once proud to defend no longer exists.  During that time,  our radars and intelligence gathering antennae were trained on the Soviet Union, but the battle being fought was an internal one.  In 1948, President Truman signed the order to desegregate the armed forces but that did not purge them of racist attitudes and Jim Crow practices.  We dealt with racial incidents constantly, and did not eliminate racism,  but we did make progress in seeing that racial oppression and discrimination would not be tolerated.  

The election of Barack Obama as our first black president was more than many people could bear, and dormant racial attitudes were revived.  Pundits spend much time talking about mistakes by Democrats that resulted in the election of Donald Trump, but few have the courage to admit that Jim Crow won the election.  And people who endorse Jim Crow are not people with whom there is any possible reconciliation.  Despite the fact that Trump has a record of astounding business failures, bankruptcies, and a history of ripping off people who work for him,  people keep saying that they voted for him because he's a business man and can get things done.  With his actual business record, an 18-month display of acting out like a fifth-grade bully, and his anti-science, anti-fact, anti-decency agenda,  supporters still insist that they voted for change.  The change they voted for was to halt and reverse all the progress the country has made in extending the benefits of freedom, equality, justice, and over all health and well-being to the nation.  These are people who cannot be engaged in fact-based reasoning.  And so, there is a nation of expatriates.  The expatriates are that majority who voted for someone else.  

The expatriates step back and take a long view and visualize what a genuine America looks like.  And think about where it can be built.  




Wednesday, March 8, 2017

How to take a leak

Trump's administration resembles a sieve.  It has so many  leaks.  The media abound with accounts of leaks streaming out of the White House. And there are accusations of leaks from the intelligence community.   As an old news dog,  I dealt with leaking in the past.

First, when an official tells a reporter something on the condition of anonymity,  that is not a leak.  That is a contact which can be attributed to someone who is in a position to know something.  Nevertheless,  when an anonymous source is quoted,  the news medium still has the responsibility to verify the information with other sources.   In the story on the resignation of Michael Flynn and the revelation that Trump's campaign had regular contact with Russian officials,  The Washington Post took pains to show how the story broke and was verified by major media.  

My assigned duties as a journalist did not cover government primarily, although in covering agriculture, the USDA and the extension services and colleges of agriculture were a major part of the  coverage.  There wasn't much occasion for leaking coming from those quarters.  The biggest outpouring of leaks came from my coverage of business.  And that included the coverage of government agencies such as the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and other agencies that regulate business.

As the news accounts of leaks flowing from Trump point out,  there are many motives.  One is that in a highly competitive contest for gaining attention and power,  people will piss on each other.  Another is resentment toward the people in charge, in which case the pissing is on the bosses.  A reporter has to learn how to identify those kinds of leakers because their information is not reliable.  

Another kind of leak is that of people who are genuinely concerned that something is wrong with the situation in which they are working.  That seems to be the case in many of the Trump leaks.  People around him are finding that he is not all there.  He is not capable of perceiving and understanding real situations.  He lives in self-delusion.  And he is a dedicated liar.  

As a business editor, I had many such  leaks that came from a major farm equipment corporation for which I once worked.  The people who leaked to me were ones I had worked with.  At the time I worked for the company, it was a large global corporation headquartered in Chicago.  When I worked there, many employees used to meet a bar nearby on Friday nights to cash their paychecks and transition into the weekend with a brew or two.  The conversations often involved dumb things that the management did.  On many occasions, some of the bosses joined us to show that they knew when bad decisions were being made.  The conversations tended toward predicting how the company would fail.  It eventually did,  much in the way predicted by those disgruntled Friday night commentaries.

When I was a business editor and received calls or had conversations with former fellow-employees,  it was because people in the company were worrying about the future of their jobs and witnessed the company doing things that jeopardized its future.  The company's response to consumer complaints was a constant source of information that I kept getting from employees.  Executives were getting reports of problems with the equipment and denied that there could be problems with the products. At one time while working for the company, I was assigned to a team that investigated customer and dealer complaints.   We found that the company produced a good product,  but that manufacturing flaws were getting past the inspection department.  Those flaws could easily have been eliminated by adjustments in the manufacturing process.  But the company's response was to take the investigative team out of the field.  

As an editor, I received constant updates from my friends in the company,  but they were seldom the kind of thing that could be used in reporting business news.  They were the personal observations of people seeing mistakes being made up  close.  They were informing but could not be used in a journalistic context.  One evening, I encountered one of my former bosses in a restaurant.  He was one who joined those Friday night sessions in which company mistakes were discussed.  I commented that I was in touch with some employees who kept me posted on what was going on with the company, but that the personal anecdotes were not useful for news coverage.  My former boss suggested that I look more deeply into sources that covered stock shares,  markets, engineering developments, and product news--specialty publications that only people involved in highly technical aspects of business are familiar with.  Some of these publications did comparisons of the products and services delivered, while others tracked personnel decisions.  I found that the company decided to farm out engineering to research and development organizations rather than hire engineers.  This policy was the opposite of the company's main competitor,  which recruited engineers from Big Ten universities, givng them summer jobs and internships to help them through school.  This information was verified by my sources within the company, who supplied me with stories about the problems being caused by the lack of in-house engineers to address issues as they came up.    I was able to use the leaks to illustrate the general news reported in the technical press. 

Eventually, the company got sued when it was discovered that a main component of its corn harvesting machines infringed on a patent held by its major competitor.  It was the killing blow after the company had been brought to the edge of bankruptcy by a grandstanding CEO who  took an anti-union stance  in cost-cutting that resulted in the longest strike against the company in its history.  When the company failed and closed down,  all its local plants were shuttered   More than 12,000 people lost their jobs.  The employees of the company saw the failure coming long before shareholders, executives, and the business press did.  

One of the incidents related to me involved a man who ran a huge dealership for the company.  This dealer also flew his own airplane.  He had sold a machine that failed in the field and he gave a farmer a new machine off his sales floor so that the harvest could be finished.  The dealer and his mechanics tore apart the failed machine and found the cause to be a matter of hasty assembly in the factory.  In reducing costs, an order had been put out to speed up the assembly  line and to "provide a greater tolerance"  in the inspection department that examined finished machines for problems.  The company personnel did not respond to the dealer's telephone calls satisfactorily, so the dealer wrapped the failed parts in a greasy gunny sack,  put it in his airplane, and flew them up to the town where the plant was located.  He strode into the plant offices, barged into the plant manager's office, and dumped the greasy sack with the parts on the manager's desk.  

This was a great story, but the company, of course, would not acknowledge it and the dealer did not want to jeopardize his relationship with the company by commenting on the incident. So, the story remained a matter of a leak circulated among employees.  However, the story was a rather precise illustration of management practices and company attitudes that eventually brought the company down.  The leak identified and explained a problem within the company, but that information never reached the people who could make use of it--stockholders, customers, or the general public.  That leak was more prescient about the company's future than anything that could be verified, given attribution, and printed.  

Leaks are often the important news.  They do have to be analyzed to see if they are motivated by people using them as competitive weapons  to gain advantage or as vengeful weapons against disliked bosses.  But leaks that are motivated by the need to tell someone what is really going on are important.  In states such as South Dakota where there is a network of laws that give officials the power to withhold information,  leaks are often the only accurate and genuine news about how government is performing.  Leaks have to be taken seriously.   They are often the closest thing to truth that you'll ever get.  

Sunday, February 26, 2017

This ain't no tea baggin' party, mama

One of the racist posters featured
at tea party gatherings
Pundits and other media types keep comparing the resistance to Trump to the tea party movement.  They neglect to point out what a difference the motives and content of the arguments in the movements make.  The tea party was deeply rooted in racism.  Nearly every gathering of tea party people contained some overt expressions of racial hatred.  Although conservatives denied the racist motives, there was a constant presence of racist terms and attitudes at the gatherings.  The tea party ire was nearly always directed at the person of President Obama, and only incidentally at his policies.  The Affordable Care Act was the major pretext for the tea party, but it received little attention as to its purpose and its function.  Much more attention was paid to the person of the president who promoted it. 

The resistance to Trump is also a rejection of a personality, but not a rejection based on race.  There is a moral and intellectual imperative behind this rejection.  Donald Trump is, plain and simple, a vile human being.  He lies constantly.  It has become a journalistic custom to list the falsehoods and abusive insults he delivers each day.  His reputation as a "business leader" is in fact a record of fraud and failure.  He has single-handedly transformed the Grand Old Party into the Grabbers Of  Pussy.  He refuses to reveal his tax records and other evidence of his conflicts of interest.  He serves the one percent by loading his cabinet with the ultra-weathy and corporate managers for the purpose of dismantling those agencies which serve and protect the people.  His executive orders are directed at oppressing and inflicting harm on people more than implementing any Constitutional protections.  The generals he has appointed to his cabinet, however, seem, up to this point, to feel bound to their military oaths to serve and protect the Constitution. 

Everything Trump has done since he took office is an extension of his campaign.  And his campaign has been predicated on who he can oppress and hurt.  What characterizes him and his supporters is the intensity of their malice and misanthropy.  He and his kind expend all their energy in looking for some pretext for hatred.  The pretexts are based upon dishonesty.  The Trump world lives in a world fabricated out of malice.  

There is no valid comparison between the tea party and the Trump resistance in terms of what they oppose.  One was a movement inspired by a black man becoming president, a presidency that was beset by racist obstruction openly and blatantly led by the likes of Mitch McConnell.  The Trump resistance is against the corruption that Trump and his supporters see as the American Dream.   They dream only of  the desires to inflict malice and to exercise power.  They claim to be helping people by ceding all power to the one percent.  The Trump resistance is a matter of class warfare, a resistance to the suppression and eventual decimation of the 98 percent.  

The only people in the world who can't see that are the Trumpists Americans who so delight in oppression and corruption.  For then,  the Godfather is the scriptural authority they devoutly believe in and follow.  Even if that that Godfather is driven by a diseased mind.  The divide in America devolves into a basic struggle between good will and ill will.  



Wednesday, February 8, 2017

American theater may save the nation

Mellissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer

One of the courses I had the most fun teaching was the survey of American Theater.  From colonial days,  American literature has been a force in the cultural, social, and political development of the country.  A unique aspect of America literature is that no other country has been as thoroughly motivated and recorded in its development as the U.S. has in its literature.  The theater is a part of that literature that has the most direct appeal to people.  It deals with issues in entertaining rather than rhetorical ways.

Melissa McCarthy's portrayal of Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live was in the tradition of theatrical entertainment that satirizes some foibles apparent in American life but which on occasion makes an incisive parody of something more serious while still having fun doing so.  Such was the case as the press briefing sketch took on the issues of "alternative facts,"  dissimulating and deception with language, the White House relationship with the press, and the inane posturing of the Trump administration.  

The videos of Ms. McCarthy's performance have been viewed millions of times throughout the  world, and has been cited as comic genius.  She ignited and illuminated the sketch with her talent, and if there was a satire academy award, she would truly deserve it.

She adds to the portrayal of the Trump administration which has given SNL a boost in viewership with Alec Baldwin's portrayals of Trump.  


Alec Baldwin as Trump with Steve Bannon coaching him in being president.  
One of Ms. McCarthy's comic moments is when she hauls out a box of props to illustrate key words that come in press briefings.   It is an old bit of stage business used in vaudeville routines.  
Illustrating Musllm as Moose + Lamb


It is an emulation of the silly comedy of the prop comedian Rip Taylor,  who is known for showering his audiences with confetti and showing a bunch of mousetraps sewn on a brassiere with the quip "booby trap."  Silly.  But we giggle.  
Rip Taylor

These comic moments on SNL portray some insidious actions and thinking by powerful political figures, but bathed in the light that parody can shine on potentially deadly human misdeeds.

The stage comedy, however, overshadows the work of writers who create the scripts that McCarthy and Baldwin bring to life.  When Melissa McCarthy picks up the podium and charges a reporter with it,  it is silly but captures the belligerent hostility with which Spicer and Trump treat the press.  Writers come up with the ideas and make the scripts that the actors use to create their portrayals.  The writers for SNL are currently Kent Sublette, recently named head writer, Sarah Schneider, Chris Kelly, and Bryan Tucker.  It is their brains and senses of humor that supply the occasions for the actors to exercise their talents.

One of the moments in the Spicer sketch that captured an absurdity in the Trump cabinet was the portrayal of Betsy DeVos by Kate McKinnon.  McKinnon's classic deer-in-the-headlight look when DeVos is asked what is the best measure of education captures the vacuous responses DeVos has given at her Senate hearings.  
Kate McKinnon as Betsy DeVos


Our country has diminished in its literary understandings of late, largely because, at the behest of conservative school boards, those courses which  acquaint students with wit and verbal competence have been under attack and eliminated from curricula.  Still, the  literary underpinnings are presented in comedy sketches which satirize as did early plays in American theater.  They present occasions to examine the values in the things said and done in our culture.

One of the ways that comedy helped President Obama happened when conservatives attempted to stereotype him as an angry black man.  Some comedy writers and comedians came up with Luther, the anger translator, to make of fun of the stereotype but also to make the point that there were things to be truly angry about.  At a White House Correspondents' Dinner,  Luther came out to interpret how someone in the black culture would receive Obama's words.  It was comic gold.  And it was in an old American theatrical tradition.   


Luther the Anger Translator and President Obama
















Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Good story with a fatal flaw: jobs lost in Aberdeen

Covering business news is the stable-cleaning job of journalism.   I know.  I edited the business section of a newspaper once.  It's a lousy job because most of sources are unreliable.  If things are going well, they exaggerate.  If things aren't going well,  they lie.  Or cover up as best they can.

Things aren't going well for the Molded Fiberglass plant in Aberdeen.  They announced a "substantial" layoff at their plant.  The Aberdeen newspaper announced it this way:

"Due to an unexpected reduction in customer orders, Molded Fiber Glass of South Dakota is reducing its staff at the Aberdeen plant effective (Monday).”

The news story did a good job in covering how the layoff is being handled.  The Dept. of Labor sent in seven people to help the laid off workers process their unemployment and prepare to look for other work.  The story also did a good job of outlining the impact the  layoff will have on the work force and in profiling the kind of people affected.  

What the story did not contain was an exact number of the people thrown out of work.  It quoted a number of sources who only said it was "substantial."  The company, of course, knows exactly how many people it plans to dump.  The Dept. of Labor gets the number from the company, as do local officials.  The use of the vague term "substantial" is a bit of a fact-and-ass-saving device.  The company does not want the public to know the exact impact of the layoff.  That caused a commenter on the news story to snark a bit:  "like a 190 people...and the paper cant find that out...."

Why would not a company be precise about the impact?  Because it calls into question how well the company is run,  how well it is doing.  The clue is in the phrase "unexpected reduction in customer orders."

The troubling aspect of that statement is that the renewable energy market is in a state of growth  A CNBC story states:
In its latest Annual Energy Outlook, the U.S. Energy Information administration projected renewable energy consumption will grow faster than any other source through 2040, because capital costs fall as more solar and wind farms crop up and federal and state policies encourage their construction. 
The story states this rosy outlook despite Trump's vow to restore the nation to a fossil fuel energy basis.  

So, why a reduction of orders in a growing market?  Some problems with the product?  Some problems in selling to a strong market?  Management problems?

Aberdeen is a city that does not have a good history with companies that set up shop here.  The Aberdeen American News has does a fine job of tracking the record.  The one thing it leaves out is the call centers that have popped up, then vanished.  But here is an outline of the history of Molded Fiberglass and an accounting of businesses that have closed down and the effect those closing have had on the labor market.  (I reproduce it here from the American News for those who might be blocked by the pay wall.)


Molded Fiber Glass history
• Nov 19, 2007: Ground is broken on 332,700-square-foot facility on the Molded Fiber Glass facility. At the time, plant officials expected to employ 750 workers within three years.
• Oct. 20, 2008: Molded Fiber Glass rolls out its first wind turbine blade. "It's 37 meters long and weighs 12,000 pounds, but I don't know if it's a boy or a girl," then-plant manager Rob Dinsmore said.
• Nov. 19, 2008: First blades shipped for GE, sent to Council Bluffs, Iowa.
• Jan. 28, 2009: Molded Fiber Glass lays off 30 workers. About 220 people were working at the plant.
• March 12, 2009: Thirty laid-off workers are recalled to Molded Fiber Glass. The company also begins accepting applications.
• August 2010: The 500th 40-meter was produced at Molded Fiber Glass.
• Sept. 12, 2012: Molded Fiber Glass lays off of 92 of its 370 Aberdeen employees.
• Oct. 2012: 15 workers were recalled.
• June 2013: Instead of laying off employees while the company transitions to another blade, it pays employees do work on community projects at places including the 4-H building, Safe Harbor and SPURS Therapeutic Riding Center.
• Aug. 2014: An expansion plan was approved by the Aberdeen Board of Zoning Adjustment. In an email, Molded Fiber Glass senior vice president Dave Giovannini said the company has nothing to announce yet about the expansion and that it had requested the variance in order to maximize its options moving forward.
• Dec. 2015: Molded Fiber Glass announces it will expand, adding 15,000 square feet and 75 to 100 jobs by the end of 2016. At the time the location employed around 600 people.
Source: American News archives

Layoffs Aberdeen
Wyndham Hotel Group announced on Sept. 9, 2015, that it would be closing, which eventually put 240 employees out of work.
Midstates Printing Inc. eliminated 55 jobs on July 7, 2015, in anticipation of projected customer demand. It was a 19-percent cut in its workforce.
Northern Beef Packers laid off 260 employees on July 26, 2013. The plant had filed bankruptcy one week prior. Northern Beef Packers had previously laid off 108 people in April 2013, citing a lag in work.
Verifications eliminated 77 jobs in September 2012. Twelve remaining employees were given options to work from home. Fifteen people had been laid off in October 2012. At the time of the final layoff, Verifications also closed its Mitchell office. Officials said the company was going global and that facilities in India and the Philippines would better help international clients.
• An expiring tax credit led to the Sept. 12, 2012, layoffs of 92 workers at Molded Fiber Glass. That was about 25 percent of the workforce at the time.
Wells Fargo Auto Finance eliminated 66 jobs in February 2012. The cause was said to be a consolidation of two auto finance businesses within the company — auto finance and dealer services.
Hub City Inc. laid off 79 workers in January and February 2009. Officials said they hoped the cuts from the production shop floor would be temporary.
Midcom, an electronics manufacturer, closed its Aberdeen plant in March 2001; 190 employees lost their jobs. Midcom closed its Huron plant on Jan 6, 2001, and 73 people were laid off. A downturn in business and a slumping economy were cited as reasons for the closures.
Sheldahl closed in 1996 and had 125 to 130 employees at the time.
Imprimis, a subsidiary of Control Data Corp., announced in November 1988 that it would close its Aberdeen plant. Some 750 workers were affected, making it the biggest layoff in 30 years. The company had more plants than it needed, and the Aberdeen location was too far away from its customers, company officials said at the time. Other Midwest plants for the Minnesota company were also reduced or closed.

Source: American News archives




Sunday, February 5, 2017

Aberdeen American News endorses Trump University School of Journalism

Donald Trump made a  tweet  about a federal judge, who rendered  a decision that Donald didn't like,  infamous by making a demeaning reference to the "so-called judge."


                                                -----------------------------
The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!
                                             --------------------------------

Editors and reporters at the Aberdeen American News took immediate note and apparently liked the tactic and adopted it for their own use.  They must not have liked Initiated Measure 22 which was titled the South Dakota Accountability and Anti-Corruption Act.  When it came to occasions to mention the measure in Sunday's edition of the newspaper,  the editors and reporters invoked the style of editor-in-chief Trump and reduced a couple of stories to cheap expressions  in the Trump tradition.

Scott Waltman, who went to the state capitol to cover the legislature, is the paper's managing editor and managed to insert a little snark into a story about covering the state government with other reporters.  When he mentioned the repeal of IM 22, he referred to it as the "so-called anti-corruption measure passed by voters."


Then in a story covering a Cracker Barrel session held by legislators in Aberdeen, reporter Shannon Marvel chose the same pejorative when she referred to IM 22  as  a "bill that repealed a so-called anti-corruption and ethics measure approved by voters."

Exactly what about IM 22 inspires their derision is not evident, but what is evident is that they have chosen to emulate Master Trump.  The  irony in this is deadly because they cover the town in which some horrendous incidents of government corruption have taken place.  

The first of those is, of course, the EB-5 scandal which involved the attempt to start up the Northern Beef Packers plant.  The paper never did explore and explain the extent of local involvement.  It never explored the role of the city-subsidized Aberdeen Development Corporation, to where Joop Bollen took refuge when forced to leave the NSU campus.  Or the role of the County in environmental waivers and the sale of Tax Increment Financing bonds.  Much of the participation was well-meaning,  but no one has ever explained to those well-meaning folks how badly they were deceived.  

And no one has probed into a child abuse case which grew into criminal charges being filed against an assistant state's attorney and a child welfare advocate because they refused to participate in a cover-up.  Even though a judge threw the criminal charges out of court because there was no foundation for them,  there was never any investigation into the acts involved in filing those charges.  In the trial transcript there  is evidence of malfeasance,  malicious prosecution, and abuse of legal process.  But the questions raised have been untouched by government oversight agencies,  by the bar association, and certainly by the press.  

The newspaper's recent reporting of court news involving recent immigrants has raised questions about biased handling.  In one case,  the punching out of recent immigrant received front page treatment .  But the molestation of a mentally-challenged woman was never reported until a sentencing trial was announced.   As a result, the newspaper has injected itself in the ruckus raised by an anti-immigrant group.  

The deficiencies of the American News have been noted for decades.  Back in the 1980s in the early years of online databases, a journalism review cited the American News as a leader in deficient journalism.  This was at a time when there was a monthly distribution of BIA checks in town after which the Aberdeen paper would publish a lengthy list of all the Native Americans stopped for traffic offenses while other things going on in the local population were ignored.  

As an old journalist and teacher of journalism,  I have never found the paper to live up to the basic standards of competence and fair reporting.  In fact, I dropped my subscription and did not subscribe again until some work I do with justice and innocence projects made the monitoring of local coverage a necessity.  When I come across some the paper's blunders,  I think of how editors I worked with would have responded.  The main response is that the blunders would never have made it to print and some omitted events would have printed coverage.  

With the word "so-called" the Trump effect in journalism was brought to Aberdeen.
A journalism analyst has been headlined saying about Trump:

Press needs to stop acting like Trump’s ‘botoxed Riefenstahls’ and realize he’s at war with them

When the Aberdeen paper decided to reflect the attitude of the state government toward the citizens' vote to do something about the corruption it put itself in the role of sneering propagandists.  It joined the governor and the  legislature in a disparagement of the voters and its readers.  Even though the AAN did editorialize in behalf of the public's interest, that borrowing from Trump's Tweet vocabulary made clear it is not serving the public,  but its authority figures in Pierre.  And those authority figures own a huge reputation for corruption.

The AAN is obviously not at war with the legislature, but it should consider if it should be.  

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Shoot the Democrats

In their frenzy to turn around their political fortunes,  the Democrats show that they can get quite as irrational and strike out in anger just as much as Trump and his anti-democratic collaborators.  I keep running across internet posts that make Hillary Clinton responsible for taking the first bite of the Eden serpent's apple and, therefore, causing the demise of the Democratic Party.  And posts demanding that all leadership of the party be rounded up and, a  la Donald Trump,  fired.  The only thing these demands leave out is the part about showing them the way to the gas ovens.  Where else does the complainants think the dispossessed Democrats will go?  

I am not suggesting that the Democrats have not fucked up.  In fact, I am suggesting ways in which they have fucked up.  And a prime example of a colossal fuck up is in demanding the firing and resignation of all the leadership of the party.  If such a thing were to happen,  does anyone think that all these people would meekly stay in the party?  Or would they look for other parties with which to ally?  Perhaps the opposing party?  Or perhaps become independent so they would no longer identify with the Democratic Party but will vote against the party that dispossessed them?

There is no doubt that the leadership needs to be changed.  But what needs to be changed is the way of doing political business.  In getting all red-faced and strident and uttering the astoundingly brilliant recommendation that the Democratic Party needs to attract the younger voters and more voters in the same breath demanding the expulsion of the current leaders, those shouters for change do not seem to realize how loudly they are broadcasting their stupidity to the world.  They put on a demonstration as absurd, chaotic, and as caught up in malevolent rivalry as the Trump White House.  They complain about party disarray at the same time they are putting on the biggest demonstration of it. What voter, young or old, wants to ally with a party that sends messages of exclusion and inclusion in the same breath?

I think of a good loyal Democrat I worked with for many years.  He contributed generously to the party with money.  Whenever we had telephone campaigns or mailings to get out,  he and his wife would show up to help.  Back then we had telephone trees to inform members when we needed help.  Those telephone trees were made obsolete by answering machines and the Internet.  People may see e-mails or social media posts announcing events and asking for help, but they do not produce responses.  But now instead of telephoning people and mailing things to them, we rely upon the Internet media, despite the evidence that it is not very effective. Or that we don't know how to use it to obtain consistent results.  

One evening when we had a massive mailing to get out, we put out call for help to stuff envelopes, and apply mailing labels.  My friend and his spouse, who was having some health problems at the time, showed up.  The person who was trying to coordinate the effort was in a bitchy mood.  When my friend had a question, that person in-charge responded in a manner that was demeaning and insulting.  Minutes later,  I saw my friend and his spouse slip out the door.

The next day I saw him in the grocery store and I asked him if something was wrong the previous night.  I thought perhaps his spouse had not felt well and had to leave.  That was part of it.  The little confrontation the night before was disturbing to her.  And, my friend said,  "As a Democrat, I could wander into the Republican headquarters with my campaign buttons on and be treated the same way."  Shortly, thereafter, the couple moved out of town, and I was informed that they had decided that the atmosphere in town was no longer friendly, so they moved to be nearer to a family member, even though they knew no one else in the town they moved to.  

Treating people with respect and consideration is a part of human communication.  The personal contacts with people representing the party is a crucial determiner of how people regard it. Another example concerns the loss of financial and political support for the party.  For many years, the county party relied upon the support of a labor union pac.  It was, in fact, the single biggest donor.  It not only provided cash, but during major campaigns it organized men to come in to the campaign headquarters and set up a telephone bank as an in kind donation. 

When some legislation came up that adversely affected union workers,  the unions complained.  A person in a prominent Democratic office made the comment, using the favorite South Dakota denigration, that the unions were always "whining" about something.  I have no idea about who heard the comment,  but I was informed of it within the day.  We never heard from the union pac again, and they changed their policy to supporting individual candidates rather than party organizations.

Another example of how the party damages itself occurred during a state convention.  There  was a contest over electing delegates to the national party.  Factions squared off in the political down-and-dirty and a lot of manipulation and undercutting went on.  When it was over, the winning faction gloated over its political acumen. A few of us raised the question of whether such tactics were appropriate for internal decisions.  We were concerned about the hard feelings they generated.

Two years later when the county party met to name candidates for delegates,  no one submitted their names for consideration.  The delegate from our county ended up being a person who never attended county functions,  did not know people in the party or the stance on the issues it had formulated, and has never participated since.  

Attrition is a big factor in the Democratic party's declining numbers in South Dakota.  But the ways party members conduct themselves and conduct party business is at root a serious problem.  When people vote for Trump because they feel the national party has ignored them,  the blame cannot be placed on the national party.  The way party members trust people is how people judge the party, and all the public relations puffery in the world cannot change that perspective.  The national party cannot,, probably, sponsor Ms. Manners workshops for the local parties,  but one must ask why lessons in respect and courtesy are needed.  The Democrats are largely the progenitors of Political Correctness, which is carried to unthinking extremes at times,  but they seem unable to grasp the fundamentals of human relationships.

So they talk of getting rid of the leadership and inviting new, younger members.  And the future of the party diminishes.  





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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States

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