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

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. 

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Gun laws and education terrorize the nation

Dakota Free Press notes the chair of the education department at NSU commenting that the South Dakota legislative study panel on education is  rigged with the prospects of continuing to treat education as a nuisance to the state's way of life.  However, rigging education studies to minimize, often exclude, the input of people actually involved in education has become the tradition in America.  It began with the Nation at Risk report issued in the 1980s, which lamented that the state of education at the time portended ill for the nation.  The commission was stacked with university presidents, school administrators, industry executives, and school board members.  It had one token classroom teacher on the panel.

The Nation at Risk report was one of the initiatives of the Reagan administration in the early 1980s issued along with the policies that triggered the transformation of the economy from one based on productivity to one devoted to servitude and the resulting burgeon of income and wealth inequality.  Ten years after the report, a book challenging it was published, The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, And The Attack On America's Public SchoolsThat book brought attention to  a growing political movement in America for the enforcement of rigorous class privileges and exclusions.  And it signaled a huge shift away from a basic American value.

As the USA developed, one of the first things new communities wanted established was schools.  The Founders, some such as Benjamin Franklin who were self-educated, stressed the importance of educational institutions.  Jefferson established the foundation for the University of Virgina and Franklin for the University of Pennsylvania.   Lincoln, who had less than a year of formal schooling, signed the Land Grant College Act into law at the height of the Civil War.  The history of every town in America gives accounts of the priority placed on providing education for children, even though it provided the young people with the knowledge and skills that made it possible for them to move away from their communities to search for greater possibilities.  And when the nation was met with an influx of veterans after the Second World War, it turned what could have been a problem into the greatest resource for national development the nation has experienced with the education offered by the G.I. Bill. 

Americans chatter endlessly about the widening political divide in the country.  But they cling to the notion that Americans have the same essential values and only minor differences in how those values are attained and maintained.  We talk glibly about culture wars.  We are fearful to confront the reality that there is a raging class war within the nation.  Lost in the euphemistic chatter is what the difference is between the fighting camps..  It's relatively simple to define.  One group believes in liberty, equality, and justice for all.  The other group doesn't believe in such qualities, except for themselves.  One group calls themselves liberal, the other conservative.  One group raises issues of hope, while the propaganda from the other is laden  with ethnic stereotypes, denigrations  of human worth, and all the pretexts for hate speech.

Public education has come under attack.  There is no doubt that a disparity exists in the quality of public schools.  Some urban schools do not produce many proficient and competent students.  Teachers have been so involved in dealing with the social issues and discipline problems their students bring to school that they have little time and little success for education. It became a common quip among teachers at such schools to say that if their students were all alive by the time school was dismissed, they had a succeeded for that day.  

However, the impediments to education existed in more placid systems, too.  In some communities, school boards have dealt with complaints that teachers were expecting too much of their students and were creating conditions of stress.  The boards' solution was to instruct the teachers to back off and provide a more relaxed and congenial environment in the classroom.  This was a problem I encountered during 20 years as a co-director of the Dakota Writing Project which was engaged in cooperative arrangements with public schools.  But it is a matter that has never been discussed as an issue affecting educational quality.  Some students graduated with very diluted diplomas, while students from some schools graduated with high levels of preparation.  When the South Dakota Board of Regents complained about the need for our colleges and universities to provide remedial work in some basic disciplines to bring students up to post-secondary levels of performance, they did not directly address the disparities in preparation among the school districts.  Instead, they endorsed the massive testing approach with the No Child Left Behind program, and ended up with a scheme for improvement that placed all the blame for faltering achievement levels on the teachers. 

Very few writers on education have taken up the responsibilities school boards have for the performance of schools.  Over the last four decades, school boards have shifted away from being advisory committees that mediate between the public and the professional school staffs.  In that mediation role, they generally let the professional educators formulate curricula, select teaching materials and methods, and suggest the educational decisions to be made, with the board reviewing and making final approval of the decisions.  Today, most school boards act in the role of corporate boards which dictate the curricula, materials, and policies to the administrative and teaching staffs.  This shift is reflected in the type of people who the boards hire as superintendent, principals, and administrative staff.  The lead positions were once filled by people who were primarily teachers elevated into leadership positions because of their successful experience as front-line teachers. School executives for the most part today have had little direct contact with students in learning circumstances, but work as corporate executives in imposing policies and decisions on the the teaching staffs.  

Much has been made of the so-called difficulty in getting rid of ineffective teachers and the power that unions hold in regard to such decisions.  While there are cases of people who do not perform well as teachers, no attention has been paid to the faulty policies promulgated by boards of education or the quality of support provided and supervision imposed on the teachers.  In my experience in working with teachers through the Dakota Writing Project,  I found that the teachers who administrators would like to be rid of are the intelligent, effective, independent ones who apply their learning and their teaching experience with knowledge and effect.  Those teachers often find themselves in conflict with the corporate-inspired policies which are directed at maintaining control over the staff and the students, not creating good learning situations and good students.  The corporate-inspired policies are directed at creating obedience, not developing intelligence.   

The intrusion of corporate management practices into education is just one aspect of the class war that has created the inequality and the impoverishment of the working class.  However, that class war which was dismissed as political poppycock by the right  a few elections ago has become, as the Washington Post points out, a staple of the current Republican campaign.  Writer Chris Hedges explains how the inequality movement has taken over American government and why the left wing has been so ineffective in combating it:  


If things unravel [in the U.S.], our backlash may very well be a rightwing backlash — a very frightening rightwing backlash. We who care about populist movements [on the left] are very weak, because in the name of anti-communism these movements have been destroyed; we are almost trying to rebuild them from scratch. We don’t even have the language to describe the class warfare that is being unleashed upon us by this tiny, rapacious, oligarchic elite. But we on the left are very disorganized, unfocused, and without resources.
The normal mechanisms by which we carry out incremental and piecemeal reform through liberal institutions no longer function. They have been seized by corporate power — including the press. That sets the stage for inevitable blowback, because these corporations have no internal constraints, and now they have no external constraints. So they will exploit, because, as Marx understood, that’s their nature, until exhaustion or collapse.
Nothing poses a greater obstacle to the neo-feudal takeover of the corporate mentality  than does a constituency that is educated so that it can critically examine the policies and the propaganda that the self-appointed hierarchy imposes on it.  The last thing that oligarchic elite wants is people who can gather information and think critically.  That is the reason for the attacks on education and the negligence in states such as South Dakota that regard education as a nuisance the leaders would prefer to eliminate. It also explains the rationale for privatizing schools rather than upgrading public education:  it wants only the children of the would-be elite to possess the skills that education brings.   

A measure of the state of education is the amount of money devoted to it.  The trite and stupendously stupid cliche that you can't improve education by throwing money at it always comes up.  However, the amount spent on education is only one measure of the political attitudes that determine whether the powers that be want our children to be indoctrinated into being serfs or educated to be free, equal, and just citizens.  If the so-called blue ribbon panels elicits actual information from teachers and parents or contrives ways to further diminish educators and education will indicate what the future for education in South Dakota holds.

Remember, that to the conservative majority in South Dakota, real education is a subservise activity.  Freedom, equality, and justice are a menace to the the new feudalism.  So the controlling majority lays awake at night fretting that Obama will come and take their guns away.  And that the populace might actually get educated. 

There is a class war raging.  Much of it in the dark of night who do not want America to  become what its founders set in motion.  










Thursday, May 21, 2015

We know Obama is taking over Texas. But who is dismantling South Dakota libraries? [Update]

Aberdeen is progressing on plans for a new library.  There are many opposed to a new library.  Some think the old one could be renovated more cheaply.  Others are opposed to any library.  But while all this is going on, few people, except those of us who use libraries for research, have noticed that libraries are being dismantled.  They don't possess the holdings they once did.  And they are dispensing with some of the services.

Computers are most often cited as the reasons behind these changes.  Storing hard copy books and papers is one of the most expensive and problematic things libraries do.  To accommodate the ever-burgeoning production of books,  libraries have to expand.  They have to add more shelf space.  Even with the process of deselection--the culling out of outdated, unused materials--new books keep coming in.  As texts became digitized so that they can be stored on computers and transmitted over the Internet and World Wide Web, librarians thought they had found a solution to the storage problems.

However, another way of dealing with the storage of hard copy was for libraries to join together in networks and share holdings with other libraries.  Not every library needed to have every book if the network of libraries coordinated their purchases of books.  Certain libraries within a network would be designated to concentrate on certain categories of important materials and make them available to each other.  That way, important texts were available while cutting down on the shelf space needed.  The networks created a system of inter-library loans so that books could circulate among the libraries within the networks.  That worked well.  Sometimes it delayed access to materials, but they were eventually available.  In South Dakota, under the auspices of the Department of Education, the libraries created the South Dakota Library Network (SDLN), which included every library in the state, most of which participated in the Inter-Library Loan program.  When the catalog was digitized and put on line, a user would search for materials from any computer and make a request for them from a local library.  I have used the service extensively for myself and students over the years.  

Then, some years ago the South Dakota State Library, which held many significant materials decided to change the nature of its mission.  It stopped being the storage facility for hard copy and concentrated on electronic texts. As a state employee at a university and for the Dept. of Game, Fish, and Parks during summers,  I made heavy use of the state library. It provided films and other audio-visual and specialty materials that were not available elsewhere.  However, it has changed from being the repository for materials to being a facilitator for access to other data bases.  

But the South Dakota Library Network that linked more than 150 libraries in South Dakota, including the State Library, is being taken down. The only comment readily available on the dismantling of the network comes from the newspaper in Vermillion in an interview with a librarian.  The story says that there is a goal of having all libraries off the network by the end of this year, except for university libraries under the control of the Board of Regents.  The decision, it says, was by the state Department of Education.  There is no explanation of the reasoning for this.  

This movement seems to mean that a researcher will no longer have available the catalog listings from the libraries in South Dakota and that the coordination of library holdings is ended.  From a researchers point of view, this could complicate, in some cases terminate, access to resources.  As a researcher into regional matters,  I found that some of the most valuable and informative materials are in local libraries.  By consulting the SDLN, I could find material and request it through inter-library loan or visit the library which possesses it.  Some very small libraries hold archived material from the local community which is in formats too cumbersome or fragile to move around, and an on site visit is necessary to examine it. In one project involving the role of churches in the settling and community organization of the plains, a historian and I visited many libraries that had materials which cataloged on the network but required on-site visits.  The network made knowledge of the materials possible.  I don't know how the dismantling of the network affects knowledge of such materials.  They might be put on other data bases, but no announcements or explanations for the ending of the network have been issued to inform users of the network catalog.

The matter of dispensing with hard copy materials because they are digitized is quite another matter.  A professors' organization I belong has many members who will not accept Internet sources on research papers unless the writers have established that the texts are authentic, accurate, and verifiable.  Computers are fallible.  We know about viruses and hackers who vandalize materials, but we tend to gloss over the fact that computer systems often malfunction.  I have had an experience with how serious those malfunctions can be.  I have contributed a number of articles to a reference work.  The process to insure the reliability of the reference requires that every entry be checked by fact checkers for authenticity, accuracy, and documentation.  I had written an entry on an author where I came across a sentence in  source that said "he did subscribe to a theory that people could be characterized by class distinctions."  I quoted the sentence from an electronic source.  However, the fact checker had access to the printed source and found that the sentence read, "he did NOT [my emphasis] subscribe to a theory that people could be characterized by class distinctions."  I had included the sentence because it indicated something about an author that I, and most scholars, had not known.  Needless to say, I had to rewrite the entry and  intensify my own critical appraisal of source materials.  When we contacted the publishers of the electronic version, they could not explain how the error occurred, but did find other instances, which they could not explain either.  The fact-checkers said they found many such errors and flagged sources cited from electronic texts so that they could check them for accuracy as a first priority.

This illustrates the flaw in the thinking of those who think that we can dispense with printed materials and rely upon computerized texts to save space and to make texts more easily available.  The  texts are vulnerable to electronic malfunctions as well as to malicious attacks from hackers.  

When I taught full time, I often held hours in the university library where I could help students with assembling their list of sources for research papers.  One of the sources often consulted for factual background was the microfilms of the local newspaper.  Looking for articles on microfilm is a most unpleasant experience because scrolling through the films is hard on the eyes and for many produces the same effect as motion sickness.  I recently had an inquiry about a court case of some years back and I met the inquirer at the library to look at some microfilms.  We found that the library no longer stocked the microfilms, but had to request the year we wanted from the library at the South Dakota State Historical Society.   

And that brings up the matter or who controls the libraries.  The South Dakota State Historical Society is part of the Department of Tourism, which states that its mission is
"to promote the state as a premier vacation destination to all visitors and to support and serve the South Dakota visitor industry." In other words, it is part of the economic development apparatus in which state government is involved.  The Society is not under the auspices of any agency devoted to knowledge, research, scholarship, or teaching. As the economic development activities of the state resulted in such affairs as the recent EB-5 fleecing of Chinese and Korean investors, one can only wonder what kind of priorities the Historical Society operates under.

The same goes for the Department of Education, which oversees the state library and the network of libraries.  The Department of Education is a political agency designed to carry out the political preferences of the dominant party.  It is not an agency devoted to education, except as it conforms to the political dicta of the ruling party.  In dismantling the South Dakota Library Network, one must ask if there is any educational aspect of the decision, or if it, like nearly all of South Dakota governance, is a matter of political control.

We may chortle  at the dolts who think Obama can use the nation's armed forces to take over a state under the guise of a military training exercise.  But when one finds decisions and alignments of information and knowledge resources with agencies of known bumbling and political subterfuge, one must ask if it is happening through conspiracies or plain old South Dakota dumb. 


Update:  Here is more on the subject of libraries:  http://www.alternet.org/books/why-libraries-matter-more-ever-age-google

A Gallup survey from 2013 found that libraries are not just popular, they’re extremely popular. Over 90 percent of Americans feel that libraries are a vital part of their communities. Compare this to 53 percent for the police, 27 percent for public schools, and just 7 percent for Congress, and you’re looking at perhaps the greatest success of the public sector.

James Palfrey, in his new book BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google, gives some truly bummer statistics on what’s happening to this beloved institution. A government report showed that while the nation’s public libraries served 298 million people in 2010 (that’s 96 percent of the U.S. population), states had cut funding by 38 percent and the federal government by 19 percent between 2000 and 2010. “It seems extraordinary that a public service with such reach should be, in effect, punished despite its success,” writes Palfrey.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Because Christianity has become a profanity

daily-cartoon-150514-identify-religious
Except for weddings, funerals, and a few other life-marking events, I haven't been to church in over a decade.  Once I was on the board of deacons of a Lutheran church, taught at a Lutheran college, and studied theology in college.  Although I am still a nominal church member,  I have joined that growing throng of people who profess no religious affiliation.

Two of my children were confirmed in church, but after their confirmations had no interest in churchly doings.  My youngest did not finish confirmation.  Getting her to church became an impossibility.  Eventually, we learned that problems she was having socially and in school involved kids she went to church with.  In the case of my children, their disaffection with the church stemmed from the conflict with what the church seemed to preach and what was practiced under its auspices.  The problem was not with church doctrine, but with some members of the congregation.

That conflict became apparent to us when my spouse's boss lost an election and, therefore, my spouse lost her job.  My wife worked for Tom Daschle, a liberal Democrat.  There were people in the congregation who were strong conservatives.  At times they could not restrain their political fervor, but we did not engage them in any political discussion.  After Tom Daschle was defeated, some of them took on a smirking, gloating attitude.  We thought that this was not what we came to church for;  in fact, it was the kind of attitude for which we came to church for relief.  Tom Daschle had begun to work on healthcare, concerned with the fact that 40 percent of Americans did not have affordable healthcare.  We heard the usual conservative cant at the time about that 40 percent being the lazy, irresponsible louts who wanted to leech off the industrious, responsible people.  Some good church members attributed Daschle's defeat as a matter of good people not wanting to support bad people.  Although the pastors were disturbed by the ill will expressed by some parishioners,  sermons on good will and Christian love had little influence on the attitudes that were in disharmony with Christian doctrine.  Church became a cloud of mean spirit not a  beacon of good.  

This episode also made apparent why our children regarded church as an irrelevant affectation that they did not want or need in their lives.  Children in their late teens are sensitive to hypocrisy and posturing by their elders.  Some students accept this as a condition that should be accommodated if they want to succeed in the adult world.  Other students reject systematic hypocrisy and regard church as a social affectation, not a place for reflection and examination.  

However, the turning away from religion also has impetus from 9/11 and the radical Islam jihadists.  The idea of mass murder and atrocity as serving the purpose and command of god is so grotesquely and absurdly demented that it calls into question some of the acts committed in the name of our own religions.  When young people fall into the lure of Isis, we are forced to examine the kinds of calling under the names of our own religions.. President Obama received a lot of criticism for comments he made about how religion can devolve into a justification for oppression and crimes against humanity.  Christianity has a history of invocation in the genocide against Indians and the horrors of slavery in our country. At the same time, it was Christians who led the abolition movement and, when they could not stop the extermination of Indians, went to the reservations in attempts to offer support and help.  But then again, it was some of those who in the name of Christ ran schools where Indian kids were punished for speaking their native language and where they got screwed by those who purported to care for them.  In Jesus' name.  Amen. 

In our household there has been a few  moments when someone of the conservative persuasion  has said something in the news truly mean and stupid, and someone commented, what can you expect of those Christian types?  The comment was made a professing Christian, but made as an attempt to gain distance from that segment of Christianity who thinks any mention of the shameless atrocities committed in the name of Christianity is a declaration of war on Christianity.  People who take the New Law seriously do, indeed, try to put distance between themselves and those who cite Christianity as calling for the oppression, exclusion, and denigration of other human beings.

Today, I was parked behind a van at the nursery.  It had two bumper stickers in its back window.

  • I am Catholic, and I vote.
  • No Obamacare.
It is one thing to sport a sticker that states a political preference.  It is another to cite one's religion as a call to political arms, and juxtapose it next to a sticker that denies the tenets of the religion displayed as a faith which  inspires  "people to lift up one another -- to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife."   Those bumper stickers make a travesty out of Christianity, and thinkng people would not go to a church where that van is parked to seek spiritual inspiration.  That owner of than van sees religion in the way jihadists see the calling of Allah. 

Numerous commentators have blamed the decline in religious interest on many factors and people within the culture.  However, the Pew Study which measures that decline  gives people of faiths of good will and good purpose cause for hope.  People are looking at religion with more critical intelligence.  The factors that make them skeptical about religion are not popular music or charismatic public figures; the factors are the kind of people who profess religion while defaming diverse people and endorsing oppression and atrocities against them.  

I cite a blues hymn.

Don't lay none of your Christianity on me.
Don't tell me 'bout your Christianity.
What it did to you is plain to see.
Ain't nobody goin' to fool that way with me.  
Professing a religion today can be taken as insidious identification.  
 





Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The culture of hate, defining America.



Journalist Tom Lawrence takes note of how President Obama's visit to South Dakota became an occasion for the demonstration of the vicious malice that divides our country. He recalls how once presidential visits were considered occasions of honor and pride, but how many did not take pride in Obama's visit and were moved to making malevolent and deplorable comments.  The Washington Post ran a large story and photo gallery on the visit remarking that South Dakota does not like President Obama but people were anxious and excited to observe a presidential visit.

I do not know the extent of  the hatred Tom Lawrence notes because I avoid the precincts of hate speech for the same reason I avoid Ebola epidemics.  The malignancy is transmittable and infects the mental and spiritual environment.  I subscribe to what thoughtful Democrat, Marine veteran, and farmer Nick Nemec posted on Facebook:

 You almost never come away from reading comment sections on news articles feeling smarter. Well reasoned discussion is rare, character assassination and ugly stereotypes are the standard. I hate trolls. 
However, a good example of what Mr. Lawrence refers to came in response to a Facebook post by former school superintendent and state legislator Chuck Welke when he commented about Obama's visit, "What a great moment in SD history."  That comment elicited this response:
Jerry Vance Really?????? With a less than 33% rating he is not welcome much anywhere right now. Not even a reservation. He is merely a Radical Muslim in our whte house weaking our nation so he can destroy it. Pumping or tax dollars and stimulas bail out money to rebuild america in his vision. Taking over Police Dept's all over AMerica and confiscating whats left of our wealth. No respect for this commander and SHITHEAD.
 The comment is typical of what Nick Nemec refers to.  The first characteristic of the response is its severe illiteracy, which belies an ignorance and a dysfunction of mentality and character.  The second pronounced characteristic stems from that dysfunction:  the comments are contrary to any fact.  While the President's approval rating moves up and down, it currently is at 45 percent, not 33.  The contention that he is not welcome "even" on a reservation has no basis except as an attempt at racial denigration in its assertion that even the oppressed  people on the reservations do not want him.  That he is "merely a Radical Muslim," while easily proven to be untrue is a statement significant only for its denigrating racism.  The comments about diverting public money to rebuild America in that radical muslim vision and taking over police departments  to confiscate our wealth go beyond any rationality, as the attempt at expression dissolves into angry infantilism.  If the comment has significance, it is for the medium in which it is expressed and the level of intelligence and character of which it is an expression.

While people such as me avoid the demented malice, it would be cowardly and foolish to deny that it is shaping America.  As Tom Lawrence points out, the "dumb, hateful and addled comments"  which once were confined .to "a barstool or couch"  are now given a wide broadcast through the Internet and the social media.  Comments on news stories receive the same status of display and circulation as the news stories done by professional reporters.  Early in the history of comment sections,  communications experts warned that comments characterize the quality and purpose of the medium to which they are posted. As studies indicate readers and viewers evaluate news and commentary according to the lowest common denominator.  A superb work of journalism is contaminated and nullified by malicious and demented comments.  A news story which carefully verified facts and an ordered presentation when subjected to unedited comments is merely part of the ensuing dialogue to those who read them.  And this has much to do with the diminishing role of language arts and the experience of understanding the genres of exposition in out educations.  Many people simply do not distinguish between facts and opinions.  And when confronted with opinions, do not distinguish between carefully supported and analyzed opinions and the specious and mindless howls of hatred and rage.  It boils down to a matter of literacy.

There are matters  that make the Internet media a major vector of ignorance and hatred.  They both involve the abandonment of rules that once operated in journalism and journalism gave up when it became "interactive."  The courts have eased up on libel over the years, but the Communications Decency Act of 1996 blurred the issue.

During the time I was employed full time by the press,  the word libel struck terror.  At that time the publication of any defamatory material about a person that could not be proven to be true would be presumed to be damaging libel.  News media were very wary about publishing any comment that could be regarded as libelous.  A newspaper publisher was responsible for anything that appeared in the paper,  even in letters to the editor.  I have often mentioned the Friday afternoon dread time,  when the editor of the newspaper I worked for distributed letters to the editor to the staff to be fact-checked and, if publishable,  reviewed with the writer to  bring them up a standard of clarity and grammatical usage.  If a letter was too muddled or scurrilous, we had to write a letter to its author explaining why it was unusable.  Consequently, few defamatory or scurrilous accusations made it into print.  
Publishers lived in terror of libel suits because they were so costly they could easily put a news medium out of business.  The penalties were that high.

The posting by Mr Vance quoted above would never find its way into print back then. And a letter of rejection would ask Mr. Vance to provide evidence for every claim he made if he wished to have the rejection reconsidered.  

The Communications Decency Act exempted the publisher of defamation on the Internet from liability.  It specifically exempted the internet service provider (ISP} from liability.  That in effect eliminated recourse for defamation.  A defamed person could sue a blogger or an individual, but would be informed by a lawyer that the people being sued were too poor to pay damages and the suit would cost more than could ever recovered.  News media does not generally fact check comments on their sites and edits only those that are grossly obscene.

The Internet also has served to contribute to the resurgence of racism that followed the election of our first black president.   The hate speech that Tom Lawrence refers to is part of raging Jim Crow attitudes that could not be contained when a black man rose to the highest office in the land.  All the ploys of racial discrimination were dusted off and given applications to Obama--the charges of inherent dishonesty, conniving subversion, and all the made-up stories intended to demonstrate the inferiority of the person holding the presidency.  Shortly after Obama took office, the opposition party leaders made their vows to prevent him from enacting any legislation or having a second term.  For those who lived through the civil rights movement, it was impossible not to recognize the ploys as an appeal to the racial hatred harbored by many Americans.  The propaganda and political pronouncements were parallels to those mounted against the Jews as Germany prepared to intensify the Holocaust.  The defamations follow an old, recognizable pattern in human history. 

We recognize how the social media is used by Islamic extremists to enlist jihadists and organize attacks on the west.  But we tend to dismiss that same role in the way it demolishes our own culture, as illustrated by the contentions that a military exercise in the Southwest is a move by Obama for the military takeover of Texas.  

While the Internet provides a new level of communication, it is also the carrier of a malignancy that demolishes the decency in our culture.  The antidote to this malignancy must operate in many theaters.  It begins with providing educations in literacy in our public schools.  It extends to reinstating the standards of truth and accuracy in journalism.  And it extends to having those who educate and communicate do so in the context of history.

Those antidotes will require a political battle.  One which we may well have already lost.  

Blog Archive

About Me

My Photo
Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States

NVBBETA