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

Friday, January 18, 2019

The relevance of Barry Goldwater

In 1964, Barry Goldwater lost the presidential election to Lyndon Johnson by a landslide.  Republicans were split back then between the conservatives led by Goldwater and moderates led by Nelson Rockefeller.  There were many factors behind the rejection of Goldwater.  He had been endorsed by the KKK, although he stridently disavowed their support.  Still, many voters feared that some of his policies would pave the way for overt racial discrimination.

The biggest fear of Goldwater was that his fierce anti-communist stance and his belligerent threats for possible military action would result in a nuclear war.  The Johnson campaign exploited his attitude to great effect.  That historical  memory obscures other aspects of Goldwater's conservatism as measures of how drastically the Republican Party has changed.  Goldwater warned the country exactly what those changes would be.  Here are some statements he made:

  • Small men, seeking great wealth or power, have too often and too long turned even the highest levels of public service into mere personal opportunity. 

  • Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed.

  • Religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives.

  • Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them.

  • I am a conservative Republican, but I believe in democracy and the separation of church and state. The conservative movement is founded on the simple tenet that people have the right to live life as they please as long as they don't hurt anyone else in the process.

  • A woman has a right to an abortion. That's a decision that's up to the pregnant woman, not up to the pope or some do-gooders or the Religious Right.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Those feckless f***ers

I am a bit of an expert on the f-word.  I can read and speak, haltingly, Old and Middle English, and can trace the fondness of English- speaking people for the fricative-plosive sound of that word through the ages.  Many non-English speaking people have appropriated the word even if they speak no other word in English because of the satisfactions of pronouncing that sound.  Many languages have close relatives, such as fycken in Swedish, but they lack the robustness of the English enunciation.  

 The word also has a myriad of meanings which are defined by their contexts.  The word obviously names the act of copulation.  And yes, in grammar we have copulative verbs, or linking verbs.  Technically, f**k is not a linking verb, until you've tried to explain it to a student who says "I don't care what grammarians say, it's a f**king verb."  We will let that rest, but the word evokes many other meanings than sexual intercourse, most of which deal the concept of foolish and pointless diddling around.

I received my advanced training in the use of word in the U.S. Army, which could never have operated without the use of the word.  As an instructor in a missile launching area, I sometimes had to act as a drill instructor.  We were supposed to march the men from task to task in order to emphasize order and discipline in the ranks.  When a man fell out of step, you could say something like, "Get in step, Smithers."  But that would not be nearly as effective as saying, "Smithers, I said forward march, not f**k the dog."  Smithers might not get in step, but the other men would smile, so that you could halt the detail and say, "What the f**k are you smiling at?"  And some wise ass would mutter, "At you trying to be a f**king drill instructor."  The word, as you can see, is essential to communication among the troops.

But the word has important imagery in portraying deficiencies and errors in performing the tasks of life.  Some such phrases are:

  • f**k up, as in screw up
  • f**k over, when oppressing and cheating people
  • f**king the dog, often translated as screwing the pooch
  • fiddle f**king
  • f**king the air
  • cluster f**k
  • f**k it, to convey "the hell with it"
  • f**king, the adjective, as in "who left the f**king Legos all over the f**king floor?
  • mother-f**ker, designating something really demeaned and demented
New Yorkers evaluate Trump
That gets us to those feckless f**kers. I speak of U.S. Senator John Thune and former Rep. and now Gov., Kristi Noem.  Congressional staff members refer to them that way because they have earned reputations as people who don't do much but diddle around.  Both of them have two attributes:  they aren't terribly ugly and they can recite the party line as written for them or repeat it as they've heard others say it.  They are decorative items often used to pose in party leaders' photo opportunities.  And they never take issue with those leaders. Beyond that they don't do much.

In 2012, Thune was mentioned by a few people as a potential presidential candidate.  Erick Erickson, an editor of the conservative said this about Thune:

"But the only reason people talk about him for President is because he’s a good looking guy in a city full of lesser looking people, is tall, and has an attractive wife. Other than that his greatest accomplishments are doing nothing." 

Kristi Noem does things, but mostly makes up defamatory lies about her opponents and obsesses over hate objects.  A lie that she got caught in involves the death of her father in a farm accident.  She claims that the death tax on the estate he left impoverished the family.  It turns out that he was covered by a $1 million insurance policy and the death tax was a figment of her mendacious imagination, not a reality that existed in the nation's tax laws. 

Her congressional record looks more busy than Thune's because she signs on as the co-sponsor of legislation advanced by other congress people.  But in the fact-check  department, Noem has earned a humongous Pinocchio nose.  Her lies about her opponents earn major points for their malice and explosive destruction of the facts.  She portrayed Nancy Pelosi as the evil witch of the universe and the characterized opponent Strephanie Herseth Sandlin as her hand maiden.  In fact, Herseth Sandlin was a Blue Dog Democrat that was often in disagreement with the Pelosi main stream.  In the primary for governor, she maligned GOP Attorney General Jackley with many false representations--although there was plenty factual points she could have made against him.  Then in the governor campaign against Billie Sutton, she continued her penchant for falsehoods.  Noem's rule seems to be that making stuff up or copying from someone else as you go along takes less work than trying to address facts. She prefers to lollygag.

Her state of the state speech was cobbled together from passages of Trump's repeated lies and other far right-wing sources.  It follows the outline of legislative issues posted by ALEC, the right-wing organization that dictates and provides ready-made far-right-wing propaganda to conservative state legislators.  She misdirects attention from South Dakota's problems by focusing on the financial problems in Illinois and Connecticut.  When she tackles the meth problem in South Dakota, she uses a case from Iowa to illustrate its effects.  Admittedly, like Thune, Noem is very adept at delivering the lines provided her.  While she claims to be in contact with the people of the state in forming her proposals, her conclusions come from the ultraconservative sources that promote fascism over democracy.  We know Noem's feckless performance from her dilatory record in Congress.  In her first speech to the state, she screwed the pooch before our very ears and eyes.

The most insidious part of her speech concerns economic development.  She commits to reducing regulations, creating an obedient workforce, and enhancing the ability of grifters to exercise their fraud.  In other words, she proposes steps that would make scams like the EB-5 and Gear Up scandals easier to pull off while reducing the chances of getting caught.

Her vow to increase the transparency of government is another vague one.  She says she will make government meetings more available to the people through broadcast technology.  And she wants a "commonsense" law that will shield reporters.  "Commonsense" most likely means specific loopholes that prevent reporters from obtaining embarrassing facts.  The transparency problem in South Dakota is in the loopholes in the state legal code that gives officials the power to withhold information.  When reporter Bob Mercer tried to obtain the investigative record into the death of Richard Benda during the EB-5 scandal, the State Supreme Court ruled that " state law is clear in denying public access to law enforcement investigations."  If anyone wants to increase transparency, they need to address the state legal code first.

The majority of South Dakota voters like the likes of Thune and Noem.  They don't want to hear about the facts of life that so many people turn to meth to deal with.  They don't want to face the corruption that pervades state government in South Dakota and puts it among the top three most corrupt states in the union.  The majority of voters want to see the legislature in an annual clusterf**k, feel important when they can f**k over their neighbors, and have all their fears assuaged by watching their elected leaders fiddle**k  and screw the pooch.  That's what they voted for.

Those who have schemes for getting rich by fleecing the taxpayers can rest happy that they have representatives in Pierre and Washington, D.C., protecting them.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The last gasps of fraternity

Today's newspaper announced the closing of the Eagle's club in Aberdeen.   When a large farm and fleet-type store closed and left a large building empty, the Eagles took it over and for years operated a facility much used by the community for various kinds of gatherings.  Over time, the membership of the Eagles declined and the facility was not used enough for community activities to cover its operating expenses.  The building will be put up for sale with the intention of finding a smaller facility.

The Eagles club is following a well established pattern for fraternal-type organizations in Aberdeen and across the nation.  At one time, the Elks operated a facility that was a popular gathering place,  It included a ballroom, a swimming pool, and an upscale restaurant .  The pool provided a place for the establishment of a swim club.  Declining membership make its operation untenable, and it abandoned the building for a smaller place.  The building is now used to sell used items for a non-profit organization.

The American Legion went through the same process.  It maintained  a hall in the downtown area, where it featured weekend dances and 1-pound hamburgers.  A decline in membership and fewer people attending its weekend activities, it sold the building and combined its activities with the VFW.  But then the VFW gave up its facility, and Legion moved what was left of its operation to the Eagles.  After a time, the Legion disappeared from that venue, and now the Eagles is closing.

It many smaller towns, the Legion has operated the last standing meeting place for the communities.  But old soldiers do die and fade away and take the Legion with them.

In Aberdeen, of the fraternal organizations the Moose club is still operating and the Elks still maintains its smaller facility.

The decline of fraternal organizations is a nationwide trend.  As younger people matured to the ages at which their parents joined clubs, they did not have those kind of social interests. Society is much more fragmented, and as sociologists have noted, people expend more effort trying to avoid each other than seek out any kind of brotherhood.  A sense of community is not important to them.  Churches have also noted and been affected by this trend.

The atrophy of social organizations is just one symptom of a dying community.  It is endemic throughout the nation, but is particularly lethal to smaller communities.  South Dakota has a multitude of small towns whose main streets are lined with boarded up buildings that once housed Legion halls and commercial buildings.  A few have converted a building to a senior center, but they, too, are closing.  There are many abandoned sites of towns that used to be,  places where lives were once lived, but no more.  

Concurrent with the dying out of social organizations is the ending of commercial activities.  Those abandoned buildings along the once-main streets were occupied by grocery stores, drug stores, farm implement and automobile dealers. and other retail stores serving the communities.  The competition from big box retailers and shopping malls made it impossible for small-scale merchants to compete.  Now the shopping malls are closing down, largely because customers are lost to internet commerce.  

Aberdeen is experiencing this loss of large retailers, also.  This past year, Aberdeen lost Kmart and Herberger's department store in the Aberdeen Mall.  Before that, it lost the J.C. Penney store, whose space is now occupied by Kohl"s department store.  Half of the Aberdeen Mall is empty.  The major retail centers are now Walmart, Target, and 
Shopko.  Shopko recently announced store closings, which included its Hometown stores in Redfield and Webster.   The Aberdeen Mall seems destined to join the many that are being abandoned.

Economists can trace the movement of retail business from Main Street to the malls and big box stores and then to the Internet.  Sociologists have noted the dying out of fraternal organizations and the decline of community gathering places in general, but the reasons for that decline have not been studied with any concerted effort.  Communities are dying, and they have lost their will to live.  Few people have observed that the factors that have caused the widening political gap in the nation began decades ago in the small communities.  People do not wish to fraternize.

The French tout their democracy as characterized by liberty, equality, and fraternity.  In America, the fraternity part is all but gone.  Try to find it in Aberdeen, South Dakota.  If you get tired of looking for places where fraternity is practiced, try shopping.

Good luck in your quest.  You are facing the future, and democracy in decline.


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Vichy America

A few nights ago, I watched--again-- the film Casablanca on a movie channel.  It recalled for me a time when I avoided anything European.  After serving in the U.S. Army in Germany, and people asked about the experience and travel in Europe, I said I had no interest in ever visiting Europe again.  (I have relented somewhat since then.)

I went to Germany in a specially trained group labeled O(ver)S(eas)P(ackage)5.  We were sent there to emplace air defense guided missiles to guard against  Soviet air attacks, which seemed a big possibility during the Cold War.  We were met at the Frankfort air base by protesters carrying signs that said "Sputnik, go home!"  The Germans feared that  the emplacement of guided missiles on their soil would entice the Soviets to involve Germany in more rocket warfare rather than discourage it.  Members of OSP 5, and its sister units, were constantly indoctrinated in the importance of being nice to the Germans and how to do it, as part of a public relations campaign to assuage their fears about the guided missiles.

We were instructed not to ask Germans about their sympathies and alliances during World War II.  The official stance was that most Germans were unwilling subjects of the Nazi regime and welcomed liberation by the Allied Forces.  That was partially true, but our interactions with the Germans made us skeptical.  We encountered situations in which the belief in a superior race was still evident.

Similarly, we had doubts about the alliances of people in neighboring France.  The Vichy French regime was set up as a puppet government controlled by the Nazis when German forces invaded and took over parts of France.  The Vichy  regime was purported at the time to be under involuntary control by the Nazis.  Over time a dire fact has emerged.  Many people in Germany aggressively supported and participated in the anti-semitic activities that led to and were part of the Holocaust.  Similarly, Vichy French were engaging in anti-semitic activities long before the Germans invaded.  The claim that people were involuntarily subjected to Naziism by outside force is not true.  Although there was resistance to it, there were plenty of people in both Germany and France who desired the Nazi way and actively pursued it.  Their preference prevailed.  For a time.  And now it has been revived in France's Yellow Vest Movement.

Casablanca is strikingly relevant to our present situation in the U.S. because it is about some people emigrating to escape oppressive regimes and the choices other people make in regard to those regimes.  The film is set in Morocco during World War II when it was a French colony.  The Germans had invaded it and were issuing the orders for the French administrators to carry out.   The major character in the film, Rick Blaine played by Humphrey Bogart, and the French captain in charge of Casablanca, Louie Renault played by Claude Rains, are both cynics interested in exploiting the town for their own interests.  

At one point Captain Renault sums up the attitude:  "I don't have any scruples if that's what you mean. I blow with the wind. And the prevailing wind is from Vichy."   

The night club owned by Rick is a gathering place for all types of people, including  German occupiers,  Vichy French, and refugees trying to flee the expanding Nazi world, and the people who would prey on them.   In the film, refugees needed "letters of transit" to travel in the Nazi-occupied parts of the world in order to reach places from which they could embark for America.  Those letters were a fiction created for the film, but they represent the material effort of the resistance to Naziism to support refugees in their quest to escape persecution and genocide.  Such letters, referred to as "paroles" in American history, were provided to slaves in the South when they were sent on errands for their masters, because black people traveling in the South were stopped and questioned and needed the paroles in order to go about their masters' business.

Casablanca is a film created to portray the insidious spread of Naziism and the way that it could be confronted.  Rick has had a love affair with Ilsa, who is married to Victor, a leader in the French resistance. Rick and Ilsa would like to use some letters of transit to run off together, but Rick is conflicted by the growing Nazi menace.  He manipulates and convinces Ilsa to stay with her husband Victor and support his work with the resistance.

In the end of the film, Ilsa and Victor are on a plane fleeing Casablanca, and Rick and Captain Renault are have created  an anti-Nazi bond.  The character of Captain Renault is used in the film to portray the resolve to join the resistance.  He is present when as Ilsa and Victor are boarding the airplane, the German officer in charge of Casablanca pulls up in a car to prevent the couple from leaving.  Rick shoots the officer, and Captain Renault, who witnessed the killing, responds to it by ordering "Round up the usual suspects,"  as he joins Rick in the resistance.

His conversion to the resistance is seen in a scene with Rick when he pours himself a glass of sparking water.  He glances at the water bottle, notes that it bears the brand "Vichy Water," grimaces, and drops it in a trash can, signifying that he who has accommodated Vichy France is now rejecting it.  It is a subtle but pivotal scene in the film.  Rick has made the statement to Ilsa, "If we stop breathing, we’ll die. If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die."  Captain Renault has decided to opt with Rick to fight for the world.

That scene embraces the experience facing Americans.  Places such as South Dakota are Vichy states.  They are
dominated by people with racist and class attitudes as the foundation of their political agendas.  Racism, like all malevolent prejudices, is grounded upon the belief in inequality.  Although most people living in a democracy profess a belief in equality, many people betray that belief in their words and actions.  They cling to the social order of the dog pack and the chicken flock as the paradigm according which society operates.  They adhere to the feudal notion of a chain being in which people have ranks of inferiority and superiority.  And these people always place themselves in the higher ranks, which give them license to demean and persecute those they deem in the lower ranks.

Americans are faced with the options of going along with the corruption and racial-based treachery of the Trump regime, a head-in-the-sand tolerance, or an all-out resistance.  Those of us in South Dakota have already had the choice made for us by a majority that has expressed its preference for corruption, administrations of nepotism and cronyism.  South Dakotans elected Kristi Noem, a woman with a political record of fecklessness, nepotism, lying, and playing politics for her personal benefit, much in the line of Trump, to be their governor.  Many others have taken the head-in-the-sand  option.  They seem to adhere to the notion that their malice-harboring neighbors are just people with different political opinions and tend to ignore the ill-will displayed in the political campaigns and the corruption engendered by the dominant party.  And then there are those who see the corruption and the dishonesty as something that must be resisted.  

There is a remote hope in South Dakota that enough people will pull their heads out of the sand and see the lethal effects of drinking the South Dakota version of Vichy water--a belief that their corruption-loving neighbors are fundamentally nice. That hope is that the political process of the ballot box can be a corrective.  But that hope is the depth of foolery in a state where the people have passed an initiative to address the corruption and the legislature successfully dismissed it.  In a democracy, as we found out in the Viet Nam War era, sometimes politics doesn't work.  Politics as a means of change and the rule of honesty and decency has been disabled in South Dakota.

On the national level the relentless dishonesty and corruption of Donald Trump and his mendacious minions has the dedicated support of about a third of the nation.  Although there has been a highly visible and vocal resistance, it has had little effect on stemming the massive onslaught of untruths or the intensity of the malice within his administration and supporters.  As dramatized in Casablanca with Captain Louie Renault, it takes a recognition of where the prevailing political winds are driving us and the resolve to throw the source of our Vichy water into the trash.  Accommodating those who show their hatred for a democracy that strives for liberty, equality, and justice is subversion.  Effective resistance to the malignant that has invaded America will take strong action and cooperative effort of the kind that forges "beautiful friendships," to use Rick's closing words in Casablanca.  

America has to openly recognize its internal enemies and that "If we stop fighting our enemies, the world will die."

Vichy America is here.


Sunday, December 30, 2018

Fake news by any other name is lies

Fergus Falls, near the Dakota borders
The town of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, is recovering from a bad case of journalistic malpractice.  At the time of Trump's inauguration, the German magazine Der Spiegel dispatched a star reporter to go to the U.S. heartland and do a story on the rural Americans who supported Trump.  He picked Fergus Falls as his focal point and did a story that was published in March 2017.  The story was defamatory about the town, and nearly everything in it was made up.  Some community members took up the task of setting the facts straight and published a detailed fact check.  The reporter was fired.

The incident illustrates what happens when a reporter abandons the essential rules of professional journalism and uses a mass medium to advance a viewpoint rather than carefully report the facts.  Fortunately, the same freedom of the press that makes it possible for a reporter to publish false defamations  enabled two citizens of Fergus Falls to publish a corrective that counteracted the misinformation.  In doing so they also took a major action in bolstering the integrity of the press.  But the lies reported as facts decay the public trust in journalistic reports and disorient the ability to discern facts.

Donald Trump constantly accuses the media of fake news.  A long-time editor who has covered Trump's biography over the years has said part of that comes from Trump's assumption that all enterprises are as fraudulent as his.  He is incapable of understanding human enterprises based upon truth or why honesty must be the foundation of any beneficent human endeavor.  Lies are a lethal cancer to human society.  Trump's infantile mind is so ego-bound that he can't see any point to human good let alone grasp what contributes to it.

Journalism is the nervous system of democracy.  It alerts the people to when the democratic processes go awry.  Just as the human body sends no constant signals when matters are going well, journalism does not keep an outpouring of "good news."  But when the body malfunctions, it lets us know.  That's why a prominent aspect of journalism is bad news; it is letting us know when something in the democracy is not working right.  When a journalist sends a false alarm, it has a very disruptive and destructive effect on democratic life.  It disorients us as to what is true and what is not.

Unfortunately, there are journalists who send false alarm signals.  I worked with one.  She was a journalist who spent 30 days in jail for contempt of court when she refused to reveal the source of a court document on which she based a story about bribery in a Colorado court system.  She gained fame throughout the nation, and was alleged to have made the cover of Life magazine.  (I have searched the Life archives and could find no such issue.)  Shortly after serving her sentence, she came to a newspaper in my community for which I once worked in the sports department.  She left that paper and worked as a features writer for my home town paper and was working there when I got a job as its farm and business editor.  I and some other of her fellow journalists noted some problems with the accuracy and veracity of her work.

A notable occasion was when she wrote a story that a gambling syndicate  was operating in our rural areas and sponsoring cock and dog fights where heavy betting took place.  She took a picture of a farm at which cars were parked in a field and at the side of the nearby road.  She claimed in the story that she was not allowed admittance to the barn where the events were taking place but interviewed people coming and going who told her what was going on.  She did not, however, identify where the farm was and the photograph that she used to illustrate her story was of the cars parked in the foreground with farm buildings showing in the background.  

One of the cars in the picture was a white Dodge station wagon with a discernible license plate.  It was the company car assigned to me.  I pointed the photo out to the editor's secretary whose job it was to coordinate the use of cars.  When I wasn't out traveling around and would be in the office not using the car,  I turned the keys in to her so that other reporters or photographers could use it for their assignments.  We referred to the company vehicles by the last two numbers of their license plates.  My assigned car was 67.  So, there was number 67 shown being parked at a farm one Saturday afternoon where the story said people gathered to bet on cock fights and dog fights.  

I was at this farm doing a story which ran in the farm section the day after the story about illegal animal fights and gambling ran.  I was covering a 4-H event.  The farm belonged to a family very active in 4-H work.  They were hosting a workshop at which specialists from the university college of agriculture and extension service were instructing kids on handling and grooming farm animals they would be showing at county fairs and 4-H shows over the summer.  It was a huge event to which the kids hauled their project animals and were provided a barbecue picnic by 4-H sponsors.

The editor's secretary and I pondered how the feature writer came up with the animal-fighting and gambling story.  We were left pondering, but the secretary, of course, pointed out the conflicts to the editor.

He was confronted with a problem.  The reporter who had been jailed for refusing to reveal a source brought attention to the papers at which she worked.  They could claim they had a "star" on their staff.  But if that "star" was found to make stories up, the publicity could be very damaging to the paper.  If the family who hosted the 4-H workshop recognized that a photo of their farm was used to show the site of a gambling racket, they could sue the paper, which could cost money, and. worse, could damage the reputation of the newspaper.  The editor realized that if a correction were published in the newspaper, it would call attention to the matter.  He chose the option of hoping that the gambling story would soon be forgotten and the problem would wither away in the memory of the readership.

The paper continued to promote and support the feature writer.  She was one of the reasons I left journalism.  Other editors and reporters, including me, were dismayed that we worked hard to dig out and verify facts and strove to be accurate and reliable, and created the journalistic platform on which the feature writer could perform her fraudulent act.  At one point, seven of we younger reporters and editors took out an ad in Editor and Publisher, the professional journal, to advertise that we were available for jobs.  Most of them found other jobs.  I took advantage of the GI Bill and went to graduate school.  

I ended up teaching English and journalism.  At a conference for journalists, I met an editor who worked in Colorado and knew the feature editor when she worked there.  He said that despite the fame she earned for refusing to reveal her source, other journalists who worked with her wondered if she had a source.  She did not have a good reputation among other journalists, and left Colorado shortly after she served her 30 days in jail.  He pointed out that the governor and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to revoke her sentence, and her job history was one of moving from a large newspaper to increasingly smaller ones.  She had gained fame for standing up for a principle of journalism, but her actual work did not adhere to the principles of truth, accuracy, and integrity.  Her colleague from Colorado said that while the woman was lauded for her courage in protecting an alleged source, nobody else in journalism had the courage to point out that she was a damned liar.  And that included the paper I worked for.

It is noteworthy that the two people who took responsibility to correct the facts in the Der Spiegel article about Fergus Falls are not journalists, but people who care about the damage that lies do to the community and the people around them.  The biggest source of lies pervading the media currently is Donald Trump, and the media soft-pedals his lies by terming them "misleading" or "without foundation."  We've reached a point where the nation is divided between his supporters who deny and want  to believe the lies of Trump and those who realize that these people are the vectors of a disease that is deteriorating all the benefits of a democracy.  

Those folks in Fergus Falls have the courage and the intelligence to call a lie a lie and show why it is a lie.  That is what real news is.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Trump gives a us a daily insight into how some CEOs think and work

I have written before about how badly Trump has been thought of by the honest business community.  A retired commercial banker and I were discussing the problems of sorting honest and competent CEOs from the sleazy and pretentious.  I faced the problems as a business editor who had to decide what to write about them; him as a banker who had to decide whether to lend them money.  Grifters and scammers were not difficult to identify and dismiss.  The real problems were sleaze who held executive positions in established companies.  The banker had an easier time of it with them, because he could turn down their loan requests, and his employer would laud him for being careful with the bank's money.  I faced the problem of possessing information about some CEOs which was matters of bad character, sometimes in gravely dangerous ways.  

A factor back when I was part of the working press was the way libel laws were applied.  Libel laws have been created and given precedents with a special partiality shown business.  However, back then  libel was a fairly straightforward matter.  If something was published about an individual that was negative and untrue, it was libelous and damages were assumed.  Truth was the defense against a charge of libel.  But what is true had to be backed up with witnesses and documentation.  Business reporters often have inside sources, but those sources want to remain confidential so they won't lose their jobs.  So, even if one had confirmed and verified information about misdeeds of a CEO, his accusers would not publicly allow their names to be used as witnesses.  The CEO could file a libel suit, and no witnesses would be available to testify.  As a professional code, reporters do not reveal confidential sources, but neither do they print news that cannot be backed up with identified sources.  Recently, with Trump, however, the media are quoting unidentified sources more and more to inform the people of how corrupt their government has become.

I covered CEOs who were upstanding and honorable and ran their companies with a respect for their employees and their customers. I also covered many who were absolute sleaze bags.  To them, their customers were gulls to be fooled and ripped off.  They regarded their employees as expendable serfs.  Their companies were run with a culture of fear and deception.  They were all about power and using it to control those under them.

One characteristic of the sleazy CEOs is that they create images of themselves and their companies that are total fabrications.  The live by the rule that you are what you appear to be, so they devote themselves to the image they project.

When such CEOs listed their accomplishments, they did not hold up under fact-checking.  They appropriated the accomplishments of their employees and called them their own.  Honest CEOs credited their employees.  But the sleaze bags ferreted out those employees who depended upon being puppets for the boss to get ahead, and promoted them to key positions.  Employees with talent and ability were exploited, but kept in low-level positions under the schemes of the executive team.  When those employees realized the nature of the outfit they were working for, they usually started looking for jobs elsewhere.  Some found ways to call attention to their achievements and ways to circumvent the executive staff.  Those that left, however, would unload to the press and anyone else willing to listen about the oppressive conditions of the company they left.

A big question about CEOs is how they obtain the millions and millions in salary and bonuses and is what they do anywhere near worth it?  Corporations are feudal in nature. The operating principle in many of them is the same as that of a feudal estate.  The estate is headed by a lord of the manor who has authority over every thing, living and none living, on the estate.  Feudal estates and corporations were conceived to deny liberty and equality as conditions of life.  The head of the estate lives in luxury while those under him live according to his whim.

CEOs of those kind of corporations are shameless liars.  They lie to avoid blame, avoid responsibility for their actions, and to keep the corporation in a state of confusion.  Their objective is to monopolize wealth and power for themselves and keep their underlings in a state of obsequious dependence.  When questioned about what they have accomplished to deserve their salaries and bonuses, they quickly point to the achievements of those below them and take full, personal credit for them.  The are responsible only to their boards of directors and shareholders who are kept happy by sharing in the corporate wealth.   Their customers are regarded as sheep to be fleeced, their employees as servants to be controlled, and the communities in which they operate as geography to be exploited, and often polluted.

 No word of the sleaze CEOs can be believed or trusted.  They assemble around them as their chief assistants a gaggle of sycophants whose major talent is sucking and supporting the boss and intimidating any employees who challenge their word.  Although the lying is a reflection of the absence of character and principle in the executives, it has the practical effect of keeping the employees disoriented so that they just keep their heads down and do their work.  This executive arrangement is often indicated by companies who provide lavish bonuses to their executives without any explanation of what they did to earn them.  They protect and reward each other through a bond of perfidy.  They follow the same methods of control used by organized crime syndicates.

Private corporations can keep their perfidious nature relatively secret through threats and intimidation, but when this arrangement is applied to the White House which is under constant scrutiny by a free press, a daily deluge of leaks informs the nation about the incompetence and perfidy of the executives.

The Trump Organization is one of the sleaze companies, and Trump brought its unscrupulous and conniving dishonesty to the White House.  The degradation in which Trump operates is common to a section of corporations.  

There are ethical corporations which strive for quality in their products and services, in respect of their employees, and in their contributions to community,  but there are companies which expend huge amounts of money on public relations campaigns which cover up their predatory and perfidious modes of operation.

Willful ignorance and a fascination with totalitarian and criminal life among the American people has brought the nation to the point where it is ruled according to the dictates of a crime mob boss.  Americans have fixed on the stories of The Godfather and The Sopranos with uncritical admiration for the lifestyle.  To many, the denial of democratic principles of liberty, equality, and justice is something they regard with admiration.  When Trump exhibited the characteristics of a mob boss, characteristics common to most of "reality television," many watched with assent and applause.  Over a third of the people, according to opinion polls, express approval of Trump and his crime syndicate way of operating. If contestants did not meet his notions of obedience, he dismissed them with a blunt "you're fired."  It was uttered with the same spirit as a mob boss ordering "get rid" of the person.  

Since that retired banker from Chicago told me of how Trump was detested by his business associates in the mid-1980s, I have never heard a positive word about Donald Trump.  There have been somewhat neutral reports about his enterprises, but they all had back stories about his business failures and bankruptcies, about his stiffing of contractors and customers, and about his cheating lifestyle.  

Since Trump became president,  reports about his insidious foolery are are a daily part of the news.  He has attempted to diminish the reports by dismissing them as fake news and whining about the unfairness of the press.  In one aspect his term "fake news" is accurate because it is news about his fakery.  The news does seem to be critical, but reporters are hard pressed to find one act of Trump's that demonstrates decency, let alone can inspire admiration.  The only person that extolls his virtues is Trump.  

A few decades ago, corporate executives complained that the public was critical and diffident about business corporations.  Corporations launched a public relations blitz extolling the contributions of business and creating an image of corporate beneficence.  The blitz was effective to a lot of uncritical minds, as it tried to make it unpatriotic to be critical of corporations.  Many Americans have come to regard the business community as medieval serfs regarded their lords and masters:  they think they owe their livelihoods to the company and should live in a state of obsequious gratitude.  The people who support Trump are perpetual serfs who cannot grasp that democracy is an antidotes to the feudal state in which they choose to live.  They see Trump, a person defined by a total rottenness, as a lord and savior because he has wealth and power.  They do not see that democracy is a corrective to the inherent corruption that drives people to acquire that kind of wealth and power.  They hope that their submission will inspire their lords and masters to throw some morsels of wealth and power their way and allow them to live.  The American revolution and the consequent evolution of democratic personhood has not touched their minds yet.

Trump has put on display the folly and treachery that exists in some corporations, which chafe under a government of democratic principle.  To them democracy is an obstacle to be defeated, if possible.  And almost every action by CEO Trump is intended to accomplish that defeat.

If America survives Trump as a republican democracy, it will be because the people perceived what a menace he and other CEOs who pose as monarchs really are to their lives.

That distinction is not between Republican and Democrat.  It is between living as a serf and freeman.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Mike Rounds shows the feds how South Dakota corruption works

A Sioux Falls lawyer who the American Bar Association deemed "not qualified" has been given a lifetime appointment as a federal Judge.  He made history when for the first time in the nation's history, the Vice President cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate to confirm a judge.

The judge is Jonathan Kobes, Sen. Mike Rounds' general counsel.  In corrupt regimes, it is typical to give unqualified people big jobs, because they have a debt of gratitude to the people who put them in the jobs.  (Brown County seems to be a case in point.)  The American Bar Association rated Kobes as not qualified because he hadn't demonstrated "the requisite experience nor evidence of his ability to fulfill the scholarly writing required of a United States Circuit Court Judge." 

Another aspect of the corruption is the movement spurred by Trump to turn the judiciary into a political arm to enforce the policies and prejudices of the party in power.  Judges are not nominated because of their record of judicial impartiality and competence, but because of partisan beliefs and demonstrated obedience to the politicians who sponsor them.    And so, a fellow deemed "not qualified" by his fellow attorneys is appointed to a lifetime position on the bench,

CBS News carries the full story.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States