Northern Valley Beacon

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

Regents and the undermining of education

Begin with the fact that South Dakota state government has been defiled by two major scandals involving millions of dollars,  suicides, murder, and the total evasion of responsibility by the people who were in charge and supposed to be exercising oversight of government affairs.  I speak, of course,  of the EB-5 and Gear-Up scandals.  A number of officials and government agencies were involved in those affairs,  but the most troubling aspect is that the state's educational agencies were involved from the inception of those scandals.  When organizations that are responsible for providing the intellectual and character-building resources for young people are involved in nefarious scheming, the probity of the entire state is called into question.

What brings this to mind is a recent story in the local newspaper about the state Democratic Party complaining that the South Dakota government was not following the law in appointing regents.  The law states that of the nine members, no more than six can be members of the same political party. The complaint is that the student regent, who has voting rights on the board, makes seven Republicans on the board.  The regents' attorney says the rule doesn't apply to the student regent.   But that is beside the point.  The point is that regents are appointed on a political basis, and that subjects the universities to political control and agendas.

At one time, the political makeup of the board was incidental to other qualifications,  as it was assumed that the board should be made up primarily of people who had some knowledge of and experience in education.  This changed when Bill Janklow became governor.  He disparaged the Regents' staff by calling them idiots.  However, the Board of Regents seemed to be in turmoil when he took office.  When Carl Opgaard became president of Dakota State shortly before Janklow became governor,  he noted that  "The Board of Regents treated all presidents very shabbily.”  He characterized Janklow as " the sort of governor who wanted to have his hand in everything,  including higher education, despite the legal authority granted the Board of Regents.”

Janklow appointed business people and political cronies to the Regents during his governship, a practice that has continued with his successors.  One of his early appointments was a law school buddy, William Srtska,  who became chair of the BOR, and later a circuit judge. Some manipulations became evident when the Janklow-allied BOR did not inform one member, a former teacher, of meetings.  She resigned.  Janklow  appointed a successor more to his purpose.  However, there has usually been at least one regent on the board identified with education,  but they have never held leadership positions on the board.  In fact, they have rarely been heard from.  Srtska ruled over the Board with an a sledge hammer for a gavel, carrying out the wishes of Janklow,  who made it easy by stacking the BOR with his surrogates.

Janklow did not get along well with university personnel.   Opgaard writes, "Janklow, who took office in 1979, also kept a hand in higher education, and met with considerable opposition from university leaders. At one point, he issued what was termed a "gag order" prohibiting university officials from speaking to the press without permission."  When Janklow came into office,  each president made the case for the funding of their institutions directly with the legislature.  Over time, Janklow placed that task with the Regents, so the presidents made their cases for funding with the BOR, who represented higher education to the legislature.  This arrangement made it more efficient for higher education to operate as a system,  but it displaced the presidents and their staffs as the academic decision-makers for their campuses and put that authority in the hands of the regents.  

Opgaard recalled that as President of DSU, "The most stressful and unrewarding part of the job was working with the South Dakota Board of Regents and the Commissioner of Higher Education."  He said:

 "The Board meddled in internal administrative matters and loved to show their power.  They had to control.  We were unable to change them--I can recall Dick Schleuesner, President of the School of Mines, asserting that we must not blame ourselves because "You can't teach a horse to fly."  We kept the colleges going despite them."
And that has been a truth about the South Dakota Higher Education System since that time.  The colleges delivered education to the students through the work of professors  despite the intrusions of  the Board of Regents.  Over time, the faculty distanced itself from the Board to the point that professors had little idea or interest in what the Board was doing.  And that explains how the EB-5 scandal developed.  

Professors kept a low profile and a distant relationship to the regents for fear that they might attract their intervention and meddling if they were noticed.  The real business of education was carried on as a subversive activity as far as the faculty was concerned.  When the South Dakota BOR conceived the South Dakota International Business Institute  which Joop Bollen was hired to run,  the Regents placed the Institute on the NSU campus, which surprised the faculty because no one knew about anyone from the campus proposing the idea.  Local faculty questioned how the program came about and members of business departments on other campuses raised issues.  One issue was that the curriculum for a degree in international business did not even require a foreign language.  But as the program developed, it was clear that the SDIBI had little to do with the academic mission.  The faculty chose to ignore it as kind of a sacrificial lamb.   If the Regents occupied themselves with the SDIBI, they might leave the academic program to those qualified to run it.

As was made clear during the litigation arising from the EB-5 scandal, Joop Bollen and the SDIBI were not accountable to the university administration.   It had been made clear to the business department chair that Bollen was responsible to the Governor's Office of Economic Development and the department's role was to cooperate, not exercise any academic authority over the program. The Governor's Office, of course, claimed that it assumed Bollen was under Board of Regents supervision.  A whole series of University presidents obediently supported Bollen's operation without question  ( John Hutchinson: 1993-97; John Hilpert (interim 1997-98): 1998-03; Don Cozzetto (interim): 2003-04; Patrick Schloss: 2004-08; Laurie Stenberg Nichols (interim): 2008-09).  Then, in 2009 when President James Smith received notice that NSU needed to cut its budget,  he reviewed the role of the SDIBI and could not reconcile the Institute with the academic mission of the University.  So, he eliminated the SDIBI from the Northern program and evicted it from the campus.  It took up residency in the offices of the Aberdeen Development Corporation and incorporated  under the name South Dakota Regional Center.

The amorphous mess that is the founding of the SDIBI is stated in depositions generated through the litigation:
 
DEPOSITION: John Meyer, Northern State University attorney 
DEPOSITION James Shekleton, Board of Regents General Counsel
DEPOSITION: Joop Bollen, EB5 program director
Harvey Jewett ending 20 years as Regent
From the testimony,  it is clear that the Regents created the SDIBI and imposed it on the campus. Just where it originated is implied strongly in the testimony surrounding the EB-5 scandal.  There is one constant connection that has hovered in the background since Janklow became governor.  That connection is with the Aberdeen law firm Siegal Barnett and Schutz.   A principal in the firm, Joseph  H. Barnett, was a Republican power figure in the state legislature, serving as majority leader and speaker of the house during his 19 years as a member.  Barnett, for whom Northern's physical education center is named, led the effort to provide the new facility for Northern.  He died in office two years before it was completed in 1987.  In June 1988, Janklow appointed the spouse of a law firm member, Cathy Hall, to the Board of Regents.  She was reappointed in March 1993 for a term that was to expire in 1999.  However, she resigned in 1997, and Janklow appointed law firm member Harvey Jewett to succeed her.  Jewett retired from the Board this year.

The building of a physical education center was important for the development of Northern as a four-year institution.  Its sister institutions, in competition for funding and status, often recommended that it be made a junior college.  Janklow closed a state campus in Springfield and turned it into a prison,  and he had plans for Dakota State which he turned into a computer-centered school.  The rivalries of state institutions of higher education in South Dakota have been detrimental to its higher education system  as some faculty and administrators engaged in petty treacheries which invited meddling by the regents and governor.  Northern shared the civic center arena with the high school for its  basketball games, and scheduling was difficult.  The building of the Barnett Center was a boost for Northern, not only in terms of providing an essential physical education and sports center, but in providing a community and regional facility that is extensively used by people in the area.  It consistently ranks high nationally for the number of people who attend its athletic events.  

Reservations about the building came under discussion during some faculty development sessions with visiting academic leaders, however. Some of the more astute Northern faculty and the visiting experts discussed a problem that the naming of the Barnett Center  indicates.  The building was not named for professors and coaches who built the programs of the school, but for a politician whose support, although needed and appreciated, did not necessarily contribute to strengthening the academic stature of the college.  As the professors noted, universities are often the places where political figures like to build monuments to their power.  When Joe Barnett arranged for the building of the physical education center,  he and the college administration understood that a tacit quid pro quo was involved.  Not only would his name be memorialized in the building,  but he and his surrogates would would have an executive voice in the running of the university.  So, a member of Siegal, Barnett, and Schutz has sat on the Board of Regents and overseeing the affairs of Northern State  University from the mid-1980s until this June, when  Harvey Jewett retired.

NSU held a retirement reception for Jewett at the Johnson Fine Arts Center, when it was revealed that the main theater in the Center will be renamed the Harvey and Cynthia Jewett Theater.  With the help of some multi-million dollar bequeathals to Northern,  it is making significant additions to its physical campus under the regental guardianship of Jewett.  Construction on a new science building will begin in the spring.  Jewett received credit for pushing this addition through the Regents and the legislature in the face of resistance by some in the higher education community.  In addition to many improvements made to campus facilities, Northern opened a new dorm this fall with more scheduled for construction.   

Northern does have an attractive campus, although as I pass by it (I live two blocks away) I seldom see people occupying it.  It used to be thronged between class hours.  And sometimes I was assigned class space that was far from ideal, but like most of my colleagues, we concentrated on covering the subject matter, not the atmospherics of our settings.  Northern provided opportunities for students with no money.  Over the years,  I had many students who worked  less-than-mininum wage jobs in town-- lousy jobs which motivated them to get degrees and move on.  Some employers would call students into work when they had classes or even exams.  Most of us accommodated these students when their bosses made such demands on them.  At one time, Northern called itself "a gateway institution," conveying that it provided a chance to move on to a better life.  Some regents and legislators objected to the slogan because it advertised the objective of getting out of South Dakota.  The fact was that Northern had earned a reputation for providing competitive educations which enabled students to build better lives in places that offered them better opportunities.  The faculty was happy to assist in that mission.

Better facilities, however, raise the overhead that is covered by tuition and fees.  Still affordable in comparison with many schools,  Northern is expensive beyond what a part-time job can cover.  Costs for instate students and those from North Dakota and Iowa are estimated at:  


Tuition
$7,191
Fees
$1,089
Room
$3,640
Meal Plan
$3,650
Books/Supplies
$1,200


A person living off campus at home will need to come up with about $9500 to cover a year.    (At the private college where  I previously taught tuition and fees are estimated at $40,908 for a year. ) That is why students who obtain degrees face a crushing debt load at graduation from student loans.  It is no longer possible to work your way through college.

The reason behind the escalating expense of going to college can be glimpsed in a statement made by the man chosen to replace Harvey Jewett on the Board of Regents:

"Our universities are like a business.  We have to compete with all other universities all over the country, so we have to be affordable and competitive.  My philosophy is, if you expect a return, you have to invest. We need to make sure we're investing in our universities so that we've got the facilities that can compete and will attract these young kids to campus."
That old, wrong-headed cliche about running a college like a business is the plague of education.  Colleges and businesses have totally different purposes.  Colleges are to train critical, knowledgeable minds; businesses are to make money.  Both have to adhere to the  realities of budgets.   But the allocation of education funds on a business model limits the accessibility of higher education to those who can afford it and closes off education as a means to improving life.  Higher education in America has become the most expensive in the world and it is a vehicle for inequality.  While it is nice to upgrade campus facilities and particularly to keep abreast of educational technology,  the emphasis on the physical campus eclipses the function of higher education to deliver an advancing curriculum.

At NSU, while the university has made gains in campus facilities, its offerings in the liberal arts have been pared away.  As I look over the course schedules for the department I once worked in, English, I find a bare-bones offering of classes.   Northern is not competing with other institutions in terms of curriculum and diversity of opportunities to explore developments in knowledge.  

One may ask how a scheme such as the EB-5 scam came to be a part of a university,  and the answer is that someone who saw a university as a business could see no reason not to make it a business.  And that someone had more authority than the professional educators.  When Mike Rounds claimed that the EB-5 business was in the hands of the Regents,  he spoke the truth.  However, he had endorsed the scheme.    

When a state's educational agencies become the incubators for financial scams,  the entire state is suspect. 





Monday, August 21, 2017

"Please let them disappear in their stench."

Ii isn't nice to make fun of the intellectually disadvantaged.  But sometimes they make us laugh,  just as children can make us laugh when they try out adult-like thought and expression .  The laughter is often at ourselves, because when children imitate adult behavior they often offer illuminating parodies of it.  However, the clumsy and inept use of language can be side-splittingly funny.  College professors often share ridiculous student papers with each other for the much-needed laughter they provide.

The following letter-to-the-editor supplied one of those occasions of hilarity.  I no longer can run down the office hallway to share a moment of humor with colleagues, so  I share it here. The last sentence of the first paragraph could win a Pulitzer if there was a category for T-shirt mottoes.  Here is the letter:
Just a short, easy-to-read letter from and to Americans. The recent gossip about impeaching our president of the United States is careless gossip from a few incompetent residents of this great nation. Please let them disappear in their stench.
The best of our knowledge, as American citizens, taxpayers, and regular voters: We the voters of this nation elected Donald Trump as our president. We are thankful for his participation in the leadership of the United States of America. We want him to be able to concentrate on the work of our nation and not have his time wasted by the shallow-headed Americans who cause trouble for our elected president, Mr. Donald Trump. Let's be intelligent enough to support him and the leadership he provides for this nation.  
We are faithful citizens of this nation and we are pleased to have a president who, as an American businessperson, was very successful. We support him and we are delighted as citizens and taxpayers to have a competent person at our nation’s leadership, and we want to be rid of forever the sneaky, incompetent and dishonest Obama crowd.
Just citizens of USA.
Arlee and Lyle Berg
Webster

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Trump is the creature of his party

The military led the desegregation of the United States.  Civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph pressured President Harry Truman to sign a desegregation order for the military. He pointed out that black men would boycott the draft if they weren’t treated equally with whites in the military service.  Black men who had served in World War II in support roles—not allowed in combat— returned home to a segregated society that treated them with abusive discrimination like the fascist society they had been told they were serving their country to prevent.  People like Randolph saw the trouble looming with men who realized they were, in fact, serving white supremacy.  On July 14, 1948,  Pres. Truman signed order 9981 to desegregate the military.

The order was implemented and carried out largely during the administration of Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961),  who had dealt with the segregated military as the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces during World War II.   During the Battle of the Bulge,  Eisenhower was running out of combat troops,  so he issued an order to transfer some black support troops into combat roles,  much to the consternation and opposition of some of his generals.  The major events in the desegregation process of the U.S. were set in motion during the Eisenhower administration.

I served in Germany with Eisenhower as Commander in Chief eight years after the desegregation order was signed.  Officially, the Army was desegregated.  Socially, segregation lingered on.  Blacks, whites, and Latinos tended to stick with people of their own color.   Racial and ethnic attitudes were barriers that an executive order could not breach.  Some of us were assigned to provide the Friday Troop Information and Education Sessions, and we were told that  racial prejudice was the designated enemy we were to help defeat.  

We  troops were sent to Germany as part of the Cold War.  We put up missile batteries to protect against any incursions from the Soviet Union.  But our real battle was against de facto segregation and racial violence.  Some Air Force personnel we encountered bragged about having caught a black man in a barracks stairwell and throwing him down it.  On my base, my bunk mate was black.  One night in the enlisted men’s club, some men got belligerent about me being a “nigger lover” and wanted to teach me a lesson.  Word got back to the orderly room and the officer of the day dispatched the guard mount to empty the club and escort everyone back to the barracks.  The segregation battle was actually our major concern.  The Army Brass wanted us to demonstrate equality as a way of convincing the German people that democracy was the way of life they should adopt.  But the fact of the time was that back at home in the U.S., Jim Crow still ruled, even if the military was taking measures against it internally.  

The resurgence of racism is not surprising.   It is like chicken pox virus which, once it infects one,  can lie dormant and then re-emerge as shingles, an affliction of misery.  When we elected Obama as president,  many thought we had achieved a state of racial equality.  But having a black man as president activated the virus of hate and it soon surged through society.  John Boehner and Mitch McConnell openly exhibited race-based opposition to Obama.  Their actions were not matters of mere political difference but were characterized by the need to insult and demean the black president.  Boehner refused phone calls from the president in ways that made sure they were demeaning slights that told the black president he did not deserve  respectful considerations. McConnell announced that his major purpose was not to legislate for the benefit of the people, but his sole purpose would be devoted to  denying Obama a second term.   The intensity and belligerence of McConnell’s campaign against Obama revealed a loathing that went much deeper than politics.  The insane reaction to the Affordable Care Act, as it carried over into the Trump administration, showed that McConnell and his cohorts were far more interested in exercising the power to put Obama in his place than they were in accomplishing anything for the benefit of the American people.  


Trump is the epitome of stupid depravity.  His words in defense of demonstrations of white supremacy and  Nazi racism are refutations of America’s long struggle to achieve equality for all people.  But he has the help and protection of the party that put him in office and supports his destruction of liberty, equality, and justice.     He wishes to undo what the military led the way for America to accomplish.  

Friday, August 4, 2017

Running government like a business with plenty of suckers and serfs

Front Page, USA Today,    July 28, 2017
When people who voted for Trump are asked why, they often say he was a businessman who could bring the efficiencies of business to government.  They cite his wealth as evidence of his business acumen.

First of all,  Trump's business history is full of bankruptcies, suits for fraud such as Trump University, failures, and stiffing contractors who worked for him.  But to those voters who voted for him because he's a businessman, criminality and incompetence are permissible as long one makes money.  To many Americans,  greed and venality are virtues as long as you are successful in making money,  no matter how many people are damaged in the process.  Honesty, integrity, competence, and good will don't count with the Trump voter.

Trump sits in the White House and runs his businesses with all the greed and dishonesty that he can muster,  while systematically dismantling democracy and the protections it has devised to keep people safe from predatory shysters such as him.  Historians and political scholars keep pointing out that any other person with the history of dishonesty and the conflicts of interest that Trump flaunts before the nation would be driven out of the White House.  Congress would rise up.  But Trump claims to be a billionaire, and those worshippers of greed and venality have a person in the White House who reflects their values and ideals.  

Tump is  changing government.  He is making the United States a subsidiary of the Trump Organization, and he puts CEOs and generals in the cabinet and as head of government agencies to expedite that transformation.  When queried about his choices for the cabinet, he said,  Like, I want a rich guy at the head of Treasury. I want a rich guy at the head of Commerce because we’ve been screwed so badly on trade deals.   I want people who made a lot of money for our country.”

Trump's cabinet is composed of people who identify themselves as part of the one percent, and their histories show everything they do is to elevate the one percent and further suppress the middle class.  Treasury Secretary Mnuchin as CEO of the One West Bank was a part of the mortgage schemes that triggered the Great Recession of 2009 that put the U.S. economy in a tailspin.  He was known as the "foreclosure king" of California.

Awaiting Senate confirmation for Comptroller of the Currency,  which regulates what kind of business banks can engage in, is another One West CEO,  Joseph Otting.  He was also a foreclosure enthusiast.  One West has been fined for fraudulent mortgage activities during the time that Mnuchin and Otting were running the bank.  And Otting further showed a dishonest side when he claimed to be a graduate of Dartmouth,  but had only attended a couple of two-week sessions of continuing education held on the campus.  

These two who will decide financial policies are typical of the caliber of people Trump chooses to direct the flow of wealth in the U.S.  

The most flagrant appointment of a business CEO who assiduously demolishes democratic principles and processes is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.  He has turned the State Department into a shambles, because as a CEO he knows only how to fuck over people and make money,  not how to build constructive relationships with the rest of the world.

Other members of Trump's cabinet were chosen to enact corporate interests by:

  • promoting the development of coal and oil and curtailing non-polluting sources of energy.
  • curtailing environmental protection regulations.
  • withdrawing fair employment provisions for minorities and the LBGT community.
  • limiting further labor unions and workplace rules
  • furthering the industrialization of agriculture.  
  • eliminating affirmative action in college admissions.
  • providing larger tax breaks for the wealthy.
And one can go on and on citing the ways in which the country is being turned into corporate enterprise.

Most corporations and business are the antithesis of a democracy.  Corporations are run by a social structure which is in fact a continuation of feudalism.  There are a few corporations which try to incorporate democratic values and principles into the way they do business, but profit is their purpose.  And humane values get in the way of profit.  Businesses can commit all manner of social disruptions, oppressions, and  rip offs under the guise of "business decisions,"  which is regarded on the same level as an act of God.  No human laws can affect a business decision. 

The U.S. is being run like a business corporation, and its purpose has become the hoarding of wealth and power for Trump and his corporate cronies.  For the rest of us, we'd better like being serfs.   

Sunday, July 30, 2017

You can't take a wiz in South Dakota

Over the years since I moved to Aberdeen, I have traveled between there and Sioux Falls hundreds of times.  I often made the trip on family business in Illinois.  Then I made the trip quite frequently on professional and family business in Sioux Falls.  Currently,  we have numerous relatives living in Sioux Falls and many family gatherings to attend.

At first, I-29 did not go north beyond Watertown.  The completion of the Interstate was welcome.  Then U.S. 12 between Aberdeen and I-29 was made a 4-lane highway, which made the trip much easier and safer.  

In traveling, there is always the matter of having to relieve oneself.   Many of those trips between Aberdeen and Sioux Falls, particularly the ones involving professional business, were fueled by coffee early in the morning and late at night.  And when copious amounts of coffee are ingested to maintain alertness, there is the frequent need to eliminate it.  And when traveling with children, there are multiple needs.  

On lonelier by ways,  those needs can be attended to by simply pulling to the side of the road when there is no traffic and testing the drainage efficiency of a ditch or stepping into  a cornfield to help irrigate the crop.  Yes,  I know that's easy for males to say.  And I have taught young males, however, not to face into the wind.  But that brings up the need for convenient, safe, and sanitary places for conducting the necessary business of life.

South Dakota had rest areas on U.S. 12.  They were wooded strips where you

Not even these anymore.
could pull off the highway that featured a few picnic tables and a couple of vault toilets.  Vault toilets are a concrete building over a concrete septic tank over which there is, usually, a steel commode.  They are not very inviting.  They reek.  They are not very clean.  People, especially women, are very cautious about putting their posteriors in contact with the seats.  And the walls were decorated with graffiti that made one nervous about the kind of people you might encounter there.

One of these areas was at Bath and another at Webster.  There was also a public  vault toilet at an access area to Enemy Swim Lake at Waubay.  Late one October evening when returning from a meeting in Sioux Falls with a teacher from the School for the Visually Handicapped,  I needed to stop at the Bath rest area.  When I opened the latrine door, I jumped back about 20 feet.  Someone had rigged a dummy on the toilet seat for Halloween.  The Webster rest area became infamous when an old farmer stopped at it one night on his way home from a restaurant.  Someone shot him through the closed door while he was on the commode.  The murder was never solved.  Both rest areas were demolished when U.S. 12 was widened into a four-lane.

Now if you have to go while east bound during the 75 miles between Aberdeen and I-29 you have to hold it until you get to Summit at the junction,  unless you want to try a business or a ditch.  At Summit is what has grown into an unusually busy travel and truck stop which features big restrooms, a big convenience store, and even a food court, which includes a Caribou Coffee station so you can load up for your next stop.  

And that gets to the point of this post.  Between Summit and Sioux Falls were built two rest areas.  One, Hidewood,  is 15 miles south of Watertown.  The other south pf Brookings.   This spring the South Dakota Department of Transportation announced it was closing them.  They did.  But they also have closed the one south of Brookings, but have made no explanations for that.  I nearly always stopped at the Hidewood rest areas.  I have even been involved in meetings at the picnic shelters, when it was necessary to have face-to-face meetings and an exchange of documents for professional business.  The rest areas made convenient places for people in eastern South Dakota to organize quick meetings.  

But now as one travels I-29, there are no rest areas open between U.S. 12 and Sioux Falls, no public places to pee or simply pause to stretch the legs.  Apparently, some other people have noticed.   Reporter Bob Mercer has received comments from readers and a hearing is scheduled for the people who recommended and enacted the closings to explain them.  

Contrast South Dakota with neighboring states.  When I travel to Illinois, I am always happy to reach Iowa as  I drive I-29 and then onto I-80.  Rest areas are about 30 miles apart, offer wi fi, and are well-maintained.  Many rest areas have been upgraded to be almost luxurious.  South Dakota does not seem to understand the principle of hospitality.  The officials  talk about the money they save rather than the comfort and convenience of the travelers.  That is why travel in South Dakota is an arduous  task in which you are on your own in carrying out the necessary tasks,  while in other states  you are made to feel welcome and provided for.  

Frugality rules over hospitality as the prevailing value.  And that is clearly stated as you travel through the state.  Another way of telling travelers they aren't welcome and are a bit of a nuisance.  Message received.  


.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Don't worry about ticks; the Internet is much more likely to infect you

Of late, scientific researchers have found that ticks carry many more diseases than Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease.  In today's local trivia paper,  there is a rather lengthy article on ticks and how to avoid them.  Such articles usually appear in April, when it's wet and cool and ticks are hungry from the long winter.  Newspapers yearly print an article warning you about the dangers of ticks and giving the advice that if you venture outside into tickland,  tuck your pants into your socks.  A bunch of adults roaming the woods with their pants tucked into their socks makes the owls hoot in broad daylight.  But today's article appears in late July, when it's too damned hot for ticks.  They generally have returned to the soil where they will escape the heat until rain and cool brings them out in September to lurk and wait for some warm-blooded creature to brush up against them.  

People really hate ticks because they are creepy crawlers who hunt for places to stick their heads into you and suck blood.  Mosquitos do the same, but they don't crawl and creep on you, but come in and dance around like sugar-plum fairies to extract your blood.  We hate mosquitoes and they carry lots of pathogens, too, but they aren't as repulsive to us as creepy crawlers.  We are fond of sugar-plum fairies.  I've never met one I didn't like.  Well, actually  I've never met one.

There are things much more dangerous and deadly to humankind than ticks and mosquitoes.  The Internet is one.  A big one.  

Some folks have noticed that I do not blog much anymore.  That is not because I am not thinking about the state of human affairs and writing about it.  But just as ticks and mosquitoes are vectors of deadly diseases, so is the Internet and the social media it enables.  I still believe that the Internet is a tremendous boon to human communication, but it is also a great proliferator of the mental pestilence that infects so much of human society and consumes so much of our attention.  It is a major medium of recruitment for ISIS.  In their attempt to disrupt democracies,  the Russians have used it to invade America and spread the degenerative pathogens that have put U.S. democracy on the critically ill list.  The people who support and defend Donald Trump have the same mental infirmity as those who are lured to support and fight for ISIS.  And the Internet is the main vector of the pathogens.  To write on the Internet is to willingly expose ideas and words to the carriers of pestilence.  It is absurd to try to communicate with people who have been reduced to a malevolent idiocy,  or to include them in  dialogue which they quickly reduce to moronic howling.  That is what Trump's daily tweets amount to, and no one around him can get him to stop.  The solution is to isolate him in the loony ward, which is what the Oval Office has become.  Save your intelligence for people who have the capacity to respect it.  

Writing on the Internet is much like going naked into the woods on a cool, moist day and communing with the ticks, the mosquitoes, and perhaps a plague-carrying flea or two.  It is to feed the vectors of plagues for which there are no cures, only strategies for prevention.  Donald Trump is just a symptom of a plague that is rampant among the American people.  The political divide which has been characterized by people avoiding contact with each other is actually the healthy population trying to avoid infectious contact with those afflicted by lethal pathogens.  The healthy need to gather in mental enclaves and explore ways to save democracy and decency as a way of life.  We are reduced to the kind of desperate divisions of people fleeing for their lives from the medieval plagues.  

My contact with the Internet is limited to protected discussions which the unhealthy, we hope, cannot find to infect with their degenerative motives.  Dialogue is the lifeblood of democracy, but when the dialogue is infected with malice, it is death to democracy.  You don't  believe it?  Take a peek in the Oval Office.  

The Internet is a valuable resource.  We are working to find ways to use it in developing an immunity to the malice that rages through the land.  So far, ISIS, Donald Trump, and the Russians use it more effectively than do the forces of liberty and good will.  And so,  I tuck my pants in my socks,  douse myself in DEET, and trudge on,  being very selective about what  i come into contact with.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Surviving a blow job

Bill Clinton  among the Bushes.  
The Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal was blazing in the media in 1998. I was not much involved in partisan politics at the time,  but I was very much engaged in issues that had political consequences.  As a professor,  there were a number of matters I was tracking and supporting through Congress , and work on them slowed down severely as the nation obsessed over  blow jobs in the  Oval Office.

I was a frequent visitor to the Aberdeen offices of Senators Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson.  My spouse was a staff member in the  Daschle office,  but my visits were mostly to keep abreast of and stay engaged with the issues  which I and some colleagues had interests in advancing.  John Thune was the U.S Representative, but the nonpartisan group I worked with had little trust in him and little to do with him.  He was referred to as that "feckless f*cker."   Staff members of the two senators kept us updated on our interests and helped us with various agencies and departments of government with which we had business.  Our interests involved copyright and academic freedom issues,  access to records, civil rights, the environment,  and the many things that professors and other professionals work with.  There were some local projects we thought were important for the community, too, such as making U.S. 12 a four-lane highway to connect with I-29.

But as the Clinton-Lewinsky affair moved toward impeachment,  government was at a standstill at times.  It was difficult to carry on the routine work, and members of Congress and their staffs reflected the frustration.  Like many of my colleagues,  I was frustrated that Clinton, who was under investigation almost continuously, would do something that would give his opponents further cause to attack him and create more obstructions.  Our exasperation reached a point where we were going to circulate a letter asking for his resignation.  Such a letter was drafted, and we were making plans for obtaining signatures of influential people.  Then one day, a staff member for Sen. Daschle asked to speak with us.

He was a specialist on agricultural issues, and he came from Washington along with a staff member from a North Dakota senator to meet with us. They weren't coming to town just to speak to us, but were on a mission on which our letter might have some effect.   There was a new farm bill in place, but 1998 saw a sharp downturn in the agricultural economy for the northern plains.  Senators and staff members from the upper plains were working hard on measures that would provide relief for farmers and ranchers in the region.  They had worked out a plan with President Clinton and needed his cooperation and leadership to pass it successfully through Congress.  Their message to us was that we should register our concerns with the President, but that any additional controversy and pressure could further obstruct important business that needed to get done.  They said there was an effort to impeach the President under way along with investigations into the affair,  and we should let those efforts work their course rather than take actions that could bring government to a halt.  

Clinton was impeached late that year and later acquitted of the charges against him.  But in the meantime  $500 million was appropriated to bolster farmers, provisions were made to enhance the trade of farm products, and adjustments were made in the existing farm program,  all of which took prodigious work on the part of senators and the President.  

In the end, we decided not to circulate the letter, and the Lewinsky affair did not bring down government,  but its leader arduously and deftly worked to address serious issues among the people.  We survived a blow job.  But can we survive a blow hard who has nothing in place to actually help the people?




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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States

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