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

Sunday, June 5, 2016

How the electronic media became lethal to humankind

The question raised among many of my colleagues in language and communications is how to deal with the social media.  As one colleague put it, we used to warn students that drugs and alcohol can make you stupid, but they never had the overall effect that the social media has had on the human mind. 

This Internet and the World Wide Web were invented by professors who saw the unlimited benefits that instant digital communications would have for the creation, refinement, and dissemination of knowledge.  For a couple of decades,  those expectations were in the process of being realized.  However, from the outset there were people who used comment sections and the social media for malignant purposes.   Students of communication recognized that the these people detracted from honest communication,  like farts at a gourmet banquet, but were regarded as manageable among people educated and literate enough to see the warped and twisted personalities they are.  

The alarm bells began to ring when Obama was elected president.  The kind of racism which seemed diminished, if not vanquished, by the civil rights movement re-emerged with a furor.  In the country at large,  racism had come to be regarded as a defect of mind and morality that few people would admit to, but electing a black man as president of the United States was more than those possessed by lingering racist tendencies could handle.  The worst kind of racist reactions began to be displayed on the Internet.  The racist expressions proliferated.  People who would keep their racist feelings private and subdued began to feel encouraged to give them full voice.

Anti-black racism, anti-semitism, and all the other forms of hatred, prejudice, and malice became a staple of electronic communication.  The hate squads realized that electronic media could affect and shape the way society thought and reacted.  Some countries with predatory and domination motives, in fact, sponsor and train hate squads to attack people and ideas that interfere with their designs.  An example is the Russian-backed trolls who have gone after a Finnish journalist.  While hackers who get into government and corporate documents receive the most consternation among cyber security experts,  those forces who influence, shape, and even control the minds of vulnerable people are more dominant and threatening.

Cases of bullying among school age childlreln and among adults involving internet posts have resulted in numerous suicides.  The internet has become a huge force in the human environment through computers, tablets, and cell phones.  Many  people devote the better part of their day to being online, so that the Internet becomes a major influence in their communication and thinking,  in fact a dominant part of their consciousness.  My colleagues who are still active professors note that the occupation of students with Internet sites is a formidable impediment to the development of critical intelligence.  Students are so caught up in the blizzard of information that they are dysfunctional about separating accurate, verifiable information from the misinformation and disinformation.  Cable news, talk radio, "reality:" television, and tabloid journalism have created a population that has lost the capability of critical thinking, of distinguishing between truth and falsehood.  In fact,  many people no longer care and simply fit into the trends of their electronic environment with no regard for what is intellectually and morally defensible.

The softening of the mass mentality is no more evident than in the rise of Donald Trump.  As  personal attacks, false information, and appeals to ignorance and resentment fog the communications atmosphere,  people fall back on primitive instincts.  A large part of trump's appeal is that he is a billionaire (some have questioned that) and seems to be successful in exploiting business for wealth and power.  Just as during the democratic revolution that overthrew feudalism in the Old World,  there were people who thought their best options were to cower behind the aristocracy and curry its good will and hoped-for largesse for their survival and well-being.  They chose lives of unquestioning subservience and class ranking over independence, equality,  and the integrity of the self.  They chose to remain ignorant and biddable to the whims of their chosen masters.  Their model of social organization is the class rankings of the dog pack and the chicken flock,  not the equal society of free yeomen.

Global corporations are reversions to the feudal system in which a very few people control the wealth and, therefore, exercise the power over the masses.  While people resent the inequality and the lack of good jobs,  they still support the forces that create that inequality and push the middle class into poverty as means of control.  Donald Trump can get away with inane bragging,  with flagrant lies, with unforgivable insults and abuse,  but his supporters remain unfazed because he appears as the alpha dog who can lead the pack.  His plans are incoherent, unfeasible, and stridently antidemocratic,  but his pack seems to have no destination to which it wishes to be led.  It seems happy to merely join in the juvenile, unthinking belligerence that comprises Trump's campaign.

Trump is the quintessential example of arrested development.  His ideas, his vocabulary, and his total demeanor is on the level of a grade school bully.  He seems incapable of dealing with facts or to reason cogently.  There will always be such cases of arrested development, we can suppose,  so the real question is what happened to so many American people that they would choose him as a leader.  They answer is a massive intellectual and moral failure, the loss of ability and desire to apprehend facts and analyze the causes of the trends that affect us.  The popular media has softened their minds to the point that they are impressed only with the most boisterous yapping in the dog pack.  

The political divide in America is no longer a matter of conservative versus liberal.  It is now a matter of the informed and educated versus the mindless and anti-intellectual.  Our founders, particularly Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin,  saw the future of our democracy invested heavily in education and means of productive discourse.  As communities developed throughout the nation,  the first effort in their establishment was providing schools.  The political dialogue of the past quarter  century or so has trended more toward demeaning and interfering with public education,  with denying the place of science and  the arts in a viable national life,  and with attacking liberalism as the vector of equality, opportunity, and justice  for all.  We have regressed to open racism and violence toward others is advocated and practice in the electronic media,  so many people think it is now permissible and desirable.  Since the 1980s,  America has taken giant steps backward in economic equality,  productive education, and democratic rule.

We often read George Orwell's 1984,  as a warning about Soviet style totalitarianism.  We neglected its portrayal of how the electronic media could invade our lives as a means to monitor, influence, and control us.  We did not pay attention to the idea that large corporations are bureaucracies, too, and that their impulse is to eliminate competition and establish monopolies which will be unchallenged in what they produce and how they treat people,  customers and employees alike.  

We have not paid attention to the dismantling of an informed democratic society that has made Donald Trump possible.  Many prefer to bury their heads in their cell phones and tablets and let the totalitarian forces take over their minds.  That is what troubles my colleagues in language and communication.  So many people have surrendered their minds to the electronic dog packs.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Lord of the Flies comes to America

Whoever thought in years past that America would be acting out "The Lord of the Flies"?  For many, that question is remote and obscure to their experience and knowledge.  It refers to a novel by William Golding, a British Nobel prize winner,  that came out in 1954.  It is a book that, like George Orwell's "1984,"  came in the aftermath of World War II as the West faced the growing threat of nuclear war and the Cold War detente with the Soviet Union.  It was an effort to explore how it was possible for Hitler to take over Germany.  For years, it and "1984" were standard reading fare in high school curricula in the U.S.  Americans were familiar with the allegorical implications of the pubescent boys whose plane crashed on a deserted island and went through the struggles of forming some kind of social organization, which grew out of their dog-pack instincts, ignorance, and superstition.  

The rise of Donald Trump has an uncanny parallel to the moves of the character Jack in "Lord of the Fllies,"  who wants the power of leadership over the boys.  He does so through incivility and irrationality that appeals to the primitive savagery in humanity which civilized culture attempts to control.  The book portrays the mindless desire for power and consequence in the boys and the power that bullies have over their schoolyard peers by promising them power.  In their quest for status and consequence, people line up behind the bullies in the hopes that their support will move them up in the dog pack and give them favor which is gauged by how much they can demean and inflict their will on other people.  

Donald Trump openly uses the tactics of juvenile insult and abuse against his rivals and opponents and promises to make America great again.  He defines greatness as bullying the rest of the world,  and promises to force Mexico to pay for a wall that will keep Mexican immigrants out of the U.S.,  to ban Muslims, and to create a multitude of high paying jobs for Americans.  He offers no coherent plans for how he can actually achieve his promises, but the poor gulls to whom he appeals slaver at the thought of strutting around and imposing their will on the rest of the world,  with no inkling of the consequences. 

Many pundits offer explanations for Trump's success based upon their theory that politicians did not recognize the dissatisfaction of people with big government, the loss of jobs to China and the Pacific Rim, the slow recovery from the great recession, and America's changing role in the way it leads the free world.  There is little acknowledgment that the current American economy was created by the Reagan-regime's devotion to trickle-down economics and the deliberate efforts to change the U.S. from a manufacturing to a service economy.  The inequality that Bernie Sanders has made a central issue of his campaign is rooted in economic policy that creates and cares for the richest of Americans. Donald Trump is the voice of the one percent.  He represents and speaks for a segment of population that is looking for scapegoats to blame for their dissatisfactions and disappointments.  

That segment of the population is bereft of intellectual functions,  conditioned by a media of "reality" television, talk radio, tabloid cable news,  bumper sticker internet, and education systems geared toward docility rather than coherent thinking.  Orwell's "1984" was not merely a warning about the danger of totalitarian government, but also a warning on how the electronic media could be used to condition people into mindless automatons.  We have in previous posts noted the similarities of America's political situation with the people who  fell under Hitler's spell.  The parallels to Germany of the 1930s and the current political climate  in the U.S. are striking not just because there are leaders, such as Trump, who are advocating the massive oppression of people based upon race and religion; the parallel is that there is a critical mass of people frothing at their mouths in anticipation of inflicting oppression, exclusion, and violence on their chosen hate objects.  All they need is a bully to lead them into action.

The situation recalls the events of Kristalnacht, November 9, 1938, when the German people took to the streets and smashed synagogues, homes, and businesses of Jewish people in a demonstration of racial hatred.  The incident has often been claimed to be orchestrated by Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels.  However, a segment of the German population had been fostering anti-semitism as part of the resentments that grew out of the humiliation of losing the First World War.  The people blamed minorities for the demise, and Hitler and his minions rose to power on the promise of making Germany great again. Goebbels did not create Kristalmacht.  He knew how to tap into the reservoir of hatred and resentful stupidity existing in the German people.  Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was eventually executed by the Nazis for his opposition to them, analyzed the situation while being held in prison:

The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil.
He observes, "the power of some needs the folly of others."

That is a penetrating definition of the relationship between a malicious bully and his minions.    It is the relationship William Golding portrayed in "Lord of the Flies."

In a serious moment,  political satirist Any Horowitz sees that relationship in Trump and his supporters.  He sees the decades of the conservative subversion of the education system as the underlying problem in the rise of Donald Trump:

In a democracy, while people may rail at the quality of its leaders,  the people eventually get as their leaders who the majority votes for.  So,  the character of the leaders reflects the character of the people who comprise the majority.  The rise of Trump, therefore, does not reflect the brilliance of his personality,  but, rather, the intellectual dullness of his supporters.  

The argument that leaders can reflect an electorate of defective mentality is also used by the right wing to suggest that the election of Obama is the result of a "confederacy of fools," as shown in this quotation which has circulated on the internet,  particularly after Obama's are-election in 2012:
Snopes has debunked this alleged quotation,  citing misattributions to  Czech newspapers and that Vaclav Klaus and Obama had a respectful relationship.  

The alleged quotation is a symptom of the intensity of the political division among the American people.  It is based upon a presumed discrediting of Obama, and the raging resentment of having a black man occupying the White House.  It is the crying out of devotees of Jim Crow for their good, old days of segregation and racial hatred.    In contrast,  Andy Borowitz's comment has the documented evidence of a segment of the electorate that has abandoned any pretense to intellectual integrity in favor of an attitude that rejects all facts and standards of decency as political concerns.  Donald Trump tells proven lie after proven lie, as the Washington Post fact checker points out,  and his supporters cling to his insults and abuse of those they hate as speaking out for them.  A number of observers of the current political scene have stated that among the Trump supporters,  facts and truthfulness do not matter.  They have rejected the very standards of enlightenment and intellectual integrity out of which America grew.  

The big question that will come out of the election of 2016 is a not a matter of who will be president.  It is a matter of whether there is any way or even any desire to rehabilitate a country whose founders made education and rational coherent thought the main underpinning of the democracy. 

"The Lord of the Flies" ends when a passing naval ship sees the conflagration that the warring boys have set on the island .  An officer tells the boys that their  "fun and games" are at end and civilization has come to their rescue.  For America,  the only similar hope is for some alien race from another planet to come to earth and rescue the people who are still interested in a republic that wishes to continue the expansion of the principles of its founding documents.  The alternative is the inevitable violence of those who wish ignorance and racial hatreds for the future of humankind.  Right now,  we are reenacting "The Lord of the Flies."

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Don't jerk. Don't jackley..

Last Sept. 10, a Thursday,  police officers from the 14-man South Lake Minnetonka,  Minnesota, Police Department were asked to make a welfare check on a home.  The family members of the home had not shown up for work or school for a few days nor had anything been heard from them.  The police found the five family members dead.  The three children and the wife were apparently killed by the husband with a shotgun, who then killed himself.  The medical examiner estimated that the deaths had occurred the previous Monday night or early Tuesday morning.

A week later, Sept.17,  the fire department from Platte, South Dakota, was dispatched early in the morning to a house in flames at the edge of town.  After the fire was doused,  authorities found another family of five dead.  The three children and the mother were apparently killed by the father with a shotgun, which he then used on himself after setting the house ablaze.

There was a big difference in the way information about the two incidents was handled by authorities and the press.  The press in Minnesota asked for and reported on developments in the case as they occurred.  The police chief who had the lead in the investigation said  "he’s trying to balance public requests for information with the progress of the investigation. 'We will do our best to work through this tragedy.'”   The reports revealed that the company the Minnesota man had founded was dealing with a law suit and some financial issues. but nothing that seemed to involve anything shady or illegal.  They also revealed the man had been treated for depression.  While the evidence indicated clearly that the  man had committed the murders and suicide,  after a matter of weeks the authorities concluded that they could not identify a motive that explained the magnitude of the act.  The last reports on the incident mention the mental health issues and leave any conclusions to the readers.  A focus of the Minnesota reports was on the work of investigators in attempting to sift out motives and explanations for the horrendous crime.  As the police tried to unravel the situation,  the public was kept abreast of their efforts,  and while no explanation was produced,  the public understood.

The South Dakota incident was handled quite differently.  The investigating agency, the Bureau of Criminal Investigation under the direction of the Attorney General's office,  made no attempt to supply the public with a coherent narrative of how it was proceeding.  Instead, stray bits of information were released to he press.  Only one of the state's legacy news agencies made a concerted effort to go beyond the piece-meal bits of information and  attempted  to report on the facts and issues involved in the investigation.  But the KELO reporter had to, in effect, conduct her own investigation and pursue her own speculations.    The Attorney General's office does not--and has not in the past--think it owes the public a report on how it is performing.  In November,  Attorney General Jacklegy held a news conference in Platte, which he purported would inform the public about the investigation.  It raised more questions than it answered.  He did the same last month..  Rather than provide a thorough and coherent account of what took place in Platte,  the press conference left people confused and uninformed,  which produced exactly the kind of rumor and speculation that a competent press operates to dispel.   The comment section in the Dakota Free Press demonstrates the level of pubic discussion that the staged "news conference"  left it its wake.  

Criminal investigators in South Dakota, especially involving  the Attorney General's office,  have a burden that the Minnesota officials do not have:  they have to cover up government criminality and complicity in graft with business schemes, which spread and infect counties and the municipalities.   The laws of South Dakota regarding public information are designed to facilitate cover-ups and misdirection so that the public is kept from knowing what its alleged servants actually do.  The EB-5 scandal is a classic example of a Kremlin-like manipulation of information to protect culprits and their scams.  The handling of information of the Westerhuis killings is also a prime example of misdirection and selective information to create confusion.

A key piece of information withheld from public knowledge involved a telephone conversation Scott Westerhuis had the day before the killings of his family.  Westerhuis, the chief financial officer for the Mid-Central Education Co-operaive had been informed that a contract his organization had to administer a $4.3 million grant was being canceled.  During the day while traveling from the Takini School in Howes back to his home base in Platte, Westerhuis was on his cell phone in a conversation that was tracked from cell tower to cell tower.   During that first "press conference" in Platte,  Jackley never indicated who the conversation was with or what it was about.  However,  reporters were informed by community people that the conversation was with Dan Guericke,  head of the Mid-Central Co-Operative.  

The timeline compiled by the AG's office  tracking Westerhuis' telephone calls does not include to whom his calls were made, except for those to his home.  The recipients of those calls are indicated by the telephone records, but the AD's office chose not to include those identities in the information it released.  The subject of those calls and the state of mind of Westerhuis are matters of essential relevance to the investigation.  And if a man spends hours on the cell phone with someone while driving,  he has something on his mind that he needs to discuss.  The reports on the investigation and the two "news conferences" provided no information about interviews with the recipients of the telephone calls, who they were, and what was the subject and nature of the conversations.  

Any responsible investigation makes a thorough inquiry about the interactions of a perpetrator with victims and witnesses.  In the Minnesota incident, investigators could not determine a precise motive, but were able to define apparent circumstances which may have motivated the crime.  In the South Dakota, the motive is most likely involved in the financial scam run by the Mid-Central Co-Operative,  but no information has been released about whether Scott Westerhuis' conversations and interactions indicated a mental state that would result in the murder of his family.  

The withholding of that information has implications of cover-up.  Agencies of the State of South Dakota are involved in both the EB-5 scandal and the Gear-Up scam, which led to suicide and murder.  In both cases, the Attorney General's office has withheld information that might reveal motives for the deaths.  That information would reveal just what the role of state officials and agencies played in the corruption and their degree of complicity, if any.  If such information was exculpatory for the government officials and agencies,  one can surmise with certainty that the AG could not be fast enough or profuse enough in supplying it. But the AG's office is charged with protecting the officials and agencies.  So, one can assume with equal certainty that such information would be embarrassing, if not dangerous, to those involved.

The Attorney Generl's office  has a history of being more like  a KGB unit which carries out political vendettas than an agency concerned with protecting the public from crime and dispensing justice.  This all became open knowledge with the case it promoted against Shirley Schwab and Brandon Taliaferro.  When the discharge 0f their duties to protect children from predations  came into conflict with some of the business-as-usual graft operations of some public agencies,  the AG's office dispatched some of the thugs in the Bureau of Criminal Investigation to concoct a criminal case against them.  When the case was brought to trial, the judge threw it out,  citing misperformance by the BCI and the internal politics of the Brown County State's Attorney's office and the AG's office.  The case presented by the prosecution was described as being composed of "perjured Grand Jury testimony, falsified documents and perjured affidavits to try and convict" Schwab and Taliaferro of acts they did not commit.  When Taliaferro filed an appeal to have his record expunged of the false charges,  Jackley persisted in claiming the charges were justified, even though all the legal proceedings indicated they were not justified.  

Although this case is a classic example of malicious prosecution, none of the participants in the prosecution were in any way disciplined.  It reveals the cancerous defects in state law and the justice system based upon it.  In many ways the real scandal is in the law.  It exempts officials from any responsibility to the people they allegedly serve and permits them to serve themselves at their pleasure.  

The Scwab-Taliaferro prosecution and its dismissal on the grounds of lack of evidence has not gone unnoticed by people who work in justice and wrongful conviction projects.  What a number of legal scholars who reviewed the case have noted is the absence of any response by the South Dakota Bar Association.  The Brown County State's Attorney was found to have a serious conflict of interest between her duties as a prosecutor and a contract attorney for the Department of 
Social Services,  which led her to file the criminal charges and proceed with the prosecution.   The whole affair raised serious questions about competence and honesty in the State's Attorney's office,  which the judge alluded to in dismissing the case.  The Bar Association purports to be the agency in charge of monitoring the integrity of its profession,  but the absence of any reaction to a carefully planned and executed abortion of justice that was eventually stopped by a judge belies the state of the justice systems in South Dakota.  The Bar Association seems more dedicated to the promotion and protection of shystering than to any principle of justice.  

Such is the environment in which the EB-5 and Gear-Up scandals with their suicides and murders have grown.  They were not things that just happened.  They were made possible and encouraged by bad law and the people who wrote those bad laws and tend them--and the voters who put the officials  in office and allow bad law to foster corruption. 

The remedy?  Don't jerk. Don't Jackley.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Occupy Trump

The political divide in he U.S. is no longer over what is the best way to achieve the liberty, equality, and justice set forth in our founding documents.   The argument is now about whether liberty, equality, and justice are  desired national goals.  

In September 2011,  we saw the Occupy Wall Street movement surround the financial district with the message that Wall Street rigged the economy to serve only the top one percent and the protesters represented the 99 percent.  They pointed to Wall Street as the direct cause of the Great Recession.  The movement spread across the country,  disrupting some activities,  but it was a peaceful movement.  As police evicted the Occupy protesters from their occupation sites,  they quietly retreated.  The media commentators dismissed the Occupy movement as a disorganized flash-in-the pan, and concluded they the protest was over.  People who supported the movement had an agenda that was a bit too cerebral for the shallow media-minds to grasp.  Their agenda was to demonstrate to the American people how all but the top economic percentages were being systematically disenfranchised from the economy.  With the implementation of Ronald Reagan's trickle down politics,  masses of people were pushed out of the middle class with an alarming increase in the poverty rate.  They pointed out that welfare recipients were not people who refused to work, but were, in fact, largely people who worked with two or three jobs trying to survive in an economy designed to benefit only the very rich.

The message was taken  up by Bernie Sanders who seemed to come out of no where as a contender for presidential candidacy.   But to those who understood the message,  Sanders is no surprise.  He has long substantiated the message and spread it with eloquence and without malice.

In contrast,  the Republicans are advancing the quintessential one-percenter in Donald Trump.  Trump demonstrates all that is destructive and offensive in a corporate ruler.  He divides the world into winners and losers.  His political rhetoric consists of unsupportable claims based on patently false information.  His exchanges with rivals consist of juvenile insults and taunts, and  his monologues are racist, sexist, misanthropic rants. Although some claim he is smart politically, his effectiveness is in his primitive, alpha-dog intimidation and promise of power to those who harbor the lust to exercise racist oppression and return to Jim Crow and beyond.  The America he claims is a loser is the America which  has advanced a social struggle from slavery and Jim Crow toward racial and ethnic equality, sexual equality, and equal rights for all gender identifications.  The America he wants to make great again is the America that discriminates against people,  lavishes insults, abuse, and poverty of those designated for oppression.  The America he calls a loser is the America which won World War II and through diplomacy and cooperative effort built its defeated enemies into two of the world bastions of democracy.  It is the America which has built peace and reduced the threat of nuclear disaster, not an America modeled after the belligerence of Vladimir Putin or  Kim Jong Un.  Trump's appeal is to those who side with the playground bullies as the source of power,  whose notion of freedom is the right to torment and humiliate others with belligerent crudity and cruelty.  

Trump's speech after winning primary elections last night demonstrated the depth of his politics.  He insulted the press that was allowed into his victory rally.  (His campaign staff maintains a list of news organizations and reporters banned from covering his events.)  He bragged about his wealth and his deal-making.  He promised to turn the running of America over to corporate leaders, saying they were the best in the world.  He emphasized his support of the Second Amendment.  As the rally was held in a ballroom on his personal estate in Florida,  he was not bothered by protesters, as they were carefully excluded from the event.  However,  when protesters exercise their First Amendment rights against the Trump hate speech,  he whines that they are thugs who are trying to abridge his free speech.  Trump never engages in a dialogue with others unless it is to cast his insults and abuse at them.  

In a word,  Trump is mindless.  There is no evidence of thought or contemplation in his words.  His political success is in following Schopenhauer's rule:  The person who writes for fools is always sure of a large audience.”   Trump's large audience is a sign of the intellectual deterioration that corporate rule has brought about in America.  The analysts say that Trump's supporters are angry at being ignored and left out of the recovery following the Great Recession.  The deadly irony is that Great Recession was caused by those corporate CEOs and money managers who are driven by avarice and a status gauged by how much oppression they can inflict.   They think that Trump, who is the poster boy of CEO avarice and whose campaign was ignited by his promises to oppress huge groups of people, is going work in their behalf.  Trump gives voice to their anger and malice,  and he makes promises about making deals which will make America "win,"  but he never addresses the causes of the decline some people feel.  That's because he and his kind are the cause. 

According to recent studies,  the top 1 percent received 95 percent of the gains made in the recovery from the Great Recession.  Obama's recovery was greatly hampered by corporations and their Congressional toadies.  Bernie Sanders has led the struggle against the economic inequality that underlies the anger and frustration of many Americans.  In their anger,  they have not been able to identify the causes of their torment.  Rather,  they have clung to old racial hatreds and assume that a black guy win the White House is the source of their plight.  Guns which can dispatch the minorities they blame with a little bad scripture thrown in are what they cling to.  Trump gives them voice.  And the very people he and his ind exploit turn to him as a savior  

The Republican Party is behind the foolery of the angry Americans.  Christian philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard identified what has become its rule:  “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” 

Donald Trump is a symptom of America's larger problem:  a mass of people who have not the wit or education to be anything but fooled.  They are the product of the attacks on education and conditioning by he popular media that has identified reality as totally inhabited by fools.  And they have chosen the most flamboyant fool of all as their savior.   

If there is any attempt to bridge the divide between Americans that is assuming a lethal hostility,  it must be done in the recognition that those who believe that democracy functions on intelligence and education have to find a way to talk to those who have been indoctrinated into detesting intelligence and education.

That might well have to be done by demonstrating what a fool Donald Trump is and what fools he makes of those who believe in him as a solution to their plight.  

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Racism, guns, terrorism, and the motive to emigrate

It is easy and tempting to compare the tenor of the GOP presidential debate to Germany of the 1930s,  when so many people seemed to fall under the spell of Hitler.  But with the 21st century came a greater willingness to examine the attitudes of the people during the years of Nazification.  The examinations reveal that the charismatic hold Hitler had over the people involved  his perceiving what the people wanted and shaping his propaganda and his policies to meet their ambitions and desires.  He met with more political agreement than opposition.  Those who disagreed with his policies were intimidated into acquiescence by their friends and neighbors.  

However,  America has its own holocaust to account for.  Slavery and its Jim Crow aftermath and the dispossession and genocide against the American Indians still emerge as political factors.  The campaigns of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio resonate with appeals to those aspects of American history and identity.  What is happening with the GOP campaign is a revival of a mentality among the people that produced the suppression and atrocities which are inescapable facts of American history.  The call to make American great again is uttered in terms of oppression and hatred.  The difference is that the political parties have switched positions.  The GOP is now the advocate of oppression.  To it, equality , justice and liberty for anyone but white people are liberal decadence.  

When Barack Obama was elected president,  many, probably most, considered it a milestone in America's advance toward freedom, equality, and justice.   But a black president in the White House was so deeply resented by those still possessed by racial attitudes that a new wave of overt racism flooded the nation's politics.  The GOP announced from the beginning, as is recorded many times by Mitch McConnell,  that its mission is to obstruct anything proposed by President Obama.   Early in his first term when Obama was negotiating with John Boehner,  his phone calls were refused by the House speaker as a ploy to show the black president that he would not be treated as an equal by the white leadership.  GOP congressional  leaders have from the outset demonstrated their seething resentment of a black interloper occupying the White Man's House.   The brazen displays of contempt and disrespect by Congressional leaders encouraged the resurgence of racism and overt oppression of blacks that have become common again in American life.  The frequent killing of unarmed blacks by the police is a sign of an attitude that is a return to the early, violent days of Jim Crow.  The attitude motivating this behavior has a long tradition in the United States. 

After the Civil War, during Reconstruction,  Blacks became participants in government.  In many counties in the South,  blacks comprised the majority.  They, of course, gravitated to the Republican Party to which they owed allegiance for freeing them from slavery.  But in the 1870s, as Congress ended Reconstruction,  white  communities and politicians took action to get control of government back into all-white hands.  A major move was to suppress Black voting.  White Democrats organized armed militias to wage terror campaigns against Black Republicans.*  Historical accounts record an extensive campaign of attacks against Republican meetings and the killing of Black leaders.   While the Ku Klux Klan was active,  many of those attacks were not carried out in clandestine circumstances.

During the last quarter of the 18th century,  the campaigns of terror and suppression successfully eliminated the black Republican vote in the South.  For example,  in 1875,  there were 90,000 Rep publican votes cast.  In 1878, the state's Republican vote dropped to 4,000.

The oppression in the South was so intolerable to many Blacks that they began organizing groups to emigrate out of the United States.*  Liberia became a destination of choice.  At one point an organizer from Louisiana, Henry Adams,  in 1877 wrote that he represented 69,000 Southern Blacks who signed up to emigrate to Liberia if they could find the means.  Racial terror increased.  The year 1890 had the greatest number of lynchings of Blacks in U.S history, and the desire to leave the country was commensurate with the violence and oppression.  

There were other places than Liberia that were emigration destinations,  but it was a country created for freed  slaves and had the most appeal.  A problem was the expense of getting there and establishing a life for people who had great difficulty in coming up with the  money for the trip.  

Blacks and other minorities in the U.S. are facing some of the same discriminations and oppressions today that they faced 125 years ago.  But this time it is Black Democrats who are facing organized oppression by White Republicans.  Since 2008 when Obama was elected, Republican state legislatures have passed restrictive laws with the aim of suppressing the Democratic vote.  It is estimated that since the 2012 election,  laws have been passed that will eliminate 1.28 million votes for the 2016 election.  

The rise of Donald Trump is a sign of a nation sinking back into a state of suppression.  Those who delve into what is making him so popular among voters keep coming up with the conclusion that he appeals to a deep bigotry that is being unleashed within the nation.  One study concludes that he relates to people because, "He isn’t afraid to say the things they also say, even if those things are deemed racist, sexist, xenophobic or politically incorrect."  In other words,  a very significant portion of the population does not believe in the quest for liberty, equality, and justice for all people.  Trump has given a voice and a face to a political trend among the people that does bear a resemblance to the attitude among the German people in the 1930s that turned to Naziism.  But it is a brand of hate and oppression that has its origins in America and is a malignant political force that is rooted deep in Republican politics, not just in Donald Trump. 

Trump is also the face and voice of the one percent.  To those Americans who like to live under the rule of corporations,  he appeals to their allegiances and the belief that their well being  is dependent upon the wealthy.  

In South Dakota, there is a marked decline in the registrations of Democratic voters, while the Republican Party makes gains.  The discriminating, oppressive, and corrupt government of  South Dakota gives people who believe in liberty, equality, and justice a motive to emigrate from the state.  The voter suppression on the reservations, the punitive laws that target minorities and women, and  the support of predatory activity and fraud in business dealings have much to do with the decline of Democrats.  And the stalking and taking over of federal properties by armed white supremacists has sent a signal of what direction that American is heading.   Some people are looking for the modern day equivalent of Liberia, whether it be another state or another nation.  The United States has established a democratic example for the rest of the world, but much of the civilized word has surpassed it.  Many people have given up on finding the advancement of democracy in South Dakota.  It is pointless to engage in politics with factions whose idea of political success is the deprivation and oppression of other  people.  

The turmoil of emigrants fleeing violence and  oppression is straining the  democracies of Europe.  For those Americans who are looking to escape oppressive political designs,  the big question is,  where can they go?  In the wake of the Trump rise in politics,  Canada and some other countries have already extended an invitation for talented and democratic-minded people to contribute their talents and their desire to build democracy to their countries

*Journey of Hope:  The Back to Africa Movement,  Kenneth C. Barnes.  University of North Carolina Press,  2005. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Trapping weasels

As South Dakota Democrats go into the election year,  some continue to work diligently to insure they will lose and continue their fine tradition of whining, carping, and maligning candidates. And losing. After Dakota Free Press announced a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat, a number of commenters immediately piled on with disparaging comments.  They did the same when a candidate for the House seat announced.   The comments were joined, of course, by trolls from the dementia party.  They cannot understand that their responses to candidates are a reason qualified people do not become candidates and disassociate themselves from the party, as is a trend.   

They offer their critiques under the pretense of possessing political acumen,  but their political work is for the most part limited to their emissions of bad gas over their keyboards, and their actual experience does not include doing any actual, constructive work involved in campaigns and party business. (Some commenters excepted, of course.) And so, we face another dreary election year, where members of both parties sink the state further into small-minded disparagement. 

Still, there are stalwart people like Cory Heidelberger and Rick Weiland who work industriously and conscientiously to  address issues and try to steer political attention away from the mean-girl obsessions to things that can improve human life.  Rick Weiland conducted a campaign for Senate that was a model of industry and integrity.  Those aspects of human conduct don't matter in South Dakota.  Cory Heidelberger produces a blog, that unlike some from the opposing side,  rises above insult and abuse and focuses on facts , performance, and their consequences.  When fair criticism is merited,  he addresses misdeeds and foolery, and states his viewpoint.  However, many commenters cannot deal with life on that level.  

We have a cultural strain in South Dakota as represented by the dominant political party whose idea of success is determined by how many  people they can fuck over,  to use nomenclature from the military.  The constant and false defamations of minorities, the poor, and  the different-from-them in any way express the basic malice that drives them.  It is to them that "reality" figures such as Donald Trump have appeal.  Analysts pointed out that Trump and his kind know the dark underside of America and direct their appeals to the ignorant, maliciously bigoted, and stupid.   The chipping away at comprehensive education in the country by conservatives has created the undereducated, easily manipulated, enrageable dullards that meet the neocon standard of a docile. obedient electorate.  There is no other explanation for the quality of mind and character of many of the people elected to and retained in  office in South Dakota during the last 12 years,  if you examine the kinds of campaigns that have won elections during that time.  And there is no other explanation for why a huge segment of the electorate responds to the kind of things that comprise the campaigns of the  GOP presidential candidates.  

A hopeful note in South Dakota for Democrats is in recent efforts to review and publish the actual records of the GOP elected officials.  In January when Rep. Kristi Noem made noises of concern about the failings of the Indian Health Service,  the South Dakota Democratic Party issued a press release documenting her duplicity,  pointing out that she had voted against a bill to adequately fund the program.  Democrats have noted that the state's Republican Congressional delegation of Thune, Noem, and Rounds do nothing but recite the inane and false talking points provided by party hacks.  A few Democrats and some past campaign staffers have thought that the state party is remiss in not maintaining a record of the duplicity, the failures, and the inanities of Republican elected officials.  

Such a record would not be compiled as the pretext for attacks,  but as a record of what the elected officials actually have done.  It would gain credibility for citing actual accomplishments but hold them permanently accountable for things they did wrong, for corrupt practices, for false statements, and for failures.   John Thune has a long record of fecklessness and inane legislative statements and proposals.  Mike Rounds as governor presided over the corruption of the EB-5 scam and has been allowed to claim lack of knowledge of things that he was known to be involved in with people he appointed.  Kristi Noem closely copies Thune as reader of partisan can't and a devotee of false premises.

In South Dakota,  the majority of voters havel supported their Republican officials even with the smoke of corruption constantly whirling about them.  Keeping the record of those officials might not immediately win Democrats any elections.  The preponderance of voters are interested in pursuing the oppression of minorities, women, and the educated.  South Dakota is a leader in the trend toward regressive policies in which racism and corrupt  oppression are cherished principles.  However, such a record would lay a base of established verifiable facts by which citizens of the future and the rest of the world can define the state.  And it would the Democratic Party a substantial platform from which to  launch its campaigns.

It a time when the incoherent and factless rantings of Donald Trump and the puerile exchanges of insults dominate the news about political discourse,  it is unlikely that the truth matters much and will set anyone free from the chains of petty malice  in which the GOP has wrapped itself.  More likely, the nation will erupt into overt clashes of the kind experienced in the civil right era.  That's why a careful stewardship of the facts is needed as the basis for rebuilding a nation that has been shattered and rendered into dysfunction by one-percenters such as Trump and the culture that admires him.  While the U.S. is mired in the infantile rages of the GOP,  the rest of the world needs to see those Americans who stand for intellectual integrity and moral competence.  Someday, maybe the nation will seek to rebuild itself as a responsible participant in the affairs of humankind.  

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Who shall we oppress next?

Many people are upset over a South Dakota bill that dictates where transgender school kids can go toity. One argument against it is that it gives South Dakota a bad name.  That argument belies the provincialism of even the more tolerant, benign people in the state.  The state already has a bad name, which it got the old-fashioned way.  It earned it.  

During the 1980s South Dakota Governor Bill Janklow and Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich began to exchange some good-natured insult jokes about each others' states.  The public joined in.  Examples were:

Q: Did you hear that the governor's mansion in South Dakota burned down?       A: Almost took out the whole trailer park. 
Q: Why do ducks fly over South Dakota upside down?                                         A: There's nothing worth crapping on.
It wasn't long before the public exchanges were not good-natured.  Officials and community leaders became concerned that South Dakota was on the receiving end of some very derogatory comments that were affecting the public perceptions of the state.  A sports writer from Minnesota published a column that, while in a humorous vein, was dead serious about the state being a refuge for the stupid, mean, and degenerate.  This was at a time when our universities were very active in trying to recruit out-of-state students and administrators advised faculty not to engage in any between-state joke exchanges because they invited unfavorable  comments about South Dakota that many took seriously.  At a state meeting of humanities scholars,  one university president noted that the state had some cultural and intellectual shortcomings to face and urged faculty to work at rectifying them, not emphasize them by making jokes about them.  

Those aspects of the state have, over the years,  gotten worse instead of better.  A major source of derogations comes from the state's history with American Indians.  It has nine reservations within its borders and the racist denigrations and exclusions from the white population were intense.  The term "prairie nigger" was used in common parlance and people made jokes about playing "Indian golf."  That was a game occasioned by spotting an Indian walking alongside the road.  The objective was to drive up close to him in a speeding car and open the door to knock him into the ditch.  When explaining the game, it never seemed to occur to the explainers that they were revealing a stunning racial hatred and attitude of violence.  And a hopelessly stupid meanness. The attitude expressed informs the frequently cited estimate that the genocide committed by the white race in America against the Indians numbers 100 million.  

The same attitude has been expressed against other groups of people and has been used in election campaigns.  In history it was demonstrated against German-speaking Hutterites who were driven out of the state during the First World War and did not return until after the Second World War. The  Klu Klux Klan has a history in South Dakota, although it made Jews the major target of its oppression.  But the hatred and defamations have not been limited to ethnic groups.   The state  has developed a tradition of hate toward labor unions, teachers, environmental conservationists,  out-of-staters, the highly educated, and on and on.  Elections are won by castigating politicians and others for being successful in the larger world, for being educated at prestigious universities, and for showing tolerance and respect for women and social minorities and the poor.  

The state's recent legislative sessions have built upon the state's predilection for hatred and oppression by writing laws that have little or no basis in fact but are an expression of the hateful rage which an apparent majority of the citizens prefer as a lifestyle.  The bills aimed at transgender school children are merely the latest efforts at designating a group, which consists of a dozen or less students, so that they can be put on display for convenient oppression and defamation.  

For years I have written about how the dominant culture of South Dakota drives the young, talented, and ambitious out of the state.  I have noted hundreds of former students who retain a fondness for the families and the communities that raised them in South Dakota, but do not find the state a place where they can live.  A young lawyer from South Dakota who now lives in Denver has written about it, explaining how the need to live a constructive life overrules the loyalties that pull at one:

The harder part to explain is that many of those people are people that support these types of hateful legislation. 
Having to explain the context of backwards legislation brought by people we love is difficult and in many ways confirms why we left. But it doesn’t hold a candle to the idea of living in a place where our queer friends would be gawked at if they came to visit or worse: refused service. 
We left because it’s easier not to deal with those explanations and difficult situations. Or worse, we left because actually experiencing the effects of this ruthless discrimination and hateful rhetoric hurt us deeply. 
Bottom line: we left because it’s easier to come back and relish in the things we love and return to the comfort of other places we now call home, places that don’t use twisted ideas of religious freedom and “conservative values” to perpetuate discrimination and hate of things they don’t understand.

South Dakota, we love you and we miss you. And you’re right: we’ve changed. But we’re not coming back until you do.

The political climate is one that coddles corruption.  The same legislature that revels and rails its hatefulness and stupid prejudices ignores and even condones practices such as those apparent in the EB-5 scandal.  Still, the good people choose the corruption by electing its perpetrators and keeping them in  office. 

The South Dakota GOP has openly advanced an agenda of discrimination and hatred as its operating principle.  The people have fought back through initiated referendums, but find that the legislature is ready to overrule the will of the people.  The  GOP has established a record of fomenting and prosecuting its pet hatreds almost to the exclusion of legislation that helps and supports people, such as facilitating education and the maintenance of infrastructure.

It is not insignificant that the slate of GOP candidates for president, except perhaps for John Kasich, all subscribe to the same kind of hateful aggression.  In that regard,  South Dakota is a bellwether state.  Politics is  no longer about choosing the best ways to get constructive things done;  it is a battle between those who wish to oppress and those who wish to advance freedom, equality, and justice.  And it is about getting the benign people to recognize that those who oppose them are people who would betray them in the same way that Germans of the 1930s betrayed the Jewish people  And for the same kinds of reasons.

In response to the bills aimed at persecuting transgender kids and people of differing sexual orientations,  some are recommending a boycott of the state.  Bernie Hunhoff asks why hurt the good people engaged in the tourist industry?  He has a point.  However,  boycotts work.  Cory Heidelberger has proposed a boycott of the businesses that are associated with one of the offensive hate bills.  Carefully targeted boycotts are an effective way that the minority in South Dakota can register their objections.  But others are pointing out how dependent the state is on federal funds.  They resent their tax dollars being used to support a government that funnels the ;money into schemes of graft and embezzlement.  They are reaching out to legislators form other states to disqualify South Dakota and other states form receiving such funds when the money supports oppression and vicious discrimination.

But a lot of people simply leave the state or make plans for doing so.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States