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Sunday, January 21, 2007

They've hauled out the ropes, but do they know how to tie a noose?

We have not blogged much of late. Time is a factor. But so is what has become the defining nature of blogs. It is not something we wish to be identified with.

Our good colleague Silas has said that blogging often devolves into the electronic version of graffiti. In an essay he makes the point that the Internet and the forums it carries has not raised the level of human information and thought, but has worked inversely. What many bloggers think is witty repartee and incisive observation is the kind of mindless prattle and doltish banter that used to be confined to the corner tavern or the town cafe coffee klatches. Rather than show the human genius for benevolence and innate intelligence, the Internet has displayed the human propensity for scurrility and infinite stupidity.

The Dan Sutton affair in the state senate is a case in point. Instead of anxiously awaiting to see if the senate can martial a fair and purposeful process, the bloggers rise up in raging presumption and accusation and call for him to commit virtual suicide. They claim that his attempts to defend himself will put the senate and the people involved through agony.

Examples of the sterling and inspiring thought and rhetoric can be found on the South Dakota War College. While a few voices say that no charges have been filed against Sutton or findings revealed, the majority clamors for his demise.

This is the lynch mob mentality.

As with what seems to be most of the people in the state, we have waited until some information that bears the stamp of integrity is made public on the business. The press has shown appropriate restraint for the most part. We have no idea of what the actual facts of the incident are, but the malevolent throngs that crowd the blogosphere claim to be speaking for the sanctity of the 18-year-old pudendum, not the principle of due process which would be the focus of anyone who gives a shit about truth and fairplay.

As a parliamentarian, I was certain that the challenge to the state senate's investigation would be dismissed by the courts. A basic principle of parliamentary law is that a body has the right to investigate and discipline its members when charges against them are made and to take action on any proven matters of conduct that interfere with the function of the body. I have participated in the investigation and, in some cases, the removal of members of deliberative bodies when they brought discredit to the body and obstructed the conduct of business. Numerous court cases throughout the nation have affirmed the rights and obligation of deliberative bodies to deal with their members in the course of their related duties.

However, the South Dakota legislature had no process established for dealing with such matters, so there was legitimate cause for challenging the senate's authority on Dan Sutton's part. Deliberative bodies have the established right to handle charges of misconduct, but they also have the responsibility to establish provisions to insure that the hearings and decisions will be impartial and confined to examining the facts, not indulging in political pissing duels for power. So, the South Dakota Senate has the right and authority to deal with the allegations regarding Dan Sutton, but as an officially elected government body, it also has the obligation to insure that the handling of evidence and testimony is absolutely fair and honest, and that the proceedings are absolutely open to public examination.

That point of openness is the basis for the notice by Dan Sutton and his attorneys that the matter could get mean, nasty, and damaging to all involved.

I know both Dan Sutton and Dennis Wiese, the father of the young man who claims he was groped. They have both been strong leaders for their communities and their constituencies. I am also familiar with what seems to have turned political allies and friends into hostiles. As the story plays out, when young Wiese applied to be a senate page, arrangements were made with the friend and neighbor senator for lodging. While it turns out to have been a bad arrangement, it is not the only question behind the allegations.

When Dennis Wiese was president of the Farmers Union, the headquarters town of Huron had taken a huge economic blow when Smithfield Foods closed a packing plant there and threw 850 people out of work. (The South Dakota Democratic Party and its U.S. Senatorial delegation at the time led the fund and food raising effort to help the families involved.) When Hutterite turkey raisers and other business people decided to launch a turkey processing plant in eastern South Dakota, they ended up choosing Huron for the platn. The Farmers Union was among the organizations to see an opportunity for a beef packing plant to reopen. Plans were made with Ridgefield Farms to put in a small packing plant that could share the infrastructure for water and waste disposal with the turkey plant.

For reasons never fully divulged, some local investors who were working with Ridgefield became dissatisfied and withdrew their support. At this point, with the help of Wiese the planned Ridgefield operation was moved from Huron to Flandreau, the hometown of Wiese and Sutton. They were both involved in the development and raising of financing for the beef plant. But the Ridgefield scheme hit some obstacles and late last summer it was abandoned. The town of Flaudreau and its development organization headed by Dan Sutton had contributed $850,000 to the help Ridgefield relocate from Huron and start working on the plant in Flandreau. When the scheme collapsed, the money went with it. All that was left was some bitter feelings in the town.

Anyone who has covered business knows that some of the bitterest enmities in the world exist between people who have been caught up in bad business deals. This is a huge factor that the South Dakota Senate has to deal with in the Sutton case. An alleged grope that took nine months to register on the complainants in the case is not just a matter of an alleged encounter in a shared motel room. It may well have some seething motives propelling it into the major incident it has become.

The blogs play a huge role in the gossip, accusation, and prejudicial statements made in the case. The commenters on the above-mentioned blog have already convicted, hung, and insured that, whatever the outcome of the senate hearings, Dan Sutton is branded as an offender. These are people who see politics as the occasion for malevolence and destruction. They do not trust the democratic principles of due process and fair play. They are only interested in inflicting damage in behalf of their political creed.

This whole business was mishandled by the officers of the South Dakota Senate to begin with. Instead of setting up a process of careful and impartial investigation and deliberative hearing, the officers, led by former leader Schoenbeck, made threats and stoked up the fires of accusation and prejudgment that some bloggers love so much.

The question now is whether the South Dakota Senate can throw off the mantle of petty, but nevertheless vicious, politics and conduct its business with competence and integrity. If it can, it will do something it has not been able to do in, at least, the last quarter century or so.

But I have a hunch all those lynch-minded bloggers out there are hunting up their old Boy Scount manuals to see if they have instructions for tying a noose.

This hanging may make Saddam Hussein's look like a pink tea party.

1 comment:

wikenaxs said...

David, I sure wish you would refrain from attacking "blogs" in a general way when all blogs are not the same including your own.

If in the case of Sutton some blogs are acting as "hanging blogs", name them instead of implying all bloggers are the same.

Hope this comment works this time. I have not been able to post comments here for sometime...and heaven knows a few of your posts warranted a comment or two.

Keep up the good work, but maybe a rifle now and then might be better than a shotgun or a howitzer.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States