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

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Better prospects for the economy

One of the prospects of the Obama presidency is that the nation is choosing intelligence over ignorance and stupidity. La Belle Ditz Sans Merci, the Republican vice presidential candidate, set up a striking contrast to Obama and his campaign and magnified the kind of bumbling fakery that put us in an unconscionable war that has ordered 4,100 brave and loyal troops to their deaths, that redefined "ugly American" for our international alllies, and that set the moral and intellectual conditions for the most threatening economic collapse since the Great Depression.

At least with the Obama regime, people who expect better of their government and say so will not be termed disloyal and unpatriotic. And people who expect better of our business community and say so will not be termed communist and anti-free-enterprise. And people who are smart and work hard and attain good educations and establish impressive achievements will not be dismissed as elitist. Although there are those malefactors out there who loudly protest that Obama should not consider 53 percent of the vote as a mandate, we can be assured he will not be dissuaded from carrying out the kind of thought and expression he displayed in his campaign and will work earnestly and intelligently to correct the regressive incompetence that has pushed the U.S.A. to the brink of Third World status. People who want to improve America and seek the redress of their grievances do not hate America.

We have been attacked from without by Al Qaida and Islamic extremists who do not respect equality, religious freedom, and the right to life. But we have been betrayed from within by a business community that mistakes greed for capitalism, predation for efficiency, dishonesty for business acumen, and incompetence for corporate culture. With Obama we have the prospects of a country throwing over rule by corporate fascism and re-establishing those democratic principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence.

I once covered a school board meeting where a self-important board member went on a harangue that the school district should be run like a business. The superintendent replied that the district could not afford to be so badly run. It had to establish and keep within a carefully planned budget, and was accountable to both the taxpayers who financed it and the children and parents who it served. While some people constantly harp about the efficiencies and innovations of the private sector, they neglect to mention how many businesses fail and how many businesses from Enron through Citigroup have failed their investors, their customers, and their nation. While there are scandals and failures in some public agencies, and some government bureaucracies lapse into incompetence and menace--such as the IRS did in the 1980s and early 1990s--most of them try to deliver their services with integrity and strive for efficiency. It is when they are run like businesses that they betray the public trust.

This does not mean that we are anti-business. It means we are anti-bad-business. There are corporations that offer excellent products and services and do so under a belief in corporate citizenship. When the free market works, businesses strive competitively to produce better products at better prices. This is what happened with the American automobile. The Japanese auto makers have garnered a huge share of the American market the old-fashioned way. They earned it with better engineering, more reliable motor cars, and more quality for the price. The free market worked for them and for the consumer.

The American free enterprise system has contributed immensely to the progress of our democracy. One of the things we can be thankful for this season is that prospects for returning the business community to responsible and effective free enterprise are bright.

Maybe the business community can be made trustworthy again, and free enterprise will no longer mean freedom to fleece the public.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What is there about restroom stalls in Minnesota?

First, Sen. Larry Craig got caught trying to arrange a horndog coupling at the Twin Cities International Airport. This couple got caught in the process of such an arrangement:

While the Iowa Hawkeyes were scoring at will on the field Saturday night, two fans from the Hawkeye State also were scoring elsewhere in the Metrodome.


Police say that a man and woman were "having relations" in one of the bathroom stalls as a crowd cheered them on. The man, 26 and from Linden, Iowa, and the woman 38 and from Carroll, Iowa, were cited for misdemeanor indecent conduct. He was released to his girlfriend and she to her husband, police said.


A security guard came upon the scene in the handicapped stall,
police said. Police were summoned, and they separated the two.
Both were intoxicated, said Deputy Police Chief Chuck Mine

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Expanded health care plans would include veterinary benefits for jackals

The jackals have been circling around the Obama transition process like a pack waiting for a mama water buffalo to give birth to a helpless but delectable calf. On the South Dakota blogosphere, the designation of Tom Daschle as secretary of Health and Human Services sent the jackals into a frenzy. One of those human pustules that keeps erupting in the comment section of South Dakota War College said things about Tom Daschle that are an uncanny parallel to what al-Zawahiri said about Barack Obama. There are many folks out there who have not grasped the fact that the election was a rejection of the petit-fascist meanness of mind that has been reflected in government policies and actions for the past eight years. The malevolent twithood is losing its influence on American policies.

There is a perennial puzzle in the regressive attitude toward health care that betrays the petit-fascist inclinations of their camp. Whenever universal health coverage is brought up, the camp screams socialized medicine. Their rationale is that we can't afford to provide health care for everyone. When the fact is raised that 47 million or more Americans cannot afford health insurance, it is dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders, and a hint that if those people can't take care of their own health care matters, it is their fault and something they will have to live and die with.

Their attitude strongly resonates with one of the true obsenities of history. The gas ovens of the Nazi regime were not invented for the holocaust and the killling of Jews. They were devised to take care of what Hitler called the "useless eaters." That meant the infirm, the mentally and physically disabled who required care. The Nazi cost accountants determined that they were undermining the German economy and needed to be eliminated. A "public euthanasia" program was implemented using gas ovens to eliminate these people.

While the opponents of universal health coverage have not proposed any public euthanasia programs, they are silent on just what is to happen to those who need medical treatment but do not have the means to pay for it. There is a disconcerting implication that these people will have to live with and eventually die from their diseases and infirmities.

The fact is that a huge number of people have jobs which do not offer health benefits or which do not pay enough for the workers to afford coverage. Globalization has put American workers in competition with a workforce in developing countries that get paid subsistence wages. For every car sold in America, the price includes $1,5oo per vehicle for Ford and General Motors, $450 for BMW in Germany, and $150 for Honda in Japan. As Americans have lost production jobs and taken on service jobs, they have also been disqualified from health benefits and wages with which they could purchase them. Under the Republican economic scheme, a growing portion of the work force has been determined to be disposable. The Institute of Medicine estimates that lack of health insurance results in 18,000 unnecessary deaths each year. And medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.

The most formidable opponents of health care reform are the factions for whom the status quo provides huge profits. In past efforts of reform, their profits have paid for the successful defeat of reform measures.

The Daschle-led effort to reform the health care system balance the health needs of the people with the fair compensation and reward for those who provide health care and the medicines that are part of it. He has proposed a Federal Health Board which, like the Federal Reserve Bank, will coordinate policies to enhance the functioning of the current system and encourage the work of the best medical minds in the world, America's health care researchers and practitioners. It will involve building on the current public-private mix of health care plans, but it will involve, most of all, combatting the ideological barriers to making the American standard of equality operative in the field of health care.

Daschle has a long history of working on health care issues from alchohol birth syndrome in babies to the effects of Agent Orange on our veterans. To him, the health care issue is a matter of our national security.

And that may well include rabies and distemper treatment for the jackals.



Saturday, November 15, 2008

Requiem for the Fourth Estate

Much discussion is taking place in the blogosphere about the forced retirement of political reporter Terry Woster from the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. The parent company, Gannett, is cutting 10 percent of the jobs at its local newspapers because of a sharp decline in advertising revenues resulting from the economic crisis.

The most cogent comment on the demise of the news business comes from Bernie Hunhoff at South Dakota Magazine. His thoughts on the corporate media recall the reasons I ended my career as a full-time working journalist. The newspaper I worked for was owned by the two families that started the paper in the late 19th century. The editor of the newspaper was a half-owner. As happens with family-run businesses, no one in the younger generation in the families had an interest in continuing in the business. It became a point of discussion in our daily editorial meetings that the owners were looking for a buyer.

The inquiries were all coming from corporations. The younger editors began looking for jobs. Seven of us took out an ad in Editor and Publisher in hopes of finding jobs with reputable news organizations. In a short time, we all moved on, some to other papers, some to other businesses. I headed for graduate school.

The problem with corporate-owned media is the nature of corporations. Corporations are bureacracies. They operate on the same kind of self-interest that government bureaucracies do. The current economic plight of our country and the world, in fact, is the result of corporate management. Bureaucracies do not honor and reward high-mindedness. They cater to the greedy, the devious, the ill-intentioned. Their intellectual and moral guidepost is the bottom line. And so Gannett, which announced job cuts previously last summer, ordered a 10 percent staff reduction late last month. The objective is totally to carry out the management order. The quality of journalism is not a consideration.

An essential premise of corporate success is to elimininate competition and gain control of the market. Acquisition and merger produce more powerful corporations, but usually a decline in consumer choices and quality of products. The focus of operations is not the transactions at the point of sale but the bureaucratic maneuvering in the corporate headquarters. Corporations are in large part reversions to feudalism. They are obsessed with hierarchies and fealties and power and privileges. CEOs operate as dictatorial royalty with unreasonable wealth and power. Corporations are the obverse of democracy. And so when Gannett gets worried about its bottom line, the best journalists get cut. And the public is the ultimate loser.

Journalism has long departed from its function as the Fourth Estate. It is run by marketing people who try to contrive journalism as a product that must appeal to the fickle tastes of a consumer culture. Cable news channels such as CNN and MSNBC are run by people who think political wrangling sells better than straight news. The shows that are not done from an openly partisan perspective arrange confrontations between political hacks and let the bickering begin. Fox News is merely committed to disseminating the petit fascist propaganda line. And the blogosphere is a reflection of the cable news. People do not read blogs for news. They read them to have their preset notions confirmed and to find opportunity to vent malice at people with other preset convictions.

Some newspapers have managed to retain editorial accuracy and thoroughness. Others never tried. In the discussion about the media in South Dakota, the discussants seldom bring to their comments any knowledge of the purpose and practice of journalism as developed from the First Amendment and given the status of a Fourth Estate. In our Constitutional democracy, the four estates are the executive branch of government, the legislative, the judiciary, and the press. In South Dakota, the press's efforts to carry out its Fourth Estate function is sporadic at best. South Dakota newspapers are devoted to reflecting a conservative agenda, not reporting what government is doing or keeping a sharp eye out for pertinent news.

The loss of reporters such as Terry Woster is a step backward. There are a few very good reporters working in the state, but the news managers who decide what gets printed are either partisan censors or marketing bumblers. The Aberdeen American News is an example of the former. The Argus Leader is example of the latter.

While online news services and reporting are developing, and news organizations are finding ways to make them pay, blogs are not a replacement for professional news organizations. By a couple of recent counts over 24-hour periods, only about five percent of the blog posts contained any verified news. If the news was mentioned, it was as a launching pad for some blogger to twist the news into a condemnatory missile against some person or group.

Occasionally blogs do print some news. But the circumstance is like the proposition that if you put an infinite number of monkeys in an infinite room with an infinite number of typewriters, one of them would reproduce a classic novel. The blogosphere seems to be approaching infinity so an actual bit of information slips in now and then. A few bloggers do try to present opinions carefully derived from facts, but most of them are contriving and contorting facts to fit their prejudices.

A number of people who blog have questioned the purpose and wisdom of the blogosphere. Political blogs are filled with bickering, insult, libels, and falsehoods. Blogging has the aspect of drunken ranting down at the tavern, and many people prefer not to go there.

With the election of Barack Obama, there seems to be a shifting in the intellectual climate. Or it might just be fearfulness about the economic future. Possibly the audience for real news might grow and create a demand for professional journalism enough to attract advertising revenues.

More likely we'll be reading more death notices of real news organizations through cable news and blogs.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Election campaign forces invasive scrutiny

An anyone applying for a job will the Obama administration will have to reveal any statements or personal relationships that might be used to attack or embarrass the White House. The application form asks 63 questions about any possible e-mails, blog messages, internet aliases, or associations with anyone that could cause problems for the administration. One person who has vetted people for previous administrations said he is glad he is applying for a job in the Obama White House.

While digging into to personal lives and using it to embarrass and discredit political opponents has become standard operating procedure, it was elevated into a controlling practice during the presidential campaign. Obama's acquaintance with his minister, Professor Ayers, and his international relations were all used in attempts to disqualify him for the office to which he is elected. Many of the accusations were contrived, some totally false.

In order to keep his administration from being besieged and obsructed by petty slanders and false accusations, his administration is requring a level of personal disclosure that will make any person think twice about whether they want to work in public service. This is the legacy of the McCain-Palin campaign, but one that the country will have to endure as long as the mallicioius determine the nature of politics in our time.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A perspective from Brown County, S..D.

I was supposed to be blogging throughout the night, but from the moment I turned my laptop on here at the Ramkota Courtyard iln Aberdeen, people attending the Brown County Democrats election watch appropriated it to look at the election returns coming in.

First, I never thought I would see an African American elected to president in my lifetime. It is not that long ago that I had to be escorted by a guard mount on an Army base in Germany because I was labeled an n-lover and some men vowed to get me for betraying my race. The greatness of America is not in its bullying and intransigence in regard to dealing with internal and external opponents of its policies, but in the strides it makes in extending freedom, equality, and equal protection of the laws. I am happy that

I became a supporter of Obama long before he ever announced his candidacy for president. I was so because he was fully endorsed by one of the true bipartisan congressmen, the late Sen. Paul Simon from Illinois. Sen. Simon saw in Obama one of the most powerful intellects and one of the most skillful communicators to be in politics. At that time, Sen. Obama was still a legislator in the Illinois State Assembly. Genuine talent has to be recognized and supported, and that was Paul Simon's goal in Barack Obama's case.

Sen. Johnson's victory was satisfying and not totally surprising. He came close to losing an election six years ago against John Thune. Even before that election, it was clear that his engagement with the negative campaign of Thune was hurting him.

This time, he had the after-effects of a brain hemorrhage to deal with. As opponents and some members of less-than-cogent press begain to insist that he could not do the job of senator, longtime campaign strategists realized that his opponents were not defining Sen. Johnson, but were defining themselves. One of the factors that helped in the registration of new voters was the growing awareness that mean, small-minded, and ignorant people dominated South Dakota politics. All we had to do to clinch our case was refer them to comments on blogs.and the level of facts and reasoning in some of the media comments. One strategist out here in the Courtyard opened that the Rapid City Journal may have turned a fairly close election into a decisive victory. In our part of the state, the detractors made it easy to campaign for the Senator.

Sen. Johnson's heroic recovery and his constant and effective work in the Senate emphasized the scurrility and ill-motives of those who denied his accomplishment. To people who struggle witlh health issues and other debilities, Sen. Johnson is a leader of tremendous magnitude. He is a constant demonstration that people will some affllictions can still perform with great competence and effect.

As for Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, her campaign paralleled Obama's. There is simply no substitute for brains and magnanimity of spirit. Even people who do not agree with some of Rep. Herseth Sandlin's positions trust that they will be represened with great intelligence driven by a total devotion to good will and good purpose. People trust and rely on her.

As for the local races, District 2 is good hands with Sen. Jim Hundstadx, Rep. Paul Dennert, the dean of appropriations, and newly elected Elaine Elliot.

District 3 reflects the insane gerrymander contrived to preserve a Republican majority. Sen. Alan Hoerth's loss to Al Novstrup is a misfortune. While Novstrup commands a majority, the intensity of those who voted against him is not measured in the numbers. His "support" of education is contingent upon that education being confined to his regressive agenda. His detractors are not inspired by his policies but by his personal words and actions. Dennis Feickert, a longtime county commissioner, will represent the County and the Party with a deliberative integrity. The other Novstrup has been a bit of a non-entity, and the deep talents of Mark Remily have been overlooked. We hope he tries again in two years, as we do for Alan Hoerth.

Burt Ellliot, husband of Elaine, is turning his house seat over to her and is taking up a chair at the County Commission. Republican Duane Sutton will serve the Commission well, and has the respect of members of both parties.

Things happened in this election that have changed the way of doing politics in the U.S. The change had its glimmers up here in the provinces, but the standard of good will and inclusiveness is feebly grasped.

We will have much to say about the campaign as we match the statistics to the factions and demography.

On a national level, the politics of true representation and decency have had a triumph. We still have a way to go in the outer precincts.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Put Amendment H on hold, let Initiated Measure 9 pass

There should be a provision for euthanasia of corporations when they become too ill and feeble to perform their functions and when they are so diseased that they are a danger to their shareholders and customers. I say that because I have been a director and officer of a stock-held corporation whose ills are not curable and whose demise would be a benefit to humankind.

Corporations reach a point where they are the antithesis of free enterprise. People may rail against big government and its dangers, but we at least have the power of voting to change it. Recall the hearings and the reforms of the Internal Revenue Service a few years ago when it used police-state tactics to oppress and ruin taxpayers. Corporations reach a point where the motive to produce a better product or service in the marketplace is displaced by an all-consuming obsession with greed and power.

What the hell do you think is the fundamental cause of the economic plight we are presently in? Corporations need regulation. They need nuns to whack their greedy hands with rulers when they get caught trying to grope in the goody. They need proper householders to douse them with cold water when they begin humping each other on our national front lawn. This practice is also known as the merger and forced buyout. When corporations engage in such, they are not expanding and enhancing free enterprise. They are trying to restrict it and eliminate competition. That is why corporations are the worst bureaucracies that humankind can devise. They banish humankind's better angels and serve its worst demons.

I am not anti-business or anti-corporation. In fact, I am a wild advocate of free enterprise and the free market. I just acknowledge the tendency for some businesses and corporations to work for economic totalitarianism. They need rules to keep them in line with a free marketplace, and they need someone to keep an eye on them.

That brings us to proposed South Dakota Constitutional Amendment H. This amendment would repeal parts of the state Constitution that deal with the rules that govern how shareholders may cast their votes for corporate boards of directors. The repeal of this section would give state law the authority over such rules. There is a conflict between the Constitution which requires cumulative voting and a proposed state law that would give the corporate shareholders the choice of how they will cast their votes for their boards of directors. [See the ballot explanations here.]

There is really no issue at present that would affect corporations if the amendment is approved. It would remove a conflict between the Constition and the state law. The problem is in the revision of the business corporation act. It does not address other conflicts that restrict shareholders from determining the way their corporations should be governed.

I say vote no on Amendment H and do a more thorough job of addressing the conflicts and omissions in the corporate business act. Then bring up the Constitutional amendments.

As for Initiated Measure 9, I say vote yes. It gives state-level authority to prevent speculative manipulation of stocks and fraud against small investors. It requires full transactions of stock sales to be completed in three days. While there are federal laws that apply already, the application of them is spotty--as we have found in the business practices that have produced our current financial crisis.

We need rules to keep business fair and honest. And we need carefully crafted laws that facilitate honest business and protect investors and customers.

Another huge and important voice is gone


Studs Terkel died at the age of 96 Friday. A comprehensive obituary is at the Los Angeles Times.

A bibliography of his work is at the Chicago Tribune.

For those of us who grew up in and around Chicago, Studs Terkel was a mentor. His radio shows revealed and interpreted the world we were witnessing, and his giving voice to the overlooked gave us hope and courage.

There is an aspect of Stud's life that is glossed over. It is his work in television. During the early 1950s, New York was the center of the television industry, but Chicago was the creative force. Three shows come to mind from that time that are still regarded as standards of creativity, intelligence, and taste: Kukla, Fran, and Ollie; the Dave Garroway Show; and Stud's Place.

Stud's Place, featuring Stud's Terkel, was a restaurant that featured conversation, music, and pertinent musings on the affairs of the world. It reflected Terkel's truly democratic philosophy, which irritated the McCarthy right wing faction to a dangerous point. Because it openly emphasized equality and a recognition of the worth of each person as a prime ingredient in any true democracy, it was taken off the air. But at the same time, it exposed the totalitarian grip that the McCarthy faction was exerting on America.

Studs Terkel was literally the voice of America. His radio shows sang with American music. His books presented the personal histories of hundreds of Americans who gave the definition of our country, through the Depression, World War II, and daily work on their jobs.

In "Hard Times," what is now Northern State University is mentioned as a little "cold-water college." If anyone needs to be put in touch with how life is really lived in America, Studs Terkel has told the tales superbly.

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