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

Friday, April 30, 2010

Deriding derivatives

When I was in basic training at Ft. Carson, payday occasioned some marathon crap games for a few days.   I did not play, but the games attracted my interest because of a man in my outfit, who did not play either, but made side bets on the rolls of those who did play,  This man had just graduated from law school, passed a bar exam, and was headed for the adjutant's office as soon as he completed basic.  Because he had an incipient ulcer, he was exempted from some of the more strenuous training.  I noticed him sitting on his bunk for long periods of time shuffling through a set of flashcards.  They were cards that contained the probability formulas for various sequences of dice rolls.  He had these flash card sessions to keep the odds for certain roll sequences at the front of his mind.

After the crap shoots, he always had a huge amount of cash.  I and some of his other friends would accompany him to the secure mail box outside the post office because there were people who knew how much money he was carrying, some of whom were pretty pissed-off because some of it was originally theirs, and would not mind getting it back.  He would mail brown envelopes containing two to three thousand dollars home to his wife.  At that time, buck privates in basic training were paid about $63 a month.

When the SEC announced its suit against Goldman Sachs and the Senate held hearings,  I immediately thought of my old army buddy.  Goldman Sachs was doing essentially what he was doing,  They were making side bets on other peoples' plays in the futures market.  Some people were investing in groups of mortgages.  Then Goldman Sachs would make bets on whether those investors would lose their asses on a bad investment, just as my old army friend would bet on bad crap-shoot bets.  It is gambling no matter what technical sounding names they give it.    And when people know the odds that bets being made by investors--or crap shooters--are pretty sure to lose, they tend to win mightily.

I was a farm and business editor when the Chicago Commodities Exchange started dealing in futures markets.  The idea of a futures contract was that a farmer could buy a contract to deliver his corn harvest at a certain price in October, for example.  The advantage was that he could lock in a price and did not have to worry about the ups-and-downs of the market.  If the market went down in October, he got the price he bargained for, which could be better than the market price at the time.  If the price went up,  he might get less for his corn than the prevailing price on the actual market.  That was the idea on which the futures market was established.


However, very few farmers bought futures contracts.  Most preferred to gamble on the actual market price for their corn, and they would either sell at harvest time or store it to see what the prices would do.  The people who bought and sold futures contracts were mostly speculators, sometimes called day traders, sometimes called gamblers.  They kept track of agricultural  production forecasts, weather trends, and foreign markets, and spent the day buying and selling futures contracts.


Another commodity that was wildly traded was pork belly futures.  At the time that the futures market was established for commodities, the Chicago stockyards were being closed and packing houses were decentralized throughout the country.  The futures contracts provided the packers with a means of scheduling a constant supply of pork at a known price.  Regional livestock auctions took the place of stock buyers at the old stock yards.  One in my region began to get complaints from packers to whom he had scheduled shipments that kept coming in late.  They found that he was buying  futures contracts and then delaying shipments on hogs to the packers.  When the packers reported that their supplies were a bit short, this showed up in the daily livestock reports and the futures traders would take it as a sign of a demand market and offer to buy futures contracts at high rates.  The auction operator would then sell his contracts to them and make a profit.  And then ship the hogs, which would get reported as an abundant market.  These manipulations took only a few days.

When the man's ploy was discovered, new rules were put in place, but he had made quite a bit of money by then.  He was side-betting on other people's hedges or bets and then manipulating the market.  He kept on playing the futures market, but his strategies were no linger as apparent and he continued to make money. 

Derivatives are essentially side bets on someone else's throw of the dice.  It is pure gambling, but some people, like my old army buddy, had developed ways to know the odds on what would fail.   So did that auction-house operator.  One cannot help but wonder if Goldman Sachs also found a way to manipulate the market or tabbed sure losers and bet on them.

This is pure gambling, and when it is referred to as casino banking, the term is right on. 




 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Astrophysicist sends dingbats into orbit


British astrophysicist Steven Hawkings has UFOers spinning around the moon.  People who discuss UFOs, aliens on earth, and space abductions crowded the talk radio airwaves in recent days to vilify Hawkings for saying that he believes there must be life on other planets in the universe, but we should not attempt to contact them.

"We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach."
He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is "a little too risky". He said: "If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans."
The reason the dingbat caucus is so enraged is because Hawkings' statement implies that no one has met a space alien in reality up to this time, despite the fact that some spend so much time recounting their encounters.  His statement suggests that they are telling stories.
  
But some people are offended about this characterization of the human race.  He is not the first to suggest that we might not want to encourage visits by space aliens because they might be just like us.  One of the myths (used in its perjorative sense) they circulate is that space aliens came centuries ago and taught humankind to build the pyramids in Egypt, the temples in Maya, and crawler tractors in Peoria.  They see space aliens as a superior species that came to earth and attempted to raise the human race out of its primordial muck.

Of course, the same might be said of Jesus Christ, whose life-story fits the pattern of space creatures who invade the earth by adopting human form.  Whatever story one prefers to believe, the main idea is that humanity needs to acquire some redeeming virtues.  The teachings of Christ called for a total revision of the precepts of condemnation and vindictiveness on which humankind did and continues to operate.  His teachings are, indeed, alien to the principles that humankind prefers.

One of the things that distinguishes American literature from other world literatures is its sardonic take on the nature of humankind.  The protagonists in most of America's better literature are what is sometimes called anti-heroes.  They refute the notion that mankind, even at its most pretentious, is noble.


Mark Twain was less than subtle when he confronted "the damned human race."  He thought that when a person was called an animal, it was a complement because it was likening a person to a behavioral superior.  No  other species, he claimed, was as malicious, perverse, cruel, and obstinately stupid as the human.  A lot of  people do  not like Mark Twain because he makes fun of humanity and its pretenses toward superiority.


One of my correspondents made the point that if there are space aliens out there who are actually superior to humankind, why would they want anything to do with us?  Do you find virtuoso musicians and poets hanging out in biker bars?  He reverses Hawkings comments a bit.


But he also asked if space creatures observed the mass killings taking place on earth under the name of Islam, or drug cartels, or even read the kind of thought--actually the lack of it--in blog posts and the comments following them, why would advanced creatures not do everything to avoid getting involved with humanity?   If they coveted the earth's resources, they might just wait until humanity has destroyed itself with its own malicious foolery.  Then they can take over, if there is anything left.


Ironically,it may be those orbiting dingbats who survive and carry on the traits of the race. 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Health care opponents vie for Nobel Prize in fiction

Here is the way that Factcheck.org puts it:


We’ve seldom seen a piece of legislation so widely misrepresented, and misunderstood, as the new health care law. We stopped counting the number of articles and items we turned out on the subject after the total reached 100.

Some of that is understandable. The debate went on for more than a year, while the different House and Senate bills changed their shape constantly.  The final law was the product of an awkward two-step legislative dance that first enacted the Senate’s version, then quickly amended it with a reconciliation "fix." No wonder people are confused.

And even now the misrepresentations continue. The new law is no longer a moving target, but some opponents persist in making false or exaggerated claims about it. Our inboxes are filled with messages asking about assertions that the new law:
  • Requires patients to be implanted with microchips. (No, it doesn’t.)
  • Cuts benefits for military families and retirees. (No. The TRICARE program isn’t affected.)
  • Exempts Muslims from the requirement to obtain coverage. (Not specifically. It does have a religious exemption, but that is intended for Old Order Amish.)
  • Allows insurance companies to continue denying coverage to children with preexisting conditions. (Insurance companies have agreed not to exploit a loophole that might have allowed this.)
  • Will require 16,500 armed IRS agents to enforce. (No. Criminal penalties are waived.)
  • Gives President Obama a Nazi-like "private army." (No. It provides a reserve corps of doctors and other health workers for emergencies.)
  • "Exempts" House and Senate members. (No. Their coverage may not be as good as before, in fact.)
  • Covers erectile-dysfunction drugs for sex offenders. (Just as it was before the new law, those no longer in jail can buy any insurance plan they choose.)
  • Provides federal funding for abortions. (Not directly. But neither side in the abortion debate is happy with the law.)
For details on these claims about the new law, please read our Analysis section.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Democrats criticize Senate financial reform bill

Former financial regulators and Democratic insiders have written a letter to Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell criticizing the bank reform bill being advanced in the Senate.  They say:


Neither the bill passed earlier this year by the House, nor the one currently under consideration in the Senate would have prevented the crisis. Without serious restructuring, they will not prevent a future crisis.

The letter lists eight specific provisions such a bill must contain to prevent the  kind of financial failure that led to the current recession.  The full text of the letter may be read in PDF format on the Huffington Post.    

Monday, April 19, 2010

The U.S. Constitution: the Great American Inkblot

Spurred by an administration he believes to be guilty of numerous transgressions, self-described American patriot Kyle Mortensen, 47, is a vehement defender of ideas he seems to think are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and principles that brave men have fought and died for solely in his head.
 That is the lede in one of those great send-ups on American foolery that The Onion does so well.

 On one hand with all the histrionics and cries of paranoia filling the air, one can celebrate the First Amendment and the fact that freedom of expression is taking place without restraint.  On the other hand, it is disconcerting when free expression reveals how many people out there are absolutely bonkers.  Or whose launchers of verbal missiles are powered by such paltry brain cells.

I keep asking just what part of the Constitution is being violated by Obama, Congress, and the gov-mint in general.  The only answer I have seen so far that is specific is the Second Amendment, because Obama plans to come in the night with his troops and confiscate all firearms.

There are law suits being mounted against the healthcare reform act on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.  The argument goes that the Constitution prohibits the gov-mint from forcing people to buy health care insurance.  The states seem to have no problems forcing drivers to buy auto insurance, but that does not seem to violate the Constitution anywhere.

I guess our founders realized that someday the world would need a great, big Rohrschach blot on which the good people could project their fears and fantasies.

You know, for a more perfect union.  







Saturday, April 17, 2010

How did we lose the war in Afghanistan?

We shot innocent civilians   In the first three months of this year, we killed 72 of them. .

The last incident was Monday when U. S. troops shot up a bus, killed five riders, and wounded 18.


Our commanders and government have apologized and promised extensive investigations.  We have become obsessed with apologies, which do nothing to assuage the anger at the forces who are killing innocent Afghan people, particularly when those forces claim to be protecting those people by combating Taliban forces from which we are trying to free the people.  The Afghan people have to decide who is the real enemy.  The Taliban or NATO?  Or both? 

It's quite simple.  The enemy is whoever kills you,  

The Taliban is responsible for more civilian deaths in Afghanistan.  They like to kill with bombs--car bombs, suicide bombs, anything that works.  The NATO forces kill with drones sometimes, which can't tell a wedding party from some dude jigging into a suicide bomb harness.  Sometimes innocent civilians are in the way when our forces are opening fire on what they think is Taliban fighters.  Other times, like on Monday, they open fire on what they think might be some kind of bomb coming at them,  this time in a bus.

U.S. troops are being asked to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.  That is a lot of responsibility to  heap on a bunch of grunts.  It might be in the command's mind to cast the soldiers as saviors, but it is hard to fill that role convincingly while killing those who are supposed to be saved.  But in Afghanistan it is impossible at times to discern the enemy from the innocent civilians.  That is because what appear to be "civilians" may not be so innocent.

The problem is defined by the country's President Kharzai.  At this point, who knows what side he is on?  He has threatened recently that in the face of the NATO-led occupation and assaults on his people, he may join forces with the Taliban.

Kharzai represents the status of Afghanistan.  He is making America very nervous.  President Obama made his surprise trip to Afghanistan largely to try to get Kharzai to affirm his support of the U.S. in Afghanistan.  A few weeks ago, Kharzai hosted a visit by Iran's  Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who is a dipshit, but he is the president of the country.  At that visit Ahmadinejad unleashed his usual vitriol against America, but he asked what may be one of the few coherent things he has ever said.  He asked, in words translated for the blogosphere, WTF are American troops doing in Afghanistan?  What is their purpose for being there?

Within days President Obama made his sudden flight to Afghanistan to meet with Kharzai.  He extracted some commitments to cooperation from Kharzai, but within days of his leaving Kharzai made his threat to join up with the Taliban.  Now President Obama may himself ask WTF are American troops doing Afghanistan with full comprehension of the situation.

Benjamin R. Barber breaks the question down into the fifteen salient points that suggest the answer:

1. There is no " Afghanistan," only an inchoate collection of warring tribes, factions and clans.

2. To the extent there is an "Afghanistan," its government is deeply corrupt and unable to control its own divided country.

3. President Kharzai, our "ally" and the official representative of the "state" on whose behalf we fight, would prefer that we leave -- at least when it comes to what he says for internal consumption.

4. Not that it matters what he thinks since the President of Afghanistan is for all practical purposes little more than the Mayor of Kabul -- and that's on good days.

5. The only thing that unites this otherwise disintegral non-state is that the fractious tribes that despise one another hate foreigners even more.

6. Foreign forces, whatever their intentions, will always be seen as occupiers and hence, the enemy.

7. Ghengis Khan, the British and the Russians all tried to "win" in Afghanistan, and they all failed; it would be an exaggeration to say their futile attempts brought down three empires.... or would it?

8. You can't win wars when you're killing civilians, yet in Afghanistan where the boundary between combatants and civilians is blurred you necessarily are killing a great many civilians a lot of the time.

9. Occupying places where Muslims live (and where they die at your hand) will always been seen as a war against Islam rather than a war against terrorism.

10. You can't make people free at the barrel of a gun.

11. There is no better way to create terrorists than to make war on Muslims in the name of fighting wars against terrorism.

12. America can't save the world, and risks losing what is best in America when it tries.

13. Military force and overwhelming firepower applied from the outside are more likely to undermine than sustain the development of democracy inside a developing country.

14. Al Qaeda is not Afghanistan and it is not the Taliban either; it is a malevolent NGO, and winning Afghanistan or defeating the Taliban cannot vanquish al Qaeda.

15. We can't pay for questionable wars abroad and afford justice and economic recovery at home, and trying to do so is likely to lead to losing the war and undermining justice.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

145 years ago tonight


He was assassinated. 

Confederates in South Dakota


One of the first U.Sl Army  units to be assigned to Fort Sissseton 
to work on its construction in 1864 was composed Confederate prisoners 
of ware who joined the Union Army.
One of the first U.S. Army units to be assigned to Fort Sissseton to work on its construction in 1864 was composed Confederate prisoners of ware who joined the Union Army.

Dr. Blanchard and I have both commented on the Virginia Governor’s  proclamation declaring April Confederate History Month without mentioning slavery.  Re-enactors concentrate on the battle field operations, but there is much more to know and understand about the War and the people involved in it.  My son and I are in the miiddle of the drill line in the photo above as part  of Company F, 1st U.S. Volunteer Infantry, who we portray.  The infirmities of age and arthritis have limited what I can do (I can’t do the reverse arms carry anymore), and whereas once we won trophies during the shooting matches, the rifling of the bores of our Japanese replica Springfield muskets is so worn that the the balls do loopty-loops on their way in the direction of the targets.

The group we portray was recruited at the Point Lookout military prison in Maryland from Confederate soldiers who had been captured and confined there.   After President Lincoln and General Grant gave the matter much thought, they approved an initiative to allow the prisoners to sign an oath of allegiance to the Union in exchange for which they would be allowed to enlist in the Union Army. They were called Galvanized Yankees.  They were assured that they would not been put into battle against their Confederate friends and relatives, but would be sent to the West to man forts on  the frontier.  The 1st U.S. Volunteers was sent to  the Dakota Territory where they were deployed at forts along the Minnesota-Dakota border and at forts on the Upper Missouri River.

At the time Fort Sisseton was named Fort Wadsworth.  The name was changed in 1868 when an eastern fort claimed the Wadsw0rth name.  The fort was designated to be built at Aberdeen.  But there was no timber or masonry materials in the vicinity to be used in contructi0n, and there was doubt about potable water.  The officers in charge of the project found a  nice site on the coteaus above the lakes , where there was timber, rock outcroppings, and clay for making bricks. And a lot of fresh water.

Conpany F arrived at the Fort in August 1864 and left about a year later.  They did the initial construction of the Fort.  After the Civil War ended, companies of the 1st U.S. Volunteers were mustered out but others were redeployed to guard stage routes in Kansas.
Men from the Confederate states did the early construction at Fort
 Sisseton.   
Men from the Confederate states did the early construction at Fort Sisseton.

Although the Fort was built to deal with the Sioux uprising that occurred at the same time as the Civil War, no troops at Fort Sisseton were ever involved in any battles or major operations.  That is because, the Fort commanders recruited among the Sisseton-Wahpeton people  a company of scouts that maintained camps in the areas outlying the Fort.  The scouts took care of any hostiles that ventured into the area.  The biggest burden the troops complained of was boredom.  And those Southern boys were not terribly impressed with the winter.

So, the establishment of South Dakota began with a big boost from the Confederacy.  And this all illustrates what a complex time it was.  Many of the men had been forced to enlist in the Confederate Army and did not share the political motives of their leadership.  Others saw the futility of war and came to believe that as long as there were slaves, they could be enslaved.

The President of Harvard, Drew Gilpin Faust, has written a whole series of books on the history of the South during the time of the Civil War.  Her work is a good place to begin to understand the Confederacy.

If you want to dabble in a little history of the Confederates in South Dakota,  come to the Fort Sisseton Historical Festival June 4-6.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Will the diversion campaign succeed? Will it succeed in destroying all that is decent?

We have serious problems on every front.  We are in a severe recession that is edging away from falling over the brink into full-scale depression.  A huge number of Americans cannot find work, and while attempts are being made to create jobs, the fact is that the production base of the American economy has been dismantled and sent to China and other countries in the Pacific Rim.  There are few productive jobs left in American to re-stimulate into being.  We are in two economy-depleting wars.  While extricating ourselves from the death-dealing and economy-trashing debacle in Iraq, we find that the Karzai government which we have propped up for eight years in Iran is making overtures to Iran and the Taliban.  And there is the drug-driven revolution in Mexico.To say nothing of a crisis in health care which an alarming number of people don't think another alarming number of people do not deserve.  There are deficits to confront, faltering schools to bolster, and banks to examine before they break us even more.  To say nothing of dangers posted by world factions who would like to go nuclear-mad. 

So, what is the response?  Friday, Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement.  By the end of the day, the Republicans mounted a coordinated effort to shout they are mad as hell and they are going to do everything they can to obstruct, impede, and destroy, if possible, any nominations that the President might have the temerity to make that might be anything like Justice Stevens.

Inspiring.  Ain't it?  Watching juveniles bully and throw temper tantrums. 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A month to celebrate slavery


When Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed a proclamation declaring April Confederate History Month without any reference to slavery, it was much more than a failure to acknowledge something in history that is part of America's holocaust.  (The other part is the systematic genocide against the aboriginal people.)  The economy and culture of the Confederacy derived almost totally from slavery.  Most of what the Confederacy was is covered in February--Black History Month.   It would seem impossible to celebrate the pageantry and elegance of life in the Confederate states without citing what made it possible and on whose backs the economy and culture was built.

Gov. McDonnell apologized profusely for his negligence, but that negligence is a characteristic of our time among certain factions.  The celebration of the ignorant and belligerent is practiced by some who are regarded as leaders, political stars.   It is impossible to dismiss the Governor's oversight as merely a  slip of mind:  it was declared in the same month as Lincoln's assassination.  It is more in line with the mounting attacks on any criticism of America's history and present courses of action as anti-American.

The view that confrontations of America's faults are a betrayal, are unpatriotic, and anti-American represents a resurgence of mindless boosterism and and jingoism from those who resent knowledge and informed criticism.  The insistence that America is fundamentally a Christian nation is done in oblivion to the fact that its most influential  founders were Deists.  That is not to say that the teachings of Christ in the New Testament did not become part of the American psyche, and that the New Law was embraced because it was democratic law, which espoused equality, freedom, and justice based upon those conditions. 

What makes America America is its willingness to confront the depredations and violence of the past and to seek redemption through a principled assurance that human evils are eliminated in the present and the future.  America did not have a pristine virgin birth that knew none of the degradations of humankind.  It began with people who conceived in democracy the basis of a tolerable and honorable existence, but who fought and killed and labored and sweated, often involving atrocities, to forge the country we dream of.  As Henry David Thoreau said,  "The government of the world I live in was not framed, like that of Britain, in after-dinner conversations over the wine."  Nor in the dreams of people who thought it their Christian calling to kill Indians, hold blacks in bondage, and subject women. 

A huge part of American history is reflected the reconciliation and healing that took place after the Civil War and extends up to our time.  When Gen. Grant framed the terms of surrender with Gen. Lee, he did not insist that all Confederates give up their arms and present themselves to huge prison camps.  Rather, he let them return to their homes with the horses and firearms needed to resume the productive pursuits of their lives.  That can be studied and celebrated, but not without acknowledging the malignant history of slavery as central to what happened.

It would be better to declare a Walt Whitman month.  Although anti-slavery, he refused to adopt a hostile attitude toward the South.  Instead, he dedicated himself to maintaining a benign acknowledgment of slave-holders as humans and he treated wounded Confederates along with Union soldiers in field hospitals and he spoke and sung of their mutual  humanity and the act of reconciliation.
He did not, however, spare his readers the imagery of slavery:

I am the hounded slave, I wince at the bite of the dogs,
Hell and despair are upon me, crack and again crack the marksmen,
I clutch the rails of the fence, my gore dribs, thinn'd with the ooze of my skin,
I fall on the weeds and stones,
The riders spur their unwilling horses, haul close,
Taunt my dizzy ears and beat me violently over the head with whip-stocks.
Agonies are one of my changes of garments,
I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become the wounded person,
My hurts turn livid upon me as I lean on a cane and observe.
For many, America's purpose is to acknowledge the atrocities in American history so that we can rise above and beyond them.  But there are those who prefer to hold them in their hearts with fondness.

American dreams of aspiration are beset with nightmares of  hatred and injustice and kept alive in those dark rooms of ignorance and intolerance and bad will.  The struggle is never-ending and the outcome is never certain. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Nuking the world

Between the U.S. and Russia, we have about 20,000 nuclear warheads.  That’s enough to pulverize the earth many times over,  vaporize the moon, turn Venus and Mars to ashes, and get a pretty good start on the sun.   That way, we could deter any attacks planned on the U.S., at least by anyone in this solar system.

And addressing this problem for us is the man termed the world’s biggest knucklehead and the worst U.S.  president in history.  If Obama is all these things, you can’t say he hasn’t been busy.  Most of us have been too busy to notice the accomplishments.  We’ve been tied up watching the news to see if there is any woman in the U.S. who has not claimed to have puttered a round or two with Tiger Woods.     There is plenty of commentary about Obama’s performance, but none about Woods’.

And to think our nuclear future is being toyed with by the likes of Obama.  He is about to sign another nuclear reduction treaty.  Who does he think he is?  Ronald Reagan?

We all know he is going get us all blown away.  At least, Fox News does:


Some folks are in great agitation about  Obama’s nuclear plans.  What really has tightened the knickers, knotted the thongs, and breached a union suit or two is his promise not to use nukes on any country that attacks us with chemical or biological weapons.   Iran and North Korea are exempted, but this proposal makes the nellies really nervous.  How, they squeal, can you deter any attacks if you promise not to use nukes on the attackers?   What’s to worry?  They claim Obama has still to keep a promise.  But they cite the old Cold War Logic.  Well, actually the Cold War logic was WTF are we doing with 20,000 war heads that can (to complete this sentence, see the first paragraph above).

But an idea floating around during the Cold War was that we had to keep making nukes to deter anyone from attacking us.

I know.  I was there.  On the front lines.  During the Cold War.  In West Germany.  Our, meaning the troops I was there with, job was to track everything that flew out of the Soviet bloc and shoot it down.  At the time, what could fly out of the Soviet bloc was airplanes and a few birds looking for asylum.  If the aircraft did not have permission to fly into the West and did not have a Friend-or-Foe-Indicator broadcasting away, we would have shot it down with our guided missiles.  They were Nike Ajaxes.  They had conventional warheads.

Within months of our deployment, the U.S. and Russia began deploying new carriers of nuclear warheads,  Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.  What better to shoot down a nuke-loaded ICBM with than a Nike with a nuke warhead?  So, while we stood guard with our Nike Ajaxes, the ordnance for the second generation Nikes, the Hercules, started coming in.  The base I was on had a super-secure ordnance storage area, and the new ordnance was being stockpiled there.  We were not supposed to know it, but some of the warheads were nukes.  We knew it because we started being trained into how to handle and arm missiles with nukes.



There was one problem.  The European countries did not want us to bring nukes onto their soil.  They feared that the Soviets would be provoked into unleashing preemptive nuclear strikes on them if they learned we had nukes there.  There was an awful lot of frantic diplomatic fussing around, but the Hercules were three times as fast, had three times the range as the Ajax,  and could take out ICBMs.  By the time I had served my term of active duty,  all the air defense missile batteries were being converted into the Hercules generation. The Hercules could also be equipped with conventional warheads of tremendous explosive power.

As the troops were prepared for the transition to Hercules, there was a nagging question to be answered.  Aside from the European countries’ objections to nuclear materials, there was a logistical matter to confront. Blowing something out of the sky with a nuke is like standing in front of a wind tunnel with diarrhea.  It is messy.   The nuclear materials blow back on you.  You might take out the bomb carrier, but you will probably lose a lot of civilians and some of your own personnel.   Nuclear warfare is very effective.  It tends to kill everybody.

And so, while we were upgrading missile defenses and putting ICBMs all over the Dakotas, among other places, talks were starting on limiting and reducing the deployment of nuclear weapons.  And that brings us up to Obama.

Everybody who is acquainted with nuclear warfare knows that if it is used, everybody eventually dies.  Answering an attack by chemical or biological weapons with nukes will trigger a nuclear holocaust,  It won’t take many bombs to go off to make the earth uninhabitable.  So, Obama is putting the U.S. in leadership to assure the world that a terrorist attack with chemical and biological agents will not cause us to unleash a response that will destroy everybody.

Back in the Cold War, we developed Nike warheads that were as effective as the nuclear ones.  That development has continued.

Even without the stated policy, if we were attacked with chemical or biological agents, we probably would not use nuclear warheads anyway.  It is a matter of not being decimated by our own weapons.  We have weapons that can do what nuclear bombs can do with more precision, controlled effect, and less danger to the world.

Obama is trying to reassure the world that we are not as rabidly nuts as the jihadists.
If the worry worts want to really have something to fuss about, it is the danger of cyber attacks.  Our domestic infrastructure,  our military delivery systems, and our ability to communicate with other countries can be demolished in an instant.

The idea that we can deter aggression only by the capability of blowing the planet right out of the sky has been discussed, and analyzed, and that is why we have nuclear limitation and reduction treaties.  And hope we will have more.

Our biggest threat is the idiots who see nukes as the only deterrent.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

They've already voted--with their minds, morals, and feet.

It has been a tough year for the Democrats to recruit candidates for office  in South Dakota. The reason is clear.  People who have the mental acumen and other qualifications to hold public office do not think that the political system in its current state is capable of  providing fair representation and honest government.  They do not see the ballot box as a viable or relevant means of registering their concerns.  Consequently, running for public office, even if one wins an election, is pointless.

But the first objection to a run for office is more compelling.  It is that candidates will be subjected to a level of libelous and degrading accusations that harm the candidates and their families.  One candidate who has run before, consented to run again, but then withdrew, said his wife and children objected to the point where his marriage could be jeopardized.  He said that when one contemplates a campaign, one thinks about all the positive things one can do.  But when the campaign starts, the reality is that you find yourself swimming in a cesspool of petty and slanderous accusations.  His children were assailed by disparaging comments in school, and he found that he confronted them in the course of his business long after the campaign was over.  Democratic candidates in South Dakota, and many other places,  have to very carefully consider what effect a candidacy will have on their families, their friends, and their professions.

And as another long-time public servant put it, there is no honor in running for public office any more.   You go to Pierre thinking you can contribute something, but you find that nothing can get past the mob rule that has become politics in Pierre.  The mob has been in control for decades, and while the Democrats try to reflect the diversity of support in their party, the Republicans march in unwavering lockstep, taking their orders from their ideological dictatorship, and chorusing the latest chant sent down from party headquarters.  The longtime public  servant cites an example.

When Kevin Weiland decided not to run in the primary for South Dakota's house seat, he gave his reasons as, after conferring with party leaders, not wanting to create more divisions in the party, and that he conferred with Rep. Herseth Sandlin and was assured that although she voted against the health care reform bill, she would not vote to repeal it.  Immediately, the Republican headquarters pounced on this announcement and contrived its standard, nefarious disinformation.  Candidates Curd and Noem immediately took up the chant that Herseth Sandlin should explain the "back room deal" to her constituents.  A responsible, intelligent but contentious call between two members of the same party becomes a back room deal, because  conniving and backroom manipulation is the only kind of politics that the Republicans in Pierre know and understand.  However, that press-release performance by the candidates, with the the Republican official hack site--South Dakota War College--trumpeting the press releases, is testimony for anyone who is paying attention to what has happened to politics in South Dakota and what the real agenda of these candidates is.

 This all is consistent with why John Thune will have no significant challenger in this fall's general election.   Although I am not aware of all the efforts put forth to field a strong Democratic candidate, I have been involved in identifying potential candidates.  The matter of the toxic nature of campaigns and their corrosive effect on personal and family life is the constant factor that potential candidates cite in not considering a run for office.  However,  disillusionment with South Dakota runs deeper than avoiding the permanent tarnish that ad hominem campaigns inflict. Thune's win over Tom Daschle in 2004 comes into play.  A few Democrats say that Thune ran a good campaign and Daschle didn't, but politicos who place importance on principles have a more dire analysis of that  campaign.  Those who  credit the Thune campaign do so because it was, apparently, successful.  They fail to acknowledge that the basis of the campaign was character assassination.  And the fact that character assassination was successful says much about the intellectual and moral level of South Dakota.  Thune may have run a successful campaign, but it was not a decent campaign.  It depended on the electorate's capacity for petty malice and escalating it into malign falsehoods on which they would frame their voting decisions. 

Groups allied with the Thune campaign ran full-page newspaper ads with pictures of Tom Daschle next to pictures of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, branding them all as enemies of America.  Thune followed a strategy of trying to  stay remote from those who did the dirty work.  One of the anti-Daschle political blogs was created solely as a weapon of character assassination.  But it was eventually revealed that its authors were on Thune's pay roll, and Thune could no longer disassociate himself from the nefarious and poisonous basis of his campaign.  The blog's main author, who had been a professor at SDSU left his academic position and became a  staff member for Thune, the circumstances of which the South Dakota press never investigated.  In addition to the outright falsehoods and libels, the campaign made an assessment of a characteristic in South Dakota that the Daschle campaign preferred to  believe was not possessed by a majority.  The Thune campaign used Daschle's million-dollar home in D.C., which he and his working-spouse purchased,  as an example of his betraying the values of his constituents.  In South Dakota, as realtors have pointed out, a similar home could have been purchased for about a third of the D.C. price tag, but any evidence of personal success in South Dakota is regarded as a betrayal of those good, old, sod-hut values.  By being successful in D.C. and even earning a reputation as an effective leader, Tom Daschle committed the kind of act that is unforgivable and justification for hatred in South Dakota:  he actually accomplished something.  The Thune campaign plumbed the jealousy, resentment, and petulance at someone's success to the fullest, and the ploy won.  Toward the end of the campaign, Thune became brave enough to openly identify himself with the character assassination.  Shortly before election day, Thune's campaign ran an ad accusing Tom Daschle of dumping his first wife for a beauty-queen trophy.  Inspiring stuff.

The betrayal-of-South-Dakota theme was linked to Daschle's opposition to a Constitutional Amendment against flag desecration, which he said was taken care of by statute.  Anything  that could be contorted into a betrayal of South Dakota's provincial values was brought into the campaign against him.  And that is where the Daschle campaign miscalculated.  Daschle has a personal aversion to personal attacks and smears.  His campaign thought that South Dakotans by and large were above that kind of tactic and that a sense of decency would prevail in the end.  The campaign was simply wrong.

Thune will not have an opponent this fall. He gets a chance to run on his record.  As a member of the House, his record was one of stunning fecklessness and befuddled obstinacy.  He just said no.  He thought having a service office in Aberdeen was a waste, until local Republicans insisted that, perhaps, having a facility for addressing constituent concerns might be part of the job.  He said no to the by-pass of U.S. 281 around Aberdeen, and the construction of a 4-lane highway from the Interstate,  until members of his own party hotly pointed out to him that sometimes infrastructure was important and necessary for the operation of the state's third-largest community.  And when the 4-lane project ran into difficulty with an environmental impact study, the Senators held a conference call with constituents at the VFW while Thune staffers ran around circulating flyers contending that environmental concerns were just another way to waste tax dollars.  As a congressman,  Thune did not belong to any of the caucuses dealing with agricultural  matters or water development, until a political opponent pointed this out and Thune, apparently, thought he should maybe make a pretense at least of caring about some of the state's major economic concerns.

Thune is a good script reader.  He can recite what others contrive for him.  For his 2004 campaign he bought the services of Dick Wadhams, a Karl Rove compatriot who shares the idea that the measure of political success is how many characters you assassinate.  Wadhams  (now chair of the Colorado Republican party) helped Thune build on the theme that Daschle emboldened and gave comfort to Saddam Hussein and bin Laden.   During a televised debate, Thune tossed out this accusation that Daschle was in the business of giving comfort to and emboldening our enemies,  a clear implication of  treason, and Daschle sat with a stunned look that anyone would be so absurdly malevolent as to make this kind of charge without even the remotest fact to misconstrue in support of it.  There is, of course, no answer for this kind of accusation except to point out that it has more relevance in regard to the mental competence and the moral character of its authors. That kind of response was precisely the kind of thing that Daschle avoided and forbade his campaign from using.  However, his reticence showed how wrongly he had judged the prevailing character of Thune and the people of South Dakota.

While some people promote the idea that Thune's  defeat of Daschle makes him a political star, whatever that is, Thune continues to pursue irrelevant foolery as his political course.  He has taken a course of maligning the attempts to stimulate the economy, although he voted for the major measures advanced by George Bush.  He co-sponsored legislation to prevent any taxation of cow flatulence, although the EPA has indicated that such taxation was never proposed and could not be administered if it was.  Thune's forte is to pursue falsehoods that fool the foolish and the dupes.  His performance on the floor of the Senate to decry stimulus spending was so cogent and eloquent that it made the comedy channel.  (See
the video below.)

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Clusterf#@k to the Poor House - Economic Recovery Plan
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care Refo

Of late, elements of the Republican stripe have assailed the Democratic party for failing to give South Dakota voters a choice for the U.S. Senate.  They cannot grasp that the voters have registered their choice.  In the past, they have voted for state officers who represent their resentful conservatism, but for national representatives who are adept at bringing to the state the massive amounts of federal welfare on which the state subsists.  This welfare does not include what is due the reservations, as required by treaty.  It does include the heavy subsidization of agriculture, particularly in those parts of the state where it has never been capable of sustaining itself. With Thune's constant refrain of saying no, perhaps the U.S. can finally divest itself of a the huge burden of stout pioneer-types who base their independent lifestyles on federal handouts.

So, what kind of votes will the Democrats cast?  Those who are left will most likely sit this election out.  When I look back at the many people I worked with in  the 2004 campaign, I am astounded at how many have left the state or plan to.  South Dakota constantly  whimpers about the brain drain, the exodus of its young people with talent and aspirations to other places.  As most college counselors advise, a smart student does not invest a future where it has little chance of  developing.  But it is not only the young who leave for better prospects.  During the last five years, many mid-career professionals I know have left.  And many more who are looking for productive retirements have left.  They plan to invest the time remaining to them in other places. 

Ultimately, what motivates people in South Dakota is not political.  It's cultural.  John Thune's unopposed candidacy does not represent a political choice as much as a cultural state of affairs.  The people who would encourage and support a Democrat candidate have already voted.  With their feet.  And their minds.   And their morals. 

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