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

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Losing another one and the Columbine Syndrome

An update on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Mass killing has moved out of the status of an anomaly into that of being an American tradition.  Firearms and bombs are essential parts of the ritual.

In the minds of people, mass shooters and bombers seem to be two different species.  But at Columbine, both guns, especially assault rifles, and bombs were equal parts of the plans.  The bombs did not work, but the trusty assault rifles made a high kill count possible.  In mass killings, kill counts are the point.

Another assumption is that mass killers have mental anomalies.  But mass killings are getting so common that maybe the minds of the killers are a new normal.  

People who have known 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have generally commented on what a nice boy he seemed.  The bombings and shootings of which he is accused are not the acts of a nice boy in our customary way of thinking.  And he was not a person who seemed bullied by or estranged from his peers.  He was successful and popular in high school. He seemed to be having academic problems in college, however.   His friends commented that he did not seem to possess any hint of malice.  However, the experts who have analyzed his social media accounts, noted more that a trace of anger or bitterness in some recent entries.  

Dzhokhar appears to be one of those nice boys that we lost.  It is not something professors talk about much, but the occasions that weigh dark and heavy on the academic soul is when  students of ability,  good will and good purpose  go awry.  Usually, drugs or alcohol  or personal relationships with damaging people are involved.  Most dismaying and depressing is when a student pursues some ideology that leads to destruction.  

The late adolescent and early adult years are times when thinking young people get earnest about formulating values and investigating their options.  They tend to try out philosophies and life-styles, often motivated by aspects they did not like during their upbringing.  The hippy era was a mass revolt from the bourgeois values that middle class kids found repressing and unjust.  But the revolt was premised on a superficial, peer-determined set of values which were conditioned by the very forces of trivial materialism that the kids were revolting against. During that age of funky armpits, the absence of personal hygiene was often mistaken for the presence of discerning intellects.   Revolt and experimentation are a part of adolescence and early adulthood, but knowledge and intelligence tend to prevail over the immature posturings for the most part.  

Our times have brought a different social dynamic as the shaping force in young peopleTeachers and astute parents note that values and conduct demonstrated in the home are overruled by their children's peer culture.  Young people respond to peer cliques much the same way that inner city youths respond to gangs.  In dealing with bullying, some high school counselors have observed that the brutality and hostility apparent in some school cliques approaches the intensity of gangs.  In effect, some of our children are living a massive Lord of the Flies, estranged from the cultural institutions that focus on the better angels of human nature, and for some the demons of conflict and destruction become operating principles.  A couple of generations have grown up in the presence of near-constant terror attacks and their motivating hatreds.  Those attacks have contributed to, if not caused, a prevailing attitude of belligerence and domination in our culture. What we call bullying is a form of that other phenomenon we call culture war.  They both stem from a divisive impulse through which productive communication and reasoning are displaced by slogans and stereotypes that have no intellectual content, but serve to divide people into factions driven by malice toward other factions.  When the factions act out on that malice, we call it radicalization.  

The investigators of the Boston Marathon bombing are probing to see if the radicalization of the accused bombers was brought about by foreign influences. It is difficult for Americans to acknowledge that the motives for radicalization are present in abundance in our own society.  The divide that has developed and is growing wider each day in American society is reflected in our politics and in the propaganda strategies that drive it. Cable television news, talk radio, and the Internet are primarily occupied with accounts of the fabricated accusations and malicious lies of one faction trying to discredit another faction.  Trafficking in malice is the major commodity flowing through the media, and the halls of Congress provide a steady contribution to the inflammatory assaults on groups and individuals.  

Last year's election campaign provided many substantial reasons for some people to decide it might be time to get radical.  Our economy is not able to provide jobs through which people can support families.  Students burdened with college loan debts have to take jobs that do not provide enough to pay off those debts.  South Dakota is one of the leading states in which people work two or more jobs to try to get by, but still come up short.  Mitt Romney lumped these people into the 47 percent he dismissed as slackers.  Paul Ryan included them in the 30 percent he said were takers, not makers.  It does not take some Islamic imam to make these people feel disrespected and dismissed.  They can hear it constantly on cable news tv, talk radio, and read it on the Internet.  

The real puzzler is why these people have not already shown more radical tendencies.  A recent poll showed that Americans are very concerned about income inequality, but are reluctant about the government doing anything about it.  With the very low opinion the public has of Congress,  one must wonder why the pollsters expected the  public to put any trust in government.  With 90 percent of the public supporting full background checks on gun purchases and Congress unwilling and unable to address the public's interest, it seems more than a bit absurd that anyone would expect government to to anything about income inequality, particularly with the Republican presidential candidates dissing those who feel this inequality most acutely.  
  
The Occupy Wall Street movement took up the issue of inequality with peaceful protests that provoked more insult and abuse from those in power.  After officials took militant actions against the movement, it receded from public action.  But it is not gone, and a few thinkers and commentators are beginning to grasp why the movement did not announce an agenda of purposes or anoint leaders.  It wanted at all costs to avoid politics-as-usual.  People who participated in and supported the movement understand that government is too gridlocked to accomplish anything for anyone but its corporate sponsors.  The Occupy people see another form of participatory democracy as the way to realizing what was once the American promise. The Tsarnaev brothers apparently found no way of realization in sight.  

Given the hate speech that has become such a part of our culture, the wonder is that more young people have not chosen radical responses to it.  Lincoln's "malice toward none and charity for all" has become codified as malice toward everyone different from you, and charity is an entitlement of the takers.  And "firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right" is, if you hate, God has given you that as a right.  American Christian fundamentalism is more related to the Taliban than to anything Christ practiced or preached. 

As the season of graduations is upon us,  the question of how many young people we have lost weighs more heavily than what successes our young people will create for the nation.  The question is whether the graduates will take a side in the divide, or, like the Occupy movement, realize that our Republic has failed and needs some very fundamental changes.  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Wounded Knee amusement park?



The 1890 images that Wounded Knee calls to mind.


Wounded Knee is for sale.The asking price for the 40-acre site is $3.9 million.  The bodies of many Indian people that we'd like erased from the national memory are buried there.  Many hearts are buried there.  It is a place that memorializes a national disgrace.  It has a name and a silence on the landscape that tells us who we really are.

In 1890,  in one of the nation's glorious acts of gun violence, the Seventh Cavalry shot down 150 Lakota people,  men, women, children.  Their remains are there.  They are for sale.


In 1973, the American Indian Movement occupied the place in an armed stand-off to protest the treatment by the U.S. and the culture that cannot and will not understand a people who do not want a predatory and parasitic economic system to govern their minds and their lives.  

Joseph Brings Plenty, a former chair of the Cheyenne River tribe, makes the case in The New York Times:  

The killing ground stirs great emotion in all of our people — memories of bodies frozen into twisted shapes, of those who were hunted down and murdered as they fled, and of those who escaped in bitter cold across wind-swept plains. These stories have been handed down to us and live within us.
 ...

Now, our heritage is in danger of becoming a real-estate transaction, another parcel of what once was our land auctioned off to the highest bidder. The cries of our murdered people still echo off the barren hills — the cries we remember in our hearts every day of our lives. But they may finally be drowned out by bulldozers and the ka-ching of commerce.

  In 1970, Dee Brown wrote Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a native American history from the native perspective.  The title is from a poem by Stephen vincent Benet which explores the power of  place names in America.  After the occupation of 1973, Buffy St. Marie wrote a song with the same title that aptly expresses what the sale of Wounded Knee means and portends. 



INTRO:
Indian legislation on the desk of a do-right Congressman
Now, he don't know much about the issue
so he picks up the phone and he asks advice from the
Senator out in Indian country
A darling of the energy companies who are
ripping off what's left of the reservations. Huh.

1.
I learned a safety rule
I don't know who to thank
Don't stand between the reservation and the
corporate bank
They send in federal tanks
It isn't nice but it's reality

chorus:
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee
Deep in the Earth
Cover me with pretty lies
bury my heart at Wounded Knee. Huh.

2.
They got these energy companies that want the land
and they've got churches by the dozen who want to
guide our hands
and sign Mother Earth over to pollution, war and
greed
Get rich... get rich quick.

chorus...

3. We got the federal marshals
We got the covert spies
We got the liars by the fire
We got the FBIs
They lie in court and get nailed
and still Peltier goes off to jail

chorus...

4.
My girlfriend Annie Mae talked about uranium
Her head was filled with bullets and her body dumped
The FBI cut off her hands and told us she'd died of
exposure
Loo loo loo loo loo

chorus...

We had the Goldrush Wars
Aw, didn't we learn to crawl and still our history gets
written in a liar's scrawl
They tell 'ya "Honey, you can still be an Indian
d-d-down at the 'Y'
on Saturday nights"

Bury my heart at Wounded Knee
Deep in the Earth
Cover me with pretty lies
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee. Huh!

• • •



1973 occupiers

The tanks moved in in 1973

The site for sale

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

To teach or not to teach? Is it even the question?

Slate claims that the U.S. has some of the lowest academic requirements for teachers in the developed world.  The article which summarizes a study presented in a book (Children’s Chances: How Countries Can Move from Surviving to Thriving ) contains contradictory and confusing statements, like much of the journalism that purports to cover education.  

The article is accompanied by a world map which is designed to show the levels of education required among all the countries.  The map is indicative of the incoherence of the article, as it has color coding that shows the U.S. in a light shade of blue that is almost indistinguishable from another light shade of blue used in the map.   The confusing graphics are not outdone by the categories they represent.  The U.S. is put in a category of requirement labeled "Bachelor's degree"  with Canada and South America being a step higher requiring "Bachelor's degree with training."   Actually, the color coding in the book itself is much less confusing, but the categories are the same, and are as inadequate in representing requirements.  Teacher education programs in the U.S. require a bachelor's degree and most, perhaps all, require additional training in education methods and supervised training in an actual classroom.  The imprecise, rather slovenly, attempt to characterize education requirements in the U.S. contributes no substantive information about the qualifications possessed by the nation's teachers.  

The book on which the Slate article is based is not predominantly about teacher education, but has as its main focus how, despite formidable problems of poverty and social chaos in the world, education has significantly addressed those problems.  The article attempts to tie teacher education to America's alleged low standing in education, particularly in science and math, comparison with other countries.

The main source of the outpouring of concern about America's lagging achievement in education in world standing is from the Program for International Student Achievement( PISA.
It tests 15-year-olds in reading, math, and science.  Studies are beginning to point out the flaws and faults in using such studies for comparative purposes.  A Stanford University study summarizes those faults:

  • There is an achievement gap between more and less disadvantaged students in every country; surprisingly, that gap is smaller in the United States than in similar post-industrial countries, and not much larger than in the very highest scoring countries.
  • Achievement of U.S. disadvantaged students has been rising rapidly over time, while achievement of disadvantaged students in countries to which the United States is frequently unfavorably compared – Canada, Finland and Korea, for example – has been falling rapidly.
  • But the highest social class students in United States do worse than their peers in other nations, and this gap widened from 2000 to 2009 on the PISA.
  • U.S. PISA scores are depressed partly because of a sampling flaw resulting in a disproportionate number of students from high-poverty schools among the test-takers. About 40 percent of the PISA sample in the United States was drawn from schools where half or more of the students are eligible for the free lunch program, though only 32 percent of students nationwide attend such schools.
It has been pointed out many times, but has fallen on profoundly deaf ears, that the U.S.  offers universal education which does not stream students into various curricula, especially courses of study that assume the students in them will never do any kind of intellectual work that requires academically developed skills.    Many countries do.  And they test only those students who are in the academic tracks.

This comparison of teacher preparation makes the same kind of error.  Most teacher education programs include those components that the Slate article says are lacking.  And many schools now make teacher education a five-year program with the fifth year devoted to an intensive internship.  Not all schools have the same program.  Not all states have the same requirements. 

About 20 years ago, shortages of teachers began to show up as schools did their hiring.  To meet the demand for teachers many colleges did lower the requirements for admission and retention in teacher education.  Many school districts ask for and received provision certification so that they could fill jobs with personnel who did not meet all the qualifications. Those stop-gap measures are still in effect in some places.  

Much of the criticism of education stems from a press that does not have people educated in educational theory and practice doing the reporting and commenting.

The Beacon contains recent posts about resigning teachers who have made stringent criticisms about the ruining of education.  One of them says he is not leaving the profession, but that the profession left him. 
Ending a profession

The question that is beginning to overwhelm teaching is why would any person of integrity and ambition to develop knowledge and skills in others want to go into teaching?  The profession has been attacked and denigrated on so many fronts that any person who has hopes to live a productive and dignified life can find no hope in teaching.  

At this juncture, if Americans know better than those who work at teaching every day how to deliver education.  they better start now.  There may soon be no profession to do it for them. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Two more years for Sen. Tim Johnson to get a lot done

With all the news about marriage equality,  this important work of Sen. Tim Johnson was ignored in the South Dakota legacy media.  From Indian Country Today Media Network:

On April 3, the Pine Ridge and Lake Traverse reservations received news that they would be receiving $466,390 as part of a 
$1.9 million grant package for housing rehabilitation and improvement that was announced by Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.
“These funds will have a real impact in Indian country, helping families rehabilitate their homes and build a stronger and safer future for their communities,” Johnson said.

The Sisseton Wahpeton Housing Authority will receive $300,000 to help 30 homeowners on the Lake Traverse Reservation according to a press release from Johnson’s office. The recipients, all tribal members, will receive assistance in either making structural repairs or improving accessibility.
Oglala Sioux Lakota Housing in Pine Ridge will receive $166,390. The grant will be used to repair and improve seven rental homes for elderly residents on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Dacotah Bank, sponsor of both grants, is one of many local financial institutions that have partnered with the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) of Des Moines to generate the funds to be used for rehabilitation and repair of hundreds of properties.

“The Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines and their local partners deserve a lot of credit for the work they do for families and communities across this state,” Johnson said.

"For several years, FHLB Des Moines has made improving or creating homes for Native American a priority in our Affordable Housing Program scoring. We are proud to be providing additional funding today for Native American housing programs," said Van Fishback, director of FHLB Des Moines.

The copy.9 million will be split among seven organizations and came from FHLB’s Affordable Housing Program (AHP) which has distributed more than $20 million to projects in South Dakota since its creation. The grants are privately-funded by FHLB’s earnings, and no taxpayer funds are involved.


 

If Kevin Ware was a horse, they'd have put him down


Kevin Ware, U. of Louisville,  broke his leg on court. 
Yep.  They shoot horses.  

And do a lot of other nasty stuff to animals.  In some states it is now against the law to videotape people mistreating animals. 

It is okay to shoot injured horses, however.   And with many people, to shoot perfectly healthy little kids and their teachers in classrooms.  And to torture dumb animals.

In the meantime, the field for the running of the Kentucky Derby continues to take shape. .
Verrazano leads Normandy Invasion across the Woods Memorial finish line.  

Verrazano, an unbeaten horse, won the Wood Memorial Saturday to advance to the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby.  He has been the favorite and and the odds are firming up in his favor.  


Flashback, the grey, is overtaken by Goldencents.
At the Santa Anita in California,  Goldencents beat out Flashback to advance to the Derby.  Goldencents was ridden by Afro-American Jockey Kevin Krigger.  Joe Drape and Mellissa
Hoppert of The New York Times have revised and updated their Derby roster, which now includes Goldencents.





















Another teacher gives a parting assessment to the school board

Now, another teacher, a 40-year veteran, tells the superintendent and school board what is so wrong about what they are doing to education as he resigns from his job.   Here, from The Washington Post, is his letter: 



Mr. Casey Barduhn, Superintendent
Westhill Central School District
400 Walberta Park Road
Syracuse, New York 13219


Dear Mr. Barduhn and Board of Education Members:

It is with the deepest regret that I must retire at the close of this school year, ending my more than twenty-seven years of service at Westhill on June 30, under the provisions of the 2012-15 contract. I assume that I will be eligible for any local or state incentives that may be offered prior to my date of actual retirement and I trust that I may return to the high school at some point as a substitute teacher.

As with Lincoln and Springfield, I have grown from a young to an old man here; my brother died while we were both employed here; my daughter was educated here, and I have been touched by and hope that I have touched hundreds of lives in my time here. I know that I have been fortunate to work with a small core of some of the finest students and educators on the planet.

I came to teaching forty years ago this month and have been lucky enough to work at a small liberal arts college, a major university and this superior secondary school. To me, history has been so very much more than a mere job, it has truly been my life, always driving my travel, guiding all of my reading and even dictating my television and movie viewing. Rarely have I engaged in any of these activities without an eye to my classroom and what I might employ in a lesson, a lecture or a presentation. With regard to my profession, I have truly attempted to live John Dewey’s famous quotation (now likely cliché with me, I’ve used it so very often) that  “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” This type of total immersion is what I have always referred to as teaching “heavy,” working hard, spending time, researching, attending to details and never feeling satisfied that I knew enough on any topic. I now find that this approach to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised. STEM rules the day and “data driven” education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education and particularly not at Westhill.

A long train of failures has brought us to this unfortunate pass. In their pursuit of Federal tax dollars, our legislators have failed us by selling children out to private industries such as Pearson Education. The New York State United Teachers union has let down its membership by failing to mount a much more effective and vigorous campaign against this same costly and dangerous debacle. Finally, it is with sad reluctance that I say our own administration has been both uncommunicative and unresponsive to the concerns and needs of our staff and students by establishing testing and evaluation systems that are Byzantine at best and at worst, draconian. This situation has been exacerbated by other actions of the administration, in either refusing to call open forum meetings to discuss these pressing issues, or by so constraining the time limits of such meetings that little more than a conveying of information could take place. This lack of leadership at every level has only served to produce confusion, a loss of confidence and a dramatic and rapid decaying of morale. The repercussions of these ill-conceived policies will be telling and shall resound to the detriment of education for years to come. The analogy that this process is like building the airplane while we are flying would strike terror in the heart of anyone should it be applied to an actual airplane flight, a medical procedure, or even a home repair. Why should it be acceptable in our careers and in the education of our children?

My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom. Teacher planning time has also now been so greatly eroded by a constant need to “prove up” our worth to the tyranny of APPR (through the submission of plans, materials and “artifacts” from our teaching) that there is little time for us to carefully critique student work, engage in informal intellectual discussions with our students and colleagues, or conduct research and seek personal improvement through independent study. We have become increasingly evaluation and not knowledge driven. Process has become our most important product, to twist a phrase from corporate America, which seems doubly appropriate to this case.

After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists. I feel as though I have played some game halfway through its fourth quarter, a timeout has been called, my teammates’ hands have all been tied, the goal posts moved, all previously scored points and honors expunged and all of the rules altered.

For the last decade or so, I have had two signs hanging above the blackboard at the front of my classroom, they read, “Words Matter” and “Ideas Matter”. While I still believe these simple statements to be true, I don’t feel that those currently driving public education have any inkling of what they mean.

Sincerely and with regret,
Gerald J. Conti
Social Studies Department Leader
Cc: Doreen Bronchetti, Lee Roscoe
My little Zu.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

The picture that should launch a thousand peace initiatives

KABUL, Afghanistan — A fierce battle between U.S.-backed Afghan forces and Taliban militants in a remote corner of eastern Afghanistan left nearly 20 people dead, including 11 Afghan children killed in an airstrike and an American civilian adviser, officials said Sunday.

  

The story is in the Huffington Post and The New York Times.

Education is pointless


We used to cheerfully ask children, "What do you want to be when you grown up?"

In today's economy it is an impertinent and irrelevant question.  The question of the day is, "Do you think there is a place for you when you grow up?" 

The answer is provided by the economy.  It is a resounding "no."  Last year, 284,000 college graduates held minimum wage jobs.  The Huffington Post states:


Nearly half of the college graduates in the class of 2010 are working in jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree and 38 percent have jobs that don’t even require a high school diploma, according to a January report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

The underemployment trend is noted in these statements:
Three-fifths of the jobs lost during the recession paid middle-income wages, while the same share of the jobs created during the recovery are low-wage work, according to an August study from the National Employment Law Project. 
The problem with the loss of decent jobs did not begin during the recession.  The recession just brought the matter into sharper focus.  The loss of jobs and the decline of the middle class began with the Reagan administration and its many fronts of attack on working people: supply-side economics, deliberate shift from manufacturing to service jobs; attacks on labor unions; reduction of government regulators; and deregulation of rules that required fair-play in employment and the market place.  Reagan most likely believed that supply-side economics would load up the rich who would trickle down wealth to the working underclass, but American history indicates that is not how the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few works.  The consequences of the three-decades of Reagan revolution are:

  •  The top 1 percent of Americans hold 23.5 percent of the wealth.
  •     The top 10 percent of Americans hold 83 percent of the wealth.
  •     The top 1 percent of Americans gather 10 percent of the income.
  •     The top 10 percent of Americans gather 49 percent of the income.
  •      The bottom 90 percent of Americans share 27 percent of the nation's wealth.
  •     The bottom 90 percent of Americans divide 51 percent of the nation's income.  
Peter Dreier in The Nation provides the narrative:

During his two terms in the White House (1981–89), Reagan presided over a widening gap between the rich and everyone else, declining wages and living standards for working families, an assault on labor unions as a vehicle to lift Americans into the middle class, a dramatic increase in poverty and homelessness, and the consolidation and deregulation of the financial industry that led to the current mortgage meltdown, foreclosure epidemic and lingering recession.

...
But whatever economic growth occurred during the Reagan years mostly benefitted those already well off. The income gap between the rich and everyone else in America widened. Wages for the average worker declined and the nation’s homeownership rate fell. During Reagan’s two terms in the White House, the minimum wage was frozen at $3.35 an hour, while prices rose, thus eroding the standard of living of millions of low-wage workers. The number of people living beneath the federal poverty line rose from 26.1 million in 1979 to 32.7 million in 1988. Meanwhile, the rich got much richer. By the end of the decade, the richest 1 percent of Americans had 39 percent of the nation’s wealth.
The loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S.  accelerated the loss of earning power and wealth among working people.  Daily Finance states the case: "Economic strength requires a strong manufacturing base, but while Asian countries are building theirs, America has slowly allowed its own base to starve." 

According to the ecological model, there must be a broad and stable base of producers to support an economy.  The loss of jobs which create and make goods triggers a loss of jobs throughout the economy.  College graduates are finding that the jobs they hoped to compete for just are not there.  The plight of working people is summarized by the March jobs report
  Many Americans are still so discouraged that they’ve given up on the job market....
People without a job who stop looking for one are no longer counted as unemployed. That’s why the U.S. unemployment rate dropped in March despite weak hiring. If the 496,000 who left the labor force last month had still been looking for jobs, the unemployment rate would have risen to 7.9 percent in March
There is a very large segment of people with educations who find that America is no longer the land of opportunity.  To those who have worked to develop knowledge, talent, and skills and find themselves rejected and excluded from participating in a productive life, education is a bitter irrelevancy. 

There is the treacherous aspect of a class war in the situation.  Karl Marx is not the first to recognize and mention the class struggle (he never used the terms war or warfare),  He focused on the dangers of capitalism for the working class.  A major problem in the American economy stems from the liberals being so reluctant to face up to the fact that we are in a class war and the working people are, even the educated ones, the sacrificial goats.  As a Princeton history professor states it:  "Many on the right would attack liberalism, even if it was, you know, mainstream liberalism that respected capitalism as being a form of socialism. Many liberals backed off. They didn't want to talk about economic classes. They talked about other issues and they talked about it in different ways."  They were afraid of being labeled and libeled as Marxists. 


The young people coming out of college  today did not live through the Cold War and are not  acquainted with the Soviet Union as a Marxist state.  They do not associate the oppressive and negative aspects of that time with the terms communism and socialism.  They are more likely to know something of  what is taking place in South America and
and the efforts of rather extreme left wing forces to bring some equality and freedom to the people there.  Pope Francis has approached the deprivations and their consequences from the aspect of Christian doctrine.  

The American Dream for aspiring workers is to develop talents through which one can make a reasonable living and to enjoy the concepts of liberty, equality, and justice that America promises.  The American Dream in the CEO suites and among their sycophants is to have a cheap and disposable labor force that does not have the material or intellectual resources to assert equality or demand justice.

The CEO dream is a nightmare for those who work.  Productive jobs were eliminated and replaced with those that require an obedient servility.  As a consequence of that shift, education is no longer a preparation for any available career, and has been made so expensive that it, like health care, is becoming unaffordable for many.  Universal public education, which was the way to democratic equality to Abraham Lincoln, is under attack, as the movement to eliminate art and humanities from the curriculum gains momentum, with the aim of preparing students to be cogs in the machinery of a technology that will more efficiently produce wealth for the one percent.

The solution is not class warfare.  The proposition has never been the redistribution of wealth.  The proposition is to be serious about liberty, equality, and justice.  If college students cannot find jobs, at least they might learn enough about the struggles of humanity for freedom and equality and justice to understand the feudal mentalities that preside over the corporate offices.  Such understanding might produce class warfare, but it might also produce generations who pursue the ways to build things and build a just and equal society that can restore the American promise.  

I, for one, would rather live with educated malcontents, than people educated into being mindless robots.   We got a glimpse of the those disatisfied people in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  The media and those who were alarmed by the movement have taken its reticence of the last year to mean that the movement was short-lived and went away.  It didn't.  Astute young people realized that some wished to co-opt the movement and thrust it into the class warfare fight, and they saw how the counterparts to their movement in the Middle East were co-opted by old ideologues.  However, the influence of a thoughtful, educated people can be seen in the movement to marriage equality, the legalizing of marijuana, and the massive public support for taking measures to get control of gun violence.  

Education is not pointless.  It is the total point when it comes to redirecting America toward realizing its promise.  That redirection comes from knowing that the feudal mentality leads back to slavery and vicious discrimination against people who do not choose to be controlled by the one percent or the ten percent or, in matters of peaceful pursuits, even the 90 percent.  

People who know and understand things rather than people who simply can repeat the dogmas and cant of outworn creeds are the path to realizing the American principles.

Education is not irrelevant to people who want to realize the American promise.  The truly educated are the ones who will lead the way in achieving it.   And insistently if they are forced to take minimum wage jobs for a time.  

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Screw politics and head for the starting gate for May 4


We haven't seen the first robin in Aberdeen yet, and wonder why these harbingers seem to come up here later and later with the passing years.  So, we rely upon another harbinger, the horse race season, to get the feel for spring.  The Kentucky Derby is only a month away. The contenders field is beginning to take shape.

It is time to put aside politics and look at something more beautiful and interesting.  Horses may be quirky, sometimes ornery, but they are quite few steps up the behavioral ladder than politicos, and what is written about them escapes the petty posturing and nastiness that comprises political discourse.  



On Saturday there were two races where one can get a sighting and some good possibilities for contention.  At Gulfstream Park, 18 miles north of Miami on the coast, The Florida Derby was run.  The winner was a colt named Orb, who was held back into mid-field
Orb






at the start of the race, but at the second turn he put on a burst of speed and passed up three horses battling it out for first place.  It was his fourth win at Gulfstream.  Although Orb had already qualified for the Kentucky Derby, he added another 100 points and $600,000 to his qualifications. 

Revolutionary
At the Fair Grounds race track in New Orleans, the Louisiana Derby was run.  The winner was Revolutionary.   He hung back second from last at the beginning of the race, and then glided past the entire field to win the race by a neck and earn 100 points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. 

A horse that did not run Saturday but is handicapped as the favorite is a stable mate of Revolutionary's,
Verrazano
Verrazano.  He has run every race he's been in, and will run this Saturday in the Woods Memorial at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, N.Y. 

Here is a list of the Kentucky Derby contenders by Joe Drape and Melissa Hoppert of The New York Times.


Malice mates with stupid: the making of a lie

South Dakota War College is to communication what HIV virus is to a blood bank.  

A recent post illustrates why that is so.   It also shows how the journalistic malpractice on the part of some in the legacy media forms the basis for what the War College does much to the consternation of other journalists.  


The post in question has the headline "Herseth Sandlin hammered by media for lobbyist ties."  That headline illustrates the combination of incompetence and malevolent dishonesty that is the blog's trademark.  That combination is further carried out in the opening sentence:  "The media seems to already be doing Brendan Johnson’s dirty work in softening up Stephanie Herseth Sandlin for the primary, as KEVN files a blistering story on her lobbying work[.]"

When the post was first put up,  it identified the source as KEVN, the Fox television channel in Rapid City.  KEVN's news director and anchor, Jack Caudill , replied with a comment:  "Your story says KEVN wrote a blistering story about Stephanie Herseth Sandlin. That is not our story."   An hour later, he replied again:  "Again, the story was not done by KEVN. That is an error."

Eventually, the troll that resides under the War College bridge crept out and changed the source attribution to KNBN, the NBC affiliate in Rapid City.  But without any acknowledgment or comment on the error.  

The first comment in response to the post came from another journalist, Tom Lawrence of the Mitchell Republic.  It called attention to an error in the information contained in the post:  "Big error here. Herseth Sandlin was a member of Congress in 2006. Max Sandlin registered as a lobbyist in 2006, not SHS. Will we see a correction?" 

The post illustrates how one error gets compounded when it is repeated on a blog.  The question is, who should make the correction?  And that leads to the provenance of the information as it was passed along.

(As a matter of clarity, the Wart Collage post was called to my attention when I was contacted as the spouse of a former Herseth Sandlin staff member to verify some matters of chronology raised by the post.)

The provenance, as we trace it, is:

  • Original column:  The Washington Examiner, by senior political columnist Timothy P. Carney.  To
  •  KNBN, reporter Shad Olson.  To
  • SDWC, Pat Powers.  
All the  sources of information involved are fruits hanging on various branches of the wingnut tree.  However, Mr. Carney demonstrates some  competence and diligence in his presentation of information.  One of his graphs is the basis for the error:
South Dakota Democrat Stephanie Herseth in mid-2004 won a special election for an open-seat House race. When she came to town, she became involved in a romance with fellow Democratic Rep. Max Sandlin of Texas. In 2004, Sandlin lost re-election. In 2006, Sandlin registered as a lobbyist. Herseth and Sandlin married in 2007, creating an ethically awkward arrangement, especially when Rep. Herseth Sandlin voted for the legislation her husband was being paid to champion.
Mr. Olson twists that information when he wretches it up in this regurgitation:

In 2006. back when she was Stephanie Herseth, she registered as a lobbyist, and met and married fellow lobbyist, Max Sandlin, setting up what the Examiner calls an ethically awkward arrangement, “especially when Herseth-Sandlin voted for legislation her husband was paid to champion.”
Mr. Olson turns a paraphrase into a false-a-phrase and then gives it the aspect of authenticity with a partial quotation.  One can conjecture whether incompetence or dishonesty is the cause.     Mr. Olson was fired from television station KOTA in 2010 when he compromised the credibility of the station by becoming an open and rather boisterous advocate for the tea party.

Mr. Powers cuts and pastes Mr. Olson's misquotation and misstatement and passes it along.  One may wonder if it ever occurred to Mr. Powers to track back to the Washington Examiner source to insure that what he cuts and pastes is an accurate representation of the facts and what is quoted about them, but he has a long history of prancing about in an insouciance dance around matters of truth and accuracy and integrity.  He vaporized his performances in such matters when he destroyed his blog before going to work at the Secretary of State's office, and then reduced the trust and credibility of that office to a shambles with his  performances there, before he was forced out.  

Mr. Lawrence's query about whether we will see a correction is answered by what happened.  Mr. Powers crept out from under the bridge where the troll coven gathers, quietly changed the source designation, and then crept back to the coven, leaving the misinformation hanging out there on the wingnut tree for all the devotees to ingest and enjoy.  This is besides the issue of falsely insisting that Brendan Johnson is engaged in a plot to malign and undercut Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, or the portrayal of clumsy and incompetent reporting as "blistering."  Matters of intelligence and integrity are not values that have any relevance to the trolls and other benighted creatures. 

The calling out of errors by established journalists raises some conflicting issues.  On one hand, it is heartening that established and competent journalists such as Mr. Caudill and Mr. Lawrence are rising in the interests of the press, the integrity of which is essential to the operation of a democratic republic.  On the other hand, it is disheartening that their attention must be paid to the malicious and scurrilous, and that blogs with such reputations have any credence and influence on reporting and political discourse.  But just as we must mount countermeasures to the spread of HIV for the sake of national health, we must take measures to rescue the Internet from the being the vector of malice and falsehood to the point that reputable institutions do not accept the veracity of anything purveyed by it unless the information is processed through a complex and arduous process of authentication.  The responses of Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Caudill refute the War College's premise that a statement originating in a very partisan, tea-party aligned medium, the Washington Examiner, is distorted and falsified by a reporter with a demonstrated past of compromising journalism with tea-party ideology is representative of "the media" participating in a conspiracy being made up by Pat Powers.  It is, in fact, the kind of practice that the legacy media quickly wish to disassociate themselves from. 

However, the very fact that accuracy and honesty issues are being raised by members of our legacy media gives a glimmer of hope. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Indians never say goodbye *

The retirement of Sen. Tim Johnson has a deep sense of loss for many, but it is particularly acute for American Indians. Indian Country Today notes, "His commitment to improving the quality of life for American Indians/Alaskan Natives was a priority for him."

And it cites some examples and recognitions of that work. Native Sun News noted that he was "the longtime advocate for South Dakota’s reservations as well as the rest of Indian country."  It states,
"Last year he played a major role in reconciling the House and Senate versions of the Violence Against Women Act that has been heralded across Indian country for its ability to help tribal courts prosecute non-Native domestic violence offenders."  He serves on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. 

Tim Johnson's power and influence  on and off the reservation  registered with people, not only for the work and service he expended, but for the way he and his family inspired people who don't get many encouraging words or deeds from the political operatives in South Dakota.   Both Tim and his wife, Barbara, battled and won over cancer.  Barbara took her message of working and enduring to China, and gave women facing struggles with breast cancer a vision of a future life that is not stopped and obstructed by a disease that so many face.  After being diagnosed with prostate cancer, Tim quietly battled away and diligently tended to his work in the Senate.

After suffering a brain hemorrhage during a telephone press conference, which left him with a speech problem and some  uncooperative limbs, Sen. Johnson worked arduously at physical therapy that enabled him to resume his work schedule with the Senate, and then worked as arduously at his duties.  Despite some loud outcries from those perennial depreciators and traducers who never miss an opportunity to inflict damage on other humans, Sen. Johnson won another election, rose to the chair of the banking subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, and did the important work for his constituents.  Rather than let the debilities from a brain injury end his work life and retreat from public life, Sen. Johnson demonstrated what it takes to remain viable and productive in the hectic business of politics.  He had to be more selective about public appearances because of the extra considerations and effort they take, but he demonstrated how to  manage around problems in order to get essential work accomplished.  

One afternoon shortly after he returned to work on the Senate floor, Sen. Johnson came to McLaughlin on the Standing Rock Reservation for the dedication of a new tribal business center.  The center is devoted to facilitating the start up of enterprises that can serve the economy and the culture of the  reservation.  Sen. Johnson was rolled up to the podium in a wheel chair, then stood up and read a statement he had prepared, a measure he took to insure that his words are carefully chosen and delivered with clarity.  But his appearance at Standing Rock had more purpose than to encourage an economic enterprise.  At the time, Standing Rock had experienced some troubling law enforcement problems, and Sen. Johnson and Rep. Herseth Sandlin had facilitated augmenting the tribal police force with some federal help from the BIA police.  Sen. Johnson's appearance was evidence that the people of Standing Rock were being served in accordance with the original treaties and agreements that created the  reservations and that their elected representatives were attending to their needs.  

While the reservations on which Native Americans have been put contain the most barren lands in the state, they remain places where the native people have some contact with the lands that were once their domain and the sustaining culture that they practiced on it.  Sen. Johnson is one of the elected officials who recognized the intensity of their bond to the land and honored their sovereign relationship to it.  

Sen. Johnson enjoyed respect and trust from people on the reservations, and I particularly remember him being honored in a Dakota prayer during a visit to the Sisseton Wahpeton reservation.  Amid the contentions and malignant atmosphere that comprise politics, especially of recent times, Tim Johnson was a constant force of hard work and mindful regard to the American Indian people.  They have seen their substantial supporters lose elections in recent years, in part because they have earnestly represented the Indian people, and Sen. Johnson's retirement means the loss of a steady and persistent voice on the national front. 

There was also a sense of relief for many in the announcement of Sen. Johnson's retirement.  Bloggers and news columnists are predicting that the 2014 senatorial campaign in South Dakota will be particularly nasty.  Given the performances of the last ten years, it doesn't take an astute mind to make that prediction. Those who would oppose Sen. Johnson have been trying to use his debilitations as criticisms of his performance, but the fact that Sen. Johnson has done his job conscientiously and well blunts those attempts.  However, that is an obvious line of attack, and many people do not want such perverse indignities inflicted upon a man they think deserves honor.  Just as significant is that many, many people do not want to be witness to, let alone party to, the degradations that the coming campaign is so likely to devolve into.  

Campaigns have become more than negative.  They have sunk to a state of moral dementia.  The press, in an effort to appear fair and balanced, but mostly to appease attacks from the right wing, likes to say that both parties are guilty of negative campaigning.  But, one party is vastly more active and responsible for the state of political discourse, as the record of racist, false, and absurd public statements accrue to its members in astounding numbers.  Nationally and statewide, the GOP demonstrates a profound moral destitution.  It puts holding power over serving the people and the causes of liberty, equality, and justice.  

In South Dakota, those who have maintained the records and analyzed the campaigns point the sharp and striking differences between the candidates in the Daschle-Thune campaign of 2004 and the Herseth Sandlin-Nome campaign of 2010. Daschle and Herseth Sandlin tried to center their campaigns on issues, but their opponents kept up a steady stream of character assassination and accusations that successes in Washington were a sell out of South Dakota.  What is dismaying is that those tactics worked, which says something about the South Dakota constituency.  

The South Dakota GOP lets a group of school yard bullies who have never grown out of their juvenile belligerence and witless taunts carry on the political discourse for them.  When the Democratic Party was recruiting candidates to run against John Thune in 2010, some very promising people declined because they did not want to subject their families to the damaging campaign the GOP is dedicated to.   The Democrats cling to the idea that they must fight back by finding candidates, but they have failed to recognize some changes in thinking among their constituents.

There is much speculation for Tim Johnson's son Brendan or Stephanie Herseth Sandlin to run for his seat in two years, but many Democrats think they are major talents that would be wasted on a campaign in South Dakota.  Their talents and educations could be better employed at more uplifting work rather than get besmirched by the degradation that the GOP has made of South Dakota politics.  Standing and fighting is not always smart and courageous.  The immigrants who came to South Dakota did so when they realized that political and social opportunities were closed to them in their fatherlands, and they found it wiser and effective to move their efforts to where they could be productive.  

South Dakota will strain to suppress and oppress those that the conservative mindset designates as undesirables.  If people so designated want to live viable, productive lives, they will need, as their ancestors did, to shift the focus of their energies.  As in the case of marriage equality, the nation at large is going in quite a different direction than South Dakota and other red states.  But the Native Americans in the state do not have that history as an example.  Those immigrants who found better lives in South Dakota did so on lands taken from the Indians through force and fraud.  The return of their lands and their sovereignty over them is unfinished business.  The passage of the Violence Against Women Act addressed a part of the sovereignty issue, but it is receiving resistance in the Dakotas.  Liberty, justice, and equality for the native people are not something that the state will consider or allow.  The extension of those values will have to come from the nation at large.

What Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Brendan Johnson decide to do is, of course, up to them.  They both have strong histories of working for the Indian people in the state, and there are many of us who think their abilities and talents could be better employed than by running for public office in campaigns that leave candidates and voters alike without honor or hope.  

The fact that Tim Johnson will leave office in two years gives some time for him to carry out the legacy of honoring the Indian people.  He may leave office, but the Indians will not say goodbye. 

[* LeAnne Howe,
   "Indians Never Say Goodbye."]

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