News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Why people leave or stay in South Dakota



This story in the Washington Post may provide insight into why working-age people are leaving South e Dakota and what accounts for the decline in Democratic voter registration.  The rural slump into poverty is basis for the problems examined in this story. 

Here are some pertinent quotations:


It’s the kind of poverty that can affect anyone who finds themselves in a place when the native industries disappear, as they have in Southeast Colorado and other rural areas across America.

“I think it’s more of a place-based poverty than it is demographic,” says Tracey Farrigan, an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who is studying how rural poverty has spread. “People are moving to areas where they can afford to live, which are areas with less support for them. It’s kind of a cycle. So the places are poor, and the people are poor.”

“You could ask ten people what they think of the area, and nine of them would say they can’t stand it, but they never leave,”

Most of their kids have already left town, for good reason.

Boredom, it turns out, is a dangerous thing. Without so much as a skate park, an arcade, a movie theater, or even a nearby mall to hang out in, kids find less wholesome activities: Drug use and early pregnancy are everywhere.

Poverty in early childhood is correlated with significantly lower incomes down the road, as well as higher incarceration and pregnancy rates, behavioral problems, and depressed educational achievement.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Listicles and goat testicles

“I noticed that all the prayers I used to offer to God, and all the prayers I now offer to Joe Pesci, are being answered at about the same fifty percent rate. Half the time I get what I want, half the time I don't...Same as the four-leaf clover and the horseshoe...same as the voodoo lady who tells you your fortune by squeezing the goat's testicles. It's all the same...so just pick your superstition, sit back, make a wish, and enjoy yourself...”  George Carlin



I don't post much of late..  I do not apologize because I am not presumptuous enough to think that people anxiously await my next blog post.  And it isn't that there are no potential postings in the draft folder of blogger.com.  It is because as blogging has evolved, it is a degraded activity. One of the original bloggers for the Beacon was asked why she no longer blogged.  She said for the same reason she doesn't frequent biker bars. It contributes more to human degradation than to any valuable or thought-provoking dialogue.  If you look at blog posts and their comment sections or the comment sections in even the most reputable news sites,  you find that the majority of comments are recitations of the mindless slogans of political hacks, or the uninformed expressions of the petty and peevish and ill-willed.  And they nearly always descend into personal attacks and insult among the commenters.  While the Internet provides valuable access to information sites,  its interactive features display the mental and moral failures of humankind and show a horde of people busily engaged in degrading human life.  Although, they are either too self-adsorbed or stupid to realize it.

Groping goat testicles to see if one can elicit  some kind of personal affirmation is not about engaging in an informing conversation that can produce understanding of other perspectives.  Most blog posts and commentaries do not engage in the journalistic or rhetorical purpose of convincing us to consider different viewpoints.  The reaction they generally produce is to suggest that much of the human race is flirting with idiocy as a way of life. 

Much of the problem comes from the major media's attempts to attract readership.  The Huffington Post is probably the biggest practitioner, although Salon is right up there with it, in its attempts to compete with the social media for inane trivia and puerile obsessions.  It has people actually working on posts that concern themselves with getting a glimpse of celebrity boobs.  



There are two aspects of the new media that tend to reduce literacy in its audience.  It does not concentrate on providing accurate and verified information, but focuses on diverting attention so that the advertising and entertainment function becomes its primary concern.  And, as teachers and writers have known for some time, digital information reduces reading comprehension—teachers and editors find that that the cut-and-paste  and Internet search processes often lead student writers and readers  to manipulate words with little knowledge or understanding of what they actually say.

Threads of comments abound with the hackwork slogans and platitudes of politics, but most threads demonstrate that very few people can stay on topic.  Most respond to blog statements by reciting their favorite bits of cant, whether or not it has any merit of veracity or knowledge of the subject.  So many people are conditioned like Pavlov’s dog salivating at the ring of a bell.  Their responses are conditioned patterns of behavior, not the result of comprehension through actual cognitive activity.

This matter of the illiteracy of so much of the public is a symptom of the real problem in education.  For many years, people in the conservative movement have criticized public education when it does not condition students to think and say  and do things that conform to the dogmas of the conservative mentality.  Any educational activity that motivates independent and original thought is a regarded as a threat.  Teachers are evaluated not on how they teach students to use and develop their thinking skills and their learning habits, but on how they indoctrinate students into a canned set of dogmas as measured on standardized tests.  The constant preparation for standardized tests limits the classroom activity and content  to teaching to the test.  Teachers are evaluated on how well they have done their indoctrinating and the schools are ranked on well they enforce the indoctrination process.  No individual thinking and things that inspire it, such as literature, is allowed.
The new illiteracy is catered to by the social and legacy media in their quests for audience.  No form of writing illustrates that quest more than the listicle.  A listicle is an article based upon a list of some kind.  Examples are:






The first problem with listicles is the matter of ranking things.  Were the ilthings listed derived from criteria established by some comprehensive, scientific process  Or were they the product of some writer contriving some lists that might grab some readers’ interests.  The basis for ranking things is the assumption that some things are better than others.  For people, it denies the idea of equality.  And many people are devoted to the notion that some things are better and superior to others.  Most listicles operate on the belief of inequality.  And that is dangerous mental territory. 

While many listicles may seem trivial and entertaie ning, the format of the listicle reinforces that notion that underlies mass, standardized testing.  That ntition is that the premise of the universe is inequality and things can be ranked so that the lowest of things on the inequality scale have earned negative  discrimination.  Under the rules of inequality, teachers can be found ineffective and fired; schools can be designated for condemnation and closure; some races as inferior; some people as unworthy of life.  The listcle reinforces that notion the all things can be defined and ranked on some criteria of worthiness,  denying the premise of our decomcracy that all people are created equal.

The criteria of most listicles is derived from groping those goat testicles.  In this age of inequality,  they are all we-ve got.  Unless you are a very discerning reader.  And our education system is designed to rank them as unworthy. 












 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

When politics no longer work, try boycotts



The art of the boycott

For a number of summers when I was an undergraduate, I worked at the East Moline plant of International Harvester Co., which made harvester threshers and corn pickers.  One summer I worked in the traffic department, which routed shipments of the machinery and assigned orders to specific rail cars and trucks.  I got to know many truck drivers and companies.

Years later when I was released from active duty in  the Army, I went back to work at the IH plant on a correspondence desk.  I was drafted during the time when the military services were ordered to desegregate, and one of the biggest battles during the Cold War years involved a race war.  Some members of the military acted out against blacks and latinos and anyone who associated with them.  There were incidents of overt hatred and violence, and those of us who had instructional duties were often involved in dealing with racial conflicts.  When I was released from active duty and went to work for IH, I made contact with civil rights organizations through church and educational organizations.  I and some people I worked with were approached by people in these organizations about a project they were working on that involved boycotts of some businesses in the south.

Many Afro-American people lived in communities that were segregated and where discrimination was a condition of life.  That discrimination was part of business practices.  While the merchants sold their goods to black people—they did not mind taking their money—they overcharged and often held black customers in debt where credit was involved.  There were instances in which blacks could barely afford the food they ate, let alone any of the conveniences of life at the time.

One of the concerns was some merchants who sold household appliances were charging so much and literally held black customers in debt-bondage.  Members of a civil rights organization worked out an arrangement with an Afro-American church in which ranges, refrigerators, and washing machines could be made available at discounted prices with the church providing delivery and financing.  One of the members of the civil rights organization worked for a large appliance sales company which had a warehouse full of used, scratch-and-dent, and superseded model appliances that the company was willing to sell at a hefty discount.  The problem was how to ship the appliances to the church in the south which would act as distribution point.

As I had experience in a traffic department, I was asked what would be the best way to ship these appliances to the south.  I rode home on the train after being processed out of active duty at Fort Sheridan with another veteran whom from my home area that I knew slightly.  We chatted about our experiences in the Army including the desegregation problems.  When he got home, he was returning to his job as trucker with his father, who worked on contract for a freight company that hauled machinery for International Harvester.  I looked him up and called him about how he would recommend shipping the appliances to the church in the south.  He came up with a plan.  He often hauled trailers that were not fully loaded, particularly during heavy shipping seasons for farm equipment.  He said the appliances, as long as they were carefully crated, could be hauled at a discount as partial loads on trucks headed south.  Over a period of about a month, we managed to ship a very large inventory to the church in the south by trucks that dropped off their partial loads as they passed through the town where the church was located.

As time went by, regular shipments of household appliances were made to the church.  The leaders of the church organized a boycott against the appliance dealers in their region, and helped black families get working kitchen and laundry appliances without having to go to the dealer.  The dealers felt the impact of the boycott to the point that they had to scale back on their inventories and deal with the fact that their market had shrunk.

The civil rights organization also worked with churches in setting up food pantries at which African-Americans could purchase food without having to pay exorbitant prices and deal with the discriminatory practices of the merchants.
Those pantries quickly evolved into food co-operatives.    

The boycotts had two effects.  They made life easier for the people, and they showed the merchants that their discriminatory practices were putting their businesses in jeopardy.  When black people found a way around segregation and developed their own resources for necessities, the merchants began to soften their attitudes about past business practices. 

Ultimately, boycotts became a significant factor in the civil rights movement.  What could not be achieved through political means was achieved through economic strategies.  They weakened the forces of segregation while strengthening the movement toward civil rights. 

However, the boycotts were very quiet affairs.  They were not publicized.  People simply stopped patronizing those merchants who extorted their money and treated them with disrespect.

When the communities realized that the African-Americans had obtained a degree of independence, the more racially intolerant in those communities were enraged, and some attempted to stop it.  The church that took charge of distributing the appliances and food was accused of dealing in stolen goods.  A team of lawyers was dispatched to the community with inventories, invoices, and bills of sale and demanded that the accusers come forth with their evidence.  That charge was withdrawn, but the anger and rage continued so that some of the segregationist practices were intensified.  But they were met with massive demonstrations and publicity as the civil rights movement gained momentum.

People do not understand the power of the boycott.  In a capitalist country,  it strikes at the economic heart.  It is a way for people to manage their own lives rather than be part of oppressive and devious schemes of the corporate mindset.  Many people find themselves doing business with companies they don’t like because those companies seem to hold a monopoly on items that the people need.  A boycott works only when people have an alternative source for the things they need.

Like those people who were paying ransom to merchants for the things they needed like food and household appliances, many people find themselves purchasing products  in oppressive circumstances because they have no other choice.  The key to a successful boycott is to create other choices.

We have lived through three decades when corporations, which want to be regarded as persons, have been horrible citizens.  They spurned American workers by outsourcing production to other countries with cheap labor, mostly China.  Now they are practicing “tax inversion” by which they evade American corporate taxes by registering the headquarters of their companies off shore in countries that have a lower tax rate.  They use the American infrastructure to market their products, but they don’t want to pay for it.

It is apparent that our tax code needs revision, but that is no excuse for corporations to renounce their citizenship while exploiting the American markets.  Conservative folks are raging about the influx of immigrants that are coming to the U.S. for jobs, but they ignore the fact that corporations have sent jobs overseas and are becoming  the corporate citizens of other countries while exploiting the American marketplace. 

If they want to take their companies offshore, let them find their markets offshore.  Don’t buy their products.  As long as they base their corporations elsewhere, the idea of buying American is rendered pointless.  Buying American no longer contributes to the national economy.  It supports companies which take the buyers' money and funnel it into the exorbitant salaries and bonuses that have reduced workers’ wages and created a situation where a minor percentage of  people hold the nations wealth and earnings.  They are the creators of wage inequality and the growing ranks of the poor.  Every dollar spent on their  products creates more poverty in the ranks of those who actually do the nation’s work. 

The Financial Times reports that “In 1960, the US was home to 17 of the world’s 20 largest companies. Fifty years later, only six were headquartered there.”

Some of the companies, according to Wikipedia, that have inverted are:

                                                                                                    
While the brands and services offered by some of these countries are buried in subsidiaries, some, such as Walgreens, Fruit of the Loom, Chiquita, are familiar.  For me, they are a place to start.  I will not patronize a Walgreens, buy Fuirt of the Loom t-shirts or skivvies, or a Chiquita banana anymore. 

If enough willpeople begin to understand how these companies are  betraying them, they  boycott them and their products and let them know that as they have chosen to leave America, they should find their markets in their new homes, not in ours. 

 Conservatives are in a rage about illegal immigrants, but they allow their corporate masters to take out corporate citizenship in other countries and siphon American dollars for their own benefit and that of their new countries.

We have a civil right to do business with thos who do not abuse us.  One of the ways to take America back is to shun those who bilk and betray us. 





 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States

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