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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Return of the witch trials



Remember what you have seen, because everything forgotten returns to the circling winds.  Navajo Wind Chant

When people need to understand the world around them,  they turn to literature.  It is the repository of the cultural memory.  Our lives find meaning and direction in the stories we tell.  The literature of Salem and the  witchcraft trials is particularly pertinent and informing today.  The hysteria in the colony of Massachusetts in 1692 and 1693 is recorded by participants and observers of the time and is part of the canon of American Literature.  Samuel Sewall, one of the judges at the witchcraft trial, kept a diary, which records how he came to recognize the  serious error he made in judging, but also the mental process he went through to come to that recognition.  Five years after the trials, he prepared a statement of repentance which his minister read before the congregation of his church while he stood before it:

Samuel Sewall, sensible of the reiterated strokes of God upon himself and family; and being sensible, that as to the Guilt contracted upon the opening of the late Commission of Oyer and Terminer at Salem (to which the order of this Day relates) he is, upon many accounts, more concerned than any that he knows of, Desires to take the Blame and shame of it, Asking pardon of men, And especially desiring prayers that God, who has an Unlimited Authority, would pardon that sin and all other his sins; personal and Relative...
Sewall had fourteen children, few of whom survived childhood,  a fact of the hardships of colonial times.  But he was particularly affected by the anguish of an adolescent daughter as she tried to deal with the puritan doctrine of predestination.  In his daughter's suffering, he saw the injustice inflicted upon those accused of witchcraft.  

That time of hysterical paranoia was taken up as a major literary concern of Nathaniel Hawthorne whose great grandfather was also a judge at the witch trials and was distinguished by being the only one who never repented his participation.  A modern examination of the lethal hysteria of that time is playwright Arthur Miller's "The Crucible,"  which has become a classic of American theater.  That hysteria,  when remembered through the stories about it, has ominous relevance for our time.

The ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency has moved many people to turn to literature to understand and deal with what he means and portends for the nation.   They turned to an obvious book,  George Orwell's 1984, and 68 years  after its first publication, they put it on the best seller list again.  The psychological derangement it describes is a combination of hatred and abject fear induced through political conditioning,  a form of brain washing, that is recognized as what Trump has brought to America.  And it might be said that the particular derangement is what brought Trump into prominence.  A huge segment of the American population lost or has rejected science and factual information,  endorses the malignant spread of lies and defamation, and scoffs at probity as a condition of democracy.  To understand why about half the population abandons the cognitive principles on which democracies and any advanced civilization are based, one must turn to the accounts of humankind's biggest failures.  The Salem trials show the causes and consequences of the mindless hysteria that gripped the people at the time,  later repudiated when heads cleared and facts and reason and moral conscience prevailed.

The most obvious and significant parallel of the Salem hysteria to our time is the vilification of Hillary Clinton for things she did not do.  In Salem, the accusations of witchery were directed primarily at females from as young as 9 to elderly woman.    Mysogyny is recognized as a contributing motive behind the witch trials combined with other mental and moral failures and derangements.  The women accused of being witches were blamed as the cause of every social and natural disorder.

There are many reasons one can find to politically oppose Hillary Clinton.  Those  given to prejudice based upon personality can also find cause in their minds,.   But the behavior of Trump and the GOP went far beyond political premises into malignant derangement.  The main pretexts for the Hillary derangement were her email server and Benghazi.  Multiple investigations have been made of those matters by political opponents  dedicated to bringing her down and by federal agencies,  and they all ended up finding no cause for legal or executive actions against her.

She admitted that the private email server was a mistake.  Mixing personal emails on the same server with State Department business was unwieldy.  She initiated her  own server after being advised by predecessors that emails often became serious impediments in carrying out diplomatic duties.  However, the issue that the Republicans tried to pursue was that documents with security classifications had been put on a server that was not protected with official government devices.  The paradox is that her server was never hacked although the servers of security agencies in the government have been.  She did turn over all the emails that were not personal for review,  although some Republicans claim that she withheld 30,000 emails.  The FBI director said the handling of secure messages was sloppy, but there was no breach of security for which Clinton could be held liable.  

Congressional committees have conducted 12 investigations into Banghazi.  None of them produced information that Hillary did or failed to do anything that led to the deaths of four men, the ambassador and his security staff.  The families of the victims except for one have absolved Clinton.  One bereft mother, Patricia Smith, was exploited at the Republican National Convention where she was a featured speaker and accused Hillary Clinton of being responsible for her son's death,  of lying to her about why it happened, and stating that Clinton should be in jail.  The mother of the dead ambassador, Chris Stevens,  asked the Republicans to stop using Benghazi and her son as political propaganda.   

What Patricia Smith claims Hillary lied about was the motive behind the Benghazi attack.  She takes up the GOP party line used to besmirch Clinton and Obama's security adviser Susan Rice.  The day that Benghazi was attacked, there were anti- U.S. protests in Egypt and Libya against a video that mocked Muhammed.  In initial reports of the attack on Benghazi that killed Ambassador Stevens and his three staff members, it was assumed that the attack was part of that protest.  In her early comments,  Susan Rice referred to that protest.  Secretary Clinton was condemned by Republicans of holding to that explanation,  but the record of her communications show at the outset that she said the attack was carried out by an organized group.  Patricia Smith claims Clinton lied to her and the families of the men killed by insisting that their deaths were the result of the protest.  Other families say they never heard her mention the video protests.

In order to support their claim that Clinton lied,  the GOP tries to insist that the protests and the Benghazi attack were totally separate incidents.  Intelligence analysts make the point that the group that attacked Benghazi used the state of unrest created by the video as an occasion to launch their attack.  The most recent testimony indicates there were attacks by both disorganized protestors and by an organized group with a detailed plan. The main perpetrator of the attack has said that part of his motive was in revenge for the video mocking his religion.

The attempts by the GOP to use differing perspectives on a complex event as the basis for branding Cinton and Rice as liars are perhaps the most significant facts to come out of the turmoil.  The Republicans don't care or wish to determine just what actually happened.  They wish merely to use the incident as a pretext for maligning Clinton and Rice.

After Patricia Rice made her accusations at the Republican National Convention,  the Republicans instituted, as right out of Orwell's 1984, the 15 minutes of hate in which crowds would rise to their feet at the mention of Hillary Clinton and chant "Lock her up" and other threats to her person.  It was the re-enactment of what Orwell describes:

A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic.
This kind of malicious frenzy was experienced during the Salem witch trials, as neighbors turned on neighbors and accused them of evil.  Perhaps the latest example is in the accusation that Susan Rice in her role as security adviser asked for the names of people mentioned in intelligence reports about spies from other nations.  That is part of the  job, but Trump and the GOP try to make it a crime.  Susan Rice is a prime target for the reals motives of Trump and the GOP:  she's a woman and she's African-American.  Which adds another dimension of hatred to that "hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness."

Trump's accusations and threats against Hillary Clinton are wild, malicious hysteria not based on any facts.  The fact that so many people join in the frenzy indicates a reversion to an episode in America that is remarked in  literature as a matter of shame.  But that portion of people who join in the hate sessions are not that literature portion that reads and understands why episodes like the witch trials are recorded in literature as knowledge which warns of the dangers that lurk in the uninformed human mind.  

And once again humanity regresses to mindless rage.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Just another boil on Trump's nasty, festering ass

It is hard not to notice that since Trump became president, there are a lot of people who are not proud to be American.   He has reduced America to the status of a banana republic,  a contender with North Korea for being defined by leadership with a bad case of arrested development,  a petulant, deranged juvenile.  Kim Jong-un and Trump are temperamental cohorts.  They like to fire off missiles.  And threatening insults.  And  neither are equipped with the mental or moral restraints against carrying out their threats.


Trump has been useful to those who want to break America. Mitch McConnell is one of the most prominent and effective destroyers of democracy in America.  A native of the South,   McConnell was a fairly temperate politician,  but as he rose in power in the Republican Party,  he found political success in fulfilling the image of Jim Crow.   While his state of Kentucky  was not part of the Confederacy,  declaring itself neutral during the Civil War,  it was a slave state and the attitudes arising out of slavery are a tradition in the state.  McConnell's Jim Crow image came into focus with the election of a black man to President of the United States.  The intensity of McConnell's opposition went beyond policy disagreement to a malicious dedication to obstruct anything Obama proposed by any means possible.  His actions and demeanor went far beyond political disagreement into  unbridled racist fury.  He made clear that he was willing 
to break the nation to inflict his Jim Crow vengeance on  Obama.

Trump won McConnell's devotion by having launched his political efforts with the birther lie about Obama not being born an American.  He further endeared McConnell with his stream of denigrations and insults against Obama.  McConnell became a fanatical destructor of anything to do with Obama.

The act that set up Trump's only success in office so far was to refuse to acknowledge in any way Obama's candidate for the Supreme Court,  Merrick Garland.  At McConnell's order, the GOP-controlled Senate refused to even acknowledge the nomination with interviews,  let alone committee hearings and a vote by the Senate.  The insulting discourtesy and abuse of process was right out of the Jim Crow play book, and the Republicans carried it out with the viciousness and vengeance that characterizes racial hatred.  And so, Neil Gorsuch was whisked into the Supreme Court.  Republicans think it was a victory.  The majority who did not vote for Trump don't think it matters.  For them, America is over.  Its laws and rules are superfluous.  Good people do not abide by bad laws.  They do not obey bad leaders.  They snicker with derision at consequent court decisions.  Gorsuch may have qualifications, but they are meaningless because his appointment is the result of McConnell and Trump breaking America apart. He is merely a boil on a festering ass.

The nation's president is a pathological liar.  No one of intelligence believes a word he utters.  Those people long ago stopped listening to him.  We have a national congress whose majority thinks perfidy is clever politics.  Congress has been reduced to a mental institution.  The non-Trump and non-GOP supporters regard its antics with bemused distaste, as they lead lives apart from what happened to America.

There is much talk about resistance, but it has gone quiet.  That is part of the resistance. What person of intelligent values wants to contribute to the cacophony of a nation that has become an abomination?  Who wants to expose themselves to the festering asses?

Trump attacked America and its standing in the world when he campaigned with a barrage of disparaging lies.  But as president,  he made them come true.  A friend who is traveling in Europe writes:  "Experienced a new standard in arrogant, dismissive wait service tonight. The Muse  [his spouse] reminds me that we're Americans, not quite equal in humanity to Europeans now. The EU parliament just voted to require visas from American travelers. This would have made this impromptu excursion impossible. America First renders Americans second or third-class world citizens."

The idea of America will not die.  Its true adherents will, as their ancestors did,  will find a place where it can work.  Meanwhile on this continent,  it has become a subsidiary of the Trump Organization,  the United States of Jim Crow.




The face of Jim Crow



Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Obituary for a democracy

    The Preamble of the Constitution is  straightforward in explaining the document's  and the nation's purpose






  • form a more perfect Union, 
  • establish Justice, 
  • insure domestic Tranquility
  • provide for the common defence
  • promote the general Welfare
  • and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.


  • Those people who fret over the size of government ignore the goals of the Preamble.  If one is to take that sentence seriously,  our efforts should be to improve government and the implementation to achieve its goals,  not obsess over its size.  There is often much to decry in government.  Bureaucracies often are managed to accommodate the basest human motives.  Many operate as extensions off the pecking order model of social organization.  People get caught up in rivalries and resentment,  and spend more effort in competing for attention and undermining their perceived rivals than in carrying out the business of making government work.  The significant political question is not size of government,  but the honesty and competence of government in meeting its purpose.  Corporate bureaucracies in the private sector do not even put up the pretense of democratic values; they largely demonstrate human avarice and malice at its worse.  

    The matters of the integrity and efficiency of government get lost in a debate over the meaning of "general welfare" that began when the Constitution was being written.  Madison thought that Constitution authorized only the power to levy taxes, not to get involved in anything not specified as a duty of Congress.  Hamilton took "general welfare" to require the exercise of responsibility for anything dealing with the well-being of the nation and its people.   Contemporary citations of the two interpretations define the motives behind the divide that separates the political factions in our nation.  The "conservatives" use limiting taxes as the pretext to designate part of the population as undeserving, to exclude them, denigrate them, and oppress them.  The conservative movement is misanthropic, regards equality, freedom, and justice as a privilege for its members only..  The "liberals"  regard general welfare as a mandate to see to the well-being of all people,  something the conservatives claim we cannot afford.

    Healthcare is focal point that provides a stark contrast between people of good will and people of ill will.  As Bernie Sanders keeps reminding us,  the U.S. is the only major country in the world that does not provide healthcare to all its people as a right.  Furthermore,  the quality of healthcare in the United States ranks last compared to other leading countries.  The fact that a huge segment of the American people deny healthcare to those who cannot afford it defines the true moral state of the country.  And it is a moral state which is comparable to Nazi Germany.

    The gas ovens of the Holocaust were not originally designed to kill Jews.  They were designed to kill the handicapped and disabled in German institutions because they were considered a financial burden.  They were among those Hitler called "useless eaters."  So that no money was wasted on the disabled and infirm,  they were fumigated with Zyklon.  The anti-healthcare Americans aren't as humane.  If people can't afford healthcare,  it is assumed, that they aren't working or are spending their money on frivolity,  and so deserve to get ill and die.  The moral wonders of America rally to save the unborn so they may enjoy the full benefit of knowing exclusion and oppression when they are out of the womb.  Then maybe they can understand the denial of equality, freedom, and justice that the GOP so fervently has prepared for them.  

    The denial of healthcare is just one of the moral devices that is the Zyklon of our age. Another is the right of "law-enforcement"  to execute black people when they feel like it.  All they have to do  is say that they feel that their life is in danger.  Then, they can blast away,  The Obama administration made agreements with offending police departments to eliminate such abuse.  But the Trump administration under the orders of Attorney General Sessions will review those agreements to see if they infringe on the right to kill useless eaters.  

    Admit it or not,  but many nations have been more successful in achieving the goals in the Preamble than the United States has.  While conservatives rage about following the Constitution,  the one they follow conspicuously omits the preamble.  When the Constitution states a national purpose to promote the general welfare, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and extend the benefits of liberty,  it is an affront to the right to hold and prosecute ill will, and it conflicts with the Second Amendment,  which is all that matters in the GOP mindset.  

    But a savior has arisen to champion cause of ill will and abuse in Donald Trump.  Ill will reigns with full-throated triumph throughout the land:
     Our father  in Trump Towers 
     holler out your name,
     your companies come, 
     your will be done
    with pussies grabbed 
    on earth as in Mar-a-Lago.
    Give us today our daily Tweet,
    and take on great debt
    and conveniently go bankrupt
    And lead us not into liberalism
    but deliver to us the joys of evil
    For you are the corporation,
    the abuse of power,
    and the gory narcissist
    for ever.


    Democracy in America died an obscene death.  The city on the hill is on other shores.



    Wednesday, March 29, 2017

    Russia a friend? Follow the spies.

    Many Americans like to think that when the Soviet Union dissolved on Christmas 1991,  Russia became a friend.  The man who led Russia for the next decade, its first freely elected leader, Boris Yeltsin, seemed to be friendlier to the United States.  He privatized state-run businesses and adopted free-market principles, promoted a free press, and promoted democratic measures in governance.  History.com gives a succinct summary of his  reign:  "But although a select few oligarchs became shockingly wealthy, many Russians lapsed deeper into poverty due to rampant inflation and the rising cost of living. Yeltsin’s Russia also struggled with the taint of being an ex-superpower and with corruption, lawlessness, decreased industrial output and falling life expectancies."

    Americans have been conditioned to think of free-market capitalism as equated with honest, democratic government.  After almost a decade, Yeltsin resigned the presidency of Russia and turned it over to Putin.  Putin forged an alliance with some of the oligarchs who owned Russia and re-established a totalitarian government that often rules with savage violence that characterized the Soviet days.  As has happened in the U.S., a few people have garnered ownership and control of Russia.  Putin, the ex-KGB officer, has returned to tactics characteristic of the Soviet Kremlin.  Many thought that once Russia rid itself of communist rule,  it would join westerns democracies.  But communism is not the factor that made Russia our prime enemy in the Cold War.  Other social attitudes and political ambitions  were at work, and they prevailed after communism was abandoned.  In Russia today, capitalism rules with a vengeance;  Putin's greatest source of power is his alliance with the capitalist oligarchs.

    In fact, as Russia moved from a communist state to the federation it terms itself now,  its attitude toward the United States never changed.  In 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev was Secretary General of the Communist Party and was making nice with Ronald Reagan, the KGB recruited two moles in the top U.S. spy agencies.  They recruited Aldrich Ames in the CIA and Robert Hanssen in the FBI.  Both men continued their work for Russia through the transition and beyond as if no regime change had taken place.  Ames was caught in February 1994, and Hannsen in February 2001.  Both man supplied the Russians with names of moles who spyied on Russia for the U.S., which led to their execution by the Russian spy agency.  While Americans felt that the Cold War had ended on Christmas 1991, the Russians did not think so.

    Many American businesses and executives exploited the Cold War detente with Russia to further their own agendas.  Typical is the case of current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson while he served as CEO of Exxon Mobil.  He helped the oligarch friends of Vladimir Putin make profitable deals in oil and received Russia's Order of Friendship.  Russian oligarchs have created a network with American corporate executives which can be exploited by Putin to achieve his agenda,  which is to regain the power the Soviet Union once held equal to,  if not surpassing America's.

    Russian interference in America's election of 2016 is not the only case in which Russia tries to destabilize countries and influence their politics.  The Czech Republic, which has become a member of the European Union, claims Russia's spying on it is worse that it was during the height of the Cold War.  European nations say that Russian espionage against them is booming.  

    Americans do not understand that the inequality they experience with the U.S.  one percent owning and controlling a preponderant percentage of the nation's wealth is a global trend of which Russia is a part.  Giant global corporations recognize no matters of national security or loyalty when it comes to acquiring and controlling the world's wealth and its distribution.

    During the Cold War,  Americans were conditioned to fear a Marxist takeover.  When the Cold War ended the takeover of the world's wealth by corporate interests and their cronies, such as the Russian and Chinese oligarchs proceeded apace.  They have achieved an infiltration and takeover of America that died-in-the-wool Marxists could not.

    If you want to know who our enemies are,  identify who is spying on us most vigorously.  Many are citizens of other countries,  and many are "citizens" of corporations.  They all aim to exploit America and make it vulnerable to their designs.  One such person and his billionaire and millionaire cronies operate out of the White House.  As with Russia, before and after the Soviet dissolution,  their aim is to weaken America and bend it to their purposes.  






    Monday, March 27, 2017

    Being a resident expatriate

    In the 1920s, America's most important writers, artists, and thinkers left the  United States to live in other places, predominantly Paris.  Gertrude Stein is attributed for labeling these expatriates the "lost generation."  She said America was her country, but Paris was her home.  An expatriate is one who withdraws from residence in  or allegiance to his or her country.

    By that definition,  I am an expatriate. I cannot bear allegiance to a country that has embraced the moral and intellectual degradation of Donald Trump.  I am by no means alone.


    The expatriates of the 1920s left their country for a complex of reasons, one of which was captured in a post-World War I song "How are you going to keep them down on the farm once they've seen Paree?"  But there were more profound reasons for the sense of alienation in the United States that went beyond the experience of a less restrictive and more tolerant style of life that Paris represented. While many white Americans gathered in Europe to  pursue the arts,   the Harlem Renaissance was blossoming for African Americans in New York City and providing a beacon for those living under Jim Crow.  Art, literature, and music provide alternative ideas and the stuff out of which an alternative culture can be constructed.  The 1920s was laying the cultural foundation with which America faced the Great Depression, another world war, and the need for civil rights.  Called the Jazz Age,  the 1920s was a time when black culture was adopted by the larger culture through music.  It was a time of intense literary activity when the moral implications of the premise of the nation were under examination.  It was the time when the character of what Tom Brokaw has called The Greatest Generation was formed.  

    Expatriates found that they needed a distant perspective from which to judge the values of their country.  Some did it from the vantage point of Europe; others did it through the vantage point of disengagement from American society.  I have seen a parallel movement to social disengagement at work in South Dakota.   There are many people who reside in South Dakota but find their home in other places.  A number of people I know center their "home life" in the Twin Cities.  They subscribe to the Minneapolis and St. Paul newspapers and organize their social and cultural lives around events and reources in the those cities.  And over the years, many South Dakota friends have relocated their residences when they found the opportunity.  

    For many people, the dominant culture of South Dakota has nothing to offer them.  Once when  i was teaching college,  a nationally prominent person from South Dakota was in the state for a speaking engagement.  Some of we professors were able to combine our classes and have him speak to our students.  A student asked him if he ever considered returning to South Dakota to live.  The man replied that the last he thing he could do is live in a state where the ultimate activity is "to blast away at the world's dumbest bird with shotguns or sit in a boat by the world's biggest stock dams fishing for the world's dumbest fish."  The students understood that the response was humorous hyperbole, but nevertheless reflected a cultural fact of life.  

    For many Americans, the nation has come to represent the kind of cultural deficiency that South Dakota had for that man.  While the nation fusses over old conservative and liberal arguments,  many people see that other nations in the world have in fact surpassed the U.S. in social progress.  The election of Donald Trump represents a giant leap backward into a world of small mindedness and petty resentments.  America is no longer the shining city on the hill. It is the cultural shanty town near the dump. 

    As an Army veteran who served in Germany during the Cold War,  I find that the country I was once proud to defend no longer exists.  During that time,  our radars and intelligence gathering antennae were trained on the Soviet Union, but the battle being fought was an internal one.  In 1948, President Truman signed the order to desegregate the armed forces but that did not purge them of racist attitudes and Jim Crow practices.  We dealt with racial incidents constantly, and did not eliminate racism,  but we did make progress in seeing that racial oppression and discrimination would not be tolerated.  

    The election of Barack Obama as our first black president was more than many people could bear, and dormant racial attitudes were revived.  Pundits spend much time talking about mistakes by Democrats that resulted in the election of Donald Trump, but few have the courage to admit that Jim Crow won the election.  And people who endorse Jim Crow are not people with whom there is any possible reconciliation.  Despite the fact that Trump has a record of astounding business failures, bankruptcies, and a history of ripping off people who work for him,  people keep saying that they voted for him because he's a business man and can get things done.  With his actual business record, an 18-month display of acting out like a fifth-grade bully, and his anti-science, anti-fact, anti-decency agenda,  supporters still insist that they voted for change.  The change they voted for was to halt and reverse all the progress the country has made in extending the benefits of freedom, equality, justice, and over all health and well-being to the nation.  These are people who cannot be engaged in fact-based reasoning.  And so, there is a nation of expatriates.  The expatriates are that majority who voted for someone else.  

    The expatriates step back and take a long view and visualize what a genuine America looks like.  And think about where it can be built.  




    Wednesday, March 8, 2017

    How to take a leak

    Trump's administration resembles a sieve.  It has so many  leaks.  The media abound with accounts of leaks streaming out of the White House. And there are accusations of leaks from the intelligence community.   As an old news dog,  I dealt with leaking in the past.

    First, when an official tells a reporter something on the condition of anonymity,  that is not a leak.  That is a contact which can be attributed to someone who is in a position to know something.  Nevertheless,  when an anonymous source is quoted,  the news medium still has the responsibility to verify the information with other sources.   In the story on the resignation of Michael Flynn and the revelation that Trump's campaign had regular contact with Russian officials,  The Washington Post took pains to show how the story broke and was verified by major media.  

    My assigned duties as a journalist did not cover government primarily, although in covering agriculture, the USDA and the extension services and colleges of agriculture were a major part of the  coverage.  There wasn't much occasion for leaking coming from those quarters.  The biggest outpouring of leaks came from my coverage of business.  And that included the coverage of government agencies such as the Interstate Commerce Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and other agencies that regulate business.

    As the news accounts of leaks flowing from Trump point out,  there are many motives.  One is that in a highly competitive contest for gaining attention and power,  people will piss on each other.  Another is resentment toward the people in charge, in which case the pissing is on the bosses.  A reporter has to learn how to identify those kinds of leakers because their information is not reliable.  

    Another kind of leak is that of people who are genuinely concerned that something is wrong with the situation in which they are working.  That seems to be the case in many of the Trump leaks.  People around him are finding that he is not all there.  He is not capable of perceiving and understanding real situations.  He lives in self-delusion.  And he is a dedicated liar.  

    As a business editor, I had many such  leaks that came from a major farm equipment corporation for which I once worked.  The people who leaked to me were ones I had worked with.  At the time I worked for the company, it was a large global corporation headquartered in Chicago.  When I worked there, many employees used to meet a bar nearby on Friday nights to cash their paychecks and transition into the weekend with a brew or two.  The conversations often involved dumb things that the management did.  On many occasions, some of the bosses joined us to show that they knew when bad decisions were being made.  The conversations tended toward predicting how the company would fail.  It eventually did,  much in the way predicted by those disgruntled Friday night commentaries.

    When I was a business editor and received calls or had conversations with former fellow-employees,  it was because people in the company were worrying about the future of their jobs and witnessed the company doing things that jeopardized its future.  The company's response to consumer complaints was a constant source of information that I kept getting from employees.  Executives were getting reports of problems with the equipment and denied that there could be problems with the products. At one time while working for the company, I was assigned to a team that investigated customer and dealer complaints.   We found that the company produced a good product,  but that manufacturing flaws were getting past the inspection department.  Those flaws could easily have been eliminated by adjustments in the manufacturing process.  But the company's response was to take the investigative team out of the field.  

    As an editor, I received constant updates from my friends in the company,  but they were seldom the kind of thing that could be used in reporting business news.  They were the personal observations of people seeing mistakes being made up  close.  They were informing but could not be used in a journalistic context.  One evening, I encountered one of my former bosses in a restaurant.  He was one who joined those Friday night sessions in which company mistakes were discussed.  I commented that I was in touch with some employees who kept me posted on what was going on with the company, but that the personal anecdotes were not useful for news coverage.  My former boss suggested that I look more deeply into sources that covered stock shares,  markets, engineering developments, and product news--specialty publications that only people involved in highly technical aspects of business are familiar with.  Some of these publications did comparisons of the products and services delivered, while others tracked personnel decisions.  I found that the company decided to farm out engineering to research and development organizations rather than hire engineers.  This policy was the opposite of the company's main competitor,  which recruited engineers from Big Ten universities, givng them summer jobs and internships to help them through school.  This information was verified by my sources within the company, who supplied me with stories about the problems being caused by the lack of in-house engineers to address issues as they came up.    I was able to use the leaks to illustrate the general news reported in the technical press. 

    Eventually, the company got sued when it was discovered that a main component of its corn harvesting machines infringed on a patent held by its major competitor.  It was the killing blow after the company had been brought to the edge of bankruptcy by a grandstanding CEO who  took an anti-union stance  in cost-cutting that resulted in the longest strike against the company in its history.  When the company failed and closed down,  all its local plants were shuttered   More than 12,000 people lost their jobs.  The employees of the company saw the failure coming long before shareholders, executives, and the business press did.  

    One of the incidents related to me involved a man who ran a huge dealership for the company.  This dealer also flew his own airplane.  He had sold a machine that failed in the field and he gave a farmer a new machine off his sales floor so that the harvest could be finished.  The dealer and his mechanics tore apart the failed machine and found the cause to be a matter of hasty assembly in the factory.  In reducing costs, an order had been put out to speed up the assembly  line and to "provide a greater tolerance"  in the inspection department that examined finished machines for problems.  The company personnel did not respond to the dealer's telephone calls satisfactorily, so the dealer wrapped the failed parts in a greasy gunny sack,  put it in his airplane, and flew them up to the town where the plant was located.  He strode into the plant offices, barged into the plant manager's office, and dumped the greasy sack with the parts on the manager's desk.  

    This was a great story, but the company, of course, would not acknowledge it and the dealer did not want to jeopardize his relationship with the company by commenting on the incident. So, the story remained a matter of a leak circulated among employees.  However, the story was a rather precise illustration of management practices and company attitudes that eventually brought the company down.  The leak identified and explained a problem within the company, but that information never reached the people who could make use of it--stockholders, customers, or the general public.  That leak was more prescient about the company's future than anything that could be verified, given attribution, and printed.  

    Leaks are often the important news.  They do have to be analyzed to see if they are motivated by people using them as competitive weapons  to gain advantage or as vengeful weapons against disliked bosses.  But leaks that are motivated by the need to tell someone what is really going on are important.  In states such as South Dakota where there is a network of laws that give officials the power to withhold information,  leaks are often the only accurate and genuine news about how government is performing.  Leaks have to be taken seriously.   They are often the closest thing to truth that you'll ever get.  

    Sunday, February 26, 2017

    This ain't no tea baggin' party, mama

    One of the racist posters featured
    at tea party gatherings
    Pundits and other media types keep comparing the resistance to Trump to the tea party movement.  They neglect to point out what a difference the motives and content of the arguments in the movements make.  The tea party was deeply rooted in racism.  Nearly every gathering of tea party people contained some overt expressions of racial hatred.  Although conservatives denied the racist motives, there was a constant presence of racist terms and attitudes at the gatherings.  The tea party ire was nearly always directed at the person of President Obama, and only incidentally at his policies.  The Affordable Care Act was the major pretext for the tea party, but it received little attention as to its purpose and its function.  Much more attention was paid to the person of the president who promoted it. 

    The resistance to Trump is also a rejection of a personality, but not a rejection based on race.  There is a moral and intellectual imperative behind this rejection.  Donald Trump is, plain and simple, a vile human being.  He lies constantly.  It has become a journalistic custom to list the falsehoods and abusive insults he delivers each day.  His reputation as a "business leader" is in fact a record of fraud and failure.  He has single-handedly transformed the Grand Old Party into the Grabbers Of  Pussy.  He refuses to reveal his tax records and other evidence of his conflicts of interest.  He serves the one percent by loading his cabinet with the ultra-weathy and corporate managers for the purpose of dismantling those agencies which serve and protect the people.  His executive orders are directed at oppressing and inflicting harm on people more than implementing any Constitutional protections.  The generals he has appointed to his cabinet, however, seem, up to this point, to feel bound to their military oaths to serve and protect the Constitution. 

    Everything Trump has done since he took office is an extension of his campaign.  And his campaign has been predicated on who he can oppress and hurt.  What characterizes him and his supporters is the intensity of their malice and misanthropy.  He and his kind expend all their energy in looking for some pretext for hatred.  The pretexts are based upon dishonesty.  The Trump world lives in a world fabricated out of malice.  

    There is no valid comparison between the tea party and the Trump resistance in terms of what they oppose.  One was a movement inspired by a black man becoming president, a presidency that was beset by racist obstruction openly and blatantly led by the likes of Mitch McConnell.  The Trump resistance is against the corruption that Trump and his supporters see as the American Dream.   They dream only of  the desires to inflict malice and to exercise power.  They claim to be helping people by ceding all power to the one percent.  The Trump resistance is a matter of class warfare, a resistance to the suppression and eventual decimation of the 98 percent.  

    The only people in the world who can't see that are the Trumpists Americans who so delight in oppression and corruption.  For then,  the Godfather is the scriptural authority they devoutly believe in and follow.  Even if that that Godfather is driven by a diseased mind.  The divide in America devolves into a basic struggle between good will and ill will.  



    Wednesday, February 8, 2017

    American theater may save the nation

    Mellissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer

    One of the courses I had the most fun teaching was the survey of American Theater.  From colonial days,  American literature has been a force in the cultural, social, and political development of the country.  A unique aspect of America literature is that no other country has been as thoroughly motivated and recorded in its development as the U.S. has in its literature.  The theater is a part of that literature that has the most direct appeal to people.  It deals with issues in entertaining rather than rhetorical ways.

    Melissa McCarthy's portrayal of Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live was in the tradition of theatrical entertainment that satirizes some foibles apparent in American life but which on occasion makes an incisive parody of something more serious while still having fun doing so.  Such was the case as the press briefing sketch took on the issues of "alternative facts,"  dissimulating and deception with language, the White House relationship with the press, and the inane posturing of the Trump administration.  

    The videos of Ms. McCarthy's performance have been viewed millions of times throughout the  world, and has been cited as comic genius.  She ignited and illuminated the sketch with her talent, and if there was a satire academy award, she would truly deserve it.

    She adds to the portrayal of the Trump administration which has given SNL a boost in viewership with Alec Baldwin's portrayals of Trump.  


    Alec Baldwin as Trump with Steve Bannon coaching him in being president.  
    One of Ms. McCarthy's comic moments is when she hauls out a box of props to illustrate key words that come in press briefings.   It is an old bit of stage business used in vaudeville routines.  
    Illustrating Musllm as Moose + Lamb


    It is an emulation of the silly comedy of the prop comedian Rip Taylor,  who is known for showering his audiences with confetti and showing a bunch of mousetraps sewn on a brassiere with the quip "booby trap."  Silly.  But we giggle.  
    Rip Taylor

    These comic moments on SNL portray some insidious actions and thinking by powerful political figures, but bathed in the light that parody can shine on potentially deadly human misdeeds.

    The stage comedy, however, overshadows the work of writers who create the scripts that McCarthy and Baldwin bring to life.  When Melissa McCarthy picks up the podium and charges a reporter with it,  it is silly but captures the belligerent hostility with which Spicer and Trump treat the press.  Writers come up with the ideas and make the scripts that the actors use to create their portrayals.  The writers for SNL are currently Kent Sublette, recently named head writer, Sarah Schneider, Chris Kelly, and Bryan Tucker.  It is their brains and senses of humor that supply the occasions for the actors to exercise their talents.

    One of the moments in the Spicer sketch that captured an absurdity in the Trump cabinet was the portrayal of Betsy DeVos by Kate McKinnon.  McKinnon's classic deer-in-the-headlight look when DeVos is asked what is the best measure of education captures the vacuous responses DeVos has given at her Senate hearings.  
    Kate McKinnon as Betsy DeVos


    Our country has diminished in its literary understandings of late, largely because, at the behest of conservative school boards, those courses which  acquaint students with wit and verbal competence have been under attack and eliminated from curricula.  Still, the  literary underpinnings are presented in comedy sketches which satirize as did early plays in American theater.  They present occasions to examine the values in the things said and done in our culture.

    One of the ways that comedy helped President Obama happened when conservatives attempted to stereotype him as an angry black man.  Some comedy writers and comedians came up with Luther, the anger translator, to make of fun of the stereotype but also to make the point that there were things to be truly angry about.  At a White House Correspondents' Dinner,  Luther came out to interpret how someone in the black culture would receive Obama's words.  It was comic gold.  And it was in an old American theatrical tradition.   


    Luther the Anger Translator and President Obama
















    Tuesday, February 7, 2017

    Good story with a fatal flaw: jobs lost in Aberdeen

    Covering business news is the stable-cleaning job of journalism.   I know.  I edited the business section of a newspaper once.  It's a lousy job because most of sources are unreliable.  If things are going well, they exaggerate.  If things aren't going well,  they lie.  Or cover up as best they can.

    Things aren't going well for the Molded Fiberglass plant in Aberdeen.  They announced a "substantial" layoff at their plant.  The Aberdeen newspaper announced it this way:

    "Due to an unexpected reduction in customer orders, Molded Fiber Glass of South Dakota is reducing its staff at the Aberdeen plant effective (Monday).”

    The news story did a good job in covering how the layoff is being handled.  The Dept. of Labor sent in seven people to help the laid off workers process their unemployment and prepare to look for other work.  The story also did a good job of outlining the impact the  layoff will have on the work force and in profiling the kind of people affected.  

    What the story did not contain was an exact number of the people thrown out of work.  It quoted a number of sources who only said it was "substantial."  The company, of course, knows exactly how many people it plans to dump.  The Dept. of Labor gets the number from the company, as do local officials.  The use of the vague term "substantial" is a bit of a fact-and-ass-saving device.  The company does not want the public to know the exact impact of the layoff.  That caused a commenter on the news story to snark a bit:  "like a 190 people...and the paper cant find that out...."

    Why would not a company be precise about the impact?  Because it calls into question how well the company is run,  how well it is doing.  The clue is in the phrase "unexpected reduction in customer orders."

    The troubling aspect of that statement is that the renewable energy market is in a state of growth  A CNBC story states:
    In its latest Annual Energy Outlook, the U.S. Energy Information administration projected renewable energy consumption will grow faster than any other source through 2040, because capital costs fall as more solar and wind farms crop up and federal and state policies encourage their construction. 
    The story states this rosy outlook despite Trump's vow to restore the nation to a fossil fuel energy basis.  

    So, why a reduction of orders in a growing market?  Some problems with the product?  Some problems in selling to a strong market?  Management problems?

    Aberdeen is a city that does not have a good history with companies that set up shop here.  The Aberdeen American News has does a fine job of tracking the record.  The one thing it leaves out is the call centers that have popped up, then vanished.  But here is an outline of the history of Molded Fiberglass and an accounting of businesses that have closed down and the effect those closing have had on the labor market.  (I reproduce it here from the American News for those who might be blocked by the pay wall.)


    Molded Fiber Glass history
    • Nov 19, 2007: Ground is broken on 332,700-square-foot facility on the Molded Fiber Glass facility. At the time, plant officials expected to employ 750 workers within three years.
    • Oct. 20, 2008: Molded Fiber Glass rolls out its first wind turbine blade. "It's 37 meters long and weighs 12,000 pounds, but I don't know if it's a boy or a girl," then-plant manager Rob Dinsmore said.
    • Nov. 19, 2008: First blades shipped for GE, sent to Council Bluffs, Iowa.
    • Jan. 28, 2009: Molded Fiber Glass lays off 30 workers. About 220 people were working at the plant.
    • March 12, 2009: Thirty laid-off workers are recalled to Molded Fiber Glass. The company also begins accepting applications.
    • August 2010: The 500th 40-meter was produced at Molded Fiber Glass.
    • Sept. 12, 2012: Molded Fiber Glass lays off of 92 of its 370 Aberdeen employees.
    • Oct. 2012: 15 workers were recalled.
    • June 2013: Instead of laying off employees while the company transitions to another blade, it pays employees do work on community projects at places including the 4-H building, Safe Harbor and SPURS Therapeutic Riding Center.
    • Aug. 2014: An expansion plan was approved by the Aberdeen Board of Zoning Adjustment. In an email, Molded Fiber Glass senior vice president Dave Giovannini said the company has nothing to announce yet about the expansion and that it had requested the variance in order to maximize its options moving forward.
    • Dec. 2015: Molded Fiber Glass announces it will expand, adding 15,000 square feet and 75 to 100 jobs by the end of 2016. At the time the location employed around 600 people.
    Source: American News archives

    Layoffs Aberdeen
    Wyndham Hotel Group announced on Sept. 9, 2015, that it would be closing, which eventually put 240 employees out of work.
    Midstates Printing Inc. eliminated 55 jobs on July 7, 2015, in anticipation of projected customer demand. It was a 19-percent cut in its workforce.
    Northern Beef Packers laid off 260 employees on July 26, 2013. The plant had filed bankruptcy one week prior. Northern Beef Packers had previously laid off 108 people in April 2013, citing a lag in work.
    Verifications eliminated 77 jobs in September 2012. Twelve remaining employees were given options to work from home. Fifteen people had been laid off in October 2012. At the time of the final layoff, Verifications also closed its Mitchell office. Officials said the company was going global and that facilities in India and the Philippines would better help international clients.
    • An expiring tax credit led to the Sept. 12, 2012, layoffs of 92 workers at Molded Fiber Glass. That was about 25 percent of the workforce at the time.
    Wells Fargo Auto Finance eliminated 66 jobs in February 2012. The cause was said to be a consolidation of two auto finance businesses within the company — auto finance and dealer services.
    Hub City Inc. laid off 79 workers in January and February 2009. Officials said they hoped the cuts from the production shop floor would be temporary.
    Midcom, an electronics manufacturer, closed its Aberdeen plant in March 2001; 190 employees lost their jobs. Midcom closed its Huron plant on Jan 6, 2001, and 73 people were laid off. A downturn in business and a slumping economy were cited as reasons for the closures.
    Sheldahl closed in 1996 and had 125 to 130 employees at the time.
    Imprimis, a subsidiary of Control Data Corp., announced in November 1988 that it would close its Aberdeen plant. Some 750 workers were affected, making it the biggest layoff in 30 years. The company had more plants than it needed, and the Aberdeen location was too far away from its customers, company officials said at the time. Other Midwest plants for the Minnesota company were also reduced or closed.

    Source: American News archives




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