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

Thursday, June 14, 2018

If the FBI didn't regard Trump as a suspect, it wouldn't be doing its job

Today the Inspector General of the Department of Justice releases his report on his investigation into the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton email issue.  Trump has contended that the FBI had a cabal that opposed him and supported Clinton.  The IG report refutes that, as have many previous investigations.  However, for political reasons, an important fact regarding Trump and the FBI is seldom mentioned.

Over the decades, complaints of Trump's criminal conduct have been made that would put him on the suspect list of many law enforcement agencies.  As a billionaire, he has two advantages.  First, his status as a very wealthy businessman gives him special dispensation:  rather than file criminal charges and arrest him, law enforcement attorneys file law suits.  Second, he has the money to hire batteries of lawyers who obfuscate, obstruct, and delay proceedings, so that the complainants run out of money.

A suit was filed against his foundation today by the  
New York Attorney General for "sweeping violations of campaign finance laws, self-dealing and illegal coordination with the presidential campaign."  Although the charges are that he and his organization broke the law, they are being processed as a law suit rather than a criminal trial.  Trump has had a out 3,500 such encounters in court.  One reason 

Trump's roles in 3500 lawsuits
for the lawsuits is that plaintiffs hope to recover the money Trump has bilked from them so they can stay in business. Another reason is that criminal referrals are made to higher justice agencies who decline to prosecute.  In his 3500 lawsuits, he was plaintiff in 54 percent, defendant in 41 percent, and 5 percent for bankruptcy.  As defendant, the suits include not paying his bills and assaults against women.

Two FBI agents who were having an affair wrote emails to each other expressing their dislike for him and insisting that he be prevented from being president.  The IG report suggests that they may have shown political bias, but other agents say their alarm more likely grew out Trump's extensive record of unlawful conduct and his numerous swindles.

If the FBI shows any animosity toward Trump, it is because he has identified himself as the kind of person against which they are charged with protecting the country.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Suicide is painless?

The suicides of fashion designer Kate Spade and chef, author, and television travel host Anthony Bourdain have spawned the media suggestions that anyone experiencing depression should seek mental health treatment.  They both hung themselves, as did Robin Williams four years ago.

When Williams died, his survivors found some cryptic notes he had written to himself in the vein of "It's time to go."  Spade left a note for her 13-year-old daughter which is alleged to have said, "Bea - I have always loved you. This is not your fault. Ask Daddy!"  No mention has been made at this point of whether Bourdain left any messages of any kind.

People often react to suicides with indignant outrage.  Although suicide is often driven by an intense sense of suffering by those who commit it, it is felt as the most severe form of rejection by the survivors.  People may choose with whom they choose to associate with a polite civility that conveys a basic respect, but a total rejection is taken as a denial of human worth.  Suicide tells the survivors that they offer no reason or comforts for the suicide to hang around.  It makes the survivors feel like the suicide departed life because of them.  In some cases, the attitudes and acts of others may well be the reason for suicide.

News of suicides is accompanied by those pleas to seek mental help if one is experiencing depression.  Those pleas evade the idea that a depressed state may be a totally rational state produced by the circumstances in which one is living.  As the suicides of youth on Indian reservations mounted and gained public notice, a young man from a reservation in one of my classes wrote in a paper that for many of his contemporaries, suicide was their best option.  He outlined the demonstrable and inescapable causes for hopelessness that comprised the life experiences for his peers. As he put it, the human race can be a degraded species from which some people would rather resign than be a part of.  Suicide can be the result of a very astute appraisal of the state of humankind.

However, the public attitude toward suicide has evolved.  When  I was still a full time member of the working press,  our city beat reporter ridiculed the way some suicides were reported by the local authorities.  Suicides by gun shot were often termed as the accidental discharge of the firearm while cleaning it.  Jim N., the city reporter, said it must be custom of a number of people to clean a firearm by sticking the barrel in their mouths and swabbing it out with their tongues.  Of course, they always forgot it was loaded.

After I left the newspaper,  i often visited the newsroom, and I took occasional special assignments and during the summers worked as vacation relief.  During a visit one afternoon after the paper had gone to press, some staff members were discussing the misreported suicides and we wondered how many deaths were, in fact, suicides.  One reporter said it would make a good series to track down the suspicious deaths.  So, we talked about how it could be done.

The newspaper was one of four that served the Quad-Cities area of Iowa and Illinois.  The metropolitan area includes five major cities and a few smaller towns, with a population of just under a half million.  The members of the news organizations knew each other, often worked on a cooperative basis in accessing government agencies and their documents.  The group that was discussing the misreported suicides mapped out a plan wherein death certificates could be identified for suspicious deaths and then obituaries could b analyzed for false information.  The editors and reporters organized a team to do the research, and I was a part of it.

Ultimately, we identified 26 deaths that had to be suicides, but were not officially declared so over a five year period. In a few cases, relatives or friends had admitted they were suicides.  The task we set for ourselves was, first, to explain why we determined the deaths were suicides, but more importantly to investigate why the public record about the deaths was falsified.  In some cases the stated causes of death were in contradiction to the circumstances. We interviewed coroners and medical examiners some of whom admitted that they termed the deaths accidental to prevent embarrassment to the families. Perhaps, the most informative people we interviewed were morticians.  They would not talk about specific cases, but they willingly discussed how they had dealt with cases in general terms and the difficulty of dealing with the families.

It was because of our attempts to work with families that the project foundered.  Some people were angered that we even considered getting information about the cases.  Some people were still in such a state of grief that we avoided raising any memories for them.  Some were so enraged that they indicated they did not want the deceased person referred to in their presence.  Some vehemently denied any possibility that the deceased took their own lives.  We realized that there was no way we could ever publish an account of the suicide denials without causing severe distress to people associated with the deaths.  We closed down the project and turned the files over to a professor at a medical college who studied the causes and ramifications of suicide.

Society has evolved from that state of denial.  Back then newspapers and other media did not mention the cause of death of suicides unless there were compelling circumstances.  Recently when my spouse was a broadcast reporter, the media she worked for had a policy against reporting suicides even if it meant not reporting the deaths at all.

Currently, obituaries of suicides might not bluntly state the facts, but they convey that the death had unusual circumstances, which leads to follow-up information.  An example within the past year was the death of a 13-year-old young woman.  After some questions were raised about her death,  the media revealed it was a suicide, although it did not report the details of how she committed it.  Society seems to accept the fact that denial of suicide aggravates the pain.  People understand that social forces, not always personal mental issues, are often behind suicides.  The social media plays a role in bullying in schools, which have experienced an increase in suicides among students.  School counselors note that what is referred to as bullying is malicious discrimination stemming from notions of race, class, and personality.  Some schools teem with "mean girl" behavior.  They reflect the social attitudes of their communities.  School administrators and teachers strive mightily to deal with this "bullying," but they are dealing with attitudes and behavior deeply rooted in the community.  The schools are simply a part of it, and teachers may ameliorate the malicious mental habits in some, but where the malignant force overwhelms benignity, their efforts aren't enough.  So, young people commit suicide when they experience virulent malice as the condition of life.  Thirteen-year-olds give up a life marked by one of those unnerving obituaries.

The reasons people commit suicide are to forego a life of pain.  Sometimes the pain is from a disease, physical or mental. Sometimes the pain is caused by people.  We live in a time when people have abruptly stopped the social and moral progress that America has made to make the realities of the nation meet the words of liberty, equality, and justice framed by the founders.  The election of Barack Obama revived the dormant malice that resided in a large group of people. The social media began to show racist insults and threats.  People sensitive to currents of depravity realized that America was reversing the progress it had made in realizing liberty, equality, and justice for all.  On the night that it became evident that Donald Trump was being elected president,  suicide crisis lines experienced a surge in calls.  People realized that America had stepped backward into a state of moral desolation.

Trump is not the cause of the drastic intellectual and moral deterioration of the nation. He is the measure of it.  That a man as despicable as Trump, whose vileness and criminality is a matter of well-publicized record, is elected president is the act of a degenerate nation. America contracted a malignant disease which destroyed its moral foundation.  Suicide is an option for facing its desolation.  The malicious depravity that grips the nation inspires thoughts of suicide.

Suicide is not merely an act of self-destruction.  It permanently damages the life around it.  And makes other people ponder if they want to live in that state.

The theme song for the television show "MASH" is about suicide.

That suicide is painless 
It brings on many change 
I can take or leave it if I please 
That game of life is hard to play.  
In a desolate world, some people don't think the game of life is worth playing.  It really gets hard when we ask if the things we've done and the kind of people we are make drive people to suicide.  


Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Et tu, Mary Lou?

The original purpose of the task force was to review 172 cases dealing with sexual misconduct in the academic world to determine if due process had been followed for both the alleged victims and accusers.  I was newly retired and did not know how to say "no" to requests for volunteer work.  As a long time officer in faculty organizations and an advocate for due process, it seemed like something I should do.  So, I found myself on a panel reviewing transcripts and documents of 172 cases to see if due process had been carefully observed.

For 54 percent of the cases there was no question that overt acts of harassment or assault had taken place  and the perpetrators had admitted their acts and were disciplined.  The acts ranged from physical sexual assault to covertly abusive behavior.  A problem within that category was that some of the instances did not seem to have a sexual motive and the panel questioned whether the case should have been classified as sexual harassment.   

One example involved two senior professors who loathed each other and for years refused to speak to each other.  The female professor had disparaged the published work of the male, and he refused to have anything to do with her after that and the two generally avoided each other.  One morning she was standing in the office hallway talking to another colleague when the man was on his way to his office.  He waited a few moments while they talked and then said, "Would you mind moving your obnoxious ass so I can get to my office?"

In the case records, the colleague with whom the woman was talking said that she was obviously ignoring the man as he stood in the hallway waiting to get by.  However, she filed a sexual harassment and hostile work environment complaint.  The department chair noted that the department had worked around the hostility between the two for more than a decade by acknowledging the personality clash, but showed respect for the work they did and the contributions they made to the department.  The man's work had gained national recognition and the woman's belittlement of it seemed to stem from a sense of rivalry.  In her complaint, the woman suggested that man be dismissed for his behavior.

The department chair and the university president noted that the man's work and reputation were an important part of the university and that the woman's deprecations of the man and his work were a part of what had created the hostile environment.  The president noted that the fact that the man did not merely say "Excuse me," but made a rude reference to the woman's anatomy in asking to get by which was a hostile but not a sexual response.  The case was resolved with a written reprimand put in the man's personnel file and arranging to move the man's office to a different floor to reduce the occasions in which the two might encounter each other.  The chair agreed to consult with the man about departmental business on a personal basis and by memoranda so that he would not have to attend meetings at which the woman was present, and the man agreed that this arrangement would allow him to continue his work for the  few years until his retirement.   While the review panel questioned whether the incident should be treated as a sexual harassment matter,  it found that due process had been carefully applied and the resolution went to great lengths to protect the professors' jobs and enable them to continue their work..

The fact that the 172 cases occurred on college and university campuses puts them in a special context.  The quest for tenure and promotion is highly competitive, and some people will use accusations of character deficiency and misconduct against their rivals.  In reviewing the application of due process, the panel found many cases in which the competition for promotion or tenure was involved in the sexual misconduct or harassment  complaints.  In the case cited above, it appeared that the hostility between the man and woman had its origins in the competition for promotion.  

A factor in reviewing the cases was that many did not involve overt actions, but verbal exchanges which could be interpreted in different ways.  The approximate breakdown of the cases reviewed   (from memory; no records were permitted to be kept) is:

          54%  Cases of definite and proven sexual misconduct or harassment

          16%  Cases of overt verbal sexual reference, purpose not always clear

          14%  Cases in which a sexual reference was disputable

          16%  False or contorted or exaggerated claims

Adjuducating sexual harassment claims can be tough.  University officials for the most part would prefer not to have to do it.  Nearly all officials in their summaries commented that no matter how serious or trivial an incident may be or whether the charge was true or false, it would leave a hostile work environment.  In a few cases, department chairs resigned their administrative positions rather than try to mediate a sexual harassment charge.  They said the resulting hostility would interfere seriously with their work as scholars and teachers.  As a faculty union officer whose job was to try to insure that due process was followed,  I witnessed the bitterness left behind by a sexual harassment charge, no matter whether it was proven or dismissed.

In higher education, sexual harassment has been addressed with due process policies since the mid-1980s.  Among the concerns is the fact that women are are reluctant to make a formal complaint because of the negative effect it will have on their career and professional relationships.  The Me, Too movement has revived this concern and has advocated that all complaints be responded to with the assumption that they are true.  Some backlash has occurred over that assumption.  One I am aware of comes from some female staff members of former Senator Al Franken.  They have insisted that he did not intentionally touch any female constituents while campaigning or posing for pictures with them.  The staff members signed a letter attesting to that and thought that the matter could be resolved if the staff members who were present during the alleged incidents could testify in a due process hearing by the Senate Ethics Committee.  However, when Senate colleagues demanded Franken's resignation, he complied and his staff members lost their jobs.  They contend that the accusations against him were contrived.

That incident raises a matter that is not addressed in sexual harassment policies.  Malice, dishonesty, and defamation are not qualities possessed only by men seeking to satisfy their sexual impulses.  Women driven by ambition and ego and personality issues can share in those qualities.  That leads to an incident that was stunning to the review panel.

A charge was filed against a professor who established and developed a highly regarded program in Slavic studies.  The charge was from his assistant director.  She claimed that they had had an affair and when she tried to break it off, he persisted in harassing and confronting her.  She had compiled a record giving dates, times, and places where the incidents occurred,  and she had a young professor as a witness.

The complaint was filed and a university vice president immediately suspended the professor from the university.  However, due process proceedings were instituted and a hearing panel was presented with conflicts in the woman's testimony.  The man was a high-ranking officer in the military reserves.  He was often called upon for his expertise in Slavic languages, culture, and government policies. During the breakup of Yugoslavia and the ensuing problems in the Balkans, he was called into service multiple times.  For one such call up,  he was assigned to NATO in the time frame that his program assistant claimed he was harassing her.

As a high-ranking military officer, the professor was in the habit of maintaining an extensive log of his activities.  He could specify where he was and what he was doing everyday of his life.  This included the calendar maintained by his secretary, and that led to a big mistake made by his program assistant.  She had been told that he would be intermittently absent from his office.  When he was called to duty, an agreement was made by the military and and the university president that the reasons for his absence would not be publicized or mentioned unless pressed.  It was not a military secret, but both the Department of Defense and the university preferred to avoid raising questions about NATO activities and negotiations that did involve confidential and sensitive matters that could risk lives.  The assistant program director looked at blank places on the director's calendar and assumed that he was engaged in other travel or discretionary activities.  As the department secretary was very loyal to the director, the assistant director did not ask if she knew where the director was. The director, also, had become aware that his assistant had been aggressive about taking over as director and had done and said things designed to undercut the director.  She used the open dates on the calendar under the assumption that the director could not explain his whereabouts.

 As the director was involved in some high level work during this time, an attorney was assigned to represent him during the hearings on the matter.  The attorney presented documents showing where the director was at the time incidents of harassment were claimed, letters from military commanders and other officials verified his presence elsewhere, and news videos showed him with military delegations in foreign lands at the time some incidents were claimed. In addition the young professor who claimed to have witnessed the incidents said that the assistant director had convinced her of the sexual harassment and promised her promotion and choice assignments if she would verify the assistant director's charges.  The attorney made a case with overwhelming evidence that the professor never had an inappropriate relationship with the assistant director.  The college officials and the hearing panel dismissed the complaint as false, but the mess created did not go away.  At the university president's insistence, the woman resigned her assistant directorship but university officials had not decided what to do regarding her job as a professor.  The young accomplice resigned her job, at the administrations request,  in the hopes that she could find a position at another institution.     The university president was irate with the vice president who had suspended the director because it cast the university in such a bad light.

The director's wife, who held a professorship at a neighboring university, was furious about the handling of the whole affair.  She and the couple's children had testified in the director's behalf, but she, who was a member of a faculty union, insisted that no professor who had committed such a dishonest act as the assistant director should hold a professor's job anywhere.  She made her case with professional organizations that such violations of academic honesty should be made a part of an employment record available to potential employers.  The difficulty with that noted by professional organizations was that the assistant director was found to suffer a personality disorder, and the fact that it might be subject to medical treatment is why the university was uncertain about disciplining her in her job.  Medical issues cannot be made part of an employment record.

The case reached a disruptive resolution.  A prestigious university in another part of the country made an offer to the director to move the program to its campus.  He and his wife determined that the program would be at risk if it was kept where it was at, so he accepted the offer.  The president at the original university also decided to move on and helped the program make the transition to the other university.

As the panel reviewed the due process matters, its members all remarked at what a destructive mess had been created,  Innocent people lost their jobs.  Special arrangements had to be made for students in the program to finish their work.  While the panel found the suspension of the director was a premature act,  due process did establish the truth of the matter and absolved the director of a false and defaming accusation.  But due process could not help a demoralized and shamed institution or restore its reputation.

That incident was only one of 172, but it was the one that lingered in the minds of the review panel.  While due process saved the professor, it was inadequate to save the university from chaos and demoralization.  If the administrators had checked out the accusation before beginning the actions against the director, they could have addressed the dishonesty issue in a quiet and orderly manner.  The vice president who suspended the director said he took quick action so that no one on campus would think he did not take the complaint seriously.  But in doing so, he demonstrated that he did not take the possible innocence of the accused seriously. 

For 54 percent of the cases the panel reviewed, there was no doubt that the complaints were justified.  For 14 percent of the cases, there was doubt about whether a deliberate act of harassment had taken place.  And for 16 percent the accusations were  shown to be false or contrived.  

The main point that the cases demonstrate is that sexual harassment has no place in the work environment so that people have to try to determine whether it occurred or not.  The lives of the majority of women who make legitimate complaints are clearly affected in deleterious ways.  Even a flippant remark that is not intended to be disturbing can create distrust and a feeling of disrespect.  But that knife is double-edged.  An offhand, ambiguous remark that is taken as overtly harassing creates distrust and resentment in the one accused of making it.  Criticism of work or behavior can often be interpreted as misogyny or misandry.  People are often looking for reasons to take offense.

In one of the cases the panel reviewed, a long-time and respected academic dean expressed his frustration at dealing with personnel complaints.  He said  facetiously that many of the problems could have been prevented through a segregation of the sexes.  If men and women didn't talk to each other, he mused, he could get back to the business of scholarship and teaching rather than trying to repair damaged relationships and feelings.  While his comments were sardonic, they emphasized what a disruptive effect sexual harassment has on many lives.

The 172 cases did not provide a definitive profile of matters of sexual assault and harrassment.  The review was made to provide specific information on the application of due process, examine how successful it was in dealing with sexual misconduct, and to define ways that due process could be improved.  The cases examined came from institutions that were conscientiously concerned about providing workplaces free from sexual harassment and insuring that both accusers and the accused received fair and just hearings.  Nevertheless, the review did provide an indicator of why due process is a necessary method for addressing misconduct issues.

The advocation of due process produced a peculiar argument in the media.  The argument is that due process is given Constitutional authority only in criminal cases.  Sexual harassment complaints are not tried in criminal court, so the niceties of due process are not required.  The arguers often add that harassment is tried in the court of public opinion.  The argument reflects a devastating ignorance.  Lynch mobs are courts of public opinion.  And the Preamble of the Constitution states that its purpose is to establish justice, for all, not just for those charged with crimes.  Due process is the means to liberty and equality both for women who are harassed and those accused of doing the harassing.  

Ultimately, the dealing with sexual assault, harassment,  and discrimination is a matter of justice.  Women should not be made to feel apprehensive about filing complaints.  And the accused should not feel that an accusation justifies taking away their human rights.  Complaints prosecuted without  due process is a denlal of justice.  Without justice, there can be no liberty and equality.


Monday, June 4, 2018

Trump's lawyers can't seem to understand the Declaration of Independence

In a 20-page letter, Donald Trump's have tried to lay out why Trump can be a dictatorial monarch.   In it, they have baldly asserted that he is above the law.  

They find no specific articles in the Constitution that define the limits of presidential power, but they ignore the founding document that preceded the writing of the Constitution:  The Declaration of Independence.

The United States was founded in opposition to many things that George III did that Trump also does,  George's offenses are listed in the Declaration.  Those offenses offer the precedents that define the purpose of the Constitution:

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Among the transgressions listed against George III are some that apply to Trump:

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

Trump and his lawyers claim that Trump cannot be subpoenaed, indicted, or subjected to the judicial processes.  The Article that applies states:
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors. 
The Article states that the president and other executive officers shall be removed from office "on impeachment for" and "conviction of ...other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." "Conviction of" suggests that the president is subject to the same judicial process as any other person under the laws of the United States.

According to that article, the president can be charged and tried.

Monday, May 21, 2018

How politics became gang war

Putting a campaign sign in your yard is like displaying gang colors.   Politics has become more a matter of designating who you hate and battling for turf and power than of offering various solutions to problems and concerns.  In recent years politics has tended more and more to be organized around the principles of street gangs with their racial and bigoted divides.  Political campaigning often displays the aspects of mindless warfare between  gangs, such as the Crips and Bloods in Los Angeles.

The media has created the situation.  It began with Rush Limbaugh's relentless disparaging of liberals.  In doing so, he grossly misrepresented what liberals believe.  Little that Limbaugh claimed was true.  His claims set a record for untruth on the fact checker Politifact.  Limbaugh's response has been to attack all fact-checking.  

One of his most successful ploys was to hold individuals up for disparagement and defamation.  The prime example was his attack on law student Sandra Fluke when she advocated for birth control.  He heaped on the defamations to the glee of his fans and the dismay of people with moral sensibility.

Rush Limbaugh is America's Joseph Goebbels.  He created malice and disrespect among his followers. And that malice and disrespect became an integral part of American politics.   He paved the way for a disreputable person like Donald Trump to become president.

Therein lies a devastating irony. Supporters of Trump whine because they are disrespected by the advocates of decency.  They think it is unfair that people dismiss them as stupidly malevolent because they voted for and support Donald Trump.   Commentators upbraid liberals for contending that people who support Trump have branded themselves as stupid, ignorant, malicious dolts.  They say that  "elite" shouldn't think itself so smart.  

They miss the point.

Those who despise Trump and his supporters don't think they are smarter or better than the Trumpers.  They recognize a hopeless trend in the reversal of the progress America has made in socially and politically bringing the nation into line with the words of its founding:  liberty, equality, and justice for all.  Anyone who has made the most casual acquaintance with the facts of Trump's life and the words he speaks knows that The New York Times summary of his life and character is verifiably true:

Mr. Trump has spent his career in the company of developers and celebrities, and also of grifters, cons, sharks, goons and crooks. He cuts corners, he lies, he cheats, he brags about it, and for the most part, he’s gotten away with it, protected by threats of litigation, hush money and his own bravado.
He is not the subject of investigation because of his political opponents.  He is being investigated because of his vast criminal record, which has been recorded and published over the years.  He rejects the basic virtues that define what America has tried to become.

Thus, when people put a Trump sign in their yard or on their car bumper, they are broadcasting to the world that they approve of America's regression into a third world banana republic.  They declare themselves enemies of liberty, equality, and justice for all.  While they whine and whimper about being disrespected, they cannot grasp that the agenda they support has earned the disrespect.

Many Americans and people throughout the world think the U.S. as the leading proponent of democracy has come to an end.  They do not see Trump as a cause of America's decline but as a symptom of a change in the American people:
Even before Trump was elected, Europeans sensed that Washington’s traditional role as guarantor of the continent’s security and stability was slipping away, and that post-World War II ties were fading along with the generations that forged them.
The divide in America is a deep cultural and social fracture.  Americans are sharply at odds about the basic human decencies necessary for democracy to work.  Under Trump, those decencies have been trampled, but they are the essential values of democracy that have been derided as liberal.

The disrespect heaped upon "liberals" by Limbaugh and his parrots has washed back over them.  But the problem is not one of disrespect.  It is one of dismissal.  Trump opponents do not think it is possible to engage in a respectful dialogue with Trump supporters.  They have nothing to talk about.  Those who endorse the malignant corruption of Trump are to be avoided, not dealt with.  They have declared themselves enemies of the civil decencies.

When people brandish a Trump sign or the campaign sign of a candidate who endorses the Trump agenda, they mark themselves as contaminates of democracy.  Over the recent years,  I have noted accounts of people who have stopped talking to neighbors,  dropped out of social and civic organizations and churches to avoid any contact with those who have so branded themselves.

America's progress in extending civil rights in its quest for liberty, equality, and justice for has hit an obstruction that has stopped and reversed that progress.  The symptoms are not only a person of Trump's nefarious character and agenda occupying the White House; the more oppressing symptoms are the unarmed people shot by the police lying dead in the streets and the  weekly ritual of school shootings that leave promising students dead on classroom and hallway floors.  There was a time when such perverted injustice would have sent the citizens raging in the streets in order to save the country from demented tyranny.  Now, they cower with mindless thoughts and insulting prayers that express how little they value human life. Some say, use the ballot box to regain control.  But when half the country practices disrespect, chooses to believe in lies that support their lethal hatreds, or choose people like Trump to represent them, the political process will not restore the respect for honesty  and decency.  

Political campaigns are only diversions and distractions from the gang wars that are leaving the streets and schools littered with dead innocents.  Those heaps of bodies signal the death of the American promise.  

The question is how to respond to a gang war.  A tactic of passive resistance is to avoid the hostiles, do not engage them, do not patronize their enterprises, and let them isolate themselves.  America is a violent country, however.  It probably cannot be recovered and restored as the preeminent democracy.  The gang war is, in fact, a civil war--actually a war between the civil and uncivil.  If something like America is to survive, the country may have to be demolished, redefined, and rebuilt. 

As elections approach,  it is necessary to understand that we are in a gang war.  We can try to vote like we've never voted before to save some possibility of liberty, equality, and justice for all.  But campaign talk should not let us lose sight of those shot dead in our streets and schools.  Or that what divides the country is beyond reconciliation.  Liberals recognize that reconciliation with the forces that Trump represents will be the death of democracy.  Who can reconcile with malevolence?

When we were previously at this juncture in our history, it was over slavery.  Some thought the country should divide itself between slaveholding states and free states.  Lincoln did not think so.  As long as there were slaveholding states, there were people who would be denied freedom and even the status of being human.  We engaged in a war during which 360,000 Union soldiers and 258,000 Confederates lost their lives.  The result was the elimination of slavery and a long period of struggling through Jim Crow, women's suffrage, and economic inequality that extends up to the present moment when that progress has stalled.

We may like to think that the country may redeem itself in the voting booth.  But our history shows us that our most decisive moments came through war.  We are a violent country.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

“Isn’t it wiser to temporarily part ways with the Trump administration?”

Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord confronts the other parties with decisions that will do damage no matter what is decided.  If, as they have said, the other parties--France, Germany, UK. the European Union, Russia, and China--are determined to make the pact work, they will come into direct conflict with U.S. sanctions.  The U.S. will place sanctions on any company that does business with Iran.  If those companies do as the U.S. wishes, they will lose the investments they made in Iran.  However, if they wish to honor their commitments, their governments will need to intervene.  Because America is a big factor in the economies of its allies, the foreign governments are very cautious about possibly jeopardizing the trade arrangements.  The resentment against American dominance has always existed,  but it has grown into a factor that could motivate countries to reduce their reliance on the a partner.  China and Russia are willing and ready to take up the leadership role that Trump has stepped away from.   European countries are  reassessing the value of the U.S. as an ally. 

European countries are openly recommending that they follow the pattern of Mexico in dealing with the U.S.  Mexico has left a line of communication open but has canceled a number of meetings with U.S. officials.  While the NAFTA talks drag on, Mexico has made arrangements to purchase agricultural goods from Brazil and Argentina that it once got from the U.S.  European officials think their own countries could be best served by realigning their international relationships to greatly reduce the role America plays in their politics and their economies.  That is the reasoning behind a senior European Union adviser  suggesting, “Isn’t it wiser to temporarily part ways with the Trump administration?”  

The U.S. has lost much trust and respect throughout the world.  In the media,  his groundless assertions displace the actual facts about how other countries see us,  and how strongly motivated they are to create alliances and relationships that don't include us.

America is not regarded as a major player in essential world affairs.  That is its choice.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Do we need to do 1968 again?

Grant Park, Chicago, August 1968
Paris, May 1968

1968 was a tumultuous year,   It was the year, after many as a newspaper editor, that  I became a college professor.  Students throughout the world were rioting violently.  May 1968 is noted as the month that changed French culture and society.  That August is when student protesters and Chicago police clashed in Grant Park during the Democratic convention.  The young people of the world were leading a revolution.

Many factors were driving the revolution:  civil rights, LBGT rights, women's equality and liberation, economic inequality, and numerous other social issues.  Nations which claimed to subscribe to democracy and its premises of liberty, equality, and justice for all weren't living up to their pretenses.  Young people thought it was time to correct the fraudulent claims,  even if it meant tearing the countries down.  They had the support and encouragement from many older people, too.

We have come to that point again.  There have been massive demonstrations since Trump's election to express objections to his perfidy and constant lying.  They have been peaceful demonstrations that quickly pass out of mind as the news cycles focus on Trump and his distractions.  

The recent walkouts by teachers have reminded us of the hard facts of making voices heard:  peaceful demonstrations are ineffective.  When teachers ask for better pay,  they are met with the usual dismissals of working nine months a year, getting paid better than stable hands,  etc.  But when the teachers walked out, they disrupted communities in ways that affected families and officials and demanded that they be taken seriously.  Over the years, a significant number of teachers have left the profession for better pay, while schools districts struggle to fill vacant teaching positions.  The walkouts have been effective because parents had to find ways to deal with their children when schools were not in session.  It gave them a taste of what life would be like if there was nobody to teach and tend to their kids during the day.  And the teachers were organized and held firm rather than accept compromises.  That made officials realize that they were no longer dealing with groups which could be cowed by the usual dismissive and insulting rhetoric.

The determination of teachers is an indication of the growing dissatisfaction and exasperation with the current status quo within the general population.  So far, police have managed to keep protesters and anti-protesters apart to keep matters peaceful for the most part, but they know that with the size of some protests, they would be overwhelmed if the participants decided to get violent.  Being nice and calm is not accomplishing anything and people are asking,  "What's the point?"

While Trump has a base of supporters that give him a sense of legitimacy,  the polls indicate that a plurality thinks that Trump contradicts the basic premises that define America and meets none of those defining  moral and intellectual qualities.  Trump to them is anti-America.  When joined with documented incidents of unarmed men being gunned down and police being called on people of color for no good reasons, there is a deadly aspect of the divide in America that is goes far beyond differences of political opinion.

The malice in Trump's tweeted statements reflects the malice with which factions within the U.S. regard each other.  They declare themselves to be enemies.  And the presence of arms and hatred and mass shootings sets up the volatile conditions of war.  Propaganda and rhetorical analysts  warn that we have reached the exploding point.  The nation is primed for riot.  Some event or word will convince people that the nation must be torn down. It looks as if we'll have a vert hot summer.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

How Facebook changed my circle of friends

Seven-month-old grandson in Denver
keeping in touch by Facebook

I am on Facebook because my spouse put me on,  mostly so I can keep up with family matters.  I can keep close to my daughter, her husband, and my grandchildren in Denver, for example. Leslie posts photos from her mobile phone on what the family is doing, and it's like dropping in for a visit and an update.  

My spouse sends the same kind of messages from our neck of the woods, and they keep the family current and in touch with each other.  

It is also nice to learn what friends are doing.  For the most part.  The lesser part, however, is another matter.  Sometimes  I learn things I'd just as soon not know.

Some people post their every activity, as if their lives are so vital and compelling that they they are role models for the world.  Sometimes they are interesting.  Other times they are presumptuous.  The old social rule is that it is unseemly to talk about yourself all the time, and some folks do find themselves the most and, often, the only interesting things in the world.  They seem not to understand that not everyone shares their glowing admiration for themselves.  It is good to learn of achievements and things that happen to friends, but when their reports surge into self-aggrandizement and become exhibitionism, we see defects of character that we'd prefer not to deal with.

On the other hand, some of my fiends undertake arduous and interesting projects, and it is engaging and informing to track their progress, their frustration, their exchange of experience, and their successes.  Their stories become that part of human experience we call knowledge.

I have many long-time acquaintances whom I have admired and been happy to know.  They are accomplished and noteworthy in many ways.  But some have taken on a form of Donald Trump-like exhibitionism that undercuts their credibility. One example is a couple who advertise their social and cultural activities with an eye toward snobbery which features photos of themselves mugging with an ostentatious cuteness.  A mutual friend asked me recently if I'd noticed their spate of "juvenile showing off" on Facebook.  I had, and it is something I would never have expected of them.  The friend asked if I knew of anything bad that happened in their lives for which they were compensating or covering up.  I didn't,  but the thought occurred to me.  In my eyes and that of the mutual friend,  they are no longer the people we knew, or thought we did.  Their Facebook antics  make us wary.  They project that smell-me attitude.  That causes me to hold my breath.  It is as if someone we knew well passed away or underwent a drastic personality change.

In other cases people post things that reveal themselves in ways that diminish them.    I often come across postings or repostings that betray racist attitudes.  That is disappointing.  Some Facebook friends post memes that are repeatedly proven to be untrue.  In doing so, they show that they like to believe in malevolent lies.    It is hard to be friendly with people who show a malicious ignorance.  Those who endorse lies and misinformation are the ones who have reduced the USA to the status of a banana republic.  They do not merely  have differing opinions.  They are the purveyors of falsehoods intended to do harm.  People who respect truth and honesty disassociate themselves from them.  And so, relationships are fractured.

I edge away from those whose posts reveal traces of bad character that show an underlying malice.   My circle of friends has narrowed.  Facebook reveals some of those things we'd prefer not to know and forces us to make choices about with whom we relate.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Getting smart about a weed that makes people stupid

During most of my semi-adult and adult life, people around me have used marijuana.  That is the reason I have never found it enticing.  I have been disturbed by its effects on people I have observed.  I cite two such examples.

The first involves an extremely talented tenor saxophone player in a band I once played with when I was of high school age.  Some friends had organized a garage band.  We spent 6 to 10 hours a day in Karl's garage one summer listening to jazz records and trying to play what we heard.   By August we had a small book of songs we could actually play.  We started out with the ambition of playing dixieland,  but along the way we became impressed with the virtuosity of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and our aspirations changed.  The kid who played sax with us moved, so we were out a reed player.  Our band members came from different high schools in the area.  We knew kids from the various high school bands and had encouragement from some of the band directors.  The director from United Township H.S. fronted a combo, and he introduced us to the tenor player who he featured as a soloist to replace the departed sax player.    I'll call him Manny.  He was from a Mexican neighborhood where the railroad workers lived along the tracks.  

Manny's talent was far greater than any of the other band members, except for Karl.  Karl had been taught the guitar at a very early age by his Brazilian grandfather.  The two set a musical standard that made the rest of us exert ourselves to complement their playing.  Manny used music as a way to deal with poverty, racial discrimination, and a difficult home life.  Many young people in his neighborhood dealt with the same problems,  and they had developed another way to ameliorate their situation.

Three railroads ran through the community and one of them had a huge switching yard near the neighborhood where Manny lived.  During World War II, hemp was used in making war materiels, and seeds from it fell off the railroad cars and took root in the rights-of-way and nearby fields.  People in the neighborhood harvested it,  dried it, and smoked it.  People say that the stuff from that commercial hemp was not particularly good,  but the people who lived along the tracks seemed to make it work.

Manny did not smoke marijuana around the band members when we worked out arrangements and rehearsed.  But he did some nights when we had a gig.  Sometimes if he felt tense or preoccupied by problems,  he would smoke a little to relax and get in the mood to play music.  This never bothered fellow band members who wanted everyone to play well.  Manny did not smoke cigarette-sized roaches.  His looked more like cigars.

Sometimes Manny seemed terribly distracted.  We thought he had problems at home that were upsetting, but he never wanted to talk about his home life.  Sometimes at a gig, he would smoke heavily to adjust his mood to play music.  One night after a break, Manny appeared severely stoned.  As we started to play,  Manny was clearly not playing the same song or in the same band as the rest of us.  His rhythm was off and he seemed almost tone deaf.  Karl hustled him off the stand and told the audience that something went wrong with Manny's saxophone.

It happened another time when a band member made a tape recording of the set.  A few days later, we played it back for Manny and he  couldn't believe what he heard.  He asked us never to let him on the band stand if he got like that again.  Manny's band director helped him get a music  scholarship, and after he graduated from high school, we never heard from him again.  Years later, I asked the band director if he knew how Manny was doing, and he said he did not know and was afraid to ask.  But for the band members,  Manny left a memory of the destructive effects that cannabis could have on a big talent.

I later found out that excessive use of marijuana could cause a person to become disassociated from his environment and produce auditory hallucinations.  That's apparently what happened to Manny.

My next negative encounter came in 1968, my first year of teaching college.  That was the height of the "hippy era."  I had a 2 o'clock class in early American literature at the English building, which occupied a remote corner of the campus.  Students gathered around the entrance to smoke before class.  Many were dragging on roaches,   When class commenced, some members sat with distant stares and only occasionally seemed to focus on the class discussion for a moment or two.  Those students did not take notes, or very few.  The quality of their attention became an issue on examinations and papers submitted for the class.  They were remarkably incoherent.  Some were confused.  And some made no sense whatever.  A professor from the history department brought the matter to the faculty senate, which set up a special meeting to discuss the matter.  When the students received failing grades for their incomprehensible efforts,  they would often come to the faculty offices to discuss their grades.Their attempts to explain their  efforts were more unintelligible than their written work.  The faculty was concerned that the amount of time reading nonsensical papers detracted from more serious work by students.  A policy was formed that professors would annotate early efforts which produced incoherent papers, but after initial efforts to explain the grades,  they would simply grade the papers with a brief explanation of the errors  and then file the papers.  The "pot files" became a big campus joke.  But rather quickly students stopped coming to class stoned or tried to take tests under the influence.

That episode was evidence that people under the influence of marijuana could not competently perform mental tasks.

On the other hand, I am acquainted with a number of people for whom marijuana has performed medical wonders.  One couple has a child who had severe seizures for which the doctors could find no control.  Then a specialist they consulted suggested they try a medicine made from cannabis.  It worked.  

Another person had arthritis pain so severe, it made her a near invalid.  She tried a regimen with pot and was able to resume an active life.

A mental health counselor I know has found that marijuana is a safer, more effective, and a cheaper way to treat some people with mental health issues.

Marijuana can be an intoxicant, and some people can develop a dependency  on it, if not an outright addiction.  But it also has proven medical benefits that have not been fully explored and exploited.  The scientists need to be turned loose on it,  which means that the laws which affect so many casual users need to be gotten out of the way.

Not taking advantage of marijuana's benefits is dumber than some of those papers I tried to read in the pot files.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States