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.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States