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

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Beyond impeachment, an indictment

The stickler of the problem with Trump is that the framers of the Constitution and its implementation never thought that a total  crook would ever be elected president.  Nixon was a crook, but the system worked so that as a case was being built against him, he saw the ultimate end and resigned.  When tapes recorded in his office were subpoenaed, he relinquished them when the court ordered him to do so, and they contained evidence against him.  He acknowledged the primacy of the democratic processes and that his presidency had to end.   Trump, however, holds democracy and its systems in disdain.  He is not capable of apprehending any value other than serving his greed and misusing power to subvert the democratic system.

The Department of Justice holds the beneficent attitude--and policy-- that a sitting president should not be impeded in doing the work of the country by being indicted.  That is a policy that ignores the possibility that the criminal acts of a sitting president could put the country in its greatest peril.  

The Mueller report detailed some acts by Trump that were clearly criminal.  Mueller did not issue an indictment because of that DOJ policy.  Many Democrats, and a few Republicans, think the Mueller report is a call for impeachment.  The report, even in its redacted form, lays out the articles of impeachment.  Speaker Pelosi has cautioned against stampeding into impeachment.  She has said that the impeachment process, however, could be used to gather more information.

If Trump were successfully impeached, he would merely be removed from office.  It is not likely that his GOP lackeys in the Senate would vote to impeach.  But if Trump were indicted, he would be brought to trial.  He would have to face and respond to the charges against him.  And if he were indicted, the case against him would be irrefutable.

Trump's crimes are a cancer on the presidency.  He is a malicious perpetrator.  If an indictment were constructed against him, it could be served and he could be tried whenever he left the presidency.  The rule against indicting a sitting president is not a matter of law.  It is a matter of executive policy that could be changed by law.  And should be.

But if an indisputable indictment were constructed for him, he would have to answer at some point and held responsible for  his criminal acts.

Justice cannot be subverted by corruption.  Le the indictment be made.







Monday, May 6, 2019

What is a real journalist?

The public's perception of how a news reporter works has been warped by television journalism.  Television news stories use video clips of people making statements as the bulk of their news presentations.  A TV reporter, as well as a radio reporter, has the primary objective of getting a statement about some matter on tape for broadcast.  Then, in the name of "balance," they will look for someone with an opposing or alternative viewpoint to make a statement.  In the electronic news business, it is considered great television if they can get a public argument going.  People like to witness conflict.

However, escalating conflict is a television producer's task, not a real journalist's.  The primary job of a reporter is to define and verify facts, not merely repeat what people may speculate or opine about the facts.  The actual news reporter will take care in presenting the facts, distinguishing them from the opinions or speculations they may inspire.  However, in the world of electronic news which thrives on agitating and titillating a public that craves conflict, few facts survive intact the mauling they go through or the jabber they accrue.  The facts often get overshadowed by the chatter.

As news media made increasing use of the internet, news organizations were enamored of the idea of increasing readership by allowing readers to interact with the media with their comments.  Comments affect the readers' responses in many ways, and many studies have examined how that works.  But some very basic facts that newspaper editors  know and work with every day came into play.  A rule of thumb is that the reputation of a newspaper is determined by its lowest common denominator.  What people retain in their memories are the typographical errors, the grammar and spelling errors, and the poorly written stories.  In an edition that might be composed of skillfully written stories, people will regard it on the basis of one story that contains an error or unclear writing.  And people will let a stupid, false, and malicious comment displace the facts in a news story.

The unforgettable sin for a real news medium is to get a fact wrong.  The unpardonable sin is to deliberately misstate a fact.  And when someone is quoted or recorded mistating a fact, the medium has a responsibility to state the fact correctly so that readers, listeners, and viewers know what the verifiable fact is.  That is an essential responsibility of a real news reporter.  The application of that principle is what distinguishes phony news media, such as Fox News, from authentic news media, such as The Wall Street Journal.   A fact is like a granite boulder.  Wind storms may obscure it at times with rain or dust or debris of human-making, but the fact remains to be discerned when the trash storm is over.  The real journalist is like an archaeologist who carefully digs for the facts and brushes away the debris that obscures and distorts them.  And that gets to the real journalist's use of journalism's absolutely essential tool.  That tool is precise but vivid language, language that accurately and sharply portrays the facts. The language used in comments on news stories is seldom precise or vivid.  That's because it does not refer to facts, but is spillage from the minds of the writers. 

Journalism has in the past been regarded as a literary endeavor.  It was rooted in the skillful use of language. The study of language delved into how language is used in trustworthy ways and how language can be used to deceive and manipulate.  The study of advertising revealed how powerfully language could be used to manipulate what people think and what choices they make.  This resulted in some universities moving their mass communications and journalism programs away from the colleges of arts and sciences into the business colleges.  They regarded mass communications more in terms of language as a  profit making device than as the human tool for examining facts and thought.  During my time as a member of the working press and later teaching writing and journalism, there was considerable discussion about whether students were better prepared for journalism by a rigorous liberal arts degree or a journalism school degree.  Editors pointed out that whatever programs the most accomplished journalists graduated from, they were all well read with a strong command of the liberal arts, but the distinguishing factor was their scholarship.  The process of gathering and analyzing information, interviewing people and searching the written record, provides the journalist with the skills needed for the job.  They know how and where to find the facts.

When a news story presentation allows for comments, the chain of responses produces a verbal smoke screen in which the facts are obscured, sometimes totally lost.  Most of the comments do not refer to the facts.  As linguistic scholars explain it, the language of comments gives us  maps of the minds of the commenters.  It deals with the prejudices, obsessions, and deviations of the commenters, seldom with the facts at issue.  For many, those products of cognitive failure are the impression that is retained in their minds.  More often than not, comment threads produce expressions of malice, which reduce the exchange into a malicious exercise.  Students of how mass communication works explain that these exchanges are in large part a cause of the hateful political divide in our nation.

Savvy editors recognize that the good work of industrious, competent reporters is defaced by horribly written and specious commentary.  Major news media edit the comments for intelligible writing and relevance to the topic.  Even so, the quality of news stories is compromised by their association with inferior comments.  Consequently, News editors are often withholding the option to comment on stories they deem of great importance, and invite would-be commenters to write letters-to-the-editor that cite facts and show their reasoning. Those editors  place the integrity of the information and the language above the marketing of their media.  They apply the standards of journalistic integrity to letters submitted to them, and reserve the right to fact-check and edit them to conform to journalistic standards of literacy.

News media and blogs which relax the standards of thought and language for comments help undercut the function they perform in informing the public.  While there is some discussion about whether bloggers or employees of the legacy media are the real journalists, what defines a true journalist is someone who presents the actual, full facts without the compromise of spin and distortion.  Regrettably, there aren't  many readers, listeners, or viewers of the news who discern the facts from the fabrications. So, a true journalist takes care that their own work is not compromised by ignorant or malicious comments.  The ignorant whine that such care is censorship, but the right to free speech also endows the right to maintain honesty and quality.  In a culture in which 60 million people voted for Donald Trump, integrity and quality are not honored.







Friday, April 26, 2019

No collusion? How about betrayal?

The question is raised by the Constitution.  It is raised by a phrase in one sentence:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. 
The words "adhering" to our enemies and "giving them aid and comfort" define an act that comprises treason.  To "adhere" to an enemy is to  ""believe in and follow the practices of" that enemy.  "Aid and comfort" includes approving what another country does by encouraging its actions and becoming passively complicit with them.  

The Constitutional article is implemented in the U.S. Code:
Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

The Mueller report specifically stated that "the investigation did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities."   But it did note that the Campaign responded with an accepting and cooperative attitude by being receptive in some instances of Russian offers to help.  At times, the campaign was complicit with the Russian efforts. The report stresses that it is not the final word on the Trump Campaign's involvement with the Russian government and that there might be more to find with further investigation:


 A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.

Accordingly, while this report embodies factual and legal determinations that the Office believes to be accurate and complete to the greatest extent possible, given these identified gaps [instances where information could not be obtained]the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report.
Those statements in effect lay out a plan for further investigation of the Trump Campaign and Administration by Congress and makes a recommendation that it do so.  Although the report does not formally make a charge of obstruction against Trump, it details 14 instances, any one of which could be a case against him, if Congress wishes to make it.


However, as Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi have pointed out, Congress should not go hell bent for impeachment,  Rather, it should focus on the fact that Russia has committed an extremely serious hostile act against the United States that transcends politics and threatens to throw the nation into hopeless dysfunction.  Congress' job is to investigate all the factors that are pushing the nation into dysfunction and deal with them accordingly.  Rather than rush into an effort for impeachment of Trump, Congress must use the facts established by the Mueller report as the guideposts for further investigation, analysis, and legislative action.  If the facts lead to impeachment, so be it.  But the objective is to save the nation.  Donald Trump and what is done about him is merely incidental to restoring the standards of liberty, equality, and justice for which the United States strives.

Trump has betrayed the nation with his fraud, his malice, and his ceaseless lying. His personal history shows that he has always behaved this way. Trump is not the essential problem.  The 40 or so percent who support him and the malignant cancer he brings to the presidency are, along with Putin's Russia,  the sickness that has made the United States a democratic invalid.  Trump is a growing malignant tumor on the body politic.  If the nation is to survive as a democracy, he must be removed.  But his removal will not necessarily put the nation into remission or restore it to health.  To many, the election of Trump is a symptom that the country has relapsed into the racism, sexism, and inequality that it has tried to overcome.  The kind of support Trump has is a symptom that democracy in the nation has a potentially fatal illness.

Although the Trump campaign did not have any formal agreement of coordination and conspiracy with Russia to meddle in the 2016, it was openly blatant about shouting approval and encouragement of Russia's efforts.  It applauded Russian activities at obtaining Democratic emails and and offered comfort if not specific assistance.  Approving so overtly of Russia's efforts was a betrayal of the nation.  It offered no discouragement of Russia's intrusions and provided the comfort of giving approval.  And that is part of the definition of treason.  What the Mueller report documents is overt attempts to exploit the products of Russia's work:
After candidate Trump stated on July 27, 2016, that he hoped Russia would "find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump asked individuals affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails.264 Michael Flynn-who would later serve as National Security Advisor in the Trump Administrationrecalled that Trump made this request repeatedlyand Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails.
... 
In sum, the investigation established that the GRU hacked into email accounts of persons affiliated with the Clinton Campaign, as well as the computers of the DNC and DCCC. The GRU then exfiltrated data related to the 2016 election from these accounts and computers, and disseminated that data through fictitious online personas (DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0) and later through WikiLeaks. The investigation also established that the Trump Campaign displayed interest in the WikiLeaks releases, and that the evidence was sufficient to support computer­ intrusion and other charges against GRU officers for their role in election-related hacking.
While the Mueller report concludes that the Trump Campaign did not have a formal arrangement of coordination and conspiracy with the Russians, it details complicity through encouragement and anticipation of using the results of Russian intrusion.  The Campaign's approval of Russian hacking is an act of betrayal.

As Congress pursues the factual guideposts furnished by the Mueller Report, it should not limit itself to acts of obstruction of justice.  Despite the Report's declaration that no evidence was found that the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia in its sweeping and systematic effort, the Report provides specific instances of betrayal.  It is Congress's job to determine if the actions of the Campaign in adhering to Russian efforts offered enough aid and comfort to comprise acts of treason.  






Sunday, April 14, 2019

If there were a draft, would you serve this country?



I was drafted and served two years of military active duty and four in the reserves.  It never occurred to me at the time to refuse.  Nor did it to most of my contemporaries who were also drafted.

When the draft was ended and all military service became voluntary at the end of the Vietnam War, part of the reason for ending it was that a significant number of men were refusing to serve.  Many fled to Canada and later returned to the U.S. when President Carter gave them amnesty.  Others found ways to avoid the draft, such as acquiring bone spurs by bribing doctors.  However, men who were in the service were showing dangerous signs of mutiny.  The incidents of "fragging"--the killing of officers and noncommissioned officers with hand grenades by American troops-- alarmed military commanders and government officials.  The prospect of an insurrection within the military sent shock waves through the nation.  When the military is undisciplined, the nation as a whole is threatened.

The avoidance of service and the rebellions within the military were motivated by the realization that the 
Vietnam  War was a vicious and lethal absurdity.  It wasted 50,000 American lives, killed about a million Vietnamese, and caused turmoil in the streets of the United States.  People also came to realize that the draft was unfair, with the wealthy finding ways to avoid it, leaving the poor to bear the brunt of it.  Some leaders were in a panic that a class war would devastate the nation.  They sought to remove the causes of discontent that were moving the nation toward violence, so they ended the war and the draft.

One of my contemporaries, who was drafted about the same time I was, recently raised the question about how he would feel about military service during the Vietnam War or our current time.  Like me, he was given an honorable discharge from the service.  He had been active in the anti-war movement but also in supporting veterans of the Vietnam era.  He said veterans had to deal with PTSD and the disturbing irony of receiving honorable discharges from a war that was a dishonorable atrocity.  They felt that they were complicit with the dishonor.

American citizens today are faced with a comparable dilemma.  How can one be proud of citizenship in a nation which elects the epitome of depravity as its leader?  How can any person with respect for decency support a man who brazenly flaunts corruption as a badge of success, whose words cannot be believed or trusted, whose behavior constantly displays a puerile malice?

The dislike of Trump is not a political issue.  It is a moral matter.  When the nation is compared with the moral collapse of Germany as it embraced the Nazi regime, some glibly cite Godwin's Law, which says that as soon as some makes a comparison to Hitler and his deeds in a discussion thread, the discussion is ended.  It is true that mere name-calling using Nazi associations is unproductive and pointless.  But the Holocaust is the moral touchstone of modern history in which an entire continent submitted to and often participated in the commission of atrocities in the name of attaining a superior society.  Nazi Germany defined the intellectual and moral degradation to which humans can fall.  Since World War II, the factors which contributed to humanity's  greatest organized atrocity have been studied and analyzed so that we have an understanding of the motives and moral circumstances that made it happen.  When people who have worked to understand those circumstances compare the age of Trump to the age of Hitler, they are not dealing in cheap political invective.  They are defining malignant social trends that run counter to what this country was designed to be and fought for in World War II.  They are warning that America is adopting the very trends against which members of the Greatest Generation once defended it.

It is not merely a political matter that Americans chose a person of the values of Donald Trump, although politics is the social vehicle that made Trump possible.  But the politics reflect a  shift in American values away from an affirmation of human decency to an embrace of fraud, greed, mendacity, and malice toward many.  Forty-six percent of the voters chose Trump.  They knew precisely what they were voting for because Trump stridently announced and displayed his values during the primary and general election campaigns.  Forty-six percent of the voters chose to make the U.S. a nation of discrimination against and oppression of minorities, a nation that desires and supports malicious lies, a nation that encourages and celebrates corruption.

Supporters and defenders of Trump answer the questioning of his demented tweets and oval office pronouncements by saying he will never be criticized without fighting back, and when he fights back, he fights for all those beleaguered people who have also been criticized.  What informed analysts of Trump's speech acts note is that Trump fights for no one but himself.  He serves only his own depraved purposes.  His tweets and comments are almost always intended to accomplish harm or to encourage others to do harm.  His speech acts comprise a constant stream of malice.  Those who claim that Trump represents them are those who choose to participate in malicious purpose.  And that purpose is based upon racial, ethnic, religious, and social enmity they hold toward other people.  If they feel criticized and demeaned, they might wish to consider how contrary they are to the American premise of decency.

The divide in America is not merely a clash between the self-righteous and ordinary citizens.  It is a moral abyss of the same kind that divided believers of humane values and Hitler's collaborators.  The current collaborators are not generally engaged in a holocaust at this point, but they fully endorse the fraud, the corporate dictatorship, the pervasive dishonesty, and the malice.  And those who do want a holocaust have shown they feel encouraged by the trend Trump is leading.

Those who are advocating for conciliation between Americans just are not paying attention to the moral and intellectual opposites at issue.  The fight is between the benign and the malicious.  

The divide became an issue when the first black president was elected.  Dormant racism was agitated into a political force.  The civil rights movement had advanced the cause of equality to the point where a strained coexistence was possible.  But when a person who many thought should be  a house boy was elected to be master of the White House, resentment exploded into open hostility.  And when Trump began his racist tirades against Latino immigrants, the seething racial bigots found a leader to their liking--someone who would wage a pogrom of hate and oppression against minorities and "libbies," and make manifest the gospel of Rush Limbaugh.  There is no possible way that an American liberal can give in to the hatred, the dishonesty, the malice of Trump without realizing that they would be abandoning the essential purpose of the nation's creation.

The problem for Americans is that defending the country would be defending fraud, hatred, and malicious aggression. The resurgence of social democrats is a response to the realization that capitalism has assumed the aspect of plantation politics, led by a totally corrupt master.  Trump has abolished the efforts at nuclear disarmament, diplomatic restraint of Iran, agreements to address the destruction of climate change, and efforts to promote fair and effective health care.  How can one take up arms against outside aggressors when the most lethal efforts against the American people are coming from inside the country?  And when our allies view America as a danger to them?

The 48 percent who voted against Trump (46 percent of the voters voted for him) are in a dilemma.  If they were asked to defend the country, would they be defending the quest for liberty, equality, and justice?  Or would they be defending the descent into corruption, mendacity, and oppression?  Or would they choose to join the military in an insurrection?

It really is not something I would have to think about.  I'd fight for the country I once served, not the country Trump has made of it.



Thursday, April 4, 2019

Colleges once conferred degrees, not status

Two events in higher education led the nation to being the most advanced in the world.  During the height of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln signed the Land Grant College (Morill) Act which led to the establishment of public universities in every state.  As the U.S. was making the transition from a rural and agricultural nation to an industrial and technological one, the public universities supplied the research and knowledge and the opportunities for young people to acquire the knowledge.  It meant a huge leap of growth in all areas of knowledge as it provided students with the critical thinking skills of the liberal arts, as well as  scientific and technical knowledge.

The second event was the passage of the post World War II G.I. Bill.  As veterans returned to civilian life there was a shortage of jobs.   The G.I. Bill enabled them to attend college so that they could plan and pursue careers which allowed them to not only assimilate back into society but to greatly increase the human skill and talent for the nation's development.  In 1947, 49 percent of the college students were veterans attending on the G.I. Bill.   Rather than facing a difficult readjustment into a peacetime economy, the Bill sparked an unprecedented growth in the economy and advances in all aspects of American life.

Higher education also received huge benefits as it geared up to receive the influx of students who were determined to study hard and apply the knowledge and skills they acquired.  The influx of serious and determined students helped colleges and universities to strengthen and expand their curricula, and to upgrade their teaching and research activities.  America's public higher education system became the most respected in the world, and it set the standard for the advancement of knowledge.  The public universities rivaled the elite Ivy League schools in terms of the knowledge and talent they produced.  While the exclusive Ivy League institutions and other private universities claim an elite status and "star" professors, the public colleges and the private ones which participate in the mission to make education available to anyone who wants it are the force that raises America's education level and creates the vast pool of educated workers which have elevated the nation into world leadership.  

The current college admissions cheating scandal is not an education issue, but a skirmish in class warfare.  When people spend millions of dollars to get their kids into a prestigious university, they do severe damage to higher education.  Their objective is to make their children members of an exclusive club, not to provide them with a real higher education.  Cheating is the bane of academe.  It kills the scholarly enterprise because it destroys the trusted reliability on which knowledge depends.  Most people with education have learned the penalties of plagiarism, the passing off of someone else's work as their own.  People are not as aware of other violations of academic principle for which professors are summarily fired and banned from their profession:  falsifying data, bribery, malicious and sexual misconduct, mendacity.  All of those are behaviors that our current president practices constantly.

Those are the kind of acts that are involved in the college admissions cheating scandal.  They were committed to gain young students entrance into prestigious institutions, but they undermined the most essential qualities that give the colleges their prestige: meticulous honesty and striving competence.  Genuine knowledge is generated, refined, verified, and imparted only in places that apply the rigorous principles of scholarship.  One lie or deception can invalidate an institution as a source of information and as a participant in the making and delivery of knowledge.  For this reason, reputable institutions will rid themselves of personnel who indulge in graft and reject students who gained acceptance as a result of it.  Dishonest practices destroy a college's very reason for being.

Those young adults whose parents tried to buy them admission to prestigious institutions could get real educations at almost any of the  3,275 nonprofit public and private colleges in the U.S.  Many of the universities that do research along with their teaching rank academically as high--in some cases higher--as those that parents tried to bribe for admissions of their children.  Of the universities named in the indictment, six are private: Georgetown University, the University of Southern California, Stanford University, Yale University, Wake Forest University, and the University of San Diego.  Two are public:  the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Texas, Austin.  These universities have earned reputations because of the significant scholarship they have produced--at least at some point in their histories.  It may be the case that some students whose parents bribe their admission are interested in performing a high level of scholarship.  But their parents are paying for prestige and conniving ways to scam admission requirements.  They give little credence to the intellectual work and its products that are the basis for earned reputations.

A popular scam involving colleges is the rankings of "best" colleges" put out by  organizations such as U.S News, Princeton Review, and Niche.  These rankings are more marketing ploys than indicators of academic excellence.  Many colleges refuse to participate because the rankings have no scientific basis.  A critique in The New Yorker makes the point: "There’s no direct way to measure the quality of an institution—how well a college manages to inform, inspire, and challenge its students."  The reason is:

"Sound judgments of educational quality have to be based on specific, hard-to-observe features. But reputational ratings are simply inferences from broad, readily observable features of an institution’s identity, such as its history, its prominence in the media, or the elegance of its architecture. They are prejudices."

A few schools may be diploma mills that confer degrees as something that is purchased with tuition and fees--and may include some "prestigious" institutions.  And the degree of rigor required to earn a degree does vary.  But most colleges maintain standards for scholarship so that a degree is a statement that the student who has one has earned it. Students who hold degrees from community colleges and have then graduated from a state four-year school have generally have degrees comparable to those granted by more prestigious institutions, and they graduate with much lower debts.  But the clamor to get into prestige institutions has cut enrollments at many reputable and substantial state colleges, causing the to cut programs and faculty.  The focus on prestige institutions has had the effect of eliminating some affordable but competitive opportunities for students.  The preferences for the prestige schools is not based upon the facts, but on false information--on silly prejudices.

The hard fact is that paying millions of dollars to get children into prestige institutions is not necessarily going to provide a better degree than one earned by a student who worked his/her way through a community college and then a modest state university.  In terms of educational substance and quality, that working student may have the better degree.  

Real college degrees are about actually improving life.  They are not pretentious ornaments to be brandished like jewelry and luxury cars.  Real degrees mean something.  They mean that the people who earn them know something.






Monday, April 1, 2019

Joe Biden prowls rallies, sniffing out women with funky hair

I was browsing the net reading the latest efforts at informing the populace.  I read this passage:


As I was taking deep breaths and preparing myself to make my case to the crowd, I felt two hands on my shoulders. I froze. “Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?”
 
I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified. I thought to myself, “I didn’t wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it. And also, what in the actual fuck? Why is the vice-president of the United States smelling my hair?” He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused. There is a Spanish saying, “tragame tierra,” it means, “earth, swallow me whole.” I couldn’t move and I couldn’t say anything. I wanted nothing more than to get Biden away from me. My name was called and I was never happier to get on stage in front of an audience.

After I read this far, I looked for an identification of the source.  I thought I was reading The Onion or some other publication of humor and satire.   But it was from a magazine called The Cut, which says it "covers the issues that matter to women with stylish minds: fashion, politics, motherhood, health, ambition and culture."  This alleged account of Joe Biden coming up behind a woman and sniffing her odoriferous hair has made the national news with interviews in major newspapers and cable news shows.  It has prompted Joe Biden to issue a statement that “not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately.”  Furthermore, he said, We have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention.”

The woman who wrote that passage said Joe's alleged actions disqualified him from running for president and that she is not accusing him of sexual harassment but of invading her space.  What I'm paying attention to is the cheap, absurd, tabloid-level writing style of the account.

"I felt him get closer to me from behind."  Prepare for an attack.

"I felt two hands on my shoulders."  Thank god he only had two.

"He leaned further in..."  Joe, the contortionist."

"...and inhaled my hair."  Was it sprinkled with coke?  You mean that hair in Joe's nostrils ain't Joe's?

“I didn’t wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it."  That ought to throw him into a fit of passion.

"...what in the actual fuck?"  That's a nice, folksy touch.  Not sexual, but a mere invasion of space.

"He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head."   Told you so.  Nothing like snorting and slowly sucking up a head of reeking hair.  

" My brain couldn’t process what was happening." Of course not, silly.  He was sucking your brains out.

"I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused."  Anything else you'd care to list?

"There is a Spanish saying, “tragame tierra,” it means, “earth, swallow me whole.”  Get a little diversity in there.  But it wasn't mother earth.  It was good ol' Joe Biden. 

The Onion has had fun with Joe Biden during his vice presidency, featuring a picture of him out in front of the White House washing his car.


That passage from The Cut seemed to be in the same vein as a parody of lurid and vulgar writing.  It is hard to read it as an authentic account of something that happened. 

Ultimately, the story is significant for the level to which public discourse, especially in politics, has deteriorated.  If this was a noteworthy incident, competent editors would not let it be told with such atrocious writing.  Political talk of our time consists largely of exchanges of racial and sexual stereotypes--thieving Latinos sneaking across the border, predatory old white males forcing themselves on women, black families hoarding food stamps, etc.  This mode of thought and expression has given us Donald Trump.  It has to do with literacy.  Just as the the words of the Declaration of Independence shaped our direction of development for centuries, the current level of discourse shapes our future.

We deserve what we get.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

On the efficacy of riots

During the most intense part of the civil rights era, a friend of mine became known as a devoted follower of the 
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., through his work in peaceful protests.  I became acquainted with him when we were on the same train during our induction into military service, although we never served in the same units.  When we were released from active duty, we frequently ran across each other and  chatted about our service experiences.  Mine involved integration matters, and my friend, an African American, was interested in how the process went where I served in Germany.  As the civil rights movement intensified, my friend emerged as a leader and we often crossed paths at events promoting equality and justice. When I was teaching at a college in our community, he was often on the campus working with students.

At the time, there was much violence as protestors moved from civil rights protests to Viet Nam War protests.  President Lyndon Johnson decided not to run for election because of the turmoil taking place in the streets, some of it outside the fences that surround the White House.  College students were restless and volatile, and disruptions on campuses were frequent.  My friend worked closely with college staff and student leaders to keep the protests non-violent.  

One spring day after a meeting with faculty and students about some resistance programs, my friend and I went to the union for some iced tea.  He was troubled, and brought up  a problem that had bothered him.  He studied the history of nonviolence in making social changes in the U.S., and he found a contradiction.  He said he noted that most of the major political changes came after periods of violent turmoil.  He'd noticed that nonviolent demonstrations were largely dismissed in the public mind unless there was some violence taking place somewhere to show what peaceable demonstrations were trying to avoid.   He said he had a dedicated belief in nonviolence and was committed to solving problems peaceably, but had doubts that his advocacy for peace was presenting the truth.  He noted that when the groups he worked with had productive negotiations with some official agency, they always occurred when there was violence in the news.   Citizens tended to ignore protests unless they posed some danger.

My friend said he and advocates for nonviolence talked about advancing the causes of freedom, equality, and justice through peaceful means while taking credit for what is achieved by people using more forceful methods.  His doubts began when he visited an ex-Army buddy in Los Angeles who experienced the riots in Watts over police brutality and the general discrimination against African Americans. His army friend told him the destruction to the city seemed devastating but produced the first serious attempts to address the concerns of the residents of the inner city.  No one paid attention until the city was threatened with destruction.  Nobody took the grievances seriously until people started burning things down.  

In our time, there is evidence which supports that observation.  After the massive demonstrations by the Occupy movements and the women's pink hat and anti-Trump marches, nothing seems to have resulted.  In the Dakotas, the pipeline protests have resulted in lawsuits and state officials and legislatures cobbling together laws against riots that clearly infringe upon free speech.  If there is one thing the corporate establishment and its lackeys fear, it is a citizenry in revolt.  So they create laws designed to keep the constituents in a submissive and ineffectual state.  In so doing, they make a convincing case to the public that if you want to be effectively heard, you have to put on one hell of a riot.

One law passed in South Dakota this year protects and promotes the interests of pipeline companies, SB-190.  The law clearly declares that it conceives the  purpose of the state to serve corporations rather than its citizens.  The law is entitled "An Act to promote pipeline construction and fiscal responsibility by establishing a fund, to authorize a special fee for extraordinary expenses, to make a continuous appropriation therefor, and to declare an emergency."    It does raise some question about whether it reconciles with the State Constitution:

§ 3.   Laws for benefit of corporation as conditioned on compliance with Constitutional provision. The Legislature shall not remit the forfeiture of the charter of any corporation now existing nor alter or amend the same nor pass any other general or special law for the benefit of such corporation, except upon the condition that such corporation shall thereafter hold its charter subject to the provisions of this Constitution.
The state has never let laws or any code of integrity interfere with its suppliance to corporations.

To discourage any resistance to its obsequious sucking of corporations, the GOP regime has passed SB-189, which addresses riot boosting.  It provides criminal charges for anyone who:
(1)    Participates in any riot and directs, advises, encourages, or solicits any other person participating in the riot to acts of force or violence;   
(2)    Does not personally participate in any riot but directs, advises, encourages, or solicits other persons participating in the riot to acts of force or violence;
We do live in an age in which a large segment of the population can't grasp irony.  A law which tries to intimidate people from making any vigorous statement of their grievances is a sign to many that government is so corrupt that any submission to its dictates is a collaboration with evil. The rioters in Watts thought that the destruction of their community was better than living with the evil in it, and the destruction was necessary to rid it of the evil.  Rather than live in obedience to a malignant authority, it was better to start over from scratch, if necessary.  For those whose lands were criminally taken from them and are now threatened with leaking pipelines, the collaboration with corruption is guaranteed destruction.  Why not burn down the infestation so that future generations can launch their own quest for freedom, equality, and justice?  Those laws passed for the pipeline companies were declarations of oppression, and statements of what their collaborators fear most.  The irony is that the laws make clear their malign intention in that the only registration of grievances permitted is what the authorities so blithely ignore.  

I am not advocating riots.  However, I cannot but note that the laws tell would be rioters that they have nothing to lose but oppression and the further degradation of their lands.

Remember Wounded Knee II.  





Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The First Amendment needs to be better taught

It seems simple:  Congress shall make no law " abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press."  Through the incorporation doctrine triggered by the Fourteenth Amendment, the obligation to observe the rights conferred to people by the Bill of Rights are extended to state and local governments.  The major misunderstanding of free speech is that people think it is protected no matter where they are or what they say.  And its application of the amendment to the press is terribly misunderstood.

Some people contend that slander and libel laws and laws against making false reports to the police violate the Constitution because they punish free speech.  Again the Fourteenth Amendment with its "equal protection under the law" clause comes into play.  That clause gives government the obligation to protect people from harm, and libel can do devastating and unfair harm.  The categories of speech which can be regulated  include "obscenity, defamation, fraud, incitement, fighting words, and speech integral to criminal conduct."  The reasoning is that those categories "are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth.”  In other words, those kinds of speech have no value which contributes to freedom.  Rather, they can jeopardize a person's freedom.

Lies are covered by the term fraud in the delineation of what is not protected by the First Amendment.  In court, telling a lie is punished as perjury.  So, while purposeful speech is protected as free, there are measures to protect the integrity of speech.  People are free to speak as critically as they wish, but are restrained from vandalizing other people or the language itself.  Such restraints are necessary to prevent society from falling into to total dysfunction.

The rule of free speech protects the right of people to speak out but also the right not to be compelled to speak.  You cannot be made to say something you don't wish to. Again the Fourteenth Amendment affects this.  If you are witness to an action that harms another person, you can be subpoenaed to come to court and testify.  If you refuse, you can be jailed for contempt of court. It's a matter of giving everyone equal protection under the law.

Freedom of the press has an aspect that confounds many people.  Any medium has the right to be selective in what it chooses to print or broadcast.  That right also has limitations accorded by libel laws and the prohibition of fraud.  Although the freedom of the press gives the right of some media, such as Fox News, to dabble in proscribed practices, it also gives media the freedom to strive for excellence.  Some media does that.  Such media is selective.  It fact checks what it publishes.  It is selective about the caliber of material it uses. It insists upon literate, reasoned, fact-based writing.  And that causes many to complain.

When the Internet made it possible for readers and viewers to comment on articles, the responses flooded in.  At first, the media was not prepared to monitor the responses.  Whatever was submitted was printed and the media was inundated.  But  a Pew research study showed the media that the responses had a very negative effect.  Readers tend to perceive a medium according to the lowest and worst items it publishes.  At a time when a loss of subscribers and advertisers was forcing a retrenchment in the media, many simply ending, it was losing its most discerning audience.  Newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post started monitoring the comments although they were financially limited in how thoroughly they could do it.  They applied computer algorithms so they could weed out the most flagrant violators of thought and grammar, but they do not have the resources to edit comments to standards of informed literacy.  To maintain standards, however, the most deficient comments have to be eliminated and bad grammar and spelling makes the entire publication look bad.  With letters to the editor, staff will work with intelligent contributors to bring the level of thought, expression, punctuation, and grammar up to the level required in the medium's style book.  But no media has the money for the extra staff to accomplish that, so comments hang out there by themselves like a piece of toilet paper stuck on a shoe.  The media hopes that illiterate and incoherent comments that slip by will not dissuade readers and viewers who expect intelligence and literacy.

Maintaining high levels of reporting and writing is as much a right of a free press as expressing criticism or publishing material that some might find offensive.   It is a right that extends to bloggers.  They have the right to set and maintain standards for comments on their blogs.  Those whose comments are rejected for malice, stupidity, and illiteracy will whine about elitism, but being reasonably educated, capable of rational thought and literate expression is a goal of our democracy, not a matter of being elite.  The First Amendment protects the right to exercise intelligence as well as the right to join the idiot chorus with sound and fury,  And it gives the media and bloggers the right to reject the sound and fury.  Some fine blogs would improve if they rejected the comments by trolls.

That raises the question of some people being rejected as speakers on college campuses.  When some speakers have been rejected, they whine that their freedom of speech has been infringed.  But some Constitutional scholars have pointed out that the freedom to say what you want has a concomitant right of freedom to listen to what you want.  And that right is particularly strong when you determine that what you refuse to listen to has "no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and [is] of such slight social value as a step to truth.”  Thus, college students have the right to reject certain speakers as part of their exercise of freedom of speech.

The First Amendment gets complicated by equal protection under the law.  It needs to be better explained so that people fully understand their rights and the rights of others.








Saturday, March 2, 2019

You might not realize you are starving to death

When I was in the army, many of the cadre who trained us were World War II and Korean War veterans.  Part of the training was to instill in us the U.S. Military Code of Conduct, which had been instituted a fews years earlier under the Eisenhower administration.  It has a section devoted to how to behave if you are taken a prisoner of war.  It instructs:  Article III - If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and to aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.

The sergeant who covered that article for us had been taken prisoner by the Germans.  He and some fellow soldiers escaped from the prison camp and made their way across the Alps to neutral territory.  Their escape took some elaborate preparation.  The GI prisoners were underfed and under-clothed and in a weak and vulnerable condition so that escape was not much of a consideration.  The Germans were confident that the GIs were not in any shape to execute a successful escape.  That confidence was used against them.

The GI prisoners were assigned to do the menial tasks for the prison, such as peeling potatoes.  They were supposed to take the peelings and other waste to feed a herd of pigs that was maintained to feed the German personnel.  But all of the potato peelings did not make it to the hogs.  The GIs developed a system for diverting the peelings to two  other places.  One was to a fermentation vat where some GIs were engaged in making a crude vodka.  However, that enterprise was a diversion in case the Germans discovered some missing potato peelings and had a lockdown search of the prison camp.  The other place was a nightly enterprise of turning food waste and any other ingredients which the POWs could smuggle away into a stew rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  Potato peelings were the main ingredient because they were the most abundant source of nutrients.

The taste of the stuff was not a consideration.  The health of the POWs was the objective.  Their diets appeared to the German guards to keep them weak and unlikely to revolt or take on strenuous tasks, so the GIs played the role of listless and demoralized prisoners, while almost every night making a concoction that kept their bodies nourished for action.  If the Germans pulled a surprise inspection, all evidence of the stew could be disposed of quickly, leaving the vodka-making apparatus as the only evidence of a surreptitious enterprise.  The Germans would confiscate the vodka for themselves, but regarded its making as an enterprise that would further weaken the POWs and divert their energies from revolt or escape.  The Germans were kept unaware that the GIs were fortifying themselves with a nutrient-laden broth and a physical conditioning routine almost every night.

I do not remember any details of the escape. I do recall that the escapees traversed some mountains in the winter, but the point of the presentation was to stay in shape as much as possible so that one could create and take advantage of opportunities to escape.  I cannot forget the part about the nutritious value of potato peelings.  When I cook potatoes, I try to leave the peelings on.  But that probably has more to do with laziness than nutrition.  Nevertheless, potato peelings are a constant reminder to me of survival in perilous times.

We have reached a point in human history where many of our brains are not receiving the essential nutrients to function.  They are getting too weak to generate logical thought.  Like people whose diet is largely junk food so that they can't digest  proteins, many peoples' brains cannot digest facts.

The fact is that the means to deliver information on a mass scale is so constricted that it does not handle essential facts well.  The human brain is getting unaccustomed to direct exposure to hard facts.

For a number of years now, the news media has pared down its editorial staffs and its coverage of events.  The Internet has had a huge effect on the distribution of information and goods.  Aberdeen, for example,  has lost department stores--Sears, Kmart, J.C. Penney, Herberger's--and other retail outlets--Osco, Ben Franklin's, Walgreens--and Shopko announced it will close in May.  The mall is half empty.  The news media has experienced a concomitant decline because of the loss of advertising revenues from retailers.  The local newspaper recently announced a serious reduction in staff.

In addition, the media has changed the way it delivers information.  Cable news finds it cheaper to fill its broadcast time with panelists who sit around and give their opinions about politicians and events rather than send experienced and competent reporters out to determine what the facts are.  And as people turn to the Internet to get news, they tend to select sites which conform to their prejudices.  Even when facts get presented with some clarity and verification, they get so mauled over by commenters on the Internet that the facts get lost in the contentious noise.  The facts get displaced by exchanges of ignorance and animus.  The internet exchanges feed stupidity.

People who realize the deficiencies of the information they are receiving become like those GI prisoners of war scrounging for nutrients to survive.  A constant message going out from the White House is that the legacy media is the enemy of the people and produces fake news.  Those who have some understanding of how real journalism works, however, rely on the legacy media to get at the true facts.  Real journalism has the job of finding and verifying actual facts, not merely passing on jabber that may or may not have any relevance to real life.  If you watch cable news or browse the Internet, there is a good chance that you won't encounter a single fact.  And when you do come across one, a swarm around you will be screaming that it's fake. 

The human brain can't function properly on a diet of opinion.  It needs the facts of the reality in which it operates to successfully deal with that reality.  And it needs the facts to analyze the coherence of the opinions it encounters.  It also needs some skill in assessing which opinions are valid and which are ignorant reaction.  Providing brains with facts and the ability to reason with the facts is the underlying objective of all education.

Many of the attacks on public education are coming from the right wing that seeks to keep students ignorant and gullible.  Right wingdings have sought positions on school boards and state legislatures so that they can tamper with education and make it a brain-washing process to create ignorant and unthinking constituents.  The Washington Post has the slogan .  The objective of many in the Republican Party is to darken public school classrooms so that democracy may die.


There is no better example of the GOP undermining education than the 2019 South Dakota Legislature.  Fortunately, it has kept the wingdingbats in check.  Somewhat. Nevertheless, the dingbats have introduced legislation that tries to overrule practices and policies put in place by the professional educators.  South Dakota Republicans have an obsession with transgender kids.  This is despite the fact that only "about 0.7 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds living in the United States identify as transgender."  Most schools make provisions for these kids to use restrooms and locker rooms according to the physical plants they have to work.  Their main concern is to provide clean and safe places for kids to go to the restroom and practice hygiene, not whether some kid might catch a glimpse of another kid's genitalia.  

The Governor is promoting a bill to require the passing of a citizenship test to graduate from high school, despite the fact that the state content standards for social studies are constructed around the development of civics and citizenship.   The Legislature is diddling around with a bill that requires each school to display the motto "In God We Trust" prominently somewhere on on the premises.  It looks very likely to be put into law.  

Perhaps the most anti-education proposal was voted down, but it proposed that the mandatory attendance age for students be lowered from 18 to 16.  The legislator who sponsored the bill is a retired high school English teacher.  Proponents of the bill said current law puts too much of a burden on schools to manage kids who don’t want to attend class. The sponsor, says the state is doing an injustice to its schools, parents, taxpayers and students.  These legislators would rather see uneducated 16-year-olds roaming around aimlessly with  no futures rather than be kept in school to improve their opportunities.  This failed bill raises serious questions about what kind of effect this former teacher had on students.  It is an example of the attacks on education within the GOP.  The goal of these attacks is to create an ignorant and inert constituency that does not question the demeaned status with which it is regarded by the right wing.

If there is one thing the South Dakota GOP hates it is that the educators might be quietly and competently doing their jobs.  The efforts to tamper with and pervert education are  a constant obsession in the GOP mentality with the goal to turn schools into indoctrination centers.  The success of those efforts is illustrated in the kind of people who are elected to office in South Dakota.   The Speaker of the House, in response to a bill for Spanish language drivers'  license tests actually said, "The idea that we’re going to dilute our population with a second culture and encourage that second culture it doesn’t advance our state at all."  He is the same man who banned a lobbyist from the House floor because she noted that a signifiant portion of the state legislators were "wackies."

While one can point to the anti-democratic absurdity of the man, one must address the people who elected him to office.  The ignorance and crude malice of the electorate is the issue, and the subversion of education and the media has contributed to the prevalence of that ignorance and the environment of malevolence that pervades much of the state..  The wackies in the state legislature are creating a stupid constituency designed to keep them and their kind in charge.  

Our young people of intelligence and talent seem to have subscribed to a civilian code of conduct requiring them to escape the state at first opportunity.  South Dakota officials have long been perturbed that it loses its brightest students at high school graduation because they tend to choose colleges out of state.  But they then lose those good students from the state's colleges when they look to advance their careers in other states.  The reasons for this are many, but a driving factor is the attitude expressed by the Speaker of the House about protecting the purity of the state culture.  To the educated, that purity means stupid and mean, and they want to move away from it.

We citizens are prisoners of a culture war.  Those who preside over us issue a mental diet designed to keep us weak, flaccid, and indolent.  Like those POWs who scrounged potato peelings while watching for their opportunity to escape, we have to be on the look out in our education system and our media for the hard facts that can lead us out of the morass of lies and deceit in which we are forced to operate.  We need to face the facts of global warming, lying presidents, a moronic state legislature, and especially our collaborating friends and neighbors who help those who wish to keep us ignorant and inert.  

Remember the potato peelings.  They may keep the democracy alive so that it might work again.









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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States

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