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

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Who'll turn the lights out in Aberdeen?

I heard a woman make some angry comments about shopping in Aberdeen while waiting for my car to be serviced recently.  She apparently was raised on a farm in a nearby community, and recalled when coming to Aberdeen to shop meant visiting a number of stores in the downtown area, eating at a restaurant, and going to a movie.  She was in the state to attend the birthday party of an aged relative and wanted to buy a gift.  So, she went to the downtown area and found nothing but health spas, pawn shops, and consignment shops.  Then she looked for department stores.  Within the past year or so, Aberdeen lost most of its major retailers, including:

  • Kmart
  • Shopko
  • J. C. Penney
  • Herberger's 
  • Sears
  • Conlin's 

The woman asked if the shopping mall was being converted into a mausoleum.  Walmart and Target remain  on the other side of Highway 12.  Kohl's moved in where J.C Penney left in the mall.  A number of other retailers have moved in and out of the mall, but the choices for people are slim.

The internet is cited as the main factor in the store closings.  Kmart, which is a part of Sears, J.C. Penney, Shopko, and Herberger's all were closed by parent companies whose sales were lagging because of competition from internet sales.  So they say.  But some people who study the retail markets have a different perspective.

A college classmate of mine got into the market analysis business and formed his own firm.  Many years ago when some broadcast media in the Aberdeen area were up for sale, his firm was hired to assess the potential for the market.       The results of the study performed were not encouraging.  Aside from economic factors, the study found some cultural attitudes that affected the Aberdeen market.  Analysts found that the community was diffident about supporting and sustaining new enterprises, whether they be restaurants or  technologic ventures.  The interest was just not there. People had developed the habit of going to Sioux Falls, Fargo, or the Twin Cities for their serious shopping. And there was a strong vocal opposition against any kind of enterprise that carried "liberal" connotations.  

When I moved to Aberdeen, there had been a real estate boom.  I moved into a brand new house that had been on the market for quite a long time.  The boom was spurred because of what seemed to be a trend toward growth.  When I moved into town, a new residents organization acquainted me with other people who moved into town. Two of them came from Illinois, as I did.  The town seemed headed for development in high tech.  The two Illinois men were executives in a factory that had been purchased and enlarged by a company that specialized in power transmissions.  The computer company Control Data had a plant with 800 employees.  3M had opened a new plant.  

The town had a population of about 25,000 and economic developers were predicting that it would soon be over 30,000,  (It is currently about 29,000.)  But instead of growth, there was a downturn in population.  Control Data moved its production to the Pacific Rim.  The transmission company sold its plant back to local owners.  This left retail businesses in an uncertain state, where they have hovered until recently, when the internet intensified the competition and local retail closed so many stores.

But those other perspectives raise questions about whether the closing of stores is actually in response to declining business locally.  All of the stores listed above are owned by large corporations.   Some of those corporations have failed, and others decided to close selected stores throughout the nation.  At the corporate headquarters, Aberdeen is just one site on a list.  In some cases, their Aberdeen store may not have been generating a profit.  But as corporations are loathe to reveal corporate data, local people will not know whether an Aberdeen store was failing or whether some executive just decided the company did not want to bother with it.

Over the years, many large companies, for example Walgreens and Osco, have dropped Aberdeen as a site.  Market researchers can make informed assessments of how well stores are doing from sales tax data, but that is not like being able to examine an actual financial statement.  However, past experiences with the closing of retail outlets in Aberdeen have shown that large corporations periodically review their operations to see where they might cut costs in order to increase stock dividends and values.  A store may be holding its own, but the corporate heads want to give a quick boost to their bottom line and just do not want to be bothered with management details in podunk.  And sometimes corporate headquarters make decisions regardless of what is going on with the local market.

Aberdeen was very late in developing a shopping mall.  In fact, when it opened its mall, some malls in other parts of the country were shutting down.  And many of the businesses that opened in the Aberdeen mall were transients--they came and went.  Some of those businesses did not fit the local market.

One market researcher pointed out a puzzling decision that the management of J.C. Penney made when it moved to the mall.  Two of its major departments in its downtown store were men's workwear and children's clothes.  They took up prominent space in the store, were popular with shoppers, and did a brisk business.  When the store was moved to the mall, the new store was more in line with the "boutique" stores that are standard in malls.  Such stores are fashion trend oriented and they are designed to operate with seasonal inventories which turn over fast. Men's workwear and children's departments were considerably reduced in the mall store.  The merchandising strategy was set by the corporate offices, not by local managers who knew their market.   J.C. Penney's became a different store when it moved to the mall, and did not seem to cater to its old clientele.

An unusual aspect of retail in Aberdeen is that  two major grocery operations are locally owned and managed. Their main competitor is Walmart.  Another merchandise area in Aberdeen that has undergone a shift  is hardware.  When I first came to Aberdeen, it did not have a full-scale hardware store.  To get hardware to finish off the new house I moved into, we had to go to Fargo.  Then a local family started up Prairieland, a farm-and-fleet-type store that carried a full line of hardware.  It was later purchased by Runnings, a regional company that operates a chain in the northern tier of states.  Then Menards came to town.  These two businesses, which serve contractors as well as farmers and home-owners, have busy parking lots from  early in the morning into the evening.  They clearly meet a local need.  A contractor who has done work on my house says he when he needs some supplies, he checks the two stores through the internet to make sure they have them and then goes and gets them or sends someone to do it.  This is a procedure that can be done at Walmart and Target.  You can search for particular items on their websites which will indicate if the item is in stock at their Aberdeen stores.  The internet can be used  in this way to enhance local sales as well as be competition with local stores.  Food and hardware are two areas in which retailing is stable in Aberdeen.

It is widely accepted that internet sales are responsible for the massive closings of retailers.  When it comes to store closings, economic development workers are confronted with a problem of  not having complete information about why individual stores close.  Their parent companies  send out a notice that a store will close, and that's it.  Local managers are forbidden to say much other than that they will abide by the orders and stick to the closing schedules sent down from headquarters.  Consequently, it is difficult for economic analysts to know if a store was closed because it wasn't performing, or if the store was eliminated because a company wanted to downsize, or wanted to get rid of a store that requires extra effort to serve.  Knowing the actual circumstances of a closing is essential for city planners and prospective businesses.

The closing of Herberger's in Aberdeen left customers and business people a bit stunned. The parent company, Bon Ton Stores, at the time one of the biggest department store chains in the U.S., went bankrupt and closed all of its 256 stores, which employed 23,000 people.  People in the know said its Aberdeen store was doing well and it was unfortunate that a thriving business could not be taken over by a more successful company.  But running a department store on the scale of Herberger's is a complex business that involves buyers who can anticipate what kind of inventory customers will purchase, personnel in advertising, marketing, and sales who can appeal to and create a clientele, and logistics personnel who can get merchandise from manufacture to market at just the right time.  It is not a business that local and regional businesses are equipped to take over.

In the struggle to compete in the contemporary world, retailers have tried to save themselves by mergers into larger companies, a strategy that nearly always results in failure.  Banks can be too big to fail, but retailers can be too big to succeed.  Huge corporations are too blubbery and slow-witted to make timely decisions in meeting the conditions of the evolving retail market.  Walmart, Target, and Costco lead the field, but their strategies do not apply to more upscale stores.  Bon Ton ran seven chains--including Bon-Ton, Bergner's, Boston Store, Carson's, Elder-Beerman, Herberger's and Younkers--but no one has identified the successful stores among the 256 or devised a way to keep functioning stores open.

And so, Aberdeen loses not just five major department stores, but its largest upmarket retailer.  Officials attribute the closings to the routine trends in retailing and assure residents that the town will survive.  However,  retail sales tax figures from the state and city budgets indicate that retailing in Aberdeen has declined in three out of the last five years.

Fiscal YearAmount of retail sales tax due AberdeenAmount of retail sales tax budgeted by AberdeenChange from previous year budgetedPercentage of change


The 2019 Aberdeen budget reflects the loss of retailers, it would seem, but the overall sales tax receipts for 2019, which include sources other than retail, show an increase to $9,074,000.   However, revenues collected from the financial services, insurance, and real estate sector have fallen from $13,719,539 in 2014 to $7,804,388 in 2017, a 43 percent drop in three years.  2018 and 2019 figures for that category were not yet available.   But available numbers show a drastic change in the kind of business activity taking place in Aberdeen.

(It should also be noted that in 2015 the sales tax rate was raised from 4 percent to 4.5 percent, which skews comparative figures a bit.)

Market analysts look at retail sales as a prime indicator of growth in communities.  The retail sector in Aberdeen in terms of the number of retail operations and the revenues generated shows a marked decline.  While internet sales are a factor, the ability of local business enterprises to serve and sustain the citizen population defines the viability of a community.  Online shopping may be a competitive factor, but it may also offer Aberdeen residents the only shopping choice they have.  There is certainly little reason for people in the surrounding area to travel to Aberdeen to shop. 

Aberdeen is hit especially hard by the wave of store and mall closures.   It is part of a national trend.  It is futile to look for national companies to come in and rescue the retail business.  Huge corporations have shown that they do not understand what is taking place in the retail business.  People who work retail do not make enough money to shop.  At a meeting of employees of one of the stores being closed, they made the point that they had neither the money or time to shop.  They were too busy trying to make enough to pay their bills, and when they did need something, they did it on the internet when they found the time.

If retail is to survive, it will have to face the fact that in a time of economic expansion, the people who do the work are struggling.  Some companies around Aberdeen have complained that they cannot find workers, and workers complain that they cannot find jobs that pay enough for them to meet their needs.  

If people who study the economy cannot focus and shed some light on the way the economy works and does not work,  they may have to close shop and turn out the lights.

Friday, August 9, 2019

The pogrom against immigrants from 13 years ago

Trump's racist rants are designed to excite old hatreds and prejudices that are part of America's history.  We are proud of that history for the way it has confronted the enemies of democracy and slowly prevailed.  Trumpism is an overt war to overturn the accomplishments of justice and equality and return the nation to the rule of racism and hatred.  Here is a post from 15 years ago that gives perspective to that fight against racism.

Hurry, build some gas ovens, papa. The immigrants are coming

July 7, 2006

Some local business people have obtained necessary rezoning to build a proposed beef-processing plant at Aberdeen. As happened when Aberdeen was in the running for a turkey processing plant, a significant number of people have ranted and raged about the kind of people such enterprises would attract. The Aberdeen American News reported this reaction at a hearing on the rezoning:
Some audience members were more blunt. Jerry Mork of Aberdeen said the plant would create "a new underclass of citizen." The crime rate will go up and it won't be safe to walk city streets at night, Mork said. He said he recently moved back to Aberdeen from Grand Island, Neb., where a meat-packing plant has caused serious problems.

"If this foolishness gets approved...your (city) slogan needs to be 'Life was good in Aberdeen,'" Mork said, referencing the "Life is good in Aberdeen" motto.
Some very disturbed citizens have e-mailed me with a link to the Aberdeen American News discussion board, which contains a number of comments in a similar vein. When people on the board point out that such comments are racist and discriminatory, the commenters get indignant. They aren't racist, they insist, they are just concerned about the ethnic purity and the social conditions of pristine little Aberdeen.

I received the e-mails because I am a candidate for the state legislature and the writers expect their representatives, present and potential, to do something. The authors of the racist comments may be a minority, but they do succeed in coloring the whole community with a brush of intolerance, ignorance, and hatred. The ultimate issue arising from such a reaction is, as one correspondent put it, why any business would come to Aberdeen when its potential employees will be greeted with prejudice, malice, and discrimination. Having worked for consulting firms that have done attitude surveys in market areas, I say unequivocally that businesses do not come into communities where their workers will be subjected to ethnic and class discrimination. It affects productivity and quality and creates problems that savvy businesses know they have to avoid. So, even if the hatred exists among a small minority, shrewd business owners know it is an insidious force that can kill a business that is trying to get underway.

I come from immigrants. All of my grandparents came from Sweden. When I was a child, I heard every Polish joke cast as a Swede joke. The Swedes came to Moline, Ill., in droves to work in John Deere's factories, and they were charged with overrunning the community and creating an underclass that had difficulty with English, was inherently stupid, and did not wash their pits sufficiently.

South Dakota has a long reputation for its racial intolerance. Alexander McKenzie, once the boss of the Dakota Territory, attributed the Swedes with genetic mental defects. The author of the Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum, wrote a couple of newspaper editorials in Aberdeen calling for the extermination of the Sioux. Hutterites and other German-speaking people were driven out of South Dakota during our conflicts with Germany. I still hear the terms "niggers" and "prairie niggers" coming out the mouths of people regarded as solid citizens.

There is not much a state legislature can do to cure endemic hatred and racism and malevolent bigotry. Legislation cannot eliminate ill will toward humans and the desire for ethnic strife and its ensuing violence. One commentator in the discussion thread suggested that the 2,500 soldiers who have died in Iraq did so to preserve his right to express his hatred against immigrants. Legislation can only indirectly counter this kind of thinking.

There are two major things that can work to identify and contain the sources of hatred. The first is absolutely open government. Legislation, as has been enacted in most other states, can require that every government activity that affects the people be done in the open and with public access to its records. Some people connected with government who are posturing for the Aberdeen beef plant are the very people I have heard in private settings make vicious comments about ethnic minorities and the working class in general. If all government functions were done in the open, the people would at least know what kind of thought processes and aspects of character were shaping their community.

The other matter that could use legislative help is education. Education has failed the people of South Dakota. It has failed because it is run by politicians who feel indebted to a power structure that really does not want public education and fails to give it adequate funding and adequate freedom for competent and dutiful teachers to do their jobs.

As for Aberdeen, I don't think any legislation can change the justified perception that it is a town held hostage by ethnic intolerance and is a backwater of mainstream America. The problem can be addressed by the community's journalists, its churches, and its schools if the teachers had the authority and support to banish the class discrimination and hatred from their schools. Anyone who is connected with education, whether as a teacher, a parent, or an alert observer, knows that social forces in schools are an obstacle to learning for some kids and is, in fact, creating a new class of alienated children and dropouts.

Businesses will go where they can operate without social obstacles interfering with their operation. People will go where they can realize the promise of America. Where does that leave Aberdeen?

Saturday, August 3, 2019

The brainwashing of America

Brainwashing is the concept that the human mind can be altered or controlled by certain psychological techniques. Brainwashing is said to reduce its subject’s ability to think critically or independently, to allow the introduction of new, unwanted thoughts and ideas into the subject’s mind, as well as to change his or her attitudes, values, and beliefs. 
When Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, agreed to testify to Congress, he was very emphatic and explicit in stating that he would let his written report to speak for itself and would not expand or comment beyond what it reported.  As members of Congress cited information from the report, he repeatedly asked them to cite the page numbers they referred to and kept checking to see if their reading was an accurate representation of the written word.  This was all recorded on television, and reports of his appearance characterized it as being stumbling and halting and disappointing to the Democrats because it contained no explosive, dramatic revelations.  

The Columbia Journalism Review took issue with such assessments.  It contended that journalists who reviewed Mueller's appearance as entertainment rather than for the substance he offered weren't doing their jobs, which is to focus on the facts.  Those who did watch Mueller's testimony for its factual content noted that he answered questions by underscoring what the report stated, asking for the specific citations being referred to, and by attesting to the accuracy of the report.  He clarified that while the Trump campaign did not conspire with the Russians directly, it welcomed Russian intervention and made use of the disinformation in the campaign.  He also clarified how Trump's efforts at obstructing the investigation precisely met the defining conditions of what obstruction of justice is.  

The Department of Justice has a rule that forbids the indictment of a sitting president, but the factual record of Trump's violations is as strong as the charges through which Mueller has indicted 34 of Trump's associates, obtaining seven guilty pleas and one conviction so far.  For those who looked for the factual aspects of the report and did not find Mueller's verbal footnoting a distraction, his testimony affirmed a very strong case against Trump.  But those who have been mentally conditioned by what is considered "good television" will interpret Mueller's plodding and cautious responses as reason to doubt his acuity.  But they will carefully report Trump's incoherent, unpredicated sentences as having made some kind of determination.

It is no accident that Trump's favorite medium of expression is Twitter.  By its very nature Twitter is incoherent.  It is the medium of primal screams.  Sometimes people will use tweets in a conversational context, but most tweets are unintelligible shouts, like infant cries, that leave others to wonder what they are all about.  To get any notion of what most tweets are about, the reader has to try to establish some context, determine if there  are any factual references, and then check to see if the facts are true.  An example of a Trump tweet is this one about Rep. Elijah Cummings:

Rep, Elijah Cummings has been a brutal bully, shouting and screaming at the great men & women of Border Patrol about conditions at the Southern Border, when actually his Baltimore district is FAR WORSE and more dangerous. His district is considered the Worst in the USA......
The questions raised by this tweet are numerous:

  1. What has Rep. Cummings said or done that could be described as bullying?
  2. What has he done that is "brutal"?
  3. When and where did he shout and scream?
  4. What members of the Border Patrol did he address?
  5. If he addressed them, when and how?
  6. What conditions at the border did he address?
  7. What conditions in Baltimore are worse and in what way?
  8. What is more dangerous?
  9. Who considers his district the worst in the U.S.?
  10.  How is Rep. Cummings responsible for those conditions?
  11. Is there any truth and factual support for the allegations against Rep. Cummings?
  12. What is the factual, comparative truth about Baltimore?
The problem is that a large portion of the American public will accept Trump's pronouncement without asking any of the questions about its veracity or what it is referring to.  That leads to an unpleasant fact about the state of American politics. Trump lies constantly.  He makes statements as fact that are provably untrue.  Fact-checkers at such sites as the Washington Post and Politifact struggle to keep up with him, as he has made over 10,000 false or misleading statements to the public since he took office.  Trump is a pernicious liar, and has proven every day of his life that his word cannot be believed or trusted.  Still, almost half of America hangs on his every word.  And the other half questions why.  The reason why is the reason behind the severe political divide in America.

The fact that a man of Trump's disreputable character could gain such a hold over the country is a symptom of a malignancy in the culture.  The Dunning-Kruger Effecis pandemic in the United States.  In simple terms, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is when stupid people think they are smart.  To see symptoms of that Effect, all one needs to do is read the comments following news or blog articles.  Many, many people who record their illiteracy and ignorance in print think, like Trump does, that they are smarter than almost everybody else.  And like Trump's tweets, many reveal their inabilities of thought and expression through mangled sentences filled with errors of diction.  The way people use language is an indicator of intelligence and character.  

Trump's incompetent and incoherent used of language is taken by  his supporters as a confirmation of their own stupidity.  Having a president who is an illiterate liar signals to them that it is okay to be stupid, greedy, and malicious.  He is supremely successful at those traits and his followers can share in that kind of success.  Being stupid is the smart thing to do.

It is an attitude that descends to us from feudalism, from that portion of serfs who saw the way to worthiness was to suck up to and emulate the old master of the estate.  It is part of our history that to indoctrinate workers, whether employees, field hands, or slaves, in beliefs that support class system in which people are led to believe that they can "become somebody" by servicing the ruling class.  The goal is to keep the underclass docile and dependent on the good will of their masters.  Workers with their own agendas are a danger to the feudal estate.  And the most prominent example of such a corporate feudal estate at this time is the Trump Organization.  Whatever is proclaimed by the master, no matter how incoherent and without substance, is regarded by his loyal underlings as gospel.

The reason for such a large portion of the population's submission to Trump's deranged whims is that these are the people most susceptible to the brainwashing at work within our culture.  The media offers entertainment which excites the desire in some to be like their masters.  Their workplaces promise them promotion if they extol the doctrines preached and practiced by those they have chosen as their masters.  And our schools, which are to provide experience in acquiring knowledge and critical thinking skills are being subverted to become propaganda sites for the suppression and control of the masses.  Just as communist China during Mao's cultural revolution used schools and other public buildings to besiege the people with propaganda in support of the revolution, American states are passing laws to require schools to post slogans in support of evangelical fundamentalism.  This year all South Dakota schools are required to post the motto "In God we trust" prominently on every school building.  This has the same effect as Orwell's "Big Brother is watching you."  The message is that if you do not accept the thinking that the masters choose for you, you do not belong here.  A good portion of the students out of  fear of exclusion will submit.  Another portion will leave the place that dictates such thinking as soon as they find a way.  

During the Chinese Cultural Revolution of Mao, all public buildings were required to post slogans support the Revolution.
South Dakota passed a law requiring every school building to post the motto "In God we trust," as shown in this elementary school in Rapid City.

This tactic of telling people that they will be excluded if they do not conform is the principle behind much consumer advertising, and it does sell products.  When it becomes part of education, it creates a constituency that will think and do what the masters tell them.  And that constituency will also hate and oppress those who do not conform.  

As the 2020 election nears, Trump rallies will give us vivid demonstrations by the constituency which regards Trump as master and savior and behaves as he does.  They are the products of years of brainwashing, which is revealed by their slavish repetition of what they hear from Trump and Fox News.  They may have heard of Trump's serial business failures, his fraudulent enterprises such as Trump University, his habitual adultery, and they witness his constant state of malice, but their brains cannot register them.  They have been flushed of the ability to register and retain facts.  An so, they ignore and deny the climate change that is transforming the environment that sustains human life or the forces that are evident in undermining our democracies.  They can only focus on what the masters permit them to.

Brainwashing is popularly regarded as something that totalitarian communists practice, but it is in fact a technique of control and oppression that has a long history of practice in America.  It can be part of any political agenda, and it can be the operating principle of a culture, as it is in South Dakota, where if you prefer ignorance and stupidity, you are in the elite.  The state has one of the lowest wage averages in the nation, the most people working multiple jobs to survive, and ranks as one of the most corrupt states.  But over the recent years South Dakotans have voted to intensify the feudal rule that keeps so many struggling to avoid poverty and its brightest moving away.  The majority of residents vote strongly for Trump and those like him in the full belief that lying and cheating is the basis for the good life.  Their brains have been purged of the cells that understand honesty and decency.  

The hard fact is that those concepts are being washed out of the American mentality.   And the possession or the absence of basic decency is what divides America.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Are you ready for the riots?

The protests in Hong Kong  demonstrated the power that people can assert even over a totalitarian government like China's, which took control of Hong Kong in 1997.  Beijing proposed a law through which people arrested in Hong Kong could be extradited to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist party.  Hong Kong residents saw this law as a way to impose politically motivated persecutions against those who might criticize the government.  People in Hong Kong took to the streets in demonstrations that sometimes turned into riots.  While the governing representatives tried various offers of appeasement, the demonstrators refused to accept anything but total withdrawal of the bill, and they continue to demonstrate for that end.  The people of Hong Kong want that law and any chance of resurrecting it killed.  They won't stop protesting until they get what they want.

A photo from Puerto Rico this weekend.

The people of Puerto Rico have also decided it is time to demand a cleaning-up of their government and that the government won't do anything unless it is threatened with threats backed up by action.

Such intransigence on the part of the people is a part of 
American history.  When Lyndon Johnson realized that the protesters against the Vietnam War were not going away, he chose not to run for president.  The growing resistance to the war was an unavoidable force that was affecting Johnson's domestic programs.  As some of the protests grew violent, he saw his power and influence diminish. So, he withdrew from political life and set up the conditions that produced Watergate.  The election of Nixon was a paradox.  He ended the war, ended the draft, established the Environmental Protection Agency, but used ruthless corruption to get and keep power.  About half of the voters desire a godfather, not a president, a fact which keeps democracy on the brink of failure.

During Trump's presidency, there have been massive protest demonstrations for specific ends, but they have all been largely peaceful.  Violence has been minimal up to this time.  However, there are political scholars who track protest demonstrations for acts of violence.  And there are people trained in actual rhetoric, which is not propaganda but the skillful use of persuasive speech, who keep note of when reasoned argument fails and the emotions are approaching violence.  With Trump's attacks on four congressional women of color and the campaign chant of "Send her back," American politics have reached the point where established facts and reasoned argument have no effect.  Trump's rallies are rituals of mindless rage, during which he conducts his followers in Orwellian sessions of hate.  As has been noted before by advocates of peaceful demonstration, most people do not seem inclined to pay attention to words but do get more thoughtful when confronted with violence.  Trump has pushed  the nation to the point where violence seems inevitable when the state of our political discourse is examined.

When literate people realize that language is being subverted and destroyed to the point that it is useless in the transactions of life, they have to make a choice.  They can submit to the destructive forces and accept existence under totalitarian circumstances, or they can actively resist such forces, knowing that words will have no effect.  Physical action and force become the communication forms.

The betrayal through the subversion of language is as prominent a part of American history as the documents--the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, etc.--we claim to revere.  That betrayal is engraved in the Indian treaties we never honored but used to defraud and subjugate the American Indians.  To a people who depended upon the integrity of the word as an essential basis of their culture, being deliberately lied to was devastating and demoralizing to their culture.  The cancerous words were as deadly as the biological warfare of dispensing smallpox-infected blankets to them.  Although the reservations on to which they were herded bear the signs of poverty and genocide inflicted on the people, they are also the places where the sanctity of the spirit and honor of the word is quietly  often secretly, revered.

Americans are horrified at riots in which people burn down their neighborhoods and unleash a general violence that defies law and order.  But those riots come when people have been betrayed with false promises and assailed by malicious language.  People realize that nothing frightens other people into a conciliatory frame of mind like a raging mob.  And members of raging mobs have reached the conclusion that they have nothing to lose; they might lose everything they possess, but also what oppresses them.  One has to be particularly insentient not to realize many Americans have reached that point.  And they can point out exactly what has pushed them to that point.

It is essentially the same pernicious and malicious devices that  were used to betray and subjugate the American Indian.  But this time they are being used against a broad swath of the American people, and the Trump administration has accrued a record of daily offenses.  The basic fact is that not a word coming out of Trump can be believed or trusted.  the has eliminated language as the primary tool of democratic governance.  Almost every noise that comes out of his mouth is malicious.

In his attacks against the four Congresswomen of color, he rages that they should apologize for the things they say.  But multiple fact-checkers have provided verified evidence that they have never said the things he accuses them of saying.  While they have the First Amendment right to speak out, he denies that they have the right to exercise.  And his representations of their words are simply malicious lies or defamations.  Trump's record of business dealings is one of fraud, malice, and vicious dishonesty.  When he announced his candidacy, conservative publications denounced his history of grifting, bur now that he holds power, the Republican Party cowers behind him as their lord and savior.  And they issue threats against those who oppose him.

What the Trumps supporters fail to recognize is that people throughout the world, in places such as Hong Kong and Puerto Rico, are not willing to live under the rule of  malice and oppression.  The next massive demonstrations that take to the streets in protest of Trump will not issue gentle words of disapproval.  They know that language, good will, and reason have been destroyed as part of the American political apparatus.

I join those who believe that Trump will never serve another term.  Even if he is elected, there will be no country to rule over.  Because if he is elected, that means the utter failure of the great American experiment and time to junk that failure.  But for those who track political demonstrations, they generally agree that the populace has reached the explosion point.  Many think the country will erupt in flames before we the next presidential election, because the opposition to Trump understands that the GOP which supports Trump is a large part of what the United States have become.

The divisions within the nation are not about how to run a republic.  They are between those who want a country od liberty, equality, and justice and those who want to exercise fascistic power over other people.  The division is between those who want to perfect democracy and those who want to exercise Nazi-like discriminations on the basis of race and class.  It is time to plan for the dissolution  of a country that is spiraling toward democratic failure.

So, what do you plan to do when the riots come to your town?

Monday, July 8, 2019

How the Fourth of July was ruined as a patriotic holiday

Nike's Betsy Ross shoes withdrawn from sale

Tanks rumble in the Capitol

Donald Trump was so impressed by a military parade he saw in Paris that he wanted one with his name attached to it.  He appropriated the Fourth of July as an occasion for such a spectacle and he ordered that military hardware--jet fighters and tanks, etc.--be brought out to a party over which he would preside.  He ordered tanks, which caused logistics problems.  They are so heavy that they break down the roads on which they travel, so they have to be hauled on special trailers.  Even then, if one of the trailers happens to roll over a sidewalk while making a tight turn, it will crush the sidewalk.  The National Park Service had to divert $2.5 million that it collected in fees to maintain and upgrade its parks to help fund Trump's obsessive whim.  Cost estimates place the total at $92 million.  Most people, including Republicans such as former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele, see the occasion as about Trump, not the American Declaration of Independence.  Everything Trump does is a denial of the process which led to the Declaration of Independence.

Steele points out that the streets of Washington, D.C., are not built to withstand trampling  by heavy armor,  because we never were or intended to be a nation that needed displays of militaristic power.  President Eisenhower said that shows of military force were a sign of weakness, not a display of confidence in our democracy.    So, Trump took over the national day to recognize the birth of our independence and tried to make it a display of the military.  He gave a speech which an Ivy League professor likened to  an "angry grandpa reading a 5th graders' book report on American Military History."

The most memorable part of Trump's speech was this line about the Revolutionary War:  "Our Army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do, and at Fort McHenry, under the rocket’s red glare it had nothing but victory."  That reference to airports  130 years before there was one or any purpose in having one reduced the day into an absurdity.  It was much more than a gaffe.  While the White House defended it as a malfunction cause by Trump reading the speech off of a rain-obscured teleprompter, the fact is the words that were uttered, and if any mind were present at the speaking of those words, it would have made some effort to correct the absurdity.  It may be be the most apt expression of the state to which Trump and his pompous inanity has reduced the nation.  And it must be stressed that Trump has speech writers, so those incoherent words had some planning.

Another event involved Nike's plans to issue a shoe that featured the Betsy Ross flag.  The plan was canceled when Colin Kaepernick, a consultant for the company, told it that the "Betsy Ross flag had been co-opted by groups espousing racist ideologies."  Kaepernick has been accused of being anti-patriotic because he chose to kneel during the national anthem before football games to mourn the unarmed black men who had been shot down in the streets during an epidemic of police killings.  The withdrawal of the Betsy Ross shoes also inspired those who participate in the resurgent racism to condemn Nike and Kaepernick.

Trump and his supporters turned the Fourth into an occasion marked by the malice and the incoherence that marks the Trump regime.  The Fourth of July is no longer a celebration of the beginning of a nation devoted to freedom, equality, and justice, but is now a reminder of the malignant forces that want to possess America.  

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Family farms are just a memory.

I was farm editor for a daily newspaper in the early 1960s in a town that called itself "the farm equipment capitol of the world."  During that time, the big story was the potential demise of the family farm.  There were two contending theories about the future of farming circulating through colleges of agriculture and farm organizations.  One camp warned against the danger of integration for farming.  The other camp promoted integration.  

Farms were being integrated into the corporate food production system.  The mantra of the food integrationists was that farming was a business, not a way of life, and if you want to survive as a farmer, you'd damn well better treat farming like a business. These advocates were intent on replacing agriculture with agribusiness.  One of the loudest voices was Earl Butz, the dean of agriculture at Purdue who became Nixon's Secretary of Agriculture.  His advice to farmers was to  "get big or get out."

Butz is probably best remembered for his observation on why the GOP had a hard time getting the black vote:  “I’ll tell you what coloreds want. It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit. That's all!”  Tonight Show host Johnny Carson got a lot of material from Butz's quips.  He called him Earl the Pearl.  Butz was eventually fired.

But Butz's vision of farming prevailed.  There are few working farms left that are not dependent upon a place in the corporate scheme of things for their survival.  

When banks began making loans to farmers a major source of their income, they promoted what they called "capital farming."  It involved maintaining a revolving loan account that provided the banks with a steady stream of interest and farmers with a never-ending debt.  The farm equipment industry cooperated by designing high-tech and high-cost equipment that required loans to obtain and maintain.  Farmers found themselves in a cost-price squeeze.  The cost of farming--of equipment, seeds and chemicals, land, etc.--was rising.  The price obtained for crops and livestock has been on a downward trend since World War II, so increased production could ostensibly make up for weak prices.  The farms got bigger, more specialized, and more dependent on high-tech equipment and bank loans to pay for it.  As consequence, agriculture has been fully integrated into the corporate scheme of production.

That change was accompanied by a cultural change in rural America.  Farm organizations and extension agents scolded those who thought of farming as a way of life.  They warned them that they would fail if they did not think of farming in business terms.  The emphasis coming from colleges of agriculture and farm organizations was no longer on crop and animal science, but on business management schemes.  To make farms manageable in a business sense, their operation was modeled on factory production.  

The fact of the matter is that farmers have always had to manage the financial aspect of the operations to stay in business.  The irony is that those who managed to stay out of debt were less vulnerable to financial failure than those who went big and accrued large debts to sustain their operations.

An aspect of the conversion to industrial farming is the switch from general farming to more specialized agriculture.  General farms were based on the idea of self-sufficiency.  All the food for a family was grown on the farm.  My dad was raised on a farm, but went to work for the Post Office.  However, my uncles on my mother's side operated three farms near the community where we lived. During my childhood the work on the farm was arduous and never-ending.  Those farm families milked cows, raised beef and pork, kept chickens for eggs and meat, rotated crops between corn, soybeans, oats, hay, and pasture land.  In addition, they had huge gardens from which produce as canned, later froze when freezers came on the market.  They planted outside rows of corn fields with potatoes.  Some years the prices for livestock and crops were low, but there was always a generous supply of food, and the farms survived the depression and World War II.  A basic aspect of   farm management was subsistence, and avoiding debt.  

Industrial farming is the rule now.  During the years I have traveled the 18 miles to my work studio on the James River, I have watched the land change from agriculture to industrial production.  Where I once passed by herds of cattle and sheep, there are only rows of corn and soybeans, and an occasional field of hay.  Where once I saw farmyards alive with children and teenagers gathered about cars, I now seen only an occasional person on a lawn tractor.  The conversion to industrial farming has changed the culture of the countryside.  Agriculture and the lifestyle it supported has been displaced by a lifestyle commensurate with corporate life.

As a farm editor, I saw the change coming.  During editorial meetings some of the editors brought up the question of maintaining a farm section when less than three percent of the subscribers were actively engaged in farming.  Many of the stories I wrote came out of discussions with county farm extension agents, but they were becoming fewer in number.  The Farm Bureau was making a noticeable emphasis in farming as a business rather than as a life.  When I left the newspaper, the farm section was eliminated and farm stories were carried as feature stories.  And as many of my colleagues in agricultural journalism changed jobs or retired, they weren't replaced.  

At the same time, my relatives on the farms were eliminating aspects of farming.  Milking twice a day was a limiting activity, so the milk cows were sold off--except for one that an aunt insisted be kept to supply  her cooking needs.  It was easier and cheaper to buy eggs at the supermarket, so the chicken flocks went.  The same was true with the garden produce, so the gardens were turned into lawns or cropland.  Livestock operations were also curtailed.  The children on those farms had pursued college and off-farm careers, so the farms were purchased by neighbors in the process of "getting big."  

This process had changed the nature and the culture of farming and the geography of farmland. That change is shown in the declining number of farms  in our state and locality.   Between 2012 and 2017, South Dakota lost 2,000 farms.  Here is a county listing for northeast South Dakota:

              Number of farms in northeast South Dakota

County name
Brown County
Campbell County
Day County
Edmunds County
Faulk County
Marshall County
McPherson County
Potter County
Spink County
Walworth County
South Dakota

So, on my commute to my place on the James River, I not only do not see families bustling around in the farm yards, I no longer see livestock or pasture land.  Where once I saw fields of wheat, flax, alfalfa, clover, sun flowers, and grazing livestock, I now see endless rows of corn and soybeans.   But I also see a system of agriculture that is no longer self-sufficient.  Those rows of mono-cultured crops are bonds that tie the land to banks, huge corporations, town supermarkets, crop insurers, and the land is managed by people in board rooms in the Trump Towers of the world.  The agriculture that once gave immigrants and workers a way to climb out of poverty and oppression and put many people, such as  my cousins through college, is not even a possibility.  In the corporate scheme of things, there is no place for independence and self-sufficiency.  

There are farmers who tried to take advantage of the advances of science and technology by incorporating them into their farming operations, but farm consolidation and business rules have eliminated that option.  Farming no longer offers an opportunity to build a life for a family.  It is a business, which demands that you get big or get out.

If you want the experience of a family farm, you'll have to buy a Terry Redlin painting.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States