Northern Valley Beacon

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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Surviving a blow job

Bill Clinton  among the Bushes.  
The Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal was blazing in the media in 1998. I was not much involved in partisan politics at the time,  but I was very much engaged in issues that had political consequences.  As a professor,  there were a number of matters I was tracking and supporting through Congress , and work on them slowed down severely as the nation obsessed over  blow jobs in the  Oval Office.

I was a frequent visitor to the Aberdeen offices of Senators Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson.  My spouse was a staff member in the  Daschle office,  but my visits were mostly to keep abreast of and stay engaged with the issues  which I and some colleagues had interests in advancing.  John Thune was the U.S Representative, but the nonpartisan group I worked with had little trust in him and little to do with him.  He was referred to as that "feckless f*cker."   Staff members of the two senators kept us updated on our interests and helped us with various agencies and departments of government with which we had business.  Our interests involved copyright and academic freedom issues,  access to records, civil rights, the environment,  and the many things that professors and other professionals work with.  There were some local projects we thought were important for the community, too, such as making U.S. 12 a four-lane highway to connect with I-29.

But as the Clinton-Lewinsky affair moved toward impeachment,  government was at a standstill at times.  It was difficult to carry on the routine work, and members of Congress and their staffs reflected the frustration.  Like many of my colleagues,  I was frustrated that Clinton, who was under investigation almost continuously, would do something that would give his opponents further cause to attack him and create more obstructions.  Our exasperation reached a point where we were going to circulate a letter asking for his resignation.  Such a letter was drafted, and we were making plans for obtaining signatures of influential people.  Then one day, a staff member for Sen. Daschle asked to speak with us.

He was a specialist on agricultural issues, and he came from Washington along with a staff member from a North Dakota senator to meet with us. They weren't coming to town just to speak to us, but were on a mission on which our letter might have some effect.   There was a new farm bill in place, but 1998 saw a sharp downturn in the agricultural economy for the northern plains.  Senators and staff members from the upper plains were working hard on measures that would provide relief for farmers and ranchers in the region.  They had worked out a plan with President Clinton and needed his cooperation and leadership to pass it successfully through Congress.  Their message to us was that we should register our concerns with the President, but that any additional controversy and pressure could further obstruct important business that needed to get done.  They said there was an effort to impeach the President under way along with investigations into the affair,  and we should let those efforts work their course rather than take actions that could bring government to a halt.  

Clinton was impeached late that year and later acquitted of the charges against him.  But in the meantime  $500 million was appropriated to bolster farmers, provisions were made to enhance the trade of farm products, and adjustments were made in the existing farm program,  all of which took prodigious work on the part of senators and the President.  

In the end, we decided not to circulate the letter, and the Lewinsky affair did not bring down government,  but its leader arduously and deftly worked to address serious issues among the people.  We survived a blow job.  But can we survive a blow hard who has nothing in place to actually help the people?

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Voting with feet, billfolds, and guns

A question raised about the Holocaust is why the Jews did not fight back against the Nazi pogrom against them.  Actually, many did.  But many others thought that violent resistance would only escalate the violence rather than counter the persecution against the Jewish people.  They thought a reasonable, civil approach had more opportunity to save lives and reduce the acts of hate.  As the Holocaust progressed in Germany, Jews did try to leave the country.  But they faced the same issues that Muslim refugees face today. Countries to which they could flee worried about the number of refugees they could accept and denied entrance into their countries.  There was also anti-semitic opposition to accepting them throughout the world, including the U.S.

After the end of World War II,  it took fifty years before the discussion about the Holocaust confronted the fact that many people in the Nazi-occuped countries willingly and aggressively collaborated with the Nazis in the extermination of the Jews.  The popular notion was that the Nazis took over and intimidated and coerced good people to ignore their prosecution of the Holocaust.  The fact was that "good people" zealously supported the Nazis and participated in the atrocities.  

The election of Donald Trump as president has exposed the real political divide in America.  Many "good Americans"  wish ill on many others.  The resentment over having a black president powered a resurgence of racism in the country.  Then Donald Trump put on an exhibition during the election campaign of lying, malicious defamations, and hate of Muslims and others that was once the epitome of what America is against.  After his election, the early days of his administration have revealed that those odious malignancies of character are exactly what many Americans are for--a constituency large enough to affect the electoral college.  Other Americans are loathe to admit that so many of their countrymen and women do not, in fact, support the foundations of American democracy--freedom, equality, and justice--except for themselves.  The country is falling away from those characteristics that defined the greatest generation.  

Trump has defined the people  who support him.  He is the culmination of America's slide into an anti-intellectualism and ignorance that scholars and journalists have noted, but which sentient Americans have chose to ignore.  That America which once led the world in scientific, technological, and social advancement has fallen behind, and leadership has been taken over by countries  it once inspired.  

The national attention also ignores the fact that the deterioration of the political climate in the U.S. has caused significant numbers of people to abandon American democracy as having possibilities for them.  While the Trump-inspired rage about immigrants from Mexico consumes our attention,  we ignore the fact that a million Americans have expatriated to Mexico.  And while we joke about moving to Canada to avoid life under Trump,  another million or more Americans have, in fact, moved there.  People are voting with their feet.

Those that find relocating is not a possibility are making the way they spend their money a political issue.  In some cases there are boycott lists.  A number of lists of sponsors of Rush Limbaugh are in circulation.  However, politics operates at the grass roots level.  I know quite a significant number of people who avoid patronizing local merchants because of their political affiliations.  Online buying has created optional sources for purchasing goods. In South Dakota, declining sales tax revenues are a result of people buying online.  People often make their purchases online to avoid patronizing local merchants for political reasons.  This attitude reaches into the church.  People cannot reconcile political beliefs and practices of some worshippers with the teachings of their religion.  They no longer regard church as a source of spiritual strength, but see it as just another ploy to justify bigotry and discrimination.  So, they don't go to church or participate in any religious activity or otherwise support churches.  Whether as customers or patrons, they don't spend time or money on entities that counter their values.

A problem for the Jewish resistance to the Holocaust was to determine at what point force was justified.  If violence is resorted to by people who are the targets of extermination, the government is provided a reason to intensify its efforts against the target group.  Blacks in America are facing just such a circumstance.  The shooting of blacks, many unarmed, by the police resulted in the Black Lives Matter movement, which enraged many white Americans.  Whites responded with the retort that all lives matter,  totally dismissing the many instances of black people being gunned down and otherwise exterminated by law enforcement officers.  There were some cases of targeting police officers in retaliation, but no acknowledgment that black communities have good reason to believe that they are under assault by law enforcement.  Rather the the response is to decry that the guardians of our public safety might be under attack.  

In a number of cases where police officers have been brought to trial for the gratuitous shootings of blacks,  the juries have acquitted them.  These acquittals carry an ominous message to the black communities that in the minds of white America,  black lives are negligible.  And that message is a loud declaration of war.  

Many of the episodes of black men being shot down have been captured on video.  Videos entered the picture with the beating of Rodney King in the early 1990s, which led to the Los Angeles riots when his police assailants were acquitted.  There is a recent set of videos in circulation which has produced some protests,  but is building a strong justification for violent resistance.  

Philando Castile in his seat belt after bring hit by seven police bullets.

The first video is from the phone of Philando Castile's girlfriend, taken immediately after a policeman pumped seven shots into his body while his friend sat next to him with her daughter in the back seat of his car.  The second is from the dash cam on the policeman's squad car, which was played at the policeman's trial at which he was acquitted. Together, the videos signify a state of war in which the rules of engagement are that black men can be killed under any pretext and the justice system will endorse those rules.  It does not take much imagination to perceive what is like to be a member of a group that is declared an enemy and is targeted for extermination.  The consistent message in the shootings is that black people are exempted from the protections of liberty, equality, and justice, and people can fire at them at will, as in the Trayvon Martin case.  Black people in America are facing the question that Jews in Germany did in the 1930s:  at what point are you justified in taking pre-emptive action against the genocide against your people?  

It is not only African Americans who are facing that question.  People on the left have been under a decades-long assault of defamations and accusations that underlies what has become the intransigent political divide in America that has brought it to a state of paralysis.  While political disagreement has always been a source of friction,  the malicious defamations against the left led by Rush Limbaugh and his cohorts have agitated the right into a state of fuming hatred of the kind that Goebbels inspired in Germans against the Jews. The right's enmity toward the left is an extension of the racial hatred that some of its adherents once reserved for the blacks.    It has escalated into an incivil war.  The decades of constant insult, abuse, and false accusations has turned contenders of differing political views into bitter, dangerous enemies.  So, to some we've reached that point where violent resistance seems like the only option for survival.

The case of James Hodgkinson,  who opened fire on Republicans practicing for a charity baseball game, illustrates the point.   As with many people who engage in mass shootings,  he had anger issues which seem to have got the better of him.  But as the media reported on his political activity,  it turned up his anti-Trump positions,  but none of them were of an unreasoned radical, nature.  They were, in fact, rather ordinary fact-based complaints on Trump and Republican policies.  And that is the point where information about Hodgkinson stopped being released.  The case dropped out of the news,  as some journalist colleagues pointed out, when there was no evidence that Hodgkinson had been radicalized.  In the atmosphere of enmity and persecution and hopelessness of our political climate, there is the strong possibility that he made an assessment with evidence to support it that the time for violent resistance had come.  If a rather ordinary man reached that conclusion, how many others might also?  The political climate is volatile.

Some Republican congressmen have spoken out in support of discriminating against people, such as one suggesting that diabetics should not deserve health insurance benefits because the disease is their own fault.  Administration officials have instituted policies to refute proven facts and hard science.  Such  political atmosphere puts rational people on alert.  And then the NRA unleashes a recruiting ad which identifies "the left" as an enemy against which people need to take up arms.  
The ad may motivate people to arm against the left,   but it may convince the left to arm against the right.

People in America of differing politics, creeds, and ethnic groups don't like each other very much.  Their dislike is sparked by defamations in the social media and confirmed by reports of behavior of fellow humans in the traditional press.  Violence by mass shooters,  shootings of unarmed people by the police, shootings of the police by ambush,  and menacing insults spewed out by the president all contribute to a sense that people have to make a decision.  And that decision is whether it is time to walk away from America,  make economic decisions on the basis of politics,  or stand their ground and resist with violence.   Or choose all three, so that history will not need to ask why they didn't resist.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

How "rhetoric" can get you shot

The shooting of Republicans at the ball diamond this past week had its predictable result.  Some folks engaged in and advocated a bipartisan bon homie.  For others it intensified the blame-placing and angry invective against the party they detest.

But  a small group, those who study and try to explain what we loosely call rhetoric, simply shrugged their shoulders and said malice thrives.  What is taught in colleges and some high schools as rhetoric is quite different than what is referred to as rhetoric in the media.  [See Please Don't Call It Rhetoric, Shirley.]  People who study and respect language know that words have consequences.  Words form the mental environments in which we all live and operate. They form our perceptions. They precede actions and motivate people to act.

Those who study the great atrocities of the world, such as the Holocaust, point out that the use of language is both the producer and the defining characteristic of those episodes.   They have predicted that the shooting at the Del Ray ball park in Alexandria, Va., was inevitable and more is to come.

Conservatives have taken delight in the fact that the now-dead shooter, James T. Hodgkinson,
espoused  "liberal" ideas.  He lends example to the conservative contention that all the ills of the world are spawned by liberalism.  As a group which until recently owned the threat of political violence,  conservatives now try to shift that onto liberals.  For years the NRA and its conservative supporters have blared the message that  "you can’t fist fight tyranny,” and that liberal forces were conspiring to take away their guns.  As a gun-owning Washington  Post columnist says, "It should be no surprise that someone would shoot democratically elected representatives when we’ve been told for decades that that’s the patriotic redress to political grievances."  Now the conservatives are trying to contend that liberals are the advocates of political violence.  That contention is not supportable with facts, but the conservative advocacy of firearm violence as a political force has abundant evidence.

Nevertheless, experts in the study of the verbal environment have warned that the both sides of the political divide are arming themselves for prospective battle with their political opponents.  This was evident a few years ago when the Colorado legislature passed laws restricting the sales of assault-type weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines.  The laws sparked a political backlash, but also a spectacular rise in gun sales.  Dealers were running out of inventories. When asked about who was buying all the guns,  one dealer  said it was half-and-half between those who were arming against government tyranny and those who were arming against them.  Liberals, too, were preparing for eventual combat.

The propaganda that Obama, who called for background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, was out to confiscate all guns was simply a dishonest statement meant to enrage those who are beyond the reach of facts.  Scholars of rhetoric explain that rhetoric is the process of persuading through the logical analysis of facts through critical thought and accurate language.  When people are mentally bound by their prejudices and hatred, they are invulnerable  to facts, reason, and accurate language.  Differences can be settled only by force.  The Nazi takeover of Europe proves that malicious force can win and that tyrannical brainwashing can banish and vanquish knowledge and reason in the minds of people.  Often a majority wants only to have their dark hatreds and intellectual and moral failures endorsed as the normal state of human affairs. 

The hatred of liberalism and the debased mentalities that accept it as a creed have decades of evangelistic preaching behind its development.  Rush Limbaugh is a loud, typical evangelist of liberal hatred.  He maligns, defames, and espouses preposterous lies under the guise of entertainment.   It is entertainment in the same vein as Romans executing Christians in arenas filled with hate-enraged throngs cheering for their agonizing death.  No words of fact or reason can have any effect on such throngs.  And so it is with conservatives and liberals in our current political climate.  Valid rhetoric and productive discourse is not a consideration because it is not a possibility.

Enmity has a long and carefully tended incubation as a political weapon in the  U.S.  Significant portions of the population do not regard the opposite party as merely holding different views, but that it has malicious intentions.  The nature of the propaganda that blankets the social atmosphere bears that perception out.  The sources of the words we see and hear disgorge angry defamations as a matter of course.  Attack inspires counter-attack.   In a battle where the dominant intention is to inflict harm,  facts and reason have no effect.

The propaganda has urged the populace to arm itself against a takeover.  And both conservatives and liberals have done just that.
James Hodgkinson may have fired the first shot in a civil war that the "rhetoric" of our time has prepared us for and incited.

You should not be surprised if you get shot for your political or social affiliation.  The nature of our political discourse has made it inevitable.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Pathological lying destroys human possibilities

During Donald Trump's first 100 days in office, he was credited by the Washington Post with making 492 statements to the public that were false or misleading.  Since he entered the political scene,  mental health professionals have warned that he has all the symptoms of severe mental dysfunction.  The latest warning was issued in an open letter by 35 mental health experts.  

The resistance to Trump is not a political matter.  It's a matter of him exhibiting behavior that violates all standards of intelligence, decency,  and honesty.  If Trump were not extremely wealthy with the ability to exercise the power that comes from money,  he would be regarded as just another village idiot whose obsessive rants and prattle would be ignored.  The culture of wealth worship that has burgeoned in Americans is the only thing that enables and sustains Trump.  

Trump is remarkably incoherent.  His words violate the basic rule of language.  They do not refer to anything factual that can be perceived by others.  They are noises that have no substance in the natural world or in recorded human experience.  He speaks in hyperbole that names only his mental reactions, not anything that exists outside of himself.  When he is displeased with people around him,  he labels them "horrible."  When they conform to his purpose of the moment, they are "fantastic" people.  In using these expressions of approval and disapproval, Trump shapes the attitudes of the sucks who curry his favor because he is rich and powerful.  His words do not supply an accurate description or appraisal of the world around him.  They signal his sycophants whom to like and dislike,  like the alpha mean girls shape the attitudes of their dupes.  Trump's words are not in themselves significant as they have no validity in reality.  Their only reality  is the people who accept them and what those people mean for the future of democracy.

The National Review compiled some typical Trump expressions that appeal to his followers.  They reflect a contempt for anything factual and the purpose of manipulating those of deficient cognitive skills who form his base.  

1. “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.”
2. “I’m really rich! I’ll show you that in a second. And by the way: I’m not even saying that in a brag.”
3. “I’m the most militaristic person ever.”
4. “I will build a great wall . . . and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.”
5. “Hillary Clinton was the worst secretary of state in the history of the United States. Hillary was the worst. In the history of the United States there’s never been a secretary of state so bad as Hillary.”
6. “I would use the greatest minds. I know the best negotiators. I’m in New York – I know the good ones, the bad ones. I always say: ‘I know the ones people think are good.’ I know people you’ve never heard of that are better than all of them.” 
7. “If you really love this country you have a very, very hard time convincing people that what you’re doing is right and that you’re really smart. And, like, a lot of us are really smart. I’m really smart – I went to the Wharton School of Finance.” 
8. “I would hit [ISIS] so hard your head would spin.”
The constant use of hyperbole detached from reality is symptomatic of a more serious aspect of Trump:  his pathological lying.  A pathological liar is a sociopath who lies to get his way, no matter what the effect on others.  He is a compulsive liar, which means he lies about everything, even trivial matters for which lying has no point or objective.  If the compulsive liar has a motive, it is to make all matters of the universe subject to his will.  

Trump also lies as a way of inflicting vengeance.  He makes defamatory false representations of people and he makes false accusations, such as accusing President  Obama of wire-tapping Trump Towers.  He began his political run by accusing Obama of not being born in America.  Trump,  partly because he is a part of it, understood the racist hatred that runs through Americans who look for any pretext to defame Obama without using the n-word.  So, he launched his political career by appealing to the Jim Crow sector, which forms a large part of his base.  He uses this technique of defaming perceived opponents to damage their reputations.  This is a device common in corporate business life, a major tool in the CEO kit of gaining power.  It damages people by branding them with false accusations,  and it is  effective in marshaling the loyalty of their knowing accomplices and their subservient dupes. 

The most serious damage lying inflicts is on the language.  When words are used to deceive, they become untrustworthy.  An environment of lies makes the language useless in conducting any kind of human transactions.  And when people cannot trust words, they cannot trust anything or anybody.  The misuse and consequent mistrust of language spreads into documents and the laws that govern us.  People realize that laws are construed to oppress some people and exempt others from any kind of responsibility.  

I am among those scholars who believe that the depressed state of American Indians is caused in large part by fraudulent language.  Native Americans signed treaty after treaty which was never adhered to by the U.S., and furthermore were openly devised to swindle the tribes out of their lands with no intention of honoring the "deals."  One of the reasons that Native Americans are protective of their oral traditions is to keep a reservoir of language that they know honestly refers to something they can believe in.  The language of America is counterfeit,  used only to deceive and defraud.  

The American population at large is now experiencing the demoralization and destruction that false language inflicts.  When you can't believe anything said to you by a leader and his supporters,  you can't believe in anything.  Cynicism is the only sane reaction.  When words themselves become inherent lies,  the possibility for human good is destroyed.  Literate people can retreat into books and other forms in which language is used with integrity, skill, and a regard for truth.  An acknowledgment of the essential function of language may be preserved,  but it is not operative in the way of life.

Trump is a cancer on language.  Like cancer, his lies diminish the opportunities of life, leaving death as the inevitable prospect for our nation.  

Friday, June 9, 2017

Anne Frank's betrayers, your friends and neighbors

At some point the media and the people of America will have to face a fact--which is not a popular thing to do in today's political climate.  The fact is that there is a big segment of the American people who are anti-democratic.  Specifically, they are against American democracy with all its words about freedom, equality, and justice.  Oh, they want those things for themselves, but find it intolerable to extend them to other people.  

And that is the defining point of separation in what we call the political divide.  It is not a divide between Democrats and Republicans.  liberals and conservatives.  It is a divide between people who want to live in  a democracy and those who want some form of authoritarian rule in which they are aligned with the authority.  

As many observers have pointed out,  the United States is replaying the politics of Germany in the 1930s.  The same race-and-creed-based hatreds that drove the Nazi movement run like tidal currents through America.  Muslims are the major target in the American neo-Nazi movement, whereas Jews were the predominant hate-objects in Nazi Germany,  but they aren't being forgotten in America''s rage to hate.  The impulse to denigrate, oppress, and harm is the same process of creating a subjugated class no matter what ethnic, cultural, or political group is in disfavor.    The significance for humanity is not who is being hated but who is doing the hating.  In Germany after World War I, when the people needed to place blame for the humiliation they had suffered, they found a someone who would voice and affirm their attitudes and lead them in the exercise of malice.  Hitler provided that voice and that rule.  Trump has provided that voice and affirmation for disaffected Americans,  who have been in a peevish snit over the fact that their country actually elected an African America president.  The racism which had lain dormant since the civil rights era boiled to the surface when a black man presided over the country.  Trump vowed to insult and defame Obama and undo everything Obama did.  And that is his agenda.  He has a loyal following of people.

World culture has an anti-democratic tradition of restricting freedom, equality, and justice as a privilege for those allied with authority figures.  As the idea of democracy in which people govern themselves circulated throughout the feudal system,  it met with resistance.   The overlords of the time, of course, opposed any idea that would make the serfs over whom they ruled equal to them.  But, while many serfs were heartened by the prospect of leading their own lives,  many others were fearful at not having an overlord on whom to depend and be ordered about.   Dependency to them seemed to fit the chain of being which ranked people on a social order that designated them from slaves to royal rulers.  To preserve their ranking over the lower orders,  people were gladly subservient to those above them.  They accepted inequality, restrictions on freedom, and arbitrary justice as a condition of their lives.  They saw opportunity as the chance to grovel before their superiors.  The idea of being able to standup and act as one's own person was frightening and repugnant to them.  They detested those who thought in such terms and advocated democracy.  America, however, was invented and built by by such advocates.

But even in America,  there are people who eschew equality,  and think and speak in terms of superiors and inferiors,  winners and losers,  privileged white folks and disenfranchised minorities.  They found a voice and an authority figure in Donald Trump.  He is the anti-dote to the American ideal of freedom, equality, and justice.  He has an unprecedented record of provable lies,  not just for a president,  but for any human being living on this earth.  He sees power as the exercise of abuse, insult, and defamation,  not respect.  He is a person without a positive trait of character,  a quintessential CEO whose profits come from how many people he can screw over and how much of the planet he can plunder.  He expresses the ideals and values of many Americans.  They do not want a president;  they want a fuehrer.  They got what they wanted.

A  high school student from a minority wrote an essay to qualify for advanced placement in college that impressed its evaluators.  As an occasional such evaluator,  my colleagues shared it with me as an example of the high level of thought and expression being engaged in by our young people.

The essay was on the subject of a book read by many high school students,  The Diary of Ann Frank.  The writer examined one of the mysteries with which the book left us as to who betrayed Ann Frank and her family to the Nazis.  He made the point that it did not matter so much as to what person tipped off the Gestapo to her family's hiding place as to  recognizing all the people who supported the regime that engaged in the Holocaust,  and there are many such regimes.  Detestable as the Hitlers and Nazi leadership may be, the people who enable them and in whose behalf they act are the real culprits responsible for such atrocities.  

After outlining all the words and actions that Trump put on the record during his campaign, the young writer said that the people who voted for Donald Trump are in the same classification as the betrayers of Ann Frank.  And the people who are adversely affected by Trump's words and actions need to recognize  that their enemy is not in the White House but in the houses of the people who put Trump there.  The political divide between Trump supporters and anti-Trump people is a good thing because it identifies the enemies of democracy and gives people the chance to consider if they really want democracy.

Sometimes the young are exceptionally wise.  

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bob Mercer charges press with dishonesty

Bob Mercer writes that after reviewing the national press's coverage of Donald Trump,  he finds that it has been dishonest.  He says,  "Trump was, and is, right, in the allegations, the accusations, that some news organizations were, and are, dishonest in their treatment of him."

His basis:  "He brought some of this upon himself, but I’ve carefully read and I’ve carefully listened to some of the news accounts: Some of those some clearly went against him. Opinion from national news outlets replaced news reporting."

And he lights into the process that decides what is to be covered:  "I have often thought we have little objectivity, or none, in news. We as reporters and editors make choices — what we cover, what we don’t cover — and that isn’t objectivity."

That matter of how editors decide what is to be covered is a difficult one.  There are criteria for evaluating what makes an event or person newsworthy.

  • Prominence
  • Proximity
  • Timeliness
  • Uniqueness
  • Consequence
  • Human interest
Editors make decisions on what relates to their particular audience in deciding coverage.  It is true, in many markets editors gear coverage to the desires of their advertisers and the predominant political attitudes of their readers.  But the overall process of deciding what is newsworthy is not all that arbitrary. Cable news sometimes demonstrates a desperation in trying to fill a 24-hour news cycle.  And some networks, such as Fox news,  operate from a particular political stance.  But for most of the major national media,  the coverage is based upon professional evaluations of the significance of what it is covering.

Bob Mercer takes particular issue with the use of the first 100-days of an administration as a gauge of how well it is doing in carrying out its political goals.  Mercer points out that Trump deprecated the hundred-day measure and pushed back against it.  But FactCheck.Org points out the facts behind the application of that 100-day measure to Trump:

As a candidate, Donald Trump issued a “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again.” It contained 28 promises, and Trump says he is “mostly there on most items.” But is he? Our review of his action plan found he has kept some promises, broken a few, and there are many that are still a work in progress. 
Once in office, Trump criticized “the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days.” He even questioned who within his campaign came up with a “100-day action plan.” He recently told the Associated Press “somebody put out the concept of a hundred-day plan,” even though Trump himself unveiled the 100-day plan at a campaign appearance on Oct. 22, 2016, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

We take no position on the significance or merits of the 100-day milestone, which dates to the days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In a fireside chat on July 24, 1933, FDR spoke of “the crowding events” of the first 100 days of a special congressional session called to counter the effects of the Great Depression, as explained by Penn State political science professor Robert Speel.
The question of honesty is troublesome.  Trump constantly proclaimed what he would do his first day in office and during his first hundred days, making threats and accusations against his opponents.  What is dishonest about tracking how he is carrying out his expressed intentions.

But the matter of dishonesty is one that Trump has created for the press to handle.  In the history of the U.S., no person of national prominence has been as blatantly and consistently dishonest as Donald Trump.  The Washington Post Fact Checker has found that during his first 100 days in office,  Trump has issued false or misleading claims 492 times.  

A public interest group is raising funds to hire experienced journalists and analysts to compile a daily list of everything Trump has said and done during his campaign and his presidency.  Trump has changed the U.S., and many people think it needs a documented record of what happened to it so that future generations can understand how a democracy fails.   Why did it adopt malicious dishonesty as a routine aspect of governance?

Some news organizations have opposed Trump,  but they have documented the reasons why.  His record as a "businessman" and a political candidate is consistently one of deceit, incompetence, and abject dishonesty.  Terming the press dishonest for exposing dishonesty is difficult to get the mind around.

But it is a crucial symptom of what happened to America.  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The biggest threat to higher education--and democracy-- is business

I have been hard on some fellow professors in the past.  Some of the most vile humans I have come across, in the magnitude of Donald Trump, have been professors.  As an officer in professional faculty organizations,  I have dealt with them.  Some professors have egos that are much larger then their intellects and find it difficult to refrain from stroking their nasty egos in public--acts which often show a meagerness of mind but an abundance of self absorption.  They are simply assholes but nevertheless are found competent in their chosen discipline.  The ones that I rage against the most are the ones who practice academic dishonesty:  plagiarism,  fabricating or misrepresenting data,  misrepresenting their accomplishments, and other acts of mendacity.  They harm the profession and do damage to their students, their colleagues, their institutions, and the country.  However, the profession has standards and measures to use for eliminating these people from the profession, and I fully support their implementation and use.   I have participated in such actions.

On the other hand,  most professors are people of competence, integrity, and industry. I have been proud of their professionalism. They work hard for their students and to meet the requirements of research, scholarship, and service required by institutions to hold the rank of professor.  And often, they work effectively despite attempts by administrators to manage them.  The idea of running colleges like businesses instead of organizations in which the members have shared responsibilities has created an overlay of practices that are more befitting of a sales force  for vacuum cleaners than of an intellectual enterprise.  Instead of setting standards of performance that individuals strive for,  many administrations pit professors against each other in competition for promotion and tenure.  Some professors fall into the trap.  Most, however, maintain the role they have chosen, to learn and teach and stay true to what it means "to profess" a discipline.  That desire to stay true to the academic tradition has saved institutions from abject fraud and made it possible for students to obtain real educations.

However, there are professors who fall into the corporate mindset and become the instruments of a subversive value system.  I made a mistake by placing trust in some who betrayed their profession and engaged in a campaign to oust a professor who had incurred the wrath of the corporate-driven segment that purports to run our universities.  The mistake I made was in not maintaining my skepticism about the integrity of higher education boards of directors and their administrative lackeys.

It began when Ward Churchill,  a well-known professor of Native American studies,  wrote an essay the day after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in which he referred to the people who occupied those buildings as "little Eichmans,"  a reference to a key facilitator of the Holocaust.  The point of his essay, titled "Some People Push Back," was that the attack on the Trade Center and the Pentagon was an act of war in response to the massacre of a half million children in Iraq by American forces and the corporate structure which supported them.  Using a phrase from Holocaust historian Hannah Arendt,  he called the corporate technocrats who were aiding and abetting the war on Iraq "little Eichmans," the term Arendt used to describe the good Germans who did the same for the Holocaust.  His contention was that 9/11 was American foreign policy "coming home to roost."  At the time,  the essay received little attention.  

About four years later, some academics brought the essay to the attention of media types such as Bill O'Reilly, who expressed raging offense at the "little Eichman" designation and began the call for Ward Churchill's firing from the University of Colorado.  They were in a fury because they thought that Churchill had insulted the memory of innocent victims of terrorism.  However,  CU officials recognized that Churchill could not be fired for using his protected rights of free speech,  so they looked for other pretexts to dismiss him.

An academic opponent of Churchill's had made complaints about his scholarship previously, but they were ignored.  They were then grasped as a means to go after him and he was charged with academic misconduct.   A committee of faculty was assembled to investigate the charges  against him, and it recommended his dismissal.  Churchhill was fired, but fought the case against him in the courts.  He won the case to get his job back, as the circuit court found that his comments on 9/11 were the actual reason for his firing.  However, he lost on appeal and the Supreme Court declined to hear his case.  

The mistake I made, as did many professors, was to think that if the committee composed of his professor peers found Churchill guilty of scholarly fraud,  it must be so.  We put  our trust in academic due process, believing that the thorough examination of the evidence and a critical discussion of it by experienced professors would arrive at the truth.  What we did not understand is that the Investigative Committee which issued the report was not comprised of people who were well qualified to examine the scholarship in Churchill's particular field of study.  Some had declared opposition to Churchill. The committee was stacked to create findings against him in retaliation for his exercise of free speech.

However,  Churchill's fellow professors in Colorado understood this.  The Colorado Conference of the American Association of University Professors undertook a critical examination of the report which supported Churchill's firing. It found that the committee and its findings were contrived and that it committed the very acts of "plagiarism, fabrication and falsification of evidence" that they accused him of committing. 

In the executive summary of its report,  the Colorado Conference observed:

  1. As this report will demonstrate, the allegations against Churchill for fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism are almost entirely false or misleading; the slivers that remain standing are trivial in the extreme, given the volume of Churchill’s work and the high regard in which it is held by other experts in the field. Few scholars’ work would survive under the microscope held to Churchill’s work. In our opinion, the members of the IC would be condemned as academic frauds if their report were subjected to the scrutiny that they applied to Churchill’s work—and if they had said “little Eichmanns.” 
    According to experts in the field of American Indian Studies, the IC report, upon which disciplinary recommendations against Churchill were based, is an extended series of falsifications and fabrications offered in the name of correcting the scholarly record. 
Colorado's universities are among the best and most productive in the world.  But that is because of the abilities and integrity of its faculty,  despite the actions of politicians and the lackeys they hire to run them.  The University of Colorado at Boulder has a reputation for being a party school, but at the same time is a prestigious leader in the arts and sciences,  as is its sister institutions.  It's administration has racked up some serious demerits, however.  The handling of the firing of Ward Churchill is one of them.  

CU also hired on  its faculty another leader in Native American studies,  Vine DeLoria, Jr.  He taught law and history there from 1990 to 2000, when he retired.    During the period  of time around 2001, a football scandal hit the campus.   The universities football coaches had recruiting parties which hired escort services from Denver and at which a number of coeds charged they were sexually molested and raped.  It had a woman place kicker on its football team who said that she had been raped by  teammates.  The coach responded by belittling her abilities as a player.  The University tried to make the business look like trivial incidents that occur occasionally.  However, when the University of Colorado wished to recognize Deloria's work  with an honorary degree and a special citation,  he rejected it.  He said, "It is no honor to be connected to these people."

The American university system is an asset that has driven the nation to its position of prominence.  Its advancements rest on the accomplishments of thinkers who were provided a venue for carrying on their work with the establishment of the land grant colleges.  However, the history of that system, as with the history of the University of Colorado,  is studded with attempts by commercial interests to subvert the universities into schemes of greed and wealth.  Recent history in South Dakota with the EB-5 and Gear Up scandals demonstrates further how business interests try to pervert universities to their own uses.  

As long as there are professors such as the Colorado Conference of the American Association of University Professors to confront and expose the nefarious at work in their system,  the universities will be good places to study and to work.   But when business and political interests have their way,  the universities become a danger.  Universities cannot be run like businesses.  When they do,  they become intellectual and moral failures that destroy democracy and the spirit to advance humanity.  During this time,  professors of integrity have a strenuous job to conserve the true meaning of higher education.  Let's hope they keep working.  The business mentality would prefer that they didn't.  


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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States