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

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sacrificial beheading is all the rage in America

In the constant revelations of men who have sexually harassed and abused women, some have flummoxed me and other people I know.  One is the matter of Bill Cosby.  What he has allegedly done to women is totally contradictory to the values and character he has portrayed in his entertainment.  Another is the matter of the Olympic gymnast physician, Dr. Lawrence Nassar, who sexually violated hundreds of young female gymnasts for which he has been sentenced to multiple lifetimes in jail.  

The Nassar case was particularly bothersome because he was on the faculty of  Michigan State  University, where I have spent much time and worked with some impeccable, talented people.  The Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, of which I am a member and a former officer, is headquartered there.  As a result of the Nassar revelations and trials, a number of Michigan State officials, including the university president, have been forced to resign.

The revelations of sexual misconduct  of all degrees produce a hysteria in which resignations or firings are demanded.  In many cases, probably most, they are likely justified.  But a lot of people with talent and expertise who were not directly involved in the incidents are sent into oblivion, their talents and accomplishments banished along with them, and we never know what actually happened or what can be done to prevent such things from happening again.  In the case of  the MSU president, the chair of the Board of Trustees said,“President Simon has served with distinction as MSU’s President for 13 years and has been a constant presence at the university for more than 40 years. She literally has devoted her entire professional life to this institution, and more than anyone else has helped make MSU a national and international leader in higher education.”  So, figuratively speaking, she was beheaded anyway.

Many humans are intellectually and socially primitive.  They need ritual killings.  To maintain their delusions of moral self-esteem and superiority, they need scapegoats and sacrificial lambs.   People, including in America, used to pack picnic baskets and attend hangings and beheadings in throngs, as if the occasions were celebrations.  In Orwell's 1984,  children berate their parents because they won't take them to one of the periodic mass hangings held in  Oceania.  Seeing people humiliated and killed in public is essential to their feelings of self-worthiness.  Such sacrificial atrocities purged any sense of guilt or blame they might harbor about the injustices other people experience.  A popular piece taught in freshman literature courses is Shirley Jackson's short story  "The Lottery,"    In the story, everybody in the community gathers at an annual event at which each person draws a slip of paper.  One slip has a black circle on it which designates who is to be stoned to death by the rest of the community that year.  Many people take offense at the story because it presents such a bleak portrayal of human nature.  It addresses the social psychology that society clings to which requires people to be sacrificed in public to satisfy the group's sense of self-esteem and righteousness.

The #MeToo movement has taken up an injustice inflicted upon women through sexual harassment and assault.  It is an advance toward a just and equitable society.  Women's complaints about sexual harassment and assault were often ignored or dismissed.  The #MeToo movement has brought into general recognition the prevalence of sexual aggression and the torment that women face.  

The forms the aggression takes ranges from spousal abuse, sexual assault and molestation, and sexual harassment from verbal abuse to suggestive double entendre.  The accepted solution for all degrees of sexual misconduct is to fire the accused miscreants or those associated with them and to publish the allegations.  No matter  what level of misbehavior is alleged, from physical assault to verbal suggestiveness, the required punishment is firing the accused from their jobs--in other words end their ability to make a living.  Figurative death, beheading.

In the case of Dr. Nassar,  people who had oversight over him, such as President Simon, are said to have received complaints of his molestation and abuse of girls.  Nasser was investigated but no substantive charges were forthcoming until he was fired in September 2016.  The state attorney general was asked to investigate how the university handled the  complaints,  but no report from MSU was ever submitted. At one point, when Nasser was investigated after some complaints, he was cleared by the university, but instructed to follow a protocol which required another person to be present when examining and treating patients.

Administrators at  Michigan State could have been more thorough in their responses to reports of Nassar's transgressions, perhaps,  but those who demand vengeance for his actions by beheading anyone associated with him ignore the complicated and conflicting circumstances in which they were operating.  Nasser was considered to be a medical star.   One of the women he treated but did not molest said. He was great. I loved him. I looked up to him.”  He performed some of his acts with the girls' mothers in the room, and they thought he was administering treatments, not performing acts of molestation.   Some of the young women did not realize they had been sexually violated until the accounts of other women were published in the media.  Nassar developed such a reputation for being an outstanding physician that it earned him a role with the US Olympic Womens Gymnastic Team.  A coach for the men's team remarked, Everybody knew who Larry Nassar was — he was the renowned gymnastics doctor on the women’s side."

In addition, Nasser was know as an active, benign member of the community in which he lived.  A neighbor woman said, “I really cannot say enough good about Larry because he is just a wonderful man. He will do anything in the world for anybody. We all love Larry. We really, really love Larry.”

The question raised about Nasser is, how did he manage to engage in his molestation so long and nobody did anything about it?  The answer is complex.  The stories of the victims indicate that their own parents were not aware of his actions or did not understand reports from the children.  And the reports to officials at MSU apparently did not provide the evidence to support the allegations.  Those who are applying due process are bound to test accusations according to the evidence provided and to guard against specious or malicious claims.   Such claims are a frequent presence in the academic world and are the resort of vengeful students unhappy with a grade and, unfortunately, of faculty as they compete for promotion or tenure.  As a result,  academics are likely to treat accusations of sexual misbehavior with a measure of doubt.  And they are wary of the  threat of severe legal consequences if they raise an accusation that is not true.

Academic officials treat their  "stars," such as Nasser had become, with deference, especially if they contribute to  the university's reputation for innovation and excellence.  Nasser operated under the cover of that kind of reputation and being a person much liked and respected in his community.

Instead of President Simon convening her faculty and examining what circumstances allowed Nasser to operate as he did and formulate procedures and policies that would prevent it,  she was fired, along with others who could provide information and perspectives on the issue that are necessary in devising solutions to such problems.  Instead,  these people are thrown on the discard pile,  making them as much victims of Nassar's deceit as the young women he touched with his hands.    Heads had to roll.

For many people,  the only reaction they can conceive of for a wrong is acts of harsh vengeance and public humiliation, even if they are inflicted on people who were not involved in the offending incidents.  They have no interest in addressing the circumstances surrounding the incidents or finding ways to repair and compensate for the damage done;  they just need to see someone suffer.  And so,  they compound the damage.  And they absolve themselves of any culpability for matters that go wrong in society.

Another tactic for dealing with accused offenders is borrowed from George Orwell's 1984.  One day you come to work and find that the work desk of a fellow is gone.  Every trace or memory-producing evidence of the fellow is gone.  He has been vaporized for some reason by the powers that be.

 Minnesota Public Radio vaporized Garrison Keillor--or tried to. Someone accused Keillor of making lustful advances to a woman.  The head of Minnesota  Public Radio declared them an unforgivable offense and true.  As a result MPR ended all its contracts with Keillor and his companies, stopped broadcasting his syndicated show The Writer's Almanac, stopped rebroadcasting highlights from A Prairie Home Companion, and separated from an online catalogue and website associated with Keillor.  The Washington Post for whom Keillor wrote columns ended their relationship. Then the University of Minnesota removed a plague which honored Keillor for his contribution to the state's culture.  Keillor was vaporized.  Precisetly for what was never explained, but one day he found himself holding that slip of paper with the black circle on it in his hand.  Zap.

Al Franken who was accused of sexual misconduct wanted the  U.S. Senate Ethics Committee to hold an investigation and a hearing,  but his colleagues chose  beheading instead.  It made the senators feel responsive and righteous, even though Franken's staff members, both from the Senate and Saturday Night Live, came out in public support of him.  The guillotine is better than due process because it makes everyone feel better.

Franken and Keillor were put in the same category as Cosby and Nasser,  and they had to go.  And the powers took out a university president while they were at it.The collective demise made a lot of people feel good.  We need to reinstitute public mass hangings or stonings so we can feel great about ourselves again.    We could watch the heads of a whole bunch of university presidents roll, and we could really rock.


    *Forty-one  "unionists" hung in Gainesville, Texas, in 1862.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

The BS detectors blare whenever Trump speaks

Every national  major news organization had a team of journalists fact check Trump's State of the Union speech.  And these fact checks were not simply a matter of reviewing notable claims made in the speech for accuracy, as has been the practice in years past.  They were word-by-words examinations of how what Trump said matched with the facts.

Here are some of the major fact checks:

Associated Press
CBS News
USA Today
New York Times
Washington Post

Donald Trump is a symptom.  No one with a minimal degree of moral and mental sentience can deny what a profoundly defective, corrupt person  he is.  He has a documented record of fraud,  swindling, lying, associations with organized crime in the  U.S. and abroad,  and failure.  Those who support him support corruption as a part of government.  There is a substantial portion of the electorate which subscribes to the idea that success is anything you can get away with.  They are the people who celebrate organized crime as portrayed in The Godfather and The Sopranos as the ultimate realization of the American Dream.  His election to president is a symptom of the massive intellectual and moral failure of American democracy.  As with the so-called banana republics,  corruption has won over integrity and competence.  

The big question is how did America, home of the Greatest Generation, become so stupid and jaded that this could happen.  George Orwell offers an analysis in his depiction of a populace that is constantly beleaguered by propaganda through the media.  They are so inured to the ceaseless stream of advertising and promotion directed at them that they have lost interest and the ability to separate fact-based declarations from unsupported and groundless assertions.  They do not respond to language,  but merely endure it as a factor of their environment,  like an ever-present fog.   To about half the people, words do not convey information.  They are simply the stimulus signals like the bell that makes Pavlov's dog salivate:  they react in the ways they have been conditioned to as repressed, obedient organisms.  Like those products of ISIS who willingly strap on suicide vests to kill innocents, many Americans willingly react without mind to what their leaders prompt them to do.  They are zombies subject to the control of people they regard as their masters.  

Their linguistic currency is bullshit.  The English language has no non-defecatory synonym for bullshit.  The dictionaries define it as nonsense, lies, exaggeration, and foolish insolent talk.  But the colloquial term is the most evocative in its reference to revulsive animal waste. And so, when Donald Trump speaks, the press employs its bullshit detectors and identifies every word he says in terms of nonsense, lies, exaggeration, and foolish insolence.  The significance of Trump's speech is not in any factual information it conveys, but in the kind of bullshit it invokes.

But there is a linguistic anomaly in Trump's speech that explains why everything he says is nonsense.  Words have meaning because they name natural facts.  Language emanates from the natural universe.  They name objects, relationships, and processes that are observable to all.  Facts are something that has actual existence  or are actual occurrences.  We understand what words mean because we can observe and experience what they refer to.   However, when the words a person uses do not refer to anything factual that can be verified, they are nonsense.  Bullshit.  Most of what Trump says proves to be fabricated nonsense.  

An example is his campaign slogan, Make America Great Again.  The slogan is based on the premise that America has lost its claim to greatness.   The election of Barack Obama as president was seen throughout the world as a sign that America was advancing in its quest for equality.  That is, except to those people who harbored and clung to old racial prejudices, who prefer to believe that minorities are inferior to whites.  "Make America Great Again" appealed to these people because the election of a black president was a refutation of the white supremacy that they prefer as a national state of affairs.  The fall from greatness stated by the slogan was not a factual case.  Under Obama, the U.S. assumed a status of world leadership that was lauded throughout the world.  Under Trump and Rex Tillerson, the U.S. hs relinguished that role and has turned leadership over to China, the European Union, and other nations that are stepping up to the fill the void Trump created.  And under Trump,  many of the advances in civil rights and equality have been either halted or reversed.

Trump claims, such as the cheering of Muslims during the 9/11 attacks and the wire-tapping of Trump Towers by Obama, have been proven to be total fabrications.  But that segment of the population that clings to its Nazi-like malice rejoices in Trump's false claims. It is all made up bullshit.  

It is difficult to find any statements made by Trump that have a basis in actuality.  His tweets and other public statements are expressions of his depraved attitudes and motives, not anything that can be proven as fact.  He depends almost totally on the kind of power that CEOs exercise over employees or contractors who fear for their job and lives.  The sycophants and corporate sucks who serve CEOs learn quickly to adopt the attitudes and endorse the utterances of their bosses,  no matter how bigoted. malicious, or false.  Trump's White House and GOP sucks play that game.  The so-called Nunes memo is an exercise in detaching words from the facts they purport to report.  It follows Trump's employment of Doublespeak in the havoc it wreaks on language.  Doublespeak, as a concept developed by George Orwell, is a language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words.  The Tump administration and his dedicated GOP sucks are prodigious fabricators of such language.  Doublespeak clouds actuality with a dense fog of depravity and malice.

If there is hope that the promises of democracy for liberty, equality, and justice may prevail somewhere, somehow, it lies with people who are smart enough and educated enough to maintain stewardship over the integrity of the language.  It is not a matter of partisanship,  but of a respectful appreciation of the tool fostered by mankind that is the basis for our life-sustaining achievements.  The attempts to subvert science and language should alarm the nation that all the benefits of democracy are under siege.  But that understanding is unlikely in a nation that elected Donald Trump president.

Those with enough mental acumen to understand how lethal bullshit can be will be the ones we depend upon to conserve our language and the human enterprise it makes possible.  As the U.S. developed, one of the first things that aspiring communities established was schools that educated children in the use of language.  Over time,  the study of language arts and critical thinking skills has been systematically undermined in our schools and further degraded by the constant noise of BS in the media.  People who retain some respect and understanding of fact-based language are the ones who can restore it to usefulness.  But it may be too late for that to happen in the U.S., which is rapidly establishing itself as a nation of organized crime.   They may have to think about where they can recolonize.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

What Americans don't understand about Russia is that democracy failed there, but capitalism didn't

When the Soviet Union fell, Americans thought democracy prevailed:

In December of 1991, as the world watched in amazement, the Soviet Union disintegrated into fifteen separate countries. Its collapse was hailed by the west as a victory for freedom, a triumph of democracy over totalitarianism, and evidence of the superiority of capitalism over socialism. 
Now, as Russia emerges as a disrupter of democracy not only in the U.S., but throughout the world, it seems to have reverted to its role as a Cold War enemy.   As a Cold War enemy,  Americans thought its threat was because it was a communist, a Marxist country.  That aspect of Russia is no longer the driving ideology in Russia.  What happened in Russia was that good, old capitalism, which Marxists detested, stepped in and took control of the country.

Boris Yeltsin as a leader in the Russian parliament renounced his membership in the Communist Party.  He then ran for president of Russia and won.  As president, he instituted many democratic policies, a freer press, the privatization of government-owned businesses, and fewer restrictions on public expressions.  Many business operations that were owned and controlled by the Kremlin, such as the oil and gas industry,  were put on the market.  The industries were snapped up by close associates and relatives of government officials who oversaw the transition to the free market.   These people, who are often referred to as the Russian oligarchs, became phenomenally wealthy and powerful.  

When Yeltsin resigned, he designated Vladimir Putin to succeed him.  Many refer to Putin's history as a Soviet KGB officer as the influence on his agenda.  His real source of power is the alliances he has made with the oligarchs and criminal bosses who control business in  Russia.   The threat that Russia now has for the free world is corruption, not communism.

There are Russians who long for the old Soviet days.  Novelist Martin Cruz Smith reflects that nostalgia in his works, such as Stalin's Ghost.  A recent New York Times article reports how a family in Kazakhstan feels about the takeover by the oligarchs:
“These new people count every penny,” his wife complained, waxing nostalgic for Soviet days when, she said, nobody on the state farm paid much attention to who was doing what with whose money.
Putin, like Trump, is interested in the power that wealth creates, not any particular ideology.  He has found that power can be gained and maintained most effectively through ruthless and shameless capitalism, and he seems to have dismissed any Marxist concerns about what it it means for the workers.   If there is any kinship between Tump and Putin, it is as fellow oligarchs.  They will embrace whatever politics facilitates their access to wealth and power.  They live with feudal mindsets which aspire only to be lords of castles, and their only regard for people is to have someone to be lord over.  It's precisely the mindset that democracy strives to overcome.

Putin brings KGB tactics into play when he deals with dissenters.  Trump brings his penchant for fraud, mendacity, and bilking contractors to bear when confronted with opposition.  About 40 percent of his business ventures have failed, some because of his ineptitude, some because they were outright fraud.  His power and wealth have been acquired by duping people who worship wealth,  even if it is fraudulently obtained.  Anyone else caught at the shenanigans that Trump has would have spent a lot of time in jail.  There is a plethora of documented evidence that Trump is a crook.  And there is his lying. Since taking office, Trump has documented more than 2,000 lies.  He is simply a wretched person with no redeeming qualities.

Given Russia's history,  people tend to think that the probe into its role in the 2016 election is looking for some kind of political intrigue.  However, money and the power it buys, not politics,  is Trump's consuming obsession.  Much is already known about his financial dalliance with Russian oligarchs and members of its mafia.  Special Counsel Mueller's investigation has focused sharply on Trump's financial ties even though Trump says his personal business is off limits.   But in numerous ways, Trump has made clear that he considers the United States just another subsidiary of the Trump Organization.

Putin has joined forces with the oligarchs, and those who oppose him receive KGB-like persecution.  Trump has his team of oligarchs and the oligarch-wannabes of the Republican Party who protect him and carry out his schemes.  It has always been an assumption in America that any president would separate his personal business interests from his job of presiding over the nation.  Trump has flouted that custom and has merged his financial operations with the presidential office.  The GOP has totally rolled over on his conflicts of interest.  

The nation has made The Godfather and The Sopranos stories of organized crime bosses national favorites.  It treats those fictional mafia bosses as if they are national heroes.  It seems that much of the nation was ready to be led by a corrupt oligarch.

Trump has clearly violated the office of president as it was conceived and conducted by his predecessors,  except perhaps for Nixon.  The Russia probe will most likely reveal Trump's activities as a corrupt oligarch in concert with fellows throughout the world.  But much of the nation finds corruption as an acceptable means to "sucess."

The only thing we may get out of the Mueller probe is an understanding of what happened to America.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Trump's record is a rap sheet of fraud and lies. But it is what some Americans choose as their proud heritage.

It is not that the FBI is biased against Trump.  It's that the list of offenses he has made is so impressive that he is near the top of their list of suspected miscreants that it is their job monitor.  One post cannot detail the number of fraudulent, illegal, and deceptive dealings of the man currently holding the presidency.  The most puzzling aspect is what has happened to the American people that this could happen?  The stories of Trump's deals have been reported for decades, but Americans have been brain-washed into thinking that anything done in the name of business is okay as long as money is made,  no matter how dishonest or how many people are destroyed.

One of the most extensive compilations of Trump's offenses was published by the conservative National Review.   This was published six months before the election.   It introduced its list with this statement:

Given their number and scale, it can be difficult to keep track of all of Donald Trump’s many scandals and debacles. And so, for those whose heads are still spinning, here is a comprehensive roundup of the man’s disastrous record:
And then it went on to list his four bankruptcies,  his refusal to pay contractors, his adultery and divorces, and his many failed enterprises.   It lists 20 categories.

A few days before the election, Politicususa printed the account of a Canadian journalist who fact checked everything Trump said.  The article reports:

In Donald Trump "you have a candidate who is frequently saying 20 false things in a day, up to 37 on some days.”
Nothing he has done since taking office has diminished his reputation for lying.  Factcheck summarizes his presedential performance:
We first dubbed President Donald Trump, then just a candidate, as “King of Whoppers” in our annual roundup of notable false claims for 2015.  He dominated our list that year – and again in 2016 – but there was still plenty of room for others. 
This year? The takeover is complete. 
In his first year as president, Trump used his bully pulpit and Twitter account to fuel conspiracy theories, level unsubstantiated accusations and issue easily debunked boasts about his accomplishments. 
And a chorus of administration officials helped in spreading his falsehoods.

The New York Times tracked what Trump said during his first 100 days in office, noting,   "The Times has logged at least one false or misleading claim per day on 91 of his first 99 days (Saturday is Day 100). On five days, Mr. Trump went golfing, and on two he made limited public statement."

By November, the Times compiled a list of Trump's falsehoods and explained why each was untrue.
So we have catalogued nearly every outright lie he has told publicly since taking the oath of office. Updated: The president is still lying, so we've added to this list, taking it through Nov. 11, and provided links to the facts in each case.
The Washington Post also kept a record of Trump's lies and published it with this headline:
In 298 days, President Trump has made 1,628 false and misleading claims

USA Today has found Trump to be an offense to the nation.  But after one of his latest tweet rages. it declared he is "not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush. "  The paper concludefd:
Rock bottom is no impediment for a president who can always find room for a new low.
The media carry out their responsibility as the Fourth Estate in recording his constant malevolence and dishonesty.  But it does not examine closely those politicians wiho collude with him to sell out the principles of liberty, equality, and justice in order to impose their own agendas on the country.  Nor does it face the fact that Americans elected Trump president and have knowingly chosen to follow the path to deceit and malice that Germany blazed in the 1930s.  

In its efforts to make nice to its audience,  the press has avoided facing the fact that Trump is what Americans chose as their moral and intellectual emblem.  And the lower he sinks, so does the nation,  as a matter of its choice.  He defines what America has become.  Except for those who understand what genuine resistance entails.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

How the Democrats shot their foot off

The current frenzy for reporting incidents of male sexual harassment is a revival of a flurry of such accusations that the nation experienced during the early 1990s.  At that time, it was fueled by the forced resignation of Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon, who had quite a reputation for his overt expressions of lust for women.  And by the hearings of accusations of harassment of Anita Hill by Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas. As a previous post reports, higher education addressed those allegations as they affected both the accusers and the accused.  Men responded, then as now, with admissions, denials, and counter accusations.  Women complained that they weren't believed or feared retaliation if they reported incidents. But a lot of men were fired or otherwise disciplined in summary ways that avoided due process in which the accused would face their accusers.  Professional organizations that deal with due process stepped in and restored some semblance of justice to the proceedings where they could.

The presumption that guided harassment accusations in academe was that everyone, accuser and accused, deserved due process.  And due process requires that an accused person has the right to know who the accuser is and to present exculpatory evidence.  In the zeal to correct a wrong, many institutions neglected due process sometimes to save embarrassment to the accuser, to prevent retaliation, and sometimes to evade the hostilities that such cases produce.  A lawyer who worked on such cases said,  "It's cheaper to fire someone in many cases than it is to defend against a claim of sexual harassment."  In a few cases where men did pursue and prove false claims, however, the results were damaging to institutions as well as to the person who made a false accusation.  The settlements of civil cases were harshly expensive, and in some jurisdictions the making of a false harassment charge could be  considered a criminal act, thus implicating the organization that fired or took disciplinary action without following the procedures of due process.  

In the current flurry of accusations, the mistakes of a quarter century ago are being repeated.   In the frenzy to respond effectively in behalf of harassed and assaulted women, due process is largely forgone.  A columnist for a teen magazine expressed a current attitude:

Here's an unpopular opinion: I'm actually not at all concerned about innocent men losing their jobs over false sexual assault/harassment allegations. First common false allegations VERY rarely happen, so even bringing it up borders on a derailment tactic. It's a microscopic risk in comparison to the issue at hand (worldwide, systemic oppression of half the population). And more importantly: The benefit of all of us getting to finally tell the truth + the impact on victims FAR outweigh the loss of any one man's reputation.
The cases of Al Franken and Garrison Keillor in Minnesota are two in which the absence of due process is a glaring omission.  There is inherent dubiousness in some of the accusations and a severity of punishment and a dismissal of human worth that is more characteristic of a vengeful rage than of an act of accountability.

In Franken's case, the first accuser is herself photographed in some on-stage acts of groping and sexual horseplay.  Daily Kos and comedian Tom Arnold claim that Leeann Tweeden was coached by ultra conservative associates and the she was a birther in claiming that Obama wasn't born in the U.S. Subsequent accusations followed a meme-like repetition that women asked to pose for picture with Franken and in the process he squeezed their butts. Politicians and their staffs have challenged the credibility of those circumstances.  In large public gatherings, politicians have staffs around them to manage and organize their appearances.  They would be aware of any incidents, and an objective of the appearances is to give the politician a favorable exposure to the public and strenuously avoid any offense. People who know Franken, especially his staff, say he does not behave in such a manner and is simply not stupid enough to engage in such behavior.  Most egregious, is that some of the accusations were anonymous.  What happened to Franken is that members of his own party lynched him in order to demonstrate their moral superiority over the opposition.

Franken asked for a full investigation by the Senate ethics committee.  However, when members of his own party demanded his resignation, he saw that he would be unable to function as a senator, and resigned.  Not one politician in the Senate which claims to be the nation's most upstanding deliberative body in upholding liberty, equality, and justice mentioned due process.

Former Republican Governor of Minnesota Arne Carlson spoke for many people on the matter.   He wrote:
I am deeply troubled by the resignation of U.S. Sen. Al Franken and the complete absence of anything resembling due process... a rush to punishment is totally unacceptable.

While the Democrats were flaunting their parade on the "high road," they were in fact flouting any pretense to justice and showing disdain for the most basic principle of democracy.  They destroyed any credibility to what they claim the party stands for.  The kindest thing one can say about their performance is they showed a level of stupidity that befits the era of Trump.  The U.S. Senate seemed to compete with him to see who could show the most abject failure of decency.

The case of Garrison Keillor was similarly excessive and insanely so in Minneapolis Public Radio's attempt to totally obliterate him.  Apparently, he had seething enemies who longed for a chance to reign vengeance on him.  He  has indicated he does not intend to go quietly into the night, however.

It has been encouraging to see that harassers and assaulters of women have been called onto account.  But that encouragement was dashed into bits when those exposures became reason to abandon even the most rudimentary forms of justice.

***Early in the accusations against members of Congress, Nancy Pelosi was asked about how the allegations should be handled and she mentioned due process, for which she was soundly scolded by pundits and commenters.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

How Molded Fiber Glass Co. got the shaft from Donald Trump

Molded Fiber Glass built the onion domes and minarets for one of Trump's great failures for $3 million.  They had to sue to get their money, but only got $1 million

 Molded Fiber Glass Co. is preparing to close its Aberdeen plant in February, putting 409 employees out of work.  While it enters history as one of the transient companies  that had a brief use for Aberdeen,  its own history includes being a dupe in one of Donald Trump's  perfidious bilking schemes.

The story is recounted in an Associated Press story which ran most prominently in the Atlantic city newspaper, which is where Trump built his Taj Mahal casino, a failed enterprise which demonstrated just what kind of '"businessman" Trump was.   He opened his $1.2 billion casino in April 1990.  It filed for its first bankruptcy in July 1991.  Trump was trying to corner the casino business in Atlantic City, but his finanancing was shaky and fraudulent.  The New York Times reported that "Mr. Trump assembled his casino empire by borrowing money at such high interest rates — after telling regulators he would not — that the businesses had almost no chance to succeed. " He raised  capital by offering junk bonds.   During its run, the casino violated almost all of the financial rules, among which was money laundering.  Tump managed to divest himself of the property by 2009 after a constant history of bankruptcy proceedings and it was taken over by fellow billionaire Carl Icahn.  Trump left behind a number of contractors and other businesses who he did not pay.  Defaulting on bills was the art Trump used in his deal-making.  Molded Fiber Glass was one of his victims.

In early 1990, Trump was pushing contractors to finish their work so the casino could open for business.  But in February, they became concerned when payments for work that had been completed stopped.  The AP story takes up the story of Molded Fiber Glass:

Five hundred miles away, in Ashtabula, Ohio, Robert Morrison of the Molded Fiber Glass Co. was pressing his workers to finish the domes and minarets and other faux Moorish ornaments in time for the April opening — and worrying about who was going to pay for all of it. An invoice sent a few weeks earlier for $1.4 million still hadn't been paid.
"Naturally, you assumed you'd get paid," Molded Fiber Glass CEO Morrison wrote in a book about the Taj published in 1994. "Donald Trump was flamboyant, but he was an immensely successful contractor who paid his debts.”
Many contractors didn't know what to think. Trump was denying he was in financial trouble: "I have a tremendous amount of cash," he told the Washington Post that March. Far from being overstretched, he told Newsweek, he was looking to expand: "I think the people with a lot of cash —and I have a lot of cash — are going to be able to make beautiful deals in the next few years."
  Morrison of Molded Fiber Glass was getting desperate for his money and so he turned to Irwin Tobman, a field supervisor in Atlantic City overseeing the installation of the domes and minarets. Tobman had been told earlier by a Trump official that the delay in sending the check was due to a "slight glitch.”
 On June 12, Molded Fiber Glass sued for the $3 million it was owed. A few days later, its lawyers ratcheted up the pressure; they threatened to remove the domes from the Taj and cart them away. The New York Post headline: "The Taj May Go Topless.” 
Molded Fiber Glass never removed its domes, choosing instead to join with Lundy and 46 others in a negotiated settlement with Trump for cash equal to 33 cents of each dollar owed, plus 50 cents in convertible bonds, according to Morrison's book. Trump also threw in a "right of first refusal," meaning the contractors would get future work at the Taj if they matched the best bid from others. The bonds would eventually pay in full, but the holders had to wait at least several years.
Strapped for money, some contractors sold them immediately, getting a fraction of what they were worth at maturity. Among the sellers was Morrison of Molded Fiber Glass, according to Tobman, his man in Atlantic City. Morrison ended up having to write off $2 million of the $3 million that Trump owed him, according to his book. The company refused to comment.
A telling line in Robert Morrison's account is, "Donald Trump was flamboyant, but he was an immensely successful contractor who paid his debts.”   Morrison, who died in 2002, wrote a book about the entire affair titled High Stakes to High Risk: The Strange Story of Resorts, International and the Taj Mahal.  A search on the Internet turns up no reviews or accounts of the book, but the overall impression is that Morrison, the founder of  molded Fiber Glass, regards the Taj Mahal affair as corporate business as usual.  He calls Trump who had already earned  reputation for bilking contractors "an immensely successful contractor," and any who checked knew that Trump did not always pay his debts.
As the  AP story relates, "Trump's cash crunch left Morrison with no money to pay the dozen companies he had hired to help with the Taj work. But Morrison paid them anyway... by borrowing the money."    Still, "The trouble wasn't enough to keep Molded Fiber Glass from doing work for Trump again. The company helped with the roof of the Trump Parc East, a residential building overlooking Central Park in Manhattan... "

When AP reporters contacted some of business people who were stung by Trump about that they thought him, they did not "believe Trump acted badly given the hardball, sometimes unscrupulous nature of industry."   in other words, it was business as usual.

One of the men, however told the reporters, "If ethics or morality has nothing to do with business, he's a very good businessman."

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Me, too. Caught between a rock and a hard on

Sexual matters are a fact of academic life.  They include sexual discrimination, sexual harassment,  and sexual assault.  And some more positive aspects.  Harassment and assault often happen in conjunction.  But there are other matters of consensual sexual misconduct that break societal rules,  and there are marriages that fail for reasons having little to do with sex.  I have witnessed affairs that ended marriages and careers.  On the campuses where I have worked,  sexual misbehavior has happened, frequently, but it has not disrupted the ability of the colleges to carry on with their primary work. Most faculty and students tend to the business of higher learning and do not get distracted or diverted by other people's libidinous peccadilloes.

I was aware of incidents, but carefully avoided circumstances where they might occur.   I knew about the dean who was fired because he could not leave a young oriental professor alone.  I heard the narrative of another dean and advisor to student government, the father of seven, who was shacking up with the president of the student association, also married.  I worked with a number of drama coaches who were suddenly let go because they couldn't resist the attractions of student actors, male and female.  At the institutions where I have worked, I was ignorant of lesser transgressions which did not make such good tales. But my aloofness ended late one Friday afternoon when a faculty member, his wife, and a lawyer from the Twin Cities came to my office.

As an officer of the faculty collective bargaining organization,  I became sort of the go-to person in matters of due process.  I was a negotiator for the contract with the Board of Regents and was proud of the provisions for due process that we had hammered out.  I often served as the grievance officer for people who were responding to or using due process to settle some matter.

For those who are not familiar with due process,  it is a set of procedures to be followed anytime a faculty member is involved in some kind of disciplinary action.  The procedures insure that any such actions adhere to the standards established in the Fifth Amendment.  

The contract requires that any person to be charged with a transgression be provided with notice of both the names of those who have made allegations against the faculty unit member and the specific nature and factual basis for the charges; a reasonable time and opportunity to present testimony on any disputed issue of material fact; and a hearing before an impartial decision-maker.   In addition, the contract provides a grievance procedure for anyone who thinks a disciplinary measure was wrongly or incompetently imposed.

The three persons who came to my office were irate because the professor had been called in and served with a notice that a sexual harassment complaint had been made against him, and he was informed that the matter was being investigated and he would be advised of the outcome.  The notice did not name the accuser, the specifics of the complaint, or provide  any opportunity for him to obtain the information or any opportunity to respond.  He was told that the procedure was in wide use on campuses so that women would not feel humiliated or intimated for fear of retaliation if they reported incidents of harassment and abuse.  

The professor, his spouse, and the lawyer came to see me as the union president and the person most familiar with due process matters.  Their first question waswhy did the union allow such a violation of what was stipulated in the contract?  My answer was that the notice they were given was the first that I, or any other union officer, was aware that a special procedure was being applied to sexual harassment cases.  

It turned out that the university attorney had been instructed to formulate a procedure for handling sexual harassment cases.  He apparently devised one from procedures used on other campuses.  The attorney of the professor outlined actions he was prepared to take against both the university and the union if the case was pursued any further using the procedure with which it was served.  For reasons I have never understood, the administration decided to go ahead despite the fact that the collective bargaining contract required a careful observance of due process.

As the case continued,  there was some background information regarding the professor  I became aware of.  He had applied for a much better position at a more prestigious university and had been accepted.  Any accusation of misconduct could jeopardize his new job.  Furthermore,  his wife hated Aberdeen, and was clearly dedicated to seeing that nothing would interfere with the new opportunity at a place she much preferred.  Her parents told her to hire a lawyer, and they would pay all the legal fees involved in behalf of the professor.  When the professor, his wife, and their lawyer came to my office,  they were already building a case in the event that they had to take the matter to court.

The administration said it would follow the procedure it informed the professor about.  The professor's lawyer was not a member of the South Dakota Bar,  so he hired a lawyer who was to represent the professor before the state judicial system at his direction.  Very quickly the university administration learned that the lawyers appeared before a judge to obtain a writ of mandamus which would order the university to  follow the due process procedure required in the collective bargaining contract.  When the administration realized that the professor and his lawyers were playing hard ball, it began to make conciliatory gestures,  but the lawyers were adamant and demanded the name of the complainant, the specific complaint and the factual basis for it, and the schedule of hearings for processing it.  During the fury of actions generated by their demands, it became clear that the lawyers were gathering information for a civil suit in the professor's behalf, if it came to that.

By this time, my role was that of a bystander, a union representative who monitored the proceedings to insure that they met the due process terms of the contract.  When the full complaint against the professor was finally presented as required, it identified a non-traditional student in the professor's class who was irate at receiving a low grade on an examination.  The lawyers and their investigators immediately assembled a narrative of what happened.

When the student received her exam back, she went to the student union with other students from the class and launched into a tirade about what a terrible professor the man was.  Other students suggested that she make an appointment with the professor to talk over the grade.  She did so and the professor talked with her at a table in the outer office with the departmental secretary present.  (He later explained that he always had a witness present when meeting with an irate student.)  He went over the examination with her, which included both multiple choice and essay questions.  On the multiple choice part, there were four versions given out to discourage copying answers from a neighbor's paper.  On some of the questions the student had marked ridiculous answers, which would indicate that they were copied.   In his explanation of her errors on the exam, he pointed out that she had chosen the worst possible answers on some of the questions.  He told her that she could submit a set of reading notes for extra credit to raise her grade for the course.

The meeting set off another rage on the part of the student, and she told a group of students that the professor accused her of cheating and announced that he was going to be taught a big lesson.  As one of the students she complained to explained it,  "She had a real hard on for the professor."

Her initial complaint was that the professor discriminated against her because she was a woman.  Later she claimed that the professor made sexual advances on her.  However, as the professor never had a meeting with the woman without a witness present, her claims were refuted  by witnesses during the hearings on the matter.  And as an aggressive lawyer represented the professor, the administration followed the rules of due process and finally determined that the complaint had to be dismissed as having no factual merit.  At the end of the school year, the young professor and his spouse happily moved to his new job.

As the professors I worked with agreed, the episode proved two things:  due process depends a lot on having a determined lawyer and the money to pay for one.  A dean later told me the student had transferred, and he expressed relief that the episode was over.  We took up a case in behalf of a dishonest, vindictive person and could have been sued out of existence, he said.

While that incident was taken care of,  the matter of how to deal with sex issues become a topic of urgent and intense discussion throughout higher education.   i was asked to join among others who dealt with due process to analyze the matter and come up with recommendations that would encourage women to report instances of harassment and abuse and seek recourse without violating any rights of due process.  We weren't very successful.  The committee was largely composed of department heads, many of whom were women.  They agreed that flagrant instances of harassment and assault in which the evidence was clear and unmistakeable could be taken care of through due process,  but many cases involved clashes of personality which are all but impossible to solve to anyone's satisfaction.   Acts of harassment are often defined by how a complainant and an accused person choose to interpret them.  The case I cite above was driven to resolution by the fact that it would eventually be tried in court and the university had no case against the factual one the professor's lawyer had assembled. Cases where there are no witnesses or evidence, just one person's word against another's,  can be impossible to resolve to the satisfaction of anyone involved.  The people asked to offer ideas about resolving sexual harassment complaints generally agreed that they would prefer to avoid them because they would inevitably make some dedicated enemies, no matter how hard they tried to be impartial and fair, and would end up with a toxic work environment.  Many such complaints arise from animosities that have non-sexual histories.

The issue that embroiled higher education was one that has dogged sexual harassment situations since Anita Hill accused now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings.  Anita Hill and a number of women who were in Congress at the time still think that Joe Biden, who chaired the confirmation hearings, did not handle the proceedings well.  

Women want to be able to report instances of harassment and assault without fear of retaliation or the embarrassment of humiliating details.    They complained that their accusations were met with skepticism and disbelief.  In order to demonstrate that sexual harassment reports would be believed, many organizations treated allegations of harassment or assault as established fact, and fired or took other disciplinary actions against accused faculty members without  due process.  Faculty on campuses where such actions took place saw these actions encroaching into matters of promotion and tenure and academic freedom.  Calls to investigate the actions and place sanctions against the offending institutions became too numerous for professional faculty organizations to handle.  

A few institutions worked out procedures that protected women who reported instances of harassment while giving the accused full access to due process while the complaints were investigated.   Those institutions were often cited for their efforts.  But the procedures they followed did not stop the constant criticism and complaints.  The hostile attitudes between those who contended that allegations were sufficient proof of misconduct and those who thought all disciplinary actions should follow a meticulous due process created sense of despair about confronting sexual harassment.  People in leadership positions in some cases resigned their jobs rather than try to deal with it.

One organization obtained some foundation grants to do a study on how harassment cases were handled to see if it could identify the best methods of resolution.  It assembled panels of people who were knowledgeable and experienced in due process to review the records of cases to determine how carefully and effectively procedures were followed, the kinds of misconduct charged, and the appropriateness of the resolution of the cases.   I was asked to serve on a review panel.

For about half of the cases, there was no question that harassment or assault had occurred.  The resolutions ranged from corrective actions to dismissal.

The other half of the cases were an incredible mess to sort through.  Many involved things said to women that men said they did not say.  Or that women took as sexual when they were not, according to the men.  The complaints came at a time when academe was in retrenchment, promotion and tenure was scarce, and the competition for tenure and advancement was fierce.  Many complaints were made by women and other men against rivals for advancement.  An accusation of sexually aggressive behavior could take a person out of the competition, it was thought at some institutions.  

A significant number of the cases were not matters of sexual harasssment, but arose from personal animosities, much like the case  I cited above. They were treated as sexual harassment largely because both genders were involved and administrators used the sexual harassment designation to move the problems to someone else's responsibility. For the panels reviewing the cases, the files reflected a record of how vile and unscrupulous people can be and to what depths of behavior they can sink when in competition with others.  An example was a case of two professors, one male and one female, who had a history of detesting each other for years.  The case became a sexual harassment issue when the female professor complained about her department being dominated by old, white men.  The male professor said it was unfortunate that advancing age  and declining sexual interest limited the opportunity to screw your way into a job you weren't qualified to hold in the first place.   Reading those case files back then was like reading Donald Tump's tweets now.  They were illustrations of the petty treacheries that characterize the culture of some institutions. 

The panels concluded that the cases where sexual harassment was established as fact were undercut by the cases where was doubt or differences of opinion about what had actually occurred.  They also concluded that all parties, both the accused and accuser, deserved the full application of due process.

Of the current accusations,  the ones in Minnesota involving Garrison Keillor and Al Franken emphasize  the need for due process in which facts, evidence, and witnesses get thorough examination.  Minnesota Public Radio went excessively ballistic in its eradication of Keillor, to the point that indicates that some maliciously resentful souls were waiting for some pretext to vaporize him.  Keillor seems to know who his accuser is, at least.  Franken who has apologized for any potential offense he created is in a situation where he doesn't know his accusers, except the first one, and does not remember the occasions,  which involve him posing for photographs with the accusers.  The Senate Ethics Panel has convened its inquiry, as Franken has requested, and the accusers, Franken, and the public all deserve the full application of due process with the examination of evidence and witnesses.

A detailed explanation of the standards of due process can be reviewed by clicking this sentence.   It explains how universities are expected to handle sexual harassment complaints and which can be instituted in other settings.  It's a matter of justice for all.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States