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

Friday, September 18, 2020

On the matter of the CEO of the United States

I was the business editor for a newspaper, a job I did not particularly like because dealing with some businesses was disagreeable.  Those were the businesses that tried to get things published that were not true, things that created a favorable image that did not correspond to the reality of the business.  Because businesses buy advertising and have promotional organizations such as chambers of commerce working in their behalf, it can be hazardous for a local newspaper to publish accurate reports on how some businesses conduct themselves.  Newspapers are careful not to offend the business communities that support them.   So, often they print pieces that give businesses good but false images.

The editor of the newspaper wanted to keep an amiable relationship with the business community but said we should never print anything that was not true.  When we received glowing press releases from businesses, our task was to boil them down to the hard, verifiable facts.  That often led to contentious calls with public relations personnel.  Such press releases often contained quotations from high corporate officers, and our attempts to verify and clarify facts often led to confrontations with those officers.

CEOs do not like to have their pronouncements challenged for clarification or evidence on which they are based.  Within their companies, anything the CEO says is gospel and no one who wants to keep their job dares refute it.  Thus, when a CEO must defend a statement before the press, they get enraged that their words are not accepted with the same obsequiousness as they are within the company.

That is the problem Donald Trump is having in trying to be president of the U.S.  He thought he could run the country like a business, but he finds that he is called out when he lies, his bumbling is criticized, and his vanities are not tolerated.  He reacts by insulting and abusing those who challenge him.  And he throws juvenile tantrums in public, which erode any inclination to  work with him.

On the other hand, those who support him and carry out his orders are regarded as degraded sucks.  Being a suck does not reap the same rewards in a democratic  nation as it does within a company.  

Trump is demonstrating for the world why a democratic organization can't be run like a business.  A  leader who tries to dictate in a democracy  is constantly challenged by people with better information and better minds.  A leader has to respond to the people and has to find ways to reconcile differing ideas and ways of doing things.  That is beyond anything in Trump's experience and abilities.  And his absurd lies degrade the entire nation.  Here is an example of one of his tweets today:


Thursday, September 10, 2020

Report on the decline of America

 The Social Progress Index indicates that America is one of the few countries in the world that is rapidly sinking to a lower state. The Index measures 50 factors of national development, such as nutrition, safety, freedom, the environment, health, education, and the like.  The U.S. has sunk to 28 in national rankings.

U.S. citizens have been so indoctrinated into believing America is the citadel of freedom and progress  and the greatest country in the world that they cannot perceive what is actually going on in America.  Any criticism about the nation is considered unAmerican.  They are totally ignorant of the critical edge that elevated America into world prominence.  They are blinded by jingoism to what America has become.

To people who have studied the development of America, its decline is obvious.  One of the glaring symptoms is the election of Donald Trump as president and the fact that so many hang onto every inane word he says and act that he does.  The rest of the world sees and understands America's decline.  A huge segment of Americans doesn't.

I was recently witness to a discussion in which a man said that if Trump were re-elected president, America will have become a country in which he could no longer be a citizen.  A women said she could not see how he could say something like that.  And he said that is precisely the problem over which he would have to leave.  Trump is what voters chose, and many people realize those voters have degraded America.  They are what the nation has become.  Trump embodies the nation's moral and intellectual failure.

 The New York Times reports:

The decline of the United States over the last decade in this index — more than any country in the world — is a reminder that we Americans face structural problems that predate President Trump and that festered under leaders of both parties. Trump is a symptom of this larger malaise, and also a cause of its acceleration

Monday, September 7, 2020

The eternal battle against stupidity

At times, when I was in elementary school, the walk to school was ominous.  Houses along the way would be posted with orange quarantine signs.  Some schoolmates would reside in those houses. I was warned to stay away from those houses.

The diseases that were the occasion for posting such signs were measles, scarlet fever, maybe small pox, diphtheria, and some I don't remember.  But those diseases have been controlled, some eliminated, by vaccines.  Having one of those signs on a house was a great embarrassment.  While intended to designate a germ source for the purpose of limiting contact and disease transmission, it also stigmatized the occupants of the house.  Children who lived in a designated quarantine house were avoided by other children at the instruction of their parents long after the sign was removed.  Humans have a boundless capacity for stupidity and cruelty, and a quarantine was a fine excuse to unleash it all.  

I was reminded of this when I heard some elementary kids in the neighborhood taunt some other kids by calling them covids. Children reflect adult society.  Those neighborhood children reflect the absurdity of adults dividing  themselves over wearing masks.  People are showing up at local government meetings that deal with rules for trying to control Covid-19 and expressing their opposition. They say they aren't afraid of the coronavirus, as they deride those who wear masks, as if disease  can be avoided or combatted with defiance.  

The pandemic has exposed a deeper failing in American life.  In his Second Inaugural Address, Lincoln prompted the nation toward a life "with malice toward none with charity for all," at which the country has failed spectacularly.   Perhaps fail is not the right word.  It is more that a great number of Americans simply choose otherwise.  They choose malice as a way of life.  And malice is the product of stupidity.  Before a nation can successfully conquer a pandemic, it must first deal with the malice that accepts 190,000 deaths among 6.2 million cases of coronavirus as a normal course of life. It is a matter of malice when people do not take care to possibly spread  a disease to other people.  It is the same kind of behavior as drunk driving.  That means a confrontation with obstinate stupidity, which for many people is a matter of choice, not necessarily a condition at birth.  

Civilization has always had a battle with stupidity.  It has not yet determined which side will win.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Defining idiot

I've seen a number of videos in which people entering a store are told they must wear a mask and go ballistic and rant about their rights and no one has the right to tell them what to do.  When it comes to the spread of a communicable disease, the states by law have the right to take measures to prevent the spread of disease.  Even South Dakota has such a law:

34-22-9State-wide system for prevention, control, and treatment of communicable disease--Promulgation of rules.The department shall establish and direct the operations of a state-wide system for communicable disease prevention, control, and treatment. The department may promulgate rules, pursuant to chapter 1-26, to:(1)    Conduct communicable disease surveillance which includes detection, assessment, and analysis;(2)    Prescribe criteria for communicable disease case definitions;(3)    Prescribe procedures for communicable disease case and contact notification, referral, and management;(4)    Prescribe methods and procedures for the prevention and control of communicable disease;(5)    Prescribe methods and procedures for the control of communicable disease patients and carriers, including the monitoring, quarantine, and isolation of any patient or carrier;(6)    Prescribe medical and posttreatment supervision measures for communicable disease patients and carriers;(7)    Prescribe methods and procedures for the prevention and control of occupationally-related communicable diseases; and(8)    Prescribe procedures for infection prevention measures for communicable disease control and prevention.

What these ranters seem to be contending is that they have the right to spread disease if they want to.  At this time, we have only two measures that are known to help contain the Covid-19 virus:  wearing masks and keeping a social distance from others.  Other people's right to life and to be protected from a lethal disease is the real issue.  But that seems to be more than the intellects of some people can deal with.  They can only grasp that someone who might be a libtard is trying to tell them what to do.

When one encounters these confrontations, whether in person at a business entrance or in the comment sections of the media, social and otherwise, there is a striking aspect of their communication.  They usually have literacy problems.  They show a lack of ability in the use of language, and they show an incredible ignorance of the democratic culture in which they live.  They cannot seem to understand that other people have unalienable rights, too, such as life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.  One is tempted to call them idiots.

But that is an overused epithet that has lost its effect.  At one time idiot had a scientific meaning.  It referred to the lowest grade of a person with a mental deficiency, an IQ of 25 or below.  Scientists have abandoned the use of the term because of its everyday use as an insult.  Those obnoxious people we encounter who rave under the pretext of asserting their rights to be stupid and to rave give good reason to apply  the term to them, but such labeling dismisses a more insidious aspect that makes up the characters of such people.  And that is that those who choose to be stupid are usually mean.  Viciously mean.  They have a need to have human objects to hate and abuse.

A fact denied by many is that malice is a part of human life.  Human beings simply are not the nicest critters on the planet.   When people cling to an attitude of malice, the brain cells become malignant.  And people become stupid.  And mean. We now have a president who appeals to malice and encourages its spread.  Consequently, we have people who exhibit idiotic behavior about the spread of Covid-19.  

And we have a pandemic that shows no sign of relenting.  That's because, ultimately, you can't fix stupid.  And stupid malice can kill us all.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Trump is not a matter of partisan politics; he's a matter of basic morality

After the Electoral College voted Trump into office (he lost the popular vote by 3 million), pollsters examined who voted for him.  A significant group was those who had previously voted for Barack Obama but switched party votes and chose Trump.  Some of those said they detested Hillary Clinton.  Some said they had been disappointed in Obama.

That latter group claimed that Obama did not do all he promised.  With the election of our first black man as president, many people felt it was a signal that the nation had surmounted the racism that the USA has struggled with since its founding.  They did not acknowledge the wave of resentment that surged up in those who worship at the altars of white supremacy.   And they tended to ignore the intractable rage at work in Congress.  The leader of that rage is GOP senate leader Mitch McConnell, who said his main goal as a legislator was to see that Obama never got a second term.  He led his Republican fellows in a campaign to obstruct and undermine everything Obama tried to accomplish.  The McConnnell rage has been directed to the support of Donald Trump.

Trump has a rap sheet of fraud and malicious conduct that calls into question the viability of the United States as a nation with him as president.  His history of fraud and other acts of malefaction is well documented and publicly known.    Two of his fraudulent schemes have been dealt with since he's been  in the White House.  A federal court ordered that people who had been bilked by his Trump University be paid $25 million in restitution.  Last year a federal court ordered that the Trump Foundation be dissolved and Trump was find $2 million.   The president of the United States has more credentials as a crook than as a man who has led honest and successful enterprises.  The American people have chose him over candidates within the GOP and Democrats who don't have a criminal history.  Trump represents what America has become.

A writer in The Root describes what America has become:

And according to Trump, America is the greatest country on earth, despite what the numbers say. We are a beacon of freedom and liberty even though we rank first in the world’s prison population. We are the smartest nation in the world, despite ranking 14th in education and second in ignorance. We believe in equality and tolerance, despite ranking No. 1 on the list of the most racist countries in the world.
I once served my country with pride and confidence that it was working to achieve the freedom, equality, and justice that it proclaimed as its goals.  During Obama's terms of office, the resentful rage led by Mitch McConnell and his kind was a signal that a significant portion of Americans did not aspire to those goals.  People like Rush Limbaugh railed against liberals as anti-American.  Some liberals joked that the GOP was running on a platform to revoke the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolishes involuntary servitude.  However, what seemed like a preposterous joke actually indicates the direction America is moving, as Trump edges into fascist pronouncements and actions.  This is no longer a country for which one can be proud or which inspires any confidence that democratic principles will prevail.  Trump has changed that.  While America was once seen as the beacon of democracy, many others countries are outshining it.  If I were called into service at this time, I'd have doubts about things going on in America that are indefensible.

Trump cannot be regarded as an American anomaly.  He is America's choice.  He is what a plurality of voters want for America.  The inevitable result of that choice has been played out in Portland and Kenosha.  The future and direction of America is not being decided in the halls of Congress but in the streets and allies.  Trump flouts the moral principles on which America is based.  His supporters approve.  Trump represents a constituency that undermines the honest and the scrupulous.  

America is undergoing a pernicious moral failure.  It is becoming the country that we once protected ourselves against.  Trump is the symbol of its failure.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

South Dakota and the totalitarian tradition

August 25, 2020

South Dakota and the totalitarian tradition

Innocence and wrongful conviction projects which subscribe to news aggregators were besieged this morning by alarm bells triggered by a front-page story coming out of Aberdeen, South Dakota.  The story contained an element that legal scholars have identified as one of the most seriously flawed parts in the state’s legal code:  possession of child pornography. (22-24A)

Legal scholars have termed the law a legal Rorschach blot.  One can see just about anything they want to in it.  Child pornography laws are considered problematic throughout the nation, but South Dakota’s is particularly crude and slovenly.  The problem was emphasized ten years ago when a Sioux Falls attorney was arrested and charged under a federal law for possessing child pornography on his office computer. He was acquitted at trial after he explained that he was researching the photographs so that he could advise clients on legal matters.  While state law protects attorneys who have such materials in the course of their work, federal law does not.  That situation reveals the legal morass of child pornography laws.

The matter of due process is often problematic in child pornography cases.  Law enforcement officers are  led to search individuals’ computers by complaints they keep anonymous.  Attorneys outside of South Dakota have commented that cases in the state have raised questions about the probable cause on which warrants were based.  Furthermore, the exact offense in the materials is not specified because of the nature of the material.  South Dakota stipulates that pornographic offense is the portrayal of prohibited sexual acts, but the law seems to permit no sexual acts.  It attempts to specify further offense as an appeal to juvenile prurience.   Child psychologists point out that prurience is part of the the state of adolescence, so almost anything can be so termed.  

Here is the front-page story from the Aberdeen American News that raised alarm:

     An Aberdeen man who admitted he had child pornography in November 2018 was sentenced to 10 years in prison with all but two years suspended.

     Alexander N. Walter, 30, pleaded guilty to both felony possession of child pornography and, in a separate case, third-offense driving under the influence.

     Brown County State’s Attorney Ernest Thompson said that Walter had illegal items        he downloaded on the computer and that he turned himself in to law enforcement.

     Walter was sentenced to 10 years with eight years suspended on the pornography charge. He was sentenced to two years in prison on the DUI charge and had his driver’s license revoked for one year. He was fined a total of $397. He will serve his prison terms at the same time.

The news story does not contain enough detail to indicate the specifics of the charges for which the man was sentenced, but legal analysts for three justice projects noted immediate concerns which justify a thorough review of evidence, court transcripts, and law enforcement records.  The points are:

  1. The two separate offenses sentenced at the same time.  The fact that the pornography offense was in November 2018 and was adjudicated 22 months later in conjunction with an apparently unrelated 3rd DUI offense raised questions among the analysts about timeliness,  the strength of the evidence, and the process.  The conditions under which the man turned himself in require what the justice attorneys said should be rigorous scrutiny of the due process.
  2. The matter of turning oneself in creates a conundrum.  One analyst asked, you mean a guy walked into a police station and said, “Hey, I’ve got child porn on my computer.”  There are circumstances for which the public needs explanation as to how the law is working here.  And the fact that the man is being convicted for a third offense involving substance abuse raises very legitimate questions about the circumstances of the child porn.  The news report is inadequate to help with the public understanding, but the state’s attorney and the justice system also have a responsibility to give the public a complete accounting.  The three analysts who responded said that the case as outlined in the news article seems made for a judicial appeal.

South Dakota has no freedom of information laws, and it gives public officials great discretion in releasing information. When reporter Bob Mercer tried to obtain the investigative report on the death of Richard Benda in conjunction with the EB-5 scandal, the state supreme court ruled for the right of investigators to withhold such information from the public.  Legal experts have said that the only hope for South Dakotans ever to have a reasonable way to know what state authorities are doing would be to follow other states in revising the laws and putting into place a freedom of information act.

But they also note that South Dakota is not a state that holds much interest or concern for matters of justice.  Most studies on justice in the state find its incarceration rate ridiculously high.  This conclusion from The  Appeal is typical:

      South Dakota, one of the least populated states in the country, jails the most people per capita, according to a new report from Prison Policy Initiative. The state jailed roughly 25,000 people in 2016, nearly 3 percent of the state’s population and almost twice the national average. That’s despite the fact that its crime rate is below the national average.

However, there is little activity or discussion within the state that confronts matters of justice.  A few that have some potential for addressing such matters and have given some attention to the state are listed below. There are, however, no active efforts to address the state of justice in South Dakota.  

Innocence Project of South Dakota
USD School of Law
414 East Clark Street
Vermillion, SD 57069
Phone: 605-677-5361

(Only DNA cases in South Dakota)
Hamline University School of Law
1536 Hewitt Avenue
St. Paul, MN 55104
Phone: 651-523-3152

Northwestern University School of Law
357 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
Phone: 312-503-2391

Northwestern University
1845 N. Sheridan Ave.
Evanston, IL 60208
Phone: 847-491-5840

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Postal Service Trump wants to mess up

Carl Newquist
For 34 years, my dad carried mail.  Our family life evolved around the rule "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."  

That was not an official motto of the Postal Service, but it was regarded by postal employees as a public trust they were dedicated to keep.  Our family routine was one that began in the very early hours of the morning when Dad got up for work to sort the mail before he went out on his route to deliver it.  From Thanksgiving through New Years, we seldom saw Dad because of the long hours mailmen worked during the Christmas mail rush.

For 12 of his years of service, my dad was president of the local letter carriers association.  At that time, the association did not have the right to collectively bargain.  The letter carriers wished that it did.  With a collective bargaining agreement, there would be written and enforceable standards of performance.  Letter carriers met and served the public every day and knew what it took to deliver the mail on time and to maintain the public confidence in their service.  The people who supervised the post offices did not always share that sense of mission.

Post masters and the people they appointed as supervisors were usually political appointees.  Sometimes a person with long experience and knowledge of the postal business would be appointed to the job, but many were political hacks who had neither the experience nor the interest in the real work of delivering the mail.  They were more interested in cultivating their sense of self-importance.  

At that time, the letter carriers association had to lobby for its hearings on wages, benefits, and working conditions with Congress.  When some policy or management decision threatened the level of service, the carriers would let the powers that be know through their association.  Its power came from the public trust the carriers built and maintained.  The supervisors might screw over their employees, but they cowered before the public's opinion.  Now letter carriers have the right to collectively bargain and have a voice in making the rules under which they operate.

When  I was a very young child, mail deliveries were twice a day, so my dad walked his route two times every day.   Because letter carriers were so familiar with the neighborhoods they served and the people were so familiar with them, they were often consulted when public safety issues came up.  The letter carriers knew where the troubled households were.

Letter carrier at lunch
Now letter carriers operate their routes out vehicles provided by the Post Office.  When my Dad carried, he had to take a bus to his route.  He picked up the mail he sorted from drop boxes along his route and which was deposited there from trucks that serviced the boxes.  His lunch bucket was deposited in a box where my Dad's route would take him around the noon hour.  One would often see letter carriers eating lunch huddled in a drop box.  However, the drop box where my  Dad's lunch was delivered was outside a gas station, and the owner insisted that my Dad come inside and eat his lunch in the office.

Voting by mail has brought Donald Trump's attention to the Postal Service.  He feels that mail-in voting won't work to his advantage, so he has threatened to block funding the Post Office.  As is usual with Trump, he knows or cares little  about what the Postal Service is and who will be affected.  It's another example of the kind of danger he is to the country.  

Those who support him, however, are the real danger.  What can be done about them?

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States