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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

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

America was killed by its firing squad

America, rest in peace.

Every bullet fired in a mass shooting strikes the heart of America.  And America leads the world in the death rate from mass shootings.

Typical (Median) Annual Death Rate per Million People from Mass Public Shootings (U.S., Canada, and Europe, 2009-2015):

  1. United States — 0.058
  2. Albania — 0
  3. Austria — 0
  4. Belgium — 0
  5. Czech Republic — 0
  6. Finland — 0
  7. France — 0
  8. Germany — 0
  9. Italy — 0
  10. Macedonia — 0
  11. Netherlands — 0
  12. Norway — 0
  13. Russia — 0
  14. Serbia — 0
  15. Slovakia — 0
  16. Switzerland — 0
  17. United Kingdom — 0

The press and most people do not want to admit that the shootings are the main symptoms of America's failure as a nation.  It has failed in meeting its purpose as laid out in the Constitution:  "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty."

That's because the prevailing notion in America is that the major blessing of liberty is the right to stalk around the country with an assault weapon and blast the life out of anyone you feel like.  That right takes precedent over any matters of domestic tranquility, common defense, general welfare, or justice.  The right to bear a lethal weapon any time or place you choose and blast away with it overrules your right to life.  Unless you are a fetus.  According to the prevailing powers that be.  

We had a great weekend highlighted by America's favorite patriotic sport:  the mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., one in Milwaukee; one in Laguna Woods, Ca.; and one in Houston.  Are we a great country or what?

When Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem to note one of America's defining failures regarding the shootings of unarmed black people by police, he was widely denounced as unpatriotic.   When Black Lives Matter organized to protest those killings, the brilliant retort was that all lives matter.  But week after week, the news reports that in America, lives do not matter at all.  And that is the will of the people.  It was affirmed in the jury trial of Kyle Rittenhouse in the killing of a couple of people in Kenosha, Wis., for which he was acquitted.

The America envisioned in the preamble to the Constitution is dead.  For some people, it was never alive.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Lynch them abortionists, burn them books

I have lived in South Dakota for 43 years, half of my lifetime. After four decades, South Dakota has never become home to me. The state has some attractive qualities, but they are overshadowed by some corrupting factors that are a serious malignancy. I ended up here because I found a professor's job here at a time when the U.S. higher education system had produced far more doctorates than there were jobs nationally. I felt fortunate to get the job. At the time South Dakota was not much different than its midwestern neighbors. But as the 21st century progressed, the state went on a regressive course that disqualifies it from being considered a democracy.

I moved here from Illinois where I was a registered Republican, what is termed a Lincoln Republican. My special area of study and teaching is Native American literature. Before moving here, I had developed many contacts within the state with whom I met and corresponded in the course of my work. But after I had been here for a while, I noticed a coolness from my Native American associates. I mentioned it to a friend from Pine Ridge. He said the coolness was because I had become an employee of the state of South Dakota. Therefore, my contacts were not sure I could be trusted.

That situation was a reflection of a defect in the state that has grown into a major deformity. With nine tribal nations holding territory in the state, there has always been tension since the western Indian wars. But rather controlling and diminishing discrimination and racial hatred, the state has firmly developed in a way that establishes those defects of mind and character as an identifying part of the culture. It has established a single-party system of governance that solidifies and perpetuates a philosophy that is in basic contradiction to the moral and intellectual premises of American democracy. Ignorance and malice are considered admirable traits. When it came time for me to vote, I registered as a Democrat.

The problems in South Dakota are reflected in the daily news:

  • A hotel in Rapid City posts a notice that it will not allow Native Americans to stay there.
  • Some school board members announce that they intend to destroy some books.
  • The people establish a referendum to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. It passes, but the governor finds a way to obstruct it.
  • A panel of 40 people, many of them classroom teachers, produced a set of standards for teaching social studies in the public schools. The Department of Education edited out requirements for Native American history and sent it to the governor who rejected the entire project and appointed a panel of her pet hacks to create standards more to her liking.
  • South Dakota still vies for top place in leading the nation in the brain drain, the loss of talented and educated people to other states.
  • SmartAsset ranks the South Dakota higher education system as the worst in the nation.
South Dakota has created a fantasy that it is a place of honest, kind, hard-working people of good will. The news coming out of the state refutes that myth. So does the voting record of its people during the 21st century.

The facts show that if you wish to live in a place of good will, nice people, and a functioning democracy, South Dakota isn't it.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

When you look in the mirror, do you see Donald Trump?

Long before Donald Trump became a political figure, he was known as a quintessential asshole:  "
Whenever Trump has been in positions of power or authority, he has demonstrated a pattern of trying to enrich himself by abusing the trust others have placed in him — whether it’s creditors, contractors, charitable givers, Trump University students, regulators, or campaign donors."

The problem is, what does it mean when a country freely elects person of Trump's character as their leader?  Well, it means that they are either hopelessly stupid, or that they admire and share his depravity.  Click on the headline below for a quick summary of his offenses.

A rap sheet for a former president

To support and vote for Trump is a disavowal of what America is supposed to be.  He is the opposite of any of the things to which the founders aspired.  Except wealth.  And his was not earned.  It was inherited and increased through swindling and cheating.

There are many political observers who think Trump ended America.  There were 74,224,319 people who voted for Trump in 2020, who registered their objections to a liberty free from dishonesty and malice.  Trump is not the cause of America's descent into turpitude. He is its clarion.

Some people tend to dismiss objections to Trump as the usual partisan politics.  They regard Trump as just having a differing opinion on how the republic should be run.  To  hold that stance, one has to ignore the anti-democratic and corrupt things Trump has done and said.  With Trump as leader, the United States' reputation in the world has plummeted.  

The election of Joe Biden to president in no way redeems America.  It merely delays its failure for a time.  The anti-democratic forces are gaining dominance throughout the world. The failure of democracies is not because of the strength of authoritarians;  it's because of the weakness of the people.  Russia is a case in point.  After throwing off the Soviet regime for a short time, the people put one of its stalwarts--Putin, former KGB officer--back in charge.

Botox unmasked
South Dakota is a bellwether for the decline of America.  It is devoted to a self-preening bumbler of a governor who seems to think a recitation of Trump inanities and a grotesquely botoxed visage makes her presidential material.   She put the state in the national spotlight when she paid a half million dollars for a new state slogan:  "Meth.  We're on it."  She is the chosen image for the state.  

She along with her idol, Trump, are evidence that American democracy is circling the drain.  While some good things are happening in America, Trump and Noem are like malignant tumors on the political body.  They can drain the life out of it.

Friday, April 22, 2022

For some U.S. citizens there is no America

The feature editor devoted a full newspaper page to an interview with a juvenile delinquent and his experience with the justice system.  It received so much response that the managing editor decided to do a series on criminal justice.  I was assigned to interview a prison chaplain. 

The chaplain had been involved with gangs as a youth and had been sent to prison.  While there, he joined a religious brotherhood and studied to be a priest after he served his sentence.

The chaplain had some harsh perspectives on criminal justice.  He said prisons were self-defeating.  Sending offenders to prison was like sending them to graduate school in crime, he said.  Prison did not rehabilitate some convicts as much as educate them in how to be more adept criminals.  He said once people are branded as convicts, their opportunities are limited when they are released from prison.  In order to resume a life, they often revert to criminal activity because they are denied better opportunities.  He said those recidivists are termed habitual offenders, when in fact society rejects them and they must scrabble to find a way to stay alive.  

The priest was adamant about the failures of the criminal justice system, and he spoke often about criminal justice and prison reform. I asked him about who were the most dangerous people he encountered in prison.  He said the wrongfully convicted.  He told of men who became model prisoners so they could get out and avenge themselves on the society that had wrongfully placed them in prison.  He said that a wrongful conviction to some is irrefutable proof that society is malevolent and the idea of justice merely makes the gullible unwary about how the people around them are looking for people to victimize.

Wrongful convictions are dangerous for society as a whole.  They undermine trust in government.  They are failures of justice and convince some people that there is no such thing.   That interview with the prison chaplain was more than 55 years ago, and it sparked a concern among fellow journalists.  While there are many innocence and justice projects throughout the nation largely organized by lawyers, early efforts at exonerating the wrongfully convicted were made by journalists.  One of the first organizations to investigate wrongful convictions began in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.  But long before the formal organization was created, journalists were confronted with claims of innocence by incarcerated individuals.  The news media was the court of last resort, and that series on criminal justice published by the newspaper I worked for almost 60 years ago raised a great deal of controversy.  

Readers were disturbed by the idea that there were wrongful convictions.  Although the story had just mentioned wrongful conviction and contained no conjecture about its frequency, the reactions were intense.  Many people took refuge in the cliche that most convicts claim they are innocent.  Some, especially from law enforcement, were indignant at the suggestion that the criminal justice system could make frequent errors. There was a hysterical reaction among a few that a wrongfully convicted person had completed his sentence and was on the prowl in society looking to avenge himself.  

That idea of a vengeful, innocent ex-convict produced such intense reactions that the editor had me call the prison chaplain to see if he knew of any such men who had gotten revenge.  He said he was not aware of any cases in which a violation of law was involved, but he knew of a couple in which the former convicts dedicated themselves to digging for incriminating information on the people who accused them.   However, he re-emphasized that the convicted innocent had good reason to be cynical about criminal justice because they were living proof that the innocent were undeservedly punished at times.  They can sue the state for the damages they incurred, but they have good reason not to trust the courts.  The chaplain said that the wrongfully convicted who were released from prison tended to fall into two extremes: those who were grateful and happy to regain their freedom, and those who were bitter and resentful over their false conviction.  Those latter were the dangerous ones because they harbored a hostility and contempt toward society and tended toward antisocial activities.  He said a few of the exonerated were so embittered that the wardens were fearful about releasing them.  Some exonerated seemed to think that they had paid for a crime, so now they owed it to society to commit it.  However, the states have seen the need for extensive rehabilitation measures in such cases to provide some mitigating services to the wrongfully convicted. 

When DNA technology developed as a tool in criminal justice,  the number of wrongful convictions discovered increased markedly.  There are studies on how and why wrongful convictions occur:  "Wrongful convictions statistics show that the main reasons many end up behind bars are misidentification, official misconduct, false testimony, perjury, false accusation, and false confession."   The number of organizations devoted to the investigation and prosecution of wrongful conviction cases has also increased.  The public seems largely aware that wrongful convictions occur, but thinks little about the consequences as they affect general society. 

Netflix has a series of documentaries covering wrongful convictions and how they devastate people touched by them.  One is an 8-part feature entitled Trial-4.  Another is the 10-part Making a Murderer.  They both examine the dysfunction of our justice system.  Although the films do not focus on the harm a wrongful conviction does to the society around its subjects, it is clear in the films that wrongful convictions leave a toxic residue on our communities.  But they also grow out of the of prejudice, malice, and dishonesty that our communities harbor.  "Making a Murderer"  includes the story of a 16-year-old boy with a low IQ whose confession is dubious in the extreme but is a key factor in the conviction of him and his uncle for murder.  One of the lawyers in the case contributed to an article in the Chicago Tribune that explains how false confessions are solicited from the young and vulnerable: 

Consider the case of Trevon Y. of St. Clair County, Illinois. In 2013, Trevon was a 17-year-old Black teenager with no criminal history but with developmental disabilities that rendered his mental functioning akin to a much younger child. After a tipster implicated someone named “Trevon” in a local armed robbery, police brought Trevon Y. in for questioning.

The ensuing hours long interrogation was captured on tape — and what the tape shows is disturbing. Even though Trevon tearfully asserted his innocence more than 35 times, detectives relentlessly insisted that they “knew” he was involved. At least 40 times, they falsely told Trevon that witnesses had identified him as the perpetrator. He was trapped, the police insisted, and the only way out was to confess. Indeed, the investigators falsely promised that if Trevon confessed, he would be viewed as “just a young kid who made a bad decision” and avoid incarceration.

Relying on his interrogators’ assurances, Trevon agreed to confess and repeated the story officers fed him about the crime. He spent nine months in jail, facing the possibility of a decades long armed robbery sentence, before prosecutors watched his interrogation video, realized his confession was false and dropped the case.

Trevon is hardly alone: Illinois has been home to more than 100 false confessions across the state...

We Americans like to decry Nazi concentration camps and the Russia of Putin which jails people who speak out against him.  But we live in a country that in its mass incarceration pogrom jails blacks at five times the rate it jails whites.  And as the documentaries show, the criminal justice system likes to beleaguer the poor.

For many people, and especially the wrongfully convicted, America is no different or better than Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia.  Or ante bellum America.  If the country fails for the wrongfully convicted, it fails for everyone.  

 America, the beautiful?  Get real, patriots.  America, the failure.

Friday, April 1, 2022

The bitch-slap heard 'round the world

Will Smith strode across the stage at the Academy Awards ceremony, and bitch-slapped Chris Rock right in the face.  I come from a time and place where if that had happened on the street, Will Smith would have been the target of a well-honed knife blade or razor, and spectators would be yelling to call an ambulance because a lot of blood was about to be spilled. A slap on the face conferred disrespect and humiliation on the recipient, who would be expected to retaliate with vigor.

While in high school, I had a part time job as a stock boy in a  department store.   There was a fire station across the alley, and some of the firemen worked in the store receiving department on their days off.  The firemen had a bossy attitude toward the stock boys. One day when a fireman told a stock boy to do something, the boy responded with, "You aren't my boss," and the fireman slapped his face.  The boy grabbed a wooden 2-by-2 used as a guide for cutting wrapping paper and whacked the fireman on the side of the head with it.  The fireman, resorting to his city hall connections, called the police, who showed up quickly.  The problem was that there were a number of witnesses who said the stock boy was acting in self-defense, and the police called their headquarters for advice on how to handle the situation.  They were told that the stock boy was acting under extreme provocation and if the fireman hadn't been severely injured to drop the matter, which they did.  The fireman was the aggressor.

The manager of the receiving room changed the work schedules so that the fireman and the stock boy were never working at the same time.  He eventually eliminated the fireman from the schedule altogether.  He said he didn't want to have to deal with the kind of employee who went around slapping people in the face.  And other employees didn't want to work with the fireman, either.  

The kind of person who uses a face-slap to deal with some issue raises an attitude of contempt in most people.  The act says more about the slapper than it does the slappee.  Even if the slapper is responding to a verbal insult, the physical act of slapping denotes a person out of control.  A slap in the face is an invitation to fight.  It settles nothing, but leaves spectators waiting for the next blow and wondering what form it will take.

And so, we wait for the next blow.

Friday, March 25, 2022

You're planning to get $29.5 million from where?

Northern State University has received the signature of the Governor on a bill that would provide $29.5 million to tear down two buildings on campus and replace them with a new one for its business department's Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center,  the SDSU-based nursing program, and the admissions office.  The buildings to be torn down are Lincoln Hall, an old building with a formidable stair case at its entrance and a funky atmosphere because it was once a dormitory; and Briscoe Hall, which was a dormitory, but I have never been in it, so I can't attest to its degree of funk.  Lincoln Hall is more than a century old.  Briscoe opened in 1958, so it has been around long enough to acquire a respectable degree of funk.  

Funk can be a problem on campus.  Eight a.m. classes are the test.  Some students come to early morning classes with damp hair radiating the aroma of lilacs and roses shampoo.  Many throw on some sweat clothes from a pile on the floor and radiate the odor of festering pits.  An eight a.m. class does offer some olfactory challenges, particularly if the dorm food is heavy on the beans.

Anyway, the University has announced that it plans to defunk a corner of the campus with a pristine new building.  However, it is still searching for some funk-free architects, who will have a difficult task because the financing for the building is to come from the American Rescue Plan Act.  Northern State does not appear to be needing rescue from anything, except a couple of administrators who seem to be getting high from sniffing funk.  The American Rescue Plan Act contains no provisions for demolishing old but serviceable college buildings and replacing them with something that looks and smells nice.

The Governor of the state is already coming under scrutiny and criticism for misdirecting federal Covid pandemic relief money into the general fund.  Now she seems okay with tapping a fund for rescuing people adversely affected by the pandemic for a new building to ostensibly house some small college programs and the office that recruits and admits students.  That raises the question of when keeping up luxurious appearances takes precedent over people in dire need.  

Northern State has some nice new buildings and some slick new athletic stadiums.  However, it attained those facilities through the efforts of a president who raised $110 million, and then, about a year ago, was summarily fired with no explanations by anyone about the circumstances.  Usually, the faculty require a public explanation to protect their own reputations for operating under the standards of academic probity and freedom that define an accredited institution.  The current faculty project, whether intended or not, an obsequious passivity.  The symptoms of political dominance of the institution are pronounced.

The federal government must approve the use of money from the American Rescue Plan.    This seems unlikely because the Plan specifically denies the use of its funds for what NSU proposes:

a State shall maintain support for elementary and secondary education, and for higher education (which shall include State funding to institutions of higher education and State need-based financial aid, and shall not include support for capital projects or for research and development or tuition and fees paid by students)

The NSU people may have found an exemption to that clause, but I can't find one.  So, if the project is dependent upon the federal government, the money doesn't seem likely to come from the Rescue Plan.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

What are your plans for the coming civil war?


"I lost everybody and the meaning of life."
Intelligence specialists on language monitor when it is used for indications of bad things that are about to happen.  Words matter.  They reveal what and how people are thinking. Or if they are even capable of thought.  A lot of people are not competent thinkers.  Nevertheless, they blurt out the contents of their minds which reveals their intentions.  When they make a serious threat or talk over plans to commit a destructive act, they are breaking the law by committing a criminal threat.  

Many people in America misunderstand the First Amendment.  If they are rebuked or disciplined for something they say, they invoke the First Amendment as conferring their right to speak their minds.  They whine that they are being censored.  What they fail to understand is that freedom of speech also gives others the right to respond to what they say.  They have the right to say what they will, and others have the right to react.  The First Amendment does not exempt anyone from responsibility for the consequences of what they say.   They can be held liable for slander, libel, disorderly conduct and criminal threats.  And employers and public venues have the right to set and enforce rules about what kind of speech may be used in places where they have jurisdiction.  A person's speech may also be used to determine their fitness for a job or membership in an organization.  Denying  a person employment or membership and being fired for things posted on the internet happens frequently and is upheld in the courts if it is determined to be a matter of competence, honesty, or safety.

What is being said and how it is said are the primary concern of spies and intelligence analysts who are monitoring the affairs of the world.   Their purpose is to  get advance alerts on trouble brewing to prevent or be prepared for attacks like 9/11, in the case of American intelligence. Language is the human activity through which the plans for attacks on nations and people are devised and transmitted, so language is the prime focus of intelligence gathering.

When I served with the Army in Germany during the Cold War, the command in coordination with NATO gave training sessions to some troops in recognizing language which signaled danger in the making.  I was sent to one of these sessions, where we were instructed on language that might belie subversive intentions.  While being off post among the civilian population, we might be approached by people trying to get information from us or trying to influence us in damaging ways.  At the time, NATO nations were wary of a Nazi revival or the attempts by Soviet communists to undermine trust in democracies and recruit people to their cause. We were taught to recognize verbal utterances that might reflect malicious designs or acts of betrayal in the making.  We were also taught to be aware of problems that might be developing in our fellow soldiers.  A few years earlier when the end of the Korean War was being negotiated, America  faced a circumstance that stunned the nation.  Some Americans held as prisoners of war by North Korea refused to be repatriated to the United States.  They were labeled turncoats, and they chose to be  sent to communist China.  Most of them eventually came back to America, but the men were a matter of grave concern about what factors would make people held as prisoners defect to the regime that held them.   We were instructed in what verbal symptoms would indicate a severe disaffection with America in its citizens.

The matter of American turncoats in the 1950s laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  As the motives of the defectors were examined, racism, inequality and the consequent discrimination against classes of people emerged as  compelling reasons.  The defectors felt that the country they fought for betrayed its own people by denying them the equality, freedom, and justice it claimed to stand for.  

During my time in the Army, I heard some discontented comments from some students in Germany.  They didn't sound particularly threatening, but they fit some of the criteria for political hate speech.  The complaints these people made  were the issues around which the Red Army Faction later organized and terrorized West Germany in the 1970s.  The Red Army Faction condemned the Naxi past but campaigned with violence for a Communist future.

Word watchers who listen and look for the verbal signs of violence are alarmed at the chatter going on in America currently.  It has been building for some time and was put on parade with the presidency of Donald Trump.   The insurrection of January 6, 2021, produced the kind of language and actions that comprise an attack on the nation.  Some analysts regarded the insurrection as the first skirmish in a civil war.  Although the news media reports on the political division in America in a low key manner, the language analysts see a deadlock between American factions that is giving way to violent actions.  The insurrection is a case in point, but it is not clear to most Americans what the exact points of disagreement are.  They think of it largely as the usual partisan squabble.  But it is not something that can be resolved on the legislative floor or the ballot box.

Demonstrations of Black Lives Matter is a case in point in how the language associated with the protests relate to national security issues.  The frequent occasions of black people being indiscriminately gunned down by law enforcement is what the movement is reacting to.  A Washington Post editorial states its case:
"Black Americans are killed at a much higher rate than white Americans. Although half of the people shot and killed by police are white, black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate. They account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of white Americans. Hispanic Americans are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate." 

When people respond with "all lives matter," they indicate that they either do not understand the disproportionate killings by the police or they are okay with it. It also identifies people who have no interest in racal equality and those who might wish to participate in racial extermination.  Those who do not like the liberal trend of extending equality, freedom, and justice to all and those who ignore or reject the Black Lives Matter protest are candidates for recruitment into subversive groups that have formed around ethnic and ideological hatreds.  The groups involved in the Jan. 6 insurrection are groups that openly espouse racism and fascism as their political cause.  They have limits to their idea of democracy:  they use the freedoms of democracy to gain power   but then deny it to those they dislike. The language not only denotes  a political divide;  it denotes  a political impasse that words can't resolve.  

The press has noted recently the trend in America for people to move away from others they don't like and to cluster with people who think and act they do..  Politicians talk of uniting the country and getting along, but that is a futile proposition.  America's left and right wings can't stand each other, don't want to live with each other, and don't want to speak to each other.  After some decades of adopting the accusatory and disparaging abuse from conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, the right wing has defined itself in relationship to liberals in an extremely toxic way.  The liberals have reacted in a way that conservatives call elitist.  A former colleague said it is more productive to converse with a pile of rocks than to talk to a Trump conservative.  He said he wanted nothing to do with them and his politics now was a matter of avoiding them and their anti-democratic ways.  That's not elitism,  he said, it is trying  to salvage the benign elements of the republic, but if some think it's elitism, so be it.

Conservatives have adopted the attitude toward liberals that white supremacists held toward people of color.  Consequently, political dialogue is not an exchange of ideas in these times; it is merely the recitation of hate speech.  Those are the words that portray the intellectual and moral state of the nation.    They are not the language of conciliation.  But they are the words through which America has defined itself.

The first Civil War resulted between states that held opposing views on slavery.  In the current division, race is just one of the issues that agitate the nation.  The array of issues today includes abortion, public health policy, substance addictions, to name a few, but it is all marshaled by a mindless belligerence as represented by the personality of Donald Trump.  That belligerence is demonstrated in the national legislature by some elected representatives, and it brings a toxic contamination to the processes of government that spreads throughout the national culture.

The national dialogue already shows a nation at war with weaponized language.   What will be the choice of weapons when we realize where our words have led us?

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States