South Dakota Top Blogs

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, February 27, 2009

Catching TARP in South Dakota

Two South Dakota financial institutions to date are listed on ProPublica's tabulation as receiving TARP money. They are:

HF Financial Corp., listed as a bank, received $25 million on Nov. 11, 2008

Stockmans Financial Corp., listed as a private bank, received $15.6 million on February 6.

Great job, Bobby

There was bright little Bobby Jindal Tuesday night playing on the staircase, making up stories about about how Katrina's devastation was in collusion with big government, and reciting favorite lines from the regressive playbook of dead ideas. The New Orleans disaster was the product of bad government, size having nothing to do with it. But what Jindal demonstrates is that neo-conservatism is not the enemy of true liberty and equality. Neo-fascism is.

The real objection to government moving in to attempt repairs on a failed nation is that government might impede the further predations of a political movement that reverts back to the Dark Ages for its notion of political and social organization. I prefer the term "petit fascism" to indicate the meager aspects of mentality upon which this conservative faction draws its impetus. What the petit fascists want to conserve is the medieval class systems which invest all the wealth and power in a ruling class, while oppressing and defaming the people who do the actual work and provide the physical and intellectual energy that drives a democratic society.

Petit fascists are even demonstrating in the streets in their Chicken Little hysteria that the sky is falling. A news break for the clucking flock: the sky fell. In particularly, on the working class. The managing class quickly lined up for its handouts from the bailout bread line, and blithely went on spending and enjoying the luxuries of welfare-state profligacy, while working people lost their jobs, the equity of their retirement savings, and their homes.

The complaint is that the government efforts to rebuild the nation are socialism. While most of us do not embrace socialist principles, we question if socialism can be any worse than the corporate fascism that has ruled the nation and brought us to this huge failure of economic democracy. We must take the message of Bobby Jindal and the demonstrations against the measures proposed to help those who have been economically devastated through no fault of their own as a war cry of the petit fascists that they wish to continue their assaults on the middle class and their support of global corporate fascism. Many of us see the depredations of a self-appointed royalty among the corporate fascists as a bigger problem than government. We have the right to vote against missteps of government and remove their perpetrators. We have no rights in corporations that take our money and continue in power to carry on with their predatory schemes, their incompetence, and what they regard as their privilege of profligacy. Only the most gullible will deny that we are in engaged in vicious class warfare. And the petit fascists have declared the disposability of the working class of America.

The arrangement worked out with Citibank is a step toward resolving the problems that beset the corporation without totally dismantling it. Citibank has received $45 billion in rescue money, and it has agreed to pay $25 billion back. The government will now own 36 percent of its stock, while the corporation pursues a plan to bolster the value of its stock with a financial structure that requires the bank to find investors that equal the government's support. But perhaps the most significant stipulation is
that Citigroup must revamp its board of directors and appoint more people with no ties to the company. The company said that it will replace five of its 15 directors.

The companies that headline the demise of the American economy are those that have committed outright fraud: Enron, World Com., Bernie Madoff, and the Stanford group. But one cannot igmore the role of Citigroup, AIG, and others. At this time, 444 of the misperformers can be identified by the money they have taken from the TARP fund. You can see who they are and how much money they have received from the government by following this link at ProPublica.

They are all culprits in the attempt to destroy the middle class.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

O, give me a home where the AK-47's roam

The Mexican drug cartels have modeled themselves after the U.S. Constitution Second Amendment and have established a well-regulated militia that killed 6,000 fellow-Mexicans last year.

Perhaps they might have been acting as sportsmen just out bagging their favorite trophies. But they found weapons that do a really great job, and they had to avail themselves of U.S. freedoms in order to obtain them. The Mexican government regulates assault weapons, but there are 6,600 dealers along the border who are more than willing to sell the cartels arms and help them smuggle them across the border. `

As a gun owner and user, I have never found the need for an assault rifle. After a number of experiences involving sportsmen who wielded their armor with all the competence of Dick Cheney, I have greatly reduced my hunting excursions. Although I am a bit of a folklorist, I have never believed the stories that sportsmen are good clean cut competent gun handlers. I won't quibble with that description except for the competent part. When it comes to handling firearms, all men are not created equal--physically or mentally. I have spent too many hours hunkering in improvised bunkers trying to avoid their fire and ire. One of the wisest quips ever uttered was by comedian Red Blanchard when he said that the old International Livestock Show was invented so that farmers had a safe place to bring their cattle during hunting season.

And so I have thought that limiting assault rifles had more than a smidgen of good reasoning behind it. I am fully aware of the constant danger that bunny rabbits might form unions and launch a jihad against all the upstanding Christians, and if they have assault rifles an equivalent firepower is needed to combat them. I am also aware of what an aggressive menace road signs pose to our democracy, and I am always heartened to see them lying limply in the ditches filled with bullet holes.

It is probably a real mistake not to put a gun on the hip of every college student. Pulling out a gun and taking target practice at flies on the wall or ventilating dorm rooms and each other can divert their attention from binge drinking, and that's a healthy thing. They need assault rifles to really capture the moment.

The Second Amendment has even established an official grammar for the U.S. When the Supreme Court took on a gun control law in Washington, D.C., it parsed the Second Amendment, which prefaces the edict against infringing the right to bear arms with the clause "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state." Justice Scalia has officially declared that the clause is a dangling modifier. It is not a conditional clause, as many grammarians have insisted, that states a condition under which the granting of the right to bear arms is extended. So, strike the bad grammar and the right to bear arms is unlimited.

As The New York Times reports, Mexican laws stand in the way of the drug cartels carrying out their predations, so they come to the U.S. to enjoy true liberty and then spread it to 6,000 people in their homeland. Those 6,000 are really enjoying the benefits of a well-regulated militia tending to the security of a free state.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bloggers and journalism

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Who let the N in the White House?

The Republican Party is putting on a stupendous show of intelligence and good will, and it is trickling down into the boondocks.

John McCain challenged Barack Obama about the cost of the Marine One helicopter ordered by George W. Bush. The President said he is perfectly satisfied with the one he's got, but he never had a helicopter before and "maybe I've been deprived and I didn't know it."

Neither McCain nor the press seemed to realize that McCain got jived. Only those of us snickering in the wood pile seemed to notice.

Earlier in the weekend, Sen. Bunning wailed about doomsday coming. He said Justice Ginsberg had no more than nine months to live, which means, oh, lordy, lordy, that the current president will probably nominate another liberal to replace her. This class act can really succeed on the Lincoln Day Dinner circuit.

Not to be outdone, Sen. Shelby brought up the question of Barack Obama's citizenship. He says he's never seen anything like a birth certificate proving the President is an American citizen. The charge against Obama's citizenship has been thoroughly debunked, but facts don't seem to register on the right lobes.

And then there was the exterminated ape cartoon. It was just a cartoon, however. Even with the long history of ape imagery in the literature of race. Like a white sheet is just a white sheet.

We wonder if there has ever been a cross burning on the White House lawn.

The incoherent whine of CNBC reporter Rick Santelli on the floor of tje Chicago Board of Trade has become a cult piece for the petit fascists. They have not protested the bailouts given their cohorts the banks, insurance companies, and investment firms, but helping homeowners who played by the rules and got stiffed through no fault of their own, but by the greed and incompetence of the financial "wizards" is an outrage. That Santelli has no notion of what is in the proposal is beside the point. Never let integrity get in the way of a good hate. This is the face of the Republican Party.

The governors are not to be outdone in the posturing. They support the term of porkulus, even thought the stimulus bill has at most one percent devoted to projects not directly connected to job creation and infrastructure repair. Some governors are making quite a show of spurning any stimulus money.

Gov. Rounds of the great Leeching State of South Dakota, which would not exist if its fine citizens were not parasiting federal funds, has said he will turn down $5 million in expanded unemployment benefit funds. He will take some such funds, but not those which might require the state to keep the program going when the funds run out. He says it might hurt businesses.
Just as Santelli raged, damn the people but don't hurt anything that resembles corporate fascism to the slightest degree. People can be buried. But businesses might fail. As if the American business community has not racked up the biggest string of financial, moral, and intellectual failures in history.

That's okay. Some rightwing blogs who espouse the redeeming message of petit fascism hope more funds are rejected. Especially when only people are involved.

The resident wingnut at Mount Bllogmore accuses the President of using voodoo economics to harm the country. He writes, "It never fails. Every time President Obama talks about the economy, the Dow Jones industrial average drops like a stone."

And maybe the movement can get real revenge on what is happening in the White House.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Prison: a growth industry in South Dakota

Over the weekend, stories appeared in South Dakota newspapers, such as they are, that the state’s Department of Corrections anticipates a rise in its prison populations. This comes after a few years of modest decline. The upshot is that the DOC will need some money.

Here is the profile of expenditures planned for the DOC:

  • Actual FY2008 budget: $98.8 million
  • Budgeted for FY2009: $107.9 million
  • Original FY2010: $108.1 million
  • Revised FY 2010: $106.2 million

That indicates a decrease in spending for Fiscal Year 2010 of $1.7 million from Fiscal Year 2009. But a larger perspective shows that the Department of Corrections is one of the state’s more lavish programs. It uses 7 percent of the state’s general funds. It employs 6.3 percent of the state workforce.

A report by the Pew Center on the States shows that one out every hundred people in the U..S is in prison, with the total number of people behind bars exceeding 2 million. South Dakota has 3,302 prison inmates.

[As pointed out by the carper-in-chief at South Dakota Politics, the above graph obviously should read "one out of every hundred adults " is in prison. In this country we do not record juvenile detentions.]

South Dakota’s population in prison seems paltry until one examines how much it costs and compares it with North Dakota’s prison population of 1,440. Why South Dakota whose overall population and culture is so similar to North Dakota’s incarcerates more than twice the number of people is an issue that has troubled some legislators for decades.

A DOC report in 2001 gives some insights into the make up of the state prison population. White inmates comprise 73.1 percent of the prison inmates. American Indians comprise 22.5 percent. Native Americans make up 8.3 percent of the state overall population. Put another way, of every 1,000 white people in South Dakota, 2.91 of them end up in prison. However, for every 1,000 American Indians, 10.26 of them get sent to prison.

That does not explain why South Dakota puts more than twice as many people in jail than does North Dakota.

Prisons don’t work very well. I used to be diffident about the death penalty until I started working with some wrongful conviction projects. The number of people wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death is an alarming indication of how just our justice system is. Many years ago when the newspaper I worked for did a series of interviews of prisoners, I asked a convict who was then the prison chaplain’s assistant who he thought were the most dangerous people in prison. The wrongfully convicted, he answered. They have lost all reason to respect and trust the society that put them behind bars. While a few forgive and try to forget why they are in prison, he said, many scheme and plot the revenge they will take once they get out. They feel that they have nothing to lose because they have lost everything already, and revenge is the only thing they have to look forward to. He stressed that the nature of prison life creates more criminals than it rehabilitates.

As a professor, I had former convicts in classes, although we took care not to reveal this to other students. Confidentiality was a matter of university policy to give the former convicts the best conditions under which to realize academic success and not to incite prejudices from the other students. Many of those former convict students had been caught up in the drug culture and college was a part of their rehabilitation. Others had been involved in other felonies. A few ended up back in jail, and I was not surprised. They had attitudes that were troubling, and you could almost predict that they would end up in trouble again.

I have had a number of people in law enforcement and criminal justice tell me that for many people sent to prison, it is like a graduate course in criminality. They confirm what the old chaplain’s assistant told me: prison propagates more criminality than it cures.

I don’t know. Some people need to be locked away to keep society safe and free. Others need some different form of correction. It is just another problem that partisans can bicker about and exchange insults over—and get nothing done.

But it sure is expensive.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A few more minutes with Louie

To really get a full taste of Louie Belson playing, you need to hear and watch him drive a big band. But here is a video clip from 1957 (a number of clips are available on YouTube) that captures his amazing talent and personality.

Louie Bellson: A great drummer dies, but his beat goes on

Photo right: Louis Bellson playing in Duke Ellington's orchestra. Trumpet greats Cat Anderson and Clark Terry are to his left.

Louie Bellson died Saturday at the age of 84 from the complications of Parkinson's Disease. He was a premier jazz musician.

Louie graduated from Moline High Scho
ol ten years before I did. But when he graduated, he had already established himself as a major jazz drummer. The year I graduated, Louis married singer Pearl Bailey. It was an inter-racial marriage at a time when few people dared to cross the racial barriers.

I took my first trumpet lessons in the music store owned by Louie's dad. During those weekly lessons, his sister Mary would keep aspiring young musicians posted on Louis' career, as a reminder of how far we could go if we worked hard to develop our talents. There was a great deal of local pride in Louie, but there was also an admiration for the way he kept expanding his talent. On the technical side, Louie developed the technique of using two bass drums, which were a tremendous asset in driving big bands, but he also knew when not to use them when he played with smaller groups. He also developed the chromatic tympani, by which a drummer can contribute to the chord structures and melodies of arrangements.

Louie's talent went far beyond drumming. He was also a composer and arranger whose interests ventured from the jazz idiom into more symphonic and classic-like compositions.

Louie often came back to the Quad-Cities to visit family and friends. To do this, he sometimes booked sessions at local clubs. At the time he had developed a close friendship with trumpet player Charlie Shavers, with whom Louie organized a band and with whom he traveled on the Jazz at the Philharmonic tours that sponsored jam sessions throughout America. I was not old enough to frequent some of the clubs he appeared in locally, but some allowed youngsters in where food was served. I remember him appearing at the Rendezvous in Moline, especially the Belgium Village on the Moline-Rock Island border, and the Flamingo in Silvis, Ill. Louie liked to have local musicians sit in with his groups and join in the musical comraderie. I can't say I ever played in such a session, but I listened often enough to understand an essential trait possessed by Louie that created great jazz.

With many musicians, their egos exceed their talent. Louie was not that way. As many people who worked with him have stated, he was a genuinely nice person. This was reflected in his music. As an aspiring trumpet player, I could see why other musicians wanted to play with Louie, to have him working behind you. You knew that with Louie in your band, you would play well. While he was virtuoso performer, he supported other players by responding to their lead, always playing superbly to create the circumstances in which others could play their best. And he was genuinely elated and appreciative of other people's playing. Rather than outshine others, he strove to make everybody shine. It was this quality as much as his virtuosity that contributed to the outstanding music from the bands he played with.

Among the best jazz musicians, there is a feeling that they will always play their best and complement your performances so that you will play your best. They feed off of each other and inspire each other at the same time. Louie Bellson was a master at creating this kind of musical rapport.

In his later years, Louie became much involved with carrying forward this message through his activities in music education as well as production.

The last time he returned to the Quad-Cities to bring and encourage music was last October. I had heard he was making an appearance, and I had hoped to make a quick trip to see him. The events of an election campaign, however, precluded that.

Louie will come back to Moline one last time. He will be buried there.

Just as memorial services held over Bix Beiderbecke's grave in Davenport eventually became the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival, I hope that such an event can evolve from Louie's resting place. His is a legacy that cannot die.

Upper left: Louie Bellson appears in Davenport last October.

Upper right: Louie in full swinging mode at a session showing his double bass setup.

Right: Louie took dellight in playing. The Remo brand is prominently featured in this shot. Louie was a vice president of the company,

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Freedom of speech where you might think the sun doesn't shine

A friend of my children told this story with a kind of shocked indignation. It is about a young woman with a good job, but a boss she detested. She took to discussing the boss in very derogatory ways on her MySpace page and in comments to friends on their pages and blogs. Some of the comments were vicious.

One Friday morning as soon as she came to work, she was summoned to her boss's office, where she found her boss, the boss over him, a personnel department executive, and a company attorney assembled. She was handed a letter informing her that she was terminated immediately. Attached to the letter was a stack of printouts of all the things she had said about her boss and the company on the Internet. The stack also included aspects of her personal life that seemed incompatible with the position she held and were regarded as an embarrassment by the company. The attorney explained that she was being fired for cause, which was documented in the file she was given, that the company could give her only a very damaging reference, and she was given an hour to clear out her desk and be out the door.

Eventually she sought help from an attorney, but all he could do was comment that she was really stupid for putting those things on the Internet and that she had in effect turned her work experience into something that would be used against her and would follow her. He referred her to an organization that helped people rehabilitate themselves after they had met such Internet disasters. The last I heard, she was still trying to find a decent job.

The organization helping her made the point that what happens on the Internet does not stay on the Internet. It becomes part of your life and your identity wherever you go.

I thought of this incident recently when I received an e-mail from a recently retired colleague who was asked by the university system he had worked for to help them review applications for academic jobs. This colleague had been the provost of a program he coordinated among a number of campuses in the system he worked for, and in recent decades that program dealt extensively with computer-driven communications. He was called in to help review and assess items that job candidates had posted on the Internet.

The problem, he said, was not the opinions or attitudes reflected in the postings, or necessarily aspects of their personal lives that might seem a bit seamy. It was the fact that people put in Internet postings thoughts and expressions that appear to disqualify the candidates for the jobs they are seeking. My colleague was seeking some perspectives on including a review of such postings as records of a candidate's professional qualifications. He stated the problem this way:

You review credential files carefully put together to reflect a high level of study, critical thought, and performance, and then you find Internet materials that have the same effect as receiving a very negative assessment from some colleagues and acquaintances of the candidate. You encounter Internet materials that show deep prejudices, defective thinking, malice, and cavalier attitudes about accurately representing the words and work of other people. And sometimes the postings reveal a great capacity for stupidity. In some cases some people with very impressive credentials would seem to be disqualified by their Internet postings. The web changes the way we have traditionally made professional evaluations.

I do not often venture into Face Book and My Space pages, but my family does and on occasion they refer me to something posted in them. I do browse many news organizations and blogs that deal with current events and affairs. The Internet and its many manifestations reveal a deep vein of ignorance and misunderstanding that runs through it. I find it particularly disheartening to read some intellectually incompetent postings by people who claim to be public school teachers. I would not permit a child of mine to be in a classroom presided over by these people. What they say reflects on their professional integrity and competence.

They exercise their right to free speech on the Internet, and we in turn exercise our right to evaluate what they say and how they say it. There is a huge difference between informed, intelligent discussion and the expression of minds trapped in ideologies and prejudices in ways that call into question their fitness to teach and evaluate children. The web adds a dimension to our evaluations of competence.

A common complaint of our education system is that the unions have made it impossible to fire incompetent teachers. In fact, what the teachers' unions require is due process. If a school administration or school board has a documented case, teachers may be fired. Immediately. And the Internet seems to be providing just such documentation in some cases.

In people's words, their quality of thinking and character is revealed. The Internet documents it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Just what IS in the stimulus bill?

ProPublica, an investigative group of real journalists who find real facts through the exercise of real competence, has published a chart that gives a detailed listing of the amount the stimulus bill provides for the various programs administered by the government. By browsing it, you can get a comprehensive overview of how the money will be distributed, or you can click on headings provided to find out what will be spent on specific programs.

This is the most coherent report on the bill published up to now. Follow this link to see the report.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Death in Cole Hall: happy Valentime's Day

[ Cole Hall, Northern Illinois University, 14 Feb. 2008]

A year ago today, a man entered a large lecture room in Cole Hall on the Northern Illinois University campus during an oceanography
class, stepped out from the curtains on the stage and shot 22 students, killing five of them, then turned a gun on himself. As of this date, a comprehensive report on the incident has not been issued. The matter is remembered mostly by people who want to use the deaths and injuries of the students to promote the unrestricted carrying of firearms on campuses, and everywhere else. As they did with the shootings at Virginia Tech University, they claimed that if students in the classes were armed, they could have opened fire on the perpetrators and prevented more deaths and injuries.

This claim makes crime scene investigators snicker and guffaw a lot, because they know the havoc and mayhem that a bunch of untrained, trigger-happy dudes with wild west complexes can produce. The Second Amendment confers the right to bear arms, but it does so in the context of maintaining a militia. It does not confer competence in their use.

I am a gun owner. I have enjoyed shooting sports, including black-power muskets used in Civil War re-enactments. I have hunted and shot in competitions. Over the years, however, a number of incidents involving "sportsmen" with guns reduced my interest in hunting. It is one thing to be out with people who know how to handle and use firearms. It is quite another to have to worry more about watching out for idiots with firearms than focusing on the pursuit of game.

I can relate a number of incidents where people with firearms endangered me and other people.
But what comes to mind first are some incidents I witnessed as a former seasonal ranger-naturalist at state recreation areas. I recall a spring ritual necessitated by the misuse of firearms. On two recreation areas, we maintained nature trails that had signs which identified and explained natural features in the areas. Every year we had to replace those signs. Although the use of firearms was prohibited in those areas, every year in the fall and winter, people would shoot them up. They were blasted apart by a number of weapons, small and large-bore rifles and shotguns. Their repair took a significant amount of work and budget. At one of the sites, we gave up and let the woods reclaim the trail. It was too expensive to maintain and too potentially dangerous for the park visitors. However, the trail was not the only place that showed destruction by gunfire. Picnic shelters, comfort stations, and road signs also bore witness that arms-bearing idiots had been there.

I have advocated in the past that the state establish an open season for road signs and require licenses to shoot them. They seem to surpass pheasants as South Dakota's favorite game. We could solve some of the perennial budget problems with an open hunting season on road signs--no daily limit, no limit on possession.

When I was a soldier, we had to observe strict rules about the weapons we were issued. When we weren't using them for training or active military purposes, they had to be locked in the armory. It was against the rules to have a weapon in one's possession unless the soldier was specifically authorized to have it, such as for guard duty, training, maneuvers, and general alerts. But the armor had a record of who had each weapon, why it was in use, and where it was.

At the times we were carrying our weapons, they would be stacked and guarded when the troops assembled for various purposes. As an instructor, I was required to have the soldiers stack their weapons where we could all see them while we were in class sessions. One reason was that properly handling a weapon was a distraction from information we were imparting. The proper handling of a weapon requires care and attention.

When people advocate that students be able to carry weapons into a college classroom, they seem not to have the foggiest notion of what the implications are. First of all, while there are shooting incidents by deranged people on campuses, the essential purpose of a campus is to be devoted to study and learning. Just because of occasional incidents where some road-sign and fish-in-barrel shooter wants to graduate to shooting kids in classrooms, the civil and peaceful atmosphere of a campus should not be altered by being designated a combat zone.

If students are permitted to carry guns into classrooms, some rules of engagement will have to be established. For example, when a gun-bearing student becomes menacing, just when should I as a professor take out my own weapon or call in a SWAT team to dispatch said student to that great Cabela's in the sky? And in the spirit of equal opportunity, will I be obligated to supply students who are not carrying guns with weapons--much as I lend them pencils on occasion--so that they will not feel that the gun-toters have an advantage over them? And will I have to instruct them on evasive maneuvers should a fire fight break out? The idea of gun-toting students is ridiculous. The purpose of campus safety measures is to prevent violence, not create the conditions for it to happen. If people feel they need to carry a gun to class, institutions which allow that should be established. Let the rest of the colleges keep education and the best environment for delivering it as their priority.

Today marks a sad, sad day for the way the contemporary penchant for violence and murder intrudes into and disrupts higher learning. The only antidote is to intensify good will and the search for constructive knowledge. The Second Amendment was written to insure an organizational remedy--a well regulated militia--to preserve freedom and peace. If campuses are turned into an Iraq or Gaza where any disaffected person can be armed to express himself by opening fire, we have lost sight of what education and its purpose is.

Our students deserve better. So do the memories of those who died a year ago.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


This dust was once the man,
Gentle, plain, just and resolute, under whose cautious hand,
Against the foulest crime in history known in any land or age,
Was saved the Union of these States.

Walt Whitman wrote these lines within three weeks of Lincoln's assassination. Lincoln was the most literate president the nation has known, Not literate in the sense merely that he could read or write, or even in the sense that he was well read. A profound reader, he was self-educated, reading intensively the poems of Robert Burns, the work of William Shakespeare, the King James Version of the Bible, and any other written work he could get his hands on. He was not fond of fiction, but read literature as an intellectual tool in perceiving and interpreting the world that confronted him. Words to him are the currency with which humankind negotiates the terms of life. They make available the record of the failures and triumphs of human kind, and literature, when read with disciplined intelligence, provides a comprehensive understanding of the nature of humankind's better angels, as well as the origins of its worst demons. Lincoln's literately developed sensibilities were recognized and were an inspiration to Whitman and the important writers of the time. Just as Lincoln was striving to grow through the acquisition of great literature, so was the nation.

Lincoln's speeches and letters are part of America's greatest literature. His Second Inaugural Address delivered the month before his death is regarded as his best speech, and therefore one of the best speeches ever delivered in the United States. It clarified the requisite attitudes and resolve of the nation if it is to survive and carry forward the work of democracy.

On this, his 200th birthday, we have a chance to rise above the petty mire of small minds and contemplate the significance of this man for the nation and the world.

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Stimulated to explore new dimensions of insanity

Einstein is credited with the quip that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Although the saying is one of those that is pithy because it is rooted in shrewd recognition of truth, it is repeated so often and by so many people for whom the recognition of truth, shrewdly or otherwise, is not likely that it has become a cliche and has lost its cogency. But it still describes what is going on with all the hullabaloo surrounding the stimulus package and the bail-out bill.

The Republicans say that the Democrats want to spend, spend, spend (as the Repbulican mantra insists they always do) and keep throwing money at things. Spending, they say, doesn't solve any problems, although they say that spending by consumers, who have little money right now, is what it will take to reverse the recession we are in. The Democrats say that the Republicans can only repeat their demand for tax cuts, which do not have a good record for economic stimulation, either. And many of us say that the partisan quibbling is the last thing that can provide any viable plans for salvaging our economic system, but the political parties just keep at it as if their bickering, accusations, and snarky little insults have ever solved any problem or provided any insights as to how problems can be solved. Bipartisan effort is a crock.

The bailout bill seems like a graduate course in such insanity. During the first distribution of money, $350 billion, the people whose avarice and profligacy got us into this economic nose-dive were handed the money to use at their discretion. That was insane. Our executive corps and officials in the financial industry created this mess, and then went on more luxury binges with the money and refused to reveal just what they did with it. They failed and betrayed us. And another form of insanity is not recognizing he people and conditions that have created a disaster. How stupid must we be to trust these people to do anything competently and honestly.

The dispersal of the second half of the bailout money is to be done with regulations that require them to account for what they are doing with taxpayer money. And according to a story in the NY Times, the financial executives think these measures are unfair, and would like to give the money back, but they are simply too close to total failure to even think of that. Although it would be nice to get that money back and put it to better use. In one of the biggest displays of whining petulance and tantrum-throwing, business leaders are quoted in the Times article as saying they would rather give up the money than allow government to monitor how they spend it.

We have often pointed out that claiming this kind of privilege and power over people is a form of fascism, corporate fascism.

It is tempting to simply say let the system fail and the bastards sink into the cesspool they have created, and let the competent come in and take over from them. But the people who could foreclose on the American economic system are global corporations, some of the biggest fascists of all, and foreign governments who would love to take charge of America.

Given the direction that the handling of our economic crisis has taken, it seems that the only thing we can do is reconcile ourselves to living in a 50-state loony bin.

Obama elevates performance of the press

The Obama presidency has motivated a new attitude from the press. Whereas George W. Bush’s inarticulate bumbling and disregard for factual accuracy were addressed largely by the comedy shows, the press seldom fact-checked what he said or commented on his communicative bluster.

Calvin Woodward from the Associated Press filed a fact-checking story on Pres. Obama’s press conference last night. The New York Times was one of many news organizations to run a review of the press conference, as if it was an artistic performance. It is good to see that substance and style seem to matter once again.

John Thune makes campaign commercials for 2010

Thanks to Douglas for pointing out that the wrong clip was posted in our previous post for "John Thune gets rebuked by Norah O'Donnell." The correct clip is now posted.

And also see Sam Hurst's posting of a Thune clip from The Daily Show.

Buffoonery is alive and well.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Saturday, February 7, 2009

When political games displace work

As the story on Tom Daschle's tax reporting lapses developed, people who have worked closely with him knew that withdrawing his nomination as HHS secretary was a seriously-considered option. That information was circulating last weekend. The record of Daschle's character and accomplishments in his three decades of public service portrays a much different picture than what is painted on the South Dakota blogosphere.

The situation reinforces the growing recognition that while the Internet can be used as an important communication medium, its content must be treated as a genre that deserves skepticism, suspicion, and great selectivity. After the election in November, the fact-checking agencies shut down their operations. The propagation of disinformation is a way of life for many on the Internet, and everything posted on it needs to be examined for factual veracity. For people who care about truth as anything other than their own preferences, we need perpetual fact-checking.

The focus on Tom Daschle's belated tax payments and his choice to utilize a car and driver has trivialized the job he was nominated to do. His tax problems were a serious issue, but he addressed them and paid his bill. The inference promoted by opponents of health care reform that his lapses were deliberate fraud is a convenient way to block that reform by shifting the focus from the state of U.S. health care to tabloid gossip and speculation. Just as his house in D.C. was made a campaign issue in 2004 as an appeal to the sullen jealousies of voters who resent anyone's success, his use of a car and driver was inflated into a betrayal of South Dakota values. The puling petulance on the blogosphere defines what those values are in fact.

Daschle's withdrawal from the nomination occasioned great bipartisan elation on the blogosphere, but it leaves 50 million people who cannot afford health care with greatly diminished prospects for ever having it available to them. No one possesses the combination of knowledge of health care issues and the skill to guide real reform through Congress more than Tom Daschle.

Those who have worked with and for Tom Daschle knew that he would keep his situation regarding his tax payments and his nomination in a highly analytic perspective. As a leader, Daschle always carefully defined what jobs needed to be done and determined just what it would take to get them done. In fact, Pres. Obama made just that assessment when he nominated Daschle. Making health care accessible requires someone who knows the health care industry and understands the issues of both the health care consumers and the providers. While Daschle has been criticized for his consulting and speech-making to sectors of the health care industry, this experience demonstrates and adds to his knowledge. But in our culture, particularly in our state, being really good at what you do is a demerit. Although Obama won the election, our culture has been Palinized.

When Tom Daschle came to Congress thirty years ago, unlike his replacement in the Senate, he quickly attracted attention for diligence and his aggressive desire to learn. A Viet Nam era veteran himself, he led the fight to acknowledge the effects of Agent Orange and to see that veterans received badly needed medical treatment for all the physical and mental disorders that were inflicted upon them. He also became a leading expert on and advocate for rural health care. During the agricultural collapse of the 1980s, Daschle assumed leadership in taking measures and setting up programs to help keep families on farms and to provide opportunities for those who were displaced. During the disastrous winters of the late 1990's, when livestock was killed by blizzards and communities were devastated by floods, Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson led the efforts to see that the people affected received emergency and recovery aid. All this leadership attracted notice. Tom Daschle earned a reputation for his diligence and effectiveness in representing the people and serving their needs and interests.

Consequently, Daschle earned leadership roles on important committees and in the Senate. His colleagues wanted him to extend the focus of his abilities from the state to the nation. Although his record in vigorously representing his state is consistent all through his term as Senator, many of his constituents feel that embracing larger interests in the course of one's duties is a betrayal. For many, South Dakota is a cultural nursery that regards its care-givers as bonded servants. Woe be to someone who appears to break those bonds.

In contrast to the vigor and competence of Tom Daschle and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin when they first came to Congress, the record of John Thune was a demonstration of fecklessness and irrelevance. Thune did not seem to think that the northern part of South Dakota was part of the state’s geography. He did not think a service office in Aberdeen, the state's third largest city, was needed. Members of his party had to coerce him into acknowledging that the northeastern region had political issues to address.

When officials and residents wanted a by-pass for Highway 218 so that trucks did not need to drive through the center of town and realized it was time to provide four-lane access to Aberdeen from I-29 as a transportation facility essential to the economy, Thune disapproved. His argument was that it would cost money. Again, members of his party insisted that he at least inform himself of those projects and dragged him into an eventual grudging support.

But for the state at large, Thune's feckless bumbling was even more ridiculous. As a congressman, he belonged to none of the agricultural caucuses that monitor agriculture and make recommendations for government action. He had no interest at all in water development for the state. It, too, cost money. Not until campaign opponent Curt Hohn pointed out Thune's irrelevancy to South Dakota interests did he make any attempt to inform himself of those issues and become part of the caucuses that studied and formed polices on those areas of concern.

The main point of his campaign for senator was to insist that Tom Daschle's successes in Washington, D.C., were betrayals of the folks back home in South Dakota. A majority of the folks back home in South Dakota bought it. The only thing Thune had going for him was his personal attacks against Daschle. And the folks back home bought it. But he is a presentable looking chap who can read the scripts provided for him by his hired character assassins and party hacks.

Thune has one other strength. He is very good at insinuating himself into taking credit for work done by other people. His actual efforts in instituting action and implementing vital programs does not compare with Daschle's or Herseth Sandlin's. It boils down to a matter of competence.

As many commentators have pointed out, Tom Daschle's nomination to Secretary of Health and Human Services would have been approved, even though it would have been a grueling process. Tom Daschle knows when such a fight would detract and distract from the real job to be done. This is a democracy, and there comes a time when people have to live with the choices they make. In the matter of reforming health care, a large portion of the nation has chosen to dwell on contriving resentful gossip rather than confronting the problems of 50 million people who cannot afford health care. Daschle realized that his late tax payments would be used as an obstacle to reform, and so he decided it best to withdrew from the HHS secretary nomination.

The cost of health care for those who can afford it and its unavailability for the 50 million Americans who can't is a major factor in our economy. The Republican attitude is that we cannot afford health care reform. They trot out their tired tripe about socialized medicine and government interference with private enterprise and offer no acknowledgment that health care bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. and that 50 million people cannot afford health insurance. The Republicans regard those 50 million much the same way that Hitler did the old, infirm, and handicapped he referred to as "useless eaters." The conservatives seem to regard them as the "worthless workers." Their attitude seems to be to let those 50 million get sick and die. That way they won't be a drag on the economy. Or a burden on taxpayers.

And ffter all, Tom Daschle's use of a chauffeur driven car for which he made belated tax payments is one hell of a lot more important than 50 million people who can't afford health insurance.

The republic once again has made a choice. It will have to live with it. Except for the 50 million for whom that is not even a consideration.

{See The Columbia Journalism Review for more on health care possibilities.]

The Taliban Wing of the GOP comes out of the closet

During our current economic collapse, the Republican Party has become more strident as it falls into line in support of corporate fascism. Republican Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas set a tactical agenda when he called for the Republican Party to circumvent the democratic processes and adopt insurgent methods modeled after the Taliban. Many people tout Rush Limbaugh as their putative leader. Limbaugh makes Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seem like a model of democratic good will and rationality. A number of Republican senators have expressed the political doctrine they favor in response to Pres. Obama's measures to prevent bailout money from being used for lavish executive perquisites.

When Ronald Reagan began his efforts to diminish government, he liked to use the example of the black woman who drove to the social services office in a Cadillac to pick up her welfare check. And the Republicans have tried to make Tom Daschle's use of privately paid-for car and driver a national disgrace. But to them it is perfectly fine for corporate executives to come and beg for bail-out money needed because of their profligate incompetence and then spend it in garish and criminal displays of luxury and self-indulgence. The Republicans say that taxpayer money used for rebuilding schools and preparing the infrastructure for clean energy is excessive, but when the President limits the use of tax-payer money for the purpose it was appropriated --shoring up a sinking financial system instead of executive luxuries--he is intruding government into places it has no business. It is imposing socialism onto American business.

Sen. John Kyl, R-Arizona, told The Huffington Post, "Because of [the bankers'] excesses, very bad things begin to happen, like the United States government telling a company what it can pay its employees. That's not a good thing in America."
Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Florida,
said, "What executives have done is troubling, but it's equally troubling to have government telling shareholders how much they can pay the executives,"

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, said, "as I was listening to [the President] make those statements I thought, is this still America? Do we really tell people how to run [a business], and who to pay and how much to pay?"

What the Senators do not state, or seem to understand, is that the issue is not telling private businesses what it can pay, but what taxpayer money can be used for. Or to insist that the government expects it to be used for the purposes it was dispensed.

The assumption is that the government has an absolute responsibility to dictate how welfare money must be used by the poor, but it has no business telling the privileged class how to use its welfare money.

The current debate in Washington is clarifying he issues. In recent years, conservatives have howled and whine with indignation when it is suggested that they are embracing fascist principles and doctrine. But now they are openly and loudly expressing their political values.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Bipartisanship is for dummies

The idea that we can turn this economy around by caving to the feckless demands of those who screwed it up in the first place is utterly bankrupt.

Read Josh Nelson's take on the subject.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Pierre, the Bridge Builder, comes to South Dakota

Doug Wiken of Dakota Today posted recently on an article in which a professor of the history of science makes the point that the Internet has led to a deterioration of the information we receive rather than an amplication. Professor Proctor says that the information circulated on the Internet contains "agnotological rot." "Agnotology" is the study of culturally constructed ignorance. In the fields of English and communication, we used to call it illiteracy or "static," but the Internet has made it a cultural, rather than an individual, enterprise.

I cite the discussion in the light of Tom Daschle's problems with paying taxes. I have carefully made the point that I have no idea of what circumstances are involved in this matter. Therefore, I have neither defended nor condemned him for having to pay back taxes. But you have to read what I said to know what I said.

Rather than make any conjectures about the matter, I have posted links from real journalists for reference. You know, real journalists, as in people who give a damn what the facts are and what kind of reasoning produces valid judgments of those facts. There are plenty of opinions expressed, but few facts cited, and quoting the unproven and false claims from bloggers during the 2004 election campaign and since are not facts about Daschle, but only facts about the mentalities of their authors and their quoters.

I do express surprise at Tom Dashle finding himself in this circumstance. It is no secret that my spouse was a staff member for Tom Daschle, and I have been involved in campaigns and other projects from his offices. Like many of his Senate colleagues have said in the real news reports, I find this tax matter totally inconsistent with Tom Daschle's character and mode of operation as I have known it. Tom Daschle was meticulous in avoiding anything that appeared questionable. He held his staff to that same standard. During the campaign of 2004, when people came up with some negative factual matters that could have been used against his opponent, the word not to engage in that kind of campaigning came directly from Tom Daschle.

Furthermore, I have had two experiences with the IRS for which I was billed taxes and interest. In both instances, I had sought and followed the instructions of people in the state IRS office when it was in Aberdeen. In both instances, I had been given the wrong information by IRS personnel about how to handle grant money. The Aberdeen IRS office was a hotbed of bullying and incomptence, and eventually its status as a state office was closed down and its duties were assigned to Fargo, I believe. In one instance, the IRS changed a rule in August that affected money I received in June. My point is that no matter how hard you try to be sure you are meeting the rules, you can be wrong according to the IRS, and there is nothing you can do about it, but amend your tax forms and pay.

So, I have withheld judgment and comment about Tom Daschle's plight. It reminds me of the story of Pierre (pronounced pee-air), the Bridge Builder. Pierre was complaining about the reputation he had acquired.

He said, "I have designed and built bridges all through France and Europe. Do people call me Pierre, the Bridge Builder? No."

"I have designed and built some of the biggest cathedrals of our times throughout Europe. Do people call me Pierre, the Cathedral Builder? No."

"But just suck one cock.."

As I say, I will depend on real journalists and Senate committees for any information that I trust or believe in.

My posts which have implied some criticism about the cultural habits, including agnotological habits, of South Dakota have produced the usual invitations for me and anyone else who criticizes to leave. That, too, is a cultural custom. Many people accept the invitation. It is called the brain drain.

South Dakota has its merits. It also has its demerits. Of the 50 states, its government is rated as the most closed. Many people have cited the politics of Illinois, but blithely ignore the state government's dealings with credit card companies--or making it a crime for any state official to reveal if any investigations are being made of those companies. Its history of dealing with non-nordic races is also one of the worst in the country. Its antipathy toward education is so embedded as to be a cultural trait. Once again, we are confronted with organizations that deal with bringing higher culture and art to the state are on the chopping block to be closed down. These are just a few of the matters that affect the quality of life in South Dakota.

But no one will pay attention to those matters as long as they can berate Tom Daschle for riding around in a limousine in D.C. Nor does it matter that he caught the problems himself and took measures to rectify them. It is much more pleasurable to post headlines on the Internet that state:

More on Daschle's Tax Fraud

And so, we can talk endlessly about Tom, the Tax Cheat.

I assume those who are not satisfied with rectifications and who do not wish to see what facts emerge are working for his withdrawal from the nomination. It would not do much for the country and its health care problems, but it could sure limit some of the agnotological rot in South Dakota.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Daschle Debacle: Some informing updates

[Some very informative journalism has been produced on the Daschle Debacle: one piece in the New York Times and another in The Washington Post.]

As an old news dog who has used that experience periodically in political work, I have often noted something about politicians being voted out of office that does not get talked about. If after many years of successful, untroubled political office, what happens to the relationship between a politician and his/her constituents when they vote the politician out of office?

My first experience with this came with an Illinois congressman, a contemporary of mine, whose family I knew quite well. He ran as a Republican, unopposed a few times, in a very Democratic district.

A member of the House Judiciary Committee, he voted to impeach Richard Nixon. That fascist-base portion of the Republican Party did not let this sin against its creed of power-at-all-costs-imposed-on-all-people go unrequited. They kept trying to dislodge the Congressman, and shortly after I moved to South Dakota they succeeded. They put one of their kind up against him in the primary and launched one of their character-assassination assaults against him. The character-assassin won the primary. He did not win the election. The Democrat won and a Republican has not come even close to taking that seat in the House for the last 26 years.

Rather than return to Illinois and resume a very successful law practice, the Congressman decided to move. On a visit back to my home state, I asked a family member of the Congressman's about his moving. The family member told me that while we like to say nice things and pretend that we honor public service, the hard political fact is that a defeated politician can't go home again. Especially when you have been dumped by your own party. He would return to friends, but the atmosphere created by enemies dominates. It only takes one rotten fart to destroy the sanctity of a church service. It takes only a few malicious resentments in a community to make it a hostile environment.

What had impressed me about this Congressman was that no one understood how the rural and urban cultures and economies intersected with the thoroughness he did. Shortly after he left office, the industrial community he represented crashed. One large community in his district lost 30,000 industrial jobs. The Congressman had the knowledge and the contacts to provide assistance. But he was in the process of creating a new life in a far-away place. When I conjectured to newspaper colleagues about the leadership he could have provided, they replied that he had new responsibilities and new loyalties that needed tending for himself and his family. He had moved on both physically and socially.

South Dakota has dumped a number of incumbents: Sen. Abdnor, Sen. George McGovern, Sen. Larry Pressler, and Sen. Tom Daschle. We assume that politicians understand that they serve only at the behest of the electorate, but what do we do with politicians when we are through with them?

George McGovern returned to Mitchell to live, but not before working for important projects on the national and international level. After being defeated by Abdnor, he involved himself in many ventures of a nature that just are not available in South Dakota. He resides here, makes broad acknowledgment of his ties to South Dakota, but he does not let the state shape his identity. Rather, he keeps insuring that there is a progressive line of thought kept alive in South Dakota

James Abdnor was an administrator in the Small Business Administration after he lost an election to Tom Daschle. He, too, lives in South Dakota, and was an advisor to the John Thune campaign in 2004 against Tom Daschle. There has always been a element of vengeance surrounding Abdnor's continued involvement in Republican politics.

Larry Pressler made an attempt at running for Congress again in South Dakota after his defeat, but his energies have been concentrated quite intensely in New York City and Washington, D.C. Shortly after leaving office, he passed the bar exam in New York. He later established his own firm in Washington, D.C. His relationship to South Dakota is cursory. His talents and his interests are simply not invested in this state.

Now comes Tom Daschle, who has been nominated to one of the most powerful positions in Pres. Obama's cabinet. Like my former Congressman from Illinois, Tom Daschle has moved on. He chose not to retreat quietly to his state of origin. Rather, he has set about to create a life that is not possible in South Dakota.

His tax problems may well obstruct his chances at assuming the post to which he has been nominated. I attempt to make no apologetics or excuses for these matters, other than to say I have been involved in campaign finance reports for the last decade. It is very easy to make mistakes. Sometimes I receive bad information. Sometimes I receive erroneous advice about what to include and how to include it. Sometimes I receive erroneous advice about what to omit. Often peripheral issues that get raised in passing retreat into the ether of memory and then come sailing back like a burning comet to crash at your feet. Corrections and admendments have to be made.

Tom Daschle included charity donations to organizations that turned out not to be charities. He had consulting fees that somehow were not reported. But the big issue is that he was provided a car and driver, and did not report this as in-kind income.

But that is not what is making the crotch knots that so gall the South Dakota pudenda. People remember Tom Daschle driving through the state in an old car, dropping in on constituents like a neighbor. Now they are outraged that he would accept a limousine and driver to conduct his business around Washington, D.C., and wherever else he goes. Some are more irked that he would choose to ride in a driven limousine rather than toot around DuPont Circle in a Ford Pinto, or whatever its current equiavalent is. Of course, the Dementia Sisters at South Dakota Politics have termed it an outright case of tax fraud, and we needn't bother to find out the actual circumstances.

Tom Daschle lost an election in 2004. A majority of his constituents told him he wasn't needed around here anymore. Rather than come creeping back in an old clunker to give succor--pun intended--to the dysfunctioning egos that resent his success on the national stage and would still like to tell Daschle how to live his life as if his destiny rests in ingratiating himself with the perpetually petulant, Daschle moved on. He has new interests and new loyalties to maintain. And for people who keep up intense and productive work schedules, a chauffer-driven car can be a huge time-saver and convenience. I can even imagine how the question of including it as in-kind compensation can slip one's mind. But I am not in a position to know that, although most commenters on this matter claim to be.

People leave this state because they have better, more sustaining prospects elsewhere. That is especially true of politicians elected out of office.

If the Republicans really want to organize like they did on the House stimulus bill, I have no doubt that they could throw up obstructions to Daschle's nomination that could result in his withdrawal.

But he was nominated because he has long outgrown the small-minded and cramped intellectual dimensions of South Dakota. Now, that is something you can really resent.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States