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

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The stolen Black Hills and the fight to give them back

Aberdeen newspapers have a tradition of espousing racism, genocide, and the hate-propaganda necessary to inculcate them. A few days after Sitting Bull was shot on December 15, 1890, L. Frank Baum, author of the Wizard of Oz, wrote this editorial in the Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer:

"He was an Indian with a white man's spirit of hatred and revenge for those who had wronged him and his. In his day he saw his son and his tribe gradually driven from their possessions: forced to give up their old hunting grounds and espouse the hard working and uncongenial avocations of the whites. And these, his conquerors, were marked in their dealings with his people by selfishness, falsehood and treachery. What wonder that his wild nature, untamed by years of subjection, should still revolt? What wonder that a fiery rage still burned within his breast and that he should seek every opportunity of obtaining vengeance upon his natural enemies.

"The proud spirit of the original owners of these vast prairies inherited through centuries of fierce and bloody wars for their possession, lingered last in the bosom of Sitting Bull. With his fall the nobility of the Redskin is extinguished, and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The Whites, by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. Why not annihilation? Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced; better that they die than live the miserable wretches that they are. History would forget these latter despicable beings, and speak, in later ages of the glory of these grand Kings of forest and plain that Cooper loved to heroism.

"We cannot honestly regret their extermination, but we at least do justice to the manly characteristics possessed, according to their lights and education, by the early Redskins of America."

A few weeks later, after the Wounded Knee Massacre, Baum followed up with this January 3, 1891, editorial:

"The peculiar policy of the government in employing so weak and vacillating a person as General Miles to look after the uneasy Indians, has resulted in a terrible loss of blood to our soldiers, and a battle which, at best, is a disgrace to the war department. There has been plenty of time for prompt and decisive measures, the employment of which would have prevented this disaster.

"The PIONEER has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past."

The Treaty of 1868 recognized that all the land of what is now West River, South Dakota, belonged to the Sioux nations. When gold prospectors came into the Black Hills, the Sioux resisted. But the U.S. government allowed prospectors and the hordes that followed them to encroach on the land. A 1980 Supreme Court decision declared that the lands were taken in violation of treaties and the Sioux people should be compensated. However, they did not want to be compensated. They wanted their land back. They have refused to take the $900 million offered as compensation, and it has been held in trust. Now a law suit has been initiated which would force the government to disperse the money, but tribal leaders still do not want to take it. To take it would be a final submission to the racist annihilation of a culture as proposed by L. Frank Baum and would deprive the Sioux of sacred lands that are the center of their spirituality.

Now comes the Aberdeen American News (April 28, 2009) with a revival of Baum's proposal to compound a wrong with one more wrong. The American News claims the battle for the Hills has been won by the forces of civilization, and if the Sioux know what's good for them, they damned well better take the money:

The Sioux are not going to get the Black Hills back.

Yes, the United States government gave the Black Hills to the Sioux in the 1800s, and then when gold was discovered there, it took the land back.***

That was wrong.

But, we repeat: The government isn't going to give the land back to the tribes today. And it's time to accept that fact.

Perhaps those who are still fighting for the return of the land are scared to let go of what has evolved into an identity for generations of Native Americans. But the land isn't going to be returned. The $900 million could mean a much better life for future generations.

It's time to take the money and put it to good use.

The statement that the "government isn't going to give the land back" is uttered in a posturing bravado. There are ways that it could be done. In 1980, Sen. Bill Bradley introduced a bill that would have returned 1.3 million acres of the Black Hills to the Sioux nations. The return would not have resulted in the displacement, cultural cleansing, and extermination that the Lakota people experienced when they were forced off the land. The transfers would have involved mostly National Forest land.

Contrary to the Aberdeen American News' inane bravado, there are ways that part of the land could be returned. It is up to Congress. There are ways that some of the money could be made available and some of the land could be returned. It is a process of legislation and negotiation.

The reason many native people reject the money offered them is explained by Lakota journalist Tim Giago:

In the meantime, South Dakota's elected officials and the federal government itself believes that all claims to the land were extinguished when the money was awarded. In a way its like telling the Indians, "Here is money for your house and whether you want to sell it or not, here is the money and the house is now ours

Contrary to what the Aberdeen American News proclaims, the government can find a more satisfying solution than to tell the Indians "take the money, your culture has been exterminated, so learn how to be a honkey."

There are options for cultural survival and there are people willing to fight for those options. Our country has gained the courage to deny torture as a national policy. Now it can address the matters of genocide and cultural cleansing on its own lands.

It is up to Congress. Not the racist tradition of Aberdeen newspapers.

***Note: This statement is false. The government never "gave" the Black Hills to the Sioux. The Sioux already possessed it. The treaty agreed that the Sioux Nations and their allies should retain the Black Hlls as parties to a treaty between nations.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The wit and genius of John Thune

John Thune says that Pres. Obama doesn't care about the people of Sioux Falls because their dike-building project was not included in the stimulus budgeting. South Dakota Watch gives some response to the inanity of Thune's comments, which were reported by KELOland news:

Senator John Thune criticized President Obama for not including the Big Sioux Flood Control Project in the stimulus package. Thune says the lack of funding for the project shows that President Obama does not think the residents of Sioux Falls are a priority.

To see what a priority John Thune gave the residents of Sioux Falls while the stimulus bill was being shaped, play the video clip below.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dog Pack Follies, a chance to bay at the moon

CNN is preparing to compile a "report card" on the first 100 days of the new presidential administration. Bloggers are publishing hearsay and then chortling with euphoric glee about how they "scooped" the mainstream media. It is all symptoms of where the real failures of our educational system lie and of the deterioration of the intellectual culture.

Along with polls offered by members of the mass media on questions such as whether canines and felines should be allowed to intermarry, various media likes to grade government and social entities on their performance. For example, how would you grade South Dakota on same sex marriages. People in favor of same sex marriage would probably give it an F. People not if favor would probably give it an A or B. The grades of course are nothing more than expressions of how the state conforms to a particular set of prejudices. The grades have nothing to do with a carefully defined set of criteria and documented evidence as to how the state meets those criteria. They merely provide a chance to impose one's subjective prejudices on something.

This kind of use of "grades" has a deleterious effect on education. It assumes that grades given students are nothing more than a sign of how a student is perceived according to a teacher's prejudices. Sadly, there are teachers who do not base grades upon documented measurements of performance, But most do. And this gratuitous use of grades indicates that grading is merely the registering of opinion, not the assessment of performance based upon a carefully set of criteria.

Often when students or their parents protest a grade, they assume that the grade was assigned on some the basis of a personal bias. That's why careful and experienced teachers will haul out files of materials showing what the grade measured, how it was measured, and whether the grade was an indicator of how well the student performed in comparison with other students (the curve), or whether it was based upon established standards. Honest grades are not exercises in arbitrary judgment; they are grounded in competent, careful principles of measurement.

A misuse of grades is to use them as a definitive indicator of a student's work. While they do give information on performance, they also provide the most effective teaching moments. When students review a grade in terms of what their strengths and weaknesses are, that is the optimum time to give them opportunities to raise their grade. Too often, once a grade is issued, the attitude is that the student will have to live with it.

An altermative to grades is a narrative report of performance. In such a report, it first explains what the report covers and what specific work-evidence is examined, what criteria are used in evaluating the work, and a narrative summary of how the student engaged in the work. Such reports are arduous, time-consuming, and beyond the abilities of some teachers. But when done with care and competence, they provide the most effective assessment of work and they are invaluable for helping students set future work agendas.

What the Obama administration will be getting with CNN's report card is nothing but a rough profile of who likes him and who doesn't. It is an inane and futile exercise that suggests that uninformed and mindless opinions somehow have anything to do with competence and the successful solving of problems.

But that kind of baying at the moon and whining is what the political diaglogue has been reduced to.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The U..S. prosecuted water-boarders as war criminals

Charles Kaiser at the Columbia Journalism Review takes reporters at The New York Times to task for not knowing or fact-checking the history of how the U.S. has dealt with torture. He points out that the U.S. prosecuted Japanese who used water-boarding on POWs as war criminals, and that the Gestapo used water-boarding on members of the French Resistance.

At Talking Points Memo, a number of posts deal with the facts involved in deciding whether to further investigate and prosecute those who approved of torture to elicit information. Josh Marshall suggests that opposition to everything Obama is all the GOP has and has put itself in the role of the party of torture.

The South Dakota Wingding Collage has posted a video of Michelle Bachmann calling for Homeland Security Sec. Napolitano's resignation for the release of the DHS alert to law enforcement agencies about howasmegrown terrorists. The wingdings seem to have neither the mental wherewithal or the integrity to point out that the report was initiated by the Bush administration and prepared with the collaboration of the FBI.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

William Buckley's "new best friend,," George McGovern

Men are sometimes real men

Christopher Buckley will publish a book next month remembering his father, William F. Buckley, and mother, “Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir.” In his engagingly written account, he is tough and honest about his often-distracted and determined father and his difficult mother. The book is previewed in The New York Times Magazine. After his father's death when he was writing an obituary fo his dad, he received a telephone call from George McGovern. Here is the account:

One day, as I sat in Pup’s study planning the memorial service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the phone rang. A gentle, sandpapery voice came on the line.

“I’m looking for Christopher Buckley.”

“Yes, this is he.”

“Oh, Chris, it’s George McGovern calling.”

Pup and George McGovern were political opposites, but they became fast friends a decade earlier after engaging in a series of public debates. I remembered Pup grinning one day over lunch, announcing: “Say, have I told you about my new best friend? George McGovern! He turns out to be the single nicest human being I’ve ever met.”

I recall my jaw dropping. When McGovern ran for president in 1972, Pup had written and spoken some pretty tough things about him (though never ad hominem). As I winched my lower mandible back into place, I reflected that this relationship wasn’t at all improbable. Some of Pup’s great friendships were with card-carrying members of the vast left-wing conspiracy: John Kenneth Galbraith, Murray Kempton, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the A.C.L.U. head Ira Glasser and Allard K. Lowenstein, among many others. But there were piquant twists to the friendship with McGovern.


And now George McGovern, whose campaign was the target of Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy and the other “plumbers,” was on the phone from South Dakota, to condole someone he had never met and to say that he was planning to come to the memorial service, adding with what sounded like a grin, “if I can make my way through this 15-foot-high snowdrift outside my house.” I put down the phone and wept.

The days of the jackals

Character assassination is a major business and blogs are to the character assassins what AK-47s are to the Mexican drug cartels.

Sen. John Thune has been appointed to important "outreach" positions within the GOP U.S. Senate caucus apparently because of the reputaiton he earned by making character assassination the major effort of his 2004 e
lection campaign.

The use of defamation, disinformation, and good, old-fashioned lies, such as pioneered by Thune, has been adopted by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Brown is embroiled in a scandal because his main henchman has been caught defaming, disinforming, and propagating good, old-fashioned lies in Brown's behalf. The Week magazine chronicles the whole nasty business.

Damian McBride was chief strategist for Gordon Brown. He got caught planting lies about political opponents and their families on left-wing blogs. He was known among journalilsts as McNasty and McPoison. He so alienated reporters that Brown was forced to remove him as his communicaitons director last October. According to press reports, he took every opportunity to smear former Prime Minnister Tony Blair as Brown put himself in position fo the job.

The Mirror examines the role of blogs in all the nastiness. It says that McBride was planning to circulate rumors on a left-wing blog to counter "the smears that routinely emanate from right-wing blogs." The Mirror bemoans the fact that blogs lower the tone of discourse for the whole country. It says they are "cretinous, infantile forums of abuse dressed up as argument" in which "pompous prigs of all political persuasions try to pass themselves off as intellectuals." The best way to handle them is to ignore them, says The Mirror. They are merely :"small-minded attention seekers" who have "seduced the real political world into thinking they matter. They don't."

They are noisy. They are destructive--of indiviiduals and the rhetorical integrity of the country. Unfortunately, they do matter. They have brought us the days of the jackals.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A South Dakota refrain

January Jones couldn’t wait to get out of South Dakota, says Jonathan Heaf in British GQ. The striking 31-year-old star of the hit series Mad Men grew up in a wholesome family in Heckler, S.D., a sleepy hamlet of 400, where the big fun is shooting crab apples off of hay bales. “It’s a great place to grow up—very safe, not much crime, lots of animals. You run around from sunup to sundown. Your mom doesn’t worry or look for you.”

But when Jones turned 16, a modeling scout offered her a job in New York, and she desperately wanted to say yes. Her parents refused, but three days after her 18th birthday, Jones headed for Manhattan. She quickly paid a price for her innocence. “The modeling company screwed me over. By the time I left, they told me I owed them $20,000.”

The photo gallery is at CQ.

A photo gallery behind the scenes with the President.

I don't know how Talking Points Memo gets access to the photo work of White House photographer Pete Souza, but here is a fascinating photo gallery of President Obama in Latin America. Again I note the immense opportunities that Internet forums have for still photography. Check out this gallery.

Effing with the troops

The right-wing hate festers have taken to tea-bagging wingnuts as part of their celebratory ritual. They try to turn everything coming out of Washington, D.C., into evidence of socialism, communism, and any other odious charge that they can fabricate from their febrile little brain cells.

The latest example concerns the Department of Homeland Security bulletin to law enforcement agencies of things to monitor that might involve home-grown terrorists. The bulletin listed those people who might be approached by hate organizers as possible candidates for recruitment. Given the times and the trends, the report indicated what kind of hate factions are in most ferment at the time and who they might think are vulnerable to their hate appeals.

They mentioned that some violent groups look to veterans as a fertile field because people with military experience know fire arms, explosives, and know how to use them. Hate groups with violent agendas think they could use the experience in any domestic assaults they might like to launch.
The party of petulance, pettiness, and perfidy immediately portrayed this as an insult to all military personnel and veterans in that it lumped them in with rightwing extremists. Of course, the bulletin said nothing of the kind, but manufacturing lies is the only creative active the wingding chorus can find at the present moment.

The fact is that there are some really bad dudes in the military or who have been in the military.
That is why the military operates under a Universal Code of Military Justice and maintains stockades. During my service, I was escorted by the guard mount to and from the barracks and the missile launching area where I worked because my bunk mate was a black man and some racist zealots wanted to show me a lesson for betraying the white race. This was when the resistance to integration in the military service was formidable. And we were ordered to be particularly diligent about seeing that all weapons, rifles and bayonets, and ammunition were checked into the armory, accounted for, and locked up when not being used for training or exercises.

Aside from the racial incidents we had, our troops were also targeted by extreme left-wing groups for recruitment. Some empty barracks on the isolated post where I was stationed were used as part of a project in which President Eisenhower had a particular interest. During the Korean War, some soldiers became what was known as "turncoats." They were prisoners of war held by North Koreans who refused repatriation to the U.S. when released from prison. Their preferring to stay in North Korea was an extremely troubling problem for the military commands, and it was a factor in the decision to intensify integration in the services. The project was analyzing just what caused the turncoats to embrace their captors.

Where I was stationed in Germany was the center of activity for a leftwing terrorist group that became know as the Beider Meinhof Gang, later the Red Brigade. They approached American military personnel by pointing to the racial discriminaiton and oppression and inequality and suggested they offered a better way of life. Our Friday Troop Information and Education sessions dealt with these approaches and the American troops saw through the ploy to obtain their sympathies.

At the same time, at a much lower-keyed level, Nazi groups still operated. They clung to the notion of racial superiority but even the most racially prejudiced troops knew better than to associate with any of these people at the time.

The military has long been regarded as a potential field for recruitment by groups that want to use violence to further their agendas. It contains people who are able and willing to wage extracurricular war. Last week Master Sergeant John Hatley, for example, was sentenced to life imprisonment for killing four Iraqis. The military is fully aware that it includes problem personnel. With the recession, more people are turning to the military for jobs, so the military is reducing the number of felons it admits to its ranks. The salient fact is that "hate groups covet people with military experience."

The DHS study which produced the bulletin was initiated during the Bush administration and was developed in collaboraiton with the FBI. Currently, there are 926 hate groups listed as active in the U.S. Four of them operate in South Dakota. They are:

National Socialist Order of America Neo-Nazi SD
Nordwave Neo-Nazi SD
Retaliator Skinhead Nation Racist Skinhead Centerville SD
Fundamentalist Latter Day Saint General Hate Edgemont SD

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Like an old Berlin street whore when the Hershey Bar truck rolled by

Robbinsdale Radical points out a sucking scam posing as an analytic report from the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.

In a report that purports to be a studied projection of the effect that carbon mitigation efforts will have on utility rates, the PUC contends that South Dakota electricity customers could have their rates increased by 48 percent.

As Robbinsdale notes, the report claims to include input from all parties interested in carbon mitigation, including alternative energy and environmental groups, but it cites projections only from the coal-burning utility companies. And it makes no projections concerning the recently announced natural gas reserves.

An interesting fact contained in the faux report concerns the power actually generated in South Dakota. Coal produces 46.5 percent and hydro produces 47.6 percent.

Most of the hydro-generated power is shipped out of state. One must wonder how carbon-free South Dakota could be if it retained more of its hydro-generated power.

And one wonders how carbon free the state could be if the PUC was a real utilities commission and not just a puppet for the coal industry and its burners.

O, where is the yellow snow of yesteryear?

If you want to understand the real occasion for the tax-day tea parties, just substitute the N-word for "tea" and you have a good indicator of what the parties are really about. A history professor who attended the party in Sacramento sums it up:

The hatred was palpable today on the State Capitol's steps. Hatred for taxes, hatred for government, hatred for state workers, hatred for teachers, hatred for Democrats, and hatred for all of the straw men that leap from the imaginations of talk radio jocks. But the most hated figure of all at today's "Tea Bag" anti-tax rally in Sacramento was President Barack Obama. One of the first placards I saw as I entered the Capitol grounds read: "Wake Up! Fresh Prince of Belair is Destroying Us -- Stop Drinking the Red Koolaid
The occasion was a hate fest which celebrated those aspects of American life so revered by the wing-dings and that they fear Obama might do something about. Here is a summary of the misery that they so cherish:

  • 4,273 American troops killed in Iraq as of Apjril 15. The pleasure of the protesters is amplified by the fact that 30,000 troops have been wounded, and more than 90,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed. Wheee.

  • A trillion dollars has been spent on the war on Iraq. This is the kind of judicious use of tax money the protesters love.

  • The withdrawal of regulations from the banking industry brought our economy to its knees.

  • Six million people are unemployed.

  • 804,000 homeowners have received foreclosure notices this year.

  • 47 million non-elderly people in the U.S. are not covered by health insurance, meaning they can't afford health care.

This is the America that the tea baggers want back and like to party over. You know, peace on earth and good will to all fascists. Oh, where are the concentration camps and gas ovens of yesteryear?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Maudlin Thursday, Bad Friday, and the Tenebrae in which there is no light

This Easter and Passover season is one more of skepticism than contemplation. The current Newsweek features a story about the decline of Christianity in America, while polls show that fewer and fewer people claim religious identities.

For many people of faith of my acquaintance, including ordained ministers and professors of theology, it is a time for pondering the moral and spiritual failures of Christianity. As a graduate of and a professor who taught at a denominational college and has close relationships with former colleagues and students, I share the chagrin over how Christianity has become identified, but also note that disaffection in religion often leads to reformation.
The catalyst behind the growing religious doubt is Islam and 9/11. Although many Muslim clerics insist that their religion is one of peace and good will, that is not the face of Islam that has glowered over world events in the last decade or so. Rather, we saw and heard hatred and indiscriminate violence while the 9/11 terrorists crashed the planes into the World Trade Centner while shouting "God is great." We have seen the constant violence between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq as the perpetrators preach hatred and violence and demonstrate a spiritual nihilism that overshadows any claims of benignity.

While we may recoil in disdain from the acts and messages of hatred and destruction, we are forced to consider the ill will and violence on earth perpetrated by our own faiths. It is a discomfiting time for Christianity. It is also a time when people of faith are confronted with more messages of ill will and despair than of good will and hope.

One need go no further than the South Dakota blogosphere to be immersed in the fact that we live in a nation divided, and allegedly Christian motives cleave the divisions. The South Dakota blogosphere is a typical killing field for the teachings of Christ. Looking at the blog aggregations of the South Dakota Blognet and one is besieged with the malign, accusations of perfidy, and constant defamations of person.

Then the purveyors of malice presume to send messages of the hope of Easter. I think of a blues from an underground musical of the 1970s.

Don't lay none of your Christianity on me.

Don't try to play that game with me.
What it did to you is play to see.
Ain't no fool going to mess that way with me.

On the blogosphere, the religion of peace and good will offers, with few exceptions, the message of 9/11. Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do. They profane Easter.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Overseer's advice: Fire the top executives, liquidate the banks

The recommendation of the TARP fund overseer that the top executives of offending companies should be fired and the banks should be liquidated was given short shrift in the media when it deserved more extensive play, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.

Elizabeth Warren, a U.S. House representative and Harvard Law professor issued a report yesterday which asserts that the firing of screw-off (my term) executives and the liquidation of pirating banks would be a more reasonable and effective measure in restoring the economy.

The most extensive account of the report is at Bloomberg News

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Great American Honor Roll

The Associated Press reports that 53 mass shootings have occurred in the U.S. during the past month.

Here is the "honor roll" of the more notable mass shootings in recent American history:

  • April 6, 2009: Kevin Garner, 45, shot and killed his wife, his daughter, his sister, his nephew, and himself in Priceville, Ala.
  • April 4, 2009: Richard Paplowski, 22, shot and killed three police officers and injured two in Pittsburgh, Pa.

  • April 4, 2009: James Harrison, 23, shot and killed his five children and himself near Tacoma, Wash.
  • April 3, 2009: Jiverly Wong, 43, shot and killed 13 people and then himself and injured four in Binghamton, N.Y.

• March 29, 2009: Robert Stewart, 45, shot and killed eight people at Pinelake Health and Rehab in Carthage, N.C. before a police officer shot him and ended the rampage.

• March 29, 2009: Devan Kalathat, 42, shot and killed his two children and three other relatives, then killed himself in an upscale neighborhood of Santa Clara, Calif. Kalathat's wife was critically injured.

  • March 21, 2009: Lavell Mixom, 26, killed four police officers in Oakland, Calf.

• March 10, 2009: Michael McLendon, 28, killed 10 people • including his mother, four other relatives, and the wife and child of a local sheriff's deputy • across two rural Alabama counties. He then killed himself.

• Feb. 14, 2008: Former student Steven Kazmierczak, 27, opened fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, fatally shooting five students and wounding 18 others before committing suicide.

• Dec. 5, 2007: Robert A. Hawkins, 19, opened fire with a rifle at a Von Maur store in an Omaha, Neb., mall, killing eight people before taking his own life. Five more people were wounded, two critically.

• April 16, 2007: Seung-Hui Cho, 23, fatally shot 32 people in a dorm and a classroom at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, then killed himself in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

• Oct. 2, 2006: Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, shot to death five girls at West Nickel Mines Amish School in Pennsylvania, then killed himself.

• March 21, 2005: Student Jeffrey Weise, 16, killed nine people, including his grandfather and his grandfather's companion at home. Also included were five fellow students, a teacher and a security guard at Red Lake High School in Red Lake, Minn. He then killed himself. Seven students were wounded.

• March 12, 2005: Terry Ratzmann, 44, gunned down members of his congregation as they worshipped at the Brookfield Sheraton in Brookfield, Wisconsin, slaying seven and wounding four before killing himself.

• March 5, 2001: Charles "Andy" Williams, 15, killed two fellow students and wounded 13 others at Santana High School in Santee, Calif.

• Nov. 2, 1999: Copier repairman Byran Uyesugi, 40, fatally shoots seven people at Xerox Corp. in Honolulu. He is convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

• July 29, 1999: Former day trader Mark Barton, 44, killed nine people in shootings at two Atlanta brokerage offices, then killed himself.

• April 20, 1999: Students Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, opened fire at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding 26 others before killing themselves in the school's library.

• May 21, 1998: Two teenagers were killed and more than 20 people hurt when Kip Kinkel, 17, opened fire at a high school in Springfield, Ore., after killing his parents.

• March 24, 1998: Andrew Golden, 11, and Mitchell Johnson, 13, killed four girls and a teacher at a Jonesboro, Ark., middle school. Ten others were wounded in the shooting.

• Oct. 16, 1991: A deadly shooting rampage took place in Killeen, Texas, as George Hennard opened fire at a Luby's Cafeteria, killing 23 people before taking his own life. 20 others were wounded in the attack.

• June 18, 1990: James Edward Pough shoots people at random in a General Motors Acceptance Corp. office in Jacksonville, Fla., killing 10 and wounding four, before killing himself.

• July 12, 1976: Edward Charles Allaway, a custodian in the library of California State University, Fullerton, fatally shot seven fellow employees and wounded two others.

• Aug. 20, 1986: Pat Sherrill, 44, a postal worker who was about to be fired, shoots 14 people at a post office in Edmond, Okla. He then kills himself.

• July 18, 1984: James Oliver Huberty, an out-of-work security guard, kills 21 people in a McDonald's restaurant in San Ysidro, Calif. A police sharpshooter kills Huberty.

• May 4, 1970: Four Kent State University students were killed by Ohio National Guard troops during a campus protest of the invasion of Cambodia. Nine people were wounded.

• Aug. 1, 1966: Charles Whitman opened fire from the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin, killing 16 people and wounding 31.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

When malice collides with integrity

This was a week when one kind of wrong doing undercut attempts to deal with other kinds of wrong doing.

The U.S. Department of Justice decided to abandon its case against Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens because prosecutors violated requirements of judicial due process in the way they handled the case. The Justice Department did not exonerate Stevens, but it found that the prosecutors in the case had so perverted the judicial process that Stevens did not get a fair trial.

While some of the petulant party try to make a partisan issue out of the case, it is fundamentally a matter of people of integrity reviving a sense of justice in a government department that is supposed to set the standards for it.

The other notable instance occurred Thursday when six jurors returned a verdict that Prof. Ward Churchill was wrongly fired from his job as professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado. They awarded him $1 in damages.

A judge will later determine whether Churchill gets his job back.

The trial posed questions of academic freedom against academic integrity.

Churchill wrote an essay following 9/11 in which he called the victims in The World Trade Center "little Eichmanns" because they were doing the work of corporations that he thinks are involved in the exploitation and subjugation of people throughout the world.

The essay was written and published in 2001, but it was discovered by the rabid right in 2005 and used as the pretext for rage and revenge. As came out in the trial, the Governor of Colorado of the time called the university president and told her to fire Churchill or he wold retaliate by cutting funds. Regents also testified that they wanted Churchill fired over the essay. They came up against the rule of academic freedom that protects a professor's right to express opinions that others might find offensive.

When it became apparent that the firing of Churchill for the essay would violate protected academic freedom, university officials and professors were instructed to investigate some allegations that Churchill had committed academic fraud in his published writing. The charges were submitted to a panel of his peers and they found against Churchill, charging that he

  1. committed plagiarism,
  2. fabricated data and information,
  3. and misrepresented the words and work of others.
Although some members of the panel thought Churchill should receive lesser punishment, he was fired.

Churchill's suit against his firing was based on the contention that he was fired for the essay he wrote and that the charges of academic misconduct were merely pretexts for the firing. The jury believed that was the case. At the trial Churchill admitted some of the instances of misconduct and had explanations for them, and he contended that others could not be interpreted as academic deception or fraud.

The matters of academic integrity are troubling. One of the most difficult aspects of being a college English professor is teaching the research paper. Research papers do not only teach and test the ability to gather and document research materials; they test the character and integrity of the students. Much is made of plagiarism because it is the more common transgression of students. The punishments generally were based on the severity of the offense. When students submitted papers that they purchased, copied from other students, or lifted off the Internet, they were generally expelled from school with the offense becoming part of their academic record. If they plagiarized parts of the paper, professors tried to determine if it was deliberate or if it was the result of not understanding the writing process thoroughly enough. The paper could receive a failing grade, or the student could fail the course.

As computers came into use, professors were able to more easily review and monitor the drafts of papers as students wrote them, so that they could see that students were actually doing their own work and so that problems could be caught and explained before the papers were submitted for final evaluation.

If students are held responsible for their work, professors are held to stringent standards. At least that is the case in some places. Tenured professors can be fired, or otherwise disciplined, for plagiarism, falsifying data or information, misrepresenting the words and work of others, scholarly slovenliness, gross incompetence, and general mendacity.

I am acquainted with Ward Churchill's work, as Native American literature and life is one of my major areas of research. A professional organization I belong to was asked to intervene in the Churchill case, and some of us were asked to review the materials which Churchill was charged with plagiarizing or falsifying. Our findings supported those of his panel of peers. Some members of that panel thought Churchill should have received lesser discipline than firing, but all found his work at fault. There were questions about whether the fraud was deliberate or was a matter of slovenliness, but the result is the same, and professors are supposed to be above such mishandling of materials.

I have served on many panels over the years t;hat have examined charges of scholarly misconduct. In some cases, the charges against professors were contrived and motivated on personal malice. In those cases, the people who made false charges were the ones who deserved the discipline. In other cases, professors were found to have violated the rules of integrity. Having served on editorial boards, I can say that where a procedure of editorial review is in place, plagiarized and misrepresented information is routinely identified and dealt with. In reputable publications, it just does not occur. The source and fact-checking is too rigorous to let it slip by. Consequently, I am very skeptical when established professors plead innocent mistakes.

I think professors who get caught plagiarizing and falsifying information for any reason should be dismissed. They compromise the very integrity of higher education.

However, I am in an increasing minority. The kind of transgressions Ward Churchill was accused of are the standard fare of blogging. Perhaps half of the bloggers make careful and accurate attributions and write with some sense of decency and accuracy. The other half sees blogging as an opportunity to subject people of differing viewpoints to scurrilous and malign attack.

I have academic colleagues who strongly disapprove of my blogging, because it puts a retired professor in association with what they regard as the antithesis of what the academic profession upholds. People whose blogging maintains high levels of thought, expression, and integrity unfortunately do not shape the general perception of blogs. And the negative side includes members of the academic profession.

There was a time--and there still is in some places--when professors were told that even in their private pursuits, they represented their profession and institution. In voicing their personal viewpoints, they were expected to show respect for others and to exhibit integrity at all times. If they did not, they could be disciplined in ways to show that their profession and/or institution did not approve of or support their transgressions.

I have misgivings about blogging. I recognize the dangers of being associated with a practice that has at times earned the disdain and contempt of literate people. I have no misgivings about warning students away from those institutions where teachers contrive attacks and misrepresent the work of others. Many of my professional colleagues and some high school counselors do the same. My children and their friends have followed our advice in choosing their colleges.

The University of Colorado, while having a bit of a reputation as a party school, also has some of the strongest academic programs in the nation. Some of the people who recommended the dismissal of Ward Churchill did so out of concern for the integrity of the institution.

Now the judge must decide if Churchill gets his job back. Clearly, he was fired for his unpopular expression. Now it is time to see how responsible he will be held for his academic transgressions.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Crony capitalism: the anatomy of a failure

The churlish section of the wingnut chorus has sung its song of the peevish and petulant because of Barack Obama's immense popularity. They charge that Obama is regarded as a messiah, as a fuehrer, and every thing else they can squeeze out of those malignant little tumors that pass for minds. Their latest plaint is that in firing GM CEO Rick Wagoner the government is taking a giant step toward nationalizing the automobile industry. While it seems to register that something might be wrong with the corporations that have knocked the economy to its knees, they cannot relinquish the notion that corporations are their benefactors and CEOs should be treated like royalty. The attitude is one that has never been comfortable with democracy and the notion, as Jefferson put it, that the American aristocracy is those who actually accomplish and perform, not those who claim privilege out of some hierarchical scheme.

The corporation is their feudal Camelot, and Wagoner is being unfairly crucified. The labor unions, on the other hand, want the firings extended into the big banks and the financial industry.

As a business editor, I have long been skeptical about the status accorded CEOs. I have met some CEOs who deserve acknowledgment and reward for their acumen, their creative pr
oblem solving, and their contributions to society. But I have met many who were charlatans whose only talents were the manipulation into power among the suck-buddies we call executives. They were thoroughly anti-democratic schemers who regarded their employees as serfs and their customers as dupes. At times their attitudes led them to the the kind of greedy and power-hungry schemes that have been exposed in corporate life during our times, and I was pleased to report prison sentences for some, when their real accomplishments came to light.

But my knowledge of corporate life also comes as an insider. Within days after I was released from active
duty with the Army, I went to work for International Harvester Company, which at the time was in fact international, a global corporation headquartered on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. I got the job because I had worked at its East Moline plant a number of summers when I was an undergraduate.

At the time, two of International's main plants were in the Quad-Cities of Iowa and Illinois. The Farmall plant , which made tractors was on the Moline-Rock Island border, and its East Moline Works, which made harvester-threshers, corn pickers, and mowers, was on the Moline-East Moline border. They were both huge plants that were located on the opposite ends of a street on which the Deere & Company headquarters were situated, along with a number of Deere plants. J. I. Case, Caterpillar, Minneapolis-Moline, and a number of short-line manufacturers were in the community, and it was, indeed, the farm equipment capitol of the world. Many of my relatives worked in the industry, particularly for International Harvester. One brother was a price analyst for Deere.

Within a week, I went from guided missiles to a correspondence desk at the East Moline Works. I held a number of positions in the plant before I took a leave of absence to finish my college degree. Among them was a member of a consumer service team that was charged with investigating complaints about IH products we manufactured. When the team was created, executives assumed that we would find that most complaints resulted from careless and abusive treatme
nt of the machines that failed. The team consisted of a district sales manager, an engineer from test engineering, a representative from the service parts division, and me, from the materials control and order division of the plant. I wrote and edited the reports from our findings.

We actually found that most complaints were the result of engineering or manufacturing problems. When our reports indicated that there were company problems that needed addressing, the team was taken out of the field and disbanded. We made good products for the time that were sold world wide, but management took umbrage at any suggestion that the machines might need some improvements. The upper echelons liked to bask in the global stature of the company.

At this time, the industry was moving toward making bigger, technologically sophisticated farm equipment. Our team in the field became aware of the intensity of the competition. International had some "structural" problems that we saw as great disadvantages for the company. Those problems became apparent as we worked in the field with farmers and dealers. We became aware that other companies, particularly John Deere, were making inroads into IHC's market share.

A major problem with International was that its management was almost totally top-down, with all decisions being made on Michigan Avenue. When a plant such as ours wanted to make a change in product design or production scheduling, a request had to make its way to the Chicago headquarters. If the request was answered at all it might take months. My boss said it was like kicking a dinosaur in the tail. It took months for the kick to make its way along the nerve path to the brain, and if it registered at all, it was too late to react to the problem.

Deere on the other hand maintained a very close and attentive relationship with its dealers and its product representatives. When there was a problem, there was an active line of communication between those working with the problem in the field or the plant and the executives in the headquarters. In fact, when problems with our machines occurred, the Deere people knew about it and were using the information in their own product design and service plans. They were always ready to listen to and help disgruntled customers. Managers in our plant were concerned about the issues we raised in our reports, but Chicago seemed to dismiss them because they were coming from low-level workers in the field.

At one point, the sales manager, who led our team, wrote to his boss in Chicago that some executives needed to meet us in the field and see first hand what we were finding. A vice president flew by charter aircraft to meet us in Wisconsin. He had the dealer call a group of farmers and invited them to dinner at an upscale supper club. He gave them a sales pitch on IHC machines, then flew back to Chicago first thing in the morning. The subject of problems was never dealt with. Shortly after, we were pulled in from the field.

IHC had a strange engineering arrangement. Some of its design and engineering was outsourced on contract. Two of the major engineers in our plant were hired by the company because they had invented and held patents on components that the company used in its machines. They received a royalty for every machine containing their components. Engineering for some products was contracted out to outside engineers, often engineers who worked at universities. The problem was that when company engineers recommended a design change, there was much negotiating and wrangling with the patent holders. Often in-plant engineers were left out of the loop in decisions made about the machines we made.

One case involved the main drive axles that were used in IH tractors and combines. These axles went through an expensive heat-treating process that hardened and toughened the steel, but did not make it brittle. It was a process used on generations of machines and the axles were durable and reliable. Someone in the upper echelons heard about a process that was much cheaper and would produce the same results, so after a little investigation the order came down that all drive axles were to be treated by this process. It would save hundreds of dollars on each machine and increase the company profits. The idea was pushed hard by central office cost accountants.

The test engineer on the consumer service team I was assigned to was dubious. He said that the process needed to be tested extensively before such a change in specifications was made, and, as a test engineer who knew metallurgy, he did not think the cheaper treatment would produce good results.

He was right. Both the Farmall and East Moline Plants had to shut down for six weeks to recoup the cost of recalling machines and replacing their drive axles with ones manufactured to the old specifications. The company lost millions in revenue and much more in customer confidence.

It was the engineering that eventually brought the company to failure and dissolution. That episode with the drive axles seemed to signal the beginning of two decades of decline. Although the company did well, it was losing ground to its competitors.

In contrast, Deere had an aggressive program to build a strong cadre of engineers. It hired engineering students as summer interns, and then hired the best of those when they graduated. It put many of them to work at research and development.

During the 1980s farm crisis, the equipment manufacturers had to cut back severely. In 1976, International Harvester was sued by Deere for some patent infringements, presumably because desperate engineers copied designs to try to stay competitive. Headed toward bankruptcy in the 80s, IHC sold its farm equipment division to J. I. Case and reformed its truck division to become Navistar. In 1982, Deere was awarded $28 million for the patent infringement and placed a number of IH properties under lien to collect the damages.

Management, of course, blamed the labor unions for the company's demise. But those of us who dealt directly with the customers and machines saw it coming 20 years before the company closed down. Fridays were payday, and some local bars cashed paychecks on those Friday nights. We often met after work those Fridays and recapped the events of the week. Those sessions included some of the bosses, and we talked about the problems we saw developing and the frustration that we could not get upper management to pay attention to them.

There is a book about the ending of IHC called "A Corporate Tragedy" which theorizes that the company tried to do too much with its many product lines of heavy equipment and trucks.

The real problem was that it had an executive corps that ruled by cost accounting and MBA schemes. The harsh fact is that IHC was losing customers to competitors who were building better machines and providing better service.
The end of the company came under CEO Archie McCardell. He came on board in 1977. I had left the company in 1962, but covered it as a newspaper farm and business editor during the sixties and later as a stringer for some business publications. I was interested in IH because of my time with the company, but also because I had many friends and relatives in the farm equipment industry, many of whom worked for IH. McCardell was obsessed with breaking down the unions. One of his first acts was to fire 11,000 company executives because he thought their relationship with the unions was too amiable.

The real death knell came in 1979. (The year I moved to South Dakota.) IH was at the time the fourth largest corporation in the U.S. and it was bringing in record revenues. McCardell complained about the legacies of employee benefits and wanted to reduce labor costs, but he also promoted the payment of large dividends to shareholders rather than invest money into research and development.

The farm equipment industry labor contracts were up for renegotiation in 1979. McCardell put out a list of company demands from which he said he would not vary. The wage and benefits issues were settled quickly in line with settlements that took place with Deere and Caterpillar. However, McCardell wanted some changes in work rules. For one, he wanted mandatory overtime. The operating provision in the contract that had been in effect since 1950 was that employees could turn down overtime. (In my time with the company the workers would nearly always work overtime unless it conflicted with some planned family event. They liked the money. My overtime went into a tuition fund that I used to finish college.)

The real problem was McCardell's intransigence and his total incompetence at collective bargaining. He kept sending out statements on negotiations to the press that were forcing the workers to lock down on their positions. This led to a strike in November of 1979 that lasted until April 1980, Deere and Caterpillar had brief strikes, but settled them quickly. McCardell refused to negotiate the issues in question and, during the strike, orders built up that the company could not fill once the strike was settled. IH took a huge loss. Both company and union negotiators and executives with other companies blamed the prolonged strike on McCardell and his blustering incompetence. He was eventually fired, but by then he had devastated the company beyond rescue.

After the strike ended, the farm crises of the 80s made its sweep across the land. Farmers could not afford to buy machines. The entire industry had to retrench. IH was still reeling under its loses and debt. At the same time it was besieged with lawsuits---a fact seldom acknowledged in accounts of the company's demise. Deere was by no means the only company with a claim against IH.

McCardell asked the unions to make wage concessions. They, in fact, negotiated concessions and sent them to the bargaining unit for a vote. Then the news broke that McCardell had authorized $16 million in bonuses to his executives. As a result, the workers voted overwhelmingly against the concessions.

Within a few years, McCardell had taken the fourth largest corporation in the U.S. to a point where it had to dissolve, sell off a major product line, and reform a new company around its truck division. At the time, the vast majority of trucks that plied the interstates were IH. That, too, has changed.

McCardell came to IH at a time when it needed reforming and upgrading. But he was a CEO who neglected product development, insulted and abused his workforce, and showed the nation how to destroy a vital and successful company.

In our current crisis, all we can note is that the business world did not learn much from International Harvester.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States