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, May 28, 2009

Justice Roberts, wingnut, comes out of the closet

The American right wing nuts rage about the racial identities of the President and his Supreme Court nominee, but the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is on the attack against efforts to correct the legacy of racial discrimination.

While during his confirmation hearings Justice Roberts pledged moderation in his deliberations, he has in fact become a right wing ideologue. Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker and CNN details how Roberts actually performs on the bench:

After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A world series of belligerence?

Are the GOP and North Korea locked in a battle for the world belligerence championship?

Empathy and dumb

When the Supreme Court annointed George W. Bush president in 2000, I was dismayed. It was done in the context of a Republican lie-and-hate blitz that branded any Democrats who were seeking a fair recount in Florida as election thieves and anti-Americans. Bush 43 became president in a way that sppeared to be the political hijacking of an election. While 9/11 gave Bush a respite from the cloud of doubt and suspicion in which his presidency started, the cloud got darker and smellier during the course of his presidency.

There were people who took his verbal infacility as evidence of stupidity. In the early years of W's presidency, I was among those who objected to the gratuitous charges of dumbness hurled at Bush. Attributing mental disability and malfunction had become the favorite propagandic ploy of some in the right wing, and I cautioned progressives against being drawn into that kind of degraded exchange. Bush was overshadowed by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and he had Karl Rove as his major poltical adviser. They were not dumb. But they were routinely devious and deceptive, and these qualities began to characterize the moral and intellectual nature of the Bush presidency.

Eventually, it was George Bush himself who convinced me that he was truly dumb at times. His constant inarticulation seemed to come from a mind that was stuck in a groove. Despite the evidence building up that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and that Saddam Hussein had not stockpiled weapons of mass destruction, Bush seemed incapable of addressing that evidence. He deferred to those forces of coporate fascism that eventually brought the economy down. Bush seemed not to have any mental grasp of his own on the events taking place in the nation and the world. Rather, he kept up the stolid recitation of notions that almost everyone in the nation knew were not true, except for him.

In the books Bob Woodward wrote about George W. , he charts what started out to be a presidency that began with resolution and descended into an obstinate defense of the indefensible. Like most of the nation, I conduded that Bush was less than bright. Many people from his administration, including former press secretaries, have expressed exasperation with his inabiity to get control of the facts and of the people in his administration who distorted and falsified the facts.

Bush's struggles with language appeared more and more to emanate from struggles with the thought process. As an old professor, I have long recognized that the most ponderous thinkers are often the deepest and most thoroough thinkers. Bush never provided indications that such was the case with him.

There is a diffference between wrong and being stupid. It became impossible to make the distinction in George W. Bush.

A hallmark of stupidity is the mishandlling of language. It has become a custom, particurly in the conservative blogosphere, to insist on a meaning of a word that is not what the word historically has come to mean. And then to launch some kind of an attack on others based upon a narrow, even erroneous, meaning of the word.

Such is occuring around the word empathy. President Obama has said he wants a Supreme Court justice with empathy. When George H.W. Bush introduced Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court, he said he was a man of "great empathy." But when the word comes from Obama's mouth, the Republicans have chosen to make the word mean biased. Most people know that empathy means to be able to see what it is like to stand in another's shoes, a matter of being able to perceive from a different perspective. So, as in 1984, the Ministry of Truth is revising the dictionary.

Using that kind of ploy to change the meaning of a word in order to attack another person is, well, dumb.

If Souter would stay on a while

he'd spare the nation something as bad as a swine flu pandemic. He could put off the spectacle of watching the Republicans get even more frenzied in their hate fests than they are from Obama.

In fact, I was among some people who actually drafted a letter a month or so ago asking Souter to stay on. As soon as he announced his retirement and people began to speculate who would replace him, the Republicans announced that they would obstruct and malign the nominee, no matter who it was. As names were suggested, the Republicans did the one thing that they do with any effect: they started their defamation machinery. One thing our culture and country does not need at this time is any more of the mean and nasty degradation that is the only Republican contribution to our country. An honest and thoughtful disagreement would be like opening the windows in a diarrhea ward. But the GOP seems to have outlawed anything that remotely resembles intelligence and good purpose.

Prominent among the names brought up as a Supreme Court nominee was Sonia Sotomayor. Talking Points Memo has traced a whispering campaign against her that emerged in an article by The New Republic's legal correspondent, Jeffrey Rosen. Some anonymous lawyers and clerks approached him and said that she lacked "the intellectual heft and good manners" to sit on the Supreme Court. The conservative hate machine seized upon the article and The National Review's Mark Hemingway reduced the article to the conclusion that Sotomayor was "dumb and obnoxious." Rosen answered back with the statement that Sotomayor was an able and qualified candidate, at least as much as some of the sitting justices on the Supreme Court.

The charges that Sotomayor, who has a record of the highest intellectual achievements, is mentally challenged found its way to the nation's intellectual barrens when Mt. Blogmore's Kevin Woster said he had characterized Sotomayor as moderate on public radio but found that his assessment, derived from Associated Press stories, had been superseded by one advanced by the Mother Superior of Unmerciful Malice from NSU who determined her to be liberal. You can't go against GOP Gospel. The charge of mental deficiency got picked up by a commenter, Aldo, on Mt. Blogmore who said he was concerned about a nominee who is described as “not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench,” Of course, Aldo made no effort to determine who made that characterization or what it is based on. In the South Dakota moral barrens, hatefulness and defamation need no justification.

It would be so nice if Justice Souter could be persuaded to stay on for another year. Even though Obama was elected to lift the nation out of the morass of mindless hate and abuse into which the nation has fallen, the communicative apparatus has been so damaged as to be unusable for any profitable discussion. A friend of mine recently retired as a professor and provost of a university program in communications says the state of communications in the U.S. has prompted him to live with one foot in Canada. He planned to maintain a summer residence during his retirement in the Detroit Lakes area. But after spending a year on a project that examined the state of the media on the upper plains, he sold his property and is looking at places in Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. He says you can't live, physically or intellectual, in a poisoned environment. He is among those who believe that the intellectual failures in America are insurmountable.

So, we head into a Supreme Court confirmation process that is certain to erupt in a profusion of malice and falsehood.

I for one think that Sonia Sotomayor should be carefully examined and questioned. Just as Alito and Roberts were. If documentable deficiencies in her record could be found, they should be brought to light. But we do not need another inquisition borne of racial and sexual hatred carried out through falsehood and defamation.

I have my doubts that the country can surmount the politics of malice. Justice Souter, it would have been nice for a year of respite on the Supreme Court front from the defamations that have become our national anthem for some people.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Republican Putsch and the Swiftboating of Nancy Pelosi

Despite the record established by members of both political parties, as detailed by, that the CIA has covered up, misled, and misinformed members of Congress regarding the use of torture on detainees, the Republicans are seizing upon the lack of a documented record to accuse House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of lying and demanding her resignation.

Pelosi has advocated the establishment of Congressional investigations into the torture matter, and current CIA Director Leon Panetta formally stated that the truth in the conflicting statements will have to be determined by Congress.

But the fact-checkng and analysis will probably not be done. It could cause impediments and obstacles to the hate incitement and scurrilous accusations that now appear to form the total contribution of the Republican Party to the national dialogue. We live in an age that is overloading communication mediums with contrived and demented verbal confrontations. Cable television has displaced competent news reports with bickering and shouting sessions in which there are no attempts by anyone to establish facts or apply the rules of expository integrity.

The reactions to Nancy Pelosi range from the inane demands for resignation by Newt Gingrich to the sulky petulance of John Boehner and Dick Cheney. Pelosi's comments are a response to the abandonment of decency and due process and the adoption of torture as a national policy. The attacks against Pelosi are attempts by people incompetent in the arts of addressing issues to divert attention away from the central issue.

The encouraging sign in all this is that the press and the Internet sites run by actual brain power are fact-checking and analyzing the materials being presented to the public. A good example is that after Dick Cheney's speech denouncing Barack Obama and his policies, McClatchy newspapers fact-checked the content of his speech and found numerous errors of fact.

Add to that the refutation of Cheney's argument by the former lead interrogator in Iraq. Cheney said that prison abuse and torture played no role in the escalation of violence against America. The interrogator said that when news of the torture and prison mistreatment got out, that is precisely when militants flocked to Iraq to fight against America. And it is because of that kind of incitement that President Obama has decided not release more prison abuse photographs.

Increasingly, competent, responsible reporters are challenging the devious and incompetent, whether news organizations or citizen journalists. As said many times before, people have the right to exercise their First Amendment in expressing what is on their minds. But other people have the equal right to expose falsehoods. dishonesty, malice, and outright idiocy.

The South Dakota idiosphere echoes the worst of what finds its way into the national media and what seems to have become the Republican strategy of personal attack and destruction. Just as the insurgents in Iraq have found the Improvised Explosive Device to be the ultimate expression of their value of disfigurement and death, the Republican "base" has adopted the propagandic equivalent in the profusion of falsehood and defamation it explodes into the atmosphere. The American dialogue has degraded to a point that its objective is disfigurement-defamation and character assassination-death. In order to obtain information is that possesses the potential for intelligent thought and analysis, a citizen has to strenuously search out sources of information not given over to idiotic sound and fury. That means that people have to be alert and make others aware of where the malignant brain cells dwell. Just as the people of Mexico City wore masks a few weeks ago to ward off the swine flu virus, literate people of good will and purpose have to constantly filter out the mental contaminants that so pollute the communication atmosphere.

The cult of personal disfigurement and character assassination can be seen in constant operation in the idiosphere. South Dakota War College has become a devotee of those rituals of personal destruction. A recent example concerns Tom Daschle. The techniques of malicious misrepresention are evident in a posting which purports to call attention to a story on Daschle and contort it in such a way as to give it a defamatory appearance. The post links to a story from the Argus Leader which was reprinted from USA Today. The story is about Daschle's continued power and influence in the planning and shaping of a new health care policy. It is 15 paragraphs long and is largely a citation of Daschle's continued work and influence in reforming healthcare. One of the paragraphs cites an executive from a public watchdog agency who thinks that Daschle may still be playing the role of senator even though he does not hold that office. However, the rest of the story is about the continued respect and influence he commands.

War College presents that one paragraph in such a way as to suggest that it represents the whole of the story. By any standard, journalistic or academic, this is a blatant misrepresentation of the story in an obvioius attempt to malign Daschle.

Daschle made a serious mistake when he failed to include the services of a car and driver as income on his tax forms. He corrected the error, paid the back taxes, and withdrew from the nomination to Secretary of Human Services. Daschle is far removed at this time from any political connections with South Dakota. The continued respect and prominence he garners is a measure of the work he has done, still does, and the kind of person he is beyond the problem he had with tax payments. The question, then, is why does SD War College go to such extremes to distort a factual story about Daschle's continuing role into a defamation? For what motive do opponents of Daschle try to create the impression that he is engaged in continuous nefarious activities that violate some rule or law?

The answer is in the Republican mentality that prevails right now. In that segment of the Republican Party, like children who will destroy the world if they can't have their way, personal destruction is the sum total of their politics.

The response to pointing out that the display of the story on Daschle is a totally dishonest attempt at misrepresentation and deception will be that a link to the original story was provided. However, War College went after the Prince of Dementia, Steve Sibson, when he did precisely the kind of thing War College is trying to do to Daschle. Sibson wrote a headline suggesting that a member of the Public Utilities Commission was engaging in graft and claimed that no asperion was cast because he put a question mark after the headline. The supplying of a link to a story display that totally misrepresents the story is the same as that question mark. It does not mitigate the malicious intent behind the display.

Whether made against Nancy Pelosi by national figures or against Tom Daschle by residents of the barren backwaters, such words of falseness and hatred are the stuff out of which gas ovens are built.

And the public needs to be reminded of their intent.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A truth commission is our last best hope

Barack Obama is not doing his most hopeful and loyal constituents any favors by making concessions that return us to rule by the Bush-Cheney doctrines. From the time his presidential run was still in the exploratory stages, he received support from people who saw a need to move the country as far away as possible from the assaults against civil liberties, against contriving war on deceptions and attitudes of bully-boy belligerence, and against demoting the military services to IED-fodder.

In not releasing the photos of the treatment of detainees, Obama may be deferring to the warnings of his generals that such photos would inflame America's enemies into a an intensive assault against our troops and our homeland, but he is also affirming the Bush legacy to which he seemed to be a dramatic alternative. He is missing the opportunity to emphasize that the photographs represent what America was under Bush and not what it intends to be under Obama. Establishing the reference points that need to be refuted is not dwelling on the past. It is giving substance to the changes that need to be made.

Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on Law and Security at New York University, states the case this way:

It is one thing to wait to release the photographs in a way that satisfies the U.S. military, which has sacrificed so much in the fight against terrorism. But it is another thing to commingle the call to protect our troops with the politically shrewd reluctance to investigate out of fear that prosecutions might follow. If Obama does nothing else as president, he needs to stand up for the integrity of factual truth and clear thinking rather than the convenience of government-led obfuscation. Not releasing the pictures to reduce public pressure for an investigation of Bush administration officials should not be confused with genuinely protecting the safety of our troops. If it is, Obama cedes the one power he was elected to exercise: the power of leadership in the name of candor, lawfulness and clarity rather than deceit, secrecy and spin.
In merely modifying rather than rejecting military tribunals as a way to demonstrate justice even for those accused of attacking America, rather than totally rejecting the phony due process of the tribunals, Obama is compromising away the support that got him elected. He is trying to be pragmatic and reasonable, but just as there is no reasoning with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, there is no reasoning with the American regressive movement. He was elected to change policy and practice, not piddle away real change with unproductive conciliation.

John Cusack
states the nervous restlessness among those who want to restore America to honesty and moral integrity:
Only now is the knowledge starting to give rise to the widespread outrage and calls for accountability that such crimes against humanity deserve. Growing numbers of citizens are demanding the independent investigation and prosecution of the members of the Bush administration responsible for the vitiation of fundamental legal principles like habeas corpus and the flagrant violation of both international and domestic laws against torture. The pundits, hacks and shills who dismiss these calls for investigation and prosecution -- integral to any serious definition of accountability -- disgrace themselves and their country.
Right now Nancy Pelosi is providing a diversion from the real matters at issue. The rabid, regressive right is using what she knew about waterboarding and when she knew it to divert attention away from the "deceit, secrecy and spin" that is the basis for their anti-terrorism policies. Her statement that she was misled by the CIA in a Congressional briefing is being used as an example of mendacity on her part. This is despite the fact that Sen. Bob Graham has shown that the CIA did not, in fact, give the Senate intelligence committee the briefings it claimed it had.

The New York Times emphasizes that the attacks on Pelosi misdirect attention away from the essential matters at issue:

The furor surrounding Ms. Pelosi’s claim that she was misled has obscured one undisputed fact about the briefings. The Sept. 4, 2002, session, the first given to anyone in Congress on the so-called enhanced interrogation methods, came weeks after the C.I.A. had started to use the methods. Even if Ms. Pelosi had taken action, it is doubtful it would have averted the firestorm about torture that was to come.
Even though Leon Panetta issued a statement that the CIA, the agency he now heads, does not mislead Congress, he did not address the specifics of the issue. In his statement, he implied that a truth commission established by Congress is the way to address the matter: "Ultimately, it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened."

Although President Obama does not want an extensive inquiry into torture and the controversy surrounding it to detract from his agenda to deal with the recession, health care, and his revamping of foreign policy, Congress may have to override him and defer to the people who elected him.

Friday, May 15, 2009

187,000 more jobs are cut

The efforts to bail out the automakers are looking more and more counterproductive.

As part of their reorganization plans, Chrysler and GM are eliminating 1,800 dealers. Chrysler listed 789 dealers it will cut from its franchise. GM will send out letters of notification to 1,100 dealers today that it will not renew their franchises. The total number of employees that work in those dealerships is 187,000. That is more than the two companies employ directly in their operations.

While the dealers can stay in business by selling other brands and products, the survival of most of them is unlikely because of the severe recession that has hit the automobile business generally.

While the auto firms insist that the dealer cuts are needed to make their operations more efficient and profitable, they are not making any comment on what is known of the effects of such massive dealer cuts. While companies can withdraw franchises from dealers who do not serve the customers well and bolster their reputations for supplying good products and good service, the closing of dealers who have sold and serviced products in good faith has a backlash effect.

Dealers who have been eliminated withdraw their support for the brand. If they successfully acquire different franchises, they will be in active competition against the GM and Chrysler brands. If they close their businesses, they supply good reasons to consumers and potential employees for avoiding those companies and their brands. Dealers are the point of contact that the company brands have with consumers. Cutting dealers creates a powerful negative attitude toward the brand.

The cutting of dealerships also creates doubts about the wisdom of the government efforts to save the companies. If the bailout efforts are designed to save jobs, the dealer cuts refute the validity of those efforts.

It might be time to let Chrysler and GM fail and encourage other companies to become competitive and supply the jobs. GM and Chrysler are downsizing and damaging their brand names to the point that that they are becoming irrelevant as major players in the economy.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Prom night at Columbine

The big, burning journalistic question of our time is not whether paper-printed media will be totally displaced by electronic; it is who is going to do the job of journalism.

The problem with the Internet is that rather than improving the deficiencies of the traditional news media, it exacerbates them.

A case in point:

School shootings have become almost as traditional as high school proms. We have Columbine to thank for that. The word "Columbine" has become the term for ostracized and disaffected goths going postal on their teachers and classmates. At least, that is the way the media portrayed it.

But the media got it all wrong.

Dave Cullen, a freelance reporter, was on the scene at Columbine while the incident was still taking place. He earned nation-wide acknowledgments for his reporting. Since then, he has delved exhaustively into the story, and has produced what is probably the definitive book on the incident titled simply Columbine.

On his website, the author gives this summary:

  1. MYTHS: Within six months of Columbine, virtually all reporters on the case accepted that we had gotten most of the basics wrong (mostly by a lot of assumptions, and jumping to conclusions based on fragmentary evidence). This makes researching Columbine problematic: google the early coverage, and you'll get all the myths. Dig up later material, and much of it was based on the bad early stuff. The myths are self-propagating.

    The good news: lots of clean material is out there. It has been ID's. You just need to know which is good, which is bogus, and which has bits of each.

  2. CONTRADICTIONS: In total, the journals, videos and other writing present a crisp portrait of each killer. But beware of quotes out of context. Eric and Dylan were teenagers. They rambled, contradicted themselves and changed their minds as the plan developed.
The essential facts of the story are that the shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold planned to conducted a bombing that would surpass Oklahoma City in its magnitude of destruction and death. Their plan was to set off the bombs and set up positions outside the school from where they would mow down staff and students with their firearms as they ran outside to escape the mayhem.The bombs did not detonate, and the shooters went back into the school and salvaged what they could of their plan by opening fire on those they encountered.

The publisher of the book addresses the erroneous characterizations of the killers in his introduction:

What is shocking about Columbine is just how ordinary these two boys seemed. They loved their parents, did their homework, worked at the local pizzeria, and – contrary to widely reported accounts – were well-liked by their peers. With precision and perspective that will haunt and amaze you, Dave Cullen has crafted an indelible portrait of American youth that is at once familiar and horrifying. Better than any author I have ever read, he describes the psychological journey through which young men become killers.
This book is not a comfort to those who have sought to explain away what happened at Columbine and the myriad other school shootings and mass killings with falsehoods and stereotypes. It presents a disturbing analysis of all the elements that converge to create a Columbine. That is what makes it an important book. And it is important for the perspective on violence it gives those looking for progressive solutions to the incidence of death and destruction that plagues America.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hooters for Jesus

Carrie Prejean has a nice rack, if racks are your thing. But like global warming, it's man made. In part.

Some folks, however, think the earth is flat and whatever man does to it is ordained by the great silicon master in the sky. Humankind's additions and ornaments are just part of intelligent design. From the Hugh Hefner studio.

However, a judge at the Miss California contest apparently wanted to dispel the notion that a beauty pageant is only about perusing a comely face and ogling the T and A perched on pairs of stiletto heels. He asked a question meant to challenge the intellectual dimensions of the contestants.

So, he asked Carrie what she thought of gay marriage. As if the Miss California T and A and face pageant is the place to elicit some really incisive and definitive answers about our most pressing problem of whether we should allow people of the same sex to marry. However, Ms. Prejean did not respond with the only answer that has intellectual merit, "Who gives a shit?"

Instead, she launched into a disquisition about the sincerity of her beliefs. In subsequent statements, she expanded this to professions of her faith, her right and courage to express what she believes, and that she is dedicating her body to the work of the lord.

Who gives a shit?

Why dwell on this when there are real issues to be dealt with? Like Michelle Obama's baring of arms. The President's perverted preference for Dijon mustard. Dick Cheney's crusade over the way to salvation through torture. Wanda Syke's wish that Limbaugh needs dialysis.

To say nothing of 4,281 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. And counting. U.S. soldiers now killing each other. Another 678 U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan. And the number is rapidly climbing.

Or that good old American-mafia style business has put 22 million Americans out of work--15.8 percent. Oil prices are on the climb again. And 12.8 million children in America are designated as suffering from hunger.

Hey, Jesus! Who gives a shit?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Who killed Bradley Odens?

According to various news reports, Bradley Odens, 23, got drunk in a Brookings bar and when he went home at 2 a.m., he tried to get into a house two doors from where he lived. The occupant of the house heard him trying to force the door open and warned Odens that he would shoot if he persisted in trying to gain entry. Odens persisted and was fatally shot in the chest.

The Brookings County state's attorney, Clyde Calhoon, decided that it was a justifiable homicide: "Based on the facts as developed by the police department in their investigation, applying those facts to the law, I have concluded that although this was a terrible tragedy, under the laws of South Dakota, the shooting was justified."

South Dakota law* states that a homicide is justified in defending his person or household " if there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony, or to do some great personal injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished."

The matter is seamy. It involves the two ingredients most common to the violence in American culture: mind altering substance, usually alcohol, and firearms.

Although I have been associated with college students most of my life, I don't pretend to understand the custom of drinking to insensibility. While I was an undergraduate, my generation maintained the ages-old collegiate custom of collegial imbibing. However, people whose behavior showed that they could not hold their liquor well were regarded as violating expected courtesies toward others and were stigmatized as problem drinkers.

That rule of conduct has changed drastically. In my time at NSU, there were a number of student deaths that resulted from alcoholic excesses, and many more incidents that ended up in court. We expect that young people will push the limits. The purpose of education is to channel those energies and to teach how to think about consequences. Cultural pressures of our time have reduced--in many cases nullified--the influence of parents, churches, and schools on young people. The effects of drinking to excess are accepted as a social norm.

I live a matter of blocks away from the favorite hangout for college-age students. One homecoming Saturday night we heard the front door open and close and assumed it was our son returning from a band gig he and his friends went to. A while later, the door opened again, and my son came to our room and asked, "Who is the guy sleeping on the couch?"

When we went down stairs, we found this young man passed out on the couch and we were unable to awaken him. I was afraid of death by alcoholic poisoning. My wife was afraid he'd pee on the couch. We called the police, who had one hell of a time awakening the chap. They hauled him off and we did not file charges, but were glad they would dispose of the matter. I did not want to know his name.

I have little patience with students or anyone else who drinks to insensibility. So the next time we had an incident, my spouse did not tell about it until it was over. One morning my spouse picked up the morning paper off the porch and noticed someone was in my car.
My wife was able to arouse him, although he was befuddled and groggy. His friends gave him a pre-wedding bachelor party at that bar down the street. They left him to find his way home, and my car was where he ended up. Mrs. N. got his name and address and drove him home. Then she told me.

I appreciate not having to deal with drunks. As a young man I played in a big band, and learned to loathe New Year's Eve. We called in amateur night. I detest drunks. So my wife spared the young man my ire, but the whole world heard about the reek of stale booze breath the young man left in my car.

Some young people do really stupid and repulsive things while under the influence. They should probably not have to be exposed to my contemptuous ire for it. And they probably should not be shot.

But transgressions against sobriety and punishment is not the issue here. Open records is.

More than likely the Brookings County state's attorney is right. The circumstances of the incident may well fit the terms of the law* that justify homicide.

But nobody beside the police investigators and the state's attorney know.

What is puzzling is that authorities have never released the name of the shooter in their reports. That makes the lack of supporting information and explanation in the information they have released unsatisfactory.

Citizens have a right to know how their law enforcement agencies make their decisions. And when there is a fatal act of violence, the taxpayers have a right to know. There would be no question about naming the driver of a car that resulted in an unavoidable death. Why is the identity of a bearer and user of firearms protected? A matter involving public safety is at issue.

So is the matter of legitimate public information.

22-16-1. Homicide defined. Homicide is the killing of one human being, including an unborn child, by another. Homicide is either:
(1) Murder;
(2) Manslaughter;
(3) Excusable homicide;
(4) Justifiable homicide; or
(5) Vehicular homicide.

22-16-34. Justifiable homicide--Resisting attempted murder--Resisting felony on person or in dwelling house. Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person while resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to commit any felony upon him or her, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is.

22-16-35. Justifiable homicide--Defense of person--Defense of other persons in household. Homicide is justifiable if committed by any person in the lawful defense of such person, or of his or her husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant if there is reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony, or to do some great personal injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished.

Monday, May 11, 2009

South Dakota sucks the bottom on integrity

South Dakota rated absolutely last in a government integrity index compiled for the Better Government Association. This is the second time South Dakota has ranked last among the 50 states in the Association's study of how well state governments served their constituencies. The last study was made in 2002.

The ranking is derived from a comparative study of five areas of state law:

  • open records
  • whistleblower protection
  • campaign finance
  • open meetings
  • conflict of interest
South Dakota also came in absolute last in a study of Freedom of Information access provided by state laws and procedures. The Association gave 38 states a failing grade, but South Dakota and Alabama received zero scores because they have no provisions for Freedom of Information access.

The integrity study was issued last October, and although it was widely referred in citizen efforts to obtain a new open meetings laws for South Dakota before and during the legislative session, it was not reported in the news until today.

One of the blogs
which specializes in partisan malice and false, defamatory information tries to connect the rating to the state's ethics code, and not the five areas of statutory law listed above, providing an illustration of the state's integrity problems.

In the study's news release, Jeff Stewart, executive director of the BGA, says.

South Dakota ranked 50th among all fifty states overall. By issue area South Dakota ranked 49th in open records laws; 46th in whistleblower laws; 34th in campaign finance laws; 46th in open meetings laws; and 27th in conflict of interest laws. With its number 50 overall ranking, South Dakota achieved a modest 32% overall score.

“South Dakota didn’t beat out any other state” said Stewart, “and there is clearly a lot of room for improvement. If you look at the percentage score, South Dakota received 32%, the equivalent of a F letter grade, hardly a cause for celebration.”

He further states:

"We hope that legislators and leaders in South Dakota will use the Integrity Index as a tool to spur reform and upgrade their laws in regard to transparency, accountability and limits. Better yet, we hope South Dakota comes up with a tough new standard that then becomes the measure against which other states will be judged” said Stewart.

Although the state passed a more liberal open meetings and open records law this past session, it still provides dodges for government officials to withhold and hide information.

The Better Government Association was founded to help combat organized crime's influence on government during the Capone era in Chicago. An account of its work can be found here.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Nation Ready To Be Lied To About Economy Again

That's a headline in The Onion. The story says:

Tired of hearing the grim truth about their economic future, Americans demanded that the bald-faced lies resume immediately, particularly whenever politicians feel the need to divulge another terrifying problem with Wall Street, the housing market, or any one of a hundred other ticking time bombs everyone was better off not knowing about.

In addition, citizens are requesting that the phrase, "It will only get worse before it gets better," be permanently replaced with, "Things are going great. Enjoy yourselves."
With satirical humor, The Onion cuts through all the verbal clutter emitted by cable tv news, talk radio, and blogs. Fortunately, the humor media is about the only source of sane-based news. People who want information delivered in an intelligent perspective depend upon sources like The Onion, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report.

The Onion does not spare the presumptive self-glorification of bloggers from its nonsense-cutting wit:

Mainstream Media At It Again, Bloggers Report

NEW YORK—The mainstream media—a loose consortium of corporate news outlets
known for using professionally trained journalists who adhere to an editorial process—have once again completely missed the boat in their reporting of national events, outraged sources within the blogosphere said Monday. "When will the MSM dinosaurs realize that they're TOTALLY irrelevant?" wrote 39-year-old part-time librarian James Last, commenting on coverage of Obama's first 100 days in a scathing post that appeared on his blog, The LAST Word. "If the idiots at MSNBC, The New York Times, and WaPo could lift their heads from the money trough for a minute, maybe they'd write a story that's not completely driven by the corporate agenda. I'm not holding my breath." Right-wing bloggers were reportedly equally upset, with many singling out MSNBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post as "shills" for the liberal agenda. At press time, an estimated 8.4 million bloggers nationwide were watching CNN.

An example of where The Onion is embarrassingly accurate about the reporting of economic news is the story yesterday about unemployment:

U.S. Jobless Rate Hits 8.9%, but Pace Eases

Buried in one of its online features, The Washington Post carried a story giving the actual figures about the unemployment rate, which it cited at 15.8 percent.

The total number of Americans who are not working full-time but ought to be is actually about 22 million, or 15.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Who are those other 8.3 million Americans? Call them the unofficially unemployed.

It may well be a fact that people do not want to hear. Particularly those who deny global warming, evolutionary change, who put the economy in its current mess, and the folly of the war on Iraq.

Friday, May 8, 2009

And so is your mama.

Bob Newland, a proponent of medical marijuana, sent e-mails to bloggers containing an opinion piece on the subject and an alert that its publication was imminent. A couple of blogs posted it, and that's when the blogophiliacs began to get their malevolent little rocks off. In public. As least as public as blogorrhea gets. In the piece, Newland makes some comments about PeePee and the South Dakota Wart Collage, a cyberspace collection and gathering of ugliness that engages in one-sided piddling duels. Except when it comes to Sibilant Online, who responds at times. Birds of a feather fighting for territory, you know. Sibilant hisses Rush Limbaugh; PP mouths Bill O'Reilly.

One of the blogs that posted
Newland's piece then took it down because PP piddled in the comment section and Newland, in turn, responded with the initials of a well known insult, according to the blog editor. The editor said mama don't allow no piddling in here, and took the entire post down with a chiding.

In the piece, Newland makes the point that blogs are not the best places to have a substantial discussion and refers to the warts in the collage as evidence, but then he challenges some commenters who actually sign their names to a debate on medical marijuana.

Meanwhile, back at Madville Times, Cory Heidelberger is deciding whether to require commenters to include their names before he will post comments. He cites an example of the cowardly malignancies that infest comment sections. The comment includes the accusation that not posting an anonymous comment is an act of censorship.

This is a familiar plaint from those anonymous paragons of cowardice who haunt blogs and discussion boards. They cannot grasp the idea that the First Amendment restricts the government from making any laws that would infringe upon the right to free speech. The premise is that citizens who have identities shall have the right to free expression. It suggests nothing about the right to be anonymous. In fact, the journalistic basis for attribution is that quotations are not actual unless their author is identified. In certain circumstances, news media does not reveal the source of quoted or cited materials, but reporters and editors verify that the person being quoted has a real identity.

I will say parenthetically that as an investigative reporter who on occasion was given information under the provision that the source would not be revealed, the task of verifying and insuring the accuracy of the information was intensified. Before publishing the information, it had to be cleared with the senior editors, which usually meant that you would tell them just who provided the information and why the person's identity should be withheld. Then, the reporter had to double the efforts to verify the validity and accuracy of the information. The Constitutional provision that no accusation can be processed against a person by the government except by "oath or affirmation" guides--at least it once did--the standard for publishing accusatory information in the press. The majority of information obtained under the provision that the source not be revealed was never published. If it was not verified with supporting documents or other witnesses, it was withheld until such time as it could be proved. And frequently, confidential information proved to be false or inaccurate or without verifiable foundation.

But another aspect of the First Amendment that the twit-wits cannot seem to understand is the right of free expression gives people the corollary right to reject what is uttered. Editors of news media, websites, and any other forum have the right to edit the materials they publish according to the standards set by their publications. The right to free expression includes the right not to publish materials that does not meet standards of intelligence and literacy and to reject statements for any reason. No media has to publish anything if its editors choose not to.

There is a further dimension that has caused newspapers to monitor more closely what is posted on their discussion boards. For one thing, commentary that devolves into the petty, mean, scurrilous, and just plain stupid reflects on the institution that sponsors it. In fact, such commentary reflects on the community from which it originates. A few years back, I was asked if I could supply some workspace for members of a consulting organization that were looking for a community in which to center a think tank on the "buffalo commons," the northern great plains. I was not a part of their decision-making, but I was privy to what they were examining and how they analyzed it. They decided that Aberdeen had some features that would make a good home for such an enterprise, but they found some negative factors that outweighed the positive. One of the things they pointed to was community attitudes and they brought out numerous examples from the discussion board sponsored by the local newspaper. They cited the hatred, meanness, scurrility, and absence of intelligence in most of the discussion threads. Promoters of the city pointed out that the comments the consultants cited were from a very small minority of people in the community who seemed to do little else but spread their ill will and stupidity on discussion boards. The consultants replied that they realized that, but the discussion board was face of dialogue taking place within the community and, like it or not, it characterized the community. They said a think tank would find it deleterious to be associated with such a community.

The kind of comments that appears on blogs likewise characterizes the intellectual nature and constituency of the blogs. Editors have the right--and the responsibility--to enforce standards of dialogue. They also bear responsibility, potentially monetary, for libelous and false materials.

So, Cory has an absolute right to set the purpose and tone of Madville Times, as does every other blog editor have to edit any materials appearing on their sites. The rule of communication is "by their comments, ye shall know them." And blogs that try to contribute something other than the mean, malign, and moronic are increasingly finding it necessary to monitor and restrict comments.

Blogs express the nature of the personalities and character of those who produce them. By their very nature, blogs tend to attract the obsessively narcissistic. They are easily identified by the self-preening and self-stroking of the ego. They inspire a lot of derisive snickering of which their authors seem unaware.

And while blogs are by their nature geared to certain perspectives, what separates the valuable from the worthless is the difference between those that do attempt to inform and discuss and those devoted largely to disparagement, denial, and malignity.

Local blogs I shall refer to as Sibilant Online, Wart Collage, Dakota Noises, and The Douchebag Monologues are devoted to defamatory portrayals of the people identified with positions they don't like. When you cut through the tendentious posturings of South Dakota Polecat-antics you nearly always end up with a personal attack (a befouling from the nasty little scent glands) on someone's mentality, personality, and character, not a critique of the issues purportedly being discussed. That blog originated as an instrument of character assassination, and it has been dedicated to that purpose in all its convolutions of pretense. And all we can say in response to it is what Bob Newland said that got his essay taken down.

Some blogs elicit many responses, but do reserve the right to edit and to maintain a benign, purposeful perspective. Mount Blogmore is among the most successful at this.

The task before journalists and educators is coaching the public in how to read the new media, as it likes to call itself. But it is an old task that has confronted human communication and education from the beginning of human sentience. Standards of what is worthy have to be defined, and if the better angels of human nature are to prevail, people have to understand what is constructive dialogue and what is petty and malicious. When people concentrate on assailing the character and personality of others, they are not intending good will and purposeful dialogue.

The question confronting bloggers and people who read them is if they want the mean, malicious, and ignorant to prevail. That is what often dominates the face that our communication enterprise presents to us.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sometimes the light shines through

We've lived through a dark age. We were thrust into a war by guile, deception, and a mindless belligerence. Some so-called leaders decided to refute the notion that America is a nation of decency and adopted the morality code of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as it turned into a nation that tortured. For some, torture became part of the liturgy of patriotism. They say you are anti-American if you don't condone torture.

With the wingding chorus yelling that the the White House has been invaded by fascists (one wonders how long it has been since people were taught to use dictionaries) and Mitt Romney saying that we have a monarchist administration, and a deranged congresswoman calling for a revolutionary uprising, the dark corrosive clouds of petit-fascism hover on the horizon. They would seem less threatening had not the opposition party launched an all-out attack on working people and a full-throated support of the fascistic rulers who plunged the economy into near-depression, asked for and took bail-out money, and spent it on their own vanities.

A majority of Americans support a return to democracy, but the forces of malevolence and feudal privilege and the politics of hate are rumbling and lurking on the horizon.
But the times have also given us some clear images of the fundamental virtues and qualities of character that build the real America. They are images unclouded by partisan rancor, and the qualities of competence and personal industry shine through. And they are familiar stories. But they are essential stories.

One of those competent, hard-working souls is a horse. Mine That Bird traveled 1,700 miles in horse trailer towed behind a pickup to be in the Kentucky Derby. The photo above shows him streaking across the finish line and winning. When he was a yearling, he brought only $9,500, but he won races in Canada. Mine That Bird is a gelding. Whatever his destiny is as he heads
for the Triple Crown, he won't retire to blue grass and mounting hot mares. Maybe the blue grass.

Mine That Bird's 50-to-1 shot win at the Derby begins with what his jockey Calvin Borel says is "plenty of horse." But it involves a savvy trainer, Chip Woolley, who drove that pickup for 21 hours with a broken leg smashed up in a motorcycle accident. He'd been to the Kentucky Derby once before, but said he'd never come again without a horse. He drove the 1,700 miles stopping once in Texas to give Mine That Bird a workout. And then there is the third part of the team. Calvin Borel. He guided Mine That Bird from a last position in the pack to cruise along the rail to a 6-length lead at the finish line. Wins like that make old men's hearts work harder than they need to, but they sure lift the spirit.

The so-called feel-good story in the race was 75-year-old Tom McCarthy who has a single-horse stable consisting of General Quarters who he picked up for $20,000 at a claiming race. Tom said that when he got the horse he was like a gawky teen-ager who showed up for basketball practice one day, but couldn't dribble and chew gum a the same time. General Quarters came in tenth, but he is headed for the Preakness in two weeks to try again.

Tom McCarthy was a high-school biology teacher who worked his way up to principal, but had this love of horses and racing. He is the owner, trainer, and handler of General Quarters, and would probably ride, too, if he could make the weight.

It has been a year of stories about competent people who work hard at what they like and what they do and exhibit competence and skill and a sense of responsibility to people who are affected
by the way they do their jobs. In January Chesley Sullenberger captain of an U.S. Airways Airbus with 150 passengers and four other crew members on board took off from New York's LaGuardia airport and ran into a flock of geese a minute into the flight. Both engines were disabled and Capt. Sully asked for clearance to return to LaGuardia. However, without power, he realized there was a big chance that the plane probably did not have enough glide to make it back to the airport and could crash into the city. He decided to land it in the Hudson River. As he guided it to a landing, he saw a boat in the river and brought the plane down in a textbook maneuver near the boat to insure rescue efforts for the people on board.

I use the term "textbook" maneuver with emphasis. Capt. Sullenberger is a graduate of the Air Force Academy, has flown for 40 years, and has had all the intensive and continuous training required of airline pilots. In addition, he has earned masters' degrees from Purdue and the U. of Northern Colorado. He has a consulting business on airflight safety and risk management and has served on a number of committees and boards dealing with the subject. Capt. Sullenberger was prepared for the kind of eventuality he ran into with the flock of birds.

So was his first officer and the rest of his crew.

However, the U.S. Airways 1529 story must also include the
competence and skill of the ferry boat crews and first responders from New York City who rescued the people off the wings of the aircraft as it filled with water. People doing their jobs and doing them well are not considered news, but they are what makes the world work--when it does.

Another craft captain who has earned the admiration of the nation is Richard Phillips, captain of the container freighter Maersk Alabama, w
hich was attacked by Somalian pirates. A number of people share the acknowledgment in this story for their knowledge and competence in their jobs. When pirates boarded the Alabama, Capt. Phillips ordered his crew to take security measures which frustrated the pirates' plans to commandeer the ship. An agreement was reached that Capt. Phillips would accompany the pirates off the ship in a lifeboat while the crew would retain command of the ship. It was an act of good faith on the Captain's part. However, the pirates did not reciprocate that good faith and took him hostage for ransom.

The next part of the story involves the U.S. Navy which sent the USS Bainbridge into the area to the area to provide negotiation and rescue efforts. A team of Navy Seals parachuted into the sea behind the Bainbridge and surreptitiously came aboard and set up a surveillance post on the fantail from where they could monitor the covered lifeboat in which four pirates held Capt. Phillips. After one escape attempt, Capt. Phillips was recaptured and kept bound in the boat. The Seals xeroed in their rifles on the pirates and kept them covered through their telescopic sights should there be a need or an opportunity to open fire. When one pirate came aboard the Bainbridge for medical treatment, the others began to act erratically, with one holding a rifle on Capt. Phillips as if he meant to shoot at any moment. Capt. Phillips said in a later interview that he did not expect to get out of the incident alive. Commanders on the Bainbridge ordered the Seals to take action, and in a synchronized firing, they took out the three pirates simultaneously. It was a remarkable feat.

The entire incident, as in the safe landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1529, illustrated people who trained, practiced, and worked at their jobs. The skills shown by Capt. Sullenberger and his crew are probably never called into use by the majority of airline pilots. And the skills shown by Capt. Phillips and his crew and the Navy Seals will probably never be needed by the vast majority of people in their jobs. But part of their job is to prepare for such eventualities and have their knowledge, skill, and intelligence at the ready at all times.

What these people have demonstrated is in stark contrast to the war on Iraq and Hurricane Katrina.

And then there is Susan Boyle, the woman who stunned world on the British version of Idol. As the dowdy woman prepared to perform her song, the audience and the judges waited with
derisive smirks on their faces. But three notes into the song, and the judges' expressions turned into awed gapes. The woman not only had a great voice, but it was astoundlingly trained and polished. In the superficial culture of our world, people of such unassuming appearance are not supposed to possess such an abundance of superbly honed talent. She didn't need to expose a tit or thrust her crotch at the audience; all she needed to do was sing. And suddenly we were confronted with the fact of talent and someone who learned how to develop and use it.

If you don't get immersed in cable television news, blogs and social networks, or the deep darkness of midnight talk radio, the world is not such a bad place to be right now. Thanks to people of integrity who work hard. And expect no special attention or privilege. And have no ambitions to impose anything on others.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Re-engineering Chrysler

If you were involved in industry in recent decades, you would hear the term "Chrysler engineering" used to designate a standard of excellence. As an employee in corporations and later a business reporter, I heard the term used often to designate design and engineering that was not necessarily sexy, but durable and reliable. The fleet manager at a newspaper I worked for insisted on buying Chrysler products for the staff cars and delivery vehicles because they were easier and cheaper to maintain and keep in good repair. I was assigned a Plymouth station wagon which ran and ran and ran.

Engineers I worked with and knew socially often made reference to Chrysler engineering as a standard of quality. An engineer I worked with on some civic projects was an engineer for the Corps of Engineers when I knew him, but had been a lead engineer for General Motors. He often asked if we should be "thinking like Chrysler engineers" as we approached problems. Out of loyalty to his former employer and because it had a sexier design, he drove a Cadillac that we called The Queen Mary, but he openly endorsed Chrysler engineering as something to aspire to.

When muscle cars and and showy design dominated the auto market, Chrysler fell on hard times, although it also had some successes. Lee Iacocca as head of the company asked for a government bailout loan, and paid it back in a few years. In reshaping the company, Iacocca revamped an inventory and dealership structure that needed some shaking up, but he relied largely on the reputation of Chrysler engineering to get the company back in the profit columns.

It was at that point that Chrysler engineering began to lose some luster. The company came out with a series of what it called K-cars and smaller, fuel-efficient four-cylinder cars that met the market needs of the times in the late 70s and 80s. They were cars that were okay, but had short life-spans. In five years time they wore down and did not retain much value.

Chrysler's biggest success has been the mini van. For families and the American way of life, they were a brilliant product. I had three of the Chrysler company versions. But they also showed evidence of the slippage in Chrysler engineering. The transmission on a Dodge Caravan went out suddenly during the rush hour on I-80 outside of Davenport, Iowa, in an experience that my children still recall with horror. The hordes of semis thundering by while we floundered to the side of the Interstate scared the bejesus out them. The engine of that van also went out one morning here in South Dakota when it was 40-below and the oil-sending unit malfunctioned. However, that was more a weather problem than an engineering one.

I traded it in on a Chrysler Town and Country which was a fine car. Except that when I traded it in, it was on its third transmission. And it had many repairs to the heating and cooling sytem while we had it. It was replaced with a Ford Windstar which was a gasoline glutton, was in the repair shop, I think, more than it was in my garage, and it held absolutely no value. It was replaced with a Toyota.

That is an anecdotal account of how a person who refused to buy anything but American cars came to own Japanese cars. It was the engineering. Because we were a two-job family, we needed two cars. My personal cars were Jeeps. When my last Jeep was over 12 years old and the family service manager was not giving it a good prognosis, he showed me a Honda CRV that had just come in on trade. I bought it. Now at 12 years of age and 170,000 miles it still runs like it did the day I bought it, and so far all it has needed is regular maintenance. Even Lee Iacocca admires Honda engineering, and his assessment might well indicate a direction for Chrysler to take as it tries to reform itself.

There are general problems in the American automobile industry that have contributed to its downturn. One of them was the standardizing of brands. At one time Chrysler's brands of Plymouth, Dodge, and Chrysler gave consumers distinctive choices. With product standardization, the only difference between Plymouth and Dodge cars was the nameplate. When the redundancy got silly enough, the Plymouth brand was dropped. General Motors experienced the same redundancy with Oldsmobile and now with Pontiac. Ford is struggling with the Mercury brand. As the individual companies came under the huge corporate umbrellas, they lost the trademark qualities that made them successful in the first place. Cost accounting displaced engineering as the guiding principles in designing and assembling cars. American buyers found more choices in the foreign competition.

Car companies became like television networks. When a show is a hit, the networks try to duplicate and spin off from it rather than explore new shows. That's what happened with car companies when they focused on SUVs and minivans while the Japanese competition made smaller, fuel-efficient cars that recognized the rising cost of gasoline and the need to shift away from petroleum-fueled transportation.

Chrysler's merger with Daimler Benz was never a happy marriage. It merely provided more evidence of the failings and inefficiencies of corporate bureaucracies.

We can only hope that Chrysler and Fiat are more compatible partners. And that Chrysler can revive its engineering tradition.

Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States