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News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's just the Roma in my soul

NSU's homecoming is called Gypsy Days,  When I first came to Northern to work, the administrators and some faculty used to dress up with the flowery shirts and sashes and embroidered vests on the Friday of homecoming, but the Gypsy motif has slipped away all but in name.  This year I was in the parade.  I got pressed into service to drive Ericka, the Junior Snow Queen, a lovely high school student from Groton, in a vintage Chrysler Le Baron Convertible that, like its driver of the day, has seen better days.  It was downright cold that day, but the switch for the heater was broken.  When Amy, the car's owner, turned it over to me, she said there was a jug of water on the back floor in case the car over-heated.  I could not quite imagine stopping in middle of a parade to put the hood up and quench a hot engine.  The only problem I had with the car was that it would intermittently emit great clouds of smoke through the exhaust.  At times Ericka, perched on the trunk, had to fan away the smoke, but the women from Curves marching right behind were occasionally obscured and overcome. I heard mutterings that were not ladylike.

Sitting in the chill, the smoke, and feeling great empathy for Ericka who was wearing her sleeveless queen's gown and shivering as she smiled and waved at the crowd,  I was obsessed with irony.  Here I was in the middle of the Gypsy Days parade and French President Nicolas Sarkozy had just expelled about 1,000 Gypsies from French soil.  Now the Gypsies think the word Gypsy is a pejorative, and prefer to be called Roma.  I was wondering if NSU would call its homecoming Roma Days next year.

Over my lifetime,  I have encountered Gypsies, or Roma, if you prefer, numerous times, but I find it hard to get a factual grasp of what comprises Gypsydom.  They inspire a kind of romantic sense of freedom and joy and they helped create flamenco music and dance, which is why they are revered at the NSU homecomings.  On the other hand, some people have said they pick pockets, kidnap babies, and do other things that ain't couth in western culture. 

My fondest memory of Gypsies came in regard to Sgt. Jody.  (That is not his real name, but it is close enough.)  Sgt. Jody was a young non-commissioned officer from the South who was  assigned to the launching platoon  of our missile battery in Germany.  We were never sure what function he was to serve, but he annoyed the hell out of the men because he insisted on marching them from the headquarters area to the launching area in formation and in cadence.  This was annoying because when the morning formation in the company street was dismissed, the men had all sorts of administrative tasks to attend in conjunction with maintaining the missiles.  Dismissal of the formation meant they would go to the orderly room, or the missile assembly and maintenance area, or the motor pool and pick up paper work and tools needed for what they had to do with the missiles that day.   They went about their business and just sort of sauntered down to the launching area with their materials.  Sgt. Jody thought this was very unsoldierly, so he marched them down, and then they had to walk back to the places they needed to go for their materials, and then saunter back down to the launchers when they had the necessary information and equipment.  Sgt. Jody was convinced that men sauntering around with clip boards, brief cases, and tool boxes in their hands were screwing off.   He was only half right, 

The men harassed Sgt. Jody.  While marching, they would chant  under their breath "Jo-dee,  Jo-dee, Jo-dee" in time with the marching cadence just below the hearing threshold.  Sgt. Jody would yell "halt." stop and listen,  and the chant would stop, then resume the march.  The men, of course, had no idea what he was talking about when he asked, "Who is saying that?"  He also revealed that he had witnessed ghosts, so the men were constantly plotting ways to give him spooky experiences.  I relate this to establish that Sgt. Jody was a bit flighty of mind.

Our missile site was at a remote military base on the Rhine River at a town called Germersheim.  To get to town from the post gate, there were two possibilities.  One could walk along the roads.  Or one could take a shortcut, a path that ran through some pine groves and ran along some vacant land.  That land was a place where Gypsy caravans camped at times.  When they were present, we looked at them with curiosity but kept to our business, which was with students at the women's college and cognac at the gasthouses. 

One night a group of us were returning to post via the short cut when someone checked his watch and said we were pushing the deadline.  Our off-duty passes automatically expired at midnight, when the gates were officially closed, and anyone trying to get on post after that would be taken into custody by the military police and held for disciplinary action.  We quickened our pace from a stroll to a jog to beat the deadline, and were jogging past the Gypsy encampment.  Ahead of us about a block, we saw Sgt. Jody walking.  He glanced back when he heard a bunch of men running and broke into a sprint.  We thought his running meant we must really be late, so we broke into a dead run.

When we got to the gate, an MP was standing outside the guard shack looking bewildered.  When we came up to the gate, he asked what was going on out there.  He said Sgt. Jody ran through the gate yelling that the Gypsies were after him.  When we got to the orderly room to sign in, Sgt. Jody was there trying to explain to the officer of the day that a bunch of Gypsies was chasing him and seemed about to attack the post.  We signed in and with suppressed snickers and chuckles went to our bunk rooms.

The next day those of who signed in from pass together were called in  to a meeting with the battery commander, the executive officer, and the first sergeant.  They asked what we knew about the events involving Sgt. Jody the previous night.  We explained how he took off running when we  came jogging up behind him.  The executive officer asked why we did not provide that information when we signed in, because Sgt. Jody's account caused a joint investigation  by the Army and the local authorities, and some tense and confusing moments with the Gypsy camp.

We were given a talking to about harassing Sgt. Jody.  The executive officer explained that Jody had been raised with stories about ghosts and Gypsies taking babies and the like, and he had run to the orderly room to alert the guard mount that there seemed to be an attack. Our Platoon Sgt. Bradley summarized point of the meeting in his succinct way:   "Don't f++k with Jody anymore."

Sgt. Jody was a good soldier.  But Sgt. Bradley (who had been raised in an orphanage) explained that he came from very poor circumstances and was working hard to better his lot and make a career in the military.   "Don't f++k with a good man you may have to depend on someday," Sgt. Bradley said.

The harassment of Jody stopped, but we still told the story of Jody's sprint and laughed.

My other encounters with Gypsies were not as funny, but were equally remote.  I  remember the caravans passing by our house when I was a small child.  Later when I worked in state parks, I came across them in campgrounds.  Their caravans at the parks consisted of Airstream trailers pulled by Cadillacs with Alabama plates on them. Of course, I knew that Gypsies were targeted victims of the Holocaust.  I am also aware that they have been the objects of suspicion, revilement, and persecution for centuries.  I have never understood exactly why.  They inspire some kind of ethnic animosity.

That's what was on my mind during the Gypsy Day parade.  The French were deporting Gypsies from their land.  Other countries in Europe have proposed measures to stop the immigration of Gypsies into their lands.  Part of the problem is that jobs are scarce in Europe, too, and Gypsies appear to illegal immigrants in their minds.  They can't find work, so they are accused of sopping up welfare money and instigating criminal activity.   But there we were on a chilly Saturday morning celebrating Gypsy Days while other places were condemning and expelling them,  much like we do the people who sneak across our Mexican border.

Across the world, there is a resurgence of conservative sentiments.  It is not the kind of conservatism that tries to restore the liberal principles of democracy; it is the kind of conservatism that fixes on dividing people into classes and wants the right for one class of people to suppress other classes.  In our own country, this has meant a revival of racist sentiment. Although there is much denial that the so-called tea party movement has racial objectives, the demonstrations and signage of the  movement have made racist expressions a prominent feature.  While there is not an overt racist agenda behind some of the conservative factions, it is difficult to escape the fact that appeals to racist attitudes are in part what is driving those factions.  To those of us who were sentient during the 1960s and 70s, the attitudes and arguments have a familiar ring.  We have our Mexican immigrants we'd like to drive from the land; the Europeans have their Gypsies.  And the  world has its Muslims.  The Muslim world has its infidels.  The world tries to provide everybody with someone to hate.  Status in the bourgeois mind is built  on how many people you can look down upon.

So, there I was in the Gypsy Day parade thinking about  Mexican illegals and mosques. About f**king with Sgt. Jody.  And just what America wants.  And what it will eventually get for itself.

Perhaps, the Gypsies who are not bound to a single country have the better idea.

Gypsies developed their own  breed of horses to pull their wagons.  They are revered for their endurance and their gentle temperament.  They are called Gypsy Vanners.  I never saw any in the Gypsy Day parade over the years.  I wonder if other horses tolerate them. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Spreading illiteracy

Writing on certain topics and expressing certain opinions on certain blogs is like kicking a hornets' nest or poking  a bear.  You know that there will be reactions.  And you know what those reactions will be.  You know this for the same reason that you know that Pavlov's dog will salivate at the sound of a bell.  The reactions are conditioned responses.  They are  not responses that involve cognition,  Rather, they trigger ingrained behavior that wells up from deep in the  reptilian cortex, behavior that can be triggered by verbal commands.  

If you are fleet of foot, it can be amusing to kick a hornets' nest.  You can zip off to a safe observation point and watch the creatures swarm and buzz in rage and frustration.  When humans are the critters teased into mindless  rage, it can be just as amusing, and potentially just as dangerous.  But watching humans in the throes of an uncontrollable  furor raises questions of morality of the "there but for the grace of god" variety,  Our mothers and fathers warned us harshly about tormenting dumb creatures.  But on occasion, we sort of  do it, and suppress our amusement.  But then, should we ever regard other humans as dumb creatures? 

I did it recently.  In the post previous to this one, I made fun of people for whom guns are at once a religious relic, a badge of virility, and perhaps the only source of personal power and influence that they can claim.  There are people who cannot be trusted to behave responsibly with firearms.  Madville Times chronicled a recent example. And the Watertown newspaper another. The advocates for a wide open Second Amendment never acknowledge the "well-regulated" modifier.  In the military, soldiers do not have discretionary use of their  weapons.  They have them in their possession only under direct order, such as a battle order, a guard mount, a parade, etc.  The rest of the time the firearms are locked in the armory.  To have a weapon without a direct order authorizing its possession is a court martial offense.  Generally, the only people on a military post who carry their weapons at all times are military police.  There are good, documented reasons for restrictions on when people should possess weapons.    There are people in both military and civilian life who should not be entrusted with lethal weapons without supervision.  The military understands this and, therefore, has stringent rules which stipulate the conditions under which armor is deployed.  

As an owner and user of firearms, I appreciate the Second Amendment.  Firearms were essential tools in my farm-oriented family, but were regarded with the same attitude as pitchforks and scoop shovels or tractors.   They were tools.  No more, no less.  And when people brandished firearms with an adolescent macho bluster, those people  called into question their fitness for handling firearms.  They called up the old "never give a baby a gun" adage.  My frivolous and frankly silly post on those who regard guns as symbols of their personhood was done knowing what I would be poking.  

The responses to that post on Keloland met expectations. None of them meet the basic requirements that I and many other bloggers use as the standards which permit publication.  Generally, comments are routinely deleted if:

1.  They do not address the point or points made in the post.
2.  They contain libelous statements.
3.  They are abusive.
4.  They are personally insulting.
5.  They are not literate, show a lack of comprehension, or are otherwise incoherent.
6.   They misrepresent statements in the post, comments, or other sources.

Of late, we have relaxed those rules to provide evidence of what has come to pass for political discourse on the Internet, and presumably among a significant portion of the populace.  Other than regarding the KELO comments with a dour bemusement, I have not given them serious attention.  Until, that is, that a colleague read them and remarked that South Dakota seems to have a serious illiteracy problem.  That brought me up short.  He was not using the term illiteracy as a dismissive reference to the ranting from the fringe: he was using it with its technical definition.  

The technical definition of an illiterate is someone who operates with a fourth grade level of speaking, reading, and writing, or less.  They are capable of sounding out words and the rudiments of spelling, punctuation, and grammar.  There are often many of those SPUG errors which may be a result of the haste and the graphic deficiencies of monitor screens, but they can also be indicative of more serious deficiencies of mind.   More defining is the level of reading comprehension and retention and whether the comments address the content of what they are in response to.

My colleague pointed out that none of the comments addressed the point of the satire, but went off into the maligning of the author.  That is the symptom of the fourth grade mentality. Disagreements at that level inevitably turn into ad hominem attacks,  the rituals of name-calling, insult, and abuse.  Illiteracy is also the inability to grasp a point, sometimes the inability to discern one.

Even those who possess the facades of a higher education show lapses into those dimensions of illiteracy.  Often when people wish to comment on something one says that rankles them, they extract a phrase to typify what offends them.  They ignore the sentence in which the phrases occurred, and therefore all the grammatical qualifiers that control the meaning.

It is not just the comments that contain examples of this kind of subreption.  Many bloggers never aspire to anything more than the most abject forms of fourth-grade malice.  I won't name them but they tend to stress their South Dakota identities in their blog titles.  

My colleague who stressed the matter of illiteracy as a defining component in the blog comments raised a more disturbing question for those of us who have been involved in education and in editing  discussion forums.  He stresses that the biggest threat to the First Amendment is from those who exercise it with ignorance, stupidity, and malice.  He suggests that the quality of the comments showing up on the Internet may indicate the failures of those of us to teach, write, and edit. 

The Internet may well be the instrument that makes stupidity a fashion of the age.  Those who think there is some value to education and accomplished expression have to devise a way to bring some standards of intelligence and thoughtful expression to the Internet to save it from illiteracy.  

A state's attorney looks at Kristi Noem's court record

This letter-to-the-editor appeared in today's Aberdeen American News:

In recent weeks, there has been much discussion about Kristi Noem's numerous speeding tickets including one at nearly 100 miles per hour. As a prosecutor of 15 years, I have other concerns as well.

What concerns me more are the multiple failures to appear in court. A failure to appear in court reflects disregard for law enforcement and the judicial system, one of our three branches of government. Warrants for failure to appear cost taxpayers money as well: the prosecutor, court reporter, clerk, judge and deputy who goes to serve the warrant are all paid salaries by taxpayers. A failure to appear increases the workload in the judicial system and wastes already scarce court docket time and resources.

It appears that this is not important to Kristi Noem - her time is much more valuable.

I urge the voters of South Dakota to support Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.

Victor B. Fischbach, Spink County State's Attorney

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The demons of South Dakota: exorcism Oct. 16 in Rapid City

 For the vigilant Protectors of the Second Amendment, the season against road signs is never closed.  They patrol the highways and by-ways to keep the innocent safe from predatory roadsigns, which are one of the ways government sneaks into our daily lives to take away our freedoms. 

The Big Bad Obama Demon

    Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.  That's why so many Protectors of the Second Amendment are sleep deprived.  They quake and sweat in their beds throughout the long nights hugging their firearms as they wait in fear for the Obama Ogre Brigade to sneak in the night to dispossess them of their toys.  The ogres want to take away their guns.  And by proxy, their manhood.  Or is it childhood?  As the Rifles and Other Lethal Devices for America Association says, ain't nothing more cranky and disturbed than a grown man who has been deprived of his toys. And gets up in the morning with wet, reeking skivvies. You can't well-regulate a militia that ain't got no toys.  Or lives in constant fear that creatures in the night will sneak in to take them.
The Gunnie Guards on watch for Obama ogres. 
The Spouses United for Sleep Deprived Older Children came up with a solution.  They made  teddy bears, known as Gunnie  Guards, which they said would keep any gun confiscators from coming in the night to steal the toys  if the frightened children hugged them and sobbed  into their furry little fuzz, and then the threatened ones could sleep peacefully at nights.  So could the whole damned family.

It worked for a time, until the Rifles and Other Lethal Devices for America Association heard from Rush Limbaugh about that bitch that Obama is allied with, Nancy Pelosi.  There are also Pelosi Ogres out there who will come in the night and take both the Gunnie Guards and the guns.


Pelosi martials her ogres.
Herseth Sandlin caught in the act.
A major Pelosi Ogre is Stephanie Herseth Sandlin,  who heads up the Obama-Pelosi cartel in the Dakotas, although members of Rifles and Other Lethal Devices for America Association members insist that she actually lives in Texas. She sneaks up to South Dakota, where she is known to maintain a friendly relationship with road signs, especially the ones with speed limits.  The Association has charged her with giving aid and comfort to and emboldening road signs.  She leads a band of demons that sneak into houses and terrorizes mostly male occupants by brazenly taking their toys. 

The Protectors of the Second Amendment and the Rifles and Other Lethal Devices for America Association are organizing an inspirational rally and exorcism for their members on Oct. 16 at the Rushmore Civic Plaza in Rapid City. 

"Suck on the one in my left hand."
The exorcism will feature spiritual leader and inspirational speaker Ted Nugent, who recently composed a new national anthem, which includes the lyrics:  

‘Hey Obama, you might wanna suck on one of these you punk.' ... Obama, he's a piece of shit, I told him to suck on my machine gun. , ‘Hey Hillary, you might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.' ... She might want to suck on my machine gun.'

A plotter with ogres

 The exorcism is held to drive all the demons out of South Dakota.  They can be found plotting ways to shelter the poor, feed the hungry,  heal the sick, and help the unemployed.   They are known allies with road signs and Big Bad Govmint.  They want your toys, boys. Hold them tight at night.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Witch hunting is on the ballot this year

Almost everybody can understand an allusion to George Orwell's 1984.  The media contains constant references to current events as being "Orwellian."  Few people have actually read the novel.  And few that have understand WTF it's all about.  Those who have  some  grasp of its portent think it is kind of roman a clef.  That is a term used to describe novels that satirize and mock real people and situations in a fictional format.  When the novel first came out many people thought it was a polemic about the Soviet Union because Big Brother, the image of totalitarianism, was pictured as a guy with a big, bushy mustache, like Josef Stalin.  No doubt, Orwell used that parallel to make a point, but the novel goes much deeper than warning against the threats of Soviet communism.

A major theme of the novel is how intrusive the media becomes in people's lives.  It influences, shapes, and controls the way they think without their being aware of the fact that most of the thoughts they have are not their own, but thoughts implanted through saturation by the media.  In 1984, every residence has a television screen from which the occupants receive a constant barrage of contrived programs designed to manipulate them and control their thoughts.  There are also television cameras planted throughout neighborhoods to monitor the people.

One of the features broadcast over the television screens are the daily two minutes of hate sessions.  Everyday people gather in front of televisions at a certain time and participate in a state-conducted hate session.  The theory, which Orwell understands from many points in his own experience, is that hate is a tool for taking over the minds and controlling people.  Hatred is a means of inducing bigotry, and bigotry is a condition for utilizing hatred as a control mechanism.  The people of Oceania are led in the hatred of the country with whom they are in perpetual war.  Internally, they are led in the hatred of anyone or any group who criticizes and is a threat to the regime in power.

Big Brother knows that to maintain power, he must never allow the people to relax from the hate that keeps them under his command, so he has to create objects of hate and keep feeding the hate directed towards those objects.  One such object is a character in 1984 named Emmanuel Goldstein.  He is never actually seen in the novel, and may be a total creation of Big Brother.  But the hate sessions impart the information that Goldstein is the Number One Enemy of the People, who once was a  party member, but dissented into opposition and wrote a book against the party.  His speeches are flashed on the television screens and throw the people of Oceania into a collective rage through which they vent their hate against Goldstein.  He heads a subversive group called the Brotherhood that plots against the party and the good people of Oceania.

In many ways, 1984  is a thesis novel in which Orwell tests the principles of how language can be used as an instrument of operant conditioning to gain and maintain control of people's minds.  Orwell's study and knowledge of how language works puts him in the leading ranks of semanticists and linguists.  His own experience as a sympathizer to Marxism at one point in his life put him in a position to understand how language is used as a stimulus, a reward, and punishment to maintain humans in a state of abject obedience to commands, much like treats of food and command words keep attack dogs in a state of control.

Orwell's thesis in 1984 is how language and media can be used, through orchestrated hate, to keep the people in a state of mental enslavement and control.  What makes Winston, the protagonist, dangerous is that he at times questions the conditioning he is experiencing and is put through harsher modes of conditioning to restore him as a loyal, intellectually empty party member.

GOP: "Screw Bin Laden.  Lets get her instead."

The Republican Party does not read 1984 as a thesis of how a dystopia is created but as an operating manual for gaining and maintaining power.  Its campaign against Nancy Pelosi is a classic exercise in creating a hate object and using it to hold power and control over those people so given to mindless hatreds affections.

In order to keep its constituents in a state of rage in which they  can ignore actual issues, the Republican Party has decided to make Nancy Pelosi its Emmanuel Goldstein, its Number One Enemy of the People.

The main feature of the 2010 campaign for the GOP is a Fire Pelosi gimmick.  The party has mounted a Fire Pelosi web site for the purpose of raising funds and announcing anti-Pelosi events.  Part of the campaign will be a 48-state bus tour to conduct Fire Pelosi rallies throughout the country.  The question this campaign raises is what is the purpose of targeting an individual as the Number One Enemy of the The People.  The answer is in Orwell's portrayal of the tactics and purpose of the attacks on Emmanuel Goldstein.  If you don't have a program that withstand public scrutiny and discussion, you erect an enemy.  When people cannot be united in good, constructive purpose, they can be united in hate.

Republicans have opposed everything the Democrats have attempted to do since 2008.  While they claim they have better ideas, when pressed they simply trot out the same old policies that created the international and economic problems in which we are currently mired.  Rather than simply recognize Nancy Pelosi as the Speaker of the House from the opposing party, they do the vilification routine, hoping that they can generate enough hate for her to make people forget their lack of substance and effort to deal with the problems we face.

Pelosi as the Wicked Witch of the West
The campaign conducted by John Dennis in Pelosi's home district is based upon just what the anti-Pelosi campaign is:  a witch hunt.  In a campaign ad, which tries to be funny, but gets embarrassing because it is such an obvious adolescent ploy, Pelosi is portrayed as the Wicked Witch of the West from the film  The Wizard of Oz.  One can dismiss it as an example of an attempt of wit by the witless, but it is part of the larger agenda.

In South Dakota, the Wicked Witch hunt takes the form of  trying to tie Stephanie Herseth Sandlin to Pelosi.  They are both Democrats.  They have some sharp policy differences, but they also work together.  The Republicans shame Herseth Sandlin because she does not go into an obstinate, petulant sulk and obstruct everything that  Nancy Pelosi proposes.  The Republicans think that the most devastating charge they can bring against Herseth Sandlin is that she acts like a rational, productive adult in her relationship with Nancy Pelosi.  In their anti-Pelosi obsession, the Republicans have pretty thoroughly defined themselves.

The Republicans are beset by the Palin-inspired Ignorant Pride movement.  Time was when people were uninformed or unable to grasp certain facts, they retreated from exposing their ignorance to the world.  However, Palin and her tea party disciples take great pride in putting on displays of ignorance power.

The prospect of people of this  mentality governing the country is obscene.  One longs for the late William Buckley and, even, Barry Goldwater.  It is disconcerting to see people in prominence who do not seem able to register facts, but instead depend upon a hateful furor as a basis for cohesion.

One should not dismiss witch hunts.  Periodically, our country has indulged in them.  This year, the country will be tested because witch hunting  is on the ballot.    George Orwell has provided us with the study guide.                        

Monday, September 13, 2010

The end of farming and what Kristi Noem proposes

Someone  named Dan suggests, among an array of the usual interactive, puerile insults,  that my apparent criticism of agricultural subsidies lacks conviction.  He/she is right.  I see  conflicting problems with the elaborate system of government subsidies.  However, my point in the post cited was not my objection to  agricultural welfare, but to people who assail big government spending but are the first in line to get their share of handouts.  Whether you call it farm welfare or subsidy, the semantic message is the same:  it's a handout.

For some time, I was the farm editor for a newspaper, the editor of a newsletter for agricultural journalists, and I have been reporting on agriculture ever since.  When I was a member of the working press and covered agriculture, most newspapers and broadcast stations had reporters assigned to the farm beat.  Hardly any do anymore, and that is because the audience for that kind of reporting is so small.  There is not enough interest for the general news media to cover agriculture, except on an occasional basis.  The journalism is left to media that serves the industry, and does not inform the general public.  The percentage of the population involved in farming is not large enough to warrant the coverage.

In 1930, 25 percent of the U.S. population lived on six million family farms, but today less than two percent of the population lives on 2 million farms.   However, the really significant statistic is that eight percent of farms account for 72 percent of farm product sales.  Ten percent of the farmers receive 74 percent of the subsidies. 

The raising of food and fiber is no longer farming;  it's agri-business.  For years we justified farm bills to keep family farms in business.  But very few families own farms, and those that do are mostly large family corporations.  Most of the agricultural subsidies bankroll big agricultural businesses, not independent family farmers, as the figures cited show.

Over the years, the rationale for farm programs has changed.  In the 1930s, the goal was to help out farms hit by the dust bowl years to insure that there was a food supply for the country.  Then the focus shifted to food as a wartime commodity.  During World War II, a diverse, stable supply of food and fiber was needed to sustain the war effort.  After the war, farm programs were geared to helping the international community recover from the war and to provide food assistance as part of the resistance to the spread of communism.  Then the focus of the programs was to help smaller farms from being integrated as components of corporate agri-business.  Today, the focus is very fuzzy.  The fact is that food production is under the control of a few large corporations, and small farms and farmers have been made all but irrelevant.

In a state like South Dakota, whose dominant industry is agriculture, it is difficult to see and understand how the system of agriculture has moved into corporate hands.  The state has collected $4.26 billion in subsidies during the last 15 years, with ten percent of the farmers getting 61 percent of the payouts.  The state ranks 10th in the amount of money  paid  as farm subsidies.

However, the statistics do not show the forces that are forming in opposition to this system of subsidization.  We are currently struggling to come out of a recession that has dumped millions of people out of the economic middle class.  In the 1980s, the same kind of economic catastrophe hit the farming segment.  It came from the same sources as the current recession, except that it was triggered not by Wall Street banks but by regional banks that made recoverable investments in agricultural enterprises.  When the farm economy faltered, the  banks foreclosed on the farmers with overextended loans and they were driven off the land.    It made a big surge in eliminating small, independent farmers and consolidating agriculture under corporate control.  

An image comes to mind.  A congressman, a Republican from a Midwest farm state, was trying to come up with a position on a farm bill.  He remarked that Ronald Reagan had raised the image of the welfare queen who drives to the welfare office in her black Cadillac to pick up her welfare check.  The congressman said the person who troubled him was the big-hatted dude in cowboy boots who drove to the bank in his white Town Car to deposit his agricultural welfare check.    In South Dakota, it is hard to assess how that big-hat-no-cattle image is set in the minds of many and how many people of both political parties regard farm subsidies as the most abject corporate welfare.  That congressman has long since left office, but his idea still circulates.  He said, you want to dismantle big government?  Start with the farm programs.  

There are complicating factors that have developed in agriculture that get scant attention.  The shrinking land base devoted to agriculture is one of them.  Again, in South Dakota, it does not seem much of a problem that land is taken out of production and covered with concrete to accommodate urban expansion.  Nor does much of the country--and the world--pay attention to the fact that water is being diverted from agricultural areas for urban usage, and that the flooding we have experienced in the country diverts attention away from shrinking aquifers.  Nor do many people recognize that what they think of as a free agricultural market is actually under the control of a few corporations.  For example, four companies, Swift, Cargill, National Beef, and Tyson, control 80 percent of the meat market in the U.S.  The problems with salmonella and e coli recalls in our food system are just surface symptoms of health problems in food production.  The use of genetically modified, factory-produced food raises questions about nutrition and health issues that many people in agri-business are afraid to address.   Government intervention in checking the safety and quality of food is regarded as intrusive socialism, just as it is in finance and manufacturing.  We really have some evidence, and very strong suspicions, of the degree to which corporations have gained total control of agriculture.

In the 1960s, Agricultural economists were predicting that American farmers could get free of subsidies because they held the world bread basket and would be feeding the world.  What they did not take into account was that Norman Borlaug was leading the green revolution which would produce plant species and agricultural methods that would help developing countries feed themselves.  The big boom in American agricultural exports never came.  Instead what has kept American agriculture going is bigger, more elaborate, and more extensive and expensive farm programs.  

Part of the public's ignorance stems from the fact that there is no general coverage of agriculture in our media.  The Internet is continuing to reduce what the legacy media does, and The New York Times publisher announced recently that the newspaper plans to end the print edition in the near future.  That leaves the Internet, which portends ill for information journalism.  Further staff reductions are in the offing, and some areas of public interest will receive no coverage whatsoever.  It's already happened with farming.  People generally do not know where their food comes from. Or who controls its production.

I am one of those who was excited about the prospects of the Internet to make information more abundant, more accessible, and more immediate.  But the journalistic world did not anticipate how the medium would be overtaken by blogs and commentators that do little research, no fact-checking, and resolve largely into bickering and false accusations.   Conservatives have complained of a media bias and think that anything that does not constant vilify Obama or any other liberal is being unbalanced and unfair.  The country in general has not confronted what happens when people make stuff up, then believe in it, and then make or influence political decisions on the basis of hate information,  That is why I give democracy a likely chance to utterly fail in this country.  And it is why I see little chance for the agrarian democracy on which the country was formed to survive as a model for a farm economy or a principle of democracy. What we know about the production of food and fiber is presented to us on cable news, talk radio, internet blogs, and the political hacks who operate on those media.  These sources  are devoted to keeping the populace yammering, not looking at the facts of our essential economy.

An established ecological principle is that stable and functional communities are built on a large base of producers of diverse varieties.   That base of primary producers sustains all the derivative and specialized life forms.  A sound economy is based upon basic producers and builders of goods that are essential for life.  America has seen drastic reductions in agricultural units and in manufacturing and production jobs. In our economy, the ecological pyramid has been turned upside down so that the farmers and production workers are a minority, while those who depend on production and derive their livings from the producers are the majority.  Hence, we have all the banking schemes like the overextended agricultural loans of the 1980s and the subprime mortgages and shaky derivatives of the 21st century.  An economy driven  by schemes instead of production just can't work.

We are in an economic crisis for which viable solutions are excluded by political partisanship.  For example, one can mount arguments against the measures taken by George W. Bush and Barack Obama to salvage the economy from total disaster.  Like many people, I think the bailouts of the financial and automobile industries rescued people who deserved to be put out of business.  If the market place worked, the incompetent, conniving, and dishonest would be displaced by the competent, the earnest, and the honest.  But if those major financial organizations were to have been allowed to meet their just ends, there would be no financial infrastructure on which to build a reformed industry.

The government efforts to save industries did not come from a desire to take them over.  They came from the realization that if those industries collapsed, we would have no system of essential industries on which to base a recovery.   That same recognition is the reason for farm programs.  The programs are mounted in a rather desperate attempt to preserve a broad-based production agriculture composed of yeoman farmers, as opposed to a system of serfs whose destiny is dictated to them from on high.  It makes no difference whether farms are collectivized under the Kremlin or the Monsanto corporate headquarters,  it is controlled by power-hungry bureaucracy, not by stewards of the land who attach their well-being and their future to a vital connection with the land.  

That gets us to the post which sparked the comments about my apprehension of farm subsidies.  It was a post about congressional candidate Kristi Noem.  I made fun of her driving record and the fact that the ranch in which she has an interest is one of the top ten collectors of agricultural handouts in South Dakota.  One respondent at Decorum Forum said that if traffic tickets was  all you had to contribute to a campaign, you have to go with them.  And he took exception to the fact that I used the name Snooki Scofflaw in reference to Noem.  Begin with what the traffic tickets really denote.  If a person who gets 20 tickets for driving offenses and then six more services because she blows off the tickets is not a scofflaw, I'd like to know just what the term means.  What is significant is not the multiple driving infractions (other candidates have them, too); the significance is the attitude and character displayed.    Other legislators and members of the press have encountered this characteristic in their daily work where Noem is involved.  

But a more revealing issue has been Noem's performance in debates, particularly on farm issues. I attended the debate at the Corn Palace in Mitchell.  I read Corey Heidelberger's debate coach summaries at Madville Times in which he assesses the responses of each candidate  on each of the eight questions asked at the State Fair.  At Mitchell, I noted that Noem was not prepared to answer the questions.  Instead, she tried to use the tactic of avoiding the question by bringing up spending issues or Nancy Pelosi.  Kristi Noem did not prepare for the debate.  She apparently thought preparation was something she could blow off and, instead, depend upon an evasive attack.  In my lifetime, journalists who did not prepare for assignments got fired.  Students got failed.  Noem did not prepare.  But that was not a one-time lapse.  By the time she  got to the State Fair, one would assume that she'd get a little information.   Instead, she resorted to the same ploy of evading and not answering the question.  Independent candidate Marking at least had the honesty to state that he could not answer the agricultural questions because he was not fully informed.  

The Republican tactic of performing an Orwellian portrayal of Nancy Pelosi as an enemy and then mounting an entire congressional campaign on their cheap ad hominem attempt to hide the real issues under a smear is put to work by Noem in South Dakota.

It is not a question of whose ideas are better for agriculture.  It is a matter of who has informed themselves about what the issues are and how they affect the state.  As she did with the traffic tickets, Noem has chosen to blow those issues off, too.  She does not present herself as one who knows what is taking place in agriculture or who really cares.  

When it comes to conscientious effort, Noem has methodically disqualified herself from consideration.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

That new-found maturity

See the TPM Gallery.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

This Noem ain't no Chomsky

Michael Sanborn at Decorum Forum is usually a decorous fellow, but he said something that set my WTF alarm off and caused the neighbors to call 911 and report that someone had crashed some kind of craft into Newquist Towers.  In comparing candidates Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Kristi Noem, he said,  "I think Noem is the superior thinker and would be a superior representative."

I know that Noem has received 26 citations for her driving, but that is the first time I heard anyone accuse her of thinking.  Thinking is a serious  violation of South Dakota values.  What was Herseth Sandlin thinking when she won a scholarship to Georgetown U. and went off and did well
 and accrued some accomplishments?  You want to be a superior representative for South Dakota, you don't do that kind of thing.  Ask Tom Daschle.

Nim Chimpsky, named for Noam, debates.  
Kristi (Snooki Scofflaw) Noem ain't no Chomsky.  And she'd be real torqued off if anyone said she was.  If she knows who Noam Chomsky is.  

I have seen Noem debate, once in person, and thought is not something she indulges in.  She is of the Sarah Palin school of cognition.  If you aren't informed about anything, you don't have to or can't think about it much. So rather than answer questions, she slides off into one of those set speeches against big government and spending money we don't have and warning good South Dakotans that Nancy Pelosi is lurking under their beds waiting to take their guns, suffocate their children, and put the hands of snoring sleepers in bowls of warm water to strain their biblical marriages.  At the State Fair debate between Noem and Herseth Sandlin, Corey Heidelberger in Madville Times adjudicated the debate performances as a debate judge would.    He assessed how each candidate answered each specific question, and he reported that time and again Nome slipped into one of those scripts she shares with John Thune.  If one thought about it, one would say that Noem was unprepared.  One could also call it dissembling.  But that just shows the danger of having information at hand:  if you know something, you might be tempted to think about it.  And that would be to fall into that old D.C. elitism, where you marry beauty queens and buy houses with swimming pools.  Political disasters in South Dakota.  Noem nee Arnold was a Snow Queen, you say?  Don't think about it.

When Noem was asked why she voted to accept stimulus money for South Dakota when she so staunchly opposes it, she said she voted to accept it because the feds provided no way to reject it to pay down the federal debt.  Following that line of reasoning can sure kink up a train of thought, so give it no thought.  She is staunchly against all federal spending but the ranch in which she shares a sizable interest took $2,765,175 in farm welfare payments over 20 years.  Almost $3 million in farm subsidies and 26 traffic citations is pretty hefty accomplishment in 20 years, if you think about it.  But if you don't, it won't bother you.   Not thinking is superior thinking.

 One thing that I think about (sorry, it's hard to stop) is if Noem would have a driver's license if she lived in another state.  Many states have point systems for traffic violations, and when you get 10 or 12 points against you within a certain period of time, your license is suspended.  In Nevada, where Harry Reid spends his off time taking away guns, suffocating children, and putting snoring sleepers' hands in bowls of warm water, the points one can earn toward license suspension are:

    1 - 10 mph over posted limit     1 point
    11 - 20 mph over posted limit     2 points
    21 - 30 mph over posted limit     3 points
    31 - 40 mph over posted limit     4 points
    41 mph or more over posted limit     5  points

Disobeying a traffic signal or stop sign      4 points

Failure to answer citation, pay fines, etc.,   6 points   This alone can cause suspension or revocation of  a license.

One might wonder how many points Noem would have earned in her career if she lived in Reidland.

For the sake of South Dakota values, it is better not to think about it.  Or much else.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Where the jobs aren't: a Labor Day meditation

The weakness in the American job market is being played for all it's worth--which isn't much--by the political parties.  The Obama administration is claiming it has saved and is creating jobs through it programs.  The Republicans are claiming that his programs are a failure and their ideas will create more jobs.  Meanwhile, the real problem with job creation is being ignored.

 People such as  Glen Beck claim that it's the fault of the unemployed.  There are 29 million people out of work, and there are 29 million people out there who insist that it is not their choice.

The fact that no one wants to face is: there are no jobs in America to be created.  They have been outsourced. 

A friend of mine went to a party where one of the games was a version of a treasure hunt,  Everyone was driven to a huge mall where they were to compile a list of items made in the U.S.A.  They were given an hour.  The mall did not include a grocery store.  The person who won came up with only five items.  Most of the contestants complained about how frustrating the game was.  One woman who looked only in clothing stores came up empty and asked if anything was made in America any more.  The man who won found his items in a stationary store and a tool and lawn and garden store.

The point is that the driving force in the market place is cheap labor.  And freedom, equality, justice, and opportunity are not part of the labor market.   While our government is a democracy that gives lip service, at least, to those attributes, the business community is feudal.  It depends for making its money on serfs who cost little to maintain and who are expendable when they cannot produce enough to sustain CEO bonuses.

One of the developments regarding the current recession and jobs involves General Motors.  As a condition of the loan which bailed the corporation out of insolvency and gave it another chance, the company was required to get efficient.  That meant that it had it to close unproductive operations and fire workers. Its down-sizing has involved the closing of its Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn, and Hummer divisions.  But it is investing heavily in new facilities, and the consequent jobs, in China.  At some point, it plans to market its China-made cars in the U.S.

The problem with American manufacturing is deep and complex.  Labor costs are a part of the problem, but they have been posed as the only problem.  They aren't.  My history with automobiles illustrates the experience Americans have had with cars.

I obstinately refused to buy foreign cars.  I owned one in the 1960s.  It was a 1959 Volvo that simply was not up to the American Interstate system that was developing at the time.  It was well built and could handle ice and snow fairly well.  But it did not have the power for sustained highway driving.  I drove to Highland Park, Ill., to visit relatives once in a freezing sleet and snow storm.  When I got there, I could not get out of the car.  The doors were frozen shut.  We had to go to a nearby gas station and let the car warm up in a service bay before we could open the doors and get out.  The car was tightly built,  but it had its drawbacks. 

The  Volvo experience ended at a remote rural intersection when, on the way to cover a story in the boondocks, the car threw a piston rod.  I never got to the story, and the newspaper state editors had to set up a correspondent's relay to get me back to the news room.  My next car was a Rambler station wagon with a V8, which I had until I traded it in on a Dodge wagon.

I vowed, for many reasons, to buy only American-made cars.  So I went through a series of Dodges and Jeeps (even a couple of Gremlins) which all served well for their time.   My last Jeep was going on 12 years old when it needed constant service and was very expensive to keep in  repair.   The service manager at the garage where I had it serviced remarked one day that I should try a Honda CRV if I like small, 4-wheel-drive SUVs.  One day when the Jeep was in for one of its frequent repair sessions, the manager said the dealership had just taken in a nice CRV on trade and I should look at it.  I did and ended up buying it.  That 12-year old car is still in the family, with my son now owning it.  My spouse and I have Toyotas, a Matrix and a Rav4.

The switch to Toyota is another story of car failures.  After shuttling my family around in a series of Chrysler minivans (which involved three transmission replacements) during their school years, we got a Ford Windstar, which was a good deal when we bought it.  But it was in the shop being repaired more than being driven.  It was a nice car in many respects, but its flaws were a constant plague.  The front passenger seat was uncomfortably drafty in the winter.  The power steering kept failing.  Some times the doors wouldn't shut all the way.  There were a multitude of small problems interspersed with a lot of big ones.  When wheel bearings started failing, we traded it for a Matrix and took a huge beating in the price.  This was the second time I had a foul Ford.  The first was the one I traded in on the Volvo.  That Ford could not keep gears from doing whatever gears are not supposed to do, and it left me stranded in strange places,  like the Volvo ended up doing.   The Honda and Toyotas are better engineered than those American cars, and are illustrations of how the Japanese car makers were focusing on engineering while the Americans diddled around with marketing as the key to competition. Like many of the people I know who drive foreign cars, I made the switch not because I preferred the foreign cars; but because I gave up on the expense and inconvenience of trying to keep the American cars running.  I was very slow to learn.

As the American car companies played their brief footsie dance with the Obama administration to try to be saved, their main public relations ploy was to focus on labor costs.  They never once mentioned the reason why they were losing out to the foreign competitors:  engineering and quality of cars.

In the automobile industry, any new jobs to be created will have to be through new companies manufacturing new kinds of cars.  The old jobs have been ceded to foreign car companies.  They are simply not in America to be revived.

Wind generator blades account for 325 jobs in Aberdeen
That is true of production jobs in general.  They are no longer in America.  There is nothing to revive.  If there are to be production jobs in America, they will have to be created from scratch.  It is significant that 325 productions jobs in  Aberdeen are in the production of wind generator blades.

A common argument circulating in the country today is that our children and grand children will be saddled with the debts that the country is accruing today.  The fact of our shortage of jobs is, similarly, because of decisions made 25 years ago.  We are reaping the result of trickle-down economics and the decision to move from manufacturing as the basis of our economy to service jobs.  The critics of 25 years ago were asking who would buy or afford the services when there was no production to support them?  We are living with the answer in an employment rate that will not budge off the 9.5 percent mark.

The much-heralded Reagan Revolution was devoted to busting labor. When Reagan fired the air traffic controllers, he won the opening battle in an all-out war against unions. The war on the working middle class was spearheaded by a propaganda campaign against unions. They were portrayed as organizations devoted to power and greed, whose members devoted their energies to sloughing off and contributing nothing to the American economy or general way of life.  That portrayal is still evident in South Dakota and on this Labor Day has found its expression on some blogs.  The attitude fomented is that jobs are created by the moneyed and powered class and workers who do not accept an ignominious serfdrom are obstacles to realizing the American dream.

There were some attempts to keep production jobs in America, but they were negligible in the corporate decisions to demolish the American workforce.  For a time WalMart bragged that its merchandise contracts were negotiated with American companies that used American workers to manufacture their products.     But in order to meet the low prices, those American corporations outsourced the work to China, other countries in the Pacific Rim, and some Latin American countries.  Try to find an American-made product at WalMart today.  The result will be what my friends found at that party.  America is out of the business of making things.

When the Obama administration expanded the bailout programs started by George W. Bush, it did so reluctantly under the realization that letting the financial industry and automotive industry fail in America might well be a final close-out of American production jobs.  The administration came up with money and restrictions in an attempt to prevent the corporations from repeating the irresponsible, incompetent, acts of greed that created the conditions for the recession.

Rather than focusing on how to revive and re-establish American production companies and jobs, Obama's opposition sees the attempts at salvaging the automotive and financial industries as a communist-like socialization of American business.    The corporate executives whose firms have been saved are now among the leaders leading the opposition to Obama.  The main jobs his bailouts saved were those of the people who see company success as the continued outsourcing of jobs and the ultimate serfdom of the American labor force.  American corporations have no interest in building the country; their only interest is in turning their corporations into fiefdoms whose success depends upon keeping its workforces in a state of subjection and weakness.

All the talk about constitutional governance is not talk that includes the working class as part of that governance.  The Constitution touted by conservatives in America does not include economic freedom, equality, and justice.  It is, in fact, a Constitution conceived as a return to the feudal classes and relationships to which America was invented as an alternative.

For workers this Labor Day, the focus is what is happening to the American workforce and who is actually behind the trends that sustain unemployment.  The Obama administration's biggest failing is in giving corporate executives another opportunity to impose their corporate version of fascism on the American workforce.

If American workers vote for the Republican agenda to overturn all that Obama has done, they can devote future Labor Days to pondering that fairly brief time in American history  when workers were free men and women who were regarded with some sense of value and equality.  That time may well be nothing but a memory.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Gays Invent New Wii Sex Toy, So Blacks Can Have Virtual Sex With White Women

 No, that headline is not from The Onion.  It's from a website called Christwire.

It, too, is devoted to satire.  The satire is not focused on Christianity, but on the wild and zany things that some people believe as gospel and get titillation from that gets reported in the news.   The New York Times has a piece on the success and purpose of the satiric site.  It had 27 million hits in August.  One of it's founders explains the purpose:  “Let’s write stuff to expose how stupid people are.”

People do fall for the site, not realizing it is all a big joke, satire.  The site takes on all the phony and contrived stories about gays, minorities, and all those that gall the living hell out of "conservatives" and gulls them.  In English drama, there is a genre of play called "gulling the fool."  If people were so stupid as to believe those things made up by subgrade mentalities, it was considered fair game to mercilessly feed their utter foolery and laugh at it.  Royals courts had jesters who played the fool to keep them alert to any tendencies toward stupidity.  Gulling the fool was a way of making the terminally stupid define themselves, and one could laugh endlessly at their expense.  It was also a way of defining intellectual classes in society and separating them.

Satire is assuming an immense importance for the Internet.  Corey Heidelberger of Madville Times and I agree on most things, but a point that sets us apart is the matter of who is responsible for libelous and damaging material that is posted on websites.  Corey says the Internet is the "most free press ever invented."  But it is also the most insanely libelous.  Corey thinks that holding bloggers responsible for libelous comments posted on their sites would be an infringement of that free press.  I think that if anyone wants to exercise the freedom to publish, they should also assume the editorial responsibilities.  The courts agree with Corey, saying that the Communications Decency Act prevents site sponsors from being sued for things said by commenters on their sites. 

The Communications Decency Act is part of a movement to lessen the responsibilities that people have to not defame others.  I worked in a time when anything that was false and damaging was published made both the newspaper and the source of the defamation liable.  Damages were presumed.  The Communications Decency Act simply needs to be amended to reinstate financial responsibility for libelous statements. 

But there is a deeper issue involved in what is said on the media, especially the Internet.  Some colleagues who are still active teachers of writing have come up with some stringent rules about citing Internet sources in research papers.  They will not accept citations from blogs, unless those citations are illustrative and not used as documented sources.  Any source that is not an established publication may be used only when the student writer has established that it is a credible and responsible source.  To establish such credibility, the students have to subject the source to a checklist.

This move on the part of professors indicates how much the Internet has been undercut by scurrility.  Most news media that publishes online has changed the rules for discussion boards and comments.  Many have simply dropped discussion boards.  The New York Times and Washington Post require that commenters be registered, even though their identities may be displayed as pseudonyms.  And in a time when the legacy media is having to cut back on staff, many media are moderating comments. 

Many editors have noted that the comments do not generate intelligent discussion, but detract from the serious presentation and consideration of important issues.  The blogosphere has experienced a thinning out, as bloggers who try to maintain some standards of literate, responsible discussion have stopped or severely curtailed their blogging efforts.  The blogosphere is the province of the uneducated, the mental low-grades, the illiterate, and the perennially malevolent.  There is a mental health pandemic sweeping through the Internet that is driving away the sane.  A look at the comment string after a post such as this displays the symptoms of that issue:  people who can't read, can't tolerate divergent commentary, and possess hopelessly low-grade mentalities.  The major symptom is that the offending commenters are incapable of assessing factual statements but can only resort to ad hominem vilification. 

Many of the comments form their own satires.  Just as one of Tina Fey's funniest sketches was in actuality a verbatim transcription of the interview between Sarah Palin and Katie Couric,  you can't make up this stuff up.  All you can do is point and laugh.  And so, the culture wars divide into enclaves of fools and those who gull them. 

It is not accidental that some of the most incisive news shows are satires:  Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and The Letterman Show.  You have to laugh at this stuff.  Ultimately, that may be more effective than writing laws.   All you can do is laugh and wish that the poor wretches are enjoying their fantasies as much as you are. 


Friday, September 3, 2010

The word according to Glen Beck? Who dat?

(The Great Depression had Father Coughlin.  We've got Glen Beck.)

People such as Glen Beck are doing to Christianity what radical Islam did to Muslim.

They are taking the story of an emissary who came to earth to promise good will and peace and are turning it into an occasion to create contempt and foment hatred.  As Bill Press and Christopher Hitchens have pointed out, when a Mormon presumes to lecture on the theology of Christianity and is able to muster a national audience, we are in a fine state.  At least he got those people whose vacuous faces are usually peering from behind tea bags to leave their stupid signs at home.  But it is not as if the various Christian denominations do not have theologians who can set parishioners straight on what their doctrine is.  If they really give a dam, tinker's or otherwise, what Christian doctrine is. 

But the day after his desecration of the memorial day of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, Beck resumed his racist baiting by saying that Obama is a follower of liberation theology.   Christianity is a liberation theology, but that is not what Beck means to convey.  He means Obama is following a racial doctrine,  not a spiritual one. His statement that President Obama has a "deep-seated hatred for white people and the white culture" informs his intent.  However, once he plants his idea, he weasels away by saying he used a bad choice of words, but he leaves the idea intact.

Just as Muslim has its battles with factions perverting its doctrine to promote hatred and the infliction of murder and mayhem, so does Christianity.  It is a struggle.  People would rather hunt witches and press them to death than seek ways to respect others and live in peace.  We are going through one of those witch-hunting periods which challenge the premises of freedom, equality, and justice that are the foundations of our democratic system.  While folks may play around with language and indulge themselves in angry denials, plain  old primal race hatred is the energy that is driving much of politics in the form it has taken.

Beck's attack on Obama's beliefs is a devious attempt to plant the idea that Obama is controlled by his race, not his mind.  Beck has no notion of what Obama's beliefs are, but  when he says that Obama follows liberation theology, the press reports it, but doesn't ask how he knows that.  The Orwellian ability to use communication media to make the masses believe in utter falsehoods--Obama's birth country, his commitment to Muslim, his hatred of the military, on and on--is what makes it possible for a vilifying nitwit like Beck to get credible attention.  The main symptom of the general failure of the American mind is the practice of imposing falsehoods on Obama that have no  basis in fact.  Rather than criticize Obama for what he has actually said or done, he is criticized for things people make up to justify  the intensity of the hatred they feel.  And what is the real cause of that hatred?  Race.  There is no other explanation for the elaborate plethora of slandering straw men created to vilify him.

Beck deliberately misconstrues liberation theology and Christian theology in general to strike the racial premise on which he bases his defamation of Obama.  A key to understanding Beck's deceptions, whether they arise from his ignorance or his nefariousness, is in his statement that Obama is all about victims and oppressors.  That is, in fact, what Christianity is all about.  Like it or not, Jesus Christ was a "radical" in his time.   His work and his message appealed to the poor and oppressed.  For the most part, he enraged the privileged and the powerful because he threatened their hold over the people.  When the chief  priests ordered the arrest by stealth and the murder of Christ, they cautioned, "Not during the festival (Passover), or there may be a riot among the people" (Matthew 26:3).  Christ brought a message of hope and liberation to the people and said time and again that that they earned a special status in the house he prepared for them because they fed the hungry, welcomed the indigent, cared for the sick, clothed and sheltered the naked, and visited the imprisoned.  His message was that in the final valuation of things, anyone who showed his respect and concern for others were of equal human value.  The message of Christ spread throughout the world and appealed to ordinary people because it denied the feudal system that ranked people's human worth according to wealth, power, and title.  To those who held the wealth and the power, Jesus was dangerous.   He gave the people a reason to seek liberation from the forces that held them down.

Liberation theology, as the term is used to designate a particular movement, came out of Latin America and gained influence in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a movement among Roman Catholic priests who found that the feudal state in which the native people and poor in Latin America were held imposed intolerable lives on them.  The priests found that the Christian church had little appeal to the people if it did not offer some way out of the slave-like lives in which they were held.  A few rich and powerful people  owned most of the land, controlled the economy, and exercised a control over society that perpetuated master and slave relationships.  Liberation theology sought a way to free the people from their de facto bondage and it found an ally in Marxism,  which is partly what Beck and the advocates of a return to feudalism find so repellent.  But the driving force of liberation theology was its focus on the poor, which was and is the state of the huge majority in Latin America.  The priests were finding ways to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and clothe and shelter the poor, and they confronted the fact that the only way to do that was to change the political system that kept so many people in poverty. The Vatican had problems with liberation theology because it was based upon building the church from the people's perspective, not from the authoritarian rule from Rome, and the Vatican feared a Latin American Reformation that would split the church as the Protestant Reformation did.

The Vatican has denounced radical Marxism and unfettered capitalism as the twin scourges of Latin America,  but the alliance of elements of the church with Marxist revolution was tenuous from the beginning.  The violent tactics of Marxist guerillas in Latin America was at odds with the basic tenets of liberation theology and the priests and the Marxists could agree on little.

However, liberation theology had a flash of  popularity in the U.S. but the black Christian church in the U.S. has been a force for liberation reaching far back into slavery for its development.  It is no accident that the leader of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Baptist minister.  Most Americans are unaware of the fact that the songs we call spirituals (African Americans call them sorrow songs) are songs of liberation that sometimes give specific information about how to escape from and endure slavery.  While they may have lulled the ear of the white man, they spoke to the hopes and plans of the black.  American popular music, which is largely developed out of the blues, is a music that developed out of the quest for liberation, which is one of the reasons it is such a world force.  But theology in the U.S. addressed the task of making the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution apply to the American minorities as well as to white capitalists.

The words and the life of Christ have been the sources of hopes and strategies for liberation from the early times of slavery.  Christian theology is liberation theology, and people like Beck who are calling for submission to authoritarian race-based rule do not understand why the New Testament is called The New Law.  And they do  not understand why even atheists can be called Christian in terms of social and political orientation. They do not understand why the church can be seen as a force for individual liberation, not as an instrument of oppression and discrimination that so many "conservatives" envision and long for.

Obama's Christianity embraces the tradition of the black church in America and is reflected in his agenda to feed the poor, heal the sick, clothe and shelter the poor.  The conservatives call it Marxism.  It's Christianity in its purest form.  Liberation from human hatred and oppression.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States